Spirits in the Material World by M.S. Wilson

            Xena’s eyes swept across the crowd of revellers, taking in the variety of sizes, shapes, and colours. Everyone was smiling and laughing, enjoying the festive mood that permeated the Rhanian Fields ... everyone except Xena.

            She shook her head and glanced at the slender blonde girl threading her way through the crowd with a huge grin on her face and a mug in each hand. “Gabrielle, remind me again how I let you talk me into coming here,” she said as the young bard strode up and offered her one of the mugs.

            Gabrielle rolled her eyes. “Oh, please, Xena. I know you like fun as much as the next person. And you need it more, considering all the weird stuff we go through. Just relax and enjoy yourself. Have some kykeon.”

            Xena snorted, but took the proffered mug as Gabrielle looked around, smiling at the antics of the people surrounding them. “After all, how often do you get to be part of the Eleusenian Mysteries?” Gabrielle said, turning her penetrating gaze back to the tall warrior. “I’ve heard it said that the gods send visions to the participants, revealing the mysteries of life and the universe. Don’t tell me that doesn’t get your interest, Xena.”

            Xena shrugged. “I’ve met some of the gods, remember? So have you. I’m not eager to get inside their minds.” She raised the mug to her lips, thinking she may as well go along with Gabrielle’s whim. But her sensitive nose caught a strange scent wafting up from the liquid and she stopped before it touched her mouth. Gabrielle already had her own mug against her lips, so Xena grabbed her arm, pulling it away.

            Gabrielle gave her a look of exasperation. “What’d you do that for?”

            “Gabrielle, there’s something in this drink, some kind of drug.” She sniffed the contents of the mug again and dipped a finger into it, carefully touching the liquid to her tongue. “I think it might be ergot. That would explain the visions. Ergot can make you hallucinate.” She looked at Gabrielle’s mug and sighed with relief when she noticed it was still almost full. “At least you didn’t drink too much.”

            Gabrielle glanced down at the ground, then back up at Xena, a sheepish look on her face. “Uh, well, actually ... this is my second mug.”

            Xena frowned, snatching the mug from her hand. “Gabrielle ...”

            The younger woman threw her hands up in frustration. “How was I supposed to know there was something in it? Gods, Xena, everyone here is drinking it. They’ve been serving kykeon at the Mysteries for years and I’ve never heard about it killing anyone.”

            “I’m not worried about it killing you. I just don’t want you to get all loopy. Like when you ate that nutbread with the henbane in it, remember?” What Xena recalled most about that—besides Gabrielle trying to teach rocks to sing—was the young bard calling her beautiful. She’d often wondered if that was just the henbane talking, or ...

            Her musings were interrupted when Gabrielle put her hand on Xena’s arm and smiled. “Actually, I don’t remember much about that, except for the headache afterwards. But I’m sure this will be fine. After all, I have you here to take care of me, right?”

            The jocular tone of Gabrielle’s words made Xena wonder if she was kidding, but when she looked into the bard’s eyes and saw nothing but trust there, all her doubts melted away. “Fine,” Xena said, taking Gabrielle by the arm and steering her toward a remote part of the field. “But let’s get you somewhere quieter before you start losing it.”

            Gabrielle didn’t protest, but her eyes took on a glazed look that worried Xena. As they made their way through the crowd, Xena now knew why so many of them were acting strangely, talking to themselves or carrying on conversations with people who weren’t there. Gabrielle was unfazed by the illogic of it all, simply turning her head from side to side to take it all in. “Hey, Xena, maybe the argo ... uh, I mean the orgon ...”


            “Yeah that,” Gabrielle said cheerfully. “Even if that stuff brings the visions, they could still be sent by the gods. I could still figure out the secrets of the universe.”

            “Don’t count on it.” Xena pulled Gabrielle away from a man who was walking around in a circle, babbling to himself. If these people have the secrets of the universe, she thought to herself, we are all in big trouble.

            Gabrielle suddenly stopped, staring at a woman who was sitting on the ground talking to a flower. “Oh no, Xena, look. That woman, she’s on fire!” she said, her voice bordering on panic. She looked up at Xena. “Why are you just standing there? You have to help her!”

            Xena hesitated, wondering if she should play along with Gabrielle’s delusion. The trust she’d seen earlier was still evident, despite Gabrielle’s addled state. The warrior sighed and looked around, spotting a bucket of water on a nearby table. She grabbed the bucket and dumped it over the woman’s head, soaking her to the skin.

            Gabrielle smiled and hugged Xena. “Thank you, you saved her life. I knew you could.” Xena nodded, tossing the empty bucket away and looking at the drenched woman, wondering how she’d react. But she didn’t even look up, just kept up her conversation with the now-bedraggled flower.

            Xena finally got Gabrielle to a spot under a huge oak tree, near the low stone wall surrounding the field, glad to be away from the crush of people. Gabrielle was studying everything with a fierce concentration, examining the tree, the low stone wall, and Xena’s breastplate with minute attention. When she transferred her curiosity to her own staff, Xena had to bite back a laugh at the earnest look on Gabrielle’s face.

            A yell of pain caught Xena’s attention and she turned to see two men pulling a struggling woman toward the wall. Xena’s eyes narrowed and she drew her sword. She glanced at Gabrielle, who was still enraptured by her staff, trying to trace the grain of the wood. “Gabrielle, stay here. I’ll be right back.” Gabrielle barely acknowledged her, too absorbed in her task to even look up.

            Xena strode forward, reaching the two men just as they tried to throw the now-hysterical woman over the wall. “Hey boys, didn’t anyone ever teach you how to treat a lady?” One of the men turned toward her, whipping out a dagger and lunging at her throat without a word. She parried instinctively, slamming a knee into his ribs and bringing her elbow down on his neck. As he fell, the other guy drew a sword and squared off with her. He made a few tentative passes, but Xena was in no mood for a drawn-out fight, so she disarmed him with a quick flick of her wrist and smashed the pommel of her sword into his head, dropping him in a heap. The woman they’d tried to abduct rose from the ground and flung her arms around Xena’s neck, sobbing with relief. “Oh,thank the gods. You saved my life. They were crazy, going on about me being a witch or something. They said they were going to burn me.” The woman broke down as she clung desperately to her rescuer.

            “Take it easy,” Xena said, patting the woman on the back. When she’d calmed down, the woman released Xena and apologized for her behaviour, offering Xena her ruby ring as a reward. Xena declined and turned back toward the oak tree.

            At first, she thought nothing of it when she couldn’t see Gabrielle among the shadows under the tree. After all, in her state she could’ve wandered off to chase a bird or look at the stars. But as she looked around the immediate vicinity of the tree, her uneasiness began to mount. There was no sign of Gabrielle anywhere; she searched the area near the tree, on the other side of the wall ... she even scrambled up into the tree in case Gabrielle had decided to climb it. Not only couldn’t she find the bard, she could find no sign of her footprints. It was like she’d simply vanished.

            Xena looked back toward the two men she’d knocked out, wondering if the woman she’d saved had seen where Gabrielle went. But the woman was gone too and Xena could see no sign of her, even from the branches of the tree. With a sinking feeling, she realized the whole fight had probably been meant as a distraction, to keep her busy long enough for Gabrielle to be taken. And she’d fallen for it, dammit! A chill went through her and she swore to herself she’d find Gabrielle ... and the gods help whoever took her.


            The pain in her head brought Gabrielle to consciousness, the relentless throbbing pulling her up from the depths of oblivion. She opened her eyes slowly, grateful for the dim light around her. She sat up, rubbing her aching head, and looked around. The mouldering skeletons and rusted chains told her she was in a dungeon. Not like she hadn’t seen a few of those since she started travelling with Xena. That thought prompted her to make a more thorough study of her surroundings and the cold feeling in the pit of her stomach grew as she realized there was no sign of Xena. She stood on trembling legs and made a quick tour of the dungeon, confirming she was alone ... and her staff was gone too.

            Gabrielle paused to think for a moment, trying to recall how she’d ended up here. The last thing she remembered was Xena warning her about something in the kykeon ... apparently she’d been right. Unless this was all an elaborate joke, Xena’s way of teaching her a lesson. She didn’t think Xena would go that far just to prove a point, but she knew the warrior had a rather grim sense of humour at times. Well, if it was just a joke, Xena would’ve left her a way out. She noticed a door at the top of some stone steps and wondered if it was locked.

            She gingerly made her way up the stairs, stepping over scattered bones and the dark stains discolouring the stone. At the top of the stairs, Gabrielle stopped, her path blocked by a skeleton crumpled at the foot of the door. Wishing she had her staff, she kicked the pile of bones aside, noting several broken ribs and a hole in the top of the skull. She reached for the door, then froze, looking down at the perforated skull again. How had the unfortunate dungeon denizen gotten a hole right in the top of his skull ... and why was he lying up against the door like that? She glanced upward, but could only make out a thick tangle of cobwebs in the gloom. She retreated down the stairs and found a length of rusty chain, which she brought back as she remounted the steps. She carefully attached the chain to the door handle, stepping back down a few stairs before crouching and giving the chain a sharp tug. The door swung open with a screech that set her teeth on edge, but it was the three spears shooting down from the ceiling that brought an involuntary yelp from her throat. Waiting a few minutes for her heartbeat to return to normal, she stood and cautiously approached the spears, which now occupied the space right where she’d have been standing if she’d opened the door the usual way. That explained the marks on the skeletons ... and it also told her Xena definitely wasn’t behind her predicament.

            Gabrielle squeezed past the spears into a corridor thick with dust. The whole place was deathly quiet, which added to her sense of dread, but she was gratified to see the dust on the floor was undisturbed except for the tiny footprints of rodents. At least she was alone here. But then how had she gotten into the dungeon? She looked around, seeing only rotting tapestries, a network of cobwebs, and a thick layer of dust on everything. She made her way down the corridor, lamenting the loss of her staff as she expected someone—or something—to leap out at her any moment. At the junction of two hallways, she noticed a thin iron candleholder about four feet long set into a wooden base. She discarded the candle stub and broke off the base, leaving her with a metal pole not much shorter than her regular staff, though it was somewhat heavier. But having the makeshift weapon made her feel better and she went ahead with new confidence.

            As she made her way down the dusty corridors, Gabrielle began to feel a sense of familiarity, as if she’d been here before. After following several turns through the halls, Gabrielle found a staircase and started up, glancing behind her to make sure nothing could take her unawares. Near the top of the stairs, she noticed a funny little notch in one step and paused. Where had she seen that before? A flash of memory came to her as she recalled being chased through Sisyphus’s castle by Toxeus’s men ... and Tallus triggering a trap on the stairs that sent him sliding down to the dungeons. Of course, that’s why the place looked so familiar—this was Sisyphus’s castle just outside Corinth. That still didn’t explain how she’d gotten here, but at least now she knew where “here” was.

            Gabrielle bent to examine the notch in the stair, concluding it was probably the trigger for the stair slide trap. She carefully stepped over that particular stair, wishing her legs were as long as Xena’s. She reached the top and looked back with a smile of triumph. So much for that trap. But if this was Sisyphus’s castle, there would be traps everywhere; she’d have to be extra careful. She moved forward cautiously, trying to remember the way out of the castle. She was so absorbed in her thoughts that she didn’t hear the noise at first. But as the sound rose, it finally caught her attention and she stopped to listen, clutching her improvised staff tighter. It sounded like a low moaning and she wondered if it might be the wind, but her blood ran cold as she slowly realized the sound wasn’t simply an incoherent noise ... it was a voice, a voice repeating the same word over and over again: “Gabrieeeellle! Gabrieeeellle!”


            As soon as she realized the whole fight had been a set-up, Xena revived the two men she’d knocked out and used the Pinch to interrogate them. Unfortunately, they were typical thugs ... greedy and stupid. They’d been paid to attack the woman by someone in a red robe, but neither knew nor cared who their employer might be. Xena left them to nurse their bruises and went looking for the woman she’d “saved”, reasoning that she might know more about what was going on. A few inquiries led her to a tavern near the Rhanian Fields, where a couple of dinars to a stablehand got her a tale about a woman wearing a ruby ring who’d just lit out to the west on a roan gelding with a white blaze on its forehead. Xena rushed back to the inn where she and Gabrielle were staying to get Argo and headed west as fast as she could.

            She checked every horse she passed, her anger growing as she thought about Gabrielle in the clutches of slavers ... or worse. She and Gabrielle had been growing closer ever since Xena’s return from the dead. Xena had tried to fight the deeper feelings she’d begun to have for Gabrielle, but after that weird adventure with Bliss causing everyone to fall in love at the drop of a hat, she’d decided maybe it was time to stop fighting her feelings. The love Bliss had given them was artificial, something done and undone by magic, a whim of the gods. But the love she felt for Gabrielle—a love she was certain the young bard returned—was real, genuine love. They’d earned that love over the last couple of years together, and Xena was damned if she’d let anyone take it away from them.  The only reason she hadn’t come right out with her feelings was the fear that if things didn’t work out it might ruin their friendship. Gabrielle was the best friend Xena had ever known and she was reluctant to risk that, but she knew their feelings for each other went deeper than friendship and sooner or later, they’d have to deal with that.

            As the moon began to set, Xena noticed lamplight ahead and pulled up at a wayside inn. She slipped into the stables to check the horses, but the only roan there had no blaze on its head. A stable boy asked if she wanted a stall for Argo and she shook her head, preparing to leave. She stopped with her hand on the door. “That roan,” she said, nodding toward the gelding, “who does it belong to?”

            “A fine lady, miss. She said she just stopped for a bite of supper and a quick rest, and would be gone before dawn.”

            Xena strode over to the horse and rubbed its forehead, a grim smile touching her lips as she noted the brown stain on her hand. She flipped the stable boy a dinar. “If you can find out what room she’s in, there’s another of those for you.” The kid beamed and raced out of the stable, coming back in a few minutes out of breath.

            “She’s in the room at the top of the stairs,” he said between breaths. He took her outside and pointed to a dark window overlooking the stable roof. Xena thanked him and gave him another dinar, asking him to give Argo some water but not to unsaddle her. As soon as the kid took Argo into the stable, Xena crouched and sprang up onto the stable roof, bouncing quickly and twisting to grab the window ledge. Peering inside, she saw the woman she’d “rescued” asleep in the bed. She slowly eased the window open, sliding inside the darkened room like a shadow. The cold breeze from the window awakened her target, but by then it was too late.

            Xena pinned the woman to the bed and placed a hand over her mouth, her other hand holding the chakram at the woman’s throat. “I’m only going to ask you this once,” Xena said, her tone as cold as ice. “Where’s Gabrielle?”

            The woman’s eyes widened and Xena could almost smell the fear rolling off her. She eased her hand away from the woman’s mouth. “She ... I don’t know.”

            “Wrong answer,” Xena growled, moving the chakram so it cut a line in the skin of woman’s throat.

            “No, please, I swear. I was just paid to distract you, I had nothing to do with taking the girl.”

            “Paid by who?”

            The woman swallowed, her eyes flicking back and forth between Xena and the chakram. “Some women in red robs. They said they needed to distract you so they could get the girl and take her ...”

            “Take her where?”

            “I’m not sure, but I think one of them said something about a haunted castle ... near Corinth. They said their master was waiting for them there.”

            Xena’s mind whirled. A haunted castle near Corinth? Could it be Sisyphus’s castle? With all the traps and theatrics Sisyphus was so fond of, a casual visitor could be forgiven for believing the place haunted. But Sisyphus was dead ... or was he? Sisyphus had cheated death more than once, and the last time Xena had been responsible for sending him back to Tartarus. Maybe he’d figured out a way to reach out and gain revenge from beyond the grave.

            Xena leaned back and looked at the frightened woman, her eyes cold. Whoever kidnapped Gabrielle, this woman had helped them do it. Xena considered killing her, but knew Gabrielle wouldn’t want someone dying in her name. “How much did they pay you?”

            The woman swallowed again and her eyes shifted to the table beside the bed. Xena looked over and saw the ruby ring the woman had offered her after being “rescued”. Xena reached over and picked up the ring, turning it over in her fingers. “This was your payment? How did you know I wouldn’t take it when you offered it to me?”

            “They ... the women who gave it to me ... said you’d turn down any reward ... that you helped people for free.”

            Xena smiled. “Well, that’s usually true, but I think I’ve changed my mind. I’ll accept your generous reward, just this once.” She slipped the ring into her belt pouch and grinned at the look of chagrin on the woman’s face. “Easy come, easy go,” Xena said, rolling off the woman’s body before slamming her fist down on her head. “That’s for Gabrielle.”

            She leapt out the window and slid down the stable roof,landing easily in the street. She quickly reclaimed Argo and set out towards Corinth, hoping Gabrielle was all right ... and afraid to the depths of her soul that she might not be.


            Gabrielle turned around several times, trying to discern where the voice was coming from. The sound of her name being called over and over chilled her very blood, but she tried to ignore her fear and concentrate. The voice sounded vaguely familiar and she wondered if it might be Sisyphus, since this was his castle. But Sisyphus was dead, wasn’t he? Her attention focused on a mirror, feeling certain the voice was coming from it. She crept towards the dusty mirror, finding glass so caked with dust and grime that she couldn’t even see her own reflection. She rubbed some of the dirt off the surface and almost jumped in shock, as she saw Sisyphus’s face looking back at her.

            “Gabrieeeeellle,” the image said, flickering as it spoke, “bewaaaaare. You’re in great danger.” Before she could ask what danger, the image vanished, leaving her own stricken visage staring back at her.

            As she was mulling over this new mystery, she heard a grating noise behind her and froze. Part of her wanted to stay right there, part of her wanted to run without even a backwards glance, but another part of her—the part that had been awakened in her travels with Xena—knew she had to face whatever it was. She turned slowly, gripping her makeshift staff so hard her knuckles turned white. A hidden panel had opened in the wall of the corridor and she caught her breath as she saw what shuffled out. The figure was swathed in mouldy bandages, covered in fine dust, and moved stiffly, its arms raised towards her. Her panicked mind finally put a name to the monstrosity ... a mummy.

            Gabrielle had read about the Egyptian rite of mummification, but what was a mummy doing here in Greece?  Suddenly, she recalled a story Iolaus had told her last time they’d run into each other. Her fear evaporated, to be replaced by a simmering anger. She put her hands on her hips, ignoring the mummy still shuffling towards her, and addressed the mirror. “Salmoneus, if this is your idea of a joke, I’m not laughing. Iolaus told me all about your House of Horrors thing. Didn’t you learn your lesson then?” As the mummy approached, she caught the stench of decay, reminding her of tombs she’d been in. Her righteous anger wavered as she wondered how even Salmoneus could get a mummy to smell like death itself.

            She realized her mistake as soon as the mummy touched her. The pain shooting through her arm was like nothing she’d ever felt before. It alternated between searing fire and chilling ice, penetrating to the bone and shooting through her nerves like Zeus’s thunderbolt. She yanked her arm back and brought her iron staff up, slamming the mummy in the head, then swung low to knock it over with a low backhand sweep. But the monster barely moved, giving no indication it even felt her efforts. She stepped back and swung the iron rod with both hands as hard as she could at the mummy’s head. The shuffling horror rocked sideways briefly, but quickly righted itself and continued advancing on her.

            Panic rose in Gabrielle’s chest and threatened to choke her. She wished Xena was here to deal with this thing, but she knew she was on her own. Since she couldn’t fight it, she’d have to run. She was preparing to turn and flee, but stopped when a sepulchral voice, different from Sisyphus’s wheedling tone, came from the mummy’s bandaged face. “Gabrieeeellle!” The mummy’s eyes glowed red as it advanced on her and she backed up in horror, finally turning and running headlong down the corridor.


            Xena emerged from a passage and stopped, listening carefully. She’d made her way into the castle through the secret tunnel, which Gabrielle had told her about after their first adventure here. The hallway was covered in dust and cobwebs, giving the impression that the castle had been empty since Sisyphus’s demise. But Xena’s sensitive nose smelled burning lamp oil and she could hear faint noises coming from somewhere else in the massive structure. She made her way through the dusty halls, no sound betraying her presence.

            At the junction of two corridors, she saw something that made her heart skip a beat ... footprints in the dust. She bent to examine the tracks, smiling when she recognized the size and shape of Gabrielle’s boots. She followed the footprints, noting with pride how Gabrielle had avoided several traps along the way. Xena had been teaching her to be more observant and the lessons had apparently sunk in. Xena’s smile faded as she came into another corridor and saw more ominous signs in the dust. Someone—or something—had chased Gabrielle down the hall. Whatever it was didn’t have a stride like a normal person; it seemed to be shuffling along, dragging its feet and leaving a distinctive trail through the thick dust.

            Xena drew her sword and prepared to follow the trail, but a slight noise stopped her. She swivelled her head, trying to catch the sound and was startled to hear someone calling her name in a voice so soft she could barely hear it. “Gabrielle? Is that you? Where are you?” There voice called her name again and she realized it wasn’t Gabrielle. It sounded like a man’s voice, one she’d heard before.

            “Xeeeena, over here.” The voice echoed around her and she wondered if it belonged to Sisyphus. This was his castle after all, and he’d always been able to find a way out of Tartarus before.

            “Sisyphus, I don’t know how you escaped Tartarus again and I don’t care. Whatever game you’re playing, I’m not interested. What have you done with Gabrielle?”

            “Xena,” the voice said, fading even as it spoke, “someone else has taken over my castle and they’re the ones who have your friend. She’s in great danger.”

            “No, you’re the one who’s in danger if anything happens to her,” Xena said, turning to follow Gabrielle’s trail through the dusty halls.


            Gabrielle ran through the castle, trying not to give in to the fear that threatening to overwhelm her. The mummy was surprisingly fast, covering ground quickly despite its shuffling step, and Gabrielle realized she’d get tired long before the monstrosity lost its will to kill her. As she ran, she turned over the options in her mind. She couldn’t fight it, she couldn’t outrun it, but maybe she could slow it down ... or even stop it completely.

            She changed direction suddenly, leading the mummy down a hallway she recalled from her first visit to the castle. As she neared the far end of the hallway, she slowed, allowing the mummy to close the gap between them. Just as its bandaged hands reached out to grab her, she stepped on a particular stone, deftly skipping aside as a cage crashed down over the mummy. Gabrielle grinned in triumph, but her relief quickly turned to fear again as the mummy began to batter its way through the bars of the cage.

            She turned again and ran, wondering if Sisyphus had left a better trap than that one. An idea came to her and she cut through a couple of rooms to head for a corridor she knew. The mummy followed relentlessly and Gabrielle’s breath grew ragged as the hard pace took its toll. She finally made it to her destination, slipping through the door leading down to the dungeons and hiding behind it. The mummy lumbered through the door and started down the stairs. Gabrielle held her breath, waiting for the slide trap to go off, but the mummy stopped one step above the trigger and turned, as if sensing her presence. She stepped to the top of the stairs, her heart hammering in her chest, as the mummy’s eyes glowed red.

            “You cannot hide from me. I will have my revenge.” The mummy started up the stairs, moving clumsily since it couldn’t really bend its knees properly. Gabrielle fought down her revulsion and leaned down, almost putting herself in the fiend’s clutches. But before it could grab her, she stretched down with her iron staff and hit the trigger for the trap, turning the stairs into a slide. She watched as the mummy slid down the stairs and disappeared through a trap door at the bottom, just as Tallus had done over a year ago. Gabrielle knew the trap door would deposit the mummy in the dungeons and hoped she could get out of the castle before it came back.

            Gabrielle made her way through the castle, trying to recall the way out, but the dust and general air of neglect didn’t fit with the way she remembered the place. After blundering into a couple of dead ends, she found a corridor that seemed familiar and followed it eagerly, only realizing her mistake when she ran through the double doors and found herself in the dining hall. It was here that Sisyphus had trapped Celesta and here where Gabrielle had been forced to say goodbye to Tallus. She was so wrapped up in her memories that it took a few moments to notice she wasn’t alone. Five figures wearing red robes shuffled forward from the shadows, spreading out to surround her. Although they’d made no overtly hostile moves, Gabrielle felt a sense of menace from them and raised her iron staff.

            “Who are you?” she said, trying to keep the tremor from her voice.

            “We are your sisters, Gabrielle. Don’t you know us?” The figures moved as one, lifting their hands to pull back the hoods of their cloaks and Gabrielle’s breath caught in her throat as she recognized them.

            “By the gods ... Bacchae.”


            Xena sprinted through the hallways, turning corners almost by instinct as she followed the tracks in the dust without conscious thought. The roiling sensation in her gut told her Gabrielle was in trouble, so she threw caution to the wind, hoping she wasn’t too late. She’d followed the tracks to the dungeon entrance, noting with pleasure that whatever shuffling horror had been pursuing the young bard had apparently vanished, leaving Gabrielle to continue on alone. So why was Xena so certain Gabrielle was in trouble? She couldn’t explain it, but she’d learned to trust that feeling over the years and redoubled her speed.

            When she burst into the dining hall, her fears became manifest; Gabrielle was in the middle of the room, whirling around desperately and trying to fend off a handful of Bacchae with a slim iron bar. Xena’s war cry burst from her throat, drawing the attention of the Bacchae and getting a look of profound relief from Gabrielle. Xena leapt forward, swinging her sword at the Bacchae, who retreated out of range.

            Before Xena could wade into the hissing women, Gabrielle’s voice stopped her. “Xena, don’t kill them, please. I don’t think they chose to become Bacchae.”

            Xena frowned, torn between her instincts and the bard’s gentle plea. Xena remembered Orpheus urging her to kill Gabrielle when she’d turned into a Bacchae and how she’d refused to even consider it. She sighed and sheathed her sword, holding out her hand towards Gabrielle. “Give me that bar you’re carrying.”

            Gabrielle tossed her the long piece of iron and watched as Xena spun around, whacking the Bacchae high and low, knocking them down one by one, and finally hitting them hard enough to take the fight right out of them. When she was convinced the Bacchae wouldn’t be getting up any time soon, Xena lowered the iron rod and leaned on it as Gabrielle rushed over to hug her. “Xena, I’m so glad to see you. I don’t even know what happened. I woke up in the dungeon, and I heard someone calling my name and I was chased by a mummy, and ...”

            “Whoa, whoa,” Xena said, taking Gabrielle by he shoulders and looking into her eyes. “You were chased by a what?”

            “A mummy. You know, one of those Egyptian things wrapped in bandages. But this one was different ... it kept saying my name and it hurt when it touched me.”

            Xena put her hand to Gabrielle’s forehead to see if she had a fever. “Gabrielle, I think maybe that kykeon you drank hasn’t quite worn off yet.”

            Gabrielle put her hands on her hips and Xena could tell by the look on her face, she was offended by the suggestion she might’ve been seeing things. Xena braced herself for a tirade of righteous anger, but before the bard could let loose her temper the door crashed open and they both spun to see what caused the noise.

            “Uh, Gabrielle,” Xena said, not taking her eyes off the figure in the doorway.

            “Yes, Xena?” the bard replied with just a trace of smugness in her voice.

            “I’m sorry I doubted you.” For the thing in the doorway was unquestionably a mummy. Dirty linen bandages, covered in dust, smelling like a tomb ... yeah, definitely a mummy. Except this one had glowing red eyes, something a mummy—even an animated one—shouldn’t really have. Well, it certainly explained the weird tracks that had been dogging Gabrielle through the castle.

            Her astonishment doubled when the thing began to speak. “Xeeeena, you’re here at last. You can watch me turn your little friend into a Bacchae again. Except this time, she’ll stay that way.”

            Xena’s eyes narrowed as she recognized the hollow voice coming from the thing’s unseen mouth. “Bacchus. So you were behind this all along.”

            The mummy gave a booming laugh. “Yeeeessss, I managed to take control of this undead specimen from my resting place in Tartarus. Once I drain Gabrielle’s will, she’ll be a Bacchae and under my control. You’ll have to kill her to save your own life.”

            The mummy shuffled towards Gabrielle, who retreated back against a wall. Xena stepped in front of the monster and pulled back her arm to aim the iron rod at the thing’s chest. “I don’t think so,” she growled, flinging the iron staff so hard it impaled the mummy right through the chest.

            Xena’s momentary feeling of triumph was short-lived when the mummy simply laughed and kept advancing, seemingly oblivious to the four feet of cold steel transfixing its body. Xena drew her sword and sprang towards the creature, just as Gabrielle shouted a warning. “Don’t let it touch you, Xena!”

            The bard’s words came too late, as the mummy swiped a bandaged hand at Xena, making contact with her shoulder. She cried out as waves of pain coursed through her body and she quickly jumped back out of range. The mummy laughed again and Bacchus’s voice rang out. “Careful, Xena. I’d hate to drain your life force before I had a chance to turn your friend into a Bacchae.” As the animated corpse laughed again, Xena clutched her sword and wondered how she could kill something that was already dead.


            Gabrielle’s eyes went wide as the mummy lumbered forward, two feet of iron projecting from its torso and another two feet of metal sticking through its back. She watched as Xena deftly avoided the fallen Bacchae and scored several hits on the mummy with her sword, but the keen blade had no effect, other than slicing off a few ragged bits of bandage. Gabrielle was so engrossed in the spectacle that she wasn’t paying attention to where she was stepping and her heart lurched as the floor dropped away under one of her feet. She screamed in reflex, milling her arms wildly to keep her balance. She noticed a faded tapestry hanging from the wall and threw herself at it, pulling herself clear of the pit trap.

            The rotted tapestry gave way and she fell to the floor beside the gaping trap door, recoiling from the fetid stench that wafted out. Xena shot her a quick glance. “Are you all right?”

            “Yeah, just peachy,” Gabrielle replied, rolling away from the trap door and getting to her feet. She watched Xena and the mummy swipe at each other, wishing there was something she could do to help. A voice sounded close to her ear, making her jump.

            Gabrielle turned to the grungy mirror on the wall and was shocked to see Sisyphus looking back at her. “Gabrielle, it’s me, Sisyphus. I need your help.”

            Gabrielle swallowed. “Uh, sorry Sisyphus, now isn’t a really good time. We’re kinda in a fight for our lives here and even if we weren’t, I wouldn’t help you get out of Tartarus again.”

            “No, you don’t understand. I’m not trying to leave Tartarus, I just want to get Bacchus out of my castle. I built that castle, I lived there with my family, and I died there ... well, the first time. I don’t want some upstart using it to sully my name.”

            Gabrielle nodded, keeping an eye on Xena’s desperate battle. “That’s great, but unless you have a way to defeat the mummy—”

            The image of Sisyphus began to fade and his voice became fainter. “Gabrielle, everyone has a weakness. If you find the mummy’s, you can defeat it.”

            The voice faded to nothingness, leaving Gabrielle to ponder his words. The mummy didn’t seem to have any weaknesses. Between the two of them, they had already sent it down a stair slide, hit it, slashed it, tried to outrun it ... what was left? As she turned the problem over in her mind, she noticed a puff of dust rise from the mummy’s bandaged body when Xena landed a kick. An idea started to form in Gabrielle’s mind and she looked around for what she needed, spotting a candelabra on the table. She edged over and grabbed it, but realized she had no way to light it.

            Without warning, the candles burst into flame, almost making her drop the candelabra. Ignoring her surprise, she rushed to the fallen tapestry and set it alight. As the dry cloth caught fire, she grabbed the other end and spun, yelling a warning to Xena. “Xena, duck!” Xena complied and Gabrielle hurled the burning tapestry at the mummy, watching in satisfaction as the musty wrappings around the monster’s body ignited.

            Xena rolled away from the mummy and watched as the fire spread all over its desiccated body. Bacchus’s voice lifted in a scream, as the fire crackled over the mummy and the flaming monstrosity lurched forward. “If I’m going back to Tartarus, I’m taking you with me, Xena!”

            “Not today, Bacchus,” the warrior replied, dodging to the side and darting in to grab the iron pole still sticking through the mummy’s chest. Ignoring the pain from the heated metal rod, Xena whirled, pulling the mummy off-balance and sending it spinning into the open trap door. An unearthly howl of rage echoed up from below, cut off suddenly as the trap door swung closed.

            Gabrielle ran over and threw her arms around Xena. “Are you all right?” she said, looking at the reddening burns on Xena’s hands.

            “I’ll live. At least the mummy’s finished and Bacchus is back in Tartarus where he belongs.”

            “How can you be so sure?” Gabrielle said with a worried frown.

            Xena nodded toward the Bacchae, who were starting to rise from the floor ... except they weren’t Bacchae anymore, just young women with looks of bewilderment on their faces. “Bacchus lost his power over them when his soul went back to Tartarus. That’s how I know he’s gone for good.”

            The girls were understandably confused, so Xena and Gabrielle filled them in, downplaying the whole “turned into murderous Bacchae” part. The girls were worried about how they could get home with no money and no resources, until Xena pulled out the ruby ring she’d taken from Gabrielle’s kidnapper and handed it to one of the girls, telling them it would probably be worth enough to get them home. The girls thanked her profusely and trooped out of the room, leaving Xena and Gabrielle alone.

            After another long embrace (and Gabrielle insisting on treating the burns on Xena’s hands), they exchanged stories and Gabrielle thanked Xena for saving her. “Well, I’m glad I got here in time, but you seem to have done pretty well on your own. You led the mummy into a trap and kept it from killing you. And lighting it on fire ... that was brilliant.”

            Gabrielle blushed, still unaccustomed to praise from the stoic warrior, even though their relationship had become more balanced lately ... less like hero-and-sidekick and more like true partners. “Well, I can’t take full credit for that,” Gabrielle admitted. “Sisyphus gave me the idea and I’m pretty sure he lit the candles too.”

            Xena just starred at her. “Gabrielle, Sisyphus is dead.”

            “I know, but I saw him in a mirror in one of the hallways, and during the fight he appeared in that mirror,” she said, pointing to the dusty glass on the wall, “and told me to look for the mummy’s weakness.”

            Xena walked over and examined the mirror closely. “I thought I heard a familiar voice in one of the corridors, but it must’ve been Bacchus taunting me.”

            “But when I picked up the candles I had no way to light them, then they just lit on their own. How do you explain that?” Gabrielle said with a smug smile.

            Xena shrugged. “Another of Sisyphus’s leftover tricks. He made torches light spontaneously when Ares and I were on his island that time, so maybe—”

            Gabrielle shook her head. “No way, Xena. I know what I saw and I know Sisyphus helped us. He said he didn’t like Bacchus taking over his castle and ruining his reputation.”

            Xena snorted. “I’d say Sisyphus did a pretty good job of that himself.” Gabrielle gave her a look of exasperation. “All right, I’m sorry. I believe you saw Sisyphus ... although, you did drink that kykeon at the Mysteries ...”

            “Xena!” Gabrielle slapped the warrior’s arm as Xena chuckled. But when Xena put her arm around Gabrielle, her anger melted away and she couldn’t help laughing too. As they walked out of the room, Gabrielle glanced back over her shoulder and saw a flicker of something in the mirror .. something that looked like a smiling old man. She smiled back and gave the apparition a little wave. As Sisyphus’s visage faded from view, Gabrielle could swear she could hear a faint voice coming from the mirror: “Thank you ...”