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Disclaimer: The characters, names and storylines which have appeared in the syndicated television show Xena: Warrior Princess are the copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringment was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters in this story and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story can not be used or sold for profit in any way. This story has been written solely for the reading enjoyment of Xena: Warrior Princess fans of the internet.
Setting: This story takes place during the as-yet untelevised fourth season of Xena: Warrior Princess.
Note to Reader: It should be understood that the author has tried to avoid any major character deviations from those presented on the televised show. This story assumes that the reader has a detailed understanding of the first three seasons of this show.
Xena: Desert Princess
by Olympus Son
Gabrielle leaned forward on the terrace in the warm sunlight and took a deep, calming breath. She smiled. Below the second story room that she and Xena shared, Gabrielle could see merchants and customers talking to each other, children playfully running through the streets and many tables where all kinds of foods and items were being sold. Life in the Egyptian business city of Zanzanbara seemed to be full of activity. What better place for a bard to spend some time and learn of new stories to tell.
The sun warmed Gabrielle's back as she looked down upon the crowd. She looked in both directions, but there was no sign of the warrior princess. Xena had promised her a much deserved vacation after recent events and the warrior princess had been true to her word as usual. Gabrielle felt reborn, which was to be taken quite literally after her encounter with Hope, Callisto, Ares and Dahoch. . . .She paused. Not today, today is too beautiful to waste on such thoughts. Gabrielle closed her eyes and felt the warmth of the sun as she relaxed onto a small woven chair.
Xena and Gabrielle had been invited to Zanzanbara by none other that Queen Cleopatra. They had both been surprised by the invitation. More than a year had passed since Xena and Gabrielle stopped an assassin from harming the Egyptian Queen. With the help of Autolycus and Joxer, Xena and Gabrielle had caught Joxer's evil brother Jedd and one of the Queen's disloyal guards. Queen Cleopatra had extended her deepest appreciations to the two of them and invited them both to visit her country if ever they had a chance. With the village battle between Rathig and Treemont settled, Xena had suggested that they make the trip to visit with Cleopatra.
Gabrielle had of course taken one of her many scrolls out of its case to write about all of the things she intended to do once she reached Zanzanbara. "A person should always have a list of things they want to do in life." she told Xena as they walked along the road. "Ten things. There that sounds like an even number. Ten things that I want to do while in Egypt."
Xena had looked over at her with a mild amusement as they continued to walk. "Sounds like you've been giving this some thought."
"Oh I have Xena." Gabrielle assured her. "I even have a list of ten things I want to do with my life. I think lists like that are important. It'll be fun to see how my life compares to my dreams in the future. I think I'll start a family tradition, assuming I have a family of course. Before you know it, people everywhere will write down their goals for life and look back on them later to see if they fulfilled them."
Xena looked skeptical. "Everywhere, you think so?"
"You'll see." Gabrielle responded with a smile as she returned to her list. Lets see, so far I've rode on a camel, I've drank cactus juice, I've seen a snake charmer command a snake to dance to the tune of his flute, --- Gabrielle's thoughts were interrupted by the opening of the hotel room door. "Xena, is that you?"
"Yes Gabrielle, its me." Xena fell back onto the bed and threw her hands out to the sides.
"Did your visit with Queen Cleopatra go well?" Gabrielle entered the room and poured a glass of water for her and her friend. "You were gone for some time."
"Thanks." Xena sat up and took the water Gabrielle offered her. She drank it quickly. "Yes, Cleopatra showed me her armed forces of Zanzanbara. Over two thousand soldiers were training in the Eastland flats just outside of the city."
"That sounds like alot of soldiers for a city of this size."
"It is." Xena placed the empty glass on a nearby table.
"We didn't walk into another conflict did we? I hate it when that happens. Giants, warlords, monsters, do they follow us around or what? Please tell me this isn't going to ruin our vacation."
Xena smiled at the concerned look on her friends face. "No Gabrielle, no giants or warlords. The soldiers are just training for an expedition that Cleopatra's nephew, Prince Nelban, is leading into the desert in two days. That's all."
"Oh, I see." Gabrielle shook her head in confirmation. Just as long as her vacation wasn't interrupted, she would be alright. Then she noticed the look on Xena's face. It was the look of a story half told and she was sure that it wasn't going to be what she expected. With Xena it never was.
"There's more?" she asked.
"There's more." Xena responded. "Queen Cleopatra wanted to know if we would like to travel with Prince Nelban and fifty of his best soldiers. I think the Queen would feel better if Prince Nelban has an escort."
"I knew it. I just knew it. Why does this always happen Xena. Why?" asked Gabrielle.
Xena just shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know. It just does. But you know Gabrielle, there's an interesting reason why the Prince is going into the desert. . . It might interest you."
"Really?" Gabrielle's response was more cynical that questioning.
"Prince Nelban is searching for the Lost Tomb of Treasures."
Gabrielle was lost in thought for a moment. Lost tomb. Lost tomb. Treasures. My list, where's my list. She raced excitedly over to her pack and reached for her scroll. Xena looked on with amusement. Gabrielle read down the line to number seven: find an ancient treasure.
Gabrielle looked to her friend and smiled. "When do we leave?"
Gabrielle tried to hide her disgusted look from Xena. She wouldn't dare give Xena the pleasure of teasing her about her discomfort. These camels stink. The Prince's caravan was already two days into its journey. Xena and Gabrielle were positioned toward the front, about seventy feet behind Prince Nelban and his six elite guards. Gabrielle's eyes narrowed. I should have known. Why do I always let Xena get me into these situations?
If Xena was aware of Gabrielle's frustrations, she didn't show it. She remained as calm as ever, her eyes surveying the distant horizon. Xena could see nothing but sand dunes and wind swept sand that slid across the ground ahead. The day was hot but not so hot that the horses and camels couldn't continue along their path. As long as the horses were guided at a gentle pace and given plenty of water there would be no problems. Xena reached down and patted Argo, her trusty horse. "Good girl, good girl!" Argo responded by shaking her head up and down. Prince Nelban had suggested that she take a camel. Xena politely declined his offer. She trusted Argo. Argo had never let her down before. The two of them had a special bond. Argo would see her on her personal journey towards goodness. It was the least Xena owed her for the things she had seen before Xena's change of heart.
Xena rode ahead towards the Prince. His guards momentarily resisted the female's casual approach to royalty, yet they caught themselves and kept their places. Xena guessed that the Prince had informed them of Cleopatra's high regards for the warrior princess. Out of respect for Prince Nelban, Xena chose to hold Argo back a few paces so he might retain the lead of the caravan.
"It's been awhile since you last looked at your drawings." Xena studied what little she could see of Nelban's face. Everyone in the caravan wore cloth across their faces to protect themselves against the sand blowing in the air.
"There's no need for that Xena. The path is true enough. We need only to continue on our present course." Xena admired the Prince's strength and determination. He'd need it to live in this environment. His eyes held years of wisdom that were burned into such a young face. Harsh conditions can do that, she thought to herself regretably. It was an all too familiar subject for her.
"Your men are well trained. Not one of them has broken out of position since we left Zanzanbara." Prince Nelban turned to look at her for a few seconds before looking forward once more. Was that a look of respect? She wondered how much Cleopatra had told him. She had commanded a simular respect from her warriors long, long ago. Not that long ago.
"I should say that you have a rather remarkable friend as well." the Prince responded. "The manner in which she carries herself says that she does not take too well to this journey and yet she does you no disrespect by complaining."
Xena smiled. She had noticed Gabrielle's discomfort. "Yes, she is rather special."
The Prince chanced a personal question that only the two of them could hear. "Perhaps too special for this kind of journey?" The tone of his voice was chosen carefully, with respect to his guest.
"I wouldn't be concerned about her. Gabrielle is a very determined young woman. I've learned alot from being with her."
"Indeed!" was the only response that Nelban gave. Prince Nelban motioned for one of his elite guards to approach him on the side opposite of Xena. "Inform the others that we will make camp in two hours. Make the arrangements." The guard nodded recognition of his orders and traveled back to the caravan.
Its was nearing nightime and the sky around the campfires was a magical combination of blues, pinks, oranges and reds. Xena marvelled at how she had never really taken the time before to notice its beauty. The trees always seemed to obscure sight of the horizon where she and Gabrielle normally travelled. Xena could see Gabrielle in the distance towards the outer edge of the caravan encampment. She was lying on the desert ground near Argo several feet away from her camel. Xena made her way through the encampment to her friend.
"--promise never to complain about your riding pace again." Gabrielle promised Argo. "As a matter of fact, when we get back I promise to buy you a great big bucket of oats. Would you like that?"
Argo shook her head up and down and made a noise. Xena recognized the noise, agreement. She was glad to see that Gabrielle and Argo were taking steps to become friends with one another. "Grow tired of your ride?"
Gabrielle rolled her eyes at the thought of that camel. "You!" She looked at Xena with playful exhaustion. "You never told me that camels could be so disagreeable. I no sooner got off of that thing than it made a hummmmph noise and walked off. Talk about getting the cold shoulder treatment."
Xena stood near Argo and began to brush her mane. "He probably didn't like all of that perfume you were pouring down his sides. Camels can be very tempermental animals."
"Don't I know it." Gabrielle responded. "Now I know why you kept Argo with you for the trip. She doesn't spit and make rude noises."
Xena let out a short laugh but quickly raised her hands in defense. "I'm sorry for laughing Gabrielle but you have to admit you were fidgiting on top of that camel pretty bad."
Gabrielle smiled and then laughed too. "Yeah, well all I've got to say is that things are going to be different tommorrow."
"Uh huh." Xena responded. This should be interesting.
"That camel and I are going to bond. We're going to see things eye to eye."
Xena said nothing. She already knew what was likely to happen before tommorrow ever came. As the night began to reclaim the desert, they both set out a few blankets to sleep on. Gabrielle was looking at the stars until she finally fell asleep. Xena looked far away to the horizon. She could see nothing. She turned to draw a thin blanket over her and closed her eyes. The last thing that Xena could remember was the crackling sounds of the distant campfires.
Gabrielle woke up suddenly to a distant sound. She had been startled and now rubbed her eyes to get rid of her sleepiness. Gabrielle awoke with a jerk. Poor Joxer. She felt bad about smiling at the thought of that phrase. Joxer had been very kind to her after her return from that lava pit. He had attended to her every need for several days before returning to see their friend Meg who had somehow gotten herself into trouble. Imagine that. Xena had shared a secret with her. She told Gabrielle that he was like a hurt little puppy dog after Gabrielle and Hope fell into that lava pit. Xena had been hurt deeply by the loss of Gabrielle as well. They hadn't spoken much about that lately. Gabrielle knew that Ares was a sore spot in Xena's mind and his desire to control her after Gabrielle's apparent death made Xena's blood boil.
It wasn't until then that Gabrielle noticed Xena was missing. Her bed roll was tossed aside as though she had left quickly. Then Gabrielle remembered the noise that had startled her. She looked to the other side of the encampment where several soldiers were gathered. Xena was there as Gabrielle had expected. The soldiers seemed to be lifting a camel that had fallen down. Gabrielle got up, grabbed her staff and walked toward the crowd.
"One, two, three!" Xena shouted as she strained to help the other soldiers lift the camel. They managed to raise the camel enough so that two other soldiers could drag their comrade out from under the dead beast. The camel was returned to the ground and everyone's attention shifted to the fallen soldier.
"Poor guy!" one of the soldiers said.
"Never even saw it coming." was another soldier's response.
"Think it's a sign, an omen?" The third soldier's comment attracted the attention of Derral, one of Prince Nelban's elite guards.
"Nonsense!" Derral responded. "That camel was as old as this desert. I'm surprised that it lived as long as it did."
"It's true." another soldier said. "I told Tonala that thing would fall out from under him one of these days." There were murmers from the crowd as each of them determined for themselves why this tragedy had happened.
"Enough, return to your positions." Derral motioned toward two guards. "You and you, assist this woman in helping Tonala." Derral headed towards the Prince's tent. The two soldiers approached Xena for instructions.
Xena looked around her and then back toward the camel. "I want the two of you to strip that camel of its supplies and divide it out amoung the other men. Then put a blanket over this man so the sand doesn't blow on him." The two men did as they were told. Xena saw Gabrielle's concerned look. She stood and approached her friend.
"Nothing to worry about Gabrielle. Its was just an accident. I've seen this happen before on a couple of occassions."
Gabrielle didn't look entirely convinced. "I've never heard of that before."
Xena tried to ease her friends concern. "What you have to remember Gabrielle is that these animals are used on a daily basis in rough terrain to carry heavy loads." She shrugged her hands in acceptance of the situation. "Tonala shouldn't have slept that close to his camel. None of the other men do."
Xena was probably right. She usually was. Gabrielle was glad now that her camel had walked away the day before. She thought about what one of the soldiers had said. "Do you think this is a sign?"
"No Gabrielle. Just being at the wrong place at the wrong time."
Gabrielle smiled to her friend to let her know that everything was alright. She looked out into the desert toward the never-ending horizon. It's going to be another hot day. Gabrielle returned to where Argo and her camel stood. She folded up their blankets and prepared for the journey ahead.
Look! I'm sure that if we just spend some more time together and get to know one another a little better. . . Gabrielle's camel snorted in her direction once more for what seemed to be the millionth time that day. Stop it, you smelly camel! She looked over at Xena for any signs of a smile but she saw nothing. Xena was busy talking to Prince Nelban as they all sat near the evening campfire. The third and forth day of the expedition had gone without incident except for a fight between two soldiers. Derral had broken up what appeared to be a fight for the same water pouch. The two soldiers owned simular looking pouches. One said that he could not find his from the day before and that it had been stolen. The other claimed that he was just covering up for his clumsiness and thirst. Xena reminded Gabrielle just before the trip that she should keep all of her supplies securely tied to her camel. Drifting sand could easily cover up small items and they would be lost forever. They couldn't afford such carelessness out here in the hot, unwelcoming desert.
Xena, Gabrielle, Prince Nelban and Derral sat near the campfire now. The Prince had sent four of his soldiers and one elite guard back to Zanzanbara with the body of Tonala. Derral had chosen the men himself as was customary for Nelban's second in command. Prince Nelban was telling Xena of Tonala's long line of service to his army before the conversation changed to the tomb.
"It is a fabled tomb of riches," the Prince continued, "a place of wonder. Legend says that whoever holds its riches can rule a mighty kingdom." Xena didn't look entirely impressed by this promise. Gabrielle could see that Derral was equally reserved about this expedition but for his part he said nothing.
"I've heard of such stories before." was all that Xena would say.
"Legend says that the tomb of an ancient Pharoah is lined with a most precious gift. Gold most probably and fine jewels. Enough to keep my kingdom wealthy for years to come."
Derral spoke to Gabrielle. "Legends also say that an evil Djjin watches over the tomb and will punish those that disturb its treasures."
"Oh really, how comforting." Gabrielle was not very greatful for Derral's contribution to the story. That certainly made my day a little bit brighter.
"Now Derral," the Prince interupted his elite guard. "There's no need to worry the young lady. Evil Djjins indeed. They are no more likely than meeting giants or dryads or the like." Nelban let out a quiet laugh as he dismissed the absurd notion. Xena and Gabrielle exchanged a concerned look to one another. They had seen far too many things in their time together to easily dismiss Derral's concerns.
"Awake! Awake!" a soldier shouted in the middle of the night. "A storm approaches!"
Xena was on her feet instantly with sword in hand. Gabrielle reached for her staff. She couldn't see anything. The sky was as dark as the ground in the distance. "What is it Xena?" she asked.
"A storm Gabrielle. A big one. I noticed it two nights ago but I had hoped I was mistaken."
Gabrielle strained her eyes. "Where? I can't see anything."
"Exactly!" Xena explained. "You can't tell the ground from the sky. The sand in the air has blocked out the stars."
Gabrielle looked around her. It was true. In the direction they had come from, she could still see a few stars in the sky. Everywhere else was darkness. It was like the encampment had been closed off from the rest of the desert.
"What do we do?" was all that Gabrielle could think of.
"We watch and wait." Xena looked tense, like she was sizing up an enemy for battle. Within the next hour a faint howling sound could be heard from the far side of the camp. Soldiers were scrambling around trying to secure their possessions and awaken their comrades. Derral and the other elite guards were securing the Prince's tent and listening to his orders.
Then the storm hit. A warm blast of wind swept through the camp and the sound of the dreaded desert storm raised its voice. Small dish pans and untied canvas took flight in the wind. Xena told Gabrielle to put her turbin back on so that she wouldn't breath any of the sand that filled the air. Gabrielle did as she was told and stood so that her camel protected her from the full strength of the winds.
Argo walked toward Xena as she pulled on her horse's reigns. She looked toward the center of the camp at the confusion the storm was creating. The Prince's tent was shaking violently as the wind beat against its canvas sides. Two of Nelban's elite guards were standing out in the storm securing the corner poles that faced the wind. All around the encampment, Xena could see men scurrying around trying to find cover from the sand storm. One camel broke free from its' master and ran out of the encampment. Xena was concerned that the owner might foolishly plunge out into the unknown, but he didn't. He stood his ground even though he must have known the storm would likely claim his prized camel.
Just then, Xena heard an echoing, wooden sound. Something was in the air. Xena looked toward the encampment and saw an unsecured tent pole flying through the air directly toward her position. The force of the wind had turned the tent pole into a spear. "Get down Gabrielle!"
Gabrielle dropped to the ground just seconds before the pole flew throught the air where the young bard had just been standing. Xena could see the scared look on Gabrielle's face as they both watched the tent pole strike into the ground just a few feet from their position. Gabrielle tried to shout something but the deafening roar of the wind drowned out her message.
Xena could just barely make out the sounds of yelling deeper into the encampment. She could see three of the soldiers running out of the secured area deep into the storm. Fools! What are they doing? There camels had not run from them. For some reason they had been scared by something and were running right into the arms of the storm that would consume them. Only one other soldier besides Xena seemed to notice their mistake. It was Derral. He was waving his hands in the air at them but they didn't notice his warning. Just then a few pots flew through the air and caused Derral to dive to the ground. It was up to Xena to do something. She jumped onto Argo and rode off in the direction of the three soldiers. Out into the all consuming storm.
Gabrielle yelled at her not to go but she couldn't be heard. Her friend's bravery might cost her her life. She was tempted to follow her friend, but Gabrielle relized that her camel was no match for Argo's speed. She prayed to the Greek gods that they might protect her friend Xena. I hope you can hear me this far away from home.
The storm seemed to grow worse as Xena left the encampment. She tried to turn her approach to the soldiers so that Argo didn't have to run directly into the sand storm. If Argo breathed too much sand into her lungs and died, Xena knew she would end up needing rescue as well. Xena had lost sight of the first two soldiers and so she headed toward what she thought was the faint image of the third one.
As Xena approached him, she could see that the third soldier had fallen to the ground with his hands stretched up to the sky as if to hold something back. It wasn't until then that Xena noticed a slight chill in the air. She moved in closer toward the soldier and dismounted Argo. Something was in the air above the soldier. Something that looked like it had teeth. Xena didn't know exactly what she was seeing. All she knew was that she had to do something. With her sword in hand, the warrior princess gave out a battle cry and charged forward toward the desert demon of the storm.
Xena awoke to a blinding light and an intense pain which centered itself somewhere in her head. She could tell by the position of her body that she was sitting upright but she couldn't quite yet bring herself to focus her vision. Someone was breathing heavily next to her. Argo! It was Argo. She shook her head to clear her thinking. That's when Xena noticed her arms and legs were pinned down. She began to struggle frantically.
"By the gods Xena, you're alive!" Gabrielle moved in front of her. She brushed a clean cloth across Xena's forehead and the pain returned with a vengance. "Oh, I'm sorry Xena. I didn't mean to hurt you."
"That's alright Gabrielle. It doesn't hurt that bad."
Gabrielle hugged Xena for a good five seconds before letting her go. "I thought you might be dead. Nobody had heard from you and you hadn't returned from last night. Then we went to look for you and only saw Argo sitting neck deep in the sand."
Neck deep in the sand? What is Gabrielle talking about? Xena realized that she must have taken a blow to the head and that she had become unconscious. Not knowing what to do, Argo had sat down behind her and propped her up so that the shifting sand wouldn't burry her alive. "Good girl, Argo."
"Don't worry Xena," Gabrielle tried to reassure her, "We'll have you and Argo out of the sand in no time." Derral and six soldiers helped Gabrielle to free Xena and Argo from the sand within ten minutes. Xena took some time to get her bearings before she surveyed the area for the three soldiers.
"Where are they?" she asked.
"Where are who Xena?" Gabrielle responded.
"The three soldiers." Derral approached the two women. "They're dead presumably."
"Presumably?" Xena asked in disbelief. "You mean you haven't looked for them."
Derral stretched his arms out and swept them back and forth questionably. "There is nothing here but sand dunes now. Where would you have me look?"
Gabrielle and Xena looked stunned at Derral's casual dismisal of his soldiers. His words seemed callous, but the tone in his voice conveyed the absurdity of such a futile effort. "We could spend days digging into this sand and never find them. We only have a limited amount of supplies. They are already dead and burried." He seemed to be trying to convince himself more than the two women in front of him. "Let's just leave it at that, shall we."
Xena said nothing on their return to the encampment. Derral had not seemed the kind of man who would abandon his soldiers so easily. Any further arguments to search for them would probably prove useless, but she had to try. She had been right. The Prince would not allow for a rescue and search of the area where she had been found.
"But why not?" Xena argued. "Gabrielle and I can stay behind with a few soldiers and search the area. We could rejoin you by the end of the day."
"No, Xena! I will not hear of it. The two of you are my guests and I will not risk any further harm coming to you. Those men lost their lives because they left the protection of the encampment. Now you would have me send women and more soldiers away from the caravan?" Nelban quickly dismissed them. Derral tried to express sympathy toward Xena, but she wasn't in a listening mood. She left the tent and took Argo by the reigns toward the outer area of the camp. Gabrielle had a hard time just keeping up with her pace. Xena had a determined look in her eyes and Gabrielle knew that that meant trouble.
"I don't understand, Xena. You were willing to accept the death of Tonala. Why can't you accept the death of those soldiers?" asked Gabrielle.
Xena stopped and turned toward her friend. "It's not their deaths that bother me as much as the ease to which Prince Nelban is willing to abandon them. I know what I saw out there Gabrielle." She had told Gabrielle about the unexplained image she had seen above the fearful soldier. "I want to see for myself what happened to those men. I don't believe that some piece of debris from the storm hit me in the head as Derral suggested. He knows something or at least is suspicious of something. I intend to find out what that is."
"Mind if I tag along?" Gabrielle asked. The two of them had reached the edge of the encampment and Xena was preparing to mount her horse.
Xena decided to lighten the mood of the conversation for Gabrielle's benifit. "You sure your camel won't mind?"
"Not at all." Gabrielle gave an enthusiastic response. "As a matter of fact, I think my camel's speed may surprise you."
"Sure! Last night just before the storm, I was thinking about a way to make my camel run faster when I had a brilliant idea." Xena was waiting for her explanation. "If I could find a way to tie a flask of water in front of the camel's face so that he could see it, he would keep running toward the water and I could get wherever I wanted to go much faster." Gabrielle placed her hands on her hips and smiled as though she had just created some great new invention.
"I hate to disappoint you Gabrielle, but camels can go without water for days. A small flask of water wont do the job." Xena explained.
Gabrielle looked mildly frustrated. Her brilliant plan wasn't going to work after all. "I don't understand. Farmers use carrots with their horses and get good results.
Xena smiled. "Now hurry up and get to your camel Gabrielle. We'll need to leave now if we're to rejoin the caravan before nightfall."
Xena and Gabrielle had been digging in the sand for several hours with no results. Gabrielle wasn't sure that they would find anything. The blowing sand had almost already smoothed out the area where Xena had been trapped earlier that day. Gabrielle decided it was time for a break. She reached into her camel's pouch and took out a big stick.
"What are you doing with that stick Gabrielle?" Xena had stopped her digging and was looking at her friend.
"I'm looking for water. A merchant in Zanzanbara sold it to me. He told me that if this stick were pointed toward the ground it would lead me to water."
Xena shook her head in disbelief, "Was this the same man that tried to sell you the sand hour glass without any sand in it?"
"No." Gabrielle responded. She mumbled to herself quietly. "That was the merchant next to him."
Xena laughed to herself and returned to her digging. Gabrielle dismissed her friends lack of appreciation for science. She walked around for about twenty minutes before the stick dropped to the ground. She was so happy. The stick had worked. Xena still wasn't entirely convinced, but she agreed to dig where Gabrielle was standing. After a few minutes, Xena uncovered the soldier that she had seen from the night before. The stick had pointed straight at his water bottle. Xena tried her best to ignore Gabrielle's victoreous attitude.
The soldier's hands were frozen in mid-air just as Xena had remembered them. He had been holding something away from him. Xena remembered now that it was something with teeth. Xena's focus on those troubling memories drew a concerned look from Gabrielle. "I'm alright Gabrielle. I was just trying to remember what happened."
Something had hit her in the head and had made her go unconscious. She remembered charging toward something and getting knocked back. That was all she could remember. "Well, one thing is for certain. He didn't die because of the storm."
"No?" asked Gabrielle.
"This man died of shock, of fear." Xena explained. "He died in the exact position that I saw him in when I approached him. His body isn't positioned like a desparate man trying to dig his way out of a pile of sand. He was backing away from something when the shock of the attack proved too much for him."
Xena looked at the man's hands. One of them was clutching some piece of jewelry. A piece of jewelry of religious significance. "Come on Gabrielle. Let's go." Xena used her shovel to push the sand back over the soldier's dead body. Their work was finished here. As they began to ride back to the direction of the encampment, both of them could hear the fast approach of several horses in the distance.
Derral and three soldiers rode up to Xena's position and stopped just a few feet away from her. Xena could feel Argo shift her body to the side opposite of Derral and his men. They had startled her. Xena patted Argo on the sides to calm her nerves.
"That was a very foolish thing to do Xena." Derral remarked. "the Prince made his wishes quite clear about your not leaving the camp."
Xena looked at him defiantly. "I wished to see what was out here."
Derral paused for a few seconds and decided not to pursue the point any further. "What did you find? One of my men?"
"As a matter of fact, yes. Not that you bothered to look yourself."
Derral averted her gaze. "I wanted to look for them."
Xena ignored his weak apology. "I only found one of them. The man was scared. He was scared to death by something out here."
Derral's men looked at each other with uncertainty. They looked worried. Derral glared back at them to keep thier composure. They were supposed to be royal soldiers of Prince Nelban, not scared children. Derral addressed Xena. "What do you think he saw?"
"Something bad enough for him to pray to his gods?" Xena pointed to a necklace belonging to one of Derral's soldiers. "One of his hands was clutching that. It was around his neck."
"The demon." One of the soldiers mumbled to the others.
"Silence!" commanded Derral.
Xena nodded her head toward the soldier. "What demon?"
The soldier saw Derral's anger and would not speak. Derral finally relented and spoke to Xena. "Every religion has good and bad tales. Ours tells of an evil Djjin that lives in this desert. He protects the tomb which Prince Nelban intends to find. "
"But why?" asked Gabrielle. "What possible reason would a Djjin have for wanting to keep us from finding an old tomb?"
"Who can trully ever know the thoughts of such creatures?" Derral responded. "Perhaps they are evil with a purpose. Perhaps they are evil and bored. All that truely matters is that they are evil."
Xena and Gabrielle returned to the encampment with Derral and his men. The Prince was furious. He did not want to see Xena at all which suited her fine. Everyone went to sleep that night hoping the tension would fade with the beginning of a new day.
The tension remained. Gabrielle could see that Xena was still angry by the way she rode upon Argo. Prince Nelban had said nothing to Xena or Gabrielle for the entire day. Only his elite guards approached him for instructions as the caravan proceeded further through the desert. Gabrielle had seen a doubtful look on more than one soldier's face. Xena had learned that the runaway camel from the night of the storm had been found. It had died standing. Fear had struck a horrible look on the beast's face. Word of Xena's find yesterday only fueled that apprehensive mood within the caravan group.
As the caravan continued on its journey, everyone suddenly stopped as there ears began to pop. Gabrielle could feel a definite drop in the air pressure surrounding her. She looked to Xena for some kind of an answer but recieved none. The warrior princess was inspecting the sky above and around them.
Several hundred feet in front of Prince Nelban a shimmering object was forming in front of them all. The shape began to resemble the upper torso of a man. He was a dark olive-skinned man. His bald head had a small patch of hair toward the back which was tied into a pony-tail. The image of a man held contempt within his eyes. Xena slowly allowed Argo to stroll forward toward the Prince's position.
"Who dares intrude upon my domain?!" the man bellowed.
No one said a word. The Prince was trying to decide what to say to this magical creature. He had waited too long to find his response.
"Who indeed!!" The magical Djjin spread his hands to either side of the caravan. Two great columns of swirling air appeared on either side of the caravan. The Djjin brought his hands together toward the center of the caravan and then he disappeared. His haunting laugh echoed on after he disappeared. The two columns of air moved into the caravan.
"Watch out!" Xena warned. "Scatter!"
The two columns of air cut a path right through the center of the caravan. Soldiers were picked up from their horses and camels. They were twirled around in the air before being thrown to the ground. Gabrielle could see in the ensuing chaos that none of the men who had been thrown to the ground moved afterwards. Horses and camels were bolting off into many different directions. Gabrielle's camel was no exception. As her camel ran along the outer edge of the caravan, Gabrielle glimpsed the image of a camel being thown around in the air between the two cyclones. The rider tried to hold onto the camel's reigns, but he was pulled away by the strong winds and thrown to the ground like a rag doll.
Two soldiers ran their horses from the caravan back into the desert. One of the cyclones turned and approached them. It first picked up one and then the other soldier along with their horses and tossed them into the sand on the other side of a nearby sand dune. The cyclone then lost its strength and sand rained down upon the desert to the west of the caravan.
Unfortunately for Gabrielle, her camel had decided to run from the caravan too. Gabrielle's eyes grew wide with fear as she saw the towering cyclone begin to approach her. She could feel sand sting the back of her neck as it rushed through the air. Just as the cyclone was ready to pull her up into the air, Gabrielle heard a familiar cry.
"Iye yi yi yi yieeee!!!" Xena slammed into Gabrielle's side and threw her to the ground. Gabrielle bit her tongue when she slammed into the ground. Her eyes teared immediately. The two of them lie back into the sand as much as they possibly could as the cyclone passed by them. It's sound was deafening. Gabrielle's camel gave out a pleading cry as it was hoisted up into the air and tossed around. Gabrielle desperately wanted to reach out to her poor camel, but Xena held her firmly in place.
A few seconds passed. The cyclone threw the camel to the ground. Gabrielle could hear the camel's body hit the ground in the distance. The cyclone then lost its strength and a shower of sand fell upon the two women. Gabrielle brushed sand off of her and sat up. Xena was already standing. She was surveying the Djjin's damage.
Prince Nelban and two of his elite guards were inspecting the ground where the Djjin had appeared. Derral, the other elite guards and soldiers helped their wounded comrades. A quick survey of the damage revealed to Xena that eight men had lost their lives and four were seriously injured. Five camels and three horse had been lost. Xena approached the Prince while Gabrielle helped to care for the wounded soldiers.
"Your precious tomb of treasures has cost twelve men their lives." Prince Nelban's guards were shocked by the woman's words. It was unheard of for a woman to speak in an authoritative manner.
Nelban was outraged. "Leave me!" he told his guards. They left to help the others.
"Do you know how many men I have sent to their deaths during battle? Much more than twelve."
"Oh, just wonderful!" Xena quiped. "Is this the motivation speech you give all of your troops?"
"My troops are my concern, Xena! See that you remember that!" Prince Nelban left Xena to return to his troops. Xena stared at him as he left. She looked at the ground in front of her for a few minutes, then she joined Gabrielle who was bandaging a soldier's sore arm.
"Will we be turning back, Xena?" Gabrielle asked hopefully.
"No, Gabrielle." Xena looked regretfully on toward the determined young prince. "Some people are destined to meet their goals in life no matter how much harm they cause to themselves and to others."
The next day was passing along without any incidents although Prince Nelban's soldiers were noticably tense. Gabrielle could see each of them glancing off into the distance from time to time, worring about what might lie beyond the next sand dune. The caravan remained quiet. Only the labored breathing of the horses and camels could be heard. Gabrielle held onto Xena's shoulders. The two of them were sharing a ride on Argo since Gabrielle had lost her camel on the previous day.
Xena hoped that that incident hadn't scared Gabrielle too badly. Gabrielle was a strong-willed young woman but everyone had their limits. Xena and Prince Nelban had not spoken to each other today. Neither one of them had anything pleasant to say to one another. Xena felt that Nelban was taking unwarranted risks with his men. Risks which went beyond the command decisions necessary to control an army. The Djjin should have been enough proof to convince him, but Nelban held a determined look in his eyes that made Xena consider her options if danger struck again. She hoped she wouldn't have to follow through with any of them.
Prince Nelban and one of his elite guards stopped at the top of a sand dune to survey their desert surroundings. Nelban pulled out a jeweled eye-piece and looked through it to see the distant horizon. He moved the eye-piece back and forth until he spotted a small dark object to the left of his position.
"It's there!" Prince Nelban shouted. "The tomb! As promised!"
Smiles spread across the faces of the soldiers. The tension within the caravan seemed to have lifted at the Prince's declaration. Only one face showed further concern. Xena looked on toward Prince Nelban as he led the caravan forward. She was sure that they hadn't seen the last of the Djjin.
As if on cue, both Xena and Gabrielle heard one of the horses in the back of the caravan let out a peircing wail. The soldier was thrown to the ground. Others stopped to look back. The soldier looked healthy. The horse had probably sprained an ankle. Then Xena saw something that made her blood run cold. A scorpion ran across the desert sand and dug itself back into the ground.
Another horse cried out in pain. The sound of a soldier hitting the ground was much closer this time. Xena and Gabrielle looked to their right side and saw a repeat of what had just happened before. Another scorpion dug itself back into the ground. Now a camel near the lead of the caravan cried out in pain. Another horse was hurt, then another camel. Xena's eyes raced across the ground. She could see one scorpion after another rising up out of the sand to attack the caravan.
Soldiers took hold of their swords, but that was of no use. They were mounted too high upon their horses and camels to effectively strike down at the poisionous insects. Xena could hear that a soldier in the rear of the caravan had been hit by a scorpion. He cried out in pain. His sword struck uselessly into the sand. The scorpion had already left to find its next target.
"Hold on, Gabrielle!" Xena prompted Argo to race forward toward the front of the caravan. She could see one of Prince Nelban's elite guards standing on the ground. The elite guard had dispatched of one the scorpions and was in the process of doing the same to another one. Just then, Xena and Gabrielle lurched to the side. Argo had seen a scorpion approaching and she had moved out of the way.
Gabrielle was thrown to the desert ground. She quickly stood and took her staff in hand. As a scorpion crawled toward her, she struck it with the end of her staff. Her staff found its target and the scorpion was no longer a threat. Xena quickly pulled Gabrielle back onto Argo and they rode on to the front of the caravan. Prince Nelban was not there. Xena could see that he and one of his guards were racing toward the distant tomb. They had abandoned the caravan to the scorpions.
The elite guard who had so efficiently dispatched of two scorpions now lied motionless on the ground. A third scorpion had apparently found its target. Xena looked back toward the caravan and the ensueing chaos. Almost half of the caravan had been taken down already. Xena didn't care for Nelban's show of cowardice, but at the moment his actions seemed the best thing to do. None of them could last much longer in the midst of this deadly trap.
"Everyone!" Xena shouted. "Ride toward the tomb! Come on, move! Move!!"
Xena didn't dare look behind her to see who was following her instructions. She was too busy trying to avoid the scorpions that were crossing into her path. Gabrielle was holding her hands tightly around Xena's waist. Her hands felt like they were cutting into Xena's ribs, but Xena didn't have the time right now to worry about that. She had to avoid those scorpions. Luckily for her, Argo was of the same mind. Argo spotted and avoided a few scorpions that even Xena hadn't seen.
Ten minutes passed by before Xena bothered to slow down Argo's speed. They had reached the entrance of the tomb. Prince Nelban's horse and the horse of one of his soldiers could be seen outside of the tomb entrance. Xena looked back from the direction she had just came. She could see a few horses running toward her direction. Too few. Within a few minutes Derral and three of his soldiers arrived. Xena could tell by the grim look on Derral's face that they were the only ones who had escaped the scorpions' ambush. The six of them dismounted from their horses and entered the tomb.
Torchlit images flickered across the tomb's floor as a steady, light breeze entered the first chamber. Torches sat in their holders on the tomb walls spaced ten feet apart. Xena moved forward cautiously. She held her sword in front of her to meet any sudden challenges. The tomb had a musky, humid feel to it as any abandoned, enclosed structure might have in the heat of a desert. All kinds of sounds could be heard. Insects and small rodents moved across the sand floor. Water dripped in the distance. The wind created a slight whistling effect as it passed through loosely placed bricks. Xena's concerns were not based on what she could hear, but what she couldn't hear. Prince Nelban and his soldier could not be seen or heard from where Xena stood, so she and the others slowly entered further into the tomb.
Gabrielle ran her hand across the wall of the tomb as she moved forward. The walls were damp. There was water in the tomb. The thought of water in a desert tomb suprised Gabrielle. It was probably just a build-up of moisture held over from years ago when it may have rarely rained in the desert. Gabrielle was sure that with such a narrow opening to the front of the tomb, any moisture which drifted into here would remain trapped indefinitely.
The narrow entry hall widened into a huge chamber. Xena could see Nelban's soldier lying face down on the ground. He had been facing their direction when he fell. His hands were dug into the damp sand as though he had been clawing his way from the direction they were now headed toward. Xena knew that wasn't a good sign. She motioned for the others to stop while she looked all around the large chamber. Nothing. They moved cautiously forward.
Xena and the others passed through a few more winding passage-ways before they entered another large chamber. Rotting wooden benches stood aligned within the center of the room. This room had once been a place of worship, though Xena had no idea what the nature of the diety had been at that time. She could see Prince Nelban on the far side of the room. He remained motionless on his knees with his arms raised toward a huge golden gem set into the wall. Xena could hear water dripping into a water basin at the side of the room. The noise of the driping water was distracting her senses. She glared annoyingly at the water basin before quietly approaching Prince Nelban.
Xena slowly reached out to touch Prince Nelban's shoulder when he suddenly spun around and surprised her. His eyes were of a golden glow that matched the gem embedded into the wall. Xena could sense by the slow, powerful way that the Prince rose to his feet that she was no longer dealing with Nelban. Something was in possession of his body. Something that was not pleased with the sight of more intruders.
"Who dares intrude upon my domain?" Prince Nelban spoke with the quietest of whispers which sent a chill down Xena's spine. The Djjin had spoken those same words in the desert just before two mighty columns of wind had torn into the caravan.
"Xena." It was all that Xena could think of on such short notice.
"Xena, indeed." Nelban whispered. His finger pointed toward her and the warrior princess was lifted into the air by some unseen force. The prince pointed at the far wall and Xena was thrown back until she hit the wall and fell to the ground.
Gabrielle could see that Xena had had the wind knocked out of her, but she stood back up anyway. One of Derral's soldiers charged toward the prince with a sword. He was quickly lifted into the air and thrown back down. The prince's hand moved once more and the soldiers neck gave way with a snap. Gabrielle cringed at the sight of Nelban's action. She ran toward Xena as the other two soldiers charged toward the prince.
Nelban quickly disposed of the other two soldiers and then lifted both of his hands. Derral and Gabrielle rose into the air by an unseen force. Pressure was being exerted to their throughts. Each of them was gasping for air.
Xena reached for her chakrum. With the prince fully occupied with holding her two friends in the air, she could make her move. She made her calculations. With a few quick richocetes, the chakrum would strike Nelban from behind. Xena would charge him from the front. One way or the other, he was going down. She picked up her sword and prepared for the confrontation ahead when a funny thought struck her. She was instantly mad at the distraction-- the sound of the water dripping into the water basin. Hesitation could cost her her friends' lives.
"Behold!" Nelban shouted, "The fate of all who seek to take my treasure from me!"
Xena stood up and slowly, calmly walked toward Nelban. Her sword and chakram had been left behind. Nelban looked down upon her with contempt. He dropped Gabrielle and Derral to the ground to deal with the female warrior. Gabrielle and Derral coughed. Each of them was too busy trying to regain their breath to be aware of their surroundings.
"Enough!" Xena declared. She dropped to her knees in front of the prince. "They have nothing to do with this. I'm the one who led them here. If anyone deserves to be punished, it's me."
Nelban looked down at her. "No! It was not you." He pointed at himself. "It was this one. He held the foolish desire to take that which did not belong to him." Nelban paused. "Did he think that time would change my claim to possession of my treasures?"
Xena didn't know what to say. She could not be certain how to speak on behalf of a man who was possessed by a Djjin. "I seek a different treasure. A treasure far greater than jewels and power."
This statement had the desired effect. The anger on Nelban's face eased slightly. He held a growing look of question in his eyes but Xena knew that the danger was still there. "What treasure is this?"
"The life of my friend." Xena looked back toward Gabrielle who was struggling to reach the water basin. She could see that Gabrielle's neck was red from the choke hold the Djjin had used on her.
"Please." Xena whispered. "Her life is a more important treasure to me than all of the treasure in this desert. It always has been. I was once more violent and selfish than any you have seen, but she changed me. She continues to change me. Please don't take that promise away from me." Xena hadn't realized the strength of her own words until she finished speaking to the Djjin. Her eyes were wet with tears.
Xena and the Djjin both held their positions. Neither knew what to say. The Djjin responded with a thougthtful voice. "It has been a long time since I have heard an honorable request." The anger was still there, but it was checked by reason now. "For decades I have seen only greed and blindness."
Xena listened. Somehow she knew that the Djjin, like any person who had been wronged in the past, wanted only to have his say on matters of importance. "People such as this," He pointed to the body he controlled once more, "who seek only power and wealth. They would kill each other a hundreds times over to control each other and yet they dare proclaim me as evil because I protect that which is mine."
"I remember a time when magical Djjins ruled the sands and far beyond. . ." The Djjin's attention seemed to faulter as though he were reminicing of the past. Nelban's face grew neutral of anger. Xena remained quiet. She thought she could almost see the faintest hints of a smile move across Nelban's face.
The Djjin looked down toward the warrior princess and spoke with a gentleness. "Go then. You have shown your worth. You have granted a mighty Djjin a great wish--the promise of hope. You may travel back unharmed." The Djjin looked toward Gabrielle and nodded his head in approval.
"She is wise indeed." The Djjin looked on as Gabrielle drank the water which filled the water basin. "She has seen the true treasure within this tomb."
Xena instantly knew what the Djjin had meant. There was no gold or jewels in this tomb. The treasure was obvious. A treasure that she would not have seen had it not been for Gabrielle. The water. This is a desert. The water.
"The water is as pure and valuable as the heart who seeks it." Xena said to herself. She looked up toward the Djjin. "What about the prince?"
The Djjin responded with a sad tone to his voice. "He is no more." The Djjin looked thoughtfully at Gabrielle. "He never was at all."
The Djjin lowered Nelban's body to the ground and released his possession of the Prince's body. Nelban's eyes closed and his breathing stopped. Xena remained where she was for a few minutes before her own thoughts cleared and she heard Derral's labored breathing. She saw that Gabrielle had finished drinking from the water basin. Gabrielle smiled wearily as her friend approached. Xena cupped her hands and dipped them into the water. She took the water to Derral so that he might share in the treasure that had been found.
"Is everything alright, Xena?" asked Gabrielle. She could see that Xena's eyes were wet with tears.
"Sure." Xena responded simply. She smiled at the young bard and brushed her hand across Gabrielle's golden, soft hair. She continues to change me. . .for the better. "Everything's just fine. Let's go home."
I hope that you enjoyed this piece of fan fiction. If you have any thoughts or suggestions about this story or my style of writing please send them to me at: OlympusSon@aol.com.
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