~ The Stranger of My Heart ~
by Red Hope

Disclaimer & Notices
Copyright: I do not own the Xena concept and certain characters but the plot is all mine.
Violence: There is violence.
Subtext: Yes, this where subtext is maintext.

Summary: The sequel to A Stranger in my Family and A Strange Interlude: I Had a Strange Dream. The Conqueror's dreams about her time in Chin, Japa, and India suddenly play an important role in freeing a heroic warrior's locked soul. Meanwhile the realm wages deeper into war against the Britanni, but Gabrielle stumbles across information that the rebellion may be a diversion for something far more evil. Time becomes increasingly precious though, and the Conqueror must find the answers before everything is undone.

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Started: June 25, 2007
Series 8: I, Stranger - Story #4

Chapter 1 - Good Morning, My Liege

Xena was stirred from her sleep by the bird's whistle in the window. She released a low groan and touched her pounding forehead. She lifted her head off the back of the chair and caught a brief sight of the bird, who squawked and flew off the window's ledge.

Gradually Xena absorbed her surroundings and her eyebrows started to meet together. She knew she was in some office, but she didn't know where it was located. She lowered her eyes to the desk and focused on the open scroll in front of her. It was some formal document that had to do with some naming convention.

After a moment, Xena shook her head then pushed the chair back which caused a scraping sound in the office. She stood up carefully as if she didn't trust her legs to hold her weight. She scanned the office again with fresh eyes and hoped to find something familiar about the room. Finally a map on the right wall captured her attention, and she went to it.

The large map came into focus, and it depicted a vast empire that stretched on for thousands of Roman miles. Then what pulled at Xena's attention was the area of the map that displayed Britannia. Xena touched the red markers that clearly indicated enemy units. She shook her head because she recalled using such military markers on her scroll maps back when she was a warlord. The only exception was that the purple units, which were friendly units, were enormous compared to the units she'd used while a warlord.

Carefully Xena leaned closer to the map and read the small lettering on one land unit. She read aloud, "Legio XIV." She shifted back to her earlier position and touched her aching forehead. She then took in all the purple units and roughly counted over fifty Roman legions. She hadn't even accounted for the cavalry, siege, and naval units. "Gods," she breathed. Xena lifted her right hand and extended her index finger. Just as her fingertip almost pressed into the star position for Corinth there was a low knock at the door.

Xena jumped back and quickly turned around to the door. She instinctively reached for her sword's hilt, but she just let her fingertips scrape the black hilt. She lowered her hand, took a deep breath, and called, "Come in."

The door creaked open and fair haired blond slipped into the office. She closed the door and warmly greeted, "Good morning, my liege."

Xena was absolutely relieved and quickly crossed the distance. "Gabrielle, where are we? How am I ali..." Then she stopped short when she realized what Gabrielle had called her.

Gabrielle halted in front of Xena. She lifted her hand, almost ready to make contact, but she stopped. "Xena, what's wrong?" She came slightly closer and gently added, "We're in your office... you've been here since sunrise."

Xena shook her head and questioned, "What time is it now?"

"It's about three candlemarks after sunrise." Gabrielle became increasingly worried about her partner's strange state. "What's wrong? You're not acting yourself."

Xena wasn't sure what to do, but she wasn't positive who to trust. She quickly replied, "I'm fine. Thank you."

Gabrielle didn't believe it. She then decided to test her lover so she offered, "Do you want to help me feed Galen?" She felt like her question was idiotic to her, but Xena's response would tell her plenty.

"No, you go ahead and feed him." Xena stepped away but a nimble hand had her wrist. She turned back to the young bard.

"You're not Xena," the bard clearly stated. She shook her head and corrected, "At least not the same Xena." She raised an eyebrow and clarified, "Galen is your assistant."

Xena matched the arched eyebrow once she realized she'd been tricked. She knew Gabrielle was young, but she was clearly more perceptive than the young Gabrielle she once knew.

"Who are you?" the bard gently urged.

Xena searched the bard's trusting eyes. She knew she had to be in some alternate reality, and she'd dealt with them in past times too. She licked her lips and decided if she couldn't trust Gabrielle then she was already lost. "I am Xena."

Gabrielle loosened her hold on the older woman's wrist. She needed to test the waters and Melinda Pappas's story about a heroic Xena came to mind. She carefully asked, "Are you a warrior that fights for the Greater Good? We're partners and ride around the country side, right?"

Xena was speechless that the bard had pegged her. She slightly grinned and nodded.

Gabrielle released Xena's wrist and murmured, "Wow." She studied the warrior in a new light. "I... wow. I'm not sure what to say."

"Neither am I," Xena admitted. "Well, I wouldn't mind knowing where I am."

"I think more importantly you need to know who you are," the Amazon Queen argued. She then pointed at the sofa located in the middle of the office. "Sit down."

Xena quickly agreed that she needed to sit for this long conversation. She couldn't guess what Gabrielle had to tell her, but she wasn't at all prepared for what Gabrielle did tell her. She felt her world turn upside down when she discovered she was the ruler of the largest empire in history. Gabrielle then told her about her great descendants that came to this world and that's how Gabrielle found out about Xena, the Warrior Princess; the warrior for the Greater Good.

At the end of the endless candlemarks, Xena bowed her head and touched her still pounding head. She tried to shake the headache but the conversation seemed to encourage it. She had so much information to deal with, but it didn't explain why she was here.

"You two must have switched places," Gabrielle theorized. She dropped her head against the sofa, and her thoughts went out to her lover.

"How though?" Xena leaned heavily against the sofa. She stretched out her legs under the small table.

Gabrielle thought for a beat then asked, "What were you and Gabrielle doing before you came here?" She thought maybe the warrior would bring up the Cronos Stone, which would be the only explanation that she could think of right now.

The Warrior Princess was silent, then she quietly answered, "Gabrielle was in Egypt."

"Well, where were you?" the bard tried.

Xena stopped staring at the table and turned her head to Gabrielle. "I was dead."

Gabrielle blinked and stared at the warrior. She released her held breath and disbelievingly asked, "Dead?"

"Yes." Xena climbed to her feet and walked around the sofa.

Gabrielle popped up from the sofa and turned. "How can you be alive if..."

Xena kept her back to the bard. "I don't know." She folded her arms over her bronze chest. She was poised in her regular brown leathers, swirling bronze armor, sword on her back, and her boots with grieves.

The Amazon Queen had seen the attire on her lover in past times. She noticed that this Xena though didn't wear a Gaelic necklace or a chakram. "This is really confusing."

"You're telling me," the warrior muttered. She dipped her head and massaged her aching forehead.

Gabrielle came over when she realized the woman was in pain. She raised her hands up quickly and placed her fingertips to the warrior's temples. She gently massaged the ache away. "So we have to figure out how and why you're here."

"And why I'm alive," Xena softly added. She closed her eyes and enjoyed the bard's administrations.

The Amazon Queen bit her lower lip, but she had to know the answer. "Why... how did you die?"

The warrior sighed and whispered, "It's a long story."

Gabrielle could tell Xena was too worn to discuss it now. She needed to let it go.

"I'll tell you later," the warrior promised.

"Alright." Gabrielle pulled away her hands and placed her palms against Xena's cheeks. "Are you hungry?" She glanced out the window and noticed the sun was kissing the western horizon already. She couldn't believe how fast the time went while she talked to Xena.

"I am actually," Xena confessed. She lifted her head and felt her headache had lessened.

Gabrielle slightly smiled at the news of an appetite. She broke away from saying anything else when there was a sharp knock at the door.

Xena realized she couldn't escape the person at her door. She sighed and called, "Come in."

The Amazon Queen turned and prepared to do what she could to help Xena through this mess. She hoped it was Galen with simple, meager tasks, but any luck wasn't meant to be today. The door opened and revealed Commander Meleager, and Gabrielle inwardly groaned at what this meant.

"Good evening, my liege." The commander bowed after he closed the door. He then greeted, "Good evening, Queen Gabrielle."

The bard dipped her head respectfully. "How are you, Commander Meleager?" She hoped her name prompt would help the warrior.

Xena wasn't bugged eye on the outside, however, inwardly she was stunned to see the older warrior was her chief commander in this world.

"I apologize if I disturbed you," the commander carefully offered.

Gabrielle quickly jumped into the conversation. "No, actually the Conqueror and I were just discussing the rebellion in Britannia."

The commander glanced between the Conqueror and the Amazon Queen because he would have never expected such between the couple. He thought the former rebel leader would be discouraged to discuss it, but apparently he was wrong. "Yes well... I have some news about it, my liege." He hoped his gentle hint would remind his leader that it was for her ears only and not the bard's too.

Xena felt the tension build in her. She then recalled Gabrielle's earlier information that the Conqueror had elected Gabrielle as the head of the polis. She figured she could take advantage of that factor now. "Whatever news you have, I'm sure the advisor of state can hear too, commander."

Commander Meleager opened his mouth for an argument, yet he was silenced.

"Go on, commander," the ruler ordered.

Gabrielle was smug, and she tried hard to not show it. She needed to be focused and help the warrior through this difficult conversation.

Commander Meleager straightened out his back and linked his hands between his back and red cape. He then mentally pulled out the recent news from the battle field. "Legio VII and IX have succesfully pushed back the Britanni militants." He paused for any words from his leader but received none so he continued. "They seem to be crossing into Flavia Caesariensissi."

"Where abouts?" the Conqueror questioned. She then rotated on her boots some then pointed at the map.

"Of course, my liege." The commander dropped his hands from his back then hastily went to the map. He sensed his leader on his left side while Gabrielle took his right. "Here, my liege." He carefully pointed with his index finger at the militants position.

Xena stepped closer and observed the spot. "Corinium." She stared at the small village located near the south-west coast of Britannia. She observed the roads that led to the town. "Have you captured the roads?"

The commander folded his arms over his golden chest. "We have blocks on Akeman, Fosse, and Iknield."

"Excellent." Xena carefully observed the map closer and the friendly land units.

"Have you discovered their headquarters?" Gabrielle softly inquired.

Commander Meleager glanced at the state advisor on his right then back at the map. "No, actually."

"What's the problem?" Xena asked in her best agitated tone.

Gabrielle was relieved the warrior so easily fell into the role of the Conqueror. She still worried something could go wrong.

"We are working on it, my liege." The commander shook his head. "They are tricky."

Xena turned to the commander. "Work harder and faster, commander. These Britanni have wasted enough of the realm's time, money, and men." She stepped closer then growled, "If I don't have results in a fortnight then I'll expect you to personally compensate."

Commander Meleager tensed at the dangerous threat. He hadn't seen the Conqueror in such a mood for awhile, but he knew the rebellion was wearing thin on her. "You'll have results, my liege."

Gabrielle had cringed at the coldness. She felt tense too.

"That'll be all," Xena ordered, "And keep me posted."

The commander bowed his head then turned and hurried out of the office. He let out a sigh once he made it safely out.

Xena waited until the commander was gone, then she touched her forehead again.

"Are you okay?" Gabrielle insisted.

Xena lowered her hand and looked to the bard. "Yes... I just can't shake this headache."

"Well," Gabrielle offered, "I think dinner and some rest will help it." She gently touched the warrior's shoulder. "Come on."

The Warrior Princess was guided out of the office and down the long hallway. She carefully observed the large fortress and tried to memorize the routes. At first, she couldn't believe all of it belonged to her alternate self. She knew though if she'd continued her plans prior to Hercules then this would be her life.

Gabrielle edged closer to the warrior. "What is it?" She sensed something that stirred in Xena.

Xena offered a faint smile then replied, "I'm just thinking." She followed Gabrielle down several stairs.

The bard let it go because she could tell Xena was weary. She took the warrior to the dining room so they could have a quick meal together. The food tonight was quite good, but Gabrielle believed it could never compare to Cyrene's meals.

Eventually the pair returned upstairs and went to the bedchambers. Xena carefully took in the room and considered whether to look over things, but she was too tired. Gabrielle went to fireplace and started it while Xena glance over the room. Slowly Xena wandered out onto the balcony and went to the railing.

Gabrielle silently walked out and took the warrior's side. She remained quiet and waited to see if Xena would say anything first.

"This is her capital... Corinth." Xena squeezed the railing and whispered, "Corinth has always been my favorite city." She turned her head to the bard. "It's been a long time since I've set foot into Corinth."

The Amazon Queen thought for a beat then quietly mentioned, "Xena..." She dipped her head then corrected, "The Conqueror always tells me how much she loves the city." She pressed her stomach against the rail and added, "She and I often stand up here and watch the city."

"Hmmm." Xena observed the sun sink closer to the western horizon. "It is beautiful." She then gazed off to the east and something captured her attention immediately. She straightened up and stared in shock.

Gabrielle followed the Warrior Princess's line of view, and she softly smiled. "The Corinth Canal... it was just opened a fortnight ago."

Xena removed her shocked expression and looked to the bard. "She did it?"

"It took a lot of Helical Risings," Gabrielle admitted, "but she did it."

The warrior raised an eyebrow when the bard used Helical Risings to measure time. She hadn't heard that time measurement since her childhood. She cleared her throat then inquired, "You said mother is here? She has a taverna here?"

Gabrielle peered up at Xena and nodded. "Yes, she's had it for several moons now. She does well with it."

Xena almost felt a surge to jump over the balcony and see her mother. She'd lost her mother to the twenty-five years she'd spent in the ice tomb. She swallowed and peered down at the soft features of the bard. She felt her heart's true ache because of the bard's innocent appearance. Xena hadn't seen this Gabrielle in a long time, and she never expected to see this Gabrielle again. Dahak and Hope had robbed Gabrielle of her innocence on every level.

Gabrielle licked her lips then added, "Toris is in Amphipolis."

"Toris," Xena murmured and dipped her head. "And Lyceus?" A spark of hope passed through her, and it quickly extinguished when she caught Gabrielle's sadden features.

Gabrielle shook her head and solemnly explained, "It was his death that drove Xena into the darkness." She stared back at the sunset. "Some much would have been different if he hadn't died."

Xena couldn't argued it. "Yes," she whispered, "it would have been." She moved away from the railing and entered back into the bedchambers.

The bard briefly watched the sun kiss the western horizon, then she followed after the warrior. She came up to Xena and gently inquired, "Do you want to change?" She pointed off to the left and mentioned, "That's the main closet."

Xena glanced at the closet then lowered her head. "I..." She shook her head because she couldn't quite catch up to what'd happened to her. She lifted her hands and stared at them. Her last living memory was of her hands being bloody, and she was next to death. It wasn't long after that she met Gabrielle and watched her soulmate's painful tears because she was dead.

Now she was alive again, somehow. And she was taken into another world, somehow. It made no sense to her. She had a couple of guesses who would bring her to life then have her switch with the Conqueror. Most importantly, why the switch? She felt her heart skip a beat at the thought of the switch being permanent.

Gabrielle gently touched the warrior's arm. "Xena?"

The warrior came back to herself and gazed down at the bard. "I'm sorry."

The bard frowned and shook her head. "I just think you need some rest. We're not going to figure this out tonight."

"You're right," the Warrior Princess murmured.

"Come on," Gabrielle softly instructed. She soon helped the warrior get out of her leathers. She offered to get the Conqueror's usual sleepwear, but Xena refused it. Gabrielle suspected that Xena wasn't mentally prepared to take on the ruler's lifestyle. It was a bit much at first.

When they were ready for bed, Gabrielle climbed into bed next to Xena. She stayed on her side of the bed because she wasn't sure what else to do. She'd grown so accustom to sleeping in her lover's arms, but tonight it would be different. She briefly considered what Xena and Gabrielle's relationship was like, yet she didn't dare inquire, not tonight anyway.

Xena slept on her back, her hands tucked under her head, and she stared at the darkening ceiling. She listened to Gabrielle's breathing and how it softened when her dreamscape claimed her. This Gabrielle's breathing mirrored her soulmate's exactly. Briefly the warrior studied the sleeping bard, and she wanted desperately to touch her. She wouldn't though because this wasn't her soulmate no matter how close the match seemed.

It took awhile for the Warrior Princess to drift into her dreams. She stayed up thinking and tried to put together some plan of attack to handle the situation. First her questions had to be answered, then she could go from there. The headache though finally forced Xena to fall asleep and rather soundly. She was far more exhausted than she'd expected.

The sun had been up for a few candlemarks before Xena woke up. She slept later than normal because everything had taken a toll on her mentally and physically. She climbed out of bed and was greeted by the bard, who stood near the renewed fireplace. She was warmly received and ordered to sit on the sofa and have a warm breakfast. Xena took a seat by the bard and smiled at Gabrielle's sentiment to get her breakfast.

Gabrielle quietly ate with her. She also observed the warrior and was relieved Xena had such an appetite. She'd accurately assumed the warrior would be hungry and had brought extra food than normal. After she was finished, she brushed off her hands and asked, "Do you want a bath?"

Xena considered it and lightly inquired, "Do I offend?" She arched an eyebrow.

Gabrielle hadn't expected a joke in return. She chuckled and replied, "No, but I thought it'd help relax you."

The warrior considered it then nodded. "Alright."

The bard patted Xena's knee. She hopped up from the sofa and straightened out her brown skirt. She guided the warrior to the large washroom.

Xena took in Gabrielle's peasant clothing. She could recall those similar clothes on her soulmate when they'd first met in the grove outside of Potidaea.

Gabrielle showed the warrior how to use the basic plumping for the round bath. She left the plug out and filled the steaming water with some oils. She set the soap tray down on the ledge of the bath then pointed to the silk robe. She then quietly left Xena to her peace.

And Xena did find some peace in the hot bath. She felt her body align itself in the hot water. The food, sleep, and warm bath were the perfect combination to bringing her back to speed. The headache was long gone thanks to the good night's rest. She stepped out of the washroom with a new light around her.

Gabrielle had patiently waited on the sofa. She peered up and instantly smiled when she noticed the difference too.

The warrior mirrored the smile, then she busied with getting ready. She put on her usual brown leathers, boots, greaves, and she hefted her armor into place. She made fast work of her buckles and finally her sword went into place. Xena hesitated after she hooked her sword on her back. She instantly realized she didn't have her chakram and that Gabrielle had it now.

"What's wrong?" Gabrielle noticed the shift.

Xena shook her head and mentioned, "My chakram... I..." She shook her head.

Gabrielle neared the warrior. "The Conqueror had hers." She slightly frowned. "I don't think she had an extra one."

"I doubt it." Xena sighed and felt slightly out of place without her beloved weapon.

Gabrielle was going to reply, but she stopped when it grew windy in the room. She brushed her hair out of the way and looked to the source. She grew worried and confused.

Xena stepped in front of the bard. She noticed a familiar black portal forming near the curtains to the balcony. She bent her knees and lifted her hands; she was prepared for anybody to come through it. Well just about anybody until she spotted a tall blond, who was dressed in her best pinks. She slightly narrowed her eyes and pushed her bangs from her face. "Aphrodite," she loudly greeted over the noise of the portal.

Aphrodite smiled brightly, but she turned first and pointed at the portal. She waited until it was closed, then she faced the two women. She carefully fixed her hair and complained, "Like this portal thing is so archaic, ya know."

The warrior rolled her eyes and folded her arms over her chest.

Gabrielle stepped around the warrior and took in the goddess. She slightly goggled.

Aphrodite crinkled up her nose and joked, "Oh by..." She giggled, shrugged, and finished, "Oh by me. Like I never thought I'd see that expression on the bardie's face."

Xena glanced at the stunned bard and turned back to the Goddess of Love. "That's because she's never met the Goddess of Blonds."

"Ouch, warrior babe." Aphrodite strutted up to the pair. "You should be nice to your savior."

Xena snorted and remarked, "I figured it was you I had to thank."

"Actually you only half thank me," Aphrodite corrected. She then turned her smile to the silent bard. "Like aren't you going to introduce me, Xena?" She held out her hand to the young Gabrielle.

The warrior knew she had to humor this or else she'd never get her answers from the goddess. She turned so that she faced the goddess and bard. "Gabrielle, this is Aphrodite."

Gabrielle blinked and peered up at Xena. "Aphrodite?" She turned her head to the goddess.

Aphrodite enthusiastically giggled and clapped her hands. "Oh by me, Xena. She's so cute before you corrupted her."

"Thanks," the warrior chided.

"Aphrodite?" the bard repeated, "As in the Goddess of Love?" She slightly gaped again.

Aphrodite waved her hand at the bard. "Oh stop it." She smiled broadly and explained, "You know, bardie you and me are best buds back in my world."

Gabrielle glanced at the warrior for confirmation. She stepped around Xena and inquired, "You're really a goddess?"

Xena was slightly shocked because she expected Gabrielle or the Conqueror would have dealt with the gods by now.

"I sure am, sweet pea," Aphrodite insisted. She then seemed to read Xena's thoughts. "The gods in this world don't interact with the mortal types." She brushed back her curly locks. "Which is like absolutely absurd."

The Warrior Princess grunted then remarked, "Lucky for them."

The goddess waved her hand. "As if. It's so much more fun to play with you mortals."

Xena rolled her eyes when the goddess misunderstood her earlier comment. She decided it was time to get to business. "You mentioned I only had to half thank you?"

Aphrodite put her hands on her pink hips. "Yeeeah."

Xena raised an eyebrow when she received no information. "And which part do I thank you for?"

"I did the switch-a-roo," the Goddess of Love proclaimed happily. "Hathy couldn't handle that part."

The warrior's eyes slotted. "Hathy?"

"Yea... Hathor, the Goddess of Love, duh." Aphrodite snorted and waved her hand at the silly warrior. "She's an Eg-"

"Egyptian Goddess," Xena finished. "I know." She folded her arms over her chest. "And how did she bring me back from the Underworld?"

Aphrodite stared up at the ceiling. "She mentioned some... incantation thing that her priestess had to do and all this mumbo gumbo... it just gives me a headache." She sighed dramatically and focused back on the warrior and the quiet bard. "Either way, it totally worked, and Gabs gets her wish."

"Wish? What wish?" Xena stepped closer and eyed the goddess.

The Amazon Queen kept quiet, but she was starting to get use to the flighty acting goddess. She still didn't totally believe that the goddess existed because she'd never met one. It wasn't completely over her head considering the Cronos Stone, Janice, and Melinda. Then it occurred to her that maybe Xena could use the Cronos Stone to get back to her world.

"And no, she can't," Aphrodite stated directly to Gabrielle.

The bard blinked, glanced at Xena, and back at the goddess. "You read my..."

The Goddess of Love smirked and stuck out her hip to the right. "Like duh. I'm a goddess!" She tossed up her hands briefly then placed them back on her hips. She then studied the warrior again. "Gabs helped out Hathor, and Hathor promised she'd return the favor."

Xena slotted her eyes. "Gabrielle wouldn't have asked for me to..."

"She didn't out loud," the goddess agreed, "but she was wishing it." She smiled broadly. "So me and Hathy are real tight. She contacted me and told me about her idea. I thought how totally rad, but like I knew what would happen to all those souls back in Fry-a-Guchi."

"Higuchi," Xena corrected in an annoyed tone. She then noted Gabrielle's giggles beside her, and she shot the bard a look.

Gabrielle became serious and put her hands behind her back.

"Look, warrior babe you got yourself fried there... so it's Fry-a-Guchi now." Aphrodite smirked at how Xena became further annoyed. "Anyway! Hathy and I talked about what we could do to fix everything."

"There was nothing to fix," the warrior snapped, "It was a done deal."

Aphrodite rolled her eyes at Xena's attitude. "Like if you call leaving your soulmate in absolute depression a done deal, then please call me the Goddess of Stupidity." She ignored Xena's raised eyebrow and continued to speak. "Gabs is my best friend, Xena... if there's something I can do to help her, then I plan to do it."

Xena stepped up to the goddess and snarled, "And you never thought to ask me?"

Aphrodite showed a flare of temper and challenged, "Just like you never asked Gabrielle, right?"

The warrior's anger instantly withdrew, and she looked away. "Gabrielle understands." She turned back to the goddess.

"What's she understand?" Aphrodite murmured, "That her soulmate one day talked about settling down and the next sacrifices herself for a delusion?"

"It's not a delusion," Xena hotly argued, "Thousands of souls are at stake."

"Like so is the greatest hero's life," Aphrodite stated seriously, "and another hero's heart." She shook her head and reasoned, "You and Gabs save that many in a year. It's so doesn't add up."

Xena dropped her head and rubbed her forehead. She walked away from the goddess.

Gabrielle worried that the warrior was starting a new headache. She stepped into the conversation quickly. "So why exactly did you switch Xena and the Conqueror?"

Aphrodite picked out a note of concern in the bard's voice. She approached the bard and glanced at Xena's tense back. "Xena and the Conqueror's pasts are almost exactly alike except for a few glaring things."

The Warrior Princess turned around and pointed out, "Hercules is one."

"Bingo, warrior babe," Aphrodite agreed. "And so is Fry-a-Guchi."

"You said a few." Xena waited and crossed her arms.

Aphrodite grinned and replied, "It has something to do with the round thingys... like I don't know the exact details, but the Conqueror still has her original."

"Round thingy?" the bard murmured, then it struck her. "Chakram."

"That's it," Aphrodite applauded. "Like you remember when Ares got into that little snit about your old chakram?" After Xena's confirming nod, she explained, "Well somehow Fry-a-Guchi and those chakrams are all connected."

"That makes no sense," the warrior stated.

"As if! It totally has something to do with the Conqueror. She did something similar at Fry-a-Guchi too, but like the souls weren't trapped." Aphrodite sighed and brushed back her curls. "Like I don't know what it is that the Conqueror did differently than you, but I hope she totally remembers."

"What's Xena suppose to do in the mean time?" Gabrielle questioned.

"Pffft... play with all the Conqueror's toys," Aphrodite joked.

The Amazon Queen wasn't too thrilled. "Aphrodite, there's a rebellion going on in Britannia."

The goddess slightly grinned and pointed at the Warrior Princess. "Trust me, Gabby your Conqueror is right inside that warrior." She lowered her hand. "There's not much difference between them."

Xena softly sighed at the truth.

Aphrodite slightly grew sad and mentioned, "And if I switch them back now then like all those souls will be lost. The warrior babe will be after my ass like white on rice."

Gabrielle faintly grinned at the joke then lost it. "Will it take long?"

The goddess's heart melted at the bard's concern. "It's hard to say. I still have to catch up with them."

Xena neared the pair again and questioned, "What about the Higuchi souls now?"

Aphrodite straightened up some and answered, "You and the Conqueror have different souls; hers is darker than yours. The souls won't be affected."

The warrior faintly nodded then debated what to do next. She felt like a sitting rabbit right now, and she didn't like waiting around for the Conqueror, her alter-ego, to fix her life. She wasn't even sure if she could trust the Conqueror to do this, whatever this was. Xena still had no complete answers.

"Don't worry, warrior babe," the Goddess of Love pressed. "If you can be certain about anything, it'll be that Gabs keeps the Conqueror straight."

Gabrielle smirked because she knew that was her role too.

Xena glanced at the bard and caught the look. She huffed and remarked, "You better be back here later, Aphrodite. I want to kept informed about what's happening."

"Don't worry your leathers or you'll totally get chaffed," Aphrodite teased. "I'll drop by." She turned and pointed her finger. Within a heartbeat, the portal appeared and started its vacuum.

"Wait, Aphrodite" Gabrielle called over the wind, "tell the Conqueror I said 'I'll be waiting'."

The Goddess of Love gave a gushy smile, winked, and promised, "I totally will." She then glanced at the warrior. "Like I'll tell Gabs you're sorry because it's best to do the sucking up part now."

Xena glowered at the goddess.

Aphrodite smirked back and blew a kiss at the Warrior Princess. "Toodles, ladies." She turned and hopped through the portal, which proceeded to close after she disappeared into it.

Gabrielle shook her head and glanced at the warrior. "Well, does that happen often?"

"Which part?" Xena inquired. "Her yes, the switching between worlds, no."

The bard huffed and backed up to the bed. She sat on the side of the bed and considered everything now. "I can't believe this," she muttered. "I mean I can... and I can't. I just..." She shook her head.

Xena wandered over the bed, and she took a quiet seat beside her friend. "This isn't going to be easy."

Gabrielle was slumped forward, she twisted her head, and peered up at the warrior. "No it's not... not with this rebellion in Britannia." She turned her head and stared across the bedchambers. "I really haven't been involved with it because..." She trailed off but made herself finished her thoughts. "I was close to leading a similar rebellion. Now there is one in the realm, and I'm not sure what to make of it." She thought back on Najara's words in Egypt. Maybe Najara was right afterall?

Xena carefully considered the bard's words then asked, "Do you know what caused the rebellion?"

Gabrielle shrugged and responded, "As far as I know, the Britanni and Erse aren't happy." Slowly her lips thinned as she thought more deeply about it. "Xena never said why... her and I didn't really discuss it much."

The warrior bowed her head and thought out her next steps. She realized her major problem was the rebellion in Britannia. It was the Conqueror's major issue and now it was in her lap. "I'll see what I can find out."

"I'll try too," the bard promised. Xena would require plenty of support since this wasn't her world and had to pretend to be the Conqueror. Gabrielle didn't plan on letting the warrior face it alone. "I know somebody I can ask."

Xena arched an eyebrow when she heard the bard had some resources. It surprised her. "Dare I ask who?"

Gabrielle smirked and mentioned, "I don't think you'd know him. His name is Salmoneus."

The Warrior Princess suddenly chuckled and remained amused. "Oh I know Salmoneus."

"You do?" Gabrielle perked up and revealed a grin.

"Oooh yes," the warrior murmured. She grinned at the fond memories of the clever merchant. "There's nobody like him."

"Good thing too," the bard joked.

Xena smirked and replied, "Yea." She grew serious. "I better get started on this rebellion."

The Amazon Queen tilted her head then nodded. "I'll go visit Salmoneus."

"Is he far?"

"He works in the market, but soon he'll be working for the realm." Gabrielle grinned at the warrior's arched eyebrow. "He's helping me with this new decree." She patted Xena's knee then stood up. "I'll stop by the office when I get back."

Xena slowly stood up too, and she watched the bard pick up her staff. She tried to estimate how long Gabrielle may have been using the weapon. She'd have to find out later. She went to the door, opened it, and waited for Gabrielle to follow. Together they strolled down the quiet hallway, and Gabrielle's staff echoed the entire way.

Gabrielle had her head bent. She gazed up at Xena with obvious concern. "The Conqueror will help Gabrielle."

The Warrior Princess didn't reply at first, but she slowly nodded. "I don't have much control over what's happening."

The bard could tell that truly bothered the warrior. She understood it because her lover was the exact same way. The Conqueror was use to full control over many situations, and anything different wasn't something she favored. "Well," she mentioned, "the Conqueror no longer has control over the rebellion. I can tell you that'll bother her while she's in your world."

"Hmph," the warrior muttered then grinned.

Gabrielle walked closer to Xena and softly questioned, "Do you know of the Cronos Stone?"

Xena raised an eyebrow at the familiar name. "I have heard of it." She recalled Hercules mentioning the stone to her and how Callisto tried to utilize it so that the world would be forever changed. Hercules promised that he and Iolaus fixed everything, yet Xena started to think that Callisto may have ultimately created this reality. The warrior shook away her complex thoughts and focused back on the present. "You said my descendants used it to travel here and back."

"Mmmm." Gabrielle came to a stop by the top of the main stairs. She gazed down them then back at Xena. "Now there's a Cronos Stone, Ring, and Dagger. You could always use one to go back."

"I can't," Xena argued, "or the souls will be lost."

The bard forgot that aspect, but she offered, "It is a back up plan at least." She supported her head against her staff. "The only problem is I'm not sure where she put them... but I think I have an idea."

Xena puckered her lips faintly then nodded. "We'll worry about it if I need them. Aphrodite will keep dropping by. Right now, I think the rebellion is the big problem."

Gabrielle nodded and replied, "It's definitely the main focus." She straightened up when she heard footsteps, and she smiled at the newcomer. "Good morning, Galen."

Galen smiled back at the bard then bowed to his leader. "Good morning, my liege... Queen Gabrielle."

The bard rolled her eyes at the formal title. "Quit while you're ahead, Galen."

The assistant chuckled and turned back to Xena. "Will you need anything this morning?"

Xena recalled that Galen was the Conqueror's assistant. "I don't believe so."

"And you?" Galen grinned at the bard.

Gabrielle chuckled and answered, "I'm fine, Galen... thank you." She touched Xena's arm and softly mentioned, "I'll see you later."

The warrior nodded and briefly watched the bard leave. She turned back to Galen. "Actually there might be something you can do, Galen."

The assistant bowed his head and asked, "Anything, my liege."

The Amazon Queen left the fortress and strolled down to the gates. She entered the busy streets of Corinth, and she headed for the market. She was relieved she'd selected her brown skirt and green haltertop because it was a hot and humid summer day.

On her way to the market, Gabrielle thought about the switch between the Conqueror and the Warrior Princess. She knew some of the Conqueror's history over in the eastern nations, but she didn't have details. She'd heard a few tales about how the Conqueror acquired her chakram, and one included that Ares himself gave it to her. She now suspected that wasn't true merely because Aphrodite mentioned the gods here never interacted with any mortals. Still though it didn't mean somehow the Fates didn't setup certain events to happen.

The bard rounded a street, and she wasn't far from the market now. She then had an odd feeling from behind her back. She stopped and slightly turned then scanned over her shoulder. She didn't spot anything out of the ordinary, but then again it was a busy street. She shook her head and continued on her way.

Gabrielle entered the west side of the market, and that same feeling repeated. She held her staff tighter but kept moving into the market. Then surprisingly there was a strong hand on her back, and she swung around with her staff coming around at the person.

"Wooo, Gabrielle." Palaemon ducked just in time.

"Palaemon," the bard hissed, "don't do that." She lowered her staff and asked, "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," the former guard promised. "Why are you so jumpy? I was yelling for you, but you kept walking."

Gabrielle leaned against her staff. She let out a small sigh and replied, "I'm sorry. I just have a lot on my mind."

Palaemon rested his right hand on his sword's pommel. "Joxer mentioned the spies."

The bard hadn't seen Palaemon in some time. She often saw Joxer so it didn't surprise her that they were talking to each other. "Yea, but they seem like ants in comparison to what's going on now."

Palaemon was confused, but he inquired, "What else? The rebellion?"

Gabrielle realized her mistake and quickly corrected it. "Yes... it's been stressful." She dropped her head against the staff. "I'm on my way to see Salmoneus."

"I'll come with you," Palaemon offered. "You shouldn't be alone with these spies."

The bard thought about an argument, yet she decided against it. She hadn't spent much time with Palaemon, and it would be good to catch up with him. "Alright." She smiled and continued her walk into the market. It wasn't long before she approached Salmoneus stall.

"Well good morning, Queen Gabrielle," the merchant cheerfully greeted.

The bard smirked but politely replied, "Good morning, Salmoneus." She came closer and Palaemon stood beside her. "You selling anything good?"

Salmoneus grinned, but he knew what the bard was up to since she joined the Conqueror's ranks. He leaned against he stall. "Oh the usual." His voice picked up a boring tone. "Fruits, vegetables, linens... the usual."

Gabrielle raised an eyebrow. "No Conqueror packs lately?"

Salmoneus brought out his upset expression and covered his heart. "I'm hurt. I would never merchandise the Conqueror without her consent."

"Mmmm," the Amazon muttered. "I do need some thing, Salmoneus."

The merchant was intrigued, and he leaned over his stall. He had a smug face. "Go on."

Gabrielle leaned towards him and softly questioned, "What you know about the rebellion in Britannia?"

Salmoneus laughed and argued, "You probably know more than I do, Gabrielle."

The bard shrugged. "It's not about how much I know, it's about what I do know." She noticed how Salmoneus smirked at her words. "Now supposedly the Britanni and Erse aren't happy, but there has to be more to it than that."

Salmoneus sighed and honestly stated, "I don't know about the cause."

"But you can find out," Gabrielle argued.

The merchant drummed his right fingers on his stall. "Possibly."

The bard's lips thinned, and she stepped closer to the stall. She leaned towards the merchant and gently asked, "How much?"

Salmoneus wickedly grinned, propped his elbow on the stall, and leaned his head against his hand. "I was thinking about getting into publishing."

The Amazon Queen developed a sparkle in her eye. "Is that so?"

"Mmmhmmm." The merchant smiled sweetly. "I'll need to build my reputation first so that people will buy my scrolls I publish." He tilted his head and chuckled. "Do you know of any famous bards?"

Gabrielle chuckled deeply and honestly replied, "I think I can find some."

"There's just one, slight problem." Salmoneus straightened up and simply stated, "The Conqueror."

The bard licked her lips when she considered the problem. It was true that Xena still had her law in place that the arts and philosophy were outlawed. Although Gabrielle knew it was not at all being enforced anymore per Xena's recent orders. Late this summer, Xena already planned to void the laws anyway.

"I'll take care of the Conqueror," Gabrielle finally declared. "You get me some information, and I'll get you some bards."

The merchant was ecstatic, and he held out his hand. "You're truly more fair than your liege."

Gabrielle switched her staff to her left hand, but she tightly clutched the merchant's hand. "I was taught by the best." She increased her grip to the point she knew it would hurt.

Salmoneus hissed, broke the shake, and waved his hand. "I can tell." He watched the bard step away from his still and join the young man.

"Nice doing business, Sal," Gabrielle tormented, and she strolled off with Palaemon.

"That's Salmo... Oh whatever." The merchant huffed, but he decided he better get to work and find the information Gabrielle wanted.

"So how fairs the Conqueror?" Palaemon inquired.

Gabrielle put her staff back in her right hand. It took her beat to response because of the current situation. "Besides the rebellion and spies... she does well." She listened to Palaemon's soft laugh, and she decided on another topic. "How is your apprenticeship with the blacksmith?"

The former guard took more time than it require to reply. He shifted his right hand to rest on his sword's hilt. "It's going."

Gabrielle peered up at her friend and asked, "You're not enjoying it?"

Palaemon rolled his eyes and mentioned, "The blacksmith is an old ass." He adjusted his peasant top and further mentioned, "I honestly miss my time as your guard."

The bard slowly frowned. "I'm sorry, Palaemon."

"Don't be," the blacksmith apprentice argued, "it's for a good reason. The Conqueror has changed."

"She has," Gabrielle murmured. She gazed over the people in the streets. She noticed how the people seemed to fair better nowadays. There were smiles and laughs coming from the people. The streets had always been clean, but the crime was subsiding thanks to the Conqueror's inspired efforts.

Gabrielle softly sighed at her thoughts of the Conqueror. There was a faint ache in her that revealed itself when she realized the Conqueror was so far away. Gods was this possible? She couldn't lie to herself about how she felt for the Conqueror, yet she wondered what the Conqueror felt in return?

Palaemon spied the gates of the fortress. He'd noticed recently they were always closed, and he suspected because of the spies. He stopped at the gates and turned to Gabrielle.

The bard grabbed the man's arm and offered, "Come inside."

Palaemon had his mouth open, but he lost his words at the invite. "Gabrielle, I..."

"Come on." Gabrielle approached the guards and ordered them to open the gates for them. She glanced back at her friend and smiled at him.

Palaemon returned the smile then followed the former rebel leader. He soon found himself in the fortress and going upstairs to someplace. "Where we headed?"

The Amazon Queen had a certain idea in mind, but she hoped it'd pay off. She stopped at the Conqueror's office and glanced at Palaemon. "For a visit." She knocked on the door. For once, she didn't just walk in despite she was use to doing exactly that, but this was different with the Warrior Princess.

"Enter," called a husky voice.

Palaemon realized who it was, and he grabbed Gabrielle's arm. "Gabrielle, I can't-"

"Palaemon, it's fine." Gabrielle grabbed the door's ring and gently pulled. "The Conqueror favors you."

The former rebel guard was surprised by the information so he steeled his fears and nerves. He swallowed then followed the bard into the office.

Xena peered up from the scroll she'd been reading. She realized that it wasn't just Gabrielle, but an old friend stood behind the bard. She briefly displayed a shocked face and stood up from her chair.

Gabrielle was somewhat worried she'd made a mistake. She quickly started the dialog. "My liege, you remember Pal-"

"Palaemon," the warrior finished. She pulled on the mask she knew the Conqueror would wear, and she slightly darkened. "It's been several moons." She stepped around her desk and approached the two.

"Since Gabrielle's birthday," Palaemon reminded. "How are you, Conqueror?"

The Conqueror held up her arm in offer. "Busy. Yourself?"

Palaemon slightly smiled at the ruler's reception to his presences. He clapped the ruler's arm and gave a powerful shake. "The same, Conqueror."

The ruler broke the shake then placed her hands on her hips.

"Palaemon has been busy with his apprenticeship with a blacksmith." Gabrielle hoped she would fill in the gaps for the warrior. She also wanted to lead the conversation in the right direction.

"How goes it?" the warrior tilted her head and waited.

"It's progressing," Palaemon merely informed.

Xena faintly raised an eyebrow.

"Actually," the bard interrupted, "Palaemon mentioned he missed his work as being my guard." She hesitated and added, "When I was the rebel leader."

The ruler straightened her head up then folded her arms over her chest. She studied Palaemon and quickly picked up on what Gabrielle may be setting up. She gradually inclined her right eyebrow. "Is that so, Palaemon?"

Palaemon nervously laughed and replied, "Actually, it's a good apprenticeship. I enjoyed being Gabrielle's guard, but I'm glad it's done too. You know."

"Yea," the ruler whispered, "I know."

Gabrielle quickly jumped back into the conversation. "I was thinking, my liege."

"You never stop either," the warrior tormented.

The bard lost her thoughts and quickly glared up at Xena. She couldn't believe it and quickly shot back, "As I recall, you find that an important quality, my liege."

Xena pucked her lips then wickedly smiled at the bard. "Very important." She waited a beat then ordered, "You were saying...?"

The stunned bard had to get over the fact that Xena made such an open joke in front of Palaemon. She cleared her throat then continued her earlier conversation. "I think we could do with a set of guards with these spies."

The warrior become rather serious at this idea. She liked the suggestion and stated, "Elite guards, I suppose."

Gabrielle glanced at Palaemon, who was carefully listening to them. She focused back on Xena and explained, "I know Iolaus is your soomatophylax, but I think he has enough on his plate with being a tetrarchès too."

Xena mustered all her resolve not to look incredibly stupefied to hear Iolaus's name and positions. She shoved her initial shock down then considered the bard's now obvious idea. "Perhaps you're right."

"Palaemon was my guard for several Helical Risings. He, Joxer, and Perdicus served me well." Gabrielle leaned her head against the staff and waited.

The ruler had a thin smile at Gabrielle's idea, but she had to admit it was a perfect idea. These spies were a problem, and they may try for either her or Gabrielle. Then there was the family that Gabrielle had mentioned too. She couldn't think of a better way to implement a secret guard service that nobody would notice because everybody already assumed Palaemon, Joxer, and Perdicus were friends to the bard. Wait, Gabrielle mentioned Joxer and Perdicus? Xena tried to not let her head spin at the mention of old friends and names.

"Alright," Xena decided, "I like the idea, however, I must speak to my tetrarchès first."

Gabrielle smiled brightly at the news and lifted her head.

Palaemon was stunned, and he exchanged looks with his friend. "I'd be honored, Conqueror."

Xena chuckled and cracked a grin. "We'll see if you still believe that later, Palaemon." She went more serious and informed, "My tetrarchès will speak with you later and update you."

Palaemon nodded and held out his arm. "Thank you, Conqueror."

The ruler took the young man's arm into a strong hold. "Until then, Palaemon." She released arms then nodded at the bard.

"I'll be back," Gabrielle mentioned, then she guided Palaemon to the door. She escorted her friend out of the fortress and to the gates. She kept her promise and returned to the Conqueror's office. She entered to find the warrior seated at the sofa. "How do you feel?"

Xena made room on the sofa for the bard. "I think I'm still catching up... physically."

Gabrielle felt for the warrior, but she sincerely stated, "I'm sorry about Palaemon. I know I kind sprung that on you, but I figured I should do that while I had the chance."

"No," the warrior urged, "you have a good idea." She leaned back into the sofa. "These spies do pose a serious problem. They could strike against us at anytime."

"I'm really worried about our..." Gabrielle sighed and corrected, "the families. I mean Cyrene, Lila, Sarah... I... I don't want something to happen to them."

Xena too felt the same way. "Then I think your idea will be very important." She touched the bard's knee and inquired, "Are you close to Joxer and Perdicus?"

Gabrielle bowed her head at the mention of Perdicus. She licked her lips then whispered, "I've known Joxer for quite some time." She fidgeted with her staff then set it aside. "Perdicus... I knew him since I was a kid."

The warrior gazed at the bard when she heard the past tense. "What happened?"

"I didn't really... tell you..." The bard hated to talk about how Toris, her brother, killed her longtime betrothed and took her descendant hostage in a completely mixed up situation. "Toris showed up in Corinth and wanted to kill the Conqueror so that the tyranny would stop. He thought he was avenging Lyceus too."

The Warrior Princess stiffened at the where the story was headed.

"He killed Perdicus and took Janice has a hostage ."

Xena touched her forehead and hoarsely asked, "What happened?"

"Janice made it of course, and Melinda was posing as the Conqueror at the time. She managed to stop him from doing anything else." Gabrielle shook her head then further explained, "Melinda kept him locked up in a cell until the Conqueror, Cyrene, and I arrived. We talked to him, but it only somewhat helped." She peered up into concerned blue eyes. "He doesn't really speak to us anymore. He keeps his life in Amphipolis and runs Cyrene's taverna."

Xena hung her head and closed her eyes. She felt anger boil in her about what'd happened and mostly at the Conqueror. How could she have turned that evil and let her family be destroyed?

"Xena," Gabrielle tried, "the Conqueror has worked hard to fix many problems. She can't solve them all or mend everything... but she tries her best. What she can never repair, she feels heavy regret and anger."

The warrior stood up and walked away from the bard. She neared the window and stared out of it.

Gabrielle slowly got up then carefully neared the tense warrior. "I know it's probably hard to hear these things."

Xena met the bard's gaze and honestly stated, "And it's harder seeing how close I was to being this person."

The former rebel leader closed in on the warrior. She could easily read the emotions from the warrior. She was learning to read the Conqueror these days, but this Xena was far more obvious with her emotions, especially before her. "And now she only wishes to be more like you." She sadly smiled and muttered, "How ironic you've switched places." She swallowed and observed the busy city outside the window. "She lives the hero's life that she'll never have, and you..." She turned back to Xena. "You live the life you fought for and gave up."

Xena, the Warrior Princess, tightened her jaw and observed the young, sunny gold bard. How she greatly missed this bard, but yet she passionately loved the warrior Gabrielle had grown into now. Here in this world, she was surrounded by her most evil deeds that made her past, in her world, seem lighter than what it had been. She was also guided by the most innocent and loving woman that she'd ever known.

Just how did the Conqueror and Gabrielle managed together? Then another thought occurred to her, and she slightly stiffened. Just how in the gods' names would the Conqueror and her Gabrielle manage together?


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