Memory, Khufu Maat Kha-Tar reflected, had the habit of returning at the strangest times.
She stretched, savoring the layers of this incarnation: Claire Locklyn's body harboring Isolde's memories enfolding Khufu's soul. Tiers of memories built upon themselves, like the pyramids of Khufu's youth, tapering upward to the incontrovertible truth. Or perhaps more accurately, spiraling down to the secret burial chambers deep below the foundations, harboring the final mystery of her eternal reincarnation.
This was far from the first time Khufu had been reincarnated as a woman. The small distinction of gender ceased to matter after the long centuries--provided, of course, that the reawakened soul remembered his or her past lives. Khufu had learned long ago that it was less aggravating to simply accept the outward gender as fact for expediency's sake. The simple detail of being female in this incarnation was hardly any cause for distress.
The woman lying beside her had found that more problematic. After an ordinary life lived as Amber March, she had woken by Merlin's magic to the memory of Tristan. Tristan had been enraged at her feminine reincarnation, nearly betraying Arthur and the other knights of the Table in her quest to regain her remembered manhood. That the soul of Chay-ara, still obscured even deeper within Amber's body, remained innately female only heightened the irony.
Khufu empathized. During her first life as Isolde, she hadn't known anything of Egypt or reincarnation or destiny. She had simply been a woman, in love with a knight. Tristan, too, had been unaware of the presence of Chay-ara's soul. They had accepted their instant rapport as fact, a bond impossible to deny, never knowing they were playing out the endless cycle once again.
That cycle repeated in other ways, too. In the ages since, Khufu realized that Tristan's unloved wife Iseult of the White Hands had herself been another embodiment of their ancient enemy Hath-Set, himself destined to recreate his original murders of Khufu and Chay-ara throughout his own continual cycle of reincarnation. Iseult's jealousy directly caused Tristan and Isolde's deaths, but whether she had ever been aware of her hatred's underlying cause, the motivating soul and memories of Hath-Set, Khufu would never know. Nor did it matter; the cycle of inevitable murder had, at least, been broken with Shiera Hall. Hath-Set still returned to plague them life and again, but it was no longer a given fact that he would recall his ancient grudge or act on it, no more than Khufu and Chay-ara were assured of remembering their pasts.
This wasn't even the first time Khufu had been reincarnated into the same life. Between the middle of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, she had spent two lives in succession in the same incarnation as Carter Hall. Even among the countless number of lives, that manifestation had been unique. Carter and Shiera--later Kendra--had known more of their past lives and eventual destinies than any previous incarnations. The knowledge enabled them to use all of their past experiences through the extraordinary events of the time period, experiences that proved critical to the survival of their comrades and the Earth itself more than once.
Given the stakes of the recent war, it would only have made sense for Merlin's spell to have wakened the souls of Khufu and Chay-ara along with Tristan and Isolde's memories. But perhaps whatever fate guided their destinies, or even blind chance, determined that the burden of those multitudes of lives would have been too much to bear. Claire took the resurgence of Isolde's memories in stride, making it her mission to reclaim her old love despite all of Tristan's misgivings. She had also, truth to tell, been far more effective and useful as Assistant U.N. Security Director Claire Locklyn than Isolde the Fair could ever have dreamed.
Tristan, on the other hand...had always been prideful. From the moment her memories surfaced, her disproportionate rage and despair overshadowed every thought and every action, and nearly led her to the greatest betrayal a knight could commit. Never mind that Percival had been incarnated as a mutated neo-man, or that Gawain had been forced to leave his family behind through the length of the war--no, it was *Tristan* who had been sinned against most grievously, by the basic fact of being reborn *female.*
Isolde might have similarly bemoaned her fate. Claire had no patience for that kind of foolishness, and made it clear to Tristan in no uncertain terms that *she* had no difficulty whatsoever with the reversal of gender. Khufu, now awakened, found the whole situation hilarious. As would Chay-ara, if and when she finally woke to herself.
If anything, Khufu was slightly discomfited by the fact that this time Chay-ara had been reincarnated as the warrior. True, it was a role no less suited for Chay-ara than for her, and in Amber's form, even more appropriate given the red hair. And the temper. For her own part, Khufu could only be grateful that she had not been aware of her reincarnated state during her first life as Isolde; being trapped in the body and societal place of a woman at that time would have proven intolerable to her spirit.
And *that,* Khufu knew, was purely a male thought, one that Chay-ara would rightfully chide her for. She had fought no less fiercely throughout the centuries, and overcome greater obstacles set by the expectations of her usual gender. But Khufu's filter of experience gave her a thorough understanding Tristan's frustration, no matter how difficult she had been about the entire "ordeal."
Why Khufu had awoken now, fully aware, she didn't know. The battle for Earth had been fought and won against the alien threat. The knights had disbanded, Arthur perishing in the final battle as he always did and Merlin gone back to wherever wizards skulked between cataclysms. And Tristan had finally made peace with herself...and her love. They would have been perfectly blissful, living out the rest of their lives as heroes of the war, living peacefully as Amber and Claire, Tristan and Isolde.
Khufu also knew without doubt that given the choice, she would always wish to retain all of her memories of the long centuries. They had been filled with hardship, yes, and she remembered every pain and every death with crystal clarity. She also remembered, with far greater intensity, every moment shared with the woman sleeping next to her. Her lover, her partner, would demand no less than the same complete recollection.
"Chay-ara, my love," Khufu murmured, "it's time to wake up."