Pawns of the Gods
Chapter 2: Past and Future Meet
Mummy fanfic by Katie Sullivan
The ancient Egyptians believed that a truly wise and great man would live to the perfect age of one hundred and ten. Ardeth Bay hardly considered himself to be in the same category as the ancient sages, but in just a few years he'd reach that milestone. He was stooped and frail-looking, but able to walk with the aid of a wood staff and every bit as quick-witted as he had been the first time the Creature had awakened. The undisputed leader of the Med-Jai, he hoped to live out his days in peace in the desert he so loved.
Fate had one more trick up her sleeve, however. Ardeth's favorite grandson, also a Med-Jai chieftain, made the traditional gesture of greeting as he stepped into the patriarch's tent. "Grandfather."
"Abasi," Ardeth greeted with a smile. Abasi's name meant "stern," and he was, when the situation warranted. Judging by his dark expression, apparently today it warranted it. "What brings you here with such a somber expression, my son?"
Abasi knelt on the Persian carpet, his black eyes shining in the little sunlight that filtered through the canvas tent. "Grandfather, this message just arrived from Hassim bin Avrahim." He produced a tiny silver scroll from within his black robe. Ardeth reluctantly put on his glasses--he hated wearing them--and squinted at the tiny but neat Arabic script. Hassim was always sending status reports by courier falcon. Most of his missives were trivial in content but let the Med-Jai know that the Creature was behaving himself, as he had since the Med-Jai learned of his reincarnation by noticing Jendayi's birth announcement in the Luxor newspaper. Abasi's demeanor told Ardeth this message was different.
His lips moved silently as he read the message, framed by the white bristles of his beard. "Comrades in arms...I scarcely know where to begin. A tourist arrived at the Temple today and seemed to know too much. When he saw He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, his memories were unlocked of his past life...his past life as our Pharaoh Seti I. The Creature and his wife confronted him, insulted him and knocked him unconscious. I fled and immediately sent you this message. Please advise."
Ardeth looked up from the tiny paper, refocusing with some effort on his grandson.
"Is Hassim to be believed?" Abasi asked quietly.
"He may be young and overzealous, but I have no reason to doubt his word," the patriarch said. "We must look into this further." Ardeth stood, leaning on his thick wooden staff for leverage.
He held up a weathered hand and stopped Abasi with a glare from eyes whose fire burned no less hotly for being surrounded by wrinkles. "I am going, Abasi. There will be no argument. If our people's mission did not indeed end at Ahm Shere, we must know. I must know."
Abasi bowed his head and left the tent to make the necessary preparations.
Anck-su-Namun (Mrs. Abd Osiris to her neighbors) laid in a hammock on the balcony of their apartment, watching as Imhotep attempted once again to teach the ancient game of senet to Jendayi. She was too young to gain any real skill, but she delighted in playing with the homemade game board. The late evening sun cast an orange glow across the table, gleaming off Imhotep's smooth head and giving Anck-su-Namun's white linen dress a ruddy tinge. He would occasionally glance at his wife, or she at him, with an apprehensive look.
They still hadn't decided what to do about that afternoon's disturbing encounter. They were trying to remain calm to avoid upsetting Jendayi, but they both knew they had not seen the last of their eternal enemy.
At last Imhotep checked the sundial mounted on the balcony's railing. "Time for bed, Jendayi." She inhaled from her toes in preparation for a loud protest, but he put a finger on her lips. "Now."
She used the breath for a sigh instead. "Yes, Daddy."
"We'll play again tomorrow."
"I promise," he said, affectionately ruffling her black hair. "Now go brush your teeth."
"Okay, Daddy." She disappeared into the apartment.
Imhotep stood for a few seconds, contemplating the sunset. In the privacy of their own home they both preferred to dress in the ancient Egyptian style, and tonight he wore the familiar black-and-gold robe. The trim shone faintly in the rays of the fading sun.
"Well?" Anck-su-Namun said finally.
He shook his head. "Well... So far, so good."
"Seti hasn't tracked us down here, you mean."
He nodded and sat down on the hammock, tipping it at such an angle that she nearly fell out. He hastened to both save her from falling and to embrace her comfortingly. "Don't worry, my Anck-su-Namun. Our love has lasted longer than the temples of our gods. We'll get through this, too." It was a phrase he dug out whenever he was feeling romantic, and she allowed herself to believe him, at least for the moment. He caught her lips in a deep kiss that would have made her knees buckle, had she been standing. Amazing, she mused, that after all this time he still had that effect on her.
The doorbell rang.
She made a disgusted noise at the interruption, and he carefully extracted himself from her limbs and the hammock. "Stay here."
She gave a derisive sniff. "I think not! You don't know who that is."
He was about to protest again, but she stalked past him on her way to the front door, and he had no choice but to follow without delay. Anck-su-Namun grabbed a pair of golden tridents from the wall mount in the hallway. Most of the time they were decoration, but they were still quite serviceable if the need arose.
Imhotep nudged past her and opened the door a crack. It was Hassim. He exhaled in relief and opened the door the rest of the way. "Hassim! What are you doing here?"
The young tour guide stood in the dark hallway, looking much more serious than they had ever seen him. "Imhotep, there's something outside you need to see."
"It's hard to explain."
Imhotep caught Anck-su-Namun's eye, and she brought her thin eyebrows together suspiciously. He gave a barely perceptible shrug, and she pursed her lips before nodding.
"Stay with Jendayi," he said quietly, brushing his lips against hers.
"Be careful," she whispered, inconspicuously slipping one of her tridents into his hand. Just as inconspicuously, he dropped the weapon into the deep pocket of his ancient-style robe. If Hassim noticed, he gave no indication.
Imhotep stepped into the shadowy hallway in a manner that a stranger would perceive as casual. Anck-su-Namun, however, knew him and his body language so well that she could sense how on edge he was. He was ready for anything. Somehow, that failed to comfort her. By unspoken agreement, she locked and bolted the door.
"Mommy? Who was that?" Jendayi stood at the bathroom door in her yellow nightgown, her chin still wet from brushing her teeth.
"Just Hassim, honey," Anck-su-Namun said with more calmness than she felt. "Time for bed, now."
"Will you tell me a story? About the gods, or the pyramids, or the Pharaohs, or--"
"Not tonight, Jendayi," she said hastily. "But if you're a good girl and go straight to sleep, I promise I'll tell you two stories tomorrow night."
Jendayi was a little bewildered by the high-speed tucking in she received, but Anck-su-Namun didn't stick around long enough to answer any questions. She simply closed the door to her bedroom tightly and scurried off down the hallway, leaving Jendayi alone with her dolls. The girl insisted on having a nightlight, even after her mother explained that the scariest thing lurking in the shadows was her own father. She didn't quite appreciate the irony of that, of course.
Anck-su-Namun's heart was pounding in her chest like an independently living thing, urging her to hurry. Still clutching a single gold trident, she practically ran to the balcony. Then she heard her beloved's voice from the street below, loud in alarm. "What are you doing here?"
She ran to the railing and leaned forward to see what was happening in the street below. Imhotep was facing six men in black robes. One of the strangers was ancient, a hundred if he was a day, and leaned on a wooden staff. But they weren't really strangers. Even from her second-story perch she recognized the distinctive facial tattoos of the Med-Jai. The breath froze in her chest. No. Not again! Not this time!
"So it is you," the ancient one said with contempt, still regarding her husband.
"What do you want?" Imhotep asked with growing anger. "Haven't you harassed me through enough lifetimes?"
"You are the cursed one. My people are sworn to protect the world from your evil forever."
Anck-su-Namun turned and dashed for the door. She wasn't about to let her beloved face this danger alone. Never again.
On to Chapter Three...