Pawns of the Gods
Chapter 3: Crossing the Line
Mummy fanfic by Katie Sullivan
Anck-su-Namun's black hair streamed behind her as she ran, her feet pounding down the crumbling staircase. She took the steps three at the time. As she emerged onto the street, she heard Imhotep saying, "...no danger now, I assure you." He turned at her approach and looked as if he wasn't sure if he should be glad or worried that she had come to help. Hassim was nowhere to be seen.
Now face-to-face with the old man, Anck-su-Namun recognized him through the decades. "Ardeth Bay."
He nodded curtly. "Anck-su-Namun. So it is true. You are both alive again in this time and place."
"Indeed we are, and we intend to stay that way!"
"You again avow your love for this Creature?" Ardeth asked in a faintly mocking tone. He was well aware of what happened in the Hall of the Scorpion King.
"He is not a creature! And yes, I love him!" she said fiercely, putting one hand on Imhotep's arm and brandishing the trident with the other.
"He is the cursed one, and you are equally damned, you murdering viper!" snarled Abasi, no longer able to keep quiet in the face of his ancestral enemies.
"The Hom-Dai is over," Imhotep snapped. "When I succumbed at Ahm Shere--" Anck-su-Namun assumed a pained expression and looked down in shame. "--I was freed from your curse. I was reborn here in Luxor, Thebes, to live in peace with the woman I love. Can't you leave us be? Have we not all suffered enough?" He drew himself up to his full height and looked as imposing as he could, bereft of his powers.
Abasi put a hand on the handle of the scimitar in his belt. "Pharaoh is the gods' emissary on earth. Your crimes against him have eternal consequences."
"If our crimes are so far-reaching, then why did the gods allow us to pass the test of Anubis' scales?" she challenged. "The gods themselves judged us worthy for further existence. How can you second-guess them?"
Abasi sputtered and Ardeth merely scowled.
"You have nothing to fear from us," Imhotep tried again. "I have no powers in this life. I am mortal."
Abasi fingered the handle of his scimitar, seeming to enjoy the implications of that.
Imhotep continued. "We do not have either of the Books. I have no powers. We have no desire to harm anyone. We wish only to live out our days in peace together with our child." He was doing a remarkable job of reining in his temper.
"Then why," Ardeth asked evenly, "did you attack Pharaoh Seti again this very day?"
"We... I... He..." Imhotep sputtered uselessly.
"I... We... But..." Anck-su-Namun said, not helping at all.
His eyes narrowed in sudden suspicion. "How do you know what happened today?"
"We have our ways," Ardeth said simply.
"Hassim," Imhotep hissed, looking around in vain for his soon-to-be-ex-employee.
"Look," Anck-su-Namun tried again, "we'd be more than happy to never see Seti again. We didn't seek him out. If he leaves us alone, we'll leave him alone. And besides, he is no longer Pharaoh. He's a tourist from...I don't know where, for heaven's sake! So what do you care?"
She started to take an angry step forward, but Imhotep held her back. "All we want--all we've ever wanted, is to live in peace together."
"And the Army of Anubis?" Abasi sneered.
"Well...okay, so we got a little distracted at one point," he said with an embarrassed cough. "But, really, we are as weary of this fighting as you are. Let us simply live the closest thing to a normal life that is possible for us, all things considered."
Ardeth maintained a wary frown but entered into a hushed conversation with his grandson. None of the desert warriors took their eyes off their ancient enemies for a moment.
Just as they appeared ready to deliver a verdict, a man stumbled into one of the Med-Jai. He had been studying a crumpled map in front of him, mumbling numbers, and wasn't watching where he was going. He reeked "tourist."
"Watch where you're standing!" the interloper snapped, heedless of the scimitars in evidence.
Some hereditary knowledge blossomed in Ardeth's brain, and he recognized the man. The dark looks on Imhotep and Anck-su-Namun's faces confirmed what he instinctively knew. Not even the fresh black eye could disguise him.
"Pharaoh," the Med-Jai chorused reverently, falling to their knees. Ardeth wasn't able to do so, but stooped as low as he could while holding onto his walking stick.
Seti looked around in surprise at the half-dozen men suddenly prostrating themselves in the dust at his feet. "Well, that's more like it!" he said smugly, stuffing the map in his jacket pocket. Then he noticed the only two people not showing him respect.
"Anck-su-Namun!" she corrected testily.
"I've been looking all over for you," Seti yelled. "You hit me!"
"And kicked you," Imhotep added with a small smirk.
"Yes!" He rubbed his sore ribs. "That, too! How dare you?"
"We dare because you no longer own me, you bastard!" she snarled.
"Show the proper respect, woman!" Abasi protested.
"I am," she said, her voice dripping disdain.
"You!" Seti said, pointing to the Med-Jai. "You're my guards?"
"Indeed, my Pharaoh," Abasi said, touching his forehead to the ground at Seti's sneakers. "And on behalf of all the generations of Med-Jai since you last lived, let me offer our sincere apologies for failing you, your majesty."
Anck-su-Namun rolled her eyes.
"Yes, well..." Seti raised his nose and did his best to look regal. That had never been particularly easy for him, she noted. "I might forgive you if you kill them for me." He nodded toward Imhotep and Anck-su-Namun, who instantly assumed defensive poses, each with a trident at the ready.
All the Med-Jai except Ardeth drew their scimitars.
Everyone turned in surprise as a small girl in a yellow nightgown scampered down the stairs.
She placed herself between her parents and their assailants, stubbornly planting her feet wide and spreading her arms in the universal "don't take another step" posture. "Don't you hurt my mommy and daddy, you bad men!" she said with all the fierceness a four-year-old could muster.
"Jendayi!" Anck-su-Namun yelped, rushing to pull her daughter out of harm's way. "You're supposed to be in bed!"
"Mommy, who are these bad men?"
"Jendayi, honey--" Anck-su-Namun began.
"We are not bad men," Ardeth interrupted. "We are Med-Jai warriors, entrusted with the protection of the Pharaoh, and with the holy mission of saving the world from evil forces." He looked vaguely troubled by her accusation.
"Yes, yes, yes," Seti said impatiently. "Now that we're all acquainted...kill them!"
"But--" Ardeth began.
"Kill them! All three of them! Both of those traitors, and their spawn! Wipe them from the pages of history, once and for all!"
"The girl, too?" Abasi said, blinking uncertainly.
Jendayi began to cry and burrowed into the folds of her father's robes.
"Keep our daughter out of this!" Imhotep said with a dangerous gleam in his eyes.
"Not even the Med-Jai would harm an innocent child," Anck-su-Namun scoffed with far more confidence than she felt, clinging to the girl.
"Please!" Imhotep tried a different tactic, holding out his hands in an expression of helplessness. "Don't kill our daughter. I have lived before. Kill me, if you must, for your blasted peace of mind, but let her have a chance to live."
Anck-su-Namun paled and squeezed Jendayi closer but did not object to the offer.
"You would do this for her?" Ardeth asked.
"Yes! All I have ever wanted was to live with my Anck-su-Namun, but now there is something I want more...for my child to live. Gods, I know how fleeting and precious life is. But I have lived before, far longer than any mortal. Jendayi has not. I was first born some three thousand years ago, she, but four. Please. She has done nothing against you or any Pharaoh. Let her live."
Anck-su-Namun was trying very hard not to weep. Jendayi was doing enough of it for both of them.
The Med-Jai looked uncertainly from Ardeth to Seti and back again.
"Don't listen to that blasphemer!" Seti boomed. "I am Horus rising, the morning and evening star, the Great House, Pharaoh of Upper and Lower Egypt! I command you to kill those three traitors!"
The Med-Jai did not move.
"But sire, if--" Ardeth began.
"You dare question the word of your Pharaoh?"
Abasi stepped forward. "I don't care who you were in a past life. I'm not killing an innocent child. To do so would defile all the Med-Jai stand for." He ceremonially laid his scimitar on the ground and folded his arms against his black robe. The others followed his lead. Imhotep and Anck-su-Namun watched with wide eyes, hardly daring to believe what they were seeing.
"You impudent curs!" Seti exploded.
Ardeth grasped his wooden staff and stood as tall as he could, radiating command. "We have served your memory faithfully for three thousand years. We have grieved at our failure to protect you. We have sacrificed countless good men in the pursuit of our mission. I personally have stared down a boundless army of Anubis warriors. But what you ask us now is impossible. The Med-Jai are sworn to protect life, to combat evil, and to keep honor on the names of the Pharaohs. To do as you ask now would be to betray all three. We cannot, will not do it."
Seti sputtered in inarticulate fury.
Imhotep temporarily left the side of his trembling wife and daughter and strode forward to face the Med-Jai patriarch. They regarded each other silently for a moment. Then, slowly, an expression that was nearly a smile took shape on Imhotep's face. He solemnly held out a hand. Ardeth raised an eyebrow, then put forth a wrinkled hand to shake Imhotep's. His grip was surprisingly strong for one of such advanced age.
"Truce?" Imhotep said.
Ardeth nodded. "May we all find peace at last."
Seti cleared his throat loudly. "Ahem! What about me?"
"What about you?" Imhotep said coldly. He returned to his wife's side and embraced her and their child. "You are nothing. Then you were a nothing with a crown. Now you're just plain nothing. Leave us alone."
The last tinges of the sunset suddenly increased a thousandfold in a burst of light so intense that the people in the street staggered backward. An overpowering smell of incense hit them, and when they got their senses about them they looked up to see the impossible.
The gods and goddesses were there. Amon-Ra, Osiris, Isis, Horus, Anubis, Thoth, Hathor, Ptah, Sobek, Ma'at, Bes, Bast, Sekhmet, Seth... The figures were larger than life, glowing with white light that made it nearly impossible to look directly at them.
"Enough!" bellowed Amon-Ra. The force of his voice knocked the mortals from their feet. Imhotep instinctively threw his body over that of his wife and child, and Abasi scrambled to cushion his grandfather's fall. "No more!" the king of the Egyptian gods announced. "We grow weary of thy troubles!"
"What our loud colleague is trying to say," Bast purred, "is that enough is enough, and we've decided to clear up this mess once and for all."
The mortals just blinked.
Cow-headed Hathor stepped forward from the line of deities. "Anck-su-Namun, my servant." She raised a hand, and the woman in question began levitating in a haze of rose-hued light. "Thou hast been true to me and thy love."
Green-skinned Osiris stepped forward, as well. "Imhotep, my servant." He gestured with his ceremonial crook and flail, and Imhotep also rose into the air, surrounded by green light. "Thou hast kept my name alive through the ages."
Jendayi's tears gave way to giggles. "Daddy! Mommy! You're flying!" She spun in circles and raised her hands toward them, delighted by the spectacle.
Falcon-headed Horus stepped forward and pointed a feathered hand at Ardeth. "Ardeth Bay, thou hast shown exceptional loyalty, bravery and pureness of heart." A nimbus of yellow light surrounded the Med-Jai leader, and as it grew in intensity the years faded away and Ardeth appeared once again as he had in his prime, proud and strong.
Mysterious Seth, his long, floppy ears held high, pointed at the reincarnated Pharaoh. "Seti the First, thou hast been a fitting namesake for me, the god of destruction and disruption." A blaze of fiery red light lifted Seti to the level of the others, high above the street.
Amon-Ra spread his arms to take in the four floating figures. "Thou hast all been true to thine destinies, no matter how difficult it may have been," he announced. "Thine rewards are now due thee." He turned to Imhotep and Anck-su-Namun, and thoughtfully let Jendayi float up to be with them.
"Whee!" the child giggled.
Anck-su-Namun clutched her child close, frightened to see her flying about like a soap bubble.
"Imhotep. Anck-su-Namun." Amon-Ra slowly brought his hands together until the two were floating in the same cloud of light. "Thou hast adapted admirably to this time, but thine hearts have always belonged to the ancient days." Neither denied it. "Thus we have decided to allow thee and thine children to live out thy days in peace in the time of the Old Kingdom."
"Children?" Anck-su-Namun said numbly, surprised by the plural.
"My child," Hathor said with a beatific smile, "just four days ago the spark of a new life took root in thy womb."
She looked to Imhotep and blushed.
"Thou shalt bear a son," the goddess of love announced happily.
Tears of surprised joy welled up in her eyes. Her reaction was to say something like, "Really?" but it was silly to question a deity. Instead she merely hugged her husband and daughter with renewed vigor.
"And...we are to live in the past?" Imhotep asked.
"Indeed," Amon-Ra continued. "Ye recall the name of the great architect who designed the first pyramid at Saqqara?"
Imhotep nodded and spoke his own name. Amon-Ra merely smiled. "You mean I--? I always assumed that was a coincidence!"
Amon-Ra shook his golden head. "Thou shalt do us this last great service, to ensure the glory of Egypt will always be remembered in the world." He stretched out a glowing hand and cast a parchment in Imhotep's direction. He caught it, and found it to be covered in hieroglyphics and diagrams explaining how to build a step pyramid. His eyes widened. So hieroglyphics really were the writing of the gods, after all!
"I--I thank you for the honor, great Amon-Ra!" he stammered.
Seth spoke up. "Seti, thou shalt also be rewarded in a manner appropriate to thine accomplishments."
Seti perked up, expecting a gift of great honor.
"Thou shalt be reincarnated one time more," Seth announced.
"As?" Seti asked eagerly.
"A dung beetle."
"A dung beetle. Not a sacred scarab beetle. A regular, run-of-the-mill dung beetle."
"Why?!" Seti yelled. "I thought this was a reward!"
"I said thou wouldst be rewarded in an appropriate manner," Seth said with a twinkle in his eye. "Thou hast been a disgrace to the double crown of Egypt, and must be disgraced in turn."
Imhotep and Anck-su-Namun tried very, very, very hard not to snicker. They failed. The gods forgave them.
Seti tried to protest further, but with a wave of his hand, Seth froze him in place, an enraged statue.
Horus regarded the Med-Jai leader. "Ardeth Bay, thou hast been true to thy heart, thy friends, thy mission and thy heritage. Thine allotted years on this Earth have drawn to a close, and it is time for thee to join us in the Lands of the West."
Ardeth bowed his head before the falcon-headed god. "I have no regrets," he said simply.
"Thou shalt enjoy a position of honor among us for the rest of time."
Hathor went to Anck-su-Namun and Imhotep, enveloping both of them and Jendayi in an embrace that sent warm bliss through their bodies. It was almost as if they had returned to the womb, lulled by a sense of overwhelming love and security. "Find peace at last, my children," she said in her low, silky voice. Before they had a chance to reply, everything faded to black.
On to Chapter Four...