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Walking With The Dead

by P L Nunn

 

Chapter Fifteen

 

There was something about flying that calmed Rowan. That lifted the weight of stress and worry off his admittedly battered shoulders and lent him a sense of peace. He'd claimed the window seat and sat for most of the flight while Sai and Kento intermittently talked to each other, staring out at endless white clouds. They were upset and uneasy with the thing they were about. With the tentative plans they had made. He was. God, he was nauseous from it, but there was little enough help for it. Little enough in the way of alternatives. His hands had been shaking while they'd waited in the airport for the plane to pull up. He'd tried to hide it from Sai, who was making no efforts to hide just how miserable he was. Just how distressed. Kento was snappy with it and Kento was hardly ever snappy. The lot of them short-tempered and afraid, but damned and determined to go through with the uncertain plan they'd come up with.

The clouds made Rowan feel better. The sense of suspension did. He'd rather be in a small plane where a body could feel it better, the big ones were so insulated that it was almost not like flying at all.

When they sat down for that last time -- the third of various stop-over's to change planes -- he felt almost, a sense of disappointment. A sense of the loss of the serenity he'd gained for those all to brief hours. Setting foot on ground again signaled the start of dire things.

"Do you want a pill? You're overdue." Sai hovered at his shoulder while Kento was seeing about checking in their scant baggage. They'd stuffed everything they needed into a few carry on's. No, he didn't want a pill. He didn't want anything that would cloud his mind at this point in the game. The discomfort would keep him on his toes.

He shook his head at Sai and got a frown in return. "Why not?" Sai wanted to know.

"Because." A time honored answer. He handed his passport to someone official. Kento, who'd already passed through was waiting on the other side.

"You really ought to --"

"Shut up, Sai." Rowan suggested and waved down a cab that looked like it had barely survived a demolition derby in the streets of Cairo.

Sai pouted and squeezed into the backseat between Kento and Rowan, silent and unhappy. They directed the driver, who knew a smattering of English, to take them to the embassy. They got there and eventually found someone who knew about the Ryo incident. A middle aged secretary related the story as Ryo as told it to her. Which meant that it was a little confused and a little contradictory. Ryo couldn't tell a decent lie to save his life. She told them he'd promised to check back that evening, and then directed them to the Cairo Hilton where she assured them she would send Ryo as soon as he showed back up.

"You asked for the nicest hotel, Rowan." Sai gave him a most concerned look as they were piling back into the taxi. "Do we have the money for an expensive hotel?"

Rowan held up a shining piece of platinum plastic. "Courtesy of Seiji. How do you think I paid for the plane tickets?"

"You swiped Seiji's credit card?" Sai was frowning.

Rowan shrugged. "It's one of his duplicates. I know where he keeps them."

"Rowan, that's awful."

Kento chuckled. "He won't miss it."

The Hilton was obviously the lodging of choice for foreign diplomats of all nationalities. The lobby was full of security. There were enough hidden guns under dark, well-cut suits to wage a small war. Rowan strode up to the counter in jeans and a travel wrinkled white shirt and asked in English, for the best rooms available. The man at the counter looked him up and down dubiously, gave Sai and Kento behind him the same look, before asking in heavily accented English how they would be paying.

Rowan slapped Seiji's plastic on the counter and the man grew noticeably warmer at the color and all the flashing holograms gracing the front.

"Of course, Mr. Date, let me see what we have available." he pronounced the name atrociously. Rowan didn't correct him.

They ended up with a two connecting suites on the top floor. Very expensive suites -- generally sat aside for heads of state and other bullshit artists -- according to the receptionist, who was just waiting for Rowan to balk at the grand per night room rate. Rowan shrugged and told him to charge it.

So upstairs they went with their limited luggage and their travel weary selves. They were very nice rooms, each with a separate living room with its own wet-bar, a lounge between the bedroom and the living room and a kick ass bathroom complete with its own Jacuzzi and mini-bar.

Rowan flopped down on the couch while Sai was investigating the rooms and Kento was going through the contents of the wetbar.

"So what first?" Kento asked.

"We go and get the things we couldn't bring on the plane over." Rowan said. "Maybe get a lay of the land."

"Kento and I go." Sai corrected him, that bit of ominous authority on his voice that foretold of a long and harsh argument if and when Rowan decided to contradict him. "You stay here in case Ryo calls or shows up."

"The hell --"

"You most certainly will." Sai shook a finger at him. "You look like you're about to fall down anyway. And you're not supposed to be straining yourself."

"You are sorta pale." Kento commented.

"Fuck the both of you."

Kento grinned. "You can do him later, but me -- I'll do without, thanks. Damn, there's a lot of booze here. Here, keep yourself occupied with some of this." He tossed Rowan a mini bottle of bourbon.

Sai frowned at him. "You ought not be drinking."

"Oh go to --"

"Rowan." Sai's frown deepened. "Just do what you're told for once and don't give us a fight over it. Listen to your body if you won't listen to me. If you're going to be any good to us later on, you need to rest now, understand?"

Rowan glowered. He sank deeper into the couch and refrained from comment. Sai was right of course. He was sore as hell. His bones hurt. His mending muscles screamed protest. His head was one big ball of discomfort. The bourbon sounded like a good idea.

"Don't drink." Sai said over his shoulder as he and Kento were leaving. "Take a pain pill instead."

Rowan tossed him the byrd, but not until the door was shut. He hated to be babied. He sulked for a bit, then flipped on the TV. The programming sucked. He didn't understand the dialect. There was a movie channel that offered a selection of languages, but the movies were out of date. He opted for the radio instead and room service. The food was exceptional and expensive as hell. He charged it to the room of course. Let Seiji treat.

He laid himself out on the couch after that, stuffed and indolent, listening to the rhythmic, sultry strains of some local music station and drowsed. The drowse turned into full out slumber that was broken by the sound of the door opening and bodies moving about the room. He didn't quite blink into full awareness until Sai was leaning over him, all pleased and motherly to find Rowan napping on the couch. Rowan batted the hand reaching for his forehead away.

"How are you feeling, Rowan?"

"Fine." He pushed himself up and looked to the bags they had sat down on the coffee table. "You get everything?"

"We got." Kento nodded. "No shortage of people willing to sell things like that here."

"Good. That's one thing."

"No Ryo?" Kento asked.

Rowan shook his head, frowning. He looked at his watch, which albeit was not on time here, but did give him a proper estimation of how long Sai and Kento had been gone. Three hours. It was well into the afternoon now. On its way to getting dark. He chewed on a nail, worrying. He cursed himself for not having had the presence of mind to get more out of Ryo when he'd called. For not having made concrete plans. Rowan liked a bit of strategy. He felt better with it. Which didn't mean a damn thing of course where Ryo was concerned. Ryo laughed in the face of a thought out plan. Telling Ryo thing needed to be done exactly so and in this order was like telling White Blaze not to use the furniture as a scratching post. It just didn't click inside either brain. Or it clicked and they ignored it anyway. Well -- maybe White Blaze ignored it. Ryo just didn't have the organizational skills to stick to a plan. Ryo lived by the seat of his pants. Ryo forgot things like time schedules and important meetings and calling people who were worried sick about him.

"So what's the town look like?" he ran fingers through sleep tousled hair.

"Brown." Sai said. "And dry. And hot. And I don't like it all that much."

"Its awesome." Kento said. "Like right out of an Indiana Jones movie. The market was so kick-ass."

"I wouldn't mind seeing the pyramids." Sai relented.

"Yeah, me neither." Rowan agreed. "Maybe later -- once this crap is over."

"Room service any good?" Kento had been eyeing the remains of Rowan's feast. He picked up the gutted remains of a lobster head and waggled it at Sai. Sai glowered and pretended not to notice.

"Wonderful. Order what you want. I don't think Seiji's card has a cap that we're gonna reach anytime soon."

They did, while Rowan dug into the packages they'd brought back and examined their purchases. He was sighting down the aim of the dart gun when room service knocked on the door. He put the piece hastily under a pillow behind him while Sai went to answer the door.

It wasn't food. It was Ryo with his hand half raised to knock again, an uncertain expression on his face, as if he wasn't sure he was rapping at the right door.

"Oh, God, Ryo!" Sai exclaimed and wrapped his arms about him before he could even gather himself to cross the threshold. "We were so worried. Are you okay? You don't look okay. You look terrible. What happened? Where's Seiji? Did you just get our message at the embas---"

"Sai. Sai, shut up a minute, will you?" Ryo disentangled himself, blinking in a bit of amazement at the barrage of questions. Looking past Sai and into the room at Rowan and Kento. He bit his lip and swallowed, eyes a bit liquid, lower lip trembling just a tad.

"Damn, Ryo, you do look like shit." Kento observed.

"Thanks." Ryo murmured and let Sai pull him into the room and let the door be firmly shut behind him. He looked at Rowan and his lips trembled a little more. "I thought you were dead."

"Yeah, I remember you saying as much. I'm not."

"He came close to it." Sai interjected, just to set matters straight.

"You guys okay? Really?" Ryo's eyes were shrouded in exhaustion. He looked bruised and battered and on the verge of some sort of collapse.

"We're fine." Rowan cast Sai a look, daring him to disclaim the statement. "We've been through worse. What about you? You don't look so good.'

Ryo waved dismissive hand, then clenched it when his fingers visibly shook. "I'm all right. Just haven't a gotten much sleep is all. That seemed an understatement. Rowan thought he looked as if he hadn't gotten any at all. Rowan thought he looked as if he were running on fumes and fumes alone. He looked disheartened and beaten and that wasn't a look that Ryo wore well or often.

"Damnit, sit down before you fall down." Rowan suggested. "And tell us what the hell happened."

"Nothing. We came here. He wouldn't tell me why. I can't understand Egyptian --"

"Arabic." Sai corrected him.

Ryo shrugged. "Whatever. I can't understand it. He does. She does."

Rowan didn't believe that was all. Rowan knew Ryo was hiding things, but he figured they were personal injustices and Ryo didn't need to be pressured to give them up. Rowan could well imagine anyway. "You know where he is?"

A faint smile. Ryo shrugged. "Took me all night, but I backtracked. I know where they're at."

"They. As in Seiji and the bitch, or is somebody else involved that we don't know about?"

"All of the above." Ryo grimaced. "There's like this bunch of religious freaks that he's hooked up with. Sort of like the type of guys you'd expect to strap a bomb to their chests and run into a mall screaming, praise Allah or America sucks or whatever."

"What does he want from them?"

"I told you I couldn't understand." Ryo snapped, a little irritable, a little scared.

"It's okay, man." Kento tried to soothe things, placing his big hands on Ryo's shoulders from behind the couch. Ryo flinched, waving him off with a reflexive shrug and a skittish jerk forward. He didn't do it apurpose. That was clear from the apologetic look he threw Kento afterwards.

"Sorry." He murmured. "Just jumpy is all. I had a little trouble last night -- they're not real crazy about foreigners here. 'Specially not the ones that roam the streets after dark."

"Have you eaten?" Sai wanted to know. "We've got room service coming."

Ryo shrugged, not commenting one way or the other. "So what's the plan? You said on the phone we could fix this. How?"

Rowan met Sai's eyes. Sai's mouth was a thin, unhappy line. Kento was looking at his hands on the couch back. They were leaving it up to him. He wasn't sure he wanted to tell Ryo the whole

"Plan". He wasn't sure Ryo would go for. He settled for pulling out the gun from behind him and Ryo's eyes got wide and incredulous at the sight of it.

"You're gonna shoot him?"

"Not with a bullet. With a tranq. Same stuff we used on White Blaze. Little bit less of it. We need to knock his ass out fast enough so that he can't use the power of Halo to shake it off. We need him down so we can get his power orb and get it far enough away from him so he can't draw on it. Then we work on kicking the bitch out."

"That's it? That's the big plan?"

Rowan shrugged. "We talked to a friend of Mia's -- Egyptology guy, who told us a lot of interesting things. About Nefertiti and what she might be after and some of the magics they might have used to separate and trap her soul to start with. About what she's likely to do to get her ka and ba back together. None of it looks good for Seiji. Lots of mysticism and ceremony involved. She's probably after an unhindered body to inhabit, so she needs to put him down once and for all. We can't let her do that, 'cause if she does -- then its too late."

"Oh -- god." Ryo dropped his head into a palm, dug his fingers into his hair and stayed that way for a while. "I'm so tired of this." He ground out, frustrated, angry -- lost. "I want him to be okay again. I want -- I want to disappear somewhere -- this is worse than anything --ever --"

"Ryo --" Sai put an arm around him, Sai stroked disarrayed black hair into some sort of order. "-- you're tired. Take a bath. Sleep. We can work on this tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" Ryo laughed, short and sharp. "There's no tomorrow, Sai. They were packing up to leave when I left. We don't have time to do anything but get back over there before they do so we don't lose him. If its not already too late."

"Leaving to go where?" Kento asked.

"I don't know." Ryo pulled at his hair. "He wouldn't tell me anything."

"You got an address?" Rowan asked.

"No. But I know how to get back there."

"Okay, so we jump in a cab and go over there."

"Its not gonna be so easy." Ryo said miserably. "They've got guns. Even if we take him down, getting him away from them is going to be a problem."

"We worry about it when it time comes." Rowan shrugged. "We'll think of something, right?"

Ryo stared, seemed to struggle after a bit of optimism and finally nodded. "Okay. Okay. We leave now, then before its too dark for me to find the way back."

They found a cab in the line of cars outside the hotel with a driver that spoke a modicum of English. Ryo relatively coherent directions and eventually the cab careened down the narrow dusty street where Ryo claimed the old temple to be. Even as they approached a battered van was pulling away from the curb.

"That's them. That's them." Ryo jabbed a finger after the van.

"You sure?" Rowan leaned over the back of Ryo's seat to peer through the grimy window.

"Yes! Follow that van."

The driver said something in Arabic that sounded vaguely disgusted, but pulled out after the retreating van nonetheless. Through disconcerting dark streets they went. None of them could have retraced their path if lives had depended upon it. Thankfully the final destination was hard to miss and easy to identify. They smelled the water before they saw it. They'd come to a river side harbor of sorts, a warehouse district filled with small booths closed for the night between the larger structures of storehouses. The sluggish surface of the Nile could be seen the closer they got, waves glinting in the moon light.

What the bitch was doing here was anyone's guess. The question was answered soon enough when the group of Egyptians piled out of the van, followed more sedately by a familiar, blonde figure. They lugged supplies to the dock of a mid-sized river boat. One of the natives accompanying Seiji conferred with the little man who'd appeared from the depths of the boat. Money seemed to be exchanged.

"So where the hell are they going that they need a boat?" Rowan mused.

"I have no idea." Ryo said softly.

"We can't follow him on the river." Kento said, squeezing up next to Rowan to get a better view of the goings on a the dock.

"Is that place down the river -- the city where she was supposed to have died? Tel-el-Amarna?"

"Akhetaten was the old name." Rowan said softly, recalling what their historian had said. "And there's supposed to be a city of the dead behind it. Its where she'd want to go -- to find her tomb and break whatever spell separated her ka from her ba."

Ryo was blinking at them, having very little idea what they were talking about. Probably not caring beyond the fact that it was a place they needed to go to stay on Seiji's trail.

"What if you're wrong? What if they're not going to this place?"

"Then we're fucked."

"Any of you guys have your cell phone on you?"

"I do. Why?" Sai said.

"Give it to me."

"Why?" Sai repeated.

"Ryo--?" Rowan said warningly. "What are you going to do?"

"Press my luck. Give me the damn phone, Sai."

"Ryo -- no." Sai was horrified.

Ryo lunged back between the seats, grabbing for Sai's shirt, jerking him forward in absolute dead earnestness. "You said we couldn't lose him. Well, I'm gonna make sure that doesn't happen. Give me the phone, Sai."

"Give him the phone." Rowan said softly.

Sai made a miserable sound and fished the phone out of his pocket. It was small enough for Ryo to slip into his back pocket and not have it be overtly obvious. "I'll let you know, if I can, where the boat stops. Find a boat to follow me as soon as you can."

"We will." Rowan promised. It hurt -- the notion of willingly sending Ryo back into the lion's den. He knew that Ryo had not been treated well there. It was clear in his eyes and the way his hands shook when he wasn't thinking about keeping them close to his person. It was a fucking miserable, terrible thing to do to a friend.

It wasn't like they had much of a choice.

 

I don't want to do this. I don't want to do this. I don't want to do this.

It thumped in his head like a migraine, brutal and insistent. He made himself walk towards that dock anyway, once the taxi had slipped off into the night. Made himself stand there at the edge of the flickering lights and wait until someone noticed him Made himself not dart into the shadows as Arabic voices raised in alarm and a set of ice blue eyes swung his way.

No turning back now, not unless he wished flat out flight.

Seiji walked towards him, shoes crunching on gravel, leisurely and curious, a slight smile twitching at the corners of his lips.

"Well, this is a surprise. A shock, really. I honestly didn't expect to see you again."

"Where are you going?" Ryo whispered. He wanted to take a step backwards, to put that much more space between him and Seiji. He didn't. He held his ground.

Seiji tilted his head so the hair fell away from his face. Curious. Very curious. "On a boat ride. Why, do you want to come? Did you miss me that much, Ryo?"

"I can't let you take him away."

"Can't? Can you stop me?"

Silence.

"No." Seiji answered for him and shrugged. "Your tenacity is admirable. It might even get you somewhere. You can come if you want. I won't stop you. He won't be happy when he realizes it, you know."

He had known the offer would be extended. "If any of them --- touch me -- " he said softly, earnestly. "I'll kill them." He meant it.

"Hummm." Seiji considered. "Its probably just as well that they don't. It created a problem last time, didn't it?"

A muscle in Ryo's jaw twitched. A little bit of blood ran down his palm from where his nails bit into flesh.

Fool. Fool. Fool. Some inner voice screamed at him. He ignored it and walked towards the boat with Seiji.

 

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