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The Road To Hell

by P L Nunn




Sai was comfortable. Warm and content and dreaming something blissful and vaguely indecent. The cold was gone, and the damp and most importantly the uncertainty. He sighed and pressed his face deeper into Rowan's shoulder.

"Hey, guys. You alive?" Kento's loud voice. Followed by Kento's loud presence, as he thrust his head and shoulders into the niche Sai shared with Rowan.

Sai blinked, shifting to peer down the length of their bodies at Kento.

"Go 'way." Rowan muttered, pulling the edge of the blanket over his head, dragging half of it off Sai in the process.

"Guess he's better." Kento observed, eyeing the parts of Sai appraisingly, that had been exposed by Rowan's blanket theft. Sai gave him a narrow look and Kento laughed.

"Listen, Seiji's got this crazy notion in his head and I'm gonna tag along with him. Just wanted to let you guys know where we were at."

"What crazy notion?" Sai asked, running both hands through his sleep tousled brown hair.

"Oh, he wants to go climbing up in the cliffs and find this sealed power Charlotte was telling us about. She's about to have a fit over it."

"Why on earth would he want to do that?"

Kento shrugged helplessly. "I learn not to ask. He just looks at me like I'm stupid for wanting to know."

"Don't let him get into trouble." Rowan's voice wafted out from under the blanket.

Kento snickered and retreated. Sai sat there, wondering if his clothes were dry. Wondering if he ought to go out and tag along himself.

"Its not like you could stop him if he wanted to do something stupid." Rowan read his thoughts.

"Seiji doesn't do very many stupid things." Sai murmured. "I can't imagine why he wants to go looking for a thing that Charlotte says is dangerous."

"He's just freaked out worrying about Ryo."

"Humm, that's what worries me."

Rowan's fingers slipped from under the blanket and closed over his wrist. "Like I said, can't do anything about it. Come under here for a minute -- I want to show you something."

"Show me--?" Sai blinked in confusion, but complied.

"What --? Oh." As Rowan guided his hands down to Rowan's morning erection. And as Rowan was in the process of making use of it, a female presence intruded in the midst of a most embarrassing moment.

"Are the two of you going to sleep all day?" Charlotte the Red glared in at them, a much less friendly face than Kento. Sai hid his face in Rowan's chest, and Rowan looked over his shoulder accusingly at the dead pirate.

"Doesn't anybody ever knock?" he snarled.

She grinned, taking in the situation. Her eyes grew lazy and appreciative. "Knock on what, laddie? Don't mind me, though. Go on with what you were about. I'll just sit here and watch."

Rowan growled. Rowan, who had not quite managed to consummate the act, went rather limp under Charlotte's appraisal. He shifted between Sai's legs, sitting with his back to Sai. A better position to glare at their intruder.

"What the fuck do you want?"

She tossed their clothes in at them. "Breakfast. Get dressed boys. Maybe you can stay out of the water today, hummm?"

The clothes were almost dry. Just a little damp, but it wasn't cold here. It was more trouble than it was worth trying to get dressed in the niche they'd spent the night in. Sai ended up with Rowan's elbow in his head and Rowan's desperate apology when he sat with his head hanging between his knees waiting for the ringing to stop. They settled for pulling on trousers and dragged the rest out after them, to dress where there was more space for it. It wasn't as if Charlotte hadn't seen everything there was to see of them anyway.

She smiled at them lecherously when they sat down around the little fire. Sai blushed and refused to look at her, staring instead at the small crackling flame and the unidentified creatures roasting over it.

"What's that?" Rowan asked the question Sai preferred not to know.

"Rat." She said. "Tons of the critters in the rocks around here."

"Ohh, yuch." Rowan said and scooted back a bit. "Not even if I didn't have the worst headache ever."

"Suit yourself, sweetie." She shrugged, picked up a skewer and offered it to Sai. He turned a little green and politely waved it away.

"No thank you. Um -- didn't we pack a little bread?"

She motioned to the packs and he went to unwrap a chunk of the hard bread the overlappers had given them. He split the piece in two and handed half to Rowan.

"So where'd Seiji and Kento go?" Rowan asked.

"Where I told them not to." Charlotte growled and pointed up to the cliffs behind them. Tall jagged cliffs, dotted with caves and narrow ledges. There was no sign of their comrades.

"What's so dangerous about this thing, if its sealed in?" Rowan wanted to know.

"I don't know, laddie. What's so dangerous about a blade, until some fool picks it up and slices his throat?"

"The name is Rowan." He glared at her. She glared back. Sai thought, considering her size and her demeanor, that she might just be able to take Rowan -- sans armor -- in a fight. He really wished the two of them would stop bickering.

"Umm, perhaps we ought to go find them and make certain nothing's happened? They haven't been gone long, right?"

"Let's see, I fixed breakfast, you two had time to fuck ---"

"God." Rowan exploded. "Obviously we didn't have time since you interrupted, you bitch. What the hell is your problem this morning?"

She sniffed. She cast a dark glare up the cliff, but refused to answer.

She was scared was what, Sai thought. She was afraid of the notion of Seiji or anybody disturbing something a power of hell had imprisoned. And that scared Sai.

Ryo came awake with a gasp. Sat up with a sharper one, looking frantically about for the enemies that had been plaguing his sleep. For one moment he saw grass covered ground, and the shimmering wall of energy that separated this place from the marsh, then his vision went screwy, his equilibrium threw its hands in the air and deserted him and his stomach heaved in the desperate attempts to empty itself of all its contents. Which wasn't much. It had been a long time since he'd eaten. In his present state, doubled over trying very hard to throw up, so dizzy he could barely keep himself from just toppling forward, he could not quite recall how long he had been in this place. This so called hell.

For a second, he couldn't remember how he had gotten here -- then the image of wrecking Seiji's car and the thing in the woods came back to him. He curled onto his side after his stomach had settled, clutching his right arm to his chest. Immersed in the dull, throbbing heat; in it and along his shoulder and back. It felt as if he'd been branded, and the iron had pierced skin and traveled along inside his veins. He shifted his arm and gingerly peeled back the shredded sleeve of his stolen tunic. A series of puncture marks, deep and angry red-purple with bruising. Pink in patches around the skin, with faint lines of red spider webbing away from the wounds.

Infected. Or poisoned. Either way he was in trouble. He'd hate to see his shoulder, which had taken the worst of the attack. With a shivery sigh, he pushed himself up. He did not know how long he had been out, but if he stayed here, he was certain to be found by Tulpa's men.

He got to his feet with effort, swaying unsteadily afterwards. The whole world went out of focus and it took him a long time of steady breathing to get it back in. He almost forgot the sword, and bending down to pick it up almost did him in. He figured he had a fever on top of the wounds.

Carefully sticking the blade through his belt, he made his way towards the forest. It wasn't a large forest, though it took him a good while to slowly navigate it. It was cool and quiet and dry. There were no snakes. He began to feel somewhat better. His legs felt a little stronger. There was a small stream, and he gratefully collapsed beside it, cupping water to his lips and when he'd drank his fill, tearing a piece off the bottom of the tunic and using it to clean the wounds.

Across the stream the forest thinned and turned into hilly grassland. The hills seemed to go on forever, growing ever taller, so that he could not see beyond the next rise. He lost count of how many he trudged up and down. Once he saw a group of horned animals. No creatures he recognized. They lifted their heads and stared at his passing, but made no violent move.

The violet sky sloped sharply down and he found himself at another barrier. Considering what had been on the other side of the first one he'd crossed, he hesitated at this one. There ought to be a logical way of making the decision. Cross or stay and explore this peaceful, pleasant scrap of land. But he couldn't think well with the pounding in his head and the constant throb of pain in shoulder and arm. Logic had never been his strong point anyway. He always had been better at acting first and thinking about the consequences later.

He stepped across the barrier, choosing the unexplored to the safe known factor.

There was desert on the other side. Well, not quite desert, but a great deal of dry, arid land. He walked for a while, and after an hour with hardly a change in the landscape, considered the possibility that he'd chosen badly.

He was thinking about whether he ought to turn back, when the horsemen appeared on the horizon.

It had not been an easy climb, and Seiji was good at rock climbing. The footing was treacherous, the distances deceiving, the handholds unreliable. He supposed it was the nature of the place. But throughout the night, sitting alone in a cramped little niche hardly large enough to stretch his legs out in, the urge to discover the source of the niggling little essence that seeped out of this canyon like --- nectar or poison -- had gnawed at him. He explored the possibility that the urge was not entirely his own. That something called to him that the others did not perceive. And that intrigued him all the more. If there was a power here that wanted to convene with him then he was curious to know why.

So he climbed the cliff against their guide's vehement advice and Kento trailed after him, not willing to let his back go unguarded, when it was patently obvious that Sai and Rowan, recently drowned and frozen had more need of his protection. Kento thought otherwise. Kento was stubborn as a rock. Seiji refused to argue with a person he could not sway.

There was a dark narrow opening high up the cliff face. Out of all the little caves and crevices, Seiji somehow knew that this was the one he wanted. He slipped into the darkness, the walls close against his slender frame. Kento would have trouble navigating it, if he could get his by far more muscular torso through at all.

"Kento, stay outside." He suggested.

"Right." Kento said, out of breath. There was more sarcasm than agreement in the tone, which meant Kento would be squeezing in after Seiji.

"If you get stuck, do not say I didn't warn you."

"If I get stuck, you're gonna be stuck on the other side of me, so you better prey I don't."

Seiji pressed his lips in irritation. It was dark. He wished he had a light. The light from outside did not reach far into the cave, and Kento's bulk blocked a good deal of that. The walls expanded. There was sudden space on either side of him. Dark, cool air that hinted at a tall ceiling. Seiji stepped into the pitch, letting his eyes adjust to the lack of light. He could just make out the jutting shapes of rocks in a round chamber.

"Shit." Kento let out a burst of breath and squeezed into the chamber. A little more light spilled in with him out of the entrance. "What? This is where you wanted to come?"

"Shush." Seiji held up a hand warningly. There was a sound. A slight, harmonious humming that seemed to emanate from the floor.

"What?" Kento obviously didn't hear it.

Seiji drifted to the wall, walked slowly along it, drifting his fingers across the rock. There -- at the back of the cave -- it was strongest. He knelt and felt a rush of cold air. There was a small opening from which emanated a very faint bluish light. Kento bent next to him and peered into the opening.

"There's something on the other side." Kento offered. "No way we're fitting through there though."

"I can fit." Seiji was certain that he just could. He felt more than saw Kento's frown.

"No way, Seiji. We don't know what's in there."

"Hence going in to find out."

"You get in trouble, I can't come and help." Real worry there. A great deal of concern. Seiji sighed.

"I can take care of myself." Which was all he planed to say on the subject. Kento grunted, not happy at all. Seiji put his concerns out of his mind and slithered into the narrow passage. He was not claustrophobic. He didn't have those types of phobia's -- but as the rock closed about him, so tight he couldn't lower his arms to his sides, and had to wriggle snake-like forward when the rock turned so smooth there was nothing for his fingers to grip -- a little touch of panic touched him. He whipped it into submission, refusing to be tainted by such irrational fears. There was an end to this tight little tunnel as was evidenced by the soft blue light that drew him down it.

His fingers gripped the edge and he pulled himself out, feeling down the wall for a floor and finding it about three feet below the outlet. He tumbled out into a small, round cave. Not round like the one outside, but perfectly spherical. The only thing marring the smooth curved walls-floor-ceiling, was a jutting finger of stone that rose up from the exact center of the floor and ended half way between floor and ceiling. It started out wide and tapered to the thickness of man's leg at the end. Atop it sat the source of the light. A glowing blue globe.

He circled it. Warily, carefully. Not foolish enough, even in his elation at finding it, to take its unknown properties for granted.

"What are you?" he whispered, more a rhetorical question than one he expected an answer for.

What do you want me to be?

It echoed inside his head. Seiji stopped, narrowing his eyes. Carefully now. Tread carefully, for this was a sentient thing he had found.

"What are you?" he repeated the question softly.

Ah, and this is the curiosity that drove you come seek me out? I can be what you need me to be. But what does a living soul need with a dead one?

A dead soul. One of the inmates of hell. But an old one perhaps. And a powerful one. But shackled. He sensed that too.

"Why are you here?"

In hell or in this prison?

Ah, and not lacking a healthy sense of sarcasm. "Does one have bearing on the other?" He took up his slow circling of the thing, feeling better on the move.

Yes. In life, I made an enemy. That enemy proceeded me to this place. When I came -- he placed me here. Isolation was always a terror for me. It was an appropriate punishment. The lack of form is. I was vain in the days of my living.

"How long have you been here?"

Longer than you can imagine.

"I have an excellent imagination."

The first Akkadian sat on his conquered throne. How long have you been here?

"Humm. Not long."

How are you here, creature of living flesh and soul? How can such a thing be, in the abyss? There was a trembly sense of excitement in the words that formed inside Seiji's head. If the thing imprisoned in that globe had had a hand, it would have reached out to touch him in wonder. He didn't answer, not inclined to hand out facts about himself.

But it gleaned them anyway. You came of your own free will? Amazement. You crossed from the realm of the living into the realm of the dead --- Because of an injustice. Because something of yours was stolen?

Seiji's jaw twitched. He took offense at thoughts snatched out of his head.

And the pathway still exists. I can smell it on you. You reek of a foreign power that strives to cling to your physical self.

The armor, Seiji thought, suddenly breathless with the notion that their armor was still back where they'd left it, feeding power into a gateway that might get them out of this place. But for how long? And how did they trigger the gate? And this thing sensed it. Might it know how to open such a pathway?

He asked the question and there was a moment of pulsing silence.

Then. Perhaps. For a price.

Ah, of course there would be a price. He stared at it silently, waiting.

Take me out of this place.

"No. If you were imprisoned, it was for a reason."

Foolish, mortal. Do you thing the righteous rule here? Do you think right and decent are the motivations which make hell turn? Might it not occur to you that those persecuted in hell are the very souls who are not in alignment with its fundamental purpose?

Seiji didn't like being called foolish. He did not like the tone the thing took with him, even if it was all in his head. He turned and made for the tunnel out.

No. Wait. You cannot imagine the powers that face you in hell.

"I think I can."

You have no power here. That which you held waits for you on the other side of death -- in life.

How true. He didn't even have a weapon here. They hadn't been willing to part with a piece of precious steel. Rowan's bow, lost in the river had been all the weaponry they had. Charlotte had a sword, but he didn't trust her to use it in their behalf. What he did have was his intelligence, his martial skills, and the gift of life that every one here seemed to intrigued by. It might not be enough against something like Tulpa, who in life had taken far more than mere mortal powers to defeat. If he could help it, he didn't even want to see Tulpa. He just wanted to grab Ryo and run. But chances were, it would not be quite so easy. And time was of the essence. Both for Ryo's sake and for the armor's giving up power to keep an insubstantial gateway open.

If Ryo were even still alive. If this weren't all for nothing. Which thought made him clench his jaw, which made him see spots from the blood pounding behind his eyes. If that were the case then it would be a matter of vengeance. And how did you kill that which was already dead?

He's still alive.

Seiji hesitated with his hand on the top of the crawlway. "How do you know?"

The flavor of life stands out like a beacon in this place. I sensed you and your comrades for some time now. The other was further away, but he's closer now. But he's failing. If you don't hurry, they will be nothing left to find. I can grant you the power you need to overcome opposition. A trade -- if you like that notion better than a price. You get my knowledge and my power and I get a taste of freedom.

"You have no body to be free in."

No, but I tire of this cave. Take me out and let me see the world -- even if it is the world of the abyss -- from your eyes.

Seiji laughed. Ridiculous. The thing wished to use him as its guide. He'd as soon cut off an arm and offer it to it to use as its hands.

No. No. You misunderstand. It assured him. I can only sense the world around me through contact with a soul that travels it. I cannot even leave this chamber. But if you took something that contained a speck of my essence -- it would almost be the same.

Something formed in the rock under his hand. He jerked his fingers back and a stone circlet the size of a ring fell to the ground.

You can discard it at any time without calling upon me and the bargain will be void. There is no danger for you.

"And you expect me to believe this?"

Do you think if I could be released so easily, that if I could gain such freedom by the mere act of having someone take a piece of stone out of this prison, that I would not have done so long ago. This is a mere relief from boredom. Grant it, if you have any mercy. Grant it if you wish to escape this place with all that is yours.

There was no place to hide. So Ryo stood his ground, channeling his will into not swaying where he stood, and not having his hand visibly tremble on the hilt of the sword.

They were small dark men, on small, rangy horses. All but one, who rode at the fore, who was not small, or human appearing. Rather reptilian, if truth be known, or perhaps it was an elaborate mask. Long dark snout, tall, eyes spaced far apart on either side of a flat head that glowed red -- like the eyes of the lythos. Only it looked vaguely familiar, the mask. Like something he'd seen before. Like something out of a history book. Sculptures of ancient middle eastern gods came to mind. Rowan would know the names, Ryo couldn't bring one to mind that wasn't out of a Charlton Heston movie.

They stirred up dust as they reined in before him. Some of them circled him, horses skittish and ill-mannered. What did one expect from beasts of hell? He tried not to shy obviously away from the stomping beasts or the waving spear points. He kept the sword at his side, pointed towards the earth. He could not for the life of him think of what to say.

"Ummm -- hey guys -- I'm sorta lost here. I was wondering if maybe somebody could maybe give me some help?" He cast a hopeful look of appeal to the one's that were not circling. The masked -- he hoped it was a mask -- one, and a few others that merely sat their mounts in front of him and stared.

A spear butt prodded him in the back. He whirled, bringing up the sword reluctantly. He did not wish to fight. He really did not wish to delve into a conflict he was in no shape to pursue.

There was a word spoken in a tongue that held no meaning for him and the men circling him backed off. He turned back around. The Crocodile Mask had lifted a hand. The man beside him had spoken the word of command. Ryo sighed in relief. Reason did exist here. Perhaps even succor of some sort.

Then Crocodile Mask made a sharp motion and with a cry two of the horsemen tossed a weighted net.

Ryo yelped in surprise, twisted and dove in an effort to avoid the thing, and ended up with half of it over his legs, and his upper body precariously under prancing horse hooves. Recent memory told him that was not a good place to be. He threw up his arms to protect his head, even as he kicked to rid himself of the netting. But of course the men had followed it down from their horses. And he was not at his best or his quickest.

He was still good enough to take the legs out from under one of them, and in a desperate bid to gain his feet, used another's lunge as leverage to pull himself up. The non-business end of a spear hit him in the shoulder. The bad one. He cried out in pain, staggering backwards, slicing out with the sword blindly. He hit flesh. Heard a scream of anguish and felt a surprising stab of guilt for it. Swung again out of sheer desperation and a sword parried his. A large black sword, held in a large black hand.

He couldn't match the strength. Maybe with the armor and his katana's he might have. There was no way without them. A second hit, this time Ryo very much on the defensive. His arm went numb from wrist to shoulder at the jolt of it. The right knee buckled and he went down, one knee in the sand, the other leg out at an angle, blade trapped against the ground by the Crocidile Mask's much longer, much finger weapon. He hadn't quite seen the second blow. The thing was fast. Abysmally fast and strong.

The black blade lifted, the tip level with his throat, just brushing the skin. He stared up into the masked face, thinking that maybe reason didn't exist here after all.

He swallowed hard, surrounded by them, the thing in front of him just waiting for him to make a move. The smart thing to do would be drop the sword and surrender. He couldn't make himself let go the hilt. This place had bruised him too badly for him to blithely give in to it. He wanted -- he needed to fight against it.

He fell back, kicked out hard and caught the Crocidile Mask in the shins. It staggered, but didn't go down. The one's behind him swarmed like locust. Ryo was overwhelmed, but he'd gotten in a last lick. The sword was wrenched from his fingers. Better than giving it up willingly. Someone twisted his bad arm and he saw spots in his vision.

Someone else pulled him up by the hair, which was damned annoying. He clawed at the offending fingers, but they were inhumanely strong. The Crocidile Mask, who jerked him close, rearing its great head back to sniff at him with the snout end of the the mask.

"Let go." Ryo demanded and removed one hand from Crocidile Mask's wrist to shove at the chest. His head did not quite come up to the thing's shoulder. A rather imposing creature to face.

Rather surprisingly, it complied. Just released its hold on his hair, then as he was registering the freedom, snaked out an arm and caught him about the middle, hauling him off his feet and against its side like so much baggage. The good arm was trapped. The other one was next to useless.

Crocidile Mask stalked towards its waiting horse. Hauled itself and Ryo up one handed. It was not particularly rough in its treatment. More clinical than anything else. He got positioned in front of it, which was embarrassing as hell and struggled against the indignity until it slammed him back against its chest with enough force to make him loose his breath. A clear enough warning that it was not about to tolerate misbehavior.

Okay, think of things logically, if that were possible. They hadn't really hurt him. He was in their territory, armed and very obviously foreign. They didn't look like the men that had manned Tulpa's fortress. Everything from ethnic appearance to armor, to weapons were different. He had fought back, they had merely disarmed him and taken him into hand. Maybe they didn't mean harm. Maybe he didn't need to freak out worrying. Maybe the thing behind him -- and god, upon closer inspection the mask wasn't a mask at all, but the thing's actual head, all covered with a rough, patterned hide--maybe the thing wasn't a demon of hell. Maybe it was something that might help him.

Somebody needed to help him. He wasn't doing the best job of helping himself. He was going about it rather terribly in fact. His shoulder throbbed. His arm did. If there hadn't been an arm about him, he probably would have toppled from the saddle. Better that he wasn't walking anymore. He'd walked far to long with wounds that sang with infection.

He shut his eyes and tried to adjust to the jolting gait of the horse. It made his stomach queasy. Fight it back. Clear his head of all the turbulent thoughts. Focus on tranquillity and inner strength. Seiji had tried to teach him the basics of such meditation. He'd never had the patience to stick with it. Distraction came to easily to him. One of his flaws -- according to Seiji -- that his winds were scattered and he couldn't focus on a single track for long enough to master it. Not unless it was a physical pursuit. A sport, or a martial art that presented itself as a challenge. That sort of dare he could comprehend. He could sink his teeth into. The mental ones made him nervous.

He could not push the nausea and the hurt away on his own. It receded only when his consciousness slipped and he dozed.

He came to at the sound of civilization. The movement of many bodies, the unavoidable sounds of many hundreds of people crammed together in one place. The hooves of the horses echoing off stone streets.

Narrow streets. Low stone buildings. People crammed against the walls to allow the horsemen passage. Dead eyed, silent people, who only briefly looked up at the passing, who shuffled on along their way when the horses were gone. He craned his neck to look back, but they crossed a threshold between the shadowed light of the street and the darkness of a manmade tunnel.

The horses knew the way. The echoes rang like bullets of the walls. There were torches here and there along the walls. And in the orange nimbus of their glow, he could see detailed carvings on the sand colored walls. Lines and lines of hieroglyphics.

There was an end to the tunnel. There were servants waiting to take the horses. Crocidile Mask let him slide down, jumped down after him and took his arm in its steely grasp. The bad arm. Ryo's head went a little light at the sharp stab of pain. His legs went a little weak. Without looking down, the creature shifted its grip to a less painful place and pulled him along, supporting his weight until his legs started working right again.

Most of the walk was lost to him, just flashes of dark corridor and imposing architecture. Then there was soft golden light all around, and mulling people in costumes out of Cleopatra that parted in a choreographed wave to let Crocidile Mask pass through. Quite pretty, all the elaborate details, all the painted faces, all the floating golden globes of light that cast this most remarkable chamber into hazy relief.

There were words spoken, but they were foreign words and Ryo was too busy staring at thick, sculptured columns that rose up into infinity to pay them much heed. There was a stone statue of a seated deity that looked suspiciously like the creature that had taken charge of him. He blinked up at the blank stone face, then shifted his gaze to the living one at his side. Amazing resemblance. He kept staring, until someone marched up to him and laid hands on him.

Fingers on his jaw forced his head around. He blinked into an artfully made up face. A patently false beard made of gold and silk was hung from beaded stands that wrapped around the man's ears. Small, black eyes were outlined in thick bands of black that tipped upwards towards his temples. A headpiece of gold and gems perched atop his straight black braids. He could have been anywhere from twenty to forty. It was hard to tell with all the makeup and the hard set to his face.

Everyone but the creature that held Ryo was bowing down, as if the man's presence among them were a holy thing. He said something to Ryo. Of course, Ryo didn't understand.

Ryo blinked at him absently and the fine brows drew in irritation.

"Sorry, man, I wish I could understand you." He smiled vaguely, beginning to feel light of body as well as head.

The man frowned at him, and the fingers moved up his cheek and back into the hair at his temples. The lips above the false beard turned up finally in a smile.

"How astonishing." A fine accented voice. "You're alive."

"Oh ---- yeah --- I guess so." Ryo agreed to the observation.

The hand trailed down to his wounded shoulder. Pushed the blood stained, ripped leather and fabric aside and grazed the torn flesh. Ryo winced. The room was starting to swim. He felt like he was going to faint and hated the sensation. Sickness on top of dizziness on top of acute disorientation.

"Tragic." The king or pharaoh or whatever lamented.

Ryo was too busy concentrating on not falling down to ask what was tragic. The pharaoh told him anyway.

"My first taste of living flesh in six millennia and he'll be dead in a fortnight. Disappointing."

It was not a comforting thing to hear, the prediction of his own death. It rather confirmed his fears about the lythos poison. The crocidile thing let him go and that lack of support was all it took for his legs to give out and spill him in a boneless heap on the floor at the Pharaoh's feet. Too embarassing to tolerate. Might as well go with the flow and escape it all with oblivion.

So he did.


To be Continued. . . .



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