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The Road To Hell

by P L Nunn




"What the hell happened? What'ja find in there?" Kento caught Seiji under the arms and pulled him out of the crawly space. Sat him on his feet and held on insistently even when Seiji looked pointedly down at the hand on his upper arm. Kento ignored the look, wanting very badly to know what had happened at the end of the tunnel. All he could see, crouched down with his face to the opening had been a nimbus blue glow. All he had heard was the faint murmur of Seiji's voice.

"Well?" He demanded.

"Nothing." Seiji shrugged out of his grasp and went about dusting off the front of his clothes. Kento narrowed his eyes, feeling a little pressure of frustration beyond his temples.

"Nothing? Man, I am gonna bat you against the wall if you try an give me that crap. Something happened? Spill it."

Seiji lifted an elegant blonde brow at him. Seiji didn't seem disturbed by either Kento's excitement or whatever he had seen in on the other side of the crawlway.

"Its not important, Kento. Yes, there was some sort of entity in there. It was --- imprisoned. No big deal."

"What?" Kento's voice rose two octaves. He really did feel like taking hold of Seiji and shaking the nonchalance out of him. Only Seiji didn't take to that type of thing well, and Seiji was already started for the cave's exit, obviously having no intention of giving Kento the details he craved.

Kento muttered a few foul words under his breath and followed, squeezing out of the crevice behind his comrade. Then there was the trip down the cliff, which took all a bodies attention and breath, so there was no chance to pester Seiji then. Seiji was quicker than him at the climbing anyway, and outdistanced him. He thought Seiji did it apurpose just so he couldn't talk to him.

Rowan and Sai were waiting at the bottom of the cliff for them when they got down.

"Hey, what'd you see up there?" Rowan asked the moment they touched ground. Kento sniffed and kept his silence, figuring Rowan was better at ferreting secrets out than any of them. Even out of closed mouthed Seiji. When they were getting along, which they hadn't been lately. Something about Ryo, if Kento was any judge, but not a one of them was talking. Maybe Rowan's near death experience would make it better. Things like that tended to break the ice -- literally in this case.

"She was right." Seiji walked past them. "There is a trapped power there." He went for his pack and Sai and Rowan exchanged curious looks with Kento, who shrugged and made a disgusted face.

"What kind of power?" Rowan asked.

"Yes, what was it like?" Sai seconded him.

"Old." Seiji said. He shouldered his pack and looked at the lot of them. "Are we ready to travel? We've wasted the morning." He hesitated and stared long and hard at Rowan. Rowan stared back unflinchingly. Finally Seiji sighed and asked.

"Are you okay, Rowan?"

"Yeah, I'm fine." A ghost of a smile fluttered over Rowan's lips, he gingerly touched a spot on the back of his head. "A little bit of a headache, but I've suffered through worse.

"He's got a very hard head." Sai explained, and got an elbow in the side from Rowan for the observation.

"He's got a card up his sleeve." Kento leaned over Rowan's shoulder to mutter. "And he's not saying what. Bugs the shit out of me."

Both Rowan's brows went up curiously. "What'd ya mean? He's hiding something?"

"I dunno, but he was in there for an awfully long time and then comes out and refuses to give details."

"So what was in there?"

"Damned if I know. It was a little hole. I couldn't fit."

"Too much junk food." Sai remarked wisely.

"The hell. This is all muscle."

"Yeah, right." Rowan remarked, but he was staring curiously at Seiji.

Good. Kento thought. Rowan's interest was pricked. He'd get to the bottom of things.

They came to the edge of the shimmering purple field that covered the sky. Charlotte refused to go further. She stood spaylegged, her thick arms crossed and met Rowan's outraged disbelief with hardly a twitch to her face.

"Locksley told me to take you to the edge." She said. "This is it. I'm not stepping into Eastern influence for anyone."

"But you can't just abandon us. We don't know our way around. How are we supposed to find Tulpa?"

"Damned if I know, laddie. Stupid to try, if you ask me. But, the lot of you have proved yourselves to be less than intelligent. I'll give you my wish of luck, but that's the most you'll get from me."

"We don't need your luck." Rowan snarled at her, exasperated and just a little panicked. "We need your fucking help."

"Rowan." Sai put a hand on his arm. Cool, calming hand that gently drew him back from Charlotte's face. "We don't have the right to ask her this. She's given enough."

He turned an accusatory glare on Sai for that charity. Sai blinked back at him, green eyes huge and worry filled.

"Come on, Rowan." Seiji said, at the edge of the border. Expressionless. Cold. Rowan opened his mouth to argue, but Seiji shook his head, lifting a hand for silence.

"Don't waste your breath, Rowan. Her mind's made up."

Sai pulled him towards the border. He passed a glowering Kento.

"He's right." Kento muttered. He'd made himself a staff from a downed tree limb. He carried it over his shoulder. God, Rowan wished he still had the bow. Any bow. They didn't need to be alone out here without a real weapon.

"All right." He took a breath, meeting Seiji's level gaze. "Let's do it then."

And across the shimmery veil they stepped. A slight sensation. A momentary discoloration of the world and the dry land they had stood upon turned mushy and humid.

"Oh, shit. What the hell is this?" Kento complained, pulling his foot up from a pool of muck he had stepped in.

"Hell is the operant word here, Kento." Seiji remarked dryly.

"Yuck is the operant word." Kento sniffed, poking at the ground with his staff. "This is just what we need."

"Kento -- there's a snake by your foot." Seiji observed.

Kento hissed and jumped back in to Sai, who tried to scramble over Rowan. Seiji rolled his eyes at the both of them and moved into the bog. Kento poked at the snake with the staff once before he followed, catching it under its body and tossing it into the mists away from them.

They moved along the border, where the earth was more solid, all of them stepping gingerly, all of them on the watch for dangerous things. Once, Sai reached out to touch what looked to be a moss covered rock dotted with small red flowers, and from out of the pooled water around it, a hundred tiny salamander like creatures sprang up at him, hissing and baring sharp, curved fangs. Embarrassing to run from a bunch of four inch lizards, but the things were like something out of Jurassic Park.

Sai vowed not to touch anything after that. Sai's pupils were very large and his breathing ragged sometime after the salamander episode. It gave Kento something to laugh about, even though he'd run as fast as the rest of them. Rowan was just downright suspicious of the place. He rather liked the forest better. Even the ice had something over the swamp.

They were not that far into it when the sound of heavy bodies moving through the suckling mud became apparent. Seiji heard it first and waved the others down. They crouched in the mists, on the downside of a small rise and watched as a large group of riders melted out of the mists.

Small warriors on rangy, dark mounts. And something that was not human, but coiled and serpent like in the midst of them, on a larger, less mortal seeming mount. There were ten of them. They were all armed to the teeth.

"We can take them." Kento whispered.

"Do we want to take them?" Rowan whispered back.

Seiji chewed on his lip, a faint frown line between his brows.

"If this is Tulpa's domain -- his pole -- then those must be men of his." Sai rationalized.

"We need to take them." Kento urged, craning his neck to see.

"He may be right." Rowan agreed.

"Okay." Seiji said softly.

Sai nodded. "Wait till they pass."

And when the last horseman sloshed by, they sprung. Kento slammed the end of his staff across a man's back. Rowan sprung onto another's back, wrapping an arm around his prey's neck, and reaching for the knife handle in the other's belt. Horses reared, men cried out in surprise. He heard Kento's battle cry. Seiji and Sai were silent fighters.

The horse he was on reared and spilled him backwards, but he pulled the rider off with him, slamming the stolen knife into the man's temple. They were dead already, but he still hesitated to slit a throat without bias. He had not reached that point of desperation yet. He didn't think Seiji had that problem. Or Kento. Seiji had appropriated a sword from somewhere and it dripped with red. He heard the audible crack as Kento broke a man's neck. The bodies of the dead dissipated like so much smoke, leaving nothing behind. It was eerie.

Four down and the other six were rallying. Kento dragged the serpentine thing out of its saddle, manhandled it to the ground and drew the length of his staff across what might have been its throat. It was hard to tell, the thing was all sinew and black, scaly flesh. Its arms were small, atrophisized things.

"Wait! Wait." It cried out when Kento threatened to snap its neck. Its small arms waved desperately. "Truce." It cried. It waved its men back. Seiji sprang over to it, his blade point against the side of its face.

"Are you a creature of Tulpa's?" he hissed. He shook his head to toss back the hair that had fallen over one side of his face. The creature stared up at him in astonishment.

"You're alive, too?"

"Too?" Rowan asked. The thing looked at him and Sai and hissed. "And you didn't answer his question."

"Quickly." Kento urged, tightening the staff.

"Yessss. Tulpa is my massster."

"Tulpa has a friend of ours. We want him back." Kento growled.

"Ahhh, of course. I would like to be of sssservice to you -- but we have missplaced him asss well. He isss no longer in this pole."

"He's lying." Kento said.

Seiji withdrew his blade a little. "Maybe not. Where is he at?"

"If I knew ssssuch a thing, I would not be here. Perhaps you could disssscuss it with massster Tulpa. Perhapsss come to an agreement?"

"Oh, I'm sure he'd love to have us show up on his doorstep." Rowan said. "He'd probably put out the red carpet. Right before he bar-b-qued us. Not a chance. Where the hell is Ryo?"

"Sssssouth. He isss ssssouth of here."

"He's awfully quick to help us." Sai said.

"Yeah. You lying, snake boy?" Kento jerked on the staff.

"Kento." Seiji made a motion for him to stop. "What's south of here?"

"Anenhotep's Pole. The Egyptians and all their filthy gods dwell there."

"Is that where you're going?" Seiji leaned close, his voice a soft threat. The creature pulled back a little, pressing against Kento. It hissed. Seiji didn't flinch.

Then rather unexpectantly it flexed its sinuous body, breaking free of Kento's hold, slithering between Seiji's legs like it truly was a snake. A damned big snake. Seiji had to hop to the side to avoid being carried backwards by it. Kento cried out, striking at it with his staff. But the other riders, freed of inactivity by the escape of their leader made a concerted rush. Kento and Seiji were forced into retreat.

"Leave them." The snake creature hissed, crawling up behind one of its men. "The massster will deal with them later."

There was no argument. The riders wheeled, spurring their horses away. Kento threw his staff. It rebounded off the back of the hindmost rider. The man lurched forward, but did not fall.

"Well that's encouraging." Rowan said in disgust. "We let them get away."

"They're after Ryo, too." Seiji said.

"So it doubly sucks." Rowan muttered.

Seiji stared at him. There was meaning behind that stare. As if Seiji was attempting to convey a thought without the bother of words. As if Seiji thought there was something so obvious that actually telling him would be demeaning.

"What?" Kento demanded, thrusting his face in between them.

"Oh." Rowan felt the light flick on in his head. "Oh! We can follow them."

"How?" Kento asked.

"Horses. Find the horses." Sai chirped up, excited, staring around the misty bogland for the mounts of the warriors they'd dispatched.


The crocodile head was named Sobek. Ryo heard him called that somewhere between the time he'd fainted and the time he fully woke up an unspecified time later. The man with the fake beard was named Anenhotep. He fancied himself a king or a pharaoh or something. He was the leader of this place. They called it the Southern Pole. Ryo had no earthly idea what that meant. He was having trouble dealing with his own reality at the moment. Somebody said he was soul poisoned. They were amazed that he was alive. They put foul smelling, cold ooze on his shoulder and arm, then washed it off with rags dipped in boiling water. That was the part that really brought him back into full consciousness.

He jerked upright with a hiss and a curse, scattering the kohl eyed girls who had been tending him. They hovered in the shadows staring at him while he got his bearings. He was in the middle of a low, broad bed. There was gauze hanging from the ceiling and beaded curtains. More columns and shadows barely chased away by tall brass menorahs.

His wounds were surprisingly numb. He looked down at his arm suspiciously. There was a faint oily substance discoloring his skin. The residue of whatever they had applied. A cure maybe for the poison. He looked up, wide eyed and desperate at the girls, but they had faded away, silent as cats.

In the depths of the shadows, next to one of the columns he saw Sobek. Or maybe it was another statue. It was as unmoving as a statue. He stared at it, unnerved, half recalling the things arms about him. The scaly texture of its skin. The utter hardness of its muscles. It might have been a statue in truth, for all its unbreachable silence and inhuman strength.

"Do you know they called me the Heretic King?" Beads chimed as they were pushed aside. Anenhotep stepped through, gliding out of the shadows like a wraith. The formality of court had been shed. The false beard was gone, the heavy golden robes of state. His head was balding without the benefit of false braids. The elaborate make up was still there.

Ryo blinked at him, casting a nervous glance back to where Sobek lurked in the shadow. He slid to the edge of the bed, not comfortable sprawled upon it in this company. Anenhotep held up a hand to stop him.

"Don't get up. You're not well. Did you know that my wife -- who betrayed me with another man -- a mere councilor -- became more famous in the annuls of history than I?"

"N-no. Who -- who was she?" He felt it only polite to ask, since the pharaoh seemed rather incensed about it.

Anenhotep's lip turned up in a snarl. "Oh, not the purveyor of history, are we? But I'm sure even you've heard her name. Nefertiti -- the bitch. I loved her, you know. I built shrines to her -- the foreign whore. And she betrays me. The gods only know where she ended up."

"Oh. Ummmm, I was wondering -- were you planning on helping me -- or what?"

"Helping you? Do you think there is a help for what ails you? The bite of the lythos is lethal. Soul death. But, I believe the fact that you are living has slowed its effects down. It has to destroy your living flesh before it can get at your soul. Charming, is it not. One of the many wonderful creatures that live here in the abyss."

Ryo winced, a painful thudding in his chest that had nothing to do with the poison and everything to do with dread. "But -- but if I can get back home -- the armo-- there might be a way to heal myself. I need to get back home."

"I imagine you do. I can't begin to conceive of how you got here in the first place. This is not a realm that often sees the bounty of life. How did you get here?"

"there was a gateway."

"You opened it?"

"No. It was opened from this side -- I think."

"By who, prey tell?"

Ryo swallowed, wondering if saying Tulpa's name would spell his doom. Did the powers here have allegiance to each other?

"Tul--tulpa." He blurted the name and waited for the consequences.

Anenhotep considered. "Tulpa. Interesting. A new power here. But a not inconsiderable one. Why did he want you?"

"We-- have been at cross purposes in the past. He's got a grudge."

"Really? Interesting. And you escaped him?"

Ryo nodded.

"How fortunate for me."

The pharaoh reached out a hand to touch him. Oh -- shit, Ryo thought and scrambled backwards and out of easy reach. He knew -- he just knew he hadn't liked the way the guy had been looking at him. Like he was something exotic and edible that he wanted to devour.

Anenhotep frowned at him, hand still outstretched. "It is not permitted to deny me."

"Listen, maybe I don't want your help after all." Ryo eyed the man warily. "I'll be happy to look elsewhere."

"There is no elsewhere and there is no help. You will die here -- but in the meanwhile you will entertain me -- while you still have your delicious life."

"In your dreams." Ryo rolled off the other side of the bed and came to his feet with it between him and his admirer. Whatever they had put on the wounds to numb them had also managed to clear his head somewhat.

Anenhotep smiled at him, leaning forward on the edge of the bed. "You really are quite exquisite, even if you are of foreign blood."

"Thanks, but not interested." He took a step back and up against a column. Only it wasn't a column, because columns didn't have arms that wrapped around a body and squeezed all the air out of lungs in one sharp embrace. Ryo yelped, damning himself for forgetting the damn crocodile in the shadows. He tried to slam his heel into Sobek's instep and ended up bruising his foot. Sobek didn't falter. Sobek lifted him off his feet and body slammed him onto the bed. Then -- then he got his first look at the mouthful of wicked teeth the thing possessed when the snout opened in his face and it roared down at him.

Hot, terrible breath battered him. He flung up arms to keep his face from being bitten off, only the thing didn't bite him, it clamped a hand around his throat and proceeded to choke the life out of him. His thrashing around didn't help. His hitting it in what should have been vulnerable spots didn't help. When his head swam and the strength left his limbs -- then it let loose and moved back, hovering just within his spinning vision.

Anenhotep slithered up next to him, ran a hand down his bare ribs to the tops of his trousers. Ryo sputtered to life, pushing the pharaoh, who was a movable object away from him and making an attempt for the side of the bed that Sobek wasn't guarding. Sobek was goddamned quick. Sobek caught him by the hair and slammed him back down and this time held him there while the pharaoh thrust his annoyed countenance back into his line of vision.

"Must I have you tied down?"

"Get off me."

"It is an unbelievable honor to pleasure the pharaoh."

"Fuck honor. Pleasure somebody else."

"But, you're alive, my very pretty youngling." The pharaoh's fingers slid into his hair, the pharaoh's painted lips came down towards his face. Ryo let out a distressed sound and jerked his head away. The kiss grazed his jaw.

With a hiss of disgust, Anenhotep motioned to his inhuman guardian. Sobek jerked Ryo's arms over his head, dragged him up the length of the bed and proceeded despite the desperate kicks to dislodge him, to fasten Ryo's wrists to the ornate headboard.

He was sobbing and cursing by this point, more furious than scared. He made one last kick at Sobek as the thing pulled back, but his aim was off, his vision gone a little swimmy; then Anenhotep was back, swinging a leg over his body to straddle him.

"Shall I have him tie your ankles"

"Its not like you could do it yourself, you sonofabitch. Does he do everything for you?" A vague sick feeling started behind his eyes. He had felt better for a little while there. One supposed this sort of assault was not on the list of things to do to encourage a speedy recovery.

This time when the pharaoh caught his hair, it was not a gentle grip. "Not everything. Anyone else I would have slowly disemboweled for saying such things. It would be such a waste with you. I will punish you in other ways, I think."

"Oh that's just great. Something to look forward to -- you prick."

"I think I shall gag you."

Ryo glared.

Anenhotep smiled, running his hands up the insides of Ryo's arms, then down his sides as if the mere feel of his skin was getting him off. His lips were dry and felt just creepy when he bent down and pressed them against Ryo's. Ryo clamped his teeth shut stubbornly. Then the mouth moved down his body. He bucked, trying to dislodge his attacker and the man wrapped his legs around Ryo's stilling the struggle.

Nasty feeling. The unwanted hands, the lips, the hard on against his thigh. And the crocodile just stood over the bed the whole time, waiting for its master to call it into service.

It wasn't real until the pharaoh's hands started unlacing his pants, then the anger started to fade in favor of panic and dread. He tried to twist then, with the majority of the weight off his body. Anenhotep hissed and Sobek swept in to place its huge hands on Ryo's ankles, spreading his legs and keeping him immobile. Then there was a hand down the front of his pants touching the most sensitive part of him and the Pharaoh's mouth was following suit.

"Ummm --- forgive the intrusion y-your m-m-majesty -"

Anenhotep's head snapped up. His eyes glittered with rage. "Do you have a death wish, you feeble minded moron?" he screeched.

"Oh, your majesty, your majesty. Forgive. Forgive, but it is most urgent. There is an emissary from the east. From the master of that pole itself. They -- they have come demanded the return of ---their property." At this the flustered servant's eyes darted past the pharaoh to the Ryo.

"Demand?" Anenhotep's voice rose a degree. "They dare demand anything of me? They lost him. He's mine now."

"Of course my lord. I shall deliver that message."

Anenhotep sniffed, his hand splayed out upon Ryo's lower stomach.

"Wait. Perhaps I will deal with this myself. It might prove entertaining -- and profitable." He caressed Ryo's skin one last time before rising, evicting a growl from Ryo, then straightened his robes and demanded that the servant go and get his articals of state. Which meant his wig and beard and the blinding array of gold and enamal ornamentation that he had worn when Ryo had first had the displeasure of lying eyes upon him.

"Bring him. Bind him, I don't trust him." He told Sobek absently when he was ready, and the creature snapped Ryo's bonds, flung him onto his belly and retied his wrists behind him. Ryo let him without a struggle. He couldn't best the thing anyway, and anything was better than having Anenhotep's hands on him. Except maybe being given back to Tulpa. That was a close toss up.

And water-snakes --- There were far too many things here that he truly found exception with.


Sobek hauled him in the pharaoh's wake down slanted sandstone corridors that he'd missed on the way in. He was in a little better shape this time, though his shoulder hurt from all the wrenching about.

He didn't know what to expect of these emissaries from the east that demanded his return. Tulpa himself. Wouldn't that be just perfect? To have Anenhotep flatly refuse the demands -- which prompted Tulpa to retaliate for the impertinence. Which resulted in great and far reaching violence. Maybe they'd all kill each other. No - they were already dead -- was rekill an adequate term? He laughed at that for no particular reason.

He did not expect the sinuous, dark bodied servant that he distinctly remembered slicing in half, to be waiting in the reception hall when they got there. The thing didn't seem to be suffering from any lingering aftereffects of having its torso severed from its body. In fact it reared up intimidatingly high, a good three feet over the heads of the six warriors that backed it when the pharaoh and his entourage entered. All Anenhotep's men bowed, even the guards that kept wary eyes to the eastern emissaries. The grungy, thick bodied men behind the Servant shifted uneasily but offered no respect. The Servant itself bowed its head and spread its small arms.

Ryo kept staring at it, looking for a scar or a seam where he knew his blade had passed. Sobek pulled him to the side of the dais where the throne was. Scantily clad girls with baskets of flower petals backed up the stairs before Anenhotep, flinging the petals upon the steps he must trod. Then crawled away on their bellies -- just so they might not be on a level higher than he. The pharaoh pretended not to notice.

Ryo had to laugh. It was funny. Sobek's fingers tightened on his arm, twisting his shoulder up a little. Apparently laughing at the audacity of the pharaoh was not looked kindly upon.

It was a late night audience, so apparently Anenhotep was standing on too much pageantry, for he leaned forward and snapped.

"What is this drivel I hear, that the East demands anything of me."

The servant straightened and slithered forward a little. "Oh, great and powerful lord of the Northern Pole, I come with the greatessst ressspect only. And the ressspect of my massster who only ssseeks the return of what iss rightfully hisss."

"And what might that be, demonic creature?"

The servant's narrow eyes flicked towards Ryo. "Why that pitiful mortal boy. Worthlesss to you. And wounded, I sssee. Valuelesss. Of no usse to your majessty."

"Who are you to tell me what has value to me and what does not? And to what uses I might find for him."

"Sssurely you have a hundred pretty ssslaves that would sserve you better, my lord. Thisss one is not -- tractable."

"No. But, none of them are alive."

"I might find you other living creaturess to amussse you. My lord Tulpa hasss a great desssire for thisss one in particular."

"Hummm, could you? Interesting. What would he give me for him?"

"Gratitude. Hiss favor. Sssurely you are aware of how eassily he ousted the Khan's. My lord Tulpa'sss good will isss a thing to be dessired."

"The Khan's were barbarians. Egypt does not need his favor. Perhaps I want something more."

"Perhapsss he might be willing to bargain." The servant bowed the upper half of its body.

"And he would send you -- a creature that never was of the mortal realm -- to do his bargaining? A demon caretaker of this particular section of the abyss."

"He would."

"You are a rare creature in and of yourself, demon. You have certain value."

"I like to believe I do, majesssty."

Anenhotep sat back, propping his bearded chin on his knuckles in thought. "Would you enter a contest for this living boy?"

"A contest, majesssty?"

"We in the north are ardent practicers of contests. If you win, you may have the impertinent creature."

"And if you win ---?"

"A change of loyalty. Your soul -- such as it is -- pledged to me. To the North."

The servant blinked slowly, digesting the seriousness of such a bet. Eventually it inclined its head. "I would be agreeable to sssuch a bargain, majessssty. What manner of contest?"

"Oh, a physical one. You or your best man against my humble servant, Sobek. The winner takes all."

The servant eyed the great creature beside Ryo, warily. "He was never a mortal creature."

"Oh, but he was. The gods favored him. Any three of your men. All of them, if you like. Will you accept?"

The servant slowly nodded its head.

Ryo was a good judge of pure, unadulterated fighting skill. Even when his head was swimming with dizziness and his knees were beginning to get the shakes again. Sobek was just --- phenomenal. Even with the armor and the mystical katana's he thought this thing would have given him a run for his money. It was just good. Fast and deadly precise in its movements. Strong as hell, which he already knew. A killing machine. He thought six against one was a decidedly unfair match.

Two men out with one wickedly tricky move. A blade bounced off the crocodile leather skin without leaving a mark, and the man who'd gotten the blow in, was gutted in the next breath. Brutal move. It took the fellow a while to die and dissipate in to the air. He lay there screaming while Sobek finished off the other three.

Ryo felt sick at the blood and the spattered bits of flesh that did not disappear with the dead, that stayed around to litter the marble floor when the bodies were long gone. There was a chunk of intestine that had been ripped out when Sobek pulled his long curved blade out of the stomach of the man he'd gutted.

Ryo leaned against a column and wondered why the thing hadn't sliced him into bits when he'd first encountered it. It could have done it so easily.

The servant was staring at the killing field with wide, shocked eyes. Apparently it had assumed the fight would have at least lasted a little longer than it had. Ryo wondered if it had even considered the fact that it might loose.

Anenhotep was laughing. He slapped the arms of his throne and stood, cackling with glee.

"Your soul, demon caretaker. Pledge it now, upon that power which is most sacred to you, that power that will incinerate you if you take its honor in vain."

"Y-yesss, Majesssty." The thing slithered to the floor, coiled at the base of the throne and started to babble in an incomprehensible tongue. Everyone was frozen in silence, listening. Anenhotep's face was glowing with satisfaction. Apparently he believed the thing, which Ryo would not have trusted as far as he could toss it. Hell, as far as Kento could toss it.

Then his eyes wondered to Ryo, in the care of two of his guard and he smiled. "You are a token of luck." He said. "A demon caretaker is not an easy servant to acquire. Unfortunate that you'll be dead soon."

Ryo glowered sullenly at him.

"This has been a fortuitous day for me. The gods must be pleased."

Ryo thought nasty things about his gods. About the pharaoh. About the serpent thing cowering on the floor before its new master. About Tulpa -- oh very many nasty things about Tulpa who had gotten him into this. About snakes and hell-hounds whose poison he could not combat in this place.

And death. The concept of death blindsided him. At least the slow type --He did not want to die ravaged by poison -- incapable of fighting back. But he felt it creeping up on him all the same. The fingers of it worked their way into his muscles and his nerves even now. Pain, weakness -- things that ate at his courage and his optimism. Slow death scared him more than Anenhotep's threats or Tulpa's dark promises. He could deal with those things. He couldn't deal with lying down and dying.


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