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Malak

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Larry had just locked the avalanche in the upstairs stairwell when the Huns descended upon him.

"Malak, malak!" Attila exclaimed loudly, shaking Larry's shoulder as he did so. A couple of Larry's fillings rattled about in an alarming way, just further proof that upset Huns were nothing to toy with.

"Okay, Attila, what is it?" he asked helpfully.

What followed were a series of wild exclamations, bizarre gestures, and what might have been an early precursor to the Can-Can. Attila looked up at him expectantly when he'd finished.

"Uh... Maybe you better just show me."

Fingers like steel closed on Larry's arm, and he found himself dragged down the corridor amid war cries and the clash of weapons. A group of dervishes fled before their presence, and a spoonbill squawked in alarm before taking to the air and landing on the nose of the Moai Head. The Head sneezed. Larry winced at the gum-coated feathers he was going to have to clean up later.

The agitated barbarian procession came to a halt in the side room across the hall from the Egyptian gallery, where one of the giant Anubis statues was sniffing curiously at the trash can outside the bathrooms. The side room was locked off from the public, and it had featured miniatures of the climbing of Mount Everest before the curators had moved the exhibit upstairs. Right now, the room was empty, and Larry frowned as he pushed open the door.

Inside, he was met with darkness. The Huns went silent with anticipation.

"Is something the matter?"

Larry started at the sudden voice in the quiet. "Jeez, Akhmenrah, a little warning next time?" He glanced over to where all the inhabitants of Egyptian gallery were peering out to see what all the fuss was about.

"Malak, malak!" Attila shouted again cheerfully.

"A little help with the translation?" Larry asked sheepishly.

"He speaks of biu," Akhmenrah said thoughtfully, his sandal-clad feet making no noise as he slipped from the Egyptian gallery to join them. "The closest translation I can offer is akin to a horror. Abomination, some might say."

Larry gulped and flicked on the lights. "Who's in here?" he called out.

At first the room appeared empty. White canvas covered the floor to their right where the old murals were being painted over. To their left was an empty case, the glass removed for ease of disassembling the exhibit. The Himalayan Mountains were still in place, moulds only several feet high. The only other thing in the room was a step ladder and an old bucket.

Flashlight in hand, Larry entered the room. Behind him, the entire Hun horde followed on tiptoes. Akhmenrah trailed behind them and, when they had all entered, shut the doors behind them. Attila let out a shriek at the sound and waved his sword about in the air wildly.

"Hey, hey." Larry caught him by the shoulders. "It's all right."

Attila let out a deep breath and nodded. Then, he pointed to what was left of the Everest exhibit.

Larry crept over to the display and, sure enough, hidden between the peaks, where the casual passer-by wouldn't spot it, was a tiny tent hidden within the mountains. Attila made more bizarre gestures with his hands.

"Okay, what's going on here?" Larry demanded of the tent sternly. "I know someone's in there."

The slightest of rustling sounds could be heard inside, and then a tiny head popped through the opening. "Hey-ho there, Larry."

Larry frowned. "Jedediah?" He looked back at Attila. "This is what you had to tell me about?" Attila gesticulated some more. "Okay, how'd you piss off the Huns?" he demanded of Jedediah.

Jedediah looked sheepish, and Larry realized for the first time that, while Jedediah was being very careful to let only his head show through the opening in the tent, he was very clearly not wearing a shirt. "Just a little camping," Jedediah said, looking suspiciously guilty. "Hunting, fishing, riding, brokebacking. That sort of thing."

At the last, Larry started coughing in disbelief. "Okay, that's officially too much information." He deemed it wise to herd the Huns out of there, if that was what Jedediah was up to. Most of the horde had taken to kicking around the bucket and shouting merrily, so it was a simple matter for Larry to gesture to Akhmenrah to hold open the door and then kick the bucket outside.

A shout of excitement came from Attila's men, and they dashed out into the hallway to continue their game. Larry did notice that one of the Huns looked back at him nervously before joining his comrades. In the end, only Attila remained.

"Wait, you know what that is?" In the interval, Jedediah had scrambled to put on some pants and was now buttoning up his shirt as fast as he could.

"Yes, Jedediah," Larry said patiently. "I'm not completely clueless."

This seemed to be a revelation to Jedediah. Larry tried not to get too offended.

"It is a proud tradition," a second voice boomed from within the tent. Somehow, Larry had known who would be in there even before Octavius emerged, as hurriedly dressed as Jedediah had been. "We follow the footsteps of the great warriors, Harmodius and Aristogeiton, whose epic love defeated the great Athenian tyrant."

Larry held up his hands defensively. "You don't have to convince me."

Attila just pointed, and then started laughing and making kissy faces. He held out two of his fingers to indicate something impossibly tiny.

"Hey!" Jedediah protested. "I'll have you know Octavius here is more than big enough to get the job done."

Larry winced at the mental image.

"Foul barbarian," Octavius puffed up his chest. "Just because you have never felt the tender kiss of your eromenos upon your--"

"Too much information!" Larry cried out again. He tried squeezing his eyes closed, but now he couldn't stop imagining the sex no matter how hard he tried. He shook his head to try to get rid of it. He really didn't need this.

"It is an ancient tradition," Akhmenrah said thoughtfully. "Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep equally shared in the bonds of love and fraternity."

Attila just looked vaguely confused.

"Maybe you'd better explain it to him," Larry looked wearily to Akhmenrah. "Given the way that friend of his has been eyeing da Vinci of late..."

Akhmenrah nodded sagely and took Attila's arm. They began speaking very quickly in their common tongue, and Attila was even beginning to nod in realization as they left the room. And then laughed and made more kissy faces.

Larry turned back to where Jedediah had proudly wrapped his arms around Octavian's shoulders, and tried not to let the awkwardness of the situation get to him. "You want me to put a `do not disturb' sign on the door?" he offered.

Octavius, who still looked ready for a fight, relaxed visibly. "We would appreciate it most kindly."

Jedediah sighed. "You talk so pretty. Makes me want to--"

"After I'm gone!" Larry cut in before they could tackle each other then and there.

Outside in the hall, a series of loud, primitive grunts echoed throughout the Museum. They sounded suspiciously like, "Low! I! Go!" Larry swore.

"I'm happy for you guys, really. But the Neanderthals are playing limbo with the totem poles again, and if I don't get there in time..." He shuddered at the memory. He wasn't sure the giraffes would ever be the same. "I'll get you guys a sign right after that."

He dashed out of the room.

Octavius and Jedediah shrugged and moved to sink back into each other's arms, when suddenly the door burst open again.

"Oh," Larry added, "and Attila was right about one thing."

He was greeted with two skeptical looks.

"We now get to make fun of you two for life for getting caught in the act." He grinned evilly and shut the door behind him.

The sound of two very tiny shoes being thrown into the door where his head had just been dinged just below the general chaos of the Museum.