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Nepthys

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So much water, falling from the sky, that they have to tip it off the tents at spear-point!

The sacred sands are damp and will not go into the bottles they have carefully prepared. She scoops hers into the bottle-holder instead. One of the other champions loses theirs before they have even begun their practice, and she ties both to her shining new armour.

Strange greyish mud stains her white tunic, not the rich black mud of the Nile but the cold clay of Atlantis.

In the firelight, there is the dance, and it begins to feel more like a place where one can belong. All that exists is her and her tribesmate, locked in the ancient pattern and in tune with each other and the drums, and she can forget that she stands on foreign soil.

She hefts the unfamiliar shield as they line up to enter the Arena, heavy and glowing with its empowerment.

Sneaking away from the pack after the fight which was scarcely a fight for most of them, although a great demonstration of their superiority to this foreign rabble, she hides in the defenders' box and watches the others practicing drill in the camp, spread out beneath her.

"As you like watching the arena so much, maybe you'd like to keep the Big Book of Unsubtlety?"

Thus the claim was staked, and those who swept in and out on the winds of the arena scheduling were reminded by the young champion that this was the Egyptian box, regardless of what the banners might say on the front of it.

Intently, he scribbled the hieroglyphs on the banner, returning the pencil to her with a conspiratorial smile.

Her pen went hesitantly to paper the first few times, but she soon settled into counting the shields and the skirmishers, and became so bold as to embellish the much-admired map of the world which adorned the front page.

People came, people left, people attempted to persuade her she should be in the other box, but it was all worth it for the smile and the exclamation, "Ah, it is my new Egyptian friend!"

When they tried to hustle her out for lunch, she refused to go until her sister headed up to the box to replace her. The pride of Egypt was at stake, after all! It was their box, they had been there first and would be there last, just as it was in the world.

As they charged the Carthaginian line she caught the eye of the woman who held point in their opposite ranks, the one who had called her friend.

She liked to think that silent acknowledgement had passed between them in that moment, and as she found the other felled upon the arena floor, she took her sacred sand and sprinkled a little beside her.

"You fought well. I hope that you live."

----

It was early in the morning when she came to their camp again, quietly and with little hope.

Last night in the darkness, she had walked right through the camp that all said was this place of terrible danger, but no-one had stopped or challenged her and her nerve was not equal to making more than the quietest of polite enquiries, lost in the noise of the barbarian rabble.

But finally one of their number had returned to her camp for more diplomacy, and she had caught him on the way out and asked how to find her.

Tepsi had found her crying in the dark and she had told him half of the story, how she wished she had died that day so that her soul could be pure and uncorrupted by this confusion of ideals that had been thrust upon them.

But what could one of the Khemenethorus do, when Pharoah commands? They had made their choice, wherever it might lead them, however their leaders might seem to be backing down from it now.

So now, in the grey dawn, she was heartened to see the face from last night heading into the quiet and deserted camp. Catching up to him, she was passed from person to person until she found what she needed to hear, and did what honour bade her.

In black and green, she saw one of the other Egyptians giving her a querying look, and quickly took her leave.

----

She shied from the priestess of Sutekh revealed, in her regalia once more, and refused to join in their chant.

What did it mean, that everything they had done could be thrown away like this? She had gone to the quest because the explanation she had been given made sense, that they should have the blood to keep it from the others, and because perhaps she could win back her death.

She had felt fear for the first time when lining up outside the arena for that fateful match. Not fear for her death, but fear for her life.

What if they had decided to change the plan at the last moment? She tried to console herself that then at least there would be no stain from this, but she had set her plans and committed her honour to this end, and when it appeared she could feel nothing but relief.

She had not quite followed all the arguments between priest and philosopher that had followed, the aftermath of her glorious charge into the Carthagian camp invaders.

What did it matter, though, compared to the glory? They escorted the creature from the island in triumph, having saved it from the politics and the intellectuals of Thoth that threatened their Pharoah's great gift and the victory it had won them.

She watched the return of Ramses in abject confusion. Where was the goatherd's rueful grin, the easy tale-spinning?

What she felt was not important. Horus had spared her. Two of the other physicians had come to steal her death, the one with the oranges who could fix any champion and the one who dared invoke the hated name over her, and then the Watcher of Floods had been empowered to save her.

She would keep the faith, she would trust in her prince, she would spurn the lovers of Sutekh wherever she found them, even if no-one else would stand with her.

What else was left for her, after all? She had seen the woman she had a fleeting connection with, carried out of the arena by two compatriots who shook their heads and said that she was gone. Tepsi had stolen her glorious death.

Even standing before the blood of Sutkeh had not killed her.

There must be another fate that Horus had in mind.