Sphinx looked around, not certain whether or not he ought to feel more impressed than he was.
So this was Luxor Palace, was it? The seat of power for the humans of this world, and home of his partner through many adventures, Prince Tutankhamun. It had taken quite some time to get here; time and sweat and blood, and not all of it his own, to return the Prince to his former, breathing self. It hadn’t helped that along the way they had run afoul every sort of distraction and challenge. Evil plots, feuding gods, monsters galore, betrayals and alliances from some most unexpected places.
But they had triumphed, and the many worlds were all as at peace as it was possible for each to be. The Prince had been restored to life and returned to his proper place - though he was not to remain a Prince much longer. He was to be crowned within a month, giving Luxor the proper Pharaoh it had been doing without for some time.
It had a nice ring to it, Sphinx decided, his lips twitching into a half smile. It was much grander than ‘the Mummy’ at any rate. As useful as being a walking corpse had proven to be during their adventures, he had no doubt that Tutankhamun much preferred a pulse to linen wrappings. He was probably more relieved than he would ever be able to express just to be back home at last, even if things were not exactly as he had left them. And Sphinx…
His smile turned into a frown, and he took his eyes from the carved and decorated walls of the Palace which depicted the history of Luxor and walked across the courtyard. It was a quiet, green place designed to soothe those who visited it, with benches to sit, canopies for shade, and one side open to the river with steps leading down into the water, gauzy linen hangings swaying gently in the breeze. It was a beautiful place, but Sphinx did not feel soothed. He crossed to a particularly large potted fern and stared at it, for no other reason than to give his eyes somewhere to rest.
There was no real reason why Sphinx should be in Luxor. There had been no reason why he could not have simply sent the newly revived Tutankhamun through the final portal and back to his home alone, and remained behind with Imhotep in his own world. The battles were all through, the fights all won, though the old mystic had promised that there was still plenty of work to be done.
Sphinx ought to have stayed.
But the sight of his partner, his friend, standing at the portal, still wrapped in his funerary bindings, to be sent off alone and out of his sight was too much to bear. He had accompanied him, telling himself that it was to be certain he would be safe when he arrived. After all, even Luxor had proven itself far from immune from danger. He had not deceived himself in the slightest, however, and knew it was the idea that he would never see the young Prince again which had truly driven him to follow. By the look Tutankhamun had given him just before the portal had swallowed them, he had known as well, though he had refrained from commenting.
So Sphinx had joined him, and now he was here, with no idea what he ought to be doing or how he ought to be feeling.
Perhaps that was why the grand Palace seemed such a disappointment to him. When compared to all of the fantastic places he had been it stood on its own very well. It was not the fault of the Palace, but of Sphinx’s own uncertainties. He had no place here, no excuse for his presence other than a sudden, undeniable impulse.
That was it, Sphinx decided, stroking one of the leafy fronds of the plant, his tail twitching agitatedly. He was the problem. He didn’t belong.
The soft sound of a footfall came from behind, warning him of an approach. His stomach muscles clenched as he whirled around, the tendons of his right hand tensing as he prepared to call forth the Blade of Osiris--
A smiling face greeted him, dark, kohl lined eyes shining with amusement. “Peace, Sphinx,” Tutankhamun chided lightly, hand raised. “If you shatter any of the pottery, I know of at least one servant girl who will never let you forget about it.”
Sphinx relaxed and returned the smile, fingertips tingling as he released the power not quite called forth. “I think perhaps the Prince of Luxor and co-savior of all the worlds could handle the wrath of a single maid.”
Tutankhamun, now completely straight-faced, clucked his tongue thoughtfully. “I would not be so certain of that, friend of mine. When roused by anger I believe Ipy could face down some of our fiercest foes, wielding nothing but her duster.”
Sphinx raised his eyebrows at the reanimated Prince. He managed to hold his expression blank for almost a full minute before it cracked into a wide grin, full of white teeth. Sphinx grinned back, and then they were both chuckling, laughing over the everyday dangers that would have to be faced now that the worlds were all safe from imminent doom.
Sphinx looked over his friend. It was the first time he had seen him in anything but the wrappings, with an occasional headdress or robe lain over them. It was a little unsettling to be looking into a face of flesh rather than linen. The eyes were the same, though.
From what Sphinx had come to understand of Tutankhamun before he’d been murdered by Set, he had been a very young man, barely more than a boy, and set on the verge of taking the double crown of Luxor. He had also been able to gather that Tutankhamun had not been particularly well prepared to take up that role. He had been too uncertain, inexperienced, too sheltered to take on the responsibilities of safeguarding an entire kingdom. The symptoms of that had been visible even to Sphinx when they had first met face to wrapped face for the first time in Uruk.
Such was certainly no longer the case. Death had matured the young Prince, as death was wont to do, and over the course of their adventures he had certainly gained quite a lot of experiences.
Despite his death and maturing, Tutankhamun was still physically young, his face smooth and void of any whiskers. He had a somewhat narrow face, which was a trait that held true throughout his body. Shoulders, waist and hips, Tutankhamun was built slender as a reed. Sphinx had always known him to be slight, as the wrappings he had worn had never left very much to the imagination, but he was beginning to suspect that the linen had done more to bulk out his frame than to diminish it. Standing in a simple tunic and kilt of white and blue, topped with a headdress at his brow and sandals on his feet, Tutankhamun seemed even more slender than before. Though with so much in the way of bare limbs showing, Sphinx could see that the reed did have some muscle.
He was also wearing, Sphinx couldn’t help but note, a khopesh at one hip, which he was certain was not a normal part of the everyday garb for a day at the Palace. He smirked, and motioned toward the weapon at Tutankhamun’s side. “I see you have grown more fond of it than you once were.”
Tutankhamun glanced down at the curved blade and smiled self-consciously. “It feels wrong to not have it close by anymore.”
Sphinx nodded his understanding. When the two of them had met, Tutankhamun, much to Sphinx’s surprise, had never wielded a weapon of any kind before. It seemed strange to him that someone in line for a throne, and therefore expected to lead armies at some point, would not be trained how to fight for himself. But such was the case, and the Mummy had no way to defend himself from attack. As someone who was technically already dead the Mummy had no real reason to defend himself, as there was very little that anyone could do to make his lot even worse, but Sphinx felt the deficiency keenly. They eventually came to an agreement. Despite the Mummy’s reluctance to hold a weapon, he could concede that while nothing could actually kill him, it was still a lot of bother to gather up all the limbs an irate bull had ripped off and strewn around to reattach them. Not to say uncomfortable on the part of the one redistributed around the scenery.
So Sphinx had taught him some basics. Tutankhamun would never be a great or powerful warrior, but he was capable enough, and no longer so easy to brush aside. His favorite weapon, if it could be called a ‘favorite,’ was the staff. In particular he favored one topped with a cobra’s head, hood and maw both open. The method of staff wielding agreed with him more than blades or bows, and it also served as a focusing point for the spells Imhotep had troubled to teach him. The khopesh was his second ‘favorite.’
Really, Sphinx was quite impressed with the soon to be Pharaoh. In a little less than a year he had gone from a green, somewhat comical figure of a young man, to a lean, discerning man, possessing skills in battle and in heka - who was still at times a little comical, he had to admit.
“It’s good,” Sphinx commented. “A leader is always taken more seriously when he has the means to back his orders within sight of everyone. Just don’t let on that you would never use it in such a way,” he added, seeing the discomfited look come over Tutankhamun’s face.
“I’ll have to be certain that my voice carries the weight of command, since my blade will be out of the question.”
“And find for yourself competent, reliable commanders. A Pharaoh may leave much to his men if they are good and trustworthy.”
An awkward silence fell between them as a common thought occurred to them both. Sphinx lowered his eyes, and then looked to a side, uncertain if Tutankhamun would wish such a subject brought up so soon, but feeling the need to acknowledge it at the very least. His tail lashed back and forth. How he hated social niceties!
“What will happen to Nefertiti?” He decided on the most direct but neutral way of broaching the subject.
Tutankhamun sighed. He sounded tired. “I don’t know for certain. She must stand trial, and to do that there must be a Pharaoh to pass judgment, so it will wait until I wear the double crown. As to what will become of her then… I don’t know. We know she is guilty of the crimes she’s accused her, the real question is one of accountability. Just how much of her actions were truly hers and not that of… the other one. That is what the trial must decide, and I cannot foresee what that decision might be.”
Sphinx nodded, raising his eyes again as Tutankhamun spoke. He did well in speaking of her so steadily, his once fiancé. It was a complex business, his relationship with her now, given how loyal she had technically been in the Prince’s absence, how well she had managed the running of Luxor, how hard she had worked in ensure he would return to a home he would recognize. How hard she had worked, in tandem with the others, to ensure that he would return at all. It was only her choice of allies that had undone her, and by extension nearly everyone else as well. It was for that one unwise, desperate choice and all that had stemmed from it that she was to be judged for.
“And if she should be found wanting?”
Tutankhamun’s mouth firmed, and he raised his head. “Then she will be executed. As is the law.”
And there was all the proof that Sphinx needed that Tutankhamun had indeed matured in the year he had known him, if somehow all of their adventures before had not already convinced him. There was much for Tutankhamun to do now he was returned home and in possession of a pulse - the rebuilding of much of his political infrastructure as a beginning, as well as the building of his own seat of power. There was much which would fall on him in the wake of Nefertiti, much that would depend on his being wise and firm in his decisions. A year ago Sphinx would have been concerned. Now he felt as though he could return to his own world with no need to worry for his friend.
Which reminded him: he had no reason to be here. He had followed Tutankhamun on an impulse and an excuse, and now the thinness of that excuse had shown itself, and there was nothing which he could use as a reason to stay. He would have to go home.
“As Pharaoh that will not be your last hard decision, should it come to that. For myself…” He shrugged his shoulders, which turned into a full arm shake to relieve the tension growing in him. “I also have tasks awaiting me, though none as weighty as yours, I believe. I should get back to them, before Imhotep hunts me down for shirking my duties.”
Tutankhamun’s eyes snapped back to him in an instant, his brows drawing close in a frown. “Already? You wish to leave already? You’ve only just arrived, Sphinx!”
A guilty itch was working on Sphinx as he stood under Tutankhamun’s hurt stare. He tried to still his lashing tail, but it would not be calmed. “I worried before that there would still be dangers here when you arrived, dangers that I could protect you from. I see now that we are here that my fears were unfounded. I do not wish to be a hindrance to you when you have so much that will be demanding your time and energy.”
The frown on Tutankhamun’s face became almost a pout, and Sphinx was thrown back to their earliest days together. It made him ache with fond nostalgia.
“You would be no distraction,” Tutankhamun said, his voice retaining his hard earned maturity even if his expression did not. “There are still dangers here, Sphinx, even if they are not the sort to be dealt with a blade. Dangers I would feel more confident facing if my friend were by my side.”
Sphinx wasn’t quite sure what to say to that. He knew the dangers Tutankhamun meant - the dangers of untrustworthy politicians, the missteps of a new leader, the dangers of bad harvests and of disease, and how a man was to guide his people through such hardships. Those were all dangers no less serious than the ones they had been facing together, but considerably less straightforward to battle. He understood Tutankhamun’s desire to have someone at his side, but Sphinx knew his own limitations, his best skills, and they did not include the technicalities of running a country. He was best suited to a blade, not to politics.
“If they were monsters I could help you, Prince,” he said, deliberately using the title to remind Tutankhamun of his place and responsibilities. “But these are simply the challenges every leader must face. I… have no place here, no role to fulfill in your world.”
A hand clapped onto Sphinx’s forearm, startling him. He hadn’t realized how close Tutankhamun had been standing.
“Sphinx.” Tutankhamun looked up at him, his eyes pleading, every line of his face an appeal. “Please don’t leave, not yet. If you leave, I’ll be more alone than I ever was before, than I ever expected to be.” He blinked, and Sphinx saw his eyes were bright. “My father is gone, Akhenatin is dead, Nefertiti in prison, so many other parts of my family scattered who can know where. You would not have me do without you as well?”
Sphinx’s heart caught in his chest. In all of his considerations for his friend and what he would have to face, he hadn’t considered that. The guilty itch between his shoulders intensified. Could he really abandon Tutankhamun after so long being at his side? It didn’t feel right, didn’t sit well with his conscience. If he left now, he knew the decision would linger with him.
Surely if Imhotep really needed him, the mystic would find a way to fetch him?
He settled one of his hands over Tutankhamun’s and smiled at his friend. Tutankhamun’s face lightened immediately, but cautiously.
“I will stay, my friend. You are right,” he squeezed the slender hand under his own. “I would not abandon you to such a pathetic fate as that. Besides, who knows how much trouble you might get into if I looked away for even a moment?”
Tutankhamun snorted, then laughed, relieved. The Prince had a pleasant laugh, now it was no longer the dry wheezing of crypts and dust. After all he - they - had been through, he deserved to laugh. Sphinx grinned along with him and the two of them remained in the courtyard, side by side and discussing their future challenges even as the sky darkened and became studded with stars and the servants came out to light the lamps.
It was almost like nothing had changed at all, save now they could be more relaxed around the shadows. In no time, Sphinx had forgotten his reservations and simply enjoyed the time he still had to spend with his friend.