This was the plan- wait, no. There currently was no plan.(1) There were, however, a series of goals. They went like this: Escape restricting Egyptian crypt before leg cramps become irreversible. Locate powerful scroll, and deliver to magician. Assist magician in using scroll to take down other, enemy magician. Accompany master back to Alexandria, possibly enduring endless lectures on architecture the whole entire way, and be dismissed, having served purposes with characteristic efficiency and creative flair.
All very doable, and leaving just one other slight inconvenience.
“Could you move your elbow?" hissed Ptolemy.
I ignored him. If additional space for any appendage was somehow found, it was certainly not going to his shoulder.
I tried to negotiate my tail into a less uncomfortable position. Outside the tomb, a pair of foliots could be heard scuttling around. The thick wall of stone muffled their voices too much to understand properly, but it was a safe bet that they were discussing my doom.(2) I tugged uselessly at one of the beast’s legs. No, it was no good.
“I am going out,” I told Ptolemy, and hoped that at least most of the enemies formerly waiting outside had wandered away, as I was about to reveal out position to anyone in earshot. I threw the lid of the crypt and distributed swift and noisy death to anything that may have been the source of movement. Victims included the two foliots and several unfortunate rats.
“That worked well,” said Ptolemy, crawling out of the crypt.
I was mildly offended at his surprise. “This isn’t my first day. Now, do you know where those scrolls are?”
I indicated the door. “Lead on.” Muffled threats and shouting drifted after us as we left.
When one is engaged in a dramatic quest for an ancient and powerful scroll to stop evil magicians possibly bent on world domination and/or destruction, I will admit it is a little embarrassing to get accidentally cornered inside a too-small tomb. It is particularly embarrassing when the djinni involved is myself, with my long and lustrous history, and am armed with the knowledge that Ptolemy will absolutely gloat after everything is over. He doesn’t gloat with words; that’s not his style. No. He will gloat with his eyebrows.
(1) At least, as far as there is ever no plan. For me 'no plan' indicates a standing plan to do things like run or escape or find something more clever to do. This strategy has worked charmingly well thus far.
(2) Beings like them always are, instead of discussing more useful things. Smart ones discuss strategy, with doom implied.
Several right turns and nondescript rooms later, Ptolemy stopped short.
“Wait,” he said, three times in quick succession, presumably for emphasis. He grabbed my arm and dragged me down a side corridor dimly lit with torches, and with an uneven floor. It was littered with doorways to other corridors, or stairs, or back rooms. Strange stains splattered the walls, and at least one stair-landing featured a suspicious puddle. We were clearly on the right track.
I threw a backwards glance over my shoulder, in case one of our followers had decided to display some tracking competence. There was at least one djinni in the bunch; most of us have a tendency to be reasonably talented.
Ptolemy ducked into a small side room and we came to a halt in front of a heaped pile of scrolls. Ptolemy made a disapproving clucking noise.(3) “This is rather dreadful,” he said. “Scrolls of power such as these should really be neatly stored in individual cubicles.”
“Interesting,” I said.(4)
Ptolemy eyed my large and terrifying form with what looked suspiciously like faint amusement. “I’m so glad you think so,” he said. “Now. Which one, which one...” He poked at the scrolls a little, frowning, while I listened with increasing annoyance (5) to the sounds of some rather distressing potential company patrolling the halls.
“Got it?” I urged, waving one of the beast’s giant hands in a hurry it up motion.
“Um.” For the first time since my initial summoning by the boy, Ptolemy actually looked less than sure of himself. It only lasted the briefest of moments, but it could only be a bad, bad sign. I like magicians to be unsure of themselves when it leads to circles breaking and satisfying afternoon snacks, but when I require magicians to be generally proficient in order to get out terrible situations that they have put me in then Ptolemy’s usual irritating self-control is very much preferred.
“What do you mean, ‘Um,’” I growled, low in the beast’s throat.
“Well.” Ptolemy paused again, and bent down a little to peer more closely at the scrolls. “I’m just – I am not certain which scroll is the one we desire.”
“YOU WHAT,” I bellowed, lifting the beast up to its full height.
“Do not shout at me!”
“You what,” I hissed, politely.
(3) It brought to mind generations of disappointed grandmothers.
(4) I was still stuck in listen-reply mode from all the architecture blather, so sue me.
(5) Lesser beings would have listened with increasing panic.
“I am certain that given sufficient time to examine them I will be able to discern which scroll is the one we require to defeat the evil magician,” Ptolemy said, having evidently regained his sense of equilibrium. He began to carefully sort the crumbling scrolls into neat rows, unrolling them slightly to peer at their contents. “While I know that sufficient time may be – ah!”
A noise began to build and tremble through the musty air around us, a noise so vast and terrible that it was actually visible on the sixth and seventh planes. Ptolemy dropped into a crouch and clutched at his head, hands clamped over his ears. “WHAT IS THAT?”
“It’s the summoning!” I shouted back at him, the beast’s massive claws already scrambling to gather up the scrolls with very little of the care that Ptolemy had displayed.
“Do they all sound like that?” Ptolemy yelled, face pained. He straightened up to his full height again, but it was a slow and hesitant movement. He tentatively brought his hands down from his ears and wiped blood off on his tunic in long smears. Humans are such fragile sacks of flesh and bone; it’s astounding they get anything done.
“Only the bad ones,” I said, grimly, as the brutal sound began to drop to a more tolerable level. “It’s time to go.”
The noise led us out of the room and down the corridor. I loped at medium speed with the beast’s arms full of dusty papyrus as the boy struggled to keep pace beside me, yanking scrolls out one at a time to examine them and then stuffing them back into the pile to seek the next one. “How can you even tell which scrolls you’ve already looked at?” I demanded, irritated. “Just throw them over your shoulder when you’re done so I don’t have to carry the duds.”
“These are still... scrolls of... power,” Ptolemy panted, affronted. “They must not fall into the hands of any – there, Rekhyt, that hall, there!”
I followed the direction of his finger with one set of eyes, but the second set had already been following the razor-edged visible, audible trail of the summoning on the sixth plane, which indeed led into the hall Ptolemy had indicated.
We stumbled into a great open room. At the far end was a tall, glittering golden statue of Osiris – glittering, because the temple had been constructed with such mathematical precision and accuracy that twice a year the sun shone directly down upon the statue from a tiny hole in the ceiling. It created an impression of ethereal, terrible, holy glory, this statue, with a supporting cast of smaller Osiris figures radiating away from it in careful straight lines along the wall. Despite the general mustiness of the temple, this room was pristine, and the wall itself was covered in vivid depictions of glorious battles and bloody victories. On the whole, it was all right.
"How nice," I said. Ptolemy looked pleased.
“On the other side of that wall should be our magician’s summoning hall. You know, that is the story of-” he began, gesturing at the wall of bloody victories.
"How interesting,” I interrupted, and then added, “and that is going to be perfect.”
“It is beautiful.”
“Great. Remember it fondly," I said, and dumped the scrolls onto the floor. I whipped up a Detonation and took approximate aim at the wall of bloody victories.
"You may want to stand back a little."
He pointed at the wall on the left. It was a uniform light brown colour, and conspicuously devoid of art. "That one has a door. There is a passage just down that way."
“This is faster. Keep sorting the scrolls.” He did not visibly deflate in face of my flawless logic (6) but he also reached for another scroll. I released the Detonation and watched as the epic story of Osiris’ victories became significantly abridged. Dust and loosened rock fell away, revealing a great gaping hole the approximate size of one short Egyptian boy plus his monster.
Ptolemy made a pained noise.
I patted his shoulder. “Trust me,” I said. “That was absolutely necessary.”
Through the door on the left war, a man with a dog’s head strolled into the room. “I am Khasekhemwy, leader of those truly loyal to Osiris and hailing from Abydos!”
“Oh, hey,” I said. Ptolemy glared at me.
(6) Magicians, much like regular people, rarely do – instead they become red in the face and utterly convinced of their own correctness.
“You have come to stop me,” said the man-dog.
"Ah, no.” I quickly checked the other planes: man with dog head. Man with dog head. Man with dog head and rusty red aura, apparently all the way through. Huh. “We just love watching cult magicians destroy cities. Call it a hobby.”
The dog leaned back against the table and folded its arms across its chest. "Clever," it said. Then more solemnly, "It will not be a hobby for long."
"Was that a threat?"
"It sounded like a threat," Ptolemy said.
"I do feel vaguely threatened right now," I said thoughtfully.
The dog was unimpressed. “Feel whatever you wish. It is of no consequence to me.”
Ptolemy dropped the scrolls he was holding off to the side, and stood up straight. “I am Ptolemy of Alexandria! Nephew of the king, magician, and descendant of the gods, favoured by Osiris and Ra, and with me Rekhyt of Alexandria, previously known as Bartimaeus of Uruk!”
There was an expectant pause.
“Oh,” I said. “Yes, right.” Ptolemy returned to subtly sorting the scroll mound. “That is very correct. I am- him. He who is powerful and will destroy...things. Like you. I shall namely be destroying you.” I rose up to my full height, towering over Ptolemy and the man-dog. My tail uncoiled slowly and I shifted the scrolls clutched in my arms, the very picture of promised terror. “You shall know fear and then you shall know death. And then I shall remove your very strange head and devour its brains.”
“And your liver,” Ptolemy added helpfully.
“And your liver.”
“And I will watch.”
“And- actually, I would rather you didn’t.”
Ptolemy nodded solemnly. “I will hear an account of it afterward, then.”
“Right,” I agreed. “Excellent.”(7)
“Anyway,” Ptolemy continued, pushing another scroll off to the side with his foot, “you are but Khasekhemwy. You are doomed.”
"This is the truth," said the dog.
“I am thrilled that we are all in agreement,” I said. “Now call off whatever it is you are trying to summon here."
"You speak the truth," the dog repeated, "but it will not always be the truth. I am not all here yet."
“That sounds...unpleasant,” I offered. “My buddy Ptolemy here could probably help you out with that. Sanity’s important, you know? I sympathize with your loss.”
The dog stared at me for a long, unimpressed beat. “I don’t think he has much of a sense of humour,” Ptolemy said, reaching around from behind me for yet another scroll. “I, however, was amused by your comment and in less serious situations would perhaps have gone so far as to laugh.”
I was unaccountably touched by this. It’s a rare magician who has the brains to appreciate a wit like mine, after all.
(7) Judge not - developing a proper threat rapport does not happen in a day. We got better.
The dog shifted to the side and made a face that could possibly be called a frown, if a dog could frown. Maybe they can; I’m not well-acquainted with dogs. “You are wasting my time,” the dog declared. “It is well past time to meet thy doom,” it added formally.
“Found it?” I asked Ptolemy.
“Still looking,” he said.
The man-dog lifted its arms and the air tightened around us, thick with smoke. A deep rumbling came from the floor and the walls, completely drowning out the sound of Ptolemy’s frantic digging through the scrolls.
I closed my eyes and grew an extra arm, longer than the rest, and began groping for the table. It was around- there it was. Claws connected with stone, which was quickly growing hot to the touch; the whole room was becoming uncomfortably warm. I reached across the stone surface, sweeping countless gold plates and clay relics onto the floor to make a space for myself, and then leaping atop it. The air was even thicker further up from the floor.
"Come forth, Osiris," hissed a voice. It could have been made of steam, rising above the smoke and the noise.
Steam reminded me of something – a ha! The beast changed again, gaining a great and terrible flipper, like the oversized foot of a water-fowl, that extended from one hand. “Ha,” I chortled. I can always find time to get in some quality gloating. It’s one of life’s few pleasures. The beast’s flipper moved through the smoke, flapping vigorously (8) to clear the air. And – there! A glimpse of a bare, bronzed shoulder, just visible and so close -
“I have it!” cried Ptolemy.
The smoke had cleared enough now that I could see that the man-dog had its head tipped back, face upturned to the ceiling, arms spread wide, waiting. He looked like this on all the planes visible to me, but on the highest his edges were beginning to pulse and blur. It intensified. The sixth plane began to do the same. Then the fifth. Fourth.
That could not be good. I flipped back to the seventh plane again – he was just a shadow there now. The dog’s head remained the only distinctive part of him, an inky mass with vague points for ears and snout and outstretched claws. Black seeped into the rust-coloured aura, and then eclipsed it completely.
What was left of the dog on the lowest few planes shuddered. It began to shout.
“Hail Osiris, drowned in a box! Tricked by his brother, only to come back as king of the underworld!” The air was almost unbearably hot now. I felt the trembling of power down in my essence, and I knew what the shadow was. The dog was summoning the death-that-wasn’t of resident green-man Osiris. Osiris acquired immortality, and now this guy was trying to get in on it. It was trying to do the immortality thing, right here in front of everybody.
That never works.
(8) And, all right, I will admit it looked a little ridiculous. Not everything can be dramatics and cinematic glory, you know.
"- twice, my heart of my -" Ptolemy said. We needed just a little more time.
I hopped off the table and uprooted one of the smaller Osirises. “Come with me,” I muttered, and then launched it at the man-dog. The brave clay Osiris crashed into the magician’s back and shattered, but although bits of the dog shadow parted and dispersed, they came back together and looked much as it had before, albeit slightly less substantial – although I suspected that was more Ptolemy’s doing than mine. I threw a Detonation, with the same effect. The dog-man began moving in the direction of Ptolemy’s voice, which was rising into a scream.
“That which cometh forth from thy mouth hath been ordained! Let it not be given to the devourer Ammat to prevail over him!”
A great hush fell over the room as Ptolemy shrieked what I was fervently hoping were the last words of the incantation. They must have been, because the boy tossed down the scroll in an uncharacteristic display of carelessness, then threw back his head and said, “HA!” in a very familiar, gloating tone. His eyebrows waggled.
“Oh,” said the dog, and its smoke body dispersed completely, drifting away into nothingness.
We watched the space it previously occupied, basking in our victory. “I believe I require a drink,” said Ptolemy, after the thrill of success had worn off somewhat. “The magician’s demons?”
I waved a dismissive hand. “Gone.”
“...Something must be done with these scrolls, though. Oh! I know just the room.”
I knew the one he meant. It was dreadfully tacky, full of imported rugs and ugly pots. I told him so.
"That room is sacred," Ptolemy said seriously. "I have eaten breakfast there at least twice."
I considered not bothering to argue, but only briefly. The boy had an eyebrow raised, and those rugs were truly a travesty.