(A recollected narrative)
He realized that he was lying uncomfortably face down on a white marble-like floor. Slowly, he raised himself up on his arms, noting through his peripheral vision that one of the half-elves was next to him, and two of the FBH clones were a bit in front of him. They all seemed to be just coming to as well.
*click* *click* *click*
The sound of purposefully steps on marble caught the attention of the group. Almost in unison, they looked up.
CBY looked up and whispered almost reverently, "Thank you!", and then in a flash he was on his feet and rushing forward to greet the bronze-skinned goddess.
"My lady goddess," he oozed in his most charming manner, "I am honored and delighted to finally meet you. Allow me to introduce myself--"
Urd swept by him without batting an eyelash.
"Save it, creep."
The two FBH clones gulped as Urd approached them. As one they took off their helms and bowed as low as they could.
"Your divinity," said one of them nervously, "we come in peace and mean no harm or conflict to you or your world. We're only looking for a lost soul in the lands of the d--"
He didn't get to finish either. Instead, he was interrupted by Urd's high heels as she literally stepped on the two of them like they didn't even exist. CBY winced. He'd gotten off light.
Elladan, meanwhile, had been partially distracted by the pain and loss from the severed twin-bond with his brother. However, he was not so distracted (or blind, for that matter) as to miss the radiant being that had met them, who had so casually (and painfully) dismissed his companions, and who was now obviously coming his way. He stood his ground and bowed gracefully as she drew near.
"My lady," he said simply.
"Well, well, well," Urd positively purred as she seemed to sidle up to the half-elf. She circled him slowly, eyes roaming in consideration, and leaning in close enough so that Elladan could faintly feel her breath upon his neck. "What have we here..."
Elladan hesitated for a moment, then took the words for a question on their purpose here. "My brother and I accompanied Lady Tanith on her quest to pursue the lost soul of her friend. These others joined us on the road..."
"Yare yare." Urd dismissed that with a wave of her hand. "I knew that. But we're missing some people, aren't we? I was sure I'd gotten you all. Where's rest of you?" Her hands traced down the side of his cheek in a light caress.
"They were yet behind us when we chanced to fall into the Well waters that took us here," Elladan said softly even as he took a small step back from her touch. He wasn't used to women, especially one that shone with such inner radiance and power, speak and act the way Urd did to him.
But Urd wasn't having any of that. She floated along as he edged away, and rested her elbow on his shoulder as if he was a conveniently placed furniture. She idly rubbed her jaw with her other free hand as she muttered to herself. "Oh great. It just figures that'd happen. Took me such a long time to hack into their Yggdrasil too. There's no way I'm going to be able to do it again without getting caught."
Meanwhile, the others in the room watched the two of them jealously. Or in some cases, nervously and jealously. The two FBH clones furtively exchanged silent words.
::Look at him! It's not fair, dammit.::
::Must be the ears.::
::Damn elves get all the action.::
::Sshh!! Watch it! She might hear you!::
"Say, what happened to the Rover?"
As soon as the words were spoken, there was a loud crash as the rover appeared behind them and fell to the ground. The two clones jumped and whipped around to stare at it.
"Oh. Um. Thanks?"
Yeoman took a few steps forward to the still self-absorbed goddess and waved his hands to get her attention.
"Hello? We've still got friends out there and you're cuddling like you need to get a room. You gonna help us out or not?"
The next moment he was on the ground twitching from the aftermath of Urd lightning bolt.
"Quiet you, I'm thinking!" Urd snapped distractedly, her other hand now distractedly fiddling with Elladan's hair, making the half-elf even more self-conscious.
"Ouch," muttered one of the FBHs.
"I think we got off light," said the other, shaking his head.
"I meant to do that," came the cough from the form on the ground.
Just then, the doors to the room slammed open and another smaller form hurtled in, coming to a screeching halt a few steps into the room.
"Sis! What do you think you're doing?! I picked up a--" Skuld's opening exclamation came to an abrupt halt as her specially debugging-bespectacled gaze settled on the FBH duo.
"You!" She jumped forward, her mallet raised overhead and swinging down in a deadly arc toward the two clones. The FBHs reflexively cringed at the completely unexpected attack.
They opened their eyes when the impact they expected didn't come to see Skuld still hanging off the handle of her mallet, but that said mallet was being held firmly back by a floating Urd.
"What's the matter kiddo?" Urd asked. "I thought I reserved this room."
"Urd! Those two can't be here! It's against the rules!" Skuld let go of the mallet and waved a small booklet in front of her older sister's face. "There must've been a bug!"
The two clones exchanged looks of relief and exasperation.
::You know, it's restrictions like those that keep us from making any decent cosmic contacts.::
::Hear, hear. I hope we're making a good impression this time. I don't wanna wind up on the wrong end of that mallet.::
"We're not here to make any trouble, ma'am," said the first FBH to the younger goddess, bowing low again. "We're just looking for a friend of ours who's been lost in the aft--"
But the two goddesses completely ignored them. Urd snatched the small booklet from Skuld's hands.
"What rules? I don't remember..." she muttered as she flipped through them, dropping the mallet back into Skuld's hands.
"How can you not remember?!" Skuld exclaimed, waving her hands and oblivious to the nervous gazes locked onto her wildly flailing mallet. "You put it in there!"
"I did?" Urd scratched her head idly as she finally found the clause her sister was speaking of. "Oh! That one! Huh... I don't remember putting that in there... must've been drunk that day..." Then, after a few more minutes of thought and ignoring Skuld's facefault to the ground, she suddenly snapped her fingers in recollection. "Ah! I remember now! It was from one of those Khazan meeting thingies when everybody with nothing better to do get together and mess around with--uh... oops, I wasn't supposed to tell any of our vic--uh, nevermind!"
Skuld facefaulted to the ground once again. The three Net Eventers stared at the silver haired goddess in mute shock. Urd sweatdropped and scratched the back of her head.
"Nevermind about those rules. They're not that important." So saying, she tossed the booklet over her shoulder. "We have more important things to do, like... uh... like--"
Her gaze swept around until it fell on the halpless half-elf again. In a flash, she had Elladan in something of a headlock, floating a few inches off the ground from her hold. Elladan's face was burning a dark crimson from both lack of breath and from being pressed perilously close to her ample bosom.
"--like reuniting beefcake here with his brother!" Urd finished in a proud exclamation.
Again, they all gaped at her.
::Beefcake?:: the FBH clone sent to his companion, his tone full of disbelief.
::I knew it. It just figures that all our problems was from meddling gods. It's not fair, dammit...:: Unfortunately, his companion was still stuck on Urd's previous revelation.
"...and we have to find their friends too, of course," Urd was still continuing, "since Tanith is our friend too and I kinda bet L--er... nevermind about that... Hey!" She quickly dodged out of the way just as Skuld's mallet landed where she stood, yanking Elladan along with her. "What was that for?!"
"Urd, you... you..." Skuld was trembling with something that was not just anger. "...you ECCHI!"
"Huh?" Urd took stock of where the half-elf she was holding had been pressed up against her. A wicked and not un-lascivious look crossed her face. She lowered Elladan back onto the ground and loosened her hold, raising the hand that was still wrapped around him up to cup his face as she gave Skuld a condescending and salacious look. Her voice dropped to a low husky tone that sent shivers through the males in the room.
"Run along, kid. You shouldn't interfere with the affairs of adults."
Skuld's trembling grew worse and her knuckles were white where they gripped her mallet. Finally, she whipped around and with a loud yell of "I'm gonna tell Bell on you!", stormed out of the room. The doors slammed shut behind her.
Urd blinked. "Well, at least she's not tattling to Father," she muttered. Then she turned back to regard the still-blushing Elladan. "Now, honey, where were we..."
She must still be someone on Yggdrasil, Tanith realized. She felt the rough trunk of the world tree under her hand, but it certainly didn't feel like she was lying completely on top of bark...
"My lady? Are you awake?" The voice was soft and spoken right next to her ear.
It was then she realized that she was lying half on top of someone else. With an embarrassed yelp, she scrambled to her feet, only to discover that the great branch of Yggdrasil was not quite as broad and stable as it seemed from a prone position. It swayed a littled as she moved, the wind howled around her, and her footing slipped. But before she could fall or speak a Word to right herself, a strong hand grasped her shoulder and pulled her back onto the branch proper. She looked up into the shining grey eyes of the half-elf.
"Careful, lady," he said, slowly moving backwards to where the branch met the trunk of Yggdrasil.
"Thank you, ah, Lord Elrohir?" Tanith said, confident that she had finally gotten the twins sorted out.
"Just Elrohir will do, lady," Elrohir told her as they neard the trunk, "Lord is more befit my father, or in the courts of men."
Tanith made to reply, but a great gust of wind interrupted her, howling and shaking the great branches of the World Tree. Faster than the eye could follow, Elrohir had drew his sword and sank its blade into the wall of bark that was Yggdrasil's trunk, creating a handhold for him to cling to. With his other hand, he pulled Tanith closer into the lee of the trunk and held her tightly. There they waited for several moments until the raging winds around them finally died down.
Tanith blushed as Elrohir pulled away. She cleared her throat nervously and changed the subject.
"Can you see any of the others?"
Elrohir peered around through the thick mazes of branches and leaves all around them. "Nay," he whispered, a flash of pain crossing his expresson, "nor can I sense my brother's presence within my mind. He is lost from me."
"We'll find him," Tanith reassured him. "We'll find them, as long as it takes." They were all naturally immortal anyhow, aside from the FBH's.
Elrohir flashed her a smile. "Of course." He took a deep breath and looked up through the canopy above them again.
"Though I do not see our companions, I can barely make out the form of a large creature far above us. A great bird, it seems to me, greater than even Gwaihir the Windlord. I believe the great wind that swept by us came from none other than beneath the creature's mighty wings."
"That must be the Eagle perched atop Yggdrasil that Ratatosk spoke of," Tanith mused, "which means we must be near the top of the World Tree. That means Asgard must be on the plane just below us."
She moved to look downwards, but Elrohir suddenly pulled her back, yanking his sword out from the trunk as he did so.
"Something approaches," he cautioned in a low hiss. He took a step out onto the branch to meet it, thus also placing himself protectively in front of Tanith.
Tanith looked down into the mist-covered branches vainly as she also readied her Will. For a moment, there was barely a flash of movement down below, though she couldn't be sure if it wasn't her eyes playing tricks on her.
Elrohir, however, apparently saw the same disturbance, though his much keener eyes could discern more closely what it was. With a relieved sigh, he released the tension in his posture.
"It is Master Mattias," he announced. "He holds the one of the triplet who fell with us."
Tanith decided not to make an issue of the fact that the FBH's where more like quintu-deciplets. The whole concept of cloning was far too complicated and longwinded to explain at the moment. Instead, she merely waited until her bodyguard showed up, swooping out from the mists below them. One of the FBH clones dangled from his grasp.
"Is he alright?" Elrohir asked, indicating the clone. He did clobber the man rather hard over the head.
"I'm fine," slurred the clone as he opened his eyes, showing that he had only looked unconscious. "...As long as the drugs are keeping off the pain and I don't think too much about my severed mindbond with my other-selves..." That accounted for his rather dazed tone of voice.
Elrohir looked sympathetic. He could understand the pain of such a severance. Tanith squeezed his hand lightly before turning to Mattias, all business.
"Are any of the others around? Where did you guys wind up?"
Mattias alighted next to them on the branch and gestured downwards, answering Tanith's second question first.. "You guys were lucky. We fell right down onto the plane far below us. His armor probably kept him from breaking his neck. As did my durability." He paused to consider for a moment. "Actually, I'm probably lucky too, that I didn't get impaled on something sharp and wooden on my way down. But as for the others, I sensed no other human--er--humanoid presences around except for you two."
Tanith sighed. "I suppose then we should go back down to the plane below us and seek some help from Asgard. King Thor is a friend, at least."
"Asgard?" Mattias said sharply, "there's no Asgard down there. The whole plane is blank as slate."
Tanith stared at him. "But... how does an entire plane disappear? We are near the top of Yggdrasil, aren't we? Planes of reality don't just disappear, and the Asgardians have no reason to hide themselves from us."
Mattias looked up for a moment and nodded slowly. "Yeah, we are near the top of the Tree. But I also know what I saw down there. There wasn't evey any ruins or wreckage. It's as if the whole place just up and moved--"
"Moved..." Tanith blinked this time, as Mattias' last phrase stirred some long-forgotten memory.
"Of course!" two voices cried in unison. Tanith looked over at the FBH clone who had remained quiet until now and gestured for him to speak.
"Thor moved his realm on top of New York City a while back," FBH explained. "I remember reading the reports on it. They should be somewhere right above the Midgard plane."
Tanith nodded. "I vaguely recall getting a note about the relocation. But I'm afraid I haven't been keeping track of my honorary Avengers membership as close as I should..."
"So Midgard it is then?" Elrohir asked, trying to keep pace with the conversation.
"There are realms between here and there," Tanith mused, "but I don't know of them well enough to trust them."
FBH nodded. "I'd go with the King Thor option too."
"Well, then let's be on our way," Mattias said, using his forcefield powers to create an elevator platform in midair. "All aboard."
It was there that Rune found the members of the Andromeda who were using the stopover to the MU to take a break and get some shopping done. (One might not think that visiting a city with one of the highest superheroes/villains/etc-per-square-foot in the omniverse would be considered "taking a break"; but then, most long-time members of the Andromeda tended to have tastes in that regard that were not "normal" to begin with.)
Rune approached the group with her usual cheery aplomb, her bodyguard and the detective following her. Kasumi returned the same cheerful greeting, though there was nothing oblivious about her manners. Separation from Nerima's insanity, as well as marriage and motherhood, had apparently done wonders for the eldest Tendo daughter.
Her husband stood just behind her, holding the handles for the double stroller that he had made for their daughter and little Christine. Most people would probably think that a jet-propulsion-capable, ergonomic, self-sustaining double stroller with two internal power generators, an advanced threat-detection AI, three sets of continously running sensors covering 360 degrees and at least a one mile radius, five layers of automatic defenses, an internal two-way transmission link, several hidden status transmitters, two neuro-controlled holoemitters, and who knows whatever else - looking like some monstrous amalgamation of Lego blocks and stardrive spares... well, to be a tad bit overkill. But that was just Mac for you.
The two toddlers in question, perhaps were a bit too young to appreciate (or be horrified by) the contraption they were place in. It was a credit to Kasumi's influence that little Victoria obediently greeted the approaching trio with "Konnichiha, Rune-chan! Meta-san! Okahiki*-san!" and Christine with a "Hi Rune and... whoever." It was to the credit of the typically short attention span of one and two-year-olds that they promptly ignored the new "adults" in favor of whatever interesting thing had captured their attention.
The "interesting thing" in question, at the moment, was none other than an aged Bilbo Baggins. While the loss of the One Ring had aged Bilbo quickly, the resources of the Andromeda had restored at least his mental acuity. True to his light-hearted and un-Hobbit-like adventurous spirit, Bilbo seemed to be having the time of his life entertaining the children with mock-Gollum-impressions while sitting in the middle of 21st century NYC.
The last person in the group, however, did not seem to be enjoying the experience as Master Bilbo was. Rune tried not to giggle at the sight of Boromir under an innundation of shopping bags - all of them Kasumi's, most likely. It seemed that some things just did not change with one's time and place of origin. On a closer looked though, Rune noticed that Boromir seemed more scruffy than just being harried by feminine whims would indicate. Were those claw-tears and... oh dear, hints of dried blood? And was that a bruise hidden behind the curtain of hair that hid his left cheek?
"What happened?" Rune asked, eyes still fixed on the captain of Gondor. "Was there a fight?" She could have found the answer to that herself via her clairsentience, of course. But she tried not to zone off into an vacant-eyed trance too much in the company of others - most people thought of her as airheaded enough, not to mention what such a habit would do to her social skills. She wasn't too worried about things, though. Boromir obviously didn't look like he was about to keel over any moment, so it couldn't have been a major incident.
"There was a... misunderstanding..." came a voice behind her.
The voice belonged to the Hank McCoy that was a member of the Andromeda - one not native to the world they were on. The man with him was their PADT guide to the area.
"A misunderstanding?" Well, that explained a lot, but now Rune was curious.
"Yes, apparently there was a small altercation with Mr. Grimm in front of the Baxtor building..."
"I thought it was a mountain troll," Boromir muttered defensively. "It broke my sword."
"Ahem. Yes. Unfortunately the commotion attracted some undue attention from a previously ongoing fight between Spiderman and Dr. Octopus..."
Boromir grumbled something under his breath that might have sounded like 'unnatural beasts of Mirkwood.'
"That was when MacGyver-san stopped the fight," finished Hank.
"Mac?" Rune inquired. That seemed unlikely.
"Ah, no. Mrs. MacGyver," Hank emphasised.
"Kasumi-san?!" Rune stared. That seemed even more unlikely.
"She took a few years off my life when she stepped in there," Mac spoke up, looking rueful and proud at once, "but I think this is probably the first case in the history of superhero activity that the fight was stopped by a niceness-aura and motherly scolding."
Kasumi blushed. "They really shouldn't play so roughly in the open like that. It sets a bad example for the children."
Rune couldn't help but giggle. Bilbo looked up from where he was playing with the children.
"Never underestimate a mother's protection of her cubs," the old hobbit said. "You were brilliant, Lady Kasumi! Such new things I've seen on this adventure! Why, I might write another book entirely just for you and these darling children! Master Elrohir has promised to help finish my old story anyway..."
"You look as if you're enjoying yourself, master hobbit," Rune noted.
"Why of course I am!" crowed Bilbo. "This is a simply *grand* adventure. Such marvelous places I have never seen... the place that Lady Kasumi took us to earlier was full of merchants selling the most *wondrous* things!"
"We went to the lower east side shopping district," Mac clarified.
"It's unnatural," Boromir was still muttering softly, "...unnatural tall buildings that loom without falling, evil things hawked by greedy men, beasts and monsters roam the streets..."
Rune sweatdropped, but ignored the muttering. "Well, if you've all finished--oh!"
She was interrupted when an obvious viking-looking man suddenly ran up to the group with a message for her. She glanced through it quickly and handed it to Bigby Wolf. She turned and looked at Boromir apologetically before facing the rest of the group.
"Ah, it seems I need to return to Asgard for a moment. I'll be right back."
With that, she, Meta, and Bigby followed the messenger away.
Okahiki = Detective (Japanese)
"What--oof. What's the big hurry?"
"Ow. You're on my foot! Gerroff!"
"A few minutes more and I'd've been able to catch up with Rune--"
"I--I'm not alone anymore...!"
"Among other things, it seems..."
"Trust me on this. Staying there isn't a good idea."
"Brother! Are you implying--"
"They do make a nice couple..."
"You've had more than a month to track us down, I don't see how a few minutes more--"
"Now, now, it's not nice to tease new couples--"
"MONTH?! Much as I missed you, brother, it's only been a few hours--"
"Speak for yourself, brother, when you and Lady Urd--"
"Urd no baka! You forgot to set the time synchronization, didn't you?"
"Now wait just--"
"Oh my. Urd, I had no idea you and he..."
"Time synch--Oh that explains so much..."
"What?! Waitamin, Bell! That--we weren't--"
"Ack! Watch the hammer Skuld!"
"Skuld! Urd! Stop that!"
"I think that's our cue to back away..."
A sharp whistle interrupted the mangle of bodies and the confusing chatter. Everyone turned to look at the three mostly neglected (well, one actually, since the separated FBH clone had eagerly rejoined the other two upon arrival) people in the room.
"Nice to see you back," CBY said sarcastically, "now could you clue the rest of us in to what the heck you're all babbling about?"
There was a silence as everyone looked at one another (or glared at, in the case of Skuld and Urd).
"It's a long story."
"Can we change the subject now?"
Now, he stood by Galadriel's side as she poured water in her mirror. Galadriel beckoned him to look into the water. He could hear the demon cackling in the depths of his mind. He had a nagging feeling that the Mirror won't be showing him anything new about the demon, which made him nervous about all the possibilities of what it would show.
With some apprehension Mg looked into the water. Images flashed by in the water seemingly randomly. A shot of boot camp here, a firefight in a South American jungle here, scene of a pair of crosshairs on an elvish looking figure, and a slow shot of being airlifted out of a city. The final image was the most was the one that got the most reaction though a simple detonating device with six globes of green gel placed on top of a water tower.
With that scene Mg steped back and promptly hurled.
"That is a reaction I have never seen from a viewer of my mirror" Galadriel said.
"You would puke too if you knew what that was. Let me lay down the numbers for you. 300 hostiles and 200 innocents. That is the number of people killed by that little device and let me tell you they got the most horrible death possible."
"How do you know this?" Galadriel asked.
Mg smirked. "You can read minds why don't you tell me?"
"You were there and....you set it off." Galadriel said innocently.
"What the bomb didn't get the government kill crew did. All in all a whole town was wiped from the face of the planet. Most of those people never did anything except they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Better yet the populace doesn't know and any meta that dares look at that time period gets a prompt execution. I should know, I killed two of them." Mg lowered his head.
"What could be so bad that your leaders needed to order the mass execution of so many of their people?" Galadriel murmured, sounding as if the question was not addressed to anyone.
Mg answered anyway. "It's simple really. A rather large cult tried to open a permenant portal to a very hostile dimension. Something the world couldn't take on and expect to win. My unit was sent on a suicide mission to try and stop the cult, and the gas was to make sure that if we were to late then the portal could be disrupted before it became permanent. Suffice it to say we were too late and my unit had take heavy casulties. I had no choice but to set off the bomb."
"You regret the neccessity if it," Galadriel said, looking at Mg with piercing eyes. "Of all those dark deeds of your past - you do not regret them, but you regret their neccessity."
Mg shrugged. "Life's all about nasty neccessities," he said bitterly.
"But there is also much that is neither regretable or neccessary in life," Galadriel said. "You see only darkness overwhelming light. It is that which gives the darkness in your mind its strength."
Mg blinked at the sudden change in topic. "I'm just a pragmatist," he snapped back, "not one of those naive, idealistic fools. And that has nothing to do with the demon!" Or does it? Silently, his mind wondered at the accussation.
Outwardly, Mg glared stubbornly at Galadriel. The dark voice in the back of his mind grew angry; it clamored incessantly for blood, for the raging fires of violence unleashed.
Galadriel refrained from sighing in exasperation at the intractable young man before her. It didn't take any amount of foresight to see that he did not want any part of these sessions that were supposed to help heal him, though her pride still prevented her from giving up. Idly, she wondered if the boy had any dwarven blood in him.
"The darkness that plagues you cannot be driven away if you do not wish to be healed," she finally said.
"The demon can't be healed," Mg growled back. His temper had been growing shorter as time went on and his patience waned. "It needs to be destroyed if you really want to stop it!" Damnit! Why didn't she just leave be when I could've sent it back to Hell with me! he thought darkly. The darkness in his mind laughed mockingly.
Galadriel's eyes narrowed for a split moment as she picked up the errant thought.
"Yet you have reigned in this... demon... all this time," she said. "It is your mind that is in control, and your mind that has power over it, including the power to rid yourself of it."
Yeah, show 'er your willpower, your control snickered the demon. Mg scowled and paced around the glade. He could almost feel the mallorns closing in around him. God he hated this place and its creepy-glowy inhabitants.
Shut up! he snapped silently to the thing. "What if I don't want to get rid of it?" he demanded aloud, throwing caution to the wind. "What if I like what it's offering me?"
His mind flashed back to the attrocities he had borne in his early years as a metahuman. Abruptly, he halted his pacing right in front of Galadriel, staring up at her with darkened eyes ablaze with the teetering of sanity.
"I'm dangerous!" he declared. "With a single thought I can unleash a firestorm on this forest. I can kill and make a river of blood and nobody can stop me. I can--" He stopped his rant with an effort. "If you know what's best for your people, you really don't want me here."
Galadriel merely looked at him coolly, not a bit ruffled by his churlish raving. Slowly, she folded her hands on her lap. Nenya flashed from where she wore it on her finger, and Mg's eyes was automatically drawn to it. The demon in his mind shifted uneasily, unable to tell if the ring was only reflecting the light filtered through the forest canopy, or if it shone by the grace of its own inner power.
"Lothlorien is in no danger from your fire," Galadriel assured him, "even could you unleash it. Though Nenya has not its power of old since the destruction of the One, there remains power yet in the Ring of Water."
She regarded him for a moment, her eyes seeing through him. "However, this is the first time the darkness in you has spoken through you. Let us see then, what this 'demon' would say to me."
With that, she reached forth telepathically and suppressed the dominant aspect of Mg's mind. The demon immediately assumed control.
"Forget it witch!" it snarled at the elf queen. "This boy is mine and there's nothin' you can do about it!"
Galadriel regarded the possessed young man gravely. "You do not speak the complete truth," she noted. "Indeed, your continued existence is dependent upon the flaws of your hoste..."
The thing snarled back. "That pathetic mortal mind is no part of me! I'm above that puny human and it'll only be a matter of time before I'll crush him like a bug!"
"Should he ever realize the power he has upon his own mind and heart," continued Galadriel blithely as if she had not been interrupted, "and see through the illusion that you are, you would be the one--"
"NEVER!" raged the demon in a burst of temper that hid its sudden panic. "He'll never be rid of me! I'll kill everyone in this forest! I'll burn it down! I--AAHHH!"
Even as the demon reached inwards for Mg's innate fire-magicks, Galadriel had been ready with her own powers, backed by the Water Ring. Nenya's power coallesced around the possessed man like an thick woolly cloak, smothering the demon's attempts to summon his fires. The creature thrashed against the press of the ring's magic, cursing as he did so. Thus focused elsewhere, it was caught unaware by the strong grasp of Galadriel's ageless mind upon it.
The elf queen roughly roughly seized the demon and tried to separate it from Mg's psyche. But the demon held on to its hoste desperately, and Galadriel perceived that it could not be unwillingly torn out with Mg's still-dormant mind unharmed. So instead, she flung it back into the deep recesses of its hoste's mind, and as an afterthought, place what barriers Mg's psyche could hold around it. It was a very temporary solution, to be sure, and there was no doubt the demon would eventually break out again, gaining ground each time Mg succumbed to its temptations. But for the moment, it would be kept in check.
Galadriel slowly eased the reach of her mind back within herself, and the power of Nenya faded away. She silently contemplated the now-sleeping Mg, before sadly shaking her head and rising. Departing the private glade, she called for servants to take the young man back to his room, where he would wake up in due time, hopefully less haunted than before.
Indeed, it was early evening when Mg did wake from his sleep. Snapping immediately into alertness, he frowned when he realized there were some large blurry gaps in his memories of the day. Telepathy. It had to be mental manipulation. What the hell had these freaks done to him?! He cursed under his breath as he speculated on what he could have possibly been made to forget, his cynically nature coming up with nothing but bad news.
It took a moment for him to realize that the demon was unusally quiet. However, he also sensed that it was in no way gone. Whatever its game was though, Mg did not trust its sudden silence. It was up to something.
The feeling of being threatened pressed in on him from within and without. He couldn't stay here, surrounded by preternatural and mind-controlling elves. He didn't belong here; why can't anyone see that? Well, the Andromeda had left him behind, and he had no ability to d-travel by himself... but surely he could at least get out of this forest. Anywhere would be better than here - anywhere where he could at least interact with normal humans, anyhow.
His mind made up, Mg quickly gathered up his sparse belongings and slipped out of the room, his mind already searching for the quickest getaway plan. It was a good thing most of the elves tended to avoid him and that most of them ought to be ought partying at this time of the evening, he reflected as he made a beeline toward the sound of water. The less of them who try to stop him, the less he'd be delayed.
There was only one guard at the docks to the river that fed into the Anduin - a reflection of the post-war peace and typical Galadhrim conceit. He was preoccupied with pulling in two of the white Galadhrim boats, evidently belonging to recently-returning scouts or messengers.
Knowing that stealth would be useless, Mg strod up the docks as if he had every reason to be there, pretending not to understand the guard's repeated demands about his presence. Then, at the last moment, he lunged. The elf was fast, and stronger than the pretty boy looked, but courtesy to his superstrength, Mg only needed one good shot to render the other unconscious.
Leaving the fallen elf where he lay, Mg pulled himself to his feet, scowling at the bleeding wound on his leg where the elf had scored a hit with his dagger. Quickly, before anyone else could come by, he flung himself into the nearest boat and pushed off into the river. Resolutely, he began to row vigorously with the white paddles in the boat.
Gondor, here I come...
Even as Mg's small boat reached the wide river of the Anduin, back in the heart of Lothlorien, the Lord of the Galadhrim made his way across the treetops to the private talan he shared with his lady. He found Galadriel standing on the balcony, eyes closed as she listening to the singing that permeated Caras Galadhon. Silently, Celeborn made his way to her side and rested a gentle hand on her shoulder. His lady wife opened her piercing eyes and looked at him expectantly.
"Tonduil will recover," Celeborn said softly. "He was hurt no worse than a bump to his head and a broken arm." He paused for a moment, waiting for Galadriel to say something. When she remained silent, he added, "Haldir was not pleased that you ordered there be no pursuit of our rude guest." There was an implicit question in his voice.
Galadriel sighed and looked back out into the trees once more. "It would serve no purpose to keep him," she said, "for the only way he can be kept now would be by force. It would be needless indeed in these times of peace to allow vengeance for this one thing to bring upon us more violence."
"I see." Celeborn pondered her words for a while, before nodding slowly. "Does he no longer need your aid and counsel?"
"He does not trust me. He does not even trust himself. Unless he can learn to accept healing, there is no more I or anyone else on Middle-earth can do for him."
Celeborn nodded. "The Galadhrim were wary of the shadow within him as he was wary of elfkind. It is best that he departed, but is Gondor in aught danger from him?"
"The darkness within him is in no danger of touching anyone but himself for now..." Galadriel mused slowly.
But her husband of millenia heard the slight hesitation in her voice. Slowly, he drew her around to face him, his mind reaching out to hers.
::What did you see?:: Celeborn asked sofly, though firmly.
::I see what may bring us hope... what will push him into the darkness.::
With that, Galadriel lowered her eyes and leaned into her husband's embrace, letting his presence hold the weight of her visions at bay.
"The morning court adjourned late again," she noted.
"There is much to do now that the war has ended," Aragorn shrugged as he took a seat beside her.
"Hmm." A sly smile tugged at Arwen's lips. "And how much of that worthy discussion is prolonged by the contrariness of the esteemed Prince of Ithilien?"
Aragorn sighed and smiled ruefully as well. "Denethor wishes well for Gondor..."
"But his sight is clouded when it comes to deciding what is best for Gondor," Arwen finished for him.
Aragorn let his silence serve as assent.
Above, on the branch, the neglected hawk gave a loud cry at the intruder who had stolen Arwen's attention and interrupted her song. Both royals looked up at the affronted bird, amused.
"What word from Celeborn?" Aragorn asked, recognizing the hawk as an elven-bred messenger bird.
Arwen handed a thin roll of parchment to him. "We may have a visitor soon. Daernaneth* cannot heal one who does not wish to be healed, and Daeradar* will not force one like him to remain in Lothlorien."
Aragorn scanned the message and nodded. "Gondor owes a debt to those travelers from another world. Mg is welcome to stay in the city until his companions return for him."
A few days later, Mg stood arrived at the court of King Elessar.
Daernaneth = Grandmother (Sindarin)
Daeradar = Grandfather (Sindarin)
"Don't worry about it, sis," Urd said at last with a tone of finality. "I know what I'm doing. I have a plan."
I have a plan.
Perhaps the scariest phrase uttered in the OMGU. And those who were familiar with that feeling of impending doom exchanged frantic glances.
"Um... that's really, okay, Urd," Tanith tried to forestall the goddess. "We can get by on our own. Really--"
"Look, I'll just send them on their way right now and *prove* it works," said Urd impatiently. "I devised the spell myself."
The feeling of impending doom on those in the know intensified. Even Urd's own sisters began to look unsure. But before anyone could protest, Urd had began her incantation.
Immediately, a strong wind swept through the room, knocking everyone from their feet. A jagged rip appeared in the fabric of reality in the middle of the room, and none of the travelers where heartened to see the quickly flickering play of light and color behind it.
"Um... Urd..." Skuld began as she struggled to keep on her feet. Urd ignored her.
One by one, the travellers in the room were swept into the rift. But just as the last figure was being pulled in--
Skuld finally shouted out what she was trying to say. "Wait! If you're going to use one of them to track Llwella's spell, you'll have to keep one of them here!"
Urd suddenly blinked in the middle of her incantation.
Seeing the last figure about to disappear into the rift, she lunged forward and grabbed the foot of that person. Her forward motion, however, carried both of them into the rift, which promptly sealed itself behind them. The wind died down in the room.
Belldandy and Skuld looked at each other in shock.
"The Yggdrasil monitor room!" Belldandy cried. "If anything can locate them, it'll be there!"
With that, the two Norn sisters fled out the room.
Tanith stumbled to a stop in the dark. Her efforts to keep herself from falling were rewarded with a stubbed toe and the edge of something waist-high and stony jabbing into her ribs. Blinking in the darkness, she tentatively sent out a tought-tendril. However, she could detect no human minds within range.
Conjuring up a light, she looked around at the room she was enclosed in. The first thing she noticed were the colorful hieroglyphics and scenes which adorned the stone walls -- they were obviously Egyptian. With a sinking feeling, she looked down onto the structure that she had bumped into. The gilded covering of a sarcophagus stared up at her.
Abruptly, she sprang back with a barely-stifled squeak. Were the shadows in the room playing tricks on her eyes or did the sarcophagus cover just... move? Scenes from horror movies featuring zombies wrapped in dusty white papyrus flittered across her mind.
Urd, where-ever you are, this isn't funny...
Mattias stumbled to a stop, cursing at the darkness that surrounded him. His sharp senses detected movement behind him, and his quick reflexes caught the large jar-like object that he had bumped into, saving it from crashing onto the floor. Looking around blindly, the lack of the tiniest hint of light to his awareness, and the stale smell of air told him he was entirely sealed in some kind of room. Morever, he could not sense any other human presences within the range of his awareness. With a sigh, he placed the object in his hands onto the shelf behind him. It was just as well that he did not need to breathe.
I'm not getting paid enough for this, CBY thought irreverently as the ground broke his fall. He could've sworn that being dead came with benefits like not getting smacked around. Well, at least another fall wouldn't kill him again.
Picking himself up from the dusty ground, he looked around at his surroundings. He was in the middle of a wide street that led up to a large cluster of buildings. It was a street lined with pedestals. A street of pedestals on which rested rows of lion-sized sphinxes. A street of sphinxes who were all staring at him with glowing eyes.
Note to self, he thought glumly, don't complain about meeting too many giant metaphysical critters unless you want Murphy's Law dropped on your head.
FBH #1 found himself overlooking a grand valley from the side of a steep rocky slope. It was a spectacular scene, a grand valley, worthy of a kodak moment. However, he was much more concerned by the fact that he was looking out upon it from a large nest of dried reeds. Even more troubling, he was sitting next to a large pearly egg that was half the size of a grown man. He had a sinking feeling that things were about to go wrong, fast.
FBH #2 had perhaps the least apprehensive and anxiety-filled arrival into Egypt. He barely had a glimpse of a wide expanse of clear water before he fell head-first into the Nile. However, he had not noticed the pair of crocodiles on a nearby river-bank who took sudden notice to this intrusion of their habitat.
FBH #3 found himself in a similar circumstance to CBY, though he did not know of the other's plight. He, too, was dropped in a wide street that led up to a large stone building. This street was lined with ram-headed sphinxes. And they too had noticed his arrival among them.
Elrohir landed on the sandy ground with the grace of the Eldar. Immediately, his mind automatically seeking his twin. To his dismay, the response across the bond was muffled and distant, telling him little that made sense to him. Meanwhile, his keen eyes could spot no familiar faces among the expanse of sand before him. Turning to get a better look on his surroundings he noted that there were two high stone walls to his sides, and a even higher wall behind him.
"Brother! Are you there? Lady Tanith? Lady Urd?"
The only answer to his call was an ominous crunching sound from somewhere above him. Slowly, his gaze followed the highest wall upwards... until he found himself staring up at a large stony face that was bending to look down upon him, its eyes glowing bright.
Elrohir stared. The Great Sphinx stared right back.
Elladan and Urd:
Elladan barely had time to keep his balance as his feet touched solid land before he was ungracefully crushed to the floor by another warm and curved body on top of him. Blinking away strands of silver-grey hair, he idly wondered if Fate was trying to tell him something by consistently placing him in compromising positions with the Lady Urd.
"Skuld'll never let me hear the end of this," Urd muttered as she got to her feet. Not as quickly as she would normally, though... the half-elf was rather cute... Then all idle thoughts left her mind as she realized where they were. Or rather, who were in the room with them.
"Lord Osiris! Eh-hehe, fancy meeting you here! And Isis! Nephthys! How're the kids? Er... Thoth! I see the... er... feathers finally... um... grew back."
Is this what it would be like to stand in presence of the Valar? Elladan wondered as he also rose to his feet. He looked around at the solemn and definitely unamused faces hovering high overhead. Pray let it be not.
Urd sweatdropped at the looks sent her way. She had some fast talking to do.
There was a second room adjoined to the one she was in, with nary a corridor between them, but a rather large doorless entrance that her light did not shine through. Without a second thought, Tanith raced across the room and through the door, putting as much distance between herself and the sarcophagus as possible.
The second room seemed a disappointment at first, since it did not have any doors out of the place either. However... was it her imagination or did the air seem fresher? Some glimmers of old high school lessons on the pyramids stirred in the back of her mind. Almost reluctantly, she let the mage-light in her hand die down... And there it was - a thin, almost invisible, shaft of light raining down from the ceiling - a ventilation shaft through the bulk of the pyramid. She moved looked up into the shaft, and could barely see a hint of blue skies in the far distance.
The sound of a sarcophagus lid meeting the floor intruded into her reverie. Was that a footstep?
The vent was far too small for her to crawl through, even if she had been able to keep a grip on the smooth sides. She thought about transforming into a lizard or other crawling creature, then immediately discarded the notion. She'd have to make her way up the walls in the dark then, with limited vision of such creatures, and she was bound to get lost. That only left...
The sound of another, louder footstep decided her. Letting go of the mage-light, Tanith concentrated, and then let herself slip into her new form. Moments later, a ruby-crested hummingbird was zooming out of the pyramid shaft.
After making her way out of the pyramid's vent, Tanith changed into a falcon form that would fare better in the hot winds of the Egyptian desert. Circling not too high overhead, she slowly searched the land below her for any sign of familiar figures with both keen avian eyes and her mind. As far as she could tell, there were no other thinking creatures within or around the Great Pyramid or any of the smaller pyramids and other buildings around it. But there was something teasing just on the edge of her mind...
Swooping eastwards and avoiding a flock of ibis that were making their way south-east down the Nile, she noted the cat-like form of the Great Sphinx. Or, rather, she noted that the sphinx was facing downwards - a position it certainly should not be in, unless... Well, she'd just encountered a mummy (or whatever it was that lived in a sarcophagus), so she supposed that a animated Great Sphinx was within the realm of possibility. It would certainly explain the mind that she sensed... For a moment, she considered against flying toward the Sphinx, what with the whole cats and birds thing. But just as she was about to veer off, her enhanced vision spotted the tiny figure standing between the two large forearms of the Sphinx, which the great beast was looking down upon. It was a familiar figure.
Wondering if the half-elf was in need of rescue, or if he had merely met another friend as he had Ratatosk, Tanith hesitated for a few moments before deciding to approach. She just hoped the Sphinx wasn't hungry for bird.
Elrohir looked up as a falcon swooped down from the sky.
::Is it friendly?:: Asked the bird, in a very familiar "voice".
"Lady Tanith?" Elrohir asked in surprise. He held out an arm and the bird gingerly alighted on his forarm, taking care not to skewer him with her talons.
::Yes. We seem to be the only two of our party in the area. Is the Sphinx a danger? Or have you made another friend?::
"We have come to an... understanding..." said Elrohir cautiously. He looked back up at the Sphinx, who seemed to be lost in thought.
"HOOOMMMRRRR..." the Sphinx said at last, sounding very much like an Ent. "The answer to your riddle is Khert-Neter, in the underworld, which is of this realm and yet not, is distant from here and yet close, where the day shall pass and has yet to pass."
Elrohir bowed low to the Great Sphinx, careful not to upset the perch of the falcon. "Then I fear that is the road I seek," he said sadly. "I beg of thee, Honored One, if it would please thee, reveal to me how to set upon that road."
There followed another long silence as the Great Sphinx pondered the question. Tanith took the chance to pose another question.
::Why are you seeking the underworld?::
"My bond to my brother ends in a riddle. I have hope that the answer to that riddle lies there."
::How cryptic. Hm... Khert-Neter... sounds a mite familiar...::
"Lady? Do you know--"
"HHHRRRRRMMM..." said the Sphinx at last. "The path through Tuat is the path of the heaven's Sun and the earthly Sun. Did not the sign of Horus come to thee? Follow the signs of the Gods."
Before Elrohir could say another word, the Great Sphinx slowly raised its head, assuming its natural position. The glow of sentience faded from its eyes, leaving behind a simple, if grand, monument.
"He seems to say that you would know the way, my lady."
::Or at least can stumble onto it, the way it sounded to me. Wait a moment and let me change back into human form.::
After changing back, Tanith began to review the files she had on the ancient Egyptian afterlife.
"Well, if this data is right, then the heaven's sun and earthly sun that the Sphinx refers to must be the sun-god Ra and the pharoah of Egypt, who are normally considered to be avatars of the god. And supposedly every night the sun-god passed through the underworld in a cycle of death and rebirth, and the journey of the dead pharoah's soul is supposed to mirror that journey."
"And you say that these dead lords of Egypt sleep in these pyramids before they rise from their graves to undertake the journey, Lady?"
"Something like that. There are differing accounts, but I think the common one is that a portion of the dead soul - the "ba" - leaves the tombs in the form of a bird and departs for the underworld."
"A bird... There!"
As Tanith looked up, but couldn't see where Elrohir was pointing to in the clear skies, until she exercised a Word to enhance her sight. There, flying west from near the Great Pyramid, was a bird that was reminiscent of many of the paintings on the tomb walls inside the pyramid.
"How did you know?" Tanith asked, referring to the bird.
"I... there was something about that bird..." Elrohir hesitated as he tried to bring his thoughts into words. "I only sensed that it was not what it seemed, as I did of your falcon form."
"I see," Tanith said as she filed the information away. "Well, I suppose we should follow that ba-spirit then. It should lead us where we want to go."
Elrohir shook his head dubiously. "Fast though I can run, and tireless. But I do not think I can keep up with a spirit-bird to over these sands."
"We... could fly..." Tanith suggested hesitantly. "I could give you falcon form, if you wish... but... to give you the actual skill in using the form, I would have to touch our minds." She looked at him apologetically.
For his part, Elrohir did not hesitate. "I have trust in your skills, Lady. Let this be done quickly, so that we do not lose the spirit-bird."
Tanith nodded and focused her will. Transformation isn't the most difficult among her powers, but learning how to use the transfigured form is, even if some of the skills can be transferred from mind to mind. Thanks to Elrohir's quick mind and learning curve, however, he was quickly flying with a fair proficiency. Soon, two falcons could be seen soaring off into the western skies, chasing after the ba of the pharoah and the descent of the evening sun.
For a few moments, all was silent in the Avenue of the Sphinxes as CBY and the sphinxes stared at one another in an impasse. Then, it was broken by the activation of a lightsaber - nevermind how a semi-intangible Force Ghost could access, much less operate, a lightsaber.
"Never mind the blue ghost," CBY muttered the mantra under his breath as he backed away from the animated statuary. "Don't mind me at all... I'm just gonna leave peacefully, okay?"
But evidently, it was not "okay", since the sky seemed to darken despite the shining sun and a lack of clouds. The air became heavy, as if oppressed by a heavy gloom. In the distant heavens, there was a low rumbling thunder.
"BLASPHEMY!" cried the rows of sphinxes. Their voices were as eerie as their glowing eyes, moreso compounded from speaking in unison. "WHO DARES DRAW WEAPONS BEFORE THE TEMPLE OF KARNAK?!"
Not liking the possibly voilent gleam in those inhuman eyes, CBY didn't put away his lightsaber at their accusation. What's done is already done, in his opinion.
"Look, I have no idea this was your temple and I don't know anything about your rules," he told the sphinxes, at least attempting a bit of diplomacy. "And I'm just leaving now, see? So no harm, no foul, yeah?"
He continued to back away as he spoke, but suddenly felt as if he had bumped into a wall. He looked behind him, and was resigned to see nothing there. His free hand pushed at the empty space behind him. Sure enough, there was an invisible barrier there.
"YOU HAVE BLASPHEMED BEFORE THE TEMPLE OF KARNAK. YOU HAVE BLASPHEMED BEFORE THE MOST HOLY AMON, MUT, AND KHONSU. YOU SHALL NOT LEAVE UNTIL THE GODS ARE APPEASED."
"Yeah, yeah, and like I'm gonna just stand here and get smited," CBY snapped in anger. "If you you wanna play it that way, fine!"
With that, he launched a blast of energy at the nearest sphinx. It was on the verge of tearing into the statue when it, too, was abruptly halted by an invisible barrier.
Meanwhile, the sphinxes spoke on as if nothing had happened. You could make 'em outta metal and call 'em robots, CBY thought derisively.
"YOU HAVE DRAWN WEAPON AND ATTEMPTED VIOLENCE BEFORE THE TEMPLES OF AMON, MUT, AND KHONSU. YOU CANNOT LEAVE UNLESS YOU PROVE YOURSELF WORTHY AND THE GODS ARE APPEASED. FOR EACH HOUR OF THE SUN IN DARKNESS, A RIDDLE YOU MUST ANSWER TO WIN YOUR PASSAGE FREE."
CBY blinked. "Riddles!? You have got to be kidding me. I thought we just left Middle-earth..." At another thunderous rumbling from the sky, he quickly waved his hands in the air at whatever unhappy deity (or deities) were watching. "Fine! Fine! Riddles it is!"
With a sigh, he lowered his lightsaber and glared at the nearest sphinxes as they started their testing.
Across the Nile River, in West Luxor, the FBH clone who had landed in the Valley of the Kings tried to put as much distance between the giant egg and himself. Unfortunately, he wasn't fast enough. An ear-splitting shriek from high in the air was his only warning to duck and run as a large furry and feathery shape swooped down like a bolt of lightning.
Calling up his personal shields, the FBH got a good look at his attacker. It was a griffin, feathered hackles raised and gleaming gold from the reflection of the afternoon sun, and most likely female from the way it stood protectively between him and the egg.
With speed enhancement drugs flowing through him, FBH quickly analyzed his options. He could easily blow it out of the sky, assuming it was a normal creature, that is. But it would be just his luck if the thing was a lesser deity or a pet of some deity, and such an attack might get him smited and in deep trouble. Besides, it was only protecting its young; he couldn't fault it for that, anymore than it was really his fault that he ended up in its nest.
FBH dodged as the griffin struck again. He had nothing to prove by staying and fighting the creature, he decided. With a mental command, he unleased a low-grade sonic blast at the griffin, temporarily stunning it. In the moment of confusion, he turned on his suit's stealth features, and blasted out of the area as fast as he could. Fortunately, it seemed that the stealth mode was enough to hide from the senses of the griffin, or perhaps it was more concerned about staying near its egg. Whatever the reason, FBH was not followed as he departed the Valley of the Kings. Breathing a sigh of relief, he scanned for the position of his companions.
His scanners pointed eastward.
Indeed, the second of the FBH clones had fallen head-first into the Nile River, just slighty eastward of West Luxor. Surprise and momentum carried him underwater for a few moments, and an instinctive gulp of breath led to a fit of inhaling and choking of bitter water. Then realization and training took over and he commanded his suit to raise him out of the water immediately, coughing and spluttering as he did so. Preoccupied with coughing up a lung, he didn't realize how close he had come to getting nipped by the crocodile that had swam across just below the river surface where his legs had just been.
Unaware of his close encounter with an overgrown lizard, the FBH headed toward the closer bank on the east side of the river. He dried himself off and was just about to scan for his companions like his clone to the west, when he was interrupted by a sudden flash of light somewhere above him, before six heavy bodies crashed haphazardly on top of him...
The crocodiles in the river stared mournfully at the no-longer-viable pile of prey, before turning and heading back to their sunning perches on the east bank.
Meanwhile, further inland on the east bank, the last FBH clone was ackwardly placating a streetfull of ram-headed sphinxes. Now, decidedly unlike CBY's case, he wasn't being threatened by the sphinxes, possibly due to the fact that he had greeted the sight of them with nervous courtesy instead of locking and loading weapons. On the other hand, he was definitely getting a anime-style sweatdrop, if not a mild headache, trying to deal with them.
"Have you come to give praise at the Temple of Thebes?"
"Come sing the hymns to great Amun!"
"Yes, yes! Come and pray at the altar of Amun-Ra!"
You'd never seen a sight so pathetic as a streetfull of dangerous man-killing quasi-stone sphinxes squeaking along in cutesy tenor voices and giving you the big teary puppy-dog eyes. At least, FBH certainly hadn't.
Well, atheist and lacking in vocal talent though he was, he supposed there wasn't any harm to sing a praise or two to the local gods. It wasn't as if he was agreeing to become part of their worship, and gods know that TWO needed divine patrons. Or at least a lack of divine disfavor. However...
"Er, I would be happy to sing a praise to, um, Amun-Ra," he told the sphinxes hesitantly, "But I'm afraid I'm not very familiar with how these things go--"
Before he could finish his request for a demonstration hymn, the over-enthusiastic and overly-helpful sphinxes jumped the gun and burst into song and praise. Unfortunately, each of them was singing a different hymn, and there were a lot of sphinxes on that street.
With a reluctant sigh, the FBH set his suit to record and filter out one song from the discordant cacophony. At least on the bright side, he thought ruefully, nobody'll notice if I sing off-key.
The Sandman Sextet:
"Oww! I think I landed on a rock!"
"That's not a rock, you idiot, it's a... a guy in armor?"
"I wonder if he's knife-able?"
"That's not very nice. Excuse me, mister, are you all right?"
The FBH blinked for a moment, wondering if he was truly all right, since he seemed to be seeing double... or sextuple, actually. A quick mental call to his armor database revealed that they were clones split from a lower rank HALST member named Mr. Sandman.
"I'm fine," the FBH said as he tried to get up. He paused. "Um, except for your friend who's... gnawing on my leg?" He stared.
"Oh that's just C6," said one of the other clones as he smacked the offending Sandman on the head, making him spit out the armored leg that he was indeed trying to chew on.
"I'm C1," said the clone who had asked if FBH was all right. "Do you need a hand?"
"No, that's okay." FBH got to his feet and edged away from C6.
"We're Sandman," introduced the clone who had smacked C6, who then proceeded to introduce the other Sandman clones.
"Nice to meet you," FBH returned the greet perfunctorily. "I'm FBH. And I've got a few clones around too, though we kind of got separated. Excuse me while I located them."
He turned to the scanners in his suit and scanned for his own clones. One tracker immediately showed up. It was... almost right above them? The FBH clone looked up, and sure enough, one of his companions was descending toward their spot.
::Some weirdos from HALST. They fell came out of nowhere.::
::The afterlife sure is crowded with non-dead people.::
::Isn't that some kind of oxymoron? By the way, my scanners are pointing west for our missing buddy.::
::Ditto. I'm picking up CBY's Force signature there too.::
"Let's go," remarked the FBH on the ground as he turned around.
The six Sandmen, who had begun squabbling among themselves during the silent communique between the two FBHs, perked up at that. Or, at least C2 and C3 did.
"Wait up!" The six-some gang ran to catch up to the two FBH's.
"Hey, where did you come from?" asked C4 as he stared at the second FBH.
::This is going to be a long trip.::
They met up with the third FBH clone leaving the dromos before the Temple of Thebes, and then a fuming CBY outside Karnak. But after that they found no trace of the others in their group, and further scans of the region turned up empty.
"I think we should go north," said the FBH #3.
"Before we left the temple, the sphinxes there told us 'Your separated walk the path of Khufu's descent. Gods have ordained the hidden intent.'"
"You got advice?!," CBY interrupted. "From those overgrown gargoyles-wannabes? You got advice and I got the frelling Spanish Inquisition?!"
"Um, yeah," the FBH looked quizzically at the frazzled Force Ghost. "Anyway, I'm not sure what the second bit meant, but I think the first part's talking about where the others are, and Khufu's pyramid is up north in Giza."
His fellow clones nodded.
"That's as good a place to start as any."
"Is this going to be a long walk?" whined C4.
"Not really," replied the FBH clone as he opened a door. The famous landmarks of Giza made targetting easy. "Let's go."
Other souls had also gathered at the western horizon where the sun was descending - it mattered not that they all journyed west from a wide sprectrum of north to south. Here, in the realm of spirit, all paths west led to a single point if they knew the road, and none led west if they did not. Many of the souls were cloaked in blessings - conferred unto them by funerary rites and memorized prayers, empowered amulets and sacred writings - the best that each could afford. The blessings had led them on the journey to this place, and held them safe from the demons and dangers that still lurked in the shadows of even this most sacred of places. Now, it would be the power of these blessings, and the knowledge of how to use them, that would determine if they could gain a place on the barge of the Sun, in order to enter into the underworld.
Many strived, with prayers and hymns, with spells and charms, with demands and pleas... but only some succeeded. The rest were left by the wayside under the shadow of Abydos, to dwell there for an eternity unless they eventually succeed one evening... or eventually fall to shadow.
From afar, Tanith and Elrohir observed the attempts of the shades as they attempted to ascend to the Sun-boat. Many of those who succeeded had called upon the spells of transformation - whether into the benu birds embodied by the Ba, or a divine hawk, or into forms mimicing the gods themselves - and others succeeded with words of power and command; a few even had the expediency of having reserved a place there for themselves through their funeral rites. Two of these advantages they held as well, although of different quality and from different source than the Egyptian souls. But it proved sufficient, and both were admitted onto the sun-barge.
Once settled and returned to their natural forms, Tanith took out her datapad again, and started to correlate the spells and prayers for the underworld. She wasn't sure if they would need the same protections as the dead spirits within Tuat, where spells are needed for even simple things like breathing, but it was better to be safe. Muttering the words under her breath so she could familiarize herself with the unfamiliar pronunciations, she was momentarily distracted by Elrohir's gasp.
Looking up, she saw what had awed him. Before the Sun-boat, at the command of Ra, the Mountain was opening. It was no mere gate or portal that opened upon the mountain - it was the mountain itself that split apart from the heavens down to the dark depths of the underworld. Through that gate, Ra passed into Tuat, to the praises of those souls upon the barge, and the lamentations of those left behind.
"For the first time, I feel the stirring of my Teleri blood," Elrohir whispered softly.
"What do you mean?" Tanith asked, "we're on a boat, but there's no water anywhere around here, much less the sea. Or gulls, for that matter."
"I speak not of the Sea-longing," Elrohir explained, "and 'tis never the Sea that has called to me, though I have seen those waters. But as Earendil, my forefather, sails the skies of Middle-earth, so I do not think one needs water to set sail. Nay, I think my heart hearkens rather to my grandfather. It yearns to sail the stars." There was wistfullness in his voice.
"It is a rather grand experience, even now," Tanith agreed with a far-off look. "Maybe we'll have some time for it after this quest..." And before you return to your world. The words were not spoken, but understood between them.
Elrohir smiled sadly back. The two of the stood near the prows of the Sun-boat in companionable silence as Ra descended into Tuat, and the gates closed behind them.
"Geez. So you throw a couple of parties and get a few folks drunk and they hold it against you for the next few centuries. Baka Egyptians and their baka sense of time..."
Elladan looked up for a moment from his conversation with the serpent-guard at the door. As far as he could see, Urd showed no signs of stopping her rant. Being cooped up in the small if luxurious room they were in was driving the Norn goddess up the walls. He could sympathize, for he himself rather preferred the freedom of the Wild to the safe though stifling haven of Imladris. However, he was also wise enough to note that this would not be the time to empathize with Urd, no matter how well the intention. It was much safer, really, to enjoy his conversation with the guard, both relieving his own boredom and to learn what he could about this realm.
Well, at least they were not in any danger here. He had worried at the cool reception they had received upon first appearing here. But these gods were not unreasonable, and chose to ponder whatever differences they've had with Urd in the past, rather than summarily act upon them. They were quite hospitable in fact, if the loquacious guard at their door was any example. He had the feeling the serpent was there more for appearance's sake than aught else - the beings of this land seemed to be very much enamoured of rules and traditions.
But still... his brother and the rest of their company is still out there somewhere, and not likely in the underworld, according to what he understood of it. They needed to find a way to get out of here - it wasn't as if the gods here had *forbidden* them to visit the rest of Egypt and the spirit realm, they'd simply stuck the two of them in here with the guard with an assurance that their petition would be gotten to in time, and suppressed Urd's teleportation within Tuat (ostensibly to keep her from getting more people into trouble).
Elladan turned back to the serpent-guard. Urd did not look as if she was going to calm down soon. So he would take matters into his own hands. That was what he wanted when he agreed to come on this trip in the first place, was it not? And if he was to find a way around the restrictions placed on them, then he was going to need more information on the opposition. Fortunately, their guard was more than happy to share the information once asked the right questions. And perhaps when something did occur to him, the fiery goddess who was currently ranting at the walls would have calmned down enough to approach.
It actually took a very long time before Urd became calm enough to approach. The bronze-skinned goddess gave the stone walls of the room one last kick before flopping back resignedly onto the nearest seat-rest. Her temper had finally worn down; or perhaps she was just resting for the next bout.
Of all the realms in the multiverse, it just had to be the Egyptians. Urd snorted. And they just *had* to still remember that oh-so-insignificant event way back when. Pity, really, that most of the Gods here were so uptight when sober. They were usually much more fun to be around after a few hundred tankards of beer and wine - well worth the effort to get them there in the first place, and the uproar afterwards. She smirked a littled as memories of that memorable party came to mind.
She looked up as Elladan approached her, his poise not revealing any of the unease that he might have.
"Yeah? What is it?"
"The ban that was placed on your... teleportation... it holds only within the underworld realm, does it not?"
"Yeah. So unless Bell comes to get us or they decide to let me go easy, we're not going anywhere."
"But if we are to leave the underworld...?"
"Already thought of that," Urd sighed, fanning her hands. "There's no way we could sneak back out the front door without getting caught."
"But is there not another path from the underworld? The one that Ra takes every morning?"
"Well, yeah but that way isn... it... hm..." Urd paused in mid-thought, and a calculating look crossed her face.
"Perhaps my interpretation of their speech is imperfect," Elladan offered, "but I do not think we have been forbidden to... to pay respects to the one whom all in the underworld venerate each night..."
Urd's eyes lit up with the same fire as when she was in the middle of her normal plots. "I've got it!" She grinned. "Elladan, you're a genius!" Zooming off the couch, she drew the startled half-elf into a tight embrace, whirling once or twice in the air before setting the both of them down. "You've gotten buddy-buddy with that guard right? This is what we're gonna do..."
"Over here!" Elrohir hissed, pulling Tanith bodily behind a brightly decorated arch.
Moments later, something large and heavy slammed into the other side of the arch, shaking the ground. A guard dressed in the rainments of the blessed flew past them, his spear skittering into the darkness. Slowly, the two of them peeked around the arc, Elrohir keeping a firm hold about Tanith's shoulders as he tensed to pulled them both back at the first sign of incoming danger. In the twilight ambience of the great hall, they could see the shadowy form of a huge serpent, striving against the multitude of armed lesser-gods and mummy-guards that swarmed before it like ants, keeping it from the river of the underworld where Ra's night-barge was being towed.
"You are hurt!" Elrohir suddenly cried.
Tanith winced as she followed his concerned gaze to a slightly bloody tear on her arm. She hadn't even noticed it in the confusion, but now she recalled that she had received the wound from an accidental glancing stab from one of the lesser god-guardians, while attempting to avoid being crushed by the great serpent. Even Culture-verse gelsuits weren't impervious to divine weapons made for the ultimate dark god of an entire pantheon.
"I'm fine," she reassured Elrohir hastily, brushing away the dried blood to reveal the unblemished skin underneath. "My Quickening healed the wounds before I even noticed it."
Elrohir looked a bit relieved at that. "I've near forgotten that," he murmured ruefully. "I am not used to a daughter of Man gifted with immortality and such hea--"
His words were cut off as a huge shadow swept by their hiding area. Quickly, they drew back just as another loud crash resounded against the other side of the arch. There were a few more crashes as several disembodied body parts of the guardian mummies flew by their position, before the commotion moved toward another direction. Together, they dared another peek beyond the archway.
"Somehow, he didn't seem all that scary when he was summarized by a few lines and hails in the underworlds texts," Tanith muttered, taking care not to name any Names. She wasn't sure which of the various names of the "serpent-fiend" the dark god was - he'd been called Apophis, Apep, Sebau, and any number of other names that might or might not actually be the same entity they were watching - but she wasn't taking any chances. "You'd think they'd warn the Dead better than to let them get slaughtered unawares like that."
Indeed, many of the dead souls who had gotten this far had been quickly overpowered by the great beast, and either swallowed or torn asunder beyond healing. The population of souls that entered with Ra had dwindled quickly even before then. Many of those with weaker protections had been pulled off the boat by vengeful creatures that dwelt in the shadows of the two previous divisons of Tuat. Then, when they reached the third divison, there had been what could only be called a preliminary judgement session. The more wicked among the dead, no matter how powerful the protections they had bought for death, had served them naught when Ra judged them to be condemned to the Lake of Fire.
"I must admit, when we were entering this realm, I felt this must be akin to entering Valinor," Elrohir whispered softly beside her. "But seeing all of those who came with such hope and blessings fall, and not all deserving it... It is not my place to speak ill of these gods and their people, but I cannot help but pity them."
Tanith nodded. In Dante's Hell and in Helheim, they had been in the realms where the evil and those deserving punishment had gone to serve their punishment. Here, even the good and the blessed were in danger of second death or worse but for the small protections they had brought with them. Together, they watched as Ra's vessel neared the gate to leave this part of Tuat.
"Took them long enough," Tanith muttered, wincing as the dark serpent-god swept a row of guardsmen into the air. "Whoever wrote the underworld texts must've been on crack if they think this is an hour."
Elrohir quirked a grin. He was used to these sarcastic comments by now, even if he didn't *entirely* understand the cultural references behind them. "Time here reminds me of the Golden Woods," he mused. "I would not be surprised if the flow of time here is different than outside... and with other realms. Wasn't that the case between Asgard and Lady Urd's home realm?"
"Urd's home is in Asgard," Tanith chuckled. "But a different one. I take your meaning."
"Hm... but 'tis still best that we not waste the extra time we are given." Elrohir smiled wickedly as he nodded at Ra's boat. "Make a break for it?"
Tanith shot him a started look, then returned the grin. "You're learning."
Giving the occupied form of the dark god who was being driven back by the increasing number of guards one last look, they ran for the night-boat, intent on passing through the gate before it closed behind Ra. But just as they reached the inner guardian of the gate, Elrohir came to a sudden stop, pulling Tanith back with him.
Tanith stumbled against him, and looked up in confusion. "What?"
"That doorkeeper... it is *not* what it seems."
Tanith stared at the snake guardian by the portal that was just beginning to close. Now that Elrohir mentioned it, it did look very different to the two previous guardians. For one thing, it only had one eye, while the other eye looked familiar... Her eyes shot wide as she suddenly realized what the other eye reminded her of.
Elrohir dodged to the side, pulling her with him. But he wasn't fast enough, or perhaps speed simply did not serve in this case. The one-eyed serpent struck at them faster than any cobra. Then the world tilted.