A Nohni Wabanda Story
by Philip J. Eggerding, aka Cirrel
Raven Hunt © Max BlackRabbit. Used with permission.
Hazel Weiss character © gNAW. Used with permission.
Carlos Onca character © Nicoli Whitefur. Used with permission.
All other characters © Philip J. Eggerding.
Part One - The Touch of Ages
Visions in Black
All Nohni's classes up until this semester had been devoted to Meso-American and Pre-Roman European Archeology. It was Professor Payton Slattery who taught all the archeology classes related to Egypt and Asia Minor, and he had done so since the founding of Patriarch University. Unfortunately, the old Badger had died last summer at an archeological dig on the Egypt/Sudan border. A contingent of rebels from the Darfur civil war had overrun the site and killed everyone.
Or so it was reported.
Nohni had been tapped to fill his position, and although she was saddened by the passing of Doctor Slattery, she was delighted by the promotion. This was what she'd dreamed of ever since receiving her Doctorate in Archeology. Egyptology was her secret passion. Jackals were an important aspect of Ancient Egyptian mythology, and Nohni was a Golden Jackal, a species that had its origins in Southern Egypt in the Upper Nile valley. Coincidentally, this was very close to where Dr. Slattery had died.
And now it looked like her dream was dying, too.
"I'm sorry Doctor Wabanda, but I can't let this incident go without some consequences," said the boar hound behind the large desk. His dark suit, spectacles and graying temples gave him an air of shrewd wisdom. This was to be expected since he was Dean of Sciences at the University.
Nohni nodded as she sat before the Dean, eyes lowered.
Doctor Rufus Scarfang, frowned as he looked back down at the report in his paws. "I don't understand it, though," he added. "You've been a real asset to the Archeology Department. What could have possessed you to attack a student?"
Nohni did not like the word. She didn't want to hear it - didn't even want to think about it.
Because maybe it's true?
Nohni looked up, and the real fear in her eyes must have been obvious. Doctor Scarfang set down the report. "Do you have anything to say that might mitigate the Council of Regents conclusion in this case? If you do, I'd sincerely like to hear it. The Council has decided to leave the final judgment to me. In doing so, I think they were most merciful. Had they been forced to make a decision themselves, I believe they would have had no choice but to dismiss you."
Nohni dropped her head again and looked down into her lap. The paws folded there were calmly quiescent, belying the turmoil in her mind. How much could she tell Doctor Scarfang about the attack on one of her students? If she told the truth, his decision would be a forgone conclusion. How could any University retain a faculty member who was certifiably insane?
The class had started as it always did. Attendance was taken, followed by sending most of the males to the back of the room where their drooling would be less of a distraction. Nohni knew perfectly well why most of them were taking 'Introduction to Egyptology'. All students needed a variety of classes to fill their degree requirements, whatever that degree was. Science courses for Fine Arts students seemed as necessary as tits on a bull, but it was University Policy to give all their students a 'Rounded Education'. So, many Intro science courses were filled with students whose only purpose was to 'Round' things out.
For the males, Nohni was about as 'Round' in the chest department as you could get.
The day's lesson was to be a general overview of major Egyptian gods, all the way from the first dynasty through to the Greco-Roman period. Granted, this covered the entire three thousand years of Egyptian dynastic history, but this was an introductory course. They weren't going into all the sordid details. Well…maybe one sordid detail. Nohni had planned a surprise for the class. Good teachers always needed some 'performer skills' to keep the class alive and paying attention - to the subject, anyway. Nohni had a particular item she was going to pass around the class while she lectured on the story of Osiris - the Egyptian Lord of the Dead.
It seems Osiris had incurred the wrath of his brother, Set, by messing with Set's wife (who then had a kid named Anubis). In retaliation, Set had killed Osiris and chopped him up into pieces, which he chucked into the Nile. Isis, Osiris' wife, then went about looking for all the parts. It seems she wanted a child by Osiris, but he was obviously in no condition to do anything except rot (which apparently even gods could do when killed). She eventually put him back together (thus making Egypt's first Mummy) after finding all the pieces.
All the pieces except one.
Osiris' 'Dangly Bits' were no where to be found.
Since this was usually a necessary part of procreation, Isis was at a loss what to do. So she consulted her sister, Nephthys, and they both went to Thoth (another god) and they fashioned a fake replacement part for Osiris' missing dangly bits. Apparently the whole setup worked because Isis then gave birth to Horus - who would later beat the bejezus out of Set for killing his father, Osiris, before he was even conceived.
Nohni's audio-visual aid for this part of the class was to be something females use for relief when a male is not available.
Put bluntly, it was a dildo.
But when Nohni had opened the box, what lay inside was not what she expected. This was not the clear-blue, jelly-filled fun-toy she'd asked one of her grad students to get. Instead, there lay a linen wrapped cylinder-shaped thing. The linen wrappings had the color, look, and smell, of wrappings used for embalming mummies. Nohni knew that old Doc Slattery had brought a few items back from his digs in Egypt - usually small items deemed useless, since anything of value was left with the Egyptian Department of Antiquities. He even had a few mummified body parts. This had to be one of those.
Nohni had stared at the thing for a moment, but then thought it would be great fun to play along.
At least until she had tried to take it out of the box.
"Possessed," Nohni thought, miserably.
All she remembered of what happened next was trying to fight off a monstrous Black Jackal, that had quickly turned into something else. It had looked like a mad cross between a pig, an anteater, a donkey and a giraffe. Then other images had coursed through her brain. Chaos! Ruin! Thunder and Storm! A huge, impossibly bright, barque or chariot attacked by a giant serpent! And then she'd been screaming on the floor holding a death grip on a terrified freshman male.
Now, Nohni had 'floored' a few overly aggressive male students in her time, but those takedowns were for obvious reasons. Some males were far too 'full of themselves' for their own good, and had mistaken Nohni for an easy come-on target. But this was different. The student she'd attacked was the epitome of 'Nervous Nerd'. He was one of the few male students who actually seemed interested in the topic she was teaching.
When she'd finally come to herself and looked around, half the class was gone, and the other half was staring at her like they'd never seen her before. It was all she could do to stagger back to the desk at the front of the class before dismissing them.
Strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, it wasn't the student she'd attacked that had reported her. He seemed to have benefited immensely from her 'attentions'. Because of them, his status among fellow males and popularity with females had risen into the stratosphere. However, the incident had been reported by someone, and Nohni had been called on the carpet to explain.
All she could come up with (other than the truth) was that 'family problems' had taken their toll. She could back this up to some degree, since she'd had a falling out with her step-mother over the Ganawenim affair the previous fall. In this depressed state she'd 'mistaken' an innocent gesture of the attacked student as a personal affront, and 'lost her temper'.
It was a feeble excuse, Nohni knew, and it certainly didn't justify what she'd done. Raven Hunt, another teacher at the university, and Nohni's friend, had been kind enough to back the story up with reports of Nohni's poor sleep the past few weeks - which actually was true. Nohni had been having disturbing dreams as of late. They mostly dealt with vague images from her puphood - images of a large Golden female and an even larger male Black Jackal. She supposed they could be her biological parents since the images were accompanied by scenes of desert and palm-lined rivers. The Upper Nile was very similar to that, and Golden Jackals, such as herself mostly came from that region. Early on in puphood, however, she'd been adopted by a North American Ojibwa raccoon couple, and thus had no clear memories of her origins.
The sound of her name brought her back to the present, and Nohni looked up into the concerned eyes of her superior. "I…" she began. "I… don't have anything else to say, sir." She bit her lip and wiped her eyes. "I don't want to leave the University. It's been…the best thing that's ever happened to me, but…" She dropped her eyes and her shaking voice was barely a whisper. "But maybe I should go."
She couldn't stop the hot tears of shame and disappointment that ran down her muzzle to drip from her nose. What would she do now? Where would she go?
A finger touched her chin and brought her head up. Doctor Scarfang had come from around his desk and was looking down at her with an expression of satisfaction. "Nohni, I think you'll do no such thing."
Nohni gulped back her tears and looked at him. "I can stay?"
The boar hound nodded but held up a finger. "The simple fact that you thought you ought to leave did it for me." He crouched down in front of Nohni and took one of her paws. "It means you are fully aware of your transgression, and you are willing to face the consequences. To me, that bespeaks of a mature, responsible individual. However…" and now his face became stern. "We do need to talk about what you must do to make amends for this." He stood up and returned to his seat behind the desk. He scanned the report once more. "From your own admission, problems outside this University have begun to interfere with your ability to do your job here effectively. Your past record shows you can do good work when not burdened with these outside influences. Therefore…" He leaned over his desk pointing a thick finger right at Nohni's wet nose. "I sentence you to a three month sabbatical." He sat down. "I think that should be enough time to sort out your problems." Then he smiled more kindly. "Despite what some of the rest of the faculty might think, you've got a mind worth salvaging, and I wish you the best of luck in doing so Doctor Nohni Wabanda."
"Thank you, sir. I'll…I'll try my best"
With that, Nohni rose and left the office, only to run right into Hazel Weiss, the University's librarian, and Raven Hunt, another teacher. The two of them grabbed Nohni by her elbows and began to guide her down the hall.
"Verdict?" asked Raven, who was looking concerned.
"Sabbatical. Three months," answered Nohni, not resisting. She saw Raven's satisfied grin, and felt Hazel's reassuring squeeze.
"Good," answered Hazel, "because we've got work to do."
"We?" countered Nohni, still not sure where they were headed.
"Fall semester break starts in a week," answered Raven, "then we've got two and a half weeks all to ourselves."
Nohni pulled them all to a halt. "What are you two saying?"
"Why, that we're coming to Egypt with you, of course," answered Raven matter-of-factly.
Nohni felt her jaw drop.
"Come on!" Hazel said, as she and Raven began pulling Nohni along once more. "We've got stuff to show you."
"While you've been moping around for the past week, worried about your possible pink-slip," added Raven, "we've been doing our homework."
"I hijacked that mummified fun-stick you left in your classroom after you pummeled Kid Nerd," continued Hazel, "and Raven and I have been doing some of our own 'archeological digging'."
"It seems the late Doctor Slattery left a whole bunch of interesting stuff in his office," began Raven.
"AND, a whole bunch of interesting records in his computer," finished Hazel.
Nohni dragged them all to a halt once more, feeling some anger now. "You've been rifling through Doctor Slattery's office?"
Hazel gave an exasperated huff. "Yes! And by order of the Dean, before you go accusing us of poking our muzzles in places we shouldn't."
Nohni looked her surprise.
"Doctor Scarfang specifically told me to go through Doctor Slattery's records as soon as possible," continued Hazel pushing Nohni along again. "This is normal procedure for a deceased faculty member since I'm the one responsible for archiving all important records! We've just gotten around to doing it now because I had that big Biology Department archive project to do over the summer."
At that very moment, they reached Doctor Slattery's old office, and Hazel produced a set of keys. Quickly opening the door, she herded them all inside and shut the door behind her. Nohni walked to the ornate oak desk that dominated the center of the room and looked around at the stacks of books and papers littering most available surfaces. This clutter wasn't due to Hazel and Raven's investigations. This was how Doctor Slattery's office always looked. Boxes with scribbled labels filled several glass door cabinets, and more boxes were piled next to the vaulted windows and behind filing cabinets. A thin layer of dust coated many of the surfaces, giving the room a look of great age. The place even smelled ancient.
Nohni loved it.
She'd gotten to know the old Doctor fairly well in the few years they'd both served in the same department. He always had interesting stories about his digs, and she was truly sad to see him gone. Hazel held up a box and shook it for Nohni's attention.
"This be the culprit," she said as she opened the box and showed its contents to the others. "It's a mummified pecker all right. Not a pretty sight in that state, I can tell you."
Nohni felt herself backing away even as Hazel replaced the cover.
"Tell me," continued Hazel, "was the grad student who brought this to your class a lad by the name of Charlie Dingo?"
"Figures," grunted Hazel as she set the box back inside one of the glass cabinets. "He was one of Doctor Slattery's least illustrious grad students. Had a real weird sense of humor too."
Nohni was looking from Hazel to Raven and back again. How could they know how that thing had affected her? She had told no one!
Raven came up to Nohni and gently grasped her paw. "Selina Wombat told me the whole sequence of events right after your class. I knew something wasn't right, and I also knew it had something to do with that object." She punched a thumb back at the glass cabinet.
"So I swiped it," continued Hazel, "and had Rufus Limlich over in the Chemistry Department give it a once over. It seems that, either the dufus who mummified it oh so many thousands of years ago did a really bad job," she held up a finger, "OR, as is more likely, it was tampered with very recently. There was a fungus growing on it that was producing a chemical very similar to psilocybin." She sat down next to Nohni. "In short, you were slipped a Mickey."
"I just hope Rufus dumped all the data when he was done," added Raven. "The last thing a University needs is a new psychedelic drug to play with."
Nohni was shaking her head. "But what has this got to do with us going to Egypt?"
"That's where the computer records come in," explained Hazel. "I had already catalogued most of the older stuff when I finally got to Doctor Slattery's laptop. We got it back from Egypt only recently. The authorities there had kept it as part of their investigation of the massacre at his last dig."
Nohni dropped her head and nodded. Violence at archeological digs was an ever present hazard. Local grave robbers thought nothing of killing archeologists for the more valuable artifacts. Other groups could get mean too, if they thought you were violating sacred ground. And then there were always the local wars to contend with. Doctor Slattery had known the dangers, but like Nohni, he'd had a real passion for his profession.
"Strangely, the mummified fun bit that zonked you was included in the same shipment as the Doc's computer," continued Hazel. "There were a few other items too, but none of those carried a mind altering payload. Anyway, it seems the Egyptian authorities couldn't get anything more from Doctor Slattery's laptop, so they finally sent it on." Hazel grinned. "Obviously, they didn't know about the hidden and encrypted folders I'd put on his hard drive. He asked me to do that for him on this last trip. He was pretty adamant about it."
Hazel fired up the laptop and waited for it to boot up. When it had finished, she typed in an access code, and several file folder icons appeared on the desktop.
One of them was labeled "For Nohni - Your Real Parents."
Of Gods and Mortals
Nohni sat herself in front of Doctor Slattery's laptop and hovered the mouse over the 'For Nohni - Your Real Parents' folder.
"Go on," said Raven in a hushed voice as she crouched down next to Nohni. "Open it. We haven't seen it yet."
Nohni turned and gave Raven a dubious look. "Then how did you decide that I need to go to Egypt and that you two must come along?"
"Educated guess, Sweet Cheeks," answered Hazel draping her head lightly over Nohni's shoulder from behind. "We's is edjumacated, member?" She blew into the white fluff inside Nohni's ear, making her shiver - and smile. "Raven and I saw the name of the folder and knew nothing would stop you from going to Egypt if that's where the information inside pointed. We also thought that for something this important…" Hazel tapped a claw on the monitor over the 'Nohni' folder, "you would want friends along, too."
"So let's see what's inside," urged Raven.
Nohni peered at the screen for a moment, and clicked the mouse. It turned out there was only one document file inside the folder named 'jounal08.doc'. Nohni opened it and examined the first page.
"It… looks like… the daily journal of Doctor Slattery's dig," she said as she scanned the entries. "Most of them are listing the day's activities and the progress of the dig itself. Taken as a whole…"Nohni scrolled down a few more pages, "it looks like he's describing the painstaking, day-by-day excavation of a 'layered' site."
"A layered site?" prompted Raven.
Nohni nodded. "Typically over time, ancient settlements grew steadily upward - the new being built atop the old. Back then, there was little incentive to remove the debris of old structures, since it was so much easier to build on top of them. Clearing a site back down to bedrock every time for re-building was a waste of labor. Thus, the history of a settlement can be traced by digging down through the layers - like a layered time capsule."
Nohni scrolled a few more pages. "Hmmm. This is interesting. Doctor Slattery's dig is definitely a 'layered' site - new atop the old - but that's where the similarities with other layered sites seems to end. For one thing, this site doesn't seem to have a good reason for being where it is."
"A reason to be where it is?" asked Raven. "Like what?"
"Permanent settlements usually have a good reason for being where they are," answered Nohni. "They might be built at an oasis. Water is essential to all activities - especially in a desert climate. Or they might be a layover spot on a caravan trail or a support community for traders or pilgrims on the road."
"Ah, I can see it now," mused Hazel. "A place where the weary pilgrim can take a breather. Why… it's Manger 6! Where they always have room in the inn. Our stables have plenty of clean straw for your donkey, camel, or whatever you're driving across the desert, and there's even fresh milk for the Newborn! Will unexpected guests be arriving - like shepherds, wise men, or Holy Ghosts? No problem! At Manger 6 there's always enough Frankincense and Myrrh to go around. We'll even leave a star out for you."
Nohni threw Hazel a smirk. "I'm not going to ask where you got that little bit of satire from." She shook her head and continued. "Settlements could also be near important natural resources such as mineral deposits, salt flats, or stone quarries - or, as was the case with many settlements along the Nile, near fertile farming areas. As civilizations became more sophisticated, the location of settlements could be for other reasons, such as a support community for an important necropolis or burial site. They could also be a support community for a major temple of worship. These communities depended on necessary goods being shipped to them as they often did not produce their own. Unlike a primitive society, an advanced civilization could afford to do this."
"So you're saying the Doctor's site didn't have any of these reasons for being where it was?"
"Doesn't look like it," answered Nohni running a claw down one of the pages and tapping the screen with it several times. "This site, which the Doctor calls 'Wadi Wepwawet', isn't a necropolis because there's no evidence of tombs anywhere in the vicinity. Nor is it likely to be a place of worship since temple structures are normally highly decorated with the glyphs and scenes telling the story of the deity being worshiped." Nohni scrolled down another page. "Nope. There's nothing like that here. Hmmm. Local geography does suggest that the place was more fertile in the past, but how distant in the past is hard to tell."
Nohni then tapped one particular entry. "Now this is interesting! The Doctor doesn't think this site was a settlement at all! There's no physical evidence of the place having been lived in. None of the essentials of community life are here such as wells, water cisterns, grain storage silos, or even latrines and waste dumps."
"Waste dumps?" Raven frowned. "Why dig through old garbage?"
"Because it’s the best way to find out how the ancients lived day to day," countered Nohni. "Think about it. If some particular item shows up in the garbage a lot, it means it's used a lot." She frowned. "But Wadi Wepwawet has none of those things. Doc Slattery describes it as being room after room after room - a giant honeycomb of interconnected rooms, layered one atop the other."
"A maze perhaps?" offered Raven.
"Hmmm. Interesting notion," answered Nohni, scanning another page. "It seems most of the rooms contained unidentifiable debris. Some rooms had bits and pieces of worked stone which could be identified as jars when pieced back together. Occasionally, there was one that contained a complete stone jar. Most of these were filled with fine dust, but a few had larger bits and pieces of crumbling clay tablets in them."
"A data storage facility or library of some sort?" suggested Hazel. "It looks like all they were doing at this site was storing those clay tablets."
"But why would you do that way out in the middle of nowhere?" countered Raven. "You would think they'd want to store information close to where they need to use it. Not out in this back of beyond."
"I don't think so," offered Nohni. "Look at this. This is one of the Doctor's last entries."
They all began to read.
Payton Slattery, PhD Archeology - Tenth Egyptian Expedition - 6:25:08
"I have spoken at length with Hershel today about the purpose of this site. He still believes we have missed something - that there must be a support site for this place where we will find living quarters and such. I don't think so. I am beginning to believe the purpose of this place was to keep records, and to keep those records as far away from civilization as possible! What would the ancient Egyptians need to hide? Were the ones who built this place even Egyptian? Or were they some other group indigenous to this area? Speaking of indigenous tribes, we were visited again today by the 'Wepwawets', as I call them. My colleague, Miss Wabanda, will recognize that reference, and it is after them that I have named this site. They are Jackals, and I am reminded of the jackals that prowled the tombs of the ancient Egyptians. Dark grey and sleek, they are - beautiful to a fault, but not social. They do not communicate with us, our diggers, or our guards in any manner and shy away when we approach them. When they do come, they appear from the east at daybreak and watch over the site from the tops of the hills to the south. At dusk, they disappear west into the setting Sun - almost as if they are following it. If I get the chance next time they appear, I will try to communicate with them. They seem to be the only natives in this area. I think they could give us valuable information about this site."
"What's a Wepwawet," asked Raven.
Nohni grinned slightly. "Wepwawet is not a What. It's a Who. Wepwawet, a son of Isis, was one of several Egyptian deities to take the form of a Jackal. Like Anubis, another Jackal, Wepwawet was a funerary deity. Unlike Anubis, however, Wepwawet was grey, not black. He was also one of the earliest of the gods worshipped at Abydos, and was often called "Lord of Abydos" or "Lord of the Necropolis". Other cult centers for Wepwawet included Quban, el-Hargarsa, Memphis, Sais and particularly Asyut in the thirteenth ancient nome of Upper Egypt, which the Greeks called Lycopolis. This was likely the origin of the misinterpretation of Wepwawet as a wolf instead of a Jackal, for Lycopolis could be interpreted as the 'Town of the Wolf'."
"Hey!" Hazel exclaimed. "Check out the next entry."
They all turned their eyes to the screen
Payton Slattery, PhD Archeology - Tenth Egyptian Expedition - 6:26:08
"I have finished interpreting one of the more complete clay tablets! This is a most interesting translation since it refers to a group of ancient Egyptian writings hitherto unknown! There is much more work to be done on what we've found here when I get back to the university, but I had to do at least one translation to discover how important it would be to look for more tablets in one particularly promising area of the dig. Our funding will keep us here only three more weeks. Below is the rough translation followed by a picture of the tablet itself."
"Translation from the 'Book of Mortals'."
"In choosing to give them free will, the gods have given mortals equal status - for what are the gods without those who have chosen to believe in them? The Pharaohs are mortal and all have died proving this. Yet, they claim godhood as sons and daughters of the gods. Are they truly one with the gods? Who decides? Is it the Pharaohs? Or is it the Pharaohs' subjects who decide by believing or not believing this? Without believers, can a god truly exist? And on the other side of the question, can mortals believe in a god that does not yet exist? Can there be mortals who believe so fiercely that they create a god where one did not exist before? Listen now to my Words! When all things are done, when all hearts have been weighed on the Scales at Abydos at the end of the world, who is it that holds True Power on this earth? God? Or Mortal? It is You, who shall decide."
"Where is this Abydos place?" asked Raven looking to Nohni with a frown. "Sounds important if it concerns the end of the world."
Nohni read the passage again, scrolled down to the picture of the clay tablets, then back up to the text. Then she peered once more at the only place-name in the translation before getting up and pulling down a dusty tome from one of Doctor Slattery's bookshelves. She dropped it on his desk with a heavy thud, opened it and began riffling through the pages. She stopped at one page showing a large map of ancient Egypt and tapped a claw on a spot near the middle of the page.
"Abydos was the Egyptian's mythological entrance to the Underworld," she muttered. "It was the place where the Egyptian god Osiris was worshiped as well as Anubis and Wepwawet." Nohni's finger tapped again. "It's in the eighth ancient nome of Upper Egypt fifty miles north of Thebes." He finger slid all the way down to the bottom of the map. "Doctor Slattery's last dig was here, nearly 100 miles west of Abu Simbel on the Egypt/Sudan border! That's nearly 300 miles from Abydos!"
"If the tablets were about Abydos, how did they end up at the Doc's dig site?" asked Hazel.
"And what does any of this have to do with my parents?" grumbled Nohni as she sat back down in front of Doctor Slattery's laptop.
The Doctor's final entry answered that question - partially.
Payton Slattery, PhD Archeology - Tenth Egyptian Expedition - 6:27:08
"Nohni! I have finally contacted the Wepwawets! I thought they might be avoiding us because there were no Jackals among our personnel, so I took them a picture of you from a university staff directory I had with me. You know the picture - the one where you are wearing your ankh necklace. Their reaction was astonishing! They gathered around to see and all who saw began to chant. I did not understand what they were chanting but it was obvious they were in awe of your picture - of you! Then, the largest of them, a dark grey male of nearly seven feet grasped me by both my shoulders and began speaking quickly in a Nubian dialect I'd not heard before. It had similarities to the current dialects spoken in the area, but seemed much less refined - as if it were more ancient. He asked me where you were. I tried to explain, using what little I knew of the current dialect, but I'm not sure I was successful. He seemed to grow angrier the more I explained. I think he got the idea you were 'far away' at least. Then he pointed to our dig and growled. He said something like 'you dig as ants dig'. Then it was 'ants are beneath us like grains of sand.' He swept his paw through the air and continued with 'We wait for the sand to swallow you.' It was like they didn't care about what we were doing because they knew some calamity would befall us and we'd be gone. Their impassive behavior during their previous visits seems to back that up. But then he said 'you deceive us like the mirage. You are really here for' and there was a word I couldn't even pronounce, let alone understand. I think his next sentence referred to you, Nohni, because he snatched your picture away from me and shoved it in my face, pointing at it. 'You come to find (unknown word) yet you leave Sethorus behind?' He spat at the ground and the others around him began to look dangerous. I was afraid I'd gotten into something I couldn't get out of, but then he held up a paw and all of them fell silent. He then put the paw beneath his white robe and pulled out a small jar. It looked like many of the Canopic jars you find in tombs except this one was long and thin. At once, he was speaking again in a low harsh whisper. 'Leave this place! Leave it now! Do not look back! Others watch besides us. Go back to your home far away. Quickly!' He pressed the jar into my paw and bared his teeth. 'I give you this task with the words carved upon the jar you now hold in your paws.'
'Serpent's Bain, Midnight's Master, Wife of Deserts, Barren, Bleaker.
Lord of Ghosts, Black One's Brother, Takes the Wife, Begets the Keeper.
Vengeful Master Shatters Lord, Wife of Ghosts Seeks the Strewn.
Binds the Body, Bares the Vengeance, Head of Raptor, Rising Soon.
Battle on, the Dark and Lighter, Made at Dusk, born at Dawn.
Keeper's Master takes his Daughter, Come, oh Sun-led Chosen One.'
His eyes bored into mine so that I could not look away. I swear, Nohni, it was as if he was judging my very soul. His last and final words before they all left were…
'If you value anything in this life - if you value anything in the next life, then give this jar to Sethorus…
…Daughter of Kabechet!'
Nohni stared at the name.
No, it cannot be.
Words from the past. Strange, gold-gilded words. More thoughts than words.
Not her, please?
Palm oil lamps flickering in musky, musty darkness. Golden eyes and golden fur next to darkest darkness.
She is not the one.
Dusky, dusty heat. Sand, sun and hazy heat. Tortuous travel into cold shadows. No time for rest. No time for sleep. No time…
"Nohni, please look at me!"
Nohni was being shaken by something. What was happening? She realized her eyes were closed and she opened them a crack. It was still too dark to see, at first, but slowly her vision brightened and a blue and a tan face swam into view.
Paws gently caressed her cheek ruffs, which seemed to be damp.
"Are you alright? You went all rigid."
Nohni blinked and shook her head. It felt like it did after waking too quickly from a sound sleep. A tan paw pushed a glass of amber liquid into hers.
Nohni took a sip and coughed. "What… was that?" she puttered as she slammed the glass back on the desk, spilling some of it.
"A little of Doc's 'Cure-All' hooch," came a strong voice, which Nohni recognized as Hazel's. "He always had a flask in his desk for late night pick-me-ups."
"How are you feeling?"
Nohni looked to her left into the concerned face of Raven. "I'm…okay. I think."
She could still sense the gold-edged words in her mind. However, all she could discern was the feel of them because they were in a language she didn't understand. She looked to the laptop on Doctor Slattery's desk. One of her friends had turned it off. Nohni dropped her head and took several breaths just as Hazel began to massage her neck. Raven took her paw in her own and gently rubbed the palm. For a while Nohni simply let them minister to her. Finally she reached back over her shoulder and placed a paw over Hazel's. "I'm okay now. Really. Thanks." Both sets of paws were withdrawn and her friends sat down beside her.
"I take it from your reaction that you have some idea who this Kabechet is?" asked Hazel, her voice low and soft.
Nohni nodded but remained silent for several moments. When she finally answered, her voice was clear and steady, as if answering from a book.
"When the entrails of the dead are washed by the gods in the underworld, it is Kabechet who brings the sacred water for the task. She also gives a cooling drink to the spirits of the dead who must wait while they are being mummified. She's mentioned in many hymns and passages of The Book of the Dead."
Nohni's eyes rose to meet those of her friends, but the looks on their faces were inscrutable, so she continued, her voice stronger.
"Kabechet was the daughter of Anubis," she stated, flatly. "So if what that Wepwawet Jackal said to the Doctor was literally true, I'm the daughter of someone who's at least five thousand years old."
"And the grand-daughter of an Egyptian god?" asked Raven.
Nohni peered closely at her friend, but there was no mockery in her voice or in her eyes. She shook her head. "I said 'if it was literally true'. In ancient genealogy, 'Son' and 'Daughter' are often relative terms." She shot a look at Hazel. "No pun intended, sister." Hazel grinned as Nohni continued. "'Daughter' can mean a real daughter, or it can simply mean a descendant. I could be Kabechet's daughter a thousand times removed."
Nohni felt a frown crease her brow. "I'll bet anything the 'Wepwawets' that Doctor Slattery met at his dig site will claim to be descendants of the original god, Wepwawet, since their coloring is similar. Many primitive tribes like to claim they have a god in their ancestry somewhere. It makes them feel more important."
"So, you think this Wepwawet character was just being dramatic?" asked Raven shaking her head. "I think there had to be something to his words, though. After all, the dig was attacked the following day and everyone was…" Raven lowered her eyes and let the sentence drop there.
Nohni nodded. "Apparently, the warning was very real. However, the Egyptian government's claim that the massacre was the result of the Darfur rebellion in Sudan sounds like a political move to me. Egypt and Sudan have had their border differences for years, and it would be just like politicians to use an incident at the border to bolster their own agenda." She rubbed her forehead and then looked from Doctor Slattery's cluttered desk to the shipping boxes piled next to it. "So, was the Canopic Jar the Doctor spoke of packed in with any of the stuff we got back from Egypt?"
Raven and Hazel looked at each other shaking their heads. Hazel answered. "There were books, papers, personal items..."
"And the desiccated dangly bit," interrupted Raven, making a face, "but nothing like what the Doctor described in his journal."
"The body," said Nohni quietly, staring at nothing in particular. "The Doctor's remains were sent to his relatives in Toronto. I was at the funeral. It was a closed casket affair because of the state of the remains. I wonder…"
"Are you thinking what I think you're thinking?" asked Raven, who looked concerned now. "In case you're wondering, Miss Wabanda, 'tomb-raiding' in Canada is illegal. And why would the Egyptian officials send it along with the body anyway? I would think they'd have kept anything that looked like a valuable antiquity."
Nohni got up and surveyed the contents of the shipping boxes. "I think you're right. No artifacts here." She glanced to the glass cabinet where Hazel had placed the box with the mummified ding-dong and pointed. "It certainly does look like that was the only thing that wasn't a personal possession of the good Doctor."
"I agree," said Hazel in a nonchalant tone. "His was definitely bigger."
Nohni turned to her, staring, her mouth open.
"What?" complained Hazel looking back, paws on her hips. "His wife died several years ago! He was a free agent."
"But at his age?" Nohni asked, shaking her head.
Hazel merely grinned. "Let's just say he was extremely 'well preserved' for his age. I think being an archeologist may have helped there and…," she pointed at Nohni, "experience does have its advantages. He knew exactly how to use that impressive 'digging trowel' of his." Hazel's grin softened into a whimsical smile. "Besides, he was a friend, and after Ruth died, he was so lonely. He knew it wasn't the same between us as it was with her, but we three had fun, and I think he appreciated that."
"You three?" asked Nohni looking to Raven now.
Raven grinned, showing sharp canines. "Any age. Any where. Want some lovin'? We'll be there."
Nohni chuckled as she gathers her two friends into a tight embrace - something difficult to do considering the bountiful bosoms involved. "Now I know why your bra sizes are as big as they are." She squeezed a little harder. "It's to hold those big, warm, fun-loving hearts of yours."
"Part of why we want to go along with you is to find out what really happened to the Doctor," said Raven, her eyes growing serious. "He deserved better than he got."
At that moment, a soft knock drew everyone's attention to the office door.
"Enter," Nohni called out.
The door opened to reveal a large, and very black, male figure. Nohni's eyes widened for a moment, thinking of another large, black Jackal from her past, but the illusion broke the moment the figure stepped through the door and spoke.
"Meess Wabanda? I was told you are here, and I…" The black jaguar stopped in mid sentence and looked wide-eyed at the three of them. "I...uh, I am apologizing. You are busying yourself now. I go."
"No, no. Come in Carlos, please," said Nohni, as she released her friends. "We were nearly finished." Nohni made 'come hither' motions to the black jaguar. "Come on in. Don't be shy. We won't bite."
"Hard," added Hazel in an appreciative whisper to the others.
Nohni couldn't blame Hazel for her interest in the twenty-four year old. Carlos wasn't an overblown hunk, but he wasn't anywhere close to being the usual college couch potato either. Like Hazel, he had a feline litheness that indicated good strength and agility, but beyond that there was evidence that he worked hard at keeping himself fit. The cut of muscle under ebony fur. The grace with which he now effortlessly moved into the room. He kept to the shadows, almost as if he wasn't aware he was doing it. Finally he stopped, still a good ten feet from the three femmes.
"Girls? This is Carlos Onca," said Nohni in way of introduction. "He's one of the Archeology Departments doctoral candidates." In a whisper to the two of them, she added, "His English skills need work since he's not from around these parts, but don't let that fool you. This kid's got an IQ that would put most of the staff here to shame."
"We'll be on our way then," offered Hazel. "Why don't we meet again at 3:00pm in Raven's office to discuss further plans?" Hazel looked to Raven, who nodded.
The two femmes linked arms and walked toward the door. As Hazel passed Carlos, she reached out a paw and ran it across his t-shirt covered chest before giving his rump a parting pat. Carlos turned and, with paw outstretched, regarded Hazel's round behind as it moved away. But then he looked at his paw and dropped it as if uncertain what to do with it. Nohni hid a grin.
'Not from around these parts' was an understatement. 'Not from this century' was more like it.
Carlos was a Central/South American native from the Darien Gap area. This was an area on the border between Panama and Ecuador, and was the only place on two continents where there was a significant gap in the Pan-America highway - thus the name. He'd been born and raised as a shaman's apprentice in a primitive hunter-gatherer tribe with no contact with modern society. At age fifteen, his tribe had been nearly wiped out by drug runners, whom he now held a great hatred for. Injured, and barely able to move, he'd been found by a visiting Patriarch University anthropologist, Dr. Venteen, who had been studying a nearby tribe. It was she who had fostered him and brought him back to Canada, where he'd been introduced into modern society.
Nohni beckoned Carlos to one of the chairs her friends had just vacated. Hesitantly he complied. Nohni watched him sit down and stare at his paws. He was the proverbial 'stranger in a strange land'. No longer the primitive youth he once was, but not yet so accustomed to modern society as to be comfortable with it, or its social norms. He seemed to have particular trouble with certain female members of the staff here.
"How can I help you, Carlos?"
Carlos raised his eyes to hers and the look in them was disturbing. It was all the more strange coming as it was from brilliant yellow eyes set in a coal black face. Was that pity she saw in them?
"I sorry about …uh, about your problem een class last week," he started. "I hear from Selina what Ding…ah, Charlie Dingo do to you." He looked around. "Is what he geeve you here?"
"You mean the mummified ding-a-ling?"
Carlos blinked. "Mummified what?"
"Never mind," Nohni said. "Yes. It's here."
"I not want geeve offence, but I see it, please?"
Nohni regarded the black jaguar for a moment. Coming from anyone else, she would think this in poor taste. Walking in on a professor and demanding to see something that had nearly cost that professor her job? Yet there was no hint of morbid curiosity in Carlos' face. If anything, there was a bit of fear.
Curious about his intent, Nohni rose, went over to the glass cabinet where the artifact lay in its box and pointed at it. Carlos got up as well and moved beside her. He opened the glass door and held his paw over the box Nohni had indicated. For a moment nothing happened. Then he quickly snatched his paw away as if he'd been burned.
"Close it! Queeckly!" he shouted as he backed away.
Nohni complied, returning to her chair in front of the desk, and watching as Carlos rubbed his paw and mumbled something she couldn't quite catch. He sat down again, but in the other chair farther away from the glass cabinet.
"Carlos? What just happened?"
The jaguar looked to the cabinet and back to Nohni. Then he looked down and licked his lips. He was clearly nervous. Whether it was about what had just happened, or because he was alone in this room with her, she didn't know. Probably both. Being a doctoral candidate in her department, the two of them came in contact with each other quite often. He'd always seemed nervous around her. His sponsor, Dr. Venteen had explained this by saying Carlos was still learning how males should interact with females in this more modern society. He tried his best, but he was a lot more comfortable at being brainy than brawny. 'A book-worm who unfortunately has a great body and a damned sexy accent.' was how Dr. Venteen put it. According to her, he idolized Nohni and Hazel. Raven was okay in his books too, but she was a bit more 'padded' than he liked.
"Carlos?" Nohni prompted again.
"I am wanting to explain thees properly," Carlos said slowly. "I not want offense."
"Carlos, I can see you're serious about this," said Nohni. "I promise not to misconstrue. Go on."
The jaguar looked to the empty chair behind Doctor Slattery's desk, and a pained look came over his face. Finally he turned back to Nohni.
"I have been working on my doctoral thesis for many months," he began. "As you know, eet is on inter-cultural conflicts een Pre-Columbian Meso-America, weeth emphasis on Mayan/Incan interaction weeth the jungle tribes, and specifically, the weapons used."
Nohni nodded, and felt a small flush of pride. She liked to think she'd helped Carlos develop his interest in this topic when she was teaching him as a grad student. She had to concede, though, that much of his motivation for this area of study was from his own past. That, and Doctor Slattery's encouragement. As head of the department, he was concerned with all the doctoral candidates, but he'd taken a special interest in the young jaguar from Ecuador. Carlos, after all, was a very likable sort, even if he was constantly flubbing it with the femmes.
"The good Doctor" Carlos continued, "offered me a place on hees most recent Egyptian expedition. He felt eet would broaden my education. He told me 'deeferent cultures have many similarities'. It would be good to experience thees." Carlos dropped his head. "The Doctor was always good to me."
Nohni was startled to see what looked like a tear drip from one of Carlos' black whiskers.
"I told heem 'No. I have my doctorate to do.'"
A black paw was raised to his face, rubbing one eye. "If I went, maybe he…maybe he not…" The raised paw crashed suddenly down upon the oak desk, and Carlos was up and shouting.
"Madre de Dios! If I was there I would stop it! If I was there I could…I could…" He shook his head, fists clenching and unclenching as if searching for the right words.
"Carlos!" Nohni was up too, her paws taking hold of his ears, forcing him to look at her. "Carlos! It's not your fault! We don't know who or what killed Doctor Slattery! How can you possibly think you could…"
But Carlos had wrenched himself free from Nohni's grasp and was pointing at the glass cabinet.
"But I DO know! I thought eet so, when Selina told me how you acted een class last week! I had to see for myself! And now I feel eet too! That theeng ees not just mummified dinobo! It is Panimbo Taka!"
He obviously saw Nohni's mystified look at his words, for he was speaking in his own native tongue - a language that even Dr. Venteen barely knew.
"I was Semmasa een my tribe when I was young," continued Carlos, breathing hard. "I was Shaman Apprentice! I know such theengs. Modern society does not believe in them because they have no need for such theengs, but I know! I have seen them! I have felt them!"
"Carlos, Carlos. You're talking as if that thing is possessed," Nohni said in as soothing a voice as she could muster. "But Hazel had it analyzed by our chemistry department and we found something on it similar to a psycho-active drug. It was just a drug reaction. That's all."
Carlos stared at her for a long time. Slowly he raised the paw he'd held over the box in the cabinet. In the center of the black paw pad was an elongated blister - as if something long and thin had burned him there.
"I do not theenk so," he said quietly - though his yellow eyes blazed. "Drugs do not burn flesh like Panimbo Taka - like things Spirit Possessed!" He turned away and started for the door. "I weell go to Egypt. I weell find those who have done thees! And I will…"
"CARLOS!" yelled Nohni. The black jaguar froze, and Nohni spun him around to face her. "You will do NO such thing!" Carlos eyed her menacingly, but she stared right back at him. Then she grabbed his paw, the one that had been burned, and held it up between them. She placed her other paw on it palm to palm. She could feel the heat of it - and maybe a ghost of something else.
"No, Carlos. You won't be going anywhere," Nohni repeated as she closed her fingers around his and looked at him - her golden eyes to his.
"At least, not by yourself."
She looked steadily into Carlos' eyes.
Flecks of green sparkled amid the molten gold.
Like, yet unlike…
She felt again the blister on the palm pad of the black jaguar as they held paws, and she blinked, her eyes narrowing. How could that blister have been the result of holding it over a mummified dinobo, as Carlos called it? How could it have been the result of something possessed? Despite her background and knowledge concerning archeology and ancient superstitions, she'd never believed in the arcane.
"You do not believe," Carlos said quietly as he disentangled his paw from hers and took a step back. "I see eet een your eyes."
Nohni crossed her arms and cocked her head. "Belief requires proof."
"Empirical or… Anecdotal?" asked Carlos, raising his chin. "Both can be real."
Nohni felt her eyes narrow even further. "But only empirical proof requires the proof of repetition."
"Yet one cannot exeest without the other!" countered Carlos firing up a little.
"Explain yourself!" Nohni hid a grin as she pointed at him. It was as if they were back at Carlos' Graduate Thesis Challenge. Nohni pushed him then, and she was doing it now – because she knew he was up to it.
Carlos straightened to his full height and began. "Empirical experiment-based theory and testing always follows initial anecdotal, or personal, observation. We observe a theeng happening – the non-scientific anecdote. Then we try to explain eet – the scientific theory. Finally, we try to prove eet – the empirical study. No one knew about 'dark matter' in the universe until someone observed eet's effects on the universe. The Anecdotal Observation. Without thees first step, the others cannot follow. Because eet was observed, a theory was put out, and further observations have been made. We know something ees out there. We cannot yet observe eet directly, yet we suspect eet ees real because we observe eet's effects." Carlos held up his blistered paw. "This ees an observable effect. This ees real. I feel its pain. Can you explain why eet ees here?"
Nohni shook her head, but neither did she dismiss Carlos' argument. She knew a bit about the mind behind those golden eyes. This fur was no dummy.
"In my youth," Carlos went on, "I was Semmasa. My master showed me much I could observe – much I could see and feel! His 'theory' for these theengs involved panimbo - or spirits." Carlos' eyes narrowed now. "The fact that his explanation was based on his own anecdotal observation eenstead of empirical study deed not make the observations themselves false! The phenomenon was observable! It was real!"
Nohni nodded. "Do you have a different theory then? One that can be measured? One that can be subjected to empirical study?"
Carlos blinked and looked thoughtful. "My only thought on that ees that most scientists would not accept the tool I use to measure the effect." He held up his blistered paw once more. "I believe eet ees the nature of spiritual energy to only affect those things that possess a measure of spiritual energy themselves. Spiritual energy interacts weeth itself much more than with material theengs. I cannot theenk of any scientific tool that possesses spiritual energy, so how can any of these tools measure spiritual energy?"
Nohni regarded her former student for a long time, during which the fire in his eyes cooled to the point where he looked down and fidgeted. This male was in his element when it came to mental challenges, but he was still rather immature when it came to matters of the opposite sex. Nohni stepped up to him and took his blistered paw. Looking at him steadily, she slowly raised it to her lips, palm up, and gave the blister a long lick. Then she smiled. "Some would say you were the one who caused this blister to appear simply by using the power of your mind alone. A form of bio-feedback. They would say that it only appeared because you believed the power in that object was real."
Carlos looked back and blinked. A tentative smile crossed his muzzle. "And they would be right to theenk that." He touched a finger from the paw not held by Nohni to his temple. "The mind and the spirit are one. My spirit senses spirits in objects. If I sense eet to be bad for me, I have trained my mind to cause my body to react in painful ways, warning me to stay away. Eet ees the same weeth the nervous system, yes? I put my feenger into flames and my body gives me pain - a warning to stay away."
"But…," Nohni was watching him closely now, "can you repeat what you just did? Put your other paw near that thing, and have it react the same way?"
Carlos looked at her a moment, and then to the cabinet where the box with its gruesome contents lay. He looked back to her his brow furrowing into a frown. "Would you put your feenger in the flame twice?" When she started to protest, he jerked his paw away from hers and cut her off harshly. "How many times must I stab you weeth the knife before you know I am trying to hurt you?" He snarled and pointed. "My spirit touched that theeng for only the briefest moment and it hurt me! It now knows my spirit! I do not think eet will be so kind next time!"
Nohni stared at him. "You talk as if that thing is intelligent!"
"No, I DO NOT!" he shouted. Almost immediately, he looked abashed. "I… I am apologizing for that, Doctor Wabanda. I…I should not shout."
But Nohni was shaking her head. "No need, Carlos. I'm sorry I asked you to do it again."
But now it was Carlos who was shaking his head. "No, no. I am sorry too, but now because you still don't understand. How can I explain?" Carlos was looking around the room as if for inspiration. Then he pointed to the laptop on Doctor Slattery's desk. "Is that laptop intelligent?" he asked.
"Not by most definitions of true intelligence, which requires the intelligence to be capable of learning and independent thought," replied Nohni.
"But the laptop can be programmed to react to input!" countered Carlos. "A spirit-possessed object can also be 'programmed' by eets creator to act and react een certain ways. My own personal spirit is vast and complex compared to the small bit of spirit possessing that dinobo." He pointed to the cabinet once more. "But, I am not the spirit it was made for. I gave that theeng input, but eet was the wrong input, so it reacted. It probably also stored my input as the wrong input. Now, its likely programmed reaction will be to hurt me badly if I touch eet again in that same way. True, eet ees a small spirit," he reached out a hesitant paw to Nohni. "But eet ees big enough to do what its maker intended eet to do."
Nohni didn't contest this. She was thinking of what had happened to her in a certain classroom the week before. "It didn't burn me when I touched it, Carlos," she said in a whisper. "It gave me…visions."
Carlos nodded. "I thought thees was so."
"But we thought it was the drug on that thing that caused the hallucinations," explained Nohni.
Carlos was shaking his head once again. "I theenk that was a false trail, or another way to keep it out of the wrong paws. No drug acts this fast. Selina's description of you was the same to those who I saw possessed when I was young." At her protesting look, he took her paw in both of his and gave it a small shake. "You must understand, possession has many, many levels. You civilized furs have only a leemited view given you by your books and movies."
"Explain." prompted Nohni.
"Your possession was not meant to hurt you or control you, as many 'civilized' furs theenk." Carlos tapped his own head. "You deed not display anything during your 'possession' that I recognized as control."
Nohni felt the black paw with the blister on its palm on top of her own. Did the blister feel warmer than it did before? And his eyes. Yellow eyes. She couldn't stop looking into Carlos' yellow eyes.
Like, yet unlike…
Carlos spoke again, but his voice seemed far away.
"I believe you were possessed simply to give you a message."
Nohni felt her own eyes widening, and a sick feeling was spreading through her guts like a worm. She pulled her paw from Carlos' grasp and backed away. "You…" She was pointing a shaking finger at him. "You want me to touch that thing again, now that I know what it is, don't you!" She shook her head, panic welling up inside her. "You want to know what the whole message really is!" She stumbled over a chair. "No, NO! I won't do it! I…" But at that moment she fell against the glass cabinet with its possessed 'messenger'.
A crash of glass and everything went yellow-white - a jagged flash of white-gold crystal and blinding light! Then there was a scream - a long undulating wail of a scream, and a black, all-consuming something, rose before her. A black snake-like something - rolling upward, coil after massive coil! She felt herself screaming, yet it wasn't her! Suddenly, the blackness was writhing and twisting around her! It felt like she was being eaten alive!
Then, as swiftly as it had come, it was over.
Nohni found herself lying on her back, shaking, panting, and trying to blink away the sparkling after-images of something she did not want to recall. What had just happened? She heard a moan to her left and rolled onto her side. There, beside her, face up, lay Carlos with blood spouting from a gash that started at his blistered paw and ended somewhere past his elbow underneath his t-shirt. Beyond him, lying in a patch of sunlight next to the wall beneath one of the vaulted windows, sat the…thing, the cursed dinobo. Its box lay crushed next to it.
Still groggy, Nohni dragged her upper body onto the oak desk and slammed the inter-office comm button on the phone. "Emergency! Doc Slattery's office!" she croaked as she slid off the desk back to the floor. Only now did she notice the blood smeared all over her chest and arms.
"Damn! This is turning into a really rotten day."
Nohni swung her head around looking for anything she could use as a bandage.
"Aw, to hell with it."
She ripped off her own bloody shirt and balled it up before pressing it down onto Carlos' gushing arm. She looked down at her own chest and arms but couldn't see if the blood on them was her own. She supposed she'd gotten cut somewhere by the glass from the wrecked cabinet since shards of it were laying helter-skelter all over the place, but she wasn't the one looking like a sanguine version of Buckingham Fountain.
The scream from the doorway nearly knocked her over. A second later, a rushing Raven did as she slipped on the bloody floor.
"Sorrysorrysorry!" Raven sputtered as she grabbed the wadded-up shirt Nohni had been holding and pressed it back onto Carlos' arm. For some reason, Nohni noticed she wasn't wearing her first-aid protective gloves. "Raven! Wha…where are your gloves? Blood borne pathogens, remember?" She pointed unsteadily. "You don't know where that blood's been before."
"It was inside Carlos before," yelled Raven not looking up, "and that's where I'm trying to keep the rest of it!"
Hazel was suddenly at Nohni's side and running gloved paws over her chest and arms, parting her chest ruff in places to peer at the skin beneath. Nohni saw an open first aid kit next to her.
"Minor cuts is all I can find." Hazel announced. She glanced to Carlos with a frown, then peered closely into Nohni's eyes. "What happened here? Did he do anything to you?"
Nohni shook her head violently, which only made her very dizzy. Hazel laid her down onto the floor.
"Take it easy, sister. Let us do all the work." Hazel glanced to Raven. "Anything else wrong with Carlos besides his arm?"
"I can't see anything else, and I think he's coming around," answered Raven. "Which is pretty amazing, since he's got to be at least a quart and a half low."
Nohni turned her head to where Raven was ministering to the black jaguar. Funny how blood seemed all the more red when it was soaking into black fur. Carlos did seem to be stirring, and Nohni kept an eye on his face which was turned to her. She wanted to see if there was anything…different…about him when he came around. Then he moaned again and his eyes fluttered open.
For a moment the two of them locked eyes.
Like, yet unlike…
His eyelids closed and he mumbled something - probably in his own native tongue since it was unintelligible. He opened his eyes again and Nohni could see that there was no madness there, only concern. Then his eyes widened as they roved over her.
"Not my blood," whispered Nohni quickly. "Yours." She reached out a paw and hesitantly touched his shoulder. "I'm okay."
His eyes traveled back to hers. "I theenk, perhaps I was wrong about the spirit thing?" he croaked. His voice was so low Nohni had to bend her head toward him to hear. He took several breaths before he spoke again. "It is not so small a spirit, and," he winced as if in pain, "I do not theenk eet liked eet when I pulled you back."
"You?" whispered Nohni. "You pulled me back?" She was remembering the blackness that had engulfed her. Had that been him?
"I, also theenk there is more than one spirit," he continued, his eyes closing. "More than…."
But then he sighed and his breathing slowed. It did not stop, as Nohni could feel through her paw, but he was no longer awake. Nohni squeezed his shoulder hoping he could somehow sense her gratitude.
She thought she saw him smile just as the paramedics arrived.
Nohni dropped her paw for the fourth time. She'd been holding it over the name printed on the office door glass trying to knock. Why was this so hard to do?
Because she's your friend.
But that was the very reason she was doing this!
Before Nohni could raise her paw for a fifth try, the door was pulled open by a large, bespectacled, blue wolf femme. She pushed her spectacles further back on her nose and gave Nohni a stern look. Then, with a wry smile, Raven Hunt spoke in her husky contralto and broke the illusion of matronly efficiency.
"I saw your shadow through the glass. You look like one of my male students - wanting to knock but too nervous to try." The twinkle in her eye belied the razor sharp mind behind the spectacles. "Come in and make yourself comfortable." She motioned to the chair in front of her desk and walked toward the cappuccino maker next to the back wall.
Nohni complied, but as she walked to her seat, she kept an appreciative eye on Raven's rapturously rolling behind. She shivered. Gods and goddesses, that lady knew how to walk! No wonder her male students were like putty in her paws.
Well…maybe one part wasn't that soft.
"Carlos is coming along fine," Nohni reported "Stitches will come out tomorrow."
"Sounds good," Raven answered as she puttered with cups.
It had been nearly a week since the incident with the…thing, and fall break was starting this weekend, so what Nohni had to do needed doing now. She tried not to feel nervous.
"Strong and black?" Raven asked over her shoulder as she dialed instructions into the cappuccino maker. "Or would you prefer it with a big, thick, sweet head of cream?"
"Keep up that kind of talk, lovely lady, and the cream's going to be in my panties," breathed Nohni melodramatically.
Raven dropped her eyes a little lower to Nohni's lap and grinned before turning back to the coffee maker. "You're not fooling me. You're not wearing any."
"Am so!" countered Nohni. "Can't have my students drooling all over their Blackberries, now can I?"
Raven turned back, two steaming cups in paw, the buttons on her school dress shirt straining to contain their contents. "Blackberries? Is that what you're calling them now?" She set one cup in front of Nohni and sat down behind the desk with her own. "I thought this week's name for them was 'i-Balls'".
Nohni winced at the mental imagery, but then grinned. Raven could be so deliciously ribald. That was one of the many things she liked about Raven Hunt. Everything she did, from simple conversations to rapturous romps in the sack, was a testament to her love of life.
Nohni felt the grin slide from her face as she took her first sip of coffee.
Her love of life.
That's why Nohni was here now. She desperately wanted Raven to keep enjoying it for a very long time to come.
After giving herself a few moments to enjoy the heady bite of espresso with just a hint of cinnamon, Nohni set down her cup and noticed that Raven hadn't even touched hers. Nohni looked up into Raven's golden yellow eyes.
Like, yet unlike…
It was odd to note that Raven, Carlos, and herself all had yellow eyes. Even Hazel's brown eyes were flecked with gold when you caught them in the right light.
"Raven? We need to talk." she began.
Raven regarded her stoically. Could she already suspect what this meeting was about? Had her fun-loving demeanor of only a moment ago merely been an act? Her indifferent silence was certainly not making this any easier now. Nohni let her own expression grow serious. She had to do this!
"Raven? I don't want you to come to Egypt with us."
Nohni's words seemed to expand like a solid wall between the two of them. They continued to look at one another, but Raven's eyes were unblinking, whereas Nohni was fighting to maintain eye contact. It was Nohni who finally looked away first.
"I see," said the blue wolf.
Raven's voice was impassive, but Nohni felt the words fall through her chest and settle into the pit of her stomach like a chunk of the coldest ice. "I'm sorry," Nohni continued, her voice sounding small and far away. "It's too dangerous for you, and…"
"…and I wouldn't be of that much use anyway. Is that it?"
Nohni looked up and recoiled at the look she was getting. Barely a muscle had moved in her face, yet Raven's frigid stare was unlike anything she'd seen from her friend. It made her look nearly unrecognizable. When she spoke this time, her words were no longer without emotion.
"I want to find the ones who did this!" she spat. "I want to make them pay for what they did!" Her teeth were bared now in a vicious snarl. "Doctor Slattery was my friend!"
The words "Unlike you" went unspoken, but Raven may as well have shouted them. Nohni forced herself to look into yellow eyes now smoldering with the heat of real anger. She thought she saw the hurt there too, and cursed the need for it.
"Raven, please! Be realistic!" Nohni didn't want to plead, but it was hard to keep the note of entreaty out of her voice. "This isn't going to be a student field trip! This isn't even one of my normal archeological expeditions - which are no picnic either, by the way! I know the kinds of dangers we'll be encountering out there! I've been there before!" Nohni stood up, determined to make her point. "Look at you. You're the one the rest of the faculty sends students to who need remedial education – things they should have learned before they even came here to the University! You're an undergraduate teacher with a Master's degree in Education. What can you possibly…"
Raven was instantly up and shouting in Nohni's face. "And what the hell is that supposed to mean!"
Nohni backed up, her paws raised. "Please! I didn't mean…"
"Didn't mean to tell me you think I'm not good enough because I haven't got a PEE H DEE?!"
Nohni was growing truly alarmed now. She'd never seen Raven this angry before. Even as she thought this, Raven planted both fists firmly on her desk and leaned forward eyes blazing. It was with a shock that Nohni realized her next words were coming out in the concise, clipped tone of someone who was in full control.
"If you were mine, Doctor Wabanda, I'd give you a failing grade in 'Seeing the Obvious'."
Nohni felt her cheeks flush. It was like she was being dressed down by her old grade school teacher for failing a simple exam.
"Do you want to know the real reason why I never went for my doctorate?" Raven was now walking back and forth behind her desk. "I've seen it and so have you. Doctor Pashi from the Physics Department. You know him? He's probably the best PhD this University has, IF you want to talk about the micro-structure of super-cooled metal-silicate ceramics. But just try asking him about geography! That idiot thinks Cameroon is a fucking candy bar! Try asking Dr. Teshot in Mechanical Engineering about Pol Pot and that minx will tell you it's probably the latest undergraduate drug craze! Not a dead genocidal dictator from Southeast Asia!" Raven stopped and shot a finger at Nohni. "Believe me! I've seen it. Specialists can be monumental MORONS when it comes to anything outside their own, tiny piece of academia!"
The blue wolf dropped her head and took several deep breaths. When she looked up again, the fire in her eyes had changed into something akin to passion - and not of the sexual kind.
"If you wish to give me a 'specialty' in which I excel, then call it philosophy!" She looked and pointed to the rows and rows of books lining her office. "Time was when 'Philosophy' meant something - something more than fuzzy headed professors expounding on fuzzy headed thinking." She dropped her paws back to the desk and shook her head. "It used to mean someone who had a good grasp of the 'whole scope' of the world's knowledge - someone who could talk intelligently about any subject." She turned those golden eyes of hers back to Nohni. "Someone who could make the connections between the various educational disciplines that the so-called ultra-specialists could not." Raven came around the desk and grasped Nohni's shoulders in an amazingly strong grip. "That's one thing I really liked about Doc Slattery. The Doc was Old School. He thought knowing things outside his specialty was important. And so do I."
"I know a lot of things besides archeology," protested Nohni meekly.
Raven let go of Nohni's shoulders and brought her paws up to Nohni's cheeks. Paws that had nearly crushed her shoulders were now exceedingly gentle, and Raven's look was almost pleading. "But think, Nohni, THINK about what this trip to Egypt is really about! Set aside your noble emotions, your concerns for me, and think! Your ability to think is what attracted me to you in the first place. It's what made me fight so hard to get you on staff! You were Old School – like the Doctor was. You can see things other archeologists can't because you know the value of stepping back and looking at the big picture. You aren't operating under the specialist's crippling burden of Tunnel-Vision."
Raven gave Nohni's head a little shake. "You are blessed with the ability to be objective, and that opens up a whole new world of information you can use to solve your problems."
With a shock, Nohni could see now that Raven was more worried about her than she was about Raven.
"Yes, you can be objective most of the time," Raven repeated. "However – and this is very important, Nohni, so listen up! How can you seriously believe you'll be dispassionate and objective about your own past? You can't! NO one can! This isn't someone else's ancient civilization we're talking about here. These are your parents! These are furs you've been longing to discover since way before you met me! On this expedition you will be too close to the subject material to be objective. Please…let someone else help you with this."
Nohni was suddenly engulfed in an embrace so tight she could hardly breathe.
"I truly want you to succeed," said Raven, her voice muffled in Nohni's shoulder. "I can help you with that. I know I'll need to do things I've never done before, but don't you see? As a 'generalist' rather than a 'specialist' I'm a faster learner." Raven's last thought was almost a sob.
"Please, Nohni. Let me be the objective eye that watches for the things I know you will miss."
When their embrace finally broke, Nohni noticed that Raven's eyes were teary, and her spectacles were a little lopsided. It was almost comical, but there was nothing comical about her commitment to helping her friend. Nohni wiped her own eye with a free paw.
"Miss Hunt?" she whispered a little haltingly. "I can see no fault with your logic. You're in."
With a whoop that nearly deafened her, Raven grabbed Nohni under her ribs and lifted her straight up over her head.
"I'm going to Egypt! I'm going to Egypt!" shouted Raven, bouncing Nohni up and down.
"What…are…you…doing!" panted Nohni.
Being grabbed under the ribcage and bounced in mid air had a nasty tendency to squeeze all the air out of you.
Raven let Nohni down with a thud, but grabbed her once more in a rib-cracking hug. Nohni swore she felt several of Raven's shirt buttons pop along with several of her own vertebrae.
"You knew I was going to ask you to stay behind, didn't you." Nohni stated it as a fact.
Raven held her friend out in front of her. "I'm no dummy, remember?" she answered with a knowing grin. "You have this nasty habit of going all 'Noble' on people you like." She ran a finger along Nohni's jaw and tapped her nose. "That's going to be part of your problem on this trip. You've got a good head on your shoulders when you're not letting your emotions carry you away."
Nohni nodded and rubbed her side. "I think you cracked a rib." She eyed Raven up and down. "You know? For an over-padded fluff ball, you've got some strength. How come I've never noticed that before when we've been 'recreating together'?"
Raven grinned as she let Nohni go and walked back behind her heavy oak desk. "I can be quite gentle when I want to be, but…" She moved the chair out from under the desk. Then, with a surprisingly swift motion, she dropped to a crouch, put both arms under the desktop where the chair was before and lifted the entire desk off the floor. She took two steps and set the desk down in front of Nohni. The floor actually shuddered when it hit.
Nohni's eyes felt as wide as saucers. She pointed. "If those file cabinet drawers are full, that thing has to weigh at least three hundred pounds!"
"Three hundred and ten," corrected Raven, not even breathing hard.
"How come I…How did you…" Nohni stammered. Then she frowned. "I know you're bigger than me, but you just lifted a three hundred pound desk like it was a bag of Cheetos. How come you aren't 'cut' like Arnold Schwartzengruber?"
Raven patted her deliciously round tummy. "I'm not into showing off for the masses. I don't ask for a fight by openly advertising." She tapped her head. "I've got other assets. Besides, the extra padding is good camouflage. Anyone who thinks I'm an easy target…" she cracked her knuckles loudly, "will find out otherwise."
Raven's look became dangerous again, but Nohni knew it wasn't her that needed to be alarmed. The ones who killed Doctor Slattery were the ones who needed to worry.
"Porthos," Nohni said, admiring her friend.
"Who?" asked Raven.
"Hazel can be Athos since she's the oldest. You’re the biggest so that makes you Porthos."
Raven gave a smirk and pointed at Nohni. "And you're supposedly the cleverest when your emotions aren't messing with you, so you're Aramis."
"That leaves Carlos, who's the youngest. So he's D'Artagnan."
"All for one!" Raven raised a paw.
"One for all," Nohni finished, slapping the blue paw. She shook her head. "What a motley bunch."
Raven slipped an arm through Nohni's as they headed out the door for lunch. "They'll never know what hit them."
The Games We Play
"Aaaand, TIME!" shouted Hazel. "Take a break, you two."
Nohni shook out her arms as she panted and walked to one side of the sparing mat. Some furs could sweat. Canines didn't. They panted to cool down. For additional cooling, she was also dressed, as Hazel was, in the skimpiest of sport bras with matching briefs. She turned around to look at her opponent.
"How's the arm?"
"Eet ees mending."
Carlos, who was panting as well, flexed his left arm, which was wrapped in a protective elastic sheath. "Only skeen, artery and muscle involved. Tendons and ligaments are good."
"Assessment of your paw-to-paw fighting skills?"
Carlos brought up his uninjured arm. "Theese ees my dominant arm. As you saw, my two paw attacks are limited."
Nohni nodded as she bent back and stretched. Carlos could ill-afford to use his dominant arm as a spiritual 'test probe' when checking out potentially dangerous spiritual objects. She turned to Raven, who'd been watching them both. "Care to take him on next?"
Carlos' eyes widened a bit. Raven could certainly fill out a sports bra - to the extreme. Seeing his look, Raven gave her bra strap a little snap. "Kevlar reinforced. It won't break if that's what you're worried about."
Nohni thought she could see him blush a little, even through the black fur on his cheeks. However, she had to give him credit for behaving quite professionally during this session. She thought their discussion prior to commandeering one of the sparing rooms at the Student Development Center had something to do with that. It seems Carlos was taking a lot of flak from fellow students for his current involvement with Hazel, Raven and herself. He also had a few issues of his own concerning this. So, the girls had given him some pointers.
It had been a most interesting 'lesson'.
All four of them were in Nohni's office - a rather close fit, considering the occupants involved. Carlos was sitting on a chair in the middle looking miserable - and not because his injured arm was still painful.
"I want you to tell Raven and Hazel what you told me, Carlos," said Nohni in a reassuring voice. "I think we can help you with this."
Carlos looked around nervously. "I don't want to give offence."
"None will be taken," replied Hazel. "Nohni said it was important, and despite what you may have heard, I know when to take things seriously."
Carlos looked to Raven, who nodded her assurance as well. He shifted nervously in his seat. "Eet ees about the four of us spending so much time together thees past week."
"Let me guess, Carlos," said Raven. "The males in your dorm are all asking about what you've been doing with us."
"Specifically, how many of us you've been in bed with." added Hazel.
Carlos quickly looked up at the lioness, and Nohni caught the flash of guilt in his eyes before he looked down. He was scrubbing his paws together so hard she thought he might re-open the wound on his left paw.
"They pester and pester me!" Carlos began in a rush. "I tell them I have not done thees theengs! I tell them we have serious theengs to do before our treep to Egypt, but they laugh and call me liar." The growl that followed this statement showed he did not like being called a liar, but as quickly as the anger had flared, it died - to be replaced by that look of guilt.
It was Nohni who broke the uncomfortable silence by speaking to Hazel and Raven. "Dr. Venteen, the anthropologist that has been sponsoring Carlos, sent him to me after he'd had a long talk with her." She turned back to the black jaguar. "Carlos?"
He looked up, his eyes darting around the room.
"Carlos, you can tell my friends what you told me," said Nohni. "We aren't here to judge you."
Carlos dropped his head and nodded. "I…I tell my friends I have not done thees sex theengs weeth any of you." His voice fell to a whisper. "But part of me says I want to do thees theengs very much." As he said this, he looked up at Hazel and his apprehension was almost palpable.
For a moment nothing happened. Then Hazel smiled. "I think I'll take that as a compliment."
Instead of looking relieved by this, Carlos looked even more miserable. He put his head in his paws. "I weesh I could stop these thoughts because we DO have serious theengs to do, very serious theengs! But ever since I took classes weeth Doctor Wabanda, I have thought thees other theengs about her. And ever since the first time I went to the library and saw a goddess who called herself a Librarian, I have thought these theengs about her! What am I to do?" He pushed the heels of his palms so hard into his eye sockets, Nohni thought he might hurt himself.
"And what am I? Chopped liver?"
Carlos' head shot up to see Raven glaring at him.
"No! No!" exclaimed Carlos, waving his paws and looking alarmed. "I deed not mean to say you are ugly, Mees Hunt! Madre! No! You are the most beautiful blue wolf I have ever seen, but I don't have the same dreams about you." He held out his paws in front of him - way out in front of him. "You are just a lot beeger here than I like."
Raven's frown slowly morphed into a grin. "I think I'll take that as a compliment, too."
"If you think that you're giving us offence by telling us these things," commented Hazel, sounding droll, "you're failing miserably, but…," and she held up a finger, "I can see you may have a problem. Distractions such as these," she pointed at Raven's chest, "can be mighty inconvenient when you're trying to do something else."
"Like saving your own life," added Nohni. "We've already experienced one danger this expedition has to offer." She pointed to Carlos' injured arm. "There are probably others."
Carlos nodded. "I see thees too, but how can I not theenk these other theengs about you?"
The three femmes looked to one another, but it was Nohni who spoke. "Dr. Venteen told me that Carlos has problems interpreting the sexual signals we femmes broadcast. It's a cultural thing, and for all that he's been here nine years, our modern customs still baffle him. It's led to any number of 'awkward moments'." She turned back to Carlos. "I think if we made our intentions toward you clear - gave you all the information you need to know about our relationships with you - it would be a lot easier to set aside these fantasies about us. After all, fantasy is what the mind uses to fill in the gaps when it has too little input from the real world. Before we do that, however, we need to give you some basic remedial sex education."
"I think that's our cue to go into Teaching Mode," Hazel said, as she got off the desk to stand by her two colleagues.
"And what will we be teaching today, Miss Weiss?" asked Raven.
"Why the Rules for The Game of Sex, of course!" Hazel's expression was one of mock severity. "It is a game where risk must be weighed on every play. Every action, every comment, every move has the potential to mean both Yes and No. Permission to continue Play granted or denied. It's a game fraught with the potential for failure at every turn! So pay attention Carlos!" Hazel gestured to Nohni. "Over to you, Professor Wabanda!"
Nohni nodded and turned to Carlos. "Like any other Game, this Game has Teams. So let's start of with an introduction to the Teams! Some teams are good, some are bad. And some don't even play. Let's see what we've got out there. First, there are those who are too self-centered to play the Game, itself. They are the ones who go straight for the end zone, otherwise known as the Self-Gratifying Orgasm. And, they do this without even considering the needs or desires of the ones they use to get there. This team is called The Rapists. Not a nice team." Carlos frowned, and Nohni nodded her approval. "Opposite them, there are the teams who don't play the Game at all. This may be a conscious choice made by individuals who are in a stable relationship already. They are the Been There Done That team. They've already won the Game and are now enjoying the Post-Game party. Another Team that chooses not to play is the team whose beliefs or religion tell them not to. Their team is called The Celibates. No fun at all. Finally, some furs might not play simply because they consider the Game too risky. They fear that making the wrong choice during the Game will be too damaging to their fragile egos. They are called The Furs of Perpetual Virginity." Nohni lifted a finger pedantically. "Finally there is the biggest Team of all - The Main Players." She swung her finger to Raven. "Over to you, Miss Hunt."
Raven rose to her full height and crossed her paws in front of her - the classic pose of the school marm. "For The Main Players, a big part of the Game is Signaling. Let's start with the Non-verbal or Body Language Signal. Example: The Covert Look." She turned away only to glance slyly over her shoulder. "This glance may be interpreted as 'I am looking at you because I am interested in you.'" Raven dropped her eyes a little lower on Carlos. "But it could also mean 'Your fly is open, and I'm trying very hard not to laugh and squirt my Red Ball all over my shirt.'" Carlos glanced at his crotch quickly, then looked back up. "As you can see," Raven finished, turning around to face him again, "Non-Verbal Signaling is very imprecise. Hazel? You're on."
The lioness nodded and continued. "To be more clear-cut, the Player can eschew the Non-verbal Signal and call an Audible or Verbal Signal instead. Example: I could say 'You're wearing a very nice shirt today.' This can be a real compliment when accompanied by the 'Appreciative Look' Non-verbal Signal." Hazel smiled, her eyes wide and sparkling. "However, when accompanied by the 'Lecherous Leer' Non-verbal Signal," Hazel's eyes narrowed to slits and her smile split into a toothsome grin, "it might actually mean 'Your nipples are sticking out so far through your shirt you'll poke someone's eye out if you're not careful'." Hazel winked. "Like the Non-verbal Signals, Audibles can be hard to read, too."
"Then there is the Contact Signal." Nohni had slipped behind Carlos and now embraced him from the rear. "After all, the Game of Sex is very much a Contact Sport." She moved out in front of him trailing a paw over his shoulder and giving it a squeeze. "These Signals are the most straight forward, but they too, can have multiple meanings. My embrace could have been a friendly greeting were it not for the follow-up Paw Grope. The Grope and Feel can be both a Signal and an Assessment. I could be telling you 'You're free to return the Grope' or I could be merely assessing your physique to see if it's up to my standards. Again, the accompanying Non-Verbals will help determine which it is. Raven?"
The blue wolf moved in front of Carlos. "There is also a derivative of Signaling called Posturing. This form of Signaling is not directed at the Game's Sexual Target. Rather, it is for the purpose of bolstering one's social position amongst fellow Game Players. It says, 'Look at me! I was in the sack with Miss or Mister So-and-So, therefore I am better, more attractive, or more socially acceptable, than you.' The primary purpose of this form of Signaling is to put other Players off their Game so that the one Posturing has a clearer playing field. Hazel?"
The lioness was sitting on Nohni's desk. She gave a few claps and pointed to herself. "And, of course, every Game requires 'Spectators'. These usually consist of Main Players who are sidelined from the Game for various reasons." She leaned forward and pointed at Carlos. "Your present problem at the male dorm deals with one particularly onerous type of spectator - the one called the 'Gossip Hound'. This is an individual who's either had little or no success at all with a particular sexual Target and craves any gossip concerning another individual's sexual exploits with said Target. They cannot succeed themselves and thus wish to fulfill their own fantasies vicariously. The classic mark of the Gossip Hound is that they want to see someone succeed with their chosen Target, and they refuse to accept any truth that doesn't conform to, or support, their own fantasies. You can tell them the truth all you want, but they will only believe what they want to believe." She gave a snort. "They aren't worth your contempt, or any attention for that matter. They are calling you a liar, but it's really just their own inadequacies talking."
Carlos shook his head looking flustered. "Madre de Dios! Thees ees too much." He dropped his eyes to his paws. "Even Calculus was easier than thees."
"You got that right. But now it's time for some lab work."
Carlos looked up. Raven had placed herself directly in front of him, paws on hips, and was looking down at him with a very stern expression. "Question: Am I presently receptive to any sexual advances?"
Carlos blinked and looked away. "No. I do not theenk so."
"You are correct."
In the next moment, Raven had stripped down to the Sport Bra and briefs she would be using later. The result was a vast expanse of nearly naked blue wolf standing in front of a completely dumbstruck Carlos.
"Question!" Raven repeated. "Am I presently receptive to any sexual advances?"
"Look at the eyes, Carlos!" Raven shouted as she pointed to the stern look that hadn't changed. "Remember the other Non-Verbal Signals!"
"Correct again. Lesson learned?"
"Uh…I theenk you are demonstrating that some Signals are more important than others?"
"Exactly," stated Raven. "Never base your assessment of Game Signals on only one Signal! Look at the package as a whole!"
It was Hazel who sauntered up to Carlos next. At this, he became nervous again.
"Would you like to see me completely naked?" she asked in a neutral voice. "Be honest."
"Ah, you answer with the Non-Verbal Affirmative, an easier answer to refute if wrong."
Hazel's voice was still neutral, but then she too began to strip off her outer garments. This time, however, instead of getting even more nervous, Nohni noted that Carlos now had his eyes glued to Hazel's eyes. He was even beginning to relax a bit.
When Hazel had stripped down to her Sport Bra and briefs, she posed the question again. "Do you wish to see me completely naked?"
This time Carlos simply said. "Yes."
Hazel nodded, put a paw in the jacket she'd just removed, and withdrew a photograph, which she handed to Carlos. "Some things you simply can't keep secret. You may have seen that one on the Internet already, but this is a signed copy. So, lesson learned?"
Carlos gazed at the photo with a smile. "Verbal Signals must not be taken out of context. Look at…the whole picture." He looked up at Hazel - specifically, her eyes. "Thank you for thees." Hazel returned his smile and stepped back.
Now it was Nohni's turn. "Stand up, Carlos." He did so.
Slowly, Nohni unbuttoned his shirt and removed it. She dropped to her knees and unbuckled his belt, letting his trousers fall around his ankles.
"Foot up, one at a time," she said, and he complied, allowing her to completely remove his trousers.
Carlos now stood there clad only in a skimpy set of form hugging briefs. Nohni stood up and began to run her paws over his chest and shoulders. She paid particular attention to his injured arm. She knelt again and did the same with both legs, She even gave his butt a once over before finally running her fingers along the length of his tail. During the whole time the front of his briefs remained flat - or as flat as form-hugging briefs could be over what lay underneath. She stood up and faced him.
"Question: Was I making sexual advances toward you just now?"
Carlos' answer was a simple "No."
"Explain your conclusion."
"You were touching me wheech could be thought of as a Contact Signal, but again, eet was not supported by any other signals. I theenk you wanted to assess my physical condition, yes?"
Nohni nodded as she too began to strip off her outer garments. "As you can see, my friends and I are outfitted for a physical workout this evening. I wanted to know what your physical condition was, since I was planning on inviting you IF…," Nohni poked Carlos in his rather well-muscled chest, "you passed our first test. I had to see if you were a helpless male hormone junkie. If that had been the case, I'd have insisted you stay behind - for all our sakes. I seriously doubt there will be time for sexual shenanigans on this trip."
Nohni turned and dropped her skirt onto her desk before turning back to Carlos, who was looking right back into her eyes.
"Final lesson learned?" she asked.
"You three obviously do not weesh sexual advances on this trip. I can respect that, now that I know for certain. I do not theenk eet will bother me now." He grinned. "Lastly, the mind should be the true Master of the Body - not the hormones."
"Exactly," Nohni answered with a note of pride. "Use your mind, and I think you'll do well in The Game of Sex," She reached up and took his head by the cheeks and gave it a little shake. "But even more importantly, use it and you will do well in The Game of Life - which is ever so much bigger." She turned to Hazel and Raven. "Shall we now go and see if we can beat the stuffing out of this hunk?" All of them grinned evilly. To his credit, Carlos grinned right back.
Back at the SDC, Nohni emptied her water bottle just as Raven slammed Carlos to the floor mat, burying his head between her mountainous breasts. Nohni coughed and sputtered, which would have been a laugh were it not for the water in her mouth.
"Aaaand TIME!" shouted Hazel. "Raven! Let the kid breathe already!"
Nohni couldn’t blame Raven for keeping Carlos down a few moments longer than necessary. After all, this was only the second time she'd dropped him this round. On the other paw, he'd floored her seven times. It seems Carlos had 'forgotten' to mention that he was getting close to Black Belt, First Dan in T'ai Chi, Aikido, and Shaolin Kung Fu. His bad arm was a definite disadvantage, but he'd adapted to the handicap quickly. Raven, Hazel, and Nohni were no strangers to the martial arts, but they hadn't reached Carlos' level yet.
Raven jumped up and hauled Carlos off the mat in one effortless move. She then pulled him into a bear hug. "Thanks for showing me that last move. It really works!" She released him, and he slid his arm around her waist as the two of them walked off the mat. Seeing his face, Nohni knew Carlos' 'waist move' was a gesture of camaraderie, not tom-foolery.
"All for one!" she shouted, and was answered by the others with a resounding. "One for all!"
Nohni grinned. Paw-to-Paw combat skills could always come in handy on an expedition like this, and what she'd seen this evening was encouraging.
Maybe this wasn't such a motley bunch after all.
To the Land of the Pharaohs
A tinny, accented voice cracked over the airplane's radio. "Borg El Arab International Airport, Al Iskandariyah - You are cleared to Runway 14. After landing, taxi to north-west terminal for Customs."
"Why do they call it Runway 14?" muttered Raven with a scowl. "There's only one damned runway at this poor excuse for an airport."
Nohni couldn’t begrudge Raven her foul mood. The four of them had flown Nohni's plane, the Horus, all the way from Canada to Egypt. This was definitely not the same as being a passenger in a spacious, comfortable 747. The Horus, after all, was a dual turbo-prop Kitsune - downright tiny by comparison to the big jets.
Based on the DeHaviland Twin Otter, the Kitsune 550k had a top speed of only 225 mph and a maximum range (with wing tanks) of 1300 miles. That meant the trip to Egypt had to be done in five stages - Toronto to St. Johns, Canada, to Sao Miguel, Azores, to Lisbon, Portugal, to Palermo, Italy, and finally to Alexandria, Egypt. It had taken thirty seven hours. It was now Sunday evening in Alexandria, and the sun was just touching the Sahara Desert horizon to the west.
"I can take it from here, Raven, if you're not up to landing," offered Nohni from her position in the pilot's seat.
Raven shook her head as she banked the Horus into its final approach, her eyes on the instruments. Nohni gave an approving nod. Raven had taken up Nohni on her offer of flying lessons last year and done quite well - after she'd gotten over the tendency to look out the window all the time. She now had her private pilot's license and was doing co-pilot duty on this trip. Technically, she wasn't supposed to be the one landing the plane, but Nohni trusted her - at least since she'd started concentrating on her instruments and stopped trying to fly 'by the seat of her pants'. Nohni glanced down and her smile widened. Raven certainly had a nice 'seat'. Nohni took her eyes away from the pleasant sight to look out the window. They were just crossing the Egyptian coastline west of Alexandria, and the beach to the east looked inviting in the golden light of sunset.
Maybe some other time.
"Tell me again why we aren't landing at the main Alexandria Airport," grumbled Hazel from the back of the plane. "The main airport is practically in the middle of town. This 'Borg El Arab' airport has got to be at least twenty miles away from Alexandria. That's another hour travel time before we can finally sleep in a real bed!"
Nohni grimaced. The Horus certainly didn't have first class sleeping accommodations. She turned to face the back of the plane. "Borg El Arab Airport is where my rabbit friend in the Egyptian Antiquities Department told us to land. Remember, if it hadn't been for his timely help, we'd never have gotten the clearance to fly in Egyptian airspace."
"Yeah," Hazel grumbled. "And we'd have been forced to take a commercial flight instead. How awful."
Hazel shifted once more in the small passenger seat, and glared at the tiny bathroom compartment directly behind the co-pilot's position. That box was a very tight squeeze, especially for Raven. Carlos, on the other paw, seemed thrilled by everything on the Horus, even the microscopic bathroom. He was presently dozing in his seat, his head pressed up against the glass of one of the port-side windows.
Nohni sighed. "We had to take the Horus, Hazel. It’s the only way to get to Doctor Slattery's dig site in a timely fashion. If we'd taken a commercial flight, it would take another week just to get down there. It's on the opposite end of Egypt from Alexandria. Remember, we've only got two weeks to do what needs to be done here."
"Abu Simbel is a pretty popular tourist site down south," countered Hazel. "I'm sure there are flights down there all the time."
Nohni shook her head. "This is the off season. Besides The Doc's dig was another hundred and twenty miles west of Abu Simbel over unmarked desert - with no roads. It does, however, have a semi-improved airstrip. That's how he got supplies in, and artifacts out. Besides, taking the Horus allowed me to classify this trip as an archeological expedition, which further allowed me to tap into my research account. No commercial airline is going to let us fly a ten-thousand mile round-trip this cheap - especially on short notice."
Hazel grudgingly conceded, and Nohni saw a small smile cross her muzzle. "Is your Egyptian rabbit friend from the Antiquities Department really named Dr. Hassan Feffa?"
"Yup," confirmed Nohni. "The boys from the German Archaeological Institute, Cairo Office, think it’s a real hoot. I don't think Dr. Feffa has figured it out yet."
Nohni felt the bump of the wing flaps locking into their landing position and turned to face the front.
"Are we there yet?" came a sleepy accented male voice from the back.
Nohni grinned. Just like a kid. "In about two minutes, Carlos. Got your seat belt fastened?"
"And is your little 'toy' back to looking normal again?" She glanced back at Carlos who held up something that looked like a thick, three-foot-long walking stick with a 'T' shaped paw grip. "Good," she said as she turned back to face the front. It always paid to have a little something extra up your sleeve in case of trouble. Her last trip to Egypt had shown her that.
Nohni had been to Egypt only once before. That trip had been to the Sinai Peninsula east of the Nile Delta - not to southern Egypt where her past lay. It was where she'd met Dr. Feffa. It's also where she'd saved him and his staff from a group of terrorists bent on bombing his site in protest over Egyptian rule in the Sinai. The Egyptian authorities and the local Sinai Bedouins had never gotten along very well and like any conflict, this one had its extremists. Several tourist hotels in the area had already been hit. The terrorists at Dr. Feffa's site had thought it a simple matter to lock up the staff in one of the underground chambers they'd been excavating and then bring the whole place down around their ears. They hadn't counted on Nohni's bullwhip, which had snagged her one of the terrorist's AK47s. After that, it pretty much went downhill for the bad guys.
Back in the plane, Nohni felt for the bullwhip, wrapped like a belt through the belt-loops on her khaki shorts. Since it was nearly impossible for foreigners to bring firearms into Egypt without selling your first-born to the authorities, Nohni had opted to leave those sorts of weapons behind. True, it would be nice to have her gold-anodized .45 auto at her side, but if firearms were required at any point, the bad guys would have plenty to go around. She'd 'borrow' one of theirs.
Yes. It was good to have some sort of weapon when things got sticky. In fact, just before they left Canada, she had wondered if she was going to be the only one with a 'weapon'. That's when Carlos had showed them his new toy.
"See? Eet ees a walking steek, yes?"
The girls all nodded.
"But eet ees also sometheeng else!"
Carlos unscrewed a six inch section off the rubber-tipped bottom of the walking stick and extracted two long rods from inside the obviously hollow stick. One rod was pointed, and the other had fletching on one end. He screwed them together to make what looked like a long, spindly arrow. Holding the walking stick by the bottom end, he fitted the fletched end of the arrow onto a small spur underneath the 'T' shaped handle of the stick. The spur had looked like a finger spacer on the grip for the paw. He then lifted the whole contraption onto his shoulder still holding it by the bottom, but with a finger wrapped over the arrow shaft which lay along the length of the stick and projected a good three feet out in front of it.
Nohni pointed. "It's an Atlatl! A primitive spear thrower!"
"More precisely, eet ees a long dart thrower," corrected Carlos. "Spears are too stiff to work right. My Doctoral Thesis ees on Mayan and Incan interaction weeth more primitive tribes and…," he nodded to his Atlatl, "the weapons they used. I wanted to make a modern version of eet using modern engineering and materials. I am accurate weeth thees up to one hundred yards."
"Too bad it's only good for one shot," commented Hazel. "Unless you're packing another load in that stick of yours."
"I have one more een there," Carlos said as he removed the long arrow/dart from the atlatl stick and set it down. "But, there ees something else thees theeng can do."
He held up the walking stick again and pointed to what looked like a tassel on the side of the 'T' handle. He grasped the tassel and pulled. In truth, it was the end of a long, thick, silvery string that seemed to have been wound up on a spool inside the handle. Nohni thought she could hear the faint clicking of a ratchet mechanism so the string was probably retractable. It stopped when Carlos had pulled out about five feet.
"Nice," commented Hazel. "It's got a built in tape measure."
Carlos looked confused but Hazel waved him on. "Don't mind me."
Carlos shrugged and ran his paw about one forth of the way down the string where there was a thicker section. He pulled this section wider and it spread out into a pouch. Fishing in his pocket, Carlos brought out a stone and fitted it into the pouch. Then he looped the free end of the string over a small notch on top of the 'T' handle and ran the rest of it down the length of the stick. Once more, he held the stick by the bottom, but now his finger gripped the string that was running down from the handle. The stone in its pouch dangled another foot and a half off the end of the handle.
Nohni grinned. "It's also a paw-held trebuchet. A Stick/Sling!"
"Wheech can throw a stone at up to two-hundred kph. The streeng is Kevlar and stainless steel thread. Very strong. The 'T' shape of the handle also reduces the 'whoosh' sound when the sleeng is swung, making eet very quiet. The ancients used 'bannerstones' on their weapons for the same effect."
"Primitive stealth technology," Raven added. "I like it."
Carlos removed the stone from the pouch and let the string retract back into its innocent looking walking stick. Then he grinned. "Steeks and stones will break their bones."
Sticks and Stones.
Back in the plane, Nohni felt the wheels touch down on the runway with the lightest of bumps. Raven's flying skills were getting better all the time. Too bad she didn't have a weapon like Carlos' spear/sling/stick or Nohni's bullwhip. Hazel had her claws for weapons, but all Raven had was great looks, a steel trap mind, and a punch that could knock you into next Tuesday.
Oh… and she could throw books hard enough to scramble the brains of the most hard-headed student sleeping in the back of the class. She'd proven that the summer before last when she used the weighty tome, 'Warren Peas', to plaster a bear intent on putting a bullet through Nohni's brain. Raven might not have the arm for a 100 mph fastball, but her aim was exceptionally good, and stones were always plentiful at archeological sites.
One thing they had definitely not brought with them on this trip was that twice-be-damned dried up dinabo. Carlos had argued that they should take the mummified penis with them because he thought it must be connected to Dr. Slattery's death in some fashion. It had been with his returned possessions, so it must be important. Nohni had squashed that idea, reminding Carlos of how that thing had nearly killed them, too. He finally agreed, but he'd not been happy about it.
"Uh-oh. Looks like we have a welcoming committee," said Raven as she taxied the Horus toward the hanger they'd been directed to.
Nohni jerked up in her seat and peered through the plane's front windscreen. About fifty yards away was a group of what looked like armed Egyptian soldiers. Nohni counted ten of them. They were standing in front of a small hanger, and one of them was directing the plane to stop in front of the group.
"I'm not sure I like this," murmured Nohni. "Where's Dr. Feffa?"
"Do I stop?" asked Raven. "Or shall I just run them over?"
Nohni shot her a hard look. Raven was wide-eyed and looking more than a bit nervous. "Nothing rash, Raven!" barked Nohni. She looked to Hazel and Carlos in the back of the plane. "Something I didn't expect guys. We've got armed soldiers on the tarmac, but I don't want anyone to do anything reckless! Is that clear? If we attack out of paw, anyone would have the right to fight back, and they have guns. We don't. There's no need to make enemies if we don't need to." She turned back to look at the soldiers they were approaching. "But be prepared for anything."
Nohni unbuckled her seat belt and stepped off the flight deck into the main cabin. Positioning herself by the door, she looked to the others. "I go first and find out what the situation is." She looked directly at Carlos. "Petuba sinda," she whispered.
Carlos frowned and nodded.
Nohni nodded back just as the plane came to a stop. She'd picked up a few things from the black jaguar in the past week including several of the hunting hand signals Carlos' native tribe had used to communicate silently on the hunt. She'd just told him, in his own native tongue, to 'Watch the Paw'.
The right side engine spun down to a stop, and Nohni opened the door. When the exit steps had fully extended, and she stepped onto the tarmac to directly face the fading light of sunset. This made it hard for her to see the soldiers in the shadow of the hanger, but she knew it would make her look impressive. For her arrival in Egypt, she'd purposely styled her bright golden mane to resemble a pharaoh's Nemes headdress. She'd even woven in a number of blue silk ribbons to enhance the effect. The golden Ankh necklace, the only artifact she possessed from her early puphood, sparkled and gleamed on her chest ruff. A smartly creased, sand-colored khaki shirt and shorts completed her outfit. She did not look at all like the native femmes, who trended toward the desert Hijab, but the effect was all 'Egyptian'. With slow measured steps, she approached the soldiers, who now formed themselves into two ranks - one to her left and one to her right. Their backs were straight, eyes fixed forward, and their rifles were at present arms salute. They all seemed to be black jackals, which was not unusual. Most military units here in Egypt consisted of a single fur type.
It also seemed they were giving her a 'royal' welcome.
Despite the welcome, Nohni did not lower her guard. If anything, this display heightened her caution. Dr. Feffa hadn't mentioned anything about a welcoming committee - just that he would meet them when they arrived. Now she saw another fur - a very tall, black jackal - standing at the other end of the rows of soldiers. He was the tallest of all of them, by far. Behind him was a door that must lead into the office area of this particular hanger, and Nohni assumed he was the one in charge. Chin up, expression neutral, she walked directly up to him and stopped. She took a moment to size him up. He was taller than her by about a foot and a half, and the cut of his uniform hinted at a well proportioned physique underneath. His dark fur coloring contrasted sharply with his tan uniform, but not nearly as much as it contrasted with his golden eyes - which he kept fixed on her. The touch of grey on his muzzle indicated that he must be Nohni's senior by at least two decades. She finally let her eyes travel over his chest ribbons and collar pips. She blinked and peered harder. Something wasn't right, here. What…?
"I am Captain Jaffa Wawet," said the black jackal, breaking Nohni's concentration. She jerked her head up and he gave a small nod. "You are Doctor Nohni Wabanda, yes?"
"I am," answered Nohni before she gave the Captain's chest ribbons another look. There it was, hidden among the dozen or so ribbons - almost too plain to notice - a ribbon with a tiny black star on a field of grey. She'd seen that chest ribbon only once before - on her previous trip to Egypt.
The Order of Abydos.
She frowned slightly and then gestured to the other soldiers. "Is it customary these days for an archeological expedition to be met with an armed escort?"
"It is…precautionary," answered the Capt. Wawet. "Will you tell the others in your aircraft to accompany us inside? There are…matters that need discussion."
Nohni noted the Captain's hesitation. What was he playing at? By this time, the left engine of the Horus had spun down into silence, so Nohni turned back to the plane and raised her paw in what looked like a two fingered wave. Her ring finger and thumb held together, her pinkie curled into her paw pad. As she waved the paw she opened and closed the finger/thumb combination twice. "Hazel?" she shouted. "I need you out here with me. Raven? You too, as soon as your done with the post-flight check!" She turned back to the Captain, who was frowning.
"Is something wrong," she asked, innocently.
He pointed to the plane. "You have only two others with you? Your flight manifest said there would be four on this flight."
Nohni shook her head. "The fourth member of our party took ill before we landed in Palermo. He stayed there and will try to catch up with us later."
The black Jackal eyed her for a long time, but finally nodded. Hazel walked up to the two of them and pointed back to where Raven was walking around the plane. "She's doing a post flight walk around. Thought she heard a funny 'bump' on landing."
Raven was opening and closing various access panels and peeking inside. She did the same with the opposite-side cargo door before stooping beneath the plane and slowly running her paws over the underside of the fuselage inch by slow inch.
Nohni turned to the Captain. "Better to be safe than sorry. Shouldn't take her too long."
When Raven finally joined them five minutes later, she gave Nohni the slightest of nods. Nohni looked to the Captain and he gestured to the hanger door.
"Shall we proceed?"
Nohni nodded and smiled pleasantly.
It seems no one had noticed a certain black shadow creep off the tarmac behind the Horus while Raven was conveniently blocking anyone's view underneath the plane.
Better safe, than sorry.
The Order of Abydos
Nohni glanced around as she followed in the wake of the tall, black jackal. Hazel followed her to her left rear, Raven to the right rear. One rank of soldiers had stayed behind on the tarmac. The other five were now positioned in a 'V' formation behind Nohni's 'Triangle' formation.
"Two to one odds. Not bad," thought Nohni.
When they entered the hangar, they hadn't turned right into the offices. Instead, they'd angled left into the main hangar bay. Her eyes adjusted quickly, and Nohni could now see a black limousine parked near the rear of the hangar.
A Limousine? Since when had Dr. Hassan Feffa gotten this rich?
The group walked up to the long, black vehicle, and Captain Wawet opened the door with a little flourish. "If you would care to step inside Doctor, we can discuss what needs discussing."
Nohni looked to her two friends, then ducked to look inside the vehicle. "Hmmm. I think there is enough room in there for all four of us."
She turned to Raven, but the Captain took her arm and shook his head. "I'm afraid not. What I need to discuss, I must discuss with you alone."
Nohni looked down at the black paw holding her arm, then back to Capt. Wawet's impassive face. "I don't think so, Captain," she replied slowly as she pulled her arm free of his grip.
The captain's eyes narrowed. "Doctor Wabanda, I…"
Nohni cut him off. "I was told by Dr. Feffa that he would meet me here!" she barked. "And I don't think I'll do anything until I see him! Where is he?"
The Captain took a deep breath, as if to fortify himself. "Doctor Wabanda, it is vital that I speak with you," he lowered his voice to a barely audible whisper, "in private." His eyes flicked meaningfully to the other soldiers.
"Not in the limo," answered Nohni, her voice unyielding.
"Alright then," said Capt. Wawet. "But I must insist that you follow me away from the others to the back of the hangar." He pointed to a spot about twenty yards away. "I promise we will remain in sight of your companions." The Captain dropped his head down and whispered. "Please. This is vital for your safety…and mine."
Nohni peered at him intensely, but she could detect no lie in his words. She could, however, see some real fear in his expression. "Okay, Captain," she whispered back. "But I wish to speak to my friends first…in private! Or it's no deal."
Captain Wawet's gaze became hard for a moment, but then he quickly looked away. "If you insist, but hurry. Time is a luxury we may not have."
Nohni eyed him a moment longer then turned and motioned to her friends. As they walked up, the Captain left them to join his subordinates, and the three femmes moved around to the other side of the limousine. Nohni pulled Hazel and Raven into a close huddle, then flicked her eyes toward the Captain.
"I'm not sure what's going on, but I sense a potential hostage situation brewing here."
"How's that?" asked Hazel, her eyes glancing to the Captain as well. Raven looked nervous.
"I don't think the Captain trusts his subordinates," Nohni answered, shifting a paw to hold Raven's arm and give it a reassuring squeeze. "Why he doesn't trust them I'm not sure, but the three of us are the main items on the agenda here. That much is obvious. All of these furs are here because of us. That means any disagreement between them will probably result in someone trying to grab us."
"What do we do?" asked Raven, whose voice was steadier than Nohni had expected it to be. Good. Panic was never a good tactic.
"Simple. We don't give them what they want," replied Nohni, "namely our shapely selves." She glanced around surreptitiously. "We need escape routes or hiding places."
"They've got guns," noted Hazel.
"But it's getting dark outside now," replied Nohni motioning toward one of the hangar windows high on the wall. "The sun sets quicker here at the lower latitudes. If we can make it outside, our chances are even that we can lose them."
"Especially since we have a friend out there?" added Hazel.
Nohni's grin was almost predatory. "Too true."
Raven began to grin as well and looked to Hazel. "Maybe we could use some of the moves Carlos showed us?"
Hazel nodded. "The 'Cringing Calamity Ruse' might work."
"No!" hissed Nohni a bit too loudly. She dropped her voice and scowled. "I don't want anyone playing hero here! I'll create a diversion and you two find the nearest exit and go!"
Hazel grunted. "No fun."
Nohni grabbed Hazel's shoulder and shook it. "This is no joke, sister. These aren't a bunch of college kids with overblown egos and undersized ding-a-lings. They've got weapons and look like they know how to use them."
Hazel eyed her for a moment, but then she nodded. "As you wish, sister. But what about you? How will you escape?"
Nohni loosened her 'belt'. "I have ways."
All three nodded to each other, and Nohni's friends retreated back to the middle of the hangar - though they were closer to the nearest door than they were before. The Captain walked up to Nohni and held out a paw to the spot at the back of the hangar he had indicated before.
The two of them proceeded to the back of the hangar were the light was dimmer. Nohni saw the Captain glance once more at his subordinates before giving her a hard look.
"Did you bring it with you?" was the first thing out of his mouth.
No preamble, no explanation, but Nohni knew exactly what he was talking about. She looked intently into his yellow eyes for any clues on how he felt about the…thing.
Like, yet unlike.
That phrase had been going through her mind a lot lately, but held no more meaning now than it did before. The Captain's eyes seemed inscrutable as well. Nohni raised her chin slightly.
"No, I did not bring it."
The Captain seemed to freeze, and there was a flash of astonishment in his eyes.
"Is this a problem?" asked Nohni, her paw inching to her 'belt'.
Capt. Wawet closed his eyes, and let out a deep sigh, like a fur reprieved from the gallows. When he looked up again, Nohni was amazed to see tears in his eyes. He shook his head. "No. It is no problem at all. In fact, it is a true blessing from the gods."
"Explain," prompted Nohni, intrigued by this fur's total change in demeanor.
The Captain took Nohni by the arm - gently this time. "The thing that was sent to you," he began, "is a thing of great evil - an unnatural abomination - an enemy of all true life."
Nohni recalled some of the vision she'd had after she touched it. "I…I touched it, and I saw…I saw a great, coiling snake."
The Captain nodded thoughtfully. "That must have been Apep," he murmured. "The serpent who would eat the sun chariot of Ra. The devourer of souls." He gripped Nohni tightly, his voice thick with apprehension. "That abomination you touched must never return to this land!"
"What is it?" asked Nohni, surprised by the fear in her own voice. "What is that thing?"
Capt. Wawet's muzzle was only inches from hers, and his whisper was harsh with anger now. "That thing, as you call it, is the cursed facsimile of the great God Osiris' malehood!"
Nohni blinked. "Facsimile? A fake…penis?"
Capt. Wawet was nodding vigorously. "Yes! You know how the god Set, in his jealousy, killed and dismembered his brother, Osiris for bedding his wife, Nephthys?"
Nohni nodded. She had intended to teach that very myth when she'd first encountered the…thing in her classroom. "Isis searched diligently for the pieces of her beloved brother and husband," she murmured, "and she succeeded in finding nearly all of them - all except one."
"Yes!" exclaimed the Captain, though he kept his voice low. "When she could not find Osiris' true malehood, Isis, in her grief and mad despair, fashioned a false penis using the ill-advised help of Thoth and Nephthys, and with it Isis created that greatest abomination of all - Horus!"
"Horus? An abomination?" protested Nohni, confused. "But nearly all the Pharaohs revered Horus. He was their patron god. It was to Horus that they looked for guidance."
Capt. Wawet almost snorted. "But Horus had little time for the Pharaohs because he was too busy getting revenge upon Set for dismembering his father Osiris! That was his true purpose in life!"
Nohni shook her head. "But didn't Set become the embodiment of evil in the Egyptian pantheon? Wasn't Horus' true purpose to stop evil?"
Captain Wawet almost growled. "Set is NOT evil!" he hissed. "He is not without fault, and his jealousy is renowned, but he is not and never has been Evil! All the gods knew this. Ra, the king of the gods knew this! All the gods respected and feared Set's power, for he was the only one strong enough to do battle with the ravening serpent Apep. He was the one who could keep Apep from devouring Ra's Sun-Chariot! And then Set was attacked by Horus - a so-called god of good and wisdom. How can this be? How can anyone think Horus was a good and wise god when he was hindering Set in his most vital task? That of keeping the Sun itself in the sky!"
The Captain's eyes sparkled now with the near madness of the Zealot. He was talking like these Egyptian gods still existed today! Nohni was trying to pull his grasping paw from her arm when she saw it again on his chest.
The insignificant grey ribbon with the tiny black star.
The Order of Abydos.
"I do not blame the great goddess Isis for this," continued the Captain, his voice softening. "Gods and goddesses are only as perfect as their believers, and she was sorely grieved by the loss of her husband, but desperate gods do desperate things. I think even she realized that, eventually."
Nohni's mind barely registered the Captain's words.
The Order of Abydos.
She pointed to the ribbon on his chest. "The Order of Abydos medal was only given to members of The Grey Brigade." She looked up into the eyes of the black jackal before her. "I met one of them several years ago on my last trip to Egypt, and he was quite proud of his." Her eyes narrowed. "It was given only to the Grey Brigade because they are made up of grey jackals - jackals who resembled Isis' first son, Wepwawet, a grey jackal - the Lord of Abydos."
Captain Wawet smiled. "I am glad you noticed so small a thing. I thought a knowledgeable fur such as yourself might." He flicked his eyes to the other soldiers and frowned deeply. "Those other soldiers are not soldiers at all, but members of the Order of Anubis. Black Jackals. They would see Horus returned to his former glory." The Captain spat.
Nohni looked the Captain up and down. "But…aren't you a Black Jackal?"
Capt. Wawet shook his head. "I am a servant of the Order of Abydos. Fur can be dyed. Contact lenses can change eye color. Loyalties can be faked. I have been a spy for a long time. Our order cannot let the Order of Anubis succeed with their plan."
The Captain drew Nohni close. "It was the Order of Anubis who sent you the abomination. It is they who intercepted the true contingent of guards sent to meet you here this evening so they could take you with them to the true resting place of Osiris. It is also they who would have you use the abomination on yourself to spawn a new god Horus."
Nohni was shaking her head, remembering what a simple touch had done to her. "You can't be serious! Put that thing inside me? But why? Why me?"
"Don't you know?" The Captain was looking at her almost reverently. "You are Sethorus - the current one in the long line of Sethorus - all of which are descendants of Kabechet, the daughter of Anubis."
"So I was told," mumbled Nohni. "But surely…"
Capt. Wawet put a paw to her lips. "You are also a descendant of Wepwawet, who bedded his half-niece Kabechet and fathered her triplet daughters. Two black jackals and one golden one."
Nohni looked at the Captain as if he had gone mad. "Oh come on now. Nowhere in Egyptian mythology does it say Wepwawet did 'the nasty' with Kabechet! I mean…"
"Then you have not seen or read the Book of Mortals," interrupted the Captain.
Nohni gawped. "How do you know…Doc Slattery found…he…? The Book of Mortals?"
"Yes," said the Captain. "And in your veins," he tapped the golden Ankh on her chest ruff, "flows the blood of three out of the four offspring gods of Ra who were here from the very Beginning - Nephthys, Osiris, and Isis." He held her out in front of him and nodded in satisfaction. "Who else is better suited to be the Mother of a new Egyptian God?"
Nohni would have stared at him forever in total disbelief were it not for the burst of gunfire that came from outside the hangar.
"This is the Al Iskandariyah Authorities!" boomed a megaphone. "Lay down your arms and…"
But the end of the sentence was cut off by more gunfire from outside - that, and Raven's stentorian scream of fright from inside the hangar. Nohni's heart froze as she jerked around to face her friends. Guns were pointed at the two of them, but instead of the gore Nohni feared, Raven had grabbed Hazel by the shoulders. Raven squealed again, the terror evident on her face. The soldiers who were pointing their guns at them looked at each other and sniggered.
The instant they looked away, Raven lifted Hazel up and, still screaming, swung her around - hard! Two of the five soldiers nearest to them toppled as swinging lioness feet clubbed them in the head.
"HelpHelpHelpHelp!" screeched Raven as she let go of Hazel, who sailed in a perfect arc right into soldier number three, taking him out. Raven then grabbed and hugged another soldier. "Save me!" she hollered as Nohni heard his ribs crack. He crumpled. Raven was about to go after soldier number five when a shot rang out right next to Nohni's head. The soldier in question fell backward, spouting blood from a neat hole in the center of his chest.
Raven and Hazel froze where they stood, but Capt. Wawet had already holstered his pistol and turned to Nohni. "The authorities were right on time, as I hoped they would be. Your Dr. Feffa is fine. It was I who saved him from certain death when we attacked the guard brought to escort you." He tapped the Ankh on Nohni's chest ruff once more. "Please, do not wear this symbol of your birth right in public anymore. The Enemy knows this symbol, and it makes you too easy to recognize for who you really are…Sethorus." He took her by the shoulders. "Now I must leave you if I am to maintain my cover, but let us meet again in Abydos. I have things to tell you about your real-life parents, not just your ancestors."
He was already stealing away to a back door when Nohni reached out a trembling paw.
"Father?" she whispered.
He paused at the door to look back. "Until we meet again - daughter of Wepwawet."
And he was gone.
Part Three - Egypt
Those Who Would Be Gods.
"I'm sorry you had to go through that, Doctor Wabanda."
Nohni smiled ruefully at the floppy-eared Dr. Hassan Feffa. "Please. Call me Nohni. I think we are good enough friends by now for that."
Nohni's party and the Doctor had just come from a very long interrogation by the Alexandria authorities, and it was nearly three in the morning. The Doctor had brought them to his own hotel suite in Alexandria, and the overstuffed chairs here were considerably more comfortable than the hard ones they'd been enduring for the past six hours. It hadn't been fun.
The questions had come hard and fast. Questions like: Who was Nohni, that she would be met by the Order of Anubis - a group of known seditionists? Seditionists who had attacked and killed several of the guards sent by the Department of Antiquities to meet her! Why was she dressed up to look like a Pharaoh? What did they want with her? Why had their leader gotten away? Why had he shot one of his own men? Was it to keep him from talking? Did he really say he was a spy? For whom? And what was this about the Order of Abydos? The Order of Abydos was not some secret organization like the Order of Anubis! It was a medal given out to the Grey Brigade! The Grey Brigade was beyond reproach - as loyal to Egypt and its government as any military unit could be! And why had she hidden one of her party on the tarmac when they first landed?
Nohni thought this last question particularly unfair. Especially since Carlos had come out of hiding and helped the authorities overpower the fake soldiers on the tarmac when it had become evident that they were the bad guys.
Nohni thought she'd navigated her way through the questions well enough, but the authorities had been particularly skeptical about the so-called 'Captain' Jeffa Wawet and his description of the Order of Abydos as a secret organization. Doctor Hassan Feffa had to finally step in and vouch for Nohni's character - twice - before threatening the local authorities with reprisals from the federal government if they didn't lay off.
Nohni grinned. That rabbit could be a mean son-of-a-bunny when he wanted to be.
"I know it is late, my friend Nohni," said Dr. Feffa with an understanding smile that exposed his large buck-teeth, "but there are still a few things we need to discuss before I can let you and your friends sleep."
Nohni glanced around the room. Hazel was already snoring on the couch, and Carlos had commandeered a La-Z-Boy in which he was sawing logs as well. She doubted they'd wake up soon - even for something really important. Only Raven was still awake, and her expression was one of serious concern.
Dr. Feffa sighed as he opened the briefcase next to him on the ornate end table. "Time is never on the side of those trying to catch those afflicted with the madness of zealotry. And Egypt has more than its share of zealots."
Nohni agreed. Besides the Islamic extremists, there were extremists of other groups like Coptics, Christians, the Bedouins, Nubians, and who knew what else. Apparently, this Order of Anubis was one of many. Despite Egypt's reputation as being a Cradle of Civilization, it seemed the 'babies' in this cradle had never stopped squabbling with each other or their neighbors.
Dr. Feffa pulled a folder from his brief case. "Ever since our encounter with terrorists in the Sinai several years ago, I have been working with our country's security forces on a particularly nasty problem. It seems the Order of Anubis is seeking a new 'Leader' to take control of Egypt."
"You still work for the Department of Antiquities, though. Don't you?" Nohni knew Dr. Feffa was a feisty old hare, but she couldn't see him as the 'secret agent' type.
"Oh yes," replied the Doctor. "But this particular security problem is 'right up my alley' as you westerners say. It deals with our country's distant past." He showed Nohni the title on the folder.
The Order of Anubis. High Shield - Top Secret.
He laid the folder back on his lap. "I'm sorry I had to keep you in the dark about this when you called last week to get your clearances, but you were requesting something that seemed to have everything to do with this investigation. That's why I requested you go to the Borg El Arab airport instead of the main one in Alexandria for your customs check. Borg El Arab is not as well known and easier to secure - or so we thought." He tapped the folder. "As you surmised, the death of Doctor Slattery and all his coworkers was not the result of anything from Darfur. That was the official cover story. When we arrived at the scene after it was reported by a local Nubian tribe of grey jackals, we found considerable evidence that the Order of Anubis was involved. Several messages at the scene scrawled in the dirt clearly implicated them."
Dr. Feffa reached over to Nohni and patted her on the knee. "I am truly sorry Dr. Slattery is gone. I considered him a colleague and good friend, too." He leaned back. "That being said, please do not take offence for me asking this, but was there anything in the Doctor's effects that were sent back to you that I might need to know about? I think this is very important."
Nohni nodded. Quickly, she got up and walked to where their luggage had been tossed. She rummaged around for a moment before pulling a small data drive from one of the bags. She, Raven and the Doctor then proceeded to the table where Dr. Feffa's laptop was already humming. She inserted the drive and opened the 'For Nohni' folder.
While Dr. Feffa took his time reading the document, Raven pulled Nohni to one side.
"Are you going to tell him about the thing back at the University and how it affected you?" Raven grabbed her own crotch and gave it a squeeze, eliminating any doubt about what 'thing' she was referring to.
Nohni had contrived to keep the part of her talk with Capt. Wawet concerning the thing secret from the Alexandria authorities. She also knew that Hazel and Raven had not overheard that conversation in the hangar either. So Raven was simply referring to what had happened to Nohni and Carlos back at the University. No one knew that Nohni now knew what that thing really was.
"I'll tell him at some point," whispered Nohni. "I want to see what he makes of Doc Slattery's notes first." Raven eyed her with a slight frown, but then nodded.
They both waited for Dr. Feffa to finish, and when he did, his expression of mixed astonishment and deep concern was not unexpected. He tapped the laptop screen. "I thought the Doctor might have had some encrypted files on his laptop, but this…" Dr. Feffa shook his head. "This is most disturbing." The look he gave Nohni at this point was worried and a little bit frightening - like he had never truly seen her before. "I think we had better sit down again. There is something I must show you."
They did so, and Dr. Feffa pulled a set of papers from the Order of Anubis folder. He held them up, but did not immediately give them to Nohni. The words 'Top Secret - Do Not Distribute' were stamped across the top. "This document was obtained at a fearful cost. I must ask that you never reveal to anyone outside this room what is contained in this document. To do so would cause a public outcry and panic that this country does not need right now. Do you promise?" Both Nohni and Raven nodded, and he gave the document to Nohni.
The Glorious and Eternal Order of Anubis
Birth of a New Leader, A New Horus - Ancestral Background
Pureblood Trait Codes: B=Black Fur. G=Gold Fur. PRE=Pure Eye or Golden Eyes. PLE=Pale Eye or Pale Yellow Eyes. The Pale Eye tag to the fur color designator is indicated by a small 'g'. The '+Gi' tag added to the fur color designator for the mummified Osiris represents Isis' influence on the sex organ she re-created for him, which essentially adds another Gold Fur designator. The grey jackals of Lesser Blood today are colored BbGg, and all black Jackals are BbBb. The Bb color designator indicates a very dark grey fur that is not the true black of the gods. Nearly all golden jackals today are GgGg, and thus have the double Pale Eye trait.
Geneology of the Offspring of Ra (Set produced no offspring)
Nephthys BB Osiris (Alive) BB Isis GG ----> Osiris (Mummy) BB+Gi
(Black:PRE) (Black:PRE) (Gold:PRE) /
\ / \ / \ /
GgB female (Iabet?*) 2. Anubis BB 1. Wepwawet BG 3. Horus GGi
(Gold:PLE) \ / (Black:PRE) / (Grey:PRE) (Gold:PRE)
Kabechet BBg /
(Black:PLE**) \ /
Kabechet's female offspring: BB, BBg, GgB.
(Black:PRE, Black:PLE, Gold:PLE**)
*Anubis' mate is still debatable, but Iabet's task of washing Ra before sunrise relates well to Kabechet's task of providing her sire, Anubis, with holy water to wash the entrails of the dead.
**Kabechet was unusual, having the pale eye trait along with black fur. It is still rare today.
**Of the three pureblood offspring of Kabechet, only the GgB Gold, Pale Eye female would have a chance (slim) of bearing a Grey, Pure Eye (BG) or Gold Pure Eye (GGi) pup when paired with the re-created sex organ of Osiris' (BB+Gi). The Pale Eye trait would need to 'retro-mutate' back to the Pure Eye form for this to happen. So far, this has not occurred. (See data below.)
Birth of a New Horus - Current Results
Objective: Birth of a New and Glorious GGi God - Horus!
Female Mating Subjects: GgB Gold females.
Mating Protocol: The recreated Sex Organ of Osiris (BBGi), which Isis herself fashioned in her wisdom, is placed upon the mummy of the Great God, Osiris, himself. The subject then mounts the Great Organ, and if the Gods will it, she conceives - as did Isis when she conceived Horus in this fashion. A gestation period of seven months follows, and the Birth(s) then takes place under close and careful observation. Twins are most common (30 pairs), but there were 5 single births and one set of triplets. There was also one unobserved premature twin birth where the two pups did not survive.
Results of the previous thirty six full-term attempts are as follows:
28 - BB Black Males - Destroyed at birth so as not to offend Anubis - who is also BB.
17 - BB Black Females - Destroyed at birth so as not to offend Nephthys - also BB.
11 - GgB/GgGi Gold Males - Destroyed at birth as poor, pale-eyed imitations of Horus.
8 - GgB Gold Females - Cloistered and Guarded for use as future mating subjects.
2 - GgGi Gold Females - Destroyed at birth to avoid possible GiGi combination when mated.
A gold GiGi male would not be the true GGi form of Horus, as the double Isis influence would emasculate the pup rendering it useless as a male god, but it would be impossible to tell when a GiGi pup is born, so the GiGi combination is forbidden. Eye color in GgGi female is brighter than the GgB female, but still not the true Pureblood color. It is also believed a GiGi female would be no different from the true GG form of Isis, but since all GgGi females are destroyed, this intriguing possibility is a moot point.
1 - BGi Grey Male - Destroyed at birth as spawn of the false god, Wepwawet.
1 - BGi Grey Female - Cloistered and Guarded for study. (Later destroyed to avoid GiGi.)
Alas, no pure, Golden-eyed GGi Males or Females have been born yet, but thankfully, there have been no pure BG Wepwawet abominations either.
Keeper of the Records
Order of Anubis
Nohni re-read the document twice. She still couldn't believe her eyes. She was totally and completely appalled. "They killed all but nine of the 68 pups that were born? At birth?" Fuming, she threw the document back at Dr. Feffa. She was about to shout that she knew exactly where Osiris' damned, fake pussy-plunger was when she pulled up short. Why had Dr. Feffa even shown her this document? Nothing in Doc Slattery's notes had indicated he knew anything about the Order of Anubis or its preoccupation with a god's fake weenie.
Dr. Feffa must have seen Nohni's hesitation, because he pointed at her. "I thought you might notice that there seems to be little connection between this document and what you showed me from Doctor Slattery's records. But, in fact, there is."
Nohni blinked. She had thought of something. Could that be the connection? Then she shook her head. "Before we get to that, did you find the Canopic Jar that was mentioned in Doctor Slattery's notes? The one the Wepwawet jackals were so keen to give to me?"
"We did," answered Dr. Feffa, "But the seal was broken and it was empty. We assumed it was simply an artifact from the dig. Now that I've seen the Doctor's notes, I think we'll give it a closer look. I assume whatever was in it is now in the paws of the ones who attacked the site."
Nohni pondered that for a moment. She'd thought earlier that maybe Doc Slattery had opened the Jar and found 'the thing' in it, which had then been sent to her with his other possessions as a useless piece of mummified something-or-other. But that didn't make sense in light of what Capt. Wawet had told her about the thing being the fake penis of Osiris - unless - the Doc's dig was where the Order of Anubis had gotten the thing in the first place before they sent it on to her!
Nohni shook her head again. That was a wash too. The Order of Anubis document made it clear that they already had Osiris' fake ding-a-ling, or how else could they have been using it on their hapless 'Mating Subjects' for so long? Maybe what was in that Jar was a description of Nohni as being 'Sethorus', and that's why the Order had sent Nohni their precious fun-stick - to lure her to Egypt - which had worked - sort of. She was here, but the thing was still back in Canada. She would think about that later and turned her attention back to Dr. Feffa.
"As to the connection between the two documents, I know that loony Nubian jackal called me a 'Daughter of Kabechet', but to interpret that literally is patently ridiculous. Do I look like I'm five thousand years old? Don't answer that. However, there's also the Sethorus name he gave me." She shook her head. "The problem with that is there's no mention of Sethorus in the Anubis document like there was in the Doc's notes."
"True, they do not mention the name Sethorus - in this document." Dr. Feffa tapped the document he'd retrieved from the floor before placing it back in the folder. "However, that name has come up in a few other documents." He indicated the closed folder.
Nohni leaned forward, frowning. "Out with it, bunny-boy. This is me we're talking about here if you want to believe what those Wepwawet jackals were saying."
Dr. Feffa looked steadily back at her. "I cannot think you've not pondered over this Sethorus name yourself since you saw it last week. What have you discovered…Doctor?"
Nohni was about to protest when she saw the ghost of a smile on Dr. Feffa's lips. She dropped the protest and shook her head.
You never get something for nothing.
Especially in the Mid-East where haggling is both an essential for commerce and a high art form. She needed to give the good Doctor something of what she knew, too. It was only fair.
"Okay," she began. "The most obvious interpretation of the name Sethorus is that it's a simple combination of the names of two primary Egyptian gods. Namely, Set and Horus. If this is the case, it could symbolize the mythological conflict between the two gods - 'Good' being Horus and 'Evil' being Set." Nohni thought briefly of Captain Wawet's adamant defense of Set as not being evil, but then she shrugged. "It might be as simple as that, but I doubt it. Beyond that, there were other things I had to work out before coming here."
"Such as whether you were truly a descendant of Kabachet?" asked Dr. Feffa, but then he waved a paw. "I've done some research into that name since it has cropped up before in other Anubis documents." He pulled a diagram from the Anubis folder and gave it to Nohni. "I thought the name might be a combination name, too, but then I remembered from whence we get our information. Ancient hieroglyphics can be maddeningly messed up at times. So I set about trying to find out what else it might mean if mistakes were made. Look at this diagram." He pointed.
"Look at how 'Sethorus' is written in the Late Period Hieratic Script. If you simply take three more figures which are just duplicates of the original eight, and add them in the right spots, Sethorus becomes 'Sister Horus', or 'Sister of Horus' if you add the modern preposition. More likely what happened is that a fur scribe copying the full name decided to shorten the longer name by taking out some characters. It happens all the time. Thus 'Sister of Horus' became 'Sethorus'. The Middle Period Hieroglyphs for both names are very similar, too."
Dr. Feffa plucked the diagram from Nohni when it looked like she would stare at it forever, and put it back in his folder. He then tapped Nohni on her knee to get her attention. "Like any other written language, typos can occur. And they can be propagated over time. As an expert Egyptologist, you already know this."
Nohni looked up. She was trying desperately to wrap her mind around these new implications. Sister of Horus? Impossible! But how could she ignore what she now knew?
Nohni's Golden eyes. Like yet unlike.
Nohni's shrouded past. A Golden female jackal and a Black male?
Nohni's eyes widened as she stared into nothingness.
A Black Male? Or a Black Male that was really a disguised Grey Male?
"Father?" Nohni felt herself beginning to shake as her mind recalled the coloration tags on the Order of Anubis document.
A Golden Female? The GgB or GgGi coloration!
A Grey Male? The BGi coloration!
If what she was beginning to think was true, that would make her….
Nohni swallowed hard and blinked her impossibly golden eyes.
That would make her one of two things!
A mutated GGi female - the true counterpart or Sister to Horus! Sethorus!
Or even more likely - a GiGi female, which was…
"The true earthly embodiment of the Goddess Isis, herself," whispered Nohni.
Dr. Hassan Feffa nodded. "I see you are beginning to appreciate the magnitude of the problem you now face." He leaned forward and took Nohni's numb face gently in his paws. "You now understand why the Order of Anubis wants you so badly. They have tried and tried using the Daughters of Kabechet, but now they have you. And what better way to spawn a new Horus in their eyes than by doing it the exact same way Isis did so long ago? By impaling herself - or you, as Isis' true embodiment now - upon the body of her dead and mummified husband, Osiris!"
Nohni shot to her feet, the heels of her paws pressed into her eyes. "Impale myself on… that… THING? Never! Never!! NEVER!!!"
She thought she heard herself scream. The visions were flooding her mind again! Coil upon massive coil! Impossible, blinding light against darkest darkness! A laughing jackal that became a pig, then a giraffe, then something else! Something that would split her asunder if she couldn't get away! She HAD to get away! Those EYES! Why me?
It was Raven who caught Nohni as she collapsed, retching.
It was to Raven that Nohni clung while she sobbed and shook uncontrollably.
And it was in Raven's arms that Nohni finally fell into a troubled sleep, only to dream of coiling serpents, jackals that weren't really jackals, dead and desiccated husbands, the screams of dying pups…
And those impossibly golden eyes.
Greedy eyes that watched her as a predator watches its prey.
She turned her head dreamily to the beautiful, feminine voice, opened her eyes - and felt cold panic flood her mind.
But as soon as it came, the fear melted away, for the face surrounding those eyes was of one she knew and loved.
Her eyes closed. It was okay. Everything was fine. She was safe.
Even so, Nohni had to take several deep breaths to let her heart slow. A swallow moistened her throat, and several blinks rinsed most of the sleep from her eyes before she let them explore her surroundings.
She was lying with Raven on a large bed on which were scattered many embroidered cushions. The room was spacious and well lit by rose colored light that angled in through high, vaulted windows curtained in sheerest pink. Nothing was so bright as to blind the eye, but all shadows were muted, as if deep darkness was forbidden to enter this place. Potted ferns, and pastel vases, decorated a carved stone bench beneath an open casement from whence came a tiny breeze that ruffled the curtains. As Nohni sniffed the air she caught the enchanting aroma of tamarind and date palms. Her eyes fluttered closed, and she inhaled deeply from the scented air - like a thirsty traveler newly arrived at a far-flung desert oasis. Everything was so light, so airy - more mirage than substance - more dream than reality. And the most luxurious feeling was the beating warmth beneath Nohni's ear. Her head was cradled deeply between two large, sky-blue mounds of furry flesh. Nohni pushed her nose into one of the soft, resilient mounds and breathed in its flowery, slightly musky fragrance.
"Best pillows, ever," she murmured as she sighed again.
"Are you feeling better?"
Nohni kept her eyes closed, but her mind came fully awake. The pleasantly scented mirage of half-sleep was gone. The real world had returned, and she was beginning to remember last night. She finally opened her eyes again, but looked at nothing in particular. "I've been better," she answered. She raised her head from its blue pillow, and gazed up into Raven's face. "I don't think I wish to complain of unhappiness, but I'm not all that cheerful, either."
"You want to talk about it? Or do you wish to rest some more?"
Nohni said nothing for a moment, then she laid her head down and looked out the window. "It was like I was back in Doctor Slattery's office. The visions. I can't explain why it happened last night like it did. That… thing… is five thousand miles away in Canada, but it was like it was violating me, again." She closed her eyes. "Maybe it was just the shock of finding out what I was that triggered it." She looked up to see if the blue wolf would react, only to see Raven's expression of kindly regard.
"But you've always known who you are, my friend," whispered Raven, brushing a stray lock out of Nohni's eyes. "The 'What you are' is incidental. A Label. Nothing more."
Nohni half-smiled. "Just something else to put on my resume? I can see it now. 'Nohni Wabanda, Archeology PhD., Present Earthly Embodiment of the Supreme Goddess Isis of Egypt'." She looked back out the window. "Somehow, I don't think that would go over well during a job interview."
Raven smoothed Nohni's hair. "Do you feel any different than you did before?"
Nohni listened for, but didn't detect any change in Raven's tone. She shook her head. "Not really. For one thing, the goddess Isis was supposed to have magical healing powers, but I don't heal any faster than anyone else."
"Maybe those powers don't manifest themselves except under certain strict conditions," offered Raven as she continued to stroke Nohni's bright gold mane.
Nohni snorted and turned her whole body to give Raven a skeptical look. "That's the classic excuse of the religious zealot. They say 'Miracles won't happen unless such and such and such is exactly right.' Problem is, it's the way they set things up that's responsible for the so-called miracle - not the zealot himself. Stage magicians do it all the time."
Raven peered down at her friend. "You reacted differently to the thing than Carlos did," she countered. "You have visions, whereas he nearly loses an arm."
As she thought about that, Nohni settled back into Raven's arms and laid her head back onto those ample, blue 'pillows'. She was recalling Carlos' explanation of programmed spiritual energies. Was that possible? And if so, programmed by whom? She was still skeptical about 'spiritual energy' to begin with, but Carlos had made a good argument for it.
Almost too good.
Carlos had argued that they should take the thing with them to Egypt because that's where it had likely been programmed, and where it would likely work as it was supposed to work. He said that certain spiritual energies not only work differently on different individuals, they often work better when placed in the proper context or environment, or when they are combined with other spiritual energies.
Nohni had hit him with the same 'Zealot's Excuse' argument she'd just given Raven, but he'd come back with some known scientific examples of 'location interaction'. He'd pointed out that magnets often don't do much until placed close to each other. Then their magnetic fields can interact. He'd given another example from the mundane world involving electrical transformers. Place an un-energized coil of wire into the electro-magnetic field of a charged coil and you could create an inductance current in the un-energized coil. They don't touch, but one generates current in the other simply by being close to it rather than far away. He thought that the thing might be functioning badly because it wasn't close to where it was supposed to be.
All Nohni knew was that she didn't want to be anywhere close to that thing for any reason! That's why she'd refused to bring it along.
Yet, here she was, five thousand miles from that cursed, fake dick, and she was still having crazy visions. Could that be because she was already 'infected' by the thing? Was she doomed to have these attacks from now on? Or would they only occur when she'd received some revelation about herself - like a key opening a lock in her mind. Had those visions always been there, waiting to be set free?
"Nohni? Are you all right? You're trembling."
With a conscious effort Nohni pushed the uncomfortable thoughts from her mind and the trembling subsided. It made no sense to intentionally prod the 'sore spot' in her mind just to see if it would send her over the edge again. One needed to heal wounds - not keep reopening them.
"I'm fine," she lied. "Just trying to piece everything together."
Raven's right paw slinked under Nohni's arm and wandered down to the golden jackal's belly. With slow, gentle strokes, she began to rub the cream-colored fur there. Nohni smiled despite the residual turmoil in her mind. Canines of all types loved tummy rubs.
"Speaking of pieces that don't fit," whispered Raven into Nohni's ear, "I was thinking about that diagram Dr. Feffa showed us last night - the one about the genealogy of the Egyptian gods."
Nohni heard Raven's words, but didn't feel the apprehension that document had engendered in her last night. She closed her eyes and sighed. Raven was truly remarkable. That femme knew a tummy rub would make it impossible for Nohni to feel anything but pleasure, and they could discuss what needed to be discussed with no fear of repeating last night's fear-soaked debacle. If anything could trump a 'spiritual infection' it was a good old-fashioned tummy rub.
"So what were you thinking?" Nohni asked.
Raven chuckled - a uniquely deep and pleasant sound. "I was thinking about the Order of Anubis and how they were trying to spawn a jackal with certain color traits to replace Horus. The problem is - I've always read that Horus was a falcon, not a jackal. And wasn't Set some sort of goofball combination of animal types? I read somewhere that he could be a jackal, a pig or a hippopotamus, or a combination of all of them. Just think of it. The Egyptian Master of Evil was really a 'Jack-opota-pig'!"
Nohni burst out laughing. She couldn't help it. The notion of a Supremely Evil Set being a fat, dumpy, hairless dog-thing with a curly pink tail was too much.
"It sounds like you are scoffing at my conclusions, Doctor Wabanda," Raven said with mock indignation.
"I am not!" croaked Nohni between bouts of laughter. "But…but." She hiccupped and tried to control herself. "I think you left out giraffe. He can be a giraffe, too. So it should be a Long-Necked Jack-opota-pig!"
Raven joined Nohni this time in laughter, but squealed when Nohni turned on her and gave her blue tummy a good tickling. Raven countered with a 'bare' hug and boob-smoosh that left Nohni gasping for air.
Finally releasing her captive, Raven smiled down at Nohni. "Feeling better, now?"
"Much," answered Nohni. She poked Raven one last time in the tummy. "As to your Horus question, the 'default' form of all Egyptian gods is the Jackal. True, they could assume other forms - or more precisely - their mortal subjects could give them different forms depending on what was in vogue at the time. Rather like Gods Du Jour." Nohni's voice became serious again, though not tainted by the fear she felt before. "I think it's like what Dr. Feffa thinks it is. The Order of Anubis is trying to create a Symbol of Power by recreating 'Horus'. All groups bent on revolution need a rallying point, and a new 'god' certainly fits the bill." She shook her head and scowled. "But the fact that they want to suck me into their crazy plan is starting to really piss me off!"
"Good," said Raven lying back on the pillows again. "Anger suites you much better than trepidation."
Nohni looked back at the beautiful blue wolf lying seductively on the sheets - and all she could think of was how remarkably intelligent this femme was. Nohni pointed a finger right at Raven's nose.
"You knew something like this was going to happen. You knew all along I was going to react badly to things from my past." She dropped her paw to Raven's soft belly and gave it an affectionate rub. "And you knew you could pull me back to reality - which is where I need to be if I'm ever going to figure this out."
Raven Hunt: seducer, player, mentor, teacher, learner, leader, follower, friend, lover…
… smiled back.
Giving Raven a final look of thanks, Nohni sat up and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. "Enough fooling around. I think 'getting cleaned up so we can plan our next move' is the order of the day." She turned and gave Raven's ample blue thigh a slap. "Up and at 'em, blue lady. You first for the bath? Or shall I run this hotel out of hot water before you get the chance?"
Raven kicked the covers completely off the bed and stretched slowly and luxuriously, her muscles rippling and fur glistening. "We could do it together," she murred. Raven glanced down between arms raised back over her head. "Faster that way."
Nohni was sorely tempted to give that broad, bare midriff another terrible tickling, but instead, she got up and walked to where their luggage lay. As she rummaged around for the toiletries kit she looked back at Raven - who seemed to be admiring Nohni's backside.
"You did pretty well for yourself yesterday in the hangar," Nohni commented, wanting to take the focus off of herself for a while. "The 'Cringing Calamity Ruse'?"
Raven stopped her ogling and sat up on the bed. There was a self-satisfied grin on her muzzle. "I have to admit, I've never been in a situation where my own death was even a remote possibility, but yesterday…" Raven cocked her head and looked thoughtful. "It was like that didn't matter. What mattered was doing what needed to be done, the best way I knew how. I won't say I wasn't scared, but it was like the fear was an asset rather than a liability. It kept me focused, instead of freezing me."
Nohni nodded as she stood up, fur shampoo in paw. "That's good to know. I'd hate to think what might have happened if you'd fallen apart."
"But I DID fall apart!" Raven protested with a pout. "Or at least they thought I did. I think I did a damned good job of fooling them - though males are often easy to fool."
Nohni was halfway to the bath by now. "So, are you going to sit there all day, bathing in the glow of your own cleverness?" She wiggled the shampoo. "Or are you going to help me take a bath?"
For a big gal, Raven could move pretty quickly when she wanted to.
The remains of a late breakfast lay strewn across the conference table in their hotel suite along with papers, maps, and a single, tall Jar - a slender Canopic Jar with hieroglyphs decorating every side.
"A fast courier from Cairo had it up here by eight o'clock this morning," explained Dr. Feffa. "I figured we could all take a look at it together to see if it can tell us anything about the ones who gave it to Doctor Slattery."
"We can start with the obvious," Nohni began, "by looking at words given to Doctor Slattery by the Wepwawet jackal that gave him the Jar. He said that was the message written here." She pointed to one line of hieroglyphs. "Looks like it starts here. 'Serpent's Bain, Midnight's Master'," she quoted. "That's got to refer to Set, who battles Apep the great, devouring serpent."
"Wife of Deserts, Barren, Bleaker'," continued Dr. Feffa. "I think we can agree this refers to Nephthys, Set's wife. She is often thought of as the 'Non-fertile' or barren opposite of Isis, thought that's an unfair description since most accounts tell us that Set it the infertile one."
Nohni nodded. "'Lord of Ghosts, Black One's Brother.' That's obviously Osiris, who is the only brother Set has. He's also the Lord of the Underworld, so 'Lord of Ghosts' fits."
"'Takes the Wife, Begets the Keeper'," said Dr. Feffa. "It's the classic legend where Osiris beds Nephthys, who then bears Anubis - Keeper of the Scales at Abydos."
"'Vengeful Master Shatters Lord' That's Set chopping up Osiris. Again, it's the legend," continued Nohni. "'Wife of Ghosts' That's Isis. 'Seeks the Strewn' She looks for Osiris' body parts."
"'Binds the Body' - Isis sews Osiris back up into one piece," said Dr. Feffa. "And 'Bares the Vengeance. Head of Raptor, Rising Soon.' That's Isis giving birth to Horus who supposedly has the head of a falcon and who will avenge his father, Osiris, against Set."
"So the first two stanzas of this 'hymn', or 'spell', or whatever it is," asked Hazel, "simply refer to the old 'Set chops up Osiris for screwing his wife' story?"
"That's what it looks like," answered Nohni. "But this last stanza takes off on its own. Look at this first line. 'Battle on, the Dark and Lighter'."
"Couldn't that be the classic battle between Horus and Set? Good against Evil?" offered Raven. "That would fit with the legend and the other lines."
"Could be," replied Nohni. "But the Horus/Set thing wasn't the only conflict between Egyptian gods. Anubis and Wepwawet had their disagreements when Anubis took over Wepwawet's job of judging the dead. Anubis got the job after his father, Osiris, became Lord of the Dead."
"Nothing like a little nepotism amongst gods," offered Hazel.
Nohni grinned. "Wepwawet is also a much older god than Anubis. The Order of Anubis document showed Anubis to be the second son of Osiris, whereas Wepwawet was the first son - although that's debatable. Some accounts have Wepwawet predating Osiris."
"Now that's a good trick," snorted Hazel. "The son is older than the father?"
Nohni nodded. "Not surprising though. You get these sorts of recording errors all the time when the records are over five thousand years old. And the recording medium! Think about it Hazel. How fast could you copy data accurately if you had to carve it in stone?"
Hazel shook her head. "I can see it now. Bobofet, the stone scribe, is carving away on an important obelisk from notes scribbled on papyrus. Suddenly, cousin Stinkfet pops in to gossip about the latest plague of frogs. While they're jabbering about the hazards of slipping on squashed amphibian guts in the streets, Stumblefet, the dog wanders in and eats the papyrus, leaving Bobofet to figure out what to do with the half-finished obelisk. Thinking nobody's going to read the dumb thing anyway, he completes the obelisk with a rousing tale of how the Great Pharaoh Stinkfet the II saves Egypt from a plague of papyrus-eating dogs."
Nohni sniggered. Dr. Feffa stared and pointed. "How did you know about Pharaoh Stinkfet?"
Hazel blinked in surprise, but Nohni caught the Doctor's wink. "Anyway," Nohni continued, "Anubis is a Black Jackal - Dark - and Wepwawet is a Grey Jackal - Lighter. So the 'Dark and Lighter' phrase could refer to that conflict as well."
Raven pointed excitedly. "And the Order of Anubis document did call the grey male pup that was born 'spawn of the false god, Wepwawet'! Why don't they like Wepwawet?"
"Because the Order of Anubis doesn't want Wepwawet to return and take his old job back," answered Nohni. "How would you like your Order to be known as the 'Order of the God Who is Now Unemployed'? Besides being embarrassing, it would cost a fortune to re-print the letterhead stationary."
Raven smirked and tapped the jar. "Back to the task at paw. What's the next line?"
"'Made at Dusk, born at Dawn'," Nohni answered. "Dr. Feffa? Any suggestions?"
The rabbit frowned in concentration. "All that comes to mind is that this is a reference to night-time. Perhaps something needs to be done when Ra's Sun-Chariot is gone from the sky? Again, it could be a reference to Set who some say is the Master of the Night."
The next line, 'Keeper's Master takes his Daughter', probably refers to Kabechet being 'taken' or impregnated," observed Nohni. "But the 'Keeper's Master' title is a bit puzzling. Taken literally, the Keeper is Anubis, Keeper of the Scales, but which 'Master'? The Order of Anubis genealogy chart points to Wepwawet as the father of Kabechet's offspring, but Osiris would be the logical choice for Anubis' Master since he is the Lord of the Underworld."
"And finally, there is 'Come, oh Sun-led Chosen One'," Dr. Feffa said quietly. "'Sun-led' could refer to someone led by the sun god, Ra, but there is another interpretation for this glyph. Instead of "Sun-led", it could be read to mean 'Sun-lit' or 'Golden'. 'Come, oh Golden Chosen One'."
All eyes turned to Nohni who was scowling. "So, besides the Order of Anubis wanting me for Mummy Mommy duty, the Wepwawet tribe, or whoever made this damned Jar, wants me for some other Chosen task, as well?"
"Or maybe eet is you who must do the chosing? A Golden Choosing one?"
Everyone looked to Carlos, who had been remarkably quiet all during breakfast and the following conference. The black jaguar looked up from the couch where he had been idly fingering a furry sack on a string around his neck. He dropped his paw and looked a little embarrassed. "I am sorry. I deed not mean to interrupt."
"No, Carlos. It's okay," said Nohni. "If you've got any input, let's hear it."
Carlos looked around and then stood up. He took a chair next to Hazel at the table and reached a paw out to the Canopic Jar, but didn't touch it. "You all speak of forces choosing a fate for Dr. Wabanda een which she has no say. The Order of Anubis choosing her as their Madre de Horus. The grey ones choosing her for an unknown task. What eef Dr. Wabanda's fate ees not to be Chosen, but to be the One Who Chooses?"
"The Book of Mortals!" suggested Hazel, pointing to Nohni. "That translation from Doc Slattery's notes! 'When all things are done, when all hearts have been weighed on the Scales at Abydos at the end of the world, who is it that holds True Power on this earth? God? Or Mortal? It is You, who shall decide.'" She dropped her paw and her eyes widened. "Maybe… you'll be asked to choose whether the gods of Egypt return to the world or not!"
Now they all looked wide-eyed at Nohni, their expressions surprised and a touch - awed?
Nohni stared back. Suddenly, it was just too weird. Her fist came down on the table so hard the Canopic Jar jumped an inch and tipped over. "Reality Check!" she shouted as she bounded to her feet. "Let's not get carried away with Prophetic Expectations! That excerpt from the Book of Mortals can just as easily be a morality lesson! 'Don't rely on your gods to get your stupid butt out of a jam.' or 'Take responsibility for your life!' or 'Don't count your plans for the gods till you've hatched them.' I don't know." She paced around the room, growling. "You're right, Raven. I'm becoming a victim of zealot 'Labeling'. Everybody has a damned agenda, and they want to use me as their 'effing' poster child!" She was shouting loudly now. "Why me? I just came here to find my parentage! I did not come here to run around playing Glorified Oven for some Order of Anubis Honey Bun, or keep a bunch of dust-colored dim-bulbs happy by picking what's behind Door Number Fucking THREE! Why can't… "
Raven reached out a paw, caught Nohni by a belt loop as she passed by, and with minimal effort, sat the golden jackal forcefully back down in a chair. She turned to her friend. "Save the diatribe for the bad guys, okay, Professor?"
Nohni fumed for about another second, then felt the heat of her anger begin to dissipate. She blew out one final exasperated huff, and settled back in her chair. It was then that she noticed the odd expression on Carlos' face. He had apparently picked up the Canopic Jar after it had fallen over, and he was now holding it up in front of him, staring at it, eyes wide, pupils constricted.
Nohni leaned forward, her anger forgotten. "Carlos? Are you all right?" She stood up, leaned across the table and grasped the black jaguar's arm, the one holding the Jar. It was the bandaged left arm - the arm he used to test for…Spiritual Energy! In a flash Nohni plucked the Jar from Carlos' grasp, and he blinked - his arm still outstretched.
"Carlos!" Nohni shook his arm. It was like he was dazed. "Carlos! Say something!"
"Madre De Dios." he whispered.
Nohni set the Jar aside and shook his arm again. "What is it Carlos? Did that Jar do something to you?"
He shook his head once and pulled his arm from Nohni's grasp to point at the jar. Nohni noticed that it his other paw was holding on to the furry sack-on-a-string around his neck. Again he shook his head. "That…," his pointing finger shook a little. "ees one very powerful eemot!"
Dr. Feffa looked like he was about to ask a question, but Nohni shook her head, and turned immediately back to Carlos. "What is eemot, Carlos? Please, tell us."
Carlos gulped, and held the sack-on-a-string out from his neck. "Thees sack is eemot," he said. "Thees ees the only theeng I have left from the tribe of my youth. I keep eet as a reminder of my roots. An eemot ees used to hold spiritual objects, and keep them isolated for the outside world - like a 'spiritual cage'. My eemot was eventually to hold my master's feenger bones after he died. Feenger bones can be used to divine a person's fate, or help them make a choice." He ducked his head. "I was feengering my eemot when the idea of you choosing your own fate came to mind, Dr. Wabanda." He held up the sack again. "Feenger bones can help with choices, but, only the one whose needs to choose may touch the bones! I, as the 'reader' of the bones, must not touch them physically or 'spiritually' in any way or they become contaminated and do not work properly. The eemot bag keeps the bones safe and isolated from me and everything else until it is time for the one who needs them to use them. I…I never recovered my master's feenger bones, but I keep the eemot in remembrance of heem."
Nohni looked at the Canopic Jar and then at the sack dangling from Carlos' neck. The sack was only a little smaller than the Jar. She looked up at Carlos. "So you are saying that this Jar is eemot? That its purpose was to be a 'spiritual cage' or container for something spiritual?"
"I theenk so," replied Carlos. "Eet has a 'feel' to it very similar to my own eemot."
Hazel nodded. "Dr. Slattery's description of the Wepwawet who gave him the Jar suggests that they thought the Jar was very important."
Nohni turned to Dr. Feffa, who was looking skeptically at Carlos. "Nothing was found in the Jar?" she asked.
Dr. Feffa shook his head. "This talk of the Jar being a 'spiritual container' is a bit…"
"Unbelievable?" finished Nohni. "Perhaps it is, but Carlos swears by 'spiritual energy', and," she looked to Carlos and nodded. "He's got some good arguments to back up his conclusions."
Carlos grinned and ducked his head. Nohni regarded him for a moment. She still wasn't convinced 'spiritual energy' existed, but neither could she disprove it - and - Carlos was someone she liked. She was even beginning to trust him as a friend, so she was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt - even to the point of defending him. She turned back to Dr, Feffa. "If not a sacred 'container', what other purpose would this Jar serve? Other that as a written record you could drink coffee out of if you felt like it."
Dr. Feffa shrugged. "The most common use of Jars like these was as Canopic Jars. They were funerary items used to contain the entrails of the dead after they were removed from the body during mummification. This you know, already, Dr. Wabanda." He eyed her.
Nohni nodded. "So, we have a Canopic Jar, normally used to contain body parts, that also seems to be a spiritual cage." She pointed to Carlos. "Conclusion?"
"The Jar contained a spiritually charged body part that needed to be isolated - or hidden - from the outside world. But now, that part ees free. The Jar ees empty."
Nohni picked up the empty Jar. "The legend of Osiris speaks of Isis finding all the body parts of her dead husband except one. They say it was lost forever - eaten by a fish in the Nile, according to some accounts. So Isis made a fake one - which the Order of Anubis now has."
She held the Jar up to the light. "Anyone want to bet that what I'm holding now was, until very recently, the final resting place of Osiris' real penis?"
Wadi Wepwawet. That's what Doctor Slattery had called this place.
Even with the setting sun near the western horizon, much of the day's heat still remained. Nohni, wrapped in a white Hajib and Abaya to keep cool, was standing facing north. Egypt's ambitious 'New Valley' Irrigation Project was one hundred fifty miles in that direction. They would be using water from Lake Nassar, brought by canal via the newly formed Toshka Lakes, to turn barren desert into fertile fields. She looked to her right. Abu Simbel, an ancient Egyptian archeological site saved from drowning in Lake Nassar, was one hundred miles north-east. Over her right shoulder, Wadi Halfa lay fifty miles to the east. In ancient times Wadi Halfa would have been just north of the Nile's Second, or Great, Cataract and would be the nearest source of water to this place. Water was the lifeblood of the desert. Without it, there was nothing.
Nohni peered down at the dry, iron-colored soil beneath her feet. There was no way this place could have supported a permanent community. Not if all its water had to be carried in fifty miles by camel or donkey. So why was this place here at all? That had been Doctor Slattery's question. That was why he had dug here. Was that also the reason why he died here? She looked once more at the satellite photo.
From the ground, the site was an unremarkable set of low hills. However, from space, it almost looked like an upside-down heart with the bottom tip of the ventricles just touching the Egypt/Sudan border. She wasn't sure if the shape of the site had anything to do with its purpose, but it was an interesting coincidence. Internal organs were removed from the body prior to mummification, and kept in separate containers - Canopic Jars - to be buried alongside the mummified bodies of the dead. But the Jars could just as easily have been buried separately.
She felt for the Wepwawet Canopic Jar in her fanny pack beneath her Abaya robe and pulled it out. The Jar was the main reason why they were here, in this desolate place. This was where the Jar had come from. Carlos had said it was eemot, a spiritual cage. Nohni hefted it, and peered closely at the glyphs. Yes, it was ancient - yes it was valuable artifact, in itself - and yes, it seemed to be connected to her in some mysterious way if the local Wepwawet tribe had been so keen to get it to her. But, it still felt like an ordinary Jar to her.
Nohni turned the Jar over in her paws. It might be ordinary, but the discussion of its possible contents back in Alexandria had been far from ordinary. It had been rife with skepticism from Dr. Feffa. 'The real Osiris Dangly Bits? In a Spiritual Prison Jar? Unthinkable!' Nohni had mollified him by suggesting that the Wepwawet tribe who had given the Jar to Dr. Slattery might only think the Jar contained Osiris' missing penis, and that's why they valued it. Maybe they thought that, like the Order of Anubis, Nohni was supposed to 'mate' with the real penis of Osiris and produce a new god, Wepwawet. After all, Wepwawet was a son of Isis too - one that had supposedly been conceived while Osiris was still alive and whole - complete with real wing-ding and all.
However, Nohni still hadn't told Dr. Feffa about the mummified thing back at the University. She'd pulled Raven, Hazel, and Carlos aside before they'd held the Jar conference in Alexandria and told them that it was her call when they were going to tell the Doctor. Her biggest fear was that Dr. Hassan Feffa would insist that they send for it as 'evidence', and Nohni had no intention of bringing that thing back into Egypt. Not just because Capt. Wawet had warned her not to, but also because it scared the crap out of her.
As far as Dr. Feffa knew, the real Osiris penis was just a myth, and the fake one (which, in his opinion, was probably just a fancy sperm injection device,) was in the paws of the seditionist Order of Anubis. His interest in the Jar and in Dr. Slattery's dig site was mainly in the local Wepwawet tribe of grey jackals. How had they come to possess the Jar in the first place? Why had they warned Doctor Slattery to leave quickly after they'd given it to him? 'Others are watching' they had told him. Did they know about the Order of Anubis? If so, what was the connection? 'Battle on, the Dark and Lighter.' Did the grey Wepwawet Jackals think that this phrase from the Jar applied to them and the black Order of Anubis jackals? Had they brought a struggle from the ancient past into the present? Whatever it was, Dr. Feffa wanted to meet the grey Wepwawet jackals very much.
Conversely, Doc Slattery's interests in this site had been the place itself. He was an archeologist first and foremost, and he'd been very excited about the clay tablets with their glyphs describing the Book of Mortals. Had he found more tablets? If so, they would have come from where he dug last. The most recent, freely-available satellite photos showed the Doctor's campsite still intact so they were older photos. They showed that the digging had occurred primarily on the south-east part of the 'heart' formation. That was where Nohni was now.
But she wasn't digging - even thought she felt the urge to do so.
She was watching.
She returned the Jar to her fanny pack and looked up in time to see Dr. Feffa trudging toward her from where he'd been exploring to the north. His floppy rabbit ears stuck through his equally floppy sun-hat. Granted, his reason for being here was not strictly archeology, but they all needed to do something to fill their time while waiting for the Wepwawet jackals to show themselves. Dr. Feffa thought that if they explored the main dig site and beyond, it would look like they were intending to re-open it, and the grey jackals might appear again.
"Anything interesting?" she called out when he came within earshot.
The rabbit shook his head, which emphasized the floppiness of hat and ears. "I found two test bore-holes that Dr. Slattery's team put down, but no new digging."
Carlos could now be seen topping a nearby ridge to the west. Silhouetted against the red sunset, he struck an impressive pose, but not for long. It only took a minute for his easy, loping gait to bridge the distance between them.
"Notheeng to the west," he reported, stopping before them and barely panting in the heat.
Nohni thought this remarkable since he was a black jaguar from the shadowed jungles of Central America. But he'd decided to wear the classic Arabian Egal and Shora headdress accompanied by an airy, sweeping Dishadashi robe. His black face and paws contrasted sharply with brilliantly white garments - which reflected much of the sun's heat, thus keeping him cool. She could also see the small bump on the front of his robes where she knew his own eemot bag hung from a string around his neck.
Funny. She'd never seen him wear the eemot bag in all the time he'd taken her classes, but then, she'd never really looked for it, and perhaps he didn't wear it all the time. Nohni could understand his need to have and hold something from his past. After all, she had her own 'talisman' from the past. Nohni's paw strayed to her fanny pack once more, almost of its own accord. She could feel the outline of her ankh necklace pressing against the canvas of the pack. That was where she kept it now, after Captain Wawet had told her not to wear it in public.
Nohni didn't know where her ankh had come from. She'd had it for as long as she could remember. Growing up, the male pups in her adopted Ojibwa tribe in Canada had often tried to take it from her. They'd usually paid dearly for their attempts. However, like Carlos, she rarely wore it openly. In fact, it had lain untouched for several years in a jewelry box in her apartment. Untouched - until recently, that is. It seemed appropriate that she bring it along with her on this trip back to her own past.
Raven and Hazel joined the three of them now and Nohni crouched down to sift some of the fine ochre soil though her fingers. Much of it blew away in the light, hot breeze that came from the north. She stood up and looked around.
"This is how you found it the second time you came back?" she asked, addressing Dr. Feffa.
The rabbit nodded. "When we first arrived right after the attack, there was little damage to the dig itself, and even the camp was mostly intact. But when we returned two weeks later for a more thorough investigation, all we found was what you now see. It seems whoever attacked this site wanted the dig itself destroyed as well as those doing the digging."
It was true. All the carefully placed grid markers usually seen at a dig site had disappeared. All the excavation pits had been filled. Dr. Feffa also said the equipment and records not removed on the first inspection had disappeared as well. Nohni felt a growl forming in her throat, but she held it back. She would save it for those who deserved it. The killings were terrible themselves, but to destroy the hard work her colleagues had put into this place? That made it doubly despicable.
The question was - who had done this? Who had tried to wipe away any evidence that there had been an archeological dig here? It was almost as if Dr. Slattery's idea about the purpose of this site had come true again. Maybe the purpose of this place was to hide something as far away as possible from civilization.
Or maybe, the ones who did this simply wanted to cover their tracks.
"I don't think they will come today," muttered Dr. Feffa looking toward the distant southern hills. "Doctor Slattery said the grey jackals always appeared at dawn and left at dusk."
Nohni gave the southern hills a quick glance before looking back at their own campsite. It was not the traditional archeological camp by a long shot.
"Maybe the presence of thirty heavily armed guards and a military C130 Hercules transport plane scared them off," she thought, sourly.
Nohni had argued against bring any sort of military presence to the Doctor's dig site, but Dr. Feffa had insisted. The place had been attacked once. It could be attacked again. Nohni knew this was a possibility, but she also knew that this very same protection would likely discourage anyone from contacting them - including the ones they wanted to see.
But that would change tonight.
Nohni felt herself smile as she walked silently up the slope of the low desert hill. Khonsu, Egyptian god of the Moon, was absent this evening rendering the night sky velvety black except for the sparkle of stars and the glow of the Milky Way. The constellation of Orion had risen and Sirius was a bright, blue jewel on the eastern horizon.
Dog stars and warrior constellations. Perfect.
Raven Hunt walked on Nohni's left while Hazel Weiss and Carlos Onca walked on her right. They had silently left the camp about an hour ago, moving discreetly so the guards wouldn't notice them. The guards were looking for massed attacks on the camp, not a tiny group leaving the camp and heading south to the Wepwawet hills. Nohni guessed that the grey Wepwawet jackals were there even if they hadn't shown themselves. If they were there and watching, Nohni intended to give them an eyeful.
All four of them were dressed as the ancient Pharaohs had dressed, but not in the way Nohni had presented herself at Alexandria. The outfits they wore now were true to life. Nohni had purchased these replicas of ancient Egyptian clothing in Alexandria specifically for this purpose. If these Wepwawets had been impressed by her University staff picture with the ankh on her chest, her present outfit would knock their socks off - and hopefully loosen their tongues.
Instead of styling her mane to look like one, Nohni now wore a real Nemes headdress. A gold band around her forehead supported the Horned Sun Disk ornament associated with Isis, and her wide Pectoral Collar was decorated in the same colors of blue and gold as the headdress. Jewelry of gold, silver and semi-precious stones adorned her wrists, ankles, fingers, throat, waist and ears, and the traditional, dark Egyptian koal eye-liner accentuated and enlarged Nohni's golden eyes. Finally, wrapped round her waist counter-clockwise, was the only clothing she wore - a diaphanous, hip-hugging, nearly transparent, linen Shendyt, or Pharaohs kilt. Above the waist, she wore nothing at all. The only thing that separated her bare chest from the cool night air was the golden Ankh of her pup-hood, which lay upon her chest ruff. In truth, the pleated sides of the Nemes headdress fell down far enough in front to cover the tips of her breasts - but for all intents and purposes, she was topless. The effect was maddeningly provocative, totally 'Egyptian', and one hundred percent 'Goddess'. Everything about Nohni screamed 'Isis - Daughter of Ra'.
The main difference between herself and her companions was the color of their Nemes headdresses and the type of forehead ornament they wore.
Raven's gold headband sported both the Wadjet Uraeus, or the Striking Isis Cobra and the Mut Vulture. Her Nemes colors were indigo and silver, which complimented her dark blue body fur. She was the embodiment of Sothis - Dark Canine Manifestation of Isis.
Hazel's gold headband held a small sun disk bordered on both sides by white plumes. Her headdress colors were gold and bronze to go with her tan fur. She was the personification of Sekhmet - Lion Goddess, Powerful One, Eye of Ra, Destructor.
Carlos' headband was black, and it sprouted two black plumes. His headdress and pectoral collar were solid ebony, dark as midnight, putting his whole body into shadow except for his glowing yellow eyes. He was Mahes - Bastet's Son, Lord of the Massacre.
All of them carried the customary hooked scepter of the Pharaohs, which could be used as a weapon in a pinch, but Carlos also had his 'walking stick' and Nohni had her bullwhip - coiled like a cobra on her right hip.
Nohni also had the Canopic Jar in a leather pouch hung from her left hip. She noticed that Carlos still had his eemot sack around his neck. It wasn't strictly in character with the rest of his outfit, but it didn't detract from it either. Nohni supposed he was keeping it on his person for luck. After all, this 'mission' to contact the Wepwawet jackals might be dangerous. At times they had seemed threatening to Doctor Slattery when he'd met with them.
Nohni frowned. It was also the Wepwawets who had expected the Doctor's dig site to eventually be 'swallowed by the sands' - which it now had been. Had they been responsible for that? If so, she planned to find out. Getting answers was the reason for approaching them from 'a Position of Power'. She would use their awe of her to her advantage. She was hoping that her 'god-like' friends would add to that awe, and make it even easier to get the answers she sought.
Out of the corner of her eye, Nohni saw Carlos switch positions with Hazel so that he was right next to her.
"We are followed," he whispered. "Two, maybe three. About seventy yards to our left rear."
Nohni nodded and flicked a two finger wave at a group of low rocks to their left. Carlos nodded and…disappeared. It was startling how easily he could do that, even with the little cover afforded by the desert landscape.
"Half-speed pace," Nohni whispered to the other two femmes. "Be ready to back-track, fast."
Hazel and Raven nodded, closed ranks with Nohni, and slowed down.
They didn't need to wait long. Nohni heard the click of a small stone hitting the earth next to her. It skittered off at an angle about fifteen degrees to the right of their current direction. "Follow me on three!" she hissed. "One…two…Three!"
In silence, Nohni spun around and dashed off at top speed in the exact direction from whence the stone had come. She had already closed half the distance when she saw three figures stand up quickly and turn as if to run - only to have a black shadow take two of them to the ground. With a mighty leap, Nohni tackled the third. Raven and Hazel were right behind her and in no time they had three grey jackals hog-tied - using their own robes as the ropes.
No one had shouted, or made any noise whatsoever. Carlos forced the three into kneeling positions so that they all faced Nohni. Even in the dim light of a star-lit sky anyone could see the flash of the gold Ankh on her chest. She squatted down in front of them, noting that they were all staring at her chest, and from the angle of their eyes, Nohni knew it wasn't her round 'assets' they were eyeing. She brought her paw up to touch the Ankh and bared her teeth.
"Sethorus has returned," she said in a Nubian dialect she hoped they would understand. She knew even less Nubian than Doc Slattery had.
Evidently someone did understand, because a moment later the hillside was flooded with light from a dozen torches.
It seemed the Wepwawet jackals had been watching them after all.
The Grey Ones
The flickering torchlight cast wriggling shadows amongst the torch bearers as Nohni surveyed the watchers. All eyes seemed to be on her, but it was Raven Hunt who stood up first and began to slowly walk toward the tallest of the grey jackals. It was he who looked like the leader. As she walked, she pulled off her Nemes headdress and let it fall, exposing huge, blue-furred breasts big enough to feed an army of pups. A small gasp from the watching crowd told Nohni that Raven's performance was having the desired effect. Wolves were almost unknown in this part of Africa - a blue wolf, doubly so. It was quite likely that none of the watchers had ever seen a blue wolf - especially one as well-endowed as Raven.
Raven then pulled a tall, white crown from a sack she'd been carrying at her side. This, however, was not the customary plain-white pharaoh's crown of Lower Egypt. This one was decorated with curved bull horns on both sides and topped with a bright blue, five-pointed star. It was the Crown of Sothis, or Sepedet as she was commonly referred to in Egypt. Raven placed the crown upon her head, and then dropped both paws to her side, her back straight and chest out.
In Egyptian mythology, Sothis was not a jackal like Nohni, but a wolf, like Raven. She was associated with the constellation of Orion, which was thought to represent Isis' husband, Osiris. Being a wolf, she was also associated with the Dog Star, Sirius, which followed the constellation Orion across the night sky. Sirius, a bright blue star, was the star that re-appeared in July at dawn after being hidden by the Sun for seventy days (Heliacal rising). It signaled the beginning of the annual Nile flood which nourished the soil and began the agricultural New Year. Thus, Sirius was associated with fertility, and Sothis was the mother-goddess manifestation of Isis that fed all of Egypt from her ample bounty.
And Raven was about as ample as you could get.
"There should be about twenty of them an hour tonight," thought Nohni as she looked at the sky. "Raven will only need to wait about three minutes."
Nohni looked to Raven just as the blue wolf raised her paw majestically and pointed to a spot just east of Orion's belt. As everyone turned to look, Raven lifted her head and let loose a long, undulating wolf howl guaranteed to curl toes. They didn't have to wait long after that. One moment it was just the Milky Way stretching across the heavens, the next moment, the beautiful, blue streak of a meteor shot from exactly where Raven was pointing, covering a full twenty degree arc of sky.
As luck would have it, they'd come to Egypt at the same time of year as the Orionid meteor shower. The Orionids were called this because the main radiant for the meteor shower was just east of the constellation of Orion. The material that made up the meteors was dust from the trail left by Halley's Comet, and the earth passed through the trail at this time of year.
Though easy to explain scientifically, the effect of a huge-bosomed, blue Sothis 'calling forth' a blue shooting star from her 'husband', Osiris (Orion), had a profound effect on the watching grey jackals. Many of them dropped their torches and fell to the ground. Others simply trembled where they stood. Nohni thought she heard the faint splashing of someone's bladder cutting loose. Raven turned and with regal steps slowly returned to the group to stand beside Nohni.
In silence the three femmes eyed the tallest grey jackal - for Carlos had once more disappeared under the cover of Raven's display. Suddenly, without warning, Hazel let out a horrendous cat scream that caused Nohni to jump - even though she was expecting it.
In two long bounds, the tawny lioness had closed the distance between her and the tall grey. He instinctively backed up - right into the waiting grasp of the dark and silent Carlos. Black paws with claws extended closed around his throat from behind, while Hazel had one clawed paw on his face and the other at his crotch. Hazel leered up at him, her tongue flicking across her bloody teeth, for she had apparently bitten her own lip. Nohni wondered if Hazel wasn't getting too much into the character of Sehkmet, Destructor and Avenger of Ra. Nohni had to give the tall jackal credit for not passing out on the spot, though his eyes peering through Hazel's clawed fingers looked wide as saucers.
Paws still clutching him, Carlos and Hazel guided the tall jackal back to where Nohni stood. This was Nohni's way of establishing her dominance at this cozy little gathering. The Sahara desert might be home to these grey jackals, but it would not be their place to dictate the terms of this meeting. Nohni wanted answers, and she didn't feel like begging for them - or even asking, politely. They would tell her what she wanted to know, or they would feel the wrath of their gods.
Hazel and Carlos forced the tall grey into a kneeling position before Nohni. This made his head slightly lower than hers, and she glared down at him as she pulled the Canopic Jar from the pouch on her left hip. She held it up in front of the jackal's nose and saw the flicker of recognition in his eyes. Good. He was ready to answer some questions. Nohni opened her mouth, but it was another voice that spoke first from behind her - and it spoke in English.
"Good evening Sethorus - daughter of Kabechet."
Nohni and company whirled around to see another tall grey jackal approaching. This jackal, however, was no primitive. He wore a dusty, frayed Dishadashi robe, and two ammunition belts crisscrossed his chest. Strapped across his back was an automatic weapon of some sort, but it was too dark to determine the type. Two other similarly attired jackals, shorter than he, flanked him, and the three of them walked to within ten feet of Nohni before stopping. The tall one looked at each of them in turn.
"You come with powerful allies," he said.
"And you come with guns," said Nohni, her voice suddenly edgy as she tucked the Jar back into its pouch. "That is so 'male'."
"Times are dangerous," answered the jackal, seeming to ignore Nohni's sarcasm.
"Great," mumbled Nohni as she shook her head and glanced at Carlos. She flicked her eyes at one of the shorter armed jackals, then shot the tall jackal a condescending look. "Tell me. Why do males have this irritating need to state the obvious? Is it because they lack the brains to talk about things that really matter? Like who the hell they are?"
The jackal looked down at her and nodded. "You have some spirit, Sethorus. I believe…"
He got no further than that.
Nohni's whip was out and speeding through the air. Carlos had launched himself at the armed jackal to the right of the tall one. Hazel was only a split second behind and on the left one. The cracker end of Nohni's whip wrapped itself around the tall one's neck, and a swift jerk pulled him forward and off balance. Instantly, Nohni was on his back, twisting his right arm behind his back with one paw and grabbing the whip around his neck with the other. She jerked his head up, her muzzle in his ear.
"Your name!" she shouted.
"I am not…," he croaked.
Nohni banged the jackal's muzzle into the ground, splitting his lip. "Name! NOW!"
"Jabari Heshafet," he choked, spitting blood. Then he turned his head to eye her over his shoulder, his voice a hoarse whisper. "I am not your enemy, Nohni Wabanda."
Nohni eyed the jackal. How did he know her real name? And why had he whispered it? She filed that question away for future asking, and popped the sling clasp on what she now recognized as an MP5A2 9mm sub-machine gun. With a flip of her wrist she undid the whip from his neck. Then she hefted the weapon and stepped off of the prone jackal. She had expected this grubby-looking jackal's weapon to be an old AK47 or something similar. MP5s were more the choice of Special Forces or criminal groups with money to throw around. She noticed that Carlos and Hazel had both relieved their captives of weapons as well. She thrust her SMG into a startled Raven's paws, and turned to face Jabari as he stood up, dabbing at his lip.
"State your business here," Nohni barked.
Jabari looked around at the jackals who were not his companions. Nohni glanced at them too and saw that they were all either frowning or snarling at Jabari and his cohorts. She barked an order at them in Nubian, and they all sat down instantly, though many of them still looked dangerous. She turned back to Jabari.
"I am…" he hesitated, "a local camel herder. I was asked by this tribe to be an interpreter for you since they did not expect you to know the local dialect. It seems they were mistaken."
Nohni shook her head. "I know only a little Nubian. I'm not proficient." She eyed Jabari more closely. "Since when do camel herders carry MP5A2s?" She nodded to the one Raven was holding.
"Times truly are dangerous," Jabari answered.
"Dangerous enough to spend a whole year's camel herder wages on a fancy 9mm SMG?"
Jabari brought his paws up in a gesture of capitulation and lowered his voice. "Please, we must talk privately at some point. It's about why you are here in Egypt. But before we can do that, we need to placate the local tribe here. I do not wish a confrontation with them, and I have vital information about what has been happening to you here."
Nohni eyed him for a long time. There seemed to be no lie in his voice or manner. She nodded and he dropped his paws. He then gestured to the tallest of the Wepwawet jackals who was still kneeling where Nohni had left him. Together, she and Jabari walked to the kneeling jackal and sat down. Jabari fumbled for a moment in a side pouch and brought out what looked like a slice of jerky. He handed it to Nohni and nodded toward the kneeling jackal. Nohni understood this to mean 'share this food with him'. It was a courtesy between strangers - a way of showing that there is no ill will between them.
Nohni held the jerky out to the jackal and Jabari spoke a few words. The kneeling jackal looked up and hesitantly took the jerky, eyeing Nohni all the time. He then shifted to a more comfortable sitting position.
"He is named Shalem," offered Jabari, "and he as been waiting for you for a long time." He spoke to Shalem who nodded and spoke several sentences. Jabari nodded back, then turned to face Nohni again. "He has seen the Jar that you carry with you, and he has a question about it. However, before I ask you his question, I must ask that you answer it in the negative, no matter what the truth is. This is important - very important."
"I make no promises," Nohni said, then glared at Jabari when he started to speak. "I will take your request into consideration. That is all I can say. Now. Ask the question."
Jabari looked at her for a moment, then nodded. "Shalem asks if the Jar has been filled."
Nohni looked at Jabari for a long time, then turned to Shalem and pulled the Canopic Jar from its pouch once more. She held it up in her right paw. Slowly she put her left paw on the ceramic stopper and began to turn it as if to open the bottle. Shalem's eyes grew wide with fear, and before Nohni could do anything, he clamped his paw over hers, preventing her from opening the Jar. Meanwhile, Jabari had leaned forward, but made no attempt to stop her. Nohni turned her attention to the tribal leader and peered at him with great intensity. He seemed to wither under her gaze, and finally, he let go of her paw, but continued to stare at her. Nohni pulled the stopper from the bottle and turned it over.
Nothing came out.
Shalem's wide eyes looked at the Jar and then back to Nohni's face. He did this twice, then closed his eyes and groaned.
"You could have just said it was empty," grumbled Jabari.
Nohni turned to look at him. "And not discover what his - or your - reaction would be when I tried to open it?" She put the stopper back in the Jar.
Shalem was mumbling and looking crestfallen. Then he turned to Jabari and his voice rose. Soon he was jabbering, gesturing wildly and pointing to the north. Jabari countered with a few loud words of his own which sounded like questions. Finally, Jabari turned back to her.
"Shalem says you hold the empty Jar, yet you do not react to it. You do not feel its 'pull', therefore what the jar was made to contain is no longer anywhere around here." Jabari pointed to the north where Doctor Slattery's dig site had been.
"What was this Jar supposed to contain?" asked Nohni. But she already thought she knew the answer.
Jabari hesitated, then said, "The real mummified penis of the god Osiris." He peered at her closely as if he expected her to scoff.
She didn't. Instead, Nohni was thinking of the thing back at the University. It had certainly looked like a mummified penis at first, but Captain Wawet had insisted it was the fake one - sent to her by the Order of Anubis. In any case, the thing had come back from Egypt along with the rest of Doctor Slattery's effects. Doctor Slattery had been digging at the place where Shalem evidently thought the true Osiris penis was buried. He had given Doctor Slattery a Jar meant to contain it - a jar Carlos swore was a spiritual cage - which could only mean that the penis was evidently a spiritual 'hot potato' and needed to be caged. Shalem had then told Doctor Slattery to give the jar to Nohni. Did Shalem think that Nohni would come back and dig up the penis herself? How was she supposed to know where to look? Was that what Shalem meant when he said 'You do not feel its pull'? Was the Jar supposed to be some sort of spiritual compass as well as a cage?
Jabari was tapping her shoulder and she came out of her introspection. "What?" She looked around. All the jackals were looking expectantly at her.
"Shalem says you must go find Osiris' true malehood."
Nohni made a face. "Great," she grumbled sarcastically. "Ask him if I should start by searching the entire country of Egypt. That should take only a day or two. Right?"
Jabari glanced at Shalem and spoke a few words. Jabari frowned, but then nodded. Jabari turned back to Nohni again. "I've told Shalem you might need some time alone to think on this. Come. Walk with me a ways. We need to be private." He nodded up the hill away from the torches.
They both rose. "Stay here," Nohni said to her companions, "and watch the other two." She pointed to Jabari's two companions. "I'll be back."
They proceeded up the hill until the torches were small specks below them. Nohni turned to Jabari. "Okay. Care to tell me who you really are? Camel herders don't pack the kind of pop-guns you're carrying."
"I am Col. Jabari Heshafet, Egyptian Special Forces," said the grey jackal. "Formerly of the Grey Brigade." He apparently saw Nohni's questioning look and continued. "Dr. Feffa thought you might try to contact the local tribe on your own, so I was sent to play 'interpreter'. I've been in contact with the locals for some time now because the Order of Anubis seemed to be targeting this area after Doctor Slattery began his dig."
Nohni frowned. "Are you saying you were watching this site, yet you let it be attacked by those Order of Anubis thugs?" She backed away.
Col. Heshafet shook his head. "Please Dr. Wabanda. We are only three furs, and we were following the local tribe. They are the ones with the best eyes and ears! They are the ones who would have the best information on who was in this area! Our mission was not to guard the Dr. Slattery's site. He had his own guard. Our purpose was to gather information!"
"Which you evidently gathered too late to save my friend!" hissed Nohni.
Col. Heshafet bowed his head for a moment but then looked up. "I'm sorry your friend died, but I didn't know about the attack until the locals came upon the site at dawn. The Order of Anubis evidently attacked at night." He hesitated, eyeing Nohni closely. "Have you been told the details of the attack?"
Nohni shook her head.
"The attackers were apparently a small group - three at most, we believe - but the Doctor's campsite wasn't guarded very well. It appears that the single guard was asleep at the time since there was no sign of a struggle. All twelve of the other furs at the camp were killed in their tents. We found signs of vehicle tracks to the north, but by the time I called for back-up, they were long gone."
Nohni was looking to the north - to where Doctor Slattery had last been alive. It still made a knot in her gut to think about him never coming back, but part of why she was here was to avenge that wrong. She turned back to Col. Heshafet.
"So you were the one who found the empty Canopic Jar? Or was it someone else."
Col. Heshafet tapped his chest. "I found it. It was next to the Doctor when I discovered him in his tent. He may have been holding it when he was killed."
"And it was empty?" she asked.
"Is that why you wanted me to say it was empty?"
Again, Col Heshafet nodded. "I had to assume that either the Jar was empty all along, or the Order of Anubis removed its contents when they attacked the site. If you had filled the Jar with something else, the local tribe might have insisted you do something with it immediately."
Nohni peered at him. "I'll ask about what they would want me to do with it in a bit." She could imagine some of the things they might ask. "First, however, I want to know this. Are you saying you think Doctor Slattery may have actually found the real penis of Osiris and the Order of Anubis killed him to get it?"
Col. Heshafet frowned. "I'm not sure of anything, yet, but you heard Shalem. He told me he could feel the 'pull' of the Jar when it was in his possession, but you say there is no 'pull' to it now. According to him, that means the penis is no longer in the area, and thus, someone must have taken it away."
Nohni was scrutinizing the Colonel closely. "You don't really believe that Jar can 'pull' anything, do you."
The Colonel frowned. "I'm not one to believe in those sorts of things, but there is other evidence that the penis of Osiris may have been removed from this site. Why else would the Order of Anubis attack right after the Doctor had been given the Jar? They certainly didn't want the Jar, itself. It was lying right there next to Doctor Slattery's body. I can only assume they were after something they thought was inside the Jar."
"Then why didn't they take the Jar directly from our grey friends down there?" asked Nohni, pointing down the hill. "Are you saying the Order knew the Jar was empty as long as the grey jackals had it, and it could only be filled after they gave it away?"
The Colonel nodded. "I have to assume that this is the case since they did not attack the grey jackals. As to the Jar? Maybe it was empty when the Order attacked Doctor Slattery's site. Maybe it was not. However, until proven otherwise, I will operate under the assumption that the Order of Anubis got what they wanted from it."
"Which means you think Doctor Slattery actually did find something to put in the Jar?"
The Colonel shrugged. "We obviously need more information to tell one way or the other. I believe that if the Doctor found something, it was because he either returned to the grey jackals to learn more about it, or he used his expertise as an archeologist to find something. I know that Shalem would not have 'filled' the Jar himself in any case. He knew he wasn't the one who was supposed to retrieve the penis of Osiris. That was for Sethorus, or you, to do. I'm not sure when the legend started, but that has always been the legend among these locals for as long as anyone can remember. 'Sethorus – Daughter of Kabechet will return to find that which was lost, and the dead shall be put to right at last.'"
Nohni thought about this but somehow, it didn't feel right. It didn't feel like something Doctor Slattery would do. Nothing in the Doctor's last notes said anything about Osiris' shriveled malehood. If he'd been using his archeological skills to find it, he'd have made notes. The Doc was like that. He would have recorded everything. She looked back at the Colonel.
"So what would the locals ask me to do if I'd said the Jar was filled?"
The Colonel looked to the tiny torches below before answering. "Shalem would have asked you to return the penis to the place where it had been found or…"
"Or what?" prompted Nohni.
Col. Heshafet turned back to Nohni. "Or you would need to reunite it with Osiris' incomplete mummy, which would 'Put all things right' as the legend says."
Nohni stared at Col. Heshafet.
"That's just what Shalem told me." He shrugged.
Nohni shook her head. "My choice was either to stick that dried-up dick back in the ground at the Doc's dig site or slap it back on the mummy of Osiris himself? Which, by the way, just happens to be in the possession of the not-so-pleasant Order of Anubis? If those are my only choices, I'll plant that puckered pussy-plunger back where I found it! To hell with Osiris!"
Col. Heshafet raised an eyebrow. "According to ancient Egyptian mythology, Hell, or the Afterlife, is where Osiris already is. In fact, he's in charge of the place." He eyed at her shrewdly. "However… I am thinking that you might not so easily choose to abandon the penis here." He leaned forward. "Do I sense a need for vengeance? Might you not want to find the Osiris mummy and complete it anyway? Who knows? Perhaps that would make it impossible for the Order of Anubis to continue using the mummy of Osiris as part of their plan to create a new god."
Nohni's slitted her eyes and glared at the Colonel. "Perhaps that is what you want, as well? To shut down the Order of Anubis before it becomes a real threat to your government?"
Col. Heshafet looked calmly back at Nohni. "The Order of Anubis is looking for you, but not to kill you. Merely to…use you. We need someone to infiltrate their Order to help stop it. Perhaps we can work together?"
Nohni crossed her arms and regarded the Colonel warily. "About the Order of Anubis - I pose the same question to you that I would pose to Shalem. Where would we start looking?"
"The ruins of Abydos are known to be the primary meeting place for the Order of Anubis, though we have yet to catch them there," answered the Colonel.
Nohni thought of the words spoken to her by Capt. Wawet back at Borg El Arab airport.
Let us meet again in Abydos. I have things to tell you about your real-life parents, not just your ancestors.
She had intended to go to Abydos anyway after she'd explored Doctor Slattery's dig site.
At his dig, Doctor Slattery had uncovered a hitherto unknown group of ancient writings called the Book of Mortals. That book had mentioned Abydos, too.
"Listen now to my Words! When all things are done, when all hearts have been weighed on the Scales at Abydos at the end of the world, who is it that holds True Power on this earth? God? Or Mortal? It is You, who shall decide."
Choices at Abydos.
The grey jackals would have Nohni make a choice about what to do with a long-dead piece of god flesh - a god whose mummy was in the paws of a seditionist Order that met in secret at Abydos.
"Abydos, you say," said Nohni, looking into the pale yellow eyes of Col. Heshafet. "Tell me, have you ever heard of the Order of Abydos?"
The Colonel nodded. "Yes, I have. It is a medal given to the Grey Brigade for service to our country. I have received one myself. Why do you ask?"
Nohni continued to peer at the tall, grey jackal. "I heard the name 'Order of Abydos' mentioned when I was here in Egypt several years ago working in the Sinai with Dr. Feffa. I just wondered if it was another Order or group like the Order of Anubis trying to overthrow the government."
The Colonel shook his head, frowning. "No, Dr. Wabanda. The Order of Abydos is not a seditionist group. It has only ever been a medal given to those who serve."
Nohni saw no lie in his eyes. Apparently he did not know about Jeffa Wawet. "Yes. I will go to Abydos," she stated simply. "But I do have one last question before we return to the others." Nohni pointed to the north. "Do you know who was responsible for erasing all evidence of an archeological dig at this site?"
Col. Heshafet looked to the north. "It was not Shalem or any of his tribe. I know that for a fact." he turned back to Nohni.
"As to who did do it? I think only the gods and the ones who did it know that."
My Sister's Keeper
Nohni gazed around and soaked it all in. She was finally here.
The Temple of Seti at Abydos.
Nohni stood in the Forecourt at the bottom of the grand steps and faced the Second Court with its broken and aged columns. Beyond them stood the carved facade of the entrance to the Hypostyle Halls.
And past the Halls? The Sanctuaries of the gods.
Set - god of chaos. Ptah - god of creativity. Amun - the god of creation. Re-herakhte - the sun-god. Horus - god-counselor to the pharaohs. Isis - goddess of fertility, healing and magic.
And finally, Osiris - god and king of the land of the dead.
It was a place steeped in history - very long and very deep.
"So how old is this dump?" asked Raven, looking around.
"This temple," answered Nohni, "was begun by Seti I and completed by his son Ramses II around 1300 BC, however, the earliest burials at Abydos are a lot older than that."
"Well…I guess a few broken columns are understandable then," Raven observed. "Seeing how it's 3300 years old." She glanced toward a large tour group off to their right. One of the tourists was staring at her - and not at her face. She eyed him and gave her upper torso a wiggle, which for Raven translated into a lot of movement. The tourist quickly looked away.
The three femmes were not dressed in traditional, shape-concealing abaya robes today. They had opted for western dress consisting of colorful, and cooler, short-sleeved cotton shirts and knee-length shorts. Raven had also chosen to wear her new Nemes headdress instead of a more traditional hijab shawl. The other two femmes wore no head gear at all, and when Nohni asked why Raven was wearing something, she'd explained how her blue hair bleached out into a pale blue-grey when exposed to the sun too long. Her blue body fur didn't bleach as quickly, but she could get 'bleach lines' if she wore the same clothing for too long in direct sunlight.
"So… what's so important about Abydos?" Hazel asked.
Nohni turned to the lioness. She could recognize a 'Teacher's Prompt' when she heard it, so she put on her professor face and waved her paw around. "Abydos was already an important necropolis, or cemetery, in the Pre and Early Dynastic Periods of ancient Egypt. Extensive cemeteries dating to this time have been excavated across the site, including the tombs of First and Second Dynasty kings. In the Old Kingdom - about 2686-2181 BC - the principal god of Abydos was called Khentyamentyu, or 'Foremost of the Westerners'. He was eventually replaced by Wepwawet. However, by the First Intermediate Period the main god at Abydos was Osiris."
"These ancient Egyptians change their gods more often than most furs change their bed sheets," commented Hazel. "And Wepwawet preceded Osiris? That's the Son before the Father paradox. Right?"
"Gods Du Jour," quoted Raven. "They are who you want them to be - in whatever order."
"True," answered Nohni. "To continue - all Egyptians had to be judged worthy of the afterlife by Osiris and his 'good-old-boys' club of funerary deities. Because of this, Abydos was considered the entrance to the underworld, and a religious centre of national importance."
"I don't see any road signs saying 'Hell - Next Exit'," said Raven. "Where is this entrance to the underworld supposed to be, anyway?"
"Out in the desert, west of here," Nohni answered, pointing. "No one knows exactly where, but in the Middle Kingdom - about 2000 BC - it was decided that one of the old, First Dynasty royal tombs just north of here, the tomb of King Djer, was the actual burial place of Osiris, and there were festival processions each year from the temple in the town to the First Dynasty royal cemetery in the desert. It became desirable to be buried close to the god or at least be present in the temple or on the processional way. Abydos remained a burial place of national importance from the New Kingdom to the Ptolemaic Period, and stelae, or afterlife stones, for chapels were still being set up in Abydos even into the Roman Period."
"So this place has been a graveyard for nearly five thousand years?" Hazel whistled.
"A high-rent graveyard," corrected Nohni. "Only the really big big-wigs got to be planted here since this was where Osiris was buried. Come on. Let's head into the temple proper."
They had climbed the steps when Raven asked a question. "But what about the Pyramids up north, and the Valley of Kings down south? They were royal tombs, too, so not all the pharaohs are buried in Abydos."
"But this place," Nohni pointed to ground as they walked through the Second Court, "was were everyone's ka, or soul, had to come to be judged by Osiris no matter where they were buried. If they passed Osiris' 'Scales of Abydos' test they went on to the afterlife. If not, Anubis fed their ka to Ammit, a demon with the head of crocodile, the torso of a leopard and the hindquarters of a hippopotamus."
"Sounds like a lovely critter," mused Hazel as she peered into entrance of the outer Hypostyle Hall. "Hope we don't meet him in here."
"Everyone got their flashlights?" asked Nohni. "Light isn't a problem in the front Halls, but it gets pretty dark in the sanctuary chambers in back. Wouldn't want to be caught in the dark without a light, now would we? Let's go."
All three femmes were equipped with heavy, long, industrial grade flashlights which they all pulled out now. They looked like clubs - which was no accident. Col. Heshafet and Carlos were playing 'tourist' in the group that had already gone into the Hypostyle Halls, and they too were packing 'club' lights, plus a few other things. If the Order of Anubis was going to make a grab for Nohni in the Temple today, they would be ready to stop it.
This might seem a puzzling strategy because, initially, the plan had been for Nohni to be captured by the Order of Anubis. That was the easiest way to infiltrate the Order. It's what Col. Heshafet had wanted and Nohni had agreed. However, there had been a slight complication.
Raven Hunt had not liked the plan one single bit, and convincing her to agree to any plan had been a painful process.
A most painful process, indeed.
They were sitting and facing one another on the couch in their hotel suite in Asyut. Asyut was the Egyptian city nearest Abydos that had decent hotel accommodations. That being said, this was no Hotel Alexandria. The rooms were small, the restrooms marginally clean, and the beds and furniture, hard. Raven had just taken Nohni's paw in an iron grip, and the look in her eyes was a combination of anger and raw fear.
"Nohni! Listen to me! No! Just shut up and listen! You can't do this! Not the way you want to do it. You came here to find your parents! Not play bait for some undercover government scheme! It's not worth it! Doctor Slattery is dead. It's not worth your life too. I'm sorry, but I can't see you doing this! Whatever possessed you to volunteer for this insanity?"
Nohni glared at her. "No, Raven! You listen to me! I want to do this! And I resent being called bait! I am not some glassy-eyed remedial student moron you can push around with those bit tits of yours! I'm not some wet-behind-the-ears cub! I can take care of myself!" She jerked her paw, none too gently, from Raven's grasp and stood up. "And whether you choose to believe it or not, Miss I-Don't-Know-Shit, it has everything to do with finding my damned parents!"
Now Raven was up and shouting. "And what if what you think is true is all wrong! What then? How is being kidnapped and forced by a bunch of terrorist scum to screw a three thousand year old fuck-stick going to help you find your parents? Tell me that Miss Oh-So-Competent Hot-Shot Pro-fessor!"
"TIME OUT!" Hazel yelled as she stepped between the two of them. "To your corners, girls!" She pointed to opposite sides of the room.
Nohni stalked to the window and turned around, eyes on the floor at her feet. She didn't want to even look at Raven now. Damn it! She knew it would come to this after she'd revealed her intentions to them on the plane ride back from Doctor Slattery's dig site. Dr. Feffa and Col. Heshafet had lauded Nohni's willingness to get involved in their country's problem, but Raven had looked none too happy, and said so. Hazel had frowned, but hadn't voiced any objections. Not yet, anyway. Nohni raised her eyes to look around the room, careful to avoid Raven.
"Where's Carlos?" she asked, looking to Hazel.
Hazel pointed to the door. "He had the good sense to leave when this argument started. I suppose he couldn't stand the bickering."
Nohni couldn't ignore Hazel's disapproving tone and was fairly sure it wasn't Carlos she was dissatisfied with. She scrubbed at her face and forced herself to look at Raven, but her back was turned. Nohni swallowed hard and spoke. "Raven. I… I didn't mean to shout." She shook her head at the hollowness of her own words. Both she and Raven knew perfectly well she'd meant to shout – and shout as loudly as she could. "Raven? I don't know what I can possibly say to convince you, but I know I'm right about this. I just know it!"
The blue wolf spun around, and Nohni could see the tear streaks down her cheeks and the glitter in her golden eyes. Raven was hurting badly, and Nohni knew it was her fault. Nohni swallowed again and forced herself to continue looking at her. She wondered if there was anything she could say now to start healing the hurt, but Raven spoke first, her deep voice resonating with anger and pain. And what she said stung like a hot poker.
"Are you going to tell Col. Heshafet what you just told us about Jeffa Wawet? Because if you don't, I will! Let's see if he believes this load of shit!"
Nohni stared at Raven. She couldn't believe her ears. Raven would betray her just like that? Nohni felt the scream of fury building in her throat when another tear fell from Raven's golden eye. And suddenly Nohni couldn't stop looking at those yellow eyes - eyes so full of pain, it hurt to look at them now. Nohni stared for only a moment longer before she clamped her own eyes shut. Bile and humiliation boiled up in her guts in equal measure. Self-righteous fury and self recriminating shame made a most powerfully revolting combination. It wanted to erupt out of her like putrid lava. It wouldn't care who it covered with its slime. Friend and foe alike would be splattered with its stench.
And it fights you hard if you try to keep it in.
Nohni felt herself bite her lip. She could taste blood. Her claws were digging painfully into her palms. She was grinding her teeth. She was beginning to shake with the effort to keep it contained.
How had it come to this? She had tried to explain. She had tried her best to explain!
"Please listen to me. This is perfect!" she had told Raven when they'd first sat down in the hotel suite. "I won't be in any real danger if the Order of Anubis kidnaps me because Jeffa Wawet will be there! I didn't tell you this on the plane because the others were there, but Jeffa told me he would meet me again in Abydos! And when we met, he would tell me about my real-life parents!"
Nohni had tried to recite, in detail, all Jeffa Wawet had told her about her parents and her ancestry - an ancestry that had been corroborated by the pilfered Order of Anubis document.
"Can you believe it?" Nohni had finished. "He knows about my parents! I need to meet him here for that reason alone, but now we've got another reason to meet him. Together with him, we can all take down the Order of Anubis - the Order that killed our friend, Doctor Slattery! I know he'll help. He hates the Order of Anubis more than anyone, but he's fooled them into thinking he's one of them! He's the perfect protection!"
Raven had looked at Nohni for a long time and then shaken her head. "Nohni? I'm sorry, but I think you've got this wrong - all wrong!"
Nohni hadn't liked that. "What do you mean,'wrong'? It fits perfectly!"
Raven had shaken her head again. "You say Jeffa Wawet knows about your parentage and he was going to tell you about it at Abydos, but is that what he really wants to do? Tell me this. Why didn't he tell you more at Borg El Arab Airport? Why did he just give you this tantalizing come-on, and then duck out? I don't like this Nohni. I don't like it at all! It sounds like a set-up -like he was baiting a trap for you."
"Oh come on, Raven," Nohni had shouted, irritated by Raven's doubt. "It's obvious why he couldn't tell me more. He didn't have time to tell me more! The authorities were about to break down the door! Think, Raven! He wanted to tell me about my parents! He obviously knew that the main reason I came to Egypt was to look for my parents!" Nohni had almost told them she thought he might be her father, but Raven had cut her off.
"That's what I'm talking about!" Raven had yelled. "Nothing he said indicates he knew you were looking for your parents! You're reading way too much into his words! Maybe he does have something to tell you about your real parents and maybe it's something you don't want to know! Despite what he told you, he could still be working for the Order, not against it! No, Nohni. Look at me! According to Dr. Feffa, the Order of Anubis has spent years and years looking for yellow eyed jackals to use as gruesome mating subjects! They probably know the lineage of hundreds of family lines!"
"Alright then," Nohni had countered angrily. "If he's not on our side, then answer me this! Why did he kill one of his own soldiers? He was obviously protecting us!"
Raven had actually growled at that point. "Do you really think an Order that kills pups at birth gives a DAMN about shooting one of their own if it serves their purpose?"
And it had just gotten worse after that.
Worse and worse and worse.
Damn! Damn! DAMN!
Why… didn't… Raven… understand?
The bile was choking her now, and Nohni was trembling so hard she dropped to her knees. She had to do this! She had to! Why didn't they understand? Why couldn't they understand? Why? Why?!
It was impossible to think any more. Nohni just wanted to scream. She tried to scream, but the bile choked her. She wanted to rip something to shreds, but her paws were shaking too hard. She…she wanted to kill something, but nothing was there now except the anger! The roiling anger! It was going to burn her alive. It was like a living thing inside of her - like a white-hot coiled snake.
Like a snake….
Coil upon massive coil was rising inside her - white hot light on darkest darkness.
She could see its fangs now. Huge and glistening.
And behind the open mouth - the eyes. The huge, lidless eyes.
Yellow eyes! Yellow eyes! YELLOW EYES!!!
Someone was screaming, crying. It sounded far away - like a distant storm on a far horizon. Someone was calling her name, but it wasn't her name. She was someone else!
She was someone… else. Someone… else. Wasn't she?
Nohni turned the flashlight on because they'd just entered the inner chambers of the Temple of Seti. She didn't like remembering the insanity of yesterday, but it was hard to block it out. It had taken Raven and Hazel nearly an hour to nurse a screaming, crying Nohni back to some semblance of normalcy, but it had made a big difference in what they were doing here today.
What the episode had pointed out to everyone - beyond any doubt - was that something needed to be done before Nohni completely lost her mind. That it had something to do with The Order of Anubis, Osiris' penis, and her parents was obvious, but now they would approach Jeffa Wawet with more caution. Hopefully, he would be an asset, but when they'd finally told Col. Heshafet what they knew about Jeffa, he had been quite guarded about anyone using the 'Order of Abydos' as a name for a secret organization. In his opinion, secret organizations were secret for a reason - and that reason usually meant bad news for someone. Maybe it was bad news for the Order of Anubis. Maybe it wasn't. They intended to find out today, because instead of contacting the Order, they were trying to contact a single, grey - or black - jackal.
One called Jeffa Wawet.
Nohni hoped he would have some answers.
She wasn't sure she could survive many more questions.
Temples and Tombs
Nohni looked back and forth across the back wall of the inner Hypostyle Hall. Along this wall were the doorways to the sanctuary chambers of the gods. From left to right, they were Set, Ptah, Amun, Re-herakhte, Osiris, Isis, and Horus. Most of these chambers had 'false' doors at the rear of the chamber. These false doors were meant to be used only by the spirits, or ka, to pass between the real world and the spirit realm. In reality they were just a solid wall decorated with a glyph-covered door lintel. On the other paw, the door at the rear of the Osiris chamber was a real passageway which led to the larger Inner Sanctums of Osiris. After all, this temple was dedicated to him. It was only right that he had the 'Master Suite'.
"What do we do now?" whispered Raven. She looked excited, yet nervous.
Nohni regarded the blue wolf and felt a wave of conflicting emotions. There was gratitude that Raven had not abandoned her after their horrendous fight yesterday, but there was also real fear for the blue femme. It was ironic that Raven, who had fought so hard to abandon this venture as too dangerous, had insisted on coming along despite the obvious danger, once it became clear that Nohni had to do something or go crazy.
Nohni moved to Raven's side and wrapped both arms around her waist. "What do we do now, you ask? First of all, you stay safe." Nohni laid her head on Raven's shoulder, closed her eyes and breathed in her musky scent. "Stay safe," she murmured.
A large blue paw ran a finger along Nohni's cheek and lifted her chin. Nohni looked up into kindly yellow eyes.
"You too, sister," whispered Raven. Then she pointed to the southeast corner of the Inner Hypostyle Hall. "And to that end, I believe I'm supposed to take the left passage over there to check out the Sokar and Nefertum chapels. Carlos has already taken that passage with his tour group to get to the Osireion behind the temple proper, so I'll have company. Don't worry."
Nohni nodded. The chapels in the temple were less likely to contain bad guys since they were better lit than the inner sanctuaries, but that wasn't the whole reason Raven was checking them out instead of Nohni. Sokar had his chapel there, and he was the Egyptian god who presided over the land of the damned. If a person's ka was not deemed worthy to enter Osiris' kingdom, Anubis gave the ka to Sokar, who was in charge of feeding it to Ammit the demon ka eater, or destroying it by other means - usually by throwing it to one of his hellish snakes. Thus, the chapel contained a lot of snake motifs.
Nohni didn't really need any more snakes right now.
Instead, Nohni and Hazel proceeded to check out the sanctums of Ptah, Amun, Re-herakhte, and Horus, but it wasn't until they checked out the sanctum of Set that anything unusual happened. It wasn't really anything that 'happened' either. It was just a little scrap of parchment lying, almost completely hidden, in a corner. Nohni was being especially vigilant in this chamber because Jeffa Wawet had been such a proponent of Set, defending the Egyptian god from his own evil reputation. Nohni stooped and picked up the tiny scrap of parchment. It had a name scrawled on it in hieroglyphics. It was the name for the goddess Isis.
"Looks like someone wants us to go to the sanctum of Isis," commented Nohni.
She gave Hazel a knowing look, and the lioness pulled something from her pocket that looked like a tiny pager. She flipped it on, and the tip glowed red for a moment before turning green.
"We have contact. The others are alerted." Hazel slipped the device back into her pocket as they exited the sanctum of Set.
It was a short walk to the sanctum of Isis, but they didn't enter it right away. Nohni waited until she saw Raven and Carlos standing in the entrance of the Osireion passageway. She looked to the entrance from the outer Hypostyle Hall and saw Col. Heshafet nod to her. She nodded to Hazel, and with both flashlights lit, the two of them entered the sanctum of Isis.
Both of them played their lights over all the walls of the sanctum, but again, nothing happened. However, like the Set sanctum, there was a tiny piece of parchment lying hidden away on the floor in a corner. This time, however, the parchment was accompanied by a tiny pot and a little, round, cosmetic mirror. All the parchment displayed was an 'Eye of Horus' glyph, which looks like how Egyptians painted their own eyes with makeup. Nohni popped the stopper on the jar and looked inside. The black paste in the jar looked like kohl - the eye makeup ancient Egyptians used, which was a mixture of water, soot and galena - a lead ore. The eye makeup that the three femmes had used on their excursion to the Wepwawet jackals was a modern equivalent, but the stuff in this jar had the slightly grittier consistency of the genuine product.
"Someone thinks we need eye makeup?" Hazel asked, dubiously. "I'd take that as a criticism if I wasn't so intrigued by what this is leading up to. I'll go first." She reached for the jar.
"Not so fast," Nohni said, holding the jar away from Hazel. "Let me check it first." Nohni sniffed the stuff and then touched the tip of her tongue to the surface. She waited a few moments.
Nohni shook her head. "No bitter alkali taste. No stinging, numbness or tingling in the tongue. Smells okay." She nodded now. "It seems like the genuine article, but I'll use it - and only on one eye. This note was most likely meant for me, anyway - not you."
"At least let me help you put it on," advised Hazel. "I've got built-in makeup applicators." She popped one of her claws.
Nohni offered the pot, and Hazel dipped a claw in the black paste. Nohni held the beam of her flashlight to her face and allowed Hazel to paint her right eye in the classic old Egyptian style. After a moment, Hazel stepped back to admire her work, and Nohni blinked a few times.
"I think you got a bit of that stuff in my eye," Nohni complained, blinking again.
"Sorry," said Hazel. "Is this stuff dangerous to get in the eye?"
Nohni shook her head. "Not really. Kohl actually has some disinfectant properties, plus, like football players who paint their cheeks under the eyes with black, the makeup is good for protecting the eyes from the sun's glare. It also helps keep flies away from the eyes."
Hazel peered into the pot. "So it has medicinal applications as well as cosmetic? These ancient Egyptians were not as primitive as one might think."
"No, they weren't," replied Nohni, who took the light away from her face to play it over the glyphs on the ceiling. "But why did the fur who left the parchment want me to put on eye makeup?"
"Hazel?" Nohni brought the beam of her flashlight down to the lioness' face, and was surprised to see the look of astonishment there. "Hazel? What's wrong?"
The lioness pointed at Nohni. "Your…your eye! Look at your eye!"
Nohni stared at Hazel for a moment before remembering she held a small, round cosmetic mirror in her other paw. She shined the flashlight on her own face once more and brought the mirror up to eye level. She looked at her eye with the makeup on it, but nothing seemed to be amiss. She shot a look back at Hazel. "What am I looking for?"
Hazel grabbed the flashlight away from Nohni. "Look at your eye…in the dark!"
Nohni did so and nearly dropped the mirror. She stared at her face for a long time. Looking back at her from the mirror was a face with two eyes - but the iris of the eye with the makeup was glowing a bright golden-yellow color, as if with an inner light! It looked eerie. The light seemed to flicker, too, just like the flame of a candle in a light breeze.
"Bio-luminescence," mumbled Nohni. "It looks like the slightly greenish-yellow color you get from the abdomen of a lightning bug. You'd think I would have noticed having something glowing in my eyes, but then, the iris is very opaque. Its whole purpose is to limit the amount of light that actually enters the eyes." She pointed to the pot. "There must be something - some chemical - in that kohl that causes the outside surface of the irises to light up."
"I think it's cool," Hazel said, grinning now that she was over her initial shock. "Give me the mirror. I think I'll try some."
Nohni handed her the mirror, and Hazel did up her own right eye. She also blinked when a bit of it got in her eye. "It stings a little, but it's not any more uncomfortable than putting a soft contact lens in your eye." She held the mirror in front of her face for a while, but nothing happened. "Hmm. It looks like no yellow-eye for this lioness." She pocketed the mirror and looked to Nohni. "Maybe this stuff only works on you?"
Nohni nodded. "Yes. Yes! I think you're right. My parentage! Yellow eyes! I confess, I've never been able to see any difference between my eye color and that of other golden jackals I've seen - here or back in Canada. Maybe the 'pale-eye' color reference in those Order of Anubis documents refers to jackals who don't achieve kohl-activated 'bio-luminescence', which could very well be an inherited trait. Some chemical reaction must take place between the koal ingredients and a special marker protein in the iris of the true Yellow-Eye - those jackals with the capital 'G' color configuration." Nohni snapped her fingers and pointed at Hazel. "And that's how the Order of Anubis can find suitable golden jackals for mating. True Yellow-Eyes will display bio-luminescence and are the 'True' daughters of Kabechet!" Nohni quickly looked around the sanctum. "I'm sure Jeffa left these notes here knowing I would visit this place. There must be more."
With the help of the others, Nohni looked everywhere, but this was a big site and it took a while. However, even though they had special permission (via Col. Heshafet) from the local authorities that protected the site to stay as long as they needed to stay, no other notes were found. The sun had nearly set when they all gathered in the First Court of the temple.
"Looks like we'll need to wait another day," Nohni said. She noted the impatience in her own voice as she looked toward the sunset. "Maybe Jeffa will leave more notes tomorrow."
"Or whoever else it might have been," added Raven with a stern look to Nohni.
Nohni felt the hairs on the back of her neck bristle, but she immediately dropped her eyes and nodded. She wanted no repeat of yesterday's argument with Raven. On top of that, Raven was absolutely right. Nothing in the notes they'd found had reveled the author of those notes. They were just two unsigned pieces of parchment.
"And some eye makeup," thought Nohni.
She could feel the pot of Kohl eye-makeup in her pocket pressing against her thigh and wondered how strange she must look with only one eye made up. Pulling the pot from her pocket she noted, with disgust, that some of its contents had leaked form the jar into her pocket.
"Hell. Look at this mess," grumbled Nohni. "Has anyone got a rag or something?"
Carlos produced a napkin from his bag lunch, and Nohni wiped her paw. "I'll need to get these shorts laundered," she muttered. As an afterthought, she wiped the outside of the little pot.
And there it was.
With the layer of soot gone, she could see tiny glyphs marked on the bottom of the pot. Nohni stared at them for a moment, automatically translating them. Then she held it out and showed the others. "Look at this!"
"What does it say?" asked Raven.
"If viewed as simple phonetic symbols," Nohni began. "It comes out as, 'firstvalone'." The others looked puzzled. Nohni ran a finger over the glyphs again. "Without punctuation or spaces, it's hard to tell were a word stops and another begins, but the English words 'first' and 'alone', 'lone', or 'one' seem to be quite obvious."
"How about 'First V alone'?" suggested Hazel.
Nohni nodded. "If we assume these are directions like the 'Isis' parchment, then the word 'First' could refer to the First Kingdom. The First Kingdom necropolis here at Abydos is about a half mile to the west." Nohni pointed in the direction. "That's the cemetery where the god Osiris is supposed to be buried in what used to be King Djer's tomb. If that’s the case, then the first character on the second line could be a separate letter - the letter of a tomb in the First Kingdom cemetery. In this case, it would be tomb 'V'. Archeologists always number or letter the tombs at a site so they can keep track of them all." Nohni looked westward. "If I remember correctly, Tomb 'V' at Abydos is the tomb of King Khasekhem, the last king of the second dynasty. It's also the tomb that's farthest away from tomb 'O' where Osiris is buried."
Raven frowned. "So you're saying that these directions - 'First V alone' - mean you're supposed to go to tomb 'V' in the First Kingdom cemetery alone?"
Nohni and Raven locked eyes and neither one moved - nor blinked. Finally, Nohni reached for and took Raven's paw. "Yes. I believe that's what these instructions are telling me to do. To go to King Khasekhem's tomb alone."
Raven's eyes narrowed and she started to pull her paw away when Nohni gripped it hard and gave it a small shake. "I give you back some of your own advice, Raven - because it is good advice. 'Do not read more into words than what is truly there.' Yes. I do believe these are instructions for me, but…" Nohni brought the blue paw up to her muzzle and stroked it along the side of her cheek. "Nothing says I have to follow those instructions to the letter." She dropped Raven's paw. "Come on. Follow me."
Nohni walked over to a tourist information board near the temple entrance. It had a large map of the Abydos site and would do well as a planning map.
"Listen up, folks." She tapped the map a few inches to the left of the 'Temple of Seti' icon. "This spot is the location of the First Kingdom cemetery. Tomb 'V' is the most southern tomb at this location. There is nothing left of any of these tombs aboveground. Basically all that's there are the brick sub-structures, so the terrain is mostly flat. Tomb 'O' - the Osiris one," she tapped another spot, "has had quite a bit of digging done on it. However, there has been some recent excavation work also done at Tombs 'T' and 'Y'." She tapped the appropriate spots on the map. "As you can see, those tombs are at the half-way point between 'V' and 'O'. Someone could duck down into the excavation pits at these two spots and have a good view of anyone at Tomb 'V'."
She pointed to Carlos. "When it gets dark, I want you to reconnoiter the pits at Tombs 'T' and 'Y' before I arrive at tomb 'V'. I'll be taking a circuitous route that will bring me past your location before I head out to 'V'. You can tell me if we have any unfriendlies hiding in 'T' or 'Y'. If there are none, you can take a position in one of the pits yourself."
Nohni pointed to a spot on the map just east of the cemetery. "I don't know if you saw this when you were out back by the Osireion, Col. Heshafet, but there are high power lines running across the property here, and one of the line towers is just east of the cemetery. Anyone climbing one of those towers would have an excellent overview of the whole area. Just don't get high enough to touch the lines."
Nohni looked to Raven and Hazel. "You girls are strictly back-up, and I want no complaints! I want you next to the Antiquities Site Office here." Nohni pointed to a building north of the First Kingdom cemetery. "It's about a hundred thirty yards away, but it still has a good view. I say you are back-up because, quite frankly, the boys have more combat skills than you. If it comes down to a fight, they've got what I want. However, if a fight does break out, you two are free to engage as you see fit. Okay?"
Nohni turned back to Col. Heshafet. "Any recommendations on the sort of hardware I should carry with me?"
The Colonel was shaking his head. "I've got a few items you could use, but I think anyone who thinks you're going to be a pushover is in for a surprise. I do have one suggestion about placing the troops, General. I think Raven and Hazel should position themselves about twenty five yards east of the power line tower I'll be climbing. They can duck down behind a construction berm I saw there. There's too many artificial lights around the Site Office, and two pretty femmes loitering around it at night might raise suspicions."
The Colonel pulled a medium sized knife with sheath from the backpack he was wearing along with a petite .380 ACP Bersa Thunder automatic pistol. He gave both to Nohni, who noted the extended nine round clip on the Bersa as she tucked it into her back pocket. The knife went on her belt.
The Colonel turned to Carlos. "Anything you need?"
Carlos held up his 'walking stick' and club flashlight. "Eef you have another knife, I could use eet." The Colonel tossed him one, which he plucked out of the air and hid in his trousers in one fluid motion.
Nohni looked to the west. "It'll be dark in about half an hour. We move out then."
It was very dark again tonight, for there was still no moon in the sky. With her flashlight trained on it, Nohni looked at her watch. She'd been searching around Tomb 'V' for nearly twenty five minutes but had found no notes or any other evidence of someone's passage. Neither had she seen anyone approaching the site. Carlos had found no one in the 'T' and 'Y' excavations, either. It had been decided before they started that Nohni would search the site for only half an hour, and then leave a message of her own for whoever might find it.
But Nohni was going to try one more thing before the half hour was up. She would walk the entire length of the central corridor of Tomb 'V', and do a little 'poke and prod'. Carlos had lent her his 'walking stick' just for this purpose. She started off slowly - one step at a time - poking the sand beneath her feet and tapping exposed sub-structure bricks here and there.
Traps and secrets.
Nohni hadn't made her way through numerous long, forgotten temples for nothing. She had seen just about every sort of trap-door there was. She seriously doubted there were any trap-doors at this sight but you never…
It was all instinct, and it worked perfectly. Her flashlight had gone flying, but Nohni had instantly flipped the walking stick horizontally, and both ends had caught on the edges of the hole she was now dangling inside of. She did a chin-up to bring her head above the lip of the hole. Then she brought her feet up and placed them flat on the side of the hole. Still holding the stick she pushed back until her back contacted the opposite side of the hole. Slowly she arched her back and straightened her legs so that her belly rose up to touch the stick. With feet and back braced against the sides of the hole, she removed the stick, arched her back even more, and placed the stick underneath the small of her back, angling it so that the ends of the stick were once more resting on the edges of the hole. With the support of the stick beneath her, she did a quick roll and was out of the hole and off to the side.
Nohni reached back to retrieve Carlos' precious walking stick that still lay across the hole…
…and came face-to-face with a familiar-looking, yellow-eyed jackal whose head had popped up from the hole and whose arms now rested on the edges of it.
Nohni thought she saw a twinkle in those golden eyes. Then he spoke.
"Awful lot of work for a hole that was only seven feet deep - Daughter of Wepwawet."
In the dark stillness of the First Kingdom necropolis, Nohni looked into the golden eyes of the black jackal, unmoving and unblinking. She felt her heart beating against her ribs. Whether from sheer surprise, or from hopeful anticipation, she did not know. Who was this fur, really? Part of her wanted to abandon reason and embrace the notion that this jackal might actually be her father. Another part wasn't so sure.
"You did not come alone," said the black one, breaking the silence.
No, she hadn't. There were others out there, hiding in the darkness. Others, who would come to her aid if needed. Others, who were cherished friends - friends who would not abandon her.
"No one should ever be alone," Nohni whispered.
The black jackal threw a frowning look to the east and then to the north.
Nohni understood and nodded. "Yes, I have friends watching." She kept her voice low as she pulled herself into a sitting position. "I do not blindly follow orders. Trust is something that must be earned. However, if you wish us to remain undisturbed by those who watch, I can tell them to stay away."
The black jackal looked at her steadily for almost a minute, then gave a single nod. At this, Nohni reached into a breast pocket and pulled out what looked like a short cigarette lighter. She twisted the top and a tiny, red LED blinked. She replaced it in her breast pocket. "They will stay away now." She lifted her chin and regarded the black jackal. He seemed to be wearing no shirt, but it was impossible to discern any other clothing since his lower torso was still in the hole.
"You are Jeffa Wawet," she stated.
"And were you in this hole waiting for me? Or hiding from me?"
"I was watching you," Jeffa said, simply. "Trap doors work both ways." He reached over to the side of the hole and lifted up one of the leaves of the trap door that had collapsed beneath Nohni when she'd prodded it. He let it fall again. "As you say, trust is something that must be earned." He turned back to her. "Unlike you, however, I have no friends watching over me here. Were you to command your friends to attack, I would have few options."
Nohni regarded Jeffa. Despite his words, she was sure a 'spy' such as he would have options. "And do you believe I might have reason to give such a command?"
Jeffa was out of the hole so quickly, he nearly caught Nohni off guard.
She instantly sprang from a sitting position to a defensive crouch, spinning around to face him. The two of them eyed each other like wrestlers sizing up the opponent before the first lunge.
"You do not call for help," said Jeffa in a low voice.
"I do not always need it," Nohni answered.
For another minute they faced one another in the darkness, yellow eyes staring into yellow eyes. It was Jeffa who broke the stalemate by suddenly sitting back on his haunches. Now that he was out of the hole, Nohni saw that he was unclothed except for a black loincloth. Unlike herself, he had few places to hide a weapon. Nevertheless, she kept her distance. Paws and feet could be just as deadly as knives and guns. It was Nohni who now broke the silence.
"You have something to tell me, I think?"
Jeffa nodded. "Several things, in fact." He leaned forward slightly. "But nothing is free. I must ask things of you as well."
Nohni felt the hackles at the back of her neck rise, but she didn't allow the irritation to go any further than that. She'd assumed that this was to be an exchange of information. If Jeffa had merely wanted Nohni to know about her past, he could have easily sent a note. She nodded agreement to his terms. Jeffa smiled back. It was not a warm smile, but neither was it cold or calculating. It was merely an acknowledgement of Nohni's willingness to give as well as receive.
"I will go first," Jeffa stated. "The main reason I didn't spring from my hole the moment you walked onto the scene, was that I needed to assess your composure and abilities. I needed to know if you would just stand there waiting for me. Or would you start looking? How would you handle a trap if it was sprung on you? I knew that if we were to have a chance of destroying the Order of Anubis, I needed someone with a good head on their shoulders. Nearly all of the golden jackal females used in the past by the Order for their foul experiments have been young adults with few skills and little real-world experience. After only a few days, most of them thought and acted like the 'cattle' they had become."
Nohni felt her brow furrowing into a frown. She didn't try to hide this from Jeffa who nodded and asked, "I see this information about the Order of Anubis disturbs you. Now I must ask you a question. How much do you know about the Order? I'm afraid I had little time to give details when we last met."
Nohni explained what Dr. Feffa had shown them about the Order, but was careful not to mention his name.
Jeffa nodded and looked back at her. "I'm glad you know this. It means I need not take the time to explain it. I've known for a long time that our present government has been keeping watch on the Order of Anubis. They do so out of fear. Fear that the Order will one day try to overthrow them."
"And this is not a legitimate fear?" asked Nohni, who had noticed the matter-of-fact way Jeffa had revealed this information.
"Revolution is certainly one of the things the Order is trying to achieve, but that is not where the true danger lies!"
Nohni could see the fervor in Jeffa's eyes. She slowly shook her head remembering what he had said to her back at Borg El Arab Airport. "But you are more concerned about the arcane ramifications - the fact that Horus will once again walk the earth and prevent Set from keeping the Sun in the sky." She did not try to hide her skepticism.
"Yes. That is my true concern even if you do not wish to believe in it." He held up a paw to forestall her trying to justify her disbelief. "It does not matter if you believe or not. The simple fact that you despise the Order and want to see it destroyed will achieve both ends - mine and my government's."
Nohni cocked her head and frowned. "Your ends? Don't you mean your Order's ends? The Order of Abydos as you call it?"
Jeffa stared for a moment then dropped his head. "Yes." he whispered. "Those were the Order's ends - the Order of Abydos."
"Were?" Nohni noted the past tense of the verb. Had Jeffa let something slip he hadn't intended to? "What has changed?" she demanded. Nohni saw Jeffa take several deep breaths as if to calm himself. When he finally spoke, his voice was devoid of any emotion, but very soft.
"There were five of us to begin with," he whispered. "The other four… died."
Nohni saw Jeffa tremble in a wave from the tips of his pointed, black ears down to his clawed, black toes. He shook his head slightly - not as if he was denying the horror of what he'd just said, but rather like he was trying to clear his head. Then he raised his eyes to hers. They seemed to glisten.
"Two of them were your parents."
Nohni stared at Jeffa and felt herself tremble as well. His voice seemed to be coming from far away, and it was not part of what she was seeing with her mind's eye. She saw instead, a golden female and a large black male jackal, but now they were not alone. There was another even bigger black jackal, and next to him stood another male and female pair, but this last pair was grey. She blinked several times and the vision was gone. All that remained was Jeffa and his eyes. Not glowing like hers had been, but easy to see nonetheless in his coal-black face.
"Tell me what happened," Nohni heard herself say.
The black jackal nodded. "It begins with your grand-mother - a True Pale-Eye Gold Female, and thus, a True Daughter of Kabechet. She was called Tada. She was found by the Order of Anubis in Wadi Halfa in the Sudan fifty-five years ago."
"My grandmother," Nohni said, now shifting all her attention to the words she so wanted to hear.
"The True Pale-Eye," continued Jeffa, "which the Order has dubbed the GgB Female, can always be distinguished from the vastly more common Double Pale-Eye, or GgGg Female, because True Pale Eyes have irises that are slightly bio-luminescent, whereas the Double Pale Eyes have no luminescence at all. This was how the Order found True Daughters of Kabechet amongst the general population of golden jackals."
"How did they test for it?" asked Nohni, trying to control the emotions that were pouring through her. "Somehow, I can't see them dragging young jackal femmes into a dark corner and squirting Kohl into their eyes to see if they glowed."
Jeffa shook his head. "No. They didn't. Mostly it was rumor and gossip. The Order has operatives in Wadi Halfa and other towns in Egypt and Sudan with sizable golden jackal populations. They simply listened for any talk about particularly beautiful golden jackal femmes. Since eyes are a major consideration in determining appearance and its desirability, they simply let the rumor mill do their work for them."
"But definitions of beauty change all the time," protested Nohni. "Why would the Order use that as a way of narrowing the field of candidates?"
"In many aspects, the definition of beauty does change," answered Jeffa, "but for golden jackals, the eyes have always been a constant - the brighter the golden eye, the more glorious the beauty."
Not having lived in a sizable community of golden jackals, Nohni couldn't dispute this.
Jeffa continued. "Only when a likely femme was found in this manner did the Order act. Usually they just sent the femme a gift consisting of a small pot of Kohl eye-makeup along with an encouraging note. Invariably, the femme would use the makeup, and it became a simple matter of observing the effects." He pointed to Nohni. "You are unusual in that you only used it on your right eye. It's still glowing a little."
"You learned that little 'leave the makeup pot' trick from the Order, then," Nohni mumbled. She had a feeling Jeffa was grinning at her from behind that neutral expression of his. "So the Order finally found my grandmother. Go on."
"Like all the other True Pale-Eyes they had acquired, Tada was cloistered…"
"Kept prisoner," interjected Nohni.
Jeffa nodded. "She was kept prisoner and was eventually subjected to the Osiris ordeal that all of her kind were put through."
Nohni felt her fists clenching. This was something else she 'owed' the Order.
"She conceived," Jeffa continued, "but Tada was never an ideal candidate. She was a feisty one and hated her captors. Hardly a week passed without her trying to escape."
"Good for her," Nohni said with a satisfied grin.
Jeffa smiled back faintly. "Yes, she was never the cooperative one, but the Order could not punish her too badly for fear of causing harm to the unborn pup or pups, so she continued to try. They learned later in her pregnancy that she carried twins, which was typical. Then, when she was only weeks away from giving birth to the twins, her escape attempt succeeded."
"Yes!" cried Nohni. She quickly put a paw to her muzzle. She hadn't meant to speak so loudly. She also noticed that this turn of events did not seem to please Jeffa. "What happened?"
"She held her own unborn pups hostage."
Nohni frowned. "Say that again? How could she…" But Nohni stopped, a sickening feeling growing in the pit of her stomach. "She threatened suicide?"
Jeffa nodded. His eyes had grown cold. "They let her go, but not until she had shown them how serious she was about wanting to leave. No one outside saw what happened and none in the Order talk about the incident now, so some of this is speculation on my part, but I believe she had to stab herself at least once before they let her go. They followed her too. At least until she made it to the Nile. Tada was eventually listed in their records as dead, and the pups gone."
Nohni nodded. She was remembering the birth record document Dr. Feffa had shown her. "There was also one unobserved premature twin birth where the two pups did not survive." She looked to Jeffa and gave him a knowing look. "But the pups did survive. Didn't they."
Jeffa nodded. "My aunt told me that my brother and I were found by a farmer. He found us lying beside our mother in a reed bed on the shore of the Nile. Evidently the trauma she'd inflicted upon herself caused the premature birth."
Nohni was staring wide-eyed at Jeffa now. "You're my uncle?"
Jeffa nodded, but seemed oddly subdued. Nohni assumed that revealing his relationship to her would be a cause for happiness, but then she remembered the grim nature of his story.
"Our mother only lived long enough to tell the farmer where her sister - my aunt - lived in Wadi Halfa and to warn them about the Order. I owe that farmer my life, because even as his wife bore the two of us away to their hovel inland, someone from the Order of Anubis appeared looking for Tada. They found her dead and obviously without the pups. The farmer must have done a good job convincing them Tada's body was all he had found, because they took the body away and never came back."
"So you and my father were raised by your aunt and uncle in Wadi Halfa?"
Jeffa nodded again. "We were told about our mother's death and how it was with her and the Order when we reached the age of sixteen. It was then that Jofra - that was your father's name - that Jofra and I swore vengeance upon the Order of Anubis. We called ourselves the Order of Abydos after the Scales of Abydos - the Scales that meted out final justice to all mortals. We would find others of like mind to join us, and we would infiltrate the Order of Anubis. We would then bring it crashing down around their putrid, pointy, ears." Jeffa picked up a stone and tossed it away. He looked at it skitter across the dark sand and shook his head. "We were young and had no idea what we were getting ourselves into."
Nohni could picture Jeffa as a wiry, determined teenager willing to take on impossible odds. But then something struck her as odd. "Jeffa? How could you even think about infiltrating an organization of black jackals if the two of you were grey jackals? Did you dye your fur right from the start?"
Jeffa looked up. "But both of us were not grey jackals. My brother, Jofra was the grey one." Jeffa looked down at himself and ran a paw through the fur on the opposite arm. "I told you I needed to dye my fur to fit in with the Order of Anubis, but it was not to make myself darker. It was to make myself slightly lighter. Yes. My brother was a True Grey, the BGi Wepwawet Grey as the Order called it, but I was the Black one. And not just a very dark grey like those so-called Black Anubis curs. I was True Black - dark as midnight - black as the very bowels of hell."
Nohni noted the vehemence with which Jeffa described himself. She was also recalling the Order of Anubis birth report, and the kinds of color combinations that could come from a True Pale-Eye Gold female mating with the false penis of Osiris. She raised a paw pointing at Jeffa. "You're a True BB black jackal! One of the kinds of pups the Order kills at birth!" She lowered her paw and looked down at it. "A True BB Black jackal - just like the god Osiris," she continued softly. "A BB Black just like the goddess Nephthys… and like Anubis, the son she had by Osiris." Her eyes widened as she looked back up at Jeffa. "A BB Black just like…just like…"
Jeffa raised his eyes to hers and this time there was no mistaking the glow in them. His teeth gleamed white against his coal-black face as his mouth split into a grin - a grin of pure malice.
"Just… like… Set."
Stories, Tales and Legends
They fascinated Nohni as much as they repelled. There was evil there - and long suffering. Pride and pain. Victim and vanquisher. Vast strength and monumental weakness. Nohni blinked. Her throat felt dry and she licked her lips.
Then Jeffa looked away and the spell broke. "Yes. The Order of Anubis killed all True Black pups," he spat. "They were obsessed with their Golden Horus as the true symbol of ancient Egypt's power. They wanted that power!" Jeffa turned his fiercely burning eyes back on Nohni and leaned foreword. But he wasn't looking at her. His eyes were seeing something else. "They had no respect for the true gods of this land! Of the four children of Ra, only Isis was a Gold! The rest were True Blacks!" His lips curled into a snarl. "And Set was the darkest of them all."
Nohni drew back as she felt the hairs on her neck rising again. She could recognize fanaticism when she saw it, but this was more. This was obsession.
"Jeffa, please calm down." Nohni tried to keep the fear out of her voice. "I am not your enemy."
The black jackal blinked and his snarl slowly slid off his face. He blinked a few more times seemed to finally see Nohni. A haunted look crossed his features before he looked away. "Forgive me. I mustn't burden you with my own personal past. It's hard not to let it overwhelm me at times. What the Order did to us, what we did to ourselves, was… not very nice."
Nohni wondered how someone this volatile could ever pull off being a 'spy' in the very organization he loathed. Then it came to her. "You've never talked about this to anyone before, have you."
Jeffa shook his head. "There was no one else to talk to. Not after…" Jeffa trembled once more. "Not after your parents died." His last words were barely a whisper.
The two of them sat in silence. Nohni was not going to be the one to break it this time even though she yearned to know what had happened to her parents. She would let Jeffa explain in his own way. They had time. They had all night if need be. Finally Jeffa stirred.
"We were young. We knew we had the might of Right on our side. We could not fail, but we were only two teenaged jackals against many. Jofra went to the tribe of grey jackals that lived to the west of Wadi Halfa. We knew they were a closed lot and rarely mixed with furs from the towns or villages, but Jofra thought he could persuade some of them to join us because he was a grey jackal too. To both our surprise, they seemed to welcome Jofra. They seemed to know he was a very special grey jackal - a True Wepwawet Grey they called him. We didn't know at the time what that meant, but Jofra was pleased. Yet no matter what we said, we couldn't persuade any of them to join our cause. They kept saying that theirs was a different path."
Jeffa growled. "They even tried to convince Jofra to join them! He almost did to, but I persuaded him not to. I told him our purpose in life was to avenge our mother and save the others held by the foul Order of Anubis. We weren't even sure at that point why the Order held gold females prisoner. Our mother evidently didn't have time to explain much before she died. But what we did know was enough!"
Jeffa scrubbed at his face and took a few deep breaths. He had been working himself up again and seemed to know that wouldn't help explain anything to Nohni.
"We did manage to convince my aunt and uncle to support us in our quest. They knew we wouldn't be swayed from the course we'd set for ourselves. They wouldn't be active members of our Order. They wouldn't be doing the footwork, but they promised to provide us with the necessities of life - food and shelter - when we needed it so that we could devote all our time to the job we had to do."
Jeffa looked up at Nohni. "So the two had become four. It wasn't much, but the Order of Abydos was growing - yet it was very slow going. We couldn't wait forever, and we knew we needed more information about the Order of Anubis itself, so we began to plan how to infiltrate it. I was the natural one to try first because I was black to begin with. Jofra would join later since he needed to perfect his disguise first."
Jeffa shook his head. "We were so naïve. We thought a little change of fur color was all we needed, but we had no idea how to contact the Order to begin with. We learned later that the Order of Anubis is a layered organization, and the beginning layer is merely a 'recruitment' stage. It was where they screened potential members. It wasn't even called the Order of Anubis. It was called the Acolytes of Anubis, and at first we only joined because it was an organization with the name 'Anubis' in it and it was centered near Abydos. We were getting nowhere and were desperate for any leads. The Acolytes seemed a likely group to have some chance of having contacts with the real Order. On the surface, the Acolytes are just a fraternal organization that does community service in various towns around Egypt and you don't even need to be a black jackal to join. I even think the organizers of the Acolytes don't know that they are a recruitment stage for the real Order. In any case, those Acolytes who were black jackals and who displayed a true devotion to the ancient gods of Egypt were the ones who were finally approached by the real Order."
Jeffa shook his head and frowned. "It took four years in the Acolytes to finally be contacted. Jofra had nearly forgotten what he looked like as a grey jackal. He was also losing faith in our mission. He was starting to think like the Acolytes - that doing community service was the way to change things. I had to constantly remind him of why we were really there."
Nohni noted the disgust in Jeffa's voice and wondered if it was aimed at the Acolytes, or his brother. Nohni knew how friends can painfully disagree from time to time.
"But we eventually made it into the Order proper," continued Jeffa. "That's when we saw the real horror of what the Order was doing." Jeffa's expression was becoming fierce, and he stopped for a moment. When he began again, his voice was cold. "We were not allowed to actively participate in any of the mating rituals or the aftermath. That was for the core members of the Order only. But we saw the results." Jeffa stopped again, his fists clenching. "I was on burial duty more than once."
Nohni closed her eyes and tried not to think of what Jeffa had seen - what he'd been forced to do, but a hate-filled growl snapped her attention back to him. Saliva dripped from his clenched jaws, and his hard yellow eyes were looking through Nohni again.
"I knew we had to destroy this abomination," he hissed. "We needed to crush the life from each and every member, and we needed to do it as soon as we were able to, but…but…"
Jeffa grabbed his head and moaned, rocking back and forth. Nohni was about to reach out a comforting paw when his arms shot back down to his side. "DAMN YOU JOFRA! WHY???" Jeffa rolled onto his side and pounded the ground. "Why did you have to do it THEN? You could have waited! I know you could! You could have waited until we did what we came to do!"
Nohni wasn't sure what Jeffa was shouting about, but it was causing him great pain. The black jackal rolled onto his back and took great gulping breaths of air. Tear streaks were glistening on his muzzle.
"Jeffa?" Nohni wasn't sure what to do, and whether she could do anything at all for the distressed black jackal in front of her. Suddenly, Jeffa went still, and Nohni became alarmed until she saw that he was still breathing. "Jeffa?" she repeated.
He turned his eyes to her and she was startled to see the glow in them. Slowly Jeffa sat back up. Then he spoke in a voice gone strangely calm and quiet. "I'm sorry Nohni. I…I didn't mean to upset you. It's just that my brother - your father - did something foolish. Something that jeopardized everything we were doing."
Nohni leaned forward. She wanted to catch every word, now that they were being spoken so softly. "What did he do, Jeffa?"
Jeffa stared past Nohni again. "Your father fell in love."
Nohni barely moved, barely breathed.
"He called her Kohnia - 'Beauty' in our dialect from Wadi Halfa," whispered Jeffa. "She was in the cloister area, and Jofra and I had just been promoted to a level where we had access to the mating females. We were part of the 'housekeeping' force in the cloister and our access was very limited. 'Kohnia' wasn't a real name for her. She was just another one of the females kept there, but my brother…"
Nohni saw Jeffa clench his fists. It was clear he didn't approve of what had happened.
"My brother couldn't take his eyes off of her," he hissed. "I tried to dissuade him. I tried to make him listen to reason! We must not break our cover. If that happened, all our plans would be ruined! He even made her a member of our Order of Abydos. It was without her knowledge though, so I never really approved it. I couldn't believe this was happening after all our hard work! The idiot was falling apart before my eyes! "
Nohni thought she saw a flash of anguish in Jeffa's eyes, but it was overwhelmed by a hard anger.
"I suppose it shouldn't have surprised me though," Jeffa continued through gritted teeth. "Kohnia was a grey jackal, just like Jofra. But she wasn't the dull grey of the ones you see from the hills down south. No. It was more silver than grey, and her golden eyes…" Jeffa stopped, then dropped his gaze and shook his head. "There was no way I was going to dissuade him. Gold on Silver, my brother called her. And there were no other jackals in the cloister like her. She was the only grey female jackal ever to be born from one of the Order's unholy experiments."
And Nohni remembered the Order's birth record document.
"One BGi Grey Female - Cloistered and Guarded for study. (Later destroyed to avoid GiGi.)"
So Nohni's mother had been a grey BGi female, and her father had been a grey BGi male. They had both been products of the Order of Anubis mating experiments. And the only golden female issue that could possibly come from such a union was the Golden GiGi 'Isis' female. Not the GGi Sister of Horus variation, but the true Isis form.
Nohni knew this had been a possibility ever since she'd seen the Order of Anubis birth document, but here was final proof.
"What happened to them," Nohni whispered, not seeing Jeffa anymore, but rather a pair of silver grey jackals embracing.
"In a wild escape that almost didn't work," continued Jeffa in a colorless voice, "my brother kidnapped Kohnia, and they made for the hills west of Wadi Halfa. For nearly a year, they hid amongst the grey jackals of the hills - the ones who had considered him so special. It was during that year that you were born."
"But they couldn't hide forever from the Order," Nohni whispered.
"No," was Jeffa's cold response. "The Order found them. The Order…murdered them. But you had already been sent away to my aunt and uncle's for safety. Then, when it became obvious that the Order knew about them too, you were sent out of the country to a place far from home."
Nohni closed her eyes. She didn't know what she felt now. It wasn't grief for parents she never knew. It wasn't despair at losing a life with those parents - for how could life have ever been normal with them? She knew there was anger there - anger at the Order of Anubis, but like Jeffa, it was anger at the abominable things they'd been doing all along. And now the Order of Anubis was looking for her - looking to make her a part of their final experiment to spawn a new god. Nohni opened her eyes and looked into the cold gold eyes of a black jackal bent on vengeance. She realized then that this was what she felt too, but she had one final question.
"The Order of Anubis used Daughters of Kabechet in their mating experiments, but I am the only Daughter I know of with the name 'Sethorus'. Do you know of any others? You told me I was one in a long line."
"I know of no other 'Sethorus' Daughters that exist today," Jeffa answered. "You must understand, the 'Line of Sethorus' it is not a direct lineage. Sethorus Daughters have appeared spontaneously from time to time. They are the brightest of the Golden Yellow-Eyes."
Nohni pointed south. "It was the grey jackals of the hills west of Wadi Halfa that gave me that name, right? They are the ones who determine who a Sethorus Daughter is."
Jeffa nodded. "And it's why you have the Ankh. The Order of Anubis has never named the Daughters they acquire 'Sethorus'. They rarely give them the courtesy of a name at all. That's something the Keepers of the Ankh do when they bestow the Ankh upon a particularly special Daughter of Kabechet."
"The Keepers of the Ankh?" asked Nohni.
"It's what the grey tribe of the hills call themselves. They are the Keepers of the Ankh." Jeffa leaned forward. "They are also the Guardians of the Halls of Thoth."
Nohni peered closely at Jeffa. He was throwing out names she'd never known to be associated with the Doctor's dig or the nearby tribe, but her speculation circuit was running in overdrive. The tribe of grey jackals that had watched Doctor Slattery's dig lived in the hills west of Wadi Halfa. They had called her Sethorus when shown the picture of her with her Ankh. Nohni didn't know how many separate tribes occupied those hills, but it couldn’t be many. All the evidence pointed to it. This particular tribe had to be these 'Keepers of the Ankh' that Jeffa was referring to.
And if that was true, they were also the Guardians of the Halls of Thoth. Nohni looked south in the direction of Doctor Slattery's dig. He'd called his dig site 'Wadi Wepwawet', but maybe it had another name? An older name? And maybe the local jackals were there to guard it?
The Halls of Thoth.
Nohni's mind was being filled with details she hadn't thought about much since her Doctorate days. She'd already hashed over one thing. According to the Osiris legend, Thoth was the Egyptian god that collaborated with Isis in making the fake penis for Osiris so that Isis could conceive and bear Horus. Isis was good at healing magic, but Thoth was even more powerful than she. She needed his help and cooperation to bring her husband back from the land of the dead - even for only a little while.
But according to Egyptian mythology, Thoth was a whole lot more than just a really good healer.
He was also an arbitrator between good and evil. He made sure the Scales of Abydos were properly balanced before anyone's heart was weighed upon it. Above all else though, he was a scientist. The Egyptians credited him as the true author of all works of science, religion, philosophy, and magic. He was credited with making the calculations for the establishment of the heavens, stars, Earth and everything in them. Without his words, the Egyptians believed, even the gods themselves would not exist. His power was almost unlimited in the Underworld and rivaled that of Ra and Osiris.
Nohni imaged Doctor Slattery's dig site in her mind's eye. It was a site whose sole purpose seemed to be keeping something away from the mortal world. Nohni recalled something Hazel had said when they were trying to figure out what the site was for. She thought it might be a library.
Thoth was also the Scribe of the Gods - the keeper of the written word - a librarian!
He also wrote books! Powerfully magical books!
And he'd helped Isis craft an artificial penis so that she could have another son. Had he imbued that… thing… with more than just the power to create a god? Nohni looked to the west - to where they had left the…thing… back in Canada. If the Order of Anubis had thought Nohni would mount that cursed object willingly, they were insane!
She was brought out of her reverie by an insistent shake of her arm. She blinked.
It was Jeffa shaking her and the look in his eye was a determined one now.
"We have much work to do, you and I. The Order is much more dangerous now than you know."
"What must I do?" Nohni was mildly surprised by the cold calculation in her voice.
"For starters, you might want to invite your friends to join us," advised Jeffa. "We need to act quickly, and help is welcome. Am I correct in assuming that you now know who has the real penis of Osiris?"
Nohni nodded. "It looks like if anyone has it, it's the Order. I think they want to use it on me in place of the fake one. Better chance of producing a live and kicking baby Horus."
Jeffa nodded. "I was aware of it when they brought it back to their main stronghold." He gestured to the west. "The Order has its main operational center and the Cloister hidden in the desert hills to the west of Abydos. They have other important 'sites' around the area too, but we will discuss those later. Now we must worry about what they will do with their new prize - the real penis of Osiris."
"That's easy enough to figure out. They want me to play with it," grumbled Nohni. She'd pulled the 'cigarette lighter' from her pocket and twisted the top so that the LED glowed green. "Company should be here shortly."
Jeffa looked to the north and nodded. Then his attention was back on Nohni. "Yes I believe they want to use the real penis of Osiris on you, too. But in order to do that, they must reunite it with the rest of his mummy. The Order's normal mating ritual practice in the past has been to place the fake penis on the mummy in the presence of the female to be mated, so I don't think they've tried putting the real penis on Osiris' mummy yet." His eyes flicked toward the Temple of Seti. "Have you explored the Chapel of Sokar at the Temple, yet?"
Nohni shook her head. "One of my friends did. Too many snakes for my liking."
Jeffa raised an eyebrow. "Well, be that as it may, Sokar is obviously one of many funerary deities associated with the afterlife, and he was mostly in charge of destroying the wicked, but Chapels like his often show a variety of scenes from the afterlife. Among his snakes there is an interesting scene of Osiris gripping his own phallus. Do you know what that's supposed to signify according to ancient Egyptian mythology?"
Nohni tried to think. With so much happening, it was impossible to remember everything about ancient Egyptian mythology. After all, the Egyptians had had nearly five thousand years to create those myths. There were a lot of myths. Suddenly her eyes widened. She remembered! "With his body whole, Osiris and everyone in his Kingdom of the Dead will rise again. It's called the Day of Awakening! It's one of the stories in The Book of the Dead. It's supposed to be the End of the World as we know it." She frowned. "You don't seriously think…"
But Jeffa had stood up and now offered Nohni his paw. "You may not believe in the gods Judgment Day or the End of the World, but I think you will agree with me in saying it's about time the Order of Anubis was Judged and sent straight to Hell!"
Nohni grabbed Jeffa's paw and was hoisted to her feet.
Nohni could agree with that Judgment very easily.
Part Five - Brother and Sister
It was dark-time - a time that was usually safe from those who would destroy the little one.
Whiskers quivered at the sound of raised voices, but the odor of decaying flesh was too tempting. Hunger had to be satisfied. Black eyes watched wavering shadows, unnaturally huge, play across the walls of the chamber. Big Ones stood around a guttering brazier set upon a pedestal in the middle of the chamber, but they were not looking this way. Seeing its chance, the little one skittered toward a dark corner where something lay. The Big Ones often left tasty morsels behind. This one smelled like …
Suddenly, a paw shot down, a knife flashed, and blood sprayed across the glyph covered walls. With a pitiful thump, the little one's decapitated head landed at the feet of one of the Big Ones - its jaws and whiskers quivering in a quick death spasm. Then it was still.
"And I say - the best way to kill a monster is to cut off its head!"
Col. Heshafet, Nohni, Raven, Hazel and Carlos stepped back as Jeffa Wawet brandished the headless body of a desert rat - a small rodent that was not much more than a pawful for the black jackal. To the rat's detriment, it had strayed into this meeting - a meeting that wasn't going well for anyone. The six of them had been trying to figure out how to best attack the Order of Anubis, but even after an hour, they hadn't gotten very far.
After Nohni and Jeffa's meeting at the First Kingdom tomb out in the desert, they had all proceeded back to the Temple of Seti. Nohni had wanted to see the Chapel of Sokar herself, and inspect the scene depicting Osiris that Jeffa had referred to. After a quick examination of the Chapel, introductions had started the meeting, and Jeffa had told the others what he knew about the layout of the headquarters of the Order of Anubis, otherwise known as 'The Cradle of Horus'.
"That's what the Order calls the place. The Cradle of Horus - or just 'The Cradle' for short." Jeffa looked disgusted. "It's really just an underground compound - a warren of interconnected tunnels and chambers located beneath the modern-day village of Araba el Madfuna about a mile south of the Abydos archeological site." Jeffa waved a paw in the general direction. "There's a single, continuously guarded main entrance located in the basement of a sympathetic local merchant's house. It's used for all normal comings and goings, but there are also several secret exits, or escape tunnels, that are used in case of an emergency. They exit out of other basements in the town." He looked to Nohni. "It was one of those escape tunnels that your father used to smuggle your mother out of the Cradle."
"Is there a way we could use these escape tunnels to get into the Cradle?" asked Nohni.
Jeffa shook his head. "The escape exits can only be opened from inside the compound. Trying to use them from the outside to gain entry would be impossible. Even if you locate the escape tunnel and dig into it, the tunnel is blocked at both ends by huge blocks of stone. They need to be moved using some sort of control mechanism inside the compound itself."
"So the main entrance is our only means of attacking the place?" asked Col. Heshafet, frowning. He obviously didn't like this restriction.
"Yes," Jeffa answered curtly. "So an attack in force is not an option. Don't even think about it. The second your special forces try to storm the entrance, everyone inside will evacuate the Cradle - everyone except for a rather nasty reception committee."
Jeffa nodded. "Thirty or more guards with automatic weapons, for starters. They can also collapse certain tunnels and chambers, trapping any attacking force that gets inside."
"But you're part of the Order!" protested Hazel. "Why can't you just go inside, open the escape tunnels, and let the Colonel and his forces in that way?"
"It is true, I am part of the Order," Jeffa answered, a little testily, "but I am what they call a 'roaming' operative. I'm not part of the regular Cradle of Horus compound staff. When I'm visiting the Cradle, I'm assigned to a particular section leader. My orders in an evacuation emergency are to find my section leader and stick with him. Only section leaders know how to open the escape tunnels."
"I'm sure a search of the town would allow us to permanently block all escape routes," said Col Heshafet. "Then they are as trapped as we would have been."
Jeffa threw the Colonel a look of contempt then shook his head. "Do you really think the Order would not know immediately if you tried searching house to house? They would be gone before you finished the first block."
Nohni was sure Jeffa had pointed this out because he knew forced searches were a classic Egyptian military maneuver when confronting a terrorist threat. Col. Heshafet's frown at this point confirmed her suspicion. After returning the frown, Jeffa continued with a description of the compound itself.
"The arena-like Inner Mating Sanctum, which houses the mummy of Osiris, is at the very heart of the Cradle. This is where the actual mating ritual takes place. The Sanctum proper has only three Inner Circle Guardians with daggers and ceremonial clubs, but there are other, more deadly, guardians. Stationed outside the circular Inner Sanctum is a contingent of ten Sanctum Guards with automatic weapons. Their job is to let no one into the inner mating sanctum other than the mating subject herself and those of the Inner Circle who will witness the ritual."
"Mating subjects. How romantic," Raven snorted. "So where is this dead Osiris guy's 'harem' housed anyway?" She obviously didn't like the idea of femmes locked up underground for the sole purpose of screwing a corpse.
"The Cloister for the mating subjects and their offspring is in a separate section behind the Inner Sanctum," continued Jeffa, ignoring Raven's sarcasm. "Mating subjects are only kept there when they are in season or if they are actually pregnant. Subjects not in season are kept elsewhere. The Cloister, however, is well guarded in and of itself. It has its own contingent of six female Cloister Guards as well as a separate support staff."
"Was that the support staff you and my father were on when he escaped with my mother?" asked Nohni.
Jeffa stared at her in an odd way and then closed his eyes. His breathing had speeded up. Nohni thought for a moment he might repeat the scene he'd caused earlier when he'd recounted her parent's escape to her out at the tombs. However, he merely gave himself a little shake and continued.
"The front section of the compound between the main entrance and the Inner Sanctum houses the Inner Circle jackals and their support staff, including thirty or so guards with automatic weapons. It is these guards that could easily keep a large infiltrating force at bay because there is no way a large force can move effectively through the jumble of tunnels and chambers there - not when the guards can seal off whole sections."
"I think a map might be in order at this time," said Col. Heshafet, pulling an oversized sheet of tough paper and a pen from a side pocket. "No matter how we attack this problem, we need to know what the layout is." He gave Jeffa a sour look as if the black jackal should have already had a map ready for them.
Within twenty minutes, and with much questioning and correcting, Jeffa had sketched out a rough map of what they would face. Jeffa then described in detail how a small group would do better than a large force because they could evade detection from the main contingent of compound guards in the front area of the compound. He traced out several different routes through the tunnels, and Nohni had to admit that the Cradle was more complex than most of the underground tombs she'd seen.
"And finally, no matter which route we take, we will encounter the always-unpleasant Sanctum Guards," Jeffa finished. "That could be a problem because they are in a well lit and fairly open area surrounding the Inner Sanctum." He pointed to the corresponding area on his map. "Being a 'lowly' roaming operative, I have no authorization to access the Inner Sanctum, so any attempt to do so will start a fight with the Sanctum Guards, which could easily alert the others in the compound, triggering an automatic 'seal off' and 'escape' routine."
Col. Heshafet was shaking his head and looking even more irritated. He tapped the map over the Inner Sanctum. "But why under the suns are we bothering to access the Inner sanctum at all? Why start a stupid fight when you don't need to!"
Jeffa stared for only a moment before narrowing his eyes and growling. "Are all of Egypt's 'Finest' as dumb as you are?"
Col. Heshafet instantly bristled at this remark. "Are you saying you know for a fact that the Inner Circle jackals will be in the Inner Sanctum when we arrive?"
"Of course they won't be!" shouted Jeffa. "Didn't I just tell you they normally reside in the chambers closer to the main entrance?" He jabbed a claw at another spot on the map. "Try cleaning the ear mites out of your ears for once, stupid dog!"
Col. Heshefat was snarling now. "So, Mister nearly useless Lowly Roaming Operative, you are saying no one of importance will be in the Inner Sanctum unless a mating ritual is in progress?"
Jeffa gave a derisive bark of laughter. "By the suns, I think he's got it. We'd better hope there's no mating ritual in progress. That would mean they are trying to use the real penis of Osiris on someone other than Nohni! That would be bad enough, but it would also guarantee no access to the Inner Sanctum!"
"Then if no one is in there, why are we bothering with the Inner Sanctum at all, you moron!" yelled the Colonel in exasperation. "This operation isn't a damned site-seeing tour! The Inner Sanctum is NOT what we should be going after! It contains a smelly, old mummy and three jackals with knives and really OLD costumes! We're here to take out the Order of Anubis, which means we need to get at the important furs - the Inner Circle jackals in the forward part of the compound! Or has your pea-brain forgotten about them already?"
It was at this point that Jeffa had made a mess of the poor desert rat.
Jeffa still held both the headless rat, and the knife that had done the deed. Nohni had not seen from where Jeffa had pulled his knife, but Col. Jabari Heshafet's MP5 was instantly in his paw and pointed at the black jackal. She quickly stepped between the two of them. "TIME OUT!" she yelled pushing them apart. "Save it for the Order of Anubis!" Nohni gave both jackals a quelling look. Jeffa returned Nohni's look before tossing the small body into a corner and slipping his knife into what Nohni now recognized as an under-tail sheath.
Col. Heshafet lowered his weapon as well but was not mollified. "I'm sorry, but I won't agree to an operation of any sort based solely on information provided by this…this unproven informant! Especially since he seems to have his own private agenda! If I am to do anything, I will need time to corroborate this information!"
"We do not have the luxury of time!" spat Jaffa, crossing his arms and looking defiant. "You say you want to end the threat the Order of Anubis poses to Egypt, but my plan is the only course of action that will guarantee the End of the Order! To hell with the Inner Circle jackals! We must destroy the mummy of Osiris in the Inner Sanctum! Without the mummy, the Order will crumble because it will have lost its very reason to exist! I thought this was obvious! Apparently, I was wrong!" Jeffa threw up his arms and turned away in disgust. "I am beginning to think that Nohni and I should have proceeded without your help or blessing!"
"What's this 'Nohni and I' crap, black boy?" hissed Raven, stepping up to Jeffa, spinning him around, and grabbing a fistful of black chest fur. Much to his surprise, she lifted him clean off the floor and pulled him to within an inch of her nose. "If you think you're leaving me out of this, you might find yourself in worse shape than that poor rat you just tossed away."
"Raven, put him down." Nohni was beside her friend, with her paw on the big blue wolf's arm. She could feel the hardness there, the muscles clenched in a powerful grip. "Put him down, please?"
Raven dropped Jeffa and turned to Nohni. "He may be your uncle, but that does not automatically make him your friend. Or mine."
Jeffa was rubbing his chest and looking sour. Col. Heshafet was looking angry and dubious at the same time. Raven was frowning and Hazel looked none-to-pleased either. Only Carlos seemed to be at ease. Nohni turned to him. "Any thoughts Carlos?" She noticed he was fingering his eemot sack again. He looked up startled, and dropped his paw to his side.
"I teenk we need sleep," he said quietly. "Thees ees an important theeng we do - planning how best to fight the enemy. I don't theenk we should take eet lightly."
Nohni scrubbed at her face and nodded. Until Carlos had said it, she hadn't realized how tired she truly was. She looked up at Col. Heshafet. "I think Carlos is right. We aren't thinking our best right now. Any suggestions for sleeping quarters? Asyut is nearly forty miles away, and that would delay our bedtime by at least an hour. I'd also prefer to be closer to the action."
Col. Heshafet took a deep breath and nodded. "We can sleep at the Abydos Antiquities Site Headquarters just north of the First Kingdom tomb area. You know - the place you first suggested Raven and Hazel use as a lookout point when we were waiting for Jeffa. They always have extra beds for visiting archeologists and dignitaries. Since we have their permission to be on site after hours, we can use their facilities."
"Perhaps you could also have someone bring the rest of our stuff down here from the hotel in Asyut?" asked Hazel. "I'm sure the Abydos Antiquities Site Headquarters has soap and running water, but it may not carry some of the other things we femmes consider to be necessities."
The Colonel nodded, pulling a cell phone from another side pocket and punching in a few numbers. As he passed on the request to what was undoubtedly a colleague stationed in Asyut, the six of them left the Temple of Seti for the walk over to the Abydos Site Headquarters.
"I must leave you again, niece," whispered Jeffa to Nohni. "I am expected elsewhere by those we both hate, and I must not rouse their suspicions." He touched Nohni lightly on her shoulder. "But I will see you soon." He turned and walked a few paces before turning back to her. "Until tomorrow, Daughter of the gods."
Nohni watched Jeffa Wawet go until he disappeared into the sands to the south. She knew he would be going back to the 'Cradle' - perhaps to get more information for them. Perhaps just to sleep. She remembered their first meeting at Borg el Arab Airport and the excitement she'd felt then. She tried to revive that sense of wonder, but something had changed. She wasn't sure how she felt about him now. He was 'family', but what did that mean? Nohni let her eyes drift upward.
The night was once again the brilliant star-spangled black you could only find in the desert. Nohni looked up into its depths and let her mind drift. She tried to imagine her mother and father and what their short year together had been like among the grey jackals of the hills. Had they looked up into a night sky such as this and wondered what the future held for them? Might they have fallen asleep in each other's arms in the cool of the desert night - two spots of silver upon the vast blanket of tan that was the Sahara?
As she continued to walk, Nohni dropped her gaze to the mounds of sand and brick around her. This was all that was left of the kings of long ago. She closed her eyes and wiped away a tear. Her parents were history now, but she doubted they had anything to mark their graves. No temples erected in their name. No stelae to ease their passage into the netherworld. She was their only legacy now - a golden female jackal with glowing god's eyes.
Like, yet unlike.
Not the fearsome yellow eyes that made her cringe.
Yellow Eyes in a loving silver face. A Mother's smiling face.
Nohni opened her own eyes again. Yes. Things would work out. The Abydos Site Headquarters was just ahead, and Nohni found that she was looking forward to the possibility of finally getting a good night's sleep.
It was too bad she wouldn't get it.
Into the Cradle
Six black jackals - the Inner Circle of Anubis - surrounded her. "You do not speak. You are either very stubborn or very foolish," said the tallest one, his voice low and even.
"And you are scum," Nohni thought, still not giving voice to her thoughts. Instead, she silently stared back at her captors - her yellow eyes as devoid of emotion as a statue's. These vermin could threaten her, force her to stand before them in nothing but her fur, but they would not hurt her or make her beg. For the moment she would remain mute, and they could do little about it. After all, she was their prize – their future – their mother goddess.
Their silent enigma.
It had all happened very suddenly. One moment Nohni had been peacefully asleep in the Abydos Site Headquarters, and the next, she'd found herself trussed up naked, blindfolded, gagged, and borne away south on the shoulders of six black jackals. Even as her mind had cleared itself of sleep, she knew what this must be.
The Order of Anubis had discovered that she was at Abydos, and they'd come to take possession of her. She did not struggle, nor did she protest in any way. The Order of Anubis was, after all, one of the reasons she had come to Abydos. Getting into their lair had been the main point of their evening's discussion at the Temple of Seti. This was as good a way as any, and it saved her the trouble of forbidding Raven and Hazel to join in the mission.
She'd dreaded that eventuality. They hadn't gotten to that point in their previous planning session, but she knew that at some point she would have to put her foot down and refuse to allow her two friends to put themselves in danger. All in all, it was better this way.
She did find it slightly amusing to compare her first reception by the Order to this one. At Borg el Arab Airport, she'd had an honor guard of ten. Now she had six body 'bearers'. She also wondered if Jeffa had had anything to do with this abduction. Was this his way of leaving the others behind so that he and Nohni could get on with the destruction of the Order themselves? She had thought she would find out when they arrived at the Cradle.
But Jeffa had not been among the jackals who had abducted her, nor was he among the jackals she now faced. But then, they had identified themselves as 'The Inner Circle of The Order of Anubis', and Jeffa had expressly stated that he was not a part of this preeminent group.
The tallest one called himself Memhet. His five subordinates remained nameless, as did the three female Cloister guards. The Cloister area was where Nohni was now - or so she assumed. They had released her from her bonds and blindfold only after a long and winding trek through what had to have been the main area of the Cradle compound. Nohni could remember the turns they had taken, but that would only help her if she needed to escape back through the main entrance - which seemed an unlikely option at the moment. Her immediate surroundings were of more concern to her.
This room was bigger than the hotel suite she'd had back in Alexandria. It was also more sumptuous. Beautiful woven rugs covered every inch of the floor, and colorful tapestries draped the walls. Illumination came from bright brass oil lamps hanging from golden chains. Low settees and cushions littered the floor in two corners and along two walls. A black velvet winged armchair and reading lamp filled another corner. There was an open archway in one wall that led to what looked like the bedroom, and an archway on the opposite wall that led to a combination pool and hygiene area. A long, silver spindle-legged side table along another wall was laden with trays of fruit and several covered dishes that steamed like casseroles. Several silver pitchers were accompanied by delicate crystal glasses.
It was obvious the Order wanted whoever lived here to be comfortable.
Memhet made a small gesture, and one of the Cloister guards stepped forward - a tiny pot held in her outstretched paw.
Nohni eyed the guard noting her stance, her height, the placement of weapons on and about her body. Slowly, she dropped her gaze to the tiny pot of eye makeup. It was being held out to her at just above waist level. She reached out a paw and took the pot. Then, slowly and delicately - without the use of a mirror - she applied the black substance to her upper and lower eyelids in the traditional Egyptian 'Eye of Ra' makeup pattern. She blinked a few times to ensure that some of it got into her eyes because she knew this was a test for the required bioluminescence of her eyes. When she was finished, she held the pot out in front of her - at just above waist level - and the female guard reached for it.
In a blur of flashing fur, Nohni's right foot swung around in a perfect savate fouetté kick that connected with the side of the guard's head. Nohni let some of her momentum spin her around further and the pot of Kohl was instantly speeding from her paw toward the second guard. Nohni heard it hit the second guard's muzzle with a crack as her follow-through lunge and chest punch knocked the third guard into two of the black males. She completed her spin, dropping to the floor and snatching the belt knife from the first guard who had collapsed. In the next instant the point of that knife was against the throat of a startled Memhet. Nohni had pulled him to her by the front of his fancily embroidered tunic. She then opened her now brilliantly glowing eyes as wide as they would go and let the anger that had been smoldering unnoticed behind them explode forth.
"Foolish am I?" she shouted, glaring pitilessly at the black jackal. "Your discourtesy displeases me, worm! If you value your ka, do not insult the goddess Isis!"
Memhet's eyes were now nearly as wide as Nohni's for she had spoken these words not in English, Arabic, or Modern Egyptian - or even in the older Coptic or Middle Egyptian. She had spoken them in Ancient Egyptian - the language spoken during the First Kingdom nearly five thousand years ago, and now known only to a chosen few and to the gods themselves.
"And to certain Egyptologists," Nohni thought with a mental grin. If these vermin were interested in procuring an Egyptian 'god' for their cause, she was going to give them one.
The distinctive clicking noise of an SMG bolt chambering a round came from behind her, and it told Nohni that at least one of the guards had not gone down permanently. Memhet's eyes flicked over her right shoulder. Nohni dropped backward instantly, pulling her knees up as she dropped and pulling Memhet down on top of her bent legs. Her back hit the floor just as a hard kick from her legs sent the black jackal flying back behind her and into the guard. She used her extended legs to spin her around on her shoulders, break-dance style, and she popped into a crouch facing Memhet and the guard who were both flat on the ground. A quick punch to the jaw rendered this last guard as unconscious as the other two, and Nohni straddled the prone Memhet. Once more, she was holding a knife to his throat. This time, however, she added an evil, toothy grin to her 'mad-eyed' expression and brought the knife up to the side of Memhet's muzzle. A tiny flick of the knife sliced off several of his black whiskers, as Nohni ran her tongue along her sharp teeth. She giggled - but it was not a pleasant, or even a sane, sound.
Sitting straight up and maintaining eye contact with Memhet, Nohni pulled her crotch nearly up to his face and began rubbing it over his chest. "Ooooo. I sense the presence of my husband, Osiris," she cooed - again in Ancient Egyptian. "He is here, somewhere in this place, and we have not bedded one another in a very long time." Nohni's free paw reached behind her and gave Memhet's 'privates' a hard squeeze.
Suddenly, she sprang to her feet and her knife was flying through the air. It embedded itself in what had to be the closed wooden entry door to these quarters. One of the other five black jackals had been inching toward it as if to escape or call for help. He stopped dead, the quivering knife only inches from his muzzle. Nohni sauntered over to the door and pulled the knife from it with a nonchalant yank, glaring wickedly at the black jackal who backed off instantly. She then turned back to the room at large.
"I wish to see Jeffa Wawet," she announced imperiously, keeping to her Ancient Egyptian vernacular. She thought it best to maintain the illusion of 'godliness' as long as she could. "Jeffa has shown me courtesy! He has shown me the respect Isis deserves!" She pointed her knife at the jackal who had been inching toward the door. "Call for him. NOW!"
The black jackal looked nervously to his leader, who nodded. Then he cautiously approached the door, making sure to keep his eyes on Nohni's knife all the while. His paw slipped to the door latch, undid it, and pushed the door open a crack. "Jeffa Wawet to Cloister chamber One, immediately!" he hissed to someone just outside. He hastily closed the door and stepped away from Nohni, still eying her knife.
Nohni smiled languidly at him for a moment. Then she turned and slipped gracefully over to the spindle-legged table with the food. Tail high so all in the room could see her 'assets', she bent over the carefully arranged array of fruit and ran a paw sensuously over an over-ripe honeydew melon. She glanced back at Memhet and licked her lips. With a flash of silver, she plunged her knife into the melon with a juicy 'thunk', and split it in half. Another flash of her knife sliced off a perfect crescent of the pale green fruit, which she brought to her lips. She made a show of sucking at the juicy green flesh, letting the liquid dribble down her chin.
All in all, Nohni's 'show' was having the desired effect. Nobody was moving. They certainly weren't blinking. Tossing the melon rind aside, she approached Memhet, who had managed to get to his feet again, but had done nothing else other than stare at her. Nohni walked right up to him until the tips of her breasts just touched his tunic and her nose was nearly touching his. She let him gaze into her glowing eyes for a full ten seconds before she spoke.
"Why do you wish for my son's return? What can Horus do in a world devoid of respect for the Old Ways?"
Memhet licked his lips once, but then his expression became hard. "We would respect him for who he is." Memhet was also speaking in Ancient Egyptian. "He was the Wisdom of the Pharaohs. He was the Counsel and Guide no leader could ignore. He was the whisperer of Truth in the ears of the Mighty."
"Then you do not wish my son to be a leader?" asked Nohni, her expression becoming as hard and unyielding as Memhet's. "You wish him to be a mere Advisor? To whom? To you?" Nohni bared her teeth and pushed her breasts deeper into his chest. "Is that why you do not revere my other son, Wepwawet?" she growled. "Do you despise his role as 'Opener of the Ways'? Do you revile him because he, like Sekhmet, used to ride before the Pharaoh's chariot and slay his enemies?"
Nohni was positively glowering at Memhet now, and he looked alarmed again. "You say you would revere Horus yet you call yourselves the Order of Anubis!" Nohni was shouting now and nearly foaming at the mouth. "Anubis! Bastard son of my husband and my sister Nephthys! Anubis - who usurped Wepwawet's role as Keeper of the Scales of Abydos!"
Nohni pushed Memhet away from her and began to storm around the room, kicking cushions and growling. She gave one of the unconscious guards a particularly vicious kick before rounding on Memhet once again. "Why? Why! WHY should I give birth to Horus once again when you decry Wepwawet and worship Anubis instead? Why?"
"It is because we need the counsel only Horus can offer," came a different voice. "How else can we know what to truly believe?"
Nohni spun around, and there, standing in the doorway, robed in black, was Jeffa Wawet, his eyes gleaming. And he, like Memhet, had spoken in Ancient Egyptian. Jeffa walked into the room and right up to where Nohni stood. Unlike anyone else, however, he bowed low before her.
"I am but a lowly servant of the Order. Not like these of the Inner Circle. But I do know this much." Jeffa rose up to look Nohni in the face. "We only wish for the wisdom Horus can bestow upon us." He waved a paw around. "The Egypt of old stood strong for three millennia - longer than any other great world power since then. This must be attributed to the wisdom that Horus passed on to the Pharaohs of the day. In these later days, we are but a ghost of what we once were. We know we are the ones who must do the footwork. We mere mortals are the ones who must do the deeds that need to be done to change our world, but we would wish for the strength of our past - the strength that came from the heeding the wisdom of the gods. The Wisdom of Horus."
Nohni looked into Jeffa's golden eyes.
Like, yet unlike.
She could see past Jeffa's respectful expression and sense the great anger that boiled there. He truly hated these jackals of the Order of Anubis, but he gave no outward sign. He was playing his part well. Yet, there was something else behind those eyes. Something she couldn't quite catch hold of - something that slithered, just beyond reach. She gave her head a small shake to clear it and the illusion was gone. All there was now was a black jackal with a gleam in his eye - an eye that flicked toward the door and gave an almost imperceptible wink.
Nohni bowed her head to Jeffa. "Your words, of all of these here, have the ring of truth," she said, raising her head again. "I would wish for you to be at my side for the task that lies ahead."
"The task that lies ahead?" asked Memhet. "What is it that…that Isis wishes to do?"
Nohni turned her head to Memhet and the ghost of a smile crossed her lips.
"I wish to see my husband. I wish to… create a god."
Memhet frowned slightly as he raised the front of his tunic to his nose and sniffed the spot that Nohni had 'coated' with her vaginal scent. "But… forgive me… you do not smell as if you are in season. How…?"
Nohni cut him off with a laugh - a throaty guttural laugh. "Foolish one! I do not need to be in season to conceive! When I mated Osiris' mummy the first time it was my magic that caused me to conceive! Mine combined with the greater magic of Thoth!" She turned fully to Memhet, her paws on her hips and her belly thrust out. "Goddesses do not need to be in season! That is the way of mortals!"
Nohni laid one paw on Jeffa's shoulder beside her. "Now…I will not say this again. I wish to create a god!" She glanced up at Jeffa, and he looked down at her. Slowly, he nodded his head, and at that moment she knew they were of one mind.
And the last thing on that mind was creating a god.
A God's Revenge
"Are you ready to do what must be done?" asked a cool, dark voice.
Nohni rose from the settee at the cosmetics table in her Cloister quarters and turned to face Jeffa Wawet. They had not been able to go to the Inner Sanctum of Osiris immediately after Nohni's demand because Memhet, the head of his Order, had insisted on proper preparation. Both the mating Sanctum itself and the ones who would be using it needed to 'purify' themselves.
The fact was, after her long day and evening at the Temple of Seti, Nohni smelled like a dog.
"I am ready," Nohni said, softly.
After a leisurely bath and perfuming session, Nohni now smelled of sandlewood and Nefertum's River Lotus. Her diaphanous, linen skirt, embroidered with gold thread, fell in crisp pleats from just under her breasts down to her ankles. This was the more traditional garb for Egyptian female nobility - not like the Pharaoh's linen Shendyt 'kilt' she and her friends had worn for their meeting with the Wepwawet jackals. Unlike the traditional Egyptian female garment, however, Nohni's was split up one side from ankle to waist, which gave her much better freedom of movement. The Order made it so because one needed to spread one's legs to 'mount' Osiris. Fortunately for Nohni, it would also facilitate the ability to kick the nuts off of certain individuals who deserved it.
She wore no headdress, but had once again styled her glossy, golden mane to look like the traditional Egyptian Nemes headdress. The gold circlet on her forehead sported a single Wadjet Uraeus, or Striking Isis Cobra. A gleaming gold Sun Disk of Ra decorated her pectoral collar and over that lay Nohni's golden Ankh, suspended from a fine chain around her neck. On her arms, Nohni wore two gold bracelets - both decorated with the bas-relief of a falcon's head, and from each of two slim, silver upper-arm bands hung a large falcon's flight feather. These symbolized the god Horus in his falcon form. Lastly, one in each paw, she held the traditional crook and flail scepters of the Pharaohs, which were thought to represent the tools of the Pharaoh as a divine 'shepherd'. They were not Nohni's paw-held weapons of choice, but as she hefted them she could feel their weight and knew they would do in a pinch.
Nohni walked past Jeffa and out into the main living area of the Cloister chamber. Jeffa followed her. Here, three of the Inner Circle jackals stood waiting for them. These three were to be her 'escort' to the Inner Sanctum along with Jeffa, and their presence had prevented her and Jeffa from making plans except for a few low whispers. She already knew from what Jeffa had told her previously in the Temple of Seti that the Inner Sanctum of Osiris would be occupied by three ceremonial guards with daggers and clubs. It would also be occupied during the ceremony by the six Inner Circle jackals.
That made their fighting odds nine to two. Not ideal odds, but Nohni had gotten out of tougher spots. However, she also was aware that surprise was no longer on her side in a fight. They already knew she could kick butt, so they would not be taken off guard so easily this time. Still, it was unlikely they would be armed like the ceremonial Sanctum Guards.
So it had been decided in whispers that Jeffa would take out the armed guards and Nohni would be responsible for dealing with the Inner Circle jackals as best she could until Jeffa could come to her aid. Since the chamber was soundproof and sealed from the inside during the mating ritual, she and Jeffa did not need to worry about the ten armed guards surrounding the Inner Sanctum chamber. However, these guards would need to be dealt with at some point if Nohni and Jeffa were to have any chance of escaping back through the main entrance of the Cradle itself. Jeffa had merely whispered "leave that to me," and left it at that.
The three Inner Circle jackals in the chamber, all dressed in embroidered tunics, bowed to Nohni and the lead one opened the chamber door and stepped through. Head held high, Nohni followed him into the darkness beyond. Contrary to the Cloister chamber, the passageways beyond were only dimly lit by widely spaced oil torches. The ceilings above the torch brackets were black with years of soot, and the air had the slightly sour smell of burned diesel fuel. Dark side tunnels leading to who knew where branched off from the main passageway. Nohni's party continued on for about two minutes before a lighted archway ahead came into view.
What that archway opened up into was a huge vaulted chamber whose center was dominated by a circular column-fronted edifice cornered by four giant, black obelisks. Whoever had built this place wanted it to look like an ancient Egyptian temple, and there was a resemblance. However, it did not have the look of great age like the ruins of Karnak in Luxor or the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut near the Valley of the Kings. Still, it had to be older than Memhet or any of the other Inner Circle jackals.
"How long has the Order of Anubis actually been around?" Nohni wondered as the five of them crossed the distance to what must be the Inner Sanctum. As they did so, Nohni noted the placement of the armed guards around the outside of the Inner Sanctum. They were spaced evenly at about thirty foot intervals. With ten Outer Sanctum guards that would make the circumference of the Inner sanctum about three hundred feet with its inside diameter about ninety feet if the walls were two and a half feet thick.
An arena, indeed.
A central sarcophagus surrounded on all sides by at least fifteen yards of free space? Bleachers? Viewing stands? Nohni would know soon enough as they had just come up to a set of elaborately carved and painted stone doors flanked by two of the ten outer Sanctum guards. The sonorous peal of a bell sounded from somewhere overhead, and the massive stone doors began to swing forward, ponderously. Nohni noted that it would be very hard to force these doors open from the outside or the inside, but was this the only way to enter the Inner Sanctum? Nohni's experience with tombs and temples all over the world suggested there were probably other ways.
Nohni chanced a glance back to Jeffa who was behind her, but his eyes were downcast as he walked. Nohni looked ahead once more and hoped Jeffa had some plan for getting them out of this place when they were done with what they'd come to do.
If not, it was likely to end up being her tomb.
The party of five crossed the threshold of the Inner Sanctum and Nohni stopped in her tracks. What lay before her was, indeed, an arena. The causeway they were on led down to an altar at the bottom of the arena, which was surrounded by circular stands - an altar upon which lay a golden sarcophagus. This had to be the sarcophagus of Osiris! However, suspended by chains above the sarcophagus was something even more striking. It was the huge golden figure of a kite, a bird sacred to Isis that was similar to a falcon. The kite had outstretched wings and massive talons reaching toward the sarcophagus. Nohni looked closer and noticed that a harness was attached to those talons - a harness that almost looked like a seat.
And Nohni understood.
It was straight out of the Isis/Osiris legend. To bring Osiris back to life so she could mate with him and conceive Horus, Isis had to turn herself into a kite and blow the breath of life back into him with her wings. In this modern manifestation, the mating subject was strapped into the harness and lowered onto the mummy of Osiris, and thus it was that she 'became' Isis as a kite. Nohni blinked. If indeed the mummy of Osiris was in that sarcophagus, then this was as close as the mortal world could get to duplicating the conception of Horus as it was supposed to have happened so long ago.
"We are nearly there," came an almost indistinguishable whisper in Nohni's ear. "It's exactly like I knew it would be."
She glanced sideways at Jeffa, who was facing the altar. Like her, this was his first time inside the Inner Sanctum, but unlike her, he already knew its layout. Anyone who had been in the Order as long as he had would have been told of it, even if they weren't allowed inside. Nohni knew that the only reason he was accompanying her now was because she had insisted upon it. Without him, she would be facing this ordeal alone - a thought that sent a shiver down her spine.
Urged on by a small prod from Jeffa, Nohni began to walk toward the altar of Osiris with slow, steady steps. As she did so, she saw that the three Inner Sanctum Guardians, daggers gleaming, were all positioned around the altar itself. The Inner Circle jackals with the exception of Memhet were taking separate places in the stands around and well back from the altar. Their odds had just dropped to two against four. Good! Their opportunity to strike was nearly upon them!
Just a little closer.
They were at the altar now and Nohni saw, upon a lone pedestal beyond it, a large Canopic Jar.
Osiris' real penis has to be in that Canopic Jar!
Nohni was nearly at the harness beneath the kite! She glanced to Jeffa waiting for him to make his move.
But it was not to strike out at their enemies.
Instead, one paw flashed to a dangling harness strap even as the other one grabbed her arm. Too shocked to react, Nohni found both her paws locked into the harness and herself hoisted up until her feet left the floor.
"JEFFA! YOU BASTARD! YOU…"
But Nohni's protest was cut off as Jeffa gagged her, and real fear flooded Nohni's brain. Memhet's grin confirmed her fears. She had just screamed - in English - and all her protection from posing as a goddess was gone. She twisted around in the air trying to free herself, but Memhet, Jeffa and the three Guardians soon had her trussed into the harness - a harness that obscenely forced her legs apart. Nohni stopped struggling and twisted around to glare hotly at Jeffa. She wanted to be as angry as possible, for her anger was the only thing keeping her from screaming in terror. Tears began to roll down her cheeks. If they forced her to touch that thing… forced her to mate with it - already her vision was blurring with faint images of glowing yellow eyes and coiling snakes. She fought it, unwilling to succumb this time without a supreme fight!
She heard Memhet crow in triumph. "You have done well, Jeffa! The subject is ours and ready to be mated. You are truly an asset to the Order and as such, you are given the honor of retrieving the Canopic Jar so I may place the penis of Osiris upon his mummy!"
Nohni watched as the traitorous Jeffa turned and looked up at her. With a shock she saw what looked like abject terror in his eyes. What the hell? What could that bastard be afraid of?
Unexpectedly, Jeffa's eyes snapped shut and his whole body gave a violent shudder. When his eyes opened again it was as if Nohni were looking into the very pit of Hell. Hot yellow orbs seared her vision, and she gasped and turned away. What had just happened? It was as if Jeffa were two different beings!
A swish of robes caught her attention and she forced herself to look up. What she saw was Jeffa's back as he approached the Canopic Jar. Then he was holding it aloft - as if offering it to the gods. Slowly, he turned back to Memhet, his gaze still fixed upon the Jar. Three slow steps brought him up to Memhet, and Nohni saw the two of them standing together as if frozen. Jeffa looking up at the Jar. Memhet looking at Jeffa.
Then Jeffa lowered his hot, blazing gaze to Memhet, and Nohni heard the older jackal gasp like she had.
With a crash, Jeffa brought the Canopic Jar smashing down on Memhet's head. The old jackal fell like a stone and Nohni caught a flash of gold as Jeffa snatched something from the shards of broken pottery that had fallen on Memhet.
Suddenly, as if a gust of wind had rushed through the Sanctum, all the oil lamps dimmed to a spark. Nohni heard a scream to her left as a dark shape dashed past her. She tried to follow it but the harness limited her movement. Another scream followed by a guttural gasp came from her right, and now there were shouts from the viewing stands. A third scream to her rear told Nohni that the third Sanctum Guardian had fallen to Jeffa.
For it had to be Jeffa!
Nohni would have given a whoop of savage pleasure had she not been gagged at the moment. She might not be able to participate in the slaughter, but she couldn't begrudge Jeffa his rightful revenge. He had suffered at the paws of these vermin for far longer than she had. If he chose to destroy them all himself, so much the better! Nohni also had to compliment Jeffa on his incredible patience. He undoubtedly had many opportunities over the years to kill a single Inner Circle member, but the only time they were ever all in the same place was in this Inner Sanctum. And until he could finally access this place himself, he would never have a chance to finish them off all at once.
More screams from the gallery told Nohni that the slaughter was continuing unabated. When the last scream died away, the oil lamps flared back to life, and Nohni could see a lot of blood and no one standing other than a single figure in black near the closed stone doors. Then Nohni looked closer. The figure wasn't clothed in black. In fact, he wore no clothing at all.
It was Jeffa in naught but his fur - fur splattered with a copious amount of blood. Nohni felt a tiny wisp of fear worm its way into her brain. True, she was glad that he had destroyed those in the Sanctum that would have her mate with a desiccated mummy. She was relieved she would not now have to suffer that humiliation and the possible mental torture that Osiris' real penis might give her - for she'd not ruled out reacting to the real penis the same way she had to the fake one back in Canada. But there had been something very real and frightening in Jeffa's eyes when he'd looked at her before. And there was also something very disturbing in the brutal way he'd killed those in this room, for Nohni now looked around and could see that the bodies strewn around her were not… whole. Rather, it was as if a giant paw had torn them apart.
When Nohni looked back to the door, Jeffa was gone - passed out of her line of sight. A little panicked, Nohni strained against her harness and tried to locate him again. Where was he? She jerked her head around to try looking over her other shoulder and there he suddenly was - right in front of her.
Yellow flashed in her eyes once more - but this flare of color came not from Jeffa's eyes. This flash of gold was much lower down on his body. In fact it was coming from something that protruded from where…from where…
From where Jeffa's own penis should have been!
Nohni stared at the thing but the vision did not fade away. A gleaming gold penis stood out, erect, from where Jeffa's real one should have been.
Instantly, an image of the cursed thing back at the university flashed through Nohni's mind, as well as an obscure recollection from the Osiris/Isis legend.
The thing at the university had looked like mummified flesh!
But the Legend described the fake penis Isis made for her husband as being made of gold!
The thing in the smashed Canopic Jar, the thing that now protruded obscenely from Jeffa's crotch, was NOT the real penis of Osiris, as Jeffa had claimed - as she had assumed! This was the fake one! The One Jeffa falsely said the Order had sent to her!
"I see you finally recognize this golden organ for what it is," rasped Jeffa, his voice almost unrecognizable. His eyes still smoldered and Nohni could not look at them. A mad cackle of laughter assaulted her ears.
"Mortals are so easy to manipulate!" continued the thing that had been Jeffa, but no longer looked like him. Nohni trembled. His paw shot forward and grasped her face harshly, forcing it up to his. "I know what you are thinking. 'What has become of Jeffa. What is this thing who now stands before you in final triumph!'" He squeezed his paw and pain shot through Nohni's face. She could taste blood where a claw had punctured her lip. "You know who I am. You've seen me coiling behind this mortal's eyes. You have dreamed of me in your nightmares."
"Jeffa was weak," he continued, "and I saw my chance! A chance to get revenge against those who had reviled me and stripped me of my rightful place as the true god of mortals!"
He let go of Nohni's jaw only to slam an open paw across her bloody face. Again he laughed, but it mutated into an ugly snarl. He whipped around and slammed both fists down upon the golden sarcophagus on the altar. "Here lies the cursed remains of Osiris!" he screamed. "Husband of Isis, and defiler of Nephthys! Because of him bedding Nephthys, that bastard cur Anubis came into being!" He whirled on Nohni who gasped and snapped her eyes shut. "That black dog is the bastard son of my wife and my brother!"
And Nohni knew who it was that ranted before her - or who he thought he was.
The Egyptian god associated with all things evil.
Husband of Nephthys. Brother and murderer of Osiris.
Again he grasped Nohni by the jaw and wrenched her head around to face him. "You came to Egypt to find out what happened to your pitiful parents," he jeered. "I will tell you what happened to them! It was I who hunted them down and killed them for the Order! Jofra and his stupid infatuation with that Cloister slut nearly ruined my plans for revenge! The Order knew we were brothers and I was nearly executed because of that!" He forced Nohni's head down to look at the golden member protruding from his body. "As it was, they castrated me, and told me the only way I could redeem myself in their eyes was to kill my traitorous brother and his slut!" He jerked Nohni's face up to his again. "And I DID - with the same relish that I destroyed the slime you see around us. And thus I preserved my dream of revenge. Oh yes! I had visions of revenge even back then! I was once again a member in good standing with the Order of Anubis. I would play the faithful servant, and when I eventually made it to the Inner Circle I would FINALLY destroy my putrid brother's corpse ONCE AN FOR ALL TIME!"
He pushed away from Nohni and let out another mad cackle of laughter. "And in the process, I would destroy the only group who had a chance to revive my cursed nephew Horus!" His burning gaze shot back to Nohni. "But there was something I didn't count on. My brother and his silver furred whore had a daughter."
He stalked up to Nohni and thrust a clawed paw right into her crotch. Nohni's scream of pain barely got past her gag.
"A beautiful daughter," he whispered in her ear. "One who was the perfect earthly embodiment of Isis, herself." He spat in Nohni's face. "Isis! Cursed bitch sister of mine, who all of Egypt worshiped because she was oh sooooo good!"
His other paw came up to her throat and began to squeeze. Nohni struggled again, but it was no use. She was trapped, and this monster's hot breath was scorching her face.
"But now I have a glorious dessert to add to my tasty revenge," he murmured. "The Order of Anubis has been be-headed. Horus will never be re-born. Osiris' mummy will soon be nothing but dust."
He wrenched his bloody paw from Nohni's vagina and stroked her face with it before running a tongue over the blooded facial fur. The golden phallus pushed harder against Nohni's belly, and visions of red-rimmed yellow eyes and coiling snakes filled her brain so that she nearly didn't hear the monster's final words.
"Just like my vile brother Osiris, I will now have the ultimate pleasure of raping my brother's wife - the Great Goddess, Isis. And I will do it with the very organ she created to conceive that most hated of abominations - my enemy - Horus."
One cannot touch a god without suffering madness.
"You see it all now, don't you!" hissed Set.
The words, breathed so close to her ear, felt like hot maggots in Nohni's mind. The harness strung between the talons of the giant kite creaked as she struggled to get away from those diseased, slithering words. And the eyes! Even with her own eyes tightly closed, Nohni still saw the ghostly after-images of those cursed, yellow eyes. She tried to vomit the images out, purge them from her mind but the visions and the terrible words continued to bore into her brain - into her soul.
"It was I who sent you Osiris' true malehood so you would touch it, learn to hate it, and leave it behind! It was I who bribed a wretched, mortal guard at the Halls of Thoth where your pathetic friends were scratching in the sand. The guard told me when the stupid Grey Ones gave the Jar to the old badger, and it was I who killed them all and took the true penis from them!"
Nohni felt hot tears escaping from her tightly shut eyes. Doctor Slattery had died at the paws of this monster. Had he tortured the doctor before the end?
"LOOK AT ME!" screamed Set. The paw not choking her wrenched her face up to his. "I want to see the look in your eyes when I do it!"
Nohni's eyes snapped open against her will, and the yellow eyes before her felt like hot daggers in her brain. She couldn't scream. She couldn't do anything except stare into the hate-filled pools of lava that were Set's eyes.
"Think of it, my sweet prey, as I thrust your own creation into your body." Set was drooling now. "You may even live long enough to bear MY offspring!" He grinned - a horrible, tooth-filled, maniacal grin. "In fact - I will insist upon it! Yes! Instead of the foul Horus, you shall bear MY son! A mortal embodiment of Set who will become the true ruler of all mortals - as I should have been were it not for Osiris and that foul usurper Horus!"
Set's paw upon her throat was slowly choking Nohni. Her vision was growing dark, but she didn't care anymore. She welcomed death if it meant escape from this mad god. She almost didn't hear the scraping of stone upon stone. Then, out of the corner of her dimming eyes, she saw the sarcophagus of Osiris move.
Not the lid, but the entire sarcophagus.
A hole was opening up beneath the sarcophagus and something dark - something black as midnight - was crawling out. Up and up it rose behind Set - its yellow eyes fixed upon its prey. The blackness beneath the eyes broke open into silent maw of teeth as sharp as Set's. And into the air rose something long and heavy that gleamed silver.
Then it struck!
It was a terrible blow. Blood and fur exploded through the air, splattering Nohni's face, and the god in front of her crumpled to the floor revealing the one behind him. Swiftly, the black shape rushed to her side and undid Nohni's gag. She stared at her savior, to dumbstruck at first to speak. Then her voice returned in triumph.
"Carlos! What? Where? How did you get in here?"
Carlos didn't answer, but continued to free Nohni from her harness. When he removed the last arm restraint, Nohni grabbed him in a fierce and grateful hug, but there was something between him and her. Nohni could feel the heat of it on her chest. She pushed Carlos away from her and saw what was causing the sensation.
It was Carlos' eemot sack. He still wore it around his neck. But why was it hot? What…?
Carlos stepped away from her and undid the sack from around his neck. For a moment he held it in his paw and simply looked at it. Then he held it out to Nohni as if offering it to her.
"I am sorry, Professor Wabanda, but…" Carlos looked very nervous now. "but I had to bring eet with me!" His expression became even more morose and fearful. "When I touched eet back een Doctor Slattery's office…it…it told me to bring eet to Egypt! But I couldn't tell you. I was…afraid to tell you. You hated eet so much." Carlos took back the eemot sack, opened the drawstring, and pulled back one edge to reveal its contents.
What Nohni saw was the mummified thing from back at the University. It was what she now knew was the real penis of Osiris. She instinctively took a step backward.
"Then, just an hour ago, when I was asleep," continued Carlos, "eet woke me, and told me to bring eet here!" The words were tumbling out of his mouth now as if saying them faster would make them more palatable to Nohni. "Even in the eemot bag, it was telling me to bring it here - to thees place! To bring eet to you! I knew then where you where! What had happened to you. I deed not know how I knew, but I deed! It told me where to go! How to get through the main entrance of thees place. What paths to take and…where a hidden passage was to get een here!"
"Then there's a way out!" exclaimed Nohni, rushing over to the opening beneath the sarcophagus. "Let's get out of here while we still can!" She turned to Carlos, but he hadn't moved.
Slowly he held out the eemot sack again. "I…I am supposed to give thees to you. Here. In this place."
Nohni closed her eyes, dropped her chin and shook her head violently. The visions in her minds eye still hadn't faded completely away. "I'm sorry Carlos, but if you think I'm going to touch…" Her worlds caught in her throat as she opened her eyes to give the black jaguar a hard look. A black figure had now risen behind Carlos - a bloody black figure, with a partially crushed skull.
But the warning was too late. Carlos had barely turned when a blow from a ceremonial club smashed into the side of his head. He dropped instantly - blood gushing from his nose and mouth. The eemot sack fell from his paw, bounced once and came to rest against Nohni's foot. She wasn't sure why, but she snatched it up. Her brain was numb with shock and she should have rightly kicked the cursed thing away from her, but she grabbed it anyway. It still felt hot.
But unlike before - it also felt…right!
She tore her eyes from the sack and glared at Set - for it was he who had struck Carlos down. By all rights, Set should be dead! Nohni could actually see gleaming pink brain tissue in a spot where Carlos' blow had torn the skull away.
But he was not dead.
He was grinning evilly again and advancing on her. Instinctively, she pealed back the top of the eemot sack to reveal what lay inside. The she thrust it like a talisman at the grossly disfigured Set.
For a moment neither fur moved. Then Set began to laugh - an insane laugh made more unsettling by the mutilated face that produced it. "And what will you DO with your new prize, my tasty prey?" cackled Set. "Stick it back on Osiris' foul body? Wake him from his eternal sleep to save you? I don't think so!"
Nohni backed away and slipped around behind the sarcophagus of Osiris, putting it between her and Set. To her surprise, she could feel the lid on the sarcophagus vibrating, as if there was something inside trying to get out.
"You know what will happen if Osiris finally regains his true penis," spat Set. "It is the final missing part that will complete his earthly body, and you know…you know what that means! Do you truly wish for the end of the world?" Set shook his damaged head slowly. "No. Isis would not wish for that at all! Isis was the favorite goddess of all mortals because she liked them." Set made a mocking, simpering sound. "All of those wretched, helpless mortals. Doomed to die because they were mortal, yet Isis still loved their stupid hides. Nurtured them. Helped them. Their great and beautiful mother goddess!" Set's last words came out in a spray of spittle as his tortured face screwed itself into an unholy snarl.
At that precise moment the lid shook itself right off the sarcophagus and fell to the floor with a crash. Before Nohni lay a desiccated mummy adorned with so much gold it was hard to see any of the shriveled flesh and fur that lay beneath. However, there was one bare spot on the corpse. A spot directly over where the mummy's penis should have been. Nohni stared at it, the eemot sack clutched in her outstretched paw, but she did not move.
"No," snarled Set. "You will not wake your dear husband again. You will not destroy the mortal world you love, Isis. You…will…BE… MINE!"
Nohni barely heard Set's words. Visions were coursing through her brain, but these were not the tortured images she had experienced before. She felt the heat on her chest, but this time, it was not from an eemot bag or its contents.
It was her Ankh!
The Ankh of Sethorus! Sethorus! The Ankh which was Isis' symbol of Life!
Carlos had said that spiritual energy often needed to be in the proper context to work properly. Nohni gasped. This was the first time she'd been in close contact with both the real penis of Osiris and her Ankh of Sethorus at the same time! And now, the words Doctor Slattery had translated from the Book of Mortals were flooding back to her.
"Listen now to my Words! When all things are done, when all hearts have been weighed on the Scales at Abydos at the end of the world, who is it that holds True Power on this earth? God? Or Mortal? It is You, who shall decide!"
And Nohni saw now what the Scales of Abydos truly were. It was not the entrance test for passage into the afterlife. It was the choice between mortal and immortal - between gods and those who would worship them. The Scales of Abydos were lying before her and the penis of Osiris was the weight that would tip them - one way or the other. The sack with the mummified penis was still clutched in her outstretched paw - exactly halfway between herself and the mummy of Osiris.
"It is YOU, who shall decide!"
Nohni's mind was a blur of images and feelings too complex to decipher.
What would her choice be? Who would it be?
Then, amidst the chaos, in the remotest parts of her mind, Nohni felt a warmth the likes of which she had never felt before. It was the warmth of a mother she never knew, yet it was more than that. It was the spirit, the warmth, of both her Mothers.
The Silver and the Gold.
Mortal and immortal.
What does your heart tell you to do?
And Nohni knew what she must do. How could it possibly hurt her? It was what her mother - her mothers - had done. It was what brought life - glorious life - into the world.
Set was still glaring madly at her, but he was nothing to her now. With her free paw, Nohni pulled her linen skirt apart and spread her legs. The paw with the mummified penis protruding from the sack was brought down to a place just below what Isis would have called her River Lotus of Life.
Nohni knew what she would choose.
She would choose… mortal!
Set screamed and lunged, but he was too late. Nohni had thrust her hips forward and joined with the god Osiris in a way no mortal had ever done before.
It was an exploding epiphany. Brilliant Light upon Deepest Darkness, but this time it was glorious, not horrendous. She reveled in it!
But she was not alone!
The Other one was here as well. The crocodile! The slithering serpent! The Pig and the anteater! The giraffe and the hippopotamus. The Black One.
"You do not frighten me!" screamed the Black one. "Your time is over! You have no husband! You have no golden son! You have no pantheon of gods to appeal to. You fight me alone!"
She turned to the Black one…real and terrible anger flashing in her topaz yellow eyes.
"Do not forget brother of mine, I am no weak and witless cur you can easily terrorize! It was I, three thousand years ago, who disguised myself as an old female and tricked you into declaring yourself unworthy to rule the kingdom of mortals instead of my son Horus! I am also wonderfully stubborn! It was I who defeated your plans to destroy Osiris! It was I and your wife, Nephthys, who searched the world for his body parts! It was I and the great god Thoth who re-unified those parts and brought Osiris back to the land of the living so that I could conceive Horus!"
Set screamed his fury. "Your golden abomination of a son is no more!"
"But it was not you who defeated him!" she shouted in return. "You lust for power, Set, but you know not from whence it comes! Thoth knew from the Beginning of All Things that we gods would never last for all eternity in the hearts of those who worship us. Without those mortals who call us 'friend', 'protector', 'mother', 'advisor' or 'mentor' we have no power! Horus had power only as long as there where rulers who desired his advice. Do NOT blame Horus for his own demise. Yes, our time is nearly gone, yet there are those today who still revere me, but NOT because I am already powerful!"
She glared at her brother and her eyes were like the blazing stars in the heavens. "I am powerful because I give back the power I receive. I fiercely protect those who revere me! I do not covet power as you do. I do not hoard it in secret places. Power is ever a living thing! If you shut it away inside of you - use it to glorify yourself alone - it will wither away and die!"
Again the Black One screamed, but instead of vilifying the words of Isis, he began to change. The Set Animal was twisting and elongating. He was becoming the serpent Apep - the Devourer! Coil upon massive black coil rose up before Isis, blocking the sun, the stars, the very firmament itself. Murderous yellow eyes gleamed down upon her and fangs dripped venom.
But it was not enough to dim the might of Isis! Her power shone Gold and Silver - like Ra's great Sun Chariot of fire. And upon the chariot, another coil upon giant coil was rising into the heavens to meet the threat of the one who would devour the world. This was not another Apep, serpent of destruction. No! Its golden eyes gleamed too gloriously. Its Sun colored scales shone too brightly! Its fangs were as sharp as swords! It was the Golden Wadjet Uraeus come to life! It was the symbol that had adorned the crowns of Egypt's pharaohs since the beginning of time!
It was Isis, the Giant Striking Cobra!
It was Isis - The Protector!
Suddenly, a blaze of gold split the sky. Brightest Light upon Darkest Darkness! A flash of fangs!
And the Devourer…
…was no more.
Someone was calling her from very far away.
"Nohni! Please wake up!"
Nohni wanted to sleep. It was so comfortable here in her Mother's arms. Why must she awaken? But something was shaking her and she slowly opened her eyes. Above her, a tan face gradually swam into view. She closed her eyes again. Pain had come with the opening of her eyes. It felt like she'd been stepped on by some careless giant. Everything hurt.
"Nohni! No sleep time now!" came the voice again. "We're in trouble and…and Raven's been hurt."
Nohni's eyes snapped open. She instantly recognized the dirt smudged face of Hazel Weiss above her. "Raven?" Nohni's voice sounded raspy in her ears, like she'd been shouting too much.
"She broke several ribs when the door to the tunnel collapsed on her."
Nohni sat up and shook her head. Stars were popping in her vision and she felt woozy. Looking around, she saw Hazel kneeling next to her on her left, and Col. Heshafet standing a few feet away - an SMG in his paws. It smelled as if it had been recently fired.
Nohni shook her head again and looked to her right. There lay Raven, quite still. Too still. "Raven?' she reached toward her friend, but Hazel stayed her paw.
"She's not responding now," whispered the lioness, her voice choked. "I think she's got a collapsed lung."
Nohni lay back down quickly and shut her eyes. It was either that or pass out. But she could not stop her paw from groping to her right until it found another paw - her dear friend's paw - one that was too cold and still for her liking. She gripped it tightly and took several deep breaths. She wanted to cry out - to give in to the fears that were sweeping over her - but she needed to be strong. Hazel said they were in trouble. With a supreme effort, Nohni opened her eyes again, released the paw she held, and struggled up to a sitting position. This time she looked over her shoulder. There, she saw the open sarcophagus of Osiris - so they were still inside the Inner Sanctum. Next to it lay two bodies.
Nohni blinked hard and took another several gulps of air. This was too much. She looked back to Hazel. "How…how are the other two?" She flicked her eyes to the bodies.
Hazel dropped her head and licked her lips. When she looked up, there was pain in her eyes. "They're both still breathing - but barely."
"How did you get in here?" Nohni asked - more to take her mind off of what she'd seen than to get an answer.
"We followed Carlos, of course," Hazel explained, her voice thick with emotion. "I woke up when I head some shuffling coming from where Carlos was bunked. I saw him leave, and it didn't look like he was headed for the litter box. He had his fancy 'walking cane' with him. I punched Raven awake, and her grunt of protest woke Col. Heshafet. It took us a while to wake up and the Colonel had a hard time tracking Carlos once we got outside. Carlos is good at disappearing." She looked to where Carlos now lay. "Anyway, we showed up just in time to see Carlos take out the Cradle's Main Entrance guards when they opened the doors. We knew it had to be the entrance to the Cradle because the ones Carlos took out were black jackals. I'm not sure how Carlos convinced the guards to open up but he did and down they went." She turned back to Nohni. "When we got inside, Col. Heshafet had to go into tracking mode again because it was dark in there and Carlos was nowhere in sight. Despite this, we were able to quietly follow Carlos' trail to a small trap door off a side passage. However, it was at that point that the rest of the guards discovered us. All three of use squeezed through the trap door, and I think our combined weight must have triggered something because it looked like the whole tunnel was going to collapse. That's when Raven…" Hazel took another deep breath. "That's when Raven put herself under the moving door lintel." Hazel shook her head, here eyes sparkling with tears. "She actually held it up! Gods, it must have been heavy! But she stopped it from coming down long enough for me and the Colonel to get into the tunnel past the doorway. Then, when she tried to run after us, it fell on her. We were able to pull her out, but…" Hazel looked toward Raven as a tear rolled out of the corner of her eye.
"So now there's no way out," said Nohni in a listless voice. "Not through that tunnel anyway." She dropped her head. It was getting harder to fend off the helplessness.
"Are you feeling well enough to fight?" It was the Colonel. He was standing behind Hazel. "At some point the guards will realize no one's coming out of here, and when that happens, they're going to come busting in to see what's wrong."
Nohni looked up at the Colonel and nodded dully. The logical part of her brain told her that it would be ten to one odds considering the number of guards that occupied this place, but what did it matter? It seemed likely that this place would end up being her tomb in any case.
A small pain - like a mental exclamation point - had stabbed her in the chest. Nohni blinked and looked around. This wasn't just going to be her tomb. It would be her friend's tomb as well! Suddenly, Nohni wasn't feeling listless at all. Her friends had risked coming to this place to help her and now they would die here? That was unacceptable! Nohni was instantly on her feet and looking around. There had to be another way out of this place. Didn't Jeffa say there were a lot of escape routes from the Cradle?
The name burned in Nohni's brain, but almost as quickly as the anger came, it evaporated. She'd seen that momentary look of terror in Jeffa's eyes. She had met and defeated her real enemy - and it was not Jeffa!
She was instantly at Jeffa's side and kneeling down. Hadn't he been walking and talking before even with a horrendous head injury? She shook him, but did not get a response. A quick check showed that he was still breathing, but his breaths were slow and uneven. Again she tried to rouse him - again, there was no response. Dread was starting to creep into her brain, and she knew hopelessness would soon follow. She gave Jeffa a final impersonal, violent shake, but it was no use. Jeffa could not help them. Though his body still breathed, his sould and mind had probably already departed this life. And soon they would all follow him and be gone from this place - from this world. She groaned and dropped her head to Jeffa's chest.
As she did so, her knee barely brushed the gold phallus of Osiris that had fallen from Jeffa and now lay in the dust beside his arm.
It was as if the lights had gone out and come back on in a split second. She was instantly transported to a place of complete light and lightness. There was nothing here except for the flat, white something upon which she was standing.
What!? Where was this place? What had just happened?
Nohni felt the beginning of panic and quickly spun around. There, on the flat whiteness before her, lay a golden phallus.
"It's not nearly as much fun as the real thing."
Nohni jerked around to source of the strangely melodious voice. Where there had been nothing a moment before, a Golden Jackal of indescribable beauty now stood beside her. Nohni stared at her, and as she did so, she realized she knew her. She dropped her chin, casting her eyes down, but a golden paw lifted her head back up once again.
"You have no need to bow before me, daughter."
The Golden Jackal's voice filled Nohni with a sense of complete peace - all except for a single burning pain. "What will happen to my friends?" she asked gazing into topaz yellow eyes.
"That is not for me to say," came the beautiful jackal's enigmatic answer.
Nohni closed her own eyes and felt a single tear fall from her nose.
"You would exchange your life for theirs?" asked the Golden Jackal.
Nohni looked up and nodded. "They would do it for me." She lowered her eyes and raised a finger to wipe away another tear. They had done it for her. Carlos. Raven. Soon Hazel and Col. Heshafet, too. All of them would die. Nohni blinked again. And in a sense, even…even…
Nohni raised her liquid eyes to the Golden Jackal before her. "It was not his fault. He was mutilated. He was weak…vulnerable."
The Golden Jackal smiled. "Yes. You are a true daughter to me, Nohni." She reached out and touched the Ankh at Nohni's throat. "You have chosen mortals, my daughter. And I think you have chosen wisely."
"But, my friends…" Nohni whispered - her words an eloquent plea as her eyes dropped.
"No. I will make no more decisions for mortals for it is no longer my place to do so."
"Then they will die," thought Nohni, the pain flooding her once again. She had chosen 'Mortal' - and 'mortal' meant always living with the possibility of dying. Nohni felt a keen of anguish building in her throat, but before it had a chance to escape, paws as soft as light itself held her by the cheeks and lifted her face up. Lips gently brushed across her nose, and the slight tickle of whisker upon whisker caused Nohni to open her eyes. Gentle yellow eyes - eyes exactly like her own - gazed back at Nohni.
"When you see your friends again," whispered the Golden Jackal, "ask them if they wish to live. It is their decision now, not mine."
Slowly, the vision of those beautiful topaz eyes faded, and with it, Nohni's sense of peace. The vision was being replaced by the harsh reality of her own world again. Once again, she was kneeling beside Jeffa. She blinked several times and then glanced quickly down at her knee. She saw that the golden phallus was gone. Somehow, this did not surprise her. What did surprise her was Jeffa. Though he wasn't moving, he was looking at her with conscious, comprehending eyes. Nohni dropped to his side her nose next to his, the Ankh of her chest warm and vibrating.
"Jeffa?" she whispered. "Uncle?"
The pain in his eyes was nearly unbearable to see, but Nohni looked back into them - not with anger - not this time - but with pity. "I would not wish to see you die, uncle."
"Do not think of me," he whispered. "Follow the path your parents took from this place, daughter of the gods." He gave a great shudder. "Follow the Cobra of Isis."
And Jeffa Wawet became very still.
Nohni stared for a moment before closing her eyes. Just as Isis said they would, Jeffa had chosen his own fate - one that did not include this world anymore. Silently, Nohni wished him a safe journey, and when it came time for his heart to be weighed upon the Scales of Justice, she hoped the gods would not count the influence of Set, but judge Jeffa for himself.
Nohni sat up and whirled around to see a groggy-looking Carlos looking at her and trying to sit up. Nohni shot a look at Raven who was also awake and looking to her. She did not seem as eager to sit up as Carlos was. Nohni's eyes locked onto Hazel's happily surprised brown ones. "What happened to them?" Nohni asked. "Have you been working some of your first aid magic on them?"
Hazel shook her head. "I'm just as surprised as you are to see them responding, but injuries can be funny sometimes." She tapped her head. "Sometimes, the 'will to live' can influence the outcome."
It certainly can!
"But we aren't out of the woods, yet," cautioned Hazel. "They'll need more care…"
"Which ain't gonna happen if we're still stuck in here!" finished Nohni, as she jumped to her feet. "We need to find a picture, a carving, or a bas-relief in the shape of a striking Cobra! I think it's another way out of here!"
Unexpectedly, there was a resounding 'BOOM' on the stone doors to the Inner Sanctum.
"I think our friends out there have finally decided to pay us a visit!" shouted Col. Heshafet as he hefted his SMG. "If you think there's another way out, finding it now would be a great idea!"
Nohni pointed to the left. "Go check out that side of the sanctum, Colonel! Hazel and I will check out this side! Look at the walls, the benches, the ceiling - anything - and look for a striking Cobra! Not a slithering one or a coiled one!"
The great stone doors gave a shudder that Nohni could feel through the floor, and she thought she heard it crack. She rushed along the outer walls of the Sanctum and although she saw a number of snake motifs, none of them was in a striking pose.
"Anything Colonel?" she yelled across the Sanctum.
"Nothing!" came his disappointing answer.
This time the stone doors did crack. "Time's running out!" screamed Nohni. "Remember it's a Striking Cobra! Just like the ones you see on the headbands of…of… " Nohni's voice trailed away as she turned to look at the sarcophagus of Osiris. Then she was running toward it.
The mummy inside was wearing the classic Pharaoh Nemes headdress with a…with a…
"Golden Wadjet Uraeus!" shouted Nohni as she skidded to a halt in front of the sarcophagus. "The Striking Cobra of Isis!"
The doors of the Inner sanctum crashed in with a roar and a cloud of choking dust just as Nohni twisted the Golden Cobra on the mummy's headband. The 'ratatatat' of SMG fire filled the Sanctum, but it wasn't loud enough to cover the grinding noise Nohni felt beneath her feet! She looked down into the passageway beneath the sarcophagus just in time to see one wall move - revealing a different passageway!
"HAZEL! COL. HESHAFET! TO ME!" screamed Nohni. "TO THE SARCOPHAGUS!" She shoved a protesting Carlos down the hole and grabbed Raven, pulling her as hard as she could, but Raven was still too out of it to grasp what was going on. "Raven! Work with me, please!"
At that moment, Hazel came coughing through the clouds of dust and grabbed Raven's other arm. Together they pulled the confused blue wolf down into the hole. Nohni popped her head up through the hole and saw Col. Heshafet pulling on the sarcophagus.
He was trying to cover the hole! He was going to stay behind and cover their retreat!
"NO!" screamed Nohni, but the Colonel put his booted foot on top of Nohni's head and shoved. Nohni tumbled down the hole.
"This is MY choice!" yelled the Colonel. "Now GO!"
The hole was quickly covered up, and with a final scraping of stone on stone, all light disappeared. Nohni stared up into the darkness - the afterimage of that last sliver of light still glowing in her mind's eye. She reached up a paw to grope for - she knew not what. Carlos had found something to open the hole, so she…
But another ominous scraping of stone caught her attention and years of tomb raiding instinct took over. Their escape passage was re-setting itself and they had to move now if they were going to use it! An invisible paw grabbed her on her arm and yanked it down to a well muscled shoulder near the floor.
"Carlos is already through," came Hazel's voice out of the blackness.
Nohni grabbed what had to be Raven's shoulder and with the help of Hazel, they dragged the protesting blue wolf through a doorway and into the passage beyond.
It took the four of them nearly five hours to grope their way to the escape tunnel's exit. Raven got more coherent by the hour, and she was finally able to crawl on her own with the rest of them through the last low part of the tunnel. When they finally opened the muddy, reed covered hatch at the exit, they found themselves looking across the Nile toward a brilliant Egyptian sunrise.
The others sat down to catch their breath, but after a cursory check of Raven and Carlos' injuries - which didn't seem nearly as bad as they looked at first - Nohni walked down the river bank until she was knee deep in this most ancient of rivers. Somehow, it felt cool and comforting to stand in a river that had borne the barges of the Pharaohs - the river that had nurtured the beginnings of civilization.
"The river that has aided in the escapes of both my grandmother and my mother," thought Nohni. "And now me."
Indeed, this river was her past's lifeblood - just as it was the lifeblood of this desert.
"But even this river eventually flows back into the eternal sea," came a familiar voice from behind her. "Or so the saying from my ancestors goes."
Nohni turned around and opened a welcoming arm to Hazel. The lioness wrapped an arm around her waist as well.
"How did you know I was thinking about the Nile?" Nohni mused.
Hazel gave a wry grin. "How can you walk toward it, stand in it, and look dreamily across it without thinking about it?"
Another slightly ragged voice behind them spoke up. "Is this a bath or a baptism? If it's the latter, I've already had mine, thank you - but I could use the former. I stink."
Nohni and Hazel turned to see Raven behind them ankle deep in Nile River water. The both rushed back to her.
"Raven!" Nohni barked. "You shouldn't be…" But her voice trailed of at the look Raven was giving her. "Um. How are you feeling?" Nohni amended quickly.
Raven's stern 'don't treat me like a widdle kid' look melted into a slightly pained look. "I've been better," she said. A slight stagger brought both Nohni and Hazel to her side, but she shrugged off their helping paws and looked down at the two of them. "Really. The water's warm, and I would like a bath."
Nohni looked to Hazel and raised a tan eyebrow.
"She's breathing normally now," Hazel said before looking up at Raven. "How's the breathing? Any sharp pains now? Any dizziness like before?"
"Pains here and here when I breathe in." Raven pointed. "But no more breathing distress like before when it seemed like I couldn't catch my breath."
Hazel shook her head, and looked up river toward what looked like the dock area of the town. "You seem to be better now, but we really need to get you checked out thoroughly, and I don't think this place has a hospital." She looked back to Raven. "I could have sworn you had a collapsed lung."
"Panimbo Malamet. Or 'Spiritual Healing'," came another voice - a male one - and Carlos joined them.
Nohni looked down at the river they were standing in, then back at Carlos. "This might look like a down-home baptism, but t'aint no spiritual healing a goin' on here," drawled Nohni.
Carlos was shaking his head and grinning - startlingly white teeth in a black-furred face. "Call eet what you want, but sometime eet happens. Spiritual energies can be used for many theengs. I was not feeling very well at all, but now?" Carlos took off at a splashing run before flinging himself into deeper water.
"I thought cats didn't like water," mused Nohni.
"Some of us do," answered Hazel, a twinkle in her eyes. And with a casual shrug, she stripped off the t-shirt and shorts she used for sleep and followed Carlos into the Nile.
Nohni looked at the two of them splashing in the distance and wrapped an arm gently around Raven's waist before looking up into her face. Raven was looking back at her, and the admonition Nohni was about to give her friend died in her throat. Sure, it had been reckless on Raven and Hazel's part to follow Carlos into danger. They weren't experienced fighters in any sense of the word, and Raven's injuries had pained Nohni terribly - especially since they were her fault.
But then Nohni realized she was being self-centered. Raven and Hazel had put themselves in danger not because Nohni had needed help, but because they had decided to help. It was their choice. Not Nohni's. That's what friends did.
They chose to be friends.
And in this case, it seems they had chosen to live for their friends instead of die for them, as well. And who was Nohni to argue?
Raven looked south and nodded. "Did you know that Hazel's ancestors came from farther up the Nile than yours? This river stretches all the way down to Lake Victoria, you know. That's halfway down the entire continent of Africa."
"Always the bookworm," teased Nohni.
Raven nodded. "It's nice to know where you've come from, where you are now, and where you are going." She looked to Nohni. "So? Have you finally found out from whence you've come, friend?"
Nohni gazed at the Nile for a long time.
"Yes," she said simply. "I have seen the land of my forbearers - my homeland." She looked to her friend. "But now it's time for me to truly go home."
And so she did.
If Nohni kept the emotion in much longer, she was going to explode.
"Let me get this straight," she said, her face contorted with the effort to control herself. "You are shooting it out with thirty Order of Anubis guards. The dust is so thick you can't see your paw in front of your muzzle. The building is collapsing around you. Bullets are flying everywhere, and you get hurt how?"
"I slipped on a dick! Okay?"
That did it. Nohni collapsed into a chair next to Colonel Heshafet's hospital bed and howled with laughter. Hazel, Carlos and Raven quickly joined the ranks of the mirth disabled. Even Dr. Hassan Feffa couldn't keep a straight face. He was 'ek-ek-eking' as rabbits often do when they can't catch their breath long enough to do a decent laugh.
"I'm glad someone is amused," grumbled the Colonel.
Nohni, still laughing, got up from her chair and pulled the semi-sitting Colonel from his pillow into a hug that threatened to re-break his collar bone - which was the least of his injuries. She then planted a tongue-probing, teeth-clicking kiss right on his mouth - one that lasted long enough to elicit a wolf whistle from one particularly buxom blue wolf. When she finally broke the kiss, the Colonel was looking like he'd just gotten hit in the head - again. That had been the worst of his injuries - the fractured skull from hitting the edge of Osiris' sarcophagus with his forehead after slipping on the 'dick'. Nohni had wondered where the real penis of Osiris had gotten to. She'd not remembered loosing it after using the thing on herself.
Strangely enough (or maybe not so strange considering what had caused it) it was the head injury that had saved Col. Heshafet's life. Being knocked unconscious and lying, bloody, in the midst of several bodies must have made it look like he'd already passed on into the afterlife.
Of course, the Order of Anubis guards hadn't had much time to examine him either, since it was about that time that the real Order of Abydos had arrived. It seems the Colonel had called for backup from his fellow grey jackals before he, Raven and Hazel had even entered the Cradle's main entrance. The Colonel's fight in the inner Sanctum had provided the ideal diversion for his troops to enter unopposed - and kick butt from behind. All in all, the Colonel and Dr. Feffa considered the operation a complete success. Though there were some roaming operatives still on the loose, the Order of Anubis would never again present a problem for the government.
Nohni gazed down into the pale yellow eyes of Colonel Jabari Heshafet - eyes unlike her own, but friendly nonetheless. "Thank you for protecting my friends, Colonel. Had you not been with them when they came after me…" She let the sentence die, and instead gave the grey jackal another tender kiss.
"Call me Jabari. All my friends do."
Nohni smiled. "I wish you a speedy recovery, Jabari. And thank you again for my friends." Trailing a finger along his cheek, she rose from where she'd been sitting on the bed and looked to Dr. Feffa. "We have one more job to do before I and my friends can depart for home."
Dr. Feffa gave a wry grin and held up the Sethorus Canopic Jar, which was not empty this time. "It's time we put this thing somewhere where folks won't slip on it and hurt themselves."
Nohni nodded. Then she looked to her friends. "Shall we?"
All of them, Nohni, Raven, Hazel, Carlos and Dr. Feffa, had returned here to Doctor Slattery's last dig site in southern Egypt, but at the moment Nohni was quite alone. It was a request she'd made of the others and they'd accepted her need to be by herself. She gazed upward and let her mind drift. Once again, it was a velvety, moonless night in the Sahara. The Milky Way was splashed across the blackness of space, and the constellation Orion was at the apex of the firmament. It was a glorious yet peaceful sight, and for the moment, Nohni let it consume her. But soon, she brought her eyes back down to desert landscape before her.
Doctor Slattery had named this place Wadi Wepwawet, but the Wepwawet Jackals of the hills called this place the Halls of Thoth. Nohni knew that Thoth was the Egyptian god of science and logic. He was the Scribe of the Gods and the Librarian - the god who had written books containing all the knowledge of the universe - the god with all the answers. He was also the god who had hidden this knowledge away from mortals knowing that if it were ever discovered, it would destroy the mortal world's reason to exist.
And that was part of the reason Nohni was here now - alone.
Nohni and her friends had come back mainly to honor Dr. Slattery, but there was one other duty Nohni needed to perform. It was a duty that the gods had given her, for she had been one with the gods - even for only a little while. When called upon to choose, she had chosen the mortal world, and with that came another duty.
Nohni raised the Sethorus Canopic Jar in front of her and removed the stopper. Then she slowly tipped the jar over and let what was in it fall to the sand at her feet. As it hit, Nohni mentally spoke the Word she had retrieved from Isis' memory - the Word the god Thoth had given to Isis countless ages ago - the Word that had hidden all of Thoth's knowledge from the world of mortals.
And in a small puff of dust, the bit of Osiris that Isis had never found, disappeared once more, as if the sand itself had swallowed it up. Just like the sand had swallowed up any evidence of Doctor Slattery's last dig. Whether Osiris' penis was gone forever from this world, Nohni did not know. Egyptian legend spoke of the Day of Awakening when all those who had passed into the afterlife would rise from the dead. It would happen when Osiris was made complete and whole.
But that would not happen today - or maybe ever. Or maybe a future Sethorus - daughter of the gods - would again find the penis of Osiris and choose a different path. Nohni did not know.
And not knowing was not a bad thing.
As she gazed once more across the desert, Nohni pictured the ever-curious face of her friend, Doctor Slattery. He had come to this place seeking knowledge, and he had died here as he had lived - looking for answers. Perhaps he had even found some of them.
But not all of them.
And not knowing all the answers was not a bad thing, for who would want to live in a world so full of knowledge that there were no questions left to answer? No mysteries left to solve?
Thoth had known this, and had hidden the answers away - and now Nohni knew it, too.
And as she looked once again into the deep Sahara sky, a smile curled her lips. She had come to Egypt to find her parents - to find the answers to her origins - and she had.
But there would always be the next mystery to solve!