Who's Got My Back Now?
1935: Ardeth Bay is resurrected from the dead. He awakens to a world vastly different, to familiar faces changing and to the knowledge that he is Egypt's final hope for freedom.
He also finds out just how far love and despair can take him.
There had been no rescue this time. Time, their gift, had been given with Evy's daily visits to his cell, a few hours each day spent together talking, holding hands and sharing kisses through the bars that separated them. He could have lived that way forever if time would stand still and leave them in England. But the day had come when Imhotep was ready to return to his homeland. In the lower decks of the boat Ardeth had spent his lonely hours thinking about his short span of life with Evelyn and what he ultimately would leave undone. He had turned to acceptance of what he could not change. And time faded with the days.
Time had been given them as well as hardship from their sovereign. Imhotep burned his anger slowly and tended its fires with help from an unforgiving Evelyn, who could not find it in her heart to care anymore what he did. The king never talked to Ardeth, never saw about him and kept his mind closed like a sealed sarcophagus, but Evy told him what went on above him. The blessing had changed Imhotep for the better, but her betrayal for the worse, so much so that Ardeth wondered if the blessing had only served to increase the rage inside.
He could not blame Evy for her inability to forgive, but feared all the same that it would only serve to hurt her further. The situation was tense between she and her husband, and didn't seem as though it would decrease anytime soon. Imhotep held true to his want for her to live as his wife and she paid her bargain, but not without distance and bitterness, which only increased Imhotep's drive to break her and hurt her for the hurt she caused him. They lived in a vicious circle that Ardeth could not be here to stop from spinning out of control.
And he feared for her life, for he was sure in some fashion Necromancer's threat or foresight would try to manifest, and while death could be so easily a gift to Evy, Ardeth wanted her to live. He wanted her to find Rick and Jonathan, made her promise this to him during their first visit since the freezing cold. He could tell it was a promise she did not want to keep, but he had to hope for her. He had to believe something good could come from her living.
When the car stopped, the Med-Jai inside did not move. Nor did he open his eyes to take in what he would see momentarily. He was too tired to care until the last moment. And he had been here once before. He knew all too well what would greet his eyes when he stepped from this vehicle to accept his fate. The sight was hurtful and discouraging, his people laid out in shame, and there was no reason to burden himself with it until the time came. So he remained, his head against the seat and his heart in the car ahead where his enemy was.
Ardeth coughed and tried to brush aside his weariness so he could prepare himself for what was going to happen now. The gift had run its course. Outside the sound of car doors slamming jarred him, but mercifully they did not come for him yet. For that he was thankful. Fighting the urge to look outside, knowing it wouldn't matter—whatever he saw, he leaned his head back and tried to rest a little before the darkness came. Ardeth did not fear death, nor fear for the future of this world anymore—but for the sake of Evelyn, for he had come to accept that whatever would happen, would happen. He had been brought back for a reason and if his time had come, then that reason must be complete. Ancksunamun had seen Imhotep's death by his hands, but dreams were not always what they seemed to be. Perhaps death meant something else.
He had given Imhotep a solid conscience and in that would hopefully come about the death of the man the priest had become. There was a change there inside him; a single, small seed that strove to find the light of day and Ardeth had planted that with his gift to Imhotep. Perhaps that was the death Ancksunamun had seen and feared.
But when the car door opened, he could not suppress a momentary sorrow at what lay ahead. Task completed or not, he still mourned the life he would not have with Evelyn. They had been given a mere moment in their entire lives to love each other. Just one brief time of softness. But he would take what was given to him gratefully and without resentment.
A wan smile met his lips when he saw that it was not Imhotep, but Evy who had opened the door and who now entered to sit beside him. Her small hands found his bound wrists and pulled a hand up to her mouth to kiss. "He's having stakes put up," she told him, her voice thick and her eyes moist. This was so hard for her. So very hard.
"You'll be strong?" he asked her in reply, not really needing to know, but wanting to remind her of what he wanted her to fight for. She would go on, survive and emerge from this a beautiful creation, molded and stronger if fate would spare her Necromancer's threat. It was going to be a rough road, but he knew she could travel it. Evy nodded and he grasped her cheek, searing every detail of her face into his memory to carry with him to the other side. He could see she did the same and that promise of love was more than he thought he could part with. But he had to…he knew that. Now he was ready to say the one thing he had waited for. Now he could let her go. "Evelyn, when you find Rick…" Her tears fell when his eyes became grave. "He'll take good care of you."
Evelyn couldn't say anything to that and he knew why. He wanted so badly to be the one to love her and receive that love reflected back in her glassy eyes, but could his spirit cling to this plain of existence against the will of God? He would go back to heaven and she would go on. That was enough. It would have to be.
Their time was growing short and both of them knew it. Evelyn leaned into him and placed her lips against his for one last kiss, whispering, "I do love you. So much, Ardeth. So very much." His brow furrowed against hers and he closed his eyes to hide his failing resolve. Please don't make me leave, he prayed. He would have done anything to stay. But he couldn't even stay long enough to finish their final kiss. The door on his side opened and a clawed hand reached for him, dragging him from their good-bye.
Ardeth was yanked from the car and immediately pulled carelessly through the sand to where Imhotep would kill him. Evelyn raced from the car, shouting in a tearful voice, "Stop it! You're hurting him! Please!"
But the king said nothing. He wouldn't offer his enemy any last mercies. The posts for the last Med-Jai were erected separate from the others, a place singled out and Imhotep stood where Ardeth would have termed behind it, mixed with the dead, with eyes watching through an empty, hard stare. His robes shifted with the breeze, the only movement offered from his stance until Evelyn threw herself down at his feet in a pleading gesture. Only then did he tear his eyes away for a moment to look down on her with that same frightening emptiness.
The jackals shoved Ardeth down into the sand roughly and he quickly realized that Imhotep meant more than to just leave him to die in the field where his people were. He meant for him to die with their suffering the last thing he looked upon, for instead of being faced towards the palace, Ardeth was positioned inward towards the countless Med-Jai.
His arms were lifted and bound with shackles, and Evy's eyes widened at something behind him that he could not see. "Please, Imhotep," she begged, grasping his dark pants with pale hands. "Please have mercy. I'll do anything."
Imhotep's eyes never left the face of his enemy, his expression did not change and he offered nothing to his wife in reply. Ardeth soon learned what had panicked her when a metal rod suddenly found his back, cracking against his fevered flesh and winning a cry of pain and surprise. Death wasn't enough. Death with a nightmarish vision could not satiate Imhotep's reawakened thirst for pain. Torment would be added and Ardeth felt through the sudden haze in his mind that the priest wanted to hear him to scream in agony for his crime. He couldn't give in to this. He had to remain strong.
Evy watched this, her eyes filled with sadness and water. Look away, he thought to her, knowing she would never hear and knowing that if he spoke, his voice may break under the strain. The rod slammed into him again, causing him to jerk in his chains and draw blood from biting his shouts back. The ache throbbed through him. In a mocking reply to his want that Evy not watch, the priest knelt down and reached for his wife. He yanked her into his arms.
Ardeth's heart sank when Imhotep made her face what was happening. The queen closed her eyes, but any hope of her being able to hide from this was dashed when her husband breathed darkly with petting hands, "Watch him, Nefertiri. If you take your eyes off of him I will punish you right here in front of him. Do you want your lover to carry that with him in death?" He jerked her when she failed to reply and with fearful, dark eyes Evy forced herself to look on with a shake of her head. Perhaps the light would never find this man again. The rod hit him again and Ardeth arched in pain, straining his wrists within the cuffs until he fell limp in their hold in exhaustion.
Now with her watching he knew had to be strong for her at all costs. She had to see the hope in his eyes, had to go on believing somewhere inside that dying heart of hers that she could find peace again. But staying silent in this was easier conceived than acted upon. The rod slammed into his back a few more bruising times and each hit brought him closer to another coughing fit, to issuing cries of helpless pain. It couldn't be helped. He couldn't stop it. Evy moaned in despair when he gave into the need and let his body respond to the stress caused by sickness. His chest and throat hurt with the pressure of coughing and he was unable to catch his breath as his final torment continued mercilessly, but that pain was nothing compared to the sound of her crying. It was more than just tears, it was voice given to grief and gasps for stolen air as if she were the one being beaten. It resounded through his ears and made the terror of what was happening worse.
Tightening his fists with another cutting blow, Ardeth opened his tired eyes and groaned, needing to do more than stay quiet. Evelyn's shivering form was caged within Imhotep's embrace, her eyes wide and horrified as she watched him suffer. Imhotep glared over her shoulder heartlessly, but the ill intent coming from him would not weaken the Med-Jai. He was brave and resolved. Pouring his strength through his dark-eyed gaze, Ardeth held Evy's locked through another blow, which called to him another weak groan that nearly turned into a scream with another quick hit before he could regain control. His breathing came fast and hard-pressed.
"All you must do, Ardeth Bay, is ask me to stop it. You already bow to me," the pharaoh suggested coolly.
Ardeth closed his eyes after that, needing to find a place inside him to concentrate. He would not scream. He would not ask for this to stop. The rod hit him again and Imhotep willed evil thoughts to him, telling him he could not make it, that he would fail as he had before. The king watched in interest through another hit and another, each causing Ardeth to tremble in need to give in and ask for it to end. But he could not, not this time. Not when she needed to know his resolve against letting Imhotep win.
Imhotep grew tired of the game when he realized he would win no shout or begging from his enemy. The beating was called to an end and Evy was shoved away. She fell to the sand and covered her mouth to hold her voice back as her grief came with unstoppable force. Ardeth panted for air and gazed up fuzzily, almost too tired now to think straight. Sweat trickled down his body and he coughed weakly, trying to look at her, wanting so much to wrap himself into her comfort and give of his own love. How had it come to this? How had life led them to each other and to this terrible fate? It felt like he was about to awaken from a nightmare. Through his scattered thoughts Bay saw Imhotep turn away from his queen towards another post to unlock it. "Evy," he groaned, wishing her strength. The terror was over for him, but would continue for her until Rick saved her. She needed hope.
Evy lifted her face from her hands and shared his gaze sadly as if she had heard his thoughts and knew she could not fulfill that request, but there was a promise there she had made to try despite all odds. The bones of a fallen Med-Jai hit the ground with a clatter and flying dust. Imhotep roughly took her wrists and dragged her through the sand between the now vacant posts. What are you doing? Ardeth asked through his link, not trusting himself to speak through a sore, dry throat.
"Imhotep?" Evy asked in a ragged voice as her wrists were locked down. Her question was met with a vicious slap that snapped her head to the side. Ardeth tightened his fists, but had no strength left to struggle.
The priest stood back and looked between them, ignoring their questions. Seven jackals stood nearby and it was they whom he addressed, issuing a dark command as he stalked away. "Watch over them and when he dies, bring her to the palace." She will watch you die so she understands what will happen if she betrays me again. The coldness in both his spoken voice and his mental one made Ardeth reconsider again the possibility that Imhotep would ever find goodness. He was too angry, too injured and alone. Only if Evelyn reached out to him again…but she would never. Not if her life depended on it.
A car door slammed and the king's entourage left this depressing place behind. The seven jackals shifted on uneasy feet, hunger in their unearthly eyes as they watched their prisoners without growls or communication. Just malevolence. Evy held her head against her right arm as her crying continued—now as silent as their guardians—and Ardeth dared not interrupt. He would let her spend her grief here and now, and perhaps after that she would find the strength to go on until she could be saved.
Her dress was pretty, he noticed with eyes that welcomed her form warmly. She looked soft and queenly, gentle and rich. Her title (if not her husband) befitted her and Ardeth leaned his head against his left post, watching tears fall from her downcast eyes. There wasn't any more to be said. They knew the love each held for the other, they knew the promises made and the good-byes. All that was left for him was to watch her live and pray for her future. And despite the odds, he knew she would make it. She was so strong, so wonderfully compassionate and endlessly good of character and she didn't even know it. Not by half. But he knew it. He took hope from it.
Was he sleeping? Had he died? Those dark eyes held hers no more. Behind the young slave of Imhotep he stood, his eyes resting upon his former friend's blessed face. No, of course he had not died. He would not unless he took his own life. Imhotep was a great fool to test this.
The shadowy creature clutched the Staff of Osiris with whispery hands that hungered to open the weapon into its true form—a spear said to have been gifted to the very first priest of Osiris, used to slay the wicked servants of dark gods over the many years that had crossed this earth. The seven jackals were gone by his sorcery. It would take but a moment for him to open the staff and just another moment still for the sharp edge to pierce the heart of Heaven's Chosen. Then Ardeth would be dead and with him, the future. Or it would be in a perfect world. In a world that did not see this man protected from death. But this would not stop him from seeing his plans complete. He would willingly be the intervention that kept Ardeth from again crossing over.
When he himself ruled, he would not rule a land of the living. No, Necromancer had no desire for that. He wanted simple rest away from this wretched existence and the world he would take and shape would become a place of the dead. All would succumb and all would suffer the same fate. The earth would be nothing more than a great mausoleum where only the unliving walked. And he would be the master. So much for the great Med-Jai Chieftain. Sajul would lead where Ardeth would never.
But the time had not yet come for such a vision to be born. Necromancer snarled in contempt and the slave-woman stirred, life still clinging to her worn body. He hated his need of Ardeth Bay, but consoled himself with his reverie of the future. The Med-Jai's time would come and he would fail.
So he accepted what he must for the time being and trailed through the sand to face the woman who would aide him in his task. Evelyn Carnahan had awakened and was now searching the earth for whatever had brought her from her sleep. Her confusion ended as soon as he stepped into her field of vision. So long ago he might have felt sorry for the part she would play. She had suffered already so much terror and to perish in so violent a manner would have seemed a shame to a Sajul that cared for life, for pretty women and for his brother-warrior.
Necromancer paced before her with his hood drawn, shadow hiding his face from hers. She was truly mesmerizing with her frightened eyes and he stopped and crouched before her, drawn to wonder what about her held his friend's soul so captive. A cold hand found her cheek as unseen eyes drank in all she was. "Whore of Imhotep," he greeted, laughing as she looked away without will to defend herself. The torment written on her heart was grave.
"Wh-who are you?" she stammered prettily, shrinking back as his pallid fingers trailed to her throat. The temptation to seize such a pretty neck and snap it assailed him, but to do so would be folly. This woman would help him, would betray her lover by helping him.
Nefertiri feared things from him that no longer held sway, however, and Necromancer was polite enough to remove his hand from her quivering flesh. "I am a friend," he lied plainly. The lovely slave shook within the cold mist that sprinkled her and he smiled. "I have come to help you, Nefertiri."
The Carnahan woman flinched back at the use of her ancient name, but nevertheless remained strong under his gaze. "Help me how exactly?" she asked in a wary voice. Oh, how right she was to not trust him.
Unable to resist touching that which belonged to Ardeth for the simple fact that it was his, and daring to feel the life radiating from her without permission, Necromancer found his hand once more upon her face, stroking those lovely, full lips with envy. He had once felt passion. Had once desired that which was Ardeth's, though not so personally as this creature. But cold was his passion now and Arya was no longer within his reach. But this fair creature, causing her to hurt Ardeth would bring him almost as much pleasure as having his sister may have been once upon a time. This woman despised his touch even more than she did her master's.
"I have come to set you free," he told her, thinking of the blood beneath her fair skin. He was growing too hungry for death. This would have to be done swiftly. "But of you I ask a price. A simple price, one you will enjoy paying." Evelyn looked down, afraid of what that price would be and he rasped to himself in consideration. "You know Ardeth's goal and all I ask is that you keep him from it. Take him from this place and hide him away. Distract him with your love. Have children and stay away from Imhotep's madness. Forsake the world."
At that she stiffened and he hissed expectantly, knowing the turmoil that would now stir within her spirit. A tempting bargain, no doubt. One that she would be unable to hold to, if he knew Ardeth well enough, but in the end an action that would do more harm than good. For it would be she that helped strip his goodness. He would want to save the world and she would beg him to stay behind. In that Ardeth would be harmed, for his heart would have to betray either her or the earth. Necromancer bled suggestiveness into his low voice, trying to carry the ease of such a choice to her heart. "Will you do this, Nefertiri? Will you keep him safe and make him forget the troubles around? There are places where you may live together, alone with your love and untroubled."
Her dark eyes flickered to her lover that hung across from them, uncertain for she knew Ardeth's heart as well. She wanted what Necromancer was suggesting. One more thing and she would agree, he knew. One more phrase would convince her. "He has suffered so."
The guilt returned to her stature, drawing her down, weighing her with the shame of selfishness. In doing for him, she would betray him and he would go on to serve Necromancer's purposes when his brother discovered what she was doing. "You'll let us go?" she asked in a small, hopeful voice. "But why…why do you…?"
"Shhh," Necromancer soothed, resting his hand on her side and drawing it softly up her arm. He found the metal cuff holding her captive and held it in waiting. "I only want for him to find peace. I was once a friend and it pains me to see him suffer. Please, good woman. Take this burden from him. It is too much for him to bear."
The cuff snapped with his strength and her right arm was freed, followed shortly by her left. Nefertiri sat for a long moment on her knees, rubbing her pained wrists and thinking through his words. He had won. When she looked up into his hooded face, he knew it. "I'll try," she answered finally and that was all he needed. Necromancer turned from her quickly and hastened to Ardeth. When he touched his brother-warrior he could feel sickness burning in his body. It made him sneer in satisfaction as he unlocked him and let him drop to the sand. Bay groaned in pain and in mere seconds Evelyn was at his side with comforting hands.
Necromancer said nothing as he turned away, giving them their privacy. Ardeth would continue on, kept safe until the proper time. The creature had done what he had set out to do, what destiny had called of him, but soon the time would come when he would turn on fate and change it. "Rest for a season," he whispered gently, turning back to see Nefertiri aid the faltering warrior to his feet. It was a sweet sight, one that filled Sajul with hate. "And when destiny calls, my friend, it will fail you."
And then he would die.
Disclaimer: No infringement intended. Ahamad, Nashean, Mayadeh, Sajul/Necromancer, Arya, Layla, Sania and Reyhanen (and a few less significant originals) belong to me.
A/N: :-O I can't believe it's over! *drops to the floor* How did I do??
Please note, there will be a thank-you page uploaded in another week or so to thank everyone who reviewed this last chapter! Thanks!
Unfortunately, due to silliness, ff.net has deleted all the lovely reviews from the last week or two. *lesigh* So, I'm just gonna have to settle for thanking everyone in a general sort of manner. Thanks to all of you awesome reviewers for following this story!!! You guys are great and made me very happy to be a fanfiction writer!! You ALL rock and I thank you all for your thoughts, good or bad. :-D