Written for the Quidditch League Fanfiction Competition. Thanks to Lizzie for her awesome beta work!
Prompt: Crossover with Misc.: Egyptian Mythology
(instrumental) 'L's Past' - Death Note soundtrack.
Word count: 1,743
This story details only the first three countries of the Land of the Dead, according to the beliefs of the Ancient Egyptians. Nekhenu is a spirit mentioned once in the Papyrus of Ani.
"I have heard the words of Imhotep and Hordjedef,
Whose sayings are recited in whole.
What of their places?
Their walls have crumbled,
Their places are gone,
As though they had never been.
None comes from there,
To tell of their needs,
To calm our hearts,
Until we go where they have gone.
Lo, none who departs comes back again!"
- Harper's song: Tomb of Intef
Nekhenu speaks the truth, and only the truth. He knows the minds of Men, and locks their lies behind their teeth. He has lived here, in the Duat, between the doors of Men and the Gates Beyond, and he is eternal, unyielding.
Nekhenu is silent almost always, for the dead fear, and terror stifles the words on their lips and drives their minds far from any thought of conversation. Here, in the Watercourse of Ra, the first country of the Duat, the Men can see little, and only Nekhenu and the other spirits share Ra's mighty glance upon Great Green Waters and the glittering colors of his Mesektet boat's trappings.
It is for this reason that Nekhenu stops when he sees the Man—nay, the Boy—as the boat pushes off from the riverbank in the thick darkness of the world, pulled onwards by the gods who prefer to remain invisible, so terrible are their countenances.
But the Boy—the Boy is different. Nekhenu sees it in his eyes; they glance about still with the light of life, observing what surrounds him. His bare chest is pale like the skin of the Themehu, travelers from the mortal lands of Libya, and his eyelashes are as black as his pupils. He does not tremble, and he does not flinch, not even when Nekhenu shows himself in the form of flesh.
"This is Duat," the Boy says. His voice is cold, calculating. Nekhenu is unused to such tones in these lands.
"This is the Land Beyond The West," Nekhenu says with the voice of darkness itself. "The beginnings of the country where the dead dwell."
"So I have heard," the Boy replies. His fingers scale the edge of the boat in which he sits, and he seems to examine what it is made of with fastidious attentiveness.
"This is not a journey for those who Live," Nekhenu says, for he speaks only the truth.
The Boy looks up at him, shoulders straight—and though he is not muscular, there is a sternness to his bones, to the lines of his neck. And he smiles. "I know."
And Nekhenu falls silent and will not speak of doubts or assumptions. But he watches the Boy as they speed through the dark on the shoulders of goddesses of many names, and he watches his eyes that are no more Dead than they are Alive, and he wonders.
So they pass through the Watercourse of Ra, where coiled serpents await on the banks of the river, and the darkness is thick and stifling, and here many Men go mad in the dismay of it. But it is not until they approach the First Gate that the Boy moves again. Nekhenu sits, watching. Spells must be known by the Dead to pass through, lest the monstrous snakes that guard the narrow passage, coiled around spearheads, strike.
The Boy rises, eyes gleaming, and his slender frame almost seems mighty as he speaks in the language of snakes.
"O you door-keepers who guard your portals, who swallow souls and who gulp down the corpses of the dead who pass you by when they are allotted to the House of Destruction... may you guide Tom Riddle, may you open the portals for him, may the earth open its caverns to him, may you make him triumphant over his enemies."
And then the Boy names the snakes, speaking like a pharaoh, and Nekhenu yet remains silent, for the truth is not clear.
"Do I surprise you?" asks the Boy sometime later—Tom Riddle is his name, that much is clear from the set line of his jaw and the swelling of his lungs.
Nekhenu says nothing, but looks away as they sail into Urnes, the second country of the Duat, and are shadowed by dark shapes who guard the banks of Ra beyond. And when the second and third hour are past, Tom Riddle seems to waver.
"There's magic here," he says, and his voice is hushed, as if he fears the spirits all about him may steal the words out of his mouth. But his grip upon the boat is steely, and Nekhenu wonders how one who clings so with the body can free his soul enough so as to set foot on the Land of the Dead. "But it doesn't exist in my time."
"Ra exists in all times," Nekhenu states into the mist that passes through them. "He laid the foundations of all things by His will, and all things evolved themselves therefrom."
"They're scared," says Tom Riddle. "Scared of death. That fear affects me, also—so I will become one with death, like the Pharaohs of Egypt. And when I rise again, I'll have more power than any man."
"A Man cannot be one with Ra," says Nekhenu. Only Ra can see the light of day again. Mere mortals do not return.
Tom Riddle's eyes flash, cold in the darkness. "Didn't you see me speak with the snakes? I am no simple man. I wield mighty powers—I have done many things. On this river lies my path to victory."
"There is no victory in Death."
"He is in the form of one who doeth what he wished, and who doth not do what he hateth, and he abideth on the horizon for ever and ever and ever," recites the Boy, and there is a vicious defensiveness to his tone, and Nekhenu thinks that perhaps now the Boy is finally afraid. "I have travelled far across the world to Abydos, the portal of Kings, and so I entered the Duat, forsaking everything else—and I can name all things here," he adds fiercely. "And I can name you, Nekhenu of Heqat."
But though it is spoken as a threat, Nekhenu remains unfazed. "Names wield great power," he says. "But there is no greater power than the power of truth."
"I have learned the truth," Tom Riddle says, turning away and looking towards the distant banks and the rippling waters. And Nekhenu sees the violence in the Boy's blood, watches it boil and steam until it evaporates. And he watches the lie encrust itself on the corners of the Boy's mouth. "I have learned all there is to learn, and so I will conquer death."
"To learn is to listen," says Nekhenu, and after that he speaks no more.
So they pass into the third country of the Duat, and great shapes of gods line the sides of the river, and the darkness is dispelled to the eyes of the trembling Men who are lined to await judgment, and then the boat halts.
And Osiris the Great, god of the Dead, sits enthroned upon a stream of blue lotus-blossoms, and his skin shines emerald in the light as scales filled with hearts bend before him.
Nekhenu disembarks as they reach the edge, and the Boy now seems small in the company of the thousands—for all the Dead are dead alike, and though magic avails before snakes, nothing avails before the eyes of the god. Nekhenu joins the others of his kind and watches as the dark-haired boy, slender and young yet bearing malice on his tongue, falls into the line before the throne.
Nekhenu has borne evil Men over the river, and heard their lips spill with lies that choke them, as they try to deceive themselves of the goodness of their actions. He has spoken no words, but made them flounder nonetheless, for the brand of ordinary evil mostly seen in the Dead is that of resentful regret—and fear of fitting consequence.
But the Boy, Tom Riddle, though fear creeps upon his skin—he has no regret. And when his heart is removed, pulsing with living blood that shines like a red lantern, and placed upon a scale to be weighed against a feather, Nekhenu wonders if pure malice is as weightless as truth.
As the scales measure the life the Boy has sacrificed for power, the Forty-Two Judges, Nekhenu among them, stand still and listen to his testimony.
"Usekh-nemmt of Anu, I have committed no sin.
Her-f-ha-f of caverns, I have made none to weep."
And as the heartless Boy turns back to Nekhenu to speak forth his oath, Nekhenu does not know if what lives in the Boy's mouth is truth or lies—and bereft of this knowledge, he can listen only, while Osiris watches the heart rise and fall on the scales.
"Nekhenu of Heqat, I have not shut my ears to the words of truth."
And this, Nekhenu knows, is a lie. It clusters, crooked and crumbling, at Tom Riddle's mouth, and the scale tips, but not enough.
Osiris raises a hand of emerald green flesh, for he is the opener of gates and the only one who may grant immortality, and the demons that flank his side part, revealing a lake of crackling fire that lies beyond.
Tom Riddle draws in a breath, and the fire is reflected bright in his eyes, which are red like a snake's—and Nekhenu knows that the Boy is aware that if he is not pure, he will not survive in the pool made of flames.
But Tom Riddle goes on.
And when his body, seeming pale and fragile against the black waters and the roaring flames, is engulfed with suddenness by the fire, he does not cry out but merely continues; and it is not clear if in it he perishes or if he has made it through.
Then the demons turn back and the way is barred, and Osiris turns to the rest of the Dead for judgment. Soon the fire is silenced and Nekhenu leaves the banks of the third country of the Duat, and passes through the gates as he has before, and the darkness and silence which have always been his abode whisper only truth to his ears, and there is no word of Tom Riddle.
Nekhenu speaks only the truth, and cares only for the truth—but he wonders, sometimes, what became of the Boy.
Excerpts were taken from the Book of the Dead, the Pyramid Texts and the Papyrus of Ani; all are texts discovered from Ancient Egypt, and both Tom and Nekhenu make reference to them throughout this story.