WSJ: So how'd everyone's Christmas go? ^^ Mine was awesome! Pirates of the Caribbean, Special Edition Mulan (my favorite movie EVER) and Rurouni Kenshin: Shadow Elite, all on DVD!! *dances* Not to mention the sixty bucks in Barnes & Noble gift card! *drools over manga* Fruits Basket, Rurouni Kenshin, Slayers... Hehehe... My mommy also managed to find these two LEGO figures modeled to be Jean Gray and Wolverine, of the X-Men. XD They're so kawaii!

Okay okay, I'll stop ranting. :p Merry Christmas all!

Disclaimer: No own YGO. Ankhare and Senui belong to Indigo Tantarian-sama. Kaela, Missy, Carly, and other random OCs belong to me.

Heeheehee... You guys sure seem eager for Yugi to pop up, don't you. ^^ Never fear, he's coming soon, so keep a look out.

Oh... And please don't hurt me!! *hides*

(-)(-)(-)(-)(-)

Hot Sands Warm Arms

Chapter 12 - Ophidiophobia

Quote of the chapter:

"When bad things happen, don't give up because the day will come when you look back and laugh at them."
(Nuriko - Fushigi Yuugi)

It was mid-February, just after Valentine's day, when it all began.

A large shipment of artifacts from Ankhara where scheduled to be delivered to Athens, Greece, and Shaadi and Isis were to go with them to make sure they arrived safely. They were only to be gone for a week or so, and since Malik was nine, they'd decided that he was old enough to go with them. Excited beyond belief, it was all the little boy could talk about for weeks beforehand.

A few days before they were scheduled to leave, Malik and Ryou wandered to the edge of the city to play. They carried with them a goatskin ball. Ryou had been pouting all morning, and Malik was of a mind to find out why.

"What's wrong?" Malik asked as they tossed the ball back and forth.

Ryou stuck out his lower lip in the way only three-year-olds can. "I wanna go wif you."

Malik blinked, then sighed. He should have known. "I'll be back before you know it, Ry. Besides, you have to stay here to protect 'mane and the twins."

"No! I wanna go wif you!"

"You're not old enough to go with us yet," Malik explained, trying to be patient. He'd had this conversation with Ryou what seemed like a million times, and it was starting to get old. "But someday-"

Ryou stamped his foot. "Nooo! I'm old enough now! Mommy says I'm a big boy, why can't I go wif you?"

"You are a big boy," Malik said, sighing again and shoving his hair out of his eyes. "You just can't go with us this time, that's all."

"But why?" Ryou pestered. "Why can't I go wif you and Auntie Isis and Uncle Shaadi?"

"Because!" Malik said, finally losing his temper. "You just can't! You're a little kid, way too little to go all the way to Greece!"

"I am not!" Ryou howled, stamping his foot again. "I am not a little kid!"

"Yes you are!"

Losing his own temper, Ryou screwed up his face and stomped over to his friend and 'adoptive' brother, and kicked him roughly in the shin. "No I'm not!"

Malik scowled, his face flushing in anger. Grabbing the ball from where he'd dropped it, he flung it as hard as he could over a nearby sand dune. "There! If you're such a big boy, go get the ball!"

Ryou gasped a little, his eyes widening, but then he pouted again. "Fine! I will! But I'm gonna tell mommy on you!" Turning on one foot, the white-haired child stomped out of sight around the hill. It really wasn't that big of one, just large enough that two small boys couldn't see over it. It was rather rocky, and although neither boy knew it, riddled with caves and crevices where Egypt's most deadly predators liked to lurk.

Malik just crossed his arms and glared at nothing, waiting for Ryou to come back. He'd better not tell Angeline, or Malik sure would make him sorry. The two boys really did fight like brothers sometimes, but this was one of the worst scuffs they'd ever gotten into.

The next thing Malik knew, someone screamed. Eyes wide enough to make his kohl crack, Malik forgot all about his anger as he ran around the dune. "Oh no, oh no, oh nonono..."

Just as he rounded the corner and came within sight of Ryou, a loud and angry hiss reached his ears. From then, things seemed to occur in slow motion, like in a dream. Malik tried to run faster, but he didn't seem to be getting anywhere. He watched in horror as Ryou dropped the ball and took a step back, too scared to just run. A short, dun-colored snake reared up in front of him, hissing at the boy who dared disturb its rest. For a moment time stopped, and Malik was able to see the snake clearly. It had a broad, triangular head and a small horn over each eye. Malik's blood froze as he recognized one of Egypt's poisonous snakes, one he didn't know the name of, but that every Egyptian child was taught to avoid.

Time unfroze, and the snake struck like lightning. Ryou screamed again and fell, whimpering and clutching at his ankle. Malik yelled, reaching down and grabbing a stone from the ground. He hurtled it at the snake, and after a last hiss it slithered away to seek easier prey.

Malik slid to a stop in a shower of sand, his heart thundering against his rib cage. He dropped to his knees, grabbing Ryou by the shoulders. "Ry, don't move. You're gonna be okay, I promise."

Ryou was trembling, and clung to his big brother as tears rolled down his cheeks, both from pain and fear. "I want my mommy!"

"I know, Ry, I know. Let go, I gotta take care of that bite." Pushing Ryou off of him, Malik turned to the younger boy's leg and gasped softly, wincing. "Oh man, oh man..." Tearing a long strip off the hem of his shirt, Malik quickly started binding up the bite as best he could. It was already starting to swell, he had to get Ryou help, fast!

Ryou whimpered, still clinging to Malik. "I don't wanna die!"

"Shh, you won't die," Malik said, though he doubted his own words. "You're gonna be okay, I promise. Now listen to me, Ryou. You gotta lay still while I go get mommy and Sissy, okay? You can't move at all."

"N-no!" Ryou grabbed Malik's shirt as the older boy started to get up. "I promise I won't tell mommy on you, Malik. Please don't leave me!" He was sobbing by now, and Malik's heart broke.

"I-I have to Ry, but I promise I'll be back, okay?"

Ryou shook his head. "Don't leave me! I don't wanna die by myself!"

"You won't die," Malik's voice trembled slightly. "If you let me go get help. I'll be back before you know it."

Reluctantly Ryou nodded, releasing his grip on Malik's shirt. Malik wished for all the world he could stay, for he could see the terror on Ryou's face, but there was no way he could carry him back to camp in time. The only chance was for Malik to run back and send help.

Trying not to feel like he was abandoning his brother, Malik turned and ran.

~*~

"Isis! Isis! Mommy hurry! Please!"

Angeline looked up from where she was sitting on the floor of Atemu House's conservation room, playing with Amane. Something was wrong, Malik sounded frightened, and he never called Isis 'Isis' unless he was upset. Standing up and lifting Amane into her arms, Angeline reached the door just as Isis did. They were just in time to see Malik slide to a stop in front of them and bend over with his hands on his knees, panting. Angeline's heart nearly stopped when she saw he was alone. "Where's Ryou?"

Malik raised his head, allowing both women to see his dusty, kohl- and tear-streaked face and his wide, frantic lavender eyes. "Oh mommy, Isis, Ryou got bitten by a snake! You gotta come quick!"

Angeline gasped, and then wordlessly handed Amane to Isis. She turned and sprinted toward where Shen and Shaadi were overseeing construction on some of the village homes.

"What kind of snake?" Isis asked sharply, absently hugging Amane protectively.

Malik choked on more tears, and shook his head to clear them. "It had a head like this," he drew a triangle shape in the air, "With horns. It was the same color as the sand, I saw it!"

"A horned viper," Isis breathed softly. "Shit, this isn't good."

By this time Shen, Shaadi, and Angeline had returned, and someone had been sent to fetch the others. Isis quickly took charge, shoving Amane into her mother's arms. As soon as everyone was gathered, she began barking orders. "Rashiid, Shaadi, take Malik and go find Ryou. You know what to do to slow the poison. Just get him back here as quickly as you can. Pegasus, go radio Luxor hospital and tell them we've got a small child bitten by a Sahara horned viper. Cerastes cerastes is its scientific name. See if you can get them to send a team to meet us at the river. Or a helicopter, if they happen to have one. Cynthia, in my tent there should be a first aid kit, bring it here. Angeline, Shen, I don't mean to sound rude, but you two won't be of much help. Go look after the girls."

"But-"

"Just go!"

Everyone scurried to their assigned tasks. Isis set about vandalizing the nearest cot and turning it into an improvised stretcher, all the while whispering quiet prayers to Wedjet, ancient goddess of serpents.

~*~

The viper hissed softly as she slithered away from the two boys and the hail of rocks the blond was throwing at her. Damn him! Ah well, it didn't matter much that he'd chased her away before she made sure the white-haired one was dead. She'd injected enough poison into him to bring down a fully grown adult, let alone a runt like him. He'd be as good as dead before the next sunrise lit the desert.

Slithering around the protective barrier of a sand dune, she concentrated and began to shift forms. A moment later a young woman of about nineteen years kneeled on the sand, wrapped in a white, translucent form of the gowns the Muslim locals wore, and minus the stifling headdress. Smirking slightly to herself, she ran perfectly manicured nails through long blond hair as she climbed to her feet. Absently she brushed sand off the front of her robe as she made her way back the way she'd come. If the little boy was smart, he would have run to get help for the toddler, leaving him unprotected for her to finish the job.

Rounding the bend, her grin widened as she took in the small form of the boy, laying on his back on the sand. His eyes widened slightly when he saw her, and he sat up quickly. "Who are you?"

"No one," she said softly, kneeling down next to him and lowering her eyelids slightly. "No one of importance." Reaching out one hand, she softly stroked his hair, causing him to shiver slightly. "Shhh... Child, you'll be all right."

He whimpered a little. "N-no... When Mawik said that I believed him, but you... don't feel nice..."

Her smile froze, violet-red eyes widening slightly before returning to their normal seductive slits. "Is that so?" Her other hand creeped toward the back of her skirt, where a simple sheath lay concealed.

"Y-yeah... You're... a really bad person, I can tell."

She smiled at him, stretching painted lips back to show slight fangs. "Oh child... I am not a person at all." In one smooth motion she drew the knife from behind her, raising it over her head to strike as the child screamed in fright. A moment before the killing blow would have landed, however, another hand caught her wrist, while at the same time a hip knocked against her shoulder, sending both her and her assailant sprawling across the sand.

She came up spitting, rolling into a crouch ready to fight, until she saw who had attacked her. The color drained out of her face as she beheld a man with tangled white hair and a scar down one cheek crouched protectively between her and the boy. "You should be sealed away for eternity!"

Bekhura snarled at her, showing his own fangs. "Surprise, I'm not. Get out of here, demon, before I decide to kill you anyway."

Shooting him a glare of her own, she stood up and gathered her dignity around her like a shawl before disappearing into the sands. Silently she cursed. The spirits of the Sennen Items were awake, then. "Master Marduk is not going to be happy..." she muttered.

Then she was gone, in a swirl of linen and sand.

~*~

Ryou looked up at the man crouching in front of him, his eyes wide in fear. "Wh-who are you?"

The spirit's face gentled as he forced himself to put the demoness out of his mind. He'd deal with her later. "My name is Bekhura, little one. I'm a guardian spirit, here to make sure you're safe."

Ryou sniffled. "S-safe?"

"Yes child, you'll be all right. I promise." Bekhura reached out, although he knew he wouldn't be able to touch the boy. To his surprise, his hand brushed against soft curls without going through. The former thief blinked, then gathered the little boy up into his arms. "I promise."

Ryou sniffed again and laid his head against the spirit's shoulder, wondering why he felt so secure in a stranger's arms. There was an air about Bekhura that spoke to something deep inside him, something that told him he could trust this "guardian spirit". He wasn't at all like the horrible woman he's just chased off.

Comforted by such thoughts and Bekhura's strong arms, Ryou drifted into darkness.

(-)(-)(-)(-)(-)

WSJ: ^^; *hides*

Yami Bakura: *rolls his eyes* Review and she'll write the next chapter faster.

Yami Yugi: Maybe.

God bless minna-san!