A few things:
This is under the impression that Ra ends up healed/sane again
This is a two-shot. No more, no less. Part two should be coming soon.
The eyes of the old sun god were resigned, a sadness trailing in them deeper than Carter would ever understand.
"I'm not a leader. I can't do this."
Ra eyed him skeptically. "Not a leader, you say? You did this. All of this. This army is here by your command. You found my book. You brought me here, you confronted Apophis. You are a leader, Carter Kane, whether you like it or not."
Carter's head reeled, and he felt sick to the stomach. He knew he had a huge role in the whole mess. But he didn't for a second consider this.
"There has to be some other way." His voice was panicked, desperation leaking through.
Ra studied the boy with sympathy. It would be so much easier not to tell him. Even Horus himself would not have bore the pharaoh's throne if he had know the price. But it was his choice to make, in the end.
"I understand, Carter. I know you don't want this. The responsibility is huge. You could step down. Stop. Let Apophis win. The world would be gone. Us gods are not helpless; we could hold the Underworld, at most. But everything on this earth, everything humans have ever accomplished will be gone."
Carter looked down, pain in his eyes that went beyond his years. "You mean it would be all over. We would all die."
Ra looked at the boy sympathetically.
Carter clenched his fists, and when he looked up again his eyes were steeled.
"Then I'll do it."
Guilt slinked through Ra like a snake, whispering accusations into his ears.
"Think on it. Do not take this lightly. The price is immense, Carter."
The boy looked taken aback. "I thought you were trying to convince me."
Then again, of course Ra would. The world mattered more than a little boy, didn't it?
"You don't understand." Ra finally gave in to the hushed voices plaguing his mind. "It will kill you. The weight of the world. The world may thrive, but the ruler pays the price. It drains from you - joy, feeling, life itself. Your life becomes theirs. You are nobody. You will be a puppet on a string. Nobody will know you. You will be alone, drowning in a sea of misery, with no-one beside you. And even then you cannot stop, because of what falls on you. It stops when you die, and when the time comes you will embrace death with open arms, because it will finally put your suffering to an end. This is the darker side of power, the side even Horus would ever speak to you of. Even I was reluctant to tell you. I want you to take the seat. All the gods do. We want the world to live on. But it depends on whether you make the sacrifice."
Carter seemed at a loss for words, staring at the god, trying to wrap his mind around why Ra had just said while maintaining the gaze.
"That's not fair," he said finally, his voice pitifully small.
"Your father knew that, Carter. The quote he so often said was born from this - the price of a ruler that runs as deep as Egypt itself. It was Orisis speaking through him, warning his son. Everybody must get what they need, not what they want. And for everybody to get what they need, you must pay a price. But beware, Carter Kane. The path will be treacherous no matter which turn you take."
"This is what was going to happen in the end the whole time, wasn't it?" His voice was bitter. "You knew. All the gods knew."
"It depends on what you value most. Your life, or theirs."
Ra looked up, watching the sky as indigo seeped through scarlet.
"Your time is running short, Carter. You must make your choice to save the world or end it. It goes beyond beheading a snake. You have until midnight."
It was so cliché that Carter might have laughed if he hadn't felt so dull, like the whole world was going black and white around him. If he wanted to save Ma'at, his fate would be worse than death.
Ra stretched out his hand to touch the pendant around his neck. The Eye of Horus burned uncomfortably hot.
"I will know when you have made your choice. Good luck, Carter Kane."
He looked up, but the god was gone.
The girl looked up from where she was tending to the flames, and rose when she spotted Carter's silhouette a little while away.
He walked closer, and she immediately noticed something was wrong. His skin was pale, and his eyes were ice cold. He looked at her, and for a second she heard him mentally screaming, pleading, begging her to help him, fear evident in his eyes. But a second later and he had steeled himself again.
She touched his cheek and he straightened like he'd received an electric shock. "What's wrong?"
Carter swallowed tightly, staring back into her golden eyes. He couldn't tell her. She would try to stop him, he knew, and so would everybody else.
So he took a deep breath, and he lied.
"Nothing. I spoke to Ra. He's agreed." He couldn't bring himself to speak in more than short sentences.
She looked at him dubiously, searching his eyes for an answer that he didn't have.
Zia will guide you.
And suddenly emotion rushed into him again, color flooded back into the world. If he couldn't tell Zia, if he couldn't tell anyone, then he would end up like Ra. But he wanted her, he needed her, and-
"There's something else." He blurted, startling her.
"There's a price." And with that he released it, spilled his thoughts and emotions and fears and the whole situation to her.
"I don't know what to do." He looked up at her, forcing back fear that was trying so desperately to come out.
Zia's eyes were closed, her expression completely unreadable. She was tracing something in the dirt - an ankh. Eternal life.
Finally her eyes opened, beautiful amber eyes tainted with sadness.
"Do what you must, Carter. Maybe Ra is right. Maybe it will k-kill you." Her voice shook, but she hardened and looked him right in the eye. "But if there's one difference, it's that you are not alone."
Suddenly he was aware that she was close, closer than they had been since that day by the river.
And it was when their lips met that he made up his mind.
Zia was right, again. He had Sadie, he had Osiris, he had her.
Abruptly the amulet around his neck burned white-hot and he pulled away from her in shock, clawing at the chain encircling his throat.
"Zia!" He cried, the scalding metal burning into his skin.
She recovered from her momentary shock and yelled something. A hieroglyph flared in the air. He smelt something burn, tasted ash, and his vision went black.
He was in a hall, stone walls rippling as if they were sheets of magical fabric.
In front of him were dozens of figures with animal heads - he recognized some of them - the gods.
Ra was closest, his eyes closed, seated on his throne.
The whole hall was eerily silent. It was the quietest Carter had experienced in his life. He rubbed a finger by his ear to make sure he hadn't gone deaf.
"Carter Kane." Ra's eyes opened, and they were nothing but flickering pits of fire. "You have accepted the Crown of Pharaohs, the Throne of Fire, the Weight of Civilization.
"I will not live much longer. My very essence will disintegrate as soon as you take the crown."
Ra stepped down. Each time his clawed foot touched the marbled floor, a thunderous boom echoed through the chamber, until he was standing directly in front of Carter.
"You were warned."
And suddenly there was a blinding, searing agony. He was on fire - he could only see red, feel the excruciating heat as flames ripped through his lungs, burned into his flesh, could only hear his own screams, drowning out the laughing of the gods.
And then as soon as it started, it was over.
With a sickening lurch he was atop the throne, suddenly in the Egyptian clothes of the Duat. He touched his head, and felt a metal ring resting on his messy locks.
He was higher than the gods, and they were bowed to him, varied expression in eyes. Even Bast was there, looking on with...regret?
Horus looked up first, met his eyes filled with pure loathing.
"Hail Carter Kane, Pharaoh of Life."