When Mana Sneezes
The museum's resident curator didn't usually take on the role of a tour guide but a special guest was amongst this group and, whether he'd admit it or not, he had been looking forward to this.
"This is one of my favourites," Mamoru said, walking backwards as they moved to the next display so he'd stay facing his group. "There aren't many surviving records of Pharaoh Atem's priests but this one is amazingly well-preserved and, from what you can see of the edges, little of it has been worn away compared to the other ones. Really, I cannot express how fortunate we are to have this relic as close to its original state as it is."
Protected by a thick glass case was a massive stone tablet, the etchings on which not unlike the 'other ones' Mamoru talked about. It featured a group of people dressed in priestly garments standing around a large, fallen hippopotamus. Above them, the Pharaoh sat in his throne. To his right stood Amun-Re with his Was sceptre in one hand and an ankh in the other and a tall, feather crown on his head. To pharaoh's left was Taweret, depicted as a pregnant hippo with the paws of a lion and the bony back of a crocodile.
"I have a question."
Mamoru stopped in his explanation to see a raised hand sticking out from the crowd, "Of course."
"I'm wondering what those two guys are doing," Mokuba Kaiba said, breaking away from his brother's side from the very back and those around him parted so he could get to the front. He leaned over the velvet rope and squinted. "Oh my gosh, Seto, Seto," Mokuba turned to the group, yelling over them and waving his arm, "come look at this."
"I can see it fine from here," came the cool reply. Clearly the elder was used to this.
"Are you sure?" Chuckling peppered the rest of the group and Mamoru, always having been fond of Mokuba from what he'd seen of the boy in the media, decided to see where this would go. "I mean, he looks just like you."
Kaiba said nothing.
"Anyways," Mokuba turned to Mamoru, "I'm sorry. It's just that this part looks kind of off to me. From here, they look like they're… man," the boy scratched his arm through his long sleeve, "okay, this is going to sound really stupid if I say it but I don't know any other word for it."
Mamoru smiled, "That's okay."
Mokuba took a breath, paused, and then asked in a hushed voice, "You know what? I'm really regretting getting up here now, so can I just whisper it to you?"
"Sure." He leaned down to accommodate.
With one last glance to make sure no one heard, Mokuba cupped his hands over the curator's ear and said, "It looks like they're…"
Mahaad couldn't bring himself to enjoy the festivities. An earlier conversation with Set had left a bad taste in his mouth and a heaviness in his stomach, both of which now preventing him from touching any of the food extravagantly spread on the dining table. At most, he kept a cup of wine in his hand to not seem rude, but even that was hard to keep down.
He turned when he felt a presence behind him, immediately tipping his head in a bow, "My Pharaoh."
"Mahaad," Atem stepped close and laid his free hand on his arm, a show of fraternal intimacy everyone knew was only reserved for Mahaad, "We've been blessed with another akhet, if that's not enough to make you happy, I don't know what will."
"His Majesty should not be concerned about me. I'm fine, really." But Atem's self-assured red eyes were hard to lie to. Mahaad took a sip of his drink, hoping to distract.
"The four of us can discuss this later if it continues to bother you," Atem continued, "I can't have my friend mope about while the rest of the kingdom celebrates, now can I?"
The thought of such a get-together nearly made the wine go down the wrong pipe and it took every effort not to show how much he was against it. "Thank you for your concern, but that's not necessary."
Atem grinned, "Are you saying my idea was a poor one then?"
"N-no! Not at all! I would never –"
Atem laughed and pulled Mahaad in an unexpected one-arm hug, which caught the eyes of several people in the room. "Eat something," he said, "please."
Mahaad had yet to figure out how his relationship with his friend-turned-God-King worked and it was even more challenging to establish an equilibrium when Atem did things like this. Which was, in Mahaad's opinion, often. And when these things happened (usually in public), he had to think very carefully before he could say anything. And he was sure that Atem knew this and reveled in it.
He was suddenly cut off by the sound of smashing dishware. Dinner conversations came to a halt and all eyes were on Isis and the bright light of her Sennen Necklace. Everyone waited until she came out of her trance, and when she did, there was only a single word: Disaster.
And then a scream that made Mahaad's blood run cold.
Mana burst into the dining hall. She was soaked from head to foot, her thin garments clinging to her and revealing just a little too much to be considered decent. Her hairpiece was gone and her kohl ran down her face in black streaks, either from the water or from the fact that she was crying.
"Master Mahaad, help me!"
The reason came charging after her, massive and enraged. Shrieks of horror erupted from the guests, some immediately making for the nearest exit while others seeking places to hide as the hippopotamus made its grand entrance into the dining hall, shattering, squishing and obliterating everything in its wake.
Amidst the chaos, Mahaad saw Mana dive under the elongated table, rolling out on the other side just in time to escape the hippo smashing it in half. As she ran towards him, food, cutlery and dishware were flung in the air and destroyed in an unending, ear-shattering orchestra.
She crashed into his arms, "I'm so sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry! I can't stop it, help me, help me please!"
He did a quick scan of the room and silently cursed when he saw that Karim was already down, "Protect Pharaoh," he said and pointed to the main doors, "Get him out of here and we'll deal with it."
The hippo let out a low, guttural sound before picking up a large chunk of the table and flinging it at the aforementioned exit. Panicked, Mahaad checked every other exit and found that they were blocked as well. This couldn't have been a coincidence.
"I-I can take him to the dais," Mana said, with newfound (perhaps borrowed) courage, taking their God-King by the hand and pulling him towards the raised platform at the East end of the room before Mahaad could respond. She literally threw him on his throne before whirling around and bracing herself in the space in front of him, staff held high.
"Mahaad!" It was Isis. She was on the ground, cradling an unconscious Shadah who had a large gash on his left temple. Karim lay behind her, also unconscious. "Distract it! Get it away from the wounded!"
Thankfully, all the guests had miraculously gotten out of there. The only ones left in the room were Pharaoh, the priests and Mana. Unfortunately, two of the Priests were too injured to do anything and the magic of those still standing wasn't really geared towards dealing with hippo attacks.
He turned to Siamun, "Where are the guards? Are they coming?"
"They're on their way," Siamun, having created a make-shift shield out of several large bronze plates, replied.
Mahaad's Sennen Ring glowed in agitation, "What do you mean 'on their way?' Where are they now?"
Siamun ducked behind one of his plates as a slew of vegetables was hurled his way and Mahaad gave up on trying to get his answer. With no options left, his eyes combed the room until the found the person he wished he didn't have to talk to so soon.
"Set, what do we do?"
He was nursing an arm but there was a fierceness in those narrowed blue eyes that told Mahaad Set wouldn't give up so easily. He knew Set's quick-witted mind was already spinning ideas; the question was if he was willing to share them. Or divide the work.
Set spat blood from his mouth, "Use your Ring to extract its ka," he said in a pained voice.
"And put it where? We don't have a tablet!"
"Use the other half of the table."
"That won't work! It's just an ordinary table!"
Set gritted his teeth, his eyes spitfire angry. "Will you at least give it a goddamn try?"
Mahaad reluctantly slid his fingers through the hoop of his Ring.
"Wait! I'll stop it, I remember how now!" Mana stepped off the dais and bravely headed towards the hippo.
"No! You'll only make it worse!" roared Set.
"Mana, let us handle this. Go back to guarding Pharaoh, please!"
But she was obstinate. With staff poised, she uttered a complicated spell in an Upper Class tongue. Her precision was slightly off but it was spoken well enough to be recognizable. As soon as she finished, the hippo froze in its spot.
They waited on baited breath.
The hippo's leathery skin then began to glow. At first, it was dull but then it grew in intensity until the hippo was shrouded in a light so bright, they all had to look away. And when they could stand to look upon it again, it had grown almost twice as big.
And acquired horn on its forehead.
"Damn you, Mana!" Set boomed, "I swear if we escape this, I will sacrifice you to all the deities, even the ones I don't worship. I will cut you up into little pieces, throw those pieces into a fire, throw those ashes into the Nile and heat the Nile until those ashes reach the heavens. It will be a direct route to the gods that will guarantee peace and prosperity in all of Egypt for the next thousand years!"
Despite himself, Mahaad couldn't help but agree – in part.
Mana took a shaky step backwards, unblinking eyes fixed on the now mutant hippo. Her lips moved but her shock held the words back. She fell backwards, landing hard on her bottom and cried silently.
"Oh for the love of –"
"Set! Mahaad! Allow me," Atem said from his place on the dais.
"NO!" And their conviction was so strong that their own God-King obeyed without question. There would be a time to for them to feel bad about this but that time had to be later.
If there was a later.
The hippo fixed its beady little eyes on Mana, snorted, and charged at her. There wasn't much room considering its new size to charge and one would think its weight would weigh it down, but neither was the case.
Hopeless as it seemed, Mahaad sprung into action, lifting his robes with both hands as he sprinted at her. He dove blindly and caught the shell-shocked girl in his arms before a horrible pain exploded in his shoulder. Mahaad, Mana-in-arm, flew until he hit a wall, the pain spreading quickly throughout his body as he slid to the ground. Sometime during the process, his headdress had flown from his head, leaving his long hair to spill over his shoulders and face.
"Master Mahaad!" she screamed when his eyes didn't open and nothing but a groan dropped from his lips, "Master Mahaad! Are you okay? Are you okay?"
"T-this, this is all my fault," she blubbered through hot tears, "It's all my fault! I can never do anything right! I'm such a screw-up!"
Mahaad lifted a heavy arm and grasped his student's hand. He struggled, but also managed to open his eyes, "Yes, it is your fault."
She sniffed, more tears ready to spill.
"But you can keep trying. Listen to me and listen to Set before you barge into something. We will fix this together, I promise."
She nodded and bent down to kiss his hand. And, whether by magic or the immense relief that he finally had his student's obedience, Mahaad felt the pain ebb. He sat up, his strength renewed and energy revitalized and he hugged her, "Thank you."
"Excuse me," Set said icily from the other side of the room, "But if you haven't noticed, we're still in danger." Luckily for them, the mutant hippo had taken a break to eat the food it had flung around the room, including the things it had flattened.
"Try to get to Pharaoh without drawing its attention," Mahaad instructed Mana. He then stood and made his way to Set's side.
"It has occurred to me that you haven't yet tried to use your Rod," Mahaad said matter-of-factly, "Care to share as to the reason behind this?"
Set didn't look at him, "It won't work. This thing clearly has no mind to control."
"You are a hypocrite then. What's the real reason?"
Set sucked in a sharp breath and rolled his jaw as if he'd just tasted something bitter, "The thought of entering the mind of that creature is utterly repulsive."
At first, Mahaad was struck by this new information. He never knew the Rod's power required the user to actually enter its subject's mind. The things Set must have seen over the years…
"There's a price to pay for every Item holder, not just you. But your Pharaoh's life is at stake as well as those of your colleagues and the innocent. I would say it's well worth it."
Set's hands balled into fists, his arms flexing under the strain. It looked as if he was going to let out a string of curses but kept silent. Finally, he produced his Sennen Rod, which he'd kept safety tucked under a flap of his robes, "It will be your head on a platter if this doesn't work."
Mahaad tried not to chuckle at the 'parting' comment as Set rigidly stepped forward. He tapped the pointed end of his Rod on the ground, grabbing the feasting hippo's attention, "Come at me, servant of Taweret."
It snorted at him with disinterest and went back to licking squished grapes from the ground. And, genuinely irritated by the 'rejection,' Set stomped a sandaled foot on the ground, "I said come at me, you abhorring creature!"
"Don't insult it, Set. It is, after all, the servant of Taweret."
"And it nearly killed us all!" Set shot back before facing the backend of the hippo once more, "I said come! Or are you afraid?"
Again, nothing happened. So, short-tempered and unwilling to wait, Set picked up a fig and threw it at the hippo's backend.
Almost instantaneously, its undivided attention was on him. Even before it fully turned around, it ran, the enormous legs shaking the ground as the heavy body barrelled towards him.
He aimed the Sennen Rod at the creature, like a swordsman ready to strike and the Rod lit with power. But something was wrong. The hippo kept running, unfazed by the magic and the two had a split second to realize this before they had to dodge.
"Try it again!"
Shaken but not yet undone, Set drew the hippo's attention. He stared hard into its eyes as he made to attack him again and thrust his weapon at it.
He had a very short space of time to decide whether to jump out of its way or stand his ground. The first meant he'd be safe but lose any control he had over it. The second option was a lot riskier.
But his keen eyes caught the slowness of its movements, the way it was more sluggish than before, so he stood his ground. It continued to charge at him when his window of opportunity passed.
But was already contemplating death. There was no doubt it would easily kill him. His hand gripped the Rod as if it was the last thing keeping him from falling into an abyss. If he was going to go then and there, it would at least be with honor.
He could feel the air from its nostrils and smell its rancid breath. Its enormous weight would be next.
Then it stopped, just as its snout touched the tip of the Sennen Rod.
Frozen, as if stopped by time, it stood, waiting to be commanded.
Every (waking) face in that room was painted with disbelief, and rightfully so. Set had only ever used the Sennen Rod on humans and he'd done so sparingly. A dark grimace marred his face, evidence that he'd connected with the creature's mind and that it was, indeed, a very unpleasant experience.
Ever so slowly, it turned its body around. With one heavy step at a time, it trudged to the main exit. Using its horn to break through the blockade, it walked right through and (everyone could only assume) kept walking.
Then, a loud splash.
Set let his arm drop and slumped against the nearest wall. He clutched his stomach to stop himself from gagging while he tried to regain his composure. "That… was disgusting."
"Congratulations, Set," Mahaad said as he stepped up to his exhausted comrade, "You're a hero. Here." He handed Set the headdress Set hadn't even realized he'd dropped.
"And yours." Set withdrew Mahaad's headdress from a pocket of his robes and held it out.
But despite the fear-driven bonding experience, neither could deny the years of… strained relations between them. Which made for that very moment to be an awkward one, so awkward, in fact, that everyone else in the room could feel the tension.
Simply staring at each other wasn't enough. They could thank each other, but that didn't feel like enough either. Physical touch would be too much and neither were attracted by the idea of it. There had to be a happy median.
Just for that one shared experience.
Mahaad held out his fist. At first, Set thought Mahaad would strike him and geared to strike back, but the fist just hovered there, waiting, perhaps, for some sort of response.
Slightly confused, Set begrudgingly held out his own fist and let it hang in the air too.
It was close, they both felt it, but not quite there yet. So Mahaad closed the gap and their knuckles touched.
"… about to brofist."
Mamoru curled a strand of his long, brown hair behind his ear and made a pretense to take a closer look at the display. He caught a glimpse of the elder Kaiba, who most definitely looked uncomfortable with their private conversation.
"I'd believe it."
1) I made Mokuba slightly more immature only for the purposes of this fic. I don't actually believe the VP of Kaiba Corp. (young as he is) would really behave this way.
2) The female hippo is associated with Taweret, the Goddess of Childbirth and Fertility. Ancient Egyptians admired the fierceness by which they protected their young, and thus relied on this goddess to protect both themselves and their own children in all things associated with childbirth.
3) Akhet is the season in which the Nile flooded. This was important because the waters left behind fertile silt and moisture. This season falls between early September and early January on our calendar.
4) I left out Akunadin because there were already too many people to coordinate. Hopefully no one missed him.
5) 'Mamoru' is a Japanese name meaning 'protector.' Isn't that nifty?