Horus: Chapter 17
PENDUA DODGED THROUGH the streets, pushing several people aside, trying to get to the wall. Hetepet was attempting to follow, though the streets were so crowded the going was difficult.
She barely saw Pendua slow and stop ahead of her. The noise was tremendous, people shouting up and down to each other, the few Apsiu attempting ineffectually to hold them back.
Pendua looked up and along the wall. "What's happening?" he called out, hoping someone would bother to answer.
A man he vaguely recognized as a brewer turned to glance down at him. "They're fighting!"
"Set and the prince. Their armies are down there. They just started fighting!"
Pendua paused. So it's begun, he thought. What my dream told me about. Now do I find out if it was true or not?
"What's going on?" Hetepet had caught up with him. She touched his arm.
"War," he replied. He moved further along the wall. "How's it going?"
"Prince Horus is in the middle of it," someone else called. "They're all fighting pretty vicious. I can't see the king anywhere."
Pendua moved away from the wall, toward Hetepet. "This is our chance," he said in her ear. "The Kana can always surround Horus's army, but they've got the city walls at their own backs."
"Shielding them," Hetepet filled in.
He nodded. "Remember how I've always said someone has to stand up to Set. This is the time. If we don't do anything now, then it's useless."
"So what do you suggest?"
Pendua looked up at the Apsiu pushing the people back with their ax handles. "That's the only thing we've got holding us back. Remove it, and we remove the fear surrounding it." He faced one Kana struggling against the mob and took a deep breath. His voice carried over the clamor.
"Moru! Guarding the wall!"
The Apsiu whirled to face him, his eyes going wide. A feral snarl escaped his throat; he bared his teeth and tried to push forward.
"Why aren't you out there fighting?" Pendua went on. The people quit pushing to gape down at him. He kept up his taunting, knowing how much the mere name Moru insulted the Kana. "Does the king think you're Moru? He won't let you fight in his army?"
The Kana bellowed and swept one person aside, shaking his ax at the air. The others, seeing their companion go down, started yelling again and surging around him. He saw the angry looks on their faces and tried backing away, only to find himself surrounded. Panic entered his eyes.
"Back up," Pendua warned Hetepet, and they moved away.
Above, the people started shouting insults at the Kana guards and shoving them back and forth. "Moru! Hyenas! Fly! Fly and go fight for your king!"
Someone struck the first Apsiu on the back. He screeched and plummeted from the wall. He had time enough to flap his wings once before he was engulfed by the angry mob. Hetepet winced and covered her ears against the screams that arose from the creature as the people pummeled and tore at him.
They started pushing at the other Apsiu. Another one went down, knocked unconscious, but the remaining few spread their wings and leapt from the wall to join the battle outside. The fray spread to the other walls, and soon the people were running through the city, mobbing any Apsiu they could find.
"They're supposed to be running out!" Hetepet cried.
"There's too much anger," Pendua shouted back. He was appalled by the fury that had been unleashed. The people weren't even trying to escape the city. Their taunting had turned into a full-scale riot.
"The temple!" Hetepet turned to run. Pendua grabbed her wrist and she tried to break free. "They'll mob the temple! If any Apsiu go in there, it'll be destroyed either way. I have to find Heka!"
"You know he won't leave!"
"We have to help him!" She broke away and disappeared, swallowed up by the crowd. Pendua started pushing and dodging after her. It seemed every step he took forward he was pushed back three; yet he put any feelings he may have had for courtesy aside and elbowed his way through the masses.
Over the roiling mob, far to the south, he could see the temple wall rising high. He made it his target and went for it.
In the temple, Hekanakht bowed outside the Holy of Holies, even as he heard the muffled noise outside grow louder.
Isis felt a hand on her arm, and heard a voice speak. "Goddess."
She turned away from watching the rioting and fighting beyond her balcony. Thoth looked at her, with more concern in his eyes than she could remember seeing.
"We have to go," he said quietly. "The fighting's getting worse. If we don't go now, we could be trapped."
"I don't want to leave the palace." She had visions of the place she and Osiris had ruled from being razed to the ground.
Thoth squeezed her wrist lightly. It was the most familiar gesture he'd made. "We have to. Now that Set's not here, his Kana might do anything they wish. Including hurting you. The people themselves might storm the palace."
She looked outside again. From here she couldn't see her son on the battlefield, had no idea how he was doing.
"Where are my ladies? The guards?"
"I instructed them to take one of the passages out through the temple. The guards would have been allowed in with their weapons if they were protecting the women and went straight through." He paused. "The only ones left here are you, Nephthys, and myself, and several of Set's Kana. We can take the temple passages out of the city also, but we have to do so now."
Isis hesitated only a moment longer before picking her kite off its perch. It screeched and she stroked its head, tucking it close to her. She turned to Thoth again and nodded.
They left her room, silently slipping down the hall. They met Nephthys wringing her hands near the stairway; their eyes met and they descended into the central hall.
Isis was used to seeing the hall nearly deserted--Set had never liked receiving large parties of fawning dignitaries--but she wasn't used to the eerie stillness of the place now. She heard a dull roar far beyond the walls that she soon realized must be the people rioting outside. She felt as if her heart were pressing against the back of her pectoral.
Thoth touched her arm again and they moved on. She knew he must have a way out of the palace already planned or he wouldn't be leading them.
They went into the inner court. Isis was planning their way out in her head. Thoth would most likely take them through the south court, and out a small exit hidden in the palace wall. The palace compound extended from one side of the city to the next; few people would probably be at the south end. Thoth would take them through there, across the main street running down the middle of the city and into the temple with barely anyone noticing. Unless, of course, the temple itself had been overrun.
She refused to think of that now.
They turned to the south side of the court, heading for the outside. Before they could blink an Apsiu appeared before them, out of nowhere, snarling and hefting a giant battleax.
The trio stopped abruptly, Nephthys clinging to her sister's arm. The kite screeched and struggled to free itself, but Isis clutched it tighter, her eyes growing.
Thoth only looked irritated, holding up his hand, fingers extended. They flashed; a startled look crossed the Kana's face, and he froze, his ax still half lifted into the air.
Thoth motioned the goddesses forward and they passed the living statue, making protective signs as they went.
They passed through the south court and into an avenue of trees forming one arm of the T-shaped garden. The whitewashed palace wall rose before them. Thoth bent down where an ornate flowering bush grew close to the wall and parted the branches. He motioned to them again; Isis went through first, assisting her sister, and Thoth came out last. He glanced around. Isis could see his knuckles white against his tall staff, and knew that, despite his calmness, he was nervous inside. They all were, as they listened to the dull roar to the north.
Thoth peered around the corner of the wall and stepped out into the main street. The temple lay directly ahead, its back facing them. Once in a while a person would run by, but for the most part this area of the city was so far empty.
Isis looked at Thoth. He nodded. Keeping their eyes and ears alert, they made a beeline for the temple.
The fighting outside the city was little more than chaos. The Sha and horses had little room to actually move around without running into each other. At first all Horus could do was block each blow aimed at him by the surrounding Kana; only when he heard Upuat's voice far to the side of him did he try to turn and look back at his army. With a shock he realized his men were all around him, and he was cut off from them by the Kana. He blocked another blow and went on the offensive, swinging his sword to knock one Apsiu from his Sha and plowing his way through.
Sakhmet fought ahead of him. She had four Apsiu attacking at once, but instead of looking frightened, the danger appeared to have fueled her battle-fury. She'd killed already; a streak of blood crossed her face, her fangs showing white against the red. Her ax looked heavier than anything Horus could lift, yet she swung it with ease, twirling it over her head to fell one of the Kana.
Horus didn't doubt she'd do well on her own. Nevertheless, he decided to even the odds and took on another one of the Kana himself. He swung at his head; the flat of the sword connected with a crunch and the Apsiu fell. Sickened, Horus brought his horse around to let Sakhmet finish the job, and tried to seek out his next target.
Where was Set? He couldn't remember seeing him in the first charge. Was his uncle even fighting at all? Was it some kind of plan--have the Kana wear out his troops, and then plunge in himself? Right now he thought a duel between the two of them would have been much preferable to the bloodshed and mental waiting going on all around him now.
A scream. He twisted around to see a Kana just beside him raise his ax and start to let it fall.
Thunk! The Kana choked and sagged forward, his ax grazing Horus's arm and clattering to the ground. Something blue and glowing hummed and whirled away. Anubis caught his boomerang, his eyes briefly meeting Horus's before he hurled it again, striking almost every Apsiu in its path.
Must stay alert. Must stay alert. Trying not to shake, Horus dug his heels into the horse's flanks and continued doing the ridiculous, attempting to knock down as many Apsiu as possible. For once he was thankful for the identifying ear lappets which stopped him from attacking his own men. He vaguely thought it ironic that the Kana's badge of honor was now killing them.
No time for regret, no time for pity when an ax was swinging at your head. Horus knocked it aside, steeling himself before running his attacker through.
Mahai was not a fighter. Yet here he was, armed with a light sword, watching with panic the fierce fighting. He stayed back, near the city walls, in case he had to dash back inside. A few Kana guarded the gate from inside, blocking it from any humans that might try forcing their way out, ready to open it for their own kind to go back in.
Retreating wouldn't be cowardice, he reasoned. It would be survival. Set would still need him after this was all over, and he could assure his survival by retreating. Nothing wrong with that.
He cast a final look at the battle before deciding to go back in. Yet his eyes fixed on one figure charging toward him out of the fray, and he felt panic well up in him again, nearly squeezing his heart out his throat.
The Apsiu charging at him, tattered wings flailing at the air, shrieked and twirled his sword. Mahai quailed, dropping his own weapon, and tried to bring his Sha around. It stumbled and went down on one leg. Mahai screamed as the felt the blade slice through his right wing and arm, piercing his armor and laying open the skin over his ribs. He fell from the Sha, clutching his arm and scrabbling for the gate.
The horse's shadow loomed over him. Tarua slashed at Mahai's wings again, his eyes mad.
"Kana!" he screamed; splitting Mahai's left wing, he crowed, "Moru!" With each strike he repeated himself. "Kana! Moru! Kana! Moru!"
Screeching with pain and half crazed with fear, Mahai pounded on the doors and finally managed to squeeze inside.
Tarua howled with anger, his horse rearing. As it brought its forelegs down he felt a shock. He looked down, surprised, to see the blade of a sword protruding from below his ribcage. His own blood streaked the metal.
The blade withdrew. Tarua gasped and clutched at his horse's mane. The animal whinnied and tossed its head; he collapsed, landing on his back. Every breath came harder than the last.
A Sha stopped near him. He dimly recognized the Kana that dismounted, touching his chin with the sword's tip and grinning fiercely. Tarua sputtered, blood leaking from his mouth.
"Remember me, Moru?" Kusef hissed. He laughed at Tarua's feeble attempts to roll over. "Yes, I see you do. I told you I'd kill you. What I did to your wings will be nothing compared to this!"
Tarua started to let out a long, high-pitched whine. This only irritated Kusef further. He'd been hoping to draw this out, have a little fun, but ended up bringing the sword down on the Apsiu's neck just to shut him up. The whine broke abruptly into silence.
Kusef brought his sword back up, looking around. Having to finish Tarua off so quickly angered him. He didn't want to feel he'd abandoned his position at the front for something so trivial as the death of a Moru. There had to be something more worthwhile to do back here.
He looked up at the top of the wall, at the people milling around, and saw one face he recognized. That human. The one he'd seen once with Mahai in the palace, the informant.
The human noticed Kusef staring at him, and backed away.
"Moru!" Kusef shouted. "Coward!" He slammed his shoulder into the door. "Open! Let me in, dungeaters!"
One door opened a crack. Kusef pushed his way in past the beleaguered Kana, trying to see over the shouting angry people.
"Where did he go?" he snapped.
"He just ran off, his wings all torn," one of the Apsiu said.
"No, fool! The human! The traitor human...he's probably been working for Horus all along! Where is he?"
"Someone came down from the wall--" the Kana parried a blow from one of the people "--and ran off toward the temple."
Kusef bared his teeth. "Fool Moru thinks I won't follow him. He'll see!" With a bellow, he swept several people aside, plowing his way through and keeping them at bay with his sword. They hesitated before letting him go, turning their attention back to the gate. He had little trouble getting to the temple.
He'd been inside once before, when Set had first taken over, and had hated it. The head scribe of the place--a thin bald man looking much like a stork in robes--had denied him entry unless he left his sword at the gate. Even a threat of action on Set's part hadn't deterred him, and Kusef had been forced to comply, entering the building weaponless, like a Moru. He scowled at the memory. Any time he had to leave his weapons behind he hated it.
His armor clunked as he jogged around and through the pylon, into the courtyard. A group of baboons scattered before him.
He ground his teeth. There was that stupid human, the weakling temple scribe, running out of the hypostyle hall toward him. He held up his hands as if to push Kusef out, though he kept backing out of the way.
"No weapons allowed in the temple!" he said. "You'll have to leave them outside the gate."
Kusef backed him into the hall. "Out of my way, Moru."
"I can't let you pass," Hekanakht insisted. He stopped walking backwards, blocking Kusef's path.
Kusef snarled. "Then I'll make my own way!" He jabbed his sword forward, below the ribs on Hekanakht's left side. Hekanakht's eyes widened. He clasped his hands over the wound, dark red streaming down his kilt. He sank to the floor and Kusef stepped over him, into the second hall.
There he was. That coward human. Merisu quailed, pressing himself against a column as if trying to blend in with it. Kusef bared his teeth, raising his sword. This would be something to remember. The human started babbling, begging to be let go, promising to do whatever he could if he could just keep his life, even leave the city if he had to--
Kusef's sword effectively cut him off. The Kana grinned, wiped his weapon off on the dead man's kilt, and sheathed it.
Something jabbed him in the back. He sucked in his breath with surprise, feeling his throat fill with blood, and tried to turn.
The dagger was abruptly withdrawn. Kusef staggered. He could barely see Mahai before him, grinning insanely and clutching his dagger, his arm bloody and his ruined wings quivering.
Kusef sputtered, going down on one knee.
Mahai laughed, a harsh, broken sound.
"I told you to watch yourself, Kusef," he rasped. "But you never learned to listen."
The Kana general tried to talk, and tried to get up. But every breath he took was more labored than the last, his throat clogging as he choked on his own blood; Mahai grew fainter before him, until Kusef could have sworn all the lamps had gone out, and he felt even himself disappear.
Hetepet reached the temple, Pendua following right after her. They raced through the courtyard, slowing as they reached the first hall. They'd noticed the faint trail of blood heading out the door. They started looking around, squinting and blinking in the dimness.
Hetepet noticed something lying on the floor in the middle of the hall, something that moved slightly. She stared at it a moment before darting forward with a gasp.
"Heka!" she cried.
She dropped to the floor next to him while Pendua went on into the second hall. Hekanakht managed to look up at her through glazing eyes.
"Too much death," he murmured. "Too much bloodshed. I tried...I tried to keep them out..." His voice faltered, and he coughed weakly.
Hetepet tried to blink the tears out of her eyes. She pressed her hand to his wound and felt him flinch.
"It's all right," she mumbled. Blood squeezed out under her hand. "They won't take it over. I know they won't."
Pendua joined her, kneeling by her side. "Merisu and Kusef," he said. "They're in there. It looks like Kusef killed Merisu, then whoever came out killed him." He looked Hekanakht over. "How is he?"
"He's bleeding," Hetepet said. It was all she could think of.
Pendua stared at him, unsure what to do. He felt the scribe's forehead and his skin was growing cold.
He didn't have the heart to tell Hetepet how her brother was fading.
The room suddenly started to grow brighter, a soft blue light creeping in from the doorway. Hetepet looked up, and Pendua stood as three figures emerged from the dimness, the lead one carrying a staff inset with two orbs which shed the light. As they drew closer he could make out their features--two women and an ibis--and felt his own skin grow cold.
His throat worked. He wanted to kneel but couldn't. Beside him, Hetepet stared upward with wide eyes.
The newcomers looked at them, as if a little surprised to find them there. They looked down at Hekanakht for a moment. The ibis-headed one held his staff over him and it flashed; he started to kneel, but one of the goddesses, wearing the vulture crown of royalty, took his arm, shaking her head when he looked at her.
"Let me," she said.
He bowed his head and moved aside. She knelt beside Hekanakht, laying her hand on his wound.
The blood didn't even touch her fingers. Instead it shrank away, disappearing, the hole shrinking and sealing itself as a golden glow spread over them. Hekanakht took a deep breath, letting it out; his pained features relaxed, as if he'd merely entered a deep sleep.
The goddess pulled her hand away and stood. She turned to Pendua, still standing nearby. He expected her to strike him down for not bowing.
She didn't. "We're seeking passage out of the city," she said, her voice quiet but carrying an air of command.
"Heka showed me the passages once," Hetepet said timidly. "I think--I think I can find them again."
The goddess nodded her head once. Pendua and Hetepet stood, supporting Hekanakht between them, and headed for the back of the temple, the three deities following.
The fighting, confused and senseless, continued outside the city. Upuat and Maftet fought side by side, the lynx goddess seeking every chance to fire arrows while Upuat covered her, mowing down Kana with his sword. Khenti Amenti darted around, avoiding trampling hooves, biting at Sha's legs whenever he could, worrying one of the Apsiu archers until Sakhmet arrived to finish him off. The Moru fought just as well as their winged brethren; as such neither side seemed to be winning.
Anubis caught sight of Antakh, battling beside several of his followers while Janaa cast curses over the Kana's heads. "Where's Horus?" he shouted above the ring of weapons on armor.
"I haven't seen him," Antakh shouted back, holding up his shield, an arrow burying itself in the hide.
Sobek broke in from nearby, flinging an Apsiu from his Sha. "He was trying to find Set."
Anubis glanced around. "I have to find him. He needs help."
"No!" He started at the force in Sobek's voice. The crocodile god calmed--as much as he could--and said, "It's his fight. He can't use your help. He can't use any of us. Our fight is here." As if to illustrate, he speared a second Kana who was trying to attack him.
Anubis snorted to hide his anxiety and started to turn away when a crazed scream startled them all. Antakh saw an Apsiu charging at him, carrying a large sword he recognized as Kusef's. His gray lappets showed he wasn't Kusef. Antakh fended off the first blow, then he and his attacker locked swords, circling each other.
"Look at your wings, Mahai," Antakh said. "The Kana won't accept you back. You're no better than I am."
Mahai snarled, "At least I can go out fighting!" and broke free, swinging at Antakh's middle. He barely missed when Antakh sucked in a breath, dodging out of his way. He sliced a new cut in Mahai's wing, but the Apsiu didn't even seem to notice, simply screeching and slashing again.
Horus was still fighting his way toward the city, struggling to cut a path through the Kana forces. He figured Set must be in that direction as he hadn't seen him anywhere yet. When he thought of it, he hadn't seen Set charge with the others. He couldn't be hiding. So where was he?
He fended off another Kana, nearly hampered by the weight of his lance against his back. He wanted to use it. His arm hurt. The Apsiu kept coming at him, doing their best to either injure him or knock him down. One--a lieutenant from the looks of it--howled and charged at him head-on, raising his ax high.
Surprise crossed the Kana's face. They immediately backed away from Horus. He shot a glance at them, confused, before realizing they were opening around him, opening a path--
A Sha fluttering with blood-red streamers reared up before him, its hooves pawing at the air. When it brought them down the ground shook. Horus held up his sword, his heart twisting in his chest, when his uncle grinned down at him, his smile as sharp as the edge of his own sword, and shouted a scornful greeting.
"So we finally meet, Nephew!"