Sakhmet Stories - The Witch And The Thief: Part Two
"We'll need supplies. And with half the town in a dowdy slump, I doubt the market will serve us any good."
Nephthysma paused, and she sighed heavily, knowing what she was about to say next.
"I suppose we'll just have to go back to my place," she muttered as she began wrapping the hood over her head.
The pair opened the door, and slowly descended the stairs, their heads bowed to keep a low profile. Outside of the room, it was like a scene of walking desert zombies. Neopians everywhere had a dazed stare washed over their faces, and they shuffled slowly from point to point. It looked as if time stood still, and everyone moved in slow motion. The only thing that seemed to animate normally were the clouds passing in the sky, and the leaves on the trees that swayed gently in the breeze.
They arrived at Nephthysma's house. It stood stoically in the sun, nondescript except for the fact that it had no door. Before Sethos could even ask her how to get in, Nephthysma raised her staff, and begun waving it around and muttering under her breath. Magically, grooves began to form in the clay wall that stood before them. They started to join up, and before Sethos could believe his eyes, a door had surfaced in front of them. Nephthysma opened the door, and Sethos followed her into the house.
Inside the shack, Sethos could hardly believe his eyes. Covering every inch of the walls were shelves of scrolls falling over each other. Potion flasks and wine bags sat on a dusty table in the corner, next to a hulking iron cauldron. In the southern corner of the room was a variety of vases in many different shapes and colors, each one containing either a mysterious powder or liquid that glistened in the afternoon desert sun.
"Wow!" he exclaimed, keeping his voice low enough that Nephthysma wouldn't hear him.
"Don't touch anything, Techo!" Her tone sounded more cautionary than usual. Taking heed of her words, Sethos backed away, and settled into a corner of the room. As she leaned her staff against the wall, Nephthysma began to rummage through a drawer full of amulets.
"Better safe than sorry," she shrugged, throwing a handful of her amulets into her bag. She walked around the room, picking up various potions and powders and tossing them her little bag. Sethos noticed that no matter how much Nephthysma was cramming into that little cloth bag, it never seemed to grow or bulge.
"Do you have what you need?" she asked, as she jerked her chin at Sethos.
"I've got my daggers and that's all the help I need," he replied, but then quickly lowered his head as he realized he might have sounded like he was mocking her.
"Here, keep this with you," Nephthysma says as she tossed him a small metal vial, ignoring his tone. "Drink it in your time of need and it will heal you."
As the duo stepped out of Nephthysma's house, Sethos noticed her turning around, taking one last and lingering stare at the room before closing the door. Though Sethos couldn't see her eyes, he could feel a tinge of sadness in Nephthysma's eyes. It was as if she knew that it would be days - possibly even weeks - before she would see her beloved shack again. Rarely had she spent time away from the comforts of her home, and when she did, she made sure to return before the sun set that same day.
Without saying a word, she put her hood on, stepped out into the beaming sun and shut the door behind her. And just as magically as it appeared, the door faded into a clay wall again.-----
The sun was unrelenting in its bid to warm the desert, and it stung the traveling pair with scorching heat. Sakhmet had become a distant shadow in the background as they continued trudging forward. Everywhere around them, they surrounded by sand. Occasionally, they'd see a Neopian wandering aimlessly, but one could never be too sure if they were just looking a mirage.
"How long have we been walking?" Sethos asked, feeling the ache of his leg muscles overwhelming his paces.
"I don't know. But looking at the sun's position, I'd say we've been walking for about four hours by now," Nephthyma replied, surveying the sky above her.
"I don't think I can take another step. And look at us, we're equipped head to toe in everything but food or water!" The Techo scowled, as he kicked up some sand into the breeze.
"You're traveling with a witch, Sethos," Nephthyma shook her head.
"And...if there's one thing you should know about witches, it's that they are always prepared for the journey ahead. Now watch this," Nephthysma said as she sunk her hand into her bag. She started to rummage through the heaps of items inside the bag, before exclaiming, "Ah-ha! Found it!"
In her fist, she held on to a little stone. It was turquoise in color, and shaped like a wad of dried chewing gum. It was small in size, but before Sethos could ask what it would do, Nephthysma kneeled down, and buried the rock under a small mount of sand. She laid her hands on top of the mound, and began singing a song in a foreign language that Sethos had never heard before. As she sung, the sand started growing darker and darker, until a pool of water appeared with the rock floating at the top of it.
"It's a water amulet, and it can conjure up water wherever you are," she explained, handing Sethos an empty flask to drink with.
Nephthysma began peering into her bag once more, and pulled out a cylindrical canister. It had ornate carvings all around the lid and the base, but time has not been kind to the canister, for it had been badly tarnished. Nephthysma removed the lid, flipped it over and pressed a small latch, splitting the lid into two plates. She scooped some powder out of the canister and plopped it into each plate, and then drizzled some water over the powder. Smoke began to rise out of the powdered mixture. Then, the smell of warm, melting butter wafted through the air, followed by the aroma of roasting meat. What was previously powdered mixture had now become buttered rice and meat kebabs.
"If I've ever doubted you, I'm sorry," Sethos said, with excitement and hunger twinkling in his eyes.
"Cheap tricks, they say. Ha! They should see what I can really do!" Nephthysma giggled in pride.
The meal was delicious, and the two were clearly enjoying the food when Nephthysma stopped eating midway. Danger was imminent, but she couldn't foresee what they were about to find themselves in.
"Stop eating, Sethos," she whispered, her words hurried and firm.
"B...but I'm not finished," he replied, stammering between mouthfuls of rice.
Nephthysma stood up, aggressively pointed her staff forward, ready to ward off the foreboding danger. "Stop eating. Now." She stares at Sethos.
"Nephthysma, what's going on? Why are y...AH!" his throaty grunt cut through the stillness of the desert air like a hot knife on butter.
Nephthysma spun around and saw that Sethos was pinned under a scavenging Lupe. His bushy tail snaked around in mid-air, and he had a scar running down his face. His great, golden eyes surveyed Sethos intently, who was struggling underneath the paws of the Lupe. From the corner of her eye, she spied another Lupe approaching her, circling her menacingly.
Swiftly, she threw her cloak around herself and turned into a Horus, soaring far away from the confrontation. The second Lupe lunged at Nephthysma, but was outpaced by the Nephthysma's wings.
"Don't let the other one get away, Petimet," the second Lupe said, shaking the sand off her coat.
"Don't worry your little tail, Tena. I've got him. This one's the one we've been looking for, and he's not going anywhere," Petimet replied, still surveying Sethos with a snarl.
"WHA-WHAT D'YOU WANT FROM ME! LET ME GO!" Sethos protested, fear betraying his brave front.
"You're the one with the cursed stone, aren't you?" Tena said, her voice growing in threat. "We've heard from a witch that a Techo with electric streaks currently possesses the stone."
"Who...Nephthysma told you that? She wouldn't betray me!" Sethos cried in disbelief, wriggling under Petimet's overpowering strength.
"Not Nephthysma, you silly Techo!" Tena snapped. "There are other witches that live in the desert too you know, although it does seem like your friend might have abandoned you."
Sethos tried to lift his head, and he frantically looked around for his traveling companion. There was no sign of her anywhere.
"NEPHTHYSMAAAA! NEPHTHYSMAAAAAA!" he cried, while the Lupes started laughing.
"Stop your screaming, boy!" Tena ordered at him. Sethos grew quiet, seething at the fact that he had been forsaken at the first sign of danger. The chilling thought that he had been left alone was dawning upon him, but he remembered something far worse. If these Lupes were willing to do anything to get their paws on the gemstone, and this very gemstone was kept safely in Nephthysma's enchanted bag, then he was caught in a very bad situation, with no stone to offer the two dangerous Lupes. Steadying his nerves, he begun working the situation out in his head.
"Okay, here's the thing. I have the stone in my pocket," he said, trying to keep his voice leveled and brave. "But first, you have to let me go so I can get it. And you have to promise not to hurt me after I hand it to you. You promise?"
"You're in no position to bargain, Techo," said Petimet. "But I'll let you go. And if you give us the stone, we just might let you off."
Just as Petimet removed his paws from Sethos' hands, the agile Techo threw a fistful of sand at Petimet and Tena's eyes. The Lupes stumbled backwards, rubbing their eyes while growling ferociously at Sethos.
"Come back here!!" Tena shrieked, cleaning her eyes with the puddle of drinking water. She turned around and with a swoosh of her tail, she splashed some water onto Petimet's face. They began chasing after Sethos, and soon caught up.
Petimet leaped through the air, landing right in front of Sethos. The cunning grin he once wore had disappeared, and in place was a teeth-baring snarl. Sethos had his daggers drawn, and backed up a couple of steps when he sensed Tena pacing behind him. She was panting heavily, her vision locked onto Sethos.
Petimet lunged at Sethos, and as he swerved to dodge the Lupe, he suffered a scratch on his face. He was grimacing in pain, when Tena jumped at Sethos, scratching him again, this time on his arm. Petimet surged forward, but this time Sethos managed to evade the attack. On and on the Lupes went, wearing Sethos down. As equipped as he was, Sethos just wasn't a match for their speed and strength. He was scared, but worse so, he was trapped. The Lupes were circling him like sharks in open waters. Things were looking grim for Sethos, when he heard it.
At first, it was a single screech that echoed through the skies. The Lupes stopped, eyes darting across the sky looking for the source of this noise. The clouds were like thick tufts of cotton floating against the desert sky. The sun was setting against the darkening sky.
The screech pierced through the skies again, and that's when Sethos saw them. Flying in a V-shaped formation, were 15 Horus birds swooping down. The Lupes were backing up behind Sethos, but they were not retreating just yet. As the Horuses got closer, Sethos recognized the Horus at the lead of the pack. It was Nepthysma!
"Sisters, those Lupes are nothing but trouble. They need to be taught a lesson, but be careful!" said Nephthysma.
The Horuses descended onto the Lupes, and began pecking at them furiously. Feathers began to ruffle and fly through the air, mixed with vicious growling and shrill screeching. Nephthysma was biting at Petimet's tail, while stoking on her Horus friends. The Lupes tried jumping at the Horuses, but their efforts were in vain; the flock of Horuses were too swift for them.
Sethos picked himself up, and thought of how he could help the Horuses. He had an idea! He ran to the water puddle, and started to create handfuls of mud with the sand around. He took aim, and flung one.
SPLAT! He hit Tena right in the cheek.
Splat, splat splat splat splat! On and on, the barrage of mud splats and pecking birds went. By the end of the fighting, Petimet and Tena were covered in peck marks, mud and feathers. What a sight to behold, he thought to himself as he chuckled. He continued flinging mud at the Lupes, until they both ran away.
Seeing that the Lupes were taken care of, the Horuses flew away swiftly as they came. Nephthysma had transformed back into her Usul self, and was standing by Sethos who was looking at the departing Horuses in awe.
"Use your potion for your scratches, Sethos," Nephthysma said, picking a loose feather out of her hood.
"Nah, they'll heal. Don't you worry about me, Neph," Sethos replied, relieved that he now had a real story to bring home.
As they walked across the desert, he nudged Nephthysma softly on the arm.
To be continued…