((AN: I'm a bit of an Egyptian mythology geek. And after a brief hit by my muse, I had the idea to write a short story that centers around someone being taken through the aftermath of death. I did a lot of research on the subject, from the pantheon of gods to the weighing of the heart, and used the most plausible ideas that I found (Egyptian mythology really bounces around with many different beliefs, it's a downright mess sometimes x3), along with my own twist on a few things.

I mean hey, there's hardly any account on what children have to go through after death (though if anyone knows an official record of it, go ahead and say, I'd love to hear it), so who's to say the rules aren't a little different for them? :3

Anubis may also probably be overused in Egyptian stories, but I do like to point out often that he was certainly -not- as evil and dark as everyone likes portraying a god of death. x3 So anyway, read and enjoy! ^^))

Journey of the Soul

He watched.

From within an ethereal plane, right upon the threshold of the mortal world where it was thought that the chambers crossed paths, he watched as his priest and their helpers prepared another body for its departure into the afterlife. The priest, who wore a mask of a god's likeness as proof of his authority to open the body of the deceased, worked quietly and tirelessly in the temple of the family's plot of the Necropolis.

The body was a small one…young, an early victim of a crippling sickness. A girl no more than thirteen years of age, and her time had come far too soon, her young body wrapped in clean linen wraps almost as soon as she had been birthed. It was a thing to be pitied, surely…but he had seen it all before, younger than her and much older still, and soon enough she would be another soul to lead to the final calling…whatever it would turn out to be.

For seventy days the body was artfully and traditionally prepared for mummification, as carefully as the body of the wealthy class would be; not as much as the Pharaoh, but good enough for the deity observing the funerary rites.

One dark night, only when the mummy was placed in a worn coffin and locked into the tomb, only after the proper ceremonies had been made, did he gather himself and prepare to awaken the girl. The eyes of a nearby statue of a laying jackal flashed white, and a hazy fog lifted from it to flow like water to the side of the coffin.

He leaned over the body's chamber and looked inside without even having touched it. Yes, it had been prepared very well. A ripple of the air, and his hand hovered over the site…uniting the spirit, the shadow, the body, the heart, the name…all into one.

"Come unto the second life," he murmured, his voice leaving not an echo.

It felt like she had been asleep for an eternity. When her eyes opened to darkness lit by the faraway glow of torches, she was surprised to feel a good many different sensations at the moment…an emptiness of sorts, but still rejuvenation and peace. Quiet, except for a humming in her ears.

And what's more, she felt…healed, much to her great confusion.

How long ago had it been, the last time her eyes were open, that she was in bed and hurting…so much pain, and sickness and bile churning in her stomach, such cold skin…such worried faces all around…

Was she not ill? But now…now she could sit up and look around and…was she breathing, or not? She couldn't feel air being drawn into herself. Everything looked and felt so different, though she knew that she herself was the same.

Carefully, cautiously, the girl looked around and tried to stand, her feet lowering carefully to the dusty floor. She grabbed an object next to her…a favored toy from her youth. A stuffed and sewn crocodile, made expertly by her mother. She'd given the toy up long ago, when she felt too old for such things, but holding it again made her feel a little secure in this dark world that she'd suddenly woken up in. Perhaps Mother gave it to me, she thought.

But then, she looked around the unfamiliar darkness, and the grand size of the room. This is not my chamber…I have never been here…

The girl clutched the toy to her chest and looked down at herself. She had sworn she'd gone to bed in a simple cloth wrap, stripped bare to the waist; and now she had on a thin white robe and had been adorned with a grand array of amulets and jewelry that she'd recognized as protective charms. Her hair was tied back by a thick band at the base, where once it had been disheveled upon her pillow. Her eyelids had even been painted, and she could feel the heavy black ink on her delicate skin.

Her eyes narrowed, and she lifted her head to scrutinize the dark room again…which seemed to take on a soft white glow. When she focused on it, she gasped and stumbled back, hand over mouth, frightened and surprised at the sudden presence before her.

He manifested as if out of the dark fog and stood straight and tall, a figure of purpose and regality. Dressed in ornate gold and white wraps about his waist and a similar collar about his shoulders, cuffed with bands on his ankles and wrists, his body took on the appearance of any person in the kingdom; and again, that of regal and divine blood. His skin was dark olive, and he clutched a staff like a flail in one hand. But it was his head that unnerved her.

A jackal's head, black as obsidian and adorned with the blue color of the Nile on his headdress, regarded her with rather intelligent-looking eyes that seemed to bear into her very being. He didn't blink…for what creature of an incorporeal nature such as he had need for blinking? He seemed akin to a statue, and the only sign that he wasn't was given with a mere incline of his head…those eyes still trained upon her and his long ears pricked fully upward, looking ever so much like the scavengers of the desert that come to seek dead flesh.

Still, despite the jackal-man's dominating appearance, he radiated a sense of calm and benevolence. He was intimidating, but she knew that he had no intention of harm, just by his presence alone. And suddenly, the girl knew what she was facing.

Immediately, she dropped to the ground on her knees and hid her face to the floor in her arms. "My lord…my lord Anubis," she stuttered out, frightened, but still much like that of a human who'd learned how to address such divine beings.

The deity's ears pricked and he regarded her with a slight tilt of his head. There was a long pause, and for a moment she wondered if he could reply to her. But surprisingly, he did.

"For a child of servants, you are rather knowledgeable of gods," he said. His voice reverberated in the air all around her and lent its energy to her spirit. It was surprisingly soothing…it seemed to come from nowhere, for he didn't open his mouth to speak. "At the least, knowledgeable of the god that comes for the dead," he added.

The child gulped, her face still to the dusty floor at the god's feet as she hastily explained. "Th-the prince…is a friend of mine…and he taught me things that he had learned from his scholars. I-it was forbidden, I know…"

"Calm yourself," Anubis hummed, "And arise, Anippe, that I may see you here."

The child, Anippe, immediately quieted and did as told. Standing up and clutching her toy protectively, she faced the deity of death, the guide to the afterlife, which she had so learned about before. She looked into his intelligent eyes and saw no conviction, no judgmental light...nothing but understanding and—somehow she knew—soothing compassion.

After a moment, she turned and looked upon the table that she'd arisen from. Her sarcophagus, her coffin, lay upon it. Anippe clutched the toy she'd apparently been buried with to her breast—she would have shuddered if she could—and turned back to him. "If you are here…then I am indeed dead."

He nodded once. "The time had come for your sickness to claim you. I have brought your body back. And it seems you know what you now face."

She looked up to him, curious and frightened still. "Th-the afterlife?"

"Judgment," Anubis corrected gently. "And then, perhaps, the afterlife." He turned his back to her and beckoned with his staff. "Take heed and follow me forth, Anippe, if you are ready."

Anippe didn't feel ready…she had paused for a moment, trying to take everything in beforehand. She knew that she was going to die when she was sick of course…everyone had said so. But it was hard to comprehend even right then, when she stood before the very god Anubis as a manifestation of herself, the akh…a divine spirit. She herself was incorporeal now, unseen by the living.

Everything was so different…happening so fast…she didn't know what to think or do, but to watch the domineering Anubis with cautious eyes.

But the deity was ever patient, letting her accept her fate before she could follow him through the trials of the afterlife. After all, he'd seen it before.

"Fear not," he hummed to bring her attention back to him. "You have all of the protections upon you, the spells of death to shield you from the dangers of Duat, the underworld. And I shall accompany you therein…you know what I am; as the protector of the dead, I hold that no child of Egypt shall stray the path nor be taken by those who would dare."

Anippe closed her eyes and nodded, stepping toward him. "Yes…my lord. I know as much."

"Are you ready?"

Taking a long breath only out of instinct, she stole one last long look to her plot in the family's tomb before turning back toward the god. "I am."

"Come, then."

And so, with Anubis leading onward, they left through the doors of the mortal world, and into the ever-shifting plane of existence…one of many that the gods called home.

The Duat was as amazing and frightening as she had ever read or learned about. The underworld kingdom of Osiris lay in a parallel plane beneath the bowels of the earth, the sands of the desert and the bountiful beauty of the Nile. She walked onward from any recognizable plane and onto a beautiful grove, the first step on the journey.

A sycamore tree grew from the soil and seemed to be an entity of rejuvenation, existing on its own silently without having to care for itself. The foliage was lush, the fruit bountiful in its boughs.

Under the shade of its glowing, ethereal leaves, Anubis stopped and ushered Anippe forth with a gentle hand to her back. "To eat the fruit of this tree grants you amnesty with the gods," the deity informed. "To know that you will serve them willingly."

The girl stepped forward without caution, for the site was far too beautiful to doubt and the word of a god far too important to ignore. "I do hunger," she admonished. "I did not know that the dead could hunger so, and have such thirst."

"You hadn't been offered food in your tomb yet, then," Anubis grimaced. "Rather spiteful of the priests. Or the Pharaoh's nobles for not allowing your family to do so."

Anippe paid little attention to his musings as she raised a hand to gingerly touch the ornate bark of the tree. Instantly, it opened, presenting the upper body of a woman from its trunk. The spirit had within its hands various items of food, fruit from the tree, and a clay pitcher of water besides.

The girl regarded the spread offered to her with surprise, and glanced back to the protector.

His head nodded in affirmation. "Replenish yourself, child, if you so wish to."

And so she did, and gratefully so. The food tasted better than she had ever eaten in life, and felt so much more fulfilling to her dream-state body. The water flowed clear and cleansed her throat, and for a time she felt that she could cross the entirety of the Egyptian desert without water again. Anippe felt full and refreshed, and alight with a newfound confidence.

Once the tree's spirit retreated, she turned back to a waiting Anubis, who had stepped up beside her. His eyes narrowed as they peered into the abyssal stretch. "In most cases, this is where I would leave you to face the trials of the Duat, until you come upon the gates to the Hall of Justice," he'd murmured. "But children such as yourself are cases of interest. You are protected with your charms and the spells upon your tomb, but have nothing to fight off the beasts that would hinder you. So I shall remain with you."

"For that, I am grateful, my lord," Anippe's head inclined obediently. "Very much so."

"Come," was all he'd replied, gingerly leading her out of the sanctity of the grove and onward into a deep, dark desert landscape.

For a long time, the walk was long and arduous. Anippe hadn't the notion that spirits could tire so easily either, but her partial immortality would not allow her to falter to death at least. So she kept pace with the jackal-headed guide, barely speaking to him…after all, whose right was it to converse with a deity? As one growing up as a servant, certainly not hers. It crossed her mind several times how interesting it was to even be there, being led by the divine guardian and being treated like every bit a human being upon the level of a royal.

Past boiling lakes of water, through blistering winds of sand they walked, Anubis faltering not in a familiar land. He kept a fearful Anippe shielded from the stalkers and monsters overshadowing their path, taking her hand through the shiftiest of sands. What the charms could not fight off, he kept at bay with either his mere sight or a flash of his flail against them.

It was during a rare moment of piece in the midst of the underworld, where an illusory sunset touched the horizon and splayed dark shadows to frame dunes of gold and lengthen them behind their feet, that Anubis's eyes returned to the young girl to ascertain her state of mind. So innocent she seemed, not too far familiar with the complexities led by adults in her world yet. Anippe, unaware of the god's watchful vigil on her, sighed in deep thought.

"You are still afraid," he observed. "Of I?"

She looked up to meet the inquisitive eyes of the jackal visage. "…No," she truthfully answered, "But I do keep wondering how I must deserve the opportunity to walk the path, to survive the Duat under a god's protection as well as I seem to be doing."

Anubis hummed, his eyes returning to the horizon. "All mortals deserve the chance to face an afterlife of eternal happiness…despite what you may have been taught. Whether Pharaoh or servant…noble or vassal…rich or destitute…king or slave. Humans are all the same in body and spirit and heart. They will receive from the gods no more or less than what they deserve here, however they were as they lived. It is a sad thing, the case that your mortal world must insist on dividing you by such barriers and treating you less than what you are.

"Still," he added after a pause and returned his gaze to the awestruck human, "It is quite a reassuring sight to me, your circumstances of being treated to a burial of a finer quality despite your stature. A child most so. You were prepared well for these trials."

Anippe nodded slowly, still taken aback by the idea herself. "…Well," she thought after a moment of deliberation, "The prince had considered me a good friend, as I have mentioned…his parents, even his father the Pharaoh, did not object to our spending time together, or playing when we were young; for he had no other friends my age. So long as he kept hard to the studies of his duties, it was allowed from time to time." She bit her lip. "It would not surprise me that it was he who arranged my burial as it was."

"Ah," Anubis nodded. "Your prince seems a kindly sort for an heir of royalty."

Despite herself, Anippe couldn't help but chuckle. "He is still a small amount vain and boastful, and treated servants other than I with the same dismissal as his parents would mine. But only he would call me by my name instead of by 'servant', and let me win at games at times, and he practiced compassion when I had told him to, and admonished my own good advice," her head shook lightly as she released a short giggle. "He has even in the dead of night and secrecy taught me many things he had learned, including things from the sacred Book of the Dead. I do believe he will make a good Pharaoh when the time comes."

To her surprise, Anubis chuckled lowly at that, too. "I shall have to tell Horus, then, that there may yet be hope for his power to be born and inherited to a Pharaoh on Earth."

The girl's eyes widened slightly. "Forgive me my ignorance, my lord, but is Horus not always incarnated in the Pharaoh?"

There was an awkward pause as Anubis seemed to flick his ears in an annoyed fashion. "Another thing that you mortals misconstrue slightly about the ways of the gods," the vaguely canine deity snorted. "Horus represents the power of the Pharaoh, true…but long has he wished that there would be a mortal leader worthy enough to bestow those powers. And not since the first Pharaoh has he ever seen one a pinch worthy of it. Mortal kings are preoccupied with how to use that power to govern, and not always in ways meant to govern. It is as if they are all raised with no true humility in the spirit. And no god in his true mind would give their power to corrupted hands.

"Horus finds it quite amusing, as a matter of fact, that the Pharaohs believe themselves gods when in fact they are not," he snickered lowly.

Anippe walked in a stupor for a moment, before barking a laugh of her own. "Oh, if I were only able to tell the prince of this."

When the amusement between the travelers died down, the girl sighed again, shielding her eyes from the twilit horizon as if thinking of the possibility of turning back. "How he must worry for me," she whispered softly. "He, and my mother and father. How they must all hurt now."

Anubis regarded her with gentleness in his features, an understanding energy present in his tone of voice. "You will see them again. You have family who await you in the afterlife, and so soon will your parents and your prince find you."

"If they pass the trials," she nodded thoughtfully. "Yes."

"They will," the guardian assured. "Remember to whom you speak."

The girl smiled shyly. "My sincere apologies for doubting you who open the way for the dead, my lord."

"You are forgiven, child," he answered, once again focused on the path before them, though Anippe for certain thought that she saw a smile of his own on his obsidian maw.

The trials of the Duat seemed unending…but somehow, and eventually, Anubis led Anippe through it all. When she was beset by images conjured from her nightmares that forced her to turn away from the path in fear, he turned her back and urged her onward. When poisonous cobras as tall as herself attempted to strike, his flail kept them at bay, his feral jackal's growl a warning to the malicious spirits. The two were crossing a wasteland now, less desert and more a strand of darkness.

Along the way, the girl gained a little more courage and spoke with the god a little more often, asking him questions about the story of the battles of Osiris and Set, which he answered truthfully and with a small ounce of pride at his role in the tale when it came.

Anubis still maintained a stoic demeanor, an air of staying upon his task, but he had to admit to himself that the girl was amusing. It saddened him, always, to have to lead children through the land of the dead. But theirs was innocence unseen in the rest of the world, a bright and happy optimism for all things that also put upon him a light of hope for the mortal Earth.

"Where are we now?" Anippe had inquired after a while, still holding her toy crocodile comfortably close. She hadn't even questioned why she had it still…it was important to her, a reminder of the love of her family and of the life she had left behind.

The god scrutinized the surroundings with narrowed eyes. "We are near the great river, where the ferryman awaits to deliver souls to Osiris's place of dwelling; the Hall of Justice. However…ah!"

Anippe had little time to know what was going on…for suddenly, the winds took on a fierce shift in power and whipped brutally toward her. Were it not for Anubis shielding her, the wind would have perhaps carried the fearful child off of her feet.

When she dared peer around him again, she trembled at what they faced. It was a great dark beast, hissing with grand malice. His four-legged body was like that of a giant hound, with a forked whiplash tail and the head of a deformed camel. He stood before them, roaring a threatening lamentation and staring the deity down.

"Set…" Anubis growled, brandishing the flail as he kept Anippe behind him with the other arm. At the name of the familiar hated god of chaos, she trembled.

The beast snorted. "A soul to devour…and you have delivered her," his voice hissed and wove about them all at once, and filled the girl with dread. "Long has it been since you have stepped into my realm, bastard whelp of Osiris."

"Leave us!" Anubis barked. "The child is under my protection. You know this, and I will slay you if you so much as step toward her."

The beast's eyes, red as blood, seemed to flare and glow while he considered his options. He stared straight at the girl, peering at her eyes and into her soul, and filled her mind with the urge to run…either back the way she came or straight into his hungry jaws.

But Anubis was steadfast, and the feeling of strength he emitted for Anippe kept her by his side. And as he must have to always do, Set relented, and shifted back into a form more akin to the size of the other deity.

Even at a smaller size, and more human-like in shape with the deformed face of an unidentified creature, he still radiated the same kind of energy…the kind that set mortal minds to doubt and spiraling into insanity.

"You are still a disgraceful sort, my son," Set sneered mockingly as he turned away into the shadows. "Mortals deserve no compassion from the higher forms."

"You are no father of mine. And do you not have to pull the barge of Ra?" Anubis only sneered back, his ears lowered in a sign of rage.

Set swiped a dismissive hand through the air. "I do not pull the barge! I am not a beast of burden! But I am indeed needed to keep the serpent Apep at bay for him still. But one day I will escape that duty. And slay another serpent, your daughter, if that one is not careful."

"You do not step near Kebechet either, beast," Anubis murmured in a stern warning. With but a shake of his head and a hateful sneer toward the soul his nephew protected, Set disappeared into the dark portal near to the river's edge and the air became calm again.

Anippe only watched in silence as the spat between the gods took place, and then raised her eyes to view as Anubis regained his composure, ears pricking upright with a sigh heaved through him.

"That is one reason I do not always prefer to roam the Duat," he hummed. "Many of us despise Set. And he has always despised me."

The girl hardly knew what to say. But she did reluctantly lay a hand on the deity's forearm as a gesture of comfort, for she knew the tale of the gods' brutal treatments toward one another at times.

But once that was past, Anubis gave her a reassuring smile and led her to the edge of the river. There, he pointed to one side of the horizon, and a giant glowing barge flowed into sight from the mist. Anippe's eyes widened, and she gaped with fascination.

The ferryman and his small crew did not meet the eyes of either the god or the girl as they pulled upon the bank, as was their nature. From his stance upon the bow, the spirit spoke, just the same. "Lord Anubis. Will the child be able to answer our questions for passage down the river?"

When the god turned to her, Anippe stared in confusion and intimidation but for only a moment. Then, suddenly, it was as if the knowledge had been unlocked in her mind, stored there as if she'd always known it. She was buried with the spell of the barge, its secrets and materials and magic from which it was built. Just one more test for the dead to pass before stepping foot on Osiris's land.

I can do it. I can pass this.

Confidently, she stepped up and nodded. "I can."

Anubis was pleasantly surprised. He would have still been able to carry her upon the ferry himself, but the girl had indeed proven herself capable of holding at least some knowledge of the trials and the judgment. As the ferryman and his crew asked her of the boat, what it had been built by, what it consisted of, the spell that kept it together, and what she had seen on her journey through the wastes, she answered all with confidence and truthfulness.

Finally, with a satisfied gesture from the faceless spirit, the wooden ramp extended to them. Anubis allowed her on before him, and soon, they journeyed forth down into the calm waters of the underworld's dark river.

As they sailed, and as Anippe sat relieved that she no longer had to walk such a long distance, she regarded Anubis with curiosity. "The gods I had learned much of, but that you had a daughter, I did not learn before."

The jackal-headed divinity chuckled. "Not many would know of much past my role. I have a goddess counterpart, Anput, whom I have taken for my wife. Our daughter is Kebechet, who embodies the embalming fluid for the dead. She would have been present at your funerary ceremonies in spirit, keeping you nourished in your sleep. And at rare times she will accompany me at the weighing of the heart." His expression dulled and his eyes narrowed. "I have warned her to keep well away from Set and all who would do us harm, but I cannot take lightly his warning."

She hummed with thought, and again, Anubis found himself surprised at the amount of interest he had for the knowledge she boasted even as a servant.

All was mostly quiet as the barge was paddled onward expertly through the river's currents. Anippe tried to imagine what the afterlife would look like, such beauty and happiness awaited her…but only after the judgment. And she found herself fearing the outcome greatly. Only the wicked would have been subject to the second death, this she knew…even in her short life, the only wrong she thought to have done was to befriend the prince. But she believed Anubis when he'd said that humans were all equal in the eyes of the gods. It made her feel more assured, but anxious all the same.

As for Anubis, he only saw inside of her soul and heart as far as he was allowed. Only Osiris would see further, upon the scales against the feather of Ma'at. Always he was impartial to the judgment of spirits and all too eager to feed the hearts of the wicked to the beast Ammut…but he hoped still that he would not have to do that to the young girl beside him. Not very many children after a certain age would pass judgment, sadly, if they'd willingly done wrong to others.

Anippe grew tired, and she found herself leaning against Anubis's side upon the bench in which they sat. The god did not mind, for many times a child would regard him as a comforting, almost fatherly figure in their journey through death. She trembled just the same, but eventually calmed when she knew he would not push her away, but instead lay a comforting hand upon her head.

"Are there many children in the afterlife?" she asked sleepily after a moment.

Anubis's eyes closed as if in mourning. "Many. It is a sad thing when I or my assistants must guide many children through the harsh Duat. Especially so when Egypt is wrought with plague and famine, and only children of the nobles survive. But, they find happiness there, and if they so wish, eternal youth."

The girl had a soft smile at the image. "It must be pleasant there."

"It is much like life in the mortal world," Anubis informed gently. "You may even have to serve there, too. But yet, you will suffer no pain or hatred or sadness or hardship. If you have earned it, eternity is yours to enjoy."

Her eyes closed, and she found herself nearly falling asleep. "I hope the prince finds it, too."

"If he remains as kind as you say he is, then he will," the deity hummed. "Rest now, we will come upon our destination soon."

True to his word, Anippe found herself carefully nudged awake as the barge was slowing to a stop. She gasped when her vision cleared, and she looked upon the sight of the Hall of Justice.

It was the grandest palace she had ever seen. Shining white and gold throughout, the structure gleamed and radiated power. The towering plants at the feet of the monument seemed to suggest a lush oasis as far as the eye could see. This was truly Osiris' realm that she was about to step into.

Anubis took the lead as the barge docked and lowered the plank once again onto solid ground. He kept his tall and regal appearance, all business as he was, while she regained a meek demeanor and prayed silently that she would be accepted inside.

The hall to the door was long and dark, beset on all sides by massive white columns. Anippe looked around, and she was shocked to see glittering golden eyes marching about alongside. Only when she looked closer did she notice that they were all jackals of a dark ebon color…perhaps the assistants that Anubis had spoken of earlier, watching as he led a new soul to the brink of judgment.

As they beheld the doors, tall and ornate with the faces of the forty-two souls of justice painted upon its threshold, Anippe gulped and tried to remember what came next in the process.

The guardian god lightly touched her shoulder, and he gave her a solemn look with his glimmering, intelligently feral eyes. "You must now call attention to the king of the dead. He sees you now, as he sees all who enter his realm, but permission is required before the doors open to you. Speak loudly and purposely, show no fear, for Osiris is right and just." He hummed once, gleaning her mind. "And you need not worry about reciting the Negative Confessions. As a child, you are exempt from many of them."

Anippe nodded with another gulp, and stood facing the doors as straight and tall as she could. As Anubis stepped aside, she raised her arms and bowed her head. Her voice rang out as clearly and loudly as she could make it, hard as it was to keep it steady.

"Hail unto you, oh great god, lord of truth! I come to you now, and my eyes behold your beauty! You I know, and I know also of the forty-two gods with you in the Hall of Justice! They observe the deeds of the wicked, and devour those who seek evil, and drink the blood of those condemned before you. Hail, lord of justice!"

When she was done, the girl lowered her arms and held her breath. Anubis stepped up next to her again, his hand placed at her back as his own voice rang aloud. "Osiris, my father, lord of truth, I bring forth the soul of a child, and by the authority I hold, I observe that she is not guilty of the great sins, but understand that the final call is yours alone!"

He finished, and his voice echoed along the great hall and seemed to snake into the very foundations of the palace. For a moment, the doors stood locked and steadfast. But as soon as the echoes dimmed, a powerful shudder took the earth beneath their feet, and the stone hinges started to grind and admit the gates open. A brightly-lit room stood on the other side.

Anippe gasped and trembled, now suddenly more afraid than she ever was before, even in the presence of Set. For now she looked upon the final destination before the afterlife, or before the second death, and felt awash with a current of absolute and pure power churning around her.

At the head of the ornate room, the walls painted again with the forty-two spirits of justice watching over the proceedings, was a grand throne upon which sat the supreme ruler of the Duat, lord of justice and truth. In one hand at his side he held a flail, and on the other a crook. It was in his eyes that Anippe could see conviction and judgment. Osiris's skin took on a sickly green hue, which marked him as not only lord of the dead, but one of the dead himself…yet still, he held life in him, and righteous purpose.

At his feet was the very instrument of judgment. The giant balancing scales that weighed the hearts of men, women, and children against the gods' symbol of truth shimmered before them and seemed to beckon to be used; for in the realm of divinity, all objects seemed to hold within them a life force. Osiris was flanked by two women behind his throne, dressed in flowing royal robes from the ribs downward; another god with the visage of a falcon stood nearby, and a final one with the face of an ibis hovered near the scales while writing on a piece of papyrus parchment with a quill.

Humbled couldn't even begin to describe Anippe's emotions at that moment, standing before many of the important deities in the throne room of Osiris. She couldn't decide whether to tremble with fear or with awe. She tried not to gape, but sometimes the urge would fail her. The gods and goddesses regardless looked upon her with silent amusement.

Anubis took her hand and ushered her forward, giving her a reassuring look. "Because you are a learned one," he grinned, "Do you recognize all who are gathered here, child?"

Her eyes wandered over all before her, and she nodded enthusiastically. "Yes. He," she pointed to the ibis-headed one, "Is Thoth, the scribe and god of all knowledge."

The god's bird-eyes blinked in rapt fascination. "Fascinating!" he trilled. "Quite a grand change, to see an educated spirit in a child not from the noble class."

"That is what I had said, old friend," Anubis chuckled. "Who else do you see, Anippe?"

She smiled and pointed again. "He is Horus, god of pharaohs and war." She glanced back up to the jackal-god. "Will you actually speak to him of the prince?"

"I know of the prince already," the falcon-headed deity interrupted with light harshness in his tone. "Not that I will consider my powers a given to him. But therein is one potential great ruler."

The girl nodded her head respectfully to him and continued, locking her eyes on the women standing behind Osiris. "And they are Isis and Nephthys, consorts of Osiris. I am honored to be standing before them, truthfully. Both are great and dangerous goddesses."

Isis smirked while Nephthys nodded her greeting. "Dangerous if trespassed," she corrected, her motherly and feminine voice just as strong and booming as any belonging to the gods. Anippe felt a source of comfort where her gaze fell, right upon her.

"And you more than I, my sister," Nephthys agreed with what seemed like a nervous laugh, her own voice still commanding and encompassing as the darkness of the night. "I merely protect the dead. She protects the living."

"The girl has been taught the entire story, Mother," Anubis grinned. "Do not sell yourself shorter than what you are."

Anippe snickered, and she felt a little more at ease among these great deities. While she could see very easily why men would cower among them and fear their judgment, her own knowledge of them along with Anubis's coaxing gave her confidence to be able to recognize and speak with all of them. The stories she told were true, that these divinities held some compassion for mortals.

Suddenly, the right arm of Osiris rose up and silenced those gathered in the room. "The formalities are enough for now," he boomed, strong and emitting power beyond comprehension despite the scratchy edge his voice took. His eyes bore unto Anubis, and the atmosphere's emotions grew darker. "Judgment is at hand. Go and set the scales, my son."

"Yes," the jackal-god murmured with an obedient nod and strode forward, making certain that they were correctly balanced.

As he did, Osiris's gaze turned back to the girl, and she immediately dropped to her knees submissively before him. But despite feeling like her very being was flayed open in his gaze, his ghastly face bore a smile. "Do you swear as you stand before me that you have not sinned in life, my child? I must ask this of every spirit, for you must understand that age is not a marker for innocence."

She gulped and nodded. "I have not sinned, as far as my knowledge. I…have only feared that the gods would look unfavorably upon me for allowing myself to learn more than my stature requests of me."

At that, not to her greatest surprise, Osiris laughed, and so too did Thoth, and Horus. The goddesses held their own laughter behind their hands.

"Knowledge is not sinful," Thoth supplied as his chuckles died. "The right of it belongs to all, as much as I deem the purpose of it. But sadly, 'tis not the belief of the mortals."

Horus snorted derisively. "I cannot foresee a day happening in Egypt when their beliefs change."

"Nor I," Thoth sighed.

Not much more was said, for at that moment, Anubis stood from his knelt position by the scales and moved behind Anippe once more, his hand resting comfortably on her back as she rose to her feet again. "Shall judgment commence, Father?" he inquired.

Osiris's hand rose and fell again. "Let it be so."

After those words were uttered, two more figures strode into the center of the room and to the feet of the scales. The first was a grand-looking woman, another goddess, bearing a glowing ostrich feather in her headdress. Her eyes wandered over the proceedings as she took her place next to Thoth, and settled warmly upon Anippe.

"Ma'at," she whispered reverently, closing her eyes and inclining her head. The goddess of truth and wisdom was a sight to behold, but to behold her was to bring on the feeling that in her life she could have done greater good than she has…though she could have done little at her age.

And the second figure, she recoiled from with a gasp. It was a very large beast, with the head of a crocodile, the midsection of a lion, and the hindquarters of a hippopotamus…all of the most dangerous creatures in Egypt that any could think of, placed together in one amalgamation of power and destruction. This was the creature that ate the hearts of the wicked. As it took its place at the base of the scales, its eyes fell upon Anippe, and its mouth opened to reveal several rows of jagged teeth while unleashing a very deafening hiss.

"Be still, Ammut," Ma'at commanded. The beast acquiesced, sitting carefully on the polished floor. The goddess looked back to Anubis, and her encompassing voice turned gentler in tone. "Are you ready, O guide of the dead?"

He nodded once after a pause, resolute, and turned to face a now-trembling Anippe. She held her toy closer to her chest, as if to protect her heart, though she very much knew that she couldn't.

He knelt before her and laid one hand on her shoulder, the other coming up to splay upon her chest where her heart lay. His eyes bore into hers, still intimidating, but still gentle as well. "Here it remains…the last true test. I cannot protect you if the heart is out of balance with the feather. Whether your journey ends here or at the threshold of the afterlife, do you accept the fate it bestows?"

She wasn't quick to answer. He was steadfast, and she knew that he had to do his duty…but she saw in the god sadness still for her plight and concern for her fate. The girl was just as sad to leave his protection as she was to leave her very life behind. But there was no choice left. Nothing left for her except the end or the new beginning.

A lone tear fell over her cheek as she nodded slowly. "I accept it, my lord."

With that, Anubis dipped his head and closed his eyes. Over his shoulder, Anippe watched as Ma'at placed the delicate, glowing feather upon one of the scales. It looked so light and soft, that the girl feared for herself. How could her heart ever hope to not be heavier than that disconcerting little feather?

She grunted and felt a painless tug as Anubis clenched his hand on her chest. When he pulled away, her still and dead heart was nestled in his grasp, and not a beat sounded from it. All of what she had done in life, her thoughts and hopes and feelings, were stored in that organ, the seat of her soul.

He turned away from her, seemingly unfeeling, and strode towards the scales while she could not help but watch and tremble. All of the gods' eyes were upon him, the feather, and the balance, eagerly awaiting the outcome of the judgment for this young girl's fate.

Ammut growled lowly, but made no movement for her heart. It wouldn't unless Anubis allowed it so, and beneath her notice, the god hoped that he would not have to allow it.

Reverently, he cupped the heart and held it with a pause over the other ornate bowl on the balance. Anippe recalled in the stored spells for her death that she was prevented from having the heart confess and bear all of her ill wills, if any to be had, for sparing the pain of humiliation before the gods…but the judgment's outcome would still be the same.

He lowered his hands and let the heart drop carefully onto the scale. The tethers rocked from its weight and briefly see-sawed with the weight of the feather.

All was quiet. All was still. Anippe's breath caught in her throat as the scales sought balance.

The see-sawing stopped, and slowly, the outcome was seen.

The heart became level with the feather, perfectly.

"She has passed," Thoth announced, hastily sketching the result down in his notes. Anippe let out a long breath of relief, smiling, as the gods and goddesses regarded her with soft, congratulatory smiles and murmurs amongst themselves.

"Let the heart then be restored to the girl," Osiris commanded, "She has won the victory, and now let her dwell with the spirits and gods in the fields of Aalu, the great afterlife."

Letting out a breath of his own, Anubis carefully cupped the heart in his hands and strode back to the girl, who stood straight as it was deposited back to its rightful place. The feeling of having it back was like nothing else she had felt before, the pleasantness of a righteous soul about to step into its final calling.

It was then, one of the walls in the back of the grand throne room slid upward, opening into a shining world beyond; a stark contrast to the darkness of the realm of the Duat. The sight of the entrance to the afterlife was such a welcome one, after such a long and terrifying wait, and now her death was no longer something to fear…but to embrace. She felt like crying tears of joy, but as the light touched her incorporeal spirit, tears were impossible.

She felt a familiar hand upon her back. "Step forth through the gate," Anubis gently coaxed, "A new and better life awaits you now, child."

"Even if I shall forever only be a servant to the prince when he joins me," she whispered with awe, "I shall be happy." She turned her eyes back to the deity, her protector through the underworld, and bowed her head. "My thanks to you, my lord, for bearing me here safely."

His smile was simple, though warm. "Go, Anippe."

With another nod and a triumphant laugh, the servant girl wasted little time in rushing to the golden threshold. She spared only one last glance to the god, before stepping cautiously inside.

She disappeared in a flash of light as the door slowly sealed once more, to open again at the next righteous or innocent soul. Her laughter echoed through the judgment chamber even after the corridor was shut tight.

As it was, Anubis hummed thoughtfully before turning back into the throne room of the silent Osiris, among his divine kin. His eyes were closed, his expression somber.

"You are still so soft-hearted, brother," Horus commented with a grin. "Sad to take children from their lives, and sadder still to see them go."

"Not all of us are like Set," Anubis muttered. "Not all of us wish to see an end to the mortals, and such a quick one for the children. Such innocence should not be wasted."

"Mayhap there shall be hope yet, if more children like her exist," Thoth mused. "All that we may do is continue to balance the world. Besides which, I foresee no end yet to Egypt for a time. Changes shall be made, and for the good."

Isis shifted on her feet, crossing her arms while sparing a glance toward the door. "Perhaps she will be of greater help to the gods than she realizes."

"Only time shall speak of that, my wife," Osiris grunted quietly, settling back in his throne.

Anubis had little to add in the conversations of his forebears. He only did as he always did, and that was to ponder for a time on missing the spirit of the child that he had led from death to life again.

Soon enough, time in the mortal world passed, and another soul was due to receive judgment. So he went. And he waited.

And he watched.