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Author's Note: I am not a pagan. I'd done this as a request from a friend who thought the idea was interested and thought I could use the practice. Here's hoping I did well.
Right. Every story needs a lead of some sort, and since this one focuses on a man meeting the God of Mummification let's make him a... No not a mortician, how about a Medical Examiner? Seems in line enough for my purposes. What about names? Names are very important after all, but I mustn't choose one that's too cliché, punny, or obvious. Richard 'Ricky' McAllister? Hm... It seems to work well enough. How old is Mister Richard McAllister?
Age? Tricky here. Let's see. He must be trained as a physician for this line of work, possibly with some specialization in forensic medicine and or pathology. It takes a fair bit of dedication and time to manage all that. So, eight years of medical school plus another four or five in specialization. That would, I presume if my math isn't too far off, put Rickie in his early thirties. Let's add on a couple years of actually working and that puts him at a reasonably vague 'mid thirties' mark. Am I forgetting something? Ah yes the all important 'what does he look like'? We'll find that out as we go along. There's already more than enough in this little introductory paragraph as is.
We have a main character and a relative excuse to follow him around. Where are we following this man? Unfortunately it is one of those horridly not nice places. This story starts, as with so many others, with a dead body. The particulars of this body aren't important, but if you really must know I'll cut to the characters themselves.
Ricky was in the process of cataloging and recording details of his examination. He had concluded that death was caused by lack of oxygen due to being strangled by the silk cord tied around the poor man's neck. He further noted the chest wounds were done after death. Why? He frowned when he probed further.
Something was very wrong here. Everything was there, but the weights were wrong. Some too light, others too heavy. He hated probing further, but each organ needed to be cut open and examined. That's when he found the two thumb-drives. Authorities needed to be notified. He couldn't risk examining the drives contents for fear that they might do something that couldn't then be repeated. Still, their presence had changed things. Killers don't go about leaving things inside bodies if they didn't want somebody that wasn't the victim to pay attention.
Ricky was partially disturbed and partially grateful when they were taken from him.
When work was over and he was allowed to go home he lit several incense sticks, bathed,l ,and went to the shrine he had made in the corner of his bedroom. It wasn't an elaborate thing. A few candle holders for those short stumpy candles, a central place to make offerings (though mostly these offerings were burnt incense or other things that would mostly clean themselves up... Leaving food out only to have to throw it away later seemed wasteful, even if it represented a larger sacrifice on his part.)
His prayers weren't to the Christian God, Allah, or YHVH (Jehovah). It certainly wasn't to 'Satan', or some other selfish being. Instead he had followed one of the many oddball paths that had opened up since the seventies, specifically he prayed to the Egyptian God Anubis.
Strange? Highly. However so long as a person isn't trying to cram their theocratic structure down your throat uninvited why should you care? It gives him comfort in a stressful situation, and he isn't hurting anyone. He ended his nightly ritual of prayer and offering and indeed felt a little better about the world around him. He was in a profession that was around for at least the past four thousand years. If anyone understood his position surely this, one of the oldest beings in the body-cutting-up business, would.
Normally this would be the end of it. Nightly ritual preformed, stress released, but not tonight. Tonight he had a visitor. One that, though it obeyed the same physical laws (and had the courtesy of knocking no less) that we must and could easily be mistaken for human, was far from ordinary.
When Ricky answered the door he felt there was something different about this visitor. He also felt somewhat irritated because it was late and he was almost asleep. So when he pulled the door open he was quite... Irritated. "Who are you?" He demanded in an even, but obviously angry, tone.
His visitor dipped his head slightly. "I'm sorry for waking you Richard. However we have to talk." This man, whom Ricky didn't recognize, walked into his apartment as if it were his own. He didn't seem arrogant so much as assured he would get his way. A fine distinction when the person who's home you've invaded just came off a twelve hour shift on a very stressful day. Still, this man seemed unconcerned.
"Why. Are. You. Here?" Ricky demanded of the man and started to grab at his shoulders to put him back outside. He wasn't usually violent, but this man was pawing through his home, or at least he saw it as pawing. In reality this self-invited guest lightly touched a few different things Ricky had just used and made for his bedroom.
When Ricky tried his cellphone all he got was static. When he tried calling for help he couldn't speak. His moved slowly, marching him into his bedroom where he saw the dark skinned stranger kneeling in front of his makeshift alter as if inspecting it. "Considering the debts you're still paying off and how meagerly you live I suppose expecting better would be insulting. You've done a good job with what you've had, and for that I thank you."
"Just what do you think you're-" His voice stopped when the other rose a hand.
His face was apologetic and his hands held out where they could be easily seen. "I have not made a request of men in... A long time." His eyes were distant, focusing on nothing. "However the death of Eli Mohammad has forced me to seek your help."
"I have been called by many names. You have always called me Anubis, and I want you to find my murderer." That's when the resemblance hit him.
A twin perhaps? Ricky tried to rationalize the claim. Part of him wanted to believe this man's claim of who and what he was, but an old truism chose that moment to metaphorically smacked him in the face 'The divinities we have created never die so long as there is faith to sustain them.'
"Sit," No compulsion or forced obedience. "Please. You want proofs I am who and what I say I am instm ead of my being something as mundane as a crazed relative." He smiled at Ricky. "I do apologize... Hopefully my story will be to your liking."
If one had to sum Ricky's mind up in one word during the story this man that waltzed into his home spun it would have to be confused. Gods, at least so far as he had understood the concept, could not die.
"You're forgetting Balder was slain by LokI's trickery with Hod as his chosen weapon. Then there's Zeus slaying his father for control of the universe." Sometime between the start and finish of Ricky's thought his uninvited guest had somehow gotten a beer out of his fridge. "Then there's the Osiris death and resurrection story which arguably the core story of the Egyptian mythos." Another sip of beer. "Oh and the Christian death- and-resurrection thing with Jesus."
The whole situation reeked of strange. "So tell me why I shouldn't be screaming and calling the cops mister I'm-the-god-Anubis." His voice dripped with sarcasm and more than a little anger. He'd endured plenty of well intended teasing and more than his share of not-so-well intended jabs over the years.
Let's recap. Strange person just walks into your home and acts as if he belongs there and you haven't yet called the police or tried throwing this person out. Perhaps Ricky is just too surprised to throw the man out. Perhaps he's trying to figure out what this person is angling after. Maybe he's just too stunned to think coherently. Take your pick. The point is so far he hasn't made more than a half-hearted move to get this person out of his home.
Ricky's house guest, let's just call him Anubis since that's what he introduced himself as, smiled. "Somewhere in your mind you want to believe me. Your kind have always had that, a deep seated want to believe in more than yourself." He made a quick quarter turn, hiding his beer from Ricky's view, before turning back with both hands empty. No Beer. All gone. "If it will help you see past the skin I use to blend in with squint and look just past me."
Ricky did this, though he was still deeply puzzled. The optical illusion/magic-eye trick rarely worked with him, but this time he saw something. It wasn't something he could have described as an image. There was just Anubis... And yet there was Anubis plus more.
"Does that count as solid credentials, or shall I take you on a tour of the land of the dead?" Again the smile, which Ricky seemed to think was strange. It wasn't a friendly smile even. It was more of a 'I know something you don't' sort of smile, and it disturbed him a little.
"No... No that's quite fine. I..." He took a deep breath and sat to try reasoning things out. "You claim something killed you, and here you are. I would guess that means you either possess people to visit us, which seems unlikely considering all the surface similarities, or you create your body out of nothing."
This time Anubis's smile was a signal of satisfaction. "Something like that anyway. While we are here we tend to try blending in." Pause as he made another half turn and pulls his beer back from wherever he had put it. "There are exceptions, but usually it's more trouble than it's worth these days."
"Hm. So why not tap the guy on the shoulder yourself?" Ricky held a hand up for quiet. "Sorry just thinking out loud. I guess there's a reason you're trying to make me do this." Nod from Anubis. "Answers on the drives I found in your body?" another nod. "Afraid of that since both are being held as evidence and my responsibilities end at the examination slab.
"Would you believe a group of ultra-militants that are killing 'fringe cultists' out of a misguided desire to protect the rest of the world from 'poisonous thought'?"
Ricky snorted, "I'd say that's something ripped from a rejected Law and Order script." "And after you had time to remember most people are irrational creatures attracted to drama and theatrics what then?" Pause for thought. "I'd say someone wanted to make a point." Ricky and Anubis sat there thinking for several long moments before Ricky spoke again. "I take it I am not the only person you're getting in touch with?" "Of course not. Though since it's something of a sticky issue I ask that, for the moment, you not try seeking each other out. That will change, but for the time being your work will demand your full attention and I'm sure others will notice if you're in a twist over a particular case. Anubis handed Ricky an unopened bottle. "I'll be seeing you." With that the man claiming to be an Egyptian god walked out of Richard's home leaving him one very confused medical examiner.
The next morning Richard was willing to believe the entire encounter had been a stress-induced hallucination. After all one does not get visited by gods, or at least you don't and retain functional sanity. Ricky had a brief chuckle over this as he washed and preformed morning rituals both routine and religious before the contents of his fridge slapped home the reality of the prior evening. How did an ice-box's contents do this? Nothing so grotesque as body parts, or surreal as talking produce. Instead it was in the form of a single bottle of beer with a note where the label would normally be.
This note was written in a very neat cramped style that began with 'I am Anubis, the God you have chosen to worship and I bid you remember the task I have set for you..." Taken alone either the prior evening or the note could have been written off as elaborate jokes. Ricky, if he were to think on the matter, could have thought of six or eight people who would have pulled the bottle note off and had enough knowledge in slight-of-hand trickery to pull off his visitor's bottle tricks. None of these people, however, would have since were this all a prank it would be a friendship-ending kick to the gut. Nobody Ricky was on good terms with would have done that, and as the rest of the note and the prior evening's request put him in any sort of legal or morally questionable spots he would treat it at face value for the moment.
Before leaving for work he decided to leave an offering at his little bedroom shrine. For a moment he considered pouring the bottle's contents but decided against it. The bottle and its contents amounted to a gift, and giving it as a libation would amount to marking it as 'return to sender.' Potentially insulting not to mention dangerous depending on the divinity's mood. So he resorted to his usual gifts of burnt incense and offering from a friend that runs a microbrewery. He liked its taste, and somehow the Budweisers and Millers of the world didn't seem terribly appropriate in this context.
With that done there was the business of work. Traffic was light getting there and thankfully what passed through for the majority of the day was the less-grisly sorts of examinations. Each he treated with dignity and professionalism. His job required the latter but the former he did because each used to be a person. There was a bit of running debate between him and his old boss on the matter since said former boss felt that in death the body was just a disturbing wrapper to be tossed away after anything useful was taken in the form of information about manner of death, or donor tissue in cases where situation permitted.
His job was not all cutting up bodies, and paperwork was a constant irritation. Make one mistake and even if nothing else goes wrong there's a sure bet your boss will be breathing down your neck. There was a gentle tap at his door while he was in the middle of transcribing his verbal observations from earlier to paper for filing purposes. "Be with you in a moment." He waved a hand to the door as he set the papers aside and turned the playback off. "Alright, come I-"
The glass in the door shattered and bits of the frame splintered from the force exerted by whoever was on the other side. Oh and the wall the door collided with probably didn't come off much better either. Ricky looked from door to person clad in black robes holding a pair of bronze sickle swords. Were he not in shock at the entrance, or scrambling for his life when Black Robe rushed into his office swinging for his head he might have made a Halloween joke. Presently he was terrified and wondering where security was, to say nothing of scrambling out of a psychopath's way. Somehow he'd managed to get to the door and scurried into absolute bedlam.
Alarms wailed, there were bodies on the floor. Oh and Black Robe was now chasing him through this while making almost bestial noises. The reason Ricky managed to evade an inhumanly strong and fast attacker was that it stopped to maul the bodies. Strange and counter-productive except in that even after finding a place it wasn't Ricky found he was still pants browning terrified.
There was a call to get police there, or at least there was an attempt at such call. Something about where Ricky was blocked the signal. It could have been some otherworldly phenomena, but it was more likely the fact he had fled deep into a building full of metal and concrete which is murder on reception.
"Lost?" A lean man. Dark Skin. Dark Clothes. Short bow with a quiver at his thigh. Hungry golden eyes.
Ricky grunted at the man. "Nut case. Robes. Swords. Lots of people dead...know about that?" The man nodded. "That's actually what I'm here about. Father wanted me to try keeping you in one piece. I can't take her in a straight fight, but I can buy you time. He says he gave you something that might make her calm down."
"Her?" Ricky would have asked for more details but he heard a growl. Big cat. Tiger, Lion. Something Big and Hungry.
The lean hungry eyed man stepped out to meet that noise. "Hathor. Don't you think you've done enough?"
"Hathor died with her children little whelping." Sound of hard metal on metal impact followed by a bestial cry of pain and rage. "There is only Sekmet now!"
Fight between two Gods of War, for what else could stand up to the Berserker that was Sekmet? Yes. Ricky was smart to run. Of course there's the small matter of him being told he had a way to make her not-berserk. Wait...
Sekmet? Beer. RUN!
Sekmet and Hathor. At first two completely, but not symmetrically opposite, beings. Hathor was the Goddess of Fertility and Love. Sekmet held dominion over War and Pestilence as personified by the lioness and uncaring and merciless desert. Yet there is a myth that connects the two.
It goes something like this:
Osiris saw wickedness and evil through the land. What exactly is something that could be debated and nickered about. Suffice it to say like in other pantheoverses where those On High saw things Down Here were not going as hoped they thought to hit the big reset button. Osiris's reset button took the form of turning Hathor, goddess of love, fertility, and whatnot, into a neigh invulnerable berserker and set her loose on the world.
Nothing could stand in front of her and live. Men. Beasts. Gods. Everything in front of her died. Messily. At some point Osiris was either convinced by others that the land as is was worth saving, or he was so horrified by what he had loosed on the world that he worked to undo what had been done. Small problem there. Miss Berserker wasn't exactly going to sit still for Big Papa God-King to hit her with a whammy to calm her back down. So, probably with the help of Thoth, Anubis brewed up a special cask of beer. It should be noted that in Ancient Times beer was brewed by women what with men busy beating each other's brains in, out on big building projects, or doing the non-domestic bits of keeping hearth and home from going to rot. This wasn't your typical brew either. See, by this point Sekmet had shown a definite lust for and affinity to Blood, so that's what this stuff had to look like, and so it was.
One Drunken Goddess later and things settled down. Now ask yourself this folks. If she changed once and only changed back because she got too drunk to remember what made her that almighty upset in the first place, what do you think would happen if she got pushed beyond all comprehension into the land of White Hot Rage.
The general shape of this story dinged around in Ricky's mind as he fled. Who was his ally in the wannabe S.W.A.T. Outfit? He didn't know and didn't want to run towards the sounds of Not Nice Things to find anything out. The family commentary had a moment of attention, long enough to register a possible son, but his mind shoved the process aside in favor of getting his little econo-box car put-putting out of there.
As he drove he realized he did know, at least parts of it he knew. The name itself wouldn't form but the man called Anubis his father and he carried himself like a fighter. Opener of Ways, Wewap or something along those lines. As he drove he hoped his pursuer would leave well enough alone, but knew it wasn't going to be quite so clean cut. After all she'd torn apart a building to get to him. Pause. Was she after him specifically? He had to work under that assumption since the world was just too big for Hathor to simply go nuts here instead of, say, Cairo Illinois.
Rush to his apartment. Cellphone ringing while he was fumbling for keys. Yes that was his car fleeing. Yes he would be happy to answer questions just as soon as he could get assurances whoever had cut their way through where he worked wasn't going to add his head to a pole. Fine. He just had a few things to grab from his apartment. He would be there directly. Click.
Beer in hand he turned to go. He'd told the person on the other end he would head to the police station to give a statement and a few other things. He was no fighter in any sense of the world and as much as he hated the idea of an enraged near unstoppable creature loose, but he had no way of knowing if she'd fled the building after him, was still there, or what. Plus if she were hunting him it would probably be a good idea to have as many guns as possible on hand.
So he spent the next handful of hours giving his statement, submitting genetics samples, and helping sketch artists get a draft of what the attacker looked like. Not much help there since it happened fast and she, yes he was sure it was a she, kept her face hidden. He could've given vague details of skin and hair, but he chose not to. Why? Let's see, brown skin, dark hair. He Really didn't want to encourage yet more anti-Arab sentiment. He was thanked for his cooperation and shown to an empty office where he could catch some sleep until they checked things out.
When the door closed the same lean hungry eyed man Ricky met earlier stepped from the shadows. He limped and one of his arms was in a sling, but he seemed otherwise no worse for wear. "Where is it?"
Ricky motioned to the mini fridge he'd set the beer bottle in after the police left him. "Can you speak, or is this one of those 'grab what you came for and run." things?" His guest nodded once before taking the bottle in hand and disappearing back into the shadows. Ricky sighed softly. "Figures."
"What?" Woman's voice. Ricky turned his head and saw uniform.
He waved her off and relaxed. "I finally get a decent morning at work and all hell breaks loose." He started to smile but stopped at the lack of amusement from his visitor. "How bad is it?"
"Bad." She sat in the office's desk chair and spun it to face him. "Four dead, sixteen wounded. They're not sure how many will make it." She looked grim. Several moments passed before she let out a deep sigh. "I don't think your friend knew you would have to go through this. The trick with the beer might point otherwise, but I'd like to think that was just plan B." This woman had Ricky's full and undivided attention now. "My name's Alice."
They shook and grumbled. "After this is sorted out I've got a few things you might want to see." He gave her a questioning look but couldn't speak. "Don't worry I won't get in trouble. I don't think anyway. Besides I had copies made, so it's not like they'll be missing anything."
"Well this isn't too surprising." The drives weren't secured and the files were opened with programs any computer in the past decade could run. The problem Ricky and Alice ran into while hunched over Alice's computer was that everything was in hieroglyphs. It was translatable, but there were no guides on drive, and a search through the Internet would take hours.
Ricky peered over Alice's shoulder while they looked the mass of symbols over. He hadn't the faintest idea on what it was supposed to mean, but something jiggled into place. "These look computer generated."
Alice shrugged while scrolling through files almost as if she knew what she were looking at, almost. "So? All it takes is someone with a tablet and time to kill to draw pretty pictures."
"What I mean," Ricky broke a major rule of etiquette by shoving Alice's hand aside and started mousing through the drive's contents while he spoke. "Look at the creation dates on all of these." The oldest were almost a dozen years old and the newest a few weeks. "They've been active awhile." He saw a plain text file and opened it.
Alice grunted, shoving Ricky's hand away. "So? They've been worshiped for militia. Even if they stopped existing when they weren't they've been slumming around since the seventies, if not possibly since the mid nineteenth century. They've had lots of time to- Well I'll be." Her amber eyes skimmed what turned out to be a translation. "Whoever wrote this could've tried a little harder to not be so literal." The sentence structure and word use would have made even the worst fan-dubbed anime look like the work of an English major, but it gave the pair a sense of what was on the rest of the drive.
"A dog getting people to do his digging for him?" Motherly voice from behind them. They turned and saw an olive skinned heavyset woman looking back at them. "Funny that he was the one that advocated keeping mortals out of our business." Blink and you would have missed the spear in her right hand.
Alice's gun was out but she held it relaxed with fingers away from the trigger. "Who are you?"
"Oh I could claim any number of important titles dear child. I could go on and on about my deeds, or tell you the name of the face I'm currently wearing, but they don't tell you a bit about who, or to hit closer to the mark what, I am." Her tone was warm and light as she spoke. "Oh do put that away. I'm not going to hurt you." Blink and the spear was gone.
"I just wanted you on notice that no side of what you're stepping in is any more right than any other. I suggest, for your own health and Welfare you go play somewhere else." Light tone that didn't match the hardness in her eyes.
Ricky bowed slightly to her. "I apologize Honored One." This earned him a raised eyebrow from their uninvited guest, "But we have been charged with a task by one who we've sworn to follow." He saw Alice's angry look and sighed. "Well I have at any rate. I'm not sure where she stands."
The woman looked saddened by this but returned Ricky's bow. "He is honored by your dedication I'm sure, but so far other than that berserker woman you've been shielded from our doings by-" She had a distant look on her face for a moment and then it was gone, "-Treaty is too strong a word. Think of it more as an informal agreement to keep mortals out of our affairs. We can't go lording over the world like we used to. Nobody likes to admit to that but there's just too many of us and if we started warring with each other now."
She cupped her hands then spread them wide, releasing a fist sized flash of light and a miniature mushroom cloud. "Too much fighting in Our Names even when we don't say anything. Nobody wants to see what happens if we take a direct hand and make it worse."
Ricky and Alice both looked somewhat confused until that nugget of information sunk in. Wars fought by the hundreds in the name of religion over just the past thousand years. Yes the idea of these 'dead' pantheons not wanting to just encourage more seemed sensible, especially with their own positions so iffy where maintaining a following was concerned.
Blink she was gone, almost like she was a daydream.
After a few moments that felt like minutes Alice asked, "Was that a warning, threat, or an apology?"
"I'm not entirely sure." Ricky took the thumb drive and pocketed it. When Alice glared at him he only made shushing motions before heading for the door. He had what he had been asked to gather, assuming both drives had been copied onto this one anyway. He figured Alice might be irritated at his exit, but he didn't want to be seen hanging around her too much here. After all they were at a police station and even though she was off duty she was still at her job.
Why was he here? He'd given his statements, given the bottle of mystical magical knock-crazy-goddess-out beer to someone who he thought would probably be able to use it better than him. So.
They glowered at him but sent a car ahead to his apartment to make sure it was clear before letting him go home. Take three guesses on who was supposed to babysit that night in case crazy sword swinging person wanted to add his head to the collection.
Alice was less than thrilled at the idea, but she made the best of it when he offered to let her in for a brief rest. It wasn't romantically or even physically motivated. Ricky just felt bad for her and she was half asleep long before it was time for her to leave.
Inside she nodded approvingly at his home. It was kept in order, though it did look like it needed many many of those little touches most people don't think to do, but it wasn't overflowing with dirty clothes, rotted food, or Unnameable Horrors.
Tidiness wasn't what got her attention. Instead it was Ricky's little bedroom shrine. She gently traced the curves of the center statuette and nodded at the offering bowel. When Ricky offered to let her use it she shook her head. "Thank you but no. Horus asked me to help you, but I'm not sure how he would take this." This raised an eyebrow. "You thought Anubis was the only one tapping people on the shoulder wanting things done?"
Of course things inevitably turned back to the mystery contents of the drive, which had been copied again onto Ricky's computer. Most of the rest of Alice's shift was spent finding a way to translate the translation into something that could be read without causing headaches. Getting it to make sense was also high on their priority list, which is why it took so long just to find something that would help even though both were relatively active members in different 'pagan' discussion groups. Groups that gave them access to people that had a better than average chance of making sense of what they were looking at.
The files themselves weren't posted, since that would be chancy and might risk upsetting things that could do Very bad Things if they were so inclined even when the object of irritation was one of their own followers. That and they wanted to see what it was before showing off even if it wasn't some hyper secret plot to... Whatever.
Days passed for Ricky with little out of the ordinary, and that little being the mundane aftermath from Sekmet's rampage through his job. Word pas passed along here and there through people he and Alice knew to get a better idea what the files that, apparently, somebody thought was important enough to kill for . In fact the whole point of this little narrative skip was to fast forward through the boring parts and straight to where things start picking up again.
We rejoin the Anubis pulling Ricky's bedroom blinds open and the covers off his bed. Might be good, for the sake of clarity, to mention here and now that Ricky was still in bed. Actually he'd only gotten to sleep an hour before, but Gods, plural, are rarely all-knowing.
"We need to have words." Calm voice but even in the haze of tired and not quite awake Ricky new his visitor wasn't going to take no for an answer. He mumbled something before crawling out of bed. "Not in ten minutes boy. Now." Anubis started tossing clothes at Ricky. "Clothes. We'll eat on the way." Ricky dressed and was half led, half drug by his visitor out his front door. The whole time he wondered what happened to the whole 'must be invited into one's home' bit all the old (and new) stories of supernatural doings seemed to hold as something not-humans had to do before breaking in.
As if he heard the thought, or maybe it was because Ricky was muttering the whole time, the corners of Anubis's mouth twitched into a faint grin. "I am permitted to go where my followers are. Our Shrines are Invitation enough." Outside a black sedan waited for them. Ricky looked it over and shook his head. Sure the car looked nice, but though he wasn't terribly interested in cars he saw dozens of little oddities that let him know this was no assembly line creation. He glanced, questioningly, at his companion as he got in.
Anubis patted the car's roof before sliding in. "Built for my needs by a few out of town friends of mine."
While he talked the car started on it's way, a thing Ricky wouldn't notice for a few more moments, "More from your pantheon Sir?" He tried puzzling out who out of Anubis's extended friends and family list would be the most likely suspects and failed utterly. The source material was so old and so much time had passed that any of them would have been as good, or bad, a candidate as any other.
"Hephaestus actually," Ricky was somewhat surprised by this. Inter-Pantheon trafficking? First he finds out his God exists and, if sparingly, interacts with the world. Now he finds out multiple pantheons exist. Food for thought there, not to mention more than a little worry. "It's somewhat hard to explain," Anubis saw the expression across his follower's face. "You would know him as that anyway."
"And this has to do with those drives you lost... How?" Before his host could respond he pulled out a thumb-drive of his own and handed it over. "Everything from what was there plus notes Alice and I made while trying to figure out what the translation file actually says." He snorted, "Hard to get a written language that's been dead to wrap itself around modern concepts."
Anubis looked out the window on his side, tinted blacker than was probably legal. "I have faith you managed well enough."
Their car, for the record I'm envisioning it to look like one of those London cabs except that it's solid black (but you may picture it as whatever you like), seemed to ignore traffic by Ricky's estimation. Though to be fair where it had gone there wasn't traffic in the traditional sense. He could barely see anything from his window and found that rolling it down to get a better look wasn't going to happen since there was no mechanism or button . So he looked out and made guesses at what was on the other side based off of the darker outlines inside the darkened landscape he was seeing.
Traffic moved like one would expect. Stop, go, intersections, and that sort of thing. However there were more than cars out there, and even if he could only guess at the details it was clear to Ricky that he wasn't in Kansas anymore. No, really. He had lived, worked, and grew up, in Kansas and he wasn't there anymore. So the expression, tired as it may be, fits. The fact that some of the 'cars' on the road they were traveling had legs and moved like giant beetles scurrying along probably didn't help with Ricky's sense of normalcy either.
When both the driver and his... Companion? God? Ricky wasn't entirely sure how to think of Anubis in this guise. Neither were telling him where they were headed or why. God's will be done. Yea sure, works fine until you can stare 'em in the face and they still give the tight lipped 'we know better than you' act. Ricky kept his complaints sub-vocal. For all he knew both 'persons' with him were mind readers, or at least could sense mood if not the actual content. To sleep or not to sleep? Sleep won out over curiosity and then there was blessed Nothingness until he felt himself being shaken awake.
Where they were is hard to describe. Purely from a physical standpoint it looked like someone had taken them to Anywhere U.S.A. Then there was the stillness to everything. Other than a few other groups there was no traffic either on foot or car. Too few people in a place that was too clean. Ricky couldn't help but chuckle at the thought. Instant city. Just add people.
Anubis walked slightly ahead, leading him to a building very much like the one he worked in. Inside it was a near duplicate, which seemed strange yet for some reason it wasn't nearly as disturbing as he thought it would be. While he was being led he was trying to figure out if this was a construct for his benefit, if they'd actually built this place, if they were even on Earth or-
Two bodies. One male, the other female. Both had clearly, to Ricky at least, been dead several days. Normal autopsy room. Tools lain out and it wasn't until Ricky had put his scrubs on and washed that he hadn't been directly asked to and that there was an audience.
A handful of people, each of different ethnicity, watched. Closest to the bodies was a woman, whom Ricky judged to be their mother. He bowed slightly to them and, with Anubis acting as his assistant, he started the examination.
Shouldn't you be leading? Ricky's hands were steady and when he spoke his voice calm and professional. Just a job, no matter how strange the venue or abnormal it was to let probable family members observe. At the very least shouldn't Imhotep be here?
Anubis shook his head as if he heard the thoughts. If he had there was no other sign while they worked. The bodies were washed. The organs removed and weighed before being washed. Only later did Ricky wonder when the procedure moved from autopsy to modern-day-mummification ritual.
Again he wanted to question, to demand to know why he was there, but he found that the procedure was completed and orderlies were wrapping the bodies while the woman who he thought was their mother spoke blessings over charms that were placed on the body to be held there as more layers of linen were added. Anubis said nothing and when he spoke it was only to add his blessings on both bodies once they were prepared and ready to be taken away.
Ricky watched as the mother bowed to them before leaving. Only when he was sure they were alone did he speak. "Perhaps I'm pushing my limits, but what was that? Why didn't you lead... This is your line of work. Why bring me along at all?" He was careful to keep his tone questioning rather than upset as he spoke, not sure if he was getting too familiar sounding with his patron.
"Fair questions Richard." Anubis led them into the street but not to their car. The sun was down by this time and Ricky followed, since he saw no other reasonable option. "I brought you here partially to show you that Hathor is herself again and so that she could see that not everyone who she was around while enraged had perished. You also need to know more of what is going on and I can only come to you for short periods."
"Where are we?" If this were the deadlands or spirit world then the Gods had modernized a great deal.
Anubis wiggled his left hand in a noncommittal gesture. "Let's just say you're where we go when not making uncommon requests of our followers and leave it at that." Ricky nodded and they walked in silence until they'd come on a hotdog cart. Strange, but if things were taken at the god's word then the rules here were bound to be different.
Once they were seated at a nearby bench Anubis pulled out a thick spiral notebook. "A transcript of the debate Athena, Marduk, Odin, Osiris, and several others have had on attempting to reassert ourselves in mortal affairs." Ricky gave him a questioning look before he added, "Don't worry, Thoth assured me it's a perfectly understandable translation." When Ricky went to open the book he was stopped with a warning glance. "Not yet. I gave that to you since our time isn't best used here for story telling."
"Why are we here then Sir?"
"Zeus, Spider-Woman, and Set all wish to have words with me. We are each bringing a mortal witness."
"Which is where I come in yes?"
How to describe when gods meet? Each appeared unassuming and everyday. Yet at the same time each had gathered the very essence of their Office. Spider-Woman was the lone exception to this and chose instead to wholly clothe herself in the guise of a gray haired woman clothed in hand man garments.
Zeus was much what the media of the past two thousand years had portrayed him; broad shouldered, wild dirty blonde hair, bronze complexion. In short he was a God's God. Yet at the same time the Greek Sky-God, Conqueror of Titans, and holder of a number of other well earned titles carried himself as if he were expecting the full weight of the world to come crashing on his head at any moment.
Each brought someone with them. Zeus a light skinned dark haired woman, and Spider-Woman brought a woman that looked even older than the goddess herself. As if the two groups rehearsed the meeting beforehand, and they may well have, they each flanked Anubis and waited.
"Set is late." Spider-Woman observed.
Zeus smoothed the wrinkles out of his suit and grumbled, "Set is always late." His voice was sour. "Except when he's early, or never bothers showing at all. You should've taken my advice. Nothing good comes from dealing with family."
Anubis grinned slightly, "Not all of us had a cannibal as a father, and Set has his uses." Anger flared in Zeus's eyes as sparks danced through his hair. "Really? Like the time he-" He stopped mid-sentence when the woman that came with him touched the god's shoulder.
"Anger resolves nothing Honored Father." Meek voice to match the girl's posture but Zeus seemed to relax just the same. "Our lot is cast."
The grandmotherly woman of the group was careful to keep her voice neutral. "Wise words for one of Zeus's play-pretties." The younger woman glowered. "Oh get over it. You knew what he'd be like going in on this business." She turned to Ricky. "And what of you? Don't seem the sort to follow the Old Dog this far down the rabbit hole."
Ricky fidgeted, then stilled himself as he didn't want to make a poor impression. "I really don't know what's going on. It might make me seem young and stupid, especially since you both look like you're comfortable with wherever here is, but I got shoved in head first. So feel free to lay off the insults."
Spider woman looked from her own assistant to Ricky and smiled. "Such fire. Have a care young man lest you burn yourself and everyone around you." Her eyes flicked to Anubis before she added, with no small amount of amusement, "You called for us. Since Set has chosen to be late I suggest we move to business."
"Agreed." Anubis pulled the thumb-drive Ricky gave him from his pocket and showed it to the assembled group. "A copy of Thoth's analysis of Nemesis's prison."
A moment passed. Then two. "Well?" Zeus grumped, "You wouldn't have called us if it was good news, so out with it."
"Fifty years, at most. It could be as little as a dozen years if somebody manages to get past the physical defenses and starts chipping from this side." Anubis spread his hands wide. "Then it's all over. It's free and humanity becomes an all-you-can-eat buffet while Osiris would have us sit on our hands."
Ricky tried juggling what he and Alice had pieced together with the tone the conversation was taking. The documents they had tried making sense of were cut and dry and holding very little context for them to put it in. Much was there about directed entropy, wards, and a few hints pointing to the whole thing collapsing in on itself but here was the context that information went with.
"New guy here." Ricky raised his hand. "Why can't you," He pointed to Zeus, "pull a giant bug zapper off on whatever's on the other side?"
Zeus frowned and faint echoes of thunder could be heard when he spoke. "Because, boy, it took all of our combined power to just seal it. Against any one of us, or even all of us, it has the advantage."
"Nemesis is a creature of decay and unmaking." Spider-woman's voice held a lecturing tone; the same sort as an aging mother explaining a family embarrassment. "It is Hunger and Void manifest."
Zeus's assistant chose then to speak. "There are many rules to direct intervention, and by the time tradition allows our patrons to act with free reign it will already be too late."
"Ah." Ricky stepped back and thought this over. "Soooo..." He looked about. "Why are we here?"
"They're here to convince me to break the rules for them." Short stocky man hanging from a lamp pole nearby. When he landed he half-ran half-tumbled his way to the group. "Isn't that right shaggy?" Anubis growled. "Your hands are tied and Horus's little pretty is getting tired of everyone trying to lead her around by the nose."
The newcomer looked to Ricky and bowed. "There. It's all summed up for Duncy McCluless M.E. Over there. You three know my price. Same as it was last time you asked. Yes or not."
Spider-Woman's eyes narrowed. "Absolutely not!" "What makes you think we'll consent to such a lopsided deal?" Anubis's growl grew louder. Zeus's right hand shot forward just before a bolt of lightning hit Set square in the chest, which seemed to do little more than singe the fabric of his bright red clown suit.
"Oh come on. That was uncalled for." Set tried wiping the scorch mark away. "This was an authentic Bozo."
"You have our answer. Your terms, as they stand, are not accepted." Sparks danced in the palm of Zeus's right hand.
Ricky looked at the group, trying to figure out if speaking was a good idea or not. Deciding that it wasn't yet not speaking was an even worse idea he took a deep breath. "Without knowing anything I have to wonder. What's the point in getting everyone here if you're just going to turn laughing boy there down?"
Three of the divinities glowered at him. The fourth gave a hyena-like laugh that was cut off as soon as the three turned their displeasure from the mortal onto him.
Ricky fidgeted. "So let me see if I have the right of this. Sealed Evil in a Can that would like to snack on the human race en mass as soon as it gets out right?"
Spider-Woman nodded. "There are details that must be added in but that is largely correct."
"By the time you're allowed to act openly the bogyman has already eaten most of the planet and would then be too strong for you to do anything but be the ambrosia flavored after dinner mint?"
"We would not go down so easily as that," Zeus looked grim in spite of the light tone of his words.
Anubis's tone, on the other hand, was as grim as his look. "Yet in the end we would go down. Without people to sustain us it would just be a matter of time."
"Let me get this right." Ricky's voice held little of the flood of confusion in his mind. "You're talking about a literal end of everything and at the same time you're shooting down the one guy that, from where I'm standing, looks like he has a plan just because you don't like the price tag?" He paused to collect himself. No sense in letting emotion run rough over his decision making, especially where it concerned beings that could kill him or worse. "What, exactly, is your price." He gestured to Set. "Killing Osiris? Somebody's first born? Your face on the one dollar bill?"
"I want you people to stop treating us like last week's garbage." Set looked Ricky and the other two mortals over. "Oh sure you three and a few thousand others are good as far as you go for modern worship, but mostly its the cranks and crazies." He paced as he talked. "I want recognition beyond the fringes. I want to see stadium sized temples packed with Thousands! I want to not be remembered only for some cheap kids show or boring academic footnotes. What I want is to not be forgotten."
Anubis waited until the other divinity was finished before speaking. His voice was calm and his tone somber. "What you want is impossible. Our time may come again. It may be long passed. It is not our choice and to attempt to enforce worship is simply not possible."
"What you ask is something we cannot give. Yet what you offer is a way to avoid total oblivion for all of us." Spider-Woman sounded more like she was thinking out loud rather than intentionally addressing anyone. "Would preserving us all not be enough of a reward?"
Set looked at her and seemed to deflate. Surviving, even if you were left to the margins, was better than everything collapsing over stubbornness. "You will wait until I see if this works before letting the others know?"
Everyone else nodded agreement. They would wait and see.
While they were being driven back to the world of the familiar and everyday Ricky was silent. What happened was still processing and he wasn't sure how to frame his question. Plus Anubis motioned for quiet every time he tried speaking.
When they finally stopped and Ricky was let out Anubis rolled his window down and looked at the man. "You still have a murder investigation to help along. I'll keep in touch." And with that said the car sped away, disappearing in the most literal of ways once it merged with traffic.
Anubis was right. The John Doe that started this God-Ball rolling was still considered unsolved. He was still officially on leave due to psychiatric reasons so he didn't have direct access to the body. Still, he had his notes and pictures he'd copied over. While that was more likely than not a huge no-no he had taken the chance anyway after that first night's visit.
Because it had been days since he had reviewed the material it was almost as if he were seeing it for the first time, and what he saw bothered him. Postmortem wounding was consistent with the victims of Sekmet's rampage, which made sense in a way. The strangulation-by-silk-cord bit didn't. Anubis told him a group of militants had strung his prior body up. Had they been the one to loose Sekmet? Was it merely coincidental that she was there at the time?
He grumbled and fumed as his mind poured over the data. None from the communities he'd walked had gone missing, or anything out of the ordinary. Oh there were the usual line of threats, door knockers, and the odd bit of vandalism, though that last was rare it wasn't outside of what Ricky had considered normal.
"Speak and be heard." Alice's voice was upbeat when she answered the phone.
"Mind coming over for a bit?" Hard asking a near-stranger, even one that had common interests, to show at your door on short notice. "Need you to help me pick through an old puzzle."
"Oh," Decidedly less happy voice. "Give me twenty and I'll be over." "Gratsi."
"Homicide's got this one and isn't sharing." Alice frowned at the pictures and copied reports. "All I've heard is the same song and dance you did. Group of nuts taking Old Testament judgment too literal." She tapped one of the pictures showing the cord. "Why white?"
"Why not? Maybe it was the cheapest they could get."
Alice shook her head, "I'd gotten asked into a group early." She took a breath, held it, and let it out slow. "When I saw how they wanted to go about things I bailed. Saw a few other groups like that too. Did research into the Davideans, Jim Jones, and a few of the Millennial groups. Most religious groups put meaning on all kindsa crap. You know that."
Rick nodded slow. "So? It's just a cord like you'd get off a set of really nice drapes. Nothing special there."
"How long have you kept a shrine going?" Barely contained exasperation to Alice's voice.
"Off and on since college. Why?"
"White. Purity. Purification maybe? You didn't find anything on the body?"
Headshake, "Other than the mauling that's likely Sekmet's doing? None."
Alice looked thoughtful. "Think she busted in and broke everything up before they got that far?"
"I dunno." Ricky did a quick look through and pulled up pictures of the crime scene. The place was pure chaos. Everything was hacked to pieces or broken apart. If one were to look past that it might have once been a reasonably nice looking room.
"You find anything out about her kids?" Alice looked over at Ricky hopefully. "Might give her motive to hunt them down. When they fled she settled on busting the place up."
Slight nod, "Tracks with what the stories say about her." He then started explaining what he'd seen during his examination/embalming of the children's bodies.
"You get any samples?"
"They wouldn't let me. No marks or residue, though the latter could be because they'd been scrubbed head to foot."
Ricky grunted and looked back at the pictures spread in front of them.
"Thank you Priestess." Ricky stood in front of a crowd of maybe two dozen, maybe a little more, gathered in a rented basement room for their collective services. The preaching, chanting, burnt offerings, and such usually end with a closing prayer for guidance and an after meeting dinner, but while everyone was gathered Ricky took his chance to speak.
"About a week ago," How to phrase getting mauled by a pissed off goddess when the powers themselves wanted you to keep a low key? "About... I got attacked. It was all over the papers, several dead lots of speculation." A few nodding heads. "OK good. Night before that I'd looked at a body that came in. Strangled, Mutilated after death. It's been kept out of the news because they don't want to start a panic, or scare whoever did this off, but the police think it might be a group of zealots targeting what they consider cult worship."
Pause to take in the crowd. Plenty of familiar faces. Even a few door ringers trying to 'show wayward children back home' were sitting in the back. He smiled at this and nodded to them. "First let me make this perfectly clear. I refuse to make a blanket statement that it's any one group. As our guests here prove that tolerance and good faith aren't quite dead yet, and for your time I thank you."
"Unfortunately the problem still stands and while it is being investigated I feel some obligation to try helping the police as much as possible." He was sweating bullets here. Too many details he couldn't go into that he desperately wanted the others to know. Had their faith not earned them the right to know that their whispered prayers and enduring public ridicule is not in vain?
He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. "Do any of you know Eli Mohammad?" When he opened his eyes he saw one person in the crowd step forward.
"He used to be my boss before I'd moved." Rail thin, delicate face, fine mouse brown hair. He nodded to himself. "Actually he's the reason I'm here."
"I'm sorry for your loss then, and I'm sorry about this but I must ask you when you saw him last and if there's anyone that might have had a grudge against him." Police questions, probably already had been asked to the girl, but Alice had told him to ask anyway in case anything had shaken loose between then and now.
The woman had the additional pressure of being in a crowd when asked these things. Sure it was a crowd largely of friends in a place of safety, but still a crowd of onlookers. She had a far away look on her face for long moments before shaking her head. "I remember this antiques dealer, evangelical sort that just wouldn't leave him alone. He'd filed harassment charges and tried getting a restraining order placed. Seems like it didn't do any good."
Several people around her offered comforting words then, which seemed to get her more flustered than anything else. "David something or other. Starts with an M. I've got his card somewhere. Used to like browsing there before he got all weird. Cops won't touch him, says something about not enough evidence to get him down from Canada." She snorted, "Harassment for months on until he's dead and this guy gets to walk?" Anger seemed to make the diminutive girl swell.
"Thank you child." Anubis's voice. Different face and body but same voice, or near enough anyway. He stepped from the shadows to take the woman's hand. None seemed to react to him, possibly out of the suddenness of his appearance, possibly some glamor.
Ricky saw him take something from the woman before inclining his head to their guests. "You are always welcome in our house." Out the door. Gone.
With Anubis gone things broke down into the more usual routine. Food, small talk; though in deference to their guest's comfort the offerings were held off until they had left. They were nice enough to come and keep civil after all.
Alice frowned. "I'll start digging when I get back to work." "Honestly, what do you think?" Ricky sounded worried. He understood the reasons for most of the hoops and red tape that existed, but that didn't mean he had to like it.
A shake of her head and a frown was Alice's only answer. "So, I hear you got a few observers."
With the subject changed Ricky smiled. "Nice group, kept the debating civil and actually took notes... That were actual notes and not chicken scratching. Maybe I'm buying too much into the stuffed and ridged Catholic stereotype." he chuckled, "Wouldn't that be something of a cosmic joke. Get all bent out of shape then do the same hand wave and 'you're intolerant pricks' in return." "Sad but s'how it usually goes. I'm sure they appreciate Jon and Anna letting them have a look-see."
"So long as it doesn't show up on Faux as some sort of 'expose of a godless cult.'" Eyeroll at the thought.
"We're sorry but this number is no longer in service." Ricky hung up, swearing under his breath as he did so. Alice was gone. No, gone would have been normal and understandable. Nobody in her apartment complex remembers anyone living in her unit for the past three months. Police have no record of her ever working there or anyone by that name.
Were it not for the things she had left at his apartment he would have bought the idea of her being some sort of post-traumatic hallucination. It worried him that she had disappeared so thoroughly, and even though the divinities out there obviously had their hands full with this Nemesis business he had to know just what happened.
It had been years since he had attempted a summons. It, in fact, wasn't strictly Egyptian so far as he had known. What he was doing more closely resembled the sort of thing one expects out of pagan ritual as propagated by sensationalist media. It took the better part of a day to gather everything and make everything ready.
Of course since his apartment was rented he couldn't very well do anything permanent he had to settle with a raised plywood platform for everything to work on. Nothing special there, just a four by four square of wood with studs along the bottom edge to give the whole thing a little rigidness. On top of this he drew the summoning circle and placed candles, with several glances at the compass he'd bought for this reason, at the cardinal points. No internal pentagram though. Not only was it unnecessary, but if anyone chose to walk in he would have all manner of... problems ...what with the pentagram's association with satanism and such.
There'd be a fun headline. Pagan cultist arrested performing blood ritual. He did not take with Vouden's stipulations of colors holding purpose, but he found white and black to suit the aesthetics and with them spaced as they were there was a certain amount of balance in play.
Beer would not do, not even something brewed by his own efforts, not for this. He did not like what would be his best method of calling the god to him, so like anyone faced with unpleasant options he stalled. Oh he told himself he was going through a ritual cleansing of the body, and even though from a certain perspective that was true, he was most definitely stalling.
In his next act of caution/stalling he inspected the binding circle again. It was made with gold paint carefully rolled along a penciled in circle done with a landscaper's compass and chalk. In the gold border he drew a series of hieroglyphs that seemed to best suit his needs. A somewhat lax translation would go something like this, 'You are commanded to not cross this line. Failure to heed this warning will cause your soul to be thrown into the underworld to be consumed by the lion, the crocodile, the hyena, and the hippo. You are commanded to not cross this...' etc. etc.
If it worked it would be something like luring a wild lion to you with bloody steak then putting it in a big paper bag while you stand in front of it hoping it doesn't decide to tear your head off. Ricky took a deep breath and exhaled before picking up a silvered bell, the sort that the salvation army used to use when calling for donations.
Candles were lit at the corners and the other lights in the room were dimmed. He fought down panic and fear over what he was doing and approached the southern point of the circle. "Anubis. Lord of the Dead. Anubis, my lord. I call you to me in my hour of need." He brought one of his kitchen knives up as if showing it to some invisible spectator watching from inside the circle. "I offer a portion of my life's blood to you now to honor you Lord."
He used the knife to cut across his left palm. It wasn't a deep cut, but it was deep enough to cause precious bodily fluid to fill his cupped hand almost before he could grab the bell in his other.
"Come forth." He swung the bell once.
"Come forth." Blood was threatening to spill on the carpet when he rang the bell a second time. He could not afford to pay it any attention though. His mind, in it's entirety, was focused on the calling.
"Come forth!" When he rang the bell a third time he tipped his left hand over a shallow bowel just inside the circle and quickly pulled outside it's parameter.
For a minute there was nothing. Just Ricky standing in his bedroom pressing an old t-shirt into his hand to keep from bleeding everywhere. There was no whispering of power, no manifestations. Nothing.
Other than grabbing something for his hand Ricky did not move. He barely breathed. Work! This has to work! I'm caught in something and I have nowhere else I can turn.
The candlelight stirred. Was it from the air conditioner kicking over? Still, Ricky did not move. His god had revealed himself, and he found it impossible to believe that he would be casually turned aside.
Shadows gathered, it was a subtle thing at first but soon grew more pronounced. Slowly a man-shape formed in the circle's center. It was, and was not, the same as Ricky had seen him before. This was the god in his natural form. Human, but exuding an aura, not quite of power but of self around him as the shadows fell away from his newly minted body.
When his eyes opened he saw Ricky kneeling, head down, on the outside of the platform. "Bit of trouble you've gone to here Richard. What can I do for you?" Conversational tone, easy manner. He even gave an amused glance at the circle.
Ricky was taken more than a little off guard by this. He hadn't thought the summoning would work, not really. It was only a little paint, a few candles, and only a little bit of his blood. "I... uh sorry for yanking you away from whatever you were doing Sir." Always a good idea to apologize, "But I did not know who else I could call for information."
Anubis stood calmly within the confines of the summoning circle and waited. He could break free if he wanted, but it had been a very long time since anyone had bothered Calling him. However Ricky was starting to babble. Mustn't have that now. "And?" He growled low, "What is it?"
Attention refocused. Ricky shuddered at the look in the god's eyes. "It's Alice, she's gone."
He snorted, "Call missing persons? Talk to her landlady? One does not call down the divine l-"
"There's no record of her ever existing." Even calm voice in spite of the fact Ricky was terrified at having probably overstepping what he could do without getting ripped to itty bitty pieces.
Anubis went from annoyed to interested in roughly a heartbeat. "Horus's child yes? Dark hair, dark skin, green eyes, that sound like her?" Ricky nodded. "Strange, as I understand it having no paper trail or other records of your life are next to impossible while functioning in your country, yes?"
"If you kept yourself to menial labor and used the same methods illegal immigrants use it's possible." Ricky conceded after a few moments to look at the problem. "Trouble is she was posing as a cop, and they take an extra long look at you before letting you in for training, educating, and the like for fairly obvious reasons." Obvious to him at least. Would be more than an embarrassment to let someone with a criminal history or someone that wasn't supposed to be in the country work as law enforcement. Imagine someone with ties to gangs or other similar groups that could not only get their hands on the sort of equipment most departments had, but also had access to patrol routes, duty rosters, and other such information.
Anubis seemed to recognize something of this. "Indeed. Casting the wolf as the sheep's guardian is self-destructive." He paced within the confines of the circle as he considered potential actions. "I could just ask Horus what's become of her, though if he's playing his own game I doubt a direct confrontation will do anything other than antagonize him. Maybe she left some clue or tell-tale of her passing. You two were, if not friends, allies. I find her behavior disturbing."
Ricky watched and listened as the god thought the problem over. Eventually Anubis turned to face Ricky before making a gesture and breaking the circle and heading to the kitchen. When Ricky looked at the now broken summoning circle he frowned. The writing had changed from hieroglyphs to plain English and now read 'A nice attempt for a beginner with little knowledge to work off of, but as it is barely adequate a barrier for shades and restless spirits it is far too little to hold me or my kin anywhere. We will continue our discussion in the kitchen.'
When he got to the kitchen he was handed a coke and a sandwich. "Sit." Anubis pointed to a chair that scooted itself away from the table. "Please."
After Ricky did as instructed Anubis looked at him. No, not with the distance in his eyes. His head turned but he wasn't looking at Ricky. "Horus told me something of this girl and I urge you to leave the matter alone Richard."
"Why? Didn't you ask me to find out what happened? She's a clue she's-" Ricky bargain, but was cut off.
"An immortal." Anubis interrupted. "She is also a magi of some considerable skill. Perhaps her business here relates to Nemesis. Perhaps she is merely passing the time. Either way her involvement with you is apparently at an end. I can get no further with Horus without pressing, and that is something I do not risk for very little apparent reward."
"But-" Ricky tried speaking but was again silenced.
"I know, you feel like you need to know what is happening so you know which way is your best course."
Ricky shook his head. "It's not that exactly Sir. Everything's getting over my head here and if I"'m expected to do I'm going to need help to keep from sliding under."
"I see." He might have, or the god might have been trying to buy himself breathing room.
"Do I have your permission to try bringing a few others into this?"
"You may, but convincing them you're not delusional could be a problem." Anubis kept his expression neutral when he spoke. "I dare not upset matters even more than they already have by showing myself as I really am." Annoyed? Sure. Richard was annoyed. "You outright blurted what you were to me!"
"A singular risk I was forced to make to have an agent that could move freer than I am normally." The god's expression soured. "Were I able to act as freely here in this worl as you are I would never have shown myself."
"So you don't care about the sort of humiliation and suffering we face by being nonconformists to the Book People huh? It's all about what we can do for you." Were he able to take those words back Ricky would have, but a moment's impatience and aggravation has left him saying something very regrettable.
"Is that what you think?" Anubis eyed the man before his expression sagged. He looked like he'd gotten slapped by Ricky's words. Who knows, maybe he had been. "I'm sorry you feel that way." He got up and started for the door.
"Wait! Please I'm-" The door slammed shut leaving Richard more alone than he had been in a very long time.
Time passed slowly for Richard. He was allowed to work again. New bodies, new puzzles, and thankfully no children on his work load. He worked efficiently but joylessly.
Members from his coven had called but he wasn't having any of it. Maybe later. He told himself whenever anyone from his old crowd would drop by. Not now though.
A few calls he couldn't put off though. They were his friends, and they had gotten concerned. What to tell them though? Nothing felt genuine to his mind when he considered his options when somebody was banging on his front door. He had missed services. They were just checking on him.
"I'm fine. Go away!" He heard himself yell as he dressed. The pounding wouldn't stop. He breathed deep and exhaled. "Be there in a minute." He didn't want to see anyone but in his mind it would be quicker to get it over with than to have to wait until they left on their own.
Door open. Ricky was staring out at the door knocker in little more than a half-unbuttoned flannel shirt and sweatpants. His visitor, in contrast, was dressed in a three piece suit straight out of the turn of the last century. His features were different, but Ricky recognized the eyes. Gambler's eyes. Dancing merry one moment, somber and severe the next and just the hint of the always changing mind at work.
"Well?" The man asked. "Can I come in?"
Given everything Ricky had experienced so far his sour look at the over-dressed stranger might be understandable. "I'm not sure, can you?" Mocking tone. It was a gamble, but one he felt was safe given how much almost everything on the supernatural seemed to agree on unwanted creatures and critters needing an invitation.
"Ah," The man grinned wide as those dancing changing eyes looked Ricky over. "The wayward child has an ounce of sense after all." Approving tone, but the man shoved past Ricky into the apartment anyway. "Not that it keeps our kind away entirely. Oh sure my effects budget is cut by barging in," The man's words felt almost carelessly tossed aside as he swept through Ricky's home. "You would be a fool to think me powerless though."
Laughing Man, yes let's call him that for the time being, was in the middle of making himself a sandwich when Ricky swung a baseball bat at the backs of his legs. On impact the bat cracked down the middle and Ricky's hands went numb from the jolt.
"Can't even depend on a good Louisville these days." Laughing Man commented right before taking a bite.
Ricky grimaced and managed to work his fingers enough to know that they were still attached, but they wouldn't do anything else for the next while like that. "Get out." Steady voice, but against this intruder the words felt small.
"Oh I think not little duck blue." Laughing Man picked Ricky up by his shirt collar and dropped him in the living room couch. "We have things to talk about," He leered before pouting, more a caricature so overblown that it would have been more at home in a bad stage play than a person's home, "It isn't like we can do that if I'm not here? You want me here don't you?"
"No." Monosyllable. Sour.
The Caricature that was Laughing Man's face instantly went from pouty/sad to happy/maniacal grinning. "Your head says No. No." He reached over to grab the top of Ricky's head, which was a feat in of itself since he was still in his kitchen, and made him shake his head. "But your heart says Yes. Yes." He made Ricky nod before letting go.
"You feel like yesterday's newspaper. Used and discarded once all the interesting tidbits are read through. Right?" Before giving Ricky a chance to respond Laughing Man continued. "You want to have faith, but now that we've all been knocked off our shiny unapproachable pedestals having fallible icons of worship isn't as nice as you thought is it?"
Silence was Laughing Man's only answer so far. He didn't seem to care and took Richard's silence as approval to filch more from the kitchen. "Have to say, even with all the bugaboo over the environment have to like all the progress you apes've shown in the past couple hundred years."
"Get. Out." Ricky stood, glaring at the intruder. "You are not invited. You have no Power here. Get. Out." He trembled and shook. That's how angry he was at what was going on.
"Pfft. You and who else? You gave mutt-boy the middle finger, so I doubt he'll answer any bleating for help." Laughing Man snorted. "And what of the White Christ? So Impersonal. So... distant. 'Help those that help themselves.' Kind of charming way of saying 'you're on your own kid.' Hope you haven't traded in with those lot on account of a little rudeness now-"
Ricky punched him in the face. "Hey! You can't go doing that sort of-" Again. Fist. Face. Briefly he wondered why this person... Spirit... God... Whatever. Why it didn't bother flattening him.
"YOU WILL STOP THIS INSTANT MORTAL!" Laughing Man hadn't changed a single bit, not physically. He held himself straighter. Proud. Confident. Every inch of him was a God and he would not take any lip from a mere mortal.
"Either blast me into a grease spot, sign me up for a few thousand years of torment, or Get Out." Ricky stood there. Mortal man. No special protection (that he knew of anyway) and very much afraid he'd finally gotten himself in deeper than he could dig out of. At the same time though he stood there, waiting for the intruder to make his move.
Laughing Man glowered at Richard. His gaze penetrating and all-seeing. "I can see why he thought you would be helpful. Pity you took yourself out of the game." He snorted dismissively, "pity but oh well. Gone was the regal commanding presence and back with the dismissive living cartoon comedy face. "Taa!" Gone. No special effects just. Here. Blink. Gone. Even after several hours Richard was mentally pacing through that brief but strange encounter as well as other facts that he'd managed to hang onto since his life had gotten strange.
The, for lack of better word, Gods of Old apparently kept ties with each-other over the millinia, or possibly only started just recently. All of them were worried about some creature... entity... thing that would turn the human population into the largest all you can eat buffet imaginable, which would also mean even these 'gods' would die due to lack of worship.
So does that mean when we stopped worshiping them they stopped existing and only came back into being when popular culture picked them up again? Risky shook the thought away as interesting, but likely not important at the moment. Rather he labeled it as important, but too far on a tangent to worry about.
Somebody had killed a body Anubis had created for himself. Why though? Ricky frowned. The drive everything was on was in a condom but either the string'd broke or he never tied it off. So how could he have gotten it out- Pause as realization hit. Eww. Alright he had data he didn't want some random mugger to grab. There was somebody that wanted what he knew and either killed him so it wouldn't get passed along or killed because it didn't look like he had it on him.
At some point Ricky found himself pacing his apartment. He didn't think any better on the move, but even so he was feeling restless. He wasn't a cop, and his used-to-be-ally was the one that was supposed to do all the deductive reasoning. Unfortunately she turned out to not exist according to anybody's records and even his patron deity had told him poking further would only irritate his relatives.
Ricky had found himself staring at Anubis's shrine. It had only been a couple days since he'd last used it, but residue from offerings past as well as leavings from incense and candles that hadn't been cleaned up made the thing appear insulting somehow. So he'd carefully taken it apart and started cleaning all the different bits that usually got dirty during his personal services.
I'm still mad at him for cutting me out and being rude about it. He told himself as he went about this task, Maybe tomorrow I'll see if I've completely burned that bridge or not. It felt, to him anyway, too much like a couple's spat. One person does something unintentionally aggravating, they argue, walk away, then eventually figure out both were being morons about the whole matter.
Before that, however, he carefully reassemble the now clean shrine and made a call. Ring ring. "Hey, now a bad time?" Pause. "Ah.. yea actually I wanted to know if you, Mike, and a few of the others could swing by. I need a few people I can talk to." Longer pause. "I know I've been acting like a drip lately but this is kind of important." He scrambled for something to write with and started taking notes. "OK... thanks."
Getting everyone to believe that he wasn't crazy after he had given a brief retelling of his doing since being put on the trail he was on was surprisingly easy. Stress, all of them had put his standoffish down as stress from having a difficult case on his hands and almost getting killed at work. Of course he hadn't, at that point, told them about his relationship to the being he worshiped. One step at a time.
Next was to show everyone the copied over contents of the drive. He frowned at the folder, half expecting the whole thing to have been either deleted or garbled into unreadability. Instead what he got was the original images as well as the translation of the translation which made reading far simpler for the home audience. After letting everyone have a skim each frowned. Take things from their perspective after all. They have had no dealings with the supernatural and here was a set of texts explaining that some ancient sealed away entity was soon to break free from a prison that it had been stuck in since the end of the crusades.
One of those that Ricky had brought in, the woman that had told him who had wanted this information in the first place, looked lost in thought. Granted Anubis, in the fleshy disguise he was wearing at the time, had been her boss and this was what he had apparently been killed over so it was somewhat natural really. He himself wasn't sure how best to approach the rest of the group so he'd left them to talk amongst themselves while he got drinks. That's when he noticed someone had left something in his fridge. He looked at it, unwrapped the note from the bottle it had been taped to, and frowned before heading to the door.
He had half expected the man that he found waiting on the other side and nodded in the man's direction. "I haven't told them the stranger bits yet. I wanted to get the more mundane things told while I still have some credibility."
The man smiled and stepped through. "It is good you waited." Ricky let him by and watched him approach the rest of the group. The girl stopped mid-sentence and stared slack jawed at him.
"You." She bowed her head to him. "I thought you might have been involved Lord." Ricky stared.
The man nodded. "Aye lass. You'll have to forgive Richard here. He was more than a little afraid he wouldn't be believed."
To Ricky's surprise the woman blushed slightly, "I'm sure you had nothing to do with that at all right?"
It was his guest's turn to color but he said nothing else on the matter. The two others of the group looked rather confused, a condition that only worsened when his guest started explaining the more spooky aspects of recent happenings.
"So what you're saying," Matt looked between Ricky and Anubis, "Is that Butcher was right even if he didn't quite mean to be?"
"In his own way, though the details are wildly different the idea he used of a collective subconscious giving life to me and my fellows has some truth."
Matt nodded quietly but was quiet.
"I suppose," Anubis took a deep breath then exhaled, "I suppose all of you want to know why we've been shying away from direct contact."
The woman shook her head, "I figured it was like you told me, nobody would believe us if we tried, and those that would aren't really the sort that can function in normal society."
Mike grunted but continued to say nothing.
Anubis folded his arms and looked at the four mortals. "We still owe our followers several apologies," his eyes focused briefly on Ricky, "Some are owed more than others."
Something about this conversation felt different to Richard. It wasn't tension so much as some nameless energy hanging in the air. "All of you have read Thoth's notes?"
"Then you know what we're faced with. Set has proposed a solution of sorts if things go," His eyes unfocused for a moment, "pear shaped. How much do all of you know of the supposed Rapture?"
Mike shook his head, "Load of crock really to give a few self important Christians a reason to feel superior." Confused looks from the rest. "OK TL;DR version. End of days come knocking, God reaches down and snatches the faithful away so it's only the unbelievers and Jews that have to put up with the worst of it."
Several eyebrows. Mike snorted, "Somebody even wrote a book series about what's supposed to happen." Pause. "What, I've got friends all over, some of 'em even like healthy discussion."
Anubis nodded. "Details get kind of strange but that's the gist of it. Each of my kin as well as those from the other houses have been given permission from On High to provide shelter for a portion of those that hold faith with us."
Lightbulb. Everyone starts speaking all at once.
"What about those that you can't take?"
"Are we going to be leaving with you?"
"When's this going down?"
Anubis raised a hand and suddenly everyone else in the room was silent. Mouths moved but no words came out. "My apologies but if I may," No arguments, even if it were possible. "I hate the idea of leaving anyone, but there is only so much that can be tolerated before a panic is started by the wider masses, and none save the powers that be know if this contingency is even needed. Still, better to have than not yes?"
Again no arguments.
"Three days I will give you four as well as others I have gotten in touch with. On the fourth day I will come for you all. I don't promise a land of milk and honey, or whatever the modern equivalent is for easy living. In fact all of us are in pretty much universal agreement that having all of your needs totally covered would be a terrible thing. So instead we have provided a place for you to start over."
"Lord?" Ricky spoke soft, questioning. Anubis nodded. "I hope it doesn't turn out as bad as you say. If we can't take our families..." He didn't want to finish, not out loud. Of course the thought didn't need finishing. If they couldn't take anyone with them and these measures were needed there's be a great number of upset and heartsick people.
"we'll cross that bridge if we come to it."