Pulp #39: Dealing with the Devil
by, 12th April 2012 at 12:30 AM (279 Views)
They descended the second set of stairs with some difficulty - they were impossibly steep, worn down by the millennia that had passed since their creation, and coated with a greasy soup of mold and filth - but eventually they reached the bottom to find yet more fetor-belching tunnels. This time, however, through the limitless reaches of that warren they could spy the dim, ruddy glow of some far-off light and breathlessly, they crept toward it. The hellish glow led them eventually, via a series of twists and turns to an open gallery, dominated by a forest of vast pillars worked from ebon stone by unknown hands. The spark of blood-red radiance came from a massive brazier of beaten copper mounted at the rear of the chamber betwixt the enormous forepaws of a black sphinx that loomed from the shadows. The statue was carved in hideous detail such that every muscle and cord could be seen worked into the stone beast's lustrous hide. The head, however was a horrible blank oval, completely smooth and polished like some eldritch black mirror upon which the red light threw grotesque shadows of abnormal horror.
It seemed that the thing - despite being made from insensate stone - watched them with malignant intent, judging them and waiting for the right opportunity to strike them down with a swipe of its titanic paw. Ellie whimpered, a delicate fist pressed to her fear-widened mouth, and Mister took a shuddering step back from that gargantuan carving his shotgun wavering uncertainly between his waist and his shoulder, but the others remained in control of themselves.
"Ahh...," a voice sighed from the darkness, its tone mellow and confident. "I see that you've made it at last."
A figure stepped out of the shadows behind the vast copper brazier and spread his arms in welcome. He was tall and slim with the young, idealized face of an antique pharaoh, resplendent in prismatic robes and crowned with a golden sekhemti that glowed in the light from the brazier. His features were european though his skin was the dusky black of Africa. A capricious, mocking smile was on his thin lips.
"No..." Shanuda quailed drawing back from this figure as if he were death himself.
"I thank you ever so much for coming so far to return my property," the pharaoh said holding out one open hand to Jack and beckoning him closer. "I'll take the dagger now. In exchange for safe conduct from my temple, of course."
"Who is this?"*Jack hissed to JD and Shanuda, his tone filled with the confidence of a man who knows without a doubt that he won't like the answer to his question. Professor Button shrugged and the coptic gibbered into his beard his eyes never leaving the man by the brazier. Shanuda's flashlight fell from his fingers and clattered on the stone floor.
"To the people above I was called Thoth, though those who built this temple in my honor knew me as The Black Lion," the pharaoh smirked."To put it another way: My name is Legion; for we are many."
Helen stepped to the side and raised her Colt, training it on the pharaoh's chest. "I think we should shoot first and ask questions later. What do you think?" she said loudly enough for all to hear. The pharaoh chuckled and raised a cautioning finger.
"Before you do anything rash, consider where you are," he said smoothly. "The labyrinth separating you from the world above is home to a great many ghouls. They did not hamper your journey here because our game had not yet played out but they're quite excited at the prospect of a fresh meal. If anything happens to me... Well, you can just imagine."
Helen sighed. "Why do all the Egyptians seem to speak English better than we do?" she asked no one in particular.
"To be fair," the pharaoh said, his sardonic grin widening. "I am not Egyptian."
"We came here for our friend, Pierre. We want him back," Jack said. "Want to remove the curse from Ellie, too."
"I will grant you safe passage back to the surface in exchange for my Dagger," the pharaoh answered in a mocking tone. "But Pierre and Ellie have already been removed from the board. They're mine."
"I came to get Pierre back and you ain't keeping me from that,"*Jack growled back at the dark man. The pharaoh's face turned to a scowl.
"Most people who play games with me would be grateful to escape with either their lives or their souls intact," he snarled. "You've managed to preserve both. Don't push your luck further, my little hairless ape."
"The Black Pharaoh!" Shanuda shrieked suddenly and pushed passed JD, his hands grabbing for Thoth's Dagger. "THE KNIFE! THE KNIFE! HE MUST BE SLAIN!" Before Jack could react the old man had wrapped both his hands around the hand holding the Dagger. He nearly got the knife free, before Jack could reassert his claim to the blade.
Shanuda tightened his grip on Jack's wrist and tried futilely to seize it from Jack's steely fingers. For his part, Jack twisted to bring his right hand around, driving the butt of his Lebel into Shanuda's gut. With a choking, wet exhalation, Shanuda collapsed to the ground, clutching his belly and struggling for breath.
JD stepped between Jack and Shanuda saying: "Jack, let him go! He knows what he's doing!"
"No, he really doesn't." The pharaoh smiled murderously. "But it is amusing to watch you all persist when you've already lost."