He smiled, one side of his mouth tipped higher and crinkles deepening next to his eyes, and there was knowledge in that smile. Either I’d somehow broadcast my thoughts or he’d just pulled them out of my head. I shivered, my heart back under control but the beat echoing in my ears. Fear seemed like a permanent friend now.
He spoke, not to me but still looking at me, complicated words rolling off a tongue that had obviously seen recent use. I didn’t catch any of them, couldn’t even decide what language they’d been in, though it seemed obvious. My own tongue felt like lead or a dried stick, so I couldn’t answer if I’d known what to say. A hand lashed out toward the other mummies, or maybe the door. My eyes followed the commanding motion, and I watched as the visible mummies creaked and bowed. The closest, who’d dragged Bruce in, grunted and growled, then stepped aside as the old pharaoh moved forward.
I registered motion beyond the door and something glittered in the darkness, barely touched by the light. One of the mummies in the doorway turned and reached behind to grasp something and my heart started again when it passed a shining gold knife to the mummy standing over Bruce. With a stiff bow, that one held the knife out to Pharaoh.
Finding a bit of will, I started to get up. “No, wait. Leave Bruce—”
Pharaoh cut me off with a slashing gesture, knife in his left hand. One of the mummies shuffled to put itself between us. “I do not wish to hear your voice again. Be silent and still. If you disturb me, your fate will be far worse than that of your minion.”
I bit back a smartass comment as my guard leaned forward, brittle fingers creaking as they flexed. I pictured those fingers wrapped around my throat, crushing the life out of me. Certainly just what I was supposed to think, but how do you appeal to a nightmare you never knew you had?
Another mummy stepped into the room. With the first, it bent down and the pair of them lifted Bruce together, hauling him up by the arms. His head fell forward, lolling, and my eyes focused on a sudden droplet of drool that fell from his lips, slowed from gravity’s grip by stretching for a moment to hang by a long strand that snapped back when the drop’s weight finally became too much for it to bear. My eyes followed it only to the point it passed the knife in Pharaoh’s hand.
The knife that suddenly reared back and plunged into Bruce’s chest. Blood soaked his white cotton shirt, spilling over the leather vest. So much blood. I thought for a moment the blow hadn’t struck anything vital, but Bruce’s head snapped up, his eyes wider than I’ve ever seen them, and his mouth opened in a soundless scream that seemed to go on forever. He surged against his captors but might as well have been held in concrete. Blood continued to drain from his body. Seven or eight percent of body weight, that’s how much blood we have. How much in someone Bruce’s size? It just kept coming. The whole shirt turned red and I could see darkness spreading to his pants now. Wide blue eyes found mine, mouth still frozen wide as Pharaoh sawed the knife down through ribs and cartilage.
I jumped up, intent on grabbing the old man from behind and wringing his neck, but a stiff, cloth-wrapped arm flew out into a barrier as solid as a crowbar, catching me across chest and shoulders. Most of the air flew from my lungs with the impact and the rest followed as I slammed to the wooden floor to lay gasping on my back. By the time I could lift my head again, Bruce’s chin bobbed against his chest as his head rocked back and forth. He couldn’t still be alive.
Pharaoh yanked the knife free and tossed it behind him. The blade spun through the air, throwing tiny globs of blood in every direction. It hit the floor with a clang and a smear of red. The mummies holding Bruce each reached in with their opposite hands and jammed fingers into the jagged incision. Without a grunt or any other sound, they pulled outwards and a series of wet cracks and pops sprayed gore far enough I feel tiny impacts on my cheek. They kept pulling until Bruce’s chest hung open like a kitchen cupboard for me to see his heart and lungs and a bunch of other things I couldn’t name. Nothing moves. Shouldn’t I have been able to see his heart beating? Terror speaking. I don’t know why I thought he could still be alive. No one could survive being ripped open like that without a horde of doctors around to keep things under control.
Damn. I’m sorry, Bruce.
I dropped to my knees, not wanting to see what would come next, but couldn’t pull my eyes away as Pharaoh wrapped his hands around Bruce’s heart and yanked it free in a spray of brilliant red. He raised the steaming organ over his head, blood raining down over him, and spewed a long stream of syllables before lowering it back to what I think is eye level. After staring at it, I think, for a long moment, he pressed it to his face.
Before I could swallow, the taste of bile in my mouth became puke and I threw up all over the floor, again and again. In between retches, a deep sucking sound absorbed anything else I might have been able to hear.
Acid dripped from my lips and my eyes slipped from the floor to my dead bodyguard to the weapon that killed him, a knife that looked to be cast from pure gold and lying no more than a foot or two out of reach to my right. I lunged for it and my fingers closed around the hilt at the same instant a foot slammed down on the blade.