|Echo Queen (Echo Trilogy, #2)|
The Sequel to Echo Prophecy
The Delta, Egypt
c. 3500 BCE
“Quiet, girl,” Apep said. Sick of the young Nejerette’s whimpers, he lashed out with his arm, backhanding her across the face. She fell on the cavern floor in a heap of shapely limbs and bruised flesh. He grinned.
The young Nejerette was pretty enough now, in her pre-manifestation state, but he saw the potential for true beauty hidden beneath her thinning mask of humanity. There was just enough time left before she manifested completely . . . just enough time for her to conceive and bear his child and pass on her beauty to the first-ever offspring of a union between two Nejerets. Just enough time . . .
Apep sneered. She would make a decent enough mother to his new host body, but he cared less about how attractive that body might be and more about the power it was certain to contain. Finally, he would take one giant step closer to defeating Re, to being in control . . . to unmaking everything.
“Please,” the young Nejerette whispered. “No more.” She pulled her legs up in front of her, hugging them to her chest in a pathetic attempt to hide herself from him.
It was useless; he’d already seen all of her. He’d already done what needed to be done. If she wasn’t with child by now, it would be too late. He would have to dispose of her, as he’d done with his other failed attempts, and start over.
“Your depths of depravity never cease to amaze me,” a woman said from behind Apep, her voice oddly accented and laced with scorn.
He spun around, pulling an obsidian dagger from his woven leather belt.
The intruder, a striking Nejerette, stood in the mouth of the cavern. Behind her, the sky shone with silvery starlight, but not even the heavens could compete with her eyes. They were aglow with fire. With power. He could feel it writhing beneath her skin, seeking a way to expand out into the physical plane. He needed that power.
Apep licked his lips, overtaken by an uncontrollable hunger, and took a step toward the stranger. “Who are you?” he hissed. He would rip her apart. He would consume her . . . possess her. He would have her power.
The Nejerette sneered. “You are pathetic, Apep.”
Apep stumbled. He wasn’t pathetic. He glanced at his pre-manifestation Nejerette, sniveling against the cavern wall. She was pathetic, not him. Who was this woman—this imposter—to call him, a Netjer, one of the original universal powers, pathetic? He would eviscerate her.
With a bark of laughter, the Nejerette raised her hand, and a tangle of vines made of nothing of this world burst up from the cavern floor and snaked around Apep’s legs, restraining him. “You disgust me. If I could erase you from existence…”
His lips retracted, and a vicious snarl clawed its way up his throat.
“But you are needed in the future”—she crossed her arms over her chest—“so all I can do is take young Aset away from you and erase all of your memories of her and what you have done to her . . . and all memory of me, of course.” The Nejerette scanned him from head to toe. “And your host body’s memories as well, since he invited you to possess him in the first place.” She smiled, but there was only vengeance in her eyes. “And I think I shall leave you trapped in that body for a little while longer.”
The otherworldly vines climbed higher, capturing Apep’s arms and trapping them against his body. He struggled against them, but they only constricted, securing their hold on him.
The Nejerette took several steps, closing the distance between them. She raised her hand and touched her fingertips to Apep’s forehead. Her eyes narrowed. “It is a fitting punishment that your freedom will mean his death, but it is not enough. I think I shall add some memories of intense pain as well.” She sighed. “Though I fear that, too, will not be enough. Nothing will change what must come.”
Apep felt the barely contained power within the Nejerette swell, and a searing pain slithered into his head. For a while—minutes, hours, days, or possibly years—all he knew was pain.