THE DEATH TRIALS│11

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"WE ARE ALL AWARE OF the purpose of our gathering," Anubis said, looking at the people standing before him.

He glanced at Kosey who knelt beside him, his hands bound behind his back. "Kosey Hakimi, Ptah's chosen competitor, killed Eshaq Kattan, even though it is stated explicitly in the rules that you shall not kill a fellow competitor. In sight of this, his soul shall be consumed by Ammut."

One of the goddesses stepped forward, licking her lips. Her head snapped to the left and then the right. She fell to floor as her body began to convulse. Her mouth elongated and stretched, her teeth increasing in number and sharpness. Fur began to sprout from her sides, replacing her skin. Her hips rose from the ground and her legs become short and stout. In place of the goddess stood a creature with the head of a crocodile, the torso of a lion and the hindquarters of a hippopotamus.

Ammut hissed as she stood on her hindquarters and placed her paws on Kosey's cheeks. His body shook with fear as he looked everywhere but at him. Placing her eyes at level with his, she opened her mouth. That was when the screaming began, it bounced off the walls of the room and pierced the eardrums of the competitors; the torches that lined the walls flickered. Kosey grew pale as a transparent substance that Zaina presumed to be his akh escaped past his quivering lips. The pupils of his eyes grew smaller and the white overtook it. His cheeks hollowed out and his body shrivelled up. With a final gasp, his body fell to the ground, his eyes completely white.

Ammut sighed and returned back to her human form. "I have not had such a good meal in so long."

"Let this serve as a deterrent to all those who fantasise about killing others. You may leave now," Anubis said.

Zaina was frozen with shock, her mind still trying to comprehend what she had just watched. She didn't remember how she got back to her tent or who sent her. She did not even react when Lilith scolded her for making the sheets dirty once more or when Khadijah scrubbed her too hard during her bath. She only started to react when she was alone, waiting for Mido to escort her to the banquet. She found it hard to believe that she had just seen a goddess in action.

"Are you ready to go?" Mido's asked, his voice interrupting her train of thought.

"Yes," she answered, walking out of the tent.

Halfway through their walk, Zaina spoke up. "Thank you for your help."

"What help? I do not know what you are talking about," he replied, not even stopping.

"At least you have stopped ignoring me," Zaina commented, walking faster to keep up with him.

"Once again, I know not what you speak of," he answered.

When they arrived, he left her once more but not before muttering, "Foolish girl, do you not know that walls have ears?"

The banquet was the same: Omar was announced the winner of the third trial. And this time, as the new ankh clinked against the old ones, Zaina was certain she heard the growls and complaints of the men sitting beside her. When one of them stabbed the cooked fish aggressively, she began to fear for his life.

When they were done, Mido escorted her back. A plea for help interrupted their silent walk. Zaina shot him a worried look and he briefly placed a hand on her shoulder as though to console her. Following the source of the sound, the turned left down the hallway and were met with the sight of a bruised and bleeding Omar. Zaina could faintly make out the shape of his attackers as they run off.

Omar laughed, a harsh sound that grated her ears. "You have come to gloat then?"

When Zaina did not reply, he continued. "To see whether they did a good job or not, huh?"

Finding her voice, she spoke up. "What do you mean?"

"Do not act coy. I know you sent them."

"Why would I do that?" Zaina asked, confusion evident on her features.

"You thought because Anubis picked you, you were going to win?" he asked. "I hate to break it to you, but that is not how it works.

"No, I did─," Zaina began before she was interrupted by him again.

"And you could not handle it when I won, three times in a row."

"She would not hurt a fly even if it ruined her meal," Mido spoke up. "Where is your hasida?"

"He is evidently not here," Omar answered, spitting blood.

Zaina cringed at the sight.

"Why not?" Mido asked, his tone indicating his displeasure at Omar's snarky reply.

"I am sorry he was not the first thing that popped into mind when I was being dragged away by men five times my size," he answered with a roll of his eyes.

Zaina laughed and Omar turned to look at her.

"Let us get you out of here," Mido said with a resigned sigh.

Arms draped around Mido and Zaina, Omar managed to make it back to his tent. Mido went looking for his khadimas while Zaina kept him company.

"So you really did not send them?" he asked, his sharp eyes staring at her as though he was trying to see through her.

"Why would I do that?" she asked.

"I do not know. I guessed I just assumed that Anubis would pick a competitor who was sure to win the trials. That is why I always looked so smug and felt so proud when I was accepting the ankh."

"Oh, I see," Zaina replied softly, wiping the trail of blood from his lips

Mido arrived then with Omar's khadimas who quickly began fussing over him. Zaina wished her khadimas did the same. When they arrived at her tent, Mido did not disappear as usual.

"May I come in?" he asked, his head downcast.

Zaina nodded as she sat down on the bed.

"It is me," he said, standing in front of her.

Zaina laughed. "I know who you are."

He sighed. "No I mean, it is me. Mido, Ido."

Zaina froze, there was only one person she called Ido, the love of her life who had been taken away too early. Tears welled up in her eyes. "Do not toy with my feelings."

"I assure you, I am not."

Zaina launched herself into his arm as the tears escaped their confines. If she concentrated hard enough, she could smell the scent of cypress that always lingered on his skin.

"Shhh," he whispered, running his hand through her hair and over her back. "It is alright."

Zaina pulled back and slapped him across the chest. "That is for avoiding me."

"I apologise, but as I said before, walls have ears."

"So you have been here for four years?" Zaina asked, wishing she could see his face once more.

He nodded. "And I have missed you every second of it."

Zaina rubbed her eyes and shot him a watery smile.

He opened his mouth to say something when the sound of footsteps stopped him. He quickly pulled away from her and took several steps back, his head bowed. The khadimas entered and Naima rushed to her asking her what the problem was.

"She just wants attention," Lilith answered, dismissing Mido with a wave of her hand.

He bowed in exited the tent.

Later that night, as she lay in bed, Zaina thought of Mido, her Ido. They had been friends since childhood. As a child, Zaina could not pronounce his name properly, giving rise to the nickname Ido. When she was fifteen summers and going through puberty, Zaina realised that she loved him, more than a friend. He loved her too and a few years down the line, they were making plans to get married. Their wedding never came on as he was killed by a block that fell on him at a construction site.

Zaina fell asleep with a smile, dreaming of all the times she had spent with him.

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