One more turn led Serferd, Shu-Tu, and Amiee through an archway into a spacious cavern with a high arched rose crystal ceiling. The whole area was lit up using light blue crystals set into the rock walls giving Shu-Tu the impression the room was animated, alive. Across from where they stood was another archway that led to a set of stairs going up toward the surface. Shu-Tu clutched her chest. That could be our way out!
“Look.” Segferd pointed toward the narrow corridor on their left. “This must be a special burial chamber.”
At the farthest end of the cavern was a white marble alter marked with ancient geometric Atlantean symbols. Shu-Tu blinked. A body covered with a shimmering gold shroud was lying on top of the altar, and sitting cross-legged at the foot of the altar was the source of the chanting—a baboon-headed hybrid. A crocodile-skin mantle draped the hybrid’s chest and shoulders, and a plain white linen skirt covered his bottom half to just above his hairy knees. A silver pouch stamped with a crescent moon hung around his waist. Resting in the hybrid’s human hands was the same golden rod that Thoth carried.
The baboon-headed hybrid suddenly stopped chanting and winked at them.
“W-Where did you get that rod?” Shu-Tu asked.
“Your teacher Thoth gave it to me,” he replied, wiggling his brow.
“What’s the meaning of this, hybrid? Amiee demanded, limping closer. “Where is Thoth?”
“Indeed.” The hybrid puffed his cheeks, and then sputtered them out slowly. “Is this how Thoth has taught you to greet strangers?”
Segferd snorted. “Hybrids are not to be greeted in the same manner as humans.”
“Is that so?” The hybrid stood, turned around, lifted his skirt, and wiggled his bare bottom. “Would you rather greet this end instead?”
Shu-Tu covered her mouth.
“How dare you!” Amiee threw her staff at him like a spear.
“Do you think this is a game, hybrid?” Segferd hurled his staff.
The hybrid jumped out of the way of both flying staffs with ease, the glowing crystal ends shattering against the polished stone floor on impact. He landed in front of the archway leading up to the surface, and swung Thoth’s rod across the width of his hairy body several times. This movement generated a strong blast of cool air, making Shu-Tu’s hair cover her face and obscure her vision. Startled, she dropped her glowing crystal staff, and heard it smash against the floor. She groaned. All three of their lights were extinguished.
“I think many things, but if you wish to play a game, then a game it shall be!” The hybrid laughed wryly. “And my name is Khem, if you please.”
“We are not here to please a hybrid. Hybrids are here to please us,” Segferd said, waving his hand. “And we do not play games with hybrids!”
Shu-Tu brushed away the hair from her face, then bit her bottom lip. If there was one thing she had learned from her father during his years as the king’s vizier, it was that if you wanted something bad enough, there was always a way to get it. Wherever Thoth was, and whether he was looking for them or not, they were stuck in a crystal cavern with a large baboon-headed hybrid blocking their only way out.
“I’ll play, Khem,” Shu-Tu said, sweeping back her hair. “But it will come with a price.”
“You…you can’t be serious, Shu-Tu?” Segferd asked.
Khem inclined his head. His deep, blue eyes connected with her on a level she had never experienced before with a human-animal hybrid. It was like he was peering into her soul, pouring his essence into her body, and letting it swirl around and around. He wiggled his sapient ears, breaking their bond. “Everything comes with a price, Shu-Tu.”