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Krysty dropped into a combat stance, clenching her right fist, stiffening her
left wrist, locking the fingers in a half-curled position against the palm so
as to deliver a leopard's-paw strike.
One of the doors opened just enough to admit a young woman. She wore a short
linen tunic, and her shining black hair framed a startlingly beautiful face.
Her eyes
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She carried a covered tray of food in her hands.
Appearing not to notice Krysty's fighting posture, she smiled wanly and walked
past her to place the tray on a low table. "How are you feeling?"
Krysty answered the question with two of her own. "Who are you? Where am I?"
"One question at a time," the woman responded. "To answer your second question
first, you are in Aten, in the guest chamber of Pharaoh's palace. As for your
first, I
have been sent to see to your wants. My name is Nefron."
Krysty tried to keep the surprise she felt from registering on her face. She
remembered what Danielson had said about the girl, but it didn't seem the
appropriate time to bring the matter up. "Where are my friends?" she demanded.
"They are here, separated from you but safe. If you wish them to remain so,
you must listen care-fully and trust that I will tell you the truth."
She gestured to the tray. "Sit and eat. I'm sure you're very hungry. You have
been resting for nearly six hours. I will tell you what I can."
Krysty realized she was famished, so she selected an assortment of fruit and
sweetmeats from the plates.
"How are you called?" Nefron asked.
"Krysty Wroth," she mumbled around a mouth-ful of fig.
"Krysty Wroth, you are the guest of Akhnaton. He foresaw your arrival here."
The red-haired woman stopped chewing for a mo-ment. "How?"
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"He has the ability to sense thoughts, especially thoughts charged with
emotions.
He can direct the thoughts he senses to run in channels of his own choosing.
When you and your friends came into the range of his influence, he sensed your
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, your soul, immediately."
Krysty felt her hair stir and shift. "Can he read minds, then?"
"He can sense, in a general fashion, the substance of your mind, so you must
be very careful what you think and what you allow yourself to feel when you
come before him. Do you understand?"
Krysty shrugged. "To an extent. What I don't un-derstand is why I've been
isolated from the rest of my party."
Nefron smiled a wry, mocking smile. "Pharaoh has singled you out, as I'm sure
you guessed."
"Singled me out why? To add to his harem?"
Nefron shook her head. "Pharaoh does not have a harem. He leaves such
indulgences to his coun-selors, like Mimses. No, I imagine Pharaoh has a
greater destiny for you in mind."
Krysty didn't reply. She was thinking of her own psionic abilities, the power
to sense and semi-inter-act with strong emotional states or conversely, be
influenced by them if they were too strong. Images of the inhuman Other and
the crazed Kaa flitted un-bidden into her mind.
Nefron's words only confirmed what Mildred had postulated, and confirmed
Krysty's own fears. She was familiar enough with telepathy to know that hu-man
brains and the energy they exuded could un-der the right kind of sympathetic
stimuli act like mirrors and respond in unconscious ways.
If Hell Eyes or Akhnaton or whatever he chose to call himself wielded this
stimuli, she was partic-ularly vulnerable.
"Nefron, I've got to get out of here now. I don't know if I can screen him
out, if he's as powerful as he seems to be."
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"I know, Krysty Wroth. However, take solace in the knowledge that I am trying
to help you and your friends. You must have patience and trust in me."
Krysty gazed into Nefron's dark eyes, seeking out indications of deceit,
trying to sense treachery. She saw and sensed nothing at all. She had no
choice but to take the young woman at her word. "All right," she declared
resignedly. "I don't have many options."
Nefron's black eyes flashed at her tone. "We are all in this together, Krysty.
Bound to each other. You must use all your strength to resist Pharaoh's
desires.
He will bend your body and mind to his purposes and leave you an empty husk,
as he left my mother."
Krysty's bare arms tingled with gooseflesh, as though she stood in the path of
a wintry wind. Nefron didn't try to blunt the anger, the bitterness, the
hatred in her voice. Rather than react to it, she asked, "Where is Ryan?"
"The one-eyed man?"
"Yes. I must talk to him."
Nefron shook her head sorrowfully. "That is not possible. I can perhaps relay
a message from you to him."
"When? How?"
"When the opportunity arises. How is my own affair. Now it is time to get
ready for your meeting with Pharaoh."
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