When hatred is given a face. An original myth. Adult subject matter.
|TITLE: Apophis's Day On Earth
GENRES: Mythology, fantasy, drama, thriller/suspense.
SUMMARY: When hatred is given a face. An original myth. Adult subject matter.
WRITING STATUS: Completed.
WRITING DATE: Circa 2002.
LENGTH: 12,600+ words.
CONTENT WARNINGS: Fantasy violence, mild adult language, adult themes.
COPYRIGHT: This story and all characters, unless otherwise stated in the Disclaimers, are copyright © tehuti_88 and may not be used or distributed without permission. The reader is free to print out or download a copy of this story for offline reading as long as the author's copyright information remains upon it. Please do not distribute; if you wish to share this story, send a link to this page.
DISCLAIMERS: Certain characters are from Egyptian mythology. Although aspects of this story are loosely based on Egyptian mythology and culture, artistic license has been taken as this is a FANTASY story. Please take note that this story was written around 2002 and that my writing style and understanding of the mythology I created may have changed vastly in the meantime.
ADDITIONAL INFO: NA.
RELATED STORIES: "The Book Of The Gods; Or, Tales Of Kemet" (short stories), "Horus" (novel), "The Ameni Chronicles" (serial--ADULT CONTENT), "Related Tales" (short stories--ADULT CONTENT)
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This short story ties in with the other Kemet short stories and/or the Kemet/Egyptian mythology as I make use of it in my writing; as such, it might not make much sense out of context. This story was very difficult for me to write and share; there's a much more graphic version, but this one is greatly toned down and modified so as not to be so disturbing. A warning though, that this is still rather graphic compared to most of my other PG-13 writing, so please read with caution. I'm not sure why I came up with this particular scenario. I think it might clarify the relationship between Maftet and Upuat (please see "Another One Down" for a much lighter story about those two; also see "Secret Children") a bit. On the other hand it might just be melodrama. *shrug* Corrective note, there may be some discrepancies here--the story is taking place in Celestial Kemet, which is a parallel of earthly Kemet (Egypt)--the main differences being that gods live in Celestial Kemet in their grand palaces, and long-distance travel is often facilitated by such things as "portals" and "dimension jumping." However, Anubis makes reference to the palace of Osiris, which is upon Earth (in earthly Kemet, Osiris having built his palace in the land of the mortals before Anubis's birth); I assume Osiris has a palace in the Amenti part of Celestial Kemet but this story seems to take place before his death and its construction. I can't explain this paradox, except to suggest that the boundary between the two Kemets is not always a stable thing, and the gods may slip into one and out of another either at will or without even realizing it. Let's just say that this story takes place BETWEEN the two Kemets, and leave it at that.
* * * * *
WHEN THOSE WITH shady dispositions become bored, bad things can result. This fact is no different when those who become bored happen to be gods. And today, Lord Apesh was very bored.
He paced about in his quarters staring at the floor. It was sometimes unfortunate that he lived alone; this contributed greatly to his boredom. He wasn't a god of great power, either; and he couldn't even go out seeking Lady Selket to amuse himself with, since Lord Sokar had made it clear he wasn't welcome anywhere near her. He scowled. Someday he would have to get back at him for that. Someday when he felt more like it.
He wandered out of his rooms and around the rest of his palace. It was dark, very old and worn, parts of it lying in disrepair; he didn't much care as he was the only one who lived here. If someone like Lady Selket were to live with him, perhaps he would fix it up somewhat. Maybe he would even bring in a few more lights.
Something stung his foot and he jumped and yelled, clutching at it. He glanced down at the ground to see a scorpion scuttling away. With another scowl he held out his hand, palm toward the creature, and with a puff of smoke it turned into a mouse. Apesh stepped upon its tail and held it fast while it scurried in place, squeaking with panic. He snickered before deciding to let it go, and shook his sore foot. The sting was pretty much harmless to him; yet it had annoyed him greatly. Perhaps cleaning up the palace a bit would be a good idea after all, if those things thought they could overrun the place unchecked...on the other hand, they were sacred to Selket, so perhaps if he allowed them to remain...
He slowed to a stop and stared at the floor some more. He held up his hand and looked at it. He aimed it at one of the columns as if threatening to cast a spell, then looked at it again and cocked his head. His mouth twitched a little. He'd tried that trick plenty of times on small creatures he'd found scurrying about. He'd never dared to try it upon one of the neteru, one of his own kind. Though he'd been very tempted, with Sokar, to turn him into a frog or some such.
As he knew already, he was a god of few powers...yet this one little power was something. He'd never considered using it to amuse himself before. He couldn't take advantage of it with the other neteru; that would place him in grave trouble with God Ra. He'd already pushed his limits greatly when he'd abducted Selket. There had to be something else he could do. If not a god, then what?
The idea came to his mind almost instantly. A demon.
A smile came to his face, narrowing his eyes. A demon was much like a god...only not so inclined to curse you for all eternity, if you changed its form. And he never claimed he would change a demon's form for the worse. Much better and more interesting to him was the idea of changing a demon's form to make it...normal. Passable for a neter. Someone who could easily deceive.
Apesh laughed silently and his fingers curled in on his palm. Suddenly he wasn't so very bored anymore.
* * * * *
As a god of darkness, Apesh was not averse to the underworld. It was merely traversing the place that sometimes annoyed him. The Duat was full of craggy mountains and ravines and rapids and dropoffs that could easily lead one astray. Not only that, but it was in a state of perpetual twilight, but for the brief moments when the sun boat came through. It was a good thing his eyes saw well in the dark. He walked the riverbank, keeping his ears open for any disturbances in the water. The river was wide here, and black; it would be a long while before the sun god traveled through this region in his bark. Apesh could work alone, and quickly.
As if in response to his thoughts, the surface of the dark river began to ripple, then roil. He stopped and stared at the thrashing water as something gigantic arose, spouting high into the air with a tremendous splash and hiss. The black coiling shape loomed far above him, and a dank wind buffeted him when its giant hood unfolded like some sort of grotesque canopy. Yellow eyes flared, then narrowed. A voice, unusually sibilant, came to his ears.
"You are not God Ra..."
"And so you notice," Apesh replied, taking a step or two toward the river and the looming shape. Its eyes narrowed further and its head swayed. The water continued to roil around it; the shape was much larger than that which showed above would have one believe. It let out a soft hiss, and its head lowered, hood sinking, until it stared Apesh in the face.
"What is your business here, neter?"
"Perhaps you should do away with the hostility in your voice," Apesh said. "I had come to you with an offer, though now I begin to reconsider."
"A most intriguing one, which I know you would appreciate taking advantage of. However, if you are always in so foul a mood, I can see why God Ra detests dealing with you..."
The shape raised its head again and its hood flared. Its fangs glinted in the twilight. "Do not mock me, neter!"
"If I had intended to mock you, you would know it by now," Apesh said mildly. "Do you wish to hear of my offer or not?"
The yellow eyes narrowed to slits. "Speak, before I grow impatient."
"Firstly, call forth one of your...smaller offspring for me. I wish to show you something."
The shape hissed again but lowered closer to the river. After a moment a large snake emerged and wriggled toward shore. It was tiny, compared to the large shape, yet its body was thicker around than Apesh's upper arm, and its length looked to be at least three or four times his height. He stepped toward it as it slithered onto land.
"Watch this carefully, Lord Apophis. I think you'll be intrigued."
He held out his hand, pointing at the serpent. Smoke puffed from the creature, and a moment later a mongoose scuttled over the ground, and away toward the cliffs. The snake demon's eyes widened.
"What sort of heka is this, that one may change a snake to a rodent? You think I would appreciate this, neter?"
"It goes beyond that," Apesh replied. "I had hoped you yourself would be willing to allow me to try it upon you. Not to change you into a rodent," he said, as the serpent's eyes began to narrow again, "but into something more...interesting. I had thought, perhaps, a human. Or a neter."
The great black hood rose and Apophis let out a resounding hiss. "You think I would wish to be one of your kind! Filthy land-walking vermin! I should slaughter you all if I had the chance, and feed you to my children!"
"Who's to say you could not do so, more effectively, as a neter?" Apesh mused. "I thought you might appreciate the chance to walk among my kind unnoticed, doing whatever you wish...but if this is not the case, then I must apologize for wasting our time..."
He started to turn away, only to hear the demon hiss, "Wait!" His mouth twitched, yet he kept the smile from his face when he turned back around.
The snake lowered his head so his great fangs glinted just inches from Apesh's face. Apesh kept his expression neutral as the creature's fetid breath breezed over him.
"You have this power...to give me neteri form...to make me invisible among you? To allow me into your land unhindered?"
"To an extent. My heka is weak compared to that of the others. As such, you could keep your form for only a night, or a day. You would have to return to the Duat once the day has ended."
"Yet I would be able to act as your own kind...unnoticed by God Ra?"
Apesh nodded. "If you wished."
"And the payment you receive for this is...?"
"None, but for the entertainment your antics may bring me. I was quite bored today, until now."
Apophis's eyes glowed, and his long tongue flicked from his mouth. If a snake demon could grin, Apesh would have guessed that was what he was doing right now. He raised his head into the air again.
"Very well, neter. Do your heka. Give me my day among the neteru!"
Apesh bowed slightly. "As you wish."
He stepped back and held up his hand toward the demon. The great creature's eyes flashed before smoke enveloped him. When it slowly parted and drifted away, a much smaller, humanlike form stood within the water, looking about with some confusion. He blinked his eyes several times before looking down at his hands, and his gaze froze there. He flexed his fingers, turning his hands this way and that in a curious manner. Aside from his dark clothing...and his yellow eyes and fangs...one would never have been able to tell who he was. Well, there were bound to be a few mistakes, using such a large amount of heka at once. He looked up and his eyes met Apesh's.
Apesh bowed again, concealing a smile. "You're free to go, Lord Apophis. Have...fun."
The demon stared at him a moment longer. Then a grin did come to his face, teeth still glinting, eyes glowing gleefully. He stepped out from the water, still marveling over his new form, and left Apesh's sight. And Apesh chuckled a little bit, when he thought of how puzzled Ra would be to find he had no enemy in the dark river to combat this night.
* * * * *
And so what would a demon given neteri form do, when set loose among neteru? The answer was painfully obvious, even to Apophis. As chaotic as he was, his mind had always one goal. The destruction of light and maat and all things that went along with them. Even as he left the Duat and headed for celestial Kemet he knew this was the only thing he sought, no matter how he sought it. The neteru plagued him daily. God Ra's own sunlight streaming down through the dark river pained his eyes like nothing else; plus there was the fact that he was imprisoned there, forced to remain and battle the sun until the end of time. And he was always defeated. Always. Well, perhaps tonight would be different. He would not face Ra on the great river. Perhaps he would face him within his own palace.
His smile grew as he considered his options now. There were so many of them it was almost too difficult to go over them all. In this form, he could do whatever he wished without hindrance. Perhaps he would visit the sun palace now and stay there until Ra's return. One or another member of his family was bound to be there; he could pass his time tormenting them in Ra's absence. Wouldn't it be great fun to see the look on the sun god's face when he returned to see one of his offspring so easily slaughtered at the hands of Apophis? He laughed out loud at the thought. There was no punishment too great for the one who had doomed him to the life that he possessed.
He stopped, finding himself again along the bank of a dark river. Yet this place was different. The moon glittered above, sparkling off the water, and the reeds swayed in a warm breeze. Moonlight? Reeds? A balmy wind? None of these things existed in the Duat. He took a deep breath, filling his lungs. As used as he was to his home, the fresh air invigorated him. His eyes opened when he scented something on the air; Apesh's transformation hadn't taken away all of his serpentine abilities, it appeared. He melted back into the darkness, watching warily to see who approached. He hadn't thought any would be out at this time of the night.
He blinked when the shadowy form of a neter appeared. A neteret--a goddess. Even in the dimness he recognized her almost immediately, with her long tufted ears and large glowing eyes. The lynx goddess, the offspring of the sun god. He couldn't remember her name, yet he knew her face, and who she was.
A daughter of Ra!
His fingers curled into fists and the glee he'd felt earlier returned, a grin coming to his face again. As if his plan to set out for Ra's sun palace hadn't already been good...this was even better. He wouldn't have to journey; one of the whelps had come straight to him instead.
He crouched down silently so she couldn't see him as she passed, carrying her bow in one hand. She seemed too distracted by something, the hunt perhaps, to take much notice of him anyway. He followed her, his steps silent as a snake through the reeds. Remembering the fury he felt every night when the sun bark passed over him fueled him on. His eyes burned with hate and with something else as he stalked his prey.
She would never know, until it was too late.
* * * * *
Maftet's fingers clenched on her bow, her other hand bent upwards to clasp her shoulder. She stared at the ground as she went. She had come out to hunt, yet just hadn't felt like it, once here. This mattered little, and she didn't let it bother her. Unlike her sister Sakhmet, she often preferred simply walking and thinking in solitude, even if she had nothing pressing to think about. Especially if she had nothing pressing to think about. She could let all her thoughts wander about unchecked without worrying about making a connection. She glanced up at the moon and wondered how her sister was doing, anyway. They saw so little of each other anymore. She would have to make certain her next trip along the river was planned, so perhaps they could make a day of it together. She liked the thought very much.
There were no clouds for the moon to hide behind, but the long fronds of the trees surrounding her shaded the ground from view. Her sight was excellent enough to see where she was walking even in the dimness beneath the palms. She listened to the shushing sound of the river against the reeds and considered the idea of a swim. It was late, but very tempting. Maftet turned slightly to the left, wandering closer to the water.
She started when something--an arm--went around her neck, dragging her back from the river. She hadn't even heard anyone approach--who could be so stealthy? She had no time to wonder as she felt herself being pulled along a ways and then wrenched around. She blinked dumbly at the cold glittering yellow eyes that bored through hers before she was pushed violently to the ground.
Finally her fighting instincts kicked in. With a hiss she leapt back to her feet and started clawing her attacker with one hand, the other attempting to reach for the dagger she always kept at her side. He effectively blocked her, and his hand grasped her wrist hard so the dagger dropped harmlessly to the ground, just out of her reach. His grip was so strong her hands felt like they were going numb. She snarled and tried to wrench herself free without success. When she tried to kick he blocked her again, anticipating her moves; she heard him bark with laughter. She had only one option left, and stopped fighting, only for a moment.
As expected, his grip loosened, just barely; his eyes narrowed and he smiled at her. She shuddered inside--why was his look so familiar? She had no time to think about it; she took her chance and yanked one wrist free, swinging her hand around and gouging across his eye with her fingernails. He screamed with pain and fury and when his eyes met her own again--filled with hate and rage--he bared his own teeth, and she noticed that he bore fangs. Her eyes widened.
At the last minute she saw his fist hurtling toward her face. A shock slammed through her jaw and her limbs crumpled. Her vision grew dim and she sank downwards, nearly falling, but managing to stop herself with her free hand. He yanked upward on her other arm and she winced at the searing feeling that spread through her shoulder. The blow had left her weakened and dazed; he caught her before she could fall again, and held her up, grinning at her with narrowed eyes.
When he tried to kiss her, she turned her face away with a hiss of disgust. "Don't you dare," she growled, and hissed again when he twisted her arm.
"I take what I want," he hissed in return, voice strangely sibilant, and kissed her. She tried to keep her mouth shut, with no success. She gasped for air when he pulled away, and he pressed his face to her ear. His fingers traced over her shoulder. His voice came in a harsh whisper.
"You can enjoy this with me, if you wish to. I can be more gentle, and we can both enjoy this immensely, pretty Goddess."
Maftet shuddered with revulsion. Her response was to bite his ear, her teeth sinking into the cartilage and refusing to let go. He shrieked again, flailing and trying to pull his head away. It took him several moments before he could do so and she felt him let go of her arm, clutching at his wounded ear, blood streaming from between his fingers. He continued screaming, enraged beyond belief. Blinking away her shock, she started to back away, only to see his features contort as he came at her, his fist crashing into her face.
Something in her jaw popped and a raw tendril of agony tore through it as it disconnected from her skull. The pain was so exquisite that she couldn't even scream, but only gasped brokenly as she fell. Her head cracked against the ground and within seconds he was over her, his fists raining blows down upon her body, one or two striking her face, the rest pummeling her chest and ribs and stomach. She spat blood, feeling one of her ribs crack.
"STUPID--NETERI--BITCH!!" he screamed, one blow to her stomach causing her to gag and nearly lose control, choking on her own bile as it rose upward into her throat. She struggled for breath and felt him grab her arms and hold them down. She heard something tearing, and surging awake with panic, tried to push herself up.
Something slammed into her chest, driving her back down with a sharp expulsion of breath. Stars danced in front of her eyes. She bit back a whimper of pain and blinked away a stream of blood to see those strange, familiar yellow eyes staring down at her, burning with hatred. The voice grated in her ears, just as familiar, only now made more...human?
"This is what you get, uppity neteret," he spat. "Always believing you and your kind are better--now you crawl upon the ground like the lowly snake which you hate so much. Fitting!"
Maftet's ears pricked. Snake. She recognized the voice now, as she'd recognized the strange yellow eyes, and the fangs. Only--this had not been the face they belonged to, before. What was going on?
She made one last attempt to struggle up and away from him, but one final blow to the face stopped her. At first all she could hear was his growling and the lapping sound of the river far off to her side. The river. Where she'd wanted to go. Then the faint tearing sound came again, and as she lapsed into darkness the name she'd been trying to remember just barely managed to escape her lips.
* * * * *
Apesh's eyes widened and he blinked. Well. That certainly hadn't been what he'd expected.
He waved his hand at the cloudy mirror before him to dispel the unfriendly image. If anyone decided to trace this back to him...he could always claim ignorance. Ignorance was good.
He decided that next time he was bored, he would find something with considerably less rage inside it to have fun with.
* * * * *
The twin jackals yipped and hopped in circles. Anubis lifted his head from the scroll he was working upon.
"You want to go out? Both of you? Right now?"
They wagged their tails and yipped again. One bounced about like a hare, while the other gnawed at his sandal.
He laughed and pulled his foot away. "All right, all right then...let me clean this up. You two have a strange schedule." He put away his scroll and inks and stood, dusting himself off. "Come on. If we go now, we can be back by morning. Gods know I'm going to be dead tired tomorrow, though."
The jackals didn't care. Barking and yapping excitedly, they followed their master from his room, trotting in happy circles as they made their way toward the palace exit.
* * * * *
Maftet lay still in the grass where she had been left. Her mind had begun to clear, but still she waited silently and listened to the sounds around her. Nothing but the river and the night creatures singing; he had left not that long ago, and she could tell he hadn't been happy. Perhaps he hadn't expected her to fight as much as she had. She sensed his fury, and wondered why he hadn't killed her.
After a while she finally lifted her head, her right eye swollen shut, her jaw throbbing and limp. She twisted her head around very slowly to survey the damage to herself.
Bad...very bad. Her jaw felt as if it had been broken; at least one of her ribs, the same. He had twisted her arm hard enough to crack, though she had not noticed that until now. Great multicolored bruises littered her body; his teeth and fingernails had slashed open her skin, and he must have bitten her lip as well, as it too was swollen and bleeding from puncture marks. Blood trickled into her eye. Her clothing was badly torn and bloody...but she didn't like to look at herself too much. She turned away before she could see more. Aside from her jaw and rib and arms and the bruises, she felt strangely numb inside; sick, yet numb. A strange feeling, one she hadn't quite felt before.
She froze when she heard a noise, before remembering where she was. The river lapped at the reeds not far away.
She remembered, she'd wanted to take a swim. The idea was ludicrous now...or was it? The thought of the cold water all around her, making her clean...she suddenly wished to go down there more than anything. If only she could reach the river, and clean herself, then she could go home, with no troubles. If she could get clean.
She turned herself over and tried to push herself in that direction, dragging her pathetic body a short distance along the ground, snakelike, before her muscles gave out entirely, refusing to support her any longer, and she slumped down in exhaustion. Her eyes glazed and the darkness began to move in again; though she still longed for the water, she welcomed the blackness this time as it slowly surrounded her, and gratefully allowed herself to disappear, falling deeper into sleep...
The night creatures sang and the water lapped, oblivious to the ravaged bloody still form lying in a heap not far from the bank.
* * * * *
He stalked through the tall grass, away from his prey now rather than toward it, not bothering to conceal his movements this time. His fists balled at his sides and his breath came fast; he couldn't even see the blood lining his clothes, with how red his vision had become. This hadn't been the way Apesh had promised it would be. A chance to humiliate the neteru? He'd never expected one to fight back in such a manner. Especially a female! He hadn't even known they were capable of fighting back!
He cursed himself when he realized he should have known, she being a daughter of Ra and all; the one he fought every night. His anger only grew when he remembered he wouldn't be giving the sun god a battle tonight, because he was here--wasting his time! His torn ear, and the gashes over his eye, stung more greatly from his own humiliation than from pain. How had she managed to hurt him so? If he hadn't just about beaten the life out of her, he feared she might have hurt him even worse. That was almost more than he could bear to believe. To be injured by a neter. A neteret at that! If he did not already rule over all the demons of the Duat, he would never have been able to live it down.
At least she'd said his name. She'd known who he was, before lapsing into unconsciousness. He hadn't liked that she'd gone completely limp, but at least she'd known who she was dealing with. That one little fact gave him a tiny bit of satisfaction. It had been easy enough for her kind to dismiss him, to let their father deal with him, until now. His reason for being here became clear again and he finally managed to calm his breathing and steady his step. He wasn't here to let one little neteret embarrass him. He was here to humiliate them all.
So the little bitch had gotten in her one blow. It was time to dismiss her as she had him. He had more important things to deal with. Swiping blood from his eye, his mouth twitched as his old eagerness began to return, and he made certain his footsteps carried him in the direction of Iunu. The City of the Sun.
* * * * *
The jackals ran faster than Anubis could walk, and soon vanished from his sight, chasing each other through the reeds near the river's bank. When they whisked across his trail out into the desert he didn't chase after them; they would return when they felt like it. Sometimes they were gone long after he had returned. He yawned and rubbed his eyes as he walked along. He shouldn't have been out at such a late hour, when he should have been sleeping; he envisioned the next day full of him falling asleep during his lessons, and Thoth whacking him across the back with a stick. Thoth had never had ample reason to whack him yet. He supposed it was about time he gave him one.
Still, he liked being able to get away from the palace for a change, to visit the river. It was still nighttime but the eastern horizon held the promise of a glow. He might be able to get a few hours of sleep. Right now a swim sounded good, until the two canines could return and bother him again.
He hoisted his small pack over his shoulder and made his way toward the bank. When he was almost there he heard a very soft noise ahead of him, and froze, sinking almost into a crouch. He sniffed at the air but wasn't certain what he was sensing. He blinked a few times, and it took him a moment to realize that something lay upon the ground ahead. He squinted at it. It didn't move.
A wounded gazelle? Lion? Something? Perhaps a crocodile had gotten to it. He glanced about warily, but could see no sign of any reptiles. Still crouching, he crept toward it, grasping the boomerang at his side--a foolish weapon, yet the only one he'd brought. He hadn't thought going down to the river for just a moment might be dangerous for him.
The sound came again and again he froze. He recognized it now; a soft moan, as of something in pain. Perhaps his guess had been correct; some wounded creature had come down to the river to die. He slipped his boomerang back into its notch and stood a little bit, still moving forward at an angle. He peered and squinted at the still shape upon the ground, and his eyes widened when he could finally make it out.
Anubis dropped his pack and hurried now, dropping to his knees beside the still form. Whatever--whoever--it was--they were breathing. They lay slumped slightly on their side, more on their stomach, one arm covering their face; when he gently moved it away he could tell it was a goddess, though one he didn't know well. Her features were feline, large tufted ears, high cheekbones, beautiful features...at least, they had been. One eye was swollen shut, and the other looked as if it might swell up at any time. Blood lined her lips, her forehead, her shoulders and arms...he shuddered when he cast a look down at her and up to her face again. It looked as if not one part of her had escaped whatever she'd been subjected to. Her breathing came soft and shallow, and he carefully rolled her over, cradling her head as he did so. She whimpered and her good eye fluttered open, just barely.
He couldn't think of what to say, if anything. He put one finger to his mouth and shushed. She whimpered again, but he couldn't tell if it was because she hadn't heard him, or because she couldn't talk. Her lower jaw appeared crooked, and he hated to think of what might have happened.
"Don't speak," he finally managed to force out, and scrabbled at his pack, lifting her head and slipping it beneath her neck to support it. He pulled out an empty skin and scurried down to the river to fill it up, returning and kneeling beside her, placing it carefully to her mouth. Her lips parted on their own and he could tell that she swallowed. When she choked on it a bit he took it away, and she let out her breath through her nose, shutting her eye.
Anubis set the skin aside now but stayed where he was, fidgeting. He couldn't ask her what had happened, not in her state. He feared he already knew. What sort of creature would do this to a neter? He'd never heard of it happening before, nothing this vicious. He selfishly wished she were in a slightly better shape, so they could leave this place; the thought of staying out here, with whatever had done this, made his skin want to crawl. Yet he stayed by her side even when she appeared to have fallen unconscious again. He would have to be patient and wait until she was ready to walk...if ever.
He glanced down at his hands and flexed his fingers. His own abilities...maybe. He had a slight bit of the healing touch...not nearly enough to heal her completely, but perhaps he could take away a bit of the pain she obviously felt. He wasn't certain if he should touch her. He flushed when he realized now the state that her clothing was in, and leaned over and set to pulling at the shreds, gently laying them back over her to cover her up. He collected a few palm fronds from near the trees and placed them atop her as well. He couldn't bear the thought of her lying in the open like this, by herself, exposed to everything.
How long had she been out here, already?
He placed his hands upon the frond covering, one to her breast, one to her belly--wincing as he did so, hoping she wouldn't be offended, even if she was unconscious--and concentrated. A dim glow surrounded his fingers, seeping into her and from himself, until he began to feel weak. He kept his hands upon her as long as he dared. When he took them away he had to lean upon the ground to keep his balance; he'd used up more heka than he should have, yet he wished he could use more. Her wounds didn't disappear, though her breathing grew more regular, and she frowned and moved her head. Her eye slowly fluttered open again, gradually focusing on him.
"Goddess?" he whispered; she blinked a few times, then shut her eye and sighed. After a moment she put out one hand and slowly tried to push herself up. She winced; he did the same and took hold of her arm.
"Be careful...you're not healed yet. Here."
He placed his hand under her shoulder and helped her sit up. She kept her eyes closed and leaned against him, breathing hard. He felt uncomfortable simply touching her, yet bit his lip and remained silent. She murmured and one hand went to her head.
"What?" He looked at her, then at the water, and bit his lip anew. He sensed what she meant; but the idea wasn't a good one. The river was still a ways away; the walk would be excruciating in her condition. He picked up the waterskin instead, ripping off a bit of his kilt and pouring the cool liquid onto it. He reached up and pressed it to her swollen eye.
Her hand covered his own, then took the damp cloth when he gave it to her. She held it in place for a moment while he tore off another bit of his kilt and dampened it, washing away some of the blood from her shoulders and arms. Though he loathed it, he washed it away from her legs as well; she didn't protest or move as he worked. Her clothes, he could do little about; he had nothing else with him save his leather pack. She dabbed slowly at her eye while he attempted to at least mend the torn straps that crossed over her shoulders.
"Do you think you can walk?"
She flinched and put her hand to the ground.
"We have to go back to Iunu. You're hurt."
"Clean..." She painfully pushed herself up, onto her knees. Anubis stood quickly and caught her as she started to slump over. He helped her up.
"We have to go to the palace. You can be cleaned there."
She paused and her ears flicked. The motion was rapid, not sluggish, as the rest of her movements were. Her good eye opened and focused on him. Her grip on his own arm tightened so he had to keep himself from pulling away.
She nodded, very slightly, and turned herself about. Anubis put his arm around her back to take her other arm. He left his pack behind and whistled for his jackals to return. Walking slowly and carefully, the two of them made their way up the bank away from the river, supporting each other along the way.
* * * * *
Sunrise was soon to come, but not yet. The journey through the underworld was not as long as that through the upper world, and so God Ra would return to his palace before the night was over, and it was in that short span of time that he earned his rest before setting out the next day in his bark. Anubis and Maftet made their way to celestial Iunu, home of the great sun palace of Ra. He wasn't certain where else he could take her. His father's palace was closer, but in the way of things in celestial Kemet, he managed to arrive in Iunu before dawn could come. The two of them were foot weary by the time they got there, stumbling slowly through the main courtyard and past the great pool floating with lilies. A flock of resting sunhawks scattered and landed again as they passed. The only thing Anubis could think of was Lord Thoth. He would be back at his father's palace in the south; he would need to call him here.
Maftet groaned and stumbled, nearly falling. Anubis caught her arm and eased her to the ground beside the pool, leaning her against a column. He lightly touched her shoulder.
"Stay here. Don't move."
She didn't reply. He rose and jogged the rest of the length of the courtyard, toward the palace proper.
A dim shape appeared in the hall beyond to greet him. "Lord?" a feathery voice called out, sounding surprised. He slowed when its owner stepped into the dim light, and bowed slightly.
"Lady Bastet." He bowed again, breathless. "I need to find your father."
"Why are you here?" she managed to ask, before another low sound from Maftet made her ears prick. She craned her neck to look over his shoulder and her eyes grew. She brushed past him, hurrying out into the courtyard.
He stood and watched as she fell down beside the lynx goddess, taking her head in her hands and looking her over, fretting aloud. He turned and went back out to them.
"Where can I find God Ra?"
"He's--he's resting now." Bastet's eyes had welled up with tears; she was busily scooping water from the pool and pouring it upon her sister's head, wiping her face. "Still sleeping. What happened to her?"
"Someone..." He trailed off, suddenly realizing that, number one, he wasn't certain exactly what had happened, and number two, he didn't feel very willing to face God Ra with such news on his own. He stalled. "...someone attacked her. By the river."
"Oh gods." Bastet pressed her face to her sister's shoulder. "Who would do this to her! And why!"
Anubis's fingers twisted at the torn edge of his kilt. "I don't know." He glanced back over his shoulder. "Can sunhawks relay messages? I need to call Lord Thoth."
The goddess nodded and sniffled. She lifted her head and whistled, holding out her hand; one of the birds flew down to alight upon her wrist. She held it out to Anubis, wiping her eyes with a choking sound.
The bird cocked its head at him. "I need you to go to Lord Osiris's palace in the south," Anubis said, the words coming out automatically, as if beyond his control. "Find Lord Thoth and tell him to come to Iunu immediately. It's an emergency."
The hawk nodded and flapped its wings. It rose rapidly into the air and swooshed out of the courtyard, out of his sight.
Bastet still sat beside her sister, sniffling and weeping softly. Anubis returned to them and knelt down to take Maftet's elbow.
"Help me with her, please, Goddess. You know the way around here. Let's find her a place to lie down until Thoth comes."
The cat goddess nodded again. She took Maftet's other arm and the two of them lifted her to her feet. Turning back for the palace entrance, keeping the unconscious goddess supported between them, they carefully made their way inside, away from the rippling pool.
* * * * *
Not knowing the ways of celestial Kemet, and not entirely used to his new body, Apophis had a much harder time trying to locate the royal palace of the House of Iunu, thus Anubis and Maftet's arrival long before his own...if he should ever reach there at all. His gait was almost stumbling by now, he was so tired of walking. He almost wished for his old form back, but every time he did, he reminded himself of why he was here. It was difficult to keep this goal in mind in his state. He wanted to go home, back to the dark river where he belonged. But then he reminded himself of what would await him in the palace of Ra. The ultimate vengeance! Much more than a petty squabble upon the water. Perhaps he could stand up to Ra himself in this shape. He felt around at his waist and discovered a dagger; the one he'd stolen from the goddess he'd met. His face twisted in childish glee. It wasn't much, but perhaps it was enough. Anything was enough to get back at the neteru for what they'd done.
If he could only find his way...suppressing a yawn, he continued through the darkness, hoping to reach the end of the road soon. This "walking" wasn't all it was cut out to be.
* * * * *
Even with what had happened, Bastet didn't wish to wake her father until dawn, when he would arise on his own. Thoth arrived at the palace with a brisk bow and asked to be shown to his patient. Anubis led him to the room Maftet had been placed in. He and Bastet had carefully laid her upon the bed, and Anubis had turned away while Bastet removed her tattered clothing, washing her wounds and wrapping her in soft sheets. She spent the rest of the time applying a cold cloth to her sister's eye until Thoth appeared, placing his small medicine box upon the floor near her bed and leaning down to examine her face. Maftet moaned softly, still unconscious.
"Was this the state in which you found her, Highness?" he asked Anubis.
Anubis rubbed the back of his neck. "She looked...considerably worse off, Lord. We've been tending to her."
"Where did you find her?"
"By the river. She...she wasn't in a very good shape."
Thoth pressed his fingers against her jaw, gently opened one eye. He examined her swollen lip and frowned a bit.
"She has been bitten."
"Yes. Here...and here also." He touched her shoulder, then bowed to Bastet. "Lady, if you please...I must examine her further. Will you hold up the sheet?"
Bastet flushed but obeyed. Anubis turned away again when Thoth peered beneath it, looking around. After a moment or two he stood and gestured and the goddess let the sheet down again, tucking it around her sister.
Anubis turned back and watched as Thoth bent to retrieve something from his medicine case. He mixed a powder in with some water in a small vessel, leaning beside Maftet to tip her head up and placing the cup to her lips, making her drink.
Thoth nodded. "She sleeps, yet she must be in pain. Her jaw is broken. A rib as well, and her forearm." Anubis winced. "I may heal these, in a moment. Yet she may need much time to recover."
"Recover...?" Bastet this time; she lifted her head and peered at Thoth with an anxious look.
The ibis god nodded again. He put away the poppy and shut his case, retrieving his staff. He bowed at Bastet again, as if just remembering to make the gesture out of courtesy.
"Yes, Goddess...this is difficult for me to tell you, but your sister...she appears to have been assaulted. She was forced."
Anubis stared at him. Bastet's hands went to her mouth and she stifled a small cry. She buried her face against her sleeping sister's breast and whimpered.
Anubis couldn't say anything. Thoth stood, approached and touched his arm.
"You will keep an eye on them? God Ra will awaken soon, and ask to know why we are all here."
The jackal god nodded. "You'll tell him, Thoth? I'm not...I'm not sure how I would do."
Thoth tipped his head. "I will. I must ask you again though. You found her alone? By the river? No one was with you or with her?"
"None that I saw. I had my jackals with me, but they had wandered off beforehand. I never saw who might have..." He trailed off, and his eyes met Thoth's. "Lord...why are you asking me this?" His voice rose. "You don't...you don't believe that I did this, do you--?"
"Of course not, Highness; I know you never would. I place more faith in you than that." Anubis let out his breath and Thoth held up a hand. "I have to warn you though, Prince, that not everyone may be so trusting. You were the only one who saw her, yet you saw no attacker. Some may see you as either her savior or her defiler."
"But--but I would never do this!" Anubis cried. "You said so yourself--!"
"This I already know, yet there are a few who may not believe you." He silenced him with a gesture. "Please...I must go speak with God Ra. I warn you now. He himself may be suspicious of you." Anubis quailed. "I will inform him that her attacker is unknown."
"Maybe if she awakens," Anubis blurted out, then flushed, as if realizing how selfish he was being. He went on nevertheless. "If she could awaken, and speak, and tell who did this to her..."
"She rests at the moment. The poppy will keep her sleeping for some hours. We will need to seek the one responsible far before she opens her eyes." He glanced back at her. "I had considered healing her after calling upon God Ra...but in this state...I don't think he would much like to imagine her thus. I'll tend to her wounds before I go."
He turned away from Anubis, raising his staff and lowering it so the figure-eight head hovered above her body, Bastet drawing away but still holding her hand. Anubis watched through watery eyes. The eight glowed, and the bruises and slashes began to vanish from Maftet's body, the swelling lowering on her eye and lip. Her breathing became easier and her tense features relaxed, yet still she slept; Bastet held her close again.
Anubis concealed the movement of wiping his eyes dry when Thoth bowed and left. He hated the thought that his fears and problems were taking precedent over her own. He couldn't be that selfish.
* * * * *
Apophis finally stopped and held a hand up to his eyes, glancing about him with confusion. He knew only his own part of the underworld very well; in Kemet, everything may as well have looked alike.
Where in the Duat was he?
* * * * *
Apesh yawned and waved away the image again. Watching someone become hopelessly lost was fun, for a short while. Perhaps, the next time he was bored...he would take up a hobby or something. He'd always wanted to learn how to play senet.
He frowned when he realized what would eventually happen, if it were discovered that Apophis was the one behind this. The demon could be made to speak out...against him.
He fiddled his fingers and sought a glimpse of the royal palace. Maybe a little more intervention was called for, before he declared this experiment officially off.
* * * * *
Anubis and Bastet sat in Maftet's room and waited after Thoth had gone. Though the palace was large, and Ra's rooms quite a ways away, they could almost imagine the soft murmuring sound of Thoth speaking with the sun god. After a moment or two the building lapsed into complete silence...and another moment later, this was shattered by a horrendous, bloodcurdling bellow from somewhere far within. The two neteru flinched but said nothing; Maftet murmured in her sleep. Bastet squeezed her sister's hand.
The echoes died away, only to be replaced by a faraway clack-clack-clack, rapid and purposeful, followed by a softer yet just as hurried snikkt-snikkt-snikkt. Bastet and Anubis turned to the door just as it slammed open, the hawk god in his gleaming kilt and pectoral, ready for the day ahead, storming toward them, Thoth following. Blue lightning crackled in his eyes; he swept his arm through the air in a dismissive gesture. "OUT!" he roared, and the two deities leapt to their feet.
Bastet faltered and her lip trembled, apparently not used to hearing her father speak to her so; Anubis grabbed her wrist and pulled her from the room. The door swung shut with a thunderous crack, leaving them out in the hallway.
Bastet put her hands to her mouth. Anubis touched her elbow and guided her to sit down beside the wall. He paced, himself, unable to rest. He couldn't hear what the two inside might be talking about, if anything, but he'd never seen the sun god so enraged.
"Maftet," Bastet cried softly, and dropped her head into her hands with a pathetic sniffling noise. Anubis considered listening at the door, then thought better of it. He sat down opposite the cat goddess and stared sullenly ahead. It was simply best not to deal with Ra at the moment, if they wanted to survive the day intact.
* * * * *
Ra held his daughter's hand now, hard enough to hurt, had she been awake. Instead she lay drowsing peacefully due to the drug Thoth had given her. The ibis god had already told him what had occurred; he remained silent now, likewise having noticed the dangerous blue of the god's eyes. Ra's grip only tightened and his face grew darker as his eyes grew brighter, staring down at Maftet.
"Who did this?" he said, rather than asked, his voice deadly low.
"We do not know, Majesty."
"Who brought her here?"
"It was Prince Anubis, Majesty. He found her by the river."
Ra flashed him a look. "Anubis? Found her? Did he spot her attacker?"
Thoth bowed his head. "He claimed he did not, Majesty. Only that he found her, grievously injured."
He noticed now the slight suspicious look in the sun god's eyes, but neither of them acknowledged it. Ra's grip loosened slightly, as if he noticed that he crushed her fingers.
"No idea who has done this." It, too, was barely a question. He scowled blackly. "If any neter is insane enough...truly insane enough...I will flay him alive...roast his heart in the Duat...feed his innards to the dogs. I will chain him to Millions Of Years and drag his broken body over the sands of Amenti!"
Maftet murmured slightly as Ra's voice rose. The two gods abruptly fell silent and looked down at her. Ra took her hand again and stared into her face. Her eyes opened just barely, fighting against the drug.
Thoth watched as Ra bent down to look her in the eyes. "Daughter? You awaken?"
She blinked at him a few times with glazed eyes. She sighed and shut them again.
Ra squeezed her hand a third time. "Daughter. Tell me who did this. So I may seek him out and serve him his punishment. Who did this to you? Can you speak?"
Maftet murmured a little bit as if singing something under her breath. After a moment her eyes opened wider than they had been before and she blinked at the ceiling.
Ra and Thoth both started. Maftet clumsily raised one arm and it wavered in the air. "Bring...Anubis..." she said, voice weakening, and she shut her eyes and dropped her arm, head rolling to the side. Thoth and Ra looked at each other before the hawk god nodded sharply, and Thoth turned to the door, to the hallway beyond.
Ra clung to his daughter's hand as Thoth brought Anubis back in, Bastet peering in at the door. The jackal god looked confused and anxious, yet said nothing until reaching Maftet's bedside. He bowed his head and said, softly, "Goddess?" His voice attracted her attention, and she turned her head to look up at him, eyes straining to stay open long enough to make out his face. Ra and Thoth stared down at her. The corners of her mouth turned up very faintly.
"Anubis," she whispered, and reached up so he could take her other hand. He did so and her grip was weak against his own.
"Thank you..." Her voice faded and once more her eyes fluttered shut. She relaxed against the bed, back into sleep.
Ra blinked at her. His own voice faltered slightly.
"She was in a poor state, Majesty," Thoth replied quietly while Anubis wandered away to the side of the room. "Prince Anubis brought her for medical attention..."
"Then who is this who did this to her? She did not say a name...does she have no idea herself?"
"I begin to have my suspicions, Majesty...she bore bite marks...like those of a snake..." His voice trailed into unintelligible murmuring, though Ra apparently could hear him from where he stood. Anubis sat and listened from the far side of the room. The sun god's face again grew darker the longer Thoth spoke with him, and when the ibis god pulled away and fell silent his fist tightened and his eyes crackled blinding lapis.
"He did not fight me when I passed through the Duat...if it was truly he and he was elsewhere..." He whirled away from Maftet and stalked toward the door, the look of rage returning to him. Thoth hurried to catch up, bowing as he went.
"What you seek to do, Majesty--?"
"If he did this, then he is here," Ra growled. "In Kemet. Perhaps in Iunu. I may not be able to drag him over the sands of Amenti. But I will certainly give him pain such as he's never felt. Ever."
Thoth followed Ra from the room. Anubis went to the doorway to watch them leave and pondered going after them, while Bastet slipped back inside to see to her sister.
* * * * *
Apophis's footsteps straightened and continued to carry him toward Iunu.
In the east, a tiny spark of light finally emerged.
* * * * *
"Fool," Apesh hissed under his breath. "She does not speak your name...yet you are surely caught...and still you wander around like a brainless dolt. Have you no idea the punishment you will receive for such an act? Even I never would have told you you could pull it off! I know you will blame me--but I never put the idea in your head that you should attempt to bed the daughter of the sun god!"
He waved his hand over the image. If the demon somehow returned to him, he would grant his end of the deal and give him back his body, but that didn't mean he had to help him find his way. It was only fitting. Apophis could take his punishment for him, and then some.
"Consider this your all-expenses-paid trip to Kemet," he muttered. "Since you wanted it so very badly to pull a foolish stunt like this. If you believe you may fight light with your darkness, by all means go ahead, only remember that Kemet is far more full of light than of your sort."
* * * * *
The great ship of Iunu, Millions Of Years, slowly pulled away from the dock. Those tending to it, handling the ropes, hurried away before they could be dragged into the water along with it, it jolted ahead so quickly. The glowing bark drifted away from the palace, sailing westward, and began to rise from the celestial river into the ether. He who steered it kept his sharp eyes focused upon the ground. There would be no escape from his sight, especially now.
* * * * *
Apophis finally stopped walking and stared ahead of him. He had never been the most intelligent of the demons; what he lacked in brains he more than made up for in cunning and ruthlessness. Still, something gnawed at him although he could not tell what, or why. He could only stare at the glimmer ahead of him in the east. He knew Iunu lay to the north, and to the east...the direction he hated...the birthplace of the sun. He so detested when Ra brought that blinding abomination into the underworld, where the Duat dimmed it, yet could never put it out; he waited every day just for his chance to destroy it for good. Several dull tiny thoughts searched around to connect to each other as he stared and as the glow grew brighter. Glow. Light. Bright. East. Sunrise.
He blinked. He was headed for Iunu...to face Ra...upon Ra's land. Kemet, a land of light, not darkness, like the Duat.
Iunu was in the east.
So was the sun.
The sun rose in the morning.
Morning was coming.
He blinked again, and his eyes widened when the thoughts finally managed to connect. That glow, ahead of him, beckoning him to the palace of Iunu, to seek out Ra, to destroy him...it was also a warning to stay away. Panic began to well up inside him when he realized the foolishness of what he'd been doing. He never would have had a chance hiding within the sun palace and waiting for Ra to return. He would only have been making it easier for him. There was no Duat now, to dim the light of the sun as it blazed. It could shine with its full power, and in this body, he could do nothing to stop it.
Rather than wait for Ra to step into his trap...he was walking straight into Ra's trap.
He sucked in a breath and whirled about on one heel. He started running as fast as he could, westward now. It had taken him all night just to reach here. It couldn't take him all night to get back to the Duat. It would be too late by then. He had to run.
The blackish-blue around him slowly grew to blue, then to gray, then to pink. Apophis bared his teeth with fear and threw up one arm to shield his eyes. Already his head was beginning to pound, and his breath came fast in his throat. He wasn't used to running. Running was something humans did, something neteru did. He wasn't neteri! He couldn't even dive into the river without having to flail his arms about to keep himself afloat. And the sun could shine through water.
The pink changed slowly to gold. He could feel the heat upon his back and finally he screamed. It seared his skin like fire. That which gave everything here life could easily take his away, in this weak form. The gold became blazing yellow and his scream only grew, hands clamped tightly over his streaming eyes. They felt as if they would burn out of his head like two cinders, the pain was so intense. He stumbled and scraped his knee against the pebbles; it felt like flames shooting up his leg. He imagined the sun god glaring down on him and laughing, and wanted nothing more than to make him pay more dearly than he ever had.
There was one thing he wanted more. To get away from this. He hated running like a frightened rat--but there was nothing else he could think of to do. Self-preservation won out over vengeance. Better humiliation than pain and death, he decided, and, veering sharply to the right toward the trees, he stumbled toward the meager shelter they offered, wailing aloud and bawling like a wounded calf. His skin felt ready to fall off his body, it hurt so much.
He reached the trees and ducked beneath them, still running, desperate for the tiny bit of a breeze the motion fanned over him. He could literally feel the faint shadows of the palm fronds falling upon his skin, offering the briefest, barest respite, but it wasn't enough. As soon as he felt the relief, down the sun's rays beat again, spearing and singeing his skin. He sobbed and fell, scraped his elbows, got to his feet and kept running, sobbing anew.
* * * * *
Apesh rolled his eyes with disgust.
"For love of the gods. Let's just get him out of there and get this over with, the spoiled little brat."
* * * * *
Apophis stumbled past the trees, crying loudly, fingers pressed to his eyes. He was so blinded by the morning's pleasant sunlight that he didn't notice yet one more soft glow appear before him, opening up, accepting him as he ran through it and out the other side.
* * * * *
He tripped and landed upon the hard ground, only to notice it felt like stone. Polished. Smooth. Cool, not warm. At first it stung his skin, yet then he welcomed it, curling in on himself as tightly as he could. Over his pathetic sniffling and whimpering he heard footsteps clacking, and then something nudged his arm.
"Get up, stupid one, before you piss all over my floor like a frightened little puppy."
He bared his teeth again but didn't hiss. He couldn't articulate the sound in his fear. He tried to force open one eye, but by now even the muted lamplight in the dark building was enough to make him cover his face again, sniffing and choking. He heard a loud sigh from above him.
"Come on now, get up off my floor. It's nothing more than what you asked for anyway."
"You--didn't--tell me--" he choked the words out in a stammer "--it--would feel--like--this--!"
"You should have assumed, since that's the reason you hate him so much, is it not? Well, one of the reasons, at least. I care not which. Now get up, you pile of dung."
Apophis finally put out one hand to roll over and push himself up unsteadily, still covering his eyes with the other. Tears streamed down his cheeks and his teeth glinted.
"You tricked me! You did not tell me all!"
"Fah, I never once tricked you. You knew what you were facing. You should have, walking into the enemy's palace as you planned to do! And going after his daughter? Is your brain completely worm eaten? Perhaps it was my mistake for thinking you had more sense than that!"
"You are as much of a liar and a cheat as HE is!" the demon screamed, stomping his foot plaintively. Apesh rolled his eyes.
"Wah, wah, wah. Spoiled brat. Now I see why Ra spanks your bottom every night. Someone needs to keep you in line."
"My body," Apophis croaked, then louder, "My body! Give it back to me!"
"You look as if you hardly had any fun with it."
His hands came away from his face at last and clenched into fists at his sides. He squinted terribly yet could hardly see past the blur. "You have no need of it! GIVE IT BACK! Or you ARE a fraud and a liar of the worst sort! Fit to belong in Iunu, accursed place!"
"You become excited far too much," Apesh said mildly. "You think I planned to keep you in that form? You flatter yourself. As I told you, one day and one day only."
"DAMN THE DAY!" the demon screamed. "JUST GIVE IT BACK TO ME! GIVE ME BACK MY FORM!!"
"You still had the rest of the day left. You're certain you want to give it up? My heka is weak, it looks as if you may not be able to go back..."
"DO I LOOK AS IF I WISH TO GO BACK THERE? GIVE ME MY BODY!!"
Apesh shrugged noncommittally and flicked his fingers. Apophis cried out and clapped his hands to his head. His nose and mouth elongated; his black clothing changed to slick black scales. He grew larger, and larger, towering over Apesh until his hood brushed against the ceiling. And still the agony pierced through him, so he groaned and sank to the floor with a heavy, resounding noise.
The tortoise god rolled his eyes again and kicked him in the flank. "Get up, get out! Already I know they will come looking here. If you are here when they come, I will hardly attempt to defend you. I wish for a morning of fun, I get this instead!" He spat at him. "Go on. I fulfilled my end of the deal, now you yours. Go back to the river, you mud slug."
The great serpent finally lifted his head, hissing pitifully and dragging himself away. Apesh stood with his hands on his hips and watched the demon depart back for the black river before heading back further inside his palace. He had to think of a good excuse in case they did decide to pay him a visit. He'd known Apophis would cause some sort of trouble, but not that sort of trouble.
Perhaps that would be a good enough excuse...it wouldn't be like he was lying, would it?
* * * * *
The dank dark river was like a balm to Apophis's hide, and he slipped completely beneath the water, letting it seep between his scales and cool him. His earlier fear slowly turned once more to rage, now that he was within his own domain. So much for his revenge; once again, the sun god had gotten the better of him. He knew it hadn't been just good timing on the neter's part, to show up when he had. Maybe he had planned it this way all along? What if Apesh's plan had merely been a part of it? Paranoid thoughts roamed around in his head now as he floated through the water. He couldn't believe it had all just been a bad coincidence. Perhaps the neteret had been in on it all too. The one high point of his day, the little bit of vengeance he'd been able to snatch, crumbled. If they had all had it planned...her fighting had seemed so real...but if they had plotted all of this...
If he had still had fists, he would have clenched them. If any of the neteru had been nearby, even Apesh, he would have smashed out of the water and put an end to them. No matter who they were, no matter how powerful. He'd been hurt badly enough this day; he wouldn't take any more of it.
Still, the day wasn't nearly long enough. He felt as if he'd floated merely an hour or so before the first glow of night within the Duat began to seep in around him, causing the fear to rise within him anew. Ra's ship sailed through the Duat nightly, bringing a bit of light to the pathetic damned souls who dwelled here, yet also bringing agony to dark ones such as himself. As if racing from Kemet to safety had been humiliating enough...now here was that which he'd been running from, within his own home!
Any other day he would not have hesitated to jump up and take on the ship. Today, though, was different. The faint glow brought back every sharp dagger of pain that he'd felt before and magnified it. Suddenly the soothing water wasn't so soothing anymore, not as long as the awful light permeated it. Panicking, he flicked his tail and descended, away from the ship as it settled down in the water above him. No use; blinding brilliant rays shot down through the murk, striking his head and back and penetrating beneath his scales. He gave a gurgling scream muffled by the river and desperately sought the thick layer of silt upon its bottom. It seemed as if he'd never reach it. He burrowed nosefirst into the mud, wriggling like a giant worm, but the sunlight pelted him like fiery stones and he couldn't get away no matter how deeply he dug.
This was going to be a very long night.
* * * * *
Something squeezed Bastet's hand. She lifted her head with wide eyes and looked down.
Anubis glanced back from where he'd been standing near the doorway. Thoth, not far from the bed, stood and reached into his medicine kit to rummage around. Bastet stared down at her sister, who slowly opened her eyes and blinked up at the ceiling. They looked different without the blood and swelling. The two younger gods crowded around her until Thoth gently shooed them back.
"Give her a little breathing room."
"Sister?" Bastet asked. "How are you feeling...?"
Maftet didn't answer. Thoth brought forward the small poppy cup but she lifted one hand to nudge it away when he held it to her mouth.
Thoth took the cup back with a slightly puzzled look but said nothing. Anubis looked at him and he spoke in a low voice.
"She has the right to refuse it...I doubt she's in any pain right now. I can take away the physical injuries, yet as for the rest..."
He didn't finish the sentence. Bastet held onto Maftet's arm as she slowly sat up, placing a hand to her head. She touched her eye and jaw as if seeking the injuries that had been there before, then looked over her arms and chest. She then looked about the room.
"How long have I been here...?"
"The great part of the day and more, Goddess," Thoth replied with a small bow. "You were brought here this morning, while it was still dark. Your father should return soon."
"It is night again?"
The ibis god nodded and bowed.
Maftet stared off into space for a moment before carefully pulling off the sheet covering her. Bastet had dressed her in fresh garments while the gods had been busy with other matters; she again examined her arms and now her legs. The other three stared at her as she did so, watching for any sort of reaction, a twinge of memory of what had happened. The goddess's face remained impassive. She put her feet on the floor and stood, reaching out to lean upon the small stand beside the bed. Both Anubis and Bastet took a step forward but she pushed herself away before they could reach her. She spotted her bow and arrows and picked them up.
Anubis blinked. "Goddess...?"
"Sister?" Bastet asked, voice uncertain. "Where...?"
"I go to hunt." She placed the bow over her shoulder before turning back and looking at them...or between them. Her eyes met none of theirs, and her ears didn't seem to stand as tall as they had before. Aside from this, and the quietness of her voice, they noticed little difference in her. She appeared to want to say something else, but turned to the door without saying it. She took a few steps and turned back to them again, just a little.
"Prince Anubis..." The jackal god met her eyes, which finally met his, for just a moment, before flicking to the side again. Her grip tightened on her bow.
"Thank you...for bringing me back."
Anubis put his arm to his breast and tipped his head slightly.
Maftet was still for a moment, then turned away again. She walked carefully, as if afraid of falling, before she was gone from their sight. The other three stood where they were. After a moment or two both Bastet and Anubis hurried forward, as if to follow her; Thoth held up his arms and stopped them from going too far. The two neteru looked at him with confusion.
"Let her be."
"But--but she's leaving," Bastet stammered. "In her state--"
"You can't just let her go like that," Anubis retorted.
"We can, and we will. We cannot keep her here if she doesn't wish to stay."
"She isn't thinking right."
"Perhaps she needs to speak with someone!" Bastet cried. "If nobody's there--"
"She could have spoken with any one of us. She did not." Thoth lowered his arms but didn't move from their path. "As much as you may not like it she did not wish to. She wishes to leave, and so this is what she does."
"After that?" Anubis snapped. His fists clenched. "You can't believe she would be thinking normally, after that. After what you said happened. Did you take a good look at her before you healed her?"
"You said yourself, I heard it," Bastet added. "You could heal the outside. Not the inside."
"This is it exactly," Thoth replied. "The only one who can do that is she. Neither of you, nor Ra, nor I can do that. If you wish to keep her here when she doesn't wish to stay, you only force her more. Let her go. Be here for her, but do not force yourselves upon her. She'll come to you if she wishes to speak."
Bastet relented a little, though her eyes welled up. Anubis's fists unclenched but he didn't move away.
"Being alone, going back out there on her own can't be what she wants after that. How can she want to go out there by herself? What if he comes back for her and finishes what he started?"
"He won't. God Ra will see to that. I suspect he won't trouble us for a long while." He paused and tipped his head. "Highness, you can hardly know what another wishes. I know that your own wishes do not always follow the norm, even for yourself." The jackal god flushed. "You cannot know how one feels unless you have been in the situation yourself...and even then, you would react differently. Lady Maftet reacts differently from you. This is because she is different. This is the way it is for each of us. As I said, be here for her, should she need you, but let her be alone for now. She deals with this in her own way."
Anubis stared at him for a moment, then sighed and backed away a step, relenting. Thoth could tell that what he'd said hadn't made complete sense in the god's mind, yet said nothing further. Bastet's eyes overflowed and she swept away a few of the tears with a sniffle. "Maftet..."
Anubis touched her arm. "Believe...believe what he says, I suppose. He's never been wrong before. Maybe...maybe later she'll want to speak with you."
"Me?" The cat goddess sniffled again and wiped her eyes. "I should think she would speak with you...because you helped her...she said hardly a word to me..."
"Maybe she didn't feel comfortable yet...maybe later. Will you come back to the palace with me, Lady? She goes there, usually, when she's done hunting...perhaps she doesn't wish to speak to us yet, but if we're merely there..."
Bastet nodded and rubbed at her eyes. "All right...I so hate that she didn't want to speak to me...but I can be nearby if she needs me..."
She reluctantly allowed Anubis to lead her from the room, and after they had gone out the door Thoth let out a small sigh. He moved to the empty bed and gathered the sheets, straightening them, and sorted out the items in his medicine chest before shutting it tight. He put it under his arm and left the quarters, prepared to be near should God Ra need him when he returned.
* * * * *
From the west, the sun boat gradually made its way back to Iunu for the night. The sail and hull were slightly damaged, but nowhere near as much as they usually were. Much pain had been meted out, but not much of a fight had ensued. The serpent cowered beneath the river and barely raised his head.
Apesh was right. The Duat was much more welcoming for his kind than Kemet ever would be.
* * * * *
Maftet's fingers clenched on her bow, her other hand bent upwards to clasp her shoulder. She stared at the ground as she went. She had stated she wished to hunt, but didn't much feel like it. She wished simply to walk and think. Not too deeply, and not about much; not right now. Perhaps later she could think about it. Instead she let all her thoughts wander about unchecked. She glanced up at the moon and thought about Sakhmet again, then about Bastet and Anubis. She rarely saw much of them, as she spent so much time alone, by the river. Including now, when she knew they wished to speak with her. She would have to make certain not to stay out here too long; they would be waiting back at the palace, she was certain. Her clenched fingers loosened and she took a breath and let it out. Perhaps she would head back soon, and talk with them. Not about the previous night, yet. But about anything. As long as they talked, and she was with them.
She liked the thought very much.
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