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Horus: Chapter 12



Horus glanced almost unconsciously at his right arm as Thoth stepped forward. It was early morning, the sun not having risen yet; he'd gone to Thoth's quarters to ask for advice on--anything. Right now talk of any kind was better than simply waiting for something to happen.

"It's not so bad," he murmured. Thoth held out his staff to lightly touch the wounds. The crystals in the eight glowed blue, and the staff hummed; Horus watched the cuts shrink in on themselves, sealing and leaving not even a scar as they disappeared. The staff ceased humming and Thoth pulled it back. He glanced at the wadjet around Horus's neck, on its newly knotted cord, and looked Horus in the eyes.

"He came for you, didn't he?"

Horus nodded. He found that he felt comfortable around Thoth, as if the ibis god were more uncle to him than Set. Thoth gestured him into the room, and offered him a seat. Horus took it--carved ebony covered with gold and hieroglyphic designs--while Thoth walked around.

Thoth's quarters were different from the others Horus had seen. He had many shelves, all of which were cluttered with jars and pots and scrolls and boxes with uncertain contents. Strange-looking plants hung from whatever open spaces there were. The room smelled of incense. Horus thought of the little reed temple back in his village.

"You've come for advice," Thoth said, interrupting his thoughts. Horus turned to him. "I can give you advice, but that which you need is not mine to give. For that you'll need to speak to someone else."

"Who's left?" A pained edge entered Horus's voice. He was getting tired of all this oblique runaround. "Everybody can help me here and now, but what about when Set demands a fight? I'm not a soldier. I don't even know what to do."

"You don't need to be a soldier. All you have to do is think like one."

"And how's that? I was never prepared for any of this. I'm still not!" All the confusion and fear he'd been experiencing came flooding out in his words. "I was raised in the Delta. That's what I'm used to. That's who I am. Now I'm told it's my destiny to take the throne as king, when I don't even know how to pretend to fit in. You said everyone can see through me. If this is my destiny, I don't know how I'm going to achieve it. I don't know anything."

Thoth stared at him with what seemed to be compassion or pity--Horus wasn't sure which. He averted his eyes, only to look back when Thoth spoke.

"Horus, Harakhte and Buto informed you wrongly. To take the throne--that is your destiny. But never think destiny is something carved in stone."

"Isn't it?" Horus asked. "Isn't everything already laid out, like on that wall? What's the use of preparing for anything if everything is already planned out? Couldn't you simply tell me whether Set wins or not?"

Thoth shook his head. "I can tell you only what might be. But you're working under a mistaken assumption, Horus. The future consists of numerous plans, any one of which might come to pass. Your destiny doesn't make you; you make your destiny. Only you can determine which way the future will work out. You have to stop assuming events will work on you, and start doing something to make events happen for you. You have to be a rock standing up and shaping the stream of order, not a strand of grass being swept away by it."

He fell silent for a moment while Horus thought, then gestured at the air. "Follow. I have something I'd like to show you."

Horus stood and followed him to the balcony. Thoth lived also in the back of the palace, so like Horus's his rooms overlooked the west. He motioned for Horus to sit, and then did so himself, both of them sitting cross legged facing each other.

"What did you want me to see?" Horus asked.

"I want you to meet someone," Thoth replied, holding up his staff. "I want you to meet your father."

Horus nearly started back. "M-my father?" he stammered. "You--you mean--"

Thoth nodded. "Lord Osiris. You need advice, and you need it from him."

Horus paused. "How can you do that?"

"I do next to nothing. All I do is guide you."

"But Osiris lives in Amenti. How do I get there? I'm not even dead."

"You don't go there. Your ka does. Think of it as a vision you take part in. Here." He held the staff up sideways before Horus. "Look inside, and let your ka do the rest."

Horus did. He stared into the twin crystals until they--or was it his eyes?--wavered and began to glow. Slowly, the two orbs seemed to merge into one; a ray of light shot from it and landed on his heart. He closed his eyes, yet still saw.

He felt himself growing lighter and rising, like a bird on a current of air, propelled by a strange wind he hadn't even expected. He truly believed that he would be able to fly if he only flapped his arms--wings--yet let the current carry him, into the crystals and beyond, gaining speed, zooming along above an unfamiliar landscape of rock and sand. He dimly realized this was the western desert he soared over, only as soon as he realized this it was gone, blurred by the speed of his flight. The pressure overcame him; his body tore into a million fragments, becoming the air, traveling faster than time itself, suddenly smashing through a wall of resistance as if it were pottery and swirling out the other side.

Particles drifted to the ground. He felt the myriad fragments of his self coalesce and merge, setting his skin prickling as soon as he was in one piece again. He sucked in the breath that had been left behind him, shaking his head and opening his eyes.

He was crouched upon the ground. He lifted his head and looked up to see before him a landscape much like Kemet, only lit by an eerie blue twilight, through which stretched a great obsidian-black river vanishing into the west.

Horus stared at it until he noticed a dim shape in the distance, growing larger as it approached. Some time passed before he recognized it as a boat--a small papyrus skiff much like the ones he'd used growing up in the Delta. Two figures manned it, one standing, one sitting, both of them rowing.

As they pulled up to the bank, the one sitting in the prow stood up, sinking his paddle into the mud to pull the boat in. Horus reached out to help, pulling it closer. The two in the boat looked at him, especially the one in the back.

The first one--who had a lion's head and looked almost as old as Harakhte--put his arm to his chest and bowed slightly. "Welcome. We don't often have the chance to ferry visitors to the Hall. God Ra usually does that."

"His ship has much more room," the ferryman in the back said, with a chuckle.

"My name is Aker," the lion god said. He gestured to the ferryman. "This is Aken. We'll take you to the Hall."

"Hall?" Horus echoed.

Aker peered at him. "You are Prince Horus, are you--yes, you are. You wear the symbol of your father, the All-Seeing. He dwells in the Fields of Aalu, which can only be reached through the Hall of Double Justice, where the hearts of the dead are weighed. It's a pity Lord Anubis or Lord Thoth couldn't accompany you. Still, this is your meeting, and I suppose Thoth has his reasons for not attending. Please, step aboard, and we'll take you there."

Horus held onto the edge of the boat and let Aker help him aboard. He sat down in the middle of the boat while they pushed off, steering out into the middle of the river and letting the current carry them along, still occasionally paddling when it died down. Aken stood behind him, keeping his eyes open for any obstacles.

Horus watched, fascinated, while the land passed by. Eventually the cliffs far to the north and south closed in on the river, towering steep on both sides. Soon enough even the twilit sky disappeared from sight as they floated into a cavernous tunnel through the mountains.

Horus's eyes adjusted to the darkness. Around him he could see weirdly dwarfed plants growing from the rock, with the occasional snake--or something else--vanishing into the water. He saw what appeared to be branches--or roots?--protruding from the curving walls, strange birdlike forms perched upon them. As they drew close the birds would ascend, flapping in wide, disorganized circles, before landing again with a ruffle of feathers. They watched the trio pass with large dark eyes set in human faces.

"What are they?" Horus whispered.

"Lost souls," Aker replied. "They never boarded the ship of Ra, and never reached the Hall. Some of them have no tombs to return to. Their bodies have been destroyed, so they have no house, no place of rest. They live here now."

"Couldn't you take them to the Hall?" Horus asked, staring at the birds with their dark glittering eyes.

Aker smiled sadly. "What would they do there? Their hearts are no more. They would have nothing to weigh in the scales, and no chance to get into Aalu. There's nothing left for them but this."

Horus watched the birds disappear from sight behind a bend in the river. He wasn't certain how long they journeyed before Aken said, "Ah. Here we are, just ahead. Just a little further now."

Horus turned to look. The river still curved, further to the south, until the cavern opened up wider as the river finally turned true south. He had to clutch the side of the boat to prevent himself from standing up and capsizing it. What he saw ahead surprised him so much.

The rock wall continued as it had behind them, only now it remained no longer unbroken. For set into, or possibly carved out of, the stone was a giant pylon, inscribed with hundreds of intricate hieroglyphs. It appeared to glow in the darkness of the cavern. Above the gate was not the winged sun disk Horus expected but a pair of eyes, both looking very much like the wadjet he wore. He rubbed the pendant unconsciously between his fingers as he stared at the scene before him.

The wide double doors coated with gold loomed up before them. Aker stood; he and Aken brought the boat up parallel to the riverbank, which was devoid of reeds and plant life, edging only bare black earth. Two giant bull statues with crescent moons set between their horns flanked the doors, carved from stark gray granite. Aker put out his paddle to touch the dry bank, steadying the skiff. Horus climbed out and turned back to face the lion god and the ferryman.

"This is where we leave you," Aker said. He pointed. "Through the doors you'll come upon a small hypostyle hall, after which you'll enter the Hall of Double Justice. There you'll meet your father." He pushed the boat away from the bank. Aken started to paddle. "I wish you luck on your quest, and hope you find what you need to know."

"Wait!" Horus had to shout, as the boat was rapidly moving away across the glassy water. "How do I get back?"

"Don't worry." Aker's voice was faint, echoey in the cavern. "You'll know what to do."

Horus stood on the bank, watching the boat go. Only on leaving the Delta had he felt as alone and uncertain as he did now, left behind in a strange land. He turned to face the giant double doors, and approached them. He didn't know how he'd get them open; however, that obstacle vanished as soon as his hand touched them, for they began to swing inward of their own accord, revealing a set of tall hypostyle columns faded by mist.

Horus took a breath and let it out. He clutched his wadjet for strength, and stepped into the hall.

He had no idea what Aker had meant by "small." The columned hall seemed to go on forever. Or maybe it was just his nerves. He felt an invisible snake wrapping itself around his chest and squeezing tighter. He would finally be meeting his father, at the end of this hall; it was something he was both looking forward to and nervous about. He didn't know what he would say, or if he could even find anything to say. What would he do if nothing came out of his mouth?

He decided to worry about that when the time came.

The columns thinned ahead. He was surprised to find that, on looking back, the hall was much smaller than it had seemed. He'd had no idea he was so nervous. Ahead loomed another set of double doors. Horus paused before them, noticing a guard on each side--or were they statues? They had the heads of lions--like Aker--but stood at attention with large wicked-looking knives. He peered at them more closely and saw they were made of stone, so he moved forward.

Immediately the statues' eyes opened, glowing an unnatural green. Horus froze. The statues didn't move, though the one on the right spoke.

We are the guardians of the portal, it said in his mind, its voice soft and hollow.

Name your mission, the statue on the left added.

"I'm Prince Horus," Horus said, doing his best to address the statues clearly without feeling silly. "I've come to see my father, Osiris, Lord of Amenti."

Prince Horus. The eyes glowed brighter for a moment, then dimmed again. Your father waits for you.

"May I pass?" Horus asked.

You may pass, the statues replied, only after you speak our names. And the eyes dimmed further and faded out.

Horus paused. Names? He had no idea what their names were. They weren't even alive!

Or were they? Had some souls taken up residence in the statues? What if this were some kind of joke on their part?

Enough of that. It couldn't be a joke. He had to think of their names, or he'd never get through.

But how could he be expected to know? How would he find out? Why hadn't Thoth prepared him--or even told him--about this?

How can I know? How do I learn?

He felt brief panic creep up inside him, but clasped the wadjet tight and shut his eyes. He had to think. This was no time to panic. He cleared his thoughts, and searched inside him for a name.

He felt power from the wadjet enveloping his hand, warm against his palm. He heard a voice, speaking in his mind.

This is who you were. Harakhte's voice filled his head. He saw light before his eyelids but didn't open them, knowing the amulet shone like a sun in his hand. This is who you are. The light began to dance, circling him slowly, then faster and faster, whirling so quickly it began to blur and stand still. Then, another sentence spoken, one he'd never heard before but which logically followed the others, so much so that he was surprised he'd never thought of it before.

This is who you will be.

He opened his eyes. The glare from the wadjet vanished; he stepped forward, addressing the statues.

"I speak your names, as Yesterday and Tomorrow!"

The statues' eyes opened, green shooting from them like fiery emeralds. They drew back their knives and stepped aside. The great double doors creaked and began to open. Horus had to shield his eyes as a brilliant light poured from the space ahead. He didn't hesitate this time, stepping into the Hall without seeing. The doors swung shut behind him.

His eyes cleared. He looked around him.

The place he was now in was fit to be called the Hall of Double Justice. Long and narrow, it stretched on ahead of him, a gallery on the left and several rows of ornate chairs on the right, forty-two in all. At the very end, shrunken in size due to distance, sat a throne, in front and to the side of another set of doors, bound shut by thick rope. He approached it slowly.

Just before he could reach it something swooped low over his head. He gasped and ducked, reaching for his sword before realizing he didn't have it. He glanced up to see a large bird fly overhead, letting out a high-pitched cry as the air from its wings brushed against his face.

He recognized the heron he'd seen as he and the others had traveled along the river. It swept low over him, descending and alighting upon the throne. Horus felt a brief surge of irritation that it should land upon the seat of his father; the muscles of his arm tensed to sweep it away.

The heron lifted its wings and head and exploded into light. Horus threw up his arms. The light grew, getting longer, taller. Horus managed to squint up at it as the glare swirled away and faded, and saw that it was no longer a bird that stood there, but a man.

He looked at Horus through kohl-lined eyes, a tall feathered crown upon his head, and smiled, his eyes lighting up. "Horus. You made it."

Horus gaped at him a moment, with his broad pectoral decorated with the wadjet, and then noticed he held the royal crook and flail. He searched for his voice, and it sounded unnatural when he found it. "F-Father?"

The god's smile softened. "Thoth said you would come. I shouldn't have doubted him, though I wondered if you would make it past the Akeru guards."

Horus felt his legs turning to water. He fell, banging his knees on the shiny tiled floor. His head swirled and cleared; Osiris was kneeling before him, touching his shoulder.

"You're not experienced yet in soul travel," he said, sounding concerned. "Perhaps I should have told Thoth to wait."

"No." Horus looked up at him, studying his face to make certain he was real. "I made it here. You said so."

Osiris hesitated before smiling again. "I did." He backed away slightly, not standing but balancing on one knee. "Well, I suppose you have some questions for me, considering."

Horus swallowed and nodded. "They...everyone...keeps calling you the All-Seeing. You must know...about Set."

Osiris's eyes clouded over. "Yes. I know."

Horus scuffed his sandal against the tiles behind him. "He's going to challenge me."

The god nodded. "Soon. You're his only real threat now. He can't afford to have you around. You can't trust him."

Horus looked at him. Osiris met his eyes and spoke as if he saw something there.

"He's tried to kill you, already. He took you in, and spoke to you as a relative, a friend. He did the same with me." He looked over his shoulder at the doors behind the throne. "He killed me twice. He would kill you a million times over if he could."

"Why does he hate us so much?" Horus asked.

His father looked at him again, sadness in his eyes. "He has reasons. Especially for hating me. But he hates you because of what you are to me, and not him."

Silence filled the Hall before Horus said softly, "An heir."

Osiris tipped his head forward slightly.

"Does he hate all of us the same way?"

Osiris shrugged one shoulder. "Though they're husband and wife he's never been close to Nephthys." He added, somewhat pointedly so it caught Horus's attention, "And he's always disliked Anubis especially."

Horus sighed and looked at the doors. "Where do they lead? You looked at them longingly, a moment ago."

Osiris looked again. "They lead to the Sekhet Hetepet, the Fields of Aalu. Paradise." He turned back to Horus and lifted one shoulder. "I would prefer the fields of Kemet, as long as things could be the way they used to be."

He stood. Horus followed, and found he was actually somewhat taller than his father. Osiris didn't appear to notice the discrepancy. He put his hand on his son's shoulder again.

"You need something special to defeat Set and his Apsiu," he said. "Something I don't have, but which you can find. Set will challenge you soon, you and I both know." He ascended the dais to sit down on the throne. Horus stood facing him.

"Tell me," Osiris said, giving his son a critical look. "Which animal would be best suited to assist you in combat?"

Horus opened his mouth to answer, then shut it. He thought.

His father waited.

Horus hesitated a moment longer before answering, tentatively, "Well...it would have to be something fast, like a kudu, only stronger and sturdier."

Osiris raised an eyebrow. "Not a lion?"

Horus shook his head. "A lion would be good for an attack, but it would do no good in a retreat. We would need something quick and maneuverable, yet strong enough to carry us and our weapons. A lion can't do that. The kudus, they wouldn't have the stamina to last long in battle. The Sha are strong, and sturdy, but they're clumsy. I've seen them in battle. They wouldn't last long, either."

Osiris nodded. He looked pleased. "An animal that's strong, quick, and maneuverable, an animal that's resilient. You told Thoth you don't know how to be a soldier. Though you're thinking like one already."

"What do I do now?"

"You're to travel to Elephantine Island, further to the south. You'll meet Lord Khnum, creator of men and animals. Tell him you were sent by me. He'll know what you need, and he'll provide you with it. Then you'll be able to face Set on equal ground."

Horus stared at his father a moment or two before nodding slowly. It was almost as if he could see everything falling into place, everything that had started falling the moment Reia had handed him the little lapis and silver wadjet and told him it was a gift from his real father. Osiris smiled back at him and held up his hand, palm outward.

"I hope to see you again, under better circumstances. Such as when Kemet is safe again, with little at stake." His smile grew, and to Horus it seemed his eyes were beginning to glow, growing brighter, almost as two crystals. "Good luck, Horus. I'll be with you."

His fingertips touched Horus's forehead. Horus shut his eyes as the blinding light shot through his mind and blasted him to a million pieces.

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