GENRES: Mythology, fantasy, drama, emotional.
SUMMARY: He came from nowhere. Who is he? What horrors did he endure? An original myth.
WRITING STATUS: Completed.
WRITING DATE: Circa 2001.
LENGTH: 9600+ 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 2001 and that my writing style and understanding of the mythology I created may have changed vastly in the meantime.
ADDITIONAL INFO: NA.
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 is my second story about Upuat, the first being "Birth Of A God." It's safe to say this poor guy has a lot of women problems. I should point out that this story is somewhat disturbing; despite that, this is the "toned-down" version of events. I'm not certain if the "meaningful" ending of this will make sense to anyone but myself; just make sure to read the dialogue carefully to pick up the hints. A corrective note--mention is made of "feet" and "inches" as measurements--even though I'm too ignorant of ancient measurement units to make use of them, nowadays there's no way I'd use the terms "feet" and "inches" in a story about ancient Egypt.
THOTH UNROLLED THE scroll and placed weights upon the corners. He looked over the carefully written hieroglyphs without saying a word. The spell the papyrus contained was a powerful one, and should he read it aloud carelessly, bad things might happen.
There were actually two spells written upon the crisp material. One, a spell of binding, of containment. The other, a spell of release, of freedom. It was the first spell he wished to make use of.
He hated that he had to do this, so often. It was only once a year, granted. Yet every time he brought out the old scroll, he felt his revulsion anew. He hated that he'd had to trap her so unexpectedly, and what was worse, to keep her trapped. But it was the only thing he could think of. Her heka was powerful...perhaps not as powerful as his own, but close, and much more chaotic. Chaos was always more difficult to control than order, and it tended to make one's mind...uncertain. Still, he hated entrapping anything, no matter who it was.
He shook his head and shut his eyes. He wouldn't have trapped her without good reason, and she'd given all the neteru plenty of that.
He had no idea where Seii had even come from. She was a foreigner, that much was certain; though her clothing was vaguely Kemeti, he believed it was only because she'd assumed their form, the better to interact with them. And interact, she had...in the worst ways possible...he was certain that had she been allowed to continue with her actions, she would have brought all the gods of Kemet to ruin, the chaos within her soul was so great. He sensed she had not been intended to be evil. But somewhere, something had gone wrong, and she had ended up this way. Somehow, she'd found her way to Kemet...perhaps someone else, sometime in the past, had imprisoned her, knowing of the threat she posed. Who knew how long she may have wandered until coming upon the land of the Kemeti. Once here, she'd unleashed her rage, but Thoth had managed to contain her just in time, before most of the other neteru could experience her wrath. He still felt like shaking when he remembered, it wasn't his heka that had ensnared her first. It was her own feelings, for him.
She'd had a weak moment, when he'd confronted her...she'd let down her guard, and allowed him to approach. He still remembered the sweet smile upon her face as she held out her arms to him and beckoned him close. The welcoming chaos in her eyes. Both alluring and disgusting beyond belief.
That was when he'd struck. Reciting the first spell, the containment spell, had started her screaming with pain and betrayal and rage, until she was no more...at least, not within his sight. He'd looked down to see the small black glittering orb he held in the palm of his hand. That was where she was, now. Contained. Safe. Trapped.
The containment spell worked for only so long. Which was why he had to renew it every year, upon the same day he had first imprisoned her. For years he had done this, as gods were born and grew to adulthood. For years he would continue, until she no longer existed, or he no longer existed; there was no other way he would stop.
He pitied her, that something had caused her mind to snap so horribly, to cause her rage; but there was nothing he could do about that.
When he shut his eyes again, attempting to steady himself, he saw her own eyes there, beckoning him, and then flashing with a bottomless hatred and betrayal. Nervous, he opened them again and hastily picked up the scroll, starting to read the spell, hoping to get this over with as quickly as he could.
It was only when he reached the second sentence of the spell that he realized he was reading the second one--the spell of release. His eyes grew wide with astonishment--surprise that he, the lord of all wisdom, should make such a foolish mistake--and with horror that the mistake had already been made. From the little black orb upon the table beside him, a dark mist began to emerge, taking on shape. With a gasp he cut himself off and started to recite the spell of containment, hoping to turn back time before it was too late. He didn't know if he had enough power to re-trap her once she'd escaped.
Fruitless; the black haze grew and expanded and started hissing, filling the center of the room. With it came a sudden gusting wind which blew aside the rest of the scrolls and knocked objects about the room. Thoth raised his voice, shouting now, repeating the containment spell over and over. The haze flashed once, twice, then exploded in a hideous reddish light and shattered. Thoth's voice stuck in his throat and he threw an arm up to shield his eyes.
Foolish words, spoken too hastily. And he was the one who had done it.
This was the end.
A form appeared in the middle of the glowing haze. It solidified, pushing forward out of the murk, until he could see what it was--a humanlike form--but--it was male, not female.
He blinked and lowered his arm. The shape appeared fully--a tall man with the head of a wolf--and his eyes rolled back in his head and he fell forward, collapsing onto the floor with a thud, going completely limp.
The black haze let out a rasping screech and sucked back into the orb, which rattled and then fell silent. It rolled off the table and hit the floor, coming to rest in the corner.
Thoth stood beside the table and stared down with much disbelief at the still form of the neter lying before him.
"Who is he?"
"I've never seen him before..."
"He looks like one of us...but why have I never seen him?..."
The group of assorted gods and goddesses peered with curiosity at the interloper among them. The strange wolf-headed god lay upon a couch where Thoth had had him placed, the goddess Bastet squeezing out a damp cloth and placing it on his forehead. He was still unconscious and showed no signs of coming to, though at least he was alive. Thoth moved closer and shooed the others away, and they parted, murmuring and muttering.
"Let him get some rest."
"He's not even one of us," somebody groused, only to have another shush him, and most of them left the room, though a few remained just outside the door, staring at him. After a time they drifted away as well.
Thoth knelt down beside him and opened one of his eyes. They were clear, yet glassy and red, as if from lack of sleep. That wasn't what bothered him most. This one looked as if he should be broad and strong, and indeed, he bore the frame of one who should be adept at fighting, and was taller than any of the other neteru; yet he was also gaunt and pale, his ribs showing a little bit, and bore dark shadows under his eyes; from the looks of it he had not eaten well in a long time.
That wasn't what bothered him either.
It was the fresh bruises and barely healed lash marks upon his back that bothered him the most.
"The poor thing."
He blinked and looked to the side to see Bastet had spoken. Her large cat ears were drooped slightly and her lower lip stuck out a bit; she looked to be pouting, but he knew her better. She squeezed out a fresh cloth and replaced the one on his forehead.
"He looks like he's been through the Duat, twice, and back again...and had to face every single whip-bearing demon down there, to boot."
"I wouldn't doubt that he has..."
"What do you think happened to him, Lord Thoth? One doesn't get in such a shape lying about a palace eating berries."
"This much is true...though I must admit I have no idea, Goddess."
"You say he just appeared out of nowhere?"
"Yes...as I recited an incantation. I made a foolish mistake. I nearly recited the wrong spell." He shut his eyes briefly. "Such a mistake is unforgivable."
"All of us make mistakes, Lord Thoth..."
"Yes, but this is one that should not have been made. I was careless." He opened his eyes again. "But when I began to recite the proper incantation, he appeared. He was unconscious already. I have...I have no idea who he is."
This fact alone troubled him greatly.
He knew all the neteru. Yet...here was one he did not know. How could that be?
"In any case..." He tried to take his mind off the strangeness of the situation. "He appears to have been treated most cruelly, somewhere along the way. Wherever he came from."
"Someone has beaten him."
"Repeatedly." When Bastet glanced up at him with a question in her eyes he stood and spread his fingers over the god's chest.
"Old bruise patterns. Here, and here. Much faded, but still visible."
"Oh...I see now...but...that means, someone beat him upon the chest."
"And here on his arm...his wrist, do you see?"
"A mark...and on his other wrist too...as if he were restrained?"
Thoth nodded. "Also on his ankles. Older bruises and lash marks upon his arms and legs. He was tied down, over a long period of time, and whipped and beaten. And starved, and from the looks of it deprived of sleep as well."
Bastet's ears drooped further. "Poor dear brute...who would do such awful things? To one of us, no less? Who in their right mind beats a god into unconsciousness?"
Thoth didn't answer her. Though his mind knew the answer already.
Who beats a god?...another god...that's who.
He kept his eye on the strange god whenever he could, and had Bastet keep her eye on him when he had to be away. When she was gone he examined his visitor more carefully, in privacy. Nothing about the god told who he might be. He was dressed like a neter, one of their own, and his lupine features seemed to prove that he was; theirs was the only race he knew that was granted animal faces at a certain point in their lives. His clothing appeared to have been that of a noble with how well made it must have been...at one time in the past. Indeed, now it seemed worn and tattered compared to what it must have looked like before...he guessed that it had not always been removed when he'd undergone his beatings.
Speaking of the beatings...his whole body seemed to be a roadmap of abuse. The restraint marks on his wrists and ankles hinted at long periods spent tied or chained; which, Thoth wasn't certain. The lash marks on his back were both old and new, as were the bruises all over him. His eyes were shaded, so the ibis god couldn't tell if one were blackened or not. There were faint bloodstains on his clothing that no one had bothered to wash out. Even his feet looked as if they had been whipped upon the bottom. Thoth knew this was a most hideous torture method, and incredibly painful.
One strange detail was that he wore jewelry. A partly broken pectoral, gold loop earrings, and arm- and legbands of the same material. These were not items that came cheaply. Whoever he was, despite his current state, he had once been treated well...at least for a moment.
An even stranger detail was the very faint marking Thoth had discovered upon his upper arm, on gently removing one of the armbands. He peered at it with curiosity. It appeared to be a tattoo of some kind, quite old and difficult to make out in the dim light; bringing a lamp closer revealed that it was a stylized design of a wolf's head.
None of this was helping him determine who the god was, or where he'd come from...or why. The only real clue was the fact that he'd shown up just as Thoth recited the incorrect spell...the spell of release. This could mean only one thing.
The wolf god had been a prisoner.
But of whom?
It made no sense...the only one he had entrapped in that sphere was Seii, the goddess, and everything that had gone along with her, everything she had owned and brought into this world. He'd wanted to make certain she was gone completely. So where had this one come from?
He shook his head and sighed, reaching for a bowl of cool water and lifting the god's head slightly, tipping the bowl to his lips. The stranger swallowed reflexively but did not awaken. He supposed it was just as well, considering he wouldn't know what to say to him in greeting anyway.
In the afternoons and evenings when he had his business to attend to he'd call Bastet, who so far seemed to be the only one willing to come tend to the strange god; the other neteru, since his arrival, had for the most part kept away out of suspicion. Since they had no name for him, this was exactly what she had taken to calling him, the Nameless One. It was better than nothing.
"How is he?" she asked today, as she entered Thoth's quarters with a few of her belongings. A large bowl and a pitcher of water, some cloths, a skin of wine hanging over her shoulder. She craned her neck to peer over his own shoulder at the wolf god sleeping within.
Thoth glanced back at him as well. "Unchanged. He must grow weaker from lack of food by now. Make certain you keep a close eye on him, and if he shows any sign of waking, try to get him to take something to eat."
She slipped past him and inside the room, going to kneel at the god's side and setting her items on the floor. Thoth turned away and left her just as she was dipping a cloth in some of the water she had poured, wringing it out and placing it upon his forehead, and using another to carefully wash his limbs. He knew she would be fine without him.
That evening he had many things to do, and little time to get them done; he had to go to the sun palace in Iunu to speak with God Ra about the stranger now among them, as of course the sun god wished to be kept apprised of the matter. After that, he had to travel to several out-of-the-way locations to procure more materials for his own use, and of course these materials were not easy to come by. Thirdly came a dispute among two of the other gods which needed to be settled before they decided to go to arms over it. This alone took the good part of an hour to accomplish, only then to find that one of the goddesses was suffering a minor medical emergency and needed his immediate attentions. After that, he remembered he had promised to deliver an important scroll, and headed back to his quarters to locate it before night could fall.
As he walked down the hallway, his sandals snikkting not quite as quickly as before, he heard a voice far ahead calling urgently, "Lord Thoth!"
His senses pricked. That was Bastet. He immediately broke into a run toward his rooms, to hear her call his name again. She did not sound panicked, but the note in her voice was enough to concern him.
He reached his door and found her leaning outside, her green eyes large and round. She beckoned him close and backed out of the room, shutting the door softly as he approached. She cupped a hand to her mouth to speak in a low voice.
"He's awake--he awoke not that long before you arrived."
"Is he fully conscious yet?"
"Well--yes, I suppose you could say so. But--"
"But what, Goddess? Is something wrong with him? He appeared fine when I left him this morning..."
"Well, there's nothing wrong with him, except--"
From within the room, came a sudden resounding crash. Thoth's eyes widened and Bastet cringed, then glanced at the door.
He reached for the door handle but she stopped him. "I'm not sure if it's a good idea to go in there right now...he didn't appear to be in the best of moods."
"What happened while I was away?"
"Well...I was looking after him, as before, when he woke up. His eyes fluttered open. I'm not certain what I did; all I remember doing was smiling at him and asking him how he felt. The next thing I know, he's halfway across the room, snarling at me like a mad dog!"
"A mad dog?"
"Yes--like some street cur or something! Perhaps he dislikes my kind? Anyway I tried to convince him to sit down again, since he must be quite weak, as you said, but he would have none of it. Every time I got close to him he would snarl again and lash out. I was afraid he would claw or chew me to pieces and so I decided to let him be!"
"What's he doing in there right now?"
"He was sort of hiding in the corner...but every so often he would jump away and knock into something or other and make a tremendous racket...I'm only worried he'll end up hurting himself even more! He's acting like some sort of savage or something!"
Thoth bit the inside of his mouth before nodding at her. "All right. My thanks. You've done more than your share, so you can go now, if it suits you. I'll take care of him."
Bastet shook her head adamantly. "Oh, no. I'm not afraid of him, just afraid he'll hurt somebody. I doubt you can calm him down on your own. I'll try to help however I can."
He nodded again, inwardly grateful for her assistance. He pulled the door open and slowly crept inside, the goddess following.
Inside, it was almost completely dark, the only light coming from a single oil lamp tucked into the corner. He could smell and hear the sputter of another one which had been knocked over, somewhere in the middle of the room. His sandal splashed in a puddle which he realized must be the overturned bowl; the couch was empty. He squinted into the dimness, taking several steps, before stopping and squinting harder. Something glinted at him from the other corner.
He could make out a dim shape now, hunched over atop a stool like some large vulture. Two eyes glinted at him, narrow and threatening.
Bastet touched his arm and nodded at the shape.
Thoth took a breath and stepped toward it, she following close behind. He held out one hand, palm up, hoping the gesture was understood.
A low growl stopped him. It drew itself out, long and guttural, and when he took another step it grew louder. When he stood several feet away from the shape only then did it lash out at him, gleaming teeth missing his hand by inches. He jerked his arm back, bumping into Bastet, as the god snarled and drew back in on himself, his eyes a burning threat.
He felt a thought make its way into his mind: Do you see what I mean?
He nodded, just once. He saw.
He also just noticed a fresh wound on the god's arm, and realized he must have run into something as Bastet had described. Blood was running down over his knuckles but he didn't seem to notice.
Keeping his eyes on him the whole while, Thoth slowly reached for one of the damp cloths Bastet had been using, picking it up from the floor and folding it. He took a tentative step forward to hear the growl again.
"We won't hurt you," he said softly, knowing it sounded stupid but unable to think of anything else. He'd never seen a god act so...feral before. "You're hurt." He pointed to the god's injured arm, and held up the cloth.
The god merely continued growling, teeth bared. He took no notice of his arm. When Bastet moved closer he turned on her, his face growing even uglier.
"Please," the cat goddess coaxed. "We mean no harm. We wish to help. Please allow us to help you."
"What is your name?" Thoth asked.
The god didn't answer him. He drew back against the wall as much as he could but his snarling didn't abate. He looked ready to attack either of them should they give him the chance, and at the very least, he seemed to have the physical advantage, no matter what his state. Thoth knew that fear could lend an abnormal strength to one's actions.
What is he afraid of?
He gestured toward Bastet, hoping they could salvage the situation yet. "She is Lady Bastet." He put one hand to his breast. "My name is Thoth."
Silence. Not even the growling. Thoth's ears rang in the sudden stillness and he blinked. The god stared at him, eyes wider, teeth unbared, as if in mild surprise. No...not surprise. It wasn't quite that. He seemed to recognize the name, and stared at Thoth as if trying to determine whether it fit him or not.
The two of them stared at each other.
Bastet suddenly broke the silence, startling them both. She held out a bowl, which Thoth noticed held some dark fluid. She must have filled it with wine while he wasn't looking.
"Here," she offered, holding it toward the god. "Drink. You'll feel stronger."
The wolf god eyed her suspiciously, but that was more than he'd done before. He looked at the bowl with its cool contents and his eyes seemed torn.
"Date wine." Bastet held the bowl up to her own mouth and took a small sip. She held it back out toward him. "It's good. Please, drink some."
He stared at it a moment more before reaching out and snatching it from her hands. Some of it spilled onto the floor. He tipped it to his mouth and guzzled its contents as the other two watched. Once he was done he wiped his muzzle on the back of his arm, not taking his eyes off of them, letting the bowl drop to the floor.
Thoth had the sudden annoying urge to pick it up, but refrained. The look in the god's eyes was still deadly. He stood up straight, glanced at Bastet.
"You have more cloths?"
"Oh...yes. Right here."
She retrieved one from where it had fallen. Thoth went to a bowl in the corner, poured water into it from a vase, and dipped the cloth in. He returned and reached out for the god's arm with no success; those teeth looked ready to rip him to pieces.
He sighed and held it out to Bastet. "Perhaps you would have more luck...?"
The wolf god stopped growling and glanced at her uneasily. Bastet looked puzzled but accepted the damp cloth, frowning at Thoth.
What have you in mind?
Just trust me. I think he will obey you more readily.
Bastet shrugged and gave a small sigh. She moved toward him slowly, receiving the same growl, but he didn't lash out. His face grew uglier and more threatening when she touched his arm, and by now even she seemed nervous.
"It's all right," she said again, lifting his arm. "This will take only a moment...then it won't hurt at all..."
She wiped the blood away from his wounded arm, then squeezed out the cloth and wrapped it around the limb, holding it tight. When she let go he drew his arm in, and growled again, though not as loudly as before. Thoth noticed how he kept blinking, and realized how exhausted he must be. He had slept a long time, but whatever he had gone through, seemed to have been longer.
Bastet tipped her head slightly toward Thoth. The poor thing, he's half dead. I wonder what happened to him.
This is what I will try to find out, Thoth replied, if he would only allow me!
"You are the one," the wolf god growled suddenly, and Thoth and Bastet both jumped and looked at him, surprised. "You are the one she spoke of." And then he fell silent, lowering his head so it almost rested upon his knees again, glaring at them.
"Who?" Thoth whispered, before realizing he'd said it. He spoke louder. "Who spoke of?"
No reply, only the same ominous look. After waiting a moment Thoth sighed again.
"Perhaps he needs some sleep," Bastet suggested.
Thoth gave a small nod. Truthfully, he could think of nothing else to do with the stranger at the moment, other than determine where he had come from. And the god didn't seem too interested in telling him that, so he might have to find out on his own. After a long day he was quite tired by now, and not in the best frame of mind to do such a thing.
He glanced at Bastet. "How well rested are you? I've had a long day, but I don't feel very comfortable sleeping while he's around..."
"Oh! Don't worry. I'll stay and keep an eye on him for you. Please get some sleep. I'll be fine on my own."
"Tomorrow morning I'll set out and see if I can find anything about him. Do I impose too much asking you to look out for him then as well?"
"Of course not. I think he rather trusts me, at least a bit. You do whatever you have to do. I'd much like to know where he's from, myself..."
Thoth nodded. He rubbed at an ache in his neck. That scroll would have to wait until the next day. By the time he'd finished undressing and preparing his bed, the strange god watching him all the while, he no longer cared that he was being stared at by a pair of hostile eyes. Though those eyes seemed to be all he could see after he had shut his own...and the look in them reminded him of something long ago.
"I know that you are the one who grants us our true forms. I thought, perhaps, you might know who he is."
Thoth stood within the palace of Lord Harakhte, who watched over the gateway between the dimensions. The elder hawk god sat upon the edge of the great stone pool near the back of his palace, the dark water glittering in the dimness. His luminous eyes seemed troubled and faraway, and they grew even more so the more Thoth told him of what had happened. When Thoth finished his story the hawk god rubbed his chin and frowned.
"Well...if he bears the face of a wolf, then it must have been I who granted it to him. Yet I must admit...I have no memory of this god. I simply do not recall him."
"Please forgive me for insinuating this...but perhaps it is merely a lapse...?"
"Oh. You could not offend me with that, I understand very well. But I doubt this. I remember the faces of all who have passed through these halls. I remember giving a face to myself, and I even remember giving a face to you."
Thoth frowned now, and looked down at the floor. If neither of them knew who this stranger was, there wasn't much hope of finding out. Harakhte's already-stooped shoulders slumped a bit when he saw the look on Thoth's face.
"I am sorry I could not be of more help, Lord..."
Thoth paused in thought for a moment, then lifted his head. "Perhaps you can. This pool. This is where all come to see and receive their true face...yes?"
"Perhaps then there is some sort of record stored within the water...a record of all who have passed here. This is one of the Palaces of Time. Do you suppose your pool has this power?"
Harakhte blinked. "I...I had never thought of that. I truly don't know. But if you feel it might, you may take a look..."
"Please do as you always do when one comes seeking their true face. Only try to look back over the faces you have given before. Perhaps he is in there, somewhere..."
The hawk god nodded. He stood and held out his hand over the pool. The water glittered and glowed blue. Two faces--their own--appeared, and Harakhte intoned, "This is who we are."
Thoth stared at the surface as it began to ripple and glow more brightly. Harakhte waved his arm slowly.
"This is who we were."
The rippling, glowing grew. Their faces vanished, to be replaced by the faces they had once carried. They both stared down with a bit of uneasiness. It had been a long time since they'd looked that way, and they weren't used to seeing it. Harakhte waved his hand again, appeared to ponder his next words for a moment.
"This is...this is who they were."
The water lashed and whirled. Thoth squinted into the brilliant blue, searching back through the years, seeking out one face lost among the rest, somewhere far back in time...
Bastet picked up the bowl from where he'd left it; unless it was on his own terms, he never moved from where he sat, wherever that happened to be. At least he allowed her to bring food near, and he finally ate; she stared at him as he did so, her eyes wide. He tore apart the leg of goose she'd given him, even sucking the marrow from the bone. She made certain to hand him another portion of meat once he was done savaging the first, and she kept a jar of beer nearby. The drink wasn't as strong as the wine; she didn't think getting him drunk would be a very good idea, in his state.
He didn't seem to like cups. When she tried to hand him a cup of the liquid he bared his teeth and made a face. So she filled a bowl instead and he drank from that. All of her people ate with their fingers, as was customary, but he didn't just eat, he mutilated. She almost felt sorry for the hunk of bread that vanished down his throat in one swallow.
When he'd finished off everything she'd given him--he'd gnawed the fruit down to their very cores--she took the scraps, such as they were, away and cleaned up the mess he'd left. Surprisingly it was very small. Every bit and crumb that had fallen away from him he'd snatched up and eaten as well, as if afraid he would never eat again. He was licking his hands like a dog cleaning itself when she came back with a waterbowl, cloth, and cosmetics box. He bared his teeth again, but didn't growl.
She sat down opposite him and placed the items on the small table near him. "Your arm?" she said; when he didn't reply she reached out and took his hand. He flinched and his eyes narrowed, lip curling back. She pretended she didn't notice and brought his wounded arm toward her. She removed the old bandages, washed the limb in the water, and wrapped it up again. He rubbed it but didn't protest.
"Now," Bastet said, setting aside the waterbowl and bringing forward the box. "Lord Thoth went out today to see if he could find out anything about you. I was thinking perhaps it might be a pleasant surprise if, when he returns, he finds you presentable. While you slept last night I had some clothes fitted for you...at least I hope my estimates were right..." She bent down and fished around in a small chest behind her, bringing out a girdle and a clean white kilt. "I know they're not as sumptuous as the ones you're wearing...at least, as they used to be...yet they should do. I'll leave that to you. However, I doubt you've ever had any practice with makeup...I think you would look much better with some kohl around your eyes, to offset the shadows, and perhaps some new earrings and a new pectoral as well...if you'll allow me...?"
He shrank back as she edged closer, holding up a small kohl brush. He flinched and bared his teeth, but she was able to start brushing the dark makeup around his eyes. He even allowed her to tilt his head the other way so she could finish the other eye. She switched brushes to apply a thin line of gold around the black, blew off a few stray particles, and leaned back. He opened his eyes now that he sensed she'd drawn away, and he didn't stop his silent snarling, but she saw that she'd managed to apply the makeup almost perfectly. She smiled and noticed him untense just a bit.
"Good!" she said, and fished around for a mirror. "You look much better already. Some sleep, some food, some fresh clothes, and you will be greatly improved, and no one will be so eager to keep away from you anymore. Here, see. You'll hardly recognize yourself."
As she spoke he'd untensed even more, until he sat almost normally, his eyes fully open and his snarl gone. He was handsome now, with the dark kohl around his eyes. Bastet smiled and held up a small bronze mirror before him. He leaned forward as if to see what it was that she was offering, and she saw the glint of the metal in his eyes when he caught sight of his reflection.
His eyes widened. Within an instant he'd shot up out of his seat with a bellow, swinging his fist through the air. Bastet gasped and squeaked, arms going to cover her head. It was probably this that saved her arm from being torn off, as he struck the mirror and sent it flying, crashing into the opposite wall and taking the contents of an entire shelf with it. He threw back his head and let out another roar and began smashing everything in his immediate area--the chair he'd been sitting upon, the small table with the cosmetics box, the little chest; he upended Thoth's bed and swung out at another row of shelves, knocking their contents to the floor where they shattered. By the time he finally stopped his rampage, panting and snarling, both of his arms now were slashed open and bleeding, and he slid down the wall to the floor to huddle in on himself, his bloody arms encircling his knees and his head low so all she could see was his eyes. His shoulders rose and fell with each breath; his eyes glared angrily, yet he said nothing.
Bastet sat in the only piece of furniture that had been near him yet had also survived his outburst. Her heart fluttered wildly in her chest. She wasn't certain what she'd just seen, but she thanked the gods she was still in one piece. His first blow alone could have taken her arm clean off.
Yet once she began to overcome her fear, her first concern was for him. He'd cut himself again, and that needed to be taken care of. Still shaking, she rose to her feet, fumbling around a bit for more bandages. She dug them out of the debris and made her way toward him, unravelling the linens as she approached. He didn't move when she knelt down before him, but as soon as she took his hand his head whipped up and he snarled. She couldn't help it this time; she gasped and jumped back.
"The stick," he snarled out loud, startling her even further. "Where is the stick?"
Bastet blinked at him, uncomprehending. She slowly shook her head. "I don't understand."
"Mirror. I see myself." He pointed at his face. "Where is the stick?"
Now she rose to her feet, careful not to startle him. She continued shaking her head, trying to keep her hands from shaking as well.
"I...I don't know what you mean. What stick? What...what are you talking about?"
He growled and his eyes narrowed. "Woman. You should know. Woman like her."
"You're looking for a stick?"
He bared his teeth. "Where is it! You hide it?" Now he growled and pushed himself forward to land on all fours. He came toward her that way, crouching low to the ground and peering behind her as if she hid something behind her back. Bastet danced away from him, but sensed he wasn't looking to attack. He saw that all she held was the bandages, and his face contorted again.
"I don't have one."
"I don't have one! Not--not all women have them," she said, on a whim.
He blinked, surprised, but then scowled again. "How do I know you don't lie?"
"If I had it, wouldn't I--wouldn't I have taken it out yet?"
His look grew uncertain. His gaze went in the direction of the far wall; Bastet's did as well. She had no idea what he was talking about, but she had to keep one step ahead of him if they were to avoid another outburst like that one.
"Mirror," he murmured. "The stick always comes out when I see myself..."
The goddess tipped her head and leaned forward a bit. "Mirror?" she said softly. He looked at her and growled, drawing in on himself again. She held up one hand and lowered herself back to his level. "Please...you don't have to be afraid of me. I have no stick. But please, tell me...what do you speak of? Why is it frightening you so much?"
He huddled even more tightly and his eyes gave her a venomous look. His voice was rough and hard.
"Woman. Why should I trust you?"
"Because I have no stick. What am I going to do without one?"
His eyes narrowed. "Chains. Whips. You have something."
"I have no whips or chains. See, all I have are these linens to bind your wound, nothing more. Will you please tell me? The mirror. This started when you saw the mirror."
He shook his head. "Me. Myself."
"When you saw yourself in the mirror. It...reminded you of something? What? Who?" She lowered her voice to be as gentle as she could. "Please...will you tell me?"
His eyes didn't seem to glare as much now; his gaze lowered and he appeared to withdraw a bit inside himself. He spoke again, but his voice had changed. It was no longer as hard and angry as it had been before; it seemed somewhat distant now, as if he were remembering something. She wasn't certain what to say or think as his words began to come.
"She always used the stick..."
Thoth hastened back to the palace as quickly as the wind would take him. What he'd seen in the palace of Harakhte, what both of them had seen, had startled them beyond words; but now the more he thought on it, the more things began to fall into place. He couldn't believe the degree of deception that must have been used, how easily he had succumbed to it...he was the god of magic, how had he not seen any of it earlier?
In the pool of faces, one finally standing out among the rest--a god with a wolf's head--Harakhte and Thoth had bowed closer, staring in stunned silence, before stammering aloud.
"Why, look--there--there he is--right there! The one of which you spoke?--a neter with the head of a wolf--?"
Nodding. "Yes...this is he. And...and you, giving him his true face...but...how can neither of us remember this...?"
"I...have no explanation, Lord...if I did, I would most surely offer it, but I am as at a loss as you are..."
He sailed over the darkening land--how was the day ending so soon?--his thoughts a chaotic mix. Chaotic as her nature...for he knew now...it had to have been she...the one who had caused all these troubles in the first place. There was no other explanation.
"It must have been she. Seii, the one I imprisoned."
"Why do you say this?" inquired the hawk god, and it was as if he read Thoth's mind: The ibis god detested jumping to conclusions. Yet he could think of nothing else...and he knew, somehow, it had to be true.
"She is the only one I ever imprisoned thus. I did it to save all of us. I had no idea I may have been dooming one of us as well..."
"You had no way of knowing, Lord, no way at all..."
"Still, I should have known, somehow...how could I have never seen it?..."
The great river came into view again below him, a giant dark coil glistening in the growing starlight. His wings beat hard as he traced a path back to his destination. His mind raced just as his body did.
"...Before...she must have taken him, before she was imprisoned..."
"You yourself have said how chaotic she was...and I knew her true nature as well...I am not surprised she came for you, as she once came for me. Perhaps this was why she came to our land, because she wanted to be with you."
"But I turned her away...and I entrapped her in the same blow..."
"No, before this...she was with us long before this, do you not remember? She had plenty of time to do as she wished, before you caught her. She came to me, she came to you...who is to say she did not go to someone else, as well?"
"Or brought him to her," Thoth replied, his heart filling with dread.
Now, here, the dim glimmer of the palace, nestled beside the river. He tilted and swooped into a dive, the wind whistling through his feathers.
"That must be what she did...caught herself a slave, her very own neter, before I imprisoned her. And I never even knew it. I never even noticed him missing. He was one of us, and I forgot about him! How could I have done this thing?"
"We all forgot about him, Lord. There's no denying it. She must have used something...some sort of heka...to banish him from our minds. So she could keep him to herself, and none would ever be any wiser..."
"Only she never knew that the water would never forget...nor that I would commit such a mistake as I did, and free him of her..."
Was he truly free?
The palace loomed large and dark but for the faint glow of lamplight within. As he landed, assuming human form, he caught his breath and loped inside, down the long hallways toward his quarters. His mind worked feverishly--whether trying to plan, or simply to keep him preoccupied from his guilt, he did not know.
Guilt. That's what I'm feeling. That's why I wasn't certain what it was, but it is. The same thing I felt when I trapped her. When I tricked her. That look in her eyes...that was the same look he had.
He loathed admitting it...yet he knew it was true.
When he spoke, what he said...
"You are the one she spoke of..."
He meant me. She spoke to him...of me. That tone to his voice...I cannot mistake it. I was the one meant to be in his place. I was the one who ensured he would never be free of her. He was blaming me for what she did to him, all those years.
Why do I not feel he is wrong?...
Slowing to a stop, he reached his room now. His breath came hard in his chest, making his throat ache, as he reached for the handle...
"...She would do things with it. She was creative. When she grew bored of one thing, she would invent another. It did not matter which. It always hurt. She liked that it did."
Bastet sat upon the floor, knees drawn up to her breast. She sat and listened silently to the wolf god as he spoke. His voice came out quiet and in monotone, though every so often his hand would clench at his bloody arm, and she could sense the rage lurking just beneath the surface. But she did not need to sense it. The evidence of it lay scattered all around her.
"Sometimes, she would simply beat me with it. Sometimes she used its power--a strong painful power. Other times...other times she did other things with it." His eyes grew dark. "Mirror. She would make me watch in the mirror when she hurt me so. To see my face when she used the stick."
Bastet listened silently.
"Sometimes she did not need it. She would tie me down. Or use her whip instead. It did not matter which. I learned not to fight her. When I pleased her, sometimes it hurt less." His eyes now softened a little. "She was happy once. Brought me jewelry, clean clothes." He glanced down at his faded tatters. "Told me I was her own pretty little god. She was kind to me then. Put the stick aside and welcomed me to her. I thought perhaps things had changed. I would not have to fear her when she came to me, or brace myself for what she would do." The dark look returned, and he scowled, lowering his head. "Things did not change. Soon she grew angry, hurt me again. Or perhaps she hurt me just because. Treated me as an animal, made me drink from bowls while she laughed. Beat me when I wouldn't. She liked that I hurt. I believe she enjoyed it, sometimes..."
"How did she get you?" Bastet asked softly. "It looks as if you were one of us, once...but none of us know you. Where did you come from...?"
"I...do not remember. Where I come from or who I was. I think--I think she took them away from me. My memories. I remember only feeling a pain, and an anger...trying to fight...and then being within her prison. I fought her at first. This was a mistake. She became angry. Told me I was hers now. I would take the place of the one who refused her. Who sent her there." His eyes closed. "She spoke of him often when I was with her. She hated him. Maybe she saw him when she hurt me. I wanted to kill him."
Bastet's hands squeezed her elbows. She bit her tongue.
"I have been with her since then. Eventually learned not to fight. But then that made her angry too. Could never keep her happy for long. I grew tired. Decided to not fight, to not comply; to simply lie there and hope for death to come. She was maddened when I refused to come to her. Kicked me, beat me, used her stick upon me; I did not fight or get up. I was too tired to, anymore. I thought she would kill me. This filled me with relief. I waited for the final blow to come..."
He trailed off, falling silent. The two of them stared at each other for a while in the darkening room. Bastet finally lifted her head a bit, trying to blink away an exhaustion that was overcoming her as well.
"And then...this. You. Him. She, gone. Her damned stick with her." He scowled. "Woman, you do not have one hidden...?"
The goddess shook her head. "No...you can trust me, Lord. What she did...most of us are not like that. Most of us are good. We don't hurt one another for pleasure. We don't trap and humiliate one another."
"He did." He began to snarl. "Trapped her, trapped me. Never thought to come find me. He is your friend? Then you are my enemy."
"He is my friend. But I am not your enemy. Please, could you...tell me your name?"
He began to growl now. "My name is not for my enemies!"
"We are not your enemies. He freed you."
"Yet he did not put you back, did he?"
"To satisfy his own curiosity. Perhaps he has a stick?"
"No. Nor whips, nor chains. You must believe me. None of us will hurt you, ever. You're one of us. You may not know where you come from, but you wear our face, you wear our clothes, you are upon our land, therefore, you are ours."
"Of Kemet. Of our land. You do not belong to any of us. You're free. You've made your escape from her. You need not worry about her again, ever. She can never reach you, where you are."
He didn't seem convinced. He huddled against the wall.
"I think you lie, for your own convenience. He trapped me. Let me rot there while she tortured me. For years. Never once came looking for me or tried to save me, except on accident. This is a friend? Not of mine."
"She used you," Bastet countered. "She tricked us. All of us. Lord Thoth, the elder gods, myself. Her heka is strong. We never even sensed it. All along she's been fooling us, to use you. She used us all. We had no choice. If we had known, Lord, we most surely would have freed you."
His look was still hostile, guarded. "There is no way to know if this is true."
"I know. But...but you must believe me. Trust us. I know you feel you cannot. But you must, for us to help you. Your body has escaped her. But she still holds your mind. We cannot help you, if you won't trust us."
"I have been given no reason to."
"Yes you have...look around you. How have we treated you, compared to her?"
"He trapped me as well as her!"
"He trapped her on purpose. He trapped you on accident. And I can tell. This has torn him apart inside."
His eyes wavered. He averted his stare, turning away.
"You cannot prove this..."
"I know I cannot. And I don't have to. I know that you know."
He said nothing in response to this, but she did know. After a moment he lowered his head with a weak sigh.
"I'm so tired...I just wanted away..."
"This you got." She crept toward him with the bandages and he didn't fight her off when she took one arm and started to wrap it. He lifted his head and watched her with weary eyes. He seemed both so young, and yet so old, at the same time. Even with the kohl around his eyes she could still see the shadows there, brought on by years of pain and fury. Now it looked as if his strength had all simply run out. He sat still and silent while she wrapped his other arm, wiping away the blood. He sighed and rubbed one eye and smeared the makeup so it looked like a bruise. Bastet instinctively wiped it away as well, and sat on her haunches with her hands on her knees.
"You might not feel like it. But you are one of us."
"I feel I belong neither here nor there. Who are you? I don't even know where this is anymore."
"This is Kemet. Your land. My name is Bastet."
"How can you know I am one of you?"
"As I told you...you look like us. You dress like us. I don't much care where you came from, if not Kemet, but this is where you belong, now." She tipped her head and offered a small smile. "Are you still hungry or thirsty? I believe I brought some more...or you could get some more rest, on a more comfortable bed. This couch is not very comfortable, no wonder you did not sleep well..."
A rattling noise from the door. The wolf god's head shot up and he growled, fur prickling, though his eyes seemed more frightened now than angry. Perhaps he'd never been angry with them to begin with. Bastet touched his arm and stood just as the door opened. She relaxed, and held out her hand to let him know he could relax as well. She saw his muscles untense slightly, though he kept his ears lowered and stayed huddled on the floor.
Thoth approached from the dimness, shutting the door behind him. His breath came a little faster than usual and he seemed a bit winded; he saw Bastet, and the god sitting on the floor, and gave her a questioning look.
Bastet reached down to touch the god's shoulder. "I was simply telling him he could get a better sleep on a bed rather than a stuffy old couch. There must be an extra bed for a guest, especially if he's going to be living around here for a while."
The god glanced up at her with what looked to be surprise. Thoth peered at him, then nodded.
"I'll fetch some servants and find an unoccupied room for him. I suppose that you can help set it up properly come daybreak. Apologies it took me so long, but it was a while before I could find out what I needed to know."
"So...you did find out...?" Bastet took a step forward, giving him a meaningful look.
He nodded. His eyes just slightly met the wolf god's, then moved back to the goddess's face. He moved further into the room and stopped just beside her to murmur in her ear.
"He was with us...at least a long time ago...Lord Harakhte and myself both knew him, yet we cannot remember him. She...Seii...must have used some sort of heka to make us forget...to make everyone forget...including him. All I know is he was once one of us. And he lost half of his life to her, because of my mistake."
"Your other mistake saved him, Lord; please don't blame yourself..."
"My other mistake could very well have doomed us all, if I had not caught it. If he had not come through instead. Still. This was not what I came to say. Even never having been with her myself, I know she must have treated him most brutally."
"This he told me."
"He told you?"
Bastet nodded. Thoth looked at the wolf god with some puzzlement.
"Then he does trust you, for some reason. At least we have him speaking."
"And eating. He has quite an appetite. And he slept a bit, though he woke up quite often, howling, I assume from some bad dreams..."
"This is only to be expected, after what that witch did to him. We'll save that for another day, perhaps when he's more ready to speak of it. Right now we'd best get him settled, and hopefully we will have no more trouble..." He looked around at his mangled room, and said nothing about it.
Bastet touched his arm. "Lord...I know what you're thinking. Even without reading it. You don't need me to speak to him for you anymore. I believe he would speak to you now."
Thoth stared at her for a moment before his look softened, almost as if to humor her. "Goddess, I know also what you two were thinking. Feelings have an energy all their own, and I can sense what was felt in this room before I arrived. I think you would be better off speaking with him, at least for now. After...after how many mistakes I've made, at the expense of others...I doubt he would have much to say to me right now."
"Would you please speak with him? Just for a moment. Then I'll take him off your hands, let you get some sleep. He's tired as well. Please, just say a word or two to him, and we'll be on our way. I promise you you'll have nothing to regret of it."
Thoth sighed. "All right...a word. I'll speak with him, but I expect no replies."
He turned away from her and walked toward the wolf god. He still sat huddled on the floor, and his gaze followed Thoth as he approached. The ibis god stopped before him and they both stared at each other for several moments. Thoth did nothing to indicate any guilt, but Bastet could feel it. She sensed that the stranger could, as well.
"Hello, Lord," Thoth said quietly. The wolf god continued staring up at him. "Lady Bastet tells me you two have become acquainted. I hope you believe us when we tell you we have a place for you here. You were never meant to be where you were put for so long. This was my mistake, and I can never apologize enough for it. I hope in time you come to feel that you belong with us." He paused, and then touched his arm to his breast. "I know you're already aware that my name is Thoth. But I do not yet know your name."
"My name is not for my enemies."
"This I assumed."
The wolf god looked at him, eyes hard. They turned very slightly to meet Bastet's. The cat goddess tipped her head, just barely. He stared at her a moment longer, then turned back to face Thoth. He placed his arm stiffly against his breast, a motion that he mimicked, or that he perhaps might have known, long ago. He lifted his head when he spoke, a proud gesture befitting one of the neteru.
"My name is Up-uat."