TITLE: Secret Children
GENRES: Mythology, fantasy, drama, emotional.
SUMMARY: A friend vows to bring back what was lost long ago. An original myth.
WRITING STATUS: Completed.
WRITING DATE: Circa 2002.
LENGTH: 11,400+ 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.
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. There may be some continuity issues with this story, which features Upuat the wolf god and so falls in with the stories "Birth Of A God," "Escape," "The First Priestess Of Upuat," and "Another One Down." In my version of events, Upuat and the lynx goddess Maftet fall in love and marry. (See "Another One Down.") Beyond the scope of the story, Upuat reveals to Maftet a secret he's kept for a long time, dating back to his days spent as the slave of the evil goddess Seii (see "Escape"). In a series of events which take place either in the future or in a different continuity, Maftet tells Anubis this secret, and this story is what results. A note--Keben is ancient Byblos (more accurately Phoenicia, I guess), and the "little problem" that Kothar mentions, plus the trip that Anubis took there with Horus, is in reference to the unwritten Kingdom Of The Hawk, where Horus and his army set out to defeat the sea god Yamm. For the backstory to the talk between Anubis and Astarte, see "Birth Of A God." "Ankh! Udja! Seneb!" means "Life! Strength! Health!" The Phoenician afterlife as I portray it here is of my own creation, to suit the story, as I have no knowledge of what they really believed. And I have no clue, by now, what the "miniature loom" Astarte holds is meant to signify. Hm. Errors--"inches" are mentioned--nowadays I would use a less modern measurement. Also, the story says that this is the only time Anubis has asked for immortality to be granted to anyone; I'm not sure if he'd adopted Imiut ("Policy Of Truth," the unfinished "The Deathbringer's Burden") yet, so this could be a continuity error.
CAREFUL LINES FLOWED across the surface of the papyrus, written by a trained hand. Anubis hunched over the scroll, only occasionally moving his hand away to dip his pen in the ink before writing anew. After hours of the practice, his eyes were beginning to water and all the symbols were beginning to run together on the page. He made a slash where one shouldn't have been, and cursed under his breath at his own incompetence.
His head bobbed up. That was a voice he didn't hear speak to him often. He looked to see a tall shadowy form standing at the far side of the courtyard, hands folded. He cocked his head and then shoved the papyrus aside, standing and stretching his sore legs.
"Lady Maftet? I don't see you very often anymore. Welcome. Is your day going well?"
He barely saw her smile as she approached. "So far...though there are a few things I wish had gone a little differently."
He sighed and shrugged, gesturing back at his abandoned papyrus. "Well, I think I know the feeling..."
"I wondered if perhaps I could speak with you for just a bit. I've heard you know how to listen."
Anubis flushed. "Oh. Well, I wouldn't know this for myself, but of course, you're welcome to speak with me. Would you like to sit near the pool?"
They went to sit down beside the large lotus pool in the middle of the garden, Anubis taking off his sandals and slipping his feet into the cool water. He sighed and lay back, draping an arm across his eyes. "I hope you don't mind if I rest. I've been hunched over that thing all day...I had no idea it was so late."
"Of course not. I hope it doesn't give you too much trouble."
"Actually I've been trying my hand at a new style of writing, one I made up myself. I'd like to see if I can trick Thoth into trying to read it. It would be fun to see the look on his face should he figure out what it really says."
She smiled again, and dipped one of her own feet into the pool. "How is Upuat?" Anubis asked, a bit suddenly. He felt his ears burn a bit; he was surprised he'd forgotten to ask about him sooner. He liked to consider the wolf god a good friend of his, even if they didn't get to see each other as much as they used to, now that the kingdom was relatively peaceful.
"He does well. I came here to speak to you of him. I carry his child."
Anubis blinked, even beneath his arm. He moved it and turned his head to look at her. The comment had come out so abruptly he had to wonder if it had been meant only to gain his attention. He saw Maftet staring back at him with her cool green eyes. There was nothing of deceit there, that he could see.
He sat up slowly, never breaking the stare. "You are serious?"
The goddess nodded. She placed a hand against her belly, and he knew. His eyes grew and he couldn't stop a smile from coming to his face.
"Thank you, Lord."
"Upuat--a child!" He laughed. "I'm sorry. I just never thought of it. I know, he has Isdes and all, yet Isdes didn't come to be with us until he was already grown...and he's half mortal...still, this is truly something, I wish the best for both of you! All three of you!"
Maftet smiled and bowed her head slightly, a nod.
"But what has this to do with me? You wished merely to tell me? Oh! Where is he now? I'd like to congratulate him myself."
"He's busy at the moment, I'm afraid, with his duties; you know how this is. I had something else I wished to speak with you about, however. I don't believe he would be comfortable discussing it."
"Oh." Anubis sensed the gravity in her voice and leaned back again, nodding a bit. "All right."
"You will repeat this to no one?"
"Of course not. You can trust me, Goddess."
She paused for a moment, swirling her foot in the water. She stared at the lilies floating lazily by.
"Has he ever told you anything, Lord, about his days before he came here? To be with us?"
Anubis was silent for a moment before answering. "He hasn't told me much, himself...most of it I've heard from others. Bits and pieces here and there. Some of it true, some of it probably not."
"Unfortunately most of what you've heard is probably true. I know by his own admission. He's told me much about how this goddess...this Seii...once treated him, before he became Kemeti."
"He's always been Kemeti. Just because his parents were not doesn't mean he is not." Anubis sighed and stared up at the sky. "Were that most of what I've heard was untrue, I wouldn't mind the spreading of the rumors so much...he's dealt with enough, to have to deal with that as well..."
"He learns to live with it, day by day."
"I know. He's much stronger than many of us. Still, he's never deserved what happened to him, nor how so many of us treat him. I fail to see why so many of us are afraid of him. He's simply one of us."
Maftet looked skyward as well. They both studied the stars, just beginning to come out in the deepening dusk.
"Lord Isdes...and the child I will bear him...these will not be his only children, Anubis."
The jackal god blinked again. He turned to look at her, eyes wide.
"He told me this, by his own mouth, when last we were together alone. Before I told him that I carry his child. Another once did as well."
Anubis slowly pushed himself up again, not looking away from her. His own feet stopped swirling in the water below, and the lilies bobbed about on the surface.
"Yes. This Seii. Once, perhaps twice, she bore him children as well."
Anubis couldn't stop staring at her. He couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"You mean--that--that thing that tortured him all those years? She bore him children?"
"She may have the heart of a monster, yet her flesh is that of a woman. I do not know if her children would have been demons like herself or gods like us, but they would have been flesh and blood, just the same."
"Would have been--? What do you mean?"
"As I say. Upuat told me this as well." She lowered her head, staring off toward the horizon instead. Her fingers lightly traced along the hem of her dress.
"He told me that he noticed...when she first became pregnant...how her belly began to swell. He said that she grew angry with him, furious, for what he'd done to her, and began beating him even more viciously than she already had. But then she had a change of heart. She began treating him kindly. Spoke to him soothingly, touched him gently, welcomed him to her whenever she called him. He told me he thought perhaps the thought of a child tamed her somewhat, calmed her down. He thought perhaps this would mean an end to her torture. He, he himself could not wait to see the face of his child. Even while she still beat him, he longed for the day he could see it for himself."
Anubis sat and listened.
"Eventually the day came and she gave birth. He came to her to see his child. A son. She held him up, cradled him in her arms, and smiled at his father. Upuat stared at him and couldn't stop staring. He told me. This child was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, and it was his. He had fathered it. He believed that things would be right now. He could forgive the past, all that had gone before, now that his son was here. They could be a family, the three of them. One family, complete, whole.
"...And that was when Seii pulled out from beneath her a dagger and plunged it deep into the child's breast, before he had let out his second cry."
Anubis's eyes grew, his chest hitching. His mouth opened but no sound came out.
"He tells me," Maftet continued, her voice a low murmur now, "he has no idea why she did this...his memory afterwards is very weak. He knows that she never stopped smiling at him kindly, even as she eviscerated their child. One slice, two, and it was all over. He never got to hold his son. He seems to remember her saying something, that it was not the right time, he would not make a decent father for it yet; perhaps in the future. He cannot remember though what was done with the child's body afterward. His mind grew too dark to recall much more."
She paused for a moment and carefully picked a crawling beetle off her knee, setting it aside. Anubis couldn't have spoken even if he'd wanted to. He sat and stared at her numbly, hands and muzzle cold. He wasn't certain if he wanted to hear what else she had to say.
"He said that, again, her belly began to swell a second time; yet she did not allow him close for quite a while, and when he saw her again, the swelling was gone, and he never learned what had become of his second child...if there indeed was one. She was kindly to him after that, for a time; and he told me he put up with her only because he was too deeply retreated within his own mind to do much else. After that, she had no more children, before Lord Thoth freed him to be with us."
She finished speaking and fell silent. They both stared at the water.
"There must have been a reason you told me this."
Maftet lifted one shoulder. "Perhaps I had a reason...perhaps I merely felt you would want to know." She pushed herself up from the ground, standing. Anubis felt like standing as well but didn't. She crossed her arm to her breast and bowed, and he bowed his head back; neither of them said anything in farewell before she left. Anubis sat alone now beside the darkening pool.
He stared into the water for a while before an image began to form in his head. A tiny boat, sailing on the surface. He shut his eyes briefly. Such a thing would not work. Or...
He opened his eyes again, and got to his feet, turning for the exit. Not a boat. Soul travel. He'd never been very good at soul travel...but he figured now was as good a time as any to try it out again.
Anubis felt his feet splash into water and gritted his teeth. He'd kept his eyes shut tightly for what had both seemed like the past few seconds, and the past few millennia. He swirled one foot around before opening one eye tentatively. He blinked a few times and his gaze rose upward, to the top of a high building near the shore. Even from here he could see giant trees of an odd shape surrounding it...trees that never grew in Kemet. What little practice he'd been trying out for the past few days had evidently worked. He turned to look at the great expanse of green water behind him, and rubbed his arms.
Celestial Keben. How had he even made it here? He decided not to question his beginner's luck.
He turned back and strode toward the large building. This was his second time here. The first time, he had come here in the flesh, with his brother and their crew. He knew barely anything of the Kebeni aside from what little he'd seen then. Some of them seemed to greatly distrust the Kemeti, looking upon them as savages; others had grown to be their close allies. He knew he could speak with the latter, without trouble.
If he could get to them first.
He approached the building and saw that the two guards who stood outside were not of human or divine form. They were statues wielding spears. This was interesting. He knew of a part of his own underworld that bore such statues, the Akeru guards; he knew also how to get past them, but not how to get past these. He slowed his step and ascended toward them before stopping several feet away, glancing from one to the other. They hadn't moved...but he knew they would, if he came closer. They hadn't had guards of this manner the last time he was here, had they? He suddenly remembered he'd never actually visited the royal palace of Keben.
This could be difficult.
He took a step forward anyway just to see what they would do. True to his assumption, their spears lowered, yet with a rickety creak. He raised one eyebrow with some amusement. These things were nowhere near as sophisticated as the Akeru guards. He didn't feel as concerned anymore; as if in fun, he bobbed from side to side, dodging them when they tried to swing at him, their mechanical arms moving jerkily. He leapt to the top step and watched with mild interest as they disemboweled each other, collapsing to the ground and rolling noisily down to the earth. Whoever had invented these was certainly not on the same level as Kemet's own craftsmen.
"Ohhhh, OH BOTHER! They've done it again--stupid things, stupid stupid things...!"
Anubis stood and watched a stooped old man come shuffling hastily out of the building, descending the steps to fret over the mangled statues lying at the bottom. He flung his hands up at the air and wailed.
"All that work! All that work shot to nothing! Stupid things! I slave over you, and you kill each other daily! What sort of guards are you anyway!"
He started collecting bits of scattered metal in his arms, loading himself over. He didn't seem to be in the best of health, and Anubis had a sudden fear that he would keel over as easily as the statues had. He hurried down the steps to assist him. When the old man saw him he squawked and threw up his arms again, scattering metal every which way. The jackal god had to shield his head from the raining debris.
"OH!" the old man squawked. He started picking up the metal again. "Apologies--I had thought they were attacking each other again--I suppose they were only doing their job, but doing it MOST POORLY!" With this he stood and kicked at one of their heads so it rolled down toward the beach, then he hobbled after it.
Anubis loped down after the rolling head before he could reach it and picked it up like catching a ball. He returned it to its owner, biting the inside of his mouth and trying not to look amused.
"Kothar," the old man said when Anubis placed the head on top of the pile of junk he was carrying. "Name is Kothar, architect of the king--you look familiar for some reason--Kemeti? Are you Kemeti? I think they have faces like yours...not too sure though..."
"Yes," Anubis nodded. He remembered himself and bowed. "I came here to--"
"Hm, well, we don't get Kemeti coming here too often...not often at all...though of course we haven't forgotten when you all stopped by to take care of our little problem last time...of course...must've taken you quite a while to get here, where's your ship...?"
"I soul-traveled here. I came to speak with Lady Astarte."
"Astarte--? Oh, oh! Lady Astarte! Yes! She was the one you all spoke with when you came here before, yes? Of course. Follow me," he said, turning abruptly and heading back up the steps. Anubis stared after him, realizing the man hadn't even asked his own name, before following.
"Er...my name is Anubis," he said as they went inside the large building. "I came to see if I could--"
"She's somewhere within, but I don't know if she's available for speaking...many things take up her time...not like we get many visitors though..."
Anubis bit the inside of his mouth again. The old man--Kothar--didn't seem too interested in carrying on an actual conversation. As soon as he thought this Kothar waved his hand.
"Those stupid things...took me two years to come up with them, then they destroyed each other, took me two months to fix them, and they destroyed each other again! So another two months I work! And look what they do! Stupid things! I should just tell him to hire real guards, let them kill each other instead!"
Anubis said nothing.
They'd wandered into a long darkened hall by now, the roof, too high above to see, supported by wide columns similar to those found in Kemet. A pattering noise came from somewhere far within, and a voice echoed ahead of them.
"Anubis! Prince Anubis!"
Anubis stopped; Kothar wandered on a few more steps before noticing. A dim shape appeared ahead, rapidly coming closer. As it hit the light Anubis squinted and thought it looked familiar. It changed to the form of a young girl, in her teenage years, and she smiled and waved one arm cheerfully. "Prince Anubis! It's me!"
He racked his brain. He couldn't believe he couldn't remember her name. She looked slightly different from the last time he'd seen her--her clothing wasn't quite as masculine as it had been before, and she even wore a bit of makeup. He knew she was Astarte's young sister, but her name escaped him.
"It's me," she panted as she came close, face beaming. "Anat. You came to visit us!"
He smiled back now. Anat. That must have been the reason he couldn't remember it, it was so similar to Astarte. She reached him and took his hands and gave a little hop. "I can't believe you really came all this way to visit us! It's great to see you! Are any of the others with you...?"
"Oh...no, I'm the only one." He shifted a bit, feeling a little awkward. "I actually came to speak with your sister, Lady Astarte."
"Oh." Anat's look dimmed a bit, but then she smiled again. "Well, I can walk you to her! Come on!"
She turned and started off down the hall, tugging on his arm. He had to follow. He glanced back at Kothar, but the old man was wandering off muttering, trailing bits and pieces of metal after him. Apparently he'd forgotten about Anubis already.
"How have all of you been doing since we left?" he asked, trying to converse.
"Oh! All of us have been well. I think a few more of us trust your people more now! Before there was always such distrust for Kemet...I don't know why, my sister tells me your country was friends with mine a long time ago...but I guess people forget. We owe Kemet so much now. If you have a problem? I know that Astarte will help you." She stopped before a large wooden door and smiled at him again. "Um...I don't think you meant for me to come along with you while you speak with her." Her face flushed a little bit, and Anubis felt awkward again. "But that's all right. If you don't get to talk with me before you go back, could you promise to come visit us again sometime soon? And stay for a while? I know a lot of us would like that. Well at least I would!"
He smiled. When last he'd seen her, she'd tried very hard to put on a "tough" face, nothing at all like the young girl who spoke with him now. He found he rather liked this other Anat. "Of course. Better yet, you could come visit us."
Her face brightened. "Really? All right! I promise we'll come to see you all as soon as we can!"
She opened the door and gestured him inside--outside, he saw, noticing now that it led not into someone's private rooms but into a courtyard--and waved at him before the door swung shut. He waved back until he could see her no more. Then he turned to get a better look at where he was, and went walking.
Kebeni courtyards were much different from Kemeti ones, apparently. Rather than short shrubs and fig trees and lily pools this place was more like a giant unkept garden. Tall cedars stood in the middle, branches spreading out to form shade although the air was already cool. And there was a pool, yet it was irregular looking, as if it were natural. Whereas a Kemeti courtyard signified order, this seemed to signify wildness.
He caught sight of a shape seated at the far side, upon a rock. He went for it, having to navigate his way around the terrain before reaching it. When he was still several yards away the shape lifted its head, and he saw a slim coppery face with almond eyes, framed by long dark hair. She smiled at him and held up one hand in greeting, also gesturing him to come closer. Astarte looked as if she could have been one of his own, with her features and dress. Perhaps this was one reason he felt comfortable with her. She reminded him of Isis.
He bowed as he neared, and she nodded. He sat down upon the grassy ground, the branches of the tree overhead making a shushing noise in the breeze.
"Prince Anubis," Astarte said. "I hadn't expected visitors. I especially hadn't expected any from Kemet!"
"I came unannounced, Goddess, because I wished to speak with you about something. Are you doing well?"
"Of course. We have been well off since your brother defeated Yamm. My people, I, feel a little safer, now that the Divine Fire is returned to its rightful place." Her hand touched her breast, just for a moment, then moved back to her lap. She held a small strange device that looked to be a miniature loom; Anubis had never seen one so tiny. "I know you did not come to speak of idle things. Your eyes could never hide what you wish to say. What do you wish to speak of?"
Anubis placed his hand to his mouth and coughed. He hadn't realized how open he looked. "I came to speak to you of Lord Upuat."
Astarte's smile faded and she stared at him for a moment. Her hands slowly pushed the loom away. "Is he all right?"
"Oh...yes, yes, he is. I apologize; I hadn't meant to make it sound so grave. Rather it's...about something that happened to Upuat, a long time ago. I thought you might be able to help."
The goddess's brow furrowed, but she didn't shoo him away. "I'm...not certain what I could do to help him, if this is what he needs. We have not been close for many years, if at all..."
"He forgives you," Anubis said abruptly. "You do know that, don't you? He always wondered who you were, but I don't believe he ever hated you. I think he wishes you were there for him even now."
"And this would give him plenty of reason to hate me." Astarte smiled faintly. "I know, Prince. He did tell me...in his own way. I know he has never hated me for giving him up. This does not take away the shame." She picked up the loose threads in her lap and set the loom aside. "But what you were speaking of...he needs help? What sort of help does he need? I will always help the Kemeti, if I can."
"This is about something that happened...long ago. Goddess, do you know of what Lord Upuat went through? Many years ago?"
She was silent for a moment, and he was afraid she might not know. He would have to explain the whole sordid thing...and he didn't like the thought of doing that. But eventually she nodded.
"I have...heard stories...of what happened. I am certain I do not know the entire tale. Yet I've heard enough." She shut her eyes briefly. "This is yet another reason I wish I had kept him. He would never have had to live through that. I would have spared him so much pain, had I just held on..."
"You couldn't help it, Goddess; you had no choice."
"I know...yet I still think over it often." She opened her eyes and smiled at him again. "Please, continue."
"The goddess who took him...Seii...we don't know where she came from, what land she was from."
"Neither do we. She resembles us, as she resembles your people, yet we have no idea whose people she belonged to."
"Wherever she was from, she's trapped, now, hopefully forever. But...there was something that perhaps I could have learned from her, that I wish to ask you instead."
Astarte blinked. "Myself...? What would I know, that Seii might know?"
"Upuat was born of you and Lord Baal...am I right?"
"We don't know where Seii is from. I know that they aren't in our Amenti...perhaps they're here, somewhere."
"Who? Who are you speaking of?"
Anubis looked down at the ground. "Seii and Upuat...she gave him children. Two of them. One a son, and the other one, we do not know."
When he lifted his head Astarte still stared at him, only her eyes had grown and her mouth had opened slightly, a look of disbelief on her face. He could tell she was just as surprised as he had been, to hear that she was a grandmother, now. Her gaze drifted slightly down, away from his eyes. "Upuat," she whispered.
Anubis folded his fingers together. "She murdered them. In front of him. He never got to hold either of them before she took them away. I've looked, already; their souls don't dwell within Amenti, in our underworld. That would mean, they dwell within Seii's underworld...or here in yours."
Astarte lifted her head again. "Ours--?"
"Upuat is Kebeni by birth. I don't know where Seii is from. I thought, perhaps, if I came here, and looked for them...perhaps I could find them within your underworld." He flushed a little bit. "I don't presume to know much about your underworld, though...all I know is my own."
"You believe Upuat's children dwell within our afterlife?"
Anubis nodded. "At least, I hope. If they went to the afterlife of Seii's people...I might never find them. I'd have no idea where to look." He met her eyes, clasping his hands and leaning forward. "This is why I came, Goddess. I hoped that you might show me to your underworld, or take me to someone who can. To help me find them. For Upuat."
Astarte's eyes were grave. "He who watches over our afterlife is Lord Baal, Prince. You already know how he feels about your people...he may not be very sympathetic to your cause."
The jackal god looked at the ground again and frowned. "Well...there should be no harm in asking, should there?"
"I suppose not...though I hate to give you false hope."
"If you do, it's no fault of your own. I'm not certain how to approach him. Would you do this for me? After that, I'll do everything on my own. I promise."
"I'm not certain if you would be able to. I know little of your afterlife, though ours is very different."
"I'm not afraid."
Astarte let out a small sigh and rose to her feet. Anubis followed as she made her way across the wild courtyard. "I'll speak with him. Perhaps I can convince him to at least lead you there...though I doubt he will be much helpful afterward. Doubtless he's heard of your arrival already, and wishes you gone as soon as possible. Perhaps if I plead with him a bit..."
"I'm not able to thank you enough, Goddess," Anubis said, coming up beside her. "This means very much to me."
"You care about him greatly, don't you?" She peered at him from the corner of her eye.
Anubis nodded. "Yes. He's...my friend. If I can do anything for him, I will." He sighed himself, and his eyes grew worried. "I only hope I can do something, this time..."
"We'll see. We'll speak with Lord Baal."
Lord Baal didn't take his eyes off of Anubis's the whole time Astarte spoke with him. Neither did he remove the frown that was just barely a scowl from his face. Anubis felt like squirming and looking away; as Astarte reminded him of Isis, for some reason the god reminded him of his father, though his father had never looked at him in such a manner. Perhaps that was what made him so uncomfortable. He wished he knew where his hostility came from, what exactly caused it.
He forced himself to keep staring at him anyway. If he looked away, he might be seen as weak. He didn't want Baal to have that little victory over him. Had this suddenly become some sort of game?
"He needs merely to know if they dwell among our shades," Astarte was saying, as Anubis nudged his thoughts back in the proper direction. "Surely this is a simple request for one such as yourself. You need merely let him know if they are there, and--"
"And then what?" Baal's voice cut her off, and he narrowed his eyes at her, finally breaking his stare with Anubis. Anubis let out his breath. "Allow him entry as he sees fit? He's a god of the dead. You think he would hold no power among our own? As if he would not try to gain more power among us? When his father first visited us, he most likely had designs to take us over, that were only put to an end when he was killed. Who's to say the son will not mimic the father?"
Astarte opened her mouth with surprise, then her eyes flashed, much like Isis's did when she was angry. "How can you even suggest this..."
"I suggest it because it is my right, and my belief. As if he wished merely for our peoples to be 'friends'? There is always a price to be paid for friendship." His eyes met Anubis's again, and now he did scowl. "What is the truth behind your presence here? Why do you really come? As if you wish merely to look for two lost souls? Why would you care about this so badly to come all this way? You must have more on your mind than this petty matter."
Anubis bit the inside of his mouth and somehow forced his voice to remain level. If he had been addressing one of his own kind, he felt he wouldn't have been able to maintain his composure. He reminded himself this was for Upuat. "Lord...I came here to do as I said. To look for these two souls. This is all. I do it for a friend. Friendship does not always carry a price."
The god's eyes narrowed further. "And you will receive no sort of reward for this action? You are truly that selfless?"
"If I'm selfish for wishing for the happiness of my friend, then yes, call that my reward. My heart is heavy with the guilt of this." He bit himself harder and took a breath. "Lord Baal...I already stated my full intent and purpose to you. I'm seeking two souls. I wish only for you to lead me in the right direction, and then I will bother you no more. If they do not dwell here, then I'll leave. If they are here, then I wish to take them back to Kemet with me."
"Take them back?" Baal smirked. "And how do you propose to do this? They belong in our afterlife, else they wouldn't be here...if they are. If you come seeking two of them, who's to say you won't steal our afterlife dry? To better fill up your own? You do have that power, do you not? Conductor of the Dead?"
Anubis's fists clenched at his sides. "Lord Baal. I came seeking two souls. Two souls. I have no interest in the rest. I'm hardly looking to overstock our own underworld with the souls of foreigners. Besides, why do they mean so much to you? Lord Upuat wasn't fit to be considered Kebeni. Why are his children so worthy of the title? Wouldn't you be happiest if they were back in Kemet, where they belong?"
As he spoke, Astarte's hand went up to her breast and her mouth grew thin as her eyes grew more luminous. Baal's eyes, on the other hand, grew darker the longer Anubis spoke, until it looked as if his own soul would be sucked deep within them. When the god spoke, his voice was like jagged rocks on the shore.
"You wish for the two bastard souls back? Then I will lead you there. You may see for yourself. If they dwell here, then I will not protest you taking them. They are no longer welcome in Keben."
Anubis bit his mouth a third time, hearing the word bastard. He refrained from commenting on it, and held the last shreds of his composure together a little bit longer as he bowed.
"This is all I asked."
And so, now, he was headed back to Kemet. He had no idea how quickly or slowly he traveled, outside his body; he'd hated leaving it behind in the Delta, near the shore, yet it had been necessary for the soul travel, without a ship. He "carried" a pouch alongside him, though in truth he carried nothing at all but the two tiny objects he'd brought with him. Every so often he "looked" at them to make certain they were still there. Even outside his physical form, he was used to thinking inside his body; he felt that wasn't so with these two, who had been so long without form.
Baal had led him to the underworld, though it was Astarte who had helped him find what he was looking for. She had accompanied him into the place without light and form, so foreign to him that he couldn't even comprehend it in its entirety. She had kept her own shape, the better for him to understand where he was; yet still she had had to explain to him what he was seeing.
"What are they?" he'd asked, eyeing the thousands upon thousands of tiny lights surrounding them. They looked like minuscule phosphorescent insects floating about on the air, some drifting closer, others darting further away. Each seemed to be a very slightly different shade from the rest; some were bigger, and some smaller. Some were bright, and some were dim.
"These are what you came for," Astarte had replied quietly. Her eyes flickered as the tiny lights did. Several of them hovered to her, around her head, and she smiled at them as if greeting old friends, holding out her hand. They alighted upon her fingertips. "The souls of our people do not take physical form, as yours do. This is how they look, when they die."
"And their bodies? Their true bodies?"
"Gone, or decayed. They do not matter here."
This alone was bizarre enough to Anubis. "They don't need their bodies to survive here? This place is different from my own..." He'd glanced around with a frown, uncertain. "So...how can I tell, if they're even here? There are so many. If they are present, how do I find them?" The great sea of sparkling lights was unending, like looking up into a pale reflection of the sky at night; he didn't think he could ever sort through it all on his own, or even with Astarte's help.
"This is not as difficult as it looks, Prince...they will find you, if they wish to."
She had held up one hand, until a light, larger and fuller than the others around her, settled upon it, and she had closed her eyes for a moment. Anubis watched. They appeared to be communicating. Then Astarte opened her eyes and the light drifted away into the mass, vanishing from Anubis's sight.
"I spoke with it, as you thought. It will seek them out, if they are here."
They had waited then, standing with the little lights flocking around them, waiting for the return. Anubis had watched the tiny orbs floating over his head. Some of them seemed to be examining him; they would hover inches from his body, then dart away, swirl in circles, and come back again. He studied them with some curiosity, wondering how they passed their days in this strange place.
After some time the bigger light floated back from the crowd toward Astarte. It hovered near her head for a moment before wandering off. Then three more lights approached, one larger but dim, the two following it very tiny and bright. These three stopped not too far from Astarte and Anubis, bobbing up and down. The bigger one moved closer to the others and hovered for a moment, then broke away.
Anubis moved close to Astarte. "Which...which are these...?"
Astarte looked them over for a moment--the bigger light came close to her and floated near her arm--and then a slight smile came to her face. She nodded once, and the bigger light moved back to where it had been. It conversed with the other two lights a second time. Astarte turned to Anubis and gestured with her hand.
"You sought the children of Upuat...you have found them."
Anubis blinked and looked at the lights. The two bright ones winked and dodged behind the bigger one, then peeked out again. He couldn't stop the small smile from coming to his face as he watched them. They behaved much like young children would, hiding and seeking, playing a game of peekaboo. He took a step forward and crouched down onto his haunches. The two tiny lights peered out further at him. He held out his hand.
"My name is Anubis," he said; he glanced at Astarte. "Do they...can they understand me...?"
The goddess nodded. "Go ahead...speak to them. They'll listen."
He turned back, holding out his hand again. "My name is Anubis," he said. "I come from Kemet. This place is far away. I know someone there. You...you should know him, too. You're both a part of him."
The two lights came out further, floating ahead of him on their own. They bobbed slowly up and down as if listening to him.
Anubis went on. "He lost you when you were young. It wasn't his fault. He would have kept you, if he could. He misses both of you. I want him to be happy."
He sensed a why make its way into his mind. He tried not to blink with surprise before answering.
"Because he's my friend, and I want my friends to be happy." He paused. "Will you come with me, to Kemet? To see him? I know he would love this."
"Yes, you would both make him very happy."
The lights only hovered where they were. Anubis slowly drew his hand back, trying to keep the emerging desperation out of his voice.
"You don't have to go...if you don't want to. You can stay here, in Keben. But...I know he would want to see you, and..." he trailed off, uncertain what to say, before finishing, "...and you belong there, with him. In Kemet. With your father."
The tiny lights had still seemed uncertain what to do. They moved close again to the larger light--Astarte let him know, telepathically, that it was an old soul, who had welcomed them to this land, and had watched out for them ever since--and the three of them huddled in one glowing mass. After a moment the larger light gently nudged the two smaller ones away. They floated around it for a short time, then slowly drifted toward Anubis, blinking reluctantly. The jackal god watched them come. He held out his hands for them, as if welcoming an insect to land upon his fingers; when the two reached him, he gently lifted them in his palms, peering at them closely. They rolled about over his hands, hid beneath his fingers, and popped out again. Perhaps they had never yet seen a human body.
Astarte had smiled down at them as they flickered about. "I believe they have made their choice," she'd murmured, and Anubis had known that they had. He would not be making the return journey alone.
...And so, now, he was headed back to Kemet, carrying the two tiny souls along with him. He checked upon them every so often to make certain they were still there, that something hadn't happened to them. He kept watch over them like a goose over her eggs. He couldn't lose them now.
He had everything in place, now that this had been completed. Before his departure, even before he had known if he would find them, he had gone to the great God Amon, the Hidden One, He whose face none of them had ever truly seen. Bowing before His shrine, he had stated his case...a request for immortality, for the souls and the physical bodies of the two new gods who were to join them. It was the only time he had asked that immortality be granted to anyone; this was not a request one made lightly. He'd trusted the God to make the proper decision...and He had, granting Anubis's request, as long as bodies were provided for them. Anubis had this problem resolved already as well. As soon as he reached Kemet, he would head for the First Cataract, and Elephantine Island.
Here dwelled the ram god Khnum, creator of the physical forms of all gods and creatures. Anubis would ask him to create two bodies to house the souls. It would be an odd request, considering most bodies were created before the soul had been brought to life; yet he felt the potter god could do it.
Upon reaching Kemet again in a dizzying rush, he retrieved his body, going back inside it to wake up upon the shore, cold and wet. He checked his pouch, now physically hanging at his side, to see the two tiny lights still floating within. Good...he hadn't lost them, yet. Now on to Elephantine.
This part of the journey would not be nearly as difficult. He knew of a place nearby where he could take a shortcut, all the way to the southern kingdom. He needed only to traverse the Delta swamps to the far west, cross a narrow area of the desert, and he would hopefully find the palace of Lord Harakhte, one of the keepers of time. Harakhte would allow him easy access to Elephantine.
The walk through the Delta and to the edge of the desert took up the remainder of the day, and a good part of the next. By the second night he decided to sleep just outside the desert, and to set out afresh in the morning. He did so as soon as the sun began to rise in the east, and by the time he reached the black cliffs in the west, the sand was beginning to burn. He dusted his feet off at the base of the imposing structure which seemingly appeared out of nowhere as soon as he touched his hand to the stone. A giant pylon with sundisk above, wings outspread, emerged, rippling like water; he finished smoothing himself out and went inside, the cool darkness enveloping him and blinding him with its abrupt change from the searing yellow of the desert.
Harakhte greeted him further within the palace, walking slowly out to meet him. The god was old, and not in the best of health; he limped slightly as he came, and leaned upon a staff. He still smiled as soon as he saw Anubis, and bowed as best as he could. Anubis smiled and bowed back.
"Prince Anubis...so good to see you here, to have you visit. I sensed you coming, from afar. Of what do you have need?"
"I wished to ask for passage through to the First Cataract, to Elephantine Island, Lord. I'm sorry to be so blunt, but it's an important matter, one I wish to tend to as soon as possible."
"Of course, do not apologize. I understand. Elephantine? Please follow...and while we go, please tell me, how is your brother doing...?"
Anubis told the elder god all that had happened since he had last visited, which admittedly was too long ago; his brother, Horus, had been named for Harakhte, and Anubis felt guilty that he didn't visit more often. He made up his mind to pay his respects to more of the gods more often from now on, as soon as he was finished with his current task. He'd never realized just how little he saw of everyone he cared about, until now.
He thought briefly, also, of Lady Anat. He would have to send her a message, remind her that she was welcome to visit when she liked.
Harakhte led him down a long columned hallway, dim lamps lighting its walls. Even with the weak lighting everything seemed to be plunged in blackness. He'd always thought it mildly odd that the palace of the god of the horizon was always so dark. He would have to ask about that sometime.
Harakhte finally stopped, and Anubis noticed that the hallway was a dead end; very odd architecture, for a Kemeti building. The elder god waved his hand at the wall before them, and it swirled and glowed, rippling like the surface of the river.
"Here we are...this should take you to Elephantine, in the south. I will make certain to say a prayer that you end up upon the island itself, and not within the rapids around it!"
Anubis smiled and bowed again. "Thank you, Lord. I wish I could properly repay you, instead of just rushing through here and out again so quickly..."
"Oh, please, you owe me nothing, Prince. I enjoyed merely speaking with you. Please tell your brother he is in my thoughts, and you, as well."
"I will. Thank you again. Ankh, udja, seneb!"
"Ankh, udja, seneb!" Harakhte echoed, holding up one hand in farewell as Anubis stepped through the glowing portal, vanishing within...
...and stumbling out the other side, landing roughly upon one knee. He winced and bit back a cry of pain as a jolt surged up his thigh. He put out his hand and felt rock; opening his eyes and rising slowly to his feet, he glanced around to see he was surrounded by them, large hulking hunks of stone scattered every which way. He could hear the roar of the river behind him; a dark gaping cave front faced him, not too far away. He let out his breath.
Well, I could have done without the bruise, but thank the gods his prayer worked, at least.
He made certain his pack was safe, still at his side, and made his way to the cave face. He remembered, from his last time here, the damp, slippery set of stairs leading down to the cave proper below, where Lord Khnum kept his house; he descended into the dark passageway, leading steeply down, and made certain to hold on to the wall at his side as he went. He didn't need another bruised knee for his journey back home.
He wasn't even certain if Khnum was in; he found he didn't have to worry as soon as he heard the god humming to himself as he worked. Coming to the end of the stairway brought him into a medium-sized rounded room with natural columns holding up the roof, well lit by oil lamps. Khnum sat, as he always seemed to, at his potter's wheel, an odd contraption that actually rotated when spun; he was the only one who possessed a device of this sort, that Anubis knew of. He was busily sculpting something now, a small clay figurine which vaguely resembled a cat of some sort. His ear flicked when he heard Anubis enter, and he turned to see him, blinking with surprise.
"Oh! Lord Anubis!" he exclaimed, rising to his feet--he nearly knocked over his wheel--and bowing deeply. "I wasn't expecting you!"
Anubis sighed and rubbed his eyes. "You wouldn't believe how often I've been hearing that lately...I've come to ask for a favor, and it's rather odd, so I'd be willing to repay you by any means possible should you be able to do it."
"What is it that you need?"
In response Anubis undid the pouch at his side and reached within. Khnum leaned forward and watched him carefully pull his hand back out. He opened it slightly and the ram god peered in to see the two tiny lights, hovering just above his palm.
He blinked again and cocked his head, puzzled.
"Er...what exactly are they, Lord?"
"I suppose you could call them kas."
"Kas--? You mean, like souls?" Khnum frowned and his ears flicked. "Most odd! I've never seen any like this before!"
"They come from Keben. This is the form their spirits take within their underworld. They don't rely upon the physical body, as we do."
"That's why I came here. These two, they belong with one of our own. One of the neteru. They have no physical bodies left, since they died long ago. I wondered if you could fashion bodies for them."
Khnum pursed his lips. "Fashion bodies for them...for souls? I must admit, I've never quite done it that way before...the heart and soul always go into the body before they have been brought to life. I'm not certain if it would work any other way..."
"Could you try? I don't believe you could harm them. The worst that would happen is it would fail. Is there any way you can think of to make it work?"
"Hm...well...I would need to remove the kas already inside a couple of hearts...this seems like a waste, but if they're not alive yet, it's no harm...then perhaps I could try to place these within them...and then fashion a body for each...I really must say though, Lord, the chances of this working, well, I don't know what they are."
"Please try. I'll be very grateful."
"Well, all right, I'll see what I can do...what sort of bodies do they belong to?"
Anubis opened his mouth and then shut it again. He had no idea what the children of Upuat would have looked like. He wasn't even certain what the gender of the second one was. He frowned and stared at the tiny flickering lights, now roaming out of his palm to wander around the room, exploring in nooks and crannies like curious children. He blinked when he made the comparison in his mind. Children.
"Children," he said, to the ram god. "Make them look like children. A boy, and..." He stared at the wandering lights, and what he thought of just seemed right to him. "...And a girl."
Khnum nodded, once. He went back to his wheel, sitting down and pulling a small compartmented box up into his lap. He dug around in it a bit before selecting two tiny roundish objects. These he worked with for a while, and Anubis knew he must be removing the kas that already dwelled within them. He then raised his hand into the air, and one of the little lights drifted toward him, as if understanding. Khnum took it in his fingers.
"Please be careful," Anubis said, feeling anxious.
Khnum smiled at him. "Don't worry, after so many years of experience, I know how to handle these things..." He bent down to the tiny heart again, and worked the little light inside of it. He did the same with the second light, when it came his way. After that, he set the two hearts aside, removed the previous sculpture from his wheel, and selected a lump of clay. He slapped it onto the wheel and started kneading it into form as Anubis sat down to rest.
Khnum was a very skilled sculptor, so his work did not take as long as it would have for any other god. For a few hours Anubis dozed at the side of the room while the ram god worked, setting the first aside and slapping down another lump of clay. He felt that evening had long come and gone by the time Khnum sat back and wiped his brow, smudging orange across his forehead. He let out a great sigh and Anubis opened his eyes.
"Finished," Khnum said, giving a pleased smile as he turned the wheel so Anubis could see the two sculptures atop it. Anubis leaned forward. Small statuettes, one a young boy, the other an even younger girl, stared back at him with blank eyes. He couldn't take his own stare off of them.
"She's younger than he is. How did...?"
"Oh, they told me." Khnum gestured at the hearts, still sitting off to the side. "Clever little things, so intelligent. You said they belong to children? They know so much, for their age."
"They're old, for children," Anubis said, and didn't clarify further. He stood and winced as he rubbed a crick out of his neck. "How long to fire them? I must be missing Judgement by now, yet again...I never even told them I would be gone for as long as I have. I wish I had thought ahead that far."
"The firing may take longer than the sculpting, Lord; that's simply the way it is. Surely they must have found someone else to take your place for Judgement, especially if you've been absent. Why not stay here the night? I can wake you in the morning, when I'm done. Once they're fired, the going is very quick. I need only place in the hearts and give them life, and cross my fingers to hope that it works."
"All right...I don't think I can walk another step, tonight. You have food...?"
Khnum stood up and stretched himself, wiping off his hands and going to retrieve some beer and dried fish from an adjoining room. They sat in the main room and ate together in silence, both of them lost in their own thoughts; Anubis assumed Khnum must be pondering over the chances his work would succeed. It must have been quite a challenge for the potter god, to say the least. By the time they had finished and Khnum had taken the scraps away, Anubis was yawning already; he lay down upon a small cot at the side of the room, watching sleepily as Khnum slid the statuettes inside his kiln, and drifting off to sleep before he could even shut the door.
A nudge on his shoulder. "Lord Anubis? You are awake yet? I'm done..."
Anubis blinked his eyes groggily and reached up to rub at them with one hand. He squinted and then sat up with a yawn. Lord Khnum stood before him, dried clay still on his hands; he even bore the smudge he'd given himself across the forehead the previous night, not having cleaned it off. His ears were pricked high and he seemed to want to say something as Anubis stretched, yet he kept silent, rubbing his hands together. The jackal god finished waking himself and looked around the room, blinking in the light.
"Finished...? You mean with the bodies?"
"Yes, I'm done. Took all night for them to fire, so I decided not to wake you up until morning. You slept well?"
"Yes," Anubis lied. Truthfully, his sleep had been full of anxious dreams he would rather forget than discuss. His unconscious mind had gone over every single thing that could go wrong with his chosen task. All the trouble he'd gone to already, and he was finally nearing the end; who was to say it wouldn't all just fail at the last moment?
He lifted his head and met Khnum's eyes. "Where are they? Did it work?"
Khnum's eyes averted away from his, toward the side of the room. "Well..."
The dread rose up in Anubis's breast again, and he felt his heart sinking. "It...it didn't work?" he whispered, voice faltering.
Khnum looked at him again and his eyes widened. "What--? Oh! Look and you judge for me!"
Anubis frowned at him, uncomprehending. When Khnum's eyes shifted to the side again, his head tilting with them, he followed his gaze to the side of the room. He literally jumped back on his cot; he hadn't expected there to be eyes there also, staring at him.
Sometime during the night, another cot had been set up at the other side of the room, near the place where Khnum kept his finished statuettes. A still form rested upon it, and another one sat upright, staring at Anubis. He suddenly recognized the little girl statue Khnum had finished sculpting the night before. Only this wasn't a statuette. She sat on the edge of the cot, her feet hanging above the floor, balancing on the edge, head tipped a bit to the side, swinging her legs. The blanket beside her wriggled and another face peered out from underneath it. The boy Anubis had seen in the other statue lifted his head, and they both stared at him silently.
Anubis stared back, unable to speak.
Khnum rubbed his hands some more, trying to gauge Anubis's reaction. "Um...well?" he queried, then began chattering, "I think perhaps they turned out a bit younger than I intended...though there's nothing really wrong with that...they were pretty intelligent as merely souls. Their intellect will probably be hindered somewhat by their physical bodies--they are only children--but this shouldn't matter too much either. Children should be children...right? Do they look all right to you? Are they what you expected?"
Anubis blinked and shook his head, breaking the stare. "Oh...yes...yes, they are," he murmured. He stood up slowly; the two children followed his movements. "Do they...do they speak?"
"Oh." Khnum's ears lowered slightly. "Well...I'm not certain. They have yet to say a word. Perhaps they are shy, or perhaps this is something I didn't plan for...I can't tell you either way, Lord." He hastened to add, "This should hardly interfere with their lives, though, Prince; so long as their limbs and eyes and ears are all working properly, it should be a normal childhood for--"
"No, this is all right," Anubis interrupted. He nodded. "I think...I think they can speak."
"Oh...um...do you have any idea why they haven't yet, Lord?"
Anubis was silent for a moment as the three of them stared at each other. He tried to tell if he could see anything of Upuat in their eyes.
"It just isn't the time for them yet."
Khnum pursed his lips, but then nodded. "All right...so...you will be taking them with you? To their father?"
"Yes...thank you, Khnum. I'm not sure how I'll repay you, but I will."
"Well..." Khnum looked thoughtful. "At the moment, the only thing I really have any need of is a good supply of clay...my own is beginning to run low, and it takes a while to gather more from the riverbed..."
"I'll see to it that you're supplied with more than enough to last a long time. That still won't repay the debt, but we can handle that later."
"Of course. Oh, wait. I made up some little bundles for them...hold on a moment!"
He hurried from the room and rummaged around elsewhere. Anubis walked over to the two waiting children and stopped before them. They stared up at him. He couldn't be certain, but perhaps they did have a little bit of Upuat in their eyes. He couldn't tell for sure because of what had happened to Upuat...it had changed him, had changed the way he looked at others. He almost always had a wary look to him, even when he was with Anubis, as if a great part of the trust in his nature had been sapped out of him. No doubt it had, after what he'd been through. If Upuat hadn't had that wary look, he wondered if he would look the same way as these children did.
He knew that the only one who could tell him that for certain was Upuat himself.
Khnum returned, carrying two little packs and one larger one. "Another change of clothing--I'm not very good with sewing, I must confess--and a bit of food for you all to eat on the way back. You know how children are, bottomless stomachs. I would have made them toys, but I'm even worse at that than at sewing!"
"It's all right. Thank you." For the first time that day, Anubis smiled at him. "You've already done far more than enough."
"Oh, and there should be a horse and two small donkeys waiting outside, if I didn't forget...they're very good at navigating the river, so they should be able to get you to shore safely, if you avoid the bulk of the rapids..."
"Thank you Khnum, a hundred times over! You'll have me in debt to you until the world ends!"
Khnum rubbed his hands and gave a nervous laugh. "Oh, no. Just remember to find me some clay, and I'll be quite content to forget the rest. Please be careful on the way across. Oh...and their father, whoever he is...perhaps tell him congratulations for me, yes? He should be happy to meet his children after so long!"
Anubis's smile was more forced now as the ram god chattered at the children, pulling them out of bed and putting on their little packs. I do hope so, Lord Khnum...
A human and an Apsiu guarded the front entrance to the palace when Anubis and his two charges returned to the city. He was relieved that he didn't see the wolf god yet, neither inside nor out. The guards gave him an odd look as he entered with the two small dusty children following him, yet said nothing and allowed them to pass. He wandered the hallways, the two following silently, looking about and hoping to catch sight of Lady Maftet. He didn't even know if she were here or not, though he felt she must have taken up at least temporary residence, if she was expecting Upuat's child. He didn't know which of the guest rooms in the palace she would be occupying if that were so.
He finally went to check out the courtyards, and at last located her in the south garden, sitting near the pool with her back to him. She appeared to be busy with something, her quiver lying next to her; as he approached, he could tell she was fashioning arrows, attaching the heads to the shafts, and the feathers to the ends. Her fingers nimbly worked the copper twine that held them together, until Anubis's shadow fell over her and she almost dropped what she was doing into the pool. She glanced up at him with large eyes, then blinked when she recognized him.
"Lord Anubis--? They've been wondering where you went, all over!"
She set the arrow aside and stood up. Anubis was too tired to offer her any formal greeting short of a small bow. Only now did she notice the two small figures behind him, and her eyes grew again as she leaned to the side to make them out. She looked from one to the other, then at Anubis again.
Anubis nodded. "After what you told me...I couldn't let it go like that. I know the pain my mother felt, when I wasn't hers...I hate to think how it would feel to know you'll never see your children again." He rubbed his eyes and sighed. They were red from the long trip back. "I spoke with Lord Baal in Keben...he allowed their souls back here...and God Amon granted them life...Lord Harakhte showed me to Elephantine, and Lord Khnum fashioned their bodies for me. I came to bring them to Upuat."
"You...did all of this? For him?"
He nodded again. "He's my friend." He yawned. "I owe plenty of debts by now...but nothing too much to repay." He looked around him. "Do you know where he is?"
"You look as if you need weeks of sleep, Lord. I can't believe you did all of this, the whole time you were gone you were up to this. All because of what I told you?"
"I said, he's my friend. I want to make him happy." He paused, and peered at the silent children behind him. "I'm just not sure if that's the way it will work...I tried to see if they look like him. I can't tell. I think he's the only one who could say."
Maftet looked them over again. "Well...I believe you are right. But you did all of this, and came this far..." She looked him in the eye. "Lord Upuat guards in the west hall of the palace at the moment, Lord. You'll find him there."
"Will you come with me?"
She nodded. Anubis turned and walked away from the pool, back toward the palace. Maftet took the children's hands and followed.
Even following the long journey back from Elephantine, the walk to the west hall of the palace felt like the longest one Anubis had ever taken. His hand fiddled with the edge of his dusty kilt but he kept himself from worrying aloud. He'd planned this whole thing from the very beginning, it was true...except for one part. The very end of it. He couldn't plan for what he didn't know. He didn't know how his gift would be appreciated, or not.
What if he doesn't want to see them? What if they just bring bad memories back? Did I do all of this for nothing, or for the wrong reasons? Am I really as selfish as Lord Baal said? Did I really just do this to make myself happy?
...I can't answer any of those. The only thing I can do is see what happens. Only his eyes can tell me now.
They reached the corner of the south and west halls and turned right. Their sandals made soft snikkting noises in the looming dimness. They passed one room guarded by a pair of Apsiu, and Anubis felt his anxiety grow. He felt like turning back, after all of this, proclaiming it all a mistake.
He sensed Maftet's thoughts. He lifted his gaze and saw the shadowy figure ahead, staring forward, wielding a spear as though he would rather wield a sword. His own worries threatened to spill out of his mouth into speech, yet the goddess silenced him before he could speak, and their step slowed.
The figure at the doorway turned his head. Upuat looked at Anubis, and the jackal god could tell he was surprised to see him. He turned to face them and crossed his arm to his breast, bowing as they stopped before him.
"Prince? They've been wondering about you in the Hall of Maati. Lord Horus had to fill in for you. Why did you leave so suddenly?"
"I needed to find something that was lost," Anubis said. He couldn't think of any other answer. He averted his own eyes, as Khnum had done, but could still see Upuat's expression grow puzzled. The wolf god looked at Maftet.
"Lady...? Why are you both here?"
"Lord Anubis brought someone to meet you," Maftet said quietly. She brought her hands forward, still clasping tiny fingers. Anubis looked up at Upuat's face again. Upuat's eyes lowered to look at the two children as they came out from behind the goddess, both of them peering up at him in return. He frowned and his brow furrowed with confusion. He seemed ready to ask what this was about; Anubis felt like tearing out his own heart right then and there for ever going through with this foolish idea.
Then the look on Upuat's face changed. The confusion left his eyes, replaced by uncertainty. He stared at the boy first, and then the girl; they stared back. Their eyes met and locked, and for a moment it was as if Anubis could see something reflected in his own. Something familiar.
Upuat slowly lowered his spear. He stared at the children, and the look in his eyes was the same as in theirs.