When I was covered in blood, soot, tears, gore, and sweat; when I was so emotionally dead inside that I could do nothing but as directed; when I thought that the end would never be in sight that is when Sekhmet said that we were done. After hearing it the first time, I blinked up at her stupidly. I could feel parts of myself in that weird way where it’s like they exist, but you can’t quite bring yourself to recognize that you are still a functional being. From far away, I could feel the sore muscles of my right arm and shoulder. And from an even longer way off, I could feel the shakiness in my fingers and hands from all the dispersing I had done.
If ever there was a moment where “I am spent” is the best descriptor, it was that moment.
Sekhmet had to repeat herself quite a few times before it dawned on me that I had completed this task. I blinked up at her, feeling dumb and unable to fully comprehend what she was saying. So much death in such a short period of time – I couldn’t really think beyond the gibbering, the begging, the screams, and the curses. I blinked dumbly at her a few more times. “Are you hearing me, little one?” Sekhmet asked, a tinge of concern somewhere in her voice. I started nodding at her, numb and stupid. I couldn’t formulate words even if I had wanted to.
It is one thing to watch death and destruction on television. It’s a television show or it’s a movie in a theater – it will never be real. Nothing will ever be real because it stems from someone’s imagination and while some of it may hit on fears that humans may have, it is merely a minor possibility and never is it reality.
But what I had just taken part in, what I had just done, was beyond television show and movies. It was beyond anything I had ever witnessed in my life, in any of them. I had been a party to many things, but there was something intense and frightening at being the final rod of judgment against souls that were no longer “part of the bigger picture.” They had served whatever purpose they may have still had – if they had one to begin with – and now this god, whom I had devoted myself to in a way that was beyond description, had told me to remove the stain that they had become from existence. And I had done it, knowing that if it wasn’t me then someone else would be forced to do it.
In a sick and perverse way, and this is stupid to admit, I agreed to the deal because I didn’t want anyone else to suffer. There would always be suffering, I think, at the hands of Sekhmet and what she can and will do to her devotees. I think there will always be pushes in directions, nudges in the arms, and pain-filed moments that the devotees will hate or fear or leave that moment crying. But in a weird way, I had moved forward with this proposition, hoping beyond hope, that no one else would ever end up as bitter and angry as I am and have been.
In some weird way, I thought I was saving someone else from heartache and from horror, from turmoil and from terror.
I suppose one may even go so far as to say that I have a complex here and that’s something I should probably think about.
I stared up at Sekhmet and said, “I am fine.”
She was standing beside me still, looking at me as though I were something curious underneath a microscope. Maybe she was dissecting me in the depths of her mind. I had no idea what it was she was thinking and frankly, I didn’t care. It didn’t matter. I was kind of used to that, “oh, my; this human does very intriguing things,” looks that she gave me time and time again.
“Are you ready for the next phase?” She asked me pleasantly.
I wasn’t ready for anything. I looked down at my right hand and saw that I was still holding the mace she had given me. If you looked at it long enough, you could see that it was a mace. However, if your eyes glanced over it briefly, then you’d miss out on what it was. It was too covered in– I blinked and looked away from the thing.
“For your next trick, I have some beings I need you to heal,” she added.
I stared at her like her head had just flown right the fuck off her shoulders and was caroming around the room. I stared at her like she had just recited the Declaration of Independence in Swahili while tap dancing just like Gregory Hines. If she had told me that the next phase was for me to sit down and take a nap, I wouldn’t have been more surprised. It seemed to me like we were doing this a little backwards. I decided I had nothing to lose.
“That’s a little fucked up,” I said finally.
“You’ve just had me spend however long I’ve spent killing things and now you want me to heal? I think you may have done this a little backwards,” I replied.
She turned to face me, her eyes narrowed at me. “You are my child,” she retorted. “My children do what I do if I want them to do it. I want you to do it. If I can kill, so can you. If I can heal, so can you. This is the lesson and you will learn it.” She licked her lips. “Are you ready?”
I looked down at myself. I didn’t look much like a healer. I looked like someone who had gone into a frenzy and destroyed everyone within easy range. “Fine,” I said. It wasn’t quite an answer to her question. I was merely acquiescing to her newest demands. I had more to do than just to be an object that can destroy things. I also had to be an object that could please my mother and that could heal things, as well. What was more important, I wondered: pleasing her or healing things or killing things? I supposed time would tell. “Let me just get some water.”
I went over to my bag and pulled out a bottle of water. I drank down half the bottle in a matter of seconds and then dumped the rest over my head and face. I let it drip down, keeping my eyes closed as the coolness soaked into my skin and removed some of the sweat/soot/blood from me. I tried to fortify myself mentally to take on whatever new stressors I was sure to face. Instead, I felt the body of the netjeri – Lloyd? Nestor? Henry? Robert? Bastian? Alexander? Rufus? – pressed up against the back of my legs. One of my knees buckled at his slight pressure and I stumbled a bit, but caught myself immediately.
I wasn’t sure what he was doing, but his being near me was more than mildly comforting.
I wondered, honestly, if that was the reason why he was here. Sekhmet never did anything, in my experience, that wasn’t pre-planned. She didn’t seem at all surprised to see this beast in the room with me when she had first entered with Bast. Whatever the case may be here, I have to say that if she had decided to send him to me, in an effort to keep me calm and comforted while I did things that weren’t really in my nature or anything I would do without her push, then she had planned well. I liked having him nearby.
I wondered if he would be with me forever and ever, again, or if this was just a Duat thing.
I opened my eyes. The water had dried and I felt, honestly, dirtier than I had a moment ago. It didn’t really matter, I supposed. This wasn’t about looks but about ability. I turned around and faced Sekhmet. “I’m ready,” I said. The phrase I had chosen for all of this, all those months again, echoed throughout my mind: je suis prêt. I could feel building and building in my mind, like a hurricane or like a tornado, until it was all that I could focus on.
Sekhmet flicked her fingers at the doorway and someone was brought inside by the two netjeri who had been bringing in everyone I needed to “work on.” I knew this person, or a close approximation of them. They had been hurting and they had been in need of healing for a while. I knew who they were and what they needed, of course, because I knew them in another place. I stared at this person. She had elegant cheeks and a poise that belied the strength of spirit she held within her. She never thought she was a strong one, which was what I was trying to get her to see in that other place. This was another child of Sekhmet’s and she was in so much pain now.
“I need you to heal a part of her, but not all of her,” Sekhmet said. “There will be healing that she completes on her own. She’ll be ready for that healing if you work on the smaller pieces I need you to work on.” She pointed out two places that looked like they had scarred over. These places where bits of her soul had either been ripped out or cut open. The healed wounds were garish and weeping now. They were rotting her from the inside out, I realized, and they had to go.
I licked my lips and stepped to the person. In this realm, they didn’t recognize me. I understood that. That made a lot of sense since I know that I look nothing and behave nothing like that other person. I could feel the changes that had overtaken me in recent months coursing through my veins. These changes were apparent in that other place, of course, but they wouldn’t be noticed by people who hadn’t known me for years. In either case, it didn’t matter. She didn’t recognize me because she hadn’t been taught to recognize other children of Sekhmet’s yet.
It would be a while, I felt, before that happened, if it happened. Maybe she would deny the course she was on as I did not.
I whispered, “Je suis prêt,” to myself.
I stepped in front of this soul and I could see its ragged pain in shimmering waves of various color schemes. They were bright green in some places and bright red in others. She was a Technicolor schematic of wounds and scars and healings. She had been stitching herself together on her own, just as I had once done, and in that stitching, she had done an admirable job. Hell, I thought it was better than the job I had completed on my own with my own wounds, scars, and healings. Just as I was, she too was now a sewn together blanket of various hurts, various pride, and various in-betweens. Her soul glowed in the frame of my hands.
I reached to the major part that needed healing. The scar was jagged and, as I said, weeping. It was a very old wound and it was destroying her just as clearly as some of my very old wounds had been destroying me. I realized that the weeping wound would tear her asunder if we didn’t do something right here and right now. Whatever the case may be, I reached out and placed my hand to the wound and she yowled in pain. I took her pain, a little bit, and absorbed it into myself in an effort to better aid her in the healing process.
Her pain was so much. I was drowning in it. It wasn’t just the fact that I was touching this wound. The wound was something that she kept protected against everything. She had babied this weeping, seeping wound from the world around her and fostered the anger and hate that it caused deep within her. She had been protecting it and nurturing it just as a mother to a newborn babe. I had to do something else, I realized, because my initial gut reaction wasn’t going to work her.
Of course, Sekhmet had to bring me someone who was in dire need to start on.
I pulled my hands back and studied the wound more carefully. Slowly, I walked around her, attempting to gage how deep it really was. And as I walked around her, I realized that it was a through-and-through wound. It was no clean exit wound, though. It had ravaged her insides so deeply as to eat away a hole in the interior. At her back, the hole was just beginning to show and it was seeping, as well. The hole in the back was the size of a quarter. It would only get bigger as time passed by, of course, and I had to close it up, purify the wound, and remove whatever gunk may be infesting her.
This would be so much easier if someone had written a manual for this shit.
I thought back to the white room. I thought back to the moment when I had felt whole enough and clear enough to investigate the wounds from various lives. And I remembered what sort of fucked up shit I had done. I had been thinking not very clearly at that point and ripped out parts of myself so that I could study the gunk that was destroying me and remove it.
I didn’t need to do that here. I had torn myself wide open to get at every bit of pus and gunk that had been destroying me, bit by bit. At the end, I had been forced to sew myself back together and that had been a bitch of a job, too because I had removed more than I needed to just so I could verify that I got all of the gunk out. Sewing myself back up had been shitty, but I didn’t think I really needed to sew up this girl, as I had been forced to do to myself. I looked to my left where a hole in the floor was and saw the lava pool beneath us.
I remembered something I had read from a friend of mine and had a few ideas.
“I’m sorry,” I told the girl standing in front of me and plunged my hands into the leaking wound.
Her scream echoed off the chambers and I felt terrible for doing this without finesse. I reached deep inside and I found the heart of the gunk inside of her. As my hands touched it, it manifested into a black-and-purple shimmering mass. It reminded me of the Hexxus from Fern Gully before it took on the humanoid form it wore at the end of the movie. This was just a small part of that thing and I snagged it with both hands, gripping it tightly.
I ripped it out.
The girl screamed again.
She began to faint then but the two netjeri on either side of her held her upright.
I tossed the gunk into the lava pool and heard it screech in pain before it was gone. The wound now was a clear hole from the front to the back of her. I could see through it now. I saw a few little slug-like pieces left inside of her and easily pulled them out. They didn’t even scream like the bulk of the thing had. They went, also, into the lava pit in the hole.
I placed hands on either side of the wound and stitched the wounds closed.
I followed the same procedure with the other wound I had to heal. This one went more smoothly and the gunk was less here. It didn’t scream on its way out – it hadn’t been able to form a consciousness yet – and that also went into the lava pit. The girl was woozy with everything I had put her through by the time I was done. She was a malleable lump between the two netjeri.
Without asking, I pulled the girl from their grip and brought her to the lava pit. I remembered purification. I remembered what it was like to be purified. I dipped her into the lava, climbing in with her. It was hot. It was boiling. I wanted to scream myself with the pain that I felt throughout my body. I wanted to pass out, just like the young soul I held in my arms. Instead, I ducked the two of us beneath the surface of the lava.
I held the girl on my left arm and with my right, I waved my hand above the two open wounds. I swirled lava into the two wound to cauterize what had been done to her soul. The lava fed itself hungrily on whatever it could find. When I sensed that the damage had been fully cauterized, I shifted the girl so that she was laying out in front of me.
I zigzagged my finger across the open wound to close it. With my right hand, I held the flesh closed and sewed it shut with the other. I followed the same procedure on the second wound. This one was much easier to close. The damage had been minor in comparison.
When I was done, I pushed her up and into the stone chamber again.
Slightly burnt myself, I jumped out and landed on my feet beside the unconscious girl.
As I shook myself, making sure my clothes weren’t singed any worse than I thought they were, I looked up and caught Sekhmet’s eye.
She was smiling.