I wake up on a dais, surrounded by candles. Underneath me is a chaise lounge, covered in red fabric. It is soft and smells elegantly, as though it had been perfumed just before I was placed on it. On the golden stone walls are a million mirrors, which reflect back the light of the thousands of candles that are carefully arranged around the floor. The candles are all white pillars, new in some places and little pools of wax in others. I slowly sit up, pulling the blanket beneath me more tightly around me.

I am naked.

I sniff my arm and realize that not only is the lounge on which I lay heavily perfumed but so, too, is my body. I look down at the simple white blanket wrapped lovingly around me and then look around the room again. I know where I am. I may not have seen this room in any of my other explorations, but the place has a feeling of such intense familiarity. I know that I am back with her. I am in her home and she has taken care of me, again.

I think back, trying to remember how I may have ended up here. The last thing I remembered was crying to Papa, asking him to let me stay for a little longer. I had asked him to let me stay out of fear and anxiety. He, of course, denied my request as I had already knew he would. He could not allow me to stay. I had things to attend to. What bothered me most about this situation was that I had been left on her doorstep – I knew without even remembering that was the case – and now I was here. I had decisions to make, he had schooled me, and now I couldn’t run away to ignore those decisions.

Slowly, I climb from the lounge. I look back and am chagrined to see that the lounge I had been laying upon had been perfumed with bright red rose petals, similar to the types I use in my rites to her. The perfume I had been smelling was a mix of whatever unguents I had been bathed in as well as my body weight crushing the life from the rose petals. I wrap the white blanket around me more securely, hoping that my little breasts will keep it up long enough for me to get into comfortable clothes.

I gather up the excess edges of the blanket and begin to walk through the candles. As I pass the mirrors, I glance at my reflection, startled by the change in my face. What had once been, almost constantly, pinched in anger or emotional turmoil was smooth. I also saw that my hair was, for once, lively and well maintained. There were no leaves or sticks within, as was oft the case. It had been well cared for. I reach back and pull a hank to my face and note that my hair had, also, been bathed in a lovely scent.

I continue to walk through the maze of candles, walking to the large double doors in front of me. Before I can even reach them to open them, they open by themselves. There is no one there to have opened the doors. I glance at them and see little golden words at the edges that are as brilliantly lit as the flames of the candles.

I walk into the hallway, looking left and right. I am trying to get my bearings, but it is difficult. In this place, the halls often look very much like one or the other. I could be in a completely new place or I could be down one of the many passages I have taken before. Double doors line the hallway and I shrug, deciding that walking right is just as well as turning to the left.

The walls between the doors are punctured with finely crafted words and imagery. I reach out and touch a relief. Sekhmet wears the green she is often shown with, her sun disc and uraeus done in elegant detail. The eyes of the snakes within her headdress sparkle at me and I realize that they are set with rubies. Her dress, too, is fashioned with netted beading and these shimmer as well, indicating that the white-gray alabaster is real. I continue walking, mesmerized by the beautiful details that reveal themselves to me.

As I walk past yet another series of double doors, I stop and realize there is an unfinished relief on my left. I turn to it and am startled to see my own likeness staring back at me. My hair is thick and black, my eye mercurially changing. I can hardly tell what stones may have been used outside of some agate that is able to change as I continue to stare. I am kneeling before Sekhmet, my solitary eye looking very much as though I am in adoration. My body is unfinished, having only been completed to the hips. Sekhmet stands in her red-hued glory, a crowning achievement to whomever crafted this beauty.

I am transfixed by my own design, I have to admit. The imagery strokes my ego tenderly and I feel a welling of such love that I am overcome with the desire to weep. Instead, I choke back my own tears and reach out, touching my likeness gently. “Careful,” a voice says from behind me. That voice sends shivers up and down my spine. It is a voice of seduction and love. “You do not want to destroy accidentally what I have spent many, many years making sure is accurate.”

I glance over my shoulder and see her there. She is a vision of red and gold, the colors so bright that they hurt my eyes to just look at her. I blink back the tears that her beauty inspires and look back at the image. “What is this?” I ask her.

“This is you,” she says pedantically.

“Yes, I realize that,” I say through gritted teeth. Already, I can feel the age old irritation coming back. It hardly took long at all. “But what is the point here?”

“That is up to you,” she says enigmatically. I roll my eyes at the wall version of myself. “There is no need to be so irritated with me,” she continues. “You already know the answers to your questions. That old man taught you a thing or two and you understand, I think, a bit better about all of this.”

“I understand nothing,” I tell her softly. “I only have thoughts; thoughts do not necessarily equate to an understanding.”

“This is true,” she agrees. She steps up so that we are shoulder to shoulder. She looks over at me and I can see reflected in her eyes many emotions. They are dizzying as they pass – love, adoration, pride, excitement, happiness – before she looks back at me with her firm gaze. “This is what I have always hoped for.”

“You played games with me,” I remind her.

“I had to do what was done so that you would do this willingly,” she says softly. She reaches out and touches my cheek. I nuzzle her questing fingers with my cheek. I can feel the affection, something I had felt was dead and buried, coming back. I am a little off-put by this. I had expected to only ever look at her with bitterness and irritation, but I can feel my heart unbreaking, as it were. I swallow nervously and wait for her to pull away.

Instead, she turns me bodily until I am facing her and looks into my eyes. “I need you to be a willing servant,” she explains. “I did not need you to be in love with me and to follow me blindly. I did not need you to be an angry and sarcastic servant, always questioning and never doing. I did not need you to be a resigned servant, stepping into a roll you do not want so that no one else will suffer as you have. I need you to be my willing and loving servant, but someone who can see me for what I am.”

“Full of faults,” I retort sweetly.

“Terrible child,” she snaps back just as sweetly.

I smile at her and, overcome with something, I lean up on tip toe and kiss her cheek. “I understand much better now. That does not mean I liked it at all.”

“I should hope not,” she agreed. “There is a single thing left before it comes time to introduce you to the hordes as truly and fully mine.”

“What is it?”

“I cannot tell you,” she says. She seems almost sad that she is, yet again, dragging me into something that she cannot fully explain to me. “I need you to accept or deny me. That is all I can say.”

“Can I have clothes before I do this?”

She smiles at me and her gaze flickers over the slowly falling down blanket wrapped around me. “I think you look delightful,” she teases. She snaps her fingers and I am dressed, now, in a single sheath linen. It cups my hips and my breasts firmly enough where I worry that I may rip it if I am not careful. I wear jeweled sandals on my feet.

“That is a pretty nifty trick,” I remark.

“So it is,” she agrees.

She leads me out of the warren of passages that make up her home in the sandbox. All around us, silence mimics our footfalls. I see and hear nothing, not even Maurice. I open my mouth to ask her about him, but we have come to the forecourt. The sunlight streams through the open ceiling, reflecting on a single blue skullcap worn by a man in white. He turns around as we enter and offers me a faint smile. In his hands, he holds something wrought in gold.

I wait for Sekhmet to signal me, to tell me what we need to do.

Instead of saying anything, she indicates where I need to stand and then lowers her hand, further indicating that I should kneel. I do so slowly, careful not to destroy the dress wrapped around my body as I do so. Finally, I am kneeling on the golden floor, surrounded by a seeming perfect spotlight of sun light. I look up at Ptah as Sekhmet stands walks over to him, her heels clicking hurriedly upon the floor.

They confer privately, which I cannot hear. I am worried again. I know that the golden thing in his hands is meant for me. I think about all of the conversations I have ever had in the real world, about where things were headed. I remember that I am myself, even if I am hers. I remind myself that she said I could refuse her or I could accept her. I had to make a decision.

As they both begin to move toward me with the air of ceremony, I examine my heart.

I can see the places where there are scars from her touch. These are not just scars from this life, but there are scars from my many other ones. She has always had a hand in me, at some point or another. Other gods have also worked upon me, either at her behest or their own. The other two whose touch I have felt scar that heart are much fainter and older. They have not muddled with my inner workings in a very long time. All the most recent scars, from this life, are mostly healed.

But the heart within my breast beats, I remember, because of her. She has done a great many things for me and taught me to stand on my own two feet. She has also instructed me on how to destroy things that must be destroyed, how to maintain ma’at as well as live within it, and how to heal those around me. She has given me heka both of the soul and of the power needed to activate it. She has done a great many wondrous things for me, but she has also hurt me in ways that the scars speak to.

Those scars are painful to even remotely count, but I have to count the pains she has caused me in the here and now. I can see the moment when she ripped my love from me. I can see the moment when she hurt me so deeply, so painfully, that my love turned to dust in my very hands and the tears I shed for her… I can see the moment when she demanded I make a decision and I was saddened to realize that her eyes were set on others – she could and would manipulate them as she had me. She is patient. And I can remember the moment when I knew that I was so angry with her and so hurt that I wanted to run away from all of this.

But Papa had given me a lot of things in our forty days together. In that time, he had explained to me that I had been hurt, as a lover, and that I had to get over that ex-lover like hurt. He had also explained that I had a job to do and if I didn’t do it now, I would do it later. She has always been waiting for me to be ready. I could agree to the next step or I could deny it. In either case, I had to make a decision.

I could hardly open my mouth to tell her anything. I could count on each hand how much I felt used and abused. I could count on each time how much I felt loved and wanted. I didn’t understand what was more important.

Ptah was lifting the golden thing in his hands, bringing me back to the here and now. Finally, I am seeing it, clearly, for the first time. It is a golden collar and my heart shrivels a little, my stomach flips, and I worry that I may throw up in front of them and ruin the majesty of this moment. I can feel pins and needles in my knees as I continue to kneel, waiting for him to come to me. I can deny this moment. I can accept this moment.

I should make a speech with my answer, I think.

Ptah lifts it above his head. My head moves and my hair rustles with that movement. I think I may have nodded. I think I may have made a decision. I do not know. I can hardly think clearly. I stare deeply into Ptah’s eyes, waiting for him to say something, to ask me a question. He says nothing. He lowers the collar ever lower and I can feel my heart beat racing at the implications. I have to say something, I think, but my tongue will not move. It is as thick as cotton in my mouth.

I can see Sekhmet staring at me with worry in her eyes from over Ptah’s shoulder. I can see my future, in a way, as a pampered pet or as a well-loved servant. I can also see my future, my denial, as I feel the pain of an ex-lover all over again. I can see every possibility thrown before me and I can say not a damn thing about what I really want to do here.

What if I was making a mistake?

Ptah begins to lower it over my head.

What if I regret this?

What if things turn even worse?

What if.

What if.

What if.

And with that final what if, my final moment of panic, it is over my head and around my neck. The cool of the gold against my hot, sweaty flesh is almost a relief. The twin strings that hang from either side of the collar begin to wrap themselves forcefully around my arms. I can see them blending in with other tattoos that appear as this magical working takes effect.

The other tattoos are black and red and orange and green and any number of colors in that moment, but they are all superseded by the gold. The golden entwined around my arms and stops at the first knuckle of my middle finger. The snake head of the edges of those twinned, golden leashes wrap themselves around my fingers as though they are rings. And then, the gold begins to melt into my flesh and it burns.

I feel tears on my cheeks as they etch themselves into my body.

And then, it is over.

“It is done,” Ptah says. I can barely hear him over the pain of my own body.

“So it is,” Sekhmet agrees. I can barely hear her over the scream building my throat. The pain of this moment is superseded by my own angst and worry, by my own ability to speak. But as I look, the pain begins to fade as the twinned strings have finally become one with my flesh. I look up at Sekhmet, wondering if my lack of speech was her fault or if I was just so overcome with possibilities and what if moments that I couldn’t respond.

For the first time, in a long time, I began to worry that I hadn’t really changed at all. That I am the same being that the dark soul I had been bonded to had turned me into. As I look up into Sekhmet’s face, I see her love for me. I see how much she absolutely loves me and for a single second, I bask in the glow of that adoration. I can feel it, in my breast, reciprocated.

It hardly matters now what I say or do.

We have truly bonded.

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