Pestilence.

If I had realized I would have been kneeling for long periods of time, I probably would have asked for a bit of water and a cushion for my knees before being directed to kneel beside Sekhmet’s throne. I didn’t mind the imagery – pet human – but I certainly minded the sandstone blocks beneath my knees. It also didn’t help that, no matter how clean they kept it, I was constantly being peppered in the face and torso with little stray bits of sand that came in whenever the two front doors were opened. It was almost like the grains of sand had a homing beacon straight for my fucking face. I found myself spitting out sand particles more often than not [when I was alone].

Time passed because that’s what it does and the floor beneath my knees was no less forgiving, but soon I forgot that pain. It’s easy to forget a localized pain when something more dangerous is happening to you.

While I knelt there, I had nothing better to do with my time except to explore my body in one form or another. I watched as the bonds in my flesh would materialize and then disappear. The gold one – the newest one, of course – was the one I paid particular attention to. It was a marvelous design and it morphed into something just a tiny bit different each time I saw it. The other bonds had been a part of my flesh for so long that I never paid them much heed, though as I watched the golden one overshadow them, I wondered at the point in these other bonds. It didn’t really matter because the only bond at that moment, at any moment, that did matter was the one to Sekhmet.

But when I grew bored with marveling at whatever the fuck newness the collar and bonds were about, I began to explore the rest of my body. You know how sometimes you can focus your attention into a sort of laser beam to sift and sort through your body? In those quiet moments, of which there were many, I would do that. I would narrow my concentration to certain parts of my body, studying and sifting, always making sure that everything was okay. I stopped by at the space just beneath my right shoulder blade the most, always making sure that the purple-gold ball of rage that had lived there for years was still gone. It always was.

I found the shard for the first time by accident. I wasn’t really looking for anything; I was half-asleep when my mind began wandering through my body, picking at things. My mind wasn’t drawn to the shard at all. I hadn’t known it had even existed before that moment, but when my mind encountered it, alarm bells went off. It had taken up residence in my lower right quadrant, embedded in one of my intestines.

The shard was blue and shiny and deadly as hell.

Even as I paid closer attention to it, I watched as it sent out another root into my body’s system. It was intent on staying and I was intent on making sure that didn’t happen. The roots of this shard were black-green, oozing disease and apathy as it went. Even as I watched, more of the poison in its root system slipped down the green-black string of its root and began infesting my body. There was absolutely nothing more to see; I needed to have it gone.

I began poking and prodding at myself in an attempt to figure out where this shard had come from. What was its cause? Why hadn’t I noticed this thing before now? Had it always lived inside of me but it was only in this moment that I could see it? What had transpired that had caused this? I hemmed over the issue, my eyes closed as I tried very hard not to pay too much attention to the shard or its poisonous root system. Of course, the only thing that had happened was the collar and of course, I knew from that other place that the process hadn’t been as smooth of a transition as I had wanted it to be. I knew, instantly, what the fuck the problem was – now, I just had to dismantle it.

I worked from the outside in. I had things that I knew to look at it, things to focus on while my immune system did the attacking. While I worked on those things, I began to feel empowered. I knew what I was doing. I had done this before for myself and for others. I knew what the process would entail. The thing about feeling as though you are an expert on something is that, usually, that is when a curve ball gets thrown your way. Feeling so very confident after having hacked away at quite a few roots, I performed minor surgery on myself.

I literally cut myself open to pull out the shard and its root system. I was thinking, “It’s the only way to be sure.” I had visions of nuclear blasts going on inside of me, based on my intent to completely destroy the thing growing inside of me. “It’s the only way to be sure,” I muttered to myself as I reached inside. I was way too fucking confident in myself.

I had overestimated my own abilities and underestimated the death and decay going on inside of my body. As I slid a hand inside, I immediately touched one of the root systems and felt pain seeping into my fingertips. Growling, I ripped my hand out and looked. The tips of my fingers were covered in the green-black goo and it was burning my fingertips. As I watched in horror, my fingers were seared before it stopped. I was stunned.

Hadn’t I just done a bunch of work to kill off the root system? Hadn’t I just managed to kill off three of the roots that had implanted in my internal organs? Hadn’t I fucking dealt with this for weeks on end, living it and breathing it, as I killed off those fucking blackened shoots? I realized then that I had gone down the wrong road. Instead of moving backward, I had moved forward in the root system and managed to pull a few loose. I hadn’t felt any of the other roots in my internal organs, the black-green stuff having numbed me enough to not see or feel them.

I looked inside of myself and could see that this problem was a good deal bigger than I had originally thought.

The organs around my intestine all had at least one root entrenched. Even as I watched, I could see more of the ooze begin to infest other areas of my body – areas that hadn’t been touched to this point – and I was beginning to feel it traveling through my blood stream. I was slowly but surely becoming infected with this thing and I hadn’t even fucking noticed it. I had been so sure that what I was doing and the abilities I had honed earlier this year that I hadn’t even fucking noticed that I was quite possibly dying.

I looked down at the wound in my side – the wound that I had inflicted upon myself – and I could see the shard. It was much bigger now. As I watched, another root shot out and slid out of the wound. It scorched the flesh of my stomach even as I looked. I was so amazed by what was happening that I couldn’t do anything but stare, open mouthed.

I realized that I needed help.

I started to feel the roots as they began to overtake everything in the lower half of my torso. And I could feel the shard beginning to grown from a tiny little piece of bluish glass into a fully formed ball. I watched as it grew and felt the apathy that the green-black ooze was infesting in my body begin to swirl around both my heart and my mind. I wanted to cry; I wanted to scream; I wanted my mother. I wanted a lot of things, but nothing happened.

Years, days, seconds, hours passed because that is what time does. I kept trying to saw away at the roots, trying to remove any of them. The apathy in my bloodstream began to affect my fingers and they stopped doing what I wanted them to. They stopped curling around the roots and ripping them out, damn the fucking burns. Instead, my hand would lay as though asleep within the wound, unable or unwilling to do as I bid it.

Was this one of those things that was going to kill me, I asked myself at one point. I remembered dying – the drowning – and the fear of that. But there was no fear here. I was encompassed by this festering wound and everything going on around me was a part of it. I could feel the tendrils seeping into my liver, my gall bladder, my stomach. Everything was interconnected by the root system of disease and decay in my body and I knew that I needed help, I needed assistance, but I couldn’t do anything about it. I just knelt there, coughing up blackened bits of my lungs periodically.

When my eyes began to bleed, I knew I was going to die.

I honestly couldn’t say if Sekhmet had been purposely missing during all of this time or if she had been busy with other things. I know that I’m not her only pain in the ass. I know that there are quite a few of us out there and I also know that she has been paying particular attention to another daughter of hers. That other daughter needed her more than I did, I supposed. I wanted to cry for my mother and I wanted to die. I didn’t really give a flying shit what happened first so long as something happened that was more than apathy and depression.

She came into the throne room on a perfumed cloud of incense. There were attendants around her and she stopped when she saw me. I couldn’t read the look in her eyes. I didn’t know if she was angry with me. Maybe she was? I honestly couldn’t fucking tell a damned thing from her face and as I thought about it in my [newly not-awesome] sluggish way, I figured she was probably angry with me. Why not? I had been sent to kneel peaceably beside her throne and here I was, oozing filth and pestilence all over her pristine dais. That would probably piss me off, too.

I grinned at her with my red-and-black stained teeth. “I think I need a little help here,” I told her. My voice was harsh and painful. I hadn’t used it at all lately.

“This is certainly a surprise,” she remarked. She waltzed over to me, looking as though I wasn’t some disgusting caricature from a zombie apocalypse movie. I swayed as I looked up at her.

“I’m always a surprise.” I coughed and spit out some more of the black gunk. I looked down at the wound in my side, drawing her attention to it. It was also oozing. The black and red from the wound was festered with green-white pus. I was just a big old mess. “This didn’t really work out how I thought it was going to work out.”

“I have to agree with you there,” she agreed. Primly, she sat down beside me and looked me over. “Why didn’t you call out for help?”

I grinned at her again. My eyesight was limned in red. She looked like a reddish goddess, which would have amused me enough to laugh if I had the energy to do so. “I thought I could do this on my own. Isn’t that what you’re always teaching us? We can do anything we want to on our own. I did the thing on my own and I got distracted.” I couldn’t feel my knees anymore. I couldn’t feel my bonds anymore. What had once been a frightening and comforting weight around my arms was gone. “Did you know that I went in the wrong direction? I moved forward instead of backward. I also got sidetracked. This is a many-splendored thing,” I explained sweetly. “I got distracted.”

She sighed at me and then looked at the gunk I had oozed out of my body. She was clearly trying to decide how best to proceed here. If she helped me, would that mean I had to give up my shiny collar? I wondered. I thought I would be okay with it if only I didn’t look like an extra from The Walking Dead. In a detached tone of voice, I whispered to her, “Mommy, I think I need help.”

“What would you have me do?” she asked me.

I thought about it. “Can we go to the Nun? I think soaking there would be good. I hear he can regenerate things.” I gestured down at my body. “I clearly can’t regenerate this way. I was thinking about it and I think, if I die like this, things are going to be a lot harder. I’ve done a lot of work lately. I don’t want it to mean nothing and I would rather not have to drown again.” I closed my eyes and remembered drowning –the anxiety and the mind-numbing terror.

“You don’t need him,” she said coldly. She stood up and looked down at me. “You can regenerate just fine right here without him. Just destroy it and be done with this. You can’t keep putting these things off. I assign you tasks; you learn what they are in time; and then you just sit around and don’t do them. This is what happens when you don’t fucking do as I tell you to do. I may be a harsh task master and a bitch, but I have your fucking well-being at heart.”

I looked up at her. “Do you?” I asked her conversationally. “Gods have a very funny way of showing their devotees how much they care about our well-being.”

I had wounded her with my blasé tone or maybe just with what I had said. I knew a lot of devotees, though, and many of them ended up crying in front of their sacred spaces, demanding to know why the fuck their gods were demanding this shit from them. It was always for the greater good or the bigger picture or for the devotees’ well-being. I looked back at my own experiences with bigger picture and well-being. No, I had to admit, I wasn’t sure things would be where they would be now if I hadn’t gone that way, but I had to admit, things might be a little simpler and probably less painful.

I coughed and spat up a large piece of black phlegm. It landed on the hem of her linen skirt. She looked down at it for a moment, looking incredibly revolted. That was okay, I was pretty revolved too. “You always overestimate me,” I told her with feeling.

“You always underestimate yourself,” she retorted.

I stared at her and she stared at me. We had reached an impasse. She wasn’t going to help me. I didn’t have the strength to get through the Duat to find the gateway to the Nun. I knew, hypothetically, where I was and I knew, hypothetically, how to get to the Nun. But the way things were going, I would end up regenerating in the desert and who knew what form that would take? There was no telling if I would be able to still make it to the Nun as the next stage in my evolution – probably more like a de-evolution – took place.

She stormed away from me and I was pretty sure I was going to die. I was going to die, consumed by the poison inside of my veins. It was only a matter of time before it had completely taken over. I could feel it working its poison, its apathy. I was a giant ball of disease and I was going to die fucking die because I had been distracted and gone in the wrong direction.

Lesson fucking learning.

I was going to die because I had made a mistake. It seemed like a really fucked up way to learn a really fucking important lesson, a lesson that I had no idea if I would remember when I finally got back to all of this fucking bullshit. I would have been angry that she was signing my death sentence, but I couldn’t bring myself to care anymore. I was finally soaked in apathy.

As I coughed up another large piece of black-and-green phlegm, I began wondering what I would come back as. I wasn’t looking forward to death, per se, but the apathy was really started to fucking get to me. It was soaking through every facet of my being in all of my lives and I was beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, dying would be okay. The pain would stop. The apathy would go away.

Yeah, I thought, it would be okay if I died.

But Sekhmet had other things in mind, of course. That night, I was kidnapped.

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