The pain of having something that has infested the entirety of your insides removed one finger-licking moment at a time is intense. It is so intense that, after a while, you really just want to pass out. In fact, it can get to the point where you truly ask your mind to shut the fuck off and let you sleep it off. Perhaps because of the nature of the ritual or perhaps because my body is a traitor, I did not in fact pass out. As much as I prayed to any deity I could possibly think of and as much as I cursed at myself, cajoled myself, and generally begged myself to let me pass out, I did not. I felt each tug as the demon creature purified my body.
I had, after a lot of thought, decided that was what was going on. I couldn’t be sure, of course, but it made a certain kind of sense. This was clearly a ritual of some form and the purpose, at least partially, was remove the green-black gunk that the shard had dripped into my body. Periodically, I would catch glimpses of the creature’s face – some mix between the Gnarl and some monstrosity from an episode of The X Files – that was doing the job as my vision resolved its issues. When I saw it, for the first time, licking every last drop of ooze from its fingers… that was the first, real, time that I begged my mind to shut off for a while.
I couldn’t be sure, of course, but I thought that being awake for the entirety of this was probably part of the ritual, too. I had already requested to go to the Nun in order to regenerate myself from the wound I had inflicted upon myself in an effort to sever the blue ball’s bonds with my body. There was my consent, I supposed, to the matter at hand. What I hadn’t taken into consideration was what the purge would look like and what part, if any, I would have to play within it. It seemed that the only part, besides being there, that I was to play was to be awake for it.
Sometimes, I would feel tears falling down my face. They were warm and dried out the tender skin of my temples.
Sometimes, I would just close my eyes and wonder what the hell the matter with me was.
Most of the time, though, I just hoped fervently that I would pass out.
I knew when we were nearing the end, though. It felt like an eternity had passed and I was pretty sure I was more than ready for this to be over with. But the creature sucking at my interior was slowing down. And as my vision cleared again, I watched it press its face into my abdomen. When it pulled back, it had the blue ball in its mouth. I watched, fascinated, as it swished the ball around in its mouth very much like a small child attempting to keep a marble away from a parent’s questing fingers. It seemed thoughtful as it sucked the thing clean and then, with a little audible noise, it popped the ball into its hand.
We both inspected its job – it probably was looking on with pride and I was definitely looking on with a mix of disgust and interest – before it popped the damn shard right the fuck back inside.
I was almost positive that this was antithetical to the process. Like, I was very sure I had come on through the cold blackness and the hot blackness to land on a really uncomfortable table and to be babbled at and to have weird things caressing my naked body and then doing icky, nasty sucking things to my insides NOT to have the shard/ball/thing put back inside of me. I was pretty sure that it was the cause in the apathetic goo that had infested my insides so, you know, it didn’t seem like a good idea to put it back in fucking side of me.
I stared at the demon and it, seeming to realize this, turned to face me. It gave me a grin, showing me needle like teeth, and then my vision went out again. The babbling at my ear seemed to fade as my hearing started to go, too. Oh, of course, I thought snottily. This is when I fucking pass out. And that is precisely what I did.
When I came to, I had a lot of things I had to process. It took me a long time to process it all.
My first thought was a very ungracious, fuck, I’m still here. This, to me, signified that I wasn’t at all done and there was still some things left to do. That didn’t really seem like a good idea because, you know, I had just had a demon spend hours upon hours abusing my internal organs while it ate out the pestilence that had infested my body. I probably should have been grateful but after having had to suffer through that, awake for the entire time damn thing, I had very few nice thoughts left in my head.
My next realization was that I was dressed. I was wearing a sort of halter-like dress. It had a slit along the abdomen, leaving my wound open to breathe. At least, I assumed that was the case. I honestly didn’t know what the point in keeping the thing open for anymore was. The poison had been cleaned from my body – I could tell that easily enough – so why was access to it still there?
The next thought was that the stupid little fucking ball was still, very much, in my body. However, instead of it being rooted into my internal organs as had been the case before, it was free floating. I could feel moving around in there, bouncing against what felt like my intestines. That seemed like a really not good idea, either. It had liked it so much down there before that it had sent out little roots that had poisoned my body. It very much seemed, to me, as though we were playing with fire here and just asking for trouble.
Probably, I had to remove the ball on my own, but of course, my body was still very much not moving.
After coming to terms with all of this, I realized that the babbling baby guy was either being quiet or I couldn’t hear him. On the heels of that recognition, I became aware that there was someone sitting by my right shoulder. Whoever it was had placed their hand on my shoulder very gently and was humming into the room around us. I swallowed thickly and opened my mouth for the first time in a long time. I thought about screaming, but decided that probably was counterproductive.
“You know, little one, things wouldn’t have been so terrible if you had merely asked for help sooner than you did,” Sekhmet assured me.
I pondered this statement. I had a few things I could remark here, not many of them very nice. I thought about just shrugging and maybe going back to sleep since I was still very tired. Instead, I said, “You make me seem like I can do anything on my own. I had to try.”
She hummed a little bit more and I could feel my body coming alive underneath that sound. It was like she was speaking to me on a level beyond bodies and beyond people. She was speaking to me, I felt, soul to soul. “If I tell you that you can’t do everything all on your own, and teach you that you should ask for help all the time, then you will never learn anything. Instead, you have finally learned your own limitations.”
I found my tongue thickened, cotton mouth becoming a serious issue to continuing this conversation. “I never thought I was capable of doing all of the things I’ve done on my own until you told me that I had to do all these things on my own. And now, you tell me, that I have limitations.” I coughed. I felt her left hand curl around my neck and lift my head, her other hand pressing a glass to my lips. Water cascaded into my mouth, across my tongue, and down my cheeks. It was the most delightful thing I had ever tasted. When I signaled that I had enough, I said, “I’m a little confused. Can I do everything you’ve asked of me on my own or not?”
“Most things,” she said enigmatically. This conversation was maddening. Either I was all of category A or I was all of category B. And of course, as I thought that is when I realized how ridiculous I sounded.
Wasn’t reality shades of gray? Wasn’t that what ma’at was about? And weren’t bodies and their functions just as much shades of gray? And weren’t people and their personalities and what they were good at and what they were bad at and what they were so-so at all a giant swirling pattern that, when looked at properly, was a shade of gray? I sighed. “I’m dumb.”
“No,” she corrected me, “you are just very young.”
I giggled. I had lived so many lives and here she was, calling me young. But of course, in relation to her years, I supposed I was young. “So, you knew I couldn’t do it all on my own?”
“Not necessarily,” she admitted. “I had hopes that you would be able to clear yourself of this all on your own. I knew that when the collar was put in place, this would flare up. I also knew that you would either clear yourself of the poison on your own or you would require help. You ended up requiring help and, I will admit, your request to come here had some ingenuity. I wasn’t really expecting it.”
“But, you told me that I didn’t need to come here.”
“How many times have you told someone what they think they want to hear from you even though that’s not what you are thinking or feeling at all?”
I was kind of startled by this question. I had, of course, told a lot of people any number of things because it was expected of me. They would look at me and see me as X, when I was really just a little bit of X and maybe mostly all of Y, and knowing what they saw when they looked at me, I would tell them what they were expecting to here. I had done this to Sekhmet; I had done this to other gods. I had done this in my waking life; I did it much more there.
“Are you telling me that you said those things about fallibility and infallibility because you knew I would expect to hear it?”
“Are you telling me that you are proud that I asked for help?”
I figured I may as well strike while the iron was hot. “Are you telling me that –.”
“I am telling you that I love you and I will do whatever you need me to do in order for you to be what you and I both need you to be.”
I was getting a little choked up here. I couldn’t really figure out what in the world I was going to say. All I kept thinking was about how I had always thought she had loved some of her other kids a little more than me. They were way more important than me in the grand scheme. I was just a fill in for other things. Or, if it wasn’t that particularly, then it was the idea that I, in a life I could no longer remember (nor wanted to), had agreed to this little shindig without knowing what I was agreeing to and I had denied her so much in the intervening years that she had grown wary of me and disappointed. She was telling me that whatever I had always thought wasn’t true at all.
“I don’t know what to say.”
“I know,” she said. “This is a lot to take in all at once.”
I mulled that over and then decided I would think about all of this later. “When I agreed to this, all those years ago, did I agree to things I didn’t understand?”
“But I did consent to it.”
“Yes,” she said, seemingly startled. “You consented clearly and fully. I even had witnesses at the time, at your request.” Well, I thought, I was pretty smart about it. “But you didn’t realize that what I needed was more than just a simple lifetime’s worth of work. I don’t think you clearly realized all that would go into what I wanted from you.”
“I probably didn’t know what to ask.”
“No,” she agreed, “but you were a new soul. I needed a new soul.”
“I know.” I thought about all of these revelations, trying not to wonder why in the world she was telling this to me now. Usually if she was telling me important things, it meant that more important and confusing things were coming down the pike. I had a feeling I knew what those important and confusing things were, but decided not to discuss it. “So it’s… not because of you that the shard started, then?”
She seemed surprised by my question and she needed a few moments before she responded. “No,” she said slowly. “You’ve always had this issue, of course. But it was built into who you were when you were first created. This is one of your… lessons.”
“Are you telling me I always fail this one?”
“You can’t be perfect in every life,” she hedged.
“So, I can expect to fail this time, too?”
“No, you may just beat this finally. But it’s been in your abdomen for a long time. You let it grow when you got confused by what you needed to explore. You went forward, when you should have gone back. If you had gone backward, you would have realized that this has been a lifetimes issue, not a lifetime issue. It was built into your nature this life, too. Sometimes, it seems less at the surface than in other lives, but it is always there.
“This is why you were tied to it for so long.”
I was startled that she would even refer to that one. We had both done our utmost best not to mention it at all. But of course, it made sense; what she was saying. This issue had been happening for lifetimes instead of merely just this one. And it explained, as she said, why I had been tied to a dark soul for so long. That soul had looked for someone like me, unwilling to ask the right questions or not knowing what questions to ask. That soul had looked for someone like me, whose soul had been built with a few cracks within it. Maybe my soul had been handcrafted on a whim or maybe I had been born defective. Whatever the case may be, that particular soul had found me, had lured me, and had bound the two of us together above all others.
This, also, explained why I had denied her in so many lives. Maybe, in some of them, it hadn’t necessarily been me doing the denying but having been manipulated into it. And maybe, in some of them, I had known what I know in this life but being unable to sever that bond, I had denied her in some weird belief that I was protecting her.
Knowing what I was thinking, Sekhmet nodded. “So you see?”
“You didn’t offer me any help when I needed it.”
“You created the mess,” she reminded me.
“But I could have used your help.”
“Yes, you could have and you would have relied on me for everything. Just because I can do a thing doesn’t mean I will do a thing. Besides, it wouldn’t have done you any good if I had done all of that.”
“What if I had decided to rip the bonds out?”
“I may have stepped in,” she admitted.
“Well,” I said around a huge yawn. “That’s a relief.” We both sat in silence for a while. “This isn’t over yet, is it?”
“No, the shard is much bigger now and I think you could remove it if you wanted to.”
“Why wouldn’t I want to?”
“Are you ready to hurt again?”
I thought that over again, thinking about the pain that I had caused myself and the pain that I had relived. “Maybe I will wait on that. It’s been in there for this long and it doesn’t seem to be sending any poison through my body anymore.”
“Just don’t leave it too long, little one.”