Lady of Rage.

Zep Tepi is the moment we all know as the First Time, or the First Occasion. It is that single perfect moment in which creation has been created. It signifies when the world is new and whole and perfect. It is that split second in time where the primeval mound has risen from the lifeless waters of the Nun to announce that the world has been made. It is perfection personified in a single yet brief period of time.

It is also an endless moment. It moves across time and space. It is always happening; it has already happened. Mythic time makes this part of the myth difficult for us to fully understand. We can connect to this concept of mythic time when we discuss the number of creation myths found in ancient Egypt (after thousand of years and varying degrees of import associated with specific cult centers, it’s bound to happen). But when we take a look at it without associating it with the cosmogonies, we can sometimes forget that Zep Tepi has already happened, is currently happening, and is going to happen.

In effect, Zep Tepi is more than just a single second in time from eons back; from before humans walked the earth and before gods ruled. It happens every day. And it will happen again and again every second of every day. And it will happen many years in the future after I am buried and have turned to dust.

But Zep Tepi goes beyond the cosmogony of ancient Egyptian creation myth. It goes beyond simply a focal point for us to dither and reinterpret as we speak with our community members. Zep Tepi happens every day, and it happens to all of us every day.

It is the moment the sun peers above the horizon. The second before you step into an important meeting about a raise with your boss. The decision before you start eating right and exercising. The time you roll away from your desk to take a break from work. The moment after you’ve taken your anti-anxiety medication and they begin to take effect. The moment you put your car into drive. The deep breath you take before you make an important phone call.

Zep Tepi happens every day in a thousand little ways.

This is not a new concept for us. We have had this discussion numerous times. In fact, I think we’ve hashed it out to the point where many Kemetics in the group spaces I haunt can all agree that Zep Tepi is an ongoing renewal on a personal and fundamental level in all of our lives. It encapsulates any number of moments in our day-to-day lives and can be as large as a sunrise or as small as taking one’s medication.

But the portion of the conversation that does tend to get glossed over is what leads up to that moment of Zep Tepi. In the examples I’ve listed above, we do not usually discuss what precedes each split second of Zep Tepi in our lives. In many instances the time before that moment of rebirth hits us is a battle unto itself. And the next second it is just like when the primordial mound raises from the watery chaos of the Nun.

There are any number of things that we may have to go through before we can achieve our personal Zep Tepi, no matter what we may consider a personal Zep Tepi. Any single person who has had to have these types of uncomfortable conversations either with themselves or other people can attest that it is not an easy process. Anyone who has had to work on themselves in some form or another can assert that the way forward was fraught with pain and suffering. There are any number of setbacks that may have or probably did occur before that moment of renewal is upon us.

The path leading us to Zep Tepi is not an easy one.

Here it comes !

O you who consume your arm, prepare a path for me, for I am Re, I have come forth from the horizon against my foe. – excerpt from Spell 11, The Book of Going Forth by Day translated by R.O. Faulkner

In high school, there were two distinguishing features that people used to tell the difference between my best friend and I. (We did resemble one another.) The first was that I was the shortest one in our friend group, which was true. I was tiny in comparison and there were a good 2 – 3″ between me and the next shortest person. The second was that I was an angry kind of person, which was also true. Being a short, angry ball of energy followed me out of high school and into other adventures in my life.

Both were a constant and, or so I thought, I could do nothing about either. I wore them like badges of honor. I was a little ball of rage that could make grown men cry; and wasn’t it just hilarious that I was so tiny to boot?

I’ve written about it all before, but suffice to say I was perfectly fine with it for a very long time before Sekhmet took me by the face, squeezed my cheeks together, and said, “cut the shit, and fix it.” I argued about it since this seemed like something I really didn’t want to do and I was given a caveat to the first message. “Or else.” I was never sure what the “or else” could entail, but I figured if she was telling me to fix it, and tacking on something as menacing as “or else”, then there was probably a serious problem.

The irony of the situation was not lost on me, of course.

I railed against her.

I told her that she was a hypocrite.

I whined at her.

I cried a lot.

I didn’t want to get rid of it. I wanted it to remain because it was a part of who I was, it was a part of my very identity. If I were to get rid of it, then who would I be? She should have been able to understand my point of view easily since, I felt, she was in similar circumstances. But no matter how many times I tried to get out of it, I came back to Sekhmet’s message to me: “cut the shit, and fix it. Or else.”

It took me a very long time to work on it. I knew that there was no quick fix here, but I had hoped for one.

As the years had past, the primary moment that the rage began had grown. Instead of it having been created at a single fixed moment in my life and remaining the same size it had been at that moment of its own creation, I found that it had been built up over the years by a variety of traumas until it was very large. It was exceedingly painful to work on. I couldn’t go from 0 to 100 on this. I had to take my sweet time as I slowly peeled back the layers to find the very start, the very beginning.

I had always been under the impression that rage was, well, healthy. I thought that having it was a good thing. But something that I had learned as I worked on this was that anger could be healthy; rage was not. I had to work down the ball of rage until I could manage what was left before I could finally turn to Sekhmet and say, “See what I have done? I did it.”

But I had caused another problem in the fixing. Out of fear, I wouldn’t let myself feel angry. I had spent so much time working on this part of myself that I was worried what would happen if I got angry. I kept my emotions locked up tight until I thought I would break from it all. I finally fell apart and realized that I had gone from one extreme to the other; I had gone from razor teeth and claws to a featureless void of no emotion with periodic explosions.

I had to learn hard how to express myself. I had to educate myself on what was and was not healthy. I had to let myself feel my emotions, but instead of bottling them up into a nice little pocket of rage in my chest, I had to express them in a way that would benefit myself and others. I had broken myself down to fix the problem, but I had only done part of the work to build myself back up.

After working down the traumas, working them all down until I had a functional level of anger that was healthy. Then I had to teach myself how to express these emotions in a healthy way, in a way that would benefit myself, the work that I had done, and the people around me. I’m finally at a point where I can say that while I do experience anger at a variety of things, I can finally express it in a healthy way that doesn’t involve broken things or people.

My first true moment of Zep Tepi was after all the rage had been pulled from its pocket and I could breathe again without feeling like I would melt down. My second moment was being able to express my frustrations and anger in a way that benefited myself, my life, and my goddess.

Rage

I have flown up like the primeval ones, I have become Khepri, I have grown as a plant, I have clad myself as a tortoise, I am the essence of every god… – excerpt from Spell 83, The Book of Going Forth by Day translated by R.O. Faulkner

After I had realized that I needed to build my house back up, I sent myself on a mission to find something that would benefit me in the long run. I had to find a part of myself that had been missing for a very long time. Another piece of me had hidden that part of myself away in a safe place for later because that piece of me had grown tired of the world, tired of the gods, tired of living.

When I finally found that part of me again, I was reminded a bit of the Book of the Celestial Cow where Ra is mentioned to have become old. As quoted from this piece by Edward Butler:

Re learns that there are humans plotting against him because the furthest limits of his realm are far removed from his living divinity. The myth offers two immediate symbols of this distance or gap between Re and his subjects. The first is Re’s elderliness and, the second, the mineral metaphors used to describe him: his bones like silver, his flesh like gold, his hair like lapis lazuli. Re is elderly, not as an absolute quality, but relative to those of his subjects who are much younger in the scale of being.

I could feel the difference between myself and this part of myself. She was elderly in the context of Ra above: she was older than myself and had seen untold things in the time when she had been active. I referred to her as ancient-me, which seems to amuse as well as irritate. I was doing my job at any rate if I could get amusement out of the seriousness of the situation.

What I found when I discovered this piece was that the hard work I had done to myself at Sekhmet’s push had not been done to this older facet. In fact, I would say that, if I had to associate her with my own path, she looked more like 2012 era me than anything else: always angry, ready to pop at the hint of even the slightest provocation.

I also saw in her the same Sekhmet I have seen over and over again throughout my dealings with her: a volcano that has been dormant for years, but that could explode at any moment. The plume of gases that was constantly being released to make room for yet more rage was a miasma. I had to work on that for her so that we could continue on to the next steps in our journey.

The rage that had fostered in her had similar earmarks to my own and similar earmarks to Sekhmet’s, but at the heart of it all, it was entirely her own. She had made of it, just as I had made of it, a core part of herself. And that core part was necrotic from the years of adding to it.

I had to condense years’ worth of shadow work in a limited amount of time so that we could clear out the heart that had gone stale, first after years of disuse and second after years of fortifying it with white-hot anger. In the working, I discovered that, much as I had found for myself, she had never figured out a healthy and proper way to convey her feelings of anger. She had bottled them up until she was ready to break from it all.

As I worked on this other piece of myself, I began to wonder if this, too, was a core issue for Sekhmet. We know her as the Lady of Rage, of fire and fury, but we often don’t ask her to tell us how she’s feeling. Based on the myth I linked to above, at no point did Ra give her the tools she would need to fix herself, much less to express herself in a healthy and constructive way.

Maybe Ra never wanted to give her those tools or maybe he never knew what they looked like because he, too, suffers from the same thing. The whys and what-fors really don’t matter.

All that I kept coming back to as I worked on that other piece of myself was that this was something that Sekhmet could benefit from, if for no other reason than because then, the dormant volcano wouldn’t constantly be spewing ash and miasma into the air. And maybe the eventual eruption would be healthier than the eventual destroy-’em-all eruption that we all fear.

Perhaps in her directives to us, to me and to other me, to the other devotees out there who have anger issues, Sekhmet is looking for the quick-fix or any fix, really, to work on her own issues. Perhaps in the push to “cut the shit, and fix it; or else” she is asking us to teach her how to turn herself into a better god, to work on her root troubles, and come out of it a little less angry, a little less fear-inducing, a little more than just a lioness ready to slaughter at the request of the god who fathered her.

I think, at the very root of it all, Sekhmet is looking for her own version of Zep Tepi. She is hoping for that single moment of cosmological perfection where the world is new, or perhaps merely the renewal that predisposes the many versions of Zep Tepi that we see and feel every day.

Just as this other part of myself both deserves and needs that Zep Tepi, so too does Sekhmet. And as much as I may be jaded by everything that I’ve seen or done, I’m going to continue to work towards that goal.

Further Reading

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The Astral is Balls.

I kind of feel like this is every experience I've ever had over there summed up in one 60s fabulous Spider Man meme.

I kind of feel like this is every experience I’ve ever had over there summed up in one 60s fabulous Spider Man meme.

Two years ago, I felt my mind start to shatter a little bit at a time. I couldn’t understand it at first – I didn’t recognize it for what it would inevitably turn into. The thing is that so few people actively talk about having their head cracked open. I mean, sure. I read TTR’s blog regularly and I’ve combed through almost every entry that has ever appeared about having a broke open head. But you know? I just figured I was the girl who sat on the sidelines and nodded at all the good parts, made commiserating noises at the bad parts, and made sarcastic remarks during the in between.

My head wasn’t supposed to crack open. I wanted to have a broke open head because, honestly, I didn’t recognize or realize what it would entail. Reading blog posts is fine and dandy, but it still doesn’t quite get across all the fucking bullshit, responsibility, and fuckery that comes along with having your head cracked open. It’s that whole “grass is always greener” syndrome. Just because the grass looks greener doesn’t mean it really is greener. Honestly, looking down, I have to say the grass looks decidedly dead and brown.

That’s the thing about perception though; the only one that matters right now is my own.

So you know, the months passed and the crack widened. I honestly thought it was a good thing and maybe, back then, it was a good thing. It started off as a steady trickle, you know? It’s kind of like how someone had turned on a faucet, but it was only just dribbling out. I would have random moments feeling like I was in two places at once or odd dreams that I couldn’t really explain away to subconscious mind bleed through. It all seemed cool.

As I began to realize what was happening to me, mostly through interacting with spirit workers and paying close attention to messages/dreams I was receiving from the netjeru, I worked hard on opening that little hole in my brain wider. The point was so that I could work appropriately and conscientiously on the things that needed to be done. For about three to six months, I did everything I was instructed to do as best I could – I mean, let’s face it, I’m no more for deadlines than Douglas Adams was – before I learned my first major lesson about having a broke open head:

The trust of the innocent is the liar’s most useful tool.– Stephen King

What I learned as my head was broke open was that trust was a very precious gift and that it should never be willingly given, but earned. It doesn’t matter who it is that you trust, either. It doesn’t matter if it’s a best friend, a lover, a god, a demon, a spirit, a ghost, a transfigured family member, etc. It doesn’t matter who it is that you have provided that precious gift to unless they have proved themselves able and willing to protect your trust for the gift that it is.

You see, I went into the whole business of having a religion with the mindset that the gods can be trusted. I don’t really know where this mindset came from. It was just there one day when I was doing my thing. I trusted and I trusted foolishly, blindly.

But you know, now that I think about it, I have to admit that I am a blindly trusting fucking idiot. I always have been. I can look back down the years and see all of the little things that could have added up to me not getting hurt in relationships and friendships – things that I completely fucking ignored because I trusted the person not to hurt me – and I suppose you can guess what ended up happening. If not, I’ll give you a little hint: I got fucked over.

As if I hadn’t had it happen often enough with human relationships, I got to learn the lesson again with gods. I have to admit that it was pretty fucking jarring to get fucked over by a god. I mean, looking at the situation as objectively as I possibly can… I can admit that in the grand scheme of “you got fucked over,” this was pretty minor. But it opened my eyes enough to make things that much harder as the crack widened and yet more fuckery and woo came flowing on down the sluice way.

I can’t honestly say if the lesson stuck. Or maybe I just assumed that my gods wouldn’t fucking do that to me because, that god was just hanging around to get some shit done.

Sometimes, I really laugh at my own naïveté…

As the gates began to open more regularly and remain open for longer periods of time, I got more lessons. A lot of them were personal and painful. I don’t think I can fully explain to people how painful or even how personal. It isn’t just a matter of working on some things that have been sticking with me because of things from when I was a kid. Oh, no; it couldn’t be that easy in the slightest. The pain-filled lessons have had to span centuries and numerous lives until I was dizzy from it all. My second major lesson in all of this has been:

It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance. – Thomas Sowell

What I realized as I really started paying attention to the numerous lessons I was getting handed like some school child was that I didn’t know a fucking thing. Sure, I was well read and I could tease out tidbits and interpretations with the best of them. I could spend hours upon hours, combing through documents and books looking for the tiniest little thing that would help me leap forward a little further on this whole crazy fucking ride called life. But at the end of the day, with as much knowledge as I’ve gathered, I still don’t know shit.

I have realized that everything I had thought I had known about my religion, my path, my gods, my relationships, for fuck’s sake even my life was only a simple grain of sand in the desert of eternity. I had thought I had it figured out, mostly, but you know what? I didn’t have a damn thing figured out. I had blinders on and in order to really get to the nitty-gritty, I had to get those blinders ripped the hell off so I could truly see for the first time.

And what I saw was both beautiful and frightening.

I was transformed and remade and destroyed and put back together again. When that didn’t work out properly, I got to do it again. And when that way didn’t really work out, either, I had to do it again. When I got sick of doing that same old song and dance, I ended up being forced to do it against my fucking will because what I wanted didn’t have a damn thing to do with what that broke open head part of me needed. And I have had to keep transforming and changing everything I thought I had learned, everything I thought I knew and I have had to keep transforming myself with each new gush of that broke open head all just to incorporate yet more mind-boggling fuckery.

Sometimes, it’s almost like a euphoric, ecstatic moment where pain transcends into pleasure and then back again into pain. Sometimes, it’s almost like the darkest abyss filled with every frightening monster that hides in the dark, intent on destroying you utterly. In either case, you have to learn to deal with the shit going on around you while you feel like you’re ready to shatter for the millionth time into a thousand fucking pieces.

As that trickle turned into a steady gush, which in turn ended up as a waterfall with cascade effect like possibilities, I realized a lot of things about myself, my life, my path, my religion, my gods, my friendships, and everything in between. I’ve realized a million different details that were once thought impertinent really weren’t and the bits I thought were the most important have fallen to the wayside, completely forgotten. In the midst of that rubble, I learned the most important lesson of all:

Details create the bigger picture. – Sanford I. Weill

At the end of the day, all the harshness of this new reality has made me realize that the transience of the now is only outweighed by the “bigger picture.” I’ve talked about it, tagged it in posts, and commented on it here and there. The bigger picture is the end result of all of this. While I find it difficult to order myself and my life and my path and my personal relationships and the relationships I’ve begun with my gods in a manner that may, one day, benefit that bigger picture, I know that it is what all of this broke open head business is about.

Bigger picture.

Even just writing those two words can cause such a multitude of emotions within me that I cannot even begin to describe them all: horror, joy, terror, calm, pain, ecstasy, etc. Even just those six words cannot do justice to what it all is to describe it in any attempt at detail.

At the end of the day, even with all of that emotional capacity tapped out and felt in one form or another, I have to admit that I’m just bitter tits about it all. At the end of the day, I sit down and I have to admit to myself that while being a part of something bigger may be nice for some people, at the heart of it all, I’m a selfish fuckface and bigger picture can really piss me off.

It’s only been a little over a year though since I get hit face first with the brick wall of bigger picture and I hear tell from other people that the bitter tits might wear off. I don’t know if that’s true, but I can hope that’s the case. The bigger picture I see is viewed through a lens smeared with Vaseline, but I’m assured by the gods that it looks pretty nice. I guess so; I’ll just have to take their word for it.

Across the Universe

Across the Universe by onwatersedge via Flickr

I remember what it was like all those years ago, looking in upon what must have been a spectacular tea party when people talked about their godphones and their broke open heads. I can remember knowing that I just wanted to be like them. I guess the real lesson in all of this is that “looks can be deceiving.” Or maybe, better still, the real fucking lesson is “be careful what you wish for.” I got my wish and I honestly, truly have to wonder if it was all worth it.

Maybe one day I can look back at all of this fuckery and say, “it was totally worth it.” But I’ll admit to harboring a fear that when that “one day” comes a-knocking, I’ll never be able to say that it was worth it but that I’ve hated every fucking minute of it and I rue the day I asked for all of this. Sekhmet tells me I won’t hate on it forever. She says it’s a good thing, but I honestly can’t tell if she’s just trying to get me to stop bitching about it all or if she really means it.

Further Reading

  1. Astral Don’t Care by TTR
  2. I Am My Own Guide by TTR
  3. Devo Magix: Vision Questing by TTR
  4. Musings on Pain and Astral Travel by TTR
  5. A Good Horse by TTR
  6. For Everything There is a Learning Curve by TTR
  7. Before and After: A Comparison on Being God Bothered by TTR

Re-Opening Scabs.

Shadow work is probably one of the most grueling things we can ever undergo. I’ve often known that I need to work on things and I have just as often shied away from the prospect, knowing how much pain I could and would unleash upon myself. It’s not just fear that has kept me from working on these traumas, but it’s also the knowledge that I will still need to smile and interact with others, others who may not understand and who may not care, as you work on bits of you that have been folded into the very fabric of your soul.

Picking and pulling apart your soul is hard work, but even with all of that, you still need to live your regular old life. If you don’t answer the questions of people around you, they’ll start asking you what’s wrong. And if you are very busy pulling yourself apart, there is no way that you can explain it to them without sounding, well, without sounding a little unbalanced, a little unwell. So, of course, you have to continue to live your life as you normally would and maybe they’ll forgive the fact that you’re just a tiny bit off your game for a while since you’re so busy destroying who you are on a fundamental level in order to rebuild yourself into who you may have been without those damned fucking traumas having gotten in the way.

I ripped a scab off the other day. It was gross. You know what it’s like to rip off a scab from your knees, when you’re a kid? It’s kind of painful but you’re just like intent on fucking ripping that shit right the fuck off. I don’t know why kids feel the need to pick at their scabs; I used to do it and my son does it unless it hurts too much. I don’t know if picking at scabs is really useful when you skin your knees, though. You end up with scars if you do that. But sometimes, I think, the scars are useful because you can wear them proudly and point out to people that you survived.

I’ve done a lot of shadow work in the last few years. I know that I’m not perfect and I know, clearly, that I have a lot of things to resolve. I doubt, most times, that I will be able to remake myself into the form I want to be before I die, officially die. Rebirth is all well and fine and a part of shadow work, but I mean honestly and fully die. I know that I’m only thirty [-one] but sometimes, the uphill battle to get to where I need to go is so difficult that I can’t be bothered. I just can’t look up any further at the cliff face I’m climbing and I just stop.

But the thing about shadow work that I often have to remind myself is that that there is an ultimate plan in play. Sometimes it relates to bigger picture; sometimes it doesn’t. I have a lot of issues that I have to contend with on a daily basis; issues that I didn’t realize how deeply they impacted me until I started picking and pulling at what needed to be reformed in order to work through the trauma and come out the other side. I thought that after the yearlong work I did regarding my ex would be sufficient for the needs; I was wrong. I was very wrong.

I guess shadow work is one of those ongoing processes that we all have to explore and go through. Each person’s journey will be unique, of course, because the issues that we have faced and how we came out of them relatively intact is going to be completely different. I can write whatever the hell I want to and say what I think people will need to hear, but whatever journey we have been on is [probably] going to flavor the unique shadow work before each individual. There’s no all-purpose way to do this, unfortunately. There are only some tricks, some ideas, and some possibilities to throw out there for those looking to learn.

My best advice? Be prepared to fuck yourself sidewise ten ways to Sunday, screaming and crying [internally], and hoping that you get the fixing you part right one day.

Ripping that fucking twat waffle of a scab off was some really fucked up shit.

I have discovered a lot of triggers in myself lately. I don’t really like that terminology, honestly. I understand the point behind it and this gif set illustrates it the best. But the reactions that I have to those moments aren’t necessarily “trigger” like. I don’t have a flashback; I tend to have a flight-or-fight response in all honesty. If I see it, I can fight it out and end up in an emotional avalanche coupled with such terrific physical reactions as increased respiratory and heart rate; cold sweats; and the shakes. Other times, I end up fleeing the fuck away from whatever the hell it is, either physically or mentally, and I bury myself in a world that doesn’t include such things.

This doesn’t really help in the long run, I admit. The point is that I have to get through what has happened and, hopefully, build something workable. I don’t have any blueprints, though, so I’m not really sure what “workable” means. I can assume what it means by its very definitions, but when it comes to breaking yourself wide open and see what parts fit together after removing the tender bits, well, maybe not everything will really be so fully functional at the end of it all.

I wish there was a manual for these types of situations. I really wish there was this one way that would make everything work out appropriately. Everyone just follows the instructions and everyone can come out the other side, maybe not completely whole, but relatively close to that. It would be like one of those dance floor mats that teach people who to do the samba or the waltz; you put your feet in the designated places and teach on autopilot. Unfortunately, no one thought one of those mats was in our best interest when they realized that we have to destroy in order to become reborn.

Rebirth is a terrible process, but it’s the process we all need to go through at some point or another.

Shadow work is some fucked up shit.

But so, too, are the experiences that we’ve gone through. It’s all some fucked up shit. People think that the end goal is some kind of utopia or something. I don’t think that’s really possible. It sure sounds sweet when you look up what other people think a utopia may be like, but I don’t think perfection is really the end goal. We’re imperfect creatures with wants, desires, and feelings. No matter how old we are and no matter how ornery we may get in that old age, we still have those wants, desires, and feelings. They make us imperfect, I think, but they keep us human.

One particular trauma, specific to the ex-husband here, keeps coming back to me. I’m not re-living it, per se, but I’m poking at the hornets’ nest that is that moment in time. There are other things associated with that moment; things that I honestly can’t even begin to fully comprehend. The worst part about this is that the single moment I’ve been working on is tied seemingly imperceptibly to everything else. While I can focus on this one thing right here, I have to admit that it means pulling apart bits of other things as well. I end up with a giant fucking mess on my hands and wonder, how the fuck am I supposed to pull out the good parts while shedding the bad parts and end up, nominally, whole at the end of it all?

No manual; no road map.

We just move forward with a hopeful look that things will end up better at the end of it all. And when things get hard, there are ugly tears with snot running down our faces and blotched cheeks and sobs so hard that you can practically feel your ribs breaking from the pain of it all. At the other end, you can only hope that what ends up coming out of it is all right and that, you know, you were able to put the pieces of you back together.

To be functional.

To be “normal.”

Okay, maybe just to be relatively complete.

Sometimes, when I’m working hard on those things, I try to desensitize myself. I know that this type of therapy is used for certain disorders and most often phobias. I don’t think what I’m putting myself through, reliving this shit, is really a phobia. But desensitization has worked, slightly, so that I don’t freak out publicly. I can have that frightened, scared rabbit moment in the confines of my own home, usually locked in the bathroom underneath the shower spray so I can grieve or hurt privately. I don’t recommend this therapy type, in all honesty; I don’t really know if it’s helping at all.

Sometimes, I just poke at things like a kid with a stick. I don’t look at anything; I don’t read about anything. I just follow the yarn until I come to a point that needs to be plucked about. Poking things is all right, I guess. It gets me a little farther, I think, than the desensitization. But the problem with poking at things means that, at some point, I’m going to awaken something that I didn’t really want to wake up. And then I have to deal with the aftermath of that. Periodically, that aftermath is at work or when my kid is up and asking for a story or when I’m lying in bed at night, staring at the ceiling. The angry monster inside of me surges and I know nothing except that monster. I’m not sure if I really recommend this type of shadow work either; I couldn’t say if it’s beneficial or not.

Sometimes, I just let it lie. I leave it alone and wait for something to occur to me, an epiphany of sorts, and hope that I can parse out the meaning of that epiphany when it happens. Shadow work, in my opinion, isn’t always on the go type of stuff, but can also mean lazing around while you wait for the next thing to come to you, in my case, an epiphany. The problem with his particular trick is that, maybe just maybe, there are other factors pushing me toward resolution and I can’t wait amount for that single moment of clarity to happen. I don’t think this is helping me at all, but it gives me a rest at least from the hard work.

Sometimes, I ignore all of my hang ups and try to just live my life. Nothing is wrong with me and I am perfectly fine. This is a lie I’ve told myself for years; it’s still there in the back of my mind. But when I look at myself in the mirror after assuring myself that I’m okay, I can see the lie in my eyes, in my nose, in my hair. It’s all just hanging around, the big fat epic lie, and I know that I can’t hide from it anymore. As scared as I might be, I have to move forward. I don’t recommend this at all. Don’t lie to yourself. As painful as the work will be, lying to yourself makes it that much harder to break things down to their fundamental parts and work them back together again.

As I was saying, I started ripping off the scabs with full abandon recently. I didn’t care what scab I was going to rip off; I chose one at random. The scab, though, was connected to another one and another one. I ripped that fucking thing off like nobody’s fucking business and got a punch to the face for my trouble. It hurts, you know, when you do it that way. It hurts worse when you’re pulling off emotional and mental scabs than it does when you’re picking at physical ones. You don’t know what sort of pain you’ll unleash when you pick at them, of course, which is probably why it hurts worse.

I ripped off that fucking scab and reveled in the moment, briefly. It was nice to feel a little free. I am free, I screamed, from this pain. And then it came back twenty times worse and whatever heka I thought I was doing by screaming that out loud was wrong. I wasn’t free because there was more lurking under the surface wound. A lot more. I didn’t realize how much more.

I’m tired all the time; I’m weepy all the time; I read too much to hide from the pain; I delve deep into the work when I’m sleeping, hoping that one day I will wake up and it will be better again. Someone told me yesterday that this was long-term shit, at least a year or more. I can’t say that I’m shocked by this, but it still sucks that I have so much fucking hard work ahead of me.

There’s no manual about how to do this hard work, so I have to hope that what I do, at least a little, works well for me because otherwise, this job will take me that much harder.

I ripped off a scab the other day; I ripped that motherfucker off and screamed with the power of my own intentions. I just have to remember that, I think, while I work hard on this shit. I just have to remember that moment when I screamed and reveled, thinking about burning down my enemies with the power of my own thoughts. If I remember what it’s like to feel that way, then maybe, I’ll be okay through the next year or so.

And maybe, in the end, I’ll come out of it a little more whole than I am now.

Hawkish Shenanigans II.

I wasn’t going to actually talk about this until I had something more definitive but it bares discussing, if for no other purpose than to marinate on the prospect further.

So, last year, I found myself surrounded by hawk imagery in June. I broke down after a few weeks of constant push and finally wrote about it. I mentioned in that post that I had no idea what was going on and it was seriously starting to piss me off. I did my usual, hey, if you need something, make yourself plain. But nothing came of it. I ended up actually giving up on the entire experience because I couldn’t make sense of it.

There were some ideas that I tossed around, but to be perfectly frank, there are so many hawk deities out there that it’s next to impossible to put a name to what may or may not have been coincidence. And that was the fundamental problem: it could have just been all coincidence. The imagery on my dashboard; the birds in the sky; the screeching cries of birds that weren’t real… It could have all been easily explained by things. This is the problem, I think, when it comes to discerning what is and isn’t actually happening: things can easily be explained by happenstance.

And in every instance, I felt that it didn’t necessarily mean anything. Maybe I was making it up.

At the end of the day, I decided that I was probably being called toward Khonsu. He was the only hawk deity that I could think of in which I would have any sort of tie whatsoever. While my relationship with his mother is very akin to the relationship I have with Geb, it didn’t used to be. However, as time has gone by, things have cooled drastically between myself and the plethora of deities I’ve had active devotional relationships with. As Mut became relegated to a more background role and something akin to my relationship with Geb, it made sense that I would assume the hawks were because of Khonsu… mostly because the first time I saw one was in an area where I see the wild turkeys that made me think “Mut.”

So, I dropped the issue and gave it up.

Thing is… I think I may have been wrong about the identity.

About a month after I really started paying attention to this, it was the epagomenal days and I ended up having a pretty pleasant time with Heru-Wer. No big, right? I’m the deity collector and I try to be friendly towards many of them, most especially if I’m honoring them in some way. Since then, I’ve thought of him fondly but in that, “oh, that was a nice experience to have with a god,” and left it at that. Of course, the thing is that, you know, he’s kind of got a hawk association, doesn’t he?

But I was so intent on the idea that the hawks and related imagery were because of Khonsu that I was just like, “I’ve figured it out; he doesn’t want anything apparently. We’re done here.” So, each morning, when I would see a hawk on my way to work, I would think about Khonsu and that was it.

Thing was that it wasn’t actually it. The feeling wasn’t the same as I would get from the turkeys and their association with Mut or the Canadian geese and their association with Geb. When I think of those two and the wild animals I associate with them locally, I get… well, I get feels, I guess. I don’t really know how to describe it other than to equate it to that meme phrase: feels. Those moments where I associated the turkeys or the geese were intense, microscopic moments in time in which I felt the deity. They may not have been with me but I could feel them and I was overcome with the emotional backlash of that association. (I’m probably not explaining this right and I do apologize.)

What I found with the hawk thing was that I didn’t have that sort of intensity. So, I just left it alone. I figured that either I was (A) wrong about the association or (B) Khonsu wasn’t really interested in me as he thought. I don’t know why he would reach out to me, at all, other than he’s not very popular amongst other Kemetics, or doesn’t seem to be. And I seem to associate with some of the known names but not the names that are associated with actual devotees (Geb is a clear example; all Kemetics know who he is, but they don’t really have relationships with him).

The hawk shenanigans faded out because winter hit or because I had misinterpreted. Whatever the case may be, it became less of a thing to see hawks. Winter hit; I saw one periodically; spring happened and then there they were again. I decided that, maybe, they didn’t really need a single association. As I said, there are a lot of hawk deities out there and, you know, I could just adapt to the times. The other day, I saw a hawk and I was like, “That’s Montu, motherfucker, because why the hell not?” It works for me, but now I’m beginning to wonder if, you know, I’m just as dense as they come.

So, this past week for Wep Ronpet, I did the same thing I did last year and reached out to all of the kids of Nut and Geb. No big, right? It’s their birthday; we should party to the max. And you know, I had Heru-Wer feels. It was beautiful reading others’ experiences of him and it was just as wonderful feeling like I was honoring deities who weren’t well known or very popular. Yeah, man; I’m awesome; look at me, honoring all the deities…

Thing is that the Heru-Wer feels haven’t really gone away.

And the hawk imagery is popping back up again in unexpected places.

I can easily explain it away on my dashboard. I follow a couple of bloggers who randomly reblog bird pictures. (I have a friend who has an affinity for chickens.) And everyone likes hawks because they’re majestic birds of prey, so they reblog pretty pictures of them.

I can easily explain seeing them all over the place (now) in my area. The population has benefited from the loss of local farmland and they’ve become more frequently observed in the suburban and urban sprawl of the city I live in. There’s a red-tailed hawk who lives in TH’s aunt’s tree line. I’ve seen two of them fly across the river between me and the city next door on a regular basis. The article I found on it explained it away.

It was all just so believable, you know?

Rationality won out for a bit as I began to explore this sudden upswing.

The time frame for reblogs coincidences almost to the time frame as the year before. It kind of makes sense that people who consistently reblog certain types of bird imagery would do so in patterns: specifically, in the months where such animals would be most commonly seen. Hawks are out and about all the time (since I’ve seen them in the winter) but they seem to be most often seen and paid attention to in spring/summer.

The time frame for my having personally seen them made sense, too. And the fact that I was seeing so many more than I had when I was a kid made sense, too, especially after seeing that article (from four years ago). And then I had a similar discussion just this past weekend with TH’s aunt’s boyfriend as he explained to me how to tell the difference between turkey vultures and hawks (I had no idea we had turkey vultures around here). It makes sense that birds of prey would proliferate even with the loss of farmland. There are still creatures to be eaten in the urban sprawl…

What a nice neat package I have.

I hate neat packages, but rationality is hard to fight back against when the explanations just make so much sense.

So, of course, the feels happened around Wep-Ronpet, which culminated in my hilarious “operation get Heru-Wer drunk” when it was the KO peoples’ time to honor his birthday. I figured it would all fade, just like last year, and we’d be fine. Except that I’m still having those feels things, which, even though they really can’t be explained and really can’t be understood in any rational context, should probably be paid attention to because, you know, instincts and whatnot.

I figured I would just peek around into the Heru-Wer thing and got not a lot of information back. Apparently, no one really gives a shit about Heru-Wer except for the single kid I know who was divined his child when they did the RPD for KO. Even Henadology’s page on the guy was mixed in with the other Herus. Seems kind of sad and depressing that, you know, there’s not a lot out there for me to look into in a better attempt to figure out what the hell is going on.

And then, last night, I dreamed about him. I saw just flashes of imagery, mostly, but it was Heru-Wer iconography and images from the temple of Edfu with his hawk statues in the forefront. Then, I saw his name flash across a white background, like I was writing about him in my blog, but the font of his name was gigantic, maybe like 24 or 26 point font? And then, I saw more images of his iconography in my mind before I went back to sleep.

Thing is, I’ve been researching him, you know? So maybe that explains the dream away, too. Rationality can easily win out here, too. But I have to wonder if I’m just a complete dunce, unable to fully comprehend what the hell was happening last year so it’s kind of upped its “fuck with you” game this year?

I legitimately have no idea. I don’t mind adding [yet another] deity to the grouping. I will admit to being concerned, considering where my loyalties currently lie (with Sekhmet and the intensity of our relationship), and bringing on someone new. But of course, I’m even more concerned that I’m off my game (it’s been over a year since I’ve had to play this who is it game). And if I was wrong last year… maybe I’ll be wrong this year?

Discernment is a bitch.

Visitation.

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?”

“Yes.”

“Are you telling me that you are proud that I asked for help?”

“Yes.”

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?”

“Yes.”

“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.”

“Yes, mom.”

The Nun.

I sank like a stone into the cold depths that I had been dropped in. As I plummeted downwards, the shroud that I had been carried in loosened from around me and disappeared into the inky water that surrounded me. Above me, the light from whatever room in the Duat I had been deposited from rapidly shrank until it was little more than a dot upon an imaginary horizon.

As I fell deeper and deeper, a momentary panic set in as I recalled the last time I had been dropped into a frigid ocean of darkness. I reminded myself, quite forcibly, that the Nun was many things but above all, he was a dark, watery abyss from whence creation began. This isn’t dying, I told myself; this is part of the process that you asked for. Just because my mind had an element to the rational to it didn’t necessarily mean that my heart and my adrenal glands were in the same boat. My heart was going in overtime and I had the intense desire to swim back up and into the light.

I began, even, to move in that direction before the wound in my side protested. Wincing, I relaxed back into the Stygian blackness and closed my eyes. If I was going to die, I figured, I could at least be a little relaxed about the whole process. Panic and fear hadn’t done a damn thing for me the last time anyway.

Days and weeks and months passed; seconds passed. As I floated into the darkness, I tried to figure out where in the Duat I had been deposited. I thought, maybe, I had come in from the entrance point where Re re-joined the Duat each evening. I figured that point was probably pretty thin and if things weren’t steered properly, maybe it was possible to join the Nun instead of just journeying through the Duat. But then again, the waters of the Duat were supposed to be the Nun, if I remembered my mythology right…

But perhaps, there were guarded entry points to the Nun at any given location within the Duat? Perhaps the green, verdant fields typically associated with the first four sections of the Duat as well as the desert areas (where I am usually) all had their own gateways that led to the Nun. Perhaps it wasn’t a simple place where entry was gained but any place within the Duat was close enough to that watery blackness and the place where the Nun bided his time until he could undo creation.

I didn’t know anything for a long time because, honestly, what is there when you are surrounded by nothing but pitch blackness? I assume, though I could be wrong, that I was in the astral version of a sensory deprivation chamber. There was literally nothing. I had nothing but my thoughts and the occasional twitches of pain coming from my abdomen for company. After a while, I gave up on thoughts and just slept my way through while my body just floated along in wherever-the-fuck-it-was land. It was actually kind of peaceful if it wasn’t so weird.

Slowly, though, things began to heat up. At first, the Nun’s waters were chilly. Perhaps that was partially why I didn’t care about anything – I had hypothermia or something. It had taken my body not very long to cool down enough to the point where even the flames of the ooze within my body were quieted. It was enough to make me feel like my idea about asking to go to the Nun was a good one. Of course, as the water around me began to warm up, so too did my body. And of course, in same vein, so too did the apathy feeding itself on my insides. And I began to hurt.

The pain slowly but surely intensified. I knew that it would; this was part of the process, I supposed. Perhaps the fact that the water around me was slowly but surely reaching a boiling point (possibly) was part of the regeneration process? Perhaps this was how the Nun was going to help me regenerate. It didn’t matter because, after a while, it grew to be too much for my poor senses to handle and I passed out (gratefully) for a while.

I couldn’t say why I woke up at all. I don’t even know if I was expecting to wake up. But something happened and with the jarring of my entire body, I woke up. Every limb twitched; every internal organ cried out in agony. The only thing that didn’t seem to hurt was the very tip-top of my head. There were tears in my eyes as I woke up, frightened and uncertain of what was going on. What made the pain worse was the fact that I couldn’t actually move to find a position that would alleviate anything. I was completely frozen.

My eyes flickered back and forth, trying to see something, but maybe they were failing me because there was nothing to be seen. There was nothing but darkness. All I could say about my surroundings was that they weren’t wet, so I knew I was out of that darkened abyss, and that I was lying on a very uncomfortable but very solid table. I was left alone as my body and my mind adjusted to the new surroundings.

I slept.

I woke again and this time, I knew what had awoken me. Someone or something was gibbering in my ear. There was no other way to explain it and I had no frame of reference to make sense of what was being whispered in my ear. If it was a language, I didn’t know it. To me, it sounded like unrefined baby talk being jabbered at me by a voice underused and dusty. As time went by and the gibbering continued, I could feel movement around me but still, I could not move my head to look around and nothing or no one shifted into my field of vision.

I had nothing to latch onto, nothing to look at.

I had wanted to savor this experience and learn as much as I could. Thus far, I had learned that the Nun was cold and then it was hot; there was a platform that was fucking uncomfortable; and some old ass fucking idiot was blathering on in baby lingo. The learning was not going far with this one.

I have to admit that I was more than a little frustrated. I mean, I understood the point in why I had come on this journey. After all, I had asked to go to the Nun (and I assumed, without confirmation, that I had received what I wanted), but I had been expecting… well, more. I had been expecting something. And so far, I was getting a hell of a lot of nothing. I had slept more than I had been awake. I had learned exactly how quickly my bored-as-fuck mind could fall asleep the myriad of times it had fallen asleep. And now, I learned that, if the husky voice beside my ear was speaking a language, it was one that I didn’t know at all and I kind of wanted to know what in the fuck this dude was saying.

I reminded myself that, probably, I should be grateful.

Or something.

A hand appeared in my field of vision and I focused on this visual cue, ingesting what I was seeing. The hand was a gnarly thing with long, fingernails. The nails were so long that they were probably about three inches long and they glimmered at me, as though given polished like silver. The knuckles were swollen, the metacarpals and phalanxes were longer than a human hand. The hand was thin and the skin that covered it was tight against the bone. The skin was a dark color, though not nearly as dark as the Stygian blackness that surrounded us.

That hand frightened me.

It was all a little too odd, a little strange, and whatever owned that hand was not human. It belonged to nothing that I could identify with. There was simply nothing humanoid about that hand and it reminded me, a little, like the hands/paws that adorned Sekhmet’s netjeri, her sacred arrows. These, I decided, had to belong to a demon of some sort.

As I tried to puzzle out the hand and tried my best to not freak out, I felt other hands alight upon my body. If I could have, I would have screamed. Instead, I screamed silently in the recess of my mind as terror really began to take over. In the background of my mind’s fear, I could still hear that dusty voice droning on its musical language of baby babble.

After having rested upon various parts of my body, the hands did not move. I could feel their solid weight against my shins, my thighs, my abdomen, and my shoulders. I felt a single pair at the very top of my head, resting atop the weight of my hair. The voice droned out and my emotions began to settle down a bit. Nothing happened except that the lilting cadence of the voice changed ever so slightly. If I had been anything but stationary, I may not have noticed.

As though they were a dance troupe performing a number, the hands began to move together. They attended me, I supposed. There is really no other word for the gentle caresses and massages they subjected my body to. I was pretty sure this was their [silent] way of letting me know that everything was going to be okay. And maybe that’s what the baby talk was about? This random, unknown personage whispering into my ear was trying to tell me that what they were doing was okay and that this was the process. Maybe it was whispering sweet nothings to me, for all I knew. But for a while, I was able to relax and not worry.

I grew drowsy from the massage and closed my eyes.

As the hands continued, though, they began plucking at the [sodden, filthy] linen sheath I had been wearing before all of this. The cloth in and of itself was decorated with any number of stains, many of them my blood and the ooze that infested my interior. I could tell that the hands were putout at having to touch this thing and I thought about telling them that they could just deal with it. Instead, they shred the thing in two and pulled it off my body.

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this but I’m not the kind of person, in either life, that really likes being naked in front of complete strangers? But, I’m really just not that kind of person. I was even less thrilled at the prospect of some old babbling bugger at my ear seeing my naked body, which was delivered down a further 100,000 points in things I didn’t like by the prospect of a bunch of random, unknown demons taking a gander at what my body had to offer. Not that my body was offering or that I was thinking about offering, which made this that much worse and confusing.

I tried to say something. Fuck, I tried to move my tongue so that I could talk around my closed lips, but found myself unable to do so. So, instead, I got to be bare-assed naked on a fucking cold-ass table/stone thing/what the fuck ever while a bunch of strangers possibly ogled my goods.

This was turning out really awesome, I decided.

The hands continued their massage, which only heightened my discomfort. As though to add to it, they began massaging a sort of perfumed oil into my lips, moving my legs and arms to get at all the places. I closed my eyes, feeling as though I was suffering through the apex of indignity. Of all the things I could have gotten from Mom, I thought, it couldn’t have been comfort in my own fucking skin and comfort with others seeing said skin, touching said skin… I gritted my teeth and kept my eyes closed at the discomfort of it all.

Finally, the unguent-painting thing was over and the hands removed themselves from my person. I was pretty sure I wanted to sit up and get the fuck out now. I knew, from the pain deep inside, that I was not healed in any form, but I figured that was okay. I had been pretty patient thus far and I had been dealing relatively well, in my opinion, with all of it. So, I figured that dying and regenerating as whatever the fuck the green-black ooze would turn me into was okay. Instead, one of the demon hands decided it would be a really good idea to slide into the wound I had cut into my abdomen.

I would have screamed if I had been able.

I would have come bolting off the table if I had been able.

I was able to feel the tears cascade down my temples to mingle in my hair.

I finally understood why I hadn’t been able to move.

The voice beside my ear continued to ramble on and on, assuring me in whatever language (pretty sure: baby speak) that everything would be okay. The cadence of their words, though, began to change as the hand putzed around inside my wound. Slowly, the hand pulled out and I was able to see (finally) around myself.

Candles were lit and placed in a haphazard tangle in the room we were in. It was like a cavern with stalactites dripping water down their long lengths. Sometimes the dripping water would gutter a candle, which would only re-light itself after the water had run down the sides of the candle. The rest of the candles were strewn about us higgledy-piggledy. Sometimes they were on surfaces, sometimes they were on the floor. Really, it was probably a fire hazard.

The owner of the voice beside me was a wizened old man. His face was mere inches from my ear. Slowly, he began rocking to the rhythm of his words. I felt as though whatever he was saying was very much a ritual to him. Maybe it calmed him; the rhythm and the rocking? As I looked over at him, his face became young, smooth and ageless with its perfection youth. I watched, fascinated as it aged before my eyes. I was pretty sure this was the Nun.

I looked to the being that had violated the wound in my abdomen but the room revolved back into darkness. Over the whispered words of the Nun, I could hear a slurping sound. This was followed by another round of pain as the demonic hands slid into my side. When it was removed, the slurping sound came again. I swallowed back bile that I couldn’t have thrown up even if I wanted to. I tried not to focus on the ick factor surrounding the fact that a demon was very obvious sucking the black-green ooze from my body, one handful at a time.

This was the price of healing.

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.

Bonded.

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.

The End.

I was sweaty, cranky, and tired. This has never been a good combination for me, whether in the astral or otherwise, and it wasn’t a good combination then. I stared up at Sekhmet, panting. I had never realized how intense this process was likely to be, of course. I hadn’t conserved my energy. If I had thought about what she would have wanted from me at any length, I could have probably have prepared myself better. Instead, I had been snotty and bitchy, I hadn’t asked any of the proper questions, and now I was at the end of my tether. I knew time was running down for me. I had to go. This overwhelming urge to just go was pounding through me, which made the sweaty, cranky, and tired combination that much worse.

I felt like I was going to snap.

Instead of snapping, Sekhmet waved her hand and the darkened doorway lightened. I watched as it slowly lit, like an energy saver light bulb being turned on. I knew what the next series of tests were. I got to leave, but to my own detriment. Without a map, I had to figure out myself out to get out of the Duat in time to meet up with Papa Legba for the Lenten season.

I glowered at Sekhmet as I stomped over to my knapsack. I glowered at Sekhmet as I angrily pulled the flap closed. I glowered at Sekhmet as I tossed the bag onto one shoulder. I glowered at Sekhmet as I stomped through the room on the way to the door. I glowered at Sekhmet as I snapped my fingers, signaling to my netjeri – who apparently liked the name Maurice the best – that we had to get going. I glowered at her as I stomped my ass out the door and into the hallway beyond.

And that was my parting shot – a metric shitfuckton of glowering.

Okay, so I admit that the reaction and the whole bit was overrated. But I was tired. I was cranky. I was silently freaking out that I would miss my appointment with the Old Man. But above all else, I was pretty much just completely out of fucks to give. I had spent days upon days in that damn room, doing things that were beyond my normal range of astral things and without very little set up from the grand orchestrator herself. I mean, yeah, I was probably acting like a big baby, but so what? If the gods can’t handle our pissy-ass responses to things that irritate us or annoy us, then they should probably find better devotees.

As I said, I was all out of fucks.

Without thinking about it, I turned left out of the doorway and began hiking. Maurice kept good pace with me, walking right beside me. Sometimes, he would run forward a little bit and then run backwards. All in all, he was very much like an overly excitable puppy who had been left inside for a little too long. Now, he was finally able to do much more than pace around a circular stone pit with holes in the floor. Once, he went running all the way down the hallway, tongue lolling out as he ran. I laughed after him, enjoying his freedom and his joy at the situation.

At least someone was pleased.

The corridor we were in was long and lit on the left hand side by periodic flaming torches. Sometimes, I would pass by a netjeri with a strange head or walking on all four limbs, but aside from that, Maurice and I were mostly alone. Sometimes, there would be either lightened or a darkened doorways on the right hand side. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t see what was going on inside of the dark ones. All the ones that were lit were open and unused. Many of them looked very much like the chamber I had just left. Some of them had other paraphernalia that I didn’t want to think about.

As Maurice and I made our way down the [really fucking long] corridor, I began to get lost in my thoughts. There’s something about repetition, and boring repetition, that can bring on the most philosophical and strange thoughts. I’ve found this to be the case, most often, when I’m doing something like washing dishes IRL. There’s something about just moving the sponge over a dirty dish, making sure that I clean out every nook and cranny, which loosens my mind enough to bring things into better focus. It’s strange how something so mindless, like walking or washing dishes, can elicit some of the most profound or intense moments in one’s life.

I thought back to that first jaunt into the Duat all those months ago where Sekhmet had taken me to the Lake of Fire. I’ve thought about the purpose behind that a few times since then, always trying to surmise what the original point behind it was. I know that was the start. I know that, no matter what was discussed or what happened before that first trip, it was her taking me to the Lake of Fire that began this process. And I had to wonder, what was the significance in going into a really lava/fire pool thing with me at her side?

Originally, I had thought that the point behind the whole excursion was for me to observe the proceedings. I think, though, that I was wrong about the original intent. I don’t think the intent had anything to do with my, specifically, but with everyone that came up to her in the Lake of Fire. The statement involved me, of course, because I was there. But instead of the statement being to teach me something important about the power of observation or the power of my own intuition or whatever the hell I thought any of these lessons might be… I think honestly the lesson was just what the gods have to go through when they make a statement regarding certain devotees.

She was showing me off, announcing to the enclave that I was something she had been working on and she was ready to unveil it. I kind of feel like it was very much as if an artist, keeping their work-in-progress covered by a sheet from prying eyes, she had finally come to the conclusion to introduce the final stages of her work-in-progress to the rest of the gods. It was like she was saying, “This is mine. I have been working very hard on this thing. Tell me what you think of it and oh, by the way, keep away from it.”

I think, too, that was the point in the first party she threw. Maybe she really did throw parties all of the time, but that first party was also a statement. And again, the statement had nothing to do with my observing everyone else and seeing what knots I could parse together with what I was seeing. Again, it was a statement of fact regarding me and what I meant to Sekhmet. It was yet another moment in time where she could show me off to the gathered group. Why in the world I merited enough attention to be shown off was beyond me. Or maybe that was just something that gods did when they had ensnared humans so completely.

But as I walked down that hallway, thinking about all of this, I was pretty sure that my being shown off the wide world of the netjeru was the point to all of that. I didn’t necessarily understand it and honestly, I’m not sure if I understand it even now. All I know is that with each footstep forward, as my thoughts wandered over everything I had been through over the last few months, it made a serious kind of sense that she would announce to the netjeru that she had chosen me for something and that she had to let them know.

Maybe it had to do with the other gods in my life – the ones that had grown quiet. Or maybe it was just a matter of propriety and that was just another step on the endless list of things that happened when gods made big decisions regarding devotees. Whatever the underlying case may be, the whole point had been less about me paying attention to what was going on around me and more about Sekhmet announcing to the world that I was a chess piece for her to maneuver as she saw fit.

Maurice was stopped up ahead, waiting for me. His tail waggled at me as I came up to him. We were stopped at a fork in the passageway. I looked down the right fork and saw darkness punctuated by occasional lit torches. I looked down the left fork and saw the exact same thing. There didn’t seem to be any perceptible difference between the two of them. I thought about flipping a coin, but I didn’t have one.

Maurice sniffed first one corridor and then the other. He wagged his tail up at me again and then sat back on his haunches, waiting for me to make a decision. With a shrug, I took the left fork.

As we trudged on, I thought about the sandbox.

When I had originally got tossed into the sandbox and had been unable to figure out what the hell was going on, I had figured it was a contest. I can remember discussing this with Devo a time or two. I thought that I had been thrown out of the palace for perhaps a perceived slight against Sekhmet or her honor and that I had to admit that slight in order to go back. As time went on, and I didn’t end up going back no matter what my mind decided may have been the slight against her honor, I came to the conclusion that the whole thing was just a contest between who was more stubborn: if I capitulated and asked for her to pull me out, then I was the loser. But if I stubbornly kept my ass moving in the sandbox and didn’t ask for the help, then I won.

But really, I would be the loser either way because I wouldn’t have ended up going back to the damn palace without her help.

As I walked, I came to realize that the whole point in the sandbox was, in a way, a metaphor for stubbornness. But it had nothing to do with who was more stubborn. As Papa Legba had said so clearly, I had been a stubborn shit and I had needed to get over that stubbornness in order to move on to the next phase. The entire sandbox was one changeless, quiet metaphor for my stubbornness, or more specifically what I was being stubborn about. I was so intent on remaining who I am and not changing as I walk this road that the place I got exiled to while I figured out what the next step was held every aspect that I was intent on keeping.

I had noticed repeatedly as I walked how quiet the whole place was. I wanted to keep to myself, remain the wallflower. An integral part to keeping that part of me is the quiet and solitude embodied in the sandbox by the lack of creatures. The only sounds that were made, outside of the wind when it was picking up, were my own screeches and hollering. Perhaps if I hadn’t been so frightened of losing myself in the changes that were coming, the sandbox would have been a little different. I’m almost sure it would have been.

No matter where I walked in that giant sandbox, everything looked the same. One dune blended into another dune and another. I could have been walking in circles and maybe, just maybe I was actually walking in circles. But the changelessness of each movement forward was what I had been most worried about. I had been so worried that by accepting the deal with Sekhmet, then I would change irrevocably. And I was so frightened at what I could possibly become – let’s face it, that stupid fucking prophecy, not-prophecy from the beginning years was probably echoing deep in my subconscious – that I didn’t want to become anything but who I already was.

Papa Legba wasn’t just telling me that I had accept the fact that I needed to get to the doorway, and probably do something I didn’t want to fucking do in order to get there, but he was telling me to accept the fact that I might or might not change. And just fucking go with it.

So often, I’ve spent all of my time, making sure that any changes to my character have been good changes on this path. So often, I’ve taken stock in everything in an attempt to make sure that my religious path hasn’t changed me irrevocably for the worse. And that’s something that I’ve always felt a religion is supposed to do: it’s supposed to make you a better person. But with all the shades of gray discussed when it comes to living in ma’at then you know, I have to admit that I was probably being overly worried about a bunch of bullshit.

Sometimes, destroying some bitches is just as necessary as making sure you aren’t a total dick 100% of the time.

I thought about the dune buggy, that bastard of a yellow thing that disappeared whenever I got too close, and felt my blood boil a little. While I told myself to calm down since it was a useless anger to have, Maurice and I took another left fork. The floor seemed to almost perceptibly be moving upward as we walked.

That damn dune buggy – what a pain in my ass. And also, yet another lesson.

As made yet another left turn, I thought about that damn thing. The dune buggy, I had assumed, was yet another lesson in shit I cannot attain or cannot achieve. I thought it was just another bit about who was more stubborn. At one point, I think I said to someone, “here is this magical item that can make your life so much easier. Look at it. Want it. Desire it. Breathe it. But nope, motherfucker, keep on dreamin’ because that shit ain’t for you.” I thought in terms of absolutes and in a way, the buggy was an absolute. It was an absolute pain in my ass and it was an absolute misdirection.

I had been focused on getting that dune buggy up and running. I had been so focused on just getting out as opposed to getting to the next phase. Each time that dune buggy appeared, I went running towards it in an attempt to get the hell out. I hadn’t wanted to move on to the next phase, whatever it may have entailed. I just wanted to get out of dodge and never look back. With each time that buggy showed up, I became more and more resigned to the fact that there was no easy way out, no matter if I wanted it or otherwise. It didn’t matter.

The point was that it was a test. It was an ongoing test to see how far I would go before I finally gave up on taking the easy way out. I needed to go the hard way – traversing the sandbox – to get to the next step. Even if I though I deserved a ride.

Even, I had to admit, the way in which I died was all choreographed with a lesson involved. How seriously pathetic is that? Of all of the damn things to have a lesson attached, death was not what I was expecting. Who in the world learns a lesson from dying? I guess I’m that lucky sonofabitch who does. And you know what it was? Face my fears.

Yep. Yep.

Face. My. Fears.

Of all of the really important, magical moments a person can go through in which a lesson is attached, I get probably one of the most horrifying, terrifying, gut-wrenching moments and I get “face my fears.” I mean, I get it of course. Duh. The overall goal was to get me over myself and to get me on to the next phase and to do so, I had to go through something that I really didn’t want to fucking go through. The lesson wasn’t really just “face my fears” but also “get fucking used to it.” I would have to do a lot of new and innovative things that I probably wouldn’t like in any way, shape, or form and that was just the icing on the cake.

I snorted as I made another left turn. I was pretty sure the floor was sloping a lot more now. Maurice danced around my legs, yipping in excitement. I leaned over and pat the top of his head as he bounded right on by, jumping off a wall on his way by me. If nothing else, this was marvelous exercise for the both of us.

I was really not liking all of this damn thought-filled shit going on as I slowly, but surely made my way out of this place. Of course, that stood to reason to, I mused. I mean, of all of the places to be introspective, the Duat is kind of, like, where you’re supposed to be introspective. It was a place of change, either because the place itself was always changing to keep up with the new soul or with the new desires of the people who created it or because death was kind of one of those big huge changes people went through. And of course, it just really fucking figured that I would be thinking about all of the new and change-inducing things I had been forced to go through while going through the Duat, the biggest fucking place of changes ever.

Har-de-fucking-har.

I was already poking and prodding at things that really sucked, I might as well keep it up.

My thoughts, of course, went to the last two experiences I had gone through. Both of them had been pretty gut-wrenching in and of themselves, but in different ways.

Killing and dispersing souls was a lot of hard, pain-filled work. I had to turn off whatever little parts of me held such things as sympathy and empathy in order to do what needed to be done. I could play a good game and act the part, of course, but somewhere deep inside, each scream from my intended victim was enough to cut me anew. I had been forced to steel myself in a way I never thought possible. In case anyone is wondering, yes, it is possible to steel your soul against the entreaties of others. It just is a lot to have to put yourself through unless absolutely necessary.

And there was another change in me, I could feel it. I could feel things again. I had been so busy worrying about being empty that I had forgotten that I was filling that emptiness up with things. And instead of filling it up with things like the excruciating screams and the requests for mercy, I had filled it up with a solid steel core around my soul. I had pushed all of the things I had done deep down and steeled myself enough to get the job done.

Instead of bending like a reed in the wind, I had reinforced myself. The only thing I forgot was that even skyscrapers could bend in the wind.

And that’s where the healing work came into play. It wasn’t just healing the other souls that were paraded before me that I had to do. I also had to bind up the steel reinforcement with enough elasticity to be able to handle whatever gets thrown my way. And while I worked diligently on pulling apart the people in front of me, removing the gunk that had infested old wounds or stitching closed newly inflicted wounds, I had found ways to make me more malleable so that I could stand up and face whatever would come my way.

Things may not be as dicey as they were down in the sandbox or they were down in the Duat, but things would continue to come my way.

Of that, I have no doubt.

I squinted my eyes and focused on Maurice. He had stopped his steady progress upwards and was wagging his tail slowly at me. I brushed the dust and hair out of my eyes and looked behind him. A gateway was open. The black iron doors were flung open wide in the sunlight of a new morning. I rushed forward, excited beyond belief. I knew what this meant – I was out. I was really fucking out. I was getting out. I stepped outside and tilted my face to the sun, soaking it into my skin like a flower would. A gentle breeze caressed my cheeks.

I looked back at Maurice who was standing at the gate, stuck in shadow. “Come on, boy. I’m sure the old man won’t mind having you along,” I said. Maurice wagged his tail and panted at me instead. Silently, he seemed to be telling me that now was not his time, but we’d meet up again later. I felt sadness mixed with my relief. I had bonded with this creature so thoroughly within the Duat, more than I had ever bonded with Sekhmet or anyone else. And now, I had to say goodbye.

I knelt down in front him and wrapped my hands around either cheek. “I’ll be back for you, Maurice,” I told him earnestly. “And we’ll explore everywhere.”

Maurice wagged his tail and then stood up. He shook himself and walked away first. It was probably a good thing that he left me first. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do likewise to him.

The Healer.

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.

“Oh?”

“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.