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To Lighten a Heart

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When Evy closed her eyes for the last time, Rick’s tears hot on her skin, she expected to be greeted with gates. Pearl encrusted gates, huge and holy. Perhaps with winged people in white robes hovering around to welcome her.

There were gates. Large, imposing stone gates, hieroglyphs carved onto their surfaces. As far as the eye could see stretched enormous rough walls and immense cliffs. Evy looked at the gates and realized she should have expected this, after everything she’d seen. She was the reincarnation of an Ancient Egyptian princess, after all.

Of course she would find herself in the Duat.

“Nefertiri,” said a voice with more purr in it than any human voice could contain. Evy stilled, before turning to face Bastet. The gods were real. She had known that for years. But until now, she’d never had to believe.

Bastet smiled, cat fangs catching the dim light. “I apologize. This body was called Evelyn, was it not?” Evy nodded, too caught up in her appearance to answer aloud. Bastet was tall, with skin the color of coffee and a cat’s head to match. Dressed in a formal sheath of pure white linen, she towered over Evy, and would have even overtopped Rick, had he been there.

Rick. Evy felt her heart twist within her, suddenly aware of the weight of it in her chest. At the end of the Duat, Osiris waited, with Maat and Thoth and forty two judges. To weigh Evy’s heart against a feather.

This time, Evy feared the feather would win.

“Are you ready?” Bastet asked, somehow giving the impression of a cat’s impatient tail flick despite not having the tail. Evy straightened her shoulders, taking stock. She was dead, in the Duat, with an Ancient Egyptian goddess prepared to guide her through the underworld to the judgement of her soul.

She didn't have her son, or her husband, or her brother. Evy was even wearing a formal linen dress instead of the clothes she died in. All she had were her wits and her knowledge of Egyptian history and customs.

“I don’t know the words,” Evy realized and Bastet laughed.

“Nefertiri does. You know what you’ve known before. Just relax and trust yourself.”

Full of doubts, Evy followed her guide to the gates. A boat floated at anchor in the river, and the gates would allow passage by foot or by water. Nefertiri, Evy somehow remembered, had gone in the boat, a perilous journey of boiling water, streams of fire, and banks full of spirits trying to lure the princess to join them forever in the shadows. The journey by foot would be just as dangerous, but having experienced Imhotep near drowning them on the journey to Ahm Shere, Evy wanted to stay dry this time.

Bastet was simply waiting, so Evy stepped closer to the gates on her own. Without conscious thought, the words came to her lips, so she said them. The gates creaked open obediently.

“Good,” Bastet said in the Ancient Egyptian she had spoken since her appearance, and glided forward to lead Evy once more.

They passed through the gates, which closed behind them with a solid, final crash, and faced the desert, the mountains rising high at their back. Dunes stretched away in the gloom, but Evy knew there were forests further along the path, and obstacles aplenty to test her.

None of them could be as difficult as nearly dying at the hands of a crazed ancient mummy not once, but twice. She stiffened her spine and followed Bastet into the dark.

A blaze of light hurt her eyes, and Evy felt her heart give a kick in her chest. A vision, like the one she’d had in the temple.

When she could see, Evy saw Jonathan, thirteen and back from school, holding her younger self’s hand and looking wretchedly uncomfortable in his formal suit. The solicitor from their parents’ firm was standing in front of them, looking equally uncomfortable.

Younger Evy was sobbing inconsolably, not caring what a mess she was making of her face and dress. Awkwardly, Jonathan put his arm around her. “There, there, Evy,” he said, his eyes darting everywhere to try to find some help. The solicitor cleared his throat.

“Miss Carnahan, Mr. Carnahan, your parents left you very well off. You’ll both be able to finish school, if you like, and you certainly have the money to move to Egypt, if that’s still your plan.” Evy, the older Evy, winced, remembering the horrible pain of this day, when she and Jonathan had become orphans.

“Don’t want money,” Younger Evy sobbed. “Want my Mama!”

The solicitor looked even more uncomfortable. “Yes, well, as I said, there was an accident coming back from the dig site.”

Jonathan squared his shoulders. “You’re not helping. You can go,” he said, all the imperiousness a thirteen year old could muster in his tone. Evy remembered, too, how he’d been her hero for a few years for that. The solicitor started to protest, stopped, and left. Jonathan took Evy fully into his arms and hugged her tight. “Don’t worry, Evy,” he said, and dabbed at her face with his handkerchief. “You’ll always have me.”

For the first time, Evy noticed a pair of adults watching over her younger self and her brother. Pale, ghostly figures hovered behind the children, reaching from time to time as if to touch and soothe. Evy stared, hardly daring to name them to herself.

“The bau of your parents, come to say goodbye,” Bastet said at her shoulder, and Evy looked up at the goddess, who was looking at the ghosts. “I brought them myself.”

“I never knew,” Evy said, and sighed. Her heart gave a tiny movement, like an infinitesimally small weight had lifted off of it, and the vision faded. “I thought they went to Heaven.”

“They did,” Bastet said, as the gloom of the desert returned around them. Evy could just barely see the form of a man gliding away from them. The first assessor had been satisfied. “They await you in the Field of Reeds.” She gestured along the path. “Shall we continue?”

Four visions of various sad childhood experiences and five encounters with the unquiet spirits of the Duat, Evy’s heart no longer weighed her down as greatly, and they moved rapidly toward the trees now in view. A larger group of spirits lingered under the forest, and Evy said the spell to disperse them, no longer conflicted about how she knew the words without knowing them. Her attention was caught by one spirit seated on the ground, arms wrapped around its knees.

The vision grabbed her away from the gloom and thrust her into brightly lit Cairo. Evy watched herself, seated on the floor next to the bed as the spirit had been, crying into her knees. They had returned from Hamunaptra after defeating Imhotep, and Evy had been sure she and Rick were on their way to living happily ever after.

Then they’d had an enormous fight, and Rick had slammed his way out of her hotel room. Evy had crumpled to cry, sure she’d lost him forever and devastated. The observer Evy couldn’t remember what the fight had been about, only the soul deep sorrow of heartbreak.

Suddenly Evy was standing next to Rick, in the bar of the hotel. He threw back a drink and scrubbed his hand over his face. The bartender leaned over the bar. “You wanna talk about it?”

Rick shrugged, his shoulders hunching in towards his ears. “I’m an idiot.” The bartender snorted, and Rick glared at him. “Gimme another,” he said, and his glass was refilled. “I never should have said any of that. She’ll hate me now.” He put down the glass and covered his face, and Evy felt the weight on her heart lighten. The whole time she had been regretting their fight, Rick had been doing the same.

They had never talked about this, not really, not how it had made them feel, and Evy was somehow touched to find out she hadn’t been the only one hoping for a happy ending who had feared it lost forever. The dark returned as Rick said faintly, “I need to go say sorry.”

Evy wiped tears from her face and looked at Bastet. Bastet nodded, and Evy bowed her head a moment. Then they moved on.

More spirits, more spells, more visions of various domestic sorrows and heartaches. Arguments they’d had, misunderstandings they had let fester. Even the time they’d nearly been killed on an expedition, when part of the ceiling had given way and fallen in on them. All Evy could think about then was her tiny son and how he would grow up an orphan now, like both his parents.

Each vision lifted a little of the heaviness away from Evy’s heart, until she felt barely tethered to the organ, like it was floating. The path was winding ever closer to the center, to the Hall of Osiris. Forty assessors had challenged Evy, reminding her of the time she had defended her thesis to become a professor. Her steps slowed, reluctant to face the last sorrow holding down her heart.

Bastet looked down at her, not unkindly. “It will not hurt less if you take longer to confront it,” she rumbled, and Evy knew she was right. And yet. And yet.

The forest thinned, and a pit of fire opened before them. Evy searched for the way across, but Bastet had drawn to a halt. “Now, Evelyn,” she said. Evy swallowed hard, and closed her eyes.

The pain had been unbearable. Evy had cried and clutched at her stomach, at Rick’s hands, as the tiny life within her slipped away. Now clean and empty, Evy stared at the hospital wall, feeling numb. Rick was sitting in a chair beside the bed, neither of them paying much attention to the doctor as he told them about the miscarriage. Only when he stopped talking and the door closed did Evy come back to herself.

Rick took her hand, and Evy tensed, nearly unable to bear his touch. But she wasn’t the only one to suffer this loss, and she didn’t want to hurt him more. It wasn’t his fault.

Alex’s tiny voice piped in her head, and Evy felt tears prick her eyes again. “Am I going to have a brother like Uncle Jon?”

“I hope not,” she said with a laugh, guiding her young son’s hand across her stomach. “I hope you’ll have a brother or sister nothing like your uncle.” But now Alex would have no sibling at all. Even in her numbness, Evy had heard the doctor’s recommendation. This was her third miscarriage, after all. They needed to stop trying to have children before it killed her.

Rick brought her attention back to him by catching her other hand and kissing her fingers, then her knuckles. “Evy,” he said. He sounded helpless. The part of Evy who had died recognised the despair in his tone. “I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry,” she snapped, yanking her hands away. Rick rested his head on her leg, and Evy felt the flare of temper ebb. “I am. Rick, I don’t know why-”

“It’s not your fault,” he said fiercely, raising his head to look her in the eye. “The doctor said it’s not. But I can’t lose you, Evy. We have Alex. He’s perfect. We don’t need more.”

Evy had always dreamed of a tiny daughter to sing to and to play dolls with. Part of her balked at giving up that dream, but she had heard the doctor, too. She swallowed and checked the room for listeners, even though they had been left alone to grieve. “But Rick, if we aren’t having children-” she stopped, not sure how to express her liking for their bodies moving together. Evy wasn’t even sure if she should admit to enjoying their marital relations. It seemed like something she shouldn’t acknowledge.

Rick gave her a watery smile. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll still be able to forsake all others and cleave only unto you.” He caught her hand again and leaned in to kiss her cheek. “I’ll get us a little something for the weekend.”

It was a rather generous offer, as condoms deadened the sensation for the man quite a bit, according to what Evy had been told by the matrons of her acquaintance. “You really don’t mind?”

His eyes were very blue, and he had both of her hands again. “I love you, Evy. I would rather have you here and healthy and use a french letter than risk losing you.” He frowned, brow wrinkling as he leaned into her. “I came entirely too close to that today.”

“He means it,” Bastet said, and Evy was watching from across the room as the Evy on the bed kissed Rick gently, and Rick tried not to hold her too tightly in his relief and despair. “He would have loved more children, but not at the expense of your life.”

“I know,” Evy said, and felt the largest weight yet lift from her heart. The vision faded, and over the pit of fire was a narrow bridge. Bastet led the way across, and Evy fixed her eyes on the goddess’s back, not daring to look down. One left. The final assessor, and then Evy would face Maat, again.

The final vision hit like a fist, like a-

Like a knife sliding into her stomach, and Anck-Su-Namun gloating into her face, twisting the knife just a bit as she pulled it free. Evy fell to her knees, and heard from a distance Rick and Alex shouting.

Things went a little fuzzy until Rick asked “Evy, what do I do?” and the only answer was “Take care of Alex.”

He shook his head and Evy tried to smile. “I love you,” she said, and slipped away.

Outside her body now, she watched as Rick cried over her corpse and Jonathan held Alex, trying with the same endearing awkwardness to comfort another child who had lost a parent.

“Evy, come back,” Rick cried, and Evy’s heart twisted within her, suddenly weighed down as much as when she’d entered the Duat. She watched, helpless to comfort any of them as Rick pulled himself together and hugged Alex firmly. “Stay here,” he instructed, and went to finish the job. Evy’s heart leapt within her with pride at his resolve. At least her death wouldn’t result in the end of the world. She had not wanted to admit to it, but she had worried.

As the vision faded, she heard Jonathan say, “She’s in a better place. Like the Good Book says-” and then Alex’s voice, even fainter, “The Book! Come on, Uncle Jon!”

And then Evy was at the Hall of Judgement, her heart floating within her. Bastet rapped on the door, and Evy said the words, and they went inside.

Seated inside was a young woman with smooth skin a shade or two lighter than Bastet. In one hand she held a scepter, the was, and in the other a looped cross, the ankh. On her head was the feather that would sit on the scales with Evy’s heart. She smiled when she saw them, and the forty two assessors drew in close around her. Evy stepped to the proscribed space and began reciting the negative confessions.

When she finished, Maat stood and led the way to another door. One of the assessors opened it, and all of them swept in to Osiris’s throne room.

Evy’s heart was so light now she felt like it was barely tethered, like it was somehow trying to break free. She felt odd, light headed and far away, not like she remembered feeling as Nefertiri.

Osiris smiled at her, his black skin making his white teeth even brighter. “You have come too soon, my daughter,” he said, and Evy felt hands on her now. Bastet had her shoulders, and was guiding her back to the door. “May it be many of your years before you return to me,” Evy heard the god say, and then she blinked, and opened her eyes.

Alex looked guilty and ecstatic, and the Book of the Dead was open on his lap. “I had to, Mum!” he said, and Evy sat up, no pain now in her stomach. “I had to. Dad cried.”

“I know,” Evy said, and stood up. She could hear sounds of a fight close by, and Jonathan was no match for Anck-Su-Namun. “Come on,” she said, and went out to live again.