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Desert Flower

Chapter Text

Across the great green, there is an island with a bleeding mountain that bulges like a tumor from the land. The wound is at the roots of the mountain. The kites flying over the mountain's peak cannot see across the sea to the center of the world. They cannot not see the mighty Nile flowing into the great green whether it is swollen with the tears of Isis or quiet with the wealth of growing things. The mountain's bleeding peak is wreathed in clouds such that the steam and smoke it belches is hidden.

The people of the island believe a god is likewise hidden under the mountain. They are not exactly wrong. They are not exactly right.

It's a beautiful island and people live and love and die there. Aware of the god in their way. Pouring wine onto the earth to keep let the restless god sleep when the earth shakes.

On waking, a gaping mouth beneath the mountain cries for their mother, the sky, who does not come.

Astarte has gone into Egypt and set foot on the black earth. She has left her husband, the sea, and forsaken the sky. Anat has gone to marry the desert and no longer goes to the sea. Hathor is seeing to the women at their labors.

The sacrificial stone is empty. A god cannot be born.

A struggling form that is without form reaches beneath the mountain for their father, the growing earth, who does not come.

Osiris is dead. Isis, his sister-wife has not yet raised him from the dead with her tears. He can no longer leave Egypt. He cannot leave the black earth. Ba'al is dead. He had gone into the house of dust. His sister, Anat-wife, has not yet killed death. Horus is seeing to the men at their labors.

The sacrificial stone is empty. A twice born god cannot be.

The wind blows into the land from the sea. The mountain whistles as the wind always blows away.

Awake, unappeased by drops of wine, the raging mouth opens and screams. Its scream blackens the sky, shatters the mountain and the chains of stone.

All that live and love on the island will pour wine on the earth no more.

The sea, the great green, jerks away from the wound in the world. Would drain away into the wound if not careful, and in that mighty thrash sends a wall of water that crashes over Knossos, over all the stands along the shore, even for a moment, a blink in the eye of ageless Egypt, swells the Nile delta with salt water tears.

All the gods at the center of the world turn to look. Most must turn away. Even Horus must look away. Even Thoth must not speak of it. The gapping, gasping, grasping wound is a place they must not go.

Isis does not hesitate. There is no time for hesitation. This is no time for hesitation in timeless Egypt. She scratches her hand as she sets into flight. Where the drops of blood falls, stone flowers bloom in the desert.

She battles the wind, who longs only to keep her home. To keep her safe. Her sister, Nepthys flies with her. Takes the force of the wind so Isis can focus. Fly round and round over the mountain that was. Holding what she can within the wound of the world.

She cannot heal it. Merely hold it back. Keep the sea from draining away. Hold back what she can of the scream that would blot out the sight of Ra as he sails across the sky.

As she flies, she sheds no tears for her dead husband, or at least, she does not shed them at the roots of the Nile, and as Ra sails the dimmed grey skies that came of that great scream, he does not shine down on Osiris arisen on the banks of the center of world.  

As to the flowers of stone, no one finds any of them for some time. Not while Nut bends her back to keep the chaos behind her away. Not while Osiris waits for tears that do not fall. Not while Astarte strides across the red and yellow sands. Bound by Egypt and unable to do aught but roar.

For some time.

Then a child driving goats finds a stone flower. Sharp fragile pieces of quartz sit stiff petals in the palm of a hand where the dust is ground into the child's faint lines. Now fragments of quartz gather there too. Glittering.

He smiles thinking he will give it as a gift to his sister, Meryamun, who he calls Mery. He puts it in a fold of his robes and whistles to the goats.

They, the boy and the goats, return to the camp by nightfall. The smooth blue surface of the oasis pool reflects orange with the last gasp of Ra's glory. Set smiles in the desert. For the red sand is his. The oasis is his. The boy may be chosen by Osiris, but he is a child of the red lands.

The boy puts the stone flower in the water to wash it. Wanting it be clean and pretty for his sister, who is confined to the red tent for her monthlies. But when he dips the stone in the water, the flower dissolves into so many crystal shards and dust. He cries, because he already had the image of Mery's smile in his mind's eye. It was so real that the loss of that future hurts him like the loss of the stone flower.

His father chides him, but his mother comforts him. "Setep," though his full name was Setep-en-osiris, "there is no need to cry. Such things are better left in the desert. They are not meant for water. Now pick through the pieces and find the one you think Mery will like best and you can give it to her when she comes out of the red tent."

Setep feels himself to be foolish then. He leaves early in the morning so he can be back early too. He spends much time the next day picking a piece of stone.

There is one shard that holds a rainbow. He knows what a rainbow is. He's seen rain. The rain did sometimes fall in the desert. But Mery is not a rainbow. She has nothing to do with rain.

He wraps a bit of twine around one end of the rainbow shard and leaves it dangling from a brush.

There is a shard that looks like the golden moon on the horizon of a autumn day. There is a shard that looks like the moon high in the sky, cold and distant, but Mery is like neither of these. She is nothing like the moon.

There is a shard that looks like a red seed. This had been the heart of the flower. It reminds him of the look in Mery's eye when she argues with their father and mother. He leaves the golden moon and the pale moon to dangle in the brush. The red seed, he binds with a bit of chord and turns it into a necklace. But when he puts it on, it melts into his skin.

He doesn't question this. He tells himself that when he hugs Mery, it will become a part of her. He hold this idea in his mind. This future and fills it full of love.

But the stone  aches when he returns to camp. His mother tells him that Mery has run away in the night. Taking off on foot with enough water to take her to the next oasis and from there to Thebes where she has often spoken of going when she speaks of running away. Their father and uncles have tried to find her, but it is as if her footsteps took off from the earth the moment she left the oasis. There's little hope of finding her in the great city.

Setep touches the red seed. The palm of his hand has dirt and the fine pink and gold glittering grains of the desert flower ground deep into the lines. His hand tingles. He wonders if he will see his sister again then tells himself firmly he will. He holds firm to the idea of the future when he will give his sister the red seed to make her smile.

This future takes some time, but the gods are patient.

Chapter Text

Mery wasn't an idiot. She knew it was dangerous to set off into the desert. She knew the city would be dangerous for a child of the desert, but what choice did she have? She was stifling in the red tent. She was stifling in the life of going from oasis to oasis. She was stifling with her mother telling her that soon she'd have to marry and grow up and have children of her own. When all she wanted to do was live her life.

In the cities, women owned shops. In the cities, women decided who it was they would marry. In the cities, when a woman's blood came, she shoved a rod of cotton inside and carried on as if she was not an unclean monster.

"I'm not a monster, Mother," yelled Mery.

Mother had said, "No, but you have become a woman and it's time to accept a woman's lot."

There had been any number of loud words about a woman's lot and how Mery wanted to be treated like Setep. Three years her junior and allowed to go alone with the goats to the grazing meadows.

Not that Mery minded the tent on the first day, but by the end she was ready to claim Sekhmet as her deity with a glint in her eyes, and lay waste to everyone. So she put on the copper chains meant for her dowry for such was life in the desert that dowries were thought to be needed. So she filled skins of water from the oasis.

She almost had to turn back, because calling herself every kind of idiot, she had failed to put her sandals on before she set off. Wanting to wash them one last time in the water. There was a stone splinter in the ball of her foot. She winced as she tried to pluck it out. But it was embedded beneath her skin. The more she tried to pull, the more it pushed itself inside. She told herself that she'd undergo more pain before she was done. She put on her sandals and tried not to favor that foot as she set off.

But as soon as she left the oasis, the world felt brighter. A silver glow coming down from the high moon smiling on her. The stars looking like a glittering shawl that Nut had looped over her dark shoulder to trail across the sky. She can almost see the goddesses' eyes, long silver lashes over infinite black looking down at her. All around her, the sand glittered in the light of the moon and stars.

She was so amazed at the beauty of it all, it took her some time to notice the jackal keeping pace with her. A black shadow on the silver sands. Casually, she reached down to pick up a stone and place it in her sling. She said to the jackal. "If you do not bother me, I will not bother you."

"Why would I bother you?" replied the Jackal. "We're going the same way and you have much to learn."

Despite that no animal had ever spoken to her before, Mery was not amazed at this. She was not even amazed to realize that this must be Anubis. Gliding like shadow of a cloud. Sometimes walking with a man's steps. Sometimes on the four legs of a jackal. Sometimes like nothing at all. She almost threw her rock at Anubis anyway in fury at the idea that not moments after leaving camp, she must be dead, but she could almost hear her mother telling her to ask first. So she asked, "Am I dead?"

"Look up," said Anubis. "Look behind you."

Mery looked up. A golden falcon with her face, familiar from looking in still pools, flew above her. Her ba was tethered to her by a long golden chord. Behind her stretched a dense shadow tethered to her left foot, her ka. "Oh, that's good." She thought some more. "How is it that I see you if I'm not dead?"

"You stepped on a shard of the blood of Isis that fell as she went to where her brother-husband's child rages."

Anubis paused to look at her. His red eyes piercing. Glinting. Considering. Looking for something, which made Mery shift awkwardly. She crossed her arms. "How did it become a stone? I've seen every rock of our oasis. There was no goddess blood there a few days ago."

"Set's oasis," said Anubis.

"He can have it," said Mery angrily. "I don't want it."

Anubis laughed. "You'll do. You ask the wrong questions, but you'll do." Anubis's tongue lolled from his mouth. "Congratulations. With the shard a part of you, you can walk with one foot in the spirit world."

Mery looked down. Both feet appeared to be on the ground. She lifted her left food. The world remained silver. She lifted her right foot. The world slowly drained of silver. The moon was still bright, but it didn't illuminate all the world. When she jumped or took a step, she seemed to see only the spirit world.

"It takes practice," said Anubis. "Would you like to learn?"

Mery had intended to head into one of the great cities. Thebes was closest. Had figured anyone could use a broom and or shovel refuse. But this could work too.

"Yes, thank you."

"Thank you for not throwing a rock at me," said Anubis.

"What would have happened if I had?" asked Mery, suddenly curious.

Anubis tongue lolled out of his mouth as he panted and ran. "Isn't it lovely we don't have to find out."

Chapter Text

Ahmose's entire life had been planned from the moment he was born.

His elder brother was to follow their father to see to the maintenance of the great Wadi Hammamat, the dry river-road that connected the Nile to the Reed Sea. Where great Pharaoh sent expeditions to quarry stone. Where great Pharaoh sent expeditions to El Quoseir by the Reed Sea and from there to Punt.

Ahmose's was to command troops on behalf of great Pharaoh. Spill his blood for the glory of great Pharaoh.  

His noble blood carried the divine blood of three separate pharaohs from when the great  pharaoh had married off one of his many daughters to the Lord responsible for Wadi Hammamat.

Mother was such a pharaoh's daughter. She told Ahmose, "I am happy to be here in your father's palace where I am the first wife and never the last. Not all vipers crawl on the ground."

His older brother slapped his back, "I envy you. You'll get to travel and know glory. Rise high in the court of great Pharaoh if you bring him victories."

His brother could take his envy. His mother could take her happiness. His father could take his expectations. Ahmose felt the ill fit of himself. The shape of his body, which felt a foreigner to him.

Him.

He'd gaze upon the women of his father's palace, knowing that what he was expected to feel was desire at their curves.

While what he felt was desire for those curves.

He knew his father would never allow him to take the path of Set. Of Nepthys. To be neither man nor woman. To be between.

So a foreigner to himself, unable to live as he felt the gods had made him, he set out into the desert to die. In the land of the gods, perhaps he could be as was meant to be.

He told the servants that he was going hunting for several days and set off alone. He turned his back on the Nile.

He did not immediately go to die. He rode his horse along the Wadi Hammamat.

He picked his way through the rocky hills. Dulsitorily hunting birds. Each day, he thought, "Tomorrow is the day I will turn into the desert to die."

Each day he did not do it.

On the day, he saw the cave, he decided that this must be it. He must climb to the cave and die there. The wind would dry him. His body would be undisturbed. If not this day, then he must turn back and bury his true self. Build a tomb and bury his ba. Walk through life with no ba. Dead but alive, and when he died sundered, he would die a true death.

He felt those were his only options.

He set his horse lose and climbed. He went to make his peace.

As he sat down, he saw a stone dangling from a bit of twine. As if carried there by some bird. Within that stone was trapped a rainbow. He smiled as he saw it and without thinking, for what did one about to die need with a necklace, he put it on.

The rainbow melted into his skin. From xir arms, xe felt the feathers of a rainbow cloak grow. Splendid. Marvelled at the new curves of xirs body. Xe leaped out of the cave and marvelled at the air beneath him. Xe marvelled at how it felt to fly.

Marvelled and yet found the urge to land. To sit beneath a bush and wait. Ahmose did not know for what, but knew xe must wait.

In that moment, Ahmose heard a lion's roar and turned to face xirs death, but there was no lion. Xe heard a hawk's cry, but there was no hawk. Xe heard the roar of the sea, but the sea was far away. Xe heard these things through the long dry lipped blaze of day, and into the night. With the night, came the stars and then the moon. Around the moon was a circle, which should mean rain. If xe were on the coast where rains sometimes blew in from the sea, but not here in the desert.

"Why not?" asked Astarte, sitting naked on the ground beside him. The moon crown on her head glowed and pierced the sky.

"Because it's the desert," whispered Ahmose through parched lips. Sluggish thoughts made their way through xirs thick tongue and dry lips. "How can I see you?"

"You are very close to death," said Astarte, "But," she smiled cruelly, for how how else could such a goddess smile, "I am not done with you. I have need of you."

That was when the lioness appeared, but far from disemboweling xirs and eating Ahmose such that xe would be denied an afterlife, she wrapped her great mouth around xirs neck and dragged xir across the sand. Dropping xir in the water of an oasis.

"I'd have made it rain," said Astarte, reflecting on the water, "I'd have blown the wind into the great green, but other gods have had their say." Against the pearling morning sky, Ahmose could see she was not naked. That she was clothed in a rainbow colored skein of fabric so thin, the waning stars shown through it.

Ahmose wanted to say, "What?" Ahmose wanted to say, "How?" Ahmose realized the wings and curves were gone and all that was left was the rainbow mark over his heart. He said, "Please."

Her smile was cruel, for how else should such a goddess smile.

"When it is time for you to do as I desire, you will have your body back."

"What do you want?" But she had already faded into the water that turned pale blue with the arrival of Ra in the sky. He swallowed the water of the oasis and decided to live.

He returned home and told him father he wanted to sail to Punt for the glory of pharaoh and the gods.

He did not know if it was what Astarte wanted, but he did know that the gods loved perfume and for that, he'd need to go to Punt. He placed his hands over where his breasts had been. Felt where he'd once had wings, and steeled himself against his mother's tears, his brother's false envy, and his father's rage at 

Chapter Text

There was once a scholar who loved words.

Sorry, that describes all scholars.

There was once was a girl who wanted to wallow in words. She wanted to explore how the curve of the glyph for house had transformed over centuries. She wanted to explore how the gods in their variety could be examined from the fragmented view of recordings up and down the Nile.

She wanted a great many things that had very little to do with brewing beer, but as her mother said, "Dja, I brew beer. My father and mother brewed beer. All of our family have brewed beer in Memphis since the old kingdom. You're learning to brew beer."

Dja did learn to brew beer. All learning was good. Still, she often found herself gazing at the Nile and wondering if there could be more. She was considering the roots of this thought when a ibis flying overhead landed next to her holding a silver stone like the moon in its beak. Then in as clear a sign from a god as could be, the ibis pecked the thing into her forehead and flew away.

She peered into the water, careful not to be eaten by a crocodile. The stone was a part of her now.

That was what she was doing when she heard the fishermen speaking of the grain riots. She was rubbing at the stone when she learned of her mother's death in those riots. She had her mother's body prepared. Made the offerings as should be. Did what she could to ensure her mother would be fed and clothed in the afterlife. Have a good life.

"Learn," whispered the stone.

She decided to spend her inheritance on the many years long process of learning to read. With thousands of symbols, there was much to learn.

Her mother had been quite wealthy, all told. But beer wealth wouldn't last forever. By the time Dja was done, she moved to Cairo, bound her breasts, and put on the light tunic and kilt of a very fussy man.

She made a very fussy man, she supposed.

But she was an excellent scholar, who became a minor official. Exacting. Precise. She enjoyed keeping the records of empire.

She kept the records and felt the cool of the stone that no one else seemed to see. As she read, a shape emerged in her mind. She saw the world as a bird must see it. With the details written in the patterns of the world. So perhaps as a god might do. A fussy precise god with a love of details.

She saw the Nile not swelling with Isis' tears. Cool dim skies. Lean crops. Thick riots. The flow of goods into and out of Egypt dwindling like a emptied jar. Ships bristled dark shapes on the map of the sea in reports of attacks by Sea Peoples on the cities of the known world. Many names were given to the attackers: Peleset, Denyen, Shardana, Weshwesh of the sea, and Tjekker.

Many more cities laid to waste: Hatti, Kode, Carchemish, Arzawa, Alashiva, and the list went on.

In her mind's eye, she saw Mycenaean, Mittani, Hatti, and Hittite kingdoms falling before the bristling boats upon the waves. The chariots and swords bristling over the sands.

With the words laid out before her, she saw things as they must have been. Troy's towers falling to an attack by people from the west. Burning. The walls of mighty Carchemish breached by an attack from the east, as giant cedars meant to show Hittite power filled the cold grey sky with thick black smoke. Alashiva lost to attacks from the north.

"Go deeper," said whispered the voice in her head. She did as the stone urged. As it was her nature to do.

She rolled these images back. Peeled the pattern back to the beginning. She had the records. It was simple to do. Reports from Egyptian lands along the fertile crescent of cedar trees that did not grow for a score of years. Two score. Two score and nine.

Eventually, she found it.

She did not know the name of the god of Thera, or what the people of that island had done to cause their god to explode with such rage, destroying the island. Spewing ash into the sky that fell onto the earth as far away as Byblos and Crete. That was the beginning. That was when Lady Isis ceased to cry. When Lord Osiris ceased to bless the fields. When the Sea People began to cross the sea laying waste like locusts in a field.   

She went to her superior.

Superior being perhaps not the right word.

"The Sea Peoples weaken the Hittites. The Cretan empire has fallen. Great pharaoh can conquer what they have softened."

She could only think that he was a colossal idiot. Except everyone she spoke to shared his opinion. Everyone it would seem was a colossal idiot, who failed to understand basic facts.

She did not have access to the Hittite kingdom's chicken scratch taxation records, but that all exports of trade goods had dwindled from Hittite lands told it's own story. "There are no sheep left to grow wool," she said with increasing desperation.   

Her inferior superior shrugged. He said, "What need of we for wool here. Granted the days are colder than in my youth, but fair enough. What need of we for Hittite grain. All the world knows Egypt has more than enough grain." He said this sharply, as if Pharaoh's own workers had not refused to labor on his tomb unless they were given the good bread owed to them. Her superior lifted his chin with its ceremonial beard. "All know Egypt is the center of world. If the Sea People come here, our mighty army will throw them back from our shores."

She said, "The Sea People come from the west and the east and the north."

"What of it?" said her superior.

"They are not a single people," she rubbed at the stone, "They are the chaos beyond the civilized world. Hungry and afraid of the ones behind them, they will keep coming until there is no army left. All this," she waved at the great record house, "will be lost." She sought to appeal to his self interest. "When the living die, the dead will starve."

This was how she ended up dismissed, and in her disgrace going into the temple of Thoth. "Is it this difficult for you to find agreement with the other gods?"

The statue did not reply.

She felt a strong sense of, "Yes," from the stone.

She also heard a sharp jackal's yip. The roar of a lion. The whinny of a horse. A man's sigh. So, she supposed like most things, the answer was actually quite complicated.

After all, Dja could be considered to be quite complicated.

She went to brew some beer, left it and some bread as an offering to feed her dead, and went to think by the river that flowed through the center of the world.

Chapter Text

Lightfingers Tao was a thief.

He was even a good thief.

Generally.

Everyone had bad days.

It wasn't as if he robbed from the dead. Tao wasn't an idiot. He robbed from living, breathing people, who probably learned a valuable spiritual lesson and emerged from the theft better people. He took this sin on himself for their betterment and really what could be more virtuous than that. He even left offerings to Sobek or Set after every theft so the gods would have an investment in his crime.

Really, who could have expected that not only would Admiral Ahmose be so uninterested in becoming a better person that he would roust the Thieves quarter after Tao stole one little itty bitty chest of the many perfumes the man had brought back from his latest expedition to Punt.

Even arrested Crookshank Ib, who supposedly had every guard in the city on his payroll.

Crookshanks Ib hadn't bribed the royal navy, but what would be the point of that. Everyone knew the Egyptian navy was for crap. All they had to do was sail up and down a river. The Egyptian army was where the action was. Not that Tao was interested in that kind of action.

But with sailors breaking apart the Thieves quarter for reasons other than a brawl, Tao decided he should be become Lightfeet Tao and get out of Thebes.

Now any idiot could go up or down the river, and it would be an idiot move, because in this particular case, the Navy could be said to have some river skills. Being the crap responsible for sailing the river did imply that no matter what, they'd have a better ship than he did.

Tao wasn't just any idiot. He was the idiot running like a thief in the night - which technically he was - across the desert hoping that Blind Nere hadn't been lying to him about his sister's husband's brother's tribe, who herded goats in the desert. Especially since he'd injured his leg jumping out the window. He'd bound his wound with what rags he could. Wouldn't do to leave his scent for the dogs.

There were bound to be dogs. Or possibly great cats, but more likely dogs.

Which was why he'd also rubbed the wound with garlic. Burned like the eye of Horus, but it did the trick.

But there was one thing that had always been true for Tao. Even running in the desert with that chest in a sack on his back, he had an eye for shiny objects. Which is how he saw it. Bit of rock spinning from a cord on a bush. Which is how he found what might qualify for an oasis if how one defined such a thing was a slick of mud with some grass. He drank a mouthful of water, and turned to examine the shiny.

A flat thin rock with a notch on one end that someone had wound a cord around to make a sort of necklace. Golden like a pharaoh's chariot. It was not gold, but still he took it. Why not, it was pretty. He said to the oasis, "Will you become a better oasis if I steal this from you?" Although, it could hardly be theft if someone had left it dangling.

The oasis did not reply.

It seemed to him that a mud slick in the desert wasn't the best place to lay low. It seemed to him that the golden stone on his chest said, "Go that way you sly scoundrel. You rautious rapscallion. You reprobate rogue." Then after a moment, a sly whisper at the edge of his ear, "Isn't that a lot of tracks."

Tao was a city man. No desert bandit, but even he could see that goats had gone up and down a trail many times. He followed the goat tracks, which brought him to a far superior oasis. The sort of place that deserved to be called an oasis. Date palms that would have just the right sort of shade when Ra took to sailing. A wide deep pool of water that reflected firelight, and people. Tents.

He strolled into the center of camp, his stolen chest full of perfume in a nice little sack, because no reason to let strangers know he was about to be a wealthy man if he didn't die. "Hello, there. Any room for a weary traveller a bit turned about in the desert."

There was more than room. It turned out that the leader of the camp was none other than the brother of Blind Nere's sister's husband. He broke bread with Net. They broke bread and shared a gamey, but filling goat stew.

He lied as to who he was or why he was there and really about everything.

All the while, he could feel the gold stone humming, warm on his skin. He pulled it out once to tumble it in his fingers. The motion catching the eye of Setep, Net's son, a fine strapping young man of about just that perfect age. Old enough for a beard. Young enough to have all his teeth. Setep said, "You found a petal of the flower." Setep shook his head, his black curls more than a bit strange and lovely, exotic after city life with shaved heads and wigs. Tao had had to leave his wig behind. Setep said, "Sorry. An idea I had a long time ago. It was a stone I meant to give my sister that I thought looked like a flower, but it fell apart. Just before she left."

Setep's eyes were sad. There was an opportunity in sadness. A sad handsome young man might be persuaded to something fun to turn away sorrow.

Now Tao knew he'd have to earn his supper somehow, and was more than ready to try and impress young Setep. He started a story. Something grand. Something with Astarte and the sea, because he'd always loved her wild ways. He'd just about leapt up, when he remembered his leg wound, which it turned out hadn't like all the activity it had gotten.

Setep said, "Let me look at it."

Nour, Setep's mother or aunt or possibly cousin from the tide of women he'd met when he'd shown up, said, "You should let him look at it. Setep is very clever." This was exactly what a mother or aunt, but probably not a cousin, would say, but having that clever handsome young man peel back his kilt and rub salve on his wound was no bad thing.

As he sat there enjoying the scenery, Tao noticed a curious thing. Setep's right hand was glowing.

"Wait," said the voice. "You don't know what they can or can't see. Wait. Wait." Setep moved to sit next to Tao. "Now."

"You have magic hands," whispered Tao into Setep's ear. He felt the man blush. Felt it right through the stone on his chest.

Naturally, in the exact moment, when he would have made his move, he heard them. Horses. But they weren't coming from the Nile.

They came from the desert.

Tao had excellent instincts. One moment, he was sitting next to a very attractive young man. The next he'd vaulted both of them into the pool of water. Looking like nothing but a couple of  rocks in the water as the barbarians swept into the camp.

He hoped. He hoped they looked like nothing but a couple of rocks peaking head above the water as the barbarians barbarically killed everyone.

Now let it be understood that Tao had many good friends who were Mycenaean, Minoan, Nubians and whatnot. Tao lived in a city. He didn't lightly call anyone a barbarian. His father was even possibly a Hittite. His mother had sworn that he might have been. There had been a swarm of them the year she'd gotten pregnant with Tao on account of the Hittites king's daughter coming to marry one of Pharaoh's sons. Or it might have been the other way around. In any case, the honey mixture meant to keep seeds foreign or not from planting had failed, but at least their gold had been good.

His mother assured him that whoever his father had been, his gold had been good and what son could not take comfort in that.

So when Tao called the men running about the camp barbarically killing kind generous people, it was because he called it like he saw it.

He also put his arms firmly around Setep and whispered fiercely, "You can't help them." Made Setep look away because nothing good could come of watching.

The thing was, Tao could have sworn there was someone else reflected in the water.

It was a Anubis. Brilliant ba wheeled around his head. All bearing the faces of the people from the camp. Tattered golden cords sundered from the bodies they'd once worn.

Ka shadows slid over the ground to shelter near Anubis, who was sitting cross legged by the edge of the water. The god was just watching the barbarians act like barbarians, which wasn't at all what a god should do under these circumstances.

"What should a god do?" whispered the stone.

"Do something," he whispered back like an idiot that wanted to get himself and Setep killed.

"I'm doing it," said the stone. "I'm putting the rock in the horseshoe of the horse of the message that is never delivered for the battle that wins the war. It can't all be windstorms in the desert."

"What?" Because that was really too much.

"Be my sly scoundrel. My raucous rapscallion. My reprobate rogue. My thief in the night."

Tao shivered. He shivered and glared and held Setep. When the barbarians decided getting drunk on stolen beer was a thing they should do, he waited. When they were happy with beer, Tao whispered, "Setep, wait for me at the edge of camp on the way to the other oasis."

"What are you going to do?" asked Setep, who really was too curious for his own good.

"Be myself. Now, don't look back. There's nothing you want to see here."

When Setep had swum to the far edge of the water, Tao went the other way. He started by stealing their swords. Those went in the water. Then he stole his sack with its stolen goods from Punt. Then he stole the horses.

All the horses.

Because he was a thief.

Quite a good thief all told.

Although, he'd never been quite this good a thief before. He felt the golden stone warm on his chest. He felt it melting into him. As it did, he felt himself be not as shadow, but a quiet flicker of light. Be the quiet rustle of the night under a golden moon. A quiet rustle looping the horses leads together and leading every single one of them out of camp.

Tao had always liked the symmetry of stealing a horse when he had to leave one town to go to another. He liked the idea of stealing these people's horses even more.

Setep was waiting on the trail. Silently crying. Tao stopped leading the horses. Just the one horse really. Horses were herd animals. Although, this was going to get awkward once they started riding.

Tao had a lot of experience with theft. Not so much with grief. He said, "We need to go."

"Go where?" said Setep brokenly.

"Return to Thebes, I suppose." Not a thrilling notion, but he might run from the law, but he couldn't leave a city where he had friends unwarned.

"Mery went to Thebes long ago and never came back. Yes, let's go there." Setep shook his head as if flinging off water. He laid his right hand on the neck of a white dappled mare and whispered. She whinnied and bobbed her head as if she understood him. His own mare bridled and Tao figured he'd best get on and see if he really did have Hittite blood. Setep, the idiot swung onto the horse behind him. It would have been better if they'd been on separate horses.

Still, a warm wet body pressed up against him, Tao couldn't have said he minded.

The horses raced in the direction of the Nile.

Right into Admiral Ahmose and his men. It would seem the Admiral had been on his trail after all.

Chapter Text

Mery learned many things walking with Anubis. How to stand in the world and how to stand in the realm of spirit. When to choose to stand unseen just between. How to send her ba high into the air with herself and her ka tight as pebbles in her ba's claws. How to step into the spirit lands from the cascades Aswan and step out in the market of Cairo.

In fact, he pushed her to go further and further to places he would not go. The Danya city of Mycenae. The Cretan city of Knossos. Dead cities. So much ash and rubble. She did not know why he sent her to dead cities, but she went. Always to return.

She learned to fight the knife wielding serpents that lived in the spirit desert beyond the House of Osiris. She leaned how to get the five headed reptiles to fight each other. Really all it took was a rock flung with her sling. She learned how to fool the fire breathing dragons.

The land between the world of the living and the land of the gods was a terrible place.

She loved it.

What she didn't love was every time they passed through the seven gates and into the final courtyard of the House of Osiris, she had to wait in that final courtyard while Anubis took the dead into the hall of judgement.

Anubis said, "It's not your time."

It felt infinite. It felt like one moment. So she was with Anubis a long time before she thought to ask him how long they had been journeying.

"The time it takes for a seed to take root."

He tilted his head and thought some more. "The time it takes for a drop of blood to become a stone."

Mery was long used to this sort of answer. It no longer infuriated her.

But this time it made her miss her brother, Setep. She even missed her parents. The reasons she'd left seemed far distant. "Can I go home? Just for a visit," she added hastily.

"It does not exist," said Anubis. "All but Setep have died." Which was a shock. In her mind, everything had stayed exactly as she'd left it. He continued, "If you wish to see them, you must meet me in the hall of judgement, but there is somewhere you must go first. Something you must do."

"But who? Where? I do not want to go to another dead city."

"You'll know." Anubis disappeared.

Mery was alone. She said, "I don't know where to go."

But this was not true. She did know. She could feel it in her foot. She could always feel it.

She started walking.

Chapter Text

Dja was still thinking when the girl walked out of her wall.

As this was not a normal occurrence, she touched her stone for a moment before letting her hand drop. "You're not any god that I am familiar with and I know all of them."

"I'm not a god. I'm a girl," said the girl. "Do you know why I'm here?"

Dja sighed. She would get a girl spirit guide who didn't have a complete view of the situation. With her stone chuckling unhelpfully, she said,  "Yes." After some thought, she added, "I suspect we need to journey to the land of the gods for answers. That's generally how it works. Can you take me there?"

The girl nodded solemnly. "I know the way, but I've never done it alone and it's very dangerous."

"Of course it is," said Dja, because of course it was. "Fortunately, I have plenty of papyrus and a pen, and I'm not afraid to use them."

The girl nodded. "Then let's go."

Dja glared. "It's not as if I have the incantations already written. You'll have to wait."

Mery was, as Dja discovered, not good at waiting. She was good at pacing impatiently. Forcing Dja to say, "That will not make this go any faster. Slower in fact." Finally, having to add, "Wait outside. Go."

Mery went outside grumbling about old men, who were old women pretending to be old men, and they needed to be go or she would miss seeing her family again.

Dja was not going to be rushed. Precision was important. When all was written and dry, she called out, "You can come back."

"About time," said Mery next to her ear, not having bothered to come through the door. No sooner had Dja picked up her papyrus than they were in the desert.

Not the desert.

At another time, Dja might have wanted to explore, but they were immediately attacked by a knife wielding serpent, which really made no sense. "But how are they holding the knives?" asked Dja, who had always wondered about this aspect of the afterlife and was really getting no answers.

"Don't know. Don't care," said Aja, ducking below a swinging blade and making her own attack with what looked like a knife made of starlight. "Incantations now would be good."

"Oh, right," said Dja, who read the incantation that would calm the serpents.

She really found Mery more than adept at handling the five headed reptiles. She even dealt with a dragon.

When they came to the first gate into the lands of the gods, Dja read the incantation of opening. At each of the seven gates, Dja read her incantation for that gate. Until they came to the Hall of Judgement in the House of Osiris.

Mery held back. "My family will be there. I haven't seen them since I ran away. What if they're angry?"

Since Mery currently had knife wielding serpent blood on her cheek, Dja said, "No time like now," and opened the door with a few words.

Anubis was there with people Dja assumed were Mery's family given how she ran to them and embraced them.

Meanwhile Dja's attention was on someone who very much did not belong in the current environment.

She addressed Set thusly, "What are you doing here? You don't belong here?" Her eyes widened as possibilities spilled before her. "Are you the reason for the poor harvests? Did you kidnap Osiris? Murder him even more?"

"Why does everyone always think that when something goes wrong?" asked Set peevishly.

"You murdered Osiris. Disemboweled him in the form of an animal. Drowned him. Dismembered him. Hunted his son, Horus. Usurped his throne."

Set merely threw up his hands. "I am of the desert. I do as I am meant to do."

"Think," said the voice that more usually spoke in her head, but currently was coming out of the mouth of Thoth.

"Not Set then. Apep? No, that makes no sense." Dja's eyes widened. "Ra, who kept the Osiris imprisoned in the womb of mother Nut for a thousand years. No. The sky is dim. Not sunless."

"There were others trapped in that womb too, just so you know," said Set peevishly.

"Yes, yes, Osiris, Set, Isis and Nepthys, until I gambled with the moon to create five days in which Nut could give birth, freeing all four of you," said Thoth pedantically. A very comforting tone.

Dja smiled at him. Did as he asked and thought. The sun was cool. The crops would not grow. It had all begun when the god of an island in the great green caused a mountain to erupt with fire and ash.

Osiris was not to be seen in his hall of judgement. She looked around for a coffin. She spoke an incantation to reveal what was hidden. A coffin appeared in a corner of the room. It was full of blood. On the surface, a single seed bobbled. She looked at Set, who threw up his hands and grumbled. "It is not always me."

She looked up at Thoth. "You could just tell me."

"No, I could not," said Thoth smoothing a ruffled feather. "Also, you know what you need to know."

Dja grunted in annoyance. In pleasure. She loved a mystery. She plucked the seed from the coffin. Considered things and asked Thoth, "Do you have a flask?"

Thoth hummed in approval and handed her one, which she filled with blood. She stoppered the top and asked her last question. "Is Isis on Thera?"

"And Nepthys," grumbled Set.

"Set!" said Thoth warningly, before placing a finger next to his beak and nodding his agreement. A yes then.

She looked around the room. Told Mery, "Take me to your brother. I suspect," she said with one eye on Set, "that he has something we need."

Set's twitch was all she needed.

Really, Set was a god with no gift for concealment, which considering his history, meant Osiris was a bit of an idiot. But given whatever was wrong had something to do with Osiris perhaps that was merely consistent with him.

The last thing she heard Thoth say before she left was, "Yes."

Chapter Text

Setep felt the ache in his heart. He would not see his family again in this life.

He wanted more than anything to see his sister again.

His thought was a query that the gods answered with her appearing. Just as she had been when she left, while he had grown older in years. What had not changed was the fierceness with which she hugged him. He felt the stone in his chest dissolve. Where it had been ached. Another loss.

Mery pulled away and poked at the red-purple stone just below her collar bone. "What is this?"

"I was going to give it to you, but you ran away."

Mery pulled in a breath in a manner he remembered all too well would turn into a passionate self defense.

He said, helpless in the wave of love swelling up in him at the sight, "I love you."

She smiled with watery red eyes. "I love you too."

A tall thin man in fussy old men's clothes and the white moon stone in the center of his forehead said, "This all very sweet, but there is something very wrong with the world."

"Are you apparitions?" asked Admiral Ahmose, who had just captured them. "Were you sent by Lady Astarte?"

The thin man, his cool moonstone shining with light, said, "Lord Ahmose? Is that you?  I am Dja, by the way, being somewhat less famous than the great Admiral who so frequently journeys to Punt. You represent some of my most interesting records, provided one does not include those that indicate that that there is something very wrong on the island of Thera."

"There is no island of Thera," said Lord Ahmose. "It was destroyed by its god." He paused. "An island in the great green. Astarte came to Egypt from across the sea. Is that how this relates to Astarte."

"Excellent, not an idiot," said Dja. "I could wish for someone with more experience sailing in the great green rather than the sea of reeds, but it can't be helped I suppose. We need you to take us on your fastest boat to Thera that was."

"What will we find there?" asked Lord Ahmose.

"Something so horrible even the gods cannot speak about it. So I have no idea."

Setep's heart ached. He said, "Mery, our family was killed by monsters with men's faces. We must go to the oasis and see to our dead. Deal with the monsters."

Mery's face crumpled. "I wasn't there to save them."

Tao patted her shoulder. "Honey, no one could have saved them," and then backed up three steps as Mery whirled around with a blade of starlight. "Fine, feel guilty forever that you weren't there to save them. But Setep is right, someone needs to deal with them. I think they're a stone in a horseshoe and something to do with winning a war."

Lord Ahmose grimaced. He looked to his men. "We are not soldiers, but we do have some experience with fighting."

"If it's any help," said Tao, "We stole all their horses."

Lord Ahmose laughed. It was a sound that couldn't entirely lift Setep's spirits, but with Mery nearby for the first time in years, something in the sound was soothing.

And yet the pit left behind in his chest where the red-purple seed stone has been ached like a wound.

So he said, "I think I know what is wrong."

"How? What?" asked Dja.

"The god of Thera is not a god. It's the emptiness where a god should be. It's an empty ache. A wound in the skin of the world. A yawning devouring need that will only keep going until all the world is darkness and ash. Until even Ra's light cannot reach the black earth."

"What do you base that supposition on?" asked Dja. "How do you know?"

Setep put his hand on the wound that lay over his heart. "I ache for my parents who have gone into the earth. I ache for the wound of what I have lost, although it was never mine."

Mery punched him in the shoulder and laughed. "He was always like that." Then she looked quite cross. "You should know I can only take one of you if there's somewhere we need to go."

Dja said, "Then we'll need a boat. How fortunate we have access to an admiral."

Chapter Text

Ahmose had given up on the thief at the edge of the city. Pleaded his weariness to great pharaoh, his uncle.

He was beginning to despair. Trips to Punt had revealed no answer. Lavish gifts of perfume at the temple of Astarte had yielded no results.

The only reason he did not think he had imagined Astarte was the rainbow mark on his chest.

So it was in that state of mind, he went to an uneasy sleep. He dreamed of a lion that ate no meat. He dreamed of a bird that lived beneath the ground. He dreamed of a serpent with wings.

He dreamed of Astarte. He stood next to her on a boat on the wide sea. She said, "It's time."

He asked, humbly, really he was very tired, "What do you want me to do?"

"Find the thief and what has been lost," said Astarte with a wide, white, wild smile before she slapped him.

He sat up. Very awake.

He really had no idea where to find this thief until he went to his window and saw the morning star. He laughed. For by now he knew quite well how to follow the stars in the heavens.

He requested soldiers from his uncle. Found his thief and really too many things to deal with at once. First things first, a threat to the west could not be left unattended.

They went to the oasis, where the killers were yet groggy with sleep and drink. Laughing around a fire and eating their victim's food. While the bodies of their victims lay as yet undisturbed by jackals.

One of them chattered at them. Laughing. He stopped laughing when Dja responded in the same tongue. Dja said, "They are Tjekker. A scouting party for a much larger expedition." Dja's expression was wry. "He says even the smallest child they have brought with them, even the women will kill us easily. That they will crush us in the jaws of their army, which would tend to lead me to believe that just as jaws come in two with many teeth, this is but the lower jaw. The upper must surely intend to sail down the upper Nile. I suspect if we wish to leave the Nile valley we must go soon."

"First we must warn Pharoah," said Ahmose firmly. He knew his duty.

They took Setep and Mery's dead to the palace. Ordered them to be seen to by Pharaoh's own artisans. Informed great Pharaoh of the threat to the west and of his own intention to warn the delta.

He was sent off great Pharaoh's second fastest ship. His fastest ship, the Eye of Horus, was in the Reed Sea.

So, on the Wings of Isis, they sailed to the Nile delta, for all that Mery urged him to go faster and faster, but the winds were against them. The current with them. The winds against. As it always was with the Nile.

They came to the Delta, where Ahmose delivered his warning to people already preparing for an invasion. A garrison commander said, "Word came from Byblos two days ago of a fleet that darkens the water."

They saw the truth of this as they sailed out to sea to find the waters bristling with boats.

None broke off to chase them. Ahmose wondered but briefly at his duty. The hum of the rainbow at his breast was clear.

Sail on.

Mery looked nervously at the receding coast. "Do you know how to sail across the sea? Everyone knows that all the Navy can do is sail up and down the river."

"As it happens," said Ahmose, his spirits lifting with the wind and the waves of a wide sea, "I have sailed in far deeper waters than that."

He stepped away to direct his crew as Dja took his life in his hands to instruct Mery on Ahmose's many voyages. He did glance a little longingly at Dja. Wondering if there was time to ask Dja had they had taken the life they wanted.

The rainbow mark hummed.

There was time enough on a journey such as this for conversations and getting to know each other. For Tao to proposition everyone singly and as a group. For Dja to ask him about Punt and for him to ask Dja about his transition into a man's life.

Timeless.

Until the time came to approach There.

Thera was easy enough to spot. At first a black stream of smoke into the sky. Then a column of a smoke. Then a whirlwind created by the wings of two goddesses circling endlessly in the sky that went into the water, which churned in endless circles around the island that was.

"Now what?" asked Tao.  

Ahmose eyed him. "Astarte said I needed a thief to do what was needed. So what do thieves do?"

"Theft. Robbery." Tao looked at the column of fire. "But what could the gods possibly want stolen from that?"

"Or returned," said Dja.

"Or given," said Mery.

"Or all of that," said Setep.

Chapter Text

Tao eyed the very big column of smoke sticking up like a tower from the sea. The secret to a well constructed theft - or however one described this - was to have a good entry point and a good exit point. The two need not be the same thing.

It was also a good idea to know what you were going to steal. That way you could be in and out.

To sail the ship up to the edge of the whirlpool seemed to be very opposite of a good entry point. He did not suggest it.

None of them had wings. Ahmose had yet to sprout the ones he said that Astarte had promised him in a fever dream. Mery could only take one of them, but if this had any stink to him, it stank to him of a complex operation that required coordination from all parties. Finally, he thought of it and it was so simple, he couldn't believe he didn't think of it sooner.

"Mery, take the ship."

"What!"

That was not a question and just in case, Tao took a step back. "Don't try to take any one of us. Take the ship."

"The ship is very heavy." She kicked a foot on the deck.

"You don't have to get very far. Just over there," he coaxed. "Pointing at the edge of the whirlwind. So we can see what's in there. Decide what the gods need us to do."

"Fine, but if we die, this is your fault, and I will only see to the soul of my brother," said Mery.

"Fair. More than fair," said Tao.

He was about to ask if she could swim, when she gripped the tiller of the ship and the world went silver. The ship went silvery too. While the column of smoke took on a somewhat different quality.

That of sound. An eternal sucking, screeching sound that Tao very much did not like. He particularly did not like it as the boat, as if floating in air sailed right over a giant mouth with great gaping teeth. A mouth that opened and closed. Grinding those teeth, before opening its mouth to scream again.

"Right," said Dja. "I see. I have an idea. I suspect no one will like what I have to say next."

Dja was correct.

Still no prize without risk. Setep was lowered on one rope while Mery glared at the sailors. Tao laughed and swarmed down his like a cackling Geb himself. He waited at the next opening of the jaws. To see Setep lay a hand on black lips. Whispered something he couldn't hear over the howls.

The mouth stayed open.

He was telling himself what a good thief he was as he went by the teeth. Pausing to tug twice on the smaller cord dangling next to him. Two tugs for all was well.

He was telling himself what a great thief he was as he climbed to the only thing he found in that vast empty space, an altar floating in the abyss.

He didn't steal from on the principle that gods have long arms. He did leave an offering before or after a theft.

He placed the seed on the altar. After tugging the chord five times and then once again, he poured the blood on the seed. Somewhere, Dja recited an enchantment of growth, which must have worked for he saw the seed grow into Lord Osiris.

He had rather doubted that Dja was correct as to the nature of the seed until that moment. He tossed Osiris the bag containing the myrrh and frankincense from Punt.

Osiris looked startled, but he caught it.

First time Tao had given an offering for a theft to a god directly.

Tao had nothing more to give and Lord Osiris was ignoring him, tending to the contents of the box in the bag. The scent of myrrh and frankincense, of perfume and spice filled the air.

Tao really wanted to get out of the giant screaming mouth. He began the upward journey, which was when he spotted it. Something shining in the dark. Not a diamond. Something pure and clearly and sparkling through and through.

He reasoned the gods wouldn't have sent a thief if they didn't want something stolen. The golden stone over his heart hummed, so he took that for agreement. He used his legs to swing the rope out and over. An outstretched hand and the thing was in his hand and tucked in a fold of his kilt.

Although, as he looked up, he saw the mouth begin to close. He muttered, "I didn't give the signal." Then shut up so that he could save his breath for climbing.

He could soon see he wasn't going to make it. Was trying to decide if he wanted to die in the arms of Osiris when the most handsome woman he'd ever seen, a goddess perhaps given her rainbow colored wings, swooped down and plucked him from the rope. Flying up and up. Just as the jaws of the hole in the earth closed.

He could hear Dja yelling, and the sea rushed in over the opening. Leaving only waves, and the fragment of an burned and desolate island. A blackened shelf cliff. A scorched and smoking slope that steamed at the lap of the sea.

"Hello, gorgeous," he said to his rescuer, who gave him a jaundiced look.

Ahmose, for that was Ahmose's voice said, "You are an idiot." But it was not an unfriendly tone, which Tao considered not a bad sign.

They circled once. Twice. Then the Wings of Isis appeared, which was a fortuitous name, for Isis flew once over it, wings outspread, before diving beneath the waves.

Presumably to fish her husband out of an abyss.

Ahmose landed them easily on the water washed rocks. Perhaps wanting a moment before she addressed his/her/their crew again. Ahmose swatted Tao.

"What!" said Tao, who had only peeked just a little at Ahmose's sea dampened kilt to try to determine what equipment Ahmose now came with.

"You are incorrigible," said Ahmose.

"I tried to seduce you before," said Tao reasonably.

"You tried to seduce all of us into an orgy so that we might improve our teamwork."

Tao shrugged, because it was true. He felt the thing in his pouch and pulled it out. Where before it had looked clear, now it appeared to be a small blown glass jar full of water. "That's it? I mean, yes, glass is precious, but hardly what should cause all that fuss." He put it on the pebbled beach and examined it. Opened the stopper on the top carefully. Sniffed it.

It smelled like nothing.

"I think it's missing something," said Mery, appearing in that way he really envied and wished she'd teach him. She plucked the purple-red gem out of her chest. She must not have been as attached as her brother had been, for it left no mark. She dropped the gem in the jar where it sprouted. More slowly than Osiris had done. But still, a good deal faster than any sort of plant he'd seen. Not that he spent much time in the fields. The plant's roots broke through the glass, so there was that. Vines sprouted up the hillside. Sprouting deep wide leaves and further curling vines. Tiny green-white flowers that grew in clusters. Budding.  Blooming. Fading away in a moment. Before shifting to little green clusters of fruit. Growing. Deepening as the vines hold on the cliff face spread more and more. Ra had not traveled more than an outstretched fist's distance in the sky before the vines were heavy with fruit. Before the island was green and full of gem like clusters of purple-red or green fruit.

Which was all very lovely and all, but Tao eyed is suspiciously. Divine monstrous maw fruit was not to be trusted.

Mery reached out and plucked a cluster. He said, "What are you doing? Don't touch that."

Mery rolled her eyes at him. "I'm taking some back for Dja and Setep to look at."  She stepped forward and disappeared.

"I wish she would teach me that." Then he smiled at Ahmose with his most charming smile. "Would you carry me back to the boat?"

Ahmose mock glared at him, said, "Put your arms around my neck," and did just that.

Chapter Text

Dja examined the fruit. She said, "So all that happened was you grew some grapes."

"Is that what those are?" said Mery, who could apparently walk through walls and travel to the underworld, but hadn't been to one of more well stocked markets.

"Yes," said Dja absently. "As I understand it, in the city of Shiraz they make it into a sort of fermented drink."

She looked back at the island, whose cliff face and the sloping hill on the other side were covered in grapevines. "I would not propose that we attempt to ferment these grapes." She looked at the sky which already seemed brighter. "I suppose we should go home."

So the ship set sail. The Wings of Isis carrying them all lightly over the waves. She said to Ahmose quietly, "The crops should resume their normal growth, but the Sea People have already left their homes. It's not as if we can put up signs saying, 'Famine cancelled please go home now.' and expect them to pay attention."

Ahmose said just as quietly, "I know." Ahmose tilted their head back and spread wide their arm wings. Smiled a suddenly brilliant smile. "Are you in a hurry to head home just yet?"

"Why?" was her slow reply.

"Have you heard of the voyage sponsored by Pharaoh Hatshepsut?"

Dja's eyes widened. The tale blooming in her head. "The circumnavigation of the southerly lands looking for a sea route to Punt?"

"The same," was Ahmose's reply.

Mery grumbled about being sent to get supplies from the market in Memphis, but as it happened, no one was quite ready to merely head home after a journey like that.

It was a long time before they sailed into the harbor at El Qoseir, the hold full of many wonders, and stacks of papyrus documenting what they had seen.

It's said if you can find Dja's tomb, you can read them. If you can find such a place. For it's also said, none of them took such a simple step as dying. Preferring to go the more direct way to the lands beyond.

Chapter Text

Thoth said, "Well done, daughter. Well thought out."

Isis looked at her father and said, "Of all the blood I shed in the desert, only one flower found its way to the lonely island to close the wound in the world. To give birth to a new god. A wild god. A mad god. A laughing god."

Although Thoth was behind every book that had ever been written, he had no answer for this. Although he was a god of words, he considered that in this, Isis should have the last word.

He waited.

Into the silence, Isis said, "But that was enough."