Egypt - the dawn of time
Extract 4 Netherworld
The priestess entered the subterranean room where Shoshan sat alone, her slim figure and white robes dominated by the bulk of the stone chair. Her eyes were closed and her dark hair spilled over her shoulders.
"We must stop at once," Hasina announced.
"But why," said the girl, full of excitement, "we have finally made a contact."
"I know," said the older priestess, "you’ve done amazingly well, Shoshan, better than we could have hoped over such a short time … " Hasina trailed off. Tension and fear clogged her usually clear mind.
The pretty face of the young priestess turned towards her.
"Come," Hasina said, gesturing to the doorway.
Shoshan walked across the stone floor, her face radiant with success.
“I actually saw him. It wasn’t easy, but I found him.”
“I know,” responded the older woman, her chest tight with concern.
They mounted the stone steps together and entered the Temple of Protection. Twelve wooden chairs were arranged in a large square around a simple altar adorned with flowers. Incense burned in copper dishes on raised wooden posts.
The other priestesses crowded around a figure lying on the floor.
“Merit, is it Merit?” Shoshan asked, stopping at the top of the stairs, worried sick about her closest friend.
“Give her room to breathe," Hasina said, and gently moved two of the older sisters from where they knelt leaning over the unconscious girl.
They chose the weakest link, Hasina thought to herself. I should have foreseen this possibility. Not for the first time this day, she regretted that the head of their Order had had to leave so suddenly for the south of the Kingdom.
"What happened?" said Shoshan, her voice now shaking.
Hasina looked up from where she had squatted down by the prone girl, and saw Shoshan had turned milky pale. "We're not sure," she said. "When she fell, she said something about a cat …”
"A silvery cat it was, I heard her distinctly," said one of the two older priestesses.
"We must get her to the infirmary," said Hasina, "and ensure she has complete rest." She gave a series of instructions concerning herbs and medications. She knew that the holy oil they had immediately administered had probably saved the girl's life. This type of attack had never taken place before in this temple. It provided further evidence, if any were needed, that the servants of chaos were practising their poisonous arts.
When the wounded priestess had been safely carried out of the temple on a litter, Hasina told the other priestesses to go and rest, for they’d be needed again soon.
"Walk with me," she said to Shoshan.
The temple was set within a colonnade, which kept it cool in the punishing heat of the summer. They crossed the spacious courtyard beyond the colonnade, and on this cooler day, Hasina enjoyed the cleansing warmth of the sun as it radiated fiery heat over her skin. Even this close to the equinox, the daytime sun could be too powerful to be exposed to for very long. They found a cypress wood bench in the shade of some trees.
"Tell me what you experienced, Shoshan, and then we will talk of what must happen next."
"At first it was hard for me to really concentrate," she began. "I needed to line up all the Doorways, just as you’ve taught me, and found I couldn't hold them all clear in my mind. After a while, your chanting came very close and I could move through the bands of mist. As I did so, I had a waking dream.” The excitement of the experience animated her face and hands once again.
“A feather … a feather like our holy feather fluttered in front of me. I picked it up and used it to guide me through the mistiness. I can't tell you exactly how, but the feather seemed to show the true way."
Shoshan stopped and her eyes became wistful.
"And what happened then?" Hasina asked, touching the young priestess’s hand.
"For a moment I found myself somewhere entirely strange. It must have been a temple. It appeared truly enormous, bigger than any temple in Ta-Opet. I could hear noise everywhere but nothing made any sense. Then I saw the feather once more at my feet … except they were not my feet …” She stopped and looked across at the older priestess. “Do you understand me?”
"Yes, I do dear, maybe more than you know. Just go on and explain what you saw."
"I couldn't find my way. Everything had become dark. I could sense a part of myself a long, long way away, as though at the far end of a very long journey … I don't know how to explain it better."
Hasina, squeezed her hand. “I’m following. Keep going.”
"This other part that was me, yet wasn't me all at the same time, searched… but didn't know what it was searching for. And then it all became clear. That's the amazing thing - I could see the picture of Katesch."
"The one in our refectory, where all the portraits of the High Mothers are painted."
"You mean the one of Katesch, painted when she was anointed as leader?"
"I didn't know when it was done, but yes that one. That image dissolved and I could see a different temple, with cabinets made of clear crystal. A boy stood in front of one of these glowing cabinets, the one with Katesch's picture, a boy who knew me even as I know him. He's the link we have been seeking. He even proved clever enough to tell me his name. I think he is a Hearer, like you and me. The sound of his name is really strange you know, it's something like Ro-Ree."
Hasina frowned; this wasn’t an Egyptian name.
"But," her young friend continued, "I heard what the name means, it means Red King. I think he's actually a king, isn't that remarkable?"
"Indeed.” Hasina grasped her hands together. “Remarkable.” She paused and looked at the younger girl. “What you’ve done Shoshan, is also remarkable and perhaps much more significant than you currently realise. You’ve forged a powerful link with another Seed of Life. We are all proud of you.”
The younger girl smiled at her friend, and then a cloud passed over her features. "What caused Merit to collapse?" she asked.
“We can't be sure," the older priestess replied, thinking Shoshan deserved the truth. "Remember, treasure, that the work we are doing takes us into the borderland of Amenti, the netherworld. It is here that Time is coiled like a great snake, and can be traversed. Those who master time’s mysteries become guardians of the ages yet to come and - some say - of the ages that have passed. It is the deepest purpose of our blessed Order.”
“Why are some trying to stop us then? Surely we all serve the same gods, the same truth?”
“Others seek to gain control of time for their own reasons, wishing for personal power rather than service to the holy gods.”
Shoshan stopped, and turned to the older priestess. “Will Merit be all right?”
Hasina wondered how much to explain, for she didn’t know for sure if Merit would fully recover. “The aspect of Set in the netherworlds that seeks personal power beyond all things, can appear as a cat, silvery and persuasive, but also deceitful and deadly. I believe this force may have attacked Merit. The Sisters acted quickly and we must pray to the gods they acted in time.”
Hasina put her arm around the other girl's shoulders and gave her a squeeze. "Go and rest, treasure. You will need all your strength again tomorrow. Now you’ve found another of the Seeds of Life, far away in time, we must work to protect him, for he’ll know little or nothing of his true purpose. He lives an age of great spiritual darkness as you know."
The next day the priestesses gathered in the Temple of Protection once more. Merit's place was taken by another experienced priestess, and all wore protective amulets around their necks, according to their name and status in the Order.
Hasina and Shoshan descended into the room beneath and Shoshan eased herself back into the stone chair. Her graceful hands rested on the two lions’ heads carved into the chair arms. The room carried the faint fragrance of kyphi incense used in the simple ceremony of preparation.
"Remember my Sister,” said Hasina, " just forge the bond with our Red King. It is he who has to awaken to his true purpose. It is there deep inside him as it is deep inside us all. Let Anubis be the guide. You are just the messenger."
Each wall of the small room displayed a painting of one major deity. The chair faced a larger than life-size view of the jackal-headed god, Anubis, the guide of souls. Like all the walls in this crypt, it had a light of its own. The tiny crystals in the stone walls scintillated with a brightness that healed as well as revealed.
The light gently illumined Shoshan’s features. The girl prepared to take the image of Anubis deep within herself and send it through the shifting corridors of time, to awaken and guide the boy.
The science behind these glowing walls would eventually be lost, Hasina knew. In her own explorations through time, she’d seen ages where darkness, not light, held sway and the purity of their fair Egypt would also be lost as though it had never been.
Much of the deepest knowledge of their Order would be withdrawn in the centuries to come, so that its power could not be abused. Set’s Children would inherit the earth and lose the heavens. Their reign wouldn’t be forever, not if Shoshan's work proved fruitful. Her task, with the other Seeds of Life, would be to shift the flow of Time itself.
Looking back once more at the youngest of their Order, thin as a graceful reed in the stone chair, Hasina climbed the stairs to join the Sisters in the room above, murmuring a quiet prayer.