“Are you sure about this sister?” Isis asked, her voice gentle and filled with concern. “You know if you take a mortal host, you will not be able to leave her body until she dies.”
“I know.” Nephthys looked down at the small human child between them, eyes wide and black. Even though the baby was newly born, she stared upward with the solemnity of the wisest of priests. Nephthys knew she could not see the two goddesses standing above her, deciding her fate, and yet those black eyes seemed to catch Nephthys’s own and stare into her soul. “But it is what I want.”
Isis sighed. “I do not understand your choice sister,” she said as she raised her hands, glowing green from the excess power. “But I will support you to the best of my ability.”
Nephthys smiled. “Thank you sister,” she said as her godly form warped and changed, forced into the tiny container beside them. The baby struggled, crying out as she was touched by something not meant for moral flesh. Nephthys cried out in similar pain as her godly form contracted into a space too small to hold it, until she found the two screams were joined in one. She opened her eyes, black and oh so human, to a seemingly empty room.
The priests come for her when she is still a toddler, clinging to her mother's legs. They come following rumors of a child born with divine powers, who can foresee death and offer pain relief to the dying. They are cautious, providing her with many tests to prove her identity.
She passes them all with ease, and laughed with childish glee at how simple they all were. “You will need greater tests than these my dear baldy,” she giggled to their leader, a man with a bare head who had followed her sect since he was just a boy. “These are mere amusements. Why don’t you ask for something incredible, like the return of your hair?”
The other priests all gasped and drew back, horrified at the perceived insult. But the head priest threw back his head and let out a great bellow of laughter. “My lady,” he bowed low, tears of joy in his eyes. “It has been too long since I prayed such a foolish prayer, will you ever forgive me?”
She placed a small hand on his head, reveling in the feeling of the smooth skin she had never before been able to touch. “Forgive? But of course. Let you forget…” she playfully patted out a small tune on his cranium. “Never.”
The head priest raised his head slightly, then turned and called to the other priests. “Bow, bow before your goddess in human form! Bow and praise her glorious gift to mankind!” The priests all fell to their knees, as did all those in the square behind them. Even her mortal mother, who birthed the body she now wore, bowed in worship. Looking down at the lowered heads, Nephthys did not feel the pleasure and gratitude she had so often before. Instead she felt only loneliness.
“What are they?” she asked, watching in awe as the strange creatures scurried around the skin of their father Geb. “They are so small!”
They were not in fact, small. No. In fact some were taller than her, even in her godly form. But she had not meant physical height. There was something wrong with them, something she didn’t yet have the words for. They were...less somehow. Less present, less aware. One walked right through her as if she wasn’t even there. She startled and stumbled back.
Strong arms caught her, wrapping around her torso. A voice spoke from above. “Are you alright Nephthys?” She looked up to meet the concerned eyes of Set.
“I’m fine!” She smiled, jumping out of his arms and trying to hide her blush. Set allowed her to escape, but his eyes stayed on her face, worried and watchful.
“Hey you!” Isis’s voice cut through their moment. “Get back here and apologize to my sister!” She tried to chase the person down, but every time she reached to grab him her hand passed through. Finally she stopped, face a mask of concentration, and a strange green glow surrounded her palms. She raised her hands now glowing hands towards her target. The light reached out and snaked around the person, causing him to trip and fall.
“Hahaha!” she shrieked, and ran back to grab Nephthys’s hands. “Did you see that? I made the nasty man pay for hurting you. Now you don’t have to worry!” She smiled, wide and genuine as life itself.
Nephthys felt her face soften. “Thank you Isis. You are my hero.”
“And don’t you forget it!” Isis tapped her nose playfully, then skipped away, sticking her tongue out at Set as she did so. He scowled back, and Osiris stepped between them, ready to prevent yet another fight.
“Children!” A commanding voice brought all their chaos to a halt. Pharaoh Ra himself appeared in all his glory, glowing like his sun, surrounded by an escort of minor gods and serpents. “What are you doing playing by the human village? You do not yet have the strength or the presence to be recognized by them. Come back to the palace at once.”
“Humans? Is that what they are called?” Isis perked up. Osiris elbowed her in the ribs.
“We are sorry Your Radiance,” he said as he bowed low. “My friends and I were only curious.” He shot a glare at Isis. “We will return at once.”
Ra sighed. “I suppose there is nothing wrong with a little curiosity. But let someone know where you are going next time. Powerful young gods like yourselves could attract all types of unwanted attention.” He turned back towards the sun, almost to the point where Ra could board it and ride the sunboat into the Duat. “Come along.”
Nephthys exchanged a glance with the others. Set shrugged. Isis sighed. But it was Osiris who took the first step after the Pharaoh of the Gods, towards the setting sun.
The world was cold, colder than anything she had ever known before, even worse than the strange frozen gifts Set had brought her when she was so young. What had he called them? She didn’t remember. They had been white, and melted in her hand. Funny how something that seemed so harmless and fun could be so devastating in bulk, she thought as she pulled her arms tighter around her body.
The worst part was the sun. She didn’t dare look back up, to see that black thing in the place of the sunboat in the sky. Ra was gone, dead and swallowed by the great snake Apophis, how else could the sun be so dark and broken? She cursed her mortal form. The mortal's war had been terrible, yes, but how had she missed that it was headed by Apophis himself? Was she truly so out of touch with the matters of the gods? Was she truly so inconsquental that no one had rallied her to fight?
But it didn’t matter now. Ra’s death at the hands of the snake could only mean that Ma'at had broken and everyone she knew was truly gone. Not even in the afterlife for her to visit. No. The snake would have torn them from reality itself. Isis, Osiris, her little son Anubis, her nephew Horus, Set...
She let out a half choked sob. Set would have gone out first.
She never even got to say goodbye.
“Hello?” A voice called out, and Nephthys’s head jerked up. “Is someone there?”
“I’m here!” Nephthys cried out, heart pounding as she ran towards the sound. Someone else was alive, but who? Who had survived Apophis’s attack?
She broke through the tree line to see a figure in blue. Her heart dropped as she saw his face. His skin was pale, paler than anything she had ever seen. No one she loved looked so strange.
“Who are you?” she asked, voice uncertain. He did not look like the invading barbarians, but he could be one of their gods. How else could he have survived after the world had ended?
“I’m Kodya,” he met her gaze and she held back a gasp. His eyes were bizarre, like chips of blue sky, but that wasn’t what drew her attention. It was the youth in them, open and wide. He was...small...No conception of gods or the spiritual world of the Duat lingered in any part of his soul. She knew instinctively that if she were not in a mortal’s body, he would not be able to perceive her at all.
The thought of a mortal surviving in a world were even the gods had fallen baffled her. But she supposed it did not matter. She was a goddess, perhaps not his, but a goddess nonetheless. It was her duty to guide and protect humans, even strange ones. “I’m Nephthys,” Her smile was as warm and reassuring as she could make it. “We seem to be the only ones here. Let’s stick together until we find other signs of life okay?”
“Neph-thys,” he spoke her name slowly, testing it out on his tongue. “That’s a strange name.” She giggled and he blushed bright red. “Sorry! I’ve just never heard one like it." He hesitated, then asked with brow furrowed in suspicion, "Is it french?”
“Its from Kemet,” she laughed. “I believe it must be very far away from this French.”
“Oh,” he looked down, then straightened his shoulders to meet her gaze. “I would love to travel with you. Neph-thys...” he glanced around them, “...do you have any idea where here is?”
“No.” She shook her head, unwilling to voice the truth of the death of Ra, not to a mortal. It would make it too real. “But I have a good feeling about that direction.” Her intuition, the only power that seemed to still work, kicked in and she pointed to the left. “Perhaps if we go there, we will find others.”
The young mortal, Kodya, nodded. His face was full of trust. As they headed back out into the forest, she promised herself that this time she would keep those under her care safe.
It was strange, to be among so many mortals again in the Room of Swords. Stranger still that her powers seemed to have changed. Her godly abilities had all but vanished, except for the foresight that had always plagued her. Ironic too, that here she was a healer. Her temple had been a place of healing, it was true, but her gift was not to return people their lives, but to ease the pain of those dying and ensure their souls gained safe passage through the Duat. She could give the dying peace; she could even heal a damaged soul on its way to be judged by Anubis; but she could not stop a mortal wound from bleeding.
It worried her, that she could heal as well as if this were the afterlife, and not Kemet. But she kept that knowledge to herself, for she doubted the mortals would understand, and she did not want to sow more fear.
When she had lived in the temple, she had been treated as a goddess still. Her gift was unique, the way only a true host of a god’s could be. Her powers of foresight were beyond anything any mortal magician could master.
Here in the Room of Swords she was one of many. Healing was a rare gift, it was true. But she was not alone. The med bay had others to share her burden and give her advice. Among them she was an acolyte, not a master.
In the temple, she had been held at an arm’s length by all those around her. Even her head priest, who had held her as a child and who let her call him Baldy, had always treated her with a diffidence that would have gone to her head had she actually been a mortal child. She blamed the lonely feeling such treatment brought with it on her mortal form.
In the Room of Swords, Kodya would seek her out to train, to sulk about something someone said, or to gush over Gyrus. She would laugh at the ridiculous face he made as he whined like the child he was about how Gyrus threw him into another monster pit. Or sigh in sympathy when he complained about how difficult it was to get Gyrus to notice him. Other times, the healers would invite her to eat with them. Together they would gossip about the strong fighters and how injured they all got. She would listen, and laugh, and feel...almost human.
Sometimes, the people of the Room of Swords reminded her of a different time. One where gods ruled and fought and lived on her father’s skin just as much as they lived in the depths of the Duat. It was...strange, to make such connections between the divine and these simple mortals. But these mortals wielded strange powers with ease when a goddess still struggled. So perhaps in this twisted reality where even Ra could not enter, perhaps here it made sense.
Don reminded her most of Ra. Not Ra as he was when she last saw him, old, broken, and confined to the sunboat. No. The Ra of her youth, when the world was so new, and she was still so very young. Don held that same kindness towards those who were new and unsure of themselves, and the same quiet wisdom that made people flock to him to confess their deepest secrets and ask his advice. He even had the same tactic of using obscure metaphors, although where Don related life to the plants he grew in his garden, Ra had used the flow of the river.
She watched from her place beside Kodya as Don stepped into the room with Gyrus at his side, ready to announce who would go on the next mission. Kodya stood beside her, tense with anticipation and nerves. As each name was called, the person would square their shoulders and beam, prouder than ever at their name had come from his lips.
“Kodya,” Don’s voice echoed over to them, and Kodya beamed at her, honest delight open on his face. It reminded her of another smile...
“Nephthys!” Set burst into the room, face shining with excitement. “Nephthys, Nephthys, you’ll never believe it!” He waved his hands wildly. “I got the position! You’re looking at the new guard of Ra’s sunboat!”
“Set that’s fantastic!” She had giggled, light with her own euphoria. He smiled, then crossed the room to pick her up and swing her around in his arms. She laughed as she flew through the air.
He finally set her down on the ground, and she stumbled a bit, leaning against his hard chest. “I’m going to guard Ra,” he spoke quietly into her hair, his voice full of awe. “He picked me.”
“Of course he did,” Nephthys tilted her head so she could look him in the eyes. “You’re the strongest god he has.” Set’s cheeks reddened. Then he smirked and pulled their bodies closer.
“You know what the best part is?” he whispered into her ear.
“What?” Nephthys breathed, hyperaware of his chest against her own.
“I get to work with you, oh Guiding Goddess of Death and Protection, As you guide the sunboat through the afterlife.” He pulled her tight and spun her again through the air.
Nephthys laughed, full of joy. They would be together, serving the god they loved. And in that moment, it truly felt like their happiness would last forever.
She shook her head to clear the memory. None of that mattered. Not now. Instead she tried to smile warmly as Kodya stepped up to join the line. He stood straight-backed and tall beside Gyrus, but Nephthys knew inside he was freaking out about how close he was to his hero and crush. Her gaze flickered to Gyrus, standing equally tall, but more relaxed. He beamed at the crowd as if this were not some dangerous mission, but an exciting chance to explore the world. There were lines beneath his eyes she knew, but they would not stop him. Nothing would.
He reminded her so much of her beloved sister Isis, with his warmth and kindness. He always had a kind word of encouragement for everyone around. Isis too had been kind, understanding, and, Nephthys thought as she watched Gyrus’s eyes glow, so very, very powerful. But the one trait that most linked Isis and Gyrus in her mind was their almost single-minded quest for knowledge. Gyrus would spend hours holed up in his room without food or water, only to return with an invention, or a theory, or a new battle strategy. He wanted to know so much, it almost frightened her.
Isis had been like that too. It had not always been a blessing.
“Why did you do it sister?” Nephthys looked down at the weakened form of Ra. Her god, her Pharaoh, the Sun God himself, lay on a golden bed and struggled feebly to breathe. “Why poison Ra? He is your pharaoh too.”
Isis gave her shoulder a comforting pat, looking all together unbothered by this turn of events. “Do not fear dear sister. This isn’t his end. I can heal him. But...” A smile spread across her features, as wide and manic as the gleam in her eyes. “I need something of his first. His true name.”
Nephthys felt her body go cold. “You...you can’t! That...that power is not for us, it would be too much, even for us gods! You know this! So why?”
“Don’t believe everything you’re told sister dear.” Isis rolled her eyes. “Infinite knowledge won’t destroy me. I’m more than able to handle it. Besides...” her eyes softened slightly as she looked at the broken god between them, “...I really can’t heal him without his true name. The venom of the snake I used was fashioned out of his own magic. Without his name I cannot cast the spell to undo it.”
Ra cracked open a single eye, golden as the sun itself. “Isis,” he hissed, voice hoarse with sickness. “Come closer.”
Isis sent Nephthys a happy smile, full of excitement and joy as she leaned closer.
Nephthys bowed and exited the room, unwilling to watch one she loved be betray another she loved.
Nephthys raised her head as Ragan threw open the door to the med bay with a flash of lightning. “Where’s Cib?” she said by way of greeting. A few of the the other patients flinched at her angry tone, but Ragan didn’t seem to care as she stalked inside.
Only Ciboulette seemed to brighten as Ragan entered. “Over here,” she called from beside Nephthys, voice hoarse. Ragan made a beeline towards them, planting herself in the chair beside Ciboulette’s bed. She hesitated briefly, before reaching out a hand to gently grasp Ciboulette’s smaller one. Ciboulette gave her a soft smile in return.
The two were in their own little world, Nephthys thought. She hated to interrupt this moment, but she did have other patients. “She’s almost healed,” she said, and held back a giggle as both women startled. “Just one more kiss and a bit of rest, and she should be done.”
Nephthys leaned down and kissed Ciboulette gently on the cheek as Ragan kept ahold of her hand. “There,” Nephthys said. “Now she needs rest.” She gave Ragan a pointed smile.
“I’ll be quiet,” Ragan reassured as rubbed the back of her neck awkwardly. Beside her Ciboulette’s smile widened.
Nephthys didn’t argue, she knew better than to get between a lioness and her lover. She had known Sekhmet and Hathor, and Ragan and Ciboulette’s love reminded her so much of theirs. It warmed her soul to see it again.
“She’s out of control! What do we do?” Thoth wailed. Nephthys winced. It was never a good sign when the God of Knowledge himself was out of ideas. What had Ra been thinking when he created a goddess as uncontrollable as Sekhmet? Surely he knew that creating a god whose sole purpose was destruction could only backfire. Although, she thought as she watched through the palace window as Sekhmet wreaked havoc on the mortal guards below, Ra hadn’t really been himself lately. Not since...She shook her head slightly and turned her attention back to the three other gods huddled in the room. Now was not the time for what ifs.
“You know what we need to do! We need to attack” Set was saying to Thoth. “Get reinforcements from the gods, strike now and look for a weakness!” He crossed his arms as he watched Sekhmet rip another mortal to shreds, a scowl on his lips.
Thoth threw up his hands in frustration. “We tried that, and all the other half-decent plans you’re about to say!” Set opened his mouth, fangs bared and Thoth raised a single finger to silence him. “Good plans are useless! Right now I want your stupidest plans!”
“What?” Isis stomped her foot. “Why? A stupid plan is dismissed because its stupid!” Nephthys privately agreed with her sister, but Thoth just sighed dramatically.
“We’ve tried all the good ones! If the good ones do not work, then supposedly there must be a bad plan that will work instead! So I’m asking you, God of the Desert, Goddess of Magic, and the Guiding Goddess of Death and Protection.” He turned to face each of them in turn. “You three deal with Apophis’ chaos nightly when defending Ra’s sunboat! So provide me a solution!”
Set scowled. “We have a solution. Ra should be able to command a goddess born from his own right eye! Or he would be if someone...” he glared at Isis, “...hadn’t stolen his name and made him need to create Sekhmet to defend himself in the first place!”
“Are you saying this is my fault?!” Isis drew back in outrage. Nephthys winced at her volume. This argument could last for millennia. They would never be able to hash out a solution at this rate. Which meant it was up to her. She furrowed her brow, and concentrated so hard her stomach began to ache and claw inside her, but she could think of no way to stop the rampaging goddess from destroying Kemet.
“Excuse me?” Nephthys looked up to see Hathor, a minor Goddess of Music and Dancing, standing before them. The usually graceful dancer stood hesitantly in the doorway, shifting balance from foot to foot. “I have a very stupid idea, that I think could work?” She ducked her head as the attention of four very powerful gods swung towards her.
“Speak,” Thoth shot Isis and Set a disapproving frown. “It’s not as if we have any other ideas.”
Hathor dipped into a curtsey, but her eye held a twinkle of mischief as she said, “How much wine do Your Radiances possess?”
This is not going to work, Nepththys thought as sweat began to form on her brow. The fifty jars of the Duat’s finest wine sat innocently in the open square. This plan is stupid. It will get us all killed.
They sat together behind the jars, lounging in the royal courtyard as if on a picnic, holding empty cups and pretending to laugh and talk. It was a mockery of a true festival. The gods were pale and shaking, their voices high pitched as they pretended to laugh. Only Hathor seemed completely at ease, dancing before the open jars as if there was no mad goddess born from Ra’s eye out to kill every god and human in her path.
Nephthys wrapped her arms around herself, wishing they would stop shaking. All she could think of was how vulnerable they all looked, lying open and exposed on the courtyard ground. Set placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. She glanced up at him, and he gave her his best attempt at a reassuring smile, but his mighty chin trembled. She cuddled closer to his side. At least if they died they died together.
“Sekhmet!” Hathor cried, raising one hand to wave excitedly in the air, as if greeting a dear friend and not a monster on a rampage. “Welcome! We’ve been waiting for you!”
The sheer joy in her voice brought even Sekhmet to a halt. She stood before Hathor, eyebrows knitting in confusion. “Are you going to let me kill you?”
“Now, now!” Hathor gave Sekhmet a wink, body moving in a hypnotic rhythm. “Don’t be so hasty!” Sekhmet gave a half frown and started to reach out, but Hathor danced gracefully just out of her reach. “You will eat your fill, but this is a festival in your honor! First you must drink the blood of your enemies as we toast to your greatness!”
Sekhmet’s eyes followed Hathor’s body in its mesmerizing movements. “The blood of my enemies?”
“Yes,” Hathor smiled, then flipped backwards, to alight on the rim of a jar, foot light as a feather. “Drink, and we will toast to the mighty Sekhmet, the true daughter of Ra!” She produced a goblet from thin air, and raised it in salute. Quickly Nephthys and the other gods followed suit, lifting trembling cups towards Sekhmet.
Sekhmet let out a mighty roar, and Nephthys flinched at the sound. But it was not a roar of anger, but rather a great billowing laugh. “Very well. I will drink!” Sekhmet lunged to one of the jars, and downed the whole thing in one gulp. Hathor smiled as she passed her another, and another, and another.
As they got halfway through the jars, Nephthys began to tremble harder. Sekhmet showed no sign of the ware that should come from consuming so much alcohol. Set’s grip tightened on her shoulder until his nails were like knives cutting into her skin. But about a forth of the way through, Sekhmet’s cheeks became stained with red. From then on her eyes became glassy, and her hands could barely hold on to the jars Hathor gently pressed into her hands. A third of the way through the last jar she slumped forward, and did not get up.
Nephthys let out a sigh of relief, body relaxing against Set’s chest. But Set did not let go. “It’s not over yet,” he said, voice grim. “We must get rid of her first.” So saying he rose to his knees, knuckles white on the sword he intended to slay the sleeping goddess. But Hathor got there first, jumping almost protectively over the body.
“Wait,” she said. “There is still one part left.” Then she spread her arms, opened her mouth, and began to sing. Nephthys had never heard a song like it before, as melodious and soft as a birds, as deep and threatening as thunder. Growing up with Isis, she thought she knew of all the magic in existence simply by proxy. But this? This was something else. This called to Sekhmet’s very essence, knew her very being, found it beautiful, and offered it to join her in her song. Light flooded around her and Sekhmet as Sekhmet’s essence began flowing around Hathor and into her mouth, fusing their spirits into one.
The song ended in a single, heart-wrenching note. All around the gods were silent. Nephthys felt something wet on her face. She reached up to touch it and found she was crying.
“What was that?” Isis’s voice cut through the silence. “I’ve never seen magic like that before!”
Hathor smiled enigmatically as she dropped into another curtsy. “All gods have there gifts, great and small,” she replied. Isis looked like she wanted to protest, but then Sekhmet stirred. “Oh!” Hathor gave a little jump, and quickly knelt by her side. “She’s waking up!”
Sekhmet gave a low groan as she propped herself up on her elbows. Hathor placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “How are you feeling?” she asked.
Sekhmet blinked bleary eyes at her. “I feel...” She pulled herself up to a sitting position with Hathor’s help. “Different.”
“That’s okay,” Hathor gave her a small smile. “I feel different too.”
“Why?” A ghost of a frown crossed Sekhmet’s face. Hathor bit her lip.
“Because I joined our essences. You and I, we are connected now.” Sekhmet’s eyes widened and she struggled out of Hathor’s grip.
“You...you stole my name?” Sekhmet cried out, clutching her hand to her chest.
“No!” Hathor cut sharply through the air with her hands. “I’d never do something so cruel! No.” Her voice softened, and she peaked at Sekmet from beneath her bangs. “I joined our essences. You and I, we share a title now. We are both Goddesses of War, and Goddesses of Dance.”
“But I don’t know anything about dance.” Sekhmet rubbed the back of her neck awkwardly.
“What a coincidence,” laughed Hathor, high and nervous. “I know nothing about war. I guess...” she held out a hesitant hand to Sekhmet, “...we teach each other?”
Nephthys held her breath as Sekhmet hesitated, but then Sekhmet reached out and grabbed Hathor’s small hand in her own. “Together,” she said.
Some days were more difficult than others. Days when a mission went so badly she had to choose who to help, and leave the rest crying in pain as her powers depleted. Days when Kodya’s missions had gone on for too long and she was not strong enough to go out and look for him herself. Days when the homesickness for her own people and gods was so strong it felt like an baby chick had been born inside her stomach and was trying to break out.
On these days her smile was a bit more forced, her laughter a bit slower to arrive. Isis would know what that meant. Kodya was starting to. But among most of the Room of Swords, she seemed much the same as she always did. To everyone but one. Ainju.
It had been fairly soon after her arrival when he first noticed something was wrong. Kodya had gone on a mission, his first, and he and his party hand not returned at the predicted time. She had tried her best to keep her spirits up, but the separation was beginning to wear on her. She began to wonder if Kodya would join the ranks of the countless soldiers she had seen leave her temple and never return.
“Are you all right?” Ainju had asked. His voice was quiet but he held her gaze firmly.
Nephthys had been surprised, because she had not thought her behavior had shown her anxiety. “I’m fine!” She hurriedly tried to reassure him, tightening the corners of her mouth to force a smile on her lips.
Ainju did not contradict her. Instead he simply waited as her shoulders slumped under the pressure maintaining her smile. Finally he said, “I am going to meditate, would you like to come with me? I could use the company.”
She had hesitated, a part of her reluctant to admit weakness in front of a mere mortal. But the rest of her was so very tired. Besides... “What is a healer for, if not to keep patients company!” Her voice was light, chipper even, but her steps beside Ainju fell heavy with the weight of the world.
Ainju did not say a word as together they walked to the temple, or when they meditated, side by side. But his presence was calming, serene almost. He seemed to understand that what she had needed in that moment, more than anything, was his silence.
It reminded her of another, a god who had always had silence to offer to her when she needed it most. Steady Osiris, whose wisdom gifted him with the ability to know how to comfort his people when they needed him. Who could guide his kingdom justly in war and peace alike. Who knew how to speak with the most knowledgeable of his scholars and the most frightened of small children.
Ainju’s clones were lovely of course, but individually they did not seem to possess the wisdom he gained from knowing each one’s wishes and deciding what was best for them all. It was the gift reserved for people like Osiris and Ainju, for the ones made to lead and judge.
But not everyone had seen it that way.
“Of all the arrogant, condescending, unholy sons of Apophis...” Set punched the wall with all his strength, leaving a smoking crater in the side of their wall. “How dare he!” he snarled, fangs bared at the open air as if at someone only he could see. “Prancing around like a wise Pharaoh, in Ra’s crown and Ra’s crook and flail, when it was his wife who...” Set broke off, winded by his own rant. “How dare he!” He roared one final time, fist hitting the wall once again and deepening the hole.
“Ra chose him to rule after he retired,” Nephthys kept her voice level, and tried very hard not to look at the smoke rising from the crater between them. “He must have had a reason.”
Set gave a bark of laughter, dry and humorless as he leaned back against the wall to support himself. “You are too blind My Love. Ra never recovered from losing his name. He was old when he left, barely senile. You expect me to believe he would have chosen that two-faced traitor over...” He broke off, eyes drifting down to look at his own chest, broken and scared from years of service protecting Ra. His fist tightened. “Over someone who actually cares?”
“Maybe he wanted to keep you close and with him on the sunboat.” Nephthys reached out her hand to touch him, but he shrugged it off.
“To do what?” Set crossed his arms. “Guard his corpse through the night until he reawakens again? While Osiris feeds off the fruit of his labor?” He scowled down at the floor. “He was doing fine, before that thrice-cursed snake Isis...” His teeth bared in a snarl.
“Set!” Nephthys snapped, voice sharp. “That is still my sister you are talking about. And your sister-in-law.” She stomped her foot, frowning her hardest. He blinked big startled eyes at her tone, unused to her anger.
“Of course Nephthys.” He stood straighter, and reached towards her. His arms slipping through the smoke between them. “I’m sorry,” he said, hand coming to rest on her cheek. “I’m just angry and blowing off steam.”
She let him touch her, but did not lean into his hand like she usually did. He stepped closer and placed a kiss on top of her head. As soon as she felt his lips touch, a horrible, sick feeling began to fill her whole being. Suddenly the arms around her were not that of her loving husband, but an unrecognizable monster. But as fast as it had washed over her it was gone, and it was only her husband kissing her head.
He drew back to look at her again, and she tried to mask her confusion and fear. “I really am sorry Nephthys,” he said, trying to catch her eye.
“I know.” She gave him a half smile. His shoulders sagged in relief at her words. She waited a few moments, until his eyes began to glaze over and his frown returned, aimed at what she could not see. “Excuse me,” she demurred as she slipped out of the room. He did not even look up as she left, to lost in his own mind to notice.
She ran straight to Isis and Osiris’s chambers, and banged on their door with all her might. It caved, bending and warping before the desperation of a goddess. The door opened, and she found she was hitting bare chest instead of solid wood. Her eyes turned upwards to see Osiris in all his glory, Ra’s crown upon his head.
“Sister?” Isis appeared by his side. Her face was creased with concern, and Nephthys knew she must look a mess with her wild eyes and clothes wrinkled from running. “What’s wrong?”
Nephthys threw herself into her sister’s arms and broke down sobbing. “It’s Set.” She managed to get out between sobs. “I just had...the most horrible feeling...”
Isis’s arms closed around her. “I don’t understand. What do you mean?” she asked as she stroked Nephthys’s hair.
Osiris placed a hand on Isis’s shoulder. “Patience,” he said. He regarded Nephthys with an even stare as she balled up snot and tears in Isis’s arms. Isis bit her lip, but stayed silent as her husband suggested, waiting for Nephthys to speak.
Finally Nephthys managed to get out. “Set..I had an terrible intuition. He...” she gasped for air, “...he’s been so angry lately. About Ra leaving, and you being Pharaoh, but...” she let out another sob, “...it’s Set. He was so close to Ra, I thought he was just grieving. But today...” she gulped, “...today I got the most horrible feeling. Something awful is going to happen and I don’t...I can’t...” she broke off, and found she couldn't continue.
“Did he say he would hurt us?” Isis asked, searching Nephthys’s face, “...hurt you?” Nephthys shook her head and buried it back in Isis’s shoulder.
“Isis,” Osiris warned. He gave Nephthys an understanding smile. “I have some honey wine I need help finishing. Why don’t you come in?”
Nephthys had accepted, and spent the day in their company, comforted by her sister and her sister’s husband. She had left feeling both grateful and useless. In the end, all she could offer was a vague warning and another mouth to drink their honey wine.
Osiris never blamed her. Even when her fears were realized, and her useless warning was unable to prevent his death. Even when he was trapped in the afterlife for eternity, he never held her accountable for the failed warning and the loss of his wine.
Sometimes, it bothered Nephthys how many clones Ainju had. Perhaps it was only her imagination, old trauma creeping in the back of her mind and influencing her thoughts. But every time she saw Ainju had decided to use his clones on a mission, a dark feeling would curdle in her gut. She couldn’t help but think that separating oneself into pieces made it so much harder to put oneself back together.
A great hairy beast screamed with unbridled wrath as Feather fled between its legs with its prized treasure chest. It struck out a mighty paw to strike them down, but Xinju darted in-between, sword held aloft. He struck at it with all his might, and the monster gave a mighty roar and stumbled back.
“Look out!” Someone shoved her bodily away as the monster's movements dislodged a part of the cliff. A great boulder missed her and her rescuer by a hair's breath. Privately cursing her own uselessness in battle, she turned her attention to the companion who was resting above her.
“Did it hit you? I can help...” She stopped as she was met with a bald head with a heart tattooed in the center. “Oh hello Hinju.” He lay on top of her, dazed eyes and a completely red face. She looked over him critically but he did not appear to have any injuries.
“Sorry!” He jumped off. She giggled at his embarrassment.
“Sorry you saved me?” She asked. His face grew even redder, hands moving in the air, ready to deny it. She opened her mouth to let out another giggle...and stopped.
Her whole body ran cold as the icy land she had first come to. White lined her vision, and the color in Hinju’s clothes began to bleed. Inside her godly essence boiled and screamed, clawing at the edges of this small mortal flesh in an attempt to gain freedom. She knew what this meant.
Using all her strength, she tilted her chin upward to see a shadow on the ledge above. It stood still for one agonizing second, then dove downward straight for them. Hinju threw himself back over her. She opened her mouth to scream, but the cry for help would come to late.
Glowing green energy materialized over Hinju, stopping the shadow in its tracks. She turned her head, now so light on her shoulders, to see Gyrus standing above her, one hand extended. “I’ve got it,” he said. “Move quickly.”
She nodded, grabbed Hinju, and pulled the man towards the others. Xinju and the other clones were finishing off the beast, and could provide them both adequate protection while Gyrus dealt with the shadow.
Xinju hugged Hinju tightly as the other clones gathered around, all fusing together to make Ainju. Nephthys sighed with relief at the sight of her friend whole once again. She glanced back at Gyrus, still fighting the shadow, and smiled to herself. Maybe she didn’t have to worry so much about Ainju’s clones. After all, he had Gyrus to watch his back. And Gyrus, much like Isis, didn’t give up on those close to him.
Nephthys stood up to her knees in the water of the afterlife, sifting through the reeds for any piece of Osiris’s corpse. It had been horrifying, the first time she had pulled a hand from the Nile and known it was the hand the man who had been alive and joyous at the party just hours earlier. There was nothing she had wanted more than to hold that hand and cry her heart out. But...she glanced at her sister Isis, who had bent low into the water, brow set and hands expertly moving through the reeds. Isis had refused to cry, and so she could not either. She had to be strong for her sister’s loss.
Something long and thick was stuck in the bottom of the river. She gave it a sharp tug and a leg came out, still adorned with Osiris’s favorite anklet. She glanced over at Isis and bit her lip. “I think this is the last of him,” she said, voice perfectly neutral. “It’s time to bury him.”
Isis stood luminescent in the dim light of the afterlife. Her normally immaculate hair fell in tangled knots on her head. Her once beautiful dress was stained with river water and mud. But her back was straight and her chin high with the same haughty determination that Nephthys knew so well. “Not like this,” she said. “I don’t want to bury him in pieces like the food of the dogs.”
Nephthys bowed her head. “Then we will reconstruct him,” she offered, and gently carried the leg to the western riverbank.
There on the sand she and Isis got to work, silently organizing the fourteen pieces of his body into position. The pieces refused to stay put, falling crooked the moment Nephthys removed her hands. In frustration she tore a part of her once fine linen dress and wrapped the pieces together until they held in position. Isis nodded her head in agreement, and proceeded to tear up her own dress to do the same.
When they finished, Nephthys stepped back to look at their reconstruction. Osiris looked...strange, all wrapped up in linen and lying still in a coffin. But at least he looked like himself, and not the dismembered mess he had been earlier. She glanced at Isis, to see her frowning. Oh no. “What is it?” she asked hesitantly.
“He’s missing a piece,” Isis said as she eyed the corpse of her dead husband.
Nephthys turned her gaze back to the body. It looked the same to her. “I don’t think so...but it must have been small. We’ll never find it.”
Isis gave her a supremely unimpressed look, then bit her lip, hands glowing green as she approached the body. “Just let me... I can fix it,” she said.
Nephthys reached out a hand to stop her, mouth open to tell her to let go and bury him. There was no point in making things worse. But as Isis’s hands touched her husband’s skin, he suddenly jerked, then sat up, coughing and gasping but animated. Isis shrieked, and then dove into the very confused Osiris’s arms. Only then did she allow herself to cry.
Nephthys watched the reunion with both joy and sadness. For she could see what neither god had quite realized yet. Osiris was moving, it was true. But he was not truly alive. He would never be able to return to the world of the living.
But, she thought as she watched Isis sob into Osiris’s shoulder. It was still something. He could rule here on the west side and live happily. At least now Isis could see him again.
“Hey Nephthys!” She turned to see Anan approaching, waving his right hand as he ran. She stopped to let him catch up, a fond smile on her lips.
“What is it Anan?” She asked. He grinned sheepishly at her, and presented his left hand, torn ligaments visible to all. “Turns out shark monkey people bite. Who knew?” He laughed, high pitched and clear.
“You poor thing,” Nephthys said, cradling his hand between two of her own. She bend her head to place a gentle kiss to his ragged knuckles, and watched as his muscle and skin knit itself back together before her eyes. She raised herself upward to find Anan staring at her, eyes wide. “Be gentle with it now.” She winked at him. “It’s still going to be weak for the next few days.”
“Gentle. Right!” Anan pulled his hand back, cradling it to his chest. His cheeks filled with a red glow. “I will be very, very gentle.” He opened his mouth and closed it again several times. Finally he got out, “Would you like to hear how I fought the shark monkey boss?”
“Of course,” Nephthys smiled her most encouraging smile. “That sounds lovely.”
Anan’s whole being seemed to brighten. He looked so like a child with a new toy. “It all started...”
“Anan,” Feather appeared at his side, almost out of nowhere. “You have to report to Don remember?”
“Ooh,” Anan’s shoulders sagged. “Right.” He scratched his cheek and peaked out of the corner of his eye at Nephthys. “Another time?”
“Of course.” She smiled indulgently. “Why don’t you tell it at dinner, so everyone can hear? I’m sure they’d all love to.” She had meant it as encouragement, but Anan’s shoulders seemed to sag even lower at her words.
“Right,” he said, voice low. Then he flashed her a tight smile. “See you later Nephthys!” he waved as he ran off.
Feather gave a low chuckle. “That was cold Nephthys.”
Nephthys frowned at them. “I don’t understand.”
Feather raised an eyebrow. “You really don’t know? That makes it even worse. Still.” They crossed their arms. “You shouldn’t lead him on. I can only take so much of his pining.”
“Oh.” Nephthys felt her stomach sink. “Oh dear. I-I didn’t realize.” She glanced at Anan’s retreating back. Mortal affection was so obvious, how had she missed it? She had thought herself above it all, watching in faint amusement as emotions played their games in the Room of Swords. But this...she had not seen this coming.
Feather shrugged. “It’s not your fault. Just a heads up so you know how to respond.” So saying they began to wander off, leaving Nephthys frozen in her place.
It was her own fault for not noticing, she berated herself. It really was obvious. But how could she help herself? Anan was so like Horus, her bright and cheerful little nephew. Always friendly to everyone he met, and almost unrivaled in determination on the battlefield. In her loneliness she had treated Anan as if he was Horus, and in doing so ignored the fact that Anan’s own feelings were not Horus’s.
She clenched her fists. She would have to apologize the next time she saw him.
“Auntie, Auntie! Look what I can do!” She looked up from her scales as Horus ran towards her, eager and smiling. His godly aura shone bright against the dim light of the souls around him, who stood in line for her judgment. He did not seem like a creature of the afterlife like she herself did, even if it was where he and his mother had taken shelter.
“What is it Horus?” She said as she delicately placed the scale it in her lap as he neared her side. The dead, ever patient, made no move to complain as the boy cut between them in line.
The boy beamed and he held out his hand. He stared at it, face twisted in a mask of concentration. A beam of golden light began to twist from it, wavering in his grip. He bit his lip, and the form solidified into a fine sword. His eyes lit up as he held it proudly up for her to see.
“Isn’t it great!” he asked. “I figured out how to do it all on my own!”
“How marvelous Horus,” Nephthys smiled. “You are growing into a fine young god, just like your mother.”
“Now I can summon my own weapon, Mom says I can start training to fight! Soon no one will be able to stand against me.” He laughed, full childish glee, and didn’t notice how her face suddenly became tight. Her smile now cut against her skin as she struggled to keep it in place.
“Horus!” Her son Anubis called from the entrance of the hall, looking anxiously around. “Where did you go?”
“I’m up here!” Horus waved eagerly at his cousin. “I was just showing Auntie my knew move!”
Anubis hurried up to the stone dallas where Nephthys sat. He frowned down at Horus, hands on his hips. “You know we aren’t supposed to bother my mom when she’s judging!” He gestured to the souls all around the great hall.
“I didn’t mind seeing the new move, Anubis my love,” She gently reprimanded her son, who crossed his arms and sulked like the teenager he was. “But,” she said as she fixed Horus with a severe look. “I do have important work to do, so try to wait until dinner to show me your next move. Okay?”
Horus pouted. “Okay,” he muttered, shoulders slumped. He allowed Anubis to grab him by his shoulder and usher him back down the great hall, weaving in and out through the ranks of the dead.
She allowed her smile to drop as she watched them disappear around the corner. Anubis and Horus grew more every day, training their strength and powers. Anubis she knew, would inherit her position as judge of the afterlife when he reached adulthood. It was the least she could do to ensure he did not have to fight in the upcoming war against his own father. But Horus... She thought of the sword glowing so proud in his hands. Horus would fight Set for revenge for his father’s death.
Her heart clenched as the knuckles holding her scale turned white. Only in the deepest depths of her heart could she admit that no matter how the battle ended, her heart would still break.
Not all the connections between the gods and the mortals she found were good. There were some she wished she did not see, some gods she wished to forget. Such comparisons sprang unwanted and unwelcome at the most unexpected of times.
It was a simple game, involving cards and smashed round cylinders called ‘chips’ that Feather had painstakingly recreated from their own time. They called it poker. Kodya apparently knew the game too, and had been thrilled at the recreation. He waved Nephthys over to the group sitting on the floor with cards in hand. Anan nearly fell over himself to provide her space between him and Kodya. He smiled at her, extra friendly and warm as if to reassure her that he bore her no ill will over her rejection. But Nephthys noticed the gap between them was wider than necessary, as he leaned slightly away into Feather’s personal space.
“We’re almost done with this round,” Kodya explained. “You can join in after it’s over.” He hunched over his cards, intense concentration on his face.
Nephthys smiled at him, then turned her attention to the game. Ragan and Cib both seemed to be out, leaving only Kodya, Anan, and Feather. Kodya eyed everyone with suspicion, while Anan bore a confident smirk. Feather’s face was impassive. Finally Anan pushed all his chips into the center. “All in,” he crowed.
Feather placed their cards down, “I fold,” they said.
Kodya furrowed his brow as he gave both of them a long look, then pushed his chips into the center. “I’m all in,” he said.
“Ooooo,” Ragan and Cib crowed. Both leaned forward while they simultaneously kept leaning against each other in a feat of balance that spoke to their skill as a couple.
Anan placed down his cards face up. Four cards with ones...what was it Kodya called them? Aces!...and one with a three. Kodya scowled as he slapped down three crowns...was the crown called King or Queen? Pharaoh was so much easier to remember honestly...and two twos. There was some term for it, but she could barely remember it...complete temple perhaps?...It was a good hand if her memory served her well, but judging from Kodya’s bitter expression, not a great one.
“Yes!” Anan punched the air. “No cleaning duty for a week!” Ragan enthusiastically patted his back, reaching around Feather to deliver her mighty blow. Her sharp movement sent Cib falling sideways and Anan falling forward. Ragan caught Cib, but let Anan fall. Anan didn’t seem to mind though, still flushed with victory. Kodya’s scowl darkened, and Nephthys held back a giggle.
Something fell from the wasteline of Anan’s pants. Feather reached out a hand and picked it up before he noticed. They turned it in their hands, face completely blank. But Nephthys could see what it was clearly: another Ace. Feather snapped their fingers and Anan began to cough, hacking and gagging on a nonexistent taste.
“What are you doing?” Ragan roared, and Cib frowned. But Feather merely held up the card for all to see.
“Cheaters deserve to be punished,” they said.
Nephthys felt the color drain from her face. The sound of her heart beat loudly in her ears as everything else began to fade away.
Distantly she heard Anan say, “I’m sorry! Make it stop!” and Feather snapped their fingers to release them. Ragan gave some comment about how cheaters never prospered...but Nephthys couldn’t make out the words.
“Are you ok?” Kodya placed a hand on her arm, grounding her to reality.
“Oh I’m fine,” she shot him a fake smile. “I just forgot something I needed to do in the med bay.” She met his eyes, and knew he understood her silent plea of: “I need to get out of here.”
“If its just organizing, I can help,” Kodya offered, but what he was really saying was: “do you need me to go with you?”
“No, no. But it shouldn’t take too long,” she said, but what she really meant was: “I just need to be alone, but thank you.”
Kodya nodded, but his expression was concerned as he watched her get up and leave the group. The others all shrugged it away, hardly noticing. She barely made it into a deserted corridor before the flashbacks started.
“Traitors deserve to be punished,” Atum’s voice was flat, but fell like a hammer upon the courtroom in the way only the Great Judge of the God’s voice could. The gods watching howled and jeered at his words. Set stood in the middle, arms bound in green, glowing chains and mouth muzzled. His shoulders however, were thrown back and he glared out at the gathered gods.
“He’s already been punished!” Nephthys cried, “Horus killed him as he killed Osiris. He can never return to the human realm, isn’t that enough?” Her words were met with hisses and boos, but she ignored them, eyes on Atum’s impassive face.
“He cannot stay in the afterlife, his presence threatens Osiris, and he has too many personal connections to the gods that work there.” Atum stated in their flat voice.
Nephthys bared her teeth, “My son and I would never...”
“It does not matter what you would or would not do,” Atum stopped her. “It matters only what you are.”
“Then send him to Ra’s sunboat.” Nephthys pressed on, ignoring her anger in favor of pressing desperation. “If he spends all his time fighting Apophis, he will not have time to plot vengeance.”
“No,” Atum’s voice was final. “He has broken Ma'at. He does not deserve that honor anymore.” Nephthys flinched as the crowd hooted with glee. “I sentence him to the desert. He may never again set foot in the black soil of the Nile, for as long as the sun is in the sky.”
“No!” Nephthys screamed, heart in her throat. “You can’t! There’s nothing out there but Apophis! You send him to his second death!”
“Then he will fight the snake, as he did on Ra’s sunboat. Is that not what you wanted for him?” Atum asked, face set and cold as stone. Nephthys couldn’t respond, couldn’t even think of a reply. She looked wildly around the courtroom, but in the eyes of those she once knew she saw only glee at Set’s obvious demise. Even her own family, even Isis, looked so pleased at this verdict. And just like that they bled away, turning to monsters in her eyes, hungry and angry for her husband’s flesh.
She turned to look at Set, to plead for him to understand, but he would not meet her gaze as the monsters escorted him to the empty desert and the Great Snake’s waiting jaws.
“Are you all right?” A hand touched her shoulder. She jumped and pushed violently away. She cracked open one eye, expecting to see one of the monsters here to make her watch her husband’s demise. But it was only Oli, face full of concern.
She took a deep breath, and tried to steady her beating heart. Her skin was slick with sweat as if she had run the entire length of the Nile. And she was sitting, when had she started sitting? She didn’t know. She hugged her knees.
Oli watched her, open concern in his eyes. She tried to give him a tired smile, but couldn’t quite work up the energy. Besides, it didn’t quite count with Oli. Not that their was anything wrong with him, quite the opposite. She could sense the godly essence within him. However unworshiped and forgotten the one inside him was, however unknowing his host, she could never bring herself to project another god onto him. It seemed disrespectful. But it meant she didn’t have to pretend.
“Have you ever...” she started, then stopped, unsure if Oli was aware of the power within him. “Have you ever...had someone say something, and it made you remember something really bad?”
Oli hesitated. “Was it intentional?” he asked, eyes wide and searching.
“No,” Nephthys tucked her knees under her chin. It wasn’t Feather’s fault they reminded her of Atum. “Just an unlucky line with far more connotation than they could ever dream.”
“Oh,” Oli looked down. “Is...is there anything I can do to help?” he fiddled with the edge of his robe, not looking at her.
She wiped her eyes with her hand. “No. Just...give me a minute okay? I’ll get myself together, just you wait.” She tried to make her voice reassuring.
“Okay,” Oli slid down beside her, leaning against the wall. He copied her pose, pulling his arms around his knees. She sniffled, and buried her head back in her own knees. For a while, they just sat together in silence.
“Do you have a favorite food?” Nephthys startled, and turned to stare at Oli. He gave her a sheepish smile. “My powers are kinda new, but I’m pretty good at using them for cooking!”
Nephthys blinked at him, and Oli’s smile fell off his face. He looked away to tug at the frayed edges of his clothing.
“Honey wine,” she said. Oli stilled. “My brother-in-law would give me honey wine when I was upset.”
“I can make that!” Oli scrambled to his feet. “Alcohol is one of the first things I learned. I just need a few pointers and it's as good as done!” He held out his hand to her invitingly.
As she took it, she felt her mouth twitch into a soft, genuine smile.
There was one person who was hardest for her to place. One mortal who confounded her at every turn. And that was Kodya. It could be, she thought as she watched him train...biting his lip in concentration as he let lose another arrow...that she simply knew him to well. He had been the mortal who gave her the courage to keep going when she thought Ra had been eaten by Apophis...deep in her mind she wasn’t certain he hadn’t been, surely there was nowhere the gods could not reach?...Kodya’s arrow hit the target.
“Good job Kody!” she cheered. He rolled his eyes at her as he went to pull it free.
“It’s only one arrow,” he said with a grunt, and notched it back to his bow.
“Still impressive,” she giggled. He didn’t respond, instead pulling it back to aim once more. She fell silent to let him concentrate, mind returning to her question from before.
Perhaps he was like Bastet, they were both skilled warriors devoted to their people. But, she thought as Kodya let lose the arrow, that was where the similarities ended. Bastet had been quick and clever, almost dancing when she fought. Kodya was steady and stubborn, holding his ground and refusing to yield until his task was complete.
The arrow hit the target again. “You did it!” she laughed, swinging an arm around him and pulling him close. “I’m so proud of you!”
“Nephthys!” he protested, a scowl on his lips. “Let me go! It’s still only two!”
She laughed again and pinched his cheek. “I’m being supportive silly!”
“Stop that!” He grimaced, and turned his face as far away from her hands as he could get it. But he did not throw her off, even though he had the strength to do so. Which in Kodya speak meant he didn’t completely hate it. She gave his cheek another pinch before letting go, darting out of his reach as he raised a hand to swat at hers.
“Anubis that was fantastic!” She threw her arms around her son, pinning his arms to his waste. “You looked just like a real judge!”
“Mother!” He complained, as she squeezed him tight. “I am a real judge!”
She giggled as his ears flattening on his head in outrage. “You most certainly are! And you’re doing fantastic at it! You make your mommy proud!”
“It was just two nights.” he grumbled to her hair. “The real test will be seeing if I can maintain it.”
She pinched his cheek. “Don’t talk like that! The second day is the most important one of all!”
“That’s what you said about the first one!” Anubis protested, and she giggled once again.
The pleasant memory faded from her eyes as Kodya released another arrow. She smiled fondly at him as it flew. His response to her fussing was very like her own son’s. She wondered if it was the connection she had been looking for, or if all young men responded in kind to affection from women whom they saw in a familial light.
Either way, she decided, it was a good fit. There were a lot of ways he was similar to her Anubis. Both were a bit rough around the edges, and lacked the natural charisma that Horus exuded in spades. But beneath that tough exterior, both were steady and kind. What they lacked in people skills, they made up for in gentle concern and loyalty. Anubis, she thought, would like Kodya quite a bit if ever got to meet.
Then again, if they did meet Anubis would try to stop her from meddling in Kodya’s love life. Speaking of which...
“How is wooing Gyrus going?” she asked, causing Kodya to jump and the arrow he had just loaded to go awry. “Made any progress?”
“Not so loud!” he hissed. “And it not...” he scratched the back of his neck awkwardly, “...I’m not wooing him. I’m trying to help him.” Kodya glanced around the room to see no one was listening. “And yeah.” His shoulders loosened slightly. “I think I’m making progress.”
“Is that so?” she raised an eyebrow and he blushed.
“Yeah.” His face softened into the thinking-of-Gyrus face she knew so well. “You know what he’s like, he’s got walls everywhere,” Nephthys nodded. He certainly did. “But I’ve just got to keep at it you know? Being useful, and offering to be his apprentice in wide enough intervals so he knows I’m serious but my asking doesn't overwhelm him or make him feel indebted.” Kodya waved his hands in the air, becoming more animated as he continued. “Yesterday, when I offered for the fifth time, he didn’t dismiss it right away! He actually looked like he was considering it as I carried him back to base camp. I think I’m wearing him down.”
“I think I’m wearing him down!” Set excitedly confided in her. “Ra’s really considering getting a guard for his sunboat. He didn’t dismiss me right away when I suggested it this time!”
Nephthys laughed. “Where was this persistence when you were courting me?” she asked as she playfully batted her eyes.
“Oh it was there,” Osiris casually swung an arm around Set’s shoulders. “You just didn’t notice it.”
“Osiris!” Set exclaimed, outrage written on his face. But, Nephthys noted as she hid a giggle behind her hand, he didn’t actually push Osiris off.
There was one trait that Anubis had never possessed, that made Kodya so different, she thought as she half listened to him ramble on about the latest mission, Gyrus, and how hard he was working to get his attention. One trait that she had been so glad to see gone from her son: Ambition. Anubis had never wanted to leave the underworld, hand never begrudged his little cousin his right to rule or the respect he received from the mortals. He had been content to simply stay in the shadows, minding the dead.
If Kodya had been in Anubis’s shoes, she thought, he would never have been able to make that choice. He would have fought to find a way out, not for credit or attention, but to stay by Horus’s side for as long as he could.
Like Set had for Ra.
She gave her head a small shake. Kodya was nothing like Set. There were no similarities. Kodya was kind and loyal and good.
Except...the back of her mind whispered to her. Except Set was loyal, loyaler to Ra than anyone else could possibly be. Even in his betrayal, none could deny that.
He had been kind too. Not to everyone, he did put on a show of being curt and gruff. But he had always been kind to her, tolerated her fussing and giggling. Enjoyed her company. Confessed his worries and fears. He had brought her gifts because they reminded him of her, doted on little Anubis, understood when she was in a bad mood and needed an excuse to leave. And he had...
The party was going smoothly. Nephthys thought as she leaned against the wall in a back corner, exhausted. Oh thank Ra. Planning a party for all the gods and taking care of a four year old at the same time? That was an accomplishment even goddesses struggled with.
“Nephthys, there you are My Love!” Set exclaimed as he found her hiding place. “I was beginning to worry.”
She let out a soft groan, and leaned forward into his chest. “Remind me why we are throwing this party again?”
He chuckled as he looped his arms around her. “Everyone needs a chance to relax. It helps clear the air.” He pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Besides, wasn’t it you who said we needed to arrange time to spend with Osiris and Isis outside of court life?”
“That is true,” she smiled against his warm skin. “But next time, let's convince them to throw it.”
“Considering your sister has a newborn, I highly doubt that would be plausible.” There was amusement in Set’s voice. Nephthys sighed deeply, letting her breath tickle his scared tissue. “I’ll tell you what,” Set tilted her chin up to him. “I’ve organized the entertainment for tonight. So you just sit back and enjoy the party, I’ll handle it from here, okay?”
She studied his face, noting the softened brow, gentle eyes, and the bags beneath them. “Fine,” she gave him a slight smile as she leaned her weight back onto her own to feet. “You win. I’ll relax and let you handle the rest.”
“That’s all I ask,” he said as he guided her back to the party, one arm still around her waist.
“Gods of Egypt!” Set announced from the side of the room, drawing all eyes to him. He raised his glass in salute. “Now you have drunken and eaten your fill, is it not the time for a few games to lift our spirits and strengthen our unity?”
There was splattered applause at this, and Sekhmet gave a resounding “Yeah!” of agreement. Nephthys leaned back against a pillar, interested to see what her husband would provide. By her side, Anubis tugged on her robe, and she absently handed him a sweet fig from the table beside her.
“I have a game for you,” Set said. “A game, and a prize.” He gave a tug on a sheet behind him, which came away to reveal an oddly shaped solid gold box standing upright. Jewels glistened from the sides in ornate pattern against the golden background. The gods assembled gasped in amazement. It was beautiful.
Nephthys joined them. In part, because she had not seen the box before and had not realized her husband had ordered such an expensive prize. In part because she knew it must have taken effort to smuggle it into the house without her notice, meaning he had planned this all along. She stroked her son’s hair absently. That clever man!
“Now the rules of this game is simple,” Set smiled at the audience, “Whoever fits inside the box perfectly, wins the box and the game!” He bowed as the audience cheered, decidedly more animated now they could be the ones to take home the prize.
Set held out his hand to help the first guest in, who happened to be Hathor. It was far to short for her, but she didn’t seem to mind, skipping out with a giggle into Sekhmet’s arms. From there on, every god tried and failed to fit, although a few come close. Sekhmet in particular almost fit, but she was a bit to wide and the lid wouldn’t shut.
Finally it was her turn. Set helped her up gracefully to the box. It wouldn’t fit. She could tell before she even stepped inside. Her head barely came up to the shoulders. This was made for someone much taller. Ah well, she thought as she accepted the hand helping her out. It made sense. Set couldn’t exactly let a gift like this stay in his house. That would hardly be sporting.
But who could it be for? Her gaze alighted on Osiris, patiently waiting his turn as Set laughingly helped Anubis into the box, the little dear barely coming up to the knees. She shot Set a wide smile. Oh this was perfect! Presenting a gift like this to Osiris would be the perfect way to begin mending the broken bridge between them, just like she had asked him too.
She watched in glee as Osiris stepped up to the box. He was definitely the right hight, and the right width. He stepped inside, fitting as if it had been made for him. Which was no doubt true. Set closed the lid, and it swung shut. Nephthys giggled as Anubis gave another impatient tug on her robes.
A scream came out from the sarcophagus, loud and full of pain. Set smiled as he drew a sword slick with blood from the catch between the lid and its side. The box began to move as Osiris struggled, but Set snapped chains around it to keep it in place.
Nephthys stood frozen, unsure of what had just happened. Had Set just..?
“What are you doing?” Isis shouted, but Sobek moved to intercept her, weapon drawn. He gave a fiendish grin, crocodile teeth snapping. “The king is dead. Long live the new king.” A hundred of his cronies emerged from the doors, surrounding the gods. Isis tries to use her magic, but her drunkeness makes her miss and hit Sekhmet instead, who went down with a scream of rage.
Meanwhile Set continued to add swords to the sarcophagus, leaving the one at the neck for last. Osiris was screaming until the end. When he finished, Set picked up the box and threw it out the open window and into the Nile river behind them. “I am the king now.” He smirked. “And any who stand in my way shall receive the same fate.”
Nephthys felt sweat trickle down her face as her body began to tremble. It was not her husband standing up there anymore, but the monster from her vision. He snarled with pride as he pointed his men towards Isis and her helpless infant. Anubis seemed to see it too, pressing himself to her legs with a whimper. That whimper sprang Nephthys into action. She grabbed her little son’s hand in one of hers, Isis’s in the other, and fled.
The furious cry that echos in her ears was not her husbands, but a beasts.
“Nephthys? Nephthys!” A voice was calling out to her. She flinched back, putting as much space between herself and the speaker as possible. “Set!” she pleaded.
“I am not Set,” the voice responded. She opened her eyes to see Kodya, hand outstretched, eyebrows knit with worry and concern. Her earlier thoughts hit her like a train as she catches a glimpse of the blue glow in his hand, and she flinches again, raising one arm to protect her face. Kodya lowered his arm, eyes beginning to water. “It’s only me,” his voice wavered. “Only Kodya.”
“Kodya,” she said, and slowly lowered her arm. Because of course it was. He was not Set, or Anubis, or Bastet. This mortal that sat before her, trembling and confused and so very small, held no godly essence at all. It was foolishness to compare him to the great gods she had known, when his very existence was only a blip in infinity. She slowly felt her shoulders relax.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn't mean to frighten you.”
“Frighten me?” Kodya cursed in a language she didn’t know. “Nephthys what was that? You were completely unresponsive for ages!”
“Oh was I?” she brushed a hand over her face, to find it covered in tears. “I’m sorry. I just had...” she took a deep breath, “...a bad flashback.”
“Oh,” Kodya said. He glanced around, seeming uncertain. “Do you want to talk about it?” he offered. She shook her head. He frowned, and then said with the greatest of reluctance, “Do you...need a hug?”
She grabbed him, burying her head in his shoulder as she burst into tears. Kodya seemed startled, but placed an arm loosely around her body, and awkwardly patted her on the back as she sobbed.
They stayed like that for a very long time.
She thought she was done matching gods to Kodya after that. But there was one god she left out, one she completely forgot to consider as his match. She remembered it offhand, as she held the sobbing man in her arms many, many years later.
She sat stroking Kodya’s back and tried to hold back her own tears, still in shock at the loss of so many of their friends. The healers were decimated. Ciboulette was gone now, and Ragan raged like Sehmet before Hathor had come into her life. But the worst hit was Kodya. Kodya who everyone now looked at with suspicion, simply because of proximity. Kodya who had killed the man he loved, and had to hide his pain from everyone or face the hatred in his place.
She held him here in the darkness, and in her arms he was finally allowed to cry as much as his broken heart demanded. Here he could morn for the loved one he had lost. For Gyrus, the monster who had betrayed them all for a taste of knowledge outside their reach.
It crossed her mind then, to wonder if this proved he was not anything like Isis. But that wasn’t right, the voice in the back of her mind whispered. This is exactly what Isis would do if she had the opportunity to gain more knowledge.
Kodya took a shaky breath, and she pulled him closer to herself. Brave Kodya, who had chosen to stay and fight. Who had saved Don, even if it meant going against the man he loved. Kodya who had given up everything to protect one he loved from another he loved. And that was when she realized what god he was most like. The only one she had never considered.
He was Nephthys, the Guiding Goddess of Death and Protection, who loved so fiercely it set a fire in her chest. Who tried so hard to protect all her loved ones, old and new. And who ultimately failed them all.
This mortal, so small in her arms, somehow shared the very characteristics that made her who she was. And it was only as she understood this, stroking the back of the broken man crying in her shoulder, that she knew true despair.