Another day and another post. I’m about 10,000 words off the pace, but strangely that seems about par for me at this point in the month. It just means that everything will get exciting at the end. Here’s the raw form of Chapter 4. Enjoy!
“High Priestess, wake up. Please, wake up. We need you.”
Azura opened her eyes slowly. Something cool pressed against her lips as gentle hands helped to raise her into a seated position. She saw familiar pillars and tiles, covered in hieroglyphics praising the gods. The gentle sound of the holy fountain welcomed her. Though she didn’t know how, she had made it home.
“Please drink, High Priestess. You need water,” said one of the young priestesses, holding a golden cup to her lips. She was more a girl than a woman, and Azura couldn’t remember her name at first. Truthfully, she could barely remember her own name. The water crossed her dry lips, and she felt it run down her throat, soothing and cooling her.
How long had she been without water? How had she returned from the Pinnacle of the Phoenix? Had she climbed the thousand stairs to the peak? Or had it been just a dream?
“There are enemies, High Priestess. We need you. You must inspire the temple guards to victory,” said the young priestess. Her name was Sakhmet. Azura smiled – pleased that her thoughts were returning.
She gazed over at the wall. Isis stood behind Osiris as he battled with Set. An emptiness grew inside Azura. She trembled.
“Child,” said a woman whose strong voice she recognized. It was Nakhat, another priestess, and currently one of the women supporting her. Nakhat addressed Sakhmet, “the High Priestess has no strength. She is wounded. Another of us must invoke the gods to aid the guards in their battle.”
Azura turned her attention to Nakhat, a tall beauty, adorned with gold bracelets, jet black hair falling straight on her shoulders. The woman had a gleam in her eyes which left Azura feeling unsettled.
“You know that it must be me, High Priestess,” Nakhat said. “Let me take the wings as my own. Let me channel the power of the gods.” She quietly whispered, “If they have any strength left to give.”
Azura tried to speak, but it was so hard. She felt as if she had fallen from the heavens and though her body had returned, her mind still soared high above. Her lips moved, but no words came out. She sipped at the water again.
“The gods still endure,” she managed.
“What did you see?” asked Sakhmet, holding the cup close to Azura.
“I reached the pinnacle. The flame burns. The sun god still has strength.”
Nakhat squeezed Azura’s shoulder, leaned closer and said, “Osiris is dead. The pharaoh, the living god, has died. The strength of the Nubian lords has failed. Set rules Khem now. Even if Ra still sails the heavens for now, how long before even he falls, before the sun fails to rise at dawn? Our only hope is to struggle, to hope that the spells of Isis protect us and that we die with our souls intact that we may travel to the land of the death and serve Osiris for eternity. I will don the wings and go to meet the enemy in your stead.”
Azura shook her head. This was wrong. “No. No. Who is this enemy? Are they the legions of Set? Who are they?” She paused, uncertain of what else to say. Images and memories swirled around her. “The necropolis,” she whispered, not exactly knowing why, “Are they from the necropolis? Are they living or dead?”
“They are not the legions of Set. They are rapacious Hellenes, mercenaries who failed the pharaoh,” said another priestess who had a familiar face with pleasant eyes, and yet, her name completely escaped Azura.
Azura had a memory of a Hellene, a criminal punished by his own gods, and yet, he called on Helios, the name which the records claimed that the ancient rulers of the rocky lands of those northern city-states had used for Ra. Had it been a vision or something that truly happened?
“Only I may wear the wings of the goddess,” said Azura with a forcefulness that felt odd, but at the same time, strength had returned to her limbs, so she stood. Perhaps this was a gift from the goddess.
“How did I return to you?” she asked the other priestesses. From outside, she could hear the shouts of the guards.
“You were found outside the temple walls, moaning and lying in the sand. We saw the burns on your shoulders and thought you had been attacked,” said young Sakhmet.
Azura reached to her shoulders, crossing her arms in front of her chest. On each one there were marks, burns that had not been there before. “Do you know what these are?”
“No,” said Nakhet. “We do not.”
Something about her tone gave Azura a sense of danger. She stared hard at Nakhet and stepped toward her. The other woman backed away.
Azura wasn’t sure of what she was about to do, but it seemed right. She hoped that her feelings came from divine inspiration and not desert-induced madness. She pointed at Nakhet. “You have betrayed Isis. You have betrayed Khem. You have whispered prayers to the god of scorpions and jackels, dread Set himself. You would despoil the sacred wings. You would give all of our souls to the lord of darkness.”
Nakhet’s reaction was sudden and fierce. She did not even try to deny the accusation. “And if I would? Set has won. The new pharaoh will be filled with his spirit, not that of Osiris. We should serve him and revere Nephthys, his wife, rather than fallen Osiris.”
With a scream, the girl Sakhmet charged into Nakhet. The older priestess tensed, and the girl drew back, but as she did, all of the priestesses saw a blade hilt jutting out of Nakhet’s stomach. An ever-widening red stain spread across her white clothes. Nakhet grasped the hilt of the blade, but fell before she could draw it out.
“Forgive me, High Priestess,” she gasped, “but there is no hope for us.”
Azura heard Sakhmet sobbing softly, and yet, the girl had done what was right. “Her soul must be weighed in judgment and she took on the burden of betraying all of us and the gods themselves. I fear we shall not see her in the afterlife.”
Azura went over to Sakhmet. “You have done well, defending Isis and all that is good even in this time of dread.” She hugged her, and the sobbing stopped. After she let go of the young priestess, she looked to the others. “I will need the wings if I am to face our enemy. I will need the signs of the gods painted on my flesh. My strength has returned. I am ready.”