February 20th, 2023
The Tiber Island was one of the first parts of the city to be emptied by the Rangers. It was small, secluded, and not often explored by monsters through the city. However it was also uninhabited, being relatively small, scarce of resources, and difficult to access. It did, however, have one quality of great importance: direct access to the River Tiber.
Kebechet stepped lightly across the cracked cement of the island’s walk. She seemed curiously out of place here, dressed as she was in the manner of a classical Egyptian from a storybook, down to the deep eyeliner and the golden necklace of a winged sun hung around her neck. It was more than her attire, however. She seemed to glide rather than walk, her footsteps soundless over the quiet rush of the river.
Today she wore the form of a human, or at least something like one. She carried jackal-like features, her long thin ears and tail and sharp yellow eyes, as the people here seemed more accustomed to it. In truth the features were merely attributes she borrowed from her father. In the past she had taken the attributes of a snake more frequently, but with her kind form was a very fluid thing.
She had company today, which was rather unusual as she preferred to take these short trips alone. Her company, however, had insisted upon her presence.
“Not a bad day today.” Nora Newstar glanced upwards to the sky, clouded over in a sheet of pale grey, but light and warm enough to be comfortable. Nora dressed casually, in a black t-shirt and jeans under an open-front white sweatshirt. Kebechet quietly disliked the attire, Nora should have been wearing something more appropriate for her position.
“The weather is agreeable.” Kebechet nodded idly as she walked along the concrete-covered shore of the diminutive islet.
“So I keep forgetting…” Nora began again. Kebechet’s keen ears caught the shift in her voice. Nora wished to learn without appearing ignorant. An odd trait for one with so little pride, but one she often observed in Nora, the young woman who did not wish to rely on others. “…you’re a water goddess, right?”
“In a sense.” Kebechet spoke coolly and calmly, kneeling at the water’s edge, watching it flow downstream. “I am a goddess of purification by water. Specifically the purification and cleansing of the body as a step in the preparation of a corpse before it was delivered to the House of Eternity to begin its journey into Duat.”
Nora frowned visibly, Kebechet could sense it even though she was facing away from her. Humans relied on the physical senses far too much. Nora was, of course, raised on the standards of this ‘modern’ date. She had little respect for the old rites.
“Not sure the people will like their water being prepared by a mortician goddess.” She said, arms folded over her chest. “You’re sure this is what Capi sent you here for?”
“I am an assistant mortician goddess.” Kebechet corrected her. “I merely aided my father in his duties.”
“Where is your old man, anyway?” Nora asked, squatting by the riverside beside her. “I’ve been keeping up with Bast and Sobek mostly, but Anubis keeps to himself a lot these days.”
“He is more reserved than others, it is true.” Kebechet was now consciously not meeting her gaze, even as she felt Nora’s brilliant blue eyes upon her. “Which has only been exacerbated by the crisis caused by the closing off of Duat.”
“Come on, Kebe.” She smiled teasingly. Kebechet frowned, she really hated that nickname. Capi had started it a few weeks ago and it had caught on like wildfire among those around her. “There’s more to it than that, so go on and tell me. I’m going to be spending a lot of time around you guys, I might as well know all I can.
“We do not have the most amicable of relationships, alright?” Kebechet twitched, her voice was more agitated than she would have liked to reveal. Alas, the damage was done, she might as well continue. “Atop which he also is…seeing someone at present. She takes a great deal of his time.”
“Mmm poor girl.” For one terrifying moment Kebechet thought Nora would reach out and stroke her hair. She had no idea how she would have responded to that.
“We are moving off topic.” Kebechet tried to rein both herself and the conversation back on track.
“I am a goddess of mummification, but my domain is not so specialized as to be useless.”
“Alright.” Nora sat back on her rear, gesturing for Kebechet to continue.
“I am a goddess of purification by water, as I said. All water in my hands flows pure.” Gently Kebechet dipped her fingers into the cool water. She could feel the flow of the river, from the surface to the mud at its bottom. She could feel the springs on Mount Fumaiolo from which the river sprang, and could feel the coldness of the Tyrrhenian Sea into which it drained. There was a wholeness to a river, it was a thing, a concept, in many ways an individual unto itself, Was it really so odd that river gods were so numerous? She merely hoped the Tiber’s protector would not be offended by her brief trespass.
Slowly, the water around her began to shimmer, as if evening sunlight had been scattered across it despite the clouds and early hour of the afternoon. The water grew clear, almost crystalline. One could see the fish swimming through it and the stones and rubble at its base. Downstream, a gathered crowd on a bridge overlooking the water dropped bucket after bucket on ropes into the water, eagerly gathering what they could while her blessing remained.
Kebechet withdrew her hand from the cold water, idly wiping her hands together as she rose to her feet, Nora doing the same. “The blessing will remain for an hour. Enough to last for at least a little while.”
“That was quite a sight, Kebe.” Nora smiled. “Sorry I had any doubts.”
“No apologies are necessary, my lady.” Kebechet meant it. This was her job here, and she would attend to it dutifully. “However I have advised Capitolina that this is not a sustainable source of fresh water.”
“Well we can’t very well have you come down here thrice a day to clean up the river. It’s dull and demeaning, beneath your status.” Nora nodded.
“It is not merely that.” Kebechet tried to sound apologetic, but it truly was a menial chore for a goddess, however minor she may be. “The population grows each day, and many of them are wounded. Humans cannot survive without clean water and it grows scarcer each day. I have looked over plans, and the modern infrastructure makes well-digging extremely difficult, particularly with the water table being as low as it is. The engineers at the sanctuary tell me that we lack the fuel, manpower, and protection necessary to establish the water purification plants.”
“Alright.” Nora nodded, her expression falling into one of deep thought. Kebechet admired this side of her. When Nora had the time to be casual she could be flighty or deliberately difficult, but when she was needed Kebechet could truly see the leader within. “We have problems. Do we have solutions?”
“When mundane methods fail, look to the gods.” Kebechet said. “We are with you, Nora. And I am sure the Roman pantheon would not idly let this city fall to ruin if it can be helped. If modern hands cannot purify these waters, then perhaps a structure can be built that will allow the gods to do so without so ungainly a method as what we have before us.”
Nora gained a worried frown. “Those are some vague statements, Kebechet, but it’s a direction. See to it.”
“I am sure that the architects will be able to devise something that pleases all the necessary divine factions.” Kebechet nodded, her tail swaying slightly in her subdued pleasure. “I will act as medium for such deliberations. You have my assurance that design will not be a problem, my lady.”
“It’s not the engineering that worries me.” Nora’s expression had not risen. “It’s the social issues. The Christians and Catholics won’t like water blessed by pagan gods.”
“When the choice is thirst or pagan water, their throats will make the choice given time.” Kebechet narrowed her eyes.
“That’s not the issue and you know it.” Nora snapped. “We can’t have the people divided over faith, even if it means finding an alternative.”
“Why must we spend so much time deliberating with fools who have their heads in the sand?” Kebechet asked, exasperated. It was like speaking to Giovanni.
“Because” Nora sighed, her brow furrowed. “Those fools make up more than half the population. It is true, the existence of the old pantheons is undeniable at this point…I mean, you’re obvious enough proof of that. But that does not preclude their faith from its validity…I mean for heaven’s sake, have you heard Sobek and Athena arguing over how the world was made?”
“I’ve not had the privilege.” Kebechet frowned.
“Look” Nora wringed her hands briefly before letting them fall to her side. “I know I have a bias. The Catholics and the Christians and the Greeks and even those small Norse cults and everyone else in the city knows I’m biased. But they also know that it’s not my job to say which religion is right and which is wrong. Half because that question doesn’t even make sense anymore, and half because my only job is keeping the peace between them all so that everyone can remain satisfied that they’re beloved by their God or gods and going to their own afterlife…well, once those houses get in order.”
Nora rubbed her brow with her thumb and forefinger. Kebechet could hardly blame her, after all with the madness of the Days of Revelations, the realms of Hades and Duat had been thrown into complete disarray, and those were just the two they had accurate information about.
“Yet I’ve not yet seen this Catholic God come to Rome to aid his people.” Kebechet had perhaps a little more venom in her voice than she intended.
“Talk to Giovanni, he explains it better than I could.” Nora sighed. “Needless to say that kind of talk will quickly lead to riots.” She shot an irritated glance to Kebechet, who bowed her head.
“Forgive me, my lady, I spoke out of turn…but still I would rather not speak to Giovanni if I can avoid it.”
“I can’t believe I’m the one telling an immortal goddess and a centuries-old wolf to grow up.” Nora sighed again. “A show of solidarity and mutual respect would go a long way towards bridging the gap between the faiths.” Nora said. “Both of you are well-regarded and respected. If you can overcome your differences then the people will to. Together you’re an example of Roman unity, divided you only aid in driving a wedge in the middle of our little sanctuary.”
“I…” Kebechet tried to summon a counterpoint, but failed to find one, particularly under Nora’s withering stare. It was true Kebechet could not quite place a cause for her dislike towards Giovanni. He could be self-righteous at times, but Kebechet was quite familiar with that trait within herself, and even he was nothing compared to several gods.
“Look” Nora said, calming herself as she placed a hand on Kebechet’s shoulder. “Neither of you are out to convert the other, neither of you expects to be friends. I’m not asking for you to be besties by tomorrow. I’m asking for you both to take one for the team and realize that you represent much more than your own self-interests. Who knows, you might find a thing or two in common.” She shrugged. Kebechet took a deep breath, falling a half-step behind her as she considered her options. It was several minutes yet, the pair of them now walking the river bank, before she spoke again. “We still haven’t found a solution to the water crisis.”
Nora waved a non-committal hand “I’ll run a poll and talk to Giovanni, see if we can’t find a way to word it in a more agreeable fashion. It’s a good plan, Kebe. Let’s keep it on the burner if we can.”
Kebechet smiled slightly at that. “Thank you, my lady.”
“Don’t mention it. It’s my job” Nora shrugged, but Kebechet could feel her smiling as well, even from behind. A goddess’ senses were far sharper than a human’s, after all.
The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
(( JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9042?chapter=9&sl=363 ))