House of the Dead
April 5th, 2023
The hospital was usually where Kebechet could be found. Thankfully it was much less full than it had been just a few months before. Injuries were not uncommon, particularly among the rangers and the construction crews, but it was very much an improvement over the throngs of wounded Romans that had once been the bulk of the Sanctuary’s population. Kebechet had no native healing powers, but what she could do was nonetheless useful. The ability to purify water at a touch was invaluable in the hospital, and she went there often to help when she could. It also seemed to her to be a place where she could find some time for herself to think.
She was lost in thought, bent over a large basin full of water as she washed bandages in the clean water. So deep was her reverie that she almost did not notice the young girl approaching until her ears twitched at the sound of the human’s footsteps entering the room. Kebechet paused, glancing up to see a young girl, no more than ten, with her arm in a sling watching her quietly.
“Hello, child.” Kebechet said, and the girl moved to the wall, as if afraid to have been spotted.
“Do not worry.” She said. “I do not bite.”
The girl quietly stepped forward, she seemed intrigued by the water with which Kebechet was working. It shimmered and glowed with its own light as her hands passed through it, constantly purging the blood and taint from the bandages she cleaned.
“Intrigued, child?” Kebechet smiled, and the girl nodded as she watched the water shine.
“Never seen magic before…” She said quietly. Kebechet continued, letting her watch, amazed, by the dance of light and power in the water.
“What is your name, child?” Kebechet asked, trying to elicit a few more words from her.
“Eula” She said “Eula Jennon.”
“Well Eula” Kebechet said. “This is a special kind of magic. It’s divine magic, and only gods can do it.”
“So you really are a…god?” Eula asked. “That’s what a lot of people said. I didn’t believe them though.”
“I am a goddess, yes.” Kebechet said. “Though a very…little one.” She settled on the word.
“Is this your home? Are your momma and poppa gods too?” Eula sat at the edge of the basin, still watching. Kebechet was more than finished at this point, but continued to let her magic flow for the young child’s benefit.
“I came all the way from Egypt. And…it is complicated. I would rather not go into it, child.” Kebechet said. She frowned as Eula turned red and mumbled out an apology. To keep the young girl from getting too embarrassed, Kebechet thought of something to fill the conversation gap that had developed. “Though specifically I am from Duat.”
“Du-what?” Eula asked.
“Duat. It is the Egyptian afterlife, the Land of the Dead.”
She noticed Eula shuffling a little away from her.
“Does that scare you, child? That I am a goddess of death?”
“No…” The girl lied. She was clearly more nervous than she was before. Kebechet did not mind it much. It was the usual reaction she received in Rome. People didn’t like to think about the afterlife. But the girl was young and inquisitive, perhaps she could learn.
Kebechet smiled warmly, a comforting look she was very good at, and she could see Eula loosen slightly as she put her more at ease with a smile alone.
“Every pantheon…mmm every big group of gods oversees their own afterlife, all a little different. Have you heard of Hades? I bet he seems scary to you as well.”
“A…a little” Eula said, her good arm wrapped around her knees which were pulled up against her chest.
“He’s actually quite a lovely man, a good conversationalist and an excellent gardener, very sweet to children too, he gave me these earrings when I was only a little bigger than you.” She said, showing off one of her ears where there was a shiny onyx earring hanging beneath three others.
The story was a bit embellished. Hades was truly kind but could be a bit austere as well; while he had given her the earrings as a gift when she was young, she was born fully grown from her Father and had never been a “child”. However the story served its purpose and Eula seemed more visibly relaxed.
“It’s the job of all the afterlife gods to see to each and every person and make sure they’re properly taken care of.”
“Does Egypt have a heaven?” Eula asked.
Kebechet shook her head. “Mmm not like you would know it. Good people who worshipped the Egyptian gods get to spend eternity as a blissful spirit in their presence. In a way being a good person makes you a smaller god yourself.” She said.
“Are they all like that?” She asked, and Kebechet shook her head.
“No, really good souls of the Greeks go to the Elysium Fields, while the Norse are sent to the care of their Underworld goddess…unless you really liked to fight, then you got to go to Valhalla or Folkvangr. And there are at least a dozen more beside.”
“I hope my soul is good enough…wherever I end up.” Eula said.
Kebechet flicked her ears, a smile still on her face. “We Egyptians believe you actually have many souls.”
Eula blinked. “Many souls?”
“Quite so. You have five in fact.” Kebechet removed her hands from the water and dried them before turning to more properly face Eula.
“First there is your Sheut, your shadow.” She pointed to the small black shadow Eula cast upon the ground.
“How can that be part of my soul? It’s outside. My soul is inside…” Eula said, tilting her head, perplexed.
“Because just like the rest of your soul, your shadow never truly leaves you. Even in total darkness it’s always there at your side, even if you can’t see it.”
“Oh…” Kebechet wasn’t sure if Eula fully understood, but she seemed intrigued.
“Next is your Ren, your name.” Kebechet said.
“My name?” Eula seemed even more incredulous. “What is my name supposed to do?”
“Names are power, child.” Kebechet said. “So long as your name is written and remembered your Ren will continue to exist in this world. If you become famous or do good deeds your Ren can last centuries, even thousands of years.”
“Oh…okay, what are the others?” Eula had relaxed her posture somewhat. It seemed her curiosity was winning out over her confusion.
“Well the next two, the Ba and Ka are very important.” Kebechet said. “Your Ba is what you probably think of as your soul. It’s your personality, your individuality, all of the things that make you “Eula” as opposed to someone else. Your Ka is your vital essence, it’s the force keeping you alive that you sustain with food and drink. When you die, if you believed in our afterlife, your Ba and Ka are what go to Duat…carrying the last and most important piece.”
“And what’s that?”
Kebechet gently placed a finger at the center of Eula’s chest, and the girl felt a small shiver run through her. “Your Ib, your heart. It’s where your feelings and will come from, and that is where your virtues and your sins are carried as well. In Duat, it is your Ib that is tested to see if you were a good person.”
“There’s a test?” Eula complained. “I died, isn’t that enough?”
Kebechet chuckled. “Just the one, but it’s a very important test. Your heart is examined, then weighed against a single feather from Maat, the goddess of balance. If your heart is lighter than the feather because of all your virtues and good deeds, then you get to pass on to the true afterlife and live amongst the gods.”
“What if it’s heavier than the feather?” Eula asked.
“Something…bad happens.” Kebechet said. Eula was perhaps a bit too young to hear that there is no realm of punishment. If the Ib is too heavy, it is consumed entirely by Ammit, the Devourer of Souls. For them, only oblivion awaited.
“So is that what’s going to happen to me?” Eula asked.
“Maybe.” Kebechet smiled. “That’s not up for the gods to decide.”
“Who decides where I go?” She asked.
“You do.” Kebechet said. “Your belief determines where you go. In this, you are more powerful than any god.”
“Well that’s nice…” Eula said. Kebechet hardly blamed her lack of enthusiasm. Ten year old children shouldn’t be preparing their afterlife arrangements.
“So why aren’t you there?” Eula asked after a brief time of silence, during which Kebechet had resumed her washing work.
“Why aren’t I where?” Kebechet asked absentmindedly.
“Du-whatsit. Shouldn’t you be working there?”
“Do you think I should leave?” Kebechet asked teasingly.
“No no no!” Eula said hurriedly “I like that you’re here…but why?”
“Duat is closed to all gods who weren’t in it at the moment the Serpent was freed.” Kebechet said. “I was caught outside.”
“So you’re a refugee too?” Eula asked, and after brief consideration, Kebechet nodded.
“Yes, you could say that. I can’t go back home because of…what’s happened.”
How could you explain to a child the metaphysical horror of what happened? Egypt had not been so lucky as to have its Primordial sealed away. The Serpent of Chaos, Apep, lived beneath the horizon. Every night, Amun-Ran upon his barge would sail below the western sky to face him in battle, and every night Apep would die, only to regenerate again the next day. For six thousand years Amun-Ra had won.
On October 31st, 2022, the Serpent won for the first time.
Amun-Ra had been slain, and Duat had been closed to prevent Apep from feasting on the souls of the dead. Most of the Egyptian Pantheon were refugees, many of them making their temporary base on Mount Olympus at the pleasure of the Greeks with whom they had always had good ties. Osiris and Maat were trapped alone in Duat and Apep ruled all of Egypt, the country now trapped in eternal night.
The mantle of Ra and the Solar Crown had passed to Osiris’ wife and sister, Isis. Now Isis-Ra, she had lead the pantheon from Egypt and continued to lead as they tried in vain to find a plan to take back their home from the serpent. But Apep fed on chaos, and there was so much chaos in the world now…
“Did your parents get out, Kebechet? Are they here in the city?” Eula asked, pulling Kebechet back from her thoughts.
“I have my father, Anubis.” Kebechet said.
“Oh I know that name!” Eula said. “I learned it in school.”
She seemed quite proud of herself, and Kebechet rewarded her with a smile.“He is quite well-known yes.”
“Is he in the city?” Eula asked again.
“No.” Kebechet answered perhaps more curtly than she had meant as Eula promptly stopped asking questions. Kebechet took a deep breath before speaking again.
“Forgive me, Eula. My father and I are…not on good terms. We were both away from Duat when…it happened. But we have not reconnected save to ensure we were both safe.”
“You’re mad at your Dad?” Eula asked.
“Why?” Eula asked as Kebechet silently cursed the same inquisitiveness she had lauded just minutes ago.
“We have more of a…working relationship than a family one. Really I would rather not talk about it.”
“Sorry…” Eula said, but despite her insistence she didn’t stop. “But my Sister says that while families fight, it’s not something you should ever get rid of. Besides, having a Dad you’re mad at is better than not having a Dad.”
“Are you giving advice to a goddess now?” Kebechet raised an eyebrow.
“Just sayin…” Eula said bashfully.
“Well your sister sounds wise.” Kebechet said. “And she’s probably off looking for you.”
“Oh shoot.” Eula’s eyes went wide as she realized she was no doubt running late. “Ya I got to go. Thanks Kebe!” She shouted as she ran out the door, leaving Kebechet’s ears to hang flat as she did. She really did hate that nickname.
Kebechet knew she should work things out with her father, but something in her, a stubbornness, kept her from moving away from Rome. She was needed here, she told herself. What would the people do if she left? Capitolina certainly enjoyed her company, and the people were thankful for her efforts. She knew, however, that these were nothing more than excuses. Reconciliation did not preclude her staying in Rome. She could make peace with her father and still work here.
There had always been a strain between them. Anubis was more her boss than her father. He was not uncaring or unduly strict, but he had always felt absent from her life…and then of course there was the woman. A goddess, with a face like the sun and ivy in her hair, had seduced his normally strict attentions. She had no ill intent and Kebechet knew it was likely good for her often-stiff father…but still it had driven yet another wedge between them, to the point Kebechet had simply needed some time away, which had turned out to be very ill-timed on her part.
Still, with every passing day Kebechet knew she was further in the wrong. She would have to meet him again someday to make things right. Now of all times was not for holding grudges and dividing gods.
The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
(( JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9042?chapter=37&sl=279 ))