April 12th, 2023
It was after a long day with Echo that Kebechet made her way back to the capital. She loved her grandmother Nephthys dearly, but time did tend to run while she was around, and Kebechet had her father’s preference for studiousness and scheduling. As such her day had fallen irreparably behind schedule and she’d been forced to call the day a wash to be picked up again tomorrow. So it was with trepidation that Kebechet walked through the early-night streets of Rome.
The streets themselves were largely deserted. Most after dark activities were focused in specific gathering halls and pubs and other places, with only the odd stranger like Kebechet stalking the night alone. She moved purposefully but in almost total silence, telling of either her divine or canine nature, her footsteps never echoing across the ground. As she stepped up to the Plaza del Campidoglio, planning to retire to her usual quarters for the night, something caught the corner of her keen vision. A glance upwards and she saw a lone figure on the roof of the new capital building. Though a small dark figure, likely invisible to human eyes, Kebechet could see the distinct winged outline of Angel even from across the square.
It was rare to see Angel on her own, as she seemed to have rented space permanently in Capitolina’s shadow. Kebechet could likely count the time she had seen Angel on her own on both hands, and seeing her alone on the rooftop like that had a distinct air of ominousness to it. Her day complete and her work going unfinished until the next day, Kebechet decided she might as well do some investigating on her own.
It was a quick and quiet route up the stairs of the building to the roof. All of the officials and the small gathering of senators had dispersed with the sunset. At night the capital building belonged almost exclusively to the wolves. Kebechet wasn’t sure where Capitolina was at present, though she knew Giovanni almost always returned to the Vatican by nightfall if business had dragged him away to the Capitoline Hill. Capi could be in any number of places, and it was possible that Kebechet and Angel were the only living souls in the building. Despite this, it was with her signature silence that she stepped free of the last doorway and out onto the roof.
The last rays of the sun were almost gone, merely painting the Western horizon a slight purple with their final passage. The rest of the sky belonged to the night, and Kebechet took a moment to look up at the vault of stars above them. If there was one thing to be said for the end of the world, it was that it had certainly opened up the skies again. Rome had not seen a night like this for centuries before the Days of Revelation, and with the outpouring of divine and spiritual energy into the world, the constellations seemed almost alive again. Though the stars held certain beauty, Kebechet could not help but feel unease at the thought of nightfall. She couldn’t help but imagine Egypt, her homeland, trapped for the last six months beneath an eternal night sky, Amon-Ra’s sun barge lost beyond the horizon and the terrible serpent Apep reigning supreme.
Kebechet approached Angel from behind, but she had no illusions of sneaking up on the other wolf. Angel’s vision far surpassed her physical eyes. Even Kebechet had a sense of awareness far beyond the mortal ken. Giovanni and Capitolina still relied on their (admittedly enhanced) senses for detection, but Kebechet was a goddess and Angel was something else entirely.
“It is a lovely night.” Kebechet said, breaking the ice as she took a spot standing next to Angel.
“All the stars are out.” Angel replied in her usual monotone. Kebechet was not sure if her words were casual or carried implication of some more troubling fundamental truth about stars, and she didn’t press for it. Glancing at Angel now that she stood beside her, Kebechet could see the stars reflected in her large blue eyes. Though she realized “reflected” might be the wrong word for it. She didn’t see any familiar constellations in Angel’s eyes. They were foreign stars, certainly foreign to the Mediterranean and possibly foreign to Earth entirely. There had always been something about Angel that put Kebechet into a sense of unease.
There were beings higher on the divine hierarchy than divinities like Isis-Ra, Zeus, or Odin. They were more ancient and more powerful but far less human, most unable to express thought or feeling or take any physical form. These were beings like Gaia, Nun, and Nyx, that brought the world into shape. Angel, like the other Primordials, was about halfway there. She was a cosmological constant, an anchored point of the universe, or at least she had been once. Though she possessed an odd and almost human form, from Kebechet’s perspective, merely looking at her was like seeing the whole of a ruined civilization.
“Just out stargazing?” Kebechet asked when the silence became too uncomfortable to stand.
“I am simply observing.” Angel said.
“The Sicilian operation?” Kebechet glanced at her again. Surely Angel could see that far if she could glance across the world at a moment’s notice.
“Once every few hours.” Angel said. “It has had a few problems but it is progressing.”
“Have you been keeping Capitolina updated?” Kebechet said, pleased with the small talk.
“No.” Angel said plainly.
This earned a look of surprise from Kebechet. Angel not disclosing something to Capitolina was something she had scarcely imagined before. Before she could ask why, however, Angel decided to cut her off.
“For the same reason I tell you nothing of your homeland. What good is it to know that which you cannot change? All it would bring is worry.”
Kebechet knew she had a point. They lacked the time, materials, and manpower to launch a second operation to rescue the first. If there were problems then nothing could be done at all, and they would have to live with the outcome whether they knew it beforehand or not. No doubt if total defeat had befallen them, Angel would let them know. But without that assurance of total loss, then there was no point wasting effort over the wringing of hands.
As for learning more about her homeland, Kebechet was actually thankful of her relative ignorance. She wanted to know as little as possible of the hell on earth that Egypt had likely become under Apep’s terrible reign.
“But that is not, I suppose, why I came out here tonight.” It was Angel’s voice now that cut the silence.
“You said you were observing.”
“And I am” Angel said “But I am not observing the world, merely the limit of my own power.”
“I don’t follow.” Kebechet said, her eyes moving back and forth from Angel’s face to the stars, as if hoping to find some connection.
“I told you when we first met that I am just a shadow of my former power.” Angel said. Kebechet remembered it distinctly. She had been the first of them to sniff out what Angel truly was. Neither Capitolina nor Giovanni had the senses for it, but Angel’s presence had sent every mental alarm of hers blaring in her head.
“That was not entirely the truth.” Angel said “The truth is…I believe I’m growing weaker.”
Kebechet was staring at her now.
“My strength left me long ago, and I grow tired more easily now. Even now…the length of my vision is beginning to recede. Events are blurrier and more difficult to track. I lose precision and accuracy in my sight almost every week.”
“Why?” Kebechet asked, even though she could guess the answer.
“Too little of me is Eagle now” Angel said. “Too much wolf, too much machine. Perhaps even a little too much human now.”
When a god was forced into a new role they could adapt to it, even thrive. Her Grandfather Set was a prime example of that, for better or worse. But with a being like Angel…she didn’t exist on human faith, and any alteration in her being was unwilling at best, dangerous at worst. It only made things worse that Kebechet knew nothing could be done. No matter the healing done or repairs made, nothing could make Angel truly whole again.
As Kebechet watched her, something unusual seemed to overcome Angel. Her hand moved to grasp her other arm, the false mechanical one she kept hidden under a jacket. She held it tightly as the rest of her started to shake, not heavily, but with a distinct series of trembles running through her body.
“I am…” Angel’s voice was quiet, and for once she seemed to have lost her monotone. “…frightened.”
Wordlessly, Kebechet reached out to place a hand on her shoulder. Though she was far from qualified to handle a Primordial in emotional distress, Kebechet knew that the last thing Angel should be at that moment was alone. No doubt Angel felt as much terror at the mere thought of feeling fear as she did from losing her powers.
“I think we are all a little afraid, Angel.” Kebechet said. “I fear for my homeland and my own future. Giovanni fears for the survival of his church. Even Capitolina I am sure fears for the future of her city.”
Angel did not reply, but Kebechet could feel that she had stopped trembling.
“I suppose one reason Capitolina made us a pack was so that if we’re scared, we can at least be scared together.”
At the sound of Capitolina’s name Kebechet could feel Angel growing calmer, and she could have sworn she saw her tail give a single contented wag.
Kebechet had always believed Capi had drawn them together simply for their proximity and their identities as wolves, but holding tight to Angel and looking out over the city that was slowly rebuilding itself, perhaps there was more to it than simply that. Though they were a disparate and mismatched group in almost all respects, they had helped the people of Rome begin to claw their way out of the shadows that had fallen on it. She could see the scattered lights of the city, the movements of people in their ever-growing sanctuary. If the mission succeeded, then the entire city, perhaps the entire country, might be like this again someday.
“Besides” She continued, keeping her hand on Angel’s shoulder “We can’t let the humans see we’re scared. We’re supposed to be their protectors, after all.”
“How long do you think that will hold?” Angel asked, and it took a moment to think before Kebechet responded.
“We’ll keep doing it until they can protect themselves. Whenever that is.”
“That may be sooner than we think.” Angel said. “Though they’ve had setbacks, the Rangers are availing themselves quite handily, and…” She seemed to trail off, her eyes flickering with movement.
“There is one I am watching with…particular interest.” Angel said. “I suppose she…piqued my curiosity.”
“Coming from you that’s praise indeed.” Kebechet couldn’t help but smirk. She’d never known Angel take an interest in anything other than Capitolina.
“Time will tell if she’s anything more than bravado, however.” Angel said “I shall wait and watch.”
“That’s about all any of us can do.” Kebechet said. “But if humans are good at anything, it’s holding surprises.”
The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa