Friday, April 29, 2016

His Boots

His Boots is an Erien based story, written by Terri Pray.

Artwork by Samuel Pray, created using Daz3d, Photoshop and Filter Forge. 

He’s gone.

Richard sighed and looked around the room. Everything that reminded him of his father remained in the room but the man himself was gone, he swallowed hard closing his eyes against the tears that threatened to spill. This was neither the time, nor the place for grief. He’d had his moments, scant though they had been, to weep yet still he wanted to cry. Scream. Yell at the sky that this wasn’t happening. His father, he couldn’t be dead. Not now. Not when they needed him.

I need him. I’m not ready for this. I’ll never be ready for this.

He shuddered, growling under his breath. This was stupid, the way he was acting - no, he wasn’t going to let his emotions win. Not this time, not ever. Hells, what was he, a child to need his father to chase away the monsters in the night? Did he need a story read to him at night or his breech cloth changed by a nurse? He was no child, no babe at the breast but a man who should be able to face anything thrown at him. No, he’d long since outgrown the need for a caregiver.

Hadn’t he?

Yet he couldn’t deny the need for his father, especially in this moment.

His gaze fell on a pile of scrolls in a holder next to the desk. Scrolls his father had been working on, reading or adding his own notes, in the days leading up to his death. Work had been left unfinished, some with little more than a missing seal and signature, but this was something that his father would now never complete.

Which mean it fell on his shoulders. He’d have to work his way through each and every scroll, document and scrap of paper on or around the desk. He didn’t know what was important right now, what was time sensitive and what could be put to one side. Work. Duty. Expectations. All of it threatened to pile up on his shoulders and he didn’t know where to start. He wasn’t ready for this.

I’d never be ready for this.Not with the petitions that have appeared in the last day or two.

“Damn them all.” Who he damned he didn’t know, not in this moment. The ones behind the petitions were easy to identify, but the ones pushing the more vocal men and women, they were the real problem. They were vague shadows, threats that lingered in the darkness trying to find a means of tripping him up. He’d stumbled through the situation at first, thinking that his father’s retainers and merchants would support him, but nothing could be further from the truth. At every turn there had been a not so subtle attack, comments that he wasn’t ready, that he should step aside instead of taking the role of Lord, but not one of them had a real reason behind their suggestions. He rubbed the back of his neck and sighed. “They wanted this, wanted us all out of the way.”

Yes, they did. Only it wasn’t a ‘they’, not entirely, not if he wanted to be honest. He might not know all of the shadows, the voices, but there was one man in the forefront, one man pushing to control things, to strip the title from Richard’s hands and take the power for himself. A man who claimed a blood tie that no one could prove or deny at this point. Not with the supposed sire dead and buried.

Except - there was a way, wasn’t there?

All he had to do was find someone capable of casting the spell. He closed his eyes, rubbing his temples in an attempt to ease the growing pressure. If this continued he’d have a migraine before the end of the day. What he needed was the assistance of one who could access the magic be they a member of the priesthood, or a mage, there were spells that could, according to legend, reveal the true blood lines of a person. He groaned, fighting back the growing pressure behind his eyes.

Just what he needed, if this continued he’d need a mage to cure the migraine!

Sure, I’ll just drop everything here, take off on a quest and be back before dinner. No problem.

Right. Uh huh. The mage would wave a hand and it would all be solved. Richard opened his eyes, frowning as he paced a path across the heavy carpets to the large window. Maybe he just needed a little fresh air. He’d been cooped up in the castle for days at this point. He hadn’t dared to do much more than walk across the courtyard, any thought of escaping for a ride had died at the first cry from one of the petitioners waving a scroll that he simply must look at immediately, if not sooner. With a groan he leaned against the window, seeking a moment where he could escape, breathe in fresh air and relax. Except the window didn’t open. He stepped back, looking at the frame. There was no way, beyond breaking the glass that he could arrange it to allow any fresh air into the room. Small, thick panes of expensive glass, held in place by strips of lead, let the soft, warm, late spring sun into the room. Golden light filtered in waves across the floor, offering a chance of welcoming warmth to chase away the dreams that had haunted his nights.

How many days had he spent in this room, working on a sketch or reading through an old tale, as his father worked? From an early age his father had welcomed Richard. Stories, lessons, dreams, they’d all been shared. This place, this room, it had been a sanctuary for father and son alike. Now - now it held only memories and fading dreams. What else was there? Furniture - yes, pieces that his father had used, some he’d picked out, others had been passed down to him by his father, or grandfather, perhaps further back than that. But the man who had given this room life was gone and that hole would never be filled.

No more stories.

Until I have my own children.

Another issue he didn’t want to think about. Children. Gods above and below, he didn’t even have a woman in mind, children were the last thing he wanted to contemplate and yet that too would be expected of him.  A wife, children, grandchildren, the continuation of the family line. “I’m not ready for this.”

“They’re waiting for you,” a soft, warm voice drifted in from the doorway. “And you will be ready, father knew that. You need to have faith in yourself, in what you can do, instead of letting the doubts eat you away one piece at a time. Believe in yourself the way I believe in you.”

Richard sighed but didn’t turn. He didn’t have to know who had spoken to him, he’d have known Selena’s voice anywhere. “They can wait.”

Footsteps followed by the sound of the door closing preceded a soft touch of a hand on his shoulder. “They have been waiting for over two candlemarks now, brother. To keep them waiting much longer will not make it any easier for you, in truth it will add to the tension and dissent in the hall.”

“You should have been born first. You know how to handle these people in a way I never will.” Dissent. There had been plenty of that since their father had died. Damn, had that only been ten days ago? He frowned, counting off the days before he shook his head. Days had blurred one into the next and now all of the men and women who had sworn loyalty to their father now waited for his arrival in the great hall. Some would support him, but they were few and far between. He was too young, lacking experience and patience - at least if you listened to their complaints for more than a moment or two.

He shouldn’t care, shouldn’t give a damn about their words but shutting them out - if there was a way he hadn’t found it yet.


“They’ll insist that you call me Lord Balvane, at least in public.” He turned, but not to look at his sister. Instead his gaze moved to the pair of worn leather boots that sat by the side of the warm walnut wood desk that his father had used for as long as Richard could remember. Black boots, with a low riding heel and flared, folded top. Nothing fancy but sturdy, comfortable boots that his father had worn most of the time. How often had his father sat, polishing his boots with a soft cloth? He’d never handed that simple task off to a servant though the gods alone knew that there were enough servants who offered to help, yet he’d refused every time.

“Of course they will, you’re taking father’s place as…”

“No, I’m not. No one could ever take father’s place. He was the strongest of our line, the idea that I can just step into his boots. No. It’s not like that. That’s just - I have to take the role of Lord here, but that’s not the same thing. I’m not even ready to be the Lord here, you know how I am, I can barely organize what I want to wear some mornings, let alone run his lands, his people and everything that goes along with the title.” A mistake, this entire thing was a bad dream. He’d wake up tomorrow and his father would be alive and well. I wish that were the case. Richard rubbed the back of his neck, trying to fight the growing tension. Knots. His back and neck had been plagued with knots since the morning his father had been found dead at the bottom of the grand staircase.

Crumpled. Wine pooled around his body, a broken bottle close at hand and a goblet next to his right hand.

His father had been left handed. That had been the first thing that had struck Richard as odd, that and the wine on the floor.

Had he fallen or had his father been pushed? No one had been able to answer that, but he knew - in his heart Richard knew. Never, in his life, had Richard witnessed his father in a state where he’d been too drunk to climb the stairs. The man rarely drank more than a glass or two of wine or port a night. Occasionally a good glass of brandy instead. Yet he’d never been drunk. The idea that, somehow, his father had been drunk to the point where he’d slipped down the stairs and broken his neck, was ridiculous.

The spilled wine. Not even one he liked to drink. Dry wine, not the semi-sweet or full, robust red he preferred. The man never drank dry wine, claimed it gave him a headache, yet the story was he was so drunk he’d obviously not even been aware of the bottle he’d picked out. Except his father kept his wine in this very room, there couldn’t have been a mistake as that wine would never have found a place on the small wine rack. Nor had any other bottles been opened that night. He’d barely even taken a glass of port, at least to Richard’s memory of the level in the bottle.

Richard’s words had been ignored when he’d raised the matter. Only Selena and the servants believed him. No matter what was said none of the merchants or lesser nobles who were sworn in service to his father, were willing to believe that someone had killed the former Lord Balvane. What did it matter what a distraught son, daughter or servant said when the nobles said it was a drunken accident. Men and women who were willing to swear that their father regularly drank himself into oblivion and had been doing so since the death of his wife.

“They wanted him dead, Selena. I don’t know why but they did and now - now he’s gone.” He growled, his shoulders tight, hands fisted at his sides. “He didn’t deserve this. He was a good man and they killed him. They found a way to get rid of him and we lost a father in the process. I want them to pay, they have to pay for all of this.”

“Richard, don’t do this to yourself. I know they will have to pay for it, but not right now. Not until you’re settled into your new position. Breathe, my brother. Please, calm and focus. There are others who will knock you down, don’t do the job for them.” Selena took hold of his left arm and used the grip to turn him around, away from the desk and boots, until he faced her. “You know Veren will be leading the pack in any attempt to oust you from the Lordship. We have to keep calm in order to see what’s coming.”

Veren. A hand tightened around his heart, tension threatening to close his throat until he coughed, clearing it before he forced himself to speak once more. “He wants the Lordship for himself.”

“Yes, that much is obvious, and he has, in theory, a legitimate claim.”

A bastard child, at least according to Veren. Yet there was neither a living mother or father to speak to the matter. Another detail that didn’t quite add up, and Veron had wormed his way into the small court four years ago. Only then had the problems begun in the household. Small rumbles at first and the bigger ones, troubles with the merchants, the market and tradesmen, then it had built, drawing in the nobles until not a day had passed without new complaints being brought to his father’s door. “How the hell does he think he can prove a claim when the man he now said sired him, is dead and buried. Why wait for that death until father was dead? It doesn’t add up unless it’s a lie.”

What else could it be, but a lie? Lord Draven Balvane had said nothing about a child born out of wedlock. His long term mistress, Areia, had never hidden the fact that herbs had been provided for her in order to prevent the birth of such a child. Not something she had been upset about, but if his father had not wanted a child to be born from a mistress he loved, why would he have slipped up and sired a child on someone else? No, their father wouldn’t have put the family, and the succession, at risk.

The deaths. Claims. The pieces that didn’t add up. How the hell was Veren gathering so many allies? The man had no real source of money, at least according to statements he’d made, so where had the funds come to buy them off? These were men and women who wouldn’t act without cause, without a source of persuasion. He’d learned that at an early age by watching and listening to his father. Politics was a dangerous sport and claimed more lives than most people would ever know.

He’d known that, known it from an early age, but with the death of his father he’d now, finally, experienced the true viciousness of politics.

“If he was our brother, something would have been said.” It didn’t make sense, no matter how he looked at it. “He’d have been welcomed into the family.”

“We know that but he believed father would deny his birth, but of course we know father would never do that if he was indeed father’s son. He phrased his concerns in such a way that it’s hard to argue against him. It’s nothing he outright says, much of the time, but a hint, a seed of something that leads into something bigger. Because of that, there are those who now say father’s mistress would have had him killed.” Serena offered a wan smile before she broke contact and sat down on the edge of the love seat that had been one of their father’s favorite pieces. “Of course, anyone who knew Areia would know that to be a lie. She would never have harmed a soul.”

Areia, another beautiful heart who was now unable to speak out against Veren. A woman who would never have harmed the man, or anyone else, regardless of the threats laid against her.  Now a woman who had brought so much light and joy into their father’s life was dead only two days after the death of their father. “Suicide - it wasn’t in her nature. She was grief stricken, yes but she’d promised to stand by us, to help where she could and then she’s found with her wrists sliced open. She wouldn’t have committed suicide, at least not like that. She hated leaving a mess.” Blood, there had been so much blood spilled across the floor. If Areia had, indeed, taken her life it would have been in a quiet, dignified way, leaving no mess or problems for people to clean up. “You know what she was like about finding anything out of place let alone how she reacted to the sight of blood.”

Areia’s normal reaction to blood had included a wail or scream, combined with fainting. Something their father had teased his companion about on a regular basis. No more jokes shared between them, no teasing comments or playful looks, no secret holding of hands beneath the table. Everyone had known she had been his mistress for the last six years and both Richard and Selena had welcomed her into the family, but officially their father was a respected widower who had buried his wife twelve years ago. No ties, no engagements, no betrothal’s in sight. Nothing to cause problems with the line of succession.

Another life lost to the game of politics.

“Yes, I know. I don’t believe she was the master of her own death either, but what real proof do we have? Not just with her death but all of them? Each one an accident, or easily explained away except to those who knew the people involved. No one was seen entering or leaving her chambers, nor were there any signs within the room that there had been a struggle.” Selena agreed, her head bowed, soft strands of hair slipping down over her eyes.

Too many deaths. They both knew that, but speaking out in public carried a risk and neither of them were in a position of safety. At least not yet. They weren’t in a strong enough position though that would, in theory, change once he’d been sworn in.

If I’m sworn in. They’ve killed two people that we know of, how many more have died or have been removed in other ways?

An oath to the Dragon Throne, and a promise to represent his people in both small and large matters, would be a part of the oath. He’d have to travel to the Dragon Throne at least once every three years, and fight for the good of the throne, his people and the land, but none of that frightened him the way that the politics and his half brother did.

I’m no coward but I don’t know what I’m facing here. What he has planned. Who is on his side or helping him with all of this, as he can’t be doing it on his own. There’s too much going on. Too many pieces to the puzzle.

Some of the pieces could only be answered by magic - at least according to the books he had read and the tales he had grown up with. How else could someone enter a room, commit murder without leaving evidence behind or being seen?

“Don’t let him scare you. We are stronger than that. Together we can stop this, we can find out what’s going on and prevent them from taking your birthright.”

He scowled and flashed a glare at Selena. “How do you always know what I’m thinking?”

“Not always.” Selena sighed and tugged a stray lock of red blonde hair back from her eyes. “But your face - you let whatever is going on in your mind affect your expression. Father learned to wear a mask and I know you have to learn to do the same thing. It’s not easy, I know that from watching him, but it’s a skill you need if you want to survive the coming months.”

Survive. It wouldn’t be easy to make it through the months ahead, even the weeks. “If I make it through this day it will be a bloody miracle.” Veren, how many had he brought to his side? Had he paid some of them off, made promises of positions if he took the lordship? There had to be something behind the way so many had rallied to his side, but whatever it was, Richard and his sister had been far too busy dealing with the deaths and upset in the household to get to the bottom of the situation.

Now it was too late.

“He will turn them all against us,” Richard muttered, his gaze shifting back to the boots. Soft leather, well tended despite the scuffs and worn spots. Boots his father had worn almost every day of his life. He walked through the courtyards and the great hall alike in them and now - now they would never be worn again. “I can’t fill them.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Father’s boots, I can’t fill them. I’m not him.”

Selena moved in front of him, cupping his face in her hands. “No one is asking you to be father. Be yourself. Carve your own place out in the world and prove them all wrong.”

To Be Continued Next Week. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Sekhmet's Hand

Artwork created by Samuel Pray, using Daz 3d, Filter Forge and Photoshop. 

Sekhmet's Hand is a Shadow Sprawl setting story, closely following the events in Bastet's Blessing, but is a stand alone story. 

"How dare she steal my form!" The lion-headed goddess stalked through the eternal halls, her eyes flashing blood red. White linen swished around her legs, a soft sound turned into a mockery by the fury that carried her words. "Am I not the Lioness? Do I not have the right to form children in my own image? By what right does she strip that decision from me? Am I not the protector of Pharaoh and his children? Do not the people cry out my name when he rides into battle?"

"Calm yourself, my sweet Lady of the Slaughter." Horus kept his tone soft. "You will have the halls in turmoil and there are all ready arguments over the decision." Horus watched the lioness prowl back and forth through the chamber. Lights flickered against the white and sand colored walls, casting shadows as the goddess walked, though the steps themselves were unheard. Such was the magic of their kind, able to hide their presence unless they desired otherwise. She was beauty, grace and danger all rolled into one. Only a fool would ever dare to underestimate the power within that body. "She also has fair claim to the form; is she not the goddess of all cats large and small? Of course, there is nothing to prevent you from choosing children of your own, just as I will soon enough." Temper, sister-mine. Ah the joys of having such powerful sisters in spirit. Their power could tear apart cities but the possibilities provided when they were angry were ones he'd rather not meet on his own. Sekhmet was beautiful, dangerous and powerful. "Breathe, please. There's no reason to lose your temper like this. Not when you know there are many ways of handling this. No one said that the lioness might only be used by one of them, but that wasn't an argument he was willing to dive into, not right now at least. "You have many skills within your grasp, skills that are not shared with Bastet, and it is you that rides alongside the Pharaoh's offering them your protection. Bastet has no such interest in those areas. Use that knowledge when you make your choice."

"That's your advice to me, use that knowledge? Oh, the pearls of wisdom that drip from your lips. What would I do without you?" She glared, spitting out the next words. "Bird brain!" Sekhmet snorted and turned her back on Horus, anger vibrating through her body. "Do you really think I would let this moment pass me by? No, of course you don't. Like her you hoped I would say nothing, or agree without a fight. Bah - what do you know sky-climber? Of women you know nothing. I should hunt down her children, wipe them from the face of the earth and deny them entrance into the after life."

Not something you have the right to do. Not that he was about to remind the angry goddess of such details. Become the target of her rage - no thank you. "You would start a war between us all and for what? The claiming of a shape that no one has denied you? A war - please think dear sister. You are stronger than this, wiser, and though I understand your anger I would ask you to think this through."

"I have, I would start this battle and then wipe out humanity, not just her chosen - they deserve to die. All of them. They are nothing but a plague on the face of this reality." The words were a snarl. "I would be rid of them and start afresh. Why shouldn't I destroy them all?"

Horus resisted the urge to roll his eyes or cast a glance skyward - well, in this case at the roof, but the point was the same. "Dear one, please..."

"No, enough Horus. I will not be disrespected. They will pay, I will drink their blood, bathe in it and..."

"Even your own children?" Careful, step slow on this one. There had been a time when she had wanted to destroy them before - and it had come close. Finally they had tricked Sekhmet, convincing her that the goblet of wine they handed her was really the blood of humanity. Fortunately, Bastet and the others had spent most of the day encouraging Sekhmet to drink. By the time the trick had been played, the lioness had been well and truly drunk. Not a trick they could play a second time. "No, you'd not want to destroy your children, not when you would be a strong guide to the right lines, dear sister. If you destroyed them all then what would you be left with?" What would any of them be left with? No voices raised in praise, or incense burned in offering. The loss of humanity would be a blow to them all. "Think, dear sister, you could start a line that holds your magic through the ages yet to come. Men and women who could continue your work as a protector for those in power." He laid the idea out one grain at a time, hoping she would follow his line of thought. "But it will be impossible if you destroy them all."

Tension eased from Sekhmet's body as she turned to look at him. "Interesting idea."

He didn't let relief touch his features. Sekhmet was intelligent, denying that was a mistake he'd never made, but it was her temper that was the true problem. Tempting a cat was a tricky business at best, at least with his hawks he'd already chosen - though they didn't know it as yet - he'd found humans who fit the temperament required for riding the thermals and swooping down on prey. Any with the desire to play with their prey had been ruled out, instead he'd found ones with a sense of pride and wonder, patience and determination in order to tap with his gift. "Your children, once you've chosen the ones you want, would make ideal protectors for the line of the Pharaoh. As humanity spreads there may come a time when the line becomes too much for you to watch over on your own, but your chosen would be able to take your place and the royal blood would remain protected."

"Tell me more," she settled onto the floor, her knees folding beneath her before she rested on her left hip. Her beautiful golden eyes flashed before she coyly lowered her lashes, her words a soft, seductive purr. "Protectors... no, not that. Guardians. Yes, that would work, don't you agree?"

"That's exactly what I was thinking of, how wise you are." Her pride, temper, and the need to be seen as the one people went to, were all weaknesses in this moment. As long as he didn't push too hard, it would work. "Guardians, just like you - only obviously without your great power."

She arched her back, preening under his approval. "Well, it seems natural now that you've mentioned it but there needs to be something more. One line that holds my sacred hand - the ability to heal or destroy with a touch."

Panic bubbled up from the pit of his stomach. "Destroy - why would they need that aspect?"

She turned the full force of her golden eyes on him, lowering her lashes slowly before opening them once more, her voice a low, seductive whisper. "Because they are my children."

Foolish, did he really think that I'd declaw my children? That I would only offer them a hint of power and leave them vulnerable to the children of Bastet, Horus, and the others?

Of course, like Bastet her brother, Horus, had forgotten the full extent of her abilities. Not a mistake she would ever make when it came to one of her siblings. They all had their secrets, gifts that they might choose to share with their children - if they followed the same path already taken by Bastet and Horus. Small things that they would attempt to keep from the others, but she would find out. She always found out, no matter how hard they tried to hide it from her.

Horus. He thinks me a fool. Perhaps not a fool, but one he could manipulate. Foolish male. As if she could be controlled or pushed into something she didn't want. They still thought she had been tricked into becoming drunk and fooled by the goblet of red wine - no, of course she hadn't. She'd let them all hold onto that idea, for now at least. They were weak, foolish and easy to manipulate.

Oh, she knew about the humans he had his eye on, understood what he looked for in a human, and had no desire to hunt either his line or Bastet's. Unseen, she had watched as Bastet had called the human female into her service and what had come next had been no surprise. They believed otherwise, they liked to think she was blind to the world around her and she continued to encourage that belief.

She would rant, rave, let them see the unreasonable anger, but few would ever know the reality. Her reality. The mask she wore around Horus and the others was one she could never permit to slip, not when there was a chance they might see. Only within the safety of her own sanctuary did she relax - but perhaps with a line of her own things would change for the better.

A line that would begin with the first choice. First, perhaps only. Do I need more than one? She frowned as she moved on silent feet through the realms until she slipped through one of the many doorways that connected their realities. She'd made this trip so many times that she didn't need to think about the path she would take. Each step brought her closer to her goal as she moved through the streets of Memphis, unseen by humanity though those in service to the temples sensed something, lifting their heads and turning to look in her direct as she passed. They might sense the shift in power, but they couldn't see her.

Power. It left a rippling wake when she walked, something that those who were sensitive to such things could pick up on. An ability that her chosen would need. She stopped, taking a moment to think it through. What did she want in a chosen? Courage obviously, but there would need to be more. Intelligence, cunning, the ability to watch and plan - all good things but there was something more, something she hadn't yet identified.

Something tugged on her thoughts, a pull that had her turning toward the palace. Pharaoh? No, it wasn't the royal family, there was nothing in that pull that warned her of danger. This was something else, a need within herself, one she had to answer.

Who calls me? Not a call - no, she had to accept that. It wasn't an active call. A need. One who looked to her but she hadn't claimed, not as yet. The touch, not male, but the softer call of a woman. She frowned and followed the pull, listening to it - for the next pulse that might come but so far there had only been the one tug. The rest of Memphis fell away as she made her way into the palace, gliding past the men and women in service to Pharaoh and his family.

Servants worked, slaves labored, and palace officials strolled through the palace unaware of those beneath their status. Yet none of the officials noticed her, their minds and hearts closed to her presence. Yet as she walked past a kneeling slave, the young boy lifted his head, his brow furrowing as he looked directly at her.

"Hello?" He whispered, glancing around before he spoke again. "Is there someone there?"

Sekhmet smiled and took a step toward the slave.

"Please, is someone there?"

It would be so easy to show herself, but what would that accomplish? The boy was skilled but a slave. Still, his children might become something more if she revealed herself. She reached out, a mental touch that barely brushed against his consciousness. He shuddered, paling as he pulled against the wall, his eyes wide, filled with shock and terror.

"Gods..." the boy hissed and flattened himself against the floor. "Mercy, great one, mercy."

 With a sigh she turned away from the slave. He wasn't the one. A sensitive but not hers. She could have found out which of her siblings this one belonged to, but there were other things that drew her attention.

"You are my daughter, Shadya; they will never take you seriously as a healer. I wish it were otherwise, but they will always expect a man when they summon a healer, at least within the palace. A woman may act as midwife, or sometimes healer beyond these walls but within them? No, I'm sorry, you would not be welcomed."

Sekhmet frowned as she moved into the quarters assigned to lesser nobles within the palace; those whose work kept them close to the Pharaoh and his family. Hanif. The royal healer, a man prized for his skills but bereft of sons to follow in his path. Only a daughter, Shadya, had survived past her fifth year.

"I am as skilled as you, father." The young woman protested.

"Of that I have no doubt, after all, was I not your teacher? Do I not still continue to teach you whenever a chance arises?"

"Yes, father and for that I'm grateful but I wish to be seen as a healer, not simply as your daughter. How many families have come to you seeking to bind their line with yours through marriage, but not one of them has been willing to accept me for who I am." She turned, pacing away through the room, the soft white linen moving against her form as she walked.


Yes, the feline grace was undeniable - if you knew what you were looking for, but it was the power within her, the knowledge and determination that called to Sekhmet. This one. She is one of mine. Or she would be soon enough.

Sekhmet shut out the conversation and reached to touch the young woman's mind. Intelligent. Yes, that was first and foremost. So much knowledge and the need to learn more, to use it and be recognized. Pride - that was there as well, strength, compassion and power. There, deep within, the knot of power that might have called her to serve in a temple had she be born to another family. With a soft smile the goddess withdrew from Shadya's mind.


"Something - I felt something touch me, but there's nothing there." The young woman turned, casting her gaze about the room, her beautiful face marred by the heavy frown.

"It is stress, nothing more."

Shadya scowled and turned to glare at her father. "No, this is something more. Something here - not servants, not slaves, not - not a person."

Good, very good. I like you little healer. It would have been easy to reach out to her, to speak to her and reveal herself but not with her father present. No. What she would share with the young woman would be, for now, for her ears alone.

She wasn't alone in their rooms, no matter what her father wanted to believe. There was something else here, something she couldn't see beyond a slight shadow, a ripple of movement out of the corner of her eye. Her father, loved though he was, lacked her sight. Something that she knew, all too well, would have condemned her to the temples had it not been for her father and his role within the palace. Instead she was expected to marry at his wish and hide the strangeness that made her so uncomfortable around others. Even her hard won skills were of little use, being an unwed daughter, though in fairness she could have practiced her skills outside of the palace - if her father had ever let her walk without guards. No one would summon a healer into their home, to the bed of a birthing wife or daughter, with a gathering of armed guards behind her.

The reality was that, unless things changed in the palace, she would be limited to the small service of working alongside of her father when the chance arose. Healing. Her entire life all she'd wanted was to give herself to the pursuit of healing, caring for the young and old alike, but there wasn't a potential husband in the court who would allow such things in the open. Perhaps one or two might allow her to use her skills in private, a moment here or there where she could follow her dreams.

It wasn't enough.

"You can have more," a soft, seductive female voice purred a path through the air.

Shadya turned, fear rippling through her body. No one had entered the room, there'd been no sound of doors or footsteps, yet there was no denying that the voice - and its owner - where here with her.

Lioness head, the body of a woman. Realization struck even as she dropped to her knees and placed her forehead against the cool stone floor. "Forgive me holy one," she murmured, keeping her gaze on the floor. A goddess - no, not just a goddess, Sekhmet. Lady of Destruction. Was her time on this earth finished? Had she offended Sekhmet in some way?

"There is nothing to forgive, daughter."

Daughter? Was it a good thing to be claimed so by a goddess? She didn't dare ask, not yet at least. "Thank you, glorious one."

"Rise, daughter mine."

An order she couldn't disobey but her legs wanted to defy her. Still she managed to push herself to her feet, wiping her sweat coated palms on her skirts even as she kept her gaze lowered. She wasn't a member of the priesthood, so what had brought the destroyer into her life? "How may I serve you, great one?"

"You fear that you have displeased me?"

"Yes, Lady of Slaughter. I pray that it isn't so, but I do not understand why else you would seek me out." Her throat half closed, her voice a forced whisper as she kept her gaze lowered. "I am but a girl, and for what I have done, whatever it may be, I beg mercy." Her father. She couldn't leave her father on his own. He needed her. Without her help, half of his patients would have died, or remained sick for a long time. Although she wasn't allowed to officially practice her craft, she still saw things he didn't and worked along side him - though most assumed she was there to carry his baskets, or pass scrolls to him.

"You are not in danger, at least not from me."

Shadya glanced up and then looked away before she inhaled deeply, bringing her nerves under control. "To what do I owe the honor of your presence, gracious one?" Lady of Slaughter was a title that, hopefully, didn't apply right now. Hadn't the goddess already said that she was safe? Then why was Sekhmet, one of the most violent of the Gods, here?

"You are strong, little healer. Intelligent, practical, patient and powerful."

"Holy one?" Shadya lifted her gaze, meeting the golden eyes of the goddess. "I don't understand."

"You're chosen."

"Chosen?" Shadya choked on the word. "To serve as your Priestess?" Her father - he'd be devastated. "I- I would be unworthy to serve in your temple, holy one."

"No, not as a priestess."

A sacrifice? No, there'd been a promise of no harm. "Then I don't understand."

"You are to be mine, you and your children and those who will come after, down to the end of your line."

Eternally hers? "Lady, do I understand that my line would be yours until the end of days?"

"Yes, blessed and some might say cursed, to belong to me. Not a priest, not locked in a temple, but my hand in this realm." The lioness reached out, fingers spread, until her hand hovered above Shadya's head. "I would give you and your children down through the ages, a gift. One worthy of your intelligence and strength. But once it's given it can never be returned. Your decision will mark your line until the end of time, or the end of your line."

Shadya took a step back, the full impact of Sekhmet's words striking hard and fast. Her children. Her children's children. Could she do this and condemn or bless them all? "What gifts, honored one? I would know what I am agreeing to."

A peel of laughter split the air, light, edged, filled with promise and terror. "Ah, dear one. I have chosen well in you. Who else would have thought to ask such a thing? Good, very good." Sekhmet lowered her hand and tipped her head to the left, letting her golden gaze move over Shadya.

Her skin prickled under that gaze. Hair lifting, skin rippling into goose flesh but she held her ground, her head lifted even as her heart raced. Defiance wasn't a wise thing to show a goddess, but this one - she wasn't in search of a weak willed, submissive vessel. No, she wanted something more, something else.

"If you accept my touch you will become more than human, dearling. I would lay upon you the ability to change shape but more than that, you would become a protector of Pharaoh and his family, down through the ages until the world crumbles to dust around us." The lioness smiled, lifting her head, her ears twitching. "You would become a white lioness, and the males of your line would become white lions."

"And the more?" She pressed, trying to keep her voice calm. The ability to shift shape, to become a lion? Hadn't there been a rumor of two lions running through the city? Killing the soldiers in the employ of a merchant? "There are already lions in Memphis..."

Sekhmet snorted, her eyes glinting. "The inferior children of Bastet. Shifting shapes with nothing else. No, you will be able to heal, or harm, with a touch. A power to defend those of the royal line, better control than those of her line. You will choose your mate, but he will be human, ungifted, unclaimed, your blood, your line - not his - will hold my gift."

A legacy not bound to a husband, a son, or a brother. Something she would hold in her own right. "The Pharaoh? What will he be told?"

"That you are my chosen and he is to accept you and those you bring into this world as my agents." The goddess shrugged, a small but elegant movement. "He will accept my words and you will be raised above others."


Sekhmet blinked. "You deny me?"

Her throat tightened. "No, it's not that honored one. I mean only that I would serve you better if I was not raised, if the secret of my line, of your gift, was just that. A secret. Does not the lioness use cunning? Do they not use all of their strengths to protect their young?" Shadya smiled and bowed her head, letting the dark lengths of the black wig brush against her shoulders. "Better that he is told but also ordered not to share this information beyond his children. Even his wives should be kept ignorant, so that I may better serve in your name." Healing. She could heal. "Perhaps an edict that allows me to be a formal healer - it would allow for my closeness to the line without letting others know who and what I have become, honored one."

For a moment Sekhmet didn't speak and that silence brought a new wave of fear. Shadya held her ground, if she had said the wrong thing, if she had pushed too far, then she would die, but she would do so knowing she had spoken from the heart.

"Intelligence - there is no denying that is one of your many strengths." Warmth radiated from the immortal. "Well then, I agree. Should you accept my gift the knowledge of your line will be limited, through a curse on the house of Pharaoh, to those of his line and his alone. His line may change, and should there be new lines, that knowledge and curse will transfer to them. The royal lines of Egypt will be protected, even should there come a time when they are forgotten and cast to the winds. You and your line will endure."

Power. Position. Yes, those appealed but the ability to be a healer, an acknowledged healer, that was the tipping point. Silently she eased to her knees, her head bowed before the goddess. "Then I, and my line, from here until the last day, are yours to command, oh Goddess."

"You are mine," a touch, little more than a caress of fingertips and nails along her cheek.

 Power, light, knowledge, it embraced Shadya, caressed and claimed her, holding her in place as it seeped into every pour, each fiber of her being until she sobbed, dropping to her hands and knees before Sekhmet. A moment of pain and ecstasy and then it was gone, leaving her drenched in sweat, now sprawled the feet of her patron. She hissed, curling in on herself, hugging her arms across her body, her stomach rolling until she struggled to hold onto the contents. Then it was gone, as fast as it had hit it was gone, replaced with strength, a sense of calm and something far more.

It was done.

"Welcome home, daughter."