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."
"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."