Winged Dreams is a Shadow Sprawl historical setting story, by Terri Pray.
Artwork by Samuel Pray, created using Daz3D, Photoshop and FilterForge.
I can do this. He stood at the top of the pyramid, looking down over the expanse of sand. Odd, he couldn’t remember how he’d got there, or how long it had taken for him to climb the steps, the hundreds, if not thousands of steps that took him to the top of the pyramid. Nor could he recall the trip to the bottom of the tomb. He frowned, trying to work out the details, yet the fog refused to clear. Hot winds blasted their way across the sands, picking up dust and tossing it into the air before it lashed his skin. His hands clenched and unclenched at his sides, cloth tugged by the winds and he blinked, trying to clear his vision from the sting… that wasn’t there. Pieces refused to fall into place, his body was here, most of his mind remained, but the knowledge and the full force of the elements remained somehow distant.
Ra-N-Senb looked away, checking the bottom of the temple. He wasn’t alone. Men and women, small figures, moved along the sand. Some worked on a nearby structure, perhaps another tomb, perhaps something else but it wasn’t important. They weren’t the reason he was here.
Why am I here?
There was a reason, he knew there was…something moved through the air, wings outspread to catch the thermals. A bird, majestic, beautiful and dangerous, it caught the air, turning on a wing tip as it danced through the sky.
Hawk. One of the chosen of Horus.
His heart lept, joy searing through him as he leaned forward, stretching out his arms. Horus. Hawk. Chosen.
Be one with the sky.
He jumped, claiming the sky and…
“Husband,” a hand closed on his arm.
No, he didn’t want to wake, didn’t want to give up the sky, but he wasn’t flying. It hadn’t worked. He clawed at the air, trying to find a means of flying, but the air rejected him, throwing him down toward the ground. The stones. The people who were below him, rushing toward him, faster, harder, dangerous. He’d die… if he hit the ground, he’d die…
“Husband!” A sharper voice this time, the same voice though. “Wake, please you must wake!”
Yes, he had to…he blinked, opening his eyes, sweat coating his flesh, his hands clenched into the single sheet that had been tugged over his body. He groaned, scrubbing one hand over his face, trying to clear the salt and fear from his features. “A dream, nothing more than a dream.”
Weight shifted next to him, the small hand lifting from his arm. “It was more than a dream, there was something keeping you in the moment. You tossed and turned, you were lost in it, pulled into the moment and I couldn’t wake you. I tried, but you wouldn’t wake up. Not until I called you the sixth time.”
Six? He’d heard two, only two, it didn’t make sense. He sat up, blinking again before he finally turned his gaze on his wife. Is-Atius, his soul mate, partner in life and touched with the sight. Something they had hidden over the years lest she be claimed by a temple or worse, named a danger by Pharaoh or his family. Those sworn to Sekhmet might see her as a problem, there had been struggles between Horus and Sekhmet of late, at least her dreams suggested that such a thing was taking place, just as Bastet was said to have upset Sekhmet. Something about chosen ones, blessed, he shook his head at the thought and swung his legs off the side of the bed.
“Slow, my husband. You have been drained by the events of the dream.”
“I will heed your advice.” He smiled, catching the concern in her dark eyes. “Have I ever not listened to you?”
“There has been a time or two, beloved.” She smiled and stepped back from bed. “You will need food and water before you return to your work.”
Work. Yes, of course, work. He had so much to do in the coming months. His life had revolved around his small inventions and offerings to Horus in the last year. Ever since the first of the dreams had hit him. The sky dreams. “He is sending me the dreams.”
“Yes, husband. I know. He talks to me as well.” She inclined her head, her hands folded in front of her. “The priests would be upset if we spoke of such things and we must be careful lest our own people betray us.”
Slaves and servants, neither could be, at this time, trusted. Some would attempt to earn their freedom or rewards of other kinds by turning them in. They’d both seen such things happen before. Dangerous, especially with some of the punishments that could be handed out. He might die, but his wife might become a temple slave, her sight used and abused by one who sought power instead of true service to the gods. “I will be careful, as always dear one.” He reached out, touching her hands with a light finger. “I have far too much to lose.”
Is-Atius bowed her head in acknowledgment, the long braided lengths of her wig brushed against her shoulders, the thin linen clinging to her body, outlining her lithe form. Even after ten years of marriage her body still managed to awaken his desires. They had been unlucky so far, no children granted to them, but they would come in time. When the gods willed it and not before, he’d accepted that but his wife - driven by the needs shared by many women to present him with a child, continued to visit the temples and leave offerings in the hope that they would be blessed with a child, or two.
He settled at the table, pulling clean papyrus and ink toward him. He frowned at the ink, no that was too expensive to waste on this. He shook his head and changed it for a piece of charcoal, tapping it lightly on the table. What had the dream taught him? That he needed to be high up in order to catch the air. His arms would be outspread, but he didn’t have anything there to use. Wings, he needed something to simulate wings.
Ideas rolled through him, moving from his mind to the paper in the form of black markings that he scratched into life. He had to find the answer, to silence the dreams and the only way that would happen would be if he managed to find a design that would please Horus.
She gave him some time, letting him sink into his work before she followed with food and drink, she said nothing as she set the bowl and mug down, following her habit of not letting the servants or slaves enter the work room. Instead she moved silently, picking up a few things that had been knocked to the floor, scraps of papyrus and cloth that she placed on the table instead of doing what another woman might have done and throwing them away. He glanced up, looking out of the window, only then realizing that his wife was also lighting the oil lamps as she moved around the room.
“How long…no, never mind. You wouldn’t disturb me unless you believed I had pushed too long without something to eat or drink.” He sighed and pushed the drawings away.
“Husband, I did not mean to…”
Something shifted in the window, a movement that drew his attention. For a moment the light beyond made it difficult to see the clearly until it moved into the room, flying above their heads, wings outspread as it circled the room.
“Great Horus!” Is-Atius gasped, dropping to her knees, bowing her head as she did so.
Could it be the god himself? A messenger, his messenger. Ra-N-Senb moved to the floor beside his wife, his gaze fixed on the hawk.
The hawk hovered, something he was certain hawks could not do, and yet this one did. For a moment it didn’t move around the room but remained in place, its head tipping down slightly as if it were watching him. Then it changed, shimmering, the form enlarging, growing legs, arms a near human form save for the hawk head.
Ra-N-Senb dropped to his belly next to his wife, spreading out his arms along the floor. His wife assumed the same position, both of them with their foreheads pressed to the floor. His throat tightened, sweat coating his flesh as he prostrated himself. What had he done wrong that Horus might appear before them? Had his drawings, his plans, offended the god?
“My lord, most holy one, how may we serve you?” He forced the words into life. “Have we offended you?”
A rich, deep laugh rippled through the room. “Offended me, oh my children, no you have done nothing to offend me but I will admit to watching you both.”
Ra-N-Senb’s gut tightened. Watching him? Them? He didn’t look up, didn’t dare.
“Raise your heads, my children, I would see those I have chosen as mine own.”
Chosen? Terror dug its ice touched claws into his flesh but he obeyed and looked up without rising to his knees.
“There is no need to fear me, my child. I am your god but I am not your death. You will be raised above all men and women, you and your beloved wife shall be among those numbered as my true children.”
What was happening to them? A god in their home, calling them his? They weren’t sworn to a temple, had taken no oaths, and - in truth - lived in fear of what the priesthood would do if they ever found out about his drawings or his wife’s abilities. He took a deep breath, trying to calm his growing nerves.
“Most holy?” His wife’s voice filtered through his fears.
“Yes, my daughter.” Horus turned the full weight of his attention to the prostate woman. “Stand, child, I would look on you.”
Ra-N-Senb trembled. He should have stopped his wife, kept her silent. Now it might be too late. If she said the wrong thing she would die, be found lacking in some respect, and then the god would unleash his anger upon her.
Slowly, with a grace that had always been a part of her, Is-Atius rose, her head bowed as she stood before the god. “Most holy, I would ask, if it is not too impertinent, what have we been chosen to do for you?”
A soft, rich laugh echoed around the room. “I like your spirit my daughter. It will be vital in the days to come.” The hawk headed figure dipped his head before gesturing to Ra-N- Senb. “Stand my son, we have much to do.”
His heart sank but he obeyed. What could he do? Was there a way of protecting them both. Panic ruled for a moment and then it changed, a cool, controlled blanket of calm took over, soothing his tension, sweeping away the fears as he stood before Horus. “As you so desire, most holy.”
“Each of my brothers and sisters will be choosing children to bless. Bastet and Sekhmet have already chosen the first of their children, now it is my turn.”
Chosen, Horus had mentioned this several times though he wasn’t sure what it meant. There had been vague rumors, men and women touched by the gods, given something that marked them as apart from all others in the world but details had been lacking. “As you desire, most holy. But… we don’t understand what you mean by this. Not fully at least.” He inclined his head, knowing better than to look directly at the god.
There was something strange about all of this, not just the fact that Horus stood before them, but the way this was being explained. Could a god be nervous? He glanced at the god’s feet, a small shifting of weight, a flicker of wings that were little more than shadows behind Horus.
“Those chosen are marked, some with the ability to take other shapes, to use magic granted by my brothers and sisters, and this is what I would offer you.” He reached out his hands, almost but not quite touching them. “I knew those I claimed, those first ones, would need to be bound by love as well as their strength of will, imagination and courage. These are things that both of you are able to lay claim to. Your courage and love, the way you protect each other, these are things that are rare, far more so than you could imagine.” He paused, tipping his head to one side. “Or perhaps you can imagine such things.” He gestured to the desk, to the drawings. “Your need to fly was another aspect that drew me. I have watched your dreams, seen the desire in you to claim the skies when most would fear such things. With it, I would grant you the magic of the winds, enough to fill your wings and the sails on ships. Your children will learn how to use this and their children after them. I would give you this, grant you the skies in return for your loyalty. Your line will carry the ability until the end of time, but only if you are willing to accept the risks. All of the risk.”
“Risks, most holy?” Is-Atius pressed.
“For now my brethren rule. We are worshiped, protected, sacrificed to and sung about. That will not always be the way of things. There have been gods before us who have faded into the background, and there will be gods after us who will do the same thing, but your life, the lives of those who will follow, will carry our magic. You will grant us true immortality.”
All they had to do was take the offered gift.
He looked over at his wife, his beautiful, elegant wife, her eyes alight with the possibilities that were being offered to them. Hope, fear, courage, they all merged into one within her. She lifted one hand, taking his in a small, firm grip. If he’d had any doubts, they faded away in that moment. If his wife could face the darkness, then he would do the same thing.
“Is this your desire, beloved?” His wife turned her gaze to his, their hands joined. “If this is what you want, then I will gladly accept the offer before us. But I could never, would never, do it without you by my side.”
“And this is why I have chosen you, daughter. The love shared… Hawks mate for life, so must those who are marked by my gift.”
He wasn’t listening, not to Horus, though a part of him screamed that he should be. All that mattered in this moment was his wife. If they accepted this blessing, they would be bound together with abilities that would mark them and their…he blinked and turned back to Horus.
“Honored one, we have had no children, no sign of such a blessing.”
“I know this, and this is a small thing that my gift will change for you. You will have children, lots of children. Your offspring will never lack for children again.”
Hope surged into life as his wife squeezed his hand. “Children of our own, most holy?”
“Yes, it is the greatest gift I can give you.”
A soft sob broke from his wife’s lips as she half crumpled against Ra-N-Senb. “A child, one of our own. That… oh most holy, thank you. Thank you.” Sobs carried the words as soft shakes vibrated through her body.
How had he not known the pain his wife had endured at the lack of a child? He pulled her against his chest, wrapping his arms around him. This was neither the time, nor the place, to apologize to her. Such might weaken him in the eyes of Horus but he rubbed her back, murmuring wordlessly to his shaken wife.
“The idea pleases you, I see.” Horus inclined his head. “My sister suggested it might be the case.”
Sister? Which of the goddesses had told him such? That a god had failed to see the desire for children didn’t shock him. Had not he shut out the pain and focused on other things without looking to his wife? Had he hurt his beloved by his lack of discussion about children? He’d thought it safer, letting her believe that their marriage was all that mattered, not the bringing of children into the world. Yet, now that he was faced with the chance to father children, he couldn’t help but rejoice.
“Children, beloved. We will have children.” He smoothed one hand over her hair and then pushed her back so he could meet her gaze. “I never thought of the pain that the lack of a child must be causing you. For that, forgive me.” All thoughts of keeping his mistake to himself had vanished the moment he saw the joy in his wife’s eyes. “Please, forgive me.”
“There is nothing to forgive.”
He turned, still holding his wife against him. “Most Holy, if it pleases you, we would accept your mark.” Why the god hadn’t forced it upon them he didn’t ask, didn’t dare, not with everything that was being offered to them. Perhaps it was a matter of spirit, or the magic involved wouldn’t work if it wasn’t welcomed, accepted freely? He wasn’t a god nor was he a priest, such answers were - at this time - beyond him.
“Good, good.” Horus spread his hands. “There is time, yes… time. You will need to stretch your wings before the night draws in.” The god mused, his head tipped in thought as he lowered his hands once more. “The roof would be a better place for this. So, we go… yes?” Energy rippled around Horus, a flicker of movement as the room faded out of existence around them. Reality shifted, the room replaced by the roof, complete with the heat winds that swept over the city. “Yes, this will work.” The god nodded and looked over the city.
Endless buildings stretched out in front of them, temples and the palace in the distance along with the play of water that was the Nile. They were far enough away from the river to be safe if the river rose above it’s normal flooding levels, but that also put them too far from the palace to be classed as those close to the royal family. Something they had both been grateful for, as it kept them away from the prying eyes of the priests - most of the time.
He took a deep breath, rolling out his shoulders as he helped his wife stand fully before Horus and only then did he look up. The sky was near cloudless with only a handful of white wisps in the distance. Noise rose from the city now that he was more aware of his location. Merchants called out, men and women stopped to talk, children played, slaves worked, and animals added their own music. He only caught glimpses of the sources of that noise, but he new if he stepped to the edge of the roof he would be able to see far more, but what if they were seen?
What did it matter? Many people spent time on the roof of their home, especially during the evening. There were times when the heat rose to a point that the only place you may find a little relief from it through the night was to unroll a bed mat or even a simple reed mat, and sleep on the roof. He’d done that a time or two before, slept under the stars with his wife in his arms.
Once the power was theirs, would they ever again feel the need to sleep on the roof? Or would the roof become nothing more than a place to launch themselves into the air.
“Most holy, what of those around us? Will they see our gift from you and seek to do us harm?” His wife’s trembling voice cut through his thoughts.
“Perhaps, my daughter. I do not pretend to understands all the thoughts of mortal kind, or how they react to change.” The hawked headed god moved toward them, touching them on the shoulder. “It is time. I will see you through this first change, focus on what I do, on the magic in your body and it will become easy for you to shift into the new forms.”
Ra-N-Senb took hold of his wife’s hand again as the god moved them, separating them out.
“No, you must not touch when the magic hits you this time. Even if the future, changing when you are touching another will be harder. Keep apart until you have learned how to complete the change with little or no thought.”
Is-Atius let go of her husband’s hand. “We understand and will obey, most holy.”
“Close your eyes and let the wind caress your body.” Horus began, his voice slipping into a soft, welcoming tone. “Stretch out your hands and part your fingers, feel the play of the breeze over your skin and lift your head to the sky, tipping your chin up.”
He obeyed, closing his eyes and shutting out everything but Horus and his instructions at first. The breeze touched his skin, teasing the short hairs along the backs of his hands and arms. Each hair lifted and lowered at the command of the wind. He frowned, sinking into the sensation. Why had he not realized how sensual the caress of the wind could be?
“See the wings, hawk’s wings, banded in gold. For you will share my markings - not the markings of every day hawks.”
He listened as he saw, in his minds eye, wings taking the place of his arms, feathers replacing fingers. His body shifted, clothing falling to the floor as he let the warmth, the magic wash over him. He didn’t need to open his eyes to see it, didn’t fight the magic, instead he accepted it, embraced it and rejoiced in the power that now claimed him. He inhaled, shivering with the change.
“You are almost there, a moment longer. Feel the claws, your legs changing, the shape of beak and head. Let the final part of the shift move through you.”
He obeyed, shuddering as it happened.
A cry of joy screamed free from his lips, except he didn’t have lips anymore. A beak, sharp, ready to rend and tear into the flesh of his prey.
“Open your eyes and fly my children. Spread your wings, taste the air and ride the winds.”
Ra-N-Senb obeyed, launching himself into the air along side of his wife. Two hawks, beautiful, dangerous, banded with gold, took to the sky side by side. Wind caught beneath his wings even as he moved through the air with his wife. His dreams, they had been nothing compared to the reality of flight. Nothing could stop him, stop them, not now they were chosen. His wife, their children, they would all know the power of the sky, of the wind and of flight in the service of Horus.
What more could he want in life…