To know means to record in one’s memory; but to understand means to blend with the thing and to assimilate it oneself.
169 Days since the Calamity
Awake, awake, awake in peace, Lady of Peace. Rise thou in peace, rise thou in beauty. Goddess of Life, beautiful in heaven. Heaven is in peace. Earth is in peace.
The seas are not in peace…
The weather has worsened; the crew has closed the hatches to prevent the seas that slosh across the upper deck from flooding our space below. It makes the dark space even darker. And smellier.
Most people sit on the bunks that line both walls — five to a bunk. The passengers, off-cast dregs of every nation, sit holding their heads, or retching into buckets. The exceptions are those that had been fishermen, who are used to this kind of motion. They’re trying to catch a barrel that’s come loose from the ropes that are supposed to lash it to the wall. The thing rolls back and forth across the floor, banging into bunks while people lead out of its way and the fishermen give chase.
To think that were it not for those wretched, ungrateful Israelites, I could be sitting on still ground, surrounded by riches, praising my divine Grandmother. Instead I write, and I retch. At least Iousaas and Samira are calm. The savage rocking of the boat must be as the waters of the womb to them.
Revolution the wretches had said. Freedom. I know neither of these things. All I know is that my divine cousin, Ra’mses was drowned. His son, who would be our new pharaoh, also killed. And all those who were his property taken away by his own brother. Lead into the wilderness to be sacrificed to his foreign god. What else can one expect of raising one not of the divine lineage up to such prestige. As I hurl up what remains of my lunch, I hurl all the curses of my mother Isis upon those who cast down my family.
There are screams from above. The sound of fighting. With a crash the hatch falls open and a sailor tumbles into the hold. All activity stops as the hold’s terrified inhabitants stare. The man lies still, blood pooling around him.
They stare too long, shocked by the sight of such violence, but I’ve seen my share. I will not allow my beloved daughters to die amid such filth. Better that primordial Nun should swallow them up than pestilence take them. I leap to my feet and rush upon the deck. I find the deck awash in blood. The crew massacred.
Sons of Nun, beings that are neither man nor fish but both, swarm about the deck, armed with crude spears of driftwood and coral. A few more brave souls rush up from the hold to the heaving deck, weapons in hand.
A flash of lightning reveals another ship off our bow, of strange make and flying a black flag. Armed men swing on ropes like monkeys and alight on our deck to fight the fish-creatures. The first and captain of the ship, called Kallaban, unleashes a bolt of Horus’s divine light, outlining one of the fish-creatures. A cat-woman, called Misty Steppe, lands close behind stabbing the the now-glowing fish.
The fish do not stand idle. They rush upon the newcomers stabbing with their spears. An unaccompanied child from the hold, called Pipa, runs onto the deck and strait into their shark-like maws. Her eyes betray her as a daughter of the gods. I pray to the divine mother to protect my own daughters, and rush to the aid of this motherless one.
More warriors swing over from the other ship. A dark sorceress, called Codex, burns the fish-men with sigils of power. A daughter of Mulak, the divine owl, called Silt on the Wind, swoops down from the rigging, raking the fish with her talons.
I hear one of the fish-creatures chanting a prayer, though I know not to what strange god, nor what powers it might be calling upon. On instinct I call out to Isis, calling on her sacred flame to counter the foul magic. Across the way, an old man, called Witherton, another son of the gods, climbs from the hold and attempts his own counter-charm. Both our efforts are for naught, and only add fuel to the fish-creature’s magic, which swiftly heals the injured among them.
A last warrior, a child of Set called Sane, swings over from the strange ship. His heart is as ambivalent as his lord’s and his eyes are deep golden pools. The last two crewmen of our own ship fall into those pools and cast themselves into Nun’s depths. No more of the shark-men climb the gunwales, contented by this sacrifice.
With no new fish-men inbound, the defenders of the two ships strike out with new vigor. Misty Steppe and Pipa stab one, gutting it like the fish it is. Kalliban curses them with the bane of his god.
Codex burns her unholy sigil into the fish-priestess. Desperately, the fish-woman calls again on her god to heal her companions. This time both Sane and Witherton join me in a counter-chant and her magic is dispersed upon the wind.
Witherton follows his counter-curse with a spell of his own. An ice knife lashes out at the fish-priestess, impaling her, then bursts upon the other fish-men. Pipa is caught in the blast and falls. The angry fish hurl their spears and Sane and Misty fall as well. Kalliban and I rush to them, straddling their bodies and bandaging their wounds.
A small white cat-creature, called Easy, whom I had not noticed before, unleashes a barrage of magic missiles, felling one of the remaining fish men. Codex draws her dark sigils again, and they carve themselves into the chest of a second. Silt swoops and slashes. The two fish that still stand rush upon Witherton and Kalliban, who stand shielding Sane.
One stabs Witherton, whose body falls in a heap atop Sane’s. Easy ices it, literally. The second bites Kalliban, only to be back-handed with the thunderous wrath of Kalliban’s god. Misty staggers to her feat and ends it.
With the fish defeated, the pirates, for such are our rescuers, argue over the spoils. Namely the ship. Kalliban wishes to make his mate, Bobby, captain of the prize. Silt insists that the ship is hers. They compromise. No one gets the ship. A hundred refugees are moved to the pirate ship and our junk is sunk.
The ship hoists sail and strikes out for deep water. The storm abates. The pirate ship manages the deep water much better. I find a corner, unlace my mail, and hug Iousaas and Samira to my breasts.
Hail to You, Goddess of the Starry pathways/ Hail to You, Goddess of the Deep Black.
Hail to You, Goddess of the Shining Sun at Midnight. May I partake of Your glory forever.
170 Days since the Calamity
Awake, awake, awake in peace. O Goddess, Daughter of Nut, Daughter of Geb, Beloved of Osiris, Goddess rich in names! All praise to you!
I am woken from my fitful dozing by the sound of gulls. The ship sails around a small archipelago. Silt takes wing and returns with news of a suitable, deep-water coastal cave under an island with a tall, spire-like mountain. A pirate’s haven.
We drop anchor. The questing mouths of my daughters, still cradled on either side, tells me that only a few hours have passed. All are still tired from the night’s adventures. I laugh at this. No one no
tiredness like a new mother.
I shift my seat, propped against a cargo crate. I take too long. Soon my loves cries drown out those of the gulls.
As I give suck to the screaming meat-loafs, the Son of Set comes over. The golden pools of eyes search me. Sensing my fatigue, he offers to take the babes so that I can sleep. I look past his eyes to his serpentine jaws, and decline.
I feel strangely content in the company of these ruffians. I nod again.
I awake with a strange yearning. The cave that gives us shelter is deeper than the ship can traverse. I must know what lies within.
How unlike me.
From the land of morning I hail you Isis I thank You for Your guidance through the hours between night and noon. Welcome to the softer sky of afternoon. Look ahead to the respite of dusk and evening.
The others who fought last night are likewise compelled. Leaving the bulk of the pirates and refugees on the ship, we form up like a pack of wolves to explore the path that leads further into the cave.
Misty and Silt lead the way, creeping into the deepening gloom. Suddenly, Kalliban, who was right in front of me, is gone. I pray to the Goddess for light, but there is none. I sense nothing.
I look around and they are all gone. Vanished. Only Pipa, Sane, and I remain. I glance at the Son of Set and drown in his eyes. I take Pipa’s hand and, praying for peace, step forward.
Nehes em hotep, nehes em neferu. Nebet hotepet, Weben em hotep. Weben em nefuru, nutjert en ankh. Nefer em pet! Pet em hotep. Tu a atu. Tu a atu. Nebet Aset!
I step out into a colonnaded courtyard. A bustling city. People of all stripes and colours surround us. Immediately in front of us a man floats above the ground, horned and robed. The small cat, Easy waves a hand beneath his feet.
A man runs up, panting and speaking gibberish. He says he is a ‘Tout’, a guide. Etain the Third is his name. He makes claim to being the second-best tout in Sigil. To which the crowd decried “Not bloody likely!” His language is florid — riddled with nonsense.
Symbols dance above the floating man’s head and Etain tries to translate for us. We have been ‘recruited’ by ‘The Lady’ to ‘help Sigil’. Sigil is somehow both the name of the city we are in and of the Lady.
I ask if the Lady is a god, to have thus called us here. The tout insists that she is not, and may, in fact be offended by the term. He bids us not to mention it should we see her. There are temples, he says, to many gods in the city. But the Lady keeps the gods themselves out. She is vast in power. Should a god appear in the city, she takes them out behind the shed and leaves them for dead.
The Shed, it seems, is local slang for the Astral Sea.
Kalliban and I pray to our own gods for guidance. We are answered, but the answer comes as if through a fog, or a great distance. Such separation from my mother is chilling, but the mention of temples is comforting. I beg directions to the temple quarter, hoping that a place of worship so distant from my home may not yet be corrupted by the Israelite’s rebellion.
Etain goes on, at length, but my loves stir. I try to listen to his prattling as I unswaddle my daughters and hold them so that they might relieve themselves.
Sigil is a city of doors, he claims. Of gates. All controlled by the Lady. All bounded openings may lead to anywhere in the Cosmos, but none will lead back from whence we came except by her will.
The city, he says, is plagued by a growing darkness and creeping dread. The Lady, it seems, is indeed no god. Neither omniscient, nor omnipresent. She has called us to deal with those things in the city that are outside her notice. The unknown unknowns.
Sane probes the tout for further information. Who might know these unknowns? Where should we look?
The tout has many suggestions. There is a hall of records. And a mage called the Master of Bones, who knows much. Other touts, he says, will sell whatever they hear or see. A thing to keep in mind, as they may just as likely sell me to my enemies.
But, he is for sale. I ask what he costs. He insists that the Dabus, the floating man, has already purchased him. So I ask the Dabus.
Etain, blusters. He seems to have some strange notion that those who are not the gods’ may own themselves. They he is not the possession of the Dabus, but possesses himself. He prattles on about ‘free will’, as if anyone could be free who does not follow the will of the gods.
Sane cuts in again, restoring sanity. He demands directions to a reasonably safe, reasonably priced place where we might rest. The tout suggests that we go to a place called the “Alehouse Drake”, named, uninmaginatively, for the Drake that lives in said alehouse.
Sane fishes for suggestions of where to find work. The tout says there are many without work. A ‘gearsmith’ has created machines that can do the work of menials, depriving the slaves of their honest labor.
Sane presses him. Finally Etain must spend his own coin to buy the knowledge from a boy, called Martin. We are directed to an importer of goods and raw materials named…Philomenus I think? An hour must have passed, for Iousaas was again demanding to be nursed.
The Son of Set then asks where we might find inexpensive, medium-to-low skilled, extraordinarily slaves. Specifically a nursemaid. I can only assume he wants to part me from my beloveds. I must be very wary of that one. He has already subverted my mother’s will to force me here.
Etain explained that a group known as the Red Monks might have a slave for us. It seemed that, with the people deprived of honest labor, they turned to the monks for direction. In their charity, these monks might help us find some refugee woman in need of a master.
The conversation is interminable.
Sane asks for an “honest fence”, to whom we might sell the goods we brought with us from our diverse homes. This Etain declines to answer, unwilling to admit that he is aware of a criminal element, but says there are buyers for everything to be found in the Market Ward.
Sane asks whom we should get to know in the city — who are the people of worth and influence. Etain explains that the various wards of the city are run by a smattering of rival gangs. The red-armored gendarmerie, the Harmonium, kept the peace, but the Lady deliberately intervened to keep the city from becoming too lawful. The Market Ward, he says, is run by two gangs — Tommy’s Knockers and the Dungeon Rats.
Etain suddenly looks past us and his face goes bone-white. I feel the weight of eternity settle on me. Turning we behold a floating, feminine figure, robed and masked with bladed-ribbons trailing away in all directions. She hovers. We stare and she stares back.
There is a prickling, burning sensation on my left arm. I peel away my wrappings to find that I’ve been branded. There is a circular welt on my arm. If we are to be her slaves, the Lady’s methods are crude. At home we would pierce our slaves and adorn them with gold.
The Lady’s gaze lifts from us. She looks to the side, down a street towards the Clerk’s Ward, where Etain had told us the Hall of Records waits.
I look in that direction and behold a street, like any other in the city. Choked with people. A fancy palanquin, born by whirring, clanking metal men, turns a corner into the street.
Suddenly, a man sitting on the palanquin, stands up, towering over the streets and points to a cross-alley. “Stop Thief!” he shouts. We see a dark cloak fluttering into the alley. The man yells, promising a thousand gold coins to anyone who catches the cutpurse.
My companions leap to action, heading for the alleyway. Codex telepathically demands that the crowd make way. Kalliban flanks her, shoving people aside with his shield. I pray to Isis for protection, hedging out the stranger folk in our path.
Silt leaps into the air, buffeting bystanders with her wings, and perches on a rooftop overlooking the alley. She spots an ambush, two men and a small quadruped.
She jumps down into the darkness…