Thursday, February 23, 2012

Magdalena, Part One

"Please don't tell me I can't make it
It ain't gonna do me any good
And please don't offer me your modern methods
I'm fixing to carve this out of wood

From Nogales to Magdalena
There are 60 miles of sacred road
And the promises made to those who venture
San Francisco will lift your load

In the land of old Sonora
A shallow river valley cries
The summer left her without forgiveness
It's mirrored in her children's eyes
Prodigal sons and wayward daughters
Carry mandas that they might
Be delivered from the depths of darkness
And born again by candlelight..."
Brandon Flowers, Magdalena

Harlan had his dragon problem handled, which was good, because I got that familiar feeling that was the most familiar of all the familiar feelings.
Gunnar was in trouble.
I said ‘bye to Harlan and then was a little surprised when I appeared in the desert of Egypt with a Gunnar falling on top of me.
I caught him. Kinda
Well, I broke his fall without breaking him, and that was good because he was really focused on breaking the fall of the late Marie Glapion, and wouldn’t that have been a bitch to drag her body all this way and then break it on the fall off the back of a dragon.

We were heading for a place I wouldn’t know until later was called the Manu Passage. Amanda had picked it out and told us where to go. So we went.
We were moving towards a cave entrance, and that’s where things started going wrong, you know, almost as soon as they possibly could have.

Ixion showed up and started attacking us. Well, he started attacking Gunnar. And he wasn’t the real Ixion, he was one of those simulacra. They have two… um, auras or something. They don’t look like a normal person.
I tried hitting it, and I missed. I don’t usually miss, so this was noteworthy. I did what I could to keep Gunnar safe, I don’t really know how to describe it. It’s not like I lent him some of my strength because I didn’t get any weaker. I just wanted him to be stronger, and he was.

He went in to check out the cave, and to stop getting hit by Ixion. Then Ixion stopped moving. I put an index finger to his chest and pushed him over into the sand. When he still didn’t move I ran in after Gunnar.
I think Gunnar was surprised I didn’t just hack it to pieces. Maybe I was a little bit, too, but I’m sure I made the right call.

Ixion candy-coating or not, there was still another, different person inside that shell. Killing Ixion’s simulacrum, even if I could do it, would not just kill one person. It would kill two more. It would kill whoever was stuck inside it now, because I wasn’t going to be able to take care of that person and I couldn’t see them to safety and I couldn’t call in the cavalry and let them get blown up. And then it would kill whomever Ixion decided to put into it next, because if I were an evil asshole like the Burning Wheel Man, and some jerkface trying to save the world broke one of my toys, I would just make myself another.
And another. If I were Ixion, I would probably look at people as disposable power sources. I don’t want that much blood on my hands, especially if it isn’t really even Ixion’s.
This whole trip was about getting the blood off of my hands.

Plus, Gunnar told me he smelled gunpowder in the walls of this cave, and I started feeling more and more like just getting Gunnar out of there. Fire I can handle, explosions are okay, but I don’t know how long it would take me to remedy us being buried alive. I mean, we can’t hold our breath forever.
So I hurried in, past the dying fire in the center of the cave and started reading the hieroglyphs at the back of the cave. There were pillars to either side, and a statue of some sort. The hieroglyphs didn’t tell me a whole lot, just that this was the home of a Titan, which was peachy, and then I remembered that I was carrying the manual to this shit.
I started speed-reading Amanda’s scroll and figured out how to open up the portal. Gunnar ran in ahead of me, saying something about how he hoped I was behind him, and I stuck around just long enough to be able to see the statue start moving, and Ixion step into the cave and reach an arm out in my direction, and the fire flared to an angry, crackling life, and then things started to explode.

We weren’t dead. We weren’t really even hurt. We had walked into almost complete darkness, though. I am starting to like the dark less and less, so I started glowing. Once I did I felt Gunnar grab my wrist. He asked me what in here would make the sound of shifting sand.
My inspired guess what that something was moving in the sand.
I don’t know if that was a good guess, or what he wanted to hear, or just a stupid guess, but he started running, holding me by the wrist, and I was just doing my best to keep up.
I don’t know what he was running from, or what direction he was even taking us in. He heard something he didn’t like and he didn’t want to stop for it. 
After we'd been running like, a minute, I heard something speak to us, sort of in a “Halt, who goes there?” type of way.
I gave the inquirer my name, and when Gunnar asked if we should stop I said yeah. We stopped, and into the edge of the light I was giving off stepped a woman with a snake’s head and another guy, both who carried Sticks of Being Really Important. Was or something, ruling class gear, if you believe in that sort of thing. The ruling class, not sticks. I believe in sticks.

The chick looked at the both of us in an expression I can’t describe because I was too busy being creeped out by staring at a snakelady. 
“Why are you here?” She asked.
“Um, I’m here to see a god about a resurrection.”
“You are… not dead,” she observed most observantly.
“Uh, no.” I agreed.

Then she seemed to notice the corpse Gunnar had slung over his shoulders, and noticed that Gunnar wasn’t saying much, and I introduced him and we all agreed to speak Greek since Gunnar hadn’t mastered Ancient Egyptian yet and Snake-Lady-Called-Kebauet said she would take us to the Hall of Two Truths and the Scales to talk to Ma'at where something magical was going to happen but it ended up that Kebauet was only surprised that we didn’t get our hearts ripped out and eaten and our souls destroyed.
Which I guess is magical enough, when you think about it.

Ma'at is a spawn of the Titans, it helps to know, and she was kinda scary and didn’t seem all that happy at being called away from wherever she was and whatever she was doing. And it was a really good trick that she was able to be scary, I mean... We never actually saw her. She was just this presence that felt like it was a hair away from tearing our faces off.
But she didn’t try to kill us and she wasn't technically a titan, which is what I pointed out to Gunnar when we were trying to decide whether to deal with her at all. I mean, at the beginning our policy was "Fuck titans." Not necessarily "Fuck titans and all of their descendents." That would require an inordinate amount of fucking, since just about anything can trace lineage back to the titans if it tries hard enough.

So, yeah. Kebauet was all kinds of impressed that Ma'at didn't try to eat us right away. Not sure if there's anything special going on there, or if we are just that awesome, or just that inconsequential. It's probably the last one, we just weren't worth the time.
Ma'at basically asked us if we were innocent of the crimes against heaven. What are the crimes against heaven?
Well, if you're Egyptian and you're dead and you're a good person, you're supposed to be able to stand up in front of Ma'at and declare the following:
I have done no evil against any man.
I have never caused my kinsfolk to be put to death.
I have not caused false witnesses to speak in the Hall of Justice.
I have not done that which is hated by the gods.
I am not a worker of wickedness.
I have never oppressed a servant with too much work.
I have not caused men to hunger nor to weep.
I have not been devoid of good works, nor have I acted weakly or with meanness.I am not a murderer.
I have not conspired to have another put to death.
I have not plotted to make another grieve.
I have not taken away temple offerings.
I have not stinted the food offered to the gods.
I have not despoiled the dead.
I have never committed adultery.
I have not failed to keep myself pure as a priest.
I have not lessened the corn measure.
I have not shortened the hand measure.
I have not tampered with the balance.
I have not deprived children of milk.
I have not stolen cattle from the meadows.
I have not snared the birds consecrated to the gods.
I have not taken fish from holy lakes.
I have not prevented (Nile) water from running (in channels).
I have not turned aside the water.
I have not stolen water from a channel.
I have not put out the fire when it should burn.
I have never kept from the Nine Gods what was their due.
I have not prevented the temple cattle from grazing on my land.
I have not obstructed a god (his image) when he came forth (in a festival procession).

I um... I count three problems with that list.

One, yeah, I was a murderer. Even if what I did to Marie wasn't murder, I'd murdered Caleb and we'd killed people at the Order.
I have conspired to put Ixion and Kane to death. It just hasn't come to fruition yet.
I have plotted to make Kane and Ixion grieve, too.
So, yeah. I was not worthy.

With Ma'at gone, Kebauet offered to give us the run down on what was going to happen. I was about to have my sins purified. Translation: I wasn't worthy of automatic entrance into Sekhet Hetepet, and life was about to start sucking like a ten dollar hooker. Not pleasantly, and with no promise of anything resembling a happy ending.

So, there are twelve gates in Duat and each one is supposed to restore something that was taken from the traveler upon entrance into the desert. The entrance was the first gate, and that was the one that would take everything from us. It was called the Hall of Two Truths, which I don't think I cared about previously. Anubis used to live here, but then shit hit the fan and Kebauet took over. I guess part of the job of judging the dead has gotten easier, since there aren't all that many dead traipsing into the Desert these days.

How did Kebauet land such a posh job? She's Anubis' daughter, and he's apparently not happy with her since she'd let ghosts into the Halls and offered them refuge from the wastes outside.
See, the wastes are a massive proving ground. Just by surviving them you prove you are worthy of surviving them, and you get to keep surviving them and proving that you are worthy of surviving them. If you were awesome enough in life you could have your heart weighed by Ma'at. Weighed against... something. A duck, maybe.
This is where the hearts got measured, and if the heart measured up to Ma'at's standards, then they got to skip some of the noise and go straight to Sekhet Hetepet. If not, they were given to the wastes, where maybe they’d make the trip on foot to the palace of the gods, or maybe they’d go crazy, or maybe they’d get eaten, or maybe they’d give up and just stay at one of the gates where there was less crazy and less face-eating.
Anyone who stepped into the desert would be stripped of memories and possessions. Everything I had bothered to acquire would be ruined, but as we got farther through the wasteland things would get better for us. Or at least less sucky.

And when she got to explaining this part, Kebauet held up to Gunnar and I each one of those colorful little memory fish, telling us not to worry and that they’d be waiting for us when we got to the right gate. I had to just trust that everything would happen as it was supposed to, and that everything would be alright. It had to be, I had dragged Gunnar all over creation and I'd feel like shit to just turn around and give up now.
So Kebauet told us what we could expect from each gate.

Making it to the second gate would give us warmth. Until then we would be cold down to our bones.
Making it to the third gate would let us have water again. Until then we would be thirsty. The wastes would ruin all potable substances we had brought with us. At every gate to come we would also find warmth, as well as all of the amenities we had earned by surviving the trip to and through gates previous.
Making it to the fourth gate gave us food. We would find trees whose fruits were free of the black grit of the desert that ruined everything else.
Making it to the fifth gate would let us rest. Until we got there, the wailing of the shades in the wastes would keep us awake and uneasy.
Making it to the sixth gate would give us light. Until then we would travel in near-darkness.
Making it to the seventh gate would give us clothes. Until then we would be naked.
Making it to the eighth gate would let us bathe. Until then we would be filthy.
Making it to the ninth gate would let us remember one another. Until then we would simply be travelers to one another.
Making it to the tenth gate would let us love one another. Until then we know each others' face, but we would not know how to laugh, sing, dance, celebrate or love.
Making it to the eleventh gate would give us the upgraded versions of everything that came before. There would be meat instead of just fruit. The water would be clean. The clothes would be fine. The songs would be beautiful. From here we would be able to see the palace of Sekhet Hetepet.
Making it to Sekhet Hetepet would prove that we were worthy of the favor of the gods. I hoped. At least then Lord Osiris and Lady Isis might actually listen to our request that they help us reassemble the sundered bits of Marie. And I was getting myself in the habit now of referring to them as Lord and Lady, because good manners go a long way.

I called Marie’s ghost to us, which took a lot more out of me than it did the first time, and we got ready to not be ready. I consulted Sibyl and saw a raging hippopotamus, something shadowy that I was talking to, Gunnar tilting his head in a direction opposite the city and saying he heard voices.
“I don’t want a hippopotamus for Christmas,” I grumbled as I came out of the trance. Gunnar didn't get the joke.
Then we set into the wastes, and I didn't know where Gunnar or Marie went. I had some people traveling with me, though. A girl whose memory was worse than mine and a guy who was wearing sunglasses and what at least started out as a snakeskin-looking cloak. The desert kind of tore that up as we passed through though, and by the time I got to the gate with the clothing, I really needed it.
I didn't see Gunnar anymore, though. Or Marie. He had to be taking care of her, and I would find him later, right?
I mentioned that my husband was gone, and the guy with me said his wife was gone too, but that he was sure he'd find her.
He postulated that our spouses were probably just hanging out together up ahead, “but not like that,” he assured me.
“Good, cuz I’d kick his ass,” I mumbled.

I did find a hippopotamus. It was hurt and it was hungry. It was covered in sores and it looked so awful, from the inside and out. I did what I could to help it and it calmed down, but it’s still going to die. It’s been poisoned, and the poison has made it blind. The blindness, as far as I can figure, is a result of degenerative nerve damage caused by prolonged exposure to the poisons it had ingested. It was probably poisoned by the river made entirely of snakes.
It didn’t used to be a river of snakes. And, the sixth, seventh and eighth gates didn’t used to be bisected by a massive chunk of Tartarus. Duat used to be a different place, a nicer place, Kebauet told us.
You know, I don’t think it’s right to say that Duat used to be nicer. At least, not in the sense that implies it was ever kinder.

But as was promised, things got both easier and harder the further in we got. The howling of the ghosts and the winds increased, as did the rewards awaiting us at each gate.
At the fifth gate there was less screaming. We were able to relax a little, though none of us slept. I wasn't tired, neither were the guy or girl with me.
At the sixth gate I saw something sitting on top of the piece of Tartarus which was embedded in the world. It was lithe and inky and when it spoke its voice was all sibilant. I told the guy I needed to go talk to it, because I'd seen myself talk to it. He mentioned that his wife had probably talked to it too. It said that its “friend” was bringing the darkness, or something like that. It was referring to Mikaboshi. It asked us to hang out, telling us that it had made things safe here, that all the ghosts had gone away. It made me nervous, and I didn't stick around long.
At the seventh gate there was clothing, rough linen stuff, but it was a hell of a lot better than the barely-extant rags I'd been clutching about me since I'd stepped into the desert. I really didn't want to be running around naked in front of strangers, anyway. It was not even comforting that they were nearly naked now, too.
At the eighth gate we all bathed. I made a huge deal about demanding that the guy turn around while the girl and I got cleaned up. I had to ask her to help me wash the grit and sand from that bit on my back behind my shoulder blades.
At the ninth gate I looked at the guy traveling next to me and I finally knew his face. I knew what shade of blue his eyes were behind his sunglasses, I knew the curve of his shoulders under the linen clothes and I knew the shade of his hair and the face he made when he was deep in though. I recognized him, and I was glad he was with me.
At the tenth gate I remembered him. How much I loved him. I felt my breath catch when I looked at him, the guy who didn't seem to mind that I'd forgotten our wedding or what a big deal I made that he turn around while Marie scrubbed my back. That's not a story I'm ever going to tell the bird. He'll never fucking shut up about it.

Halfway to the eleventh gate I started feeling tired. We had been here in Duat for more than a month, now. My shields kept getting battered down by the desert winds. The sandstorms just cut right through it, and the last gate was farther than I could see and then, because not quite enough shit had yet hit the fan, I suddenly knew that my sons were in trouble.
I just stopped talking and I stopped walking and I stared at Gunnar and I knew my eyes were wide with all sorts of panic.
When I told him, he wanted to know why the hell I was waiting to go to our sons.
He asked me if I trusted him to finish this.
I hesitated, but not because I didn't trust him. I hesitated because sometimes I'm an idiot and sometimes I'm stubborn but above all, I trust Gunnar. I trusted him to have my back in Guinnee, I trusted him when I encouraged him to take Tesla's spindle, and yes, I trusted him to finish this.
I cannot think of a single moment when I doubted Gunnar. If I did, I couldn't have married him, and I certainly wouldn't have had any kids with him. I trusted him, and our babies were in trouble, and I had to go.
I just didn't wanna leave him to clean up my mess. If he took Marie to Osiris and Isis without me, how would that look? He didn't shoot Marie. He's just the guy who gave me a place to crash in Vegas. I wanted to be there at the end to see this thing through, but... But our babies were in trouble.
Our babies were in trouble, and I was suddenly grateful that Gunnar had put his head in the Well and had to come with me to do this. If I'd been alone now, I would have to leave Marie here and all would probably be lost.

I trusted him to finish this, which meant I trusted him to do it with or without me. I wasn't so sure that I trusted Jack to protect my sons as well as I could. And I don't even need Sybil to tell you that if I didn't go, and something did happen to the boys, Gunnar and I were going to have problems the likes of which would make Hephaestus and Aphrodite look like domestic bliss.
So I went to our babies and left Gunnar in the desert.

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