to thank everyone who's gone along for the ride on this one. I promised
myself and everyone else it would be done by the time I left for
Dragoncon, and it was, but it sucked. <g> So, I redid it. Hope everyone likes it. Let me know what you think?
I also want to send out hugs and thanks to the two people that really helped me on this, by giving me feedback, and working with me when I had a problem. To Advocate and Doc Jones.... thank you. You've made this a unique writing experience.
And now, the "real" conclusion.
I stumbled from the tent, squinting in the bright sunlight. Hearing voices, I turned, hoping that Shayt would be among them. Instead, there was only Mishra and Achmed.
They both smiled at me, and Achmed lifted a cup toward me. "Good morning, Daryl. Come, sit and talk with us while we wait for Shayt."
For a second I hoped he was serious. "You mean, she's coming back? Where did she go?"
"She went to the temple, Daryl, to do her ritual. She'll be back when it's over."
Mishra reached for a folded piece of paper. "Shayt said it would be better if she went while you were still asleep. Here, she left this for you."
I sighed, and my stomach fell, along with my heart. I had forgotten that Mishra and Achmed didn't know the true purpose of her visit to the temple.
Taking the note, I dropped into
a place beside the small cook fire. When I opened it, I had to bite my
lip to keep from crying.
I stayed up the rest of the night thinking about what you said.
I understand your feelings. Truly, I do.
Know this, my friend -- I love you very much. So much so that
I almost gave in to your request. It was just before the sun
edged it's way over the lip of the horizon, and I smiled, glad
that you were in my arms as Ra made his way to the sky.
Then I remembered watching the sunrise over the grave of
Anysia. And I just couldn't do it.
I can't watch you die, Daryl, and that's what you'd be asking
me to do. I have watched so many others as they were
lowered into their graves, and I don't think I can bear watching
it. Not again. Not with you.
I hope someday you can forgive me. I do love you, Daryl.
May the gods smile on your travels, and the blessings of
Bes be upon you.
I had to wipe my eyes several times before I could look up. I stared out across the sands to where I knew the entrance to the temple was.
"How long ago did she leave?"
Achmed followed my line of sight, then glanced back at me. "Not long. Perhaps twenty, maybe thirty minutes."
I sighed. The camp site and the temple entrance were both on rocky hilltops, with a small sandy valley in between. The distance between them, though seeming so short last night, was actually several hundred feet. With half an hour past, there was very little hope.
Tears filled my eyes again as I realized Shayt was probably dead. The grief was a ball of painful heat in my chest, made worse by the knowledge that I couldn't even tell anyone yet.
Mishra moved next to me and offered me some date bread. Just the sight of it was enough to make me nauseous, and I shook my head.
"You should eat, Daryl."
"I can't, Mishra." There was a hitch in my voice, and I struggled not to cry.
She patted my shoulder. "You're worried about Shayt, aren't you?"
"Don't worry, child. Remember, there is nothing that can hurt her."
I raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
"Besides, this ritual she is working is important. Bes has been asking her for many years to do this, and she has always refused. Now, the daughter of Pharaoh will come to her true destiny."
"Which is?" I asked, sniffling.
She just smiled again.
I got control of myself, and let out a deep breath. Looking for something to distract my thoughts I asked, "Mishra, what, exactly, is this ritual, this spell? What do you think she's doing?"
The priestess turned fully towards me and took my hand. "It is the completion of the spell that her brother started. He was intending to use it only on himself, thinking that it would make him a god."
She laughed lightly. "Gods are born, Daryl, not made."
"Then what --" I broke off as Achmed suddenly stood.
"Who would bring a truck out here?" he asked.
Mishra and I turned to look, immediately spotting a small dust cloud on the horizon. It was being made by a truck moving at a quick pace across the sands.
Directly toward us.
I bit my lip, frowning. "Shayt said the nomads yesterday told her we were being followed by a truck."
Onuris and Ishaq appeared from behind the tents, where they had been attending to the camels. Ishaq was carrying a spyglass.
He pointed at the truck. "It's carrying several men, and they have guns."
Achmed reached for the glass. "Who would want something out here? There is only sand."
"And ruins," I said. I took the spyglass and aimed it toward the truck which was now obviously coming right toward us.
Ishaq was right, the guns they were carrying were obvious. There were about 4 men in the back of the open truck, all standing, with rifles in their hands. I switched to the front of the truck, which held a driver and --
"It's Edward Caster from the Cairo museum." I handed the glass to Achmed, my mind reeling.
"Why would he be coming here? Could he know about the ruins?" Misha asked.
"No." I suddenly knew what Caster wanted. "He knows about Shayt. And he knows, somehow, about the sacred texts of Sakhmet. And the recipe for immortality."
"How could he?"
I turned to Achmed and began ticking the points off on my hands.
"He had the statue. He knew there was something special about it. It wasn't made of gold, which is normally the only thing he's concerned about, but he still had it wrapped up and locked in his personal filing cabinet. Plus," I paused to take a breath, "he's the one my father reported to at the museum. He might not have been told everything, but he had access to all my father's notes and such. If there was anything in them about Shayt's history, he would have found it."
Mishra put a gentle hand on my shoulder. "Daryl, even if you're right, there is no reason to worry. Shayt is in the temple, and she'll stop him."
"How can she stop him if she's dead?" She looked at me in confusion. "Mishra, she's not planning on using your spell or ritual or whatever. She's going to take the dagger of Sakhmet and end her life." A touch of horror entered her eyes, but she started shaking her head no.
I thrust the letter from Shayt at her, and she took it. As she read, I saw panic begin to fill her face.
She turned quickly to Achmed and asked what they should do. He stared at her, and the two of them looked at the younger men, who were shifting back and forth on their feet.
We all looked back at the truck getting ever closer.
My head was beginning to hurt as my thoughts got clearer. If Shayt was still alive, there was no problem -- she could stop Caster. If she was already dead, we were in a lot of trouble.
Next thing I knew I was running across the desert, sand flying under my feet.
Which was really a dumb thing to do, when you think about it.
Behind me, the sound of the truck echoed across the desert. I could hear Achmed shouting orders, but the sound was muffled, and I couldn't make out what they were.
Then I heard gunshots, and I ran faster.
Running through deep sand is like running through water with lead weights on your legs. You expend a lot of energy and get no where, really fast.
I was on the upslope to the temple entrance when the bullet hit me, and I went down. I rolled to the bottom, my left leg throbbing in time with my heart beat. Huddled on my side, I looked at the tear in my thigh. It didn't appear too bad, but I stayed still, hoping that whoever had shot at me would think I was dead.
What I would do after that, I didn't have a clue.
Moments later I heard the truck come to a stop close to me. I watched through slitted eyes as someone in long khaki pants climbed out of the cab. He walked over to me and crouched down.
"Painful, isn't it?"
I stayed still and said nothing.
He sighed. "Oh, don't play dead, Miss Bromley, I know better."
A second man came around and kicked me in the back. I flinched, and decided to open my eyes.
"Oh, look, she is alive." Caster's sarcasm was obvious. He stood up, watching as his friend dragged me to my feet and held me there. I hissed as sand in the wound ground a little deeper into sensitive flesh.
"Now, where is your friend?"
"Kemshet, the bitch. Where is she?"
I shook my head. "Don't know who you're talking about."
He turned to me, then smiled. With a deliberate motion he raised his arm and backhanded me. I saw it coming and tried to move with it, but it still opened a cut in the corner of my mouth.
"Shall we try this again? Where is Ashayt Kemshet?"
I wasn't going to tell him, and simply stared at him. I thought for a moment he'd hit me again, but he didn't. Instead, he sighed, and motioned to his man.
"Bring her," he said, and began walking up the side of the hill.
Towards the open temple entrance.
His henchmen dragged me up the incline. All I could do was try to stay on my feet.
The temple was carved deep into bedrock, and the entrance was the top of a long staircase. Caster stopped at the top of it.
"Down there is my destiny, Bromley."
"Really? Your destiny is stale air and old rocks?"
He smiled. "No. My destiny is the sacred texts of Sakhmet that will give me immortality." He turned toward me. "And you're going to help me get them."
"Why would you want to be immortal, Edward? It's gotta be boring after a while, don't you think?"
"Oh, no. Not boring. Not if you know what you want from it."
"And what do you want from it?"
His grin was malicious. "I want the world."
There was a look in his eyes that made me wonder if he was sane, but I had no time to dwell on it. Caster jerked his head at his henchman, and I was thrust down the stairs, one arm held in a fierce grip. I stumbled, the pain in my leg making me gasp, but there was nothing I could do except limp down the steps. Caster followed behind us.
The staircase was enclosed, with only an opening at the bottom. From there, I could see flickering light, like torches. There was no sound from the temple, and I tried to make some, scuffing my feet on the steps, and groaning in pain.
As we turned the corner, I held my breath, wondering what we'd find.
The space there was huge, much larger than I could have imagined. It was also filled with statues. In the light of several torches I could pick out the cat headed images of Bastet, and the tall warrior stance of Sakhmet. Along one wall was a long dais and altar, carved with heiroglyphics and other images. It was beautiful, and I almost cried, thinking that my father would have loved to have seen this.
A shove in my back knocked my wounded leg against a statue and I cried out in pain. The sound echoed through the chamber.
It was Shayt's voice, and it came from further in the temple. There was the sound of movement behind one of the statues and the dark head of my friend emerged under the outstretched arm of the war goddess.
"Ah. Ashayt Kemshet. We meet again." Caster stepped forward, glancing around. "Interesting place you've found."
Even from across the room I could see Shayt's eyes narrow. She stood up, ducking around the stone arm.
"What are you doing here, Caster?"
"Looking for the sacred texts." He smiled. "And you're going to help me find them."
Shayt laughed. "Now why would you think that?"
"Because if you don't, my friend here is going to kill Bromley's daughter."
My captor tightened his hand on my arm, and put the muzzle of his rifle against the back of my head.
"And don't try to tell me you don't care about her, Kemshet," continued Caster. "If you didn't you wouldn't have taken the street rat from where she belongs." He pulled a revolver from inside his jacket. "Now, shall we discuss the location of the sacred texts?"
Shayt glanced at me, and I saw her eyes soften in concern. "Daryl, are you all right?"
"Fine." I winced. "Been better, though."
Our eyes locked for a moment, and then she blinked and took a breath.
"I hate to disappoint you, Edward, but I don't know what you're talking about."
"Please, don't try to deny it, Kemshet. I know who you are, and I know this is the great temple, and the resting place of the sacred texts. Now, tell me where they are," he pointed his gun at me, "or she dies."
Shayt raised an eyebrow. "You know who I am?"
"Oh, I know, Kemshet. I noticed, when I shot you in the museum, you barely flinched. Which was when I knew for certain that it wasn't just a legend."
"What wasn't just a legend?"
"The story of Pharaoh's daughter, of course. When I first read the story I dismissed it. But it was in the journal of a captain of Pharaoh's guard who said he had helped bury the temple of the two goddesses. It had to be buried, he wrote, because it still held the sacred texts of the gods, and in those lay the ritual of immortality -- a spell, which had been used on a royal princess, who was now immortal. I figured it had to be just a story he came up with to explain the destruction of the temple, or perhaps it was the story told to him.
"But then," I could picture the cruel smile on his face, "then that fool Bromley showed up with a statue exactly like the one described in the guard's journal. I examined the piece closely, and found a golden object hidden within its base. And I knew at least part of what the captain had written was true. So, I had Bromley followed, and when it looked like he had another piece of the puzzle, I sent men to get it." I heard him sigh. "Unfortunately, they never returned. And neither did Bromley."
I froze when I realized what he was saying.
Shayt's voice was very low. "You had James killed?"
"No, no. I simply told the men to get the other statue, by any means necessary. After all, even though I knew from the captain's writings what area to search, I also knew that without all three pieces of the puzzle, I wouldn't be able to find the entrance. So, I sent them to . . . retrieve it from James.
"Anyway," Caster continued, "when I shot you in Cairo, and you didn't even bleed -- well, that was the clincher. I knew you had to be the immortal princess, come to find the pieces of the compass. When I found the statue had been taken, I realized that you were working with," he motioned toward me, "her. Well, once I realized she was with you, I knew I only had to watch the Cairo market to find you when you returned. Street rats can never fully leave the streets behind."
My brain told my mouth to be quiet, but it didn't listen. "Maybe not, but at least we don't stink like you sewer crawlers."
That got me another backhand. Shayt growled and stepped forward, but the guy behind me pressed his gun harder into me, and she stopped.
"Now." Caster turned back to Shayt. "We were discussing the location of the sacred texts."
The daughter of Pharaoh looked down at the ground. After a moment, she took a deep breath and nodded. Then she turned and headed back around toward the other side of the statue.
She stopped and looked back at Caster.
He motioned the other man to go in front, and he shoved me forward. My leg nearly buckled, but I stayed up and limped forward.
Shayt moved around to the other side, and Caster followed. When I turned the corner, I saw a smaller altar, in a private space, layed out for a ceremony. There was a stack of papyrii in the middle, and candles burned brightly from holders along the side of the altar.
On either side of the scrolls sat a dagger. I wondered which one was Sakhmet's.
Shayt stayed back, leaning negligently against the stone wall. Caster made his way around to the other side of the altar. His eyes were locked on the scrolled texts, his face greedy.
He looked up at Shayt. "Which one is it?"
"You figure it out," she answered with a shrug. "You wanted them, you have them. You figure out which one you're looking for."
Caster glared at her, but then looked toward me. "You, Bromley. I know your father taught you to read hieroglyphics. Get over here."
The guard shoved me towards the altar, and I limped around it, hanging on to the stone. I could feel the blood still dripping down my leg, but it had definitely slowed.
My arm was grabbed, and Caster pulled me in front of an open scroll. "Read it."
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Shayt had tensed slightly. Shifting my eyes towards the guard, I saw why. He too was now leaning back against the wall, a bored look on his face. His rifle was pointed at the ground.
I leaned far over the scroll, peering intently at the beginning of the text. I knew immediately it wasn't the one Caster wanted. Instead it was a scroll of prayers to the goddesses, and as I read from the papyrus I let my fingers curl ever so slowly around the dagger on the side.
The guard didn't move.
"Oh, holy goddess Bastet, hear our prayers and grant us peace from our troubles. Oh, great warrioress Sakhmet, guard us in our --"
With a curse, Caster shoved the scroll aside. He put his gun down on the edge of the table, and reached for another text.
It was what Shayt had been waiting for.
She surged away from the wall, reaching for the revolver. Even as the guard raised his gun, I ducked under the altar, the dagger held tightly in my grasp. I heard shots, and saw Caster drop to the ground, clutching his shoulder. His gun hit the floor several feet away from me.
Shayt was advancing on the guard, and I crawled further forward to watch. He continued to fire his rifle at her, but she didn't even flinch as the bullets hit. Finally, she reached him, and I saw her hand curl tightly around his throat.
Which was the last thing I saw as there was a blinding pain in my upper back. It was so sudden, and the pain was so bad that for a moment I couldn't breathe. When I finally could draw in air, it rattled in my lungs.
In shock, I fell back to see Caster's bleeding, grinning face. He held the second of the daggers that had been on the altar. The first lay forgotten in my hand. It was all I could do to keep my lungs working. For a moment I thought I would black out, and I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to force back the darkness. It receded a fraction and I looked up, hoping to see Shayt strangle Caster before I died.
She had finished with the guard and his body was sliding down the wall. Shayt turned, and Caster plunged the dagger into her stomach.
It took me a moment to realize Shayt was actually bleeding. She seemed stunned, and stared down at the blood on her hands.
I realized that I'd grabbed the wrong knife. Caster had used the dagger of Sakhmet, and with it he could kill Shayt. Fighting the pain and fear, I reached out, looking for something to throw at him, to try and stop him.
Caster, realizing he'd actually hurt her, pulled the blade out and went to plunge it back in. Before he could, my hand fell on his revolver, and I raised it and pulled the trigger.
It was a lucky shot. Caster's body, with a bloody hole in the back of his head, dropped to the floor. The dagger fell with him.
Shayt dropped to her knees and began making her way over to me. One hand was curled around the wound in her stomach, the other helping to pull her along the floor.
There was an icy feeling slowly filling my body, and creeping across my chest. Hands were on my face, and I looked up into Shayt's worried blue eyes. There was a pallor in her cheeks that had never been there. I smiled and shook my head. Trying to speak, I could only cough. Shayt held my hand and bent down to whisper in my ear.
"Stay still, love. I'll make it right, I promise."
The last thing I remember was hearing Shayt tell me she loved me. Then there was only the dark.
I woke up back in the camp cot I'd been sharing with Shayt. It was getting dark, and someone had lit a lamp. There was a pile of bloody clothes in the corner of the tent, and I noticed that they were mine. I had been bathed and dressed in a clean robe. I shivered in the cool air.
There was no trace of Shayt.
I tried to sit up, but pain in my back made me lie still again. I closed my eyes, tears running down my face, both from the pain and from fear.
Mishra came in, carrying a bowl of broth and bread, as well as a jug of water.
"I'm glad you're awake, little one. The princess was worried about you."
My ears perked up at that. "Is Shayt alive? Is she all right?" I tried again to sit up, and gasped as the pain flared again.
She pressed a hand against my shoulder. "Yes, Daryl, she's fine. Now, rest easy. You've been healed, for the most part, but you're still very weak."
"I've been healed?" I slumped back against the pillows. "What do you mean, healed?"
Mishra just smiled and gently
stroked my cheek. "Eat first. You need your strength." She settled herself
next to me. "And as you eat, I'll tell you everything you missed."
Her story began just after I left the camp. She told me of Achmed and Ishaq taking up positions with the two rifles they had. Onuris had huddled with her near the camels, trying to get them up so they could run if they got the chance.
They didn't get the chance. Ishaq was shot and killed, and Achmed had been shot in the chest. Caster had left four men at the camp before he drove off toward the temple, and Mishra and Onuris had been tied up next to the priest of Bes.
The men had proceeded to rip apart most of the camp, and had taunted and harrassed the three captives. Onuris, trying to deflect their attention from Mishra, had kicked out at one of the men. They were in the process of beating him when suddenly, Shayt appeared.
Mishra said there had been no warning. The daughter of Pharaoh was just there. One man died quickly with a broken neck. Another had his throat crushed in a powerful hand. The other two had raised their weapons and fired, but the princess didn't even flinch. Instead, she had stalked towards them, taking the rifle from one and breaking it in half. He'd drawn his dagger and slashed at her, only to find his hand held in a firm grasp. Shayt had twisted his wrist and forced the knife towards his own body, making him slice his own throat.
The last man had actually knelt in front of Shayt, calling her goddess and begging for mercy.
"She stood there, watching him, with this fury still written on her face. I believe she really wished to kill him."
Mishra shook her head. "No. She had Onuris tie him. He's restrained now in the back of the truck that we brought back from the temple."
I looked up at the ceiling of the tent, absurdly glad that Shayt had restrained her fury for that moment.
"Are you sure she's all right? Caster stabbed her. With the dagger of Sakhmet. I thought it was serious."
Her brown eyes turned very sad. "I believe it was. When she returned to the camp her clothes were covered with blood. She admitted most of it had been her own, but that she was fine."
"How did she survive? Did the wound heal before she could bleed to death?"
"No. A wound from the dagger of Sakhmet never heals, Daryl. Never. Which is why it is such a dangerous weapon."
"But . . . then . . . I don't understand."
The priestess leaned closer and touched my cheek. "Do you remember the ritual? The spell we thought she was going to cast?"
"Well, somehow, even while dying from blood loss, she cast it. And it healed her."
"Oh." I thought about that for a moment. "So, it was some sort of healing rite?"
She shook her head. "No. It is vastly more powerful than that." I waited. She closed her eyes, then opened them again, and looked solemnly at me.
"It was a ritual to give her the powers of a god."
I stared at her. "What?"
"It gave her the powers of a god. And she used those powers immediately." She pulled the blankets down and pulled the robe slightly away from where the wound in my leg was.
Or rather, had been.
"She used her powers to heal you."
There was a only a small scar left, surrounded by reddened tissue.
I fingered it gently, not sure what to think about the whole thing. Looking up at Mishra, I asked, "My back?"
"Healed as well. She said you would be in pain because of the initial trauma, and also because you had lost so much blood. But you should regain your strength quickly." She paused. "Achmed is already up and around, but his injury was not as serious as yours. The bullet to his chest missed his vital organs, while your lung was pierced and torn."
Remembering the sound of my breath rattling in my chest, I shivered. Mishra gently pulled the blanket back up over me, and gathered the empty dish from my meal.
"Rest now. I'm sure you'll feel better soon."
She was raising the flap of the tent when I called her name. The priestess turned back to me.
"Where is the princess?"
Mishra frowned. "She's out sitting in the valley. Watching the stars rise."
"How long has she been there?"
A sigh. "Too long." Then she left.
It was full dark before I felt strong enough to look for Shayt. I could see her sitting in the middle of the valley, half way between the camp and the temple. Her knees were drawn up to her chest with her arms wrapped around them.
She looked neither like a princess nor a goddess.
The moon was already high in the sky, beginning it's downward descent. Only a sliver away from being full, it lit the valley floor with an eery silver light as I slowly made my way over to the silent figure in the sand.
I stood beside her for a moment, waiting for her to acknowledge me. Finally, she looked up and I smiled at her.
"Mind if I join you?"
She shrugged, and I sat down beside her, letting my shoulder touch gently against hers. Together, we watched the stars overhead.
"Yeah. Still sore and tired, and kind of weak."
Shayt nodded. "That'll pass. You lost some blood though, so take it easy tonight."
"'Kay." I waited, hoping she'd say more, but she just went back to stargazing.
"Are you all right?"
"Are you sure?"
I waited, then heard a sigh come from her. She lowered her head and shrugged.
"I'm tired, too." Her voice was very soft, and full of pain. When she finally raised her head to look at me, there were tears in her eyes.
"Please don't leave me again."
There was a soft laugh, with no humor in it.
"I can't. By using the ritual I took away my last chance of ever dying." She shrugged. "The only thing now that can kill me is a direct interference from Sakhmet. And she sleeps silently under the earth, a long way from here."
"Why didn't you just let me die? I could have joined you."
"No." Another shake of the dark head. "I promised your father I'd take care of you." She paused. "Besides, you deserve to live, Daryl. There's so much for you to explore, to understand. I couldn't let him take that away from you -- I just couldn't."
I realized then that she had traded her death for my life.
My arm circled her shoulders and squeezed. "Thank you, Shayt."
For the first time that night I saw a genuine smile cross her face. "Your welcome."
We sat silent for a time. I could feel the emotion building up, and I tried to think of a way to let it down gently.
"Can you fly?"
She looked at me confused. "What brought that on? What do you mean, fly?"
"I mean fly, like a bird." There was a quizzical look on her face. "Mishra said you had performed a ritual that gave you the powers of a god. I was just wondering if one of those powers was for flight."
She chuckled softly. "Sorry, Daryl. I don't think that's one of them."
"Darn. I always wanted to fly." She chuckled again, and I grinned at her. "What can you do?"
"Well," she frowned, "I'm not positive. I know I can heal people. That was the main reason I decided to use the ritual, so I could heal you."
"And I can . . . I don't know. 'See' things in a way."
"You mean you couldn't see before?"
That time I got a full laugh from her. "Of course I could. I mean, I can sort of see things that I couldn't before." She closed her eyes. "Like, I can tell what's going on in the camp without being there, or even looking that way."
I glanced back toward the camp, and saw Achmed up pouring himself a cup of water.
"And what's Mishra doing?"
"She's telling Achmed that he should eat, and stop drinking wine."
I grinned. From this distance it had looked like a water skin to me.
"That's pretty good. What else can you do?"
"Oh, I don't know. I can kill five men without even thinking about it."
Her voice had dropped again, and I instinctively reached out to touch her cheek. I realized she was crying.
"Hey." Her face turned towards me. "It was not your fault, Shayt. You were forced into defending yourself, me, and everyone else. We all would have been killed if you hadn't acted."
She shook her head. "I didn't have to kill all of them, Daryl. I didn't have to."
"You didn't kill all of them."
"Right. I left one guy crawling in the sand begging for his life."
"That's not what I mean. I mean, you can't take responsibility for Caster's death."
I took a very deep breath and let it out slowly. "I killed him. I shot him. Remember?"
Blue eyes widened and I heard her inhale in surprise. There was a pain in my chest as I realized that I really had killed someone. Tears rolled down my face.
Then I was in her arms, and she was crushing me against her as I cried on her chest. Her own tears dripped onto the back of my neck.
We held each other for several minutes, letting the emotions settle. Finally, she eased her hold. I moved around in front of her, leaning back against her chest and pulling her arms around me.
She squeezed gently and kissed my cheek.
"I love you, Shayt."
"I love you, Daryl."
Once again, silence descended on us, and this time I felt no need to break it.
There was much we needed to talk about, the violence of this day being only one in a list of many. There were also her new powers to talk about, not to mention our future, and so many other things. But for the moment I was content to simply be in her arms, and know she was alive, and we were together.
It was enough.
The moon was nearly to the edge of the horizon by the time Shayt stirred. She kissed me once more and sighed.
"Come on, little one. Time for you to be in bed."
"As long as you're there with me."
She smiled as she stood up. "I'll always be there with you."
I grinned and let her grab my hand to lift me from the sand.
We walked slowly towards the camp, and I smiled, just happy to be at her side.
A thought crossed my mind. A question that I wasn't sure I should ask.
Hesitating for a moment, I took a deep breath, and then let it out. "When I went into the temple with Caster, I really thought I'd find you dead. I was hoping, of course, that you weren't. But I thought . . ." I bit my lip. "Achmed said you'd been there for over half an hour. Long enough for you to . . ."
I trailed off, not sure how to ask.
Shayt stopped walking and pulled me around to look at her. She cupped my face in her hands, and gently kissed my forehead.
"I didn't do it, because I couldn't."
I felt my eyes get wide as I realized what she was saying.
"I couldn't do it, because I love you, Daryl. I had the knife in my hands, and I raised it to my chest, and I was going to strike. And every time I did," she smiled at me, "every time I did, I saw your eyes, and felt your touch. And I couldn't do it."
She shrugged. "Guess you gave me that reason after all."
I couldn't speak. Once again I was crying, then her fingers wiped the tears away. She kissed me gently and pulled me close to her.
"Shayt?" I asked when I could speak again.
"Thank you for my life." I pulled up and looked at her. "I realize what you gave up for it. Thank you."
There were more tears between us, and a few gentle kisses.
Finally we started walking back to camp, arms around each other.
Despite being tired, neither of us slept till the sun was high in the sky.
I write the ending of this tale from our suite in Alexandria. The sun is setting, just dipping below the horizon, and the glow lights the city in a golden haze. It is beautiful. More so, because I am content.
Shayt is currently getting dinner for the two of us. Though she does not need to eat, nor sleep, she does both with me. We have developed a routine between us. In the morning she shares breakfast with Mandisa and I, then leaves to work in the city. She's trying to help in the impoverished districts as well as working to build a new Alexandrian library. I spend the mornings working in the garden, learning from Mishra the names and uses of plants. For lunch the two of us normally take a picnic basket into the city, meeting Shayt near the open market here. Then she returns to work while I study with a tutor in Alexandria.
Dinner, usually late for both of us, is taken together in our rooms. It has become our quiet time, when we talk and touch, and enjoy being with each other. Enjoy being alive.
It has been four months since we returned from the desert. The temple there lies once more hidden beneath the sands, it's sacred texts protected by the ancient spells. The compass is in pieces, though this time they are all here in the house of Bes, under his protection.
Shayt's powers have not grown, and she has done little to explore them. I think she is still afraid of them, not wanting to be seen as a goddess. While there are many here who know what has happened, they don't press her or question her. I think her living here has made her more accessible to them, and they find her all the more human for it. They do, however, respect her and her new abilities. When the young son of a priest was injured in a fall from a tree, it was to Shayt they brought him. She healed his broken arm with almost no thought.
No one was truly surprised.
Shayt also spends time in the inner sanctum with Bes. Sometimes these sessions leave her mellow and relaxed, other times she returns exhausted and upset. I think the god wants something from her, and has a plan she does not wish to fulfill. Occasionally they simply talk, and he tells her of the powers she now has. Other times he tells her of events outside of Egypt, things he wishes her to do. So far, she has refused.
I worry about her though. She has accepted her fate now, but I still find her sometimes sitting and watching the stars, a forlorn look to her face. I wonder, as I grow older, whether or not she'll regret her decision. After all, despite everything, she'll be forced to watch me die. And this time, there's no possibility of her following me.
I have yet to meet the god outside of a dream, but he does occasionally send me messages through the princess. One of the first ones he sent was to tell me she cannot fly. Not that it matters. Spending every night in her arms is enough for me. Another message, though, and one that he has yet to explain to either of us, is that I only need to ask. For what, I'm not sure, and Shayt says she doesn't know. When she asked, he said we'll both know when the time came. I think he just likes to be mysterious.
The tutor I've been working with is convinced I'm now able to pass all necessary tests to enter the University in London. Shayt insists I go, saying that my education is important. I've tried to tell her that I have a better teacher than any Oxford or Cambridge could give me. She smiles, but has booked our passage on a ship to Bristol. We leave in a week.
I'll miss this place. It has given me peace in many ways, along with a future that I never dreamed of. I no longer look at life as a struggle, but as an adventure. A puzzle. A gift.
Looking back at the pages of this tale I find myself amazed at the journey, and its ending. I remember that night on the train, finding myself writing of Shayt's immortality, and being uncertain of her sanity or mine. I wondered then how she felt when she was shot; if she felt pain, or any other physical sensation. Now, I wonder what she feels when we touch each other in the night, when we drive each other mad with pleasure.
I know for me insanity feels
. . . wonderful.
Daryl Chelsea Bromley
July 28, 1931