Chapter 17: Chrysalis
September 1, 2007
It was approaching noon.
She looked up to the sky as she waited for the men below to finish offering their sacrifices to Anuket atop the cliff above the river. There were no sounds except the soft hum of a hymn being sung to the Goddess. The sun though, was hot and shone down mercilessly upon all waiting for the Goddess. She stood with the other Priestesses one step below the dais on one side, while the Priests, their counterparts, stood on the other. Like the others, she was scanning for some form of acknowledgement from the Goddess.
Unusually, the morning had been silent. With the exception of those humming a hymn to the Goddess, not even the animals had made a noise. They were conspicuously absent. While the men seemed to have missed this sign, the Clergy had not, and most had spent the morning staring at either the water or the air discreetly for any sign of the Goddess, including Siunne. Privately, Siunne wondered if it could be because she had sought the help of the Goddess of The Cave to walk the Gateways. The Goddess was like her element in many ways; fickle, swift, ever-changing, but yet still retaining the form most were familiar with.
Ah, but how does one knowst whether I am displeased with thee? the laughing voice of the Goddess spoke in her left ear. Siunne resisted the impulse to turn to the Goddess.
I am known by many names, dear one, and you should be familiar with all of them, the Goddess laughed and left her with the hint of a kiss on her ear.
Almost immediately, the waters began to swell at the mouth of the river, building it up till it was about the height of a man’s waist, then it exploded into the form of a woman. She threw her hair back over her shoulder, splattering a few men still offering their sacrifices. These men immediately went down to their knees and began singing praises to her, songs of worship to Anuket. The woman ignored them and turned instead to the Clergy who were also on their knees, but they were much quieter. All but two were on their knees; Siunne and the High Priest bowed instead from the waist. The woman moved to stand in front of them. Her gaze fell on Siunne thoughtfully. She shifted her gaze to the High Priest, observing him.
Then her lips curled in a feral smile. She moved closer to the High Priest. Her hand moved towards her back as she bent forwards over his head. Siunne sneaked a peek at the woman, wondering why the Goddess was uncharacteristically silent. She looked up to see woman draw a dagger and stab the High Priest. With a cry, she pushed the woman away, though the dagger was left in his belly. The woman fell onto her buttocks, but the damage was done. With a laugh, the woman turned towards the river and fell in, losing her human form and merging with the waters. The blood from the High Priest’s wound mixed with the water left behind by the sprite.
The other Clergy rushed to Siunne’s aid, who was holding the only man to have allowed her direct access to the Goddess. The amount of blood rushing out from the wound even though she pressed her hand against it to staunch the flow frightened her. He raised a hand up to her, as though to forestall the desperate cry that rose to her lips. The hand was bloody as it marked her lips. His air of serenity did nothing to calm her down though.
“Remember thy duty, daughter. She must not escape Anuket’s wrath,” he smiled at her.
At those words, some of the Priests pulled her away gently, while some of the Priestesses filled her void. They began to sing softly, working the healing magics more to save what was left than to stop the bleeding immediately. One of the Priests turned to face Siunne, his face harsh. His eyes were not on her fully though; they were also watching the crowd behind them, where the men were about to bolt in fear. No water creature had tried to assassinate a member of the mortal Clergy for more than five generations.
“Don’t let her get away. Anuket with you, sister,” he turned her away from himself and threw her into the water.
Siunne’s body reacted automatically when she was pushed, straightening itself and her hands raising themselves over her head to dive gracefully into the water. The warm water was just deep enough for her to dive in safely; the treasures glittered dangerously below her. They were sharp and deadly-looking. She immediately turned herself about and swam in the direction of the river’s flow, as it was the only exit. Not for the first time, Siunne scolded the Goddess in her mind, despite her despair at the thought of losing the High Priest.
Anuket subscribed to the policy of “If you want something done well, do it yourself.” She was the judge, but her people and those under her care were their own police and laws. The arrest and the investigation would have to be done by the enforcers of each tribe. The only part she oversaw was the appointment of the enforcers who could arrest those of different tribes and species. Enforcers were never more than a pair, depending on the tribe and species. Siunne was among those who worked alone.
This meant she did not have to wait for approval from the other side before pursuing suspects from that tribe or species. She could go wherever she wanted whenever she wanted, protected as she was by the Goddess. Abusing that authority was not an option though, and Siunne preferred to rather stay in the Temple to study instead of being out in the open. Fellow Priestesses and Princesses (as she was the only daughter of one of the nearby rulers) had admonished her for it, but she had been content to live as she did. Though she did not spend her days outside, she did keep her body fit, so swimming in such waters was not a problem for her. What was a problem was her robe.
She shrugged it off like a second skin. All the items she needed to identify herself was on her anyway; she wore a golden chain on her right hand and a comb in her hair with the insignia of her church. The shift she kept on for a bit of warmth, not for any real sense of modesty. Once she shrugged off the robe though, she focused on following the wake left behind by the sprite. Though she appeared to have merged with the river waters, that was actually impossible to do as the river itself was an entity. It was just that the assassin could camouflage herself to look as though she was one with the river.
Siunne caught the assassin’s scent just a few moments after she shrugged off her robe. With determination, she swum faster, even though the other had the ability of moving with water. From the way the assassin moved, Siunne suspected that she was new to the business. She was making one or two simple mistakes no experienced member would do. Furthermore, she seemed to be taking her time leaving the scene of the crime, trusting that no one could outrun a water
“How is he?” the young man who had thrown Siunne into the river asked the healers. Most of them affirmed that they had been keeping little contact in this matter, so guidance was not clear. A splash behind him and a hand that gently moved the young Priest aside told him that the Goddess has arrived.
“He’ll do just fine.” She put her hand on his wound, closing it.
However, she could not replenish the blood he had lost; it was not under her domain. Instead, she instructed one of her Priestesses to fetch some water from the river. As the Priestess looked up, the men all offered her their gourds. She selected one at random and hurried down to the river. Time seemed to stretch when the Priestess left, but the Goddess did not seem to care. She put the head of the Priest on her lap and stroked his forehead gently and tenderly, letting him know just by her presence that she was there. His breath was shallow and his face was pale, but at least he was no longer losing blood.
Before the Priestess returned, a long shadow fell over the Goddess. She looked up to see a tall man with a sabre hanging from his side looking down at her. The sun was at his back, so she could not see his face, but she knew who he was anyway. She growled at him. As none of her people could see the man, a number were surprised by her growl. The young Priest drew a sword upon hearing the Goddess growl, looking for unseen enemies. The young man merely looked at the boy with a smile on his face.
“He who lives by the sword dies by it, Anuket,” he said, his voice in a soft timbre. Amusement tinged his tone.
“Go away.” The Goddess directed that to the man alone. None of her Clergy heard it, but they noticed their Goddess straightening up, even as the Priestess came back with the precious water.
“You keep interesting children, Anuket. And I thought mine own were incredible,” Anuket looked up to see the other God staring almost hungrily at the young Priest.
“Leave him be!”
“Oh I will… but the soul of his twin that shadows him… now that I must Gather,” the God licked His lips. A blast of Divine water threw him off his feet and he fell back. The water passed harmlessly and unseen through the men.
“You shall not touch them!” He threw his head back at Anuket’s fierce protectiveness over the boy, laughing.
“If thoust wish, Sister-Goddess,” he addressed her as a fellow Divinity rather than an actual relation. Then he was gone.
“Lady, I have…” the Goddess snatched the gourd from the Priestess’ hands and tilted its content into her Head Priest’s mouth, giving him sips.