Meditative (but not too much) fiction on Nebt-Het on the 5th Epagomenal Day 2018, because She doesn’t get enough attention, which She should because She is amazing and because Her story has so much unexplored conflict and so many feels that’s a damn waste. Also, She and Seth rock together and I will fight anyone who says the contrary.
Based on several myths and tons of personal gnosis/feels, plus CT 373.
I am exagerating some plot points for dramatic/narrative effect. I mean no disrespect.
CW: angst, shame, guilt, low self-esteem, unhealthy coping mechanisms, language, violence, some manipulation, drowning, blood and gore.
Not a darkfic. Happy ending guaranteed.
Nebt-Het doesn’t know why she has let her sister convince her to board the Night Barque with her. Or rather, she knows it all too well.
It’s the cold season, when nights are the longest and the Barque is most threatened by the creatures of isfet, and tonight is the longest night of all, when the the Creator Ra-Atum is at their weakest. It’s nearly an all-hands-on-deck job to keep Them safe and Aset is determined to make her appearance and show the rest of the netjeru that she is smarter, wiser and more powerful than the lot of them by repelling the s/nake and all its minions with her magic.
Nebt-Het would have been content to stay in her quarters at the palace, to read and weave a little bit, maybe have a look at the ledgers and fix the purchase orders, or look after Heru’s gaggle of children, content to believe that her days of sailing and fighting were over and gone like her ill-fated marriage, but Aset knows what makes her tick and is not above using it.
Nebt-Het has served on the Barque long enough to know that no matter how powerful and wise a netjeret, accidents can happen, and Aset knows that she knows.
“If you don’t come, little sister, who will protect me?” she asks.
“Would you let me brave the s/nake alone?” she insists when Nebt-Het pretends she’s not heard her.
“You’re the only one I can trust to watch my back. Please… if you don’t come I won’t be able to go either.” she says, delivering the final blow.
As much as Nebt-Het doesn’t want to be in a radius of 10 thousand paces of her former workplace, she knows all too well that the safety of the Barque is paramount and that the crew needs Aset and her magic on this most risky day. She cannot put all of that in jeopardy for the sake of her persobal comfort. She has to go.
“Alright, alright. Let me just get my shawl.” she concedes finally, putting on a brave face for the sake of her sister.
Her brave face lasts only until their landing at the quay. They are among the first to arrive, thankfully, and the person that she doesn’t want to meet will only arrive at the end, when Ra is ready to switch ships, nevertheless her heart thumps in his chest like a war drum and her hands feel shaky and cold.
As more and more netjeru arrive, Nebt-Het wraps herself more tightly in her shawl and presses herself closer to her sister, almost blending in her shadow. She doesn’t want to be seen, but she doesn’t want to embarrass her with her anti-social, childish behaviour. She is there to support her, she has to be seen, so she braves the glances, the stares, the glares.
They haven’t told her to her face, but she knows that many in the Great Ennead and beyond blame her for pushing the conflict between her brothers to a head with her indiscretion. They don’t know about their agreement, they wouldn’t want to know.
It is all too convenient to blame everything on Seth’s supposed wickedness and greed and her promiscuity and wantonness, instead of questioning the behaviour of their beloved king in the months prior to his death: the climate of paranoia and suspicion the king had created around them, the humiliations he had inflicted them up to the absurd request that they give up baby Anup as a hostage to ensure their good behaviour.
No, better to keep quiet about it, lest they sound disloyal to the dead and to the Perfect One’s heir. Questions are impolitic. Disapproval is much more in vogue.
It is convenient for the courtiers to believe that everything would have been much better if she had had the self-respect not to whore herself out to her sister’s husband because of her supposed insatisfaction. They are not brave enough to tell her what they think of her, but they are definitely self-righteous enough to treat her with coldness and contempt for her supposed sins.
Nebt-Het keep her mouth shut and her eyes down. She doesn’t want to know who is staring, she doesn’t want to get angry at them and make a scene. She has already caused her family enough embarrassment.
“Are you alright?” Aset asks.
Nebt-Het nods and paints a thin smile on her face.
“It’s just the glare of the sun. You know how sensitive my eyes are…” she lies. She doesn’t want to ruin her sister’s day.
Ra arrives shortly afterwards, with his entourage of genies and spirits, with Sia, Hu and Heka, his heralds, and his troop of bodyguards.
It’s been months since the last time she’s seen her estranged husband, since the day he was defeated and thrown into the dirt at the feet of Heru’s throne, many years since she’s been any closer to him than the length of the weapon in her hands, but the call of his presence is still as powerful as as it always was.
Nebt-Het shifts her gaze away at the first glimpse of sandy skin and red hair, she turns her back at him, but her traitorous heart misses a beat anyway. If she could she would rip it out of her chest.
She doesn’t miss him, or worry for him, or feel anything at all for him but contempt and anger for destroying their family, she tells herself. Whatever she might have been before, she is a loyal, loving sister now, one that does not long for her brother’s assassin, that does not dream of the sound of his voice or the touch of his skin, one that does not ache with longing and loneliness from being apart from him, one that does not wish she could roll back time and somehow make things return the way they were when they were happy together, a family.
She wraps her power around her like a second shawl, shielding herself from the heady, electric buzz of his presence. Her skin and her hair are as dark as she can make them, just a shade lighter and more muted than Aset’s copper and lapis-lazuli black. She lets her spare, boyish form fill out and erases every freckle from her face and shoulders. She used to love how she shared this unique feature with her husband, but now she isn’t willing to concede him even this satisfaction.
She’s Aset twin, her helper, her companion. Her form shows where her loyalty lies, and if he is saddened by this implicit refusal, all the better, she tells herself, ignoring the way her skin feels tight and itchy and wrong.
The trip is a torture, but she bears it bravely. Her darkness-adapted eyes never stray from the wake of the Barque, her bow sings like a bird of prey, despatching demon after demon as they try to crawl over the gunwhales and board. She is still as good at this as she ever was.
His voice echoes in the darkness behind her, barking orders and yelling battlecries, his laughter sounds like distant thunder among the splashes and yells and explosions. She wills herself to ignore it, but it’s all to easy for her to imagine herself to be back in the days in which they fought together at the prow of the Barque, bow and spear, fire and thunder.
She’s so focused on ignoring everything that is not the demons in front of her that ot takes her a few moments to process the yell when she hears it.
“All hands! All hands! The w/orm is upon us!” one of the genies yells. The worm emerges from the black, oily waters, as thick and long as a palm tree, fangs dripping venom. Countless arrows fly towards it, only to be turned away by his flint-like scales.
Aset starts drawing her power together, her voice rises in a mighty chant of binding, but it will take time to be fully effective and that is just the w/orm’s opening move.
The ship grinds into a bone-jarring halt onto what appears to be a sandbank, but Nebt-Het doesn’t lose her footing. She’s done this for too long to fall for that trick. Sure-footed, she makes her way to the prow, shooting one fire-tipped arrow after the other at the w/orm and yelling all the worst swear-words she knows at it. Maybe it doesn’t make any difference in the bigger picture, but it does for her: she has not felt so good, so light in a long time.
One of her arrows finally finds its mark: it flies straight and true into one of the w/orm’s platter-sized eyes, making it erupt in a spray of flaming, stinky gunk.
The w/o/rm trashes madly in agony and the rest of its coils emerge from the waters, all around the Barque.
“Good shot! You got it really mad, love!” Seth exclaims, chuckling as if it was the coolest thing ever.
“I am not your love.”
The words itch on her tongue, but replying would mean akcnowledging him, and that’s not something she is willing to do. His praise, his very existence means nothing to her.
Oily water splashes over the gunwhales on the alteady grimy deck. The w/orm inhales a raspy breath and hacks out a spray of sizzling acid. Nebt-Het side-steps neatly, only to collide with something at her back.
A jolt of electricity goes through her as her shields overload and collapse. It has been long, so very long since the last time she has experienced it, but the feeling of her skin pressed against his, of their powers mingling is enough to steal her breath away and make her freeze for a moment, caught between misery and delight.
She turns without realising and finally she sees him: he’s spattered with blood and ichor, bruised, disheveled and yet he is the most beautiful thing she’s ever seen and he’s looking at her with a rapt, delighted expression.
“Hey, you two! Watch out!” someone yells.
“Wha…?” Nebt-Het’s slightly inane question is cut short by a heavy, slimy impact that sends her flying across the deck, to impact with a crash against the side of the Barque.
Seth yells a curse as he flies overboard. Thick coils wrap around him, dragging him under. The water churns into bloody foam.
Nebt-Het is back on her feet before she knows. She leaps straight over the side, headfirst into the water and shifts her shape as she hits it. She is a fish now, the Abdu fish, ten cubits of scaly muscle, with sharp eyes and sharper, serrated teeth.
“My Lord Seth! Hang in there!” one of the sailors yells, picking up an oar and beating the shit out of the closest coil, but it doesn’t release him. Through the chaos Nebt-Het thinks she’s seen him turn into a hippo. That form’s lung capacity will gain him a bit more time, but not if the w/orm manages to squeeze him to death.
She swims her way into the melee and sinks her teeth into the coils. She twists and turns, tearing chunks of rank, disgusting meat off the w/orm’s bones. Her fins are like knives. The water turns to a bloody soup, but her efforts are enough. The mangled coils loosen around severed nerves and muscles, and Seth turns back to his smaller human form and slips out.
Nebt-Het darts towards him and lets him grab her dorsal fin without a second thought, then kicks her tail into great pushes to compensate for the extra weight. By the time their heads breach the surface, he’s gone limp and still against her, his lips are blue and his chest is still. Nebt-Het panics for a moment as he slips off her back. Only one thought occupies her mind in its entirety: she can’t lose him again.
She shifts back to her usual form. She needs hands so that she can hold his head above the water, a human mouth to speak words of magic.
“Hidden are the ways for those who pass by! Light is perished and darkness comes into being! Life is provided! Air is breathed among the waters!” she yells at the top of her lungs, but it still isn’t enough and she doesn’t have the time to chant it over and over until it works, not with the current pulling them away from the Barque and the w/orm who could get its act together and come for them at any moment.
“Air is breathed among the waters! Breathe!” she repeats, and presses her lips against his, pushing breath and heka into him as hard as she can.
He comes to with a jolt, coughing water and thrashing instinctively, looking for something to fight, like he always does.
“Calm down. It’s alright. You’re safe.” she whispers, trying to keep him from drowning them both.
“Nebt-Het… you… you saved me.” he manages to say, still sputtering water.
She wishes she could say something witty to push him away, but all she manages it a vague noise and a massive blush.
“We need to get out of here.” she finally says.
“No time for that. Can you fly?” he retorts. The w/orm has had enough of thrashing and is now charging back through the waters towards them.
“What do I need to do?” she asks, gathering her heka for the transformation. It’s incredible how easily she has fallen back into the old pattern.
“Put its other eye out, set it on fire, distract him for me. Buy me time.” Seth explains, a wicked glint in his eyes.
Nebt-Het nods and takes off before her tongue can get the best of her. She soars in the flat, cool air of the Duat, gaining altitude, then dives towards the wo/rm’s head, claws outstretched, skreeching madly. She misses by a hair, turns back and tries again, getting in its face.
“Burn, abomination!” she skreeches. A plume of fire jets from her beak, making it flinch and retreat for a moment before its huge, foul head snaps forward, jaws outstretched to try and swallow her whole. Nebt-Het dodges out of the way and manages to land on its head.
“Get a move!” she yells and she shifts again, turning back into her feminine shape. Huge knives appear in her hands. She sinks them in the w/orm’s eyes to the hilt, blinding it. She hangs on as tightly as she can, but the thing thrashes so violently that she goes flying again, out on the water, and not a moment too soon, because Seth appears, leaping from the shore, spear in hand, wreathed in lightning, yelling his battle-cry.
The meteor iron tip of his weapon pierces the wo/rm’s stone skin and the heka courses through its body, overheating what passes for its blood, and in a blink of an eye the w/orm explodes like a poorly cooked vase, showering everybody in the vicinity in charred guts and gore.
“Yes! That was awesome!” Seth yells. He’s back in the water, none worse for the wear, and he’s swimming towards her, as if nothing had ever changed.
“I have missed this. I have missed you.” he adds. They are floating together, close enough to touch if they wanted. She wants it, she wants it a lot, even though she knows she shouldn’t.
“It was a mistake. It means nothing.” she lies. She still would rather die than see him come to harm. She’s a traitor.
“It means everything to me.” he says and she still loves the way he’s upfront about these things.
“Look I know I messed up, alright? I understand why you are mad at me and don’t want to see me again, but… the sad truth is that I am not over you, Nebt-Het. I am still yours, maybe I will always be. I just wish… I don’t know. That we could fix things. That you could come back home. It’s a half life without you.” he continues, a hopeful look in his eyes.
Tears gather in Nebt-Het’s eyes. It hurts to hear him say all the things that she feels but has never dared to admit. It hurts in a good way, like rebirth, like being freed from a shackle.
She can’t say the words, but her heka says them for her: her skin returns to its sandy-pale colour, her braids bleach back to the colour of linen, and freckles bloom anew on her skin, like grass regrowing after a drought. She is still his, deep in heart she has never ceased to be, not even when she tore down a cave on top of him or set him on fire.
“Forgive me sister, but I can’t…” she thinks. She can’t throw all of this away.
“I missed you too.” she whispers, and this time when their lips press against each other is to exchange something even more vital than breath.