Nefertum really just wanted to go home. He'd never felt any special degree of loyalty to either Sokar or to Heka, and for the life of him he couldn't figure out why he was needed for this meeting. He'd never been a particularly rich member of the pantheon of Ra, either in holdings or in slaves, and he'd been forced to cede most of his more host-rich planets as a result of the treaty forming a demilitarized zone between the Yoroba and Igbo pantheons so that Olokun's onging war with Chukwu could be brought to a statemate. Unfortunately, it was specifically his lack of power, influence, or standing within the community that made him the perfect arbiter for this conference.
He'd never been important enough to merit a grudge, and he wasn't strong enough to be manipulating the conference to his advantage. In truth, being selected for the "honor" of arbitration was bordering on outright insult. It meant that none of the parties involved felt him capable of deceiving them.
Given that he would be offering even greater insult to the other Goa'uld by denying their summons, however, Nefertum found himself in a crumbling palace on one of Ra's abandoned holdings. Like most of Ra's chosen planets, it was a sweltering desert devoid of grass, trees, or any of the signs of life that Nefertum found not only desirable but necessary for any degree of comfort. He kicked at the sand dejectedly, there wasn't even a scrap of earth around the temple that would let things grow.
Even the moss on the columns was fossilized, it didn't seem like rain had visited the planet in years. Whichever mechanism or ritual had brought the rains to this world hadn't lasted without Ra's explicit guidance. The great room for the Chappa'ai still stank vaguely of the villagers who'd died praying for his salvation, mummified corpses sun-baked after four years under the blistering sun. He'd directed his Jaffa, all three of them in service to him, to clear the gate room before negotiations so that he could try to find some greenery and collect his thoughts.
He was without greenery and possessed a collection of too many thoughts to divide in any rational manner. The greatest of Pantheons was in utter upheaval. Ra's death had been tragic beyond belief, but his passing had been inevitable. The God among Gods was a role to be coveted and eventually conquered by those beneath him – that it was Apophis who took his place was only fitting. Day was inevitably replaced by night.
But the upheaval hadn't stopped with Apophis' bid for power. The galaxy was in utter chaos. Gods who'd walked in the times before Apep had brought them from the First World were dying in pointless border skirmishes over worlds without resources. Ancient Queens thought lost to the First World were walking among the Patheons one moment, then dead at Tau'ri hands the next. Byblows of the ancient Adversary like the Reetou were wandering the stars, hunting gods for sport. Entire Pantheons had been consumed in war, leaving Empires in ruins as Alliances were called upon from times long forgotten.
He would much rather have been home on his little moon tending to the garden he'd cultivated over the past five millennia. It was a lovely place with a large pond in which he kept fish and frogs, fat and lazy creatures perfect for him to consume in those times when he vacated his host body to enjoy the freedom and simplicity of his own serpentine form.
He was generally content to just leave his followers to their own devices, content in the knowledge that if and when he required a host that he only needed to poke his head from the surface of the pool and cry out to whichever of his servants was closest. If a servant wasn't in easy reach he'd often just make use of a cat, there never seemed to be any shortage of cats in his palace.
He had no particular love of the human form, or any host for that matter. Appendages other than his fins just felt extraneous, and he very much disliked the strange hormonal impulses that always came from the Tau'ri whenever they caught sight of someone they felt attractive. Once this summit ended he would just go back to his pond and bask in the sunlight munching on the fat Toad that had been disrupting his sleep the past three weeks.
Nefertum turned at the sound of footsteps, catching sight of his First Prime. It was perhaps an vainglorious title for the head of an army of three, but she did her best to please her god. Thus far her dedication in overseeing Nefertum's garden and stocking the pool with fish had been immaculate, so Nefertum found her as acceptable as any other general he'd had thus far.
He knew by his host's reaction that she was considered quite beautiful, but he couldn't quite figure out why precisely. The man he was inhabiting was focused on strange attributes like deposits of fat and the wet curves of the female Jaffa's lips, all of which felt like remarkably poor factors in choosing a partner. He pushed down the host's lust, searching his memories for the name of his First Prime only for it to escape him entirely.
How can anyone be expected to keep track of the names of Jaffa? They died and needed to be replaced every couple hundred years. He wasn't even entirely sure that this First Prime was the same one he remembered having served him three hundred years prior when he vacated his last host. Fortunately, a certain degree of aloofness was expected form the gods. "Speak."
The Jaffa bowed. "My Lord Nefertum, they have arrived."
"Very well." Nefertum sighed, reaching out to the petrified moss and sighing disappointedly when it dissolved into dust. "I suppose there's no delaying any longer."
"No, my lord. Your mother requests your presence." The Jaffa bowed even more deeply, clearly worried to be delivering his mother's directive to her god.
Nefertum supposed that she was expecting for him to slap her or something equally ridiculous. His guests often indulged in that sort of behavior when his servants told them things they didn't care to hear. Perhaps, if his mother had elected to share any of her genetic memories with him, he might have understood the urge. Then again, if he'd been gifted with the memories of his family he would have to remember all that they'd lost. Perhaps it was just as well not to feel their bitterness.
He arched a brow at the Jaffa's pointless supplication, rolling his eyes in annoyance at the lesser creature and leading the way back to the gate. He blinked in brief confusion as he re-entered the temple proper, briefly having to reconcile the abandoned palace with the vision of opulence that now greeted him. His mother seemed to have brought half a palace worth of furniture, slaves and amenities with her, deploying them through the gate so quickly that he would have suspected it was the power of the old days were he not intimately aware that Bastet was stripped of all power after the Fall.
She had thankfully obeyed his requirement that attendees not bring weapons, they could bring a single Jaffa and as many servants as they chose, but only a single Jaffa in an effort to limit the potential for bloodshed.
His mother approached him with open arms, her olive-skinned host young and beautiful as always. He briefly wondered what imperfection had merited her new choice of host, but Bastet was prone to mercurial bouts of fancy. She was as likely to have shown up in the body of a Sekhmet as of a Tau'ri.
"What is this ghastly thing you're wearing?" Bastet fretted over Nefertum's host, fiddling with the excess flesh hanging from Nefertum's jowls. "It looks positively hideous, practically ancient."
"So am I, mother." Nefertum rolled his eyes. "It is a perfectly serviceable host."
"It looks like it might keel over at a stiff wind." The goddess clicked her tongue disapprovingly. "You were named for your beauty, you should pick hosts accordingly."
"Mother you named me for the way my scales glimmered against the light of the water lilies." Nefertum replied glibly. "Any host I might choose would only serve to conceal the very beauty you chose to venerate."
"I had hoped that five hundred years of being left to your own devices might have cured you of your criminal distaste for proper fashion." Bastet purred in mild irritation, curling up on one of the Kline laid out by her servants and patting the one next to her as a Tau'ri maiden poured her a generous measure of wine. "Kali warned me that it would be for naught, but I was sure that you might cure yourself of this obsessive decline into mediocrity."
Nefertum was endlessly greatful when the Chappa'ai activated, breaking his mother's train of thought as two figures materialized through the gate. The god Montu and a single Jaffa, presumably his First Prime. The war god was a nominal ally of Heru'ur but not so entrenched within Heru'ur's leadership that he'd yet chosen a side. In short order he was followed by Hapi, Mafdet, Tefnut, Tawaret, Menhit, Babi and Heket as the gate died then activated over and over again, allowing each of the gods to come with their servants and soldiers. They made a confusing menagerie given the eclectic taste in hosts favored by Ra's brood.
The first bloodlines of Apep were old enough that they'd been alive for the times before the Tau'ri and Hok'taur were the favored choice of host, and even after discovering the first world not all had elected Tau'ri hosts. Tawaret in particular had elected for custom catered hosts rather than bog-standard Tau'ri. Through a complex interweave of genetic manipulation she'd created a chimeric mix of hippopotamus and feline, augmenting it heavily with cybernetics to make it heartier than any of the Unas. It couldn't help by strike him as comical as she perched daintily on the long bench, two tons of cybernetic super-beast at the center of a formal gathering.
Babi was nearly as off-putting, the man's obsession with baboons having long ago led him to genetically and surgically manipulate all hosts to mirror the appearance of his favored animal. That would have been distracting enough even without the entourage of cybernetically modified baboons tied into the Babi's increasingly senile mind.
The cybernetically uplifted Gorilla serving as Babi's first prime was more than sufficient to dissuade Nefertum from finding the man's eclectic nature too comical, however. It was only one Jaffa from several entire legions of uplifted great ape warriors forming the core of Babi's Jaffa armies. It was a minor blessing that Babi was too insane to mount a proper offensive or to care about warfare long enough to keep conquered territory.
Quetesh was, of course, not in attendance. She would be too busy waging war upon Ba'al for her to reasonably be able to attend a conference of her peers.
Nefertum waited for each of them to be seated and provided refreshments before he spoke. Protocol was everything at a meeting of the Goa'uld, if one spoke at a moment that was not their appointed turn one risked offense or perhaps even vendetta from one's peers.
Traditionally the host of an event was expected to sit in silence as one's guests quarreled over old grievances and grudges, allowing them to vent however many hundred years of hatred thy had broiling beneath the surface before electing to speak. It was viewed as a necessary part of any negotiation, once all grievances were known then one could understand their position in bargaining.
Nefertum suspected this process had been started back in the times before the Goa'uld lived long enough to actually develop any substantial grudges worth speaking. But the Goa'uld were nothing if not creatures of habit, and they'd fostered grudges as long as recorded galactic history.
He sat in silence for two days as his peers aired their grievances about each other, his only reprieve the blissful moments when someone said something insulting enough for the entire group to disperse and walk to their own tents to rest until all parties were prepared to continue.
On the third day, oh that blissful third day, the last grudge was spoken, and he was finally certain that he could speak without enraging his fellow gods. "Are we prepared to continue to the matter at hand?"
The collected Goa'uld grunted in various forms of assent, with the notable exception of Hapi who seemed to have fallen asleep from boredom. The rotund god was snoring loudly, his sizable belly jiggling with each deep breath. Hapi was probably the only Goa'uld less interested in politics than Nefertum . The bulbous god had once been a fertile Queen, but was long enough past menopause that he knew that he was free of the machinations of any would be ruler's Imperial aspirations.
"We are collected here to discuss the issue of succession within the High Blood of Apep." Nefetum spoke calmly, far calmer than he felt considering the potentially volatile words he was about to speak. "And the disappearance of Ra's Mantle."
That there was not even a word of dispute to that last statement spoke volumes more than Nefertum cared to consider.
It was Bast who broke the silence. "I am correct in saying that none of you inherited it? Nor do you know who did?"
"It is somewhere." Babi's ape-like grin was monstrous as he cackled. "Were it gone, we would know."
"How?" Heket snarled, utter contempt in her voice. "We understand nothing of the power used to create the mantle of Ra, and only the meagerest of why. It could have dispersed to the four winds, been taken by blood from whence we came, or destroyed by a rival to the Pantheon."
"Do you not feel it still? Taste it?" Babi chittered. "It remains."
"Nonsense, if one of the blood were the God among Gods, they would have declared themselves King already. It would be pointless to take the burden otherwise." Montu dismissed the idea utterly. "It brought the King of God's luck and glory beyond measure but bound the ambition of all pantheons against him."
"Not so greatly that he was unable to assert dominion though." Disagreed Bast. "Conceivably one of our number could just be biding their time – waiting for the proper moment to strike."
"The mantle drives its holder to needing conquest. They need to rule the Goa'uld. They need to crush those who oppose their chosen order." Heket clicked her tongue. "Ra's mantle was not diluted by the Terms, any who'd been touched by its power would be compelled into a war of conquest long before now, and we to wage war back upon it if able. The power would not allow itself to remain dormant."
"Ra is dead. His peace died with him." Bastet agreed. "We cannot rely upon the binding compulsion of Ra's power to control the ambition of the worst among our kind."
He let the silence of his fellow gods linger upon the air before continuing. "We are at a crossroads. There are now three individuals with sufficient power and rank within our pantheon that they might be considered to replace Ra. Heru'ur, Apophis… and Heka."
That did get a response from the other gods. Montu stood to his feet, his host's surgically altered eyes fixing on him with predatory malice as their avian pupils glowed with rage. "The betrayer is unfit to rule. He has rejected the very memory of our pantheon, claiming titles and power without any history linking him to us."
"It is perhaps that lack of history that has allowed him to operate within the auspices of an Alliance with the Furlings." Replied Bastet as she sipped at her goblet of wine. "His rise from obscurity has been meteoric in scope."
"Do not let your hatred of the Cananites to blind you woman," The God of war cut his hand across the air from left to right. "He is the puppet, not the puppeteer. And I will not bind myself to another puppet of Winter."
"Apophis had no more ties to Winter after the Folly than Ra had to Summer." Tawaret replied indignantly, her mechanical voice box articulating the words which a Hippopotamus' mouth would have been ill adapted to speak. "Should we be avoiding Heru'ur for the ancient politics of his father? If we avoided anyone who formerly had ties with the Furlings we'd soon without a pantheon."
"The issue of former ties seems rather petty in light of Heka's entirely current alliance with the Demons of Winter." Mafdet interjected nervously. The former Ashrak was in a precarious position after the death of Ra, her exclusive patron. She'd been at war with Heka more than once, and the man kept grudges. "But neither Heru'ur nor Apophis have the upper hand in conquering what remains of Sokar's territory."
"Semantics." Tawaret's mechanical voice box rumbled. "It is inevitable that we will be forced to choose sides. I have already been approached by emissaries from both Apophis and Heru'ur. Choosing neither will be seen as a tacit alliance with the enemy by whomever emerges the victor."
"Can we assume either?" Tefnut spoke in callous monotone, betraying no trace of loyalty to her grandson Heru'ur. "They are the one who've reached out to us, but there remains the possibility that Heka will emerge the victor. He does have the forces of both Sun and Snow… perhaps even the forces of the First Maya of the stories are to be believed."
"Are you suggesting that we surrender to the will of Winter and Summer?" Montu growled in disgust.
"I am stating facts." Tefnut shook her head, jingling the precious metals interspersed within her headdress. "Wars have many losers but few victors, especially in wars of the Blood of Apep. Without Ra's mantle to define the line of succession we are forced to choose our own ruler. And though I personally find it distasteful, it has not escaped my attention that Heka's military power is augmented by the powers that once conquered all the Pantheons simultaneously. I do not believe it an accident that Heka has sent out no envoys seeking allies among the gods."
"He has the Allegiance of Ammit an Enlil." Tawaret scratched at her chin with a tiger-like claw. "Presumably he reached out to them at some point."
"Blood of Apep, Tawaret. Your intelligence services are truly abysmal." Montu rolled his eyes in disgust. "He took them with him while escaping Delmak. They latched on to his military victories by pure chance. He tolerates their presence but has not actually formally recognized either of them as members of his new household. His connection to them is a matter of immediate convenience. They are permitted no slaves and no properties to call their own – they might as well be Jaffa."
"Have truly none of us been approached by any diplomats from Nekheb?" Heket's genuine horror mirrored Nefertum 's own. "I knew that Heka wouldn't ever reach out to me but I had assumed that he would reach out to his old allies."
"No." Babi replied in bitter contempt. "He has not. Though he is perfectly happy to poison my slaves against me."
"He has not made any effort to reach out to any Pantheon, except to wage war against them." Nefertum 's mother ran her finger around the rim of her goblet. "And I do not believe his actions to be the product of madness or arrogance, there is too much consistency to his actions."
"So we are left to chose between a ruler who has never won a war, a ruler who has lost several wars, and a ruler who does not seem overly interested in ruling us except as slaves." Babi's simian servants screeched angrily around him, influenced by the psychic feedback from the Goa'uld's rage transported through their networked intelligence.
"There is an alternative." Suggested Bastet. "We could choose none of them."
"I will not bow before you." Menhit affirmed, crossing her arms across her chest. The Nubian War Goddess had a particular hatred for his mother. "If not for your ally Kali you would have no territory at all."
"It is precisely the nature of my alliance with Kali that makes me an expert on how to survive this." Bastet purred, rising to her feet and gesturing skyward. "Space is infinite – quibbling over territory is a colossal waste of time. Kali and I have established a history of protecting each other's interests when they are threatened and leaving each other alone in those times when they are not. I am not suggesting that I rule any of you. I am suggesting that we dismiss the concept of a ruler entirely."
"But someone must rule." Montu replied, horrified at the anarchic concept. "Else we are no better than the Hellenic Pantheon."
"They are the least damaged among us, if you recall." Bast replied firmly. "It was not the brood of Zeus who followed Anubis into the breach, or they who acted on Thoth's Folly."
"I will have no part in this." Montu stood, waving to his first prime as he looked around the room. "I am off to pledge myself to Heru'ur. I will welcome any who have the sense do the same."
"I will enjoy crushing you on the field of battle." Tawaret laughed, her Hippopotamus lips flapping with each wet, rumbling guffaw. "Puppet of Heru'ur – We are in the time of moonlight, it is foolish to think otherwise."
Montu raised his palm reflexively, so accustomed to having a hand device attached that he'd apparently forgotten that they were all disarmed at the gate. His eyes bulged in regret as Tawaret reacted to the aggressive movement, throwing herself at the god of war and flinging him across the room.
The room devolved into chaos as God's pulled concealed weapons from their person in total violation of the rules of the summit, attacking each other at seemingly random. a
Nefertum called out for his Jaffa as Mehnit kicked a Baboon over his head. The cybernetically enhanced creature broke in half on a stone pillar, its arms and legs flailing as the bisected animal continued to try and fight. He dragged his mother away from the quarreling gods as the trio of Jaffa burst into the room with Staff weapons, firing them into the air in an effort to dissuade the rioting gods from attacking them without doing any of them an actual injury.
Bastet laughed uproariously as Nefertum pulled her into the open air, seemingly giddy at the violence. "Mother! Now is hardly the time."
"Oh child, now is exactly the time." She replied as the sound of the gate activating was met with the disappearance of the angry baboon screeches. Babi seemed to have made his escape. "Did you think that his was destined to end any other way?"
"A bit, yes." Nefertum replied as he watched a pillar of light go into the sky to someone's cloaked transport ship. There was a screeching leonine roar from inside the palace, and the sounds of battle quickly became horrified screams. Nefertum blinked and looked at his mother. "You didn't?"
"I very much did." Bast grinned from ear to ear as she walked back into the gate room. The summit location was in ruins, most of the servants and slaves had been killed along with a decent portion of Babi's Baboons. Babi, Montu, Tawaret and Menhit seemed to have made their retreat, but the remaining Gods had been subdued by a small army of towering felines.
The Sekhmet weren't a particularly well known species, they were one of several pre-Tau'ri races used as hosts and slaves by the Goa'uld, and remained mostly an oddity of Bast's realms. The were not as hearty as the Unas, but they were strong, dangerous and deadly fast. Apparently Bastet had not disbanded her Skehmet armies after adopting the use of Jaffa.
Hapi woke from his slumber, blinking in confusion as he looked at the carnage around him and the towering felines subduing their Goa'uld betters. He looked to Bastet, pursing his lips. "Whatever they said or did – I disagree with it."
"Of course." Bastet replied, sitting back down on one of the remaining Kline. "Now, I believe we were discussing the terms of our new coalition, under the direction of my Son's arbitration."
"Mother, I believe that this is the proper time for a recess so that we might… consider what has been said." Nefertum placed his hand on his mother's shoulder. "I think that we've all gotten the message."
"Of course," Bast kissed her child's hand. "You are such a thoughtful boy."
Nefertum would really rather have been back in his garden.