Heka's new choice of lifestyle was perplexing on levels that Enlil hadn't previously imagined. Other than his scrupulously public use of magic to solve every problem, it was as though Heka had been deliberately avoiding any choice one might have previously expected from him. But given that Heka could now apparently see the future, it stood to reason that some irregular behavior would be inevitable.
The demon queen of Winter met with her pet seer regularly to confer with him about his visions of the things to come. She asked questions about the arcane and the mundane, but the First World presided over her queries. They often, but not always, met in secret to discuss her interests. He eavesdropped as much as he dared, trying to determine the newfound source of the Lord Wardens control of the future and what it held.
Her questions seemed to revolve around a place of monsters and horrific violence, where vampires and worse preyed upon mortals with impunity. A place that even the Lord Warden chose to speak of with manifest fear and regret - Chicago. The word was absent any records he could find, regardless of his repeated attempts to spell it phonetically, meaning that it either wasn't part of Hekas databases or, more troublingly, it had been removed from every written and digital record to which Enlil had access.
And there was only one reason Enlil could think of to explain the wholesale erasure of that information from Heka's library, the Terms. Enlil didn't recall the specific conditions of the surrender, presumably as a byproduct of the geas binding him to the obligations of the pantheons not exiled beyond the Outer Gates. He often wondered if he'd agreed to the limitations placed upon him, usually in concert with wondering what the exact limitations placed upon him actually were.
One discovered the limitations of their own portion of the Terms largely by trial and error, and his own inability to remember his own bindings was a tailor made torture. He was cursed to seek, and eternally fail, to restore his former position as the head of a Pantheon.
He'd turned from the folly of his people too late to save his pantheon and barely late enough to save himself. He remembered the shame of prostrating himself before the System Lords, confessing how badly Anubis' plans had gone astray and admitting that even the Jackal couldn't control what had been unleashed by his children. Even after Eden's kiss, the Jackal couldn't stop it all. He remembered the rage and the madness as the Jackal fell and had to be restrained, but he could not remember what came next.
Well, that wasn't entirely accurate, he supposed. He did recall Ninlil's glee at his humiliation, her glowing eyes shimmering behind the cat-like slits of her Furling host as she walked back into the lands of Sun and Snow. She had promised revenge for the failings he couldn't even remember, and she'd done everything to fulfil that promise ever since. For most Goa'uld the fear of reprisals from the Furlings was an abstract threat, an idle worry for millennia after the terms were imposed.
Enlil had spent every waking moment in terror of Winter's cruel humors as his wife brought its chaos down upon him. He could not eat anything but the blandest and most unpleasant of foods for fear that his dinner might bite him or burst into flames. He could not sleep without a guard present or he risked being beaten by an angry horror in the shadows. He could not keep anything that she could not find a way to take from him.
His entire empire whittled down to nothing as the ungrateful bitch schemed and lied, corrupting his pantheon with weakness and greed. Tiamat's bid for power was almost inevitable. Before Enlil even knew what was happening he was at war with his Pantheon and the System Lords at once. He'd remained loyal to Tiamat and the few offspring not exiled after the Terms before realizing that she was on the verge of a second Folly.
He betrayed her to the mercies of Marduk in an effort to retain his life, if not his holdings, only to quickly realize that Marduk was as dangerous to his allies as his enemies. It had been pure luck that Marduk hadn't killed Enlil - the madness of Marduk had gone too far by that point. He'd been brought into the capricious carnivore's temple, only for the Goa'uld to sniff him twice and burst into uncontrollable fits of laughter.
He'd spoken in mad prophecies to Enlil, chittering and gibbering in languages that Enlil feared from the time of the Folly, even if they were no longer languages he could speak, before banishing Enlil to the lands of Ra.
The King of Gods granted him succor and sanctuary, and for a time Enlil was safe – even if he was neither content nor satisfied in the role of a subordinate. Ra's mantle was sufficient that his wife dared not anger one so powerful, especially not when she was in disfavor for having defected to the Winter Court during the Folly. Enlil did not feel relief in his heart when he heard of Marduk's horrible demise at the hands of his people. The peculiar poetry of Marduk's reported doom stank of Furling meddling and a wife's old grudge.
So, when Ra's holdings descended into Chaos, Enlil followed the winds – knowing all too well that he would not survive without powerful patronage. Apophis had been willing, but not entirely able to provide adequate protection. There had been several near misses while he served Ra's opposite, one requiring the use of a Sarcophagus for nearly a week to repair entirely.
The time after Apophis' defeat had been dark days for Enlil. He'd switched hosts in the hope it would discourage Ninlil's violent pursuit, casting aside the body he'd worn in true godhood for just a few moments peace as he crawled through the dirt as he listened to his Ohnes body's screams of death as furling hounds devoured it. A body he'd worn for time immemorial, his last true connection to what he'd once been, and he'd thrown it away as a distraction. Near blind and terrified, he'd possessed beasts and birds to flee furling hunters for months till the opportunity arose to flee through the Chappa'ai.
He would go mad fleeing for the rest of his life, but there were few patrons he felt confident were able to protect him. Sokar was dead. Apophis had been barely able to fend off the Furlings even before he was embroiled in civil war for control of Sokar's hell. And while Yu was capable of protecting Enlil, there was nearly as much bad blood between the Enlil and Yu as there was between Ammit and the Blood Born.
So it was that Enlil, Lord of the Storm, found himself the subordinate to a madman who appointed a Furling bound in bone to his second in command. He was, however, the only god in any pantheon who had the blessings and protection of the Winter Queen. Through the Lord Warden's service, and that alone, that Enlil was able to sleep at night without fearing that he would wake up and come face to face with Furling eyes as a Furling knife plunged into him, spreading his heart's blood. He hadn't seen Ninlil since the Terms, but he knew she was always there. Watching, waiting, planning – she would kill him or he her, and the odds favored the former.
He would stay with this "Lord Warden" and he would obey him, following and learning as much as he could in the hope of one day replicating the Lord Warden's path out from under the terms. One day, hopefully one day soon, he would find out how Heka escaped the terms and find out how to become his own man again. There would come a day when he could live as his own person rather than hiding behind the skirts of more powerful gods.
There was some small solace in knowing that he was at least serving his elder, a term applicable to few living beings in the galaxy. The thought of subordinating him to some upstart was nearly as bad as the idea of fleeing his wife for the rest of eternity. Almost, but not entirely – Enlil was a survivor.
For today, surviving meant meeting his patron's capricious requests. It had been two months since the victory of Nekheb, and the Lord Warden was declaring a day of celebration. It was so oddly specific in its requirements that Enlil was quite convinced that it had some ritual power beyond the mundane benefits of increased belief.
The Lord Warden was quite entirely insane, but retained a peculiar consistency to his insanity and a dogged loyalty to those who indulged his whims. He was infuriatingly stingy with slaves and holdings, but curiously free with knowledge. Enlil had been placed in a position of power and trust within his new pantheon almost immediately, without first demanding any sort of pledge of loyalty or imposing barriers to action through either mechanical or magical means.
He was under constant surveillance from the infernal skull who sat atop the throne and the Jaffa appointed to guard Enlil, but while he had only limited control over the actions of the Jaffa their role as his protectors appeared to be their sincere purpose. Their presence wasn't an implied threat, it was a courtesy. Even the skull's constant surveillance of the Warden's palace, holdings, and accounts wasn't a personal affront. His presumption appeared to be that force would not be required to keep the elder god loyal, and Enlil found himself in the infuriating position of being unable to dismiss that assessment as accurate.
Enlil held up a glass bauble in curiosity, trying to determine why the Lord Warden had been so specific in his requirements. It didn't appear to have any unique properties that would benefit ritual magic as he knew it, nor was it modified with any technology he'd been able to detect. He'd exhausted every way he could think of to analyze the multicolored glass that he dared, and considered several options he didn't before just reconciling himself to the idea that he would have to wait and see along with everyone else.
The Lord Warden had commissioned them from a series of local glass blowers, electing to – frankly demanding to – pay the artisans rather than requiring their work as tribute. He hadn't understood the logic of it at first, but – as most acts of the Lord Warden transpired to be – it had been such a shrewd ploy Enlil could scarcely believe even after seeing it enacted. It took a while for the merchants to realize that the Warden's offer wasn't some sort of odd test of faith, at which point they got into the most confusing haggling Enlil had ever witnessed.
As they offered him lower and lower prices, he offered them greater and greater rewards, eventually telling them that a price well above the value of any glass was what he would pay. A simple exchange of currency quickly became a parable of how offering your abilities to the Warden unselfishly reaped massive rewards, in this world and the next. The merchants profits weren't nearly as great as those earned by the Warden's reputation.
It also seemed to spur on a competitive edge of the merchants that he'd not quite seen before. They seemed entirely determined to outdo each other's work, crafting glass animals and items with complexity far beyond Enlil's expectations for what a mortal could do without the assistance of technology. They made rearing animals and dancing women, Jaffa and gliders, tables laden with food and drinks to go with them, and so many other glass representations of the things that they felt were best in life.
They were delicate things, bound with small lengths of gold chain that felt as fragile as the glass they held aloft. But they were beautiful beyond Enlil's wildest expectation, things to match the most opulent of gemstones.
Yet another prize for the Warden.
The Warden's insight into the mortal mind might be even more keen than that of Lord Yu, he so regularly seemed able to interpret the mercurial and guttural utterances and expressions of his chattel. He was an artisan when it came to manipulating his slaves, engendering such pathological loyalty that Enlil was quite convinced that Chronos would be forced to slay any populations he captured wholesale rather than risk them cross-pollinating belief structures with his own. How could one break the indoctrination of a population who accepted their god's dominion by choice?
He placed the glass bauble gently back into the crate it came in, softly placing it upon the bed of straw and nodding in approval to the slave who'd brought it in. "The Warden will be pleased."
The slave beamed at the compliment, bowing differentially to Enlil before scurrying out to assist the other household staff in completing Amun's orders. The Lo'tar of Dre'su'den seemed to be the only one that the Warden had entrusted with his full vision of what he wanted completed, and he was guiding the entire household in near military precision to reaching that end product. Enlil crossed his arms, toying with his beard's tight curls as he inhaled the powerful odors of their preparations.
This was to be the first major festival after the Lord Warden's coronation, and it would set the tone for how one celebrated in the lands of Nekheb. After the bacchanal that had been the coronation, even Enlil had to admit that he was quite looking forward to the Warden's planned celebration as the odor of mulled wine met his nostrils.
The Warden had provided recipes to his household, earthy foods full of honey and cinnamon as well as dishes focused around poultry and pork, animals that had been transplanted from the First World in great enough numbers that they were near ubiquitous. Yet another shrewd choice, his people would doubtlessly try to imitate their Lord's celebratory queues.
The poultry was spit roasting above the fire-pits in the great hall as thiry Jaffa wrestled a massive conifer across the stone floor. It was a titanic spruce, tall enough to touch the ceiling of Nekheb's throne room once it was stood up. The Lord Warden's cadre of orphan children had been given the task of selecting it, and would soon be responsible for placing the glass baubles upon it. The Lord Warden had been explicit in that, it was the children who would hang the baubles on the tree once, and only once, the Lord Warden himself was able to supervise the activity.
"Do you have any idea what he's up to with this one?" Enlil queried, turning to the Eater of Souls. The ancient Goa'uld looked up from her meal, a bloody hunk of meat that she was devouring with her talons rather than using any sort of cutlery, and snorted as she shoved the bleeding chunk into her maw.
"Did you forget who the Lord Warden's primary allies are?" She replied through a gore-strewn bite. "He's celebrating the Winter Solstice."
Enlil's eyes narrowed. "Winter isn't for another six months."
"It is on the First World, and that's what the Courts use to determine their division of power and labor." Ammit sliced off another hunk of meat with her talon, sucking the juice from it before swallowing the whole bite. "The tree is a nice touch. Something that even Winter can't stop from growing and thriving."
"Palm rushes?" Enlil asked, recalling one of the rituals of the Egyptian priesthood while they'd resided upon the First World.
"Palm rushes." Agreed Ammit. "Though the symbolism is a bit more Asgardian for my taste."
"I'm not thrilled with a celebration of the Kingdom of Snow." Enlil chewed his lip. "The Warden is already tied too closely to the Winter Court."
Ammit grunted in what might have been agreement as she cracked open a long bone and scraped out the marrow with a talon. "I'm mostly just bothered by the figures he keeps erecting around the palace. They're ghastly."
The Lord Warden had taken to the curious habit of wetting sand and rolling it into abstract figures. Each figure consisted of three balls that got increasingly smaller as one went from the smallest to tallest. He placed smooth stones up the center ball like buttons, and along the "face" of the figure to form eerily smiling visages with sticks for arms and long vegetables for their nose. But it was probably the hats that were the most unsettling part of the figures. He kept putting hats atop them then having the children name them.
Sometimes the Warden even spoke to the figures as though he were speaking to a man… Enlil feared that he might be imbuing them with some sort of special power to spy upon his court, and went out of his way to avoid them as he avoided the living diorite statues he knew to be sentinels for the palace.
"Who did you get for the gift exchange?" Ammit queried, casting the empty bone upon the floor. She was referencing one of the odder elements of the Warden's celebration, yet another hat based oddity of the Warden. Always hats - why was it always hats? Regardless, every member of the Warden's household, save the Warden, was ordered to write their name on a scrap of parchment and place it into a hat. It was then shaken, and every person who removed a scrap of paper was expected to get a gift for everyone else in who'd placed their name into it.
"The Jaffa." Enlil replied, pointing to the ancient warrior that always seemed to be present within the Lord Warden's inner circle. The wizened old coot was actually riding the tree in imitation of a chariot rider - pretending to whip along the younger Jaffa warriors as they dragged the conifer along the floor to the glee of the panoply of children that seemed inescapable in the palace as of late. The disdain in his voice was only partially due to the perceived indignity of a god having to provide a gift for his inferiors.
No, he was mostly annoyed at the Jaffa because he couldn't think of a proper gift. The gifts were limited to no more than than the price of six eggs from an adult hen, something that even the poorest in his kingdom could afford without beggaring themselves even briefly. Gift givers were required to somehow be specific to the person to which they were given.
And other than his blessings, which felt woefully inadequate if all others were to be exchanging physical items, he couldn't think of anything worth giving that met the limitations. And he was not about to be made to seem mediocre by comparison to some slave with a proper idea for a gift.
But not only had he been unable to even read the only recently literate scribbles of the Ancient Jaffa's attempt to write out his own name, he had been utterly at a loss for what to provide the man with that he might actually care to get. The Jaffa's life consisted of waking, eating, exercising, training, praying, and sleep. If he had a vice or a preference for anything other than extremely dull sessions of Kelno'reem, Enlil hadn't seen it. He didn't even seem to partake of even the bitter tea most Jaffa imbibed before that, and forewent the normal incense used for meditation.
Enlil wore his frustration with the entire process on his sleeve as he tugged at his beard, asking "And you?" to Ammit in an effort to deflect the conversation from his own deficencies.
"The Skull." Ammit replied. "Easiest gift ever. I'm just going to sit down for an afternoon and answer his inane questions with honest answers. He's been trying to get the story of my time fighting the Blood Born for about a year."
Enlil blinked. "We can do that?"
"What?" Ammit replied through a mouthful of meat, coughing briefly as a bone lodged in her throat.
"We can just teach them something and have considered to be a proper gift?" Enlil replied, grinning as he looked down at the primitive scribble of the Jaffa's name. The Lord Warden had only recently lifted the prohibition on learning to read and write for those outside the clergy. While there was a budding society of autodidacts - little existed in the way of formal education.
"Well… yeah, remember he said, 'It's the thought that counts.' He wants his followers to be looking for non-materialistic solutions to giving a present." Ammit tossed the picked carcass behind her and wiped the gore off her face with a napkin. "He is looking to curb greed but foster comradery in his household."
"And while words are free, knowledge is priceless." Enlil beamed, stroking his beard in thought. The most boring men often made the most able students, and he had observed the Jaffa attempting to copy script from one of the Scribe's primers in an effort to learn how to read and write. He smiled - his gift would not one to be beaten or shamed by the those of his lessers.
"Would you care for some of the mulled wine Ammit?" Enlil asked, feeling the mounting anticipation for the gift exchange two days hence. "I'm starting to feel quite in the festive mood."