A GODDESS' DUTY
"But I don't want to go to Egypt!" Emma Tutweiller heard the petulant voice of one of her only remaining students, London Tipton, raised above Mr. Moseby's more reasonable tones. Her ears had pricked at the mentioning of Egypt and something within her, some other self, breathed a content sigh and woke in her a fierce longing as the word 'home' echoed in her mind in response.
"London, your father wants you to take in some culture. View the pyramids at Giza and the other monuments to the pharaohs and gods."
"Why would I want to go look at a bunch of big rocks built for a bunch of dead guys?" London sneered, "It's hot, sandy, and doesn't have any decent shopping!" Considering that London considered 'decent shopping' the type of thing where she dropped several thousand dollars on a single clothing item no one took her too seriously on that last point.
Emma turned the corner and finally saw London squaring off with her guardian, a flush high in her cheeks as she argued against this plan. Mr. Moseby had pulled out his handkerchief and was dabbing at his forehead when he caught sight of Emma and breathed a sigh of relief. "Miss Tutweiller, perfect timing. I was just telling London her father has planned a side trip for her to Egypt."
Emma smiled and nodded, "I heard that much. You know, London, the pyramids are considered some of the greatest wonders of the world."
"Don't care. Old and dirty. Not going." London crossed her arms and turned her nose up.
Mr. Moseby finally lost his temper. "Nonsense," he said firmly, "Your father has already chartered one of his helicopters to come pick you up. You're going. And you're not going to complain about it."
London's jaw dropped, "But Moseby! It's not safe!"
Giving a long suffering sigh Mr. Moseby asked, "What are you talking about, London?"
Emma listened with interest as London licked her lips and explained, "It's not safe out there with a bunch of strangers. Don't you remember what happened last year on that island?"
Emma's breath caught in her throat and her eyes welled involuntarily. Of course they all remembered what had happened last year on that cursed island. They'd lost three young men and Bailey still bore the scars of that trauma...she also still bore the machete which had saved her life and a feralness that Emma sensed went deeper than any of them knew. When they'd asked if Bailey had wanted to be sent home to Kettlecorn to recover she'd flat out refused, deciding instead to finish her schooling aboard the S.S. Tipton to honor her lost friends. Emma herself had been with Bailey for every step of her recovery. It had been a hard and frustrating process and though the young woman would never be the carefree bubbly person she'd been before she was beginning to enjoy life again.
A low voice husked from somewhere among the shadows, "That only happened," Bailey swung from the rails of an upper deck to land lightly on the boards of the lower in a display of agility that had become a lot more frequent lately, her eyes bright and a bit of a growl rumbling in her throat, "because we went off the safe trails. You and the tourists were fine. Besides, we all know Mr. Moseby and your father wouldn't send you out there by yourself."
Bailey's sudden appearance had startled the group. Mr. Moseby, with a hand pressed to his chest, glared at the young woman and said, "Bailey! What have I told you about hanging from the rails like that?"
Bailey tilted her head and flashed her teeth in a smug grin, "That it's a remarkable display of athletic prowess and something the tourists are consistently fascinated by."
"Precisely," Mr. Moseby nodded, "Except the exact word I used was 'don't'." He glared for a moment longer at a very self satisfied Bailey before turning his attention back to London, "She's right though. Your father has detailed a bodyguard for you and assigned Miss Tutweiller and I to be your escorts. You're welcome to come as well, Bailey."
Bailey inclined her head, almost regally, in acceptance and said in a lighter voice more reminiscent of the teen she'd been two years ago, "I've always wanted to see the pyramids in person. They're a stunning example of human ingenuity and hieroglyphs are a bit of a hobby of mine."
"I'm still not going. There are crazy people out there and who knows what sort we'll find in Egypt!"
"But London," Emma said, "Egypt isn't some remote island. There isn't a community of cannibals there. Or any giant jungle cats." That last was said with a bit of a wistful tone. Who could forget the massive panther Bailey had slain? Emma felt the loss of such a magnificent creature as keenly as though it had been her own child, her affinity for felines extending even to that wild beast. Emma caught all three of them eying her oddly, Bailey with a bit of a curl to her lip, and shook herself out of her musings. "You'll be perfectly safe, London. We'll all be with you and you'll have the bodyguard. Egypt is no third world country like that island, the people are very cultured and I'm sure you'll find something to do to amuse yourself if the pyramids can't hold your attention." She turned her focus to Mr. Moseby, "When will the helicopter be here to pick us up?"
Mr. Moseby looked at his watch, "They'll be here in a couple hours. You all should pack for a few days. We're scheduled to stay for four days."
Bailey grabbed London's hand and pulled her away while ignoring all her protests.
Mr. Moseby and Emma separated to handle their own packing arrangements.
Emma stepped into her quarters and pulled out a light backpack and an urn she'd been keeping in a trunk. Her cats' eyes followed her movements and became more alert upon sighting the urn. It was a foot tall clay jar, smooth and heavy, topped with a carved onyx piece in the shape of a cat's head. She smiled when Mr. Whiskers and Lord Wiggums jumped onto her bed and stared at her intently. She reached out and scratched each of them behind the ears. "You know what this means?" she asked them in a soft voice.
Mr. Whiskers meowed and her other self heard beyond the sound to the meaning, "We're going home?"
Lord Wiggums lashed his tail, "Finally! It's about time we went back to a place where we're properly respected."
Emma smiled at her cats, "Yes. It'll be good to be home."
"Thirty years is a long time to be away, my lady," Mr. Whiskers reminded her, "Are you prepared to return?"
"More than prepared. Eager." Emma smiled at her cats, "I'll have my full powers under my control again."
"And figure out what's been going on with that kitten of yours?" Mr. Whiskers asked, referring to Bailey.
Emma pursed her lips and nodded, "Yes. Something has changed about her. Beyond the emotional and physical. She's become something...other. I just can't figure out what."
"A puzzle for when your powers are restored to their full strength, my lady," Lord Wiggums lashed his tail impatiently, "Are you going to open that for us or keep us waiting forever?"
Mr. Whiskers clawlessly swatted Lord Wiggums for his insolence while Emma just laughed and pried the onyx lid from her jar and placed it on its side on the floor. Mr. Whiskers and Lord Wiggums took up places on either side of the jar and supervised all of Emma's many cats streaming into the softly glowing jar until they were the only two left out. Lord Wiggums lashed his tail once as he stood and grumbled but slid easily into the jar.
"If you need us-" Mr. Whiskers began to say but was hushed by Emma's hand softly stroking his fur.
"I'll know where you are."
He gave a feline nod, rubbed against her shins, and slipped into the jar.
Emma tilted it upright and lifted it back onto the bed. "Rest well," she murmured before sealing it again and carefully putting it in her backpack. Her rooms somehow seemed much smaller without her cats laying on every available surface and she felt incredibly lonely.
She finished her packing in silence and when the time came she met the others on the helipad to board the newly arrived helicopter.
There was a bit of a struggle getting all of London's luggage in the helicopter which gave the others occasion to be very glad they had packed lightly. But Mr. Tipton, knowing his daughter, had accounted for her tendencies and sent a helicopter capable of handling her load. Once that was straightened out they all took their seats and were strapped in before taking off.
London was still sulking even as the helicopter came into view of land. But Mr. Moseby and Bailey were leaning in their seats to better see out the windows. Emma, too, looked out but less obviously so as she didn't need to see her homeland; she could feel it in her bones when they crossed into Egypt's borders.
The helicopter landed with no complications on the top of Cairo's Tipton Hotel. Porters helped them from the cabin and took control of their luggage leaving the new arrivals to follow them to their rooms.
London, of course, got a suite to herself. Emma and Bailey were to share a room with two twin beds and Mr. Moseby had a single. Thankfully, their rooms were all situated on the same floor which made planning their outings a much simpler affair than it otherwise would have been.
After two days of doing all the typical tourist activities London decided she'd had enough and commandeered her bodyguards to take her shopping and leaving the rest to fend for themselves.
Mr. Moseby was happy to take the opportunity to see how a Tipton Hotel was run in another country but even more happy to take advantage of being a V.I.P. and gleefully lounged about most of the day enjoying being waited on for once.
Emma had left before dawn, slipping quietly out of her shared room with her urn in hand while Bailey still slept, to meet her sister.
She abandoned heavily trafficked areas and took to the back roads, her memories of this city and her supernatural senses guiding her to where she needed to go. She reached a small residence, one built in an older adobe fashion which was squat and square but well kept, and rapped lightly on the door before letting herself in.
"Welcome, Bastet," the voice was low, smooth, warm, and feminine as it spoke in her native tongue.
Emma smiled as she recognized the form of her sister in the gloom of the darkened room. She replied in the same language, "Sekhmet. It's good to see you." She set her urn on a table to free her hands and embrace her sister goddess.
"And you. What name did you choose this time?" Sekhmet grinned as she twirled a lock of Emma's red hair in her fingers and teasingly said, "I see by your hair that you're embracing our 'Lady of Flame' title."
Emma laughed as she pulled Sekhmet's hand away from her hair and held it, "Emma. Emma Tutweiller."
Sekhmet raised a brow, "Tut. How familiar."
Emma just rolled her eyes and helped herself to a seat at Sekhmet's table. "What are you calling yourself?"
"Sekhmet," her sister replied also taking a seat. "As ever. I have a human guise only so I wouldn't upset the mortals while we're here. I don't have this peculiar urge of yours to live as humans do. One would almost think you were Greek."
"You know, as well as I do, that we need to stay connected to humans lest they forget us."
Sekhmet waved her hand dismissively, "They will not forget us. They could not. We are writ in their bones and in their histories. We need only remind them from time to time. Besides, even if we did need to live as they do, I don't see why you have to go so far from home to do it. It's dangerous to stay away from home for too long. Unless you want to lose your immortality."
Emma sighed, "I'd need to be gone for many centuries for that to be a true danger. Thirty years is nothing."
"Long enough for Apophis to muster his armies," Sekhmet replied grimly.
Emma's eyes shot to her sister's and held them in an intense gaze, "He has become a problem?"
"He has always been a problem," Sekhmet replied dryly, "But he has gotten much more powerful without you to help subdue him and his numbers. Our great father Ra is growing concerned that Apophis will soon succeed in preventing his journey across the horizon."
"Impossible!" Emma cried out in horror.
"Not impossible. Merely unlikely," Sekhmet countered, then continued smugly, "And even less likely now you're finally home. We've sorely missed your strength."
"Well, as you say, I'm home now and ready to aid our father." When Emma made to stand Sekhmet waved her back down.
"Father made it into the sky today. We have time enough to tell me what you've been doing these last thirty years."
Emma spent the next several hours regaling her sister with stories of her time as a human, the trials and tribulations, the joys and sorrows, the mundane and the exciting. She was just describing the changes she'd noted in Bailey, whom Sekhmet could tell was a favorite of Bastet's just from how frequently the stories included her, when Sekhmet raised her hand and tilted her head.
"I feel someone approaching. Odd, I haven't felt the aura of a warrior of this type in over a millenium," Sekhmet studied her confused looking sister, "You can't feel it?"
"My powers are not yet at their full strength," Emma admitted reluctantly, "Three days has not been enough to restore me."
"No matter. This one isn't fully awakened," Sekhmet rose from her seat and crossed to the door on silent feet. Suddenly she yanked open the door, reached out and grabbed someone, and yanked them inside all in one lightning quick motion. She pinned a squirming and snarling figure to the wall by its shoulder but hastily released it when a blade came sweeping towards her head. She snarled in fury, "You dare!"
"Bailey!" Emma shouted in English, stilling Sekhmet's hand and stalling Bailey's return swing.
"Miss Tutweiller," Bailey said in a loud voice that was not quite a shout. Emma noticed the teen's eyes were wild and darted about taking in her surroundings, noting her seated at the table with a jar of some sort and dismissing them as unimportant. She watched Bailey focus on Sekhmet and saw them both tense when their eyes met, startled to realize her sister obviously felt Bailey was a threat, but Bailey flashed Emma a look and begged, "What is going on? Who is this?"
Sekhmet laughed as she looked between the two and put the name Bastet had shouted to the young woman standing ready for battle before her, "It looks as though your kitten has followed you, Bastet."
"She is not my kitten," Emma replied in the same ancient tongue her sister still spoke in, a trace of irritation clear in her tone. Bailey had tensed when Sekhmet spoke but now she just looked confused as Emma spoke the same unfamiliar language back, "Though my vassal also called her that." She switched back to English, "Bailey, what are you doing here? How did you find me?"
Bailey edged away from Sekhmet to stand beside Emma, who had also risen, taking some small comfort from her presence though she was obviously unsettled by this unknown side of her teacher, "Mr. Moseby sent me to find you. We've been invited to dine with the hotel manager since it's our last night and he wanted us all back in time to get ready."
Noticing that Bailey hadn't answered her second question she asked it again.
Bailey shuffled her feet a little and fiddled with her hands, clearly not wanting to answer.
"Can't you sense it for yourself, sister?" Sekhmet laughed, drawing Emma's eyes to her, "This little one is part cat. A were-panther, if that story you told me was true. The beast she killed was probably some minor god, or demigod, and the mixing of their blood has changed her. Though she is not fully awakened. Not yet, but she is close to it. She must have followed your scent."
Emma's head whipped back around to study Bailey and she opened her senses as far as she currently could. She gasped when she felt the simultaneously familiar yet completely alien tug within her that told her Bailey was one of her kind, one of her chosen ones, a feline in the blood. And suddenly she had all the answers to the questions about Bailey's altered nature; her mood swings, her agility, her new and sudden strength and ferocity, even the rare times when she'd become exceedingly affectionate and sought Emma out to hold her...all of it could be traced back to her fight with the giant panther. She should have realized it sooner. She could have helped Bailey much more effectively had she been able to sense this for herself or even just remembered that such things while rare were still possible. Perhaps being away from home for thirty years had effected her more deeply than she'd thought.
"Miss Tutweiller," Bailey shifted uncomfortably under two intense gazes, "We need to go if we're going to make it back in time."
That shook Emma out of her thoughts and she turned regretful eyes on her student, "I'm sorry, Bailey, but I won't be going back with you."
Bailey pursed her lips but shrugged, "Mr. Moseby said if I couldn't find you that you'd come back to the hotel eventually to make the flight back."
Emma took a breath and placed her hands on Bailey's shoulders, "You misunderstand. I'm not going back at all. I'm staying here. In Egypt."
"You would abandon her, sister?" Sekhmet asked with heavy disapproval lacing her tone, "Without telling her what's become of her? I had thought better of you."
Emma hissed back at her sister, "I have no choice! You said yourself that Ra needs my help. What am I to do?"
"Keep her!" Sekmet growled back, her leonine nature showing more prominently in her bared teeth and fierce tone, "Train her."
"You can't stay!" Bailey broke in, her voice tight with fear. She stepped close to Emma and held her weapon in a gesture to ward off Sekhmet and spoke in a low voice, "If you need help to get away from her-" With a little tick of her weapon Bailey indicated her willingness to fight their way out and Emma was oddly touched by that.
"She has the heart of a warrior," Sekhmet, who'd understood the motion for what it was, purred with warm approval for the young woman, "If you won't have her, I will train her myself. I could use one so courageous."
Emma laid a calming hand on Bailey's weapon hand, a move familiar to both of them as she'd stopped Bailey's more violent impulses with the same motion hundreds of times before, and shook her head. "She isn't forcing me to stay. She's my sister. And I have duties here."
Bailey looked startled and took a moment to study the woman who looked nothing like her teacher as she sheathed her machete. Dark brown skin, brown eyes, and black hair complimented the woman's straight nose and square jaw. Her height and muscular build further distanced herself from any likeness to Miss Tutweiller. "The one who stole your fiancé?"
Emma bristled when Sekhmet laughed. "That's not...entirely accurate. She stole many people from me, that's true, but none were my betrothed," Emma said. When Bailey looked more confused than before Emma continued, "I'm not who you think I am. I'm not 'Emma Tutweiller'. I'm called Bastet. And this is my sister, Sekhmet. When she showed up she took a great many of my worshipers. I couldn't say that as a mere human so telling you she stole my fiancé was the closest I could come to the truth." Sekhmet had collapsed into a chair shaking with such powerful laughter that she'd gone silent while Emma huffily crossed her arms over her chest.
Bailey stood with her mouth agape, "You're Bastet? Ancient Egyptian goddess of protection and cats? And she's Sekhmet, goddess of warfare and destruction?"
Both Emma and Sekhmet grumbled at being described so simply. Emma said, "We gods are more complex than that. But yes, those are some of the things you humans ascribed to us."
Bailey sat heavily in the chair Emma had occupied earlier. "I don't believe it," her voice somehow managed to be awed and skeptical at the same time.
Sekhmet solved that problem by dropping the glamor that gave her a human appearance revealing to Bailey her lionness head adorned with a headdress bearing a sun disk. Then she spoke in English, "Believe it, little kitten. We're goddesses and we've a war to fight. Bastet must stay to help us triumph over Apophis."
Bailey squeaked and shot up from her chair with her weapon held out in front of her, the other two hadn't even seen her draw it from its sheath again. "Miss Tutweiller, please, can't we just go? Mr. Moseby will be worried for us."
Emma put her hands on Bailey's shoulders again and shook her head, "Sekhmet is right. I can't leave. Not when so much depends on my being here."
"Then let me stay, too!" Bailey cried, tears welling in her eyes, "I could be useful. You've seen what I can do with this thing," she gripped her machete a little tighter, "And I'm strong. So much stronger than I was before. Please," she pleaded as she looked deeply into Emma's eyes.
"No," Emma said, "You aren't ready. And you're too young to drag into this." Emma ignored the low growl coming from Sekhmet and the answering frustrated growl from Bailey. "You have so much life to live and so much to learn, about yourself and the world. I can't let you stay, Bailey. I won't."
The tears Bailey fought back now spilled freely down her cheeks as she said brokenly, "I can't lose you, too. I won't survive it."
Emma felt like she'd been punched in the stomach. Bailey had already lost so much. Her three closest friends had been brutally killed right in front of her. She'd fought for her life, killed to save herself, and had been much changed because of it. Emma hadn't even considered what losing herself might do to Bailey, knowing she'd been the only real support the girl had with her anymore. She gathered the sobbing girl into her arms and stroked her hair while murmuring gentle nonsense sounds to soothe her. "What am I to do with you?" she whispered.
"If I may make a suggestion?" Sekhmet said quietly once more speaking their native tongue. She ran her fingers lightly over the head of the urn and looked meaningfully at Emma with a quirked brow.
A flash of insight and Emma knew what Sekhmet intended. It could work. It would work. It had to.
"Bailey," Emma said softly, "Hush now. I'm not going to abandon you. Not now, not ever. But sweetie, I still have to stay here and you still aren't ready to join in my fight."
Bailey pulled back to protest but was quelled by Emma's lifted hand. Emma turned to her urn and lifted the lid, a soft glow spilling from it and making Bailey's eyes go wide. Her eyes nearly popped out of her skull when Emma reached into the urn and pulled a fully grown cat from the narrow opening and set it on the table. It took Bailey a moment to get over her shock but she soon recognized the cat as Mr. Whiskers, whom she'd met before. "I don't understand."
"You aren't ready to join my fight here but that doesn't mean you can't be made ready. If it's what you want," Emma was careful to add. "Mr. Whiskers can teach you everything you'll need to know. Help you with the changes you're already going through and train you to master yourself. When you leave, he'll go with you. And when you're ready, if you ever are, he'll lead you back to me."
Bailey sat slowly back in the chair and Emma could see she was thinking hard. She watched as Bailey reached a hand out to Mr. Whiskers and lightly scratch the top of his head until he emitted a rumbling purr that made them all smile. Finally, Bailey nodded. "Okay. Okay. If you really think I'm not ready, I'll do this instead." She looked up and held Emma's eyes fiercely, "You promise me that I'll see you again someday?"
Emma felt unexpected tears start in her eyes, she'd been human too long, and she nodded. She stepped forward and cupped Bailey's face in her hands, studying the young woman's face for a long moment, and bent to kiss Bailey's forehead. Through the kiss she cast a spell over Bailey, one the young woman wouldn't even know was there, to hide her memory of this encounter until the time was right. Mr. Whiskers would teach Bailey as the girl slept, connecting to her dream self and training her in the ways of a warrior of Bastet and in the changes her were-form would put her through, but Bailey would think them just dreams until the time was right, if it ever was, and she would awaken with a full memory of all of this and make the choice to join the fight or live her life as a regular human.
Emma and Sekhmet watched Bailey leave in a daze, cradling Mr. Whiskers in her arms. "Did I do the right thing?"
"You did what you had to," Sekhmet reassured, "You've given her a chance to have a normal life. The rest is up to her." She slung a friendly arm around her sister's shoulders, "Come. We have much preparation to do if you're to join in the battle tomorrow morning."
Emma sighed and picked up the urn containing the rest of her cats, she'd release them when she reached her temple, and left at her freshly disguised sister's side. The little adobe house fading from existence as they got farther away from it.
Ten Years Later
Bailey woke from her dream in a sweat, her whole body tense and her teeth bared in a growl as phantom images of an army of reptiles chased her from her dreams of pyramids and goddesses.
She sat up and locked eyes with her cat, they were glowing yellow the same way hers sometimes did, and was slammed backwards by the force of the memory of how she'd acquired him. She gasped as her mind was flooded with other memories. How she got the scars on her back, discovering her teacher was actually an ancient goddess, learning she'd become something not quite human, the promise she'd been made, thinking her teacher had disappeared in Egypt never to be seen again, and endless hours of training supervised by the same cat sitting alert at the foot of her bed. Image after image, lesson after lesson, all crashing through her head at once until the deluge slowed to a trickle, then to nothing. She lay on her bed gasping, tears leaking from the corners of her eyes.
She sat up again, this time reaching to her bed post to grab down her trusty machete, then locking eyes with the cat she knew was much more than a cat.
"Take me to her, Whiskers."
The cat gave one long, deep meow then leaped into Bailey's lap and they both disappeared in a flash of light.
When Bailey next opened her eyes she was on the bank of a reed strewn river, the Nile her mind supplied...or its spiritual equivalent, and looking straight at Emma Tutweiller standing proud on the deck of a boat dressed for war in leather and metal with several large cats prowling around her feet.
Whiskers emitted a much louder and longer yowl and drew Emma's attention immediately.
Bailey's heart soared when a radiant smile blossomed on Emma's face.
An instant later and she stood on the deck before her former teacher unsure of how she got there and not really caring because she was distracted by Whiskers growing in size to join the prowling pride of big cats already stalking the planks and Emma's jubilant grin. The goddess, of course, hadn't aged a day.
The two women stared at each other with silly smiles on their faces.
Sekhmet suddenly appeared behind Emma, looking over her shoulder with a bright grin. "I knew you'd be back. I told Bastet you had the heart of a warrior." And though she spoke her native language Bailey understood every word and she smiled for it. Then Sekhmet gave Emma a light shove which sent her crashing into Bailey's arms, an embrace that began as a rescue quickly turned into an embrace of welcome and joy.
"You're here," Emma said with wonder, looking awed into Bailey's eyes, "You're actually here."
Surprising them both, Bailey replied in the ancient tongue, "There's nowhere else I would rather be." And as she spoke she knew it was true. She'd lived these last ten years trying to be normal but always feeling as though something had been missing, and now standing with an actual goddess in her arms she finally felt as though she was where she belonged.
Impulse swept over her, feelings that had been growing inside of her for over a decade washing away all her inhibitions, and she held Emma tightly and pressed a tender kiss to Emma's lips.
Emma sighed and melted into Bailey. She hadn't expected this but intimacy was not something she'd be turning away, she'd gone far too long without the touch of a lover and even longer without a lover who had chosen her true self above all others.
They'd be spending all of eternity fighting Apophis' hordes soon enough but in that moment, and in many moments that would be stolen throughout the years, they were truly and finally completely happy.
A/N: OMG I've lost my mind. This was inspired by Jane Lindskold's 'The Buried Pyramid' and my story "Of Man and Monster" from last year's Halloween collection.