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part twelve.

Part Twelve
“Stop squirming,” the deep voice tells her calmly, “or I might be tempted to drop you.”

When something very big with very sharp talons is clutching you in a death grip and is telling you to stop squirming, it’s very difficult not to instinctively obey – that’s if you don’t swoon or freeze with fear. Aura isn’t in a particularly good situation to analyse precisely which of these three her reaction is, but she evidently stops struggling (for one reason or another) since the beast doesn’t repeat its request. His request, rather – the voice in question was definitely masculine.

From what Aura can work out with the few functional brain cells she has left (the rest being petrified or stupefied), the creature (whatever it is) had ripped half the Shrine apart in its attempt to pluck her out of it, which caused the momentary confusion. Now they’re up in the air, soaring higher and further and faster with each passing second. One of the rocks must have struck her, because she feels dazed and the memory is already a little fuzzy; reaching up, she can feel a lump already beginning to form on her head, which feels like someone sliced it open with an axe. Feeling her movement, the creature tightens its arms around her, pressing her face to its breast so that, for a horrible moment, she thinks it’s going to suffocate her. Don’t some species of snake squeeze the life from their victims? Moments later, however, the creature’s true intention becomes clear – as they reach abominably fast speeds exceeding a hundred miles per hour, its body provides suitable protection against the wind. Recognising the futility of a struggle, Aura relaxes in its grip and tries to clear her mind.

‘Aura?’ Queries a little voice in her head, and for a heart-stopping moment she believes that it’s Anneliese. Then she remembers that Anneliese is dead, and that the arrogant phoenix would never have employed such a tone of timidity anyway. ‘My name is Lilith – Seth is my familiar, he’s an Egyptian sefert,’ the voice continues. ‘I’m telepathic. I was one of the ones who – ’

‘Helped to bring me back, I know.’

Elaboration isn’t necessary. Without her divinity, Aura has lost the ability to safeguard her mind against telepathic intruders, and Lilith can see quite clearly the recollection of Lauma’s tales of the ‘Conquerors of Darkness’. The young girl had promised herself not to pry into the ancient deity’s memories, but the blow to the head has left the latter’s mind in such a state of disarray that it’s difficult to untangle the conscious and the unconscious thoughts, and random memories keep surfacing where the brain sparks connections. If Lilith had ever doubted the unlimited capacity of the mind, those doubts would be expelled the moment she entered Aura’s; the goddess has been alive for millions of years, but she still has near-perfect recall of events which happened thousands of years ago. It seems that long-term memories can exist indefinitely, and that the brain never becomes too full or too crowded.

Sensing from the swift reorganisation of Aura’s thoughts and memories that she’s cleared her head and is once again able to process information, Lilith guiltily proceeds to explain what happened at the Shady Labyrinth. It’s impossible to hide reactions when telling stories with telepathy – through the connection, Lilith feels waves of empathy dominated by sympathy for the ’Labyrinth inhabitants and hatred for Mallos. Beneath those feelings is the ever-present fear, and underlying that Lilith can sense Aura’s enochlophobia beginning to rise as the latter realises where she’s being taken and what she’s expected to do. Reassurance doesn’t work. Before breaking the connection and leaving the deity’s mind, Lilith carefully extracts the conversation Aura had had with Mallos and files it away with intent to examine later. She has a feeling that the contents of that conversation should be made public, and an equally strong feeling that Aura won’t share that sentiment.

By the time Seth gets them to the Shady Labyrinth Aura has had ample time to collect her thoughts, but nothing could prepare her for the sight which greets the trio. Previously, only a part of the territory had been occupied by the maze, with the rest being woodland or grassland; now the ominous hedgerows have grown to form a gigantic green castle, grown over at the top to form roofs with turrets. That’s not the worst bit. The hedgerow is crackling with white-blue electricity, and any animal which dares stray too close to it is zapped into oblivion. Guarding the gate are what look from a distance like two gargoyles, but a closer inspection reveals them to be stone fairies, their faces twisted into eternal grimaces of anguish. Aura has no doubt that less than an hour ago, those fairies were alive and laughing. It seems most people managed to escape before the territory was reactivated, and Adonis has managed to organise everyone nearby; he beckons Lilith to join them and Aura reluctantly follows her. As they pass the gates, she notices ancient symbols carved into the vines – the sign of a fairy fort.

“Mallos is back,” Adonis is saying. “The war has begun. I propose...”

Lilith quickly tunes out, and glances at Aura to make sure that the latter hasn’t done a runner. She hasn’t; instead, she’s still staring at the ancient symbols, frowning. Lilith glances from them to her and back again.

“What does it say?” She whispers, not expecting an answer. Without divinity Aura has lost her ability to read other languages, so it’s a surprise when she replies.

“Per-aa nakht.” 1

“What does that mean?”

Silence had fallen at the sound of Aura’s voice, and even Adonis is now looking at her inquiringly, waiting with interest for the answer. “The rough translation is either ‘palace of strength’ or ‘strong king’.” She says quietly. “King in this language is synonymous to god – there is no differentiation. Mallos, the strong god, wants to build an empire based on strength and power. He wants to reclaim Earth for fairykind and rid it of human beings before proceeding to conquer other worlds. If that appeals to any of you,” she adds mildly, “you can leave now and join him. I’m sure he’d welcome new recruits with open arms.”

Nobody moves. Well, nobody would, would they?

“For those of you who do not want that, or for those of you who have seen Mallos’ methods and do not believe that he end justifies the means, there is another option. Fight him.” She gently prises the pen and paper from Adonis’ hands (he’d taken a register) and sketches something. “There is no neutrality. There is no pacifism. You either fight for nakht, or for merut.”

There’s a brief pause until one person manages to pluck up the courage to ask, “what’s merut?”

Aura throws the paper down onto the ground. On it is the outline of a heart. “Love.”

As the deity walks calmly away, Lilith is struck by the childishness of the gesture. Love? Strength versus love? Could it be any more of a cliché? That little heart on the paper... she visualises Roman soldiers in full armour and tries to imagine them shouting, ‘we fight for love!’ but the words don’t quite match the picture. War isn’t about love. Mallos probably thinks he’s fighting for love, too... ‘for the greater good’, he would probably say. Humans would have to be sacrificed so that fairies, the dominant race, could live peacefully and comfortably and happily, he would probably argue.
But then, where would it end? If magic makes fairies superior to humans, then does that make the divine original fairies superior to ordinary folk? If Mallos does succeed in creating a master race, a new generation of divines, then perhaps one day – not one day soon, but maybe a few hundred or a few thousand years into the future – they, the ordinary fairies, would be considered as humans are now. Mallos’ theory lacks all compassion.

Compassion. Love.

If Mallos succeeds, Lilith slowly begins to realise, he will wipe away compassion – love as we know it. Love will become a hierarchy, with the most superior and the most magical being deserving of the most love. The concepts of ‘mercy’ and ‘help those in need’ will not exist in a world based on... well, strength. Only the strongest count. Only the strongest survive. Love has no place in that world.

Her mind consumed, Lilith turns away from the group and slowly traces the path that Aura took. It doesn’t take her long to find her – the older woman is plodding along, apparently examining the walls of the maze-castle. Lilith quickly catches up with her and slows down to match her pace before asking, “what language was that?”

“The oldest written language on Earth. The language of the per-aa.”

“I saw...” Lilith hesitates, wondering how much to say – if anything at all. She decides to plough on. “I saw your memories... of the War. You fought, didn’t you?”

Aura stops in her tracks. “The war to end all wars,” she mutters distractedly, running her fingers through her white-blonde hair.

“Except it didn’t,” Lilith says softly. “Because war has come to Shaman. Real war. It won’t,” she hesitates again, “it won’t be as bad as that, will it?”

“Nothing,” Aura replies flatly, “could be as bad as the Great War.”

The cat-girl doesn’t respond. She’d suspected from what she’d briefly seen in Aura’s head that the latter had left Earth pre-1939, and what she’s said now confirms it. Aura referred to World War One as ‘the Great War’, a name which was only used in the inter-war years... which means Aura doesn’t know that, twenty years later, World War Two broke out. Lilith doesn’t have the heart to tell her.
She does, however, have a new-found confidence in the deity. Aura has fought before. She knows what she’s doing.

“Neb-djed anch, udja, seneb,” Aura mutters to herself, so quietly that Lilith has to strain to hear; “medu netscher ib heka.”2

“What does that mean?” the latter breathes.

“The Lord of Eternity live long, remain hail and healthy, if his heart is his magic.”

Pause. “Sooo... what does that mean?”

“It means, kid, that gods don’t stay gods for very long if they don’t have people to worship them. Every leader needs a following. I wonder,” her blue eyes blaze with a fire Lilith hasn’t seen before, “where Mallos will get his?”

1 Ancient Egyptian language – the first language on Earth to be written.
Per-aa: Pharoah, God or place
Nakht: strong, strength
Set: place, woman or feminine ending (similar to modern feminine endings of words, e.g. ‘waitress’ ‘waiter’)
Merut: love
2 A fairly poor reconstruction of the language, written with limited resources. Literal translation –
Neb-djed [Lord of Eternity] anch, udja, seneb [a phrase which always accompanied Pharoah’s name, meaning ‘may he live long, remain hale and healthy’ – anch literally meaning ‘life’] medu netscher [God’s words] ib [heart] heka [magic or God of magic]
The Reader should also remember that since this is a dead language, our understanding of pronunciation (particularly since the Ancient Egyptians omitted vowels in their written text) is due largely to guesswork and invention on the part of Egyptologists.
Although the basis of this language is the real language of Ancient Egyptian, the Writer freely admits to the probability of having butchered it and would like to remind the Reader that this account should not be used as a dictionary.

    • day two -
      • part five -
      • part six. -
      • part seven. -
      • part eight. -
    • day one -
      • part one. -
      • part two. -
      • part three. -
      • part four. -

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