Within the Temple of Seti
The dark within the temple of Seti once the doors were shut was profound. Setra’amun was shocked at how much this disturbed him, and he hurried to the door and tried to push it open again; but the great bars set into the outside had obviously been fastened into place, and a growing line of darkness indicated that those who’d placed them here once again were sealing the doors with mortar.
“You wanted the answers offered by the Eastern Lord,” sneered the former priest of the red temple. “Do you fear them now?”
Setra’amun turned to face him, his anger growing in him. “I have never enjoyed darkness.”
“You’d best overcome your fear, then, for you will get to know it well before the end.”
“I did not say that I feared darkness--only that I do not enjoy it.”
“Seti and the Eastern Lord do not care whether or not you enjoy it.”
The younger Man decided to ignore the priest. For some time he sat at the door, then finally stood, growing restless. He set himself to explore, wishing he’d taken in more of the room when the doors were open and light still shone in. However, he had no experience in exploring in the dark, and was soon stumbling over debris fallen to the floor. The third time he did this he fell sprawling and cursing as he nursed the cut to his knee, feeling the slow drip of blood from the wound running down his leg once he again stood.
He heard no sound from Gebankhrabi other than the steady sound of his breathing. It appeared he was remaining still. Not certain what he should do about his knee, at last Setra’amun untied the bandage from his side and tore off enough of it to wind about his knee, then did his best to refasten the rest about his abdomen to bind where his side was stitched.
The priest finally spoke. “A foolish thing, is it not, to care for a wound when you will die soon enough?”
Setra’amun ignored him.
In time he gave up his random wanderings and began to follow about the walls, although the way was often blocked by fallen plaster and unseen obstacles, some apparently broken statues while others might have been stands for lamps or to receive tribute or perhaps parts of altars. Most had fallen over, and he kept encountering shards of stone and brick that were sharp, one of which went between sandal and the arch of his foot, causing another cut. He was certain before he’d made it all around the room that his legs and ankles were totally bruised. He finally found the great doors, and paused at them pushing again at them, even throwing his shoulder against them; but they held steady. Then, not knowing what else to do he turned about and set about going the full circuit back around once more, going widdershins this time.
Two other areas that felt like doorways he found, but they appeared to be blocked. He stopped at the second one and began to explore it from the floor upwards, and found that heavy blocks of shaped stone filled it all the way to the top of it. He made his way back to the first and found it was similarly filled, again the stones too large and heavy to move. Having assured himself there was no escape there he turned back the other way again and traveled about once more until he’d finally came back again to the doors. Not knowing what to do then, he’d sat upon the floor for a time; but here the stone of the floor was chillingly cold, and at last he rose and made his way around the floor until he found again a raised area he had found earlier, what appeared to be a low bench. He sat atop it, then stretched himself along it, and finally slept.
He awoke to note that a very dim line of light could be seen along the floor at one point, realizing at last this must be entering from the bottom of the door, for all other parts of the doorway were solidly dark. It wasn’t much, but was enough for him to see a bit of darkness that was uneven and rounded where most of the rubble appeared angular. That must be the priest, he thought.
He rose again, and wondered where he ought to relieve himself, then realized it probably didn’t much matter. Yet he could not bring himself just to go against the wall, for years of training by those who cared for the orphans of the Valley of the Sun fought against such a decision.
Suddenly he became fearful again, and he rose and went to the door, laid himself down there and tried to peer out; but the line was too narrow, and he couldn’t bring his eyes low enough to see out of it. He was thirsty and hungry, and wondered what he would eat in here.
At last he rose and retreated from the doorway, sat where he could see the line of light along the floor, watching it greedily. Then he heard the priest move at last. Gebankhrabi stood up, and much as Setra’amun had done the previous night walked the circuit of the walls, then quartered the room. And again as Setra’amun himself had done he stumbled over rubble, but explored it with his hands as he crouched, half sprawled where he’d lost his footing. Finally he found a place where he might sit, perhaps on the bench-like structure on which the younger Man had spent the night, and on seating himself went still again for quite a while. For a time Setra’amun sat facing that way, then at last lost interest as the Man did not move further, and turned again to the line of light at the bottom of the door.
He saw what appeared to be the remains of a pot or something not far from him, went to it and relieved himself within it, went back and sat down facing the light. He was feeling strange, began to convince himself that his brother was outside the door, his ear to the crack at the bottom to hear what noises might indicate the continuing life within. As the sun rose through the day the line of light at the bottom of the door grew slimmer, although apparently, in some way, more brilliant.
He at last heard the priest relieve himself, apparently against the wall, and was disgusted with the Man. Had he received no upbringing at all? Then Gebankhrabi began to chant, a long chant of harsh sounds and syllables that must have been torture to speak, as they did not sound as if they were intended to be spoken by the tongues of Men. As the chant continued and grew in duration, Setra’amun began to grow more and more disturbed, until at last he wanted to shut up the horrible words before they called to the empty room evil unspeakable. He began to crawl toward the line of light, wishing he could go out into it, away from the darkness in which he now dwelt, wishing he could get out of the presence of the one who’d once served the Death Eater.
For that was what he was, the Death Eater, the one who had no shape, and whose power came only from the deaths of others. How had he, Setra’amun, grandson to the Farozi An’Horubi, ever convinced himself that he could get answers from that one? The only answer that one knew was annihilation, death, destruction--not to relieve, but to build himself at the expense of all others.
More and more he was convinced Harpelamun crouched or lay outside the door, not listening now, but whispering prayers, prayers for his brother’s redemption.
“It is too late for me, Harpelamun,” he whispered in response to those imagined prayers.
He was aware somehow of one, one out there, who held in himself the Light of Stars, one in the favor of the Lady Neryet. Once he’d been drawn by Neryet, had thought perhaps he might have offered himself for training in her temples, before he began to want other than simple answers. That one was aware of him, he realized, and although that one grieved for him, was willing to allow him to find his way alone.
“No!” Setra’amun exclaimed in a whisper. “You must give me guidance!”
Seek the Light, came the response.
“I’m lost in the Dark.”
Let go of the Dark, and you will see the Light the more readily.
You can. He did so--you can do so also.
Turn around, away from the Darkness.
He turned around physically and looked up, and found the priest looming over him, a jagged shard of stone in his hand. Alarmed, he rose to his knees, raised his hands to protect himself.
“Unbeliever!” said the priest between gritted teeth. “I will give you to the Death Eater!”
“But it does no good!” He caught Gebankhrabi’s hand which held the shard, turned it, twisted it. The priest grabbed at him with his free hand, pulled back on his hair. Caught between the terror of such a death and pain, Setra’amun struggled the more strongly, twisted more strongly at the hand holding the shard, heard the wrist snap; felt and heard the stone fall to the floor, bouncing off his thigh. Still the other would not let go of his hair for a moment, then suddenly pulled Setra’amun forward and released his hold, and as the younger Man tried to straighten onto his knees again Gebankhrabi grabbed onto his throat with his good hand and squeezed as he was able.
In his own desperation Setra’amun reached down, his hand closing on the sharp stone shard the other had dropped. He clutched at it, lifted it up, and in a fit of fury brought it down on Gebankhrabi’s good wrist once, twice--and finally the other let go, started to fall forward. A single blow to the back of the priest’s head--and suddenly it was over. The former priest fell forward, did his best to turn his head to look up at the younger Man. “You lived!” he whispered. “You lived! And I....” The thought was not completed.
Setra’amun had indeed survived, and he felt a savage triumph for a time, but one which could not last. He felt at the priest’s body, found the neck, felt for the pulse, felt it grow fainter and flicker, then give way to stillness. Setra’amun pulled back, slipped backward over fallen splinters of pottery and stone until he reached the bench on which he’d slept the night, sat there howling his triumph and his terror.
He appeared to have lost consciousness for a time, and woke to find the line of light at the bottom of the door gone. He knew the general direction where the door must lie, but was unwilling to go that way with the body lying there. Would the spirit still linger of it, hungry for life and willing to rend his soul from its hold on his body in order to try to obtain it again? He found himself shuddering uncontrollably. He was still thirsty, and he had no hope of finding water in this place. But as he lay there, he heard a tiny noise and recognized it--the distinct murmur of water on stone. It was somewhere off to his left. Slowly he crept that way, listened and turned his path again, then another time as it appeared he’d overshot his mark.
Six times he overshot the sound of the water before he found the small grate in the floor, barely large enough to slip his hands through once he’d lifted the small, pierced stone plate off of the hole. By reaching his hand through he was able to dip the tips of his fingers into the water which ran far below the floor and brought it up to lick the drips from his fingertips. What this trickle was and why it ran under the floor of the temple he didn’t know; but it was there. The trench the water ran through was narrow and unbelievably ancient; the stone sides slimy with years. The water was not sweet, was rather brackish somehow, but it was water. Again and again he reached his hand into that narrow trench, stretching down and down till he touched the water, then brought his fingers up to lick the moisture from them. Finally he was too exhausted to do it more; but refreshed somewhat he felt around him for shards, then set them into a circular pattern about the hole to allow him to find it more easily when the light came again. Once he felt he had it properly marked he pulled back a bit and lay down, swiftly falling back to sleep.
How long he lingered like this he couldn’t say, but it seemed like forever. When his hunger seemed likely to overcome him he thought of eating the body of the priest, but then shook in disgust. Even starving he could not do such a thing. He grew progressively weaker, and then developed grippe in his stomach, knew excruciating pain. The weakening began to progress even faster. Finally he had no more strength to stretch for the water below him, and knew that his end had finally come.
He turned his head, was able to see the direction of the door, the fine line of light under it. Again he reached out, trying to get guidance. Finally, far away, he felt the connection once more to the one on whom stars shone.
“Where do I go?” he mouthed.
Seek the Light. Go that way.
“I don’t want to die.”
We all must one day. Seek the Light. Turn to the Light.
He looked at the light shining under the door, prayed for it to strengthen. He felt his own question: From whom do I receive this direction?
And he answered himself, Does it really matter whom?
Then why bother questioning? Is the advice good?
I think so.
Then follow it!
He focused on the light under the door, let it fill his sight, his mind. His eyes still straining to keep his attention on it, he turned his heart. He didn’t need to turn it much. As he did, he could hear Harpelamun’s prayer: Lord of Light, guide him, my brother.
He smiled as he heard it, felt it work within him. He turned his heart a bit more and saw it finally, saw the Light grow stronger, and he turned to follow it....
A rat running through the temple found the cooling body, licked the ear, slipped down into the small culvert and followed the tiny run of water out and away from the once-again empty temple of Seti.