It’s been so long since she’s seen the face of her God.
Despite the urgency of the moment, she’s lost in thought. So like the remorseless powerful flow of the Nile, memory sweeps her away. She remembers the way it used to be. She remembers the quiet. Oh, the quiet! The quiet that lasted for centuries. Just the sound of the birds, sand against stone, water gurgling through reeds at the river’s edge, the same prayers chanted at exactly the same time each day, each year, each century.
She remembers the last time she saw the face of her God. The taste of blood, the way it pooled on the sandstone floor of the temple, the prayers and smoke from the censers both rising up to the painted ceiling. The shimmer that attached itself to the head of the statue that loomed over the altar at the front of the temple. The shimmer that sank into the stone of the statue. The pressure at her brow, the darkness that flared at the edges of the temple, the wind that swept from nowhere to whirl the smoke into strange shapes. This she remembers. This she has never forgotten when so much else of her past has eroded away in her mind.
She remembers the flared hood of the statue flex, no longer stone, now the living flesh of the god. She remembers the light in the eyes, how they gazed at her, pitiless yet loving, she knows that her God loved her. Was she not the most faithful of priestesses? Was she not the one who brought him the most sacrifices? Was she not the one who spread his power through the temples and palaces of the Kingdom, bringing more and more followers to his worship?
She remembers the feel of the stone floor of the temple under her palms as she prostrated herself. The pooled blood made it sticky. The weight of His gaze on her back as she knelt before Him. She looked up at him in adoration, tears of blood streaking her face, and she knows, even now these millennia later, that she saw Him nod at her, she saw Him show his love for her before his face shimmered and became a statue again.
She remembers walking outside the temple, filled with the joy of devotion, and looking up at the stars, vowing to make it so He will never have to leave.
Memory becomes rage. Even the stars are different in this noisy age! Nothing remains as it was!
Rage becomes tempered with anticipation. Soon. So very soon. This ceremony, these necromantic magics that she will perform in just a short time from now will be the first step in bringing her God back to her. The power in that vat of blood will make it happen. The blood that is infused with the power of all the dead spilled into it will make her troops, her creatures, invincible. And bring about the final victory of Him, Set, her God, her only love, his final victory against his Brother and all the other bright shining Gods of the Day. She will bring back the night, make things the way they used to be.
She’s so lonely. Her thoughts stop in frozen disbelief. Never! She is the highest, the Blood Queen of the Night. Who is she to need anyone? She remains still, staring straight ahead in her chamber high in the tower of this run down pathetic castle, not seeing the granite panels carved with hieroglyphs, carved with the prayers to her God. Introspection is dangerous for her kind, too much can, on occasion, lead to the dreadful twinned diseases of conscience and self-pity, but this time she admits that it’s true. There are none but slaves and food around her. There is no one who has known the same things she has.
They are all dead and buried. Buried like her her life was buried beneath the sands so very long ago. She remembers what she felt when she went to a museum recently, barely 50 years ago, and saw the pieces of the Ancient Kingdom that had been taken from the obscuring sands. The hands of unbelievers touching that which they are unworthy to even look at. Her life, her world, only fit for museums. She remembers the rage, remembers how it took soft words from both her handmaidens to stop her from killing everyone at that exhibition in that city of steel and smoke, she forgets the name of the city, but remembers the rage. And feels it again.
Far away, over the ocean of rage that batters against the inside of her skull, she hears the careful voice of Illana. It calls her back to her duties, like the Lighthouse of Alexandria. She focuses on the soft voice, blinks, and sees again her chamber in the castle. The ceremony. The ceremony awaits. And soon she will see the face of her God. If she needed to breathe, she would have taken a deep breath at this time. But she doesn’t, so she doesn’t.
She looks down and sees that the jade goblet that she was holding is a pile of green shards at her feet. She opens her hand and observes with a sense of vague curiosity the remaining pieces of jade stuck into her flesh. The green stone is striking against her brown skin. She remembers the jade labret stud in the face of an Aztec blood priest, similar green against brown. There is only the faintest sense of pain, no blood, interior flesh a pale pink. She shrugs, holds out her hand without looking, and Illana is immediately there.
Illana picks out the shards and wipes the hand of her mistress clean with a fresh linen cloth. Like her Mistress, she no longer needs to breathe and this helps in times like this. It helps her remain as unobtrusive as possible. To draw Her eye when She is like this is to roll the dice against Death at a gaming table where the house has stacked the odds against you. Illana keeps her head lowered, focused on the task of carefully, quickly, with her nails extended to their finest points, picking the pieces of jade from her Mistress’s hand. As each piece is removed, the flesh knits, leaving no trace. The bits of stone make slight chiming noises when they hit the floor. The only sound in the room.
As her handmaiden works, and Illana’s fear and subservience are delicious, She who is known as Bathory in this place and this time regains her focus. She becomes resolute again, calmer, but still thrumming with anticipation. So like pausing just before sinking her fangs into a neck, but this feeling is so much stronger. Can she, dare she, call it hope? An instant’s reflection. No. She is not so weak in spirit. But she is filled with desire. Not the desire to feed, not the desire for pleasure, but rather the desire for work, the desire to be chanting the words, performing the ceremony.
Ilana finishes her work and steps back and away. Another slice of life gained. The dice rolled her way again, against all probability.
She doesn’t acknowledge her handmaiden. To herself, she chants the opening of the Prayer of Going Forth Into The Darkness. The ancient words calm her, focus her, remind her of her dedication, remind her of her responsibilities. She turns to her handmaidens, her face is calm, her hands are relaxed, the fangs are not visible. Under the weight of her gaze, they prostrate themselves. She smiles at their fear and love and beauty. “We must be perfect tonight, my dearest ones. Perfect and strong.” She walks towards them and motions them to rise. “Illana, go bring a slave. We will feed now. Tonight will call upon us to do our utmost.”
Illana raises herself to her feet. All in all, she’s somewhat surprised that she’s still alive. In the past centuries, she’s seen her mistress become enraged and lose control over the smallest of things. And when that happened no one was safe around her. In the corner of her vision she sees Camilla, still prostrate on the floor. Perhaps Mistress will vent her rage and kill Camilla before she returns with the meal. That would be a small bit of luck. She bows and opens the door without taking her gaze from Mistress. “At once, Priestess.” She doesn’t speak in Egyptian, use her Egyptian title. She had tried once and was told that her accent was that of a hippo with stomach problems. The scars both inside and out eventually healed. She backs through the door, shuts it and turns.