Enjoy this excerpt from The Wrath of Horus, coming October 31st, 2021.
The Golden City of the Egyptian gods in exile, Thoth knew, was a masterful subterfuge. One could believe one was in Egypt, with the smells of Nile water, green palms, and cold stone overriding the ash and rot of the Abyss around them. Every day perfumed incense was burned to welcome a fake sun’s rising. Every day Egyptian gods walked through the market, inhabited and celebrated rituals in their temples, and sailed on the waters, which spread infinitely into an illusionary distance. Every day beer was brewed, dates were plucked from trees, and everyone pretended all was well in the smallest of spaces. There were no mortals to serve them, but wasn’t the absence of mortals always the goal of Ra? To leave the mortals behind and build a paradise for only gods?
All would have been well, were it not that every single god knew they were not in Ra’s paradise of Duat. Once all the Egyptian gods journeyed to Duat, the Egyptian underworld would be transformed into the kingdom they pretended the Golden City to be, no longer solely the courts for the judgment of the dead. This counterfeit Golden City was a way to hold onto their sanity in exile, but Thoth knew the truth of it: gods were by their nature arrogant, always believing themselves better than humanity, and now they were paying for their arrogance, punished by the sorcerer and wizard Solomon. Thoth himself had sacrificed his own chance to absent himself from the Golden City by giving Marcellus prophecy. There was still some work to be done here if ultimately, the future would free the Klaereons and the Egyptians from a magically induced pact, and Thoth would see it through. He and Marcellus together were tools to shape the future.
Thoth waved a paw in front of his nose. The smoke from the fire in the sacrificial bowl was overpowering with lavender and pampas grass. Thoth knew disaster had come for Marcellus Klaereon on this day, but it was necessary in order for things to proceed as they must. Knowing the entire future was challenging, and sometimes painful, given you had to watch many things which were unpleasant in the moment.
Which reminded him. He had things to do.
He climbed down from his stool and loped outside his temple. It wasn’t difficult to find Horus, in his true form, the body of a man, the head of a falcon, muscled like a deity who was constantly in motion. When a god about to have a Trial, first separated from their Binder, they were on edge, deprived of a narcotic, missing the child they had come to love inasmuch as gods could love.
Horus paced and fidgeted. “Something is wrong. Gregorius is not where he is meant to be. I can feel him here.”
“Marcellus and Gregorius are in the Abyss.” Thoth had not foreseen all those who had come with them. To help or to hinder? There were too many different versions of the future at the moment.
“What perversity is this?” Horus’s shiny eyes were unreadable, but his voice trembled. “How can he fight me here? I will certainly win here.”
“Don’t you want to win?” asked Thoth. The closer a god was to their Binder, the less likely they were to want to win. It wasn’t Horus’s nature to make exceptions regarding combat.
“I want to win only if it is fair,” said Horus carefully. “I want Gregorius to use everything I have taught him in a fair fight. I want him to earn his victory.”
So. Horus did want Gregorius to win. “You must seek him out,” said Thoth. “If you can help him return to the land of mortals before his Trial, maybe it will be so.” Thoth shrugged. “Or maybe not. Maybe you must fight him here. We cannot control what we cannot control.”
“No doubt this suits some purpose of yours,” said Horus.
Thoth bared his teeth. “I cannot say.”
“I will find Gregorius,” said Horus. “I will find him, take him home, and then fight him.”
“Of course you will,” said Thoth confirming. “Unless Set takes him.”
“What nonsense are you speaking?” said Horus. Horus rushed toward Thoth and stopped short of striking him. “What would Set have to do with this?”
“Set has always felt he was cheated when you claimed Gregorius, and then by not claiming the girl Flavia by virtue of her birth. You must be careful.” Thoth knew cautioning Horus was unrealistic, but being one of the older gods, Thoth had a paternalistic streak.
“I always defeat Set,” said Horus.
Thoth felt no need to respond. Horus always defeated Set, except when he did not. The history between them often repeated itself. Jealousy and passion, greed and possession. It was the relationship of gods who had loved each other but discovered the paper-thin layer between passion and hate was easily torn. Cruel Set could easily hurt Horus’s boy if he felt it would cause Horus pain.
Thoth did not like looking at the torturous version of that future, but honestly, Thoth had no idea how the future would flow, or which future would flow. “You will be breaking the formal rules by finding your Binder now,” he said to Horus, “but I think you must. It is what I would do in your place. Go, and may your road be easy.”
Both of them knew nothing about this turn of events would be easy.
It took no time after Horus left before Set made his way to the temple of Thoth. Thoth had resumed his seat inside and fed the fire with myrrh and thyme.
“God of prophecy,” said Set, “I beseech you help me right my future.”
Set was the destroyer of the Egyptians. Most Egyptians disliked Set, but Thoth knew there were duties for the darker gods which could not be sacrificed. Set was an indescribable creature. Most mortals depicted him as a mule, but he wasn’t quite that.
“Why are you not in Duat, riding the boat of the sun?” Thoth kept his tone casual. Set’s redemption would come as guardian of the sunboat, another prophecy of a possible future.
“My time has come,” said Set. “I am here to claim what is mine.”
“Your Binder?” said Thoth. “You would forego your place in the nightly battle of existence for a mere child?”
“You toy with me,” said Set. “You know as well as I do what the outcome of these days will bring.”
Thoth knew better than Set, but he saw no point in saying so. “What is your plan, then? Is it to steal the boy from Horus, or to take the unclaimed girl you have been courting?”
Set crossed his arms across his massive bare chest. “I would enjoy defeating Horus again and shattering what he considers his. I would elevate this boy above all Binders by making him mine in body and soul. But the girl has potential and was meant for me. She has my appetites and could be a mighty fighter, a Princess of Hell.” Set stepped closer. “Can you see what my best course of action is?”
“I only see possibility. I see you devoured by Ammut should you not proceed carefully.”
“Was Horus ever careful? He has always stolen what is mine.”
“Yes,” said Thoth. “And his father before him. I know your grievances well, every version of them.” Thoth inhaled smoke. “You think you are prepared for the worst of the Abyss, because you have been in Duat. Do you remember what it was like before we arrived, before we built the city?”
“I am a match for all the demons in the Abyss.”
There were some of the gods who perhaps merited the banishment Solomon had visited upon the Egyptians, Set was reminding Thoth. “I cannot see your best course of action.”
“Do you foresee a way I can have victory?”
There it was. The gods always wanted guarantees. Always. “Nothing is ever certain,” said Thoth. “Even when it is likely, it is not firm. You must trust your instincts, follow your path. If you didn’t like my advice, you wouldn’t follow it, even if it guaranteed you victory. That is usually how destiny is created.”
Set’s answering scoff was disdainful. “If you will not help me choose, I will take them both.”
Ah. Two-thirds of the possible futures evaporated into nothing, and the worst one moved to the front of Thoth’s mind. “You must do what you must do,” said Thoth.
Set left, as Thoth let his consciousness reach out to Marcellus. Perhaps his connection to his Binder would save Gregorius and Flavia. Perhaps not. Only one of them was necessary, and either of them would work for the purposes of the future. The most unfair thing of all was that Marcellus, the best of the three, was someday destined to be lost.