Book Smugglers Publishing Gods and Monsters

A Question of Faith by Tonya Liburd

a-question-of-faith

A Question of Faith by Tonya Liburd
Published 7/11/2017

“Man, know thyself, and you are going to know the gods” – Inscription from the Luxor Temple

In the Temple of Ra, Ceke works on cutting edge research investigating the connection between music, identity, and the realm of the gods. Though devoted to her service at the temple, of late her heart has been divided between work and and her pregnant co-wife, Ngware.

When the most promising subject of the temple’s tonal experiments, Wahibra, mysteriously disappears and rumors of a god awakened follow his path, Ceke finds herself leading a dangerous mission to bring him back to safety.

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“Man, know thyself, and you are going to know the gods” – Inscription from the Luxor Temple

 

Once, when Ceke was younger, this was all new. She had trained hard and worked harder, rising through the temple ranks. She had marvelled at the halls brightly decorated in blue, red, yellow, and especially white, for Ra, the Creator of All That Is. But now her mind was preoccupied by other things.

She entered the hypostyle hall and passed soaring pillars, richly decorated with painted reliefs, depicting deities in the usual poses, and religious symbols. Narrow windows were set high, just below the ceiling, architecture that harkened back to more ancient times. One could easily imagine priests carrying torches for light.

Ceke headed for one of the smaller side doors that lead into the halls. The corridor ended before her, leading up to the entrance of a large area with a high ceiling, with motifs of vultures flying across vistas of stone. Cool marble and alabaster, and granite of different colors finished the walls. Soft amber lighting lent a certain ambience to what would have been impersonal machinery at work in the middle of the room.

She started her supervisory run of the work areas along the archaic walls, examining each station closely, passing Ngware’s empty workstation and smiling—thinking of her at home. Every so often she’d stop to adjust a shiny wood desk, push in a chair, tilt and alter computer panels, and papyrus pages. Everything seemed to be running smoothly.

In the middle of the room, at the very center, sat a young man named Wahibra, wirelessly connected to the temple machinery. A group of people were busy at work around him. Wireless electrodes were attached at strategic points on his slim young body standing out against the brown of his chest. A device lay on his head, through which colored lights coruscated wildly as if they were alive. People milled around him, some manipulating holographic representations of sound waves that changed as Ceke watched, while others input data into holographic devices, hands rapidly moving in the lightstream.

Ceke remembered when Wahibra was taken in as a young boy, mysteriously abandoned at the temple’s doorstep. Although he’d found a place for himself in his new life at the temple, she remembered for the longest time that he was shy, he wouldn’t talk, so it was difficult to find out any details about his past. He couldn’t remember much. Others were just as amazed when this one who would not speak suddenly exhibited a gift for manifesting psychoacoustic phenomena while singing. A gift greater than Ceke’s, in fact. He was an ideal candidate for study and willingly volunteered, signing all the legal releases. With him, they hoped to gain quite solid foothold in their exploration of, and possible entry to, higher phases of existence—perhaps even the realms of the gods.

“How is he?” Ceke asked the acting head researcher, Nebemakhet, filling in for Ngware while she was on maternity leave.

“Doing well, actually,” she was told. “We have some interesting results.”

Ceke smiled.

“Remember when our first attempts yielded results closer to the early roots of psychoacoustics?” Nebemakhet mused. “As Hotep said: Out of chaos, music creates order.

“We are so much farther along now,” Ceke murmured.

“You know how in terms of brain processing, there was one aspect to the frequencies that was of vital interest to us? And by using different frequencies, we’d found it was possible to create resonance in different areas of the body, thereby activating or triggering emotional or mental activity associated with those areas…?”

“Yeah,” Ceke agreed, interested.

“And how Wahibra had been exhibiting some unusual readings from early on, that was piquing everyone’s interest?”

“What about it?” Ceke asked.

Nebemakhet pointed to some readings. “Take the Delta wave, for example, which is usually associated with deep sleep and no awareness of self. Now look at these readings. Wahibra’s Delta pattern shows he experienced deep stillness and relaxed self-awareness.” She moved her finger along. “When it comes to high Beta—associated with heightened states of mental activity—Wahibra exhibited unusual activity. Especially where he was experiencing an integration of ideas or experience—in the K Complex.”

“Wait a minute.” Ceke moved closer to the readings. “Would this mean that by targeting some of his brain states, it would be possible to boost internal activities, such as self-healing and the exploration of altered states? Because if so, we will be able to go so much further now than when we first started teaching people to control their heart rates centuries ago.”

“Yes.” Nebemakhet grinned.

“That’s exciting!” Ceke exclaimed. “What I find most interesting are the actual mental or emotional and spiritual experiences; they’re crucial to understanding the brain/mind interface!”

They looked to Wahibra.

“Is it okay to approach him?” Ceke asked.

“Right now, yes,” one of the attending technicians told her.

“Wahibra.”

His eyes remained closed.

“Wahibra,” Ceke called softly, again.

His eyes opened slowly, unfocused.

“Wahibra?”

His gaze went piercing, as if focusing intently on something before him that she could not see. Then the look was just as abruptly gone. His gaze flicked toward her. “Oh, My Lady!”

She cupped his face in her hands, gazing at him tenderly. She seemed to be the one he communicated with best, although that was not much. “How are you?”

“I… I suppose I am fine.” He stretched. “It is… interesting, some of the experiences.”

“No regrets?”

He blinked slowly, all seriousness, even though his eyes were glazed. “None.”

She smiled. Withdrawing her hands, she turned away, saying, “I’m heading home now. Be good to him.”

“Oh, we will.”

 

Ceke stood over her pregnant co-wife, Ngware, as she lay on a table in their greatroom, with white walls and soft, greyish-lavender curtains. Its decor, and their entire house, was muted, different from the stonework and colors of the hallways of the temple. The technological and modern stood here alongside the ancient architecture of their home. Along the walls were holographic recordings depicting cymatic activity, one of them showing vibrations involuting a blob of paste in phases, replicating perfectly the early stages of cell division.

On Ngware’s stomach lay a crystal bowl, balanced carefully on the soft curves of her flesh. Ceke passed a resonance rod around the edge of the crystal bowl, and as she did so, a note sang in the air, penetrating deep into the matrix of life, promoting growth and health. Extra health for the new life growing so carefully inside Ngware and for Ngware, too. Ngware closed her eyes.

“Mmm,” she said.

Ceke rubbed fragrant oils into Ngware’s skin, admiring her wife’s softness and beauty. Ceke took away the crystal bowl and put it aside.

“Turn onto your side, so I can massage you from the back.” She picked up a vial and popped it open.

Ngware murmured appreciation as Ceke kneaded fingers into her shoulders, every caress showing her appreciation of a body that was a marvel of biology and beauty.

A smile from Ngware’s face resting on her arms. Trust. Love. Anticipation for a new chapter of experience. Ceke smiled back.

“I’m glad I’m getting this time off,” Ngware said. “Although, I have to say your recent findings are quite fascinating. I wish I was there!”

The communications display chimed. Ceke side-eyed it for a second, then crossed the room to her desk. “Be careful what you wish for,” she said drily over her shoulder as she received the message.

A man was on her screen. One of those newly involved with the guardianship of the temple. He bowed to her. Behind him, she could make out some details of the work area where she’d last seen Wahibra. “I am sorry to disturb you, My Lady Ceke, fourth Servant of Ra. But I have news.”

He paused.

“Wahibra has run away.”

What?”

Ngware turned at the sudden change in her voice.

One of Ceke’s hands tightened into a fist. “He was supposed to be under supervision!”

“We know. I don’t have an explanation for that.”

She leaned into the display, knuckles on the desk. “Find one.”

The man seemed rattled even through the distance. He cleared his throat. “Wahibra seemed fine. Apparently he managed to come back to his station, alone, and activated some controls, did some sort of stimulation. We don’t know what happened to him next. But when he was spotted, and confronted by a couple of guards, he fought and overcame them. Then he was gone.”

Ceke’s heart leaped. What had Wahibra done to himself? Her hand made a slashing motion. “Send people after him!”

“Hotep has taken charge of those affairs. He—we—felt you should be informed.” He looked apologetic. “There should be more news in the morning. Goodnight.”

The screen went blank.

Silence.

Ceke sank into her seat.

Ngware walked up to Ceke, placed her hands on her shoulders, and began to massage comfortingly. Right now, Ceke’s mind was in turmoil.

 

Sandals slapping purposefully beneath her, Ceke headed for the station where Wahibra had been set up, and had last been seen before he escaped. Usually, the familiar surroundings—festooned to bursting with blue waterlillies, pyrus, daylillies, lots of sweet smelling plants would make Ceke feel at ease. Not today.

Upon arriving at her workspace within the temple, Ceke stared at the swirling holographic display on her desk.

She picked up Ngware’s call. She could see that at their home Ngware lay on her side on their bed, arms wrapped around a pillow. Around their bed lay gifts from well-wishers, wrapped and unwrapped. Ceke saw Ngware look over, her gaze distracted, her eyes haunted.

“I couldn’t sleep. And I didn’t want to be awake alone. I can’t seem to… relax…”

Tap-tap-tap, tap, went Ceke’s nervous fingers on the desk. Tap-tap-tap. Tap. Ceke moved closer to display, as if she could be there, with Ngware. She sent a kiss. “You’ll be all right.”

Ngware sighed. “I’ve been like this ever since I called the doctor.”

Ceke felt a stronger twinge of the uneasiness that had been nagging at her ever since Ngware let her know the doctor’s appointment was set, to make sure the baby was still alive and healthy.

Wahibra knew about their situation, as did everyone in the temple. He had said to Ceke and Ngware, “If I were a god…”

Normally, Intra-Cellular Injection used sperm injected into eggs. But in their case, their baby had chromosomes from two eggs. Embryos like Ngware’s matured as combined genetic offspring of both parents, not clones, although they were always girls. But for no reason science could find, female-to-female in-vitro fertilizations carried a high risk of miscarriage. Hence, the doctor visit. Hence, the worry.

All that would stay in Ceke’s mind right now was the gruesome thought of Ngware keeping the dead and rotting baby-flesh inside her uterus, and having to undergo a dilatation and curettage with doctors scraping it off the sides of her womb with some big metal spoon.

Ceke shuddered, trying to keep such morbid thoughts from her mind.

A panel dropped onto the desk in front of Ceke.

She looked up. Ibe.

“We got this information off of the e-drum,” he said, setting down a panel in front of her.

“I have to go now, my love,” she waved at Ngware.

“Tell Ngware she is missed at the temple,” Ibe said, leaning forward, a smile lighting up his face.

“I heard,” Ngware smiled.

Ceke kissed the display. Ngware’s image vanished.

Then she picked up the panel, staring at the titles, news of Wahibra’s passage.

“You’re to investigate the places he’s been, gather info, so we know more of what we’re facing. You’re to have others from the temple accompany you, of course,” Ibe told her.

“So I’m not to have any involvement in his direct capture.”

“It would appear not.”

The panel slapped onto the desk from her grip; she gestured. “This is ridiculous. I am the one who is closest to him, and I may have some impact…”

“When Hotep takes over, Hotep takes over.”

“Why haven’t they found him and brought him in yet?”

He shrugged in his white robes. “I don’t know. But I know that Memysabu was closing in on him.”

Well, at least the temple was tracking him, trying to get him back. “Hotep doesn’t seem to be worried.”

“Perhaps not yet. But he knows more than me. I’m not sure of his reasons.”

Ceke stared at the news for a moment longer, rubbing the bridge of her nose, then took a breath, standing up. She looked squarely at Ibe and let her breath out in a frustrated sigh.

 

Ceke’s investigation discovered that where Wahibra walked, life followed. Where he passed, flowers would bloom, out of time and out of season; leaves, branches would lean and stretch over to the ghost of his passage for days. Others talking of the experience of his presence said it seemed as if all the trees and plants of the forest were vibrating. The deep impression Wahibra made upon them was more than they could stand, and so they went into a state of trance.

Over the next several days, Ceke started to collect rumours that were swirling within the temple; rumours of Wahibra being more then he appeared, that he was some sort of intelligence operative, which would explain in part why he was so hard to track.

The first rumor Ceke followed led her to interview a person who’d reported that somebody was claiming they were the god Amun-Ra, returned. The next rumors, however, proved more fruitful. People actually started reporting healings. On one occasion Wahibra had stopped in front of a television station filming outside, and a person with a walk-assisted machine happened to also be nearby, and began walking on his own. Needless to say, it got noticed.

The temple’s errant son soon acquired a small following.

Then, Ceke’s worst fears started to come true. There were now reports of Wahibra doing harm. Harm to those who did not agree with him, for whatever reason. Those who dared to refute his claim of being a god, were hurt. There were reports of him seeing things that weren’t there, endangering others. One report claimed he lost his temper, resulting in two people killed: one victim’s eyes burnt out, the other’s body withered to a husk.

Ceke’s obligations, her investigation had prevented her from going to the doctor’s appointment with Ngware.

And now, she had been called in to get some sort of temple news, in person.

 

Ceke was in Ngware’s workspace, in the same temple room where Wahibra had sat as she’d done her supervisory run days ago. Now, she was waiting for Hotep to finish with whatever he was doing in his office before she could find out why he had called her in.

She sighed. Her shoulders slumped, and she chided herself. On an impulse, she walked over to the corner of the room, where there were toys for children’s amusement. She looked at one object on the table—a holographic display—and pressed the waiting button, watching virtual displays of creatures from various African tales romp and sing. It pulled at her heart, and she clicked it off.

She went over to another, this one of older technology, and picked up the flat transparent display, with a view of the African continent, inviting her to hear a story from the region of her choice. She closed her eyes and let her finger land. She opened her eyes. A story of Anansi. She stared. Images of the fantastic blended in and out of each other, and the clear plucked tones of a thumb piano reached her ears.

“Start?” it asked.

At first it had seemed like a good idea, to come near these objects that evoked promises of memories waiting to be formed, love and knowledge to be shared and exchanged, bonds to form and deepen. But now, standing here, all she could feel were shadows of doubt, of failure, of disappointment… no, fear. Ngware had wanted a child more than she. Why hadn’t it impacted her like this before? Had she not thought the consequences through, of the change? Or had she… had she been so engrossed with the prospect of her life’s work that dealing with having a child entering her life may have been relegated to the wayside? She winced.

Added to all this was that she hadn’t been there for Ngware. In the temple, Ceke could walk almost anywhere she pleased, her commands were heeded, demands fulfilled. With this baby situation, she had to listen, to wait.

Sighing, she left the toys and paced the room, waiting for Hotep to finally show.

 

“I think you need to be sitting down,” Hotep told her.

“Why?” Ceke sat.

“I have some news to tell you.”

“It would seem that Wahibra… encountered Ngware. He has her now.”

Ceke felt weak.

“Where are they?” She asked.

“They’re gone. We’ve no idea where.”

 

A few hours later, at Hotep’s staff meeting, Ceke was too anxious to sit still.

Hotep sat facing around twenty temple workers who sat on chairs dragged into his spacious office. The door was closed. He sat behind a dark, polished wooden desk, the figure of Amen-Ra carved in relief at its front. Hieroglyphics adorned his office walls.

“My friends. I thank you all for coming.”

Hotep gestured, closing down a computer screen made of light before him and looked around to each of the faces. “I assume you are all aware of the reason for this urgent meeting. But just to make sure we’re all starting off at the same point, let me summarize what has happened to date and show you the latest news.”

“Why is it we’re barely keeping ahead of reports on the e-drum?” This from Seti.

“That’s part of what we’re going to be talking about today,” Hotep replied as he stood and moved toward the front of his desk.

He stopped to look around. “Now what hasn’t been said—and thankfully the e-drum hasn’t learned of it yet—was that Wahibra has been hard to locate because of what seemed to be an erratic pattern to his route. It was almost as if… he were randomly appearing and disappearing in places. As if he had the power to simply… appear wherever he wanted.”

An alarmed murmuring erupted among those gathered.

He looked at Seti. “We were close to bringing him back at one point. Temple Guard Memysabu happened to be in the vicinity. Memysabu, come forward and show them what happened.”

He stepped forward, and raised the white linen of his temple garb. On the smooth skin of his deeply bronzed arm was the ugly scar of a hand print.

There were gasps.

“Yes,” Hotep said. “It would seem there are complications.”

Standing next to his desk, he tapped the panel once again, bringing up a flat green grid-like display of a map with blinking red points connected together by yellow lines.

“But Wahibra seemed to be only wandering around a certain perimeter. At present he almost appears to be taking a straight, singular path.” Hotep highlighted the route in blue, and a projected route in red. He tapped the red portion. “If there is going to be any opportunity to… acquire him, it would be somewhere along here, and soon. What we need right now is a solid assessment of what we are about to meet when we do face him and how to take control of the situation.”

“Perhaps what had made him so unstable before is beginning to wear off,” someone volunteered from the back near the door.

“That is what we had hoped.”

Bakenptah, a large, thickly built man of dark ebony complexion, more well-toned muscle than soft flesh, raised his hand. “On that thought, let me introduce something that we should well consider.”

Hotep nodded, ceding him the floor.

All eyes turned to Bakenptah as he stood. He, whose job it was to be knowledgeable of matters of the mind—to help them maintain the balance, between the three—body, mind, spirit.

“Wahibra was doing meditation. His meditation is a low-tech way of altering his brain physiology. He is, effectively, changing his notions of perception and experience. In the experiments Wahibra was a part of, we were trying to unlock these abilities.”

He acknowledged Ceke with a respectful glance and she nodded.

Bakenptah continued, “Brain physiology is like a mirror of the mind: it reflects what is occurring. And when changes take place in physiology there must be corresponding changes in thought. If one goes deep enough into the inner terrain of the mind, we hypothesized that one eventually would encounter mythic or archetypal concepts. Gods, in other words.

“From a transpersonal standpoint,” he said, spreading his arms, looking around at all before bringing his hands back to his lap, “Wahibra has entered this mythic, archetypal realm of consciousness. With that combination of high-tech experimentation and his low-tech internalization… our hypothesis appears to have been proven. We may have unveiled this interior mythic realm of being. His ‘contact’ was, for all intents and purposes, an authentic one, with a god in the mythic realm.” A worried murmur started suddenly, spread around the room.

Ceke felt herself breathing fast.

“One’s sense of self,” he continued in a slightly louder voice, in an attempt to cue them to silence, “is a center point of reference, and is critical to psychological wellness. It is a way for us to navigate through our life experiences. A god, needless to say, is larger than life, and has a highly potent energy or presence.

“This becomes important because Wahibra has a past we have no idea about, and he came to us under mysterious circumstances. Wahibra seems to have a weak sense of himself. So his mind, his body, his spirit, were fertile ground for absorption by a god. I don’t believe he was able to sustain contact with the mythic realm. Instead, he was engulfed by it.”

Muttered exclamations scattered across the gathered group.

Ceke stayed silent. She held her breath.

Bakenptah looked around the room. “When he first joined us, Wahibra did not speak for years. While I think many here were glad he eventually opened up, and walked under the shining smile of our god, perhaps there was more to him than we thought. Perhaps we can be forgiven because we witnessed the phenomenon he creates when he sings. Shifting his identify would be a release from his repression.

“But perhaps he did not have quite as solid a sense of self as we believed had come with adulthood, and this complicated things once his identity dissolved. He may not, after all, have come to terms with his secrets. Now there are reports of Wahibra behaving erratically, a danger to himself and others. Of him killing people. I think that’s what we’re seeing now.”

Ceke heard rustling in seats, saw heads bowing to one another, conferring with hushed voices. Her nails dug into her hands.

Hotep was now seated on the front of his desk. He asked Bakenptah “Why aren’t dancers who are moved, or possessed by the spirits of the gods, driven to similar acts as Wahibra?” Hotep asked Bakenptah.

“Perhaps because they may both be mechanisms, but one is artificially imposed. And I believe that most dancers possess a strong sense of identity, therefore their encounters with the divine are different. They touch the realm without any distortions due to personal conflicts, and they come back to themselves when the experience was over. But when we’re specifically talking about Wahibra, not all singers, there was nothing there for him to come back to, and nothing to bring him back. Perhaps this lack of sense of self is not, in itself, a bad thing for Wahibra. It is probably how he is able to sing so well. And perhaps he just has a higher attunement with the divine harmony of the universe. Perhaps a combination of both. Right now, that doesn’t matter. We need to stop him for his sake as well as ours.”

“But that might be dangerous,” one other priest said. “Certainly this effect was unanticipated. There may be powers at work here that we as yet do not comprehend.”

“‘May be’?” another muttered.

Bakenptah tilted his head. “To be polite.” He sat patiently, looking at Hotep.

Hotep stood and took charge of the meeting. “So we haven’t been able to catch him yet. Now that Wahibra has killed people and kidnapped Ngware, and what with her being with child, we have quite the situation on our hands.”

All eyes turned to her. Ceke took in a deep breath.

“Okay,” Hotep said, “I think… Ceke… I think it’s obvious that you’re going to be the best option for retrieving Wahibra. Agreed?”

Murmurs of consent.

Ceke took in a sharp breath. This was what she wanted; yet she felt panic spike inside her. She nodded.

Hotep clapped his hands. “All right. That’s it. For now.”

They stood and stood to leave; some stood around awaiting orders, others rushed out. Ceke stood.

“Let’s work on this.” Hotep had already risen from his desk and was heading toward her. Briefly, he put an arm around her.

Hotep gave her a warm, brief smile. “You won’t meet him alone; in a way I’ll be with you. I’ll send you with some crystals that I personally programmed. I hope they’ll help. Is there anything else I can do?”

Ceke thought on that. “Yes. I’m going to have to get the initiates to help me program some crystals specifically for this emergency. Would you speak to them, first?”

“Surely.”

Hotep squeezed Ceke’s shoulder reassuringly. For a moment, all the fear, the gut-wrenching, freezing fear for Ngware, for Wahibra that almost took her breath away left her in that comforting embrace.

They walked on.

 

Ceke stood next to Hotep, before temple initiates.

“My children,” Hotep began, addressing them.

They sat in a circle, looking at Hotep. Each of the young adults wore devices on their heads; their thoughts linked to a single crystal that lay within the center. In their fight to bring back Wahibra this crystal would become a potent weapon.

“We are going to energize this crystal,” he informed them. “Remember, out of chaos, music creates order. Thoughts… are things, as we are learning, now more than ever. Keep this in mind.”

He bowed to Ceke and departed. Ceke bit her lip, stopped wringing her hands, tried to keep thoughts of Ngware pushed to the back of her mind. She stepped forward and addressed the group.

“Some of you here have met and worked under Ngware, my co-wife. You know Wahibra has her, and that she is with child.” She stopped her voice from quavering. “The lives of not just Wahibra, but of Ngware and anyone else he may harm, not to mention of the child, are at stake.

“So, here are some instructions and guidance as we energize this crystal to help heal Wahibra. Rather than looking at the fabric of this set of scales as a whole, as only a series of rising and falling differences of pitch that we have to memorize in an attempt to get closer to its essence—” Ceke spread her arms, “you and I will become tonal pilgrims…”

The entire circle of students sat up, straightening their backs at that.

“Yes. Think of this as your essence. We will plunge into the notes, we will attempt to reach their source, become them.” She clasped her hands together. “We will become vessels from which the sacred sound can flow.” She smiled at them again. “Relax. Let us now, with the instruments and gifts given to us, meditate upon our purpose, sing and pray.”

And they did. Everything slowed down to a sweet, painful experience of each large, radiant note, swollen with feeling and esoteric significance.

Sounds dissolved in Ceke’s bloodstream.

In the silence that followed, she could feel the energies coalesce within herself. She hoped it did the same within the crystal they were programming.

When that was done, she gathered the now-energized crystal, her sistrum, and the special crystals Hotep had dropped off into a bag. Hotep’s crystals had come with instructions: the energy in his and the crystal her students had charged must be used in a specific order. She clipped on the necklace with another crystal that worked as an amplifier.

With the well wishes of her fellow priests and the blessings of Hotep, Ceke set out to send a god into exile.

 

They were outside the temple, along Wahibra’s projected route.

Ceke, along with two others, had been searching all other possible locations in the vicinity of the most recent part of Wahibra’s trail, and had narrowed it down to the one place she’d suspected anyway: a local cave.

Ceke could tell he was there from the time she approached the cave’s mouth. She could detect his presence within the cave’s dry, spare interior. There was a thrumming in the air; it made the hair on her arms, on the back of her neck stand up. It made her scalp prickle. Unconsciously, she fingered the protective inductor coils around her neck.

His presence didn’t feel healthy.

“Wahibra?” she asked tentatively. She took a step forward. “Wahibra?”

She walked into relative shadow. She could feel the cool of the shade. Nothing happened while she waited for her eyes to readjust, breathing in the scent of dry earth, and she tried looking around. Someone lay huddled at the far end on the dusty floor, whimpering. Ngware. Wahibra hovered over her in mid-air. Ngware spotted her.

“Ceke!” she shouted.

It was all she could do to remain calm. Wahibra knew of their worries, their fears about their pregnancy and the child within. What had he done?

“I can bless the child, give it gifts…” she heard him murmur.

Her heart leapt at the thought of him touching Ngware’ stomach. She remembered what he’d told them; If I were a god… “Wahibra?” Ceke tried again.

She hesitated.

“Why…” his voice was a painful croak, “when before, everything I touched, I brought forth life, I healed the sick… why now upon a touch do these hands cause living things to wither and die, and bring not forth healing but send forth pain?” He bent over one betraying hand in an agonizing crouch, staring at it like one dangerously lost, in frightful despair.

Uncertainty threaded itself around the little fear she allowed herself to feel—fear that stretched her senses taut, caused her hands to clench and unclench, her breath to quicken—spiraling its way down her straightened spine.

“Perhaps,” she called out, “It is because…” and she forced herself to speak words she herself did not quite feel, “it is because you are not who you believe yourself to be. You are not immortal, and do not dwell within the realms of heaven. There is something within you that is not of this… you are merely possessed by something larger than yourself, something that is perhaps trapped, and needs to be free. It is losing touch with its true dwelling place, its source of sustenance, and it is time for it to return.”

Silence. Ragged breathing. Then suddenly he started, the sounds of him scuttling in alarm echoing throughout the cavern, as he gathered himself up to face her.

“Who is there?” His voice, not his voice—vibrating beyond bone, sibilant beyond time, stretching at her mind.

And then Ceke saw. Awe was the first thing she felt. For here, something transcendent was definitely at work. It could not merely be sensed—it could be almost literally be seen. The very air vibrated with the effort to hold the life that suddenly found itself in this plane of existence. There seemed to be a faint glow emanating from Wahibra, that illuminated his surroundings and lit Ngware’s face with an unearthly glow. Ceke approached him with reverence and, not unwillingly, she knelt before him.

His eyes. She could not look right into them, for they seemed to hold the source of all light.

“My child.”

A hand reached out and caressed her face. His touch pulled painfully at her heart.

“Long have I watched you. You, who are in tune with the essence of the universe. My instrument, waiting to be sounded, to broadcast my glory to the world.”

Ceke sighed as he caressed her chin.

“Hear me now.” She spoke along with him, recognizing the quote. “My command is that all my children be brought nigh to me, raised in consciousness, so that they may pronounce words for power which shall be felt upon the earth and in the heavens.”

Ceke stared up at him, awestruck.

“Join me while I…”

Ceke was distracted from her god’s face by Ngware’s silent movements behind him. Her wife broke Ceke’s trance by tapping on her neck urgently mouthing words to Ceke, breaking Wahibra’s spell; Ngware had to know what the crystal was for.

Then Ceke remembered why she had come here. Her heart nearly broke. She touched the crystal at her throat, ready to kill a god.

“What is it?”

Her mouth formed around the words, relying upon her experience to apply the right vibration to the tone of her words. “Wahibra.”

Wahibra’s eyes rolled.

The air vibrated with the effort the alien energy imposed itself, trying to announce, magnify the presence of the god—and failing utterly. Like a discordant note, clanging out of tune, at once broadcasting its maligned nature yet reminding one of what it can, should be.

Her heart went out to Wahibra in mute sympathy.

He seemed to weaken. He wavered on his feet.

She remembered what the fellow members of the temple had said. “A being able to transform himself into the matter of the fourth dimension would be able to transform his ideas into reality.”

And she saw beyond the illusion, the supposed grandeur. She beheld feverish eyes.

I am fighting a god. The thought went to the core of her being, threatened to ignite all the fear and awe ingrained by years; it was almost paralyzing. But she had to remind herself, No. I am trying to help an unstable person channelling a great, powerful energy.

“Come” he intoned.

She had the distinct impression that she was being drawn irresistibly toward Wahibra, that everything in the world—all sound, all light, even the air itself—seemed to rush eagerly to him. Fearfully she looked around; the ground beneath her feet and Ngware’s began to pulse in waves toward Wahibra. “No,” she said at first. She must assert her own power! She repeated the word, putting all the command, all the soul she had into it.

“No!” The world stopped its dizzying rush; Ceke seemed to stop moving. She looked down; she stood still. Her own words held some sway here. She looked around herself again; she still felt like everything in the world was rushing in upon Wahibra, and as she turned back to him, the feeling returned even more forcibly.

Ceke grabbed within the bag at her side, pulling out a sistrum. Not an ancient sistrum, a rattle that relied on intuition to affect a religious rite: Ngware had tweaked the design of this modern incarnation and it was pure technology. Ceke activated it hastily and held it aloft. How much would it work? Ngware smiled and nodded.

Wahibra started. From where she stood he appeared to tremble. He grew unsteady on his feet, and fell to one knee.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

The feeling that she was being sucked into Wahibra’s vortex disappeared.

She did not allow herself to rejoice at this small victory. For he was slightly compromised, yet still formidable.

He rose to his feet.

The young man breathed deeply, and it was as if not the air, but something more substantial but unseen was drawn back and forth. It rushed past her skin, against her hair follicles, making them stand on end. He concentrated his forces, and drove his thought-form from him.

She saw the sistrum didn’t fully disable his ability. She had to pray it was enough. She looked inward. Using the correct intonation was vital; she would have no more guidance than the inner drive that had caused Wahibra’s casting. Opening her mouth, she fingered the amplification device at her throat and sang, dodging the thought-form’s incoming path. It slowed, wavering in the air, looking ready to disintegrate. With one final shout, she wrapped her will around the word, “Begone!”

The thought-form fell apart.

Desperately, she reached around behind her for the first crystal she must cast. She had no idea how it was programmed, how the energy needed to do its work was trapped; that was something only those above her in rank had access to and knowledge of. She threw. Her aim was off; the crystal landed near Ngware and she stomped on it, shattering it.

Instantly Wahibra’s back arched; Ceke couldn’t be sure if it was her or the grounding affecting his influence over his environment, but everything in her vision wavered significantly. He moaned, and held his head in his hands.

“…Wahibra?” Ngware called out. He’d sounded more like himself; he sounded unsure, and afraid.

“Wahibra,” Ceke said, tenderly. “Let go.”

He drew air in and let it out in one hissing breath; then his breathing accelerated. Ceke wanted to reach out, walk over and comfort him. Unsure what this meant, hoping things would be easier from now on, she simply stood and watched, one hand fingering the crystals in her bag.

His bowed head flew up, eyes glinting with fire.

“You dare to defy me!”

She reeled as if from a physical force. Years of training, of conditioning, warred with the urgency of her mission. Blasphemy for angering the god. Punishment for violating his will. But who was she facing, the god, Wahibra, or some unholy combination of both?

Wahibra lurched forward.

Panicked, Ceke leapt backward, throwing a crystal from her hand at him in haste.

The crystal! Was it the correct one? Cast in the wrong order, there could be unforeseen consequences. Her heart leapt in her throat as it flew to the ground.

It had been the correct one. One with the binding power of the four cardinal directions of the earth.

Wahibra froze. He struggled, in vain. Grounded, held in place, he could still perhaps draw her to him, cast forth harm.

He opened his mouth, and let forth a scream.

Pain. Ngware curled up into a ball, instinctively covering her belly. Ceke’s hands clamped to her ears, pressed with unrelenting force against the sides of her head, her temples. Her eardrums might rupture and bleed. She needn’t worry about the items she carried activating early and incapacitating her; she would simply be unconscious and vulnerable, perhaps giving him time to wait the effects out. He had harmed people before. He might kill them both.

Ceke struggled to maintain consciousness, praying the crystals would hold. She had to cast the third one. The one she had helped program. Filled to bursting with harmonious wavelengths and vibrations.

She scrambled within her backpack to locate it, and threw it forth.

Wahibra’s screams wavered, and died, disoriented.

Now was the time to use the last item, before he was able to do anything else. She retrieved a device Ngware’s team had helped perfect and the last crystal from her bag. Recent discoveries on subtle energies and frequencies had indicated that the soul (ka, ra) of a person was a form of energy they could manipulate and trap. She clicked the crystal into its place, and twisted it, turning it on. The device would attempt to separate the possessing essence by evaluating what frequencies Wahibra was emitting beyond normal, and attempt to force Wahibra’s body to vibrate at a normal range for a human, so the essence of the god could not hold on.

She ran as close as she dared, put it down and leapt back.

Wahibra fell to his knees.

Ceke backed further away, checking that the inductor coils on her person were still in place to protect her.

Wahibra looked up at her. He choked, and began to twist in agony.

“Wahibra…”

He groaned.

“Wahibra…” she heard Ngware plead with him as well.

He cried out.

“Wahibra, let go!” Tears welled in Ceke’s eyes. If he didn’t let go willingly, the gods alone knew what would be left of his mind; this sort of extraction had never been tried before.

Their eyes met, and Ceke forced herself to watch as his expression at turns pleaded, twisted in pain, and crackled with fury. She did not know if this was the last time she would see intelligence or life in them. It was hard to bear.

“Let go…” she pleaded.

In the end, the god released itself in a primal scream. It released unbearable sound, light, unseen energy that clawed at her skin as it raced forth. Ceke knew this was the end; she was foolhardy to think she could survive a mortal combat with a god. The might, the potency, the power unleashed roared around her and she wondered how long it would take to destroy her. The funny thing was that she was wondering whether this was a death cry, or a birth cry…

Then the god was gone.

The air was thick with silence. The silence pummeled at her ears. It shocked her as, stumbling, she got to her feet.

She knelt down to Wahibra to be closer, caressed his young, pained face. Was he still alive, a threat?

“Thank you. For… saving me,” he rasped.

“No. You saved yourself.”

“Forgive me—” He started sobbing, deep, wracking sobs, and Ceke held him, rubbing his arms, shushing him gently. She held her hand out to her co-wife, smiling. Ngware got up cautiously and joined them, rubbing his back while shedding quiet tears of relief.

“It was as much my fault as it might have been yours.”

 

Though she wanted to accompany Ngware home, Ceke first had to escort Wahibra back to the temple and make sure he was secured so they can make concrete healings within him. The last thing they needed was for things to revert back to where they were. Hotep was with him now.

When the god left Wahibra, there was discord, in mind as well as in spirit. She could only imagine what it would be like, to be suddenly overwhelmed and just as suddenly left alone, the effect more deep than an earth-shattering fury, shaken beyond reckoning to his very core.

“When I sang,” he had told Ceke, “the world seemed to change into tones, the notes changing into mathematical figures. The notes vibrated, they resounded and in their symphony I soared; I’m still not sure what it was, but it was something great and powerful and terrible. Something just took me into a pulsing cosmos. When I was there, I had the feeling that the souls of those who passed on before me, and those who had not yet left, were watching me, listening.”

It would be some time before he would be himself again.

Research had ground to a halt for the time being, of course. They had to restock, evaluate, rethink. The priorities of Ceke’s personal life came to the forefront. She spent more time at home.

And Ceke did not know how she felt about it all. All she knew was that, standing with Ngware in their yard, watching the sunset, was that right now, she was content. And Ceke would be by her side, so that Ngware would not be alone. The first thing she told her when they could be alone together after Ngware’s rescue was, “I’ll be here for you.” As for the new life growing inside Ngware, it was not yet a guarantee; and they would have to continually test; but they would take it bit by bit, together, day by day. The future, whatever it held for any aspect of her life, did not sway her.

Ngware caressed the small bulge on her belly.

Turning, Ceke put her hand on Ngware’s stomach, rubbing it as well.

“Let’s go inside.”

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4 Comments

  • Rhys Hughes
    July 25, 2017 at 9:03 am

    Great story! The atmosphere and background detail work really well to frame the narrative. It’s clear that the writer has thought deeply about creating this world in which the characters move. The lyricism of the prose is delightful and never gets in the way of the crispness of the tale. Language and action work together very well and the balance between the two is exquisite.

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    […] A Question of Faith, by Tonya Liburd in The Book Smugglers. “His voice…vibrating beyond bone, sibilant beyond time, stretching at her mind.”? This is such a mind-bending, gripping story about faith and religion, set in a world that is reminiscent of ancient Egypt. I especially loved the blend of religion and technology in this story, and the complex, layered world-building that is effortlessly built into it. A fantastic read. […]

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