The single word rang out across the silence of the throne room. It surprised Ra, the accusation and venom that laced it striking the ear as though it were a physical blow. But what truly surprised the lord of the Egyptian Pantheon was that the word was not his own, though it echoed the shock and anger radiating from his heart.
The challenge had come from the golden, winged god Ra had just encountered, the one whose anger and pain had immediately convinced Ra he was innocent of Osiris’ murder. That crime fell upon the hands of another, one who had just manifested from the shadows into the waning light of the setting sun.
“Yes,” the dark god answered, his voice never rising beyond a barely decipherable whisper. “I. It is fair enough that the sight of blood might weaken your knees, young nephew. Give it time. and maybe you might recover a measure of the strength that has been so denied to you in your life.”
At last, Ra saw them clearly. His gaze fell to the winged god, who knelt beside the slain Osiris, grief warring with rage. “Horus.” said Ra.
“All your posturing,” Horus snarled, looking back over his shoulder. “All of your threats, we endured them as the rantings of embittered. But now, you have crossed a threshold you cannot return from. Murderer. You clutch for the crown, still dripping with the blood of the fair Osiris, to place upon your own head. You have destroyed order, Set, and cast us all into chaos.”
“Order,” Set repeated from behind Horus. “How can you love it so, even as it suffocates you?” He took a step closer, and Ra saw the corded muscles bunch in Horus’ arms at his approach.
“Your father’s blood is yet warm upon my hands, but it could never match the fire of conviction in my heart. Osiris was weak, and he was a fool. He was our king yet fear was his, her relished our stagnation as he headed the whims of fate for himself, There was never any future for us beyond what he, our master, allowed.”
Set stopped just behind Horus, tilting his head to whisper in his nephew’s ear. “Ours was an anemic, narrow inheritance, our destinies never our own. We were slaves, Horus. Surely even you could see that?”
Horus bolted upright, rounding upon Set. “Do not dare seek to draw me into your delusions. You speak only for yourself, of power rightly denied to one who seeks only wickedness and evil. You speak of one who murders, the act of a coward.”
A dry chuckle slipped from Set’s lips. “Only a fool could see my liberation of our land from his oppression as cowardice. Only the blind could fail to see my courage.”
“Courage?” Horus roared. “From the shadows you came, a thief who stole the life from a god, a king, a father. With a single act you seek to throw all we know into madness, to sow the discord that will pave the way for your own ascension to rule over a people who have so rightly rejected and forgotten you. This cannot stand. This will not stand.”
The air in the throne room crackled with supernatural tension of the three divine beings within it. Set and Horus locked their gaze, their faces a mere hand’s span apart, their weapons creaking in their tightening grasps.
“Such pretty words,” said Set. “And strong ones, for who has lived off the scraps Osiris saw fit to drop to you. It is good to look to fend for yourself now. I would hate so to see you starve.”
“You will never sit upon the throne of our kingdom,” snarled Horus. “Not while my heart yet beats.”
“Ah, and so you now seek your own vengeance,” said Set, “so that you might take Osiris’ place. The broken wheel keeps turning, until its weakness brings collapse.”
“This is not vengeance, for this is a crime that can never be forgiven, or what was taken ever restored. No, this is justice, and I will be its agent here. I shall be the one to speak for he who had his voice taken from him. Through me, my father’s silence will end.”
Set slowly shook his head. “You are blind, nephew, but I promise to make you see. I will make the entire world see our real potential, a power they have yet to witness. Even now it races toward them, flying on the wings I have given it. I have set in motion what Osiris feared to, may he vanish into oblivion for his greed.”
A soft rasp of steel filled the air as Set’s bladed staff appeared, its edge still red with divine lifeblood.
“Will you join him, nephew?”
With Ra’s departure, the Council continued its escalating spiral into chaos. The various delegations of gods, fractured into heated pockets of argument. Weapons were drawn, and mystical energies rippled into the air, raising the hair on necks and boiling the moisture in mouths.
Hera sought to retain her elegant, regal calm, an island of resolve against the rapidly disintegrating assembly. The temptation to have Argus restore order with his fists came quickly, but the Queen of the Gods pushed it away. The very purpose of the Council was to create a lasting peace through words, not violence. This could be her one chance to realize such a vision, and she had to bring it back from the brink before it was lost forever.
“Listen to me!”
For a moment, the gods were rendered silent. Their eyes all turned to Hera, standing alone at the center of the amphitheater. She had seized their attention, but for how long she would be able to keep it, she did not know.
“This infighting must cease,” Hera spread her arms to encompass the gods surrounding her. “You have all come here because you believed in the chance for something more, something beyond the constant strife, the vendettas and feuds, the needless spilling of blood, both divine and mortal alike. Together we have the opportunity to ascend beyond that. A golden age is within our reach, if we only release ourselves from the chains of the past that seek to blind us in ignorance, distrust and hatred.”
The gods listened. Little by little, more of them took their seats, willing to listen to what the Queen of the Gods had to say.
“This is a dream,” said Hera, “but one that can be made real. A dream I have fought for, and bled for. United, we can all make it real. Now,” she leveled her scepter into the crowd, “who among you will build this dream with me?”
She was greeted with silence. Several of the delegations withdrew into hushed congress. Hera watched as a single figure rose, releasing a breath she had not realized she had been holding.
“You are right, Queen Hera,” said Bellona, stepping down to the floor of the amphitheater alongside Hera. The queen blinked, shocked to hear agreement from the lips of the Roman war goddess. Bellona saw her confusion, offering a slight dip of her head.
“What you speak of is truly a dream,” Bellona turned to address the assembled gods. “A fantasy, and I do not deal in fantasies.”
Hera felt her heart sink. This chance for her new order, already this as gossamer, unraveled in her hands.
“I believe in the reality of the world,” continued Bellona, “the realm of blood and steel that really exists. You can talk as much as you like upon your mountaintop but it can never change the fact that the world responds to strength, and strength alone.:
Bellona turned to face Hera, her visage the hardened glare of war’s very incarnation. “I have such strength and will use it to shape the world around me. Anyone who thinks different can meet me upon the field of battle.”
“We cannot continue this,” Hera pleaded. “Without order, without leadership, we will slaughter each other until there is nothing but ruin left.”
Bellona shrugged in a clinking shift of armor plates and turned to walk from the amphitheater. “Then let us have a leader then.”
“Oh?” Hera called after her, her anger slipping free from her demure posture. “And who would you have lead us?”
Bellona stopped at the doors, looking back at Hera over her shoulder.
“Why my Queen, isn’t that obvious?” Bellona grinned. “Whoever is the strongest.”
It was Horus who made the first move.
The two gods blurred as they clashed within the throne room, sparks of birthing flickering showers to illuminate the darkening chamber. Horus roared his anger with every strike, his attack fueled by a wellspring of youth and outrage. His wings swept great buffeting gales across the polished stone, and his spear flashed like a newborn star with every slash and thrust.
Set was a study in contrast, dodging and rebuffing his nephew’s attacks in silence. Where each and every one of Horus’ attacks bore every ounce of his strength and anger, Set fought with almost meditative calm. He endured the storm Horus brought, his experience knowing that it would not be long before the power of it waned, and finally broke.
With a breathless roar Horus thrust his spear towards Set’s heart. He threw everything he had into the strike, his wings pinning against his back to propel him like an arrow toward his enemy. Set awaited the thrust, his stance low with his legs spread. One moment, he was rooted before the leaping Horus, and the next, he was gone.
Horus crashed to the ground as Set spun to one side away from the attack, his spear flying from his grasp to slide beyond his reach onto the polished stone floor. With a panted curse he pushed himself to his knees, only to find the blade of Set’s staff resting upon his throat.
“Is that all?” Set looked down upon Horus. “I would express my disappointment, but in truth you have proven what I have said more than mere words ever could have. Look at you. A crown crushes the weak, Horus, and you look so very weak from up here.”
Set and Horus’ eyes darted to where Ra stood, still by the corpse of Osiris. The sun god lifted his gaze from the murdered deity to fix them with his sun-bright glare. “I have allowed this to persist long enough, but no more. The two of you bicker and plot and spill blood for the throne of a single kingdom, when all of creation is at stake. The world has endured cataclysm and monstrosity like never before, and in their wake the pressure to fill the void of leadership has grown overwhelming.”
Ra approached Horus and Set. Neither made any move to stop him, even Set as Ra placed his staff between his own and the throat of Horus. “The conflict between you both pales before that. Armies are being raised, and blades honed. Alliances form, or are questioned in light of the gathering storm before us all. The time has now come for us to take a side.”
Set glanced back down at Horus. He glimpsed the spot where his blade had pressed against his nephew’s neck, drawing a beat of bright crimson to spill down the snowy plumage.
“So be it,” said Set, withdrawing his blade. “The world shall turn, and in my heart I know I will see you across the battlefield. I do not wish to fight you, Horus, even as everything burns. But if you make me, I will strangle you in the ashes.”
And then Set was gone, vanishing like smoke. Horus rose to his feet, growling as he wiped the blood from his neck. He turned to Ra. “You have my thanks.”
“Do not thank me yet,” Ra shook his head. “The Goddess of Magic will take care of your father’s remains, but you must make ready. We have no idea what is coming.”