The Ma’at Temple was his new home. It wasn’t the Castle Castora, but it wasn’t his grandmother’s spare room in Omaha, either. He’d only been gone from his grandparent’s home for a total of four days, but he missed it already. He missed the smells wafting through the hallways coming from downstairs to find their way into his nostrils as he lie on the bed in his paralyzed condition. He missed smelling Claudia’s dime store perfume and hairspray as she sat in the old chair next to the open window doing her needlework. She would take breaks in between taking care of Dice’s every need to concentrate on pushing that little needle of hers through holes in a canvas. He would lie there in a state of half awake and half asleep listening to her curse at that little needle or the thread it led if it didn’t do exactly as she had instructed it to.
Most of all, he missed Marcus busting into the room amid the complete silence of the afternoon to share his important announcements which were usually not very important at all. But they seemed important to him, so Dice pretended they were important too. Dice couldn’t move much of his body, but he could speak volumes with his eyes and his eyebrows that, by the way, were growing back in nicely after the fire.
He became aware that he had been staring at his hands the whole time he was thinking of what he had been missing in his former life. He had feathers where his burnt skin used to be. There was also a fine layer of afterfeathers that served no purpose, he supposed, other than warmth and coverage. The feathers were so white. Whiter than white; he was pondering what could possibly be whiter than white…transparent? And they glowed. It was as if there was a light underneath them making them glow. He lifted one feather, and then another, to investigate where the glow was coming from. The glow, it would seem, was coming from the feathers themselves.
He was so involved with his hands that he neglected to hear the knock on his door. He also didn’t hear the approaching talons on the stone floor as they approached behind him. Instinct took over. The hands he had been previously admiring separated. His turned slightly to the right, raised his right hand where a glow emanated to lift the visitor from the floor. Nicandro was floating in a spectrum of Dice’s white light as Dice turned to face his father.
“I mean you no harm. Kindly release me,” said Nicandro in a monotone.
“Sorry, Nic,” Dice replied as he lowered Nicandro to the floor.
“My proper name is Nicandro,” shot back Nicandro.
“Right. What brings you here?”
Nicandro took a look around the set of chambers that had been set up as Dice’s living quarters at the top level of the Ma’at Temple. He was scanning for any potential danger areas where an enemy combatant would be able to forge their way into Dice’s temporary abode to cause him harm or to cause annihilation. There weren’t any access points such as windows or portals. Just the door he had entered through. The Ma’at didn’t allow themselves windows to become a distraction while worshipping The Stones.
Dice stood up to greet his father properly when Nicandro said, “Please, there is no need to rise. Remain seated. It is I who forgets his station,” as he bowed directly in front of Dice.
People bowing to him, Dice would never get used to this. But ever since he’s arrived on this foreign planet, everyone has done the exact same thing. And that was only on these floating rocks. He hadn’t even begun to explore what was down on the ground yet. He wondered if he would ever be allowed to go below to take a tour.
“You will,” said Nicandro after hearing Dice’s thoughts.
And I wonder if I’ll ever be able to block him from hearing what I’m thinking, thought Dice.
“You will,” said Nicandro a second time, “it’ll take some training.”
Training. It wasn’t that long ago that he had spent plenty of training to even be able to move his body. It seemed like only yesterday that he was lying in a bed, helpless, dependant on others to feed him or bathe him. He distinctly remembered feeling his skin repairing the burns, itching him until he was certain he would go mad because he was unable to make a single move to scratch the itch. Tears of frustration escaped the corners of his eyes at his inability to tend to a simple task such as a scratch. And now look at me, he thought as the room he occupied was alight in his glow. I’m a human night light.
“You are no longer human. You will continue to exhibit human qualities, but human you are not.” Nicandro interrupted. “You are now Ka. What you think you see in your reflection is what you have been accustomed to seeing for many years. Your reflection resembles the image you wish others to see. The truth is you are now a spirit no longer with a foot in the world of the living. All that remains is your light.”
“I haven’t seen my reflection since there doesn’t seem to be any mirrors here, but I can see my hands. Why can I see my hands?” asked Dice.
“Your presentation is simply a remnant of your memory; how you saw yourself when you were among the living. Those days have passed. You are now an integral part of a much larger picture. Where you were once a caterpillar; you have now become a butterfly. Embrace the change for there is nothing you can do to alter it.” was Nicandro’s response.
“Ka? Like the sound a crow makes? I’m a bird call now?”
“Precisely why the crow has been limited to the sound of the new spirit; for the fowl is among those that shepherd the lost to their places here among the Gemin,” said Nicandro as he turned to leave Dice to his new surroundings.
“That made no sense at all,” said Dice. He faced the direction opposite of where Nicandro stood, continuing to marvel over the feathers on his hands.
“It will, in time. This day you must rest. You have so much to learn and such little time to absorb it all,” Nicandro left Dice’s chambers with a clack of his talons on the floor and a click of the door as It closed behind him on his way out.
All I’ve been doing is resting. I’ve been resting entirely too much. It’s time for me to fly. And with that thought, Dice headed out of the door hiding him in his chambers. He leaped over the banister of the stairwell to land perfectly on the bottom floor of the Temple. He felt like a leaf gently falling from a tree in an autumn breeze.
The first thing he noticed about the Temple was that it was elaborate. Gold marble flooring stretched as far as the eye could see, it seemed to sparkle and flow underneath a sea of blue feathers belonging to the Ma’at priests moving to and fro in every direction possible. There were so many priests, it was difficult to estimate how many there actually were. One hundred? One thousand? Dice was wondering how they all didn’t bump into one another with a brief, yet courteous, “Excuse me. So sorry. I beg pardon.” Upon closer inspection of a few of the Priests around him, he understood why none of these holy men were speaking; they had no mouths.
The Priests all had eyes and noses, to be sure, but where their mouths were supposed to be there was simply no opening. It was as if their forehead had duplicated and placed itself under the nose of each and every blue member of the Sacred Ma’at Temple. Dice landed on the bottom floor of the Temple only to have the Priests in his immediate vicinity stop and stare at him. They couldn’t gasp for there was no outlet for the gasp. Every aspect of the Priests were bathed in the color blue. Their eyes were blue, their feathered layer of skin was blue, their hair was blue and their wings were blue. Dice looked ahead at the Priests in front of him, then turned to the Priests to his left and to his right. Another thing he noticed was that each and every Priests bowing now before him were transparent. He couldn’t exactly see right through them until he actually looked at them and that’s when he noticed he could detect the Priest behind the Priest he was looking at and so on and so forth.
“This is not what I want to do,” decried Dice to all the Priests bowing before him, “this is not who I want to be. I am just a boy; a teenager. I just turned 18. I can’t be someone you bow to, I’m not even from this planet for Christ’s sake.” Christ. Would they even know who Christ was here in the Ma’at Temple?
Dice ran for the grand doors that lead to the outside of the Temple. They seemed so far away. He began to remember how to run the first few steps he took. His feet had been replaced with talons that were now clacking along the immaculate marble flooring with images of former kings in their design. One talon found its way in front of the other, but the door was still too far away. The Priests were still bowing as he attempted escape from this masquerade. “Fuck this,” said Dice out loud as he bounced once – twice – and on the third forward step he spread his giant white wings to lift himself into midair. He flew over the Priests and out the giant doors.
Freedom! He was in the skies once more. This is what he was meant to be doing. All of those days lying in bed dreaming of independence brought him to this very occasion. All of those weeks of being a vegetable led him to this indulgence. Months, and even years, of solace and misery had provided him this opportunity of privilege. He was going to fly even if those blue guys below didn’t like it.
The Ma’at Priests all rushed out of the front doors of the Temple to watch their Prophet demonstrate his freedom high above. The light emanating from Dice wasn’t as blinding in the day as it was at night, but those with an available empty hand shielded their eyes from the brilliance.
Down in the towns below, those who were out and about also stopped to witness their Prophet sailing in the wind this way and then that way with no particular pattern in mind. Farmers, travelers, noblemen and peasants alike all took notice of Dice’s display. This was their Prophet testing his wings high above them. And those little red dots flying in his direction were The Waryn about to put a stop to Dice’s flight of fancy.
Dice noticed the Waryn flying from the distance, but he chose to ignore them. Mainly because he knew they were the guardians for the Royal Family and he hadn’t quite yet considered himself a Royal of the Gemin. The other reason he was ignoring them was because he intended to stretch his wings and there wasn’t going to be anyone who would interrupt him at this very moment unless, of course, Nicandro was somewhere among the red-winged creatures. And he was. If his life could have an instant “You have lost,” music inserted and played every time he guessed incorrectly or was wrong about something, now would be the time he would be hearing the “wah wah wah WAHHHHHH” of that cruel music.
“Why are you out here in the open without escort?” Nicandro directed this question mentally to Dice. That’s how Dice knew that his Father was among those red creatures coming at him like a bullet.
“Because I have been cooped up for so long in that other body, I wanted to be free in this one. Is that some sort of crime here?” answered Dice.
“It is not a crime, no. But you will need protection at all times. You cannot be a target for those that wish you harm.” Nicandro shot back.
“Who wishes me harm among the clouds?” With that question, Dice looked around the sky just in case there was someone ready to pounce on him unexpectedly. It was at that exact moment a black figure tumbled out of the sky to pummel right into Dice’s flight path, and strike him in mid-flight. Black wings entangled with white wings as the pair descended from the clouds. Thoughts of despair and hopes of righteousness filled Dice’s head as he tried to maintain some form of concentration on how NOT to land on the solid ground many hundreds of feet below. He managed to twist himself from being in the bottom position of this foray to the top position where he could grab control of the acceleration from the sky he had just been occupying to the treetops he was quickly heading for. When he managed to be on top of the black figure that was now falling face up below him, he noticed that the figure looked like his brother, Marcus, if Marcus had black leather wings and had his skin replaced with black lycra.
“Marcus?” said Dice inquisitively.
“Dice?” answered Marcus, but not immediately. Marcus was shielding his eyes from the brightest light he had ever encountered. Falling to his death wasn’t as important to him as was blocking this light from charring the back of his skull by way of his eye sockets.
“How in the hell did you get here?” yelled Dice.
“I don’t know! But I could use some help here,” Marcus yelled back while reaching a hand out to his brother, completely forgetting that he also had the ability to fly.
Dice reached his talons out to grab Marcus’s extended hand to slow his descent. When Marcus was in an upright position, he remembered his wings and gave them a few flaps to level himself. The ground had all of a sudden stopped coming at them both at an alarming speed. “Dude, turn off your high beams!” said Marcus right before the six Waryn tackled Marcus in midair to put him back into his previous prone position.
“Wait, no! He’s my brother!” yelled Dice. His sense of alarm had been intensified at the thought of the Waryn harming his brother that his command had turned into a meteorological event. Thunder bellowed across the skies along with a queer warping sound that made all of those witnessing the encounter above them immediately drop to their knees to guard their heads with their hands and arms.
All inhabitants of Gijar, above and below, took notice of the break of silence in their morning rituals. Wildlife had stopped in their tracks to give pause to the alien sound. All those roaming the halls of Castle Castora, as well as the Ma’at Temple, paused to acknowledge the reverberation that they had not experienced for many moons. Anapa looked up from his moment of Worship to the Stones to whisper, “It is true, the Prophet is come.”
Marcus just stared at Dice. He was flooding with emotions. He was ecstatic over reuniting with his brother, he was thrilled he was no longer free-falling to his death, he was chafed that he was being held rather tightly by a huge bird-man with the reddest wings he had ever seen, and he desperately needed to take a piss. He turned to look into the eyes of the bird-man putting him in a strangle hold from behind to say, “Is that a spear in my back, or are you happy to see me?”
The Waryn, of course, was silent as he carried his captive into the west side hangar of Castle Castora. Marcus had never flown so fast outside of an aircraft. The Waryn flew with expedient precision as he flew directly into the hangar, flew left and dove right to land squarely, and softly, in front of another group of guys all adorned in red feathers. “Is this where the party is?” Marcus was nervous and feared for his life a little bit. Whenever he was nervous, he usually let the wisecracks loose. The Waryn who had carried him into a form of dungeon, even though it was the nicest dungeon Marcus had ever seen. Although, he had never seen a bonafide dungeon except on tv. It had a tiled floor, and a marble bench along the wall to his left. The wall was adorned with a mirror from the floor to the rock ceiling. It was a rather huge mirror. “They could really use one of these at the gym,” escaped his vocal chords. What made this room a dungeon were the steel bars on the other three sides that didn’t hold the large mirror. He felt like he was in the world’s biggest birdcage with the world’s biggest mirror for him to whistle to.
The Waryn then pushed Marcus forward. He stumbled because he wasn’t prepared to be pushed. He turned around to say something really harsh and peppered with curse words when the Waryn then pushed Marcus into the mirror. With his hands flailing in the air, Marcus slipped through…
…to the other side. “You son of a bitch!” was all he could muster as he looked at his surroundings. His anger began dissipating to make room for bewilderment. He looked around the mausoleum to find Iliana still in her eternal sleep in the same position he had left her. He crawled out of the hole in the crypt to find he was still in Illinois and he was in one piece.
“What the hell?” he said to the cemetery occupants surrounding him, “Did I dream all of that?”
Come to me
There she was again. Except this time he felt a serious tug in his intestines that wouldn’t let go. The tug was pulling him to the East. He thought it was better to heed the call rather than stand there in the cemetery trying to figure out what just happened, but only because normality was no longer an event in Marcus Amun’s life. He spread his abnormal wings and took to flight because that was the most normal thing he could come up with at the time.
“Normal,” he whispered, as he shook his head, “yeah, right!”