One night Apophis will come, and I won’t survive the battle. The thought had stayed with Ra from the first time he slipped below the horizon. It was the only thought occupying his mind as the dazzling bark he traveled on lost its luster. The golden light that was too much for humans to look upon faded…ebbed away until nothing remained of its splendor. The bark grew dark and in his soul, Ra felt that darkness. Within the flow of darkness, the madness of Apophis began to root.
The bark drifted through the currents of the underworld. The dark waters surrounding the curved boat like darkened glass. Nothing stirred, and Ra was certain if he gazed behind him, there would be no ripples in his wake.
But he didn’t want to look. He’d looked once before and it gave him the sense of timelessness, as if he were forever trapped in the underworld where untold horrors lurked beneath the surface of the glassy water. If he looked now, he knew he would see faces beneath the surface. He would see the tortured dead, the damned in life, the demons of the underworld, waiting to feed on godly flesh.
He was weak in the underworld. He no longer shown with godly power. He was as near mortal as a god could be.
Seth sensed his unease, and the canine god paced closer to him. Ra let his hand fall to the head of the god. Seth nuzzled in closer, his fur like silk under Ra’s withered hand. He felt the pang of old age in his bones…it wasn’t a sensation he felt while in the living world, but the underworld aged him, drew him closer to rebirth. When this short eternity in the underworld was over, Ra would be a boy once more.
Ra took comfort with Seth. The dog-god urged him back to his covered bed, where Ra could rest his weary bones. He tried to ignore the uncomfortable silence of the underworld, but it was as loud as anything. The ring of silence resounded in his ears. A powerful wind drifted over Ra, but it didn’t stir his robes, didn’t ripple the canopy that draped his bed. The silent wind chilled him to the bone.
Apophis came in a stir of haunted echoes in his mind.
Seth must have felt Apophis as well. Electricity, bright blue against the gathered darkness, sizzled over his fur. He was calling the power of his storms. They weren’t as powerful in the underworld—nothing ever seemed to be. However, they were always enough.
The glassy water around the bark bubbled. Even in the motion, the surface seemed somehow fake, as if the bubbles weren’t real. The bubbling echoed in his mind as well, churning the haunting voices, the torturous screams…distorting them until the babble was undiscernible and sounded foreign, empty, a perversion of the godly langue Ra was used to.
Dark thoughts consumed his mind.
The flat disc of the world rested beneath him. The sun bark floated through the heavens shining life and light upon the earth. In the distance a storm brewed. Dark clouds roiled toward Ra and within their midst he could see lightning as black as anything from the underworld. There was madness in the storm. The earth below trembled as the storm approached. A streak of black lightning flashed out of the clouds, hitting the edge of the disc. There was no sound to the lightning, only a thrum of power. The power rippled through the heavens, and Ra felt the strength of the earth tremble as well.
Tearing his eyes away from the storm, he watched darkness spread out from the stroke of lightning. Darkness, like ink in water, streamed through the green forests and the crystal blue waters. Darkness in the form of beasts boiled from the water; tore from the earth; crashed through the forests.
A chorus of screams carried up to the sun bark, and as the screams grew in volume, the light of the sun weakened. The storm slipped over the edge of the golden boat, and the light flickered, and then went dark.
The earth ran with rivers of blood as Apophis corrupted the land.
A time will come, godling, when your sun fails. When it does, the madness of Apophis will be there to take your place.
Blue lightning flared from the boat. With the disturbance in the energy, Ra slammed back into his body with a force that rocked the bark…the water didn’t stir. As always, the tangled figure of Apophis lay around the boat, already dead. His scales glimmered red with blood, or deathly power, Ra couldn’t be sure which.
Seth sat calmly at the front of the boat, his fur ruffled by the lightning he’d smote the god of death with.
Darkness might come to the earth at some point, but it wouldn’t be this night. Ra gazed down at the serpent Apophis. The dark waters of the underworld burbled around the snake, welcoming him back into its embrace. Ra knew he would sink to the bottom, his wounds would heal, and he would be reborn to fight the next night.
Ra looked to his own, withered skin. Already he could see the lines of age smoothing out, the lax muscles strengthening, the vitality in his spirit bolstering. He stood from his bed and went to Seth. In the distance he could see the darkness receding to gray. Beneath his feet the bark began to glow as they approached the horizon.