And there was Atum-Ra, smiling the same smile I had seen on his face before, in the grove. Wry, I would almost call it now. So I asked him, “Were you expecting me?”
And that made him laugh. I feel the need to reiterate that I underwent several days of torment prior to returning, to be laughed at. In one moment, I reached the end of my patience, became angry at an old man, realized I didn't really have anything to be angry about, and laughed along with him. He probably only noted the laughing, but one never knows.
“Why did you invite me to your ceremony?” I asked him. It seemed like a reasonable question at the time; I had the sense that he knew, if only in the most general sense, what the result would be.
“Because I believe you have the tools to confront darkness.” The way he said that last word surprised me. Not all druids behave like Atum-Ra!
“I have met as many druids as you have, I'll wager,” I said, “and do you know how many have said something like that to me?”
At that point I realized I was asking too many questions, and so I resolved to be patient. Patience, and quiet; that is what followed. We went to a room that attached to the temple by a breezeway, where Atum-Ra had tea ready. Maybe he was expecting company after all. We sat and drank tea and nodded across the table at each other.
Patience and quiet is a game at which I excel. My survival during several spans of my early life depended on invisibility and absolute silence. How else does one become interested in all the oddities that have attracted me over the years? And so I became quiet, still, patient. I once stood in an elevator with a couple who did not notice me until I spoke, three floors later. It was nothing magickal, understand, but there is a state of mind where one becomes so quiet and so introverted that they are just easy to miss. Though I have gained the ability to be boisterous when called for, I still slip up and startle people. Quiet, still, patient.
Yet I believe Atum-Ra was my match at this game. Also, it was I who needed answers. To what, I did not know, but I clearly needed something if I was ever going to practice my smithing, or sleep, or trust myself with... not that I had any conscious thoughts like that, but I had studied enough psychology to respect the power of those deeper parts of the mind. I would not risk it, no matter how rational I felt.
Do not tempt demons; that is their game.
After two pots of tea and a trip to the bathroom, I finally gave up and spoke.
“I am pursued by what appears to be a remnant of your demon. Apep.” I got a raised eyebrow, at least.
“Apep is no one's,” Atum-Ra said. “And in some ways it may be everyone's. How do you mean, that it pursues you?” A return question – I took this to mean I had only narrowly lost the game of patience.
I told Atum-Ra about the dreams, and about the sounds that brought back those terrors of the night, and about my Lady N. Finally, I asked him what it might mean.
“I can not interpret for you,” he said. “I can point you toward the path, but if I carry you the journey will be fruitless.” Then he said, “The strength of your reaction shows that your mind is open. Already you explore depths that most people choose to avoid. Whatever you find there, it will be rare in the eyes of those others.”
I had hoped for a better answer, truly.
So I continued to question. “Did you know I would be haunted?” There is the remote possibility that I might have throttled an old man if he had just said yes.
But in fact what he said was, “No. There are as many reactions to that particular ceremony as there are people. My own reaction was much like yours, when Lady Wadjet showed me. Others see nothing, and feel nothing. They are less lucky than you, I think.”
“Your mysticism is nearly impenetrable,” I said. But I knew his intentions were good, and that he was not going to volunteer more information, at least not yet. And frankly, he was playing on my love of mysteries. I have a perpetual, recurring, inextinguishable love of mysteries. And like Atum-Ra, I have never liked to reveal them all at once; it takes away all of the mystery, I think.
“So I must solve this riddle myself,” I said. “And I believe it is a riddle for a different part of the mind than the analytical surface. A ripple on the surface will not affect the depths. But move from the depths, and ah...”
“Yes,” he said. “You have the right tools. You have trained yourself for this, whether you know it or not. I would not have shown you if I did not believe it.”
But his words brought up something that I had to know.
“Did you invite me to speak at you temple just for this? Is this some trick of yours for sending people on journeys they haven't asked for?” Ha! The fantasies we contrive when we are squashed between pride and uncertainty. Ah well.
“No,” he said, and I got a laugh from him. “I was genuinely interested in the subject matter, as were several members. And Osiris wanted to meet you in the hopes that you might exchange metalworking knowledge. You can expect correspondence from that one, I'll tell you.”
Then he looked grave and said, “But I never let pass an opportunity. I saw the possibility, and my only choice was to show you the looking back.” What a sense of purpose Atum-Ra's order had; and what a rare thing that is.
That day, his parting words to me were, “Already you walk the path that Wadjet walked. When you reach your destination, I greet you as a citizen of a new world. Farewell for now.”
I left. But later I wondered at something. Lady Wadjet had founded the order in 1901, or so I understood. If she had shown the vision of the looking back to Atum-Ra, just how old had she been when she showed him; and how old was he? It is not an impossible timeline, by any stretch, but certainly, I thought, it implied a mightily long career.