Scarlet droplets welled quickly on the surface of her skin and Cerlissa watched as it dribbled down her thigh and stained the hay she sat on. It was a quiet time, after the Battle of Thrones had finished its course and only the wounds were left. The soldiers started calling it the Battle of Thrones shortly after Cerlissa made it up and claimed that she’d heard it called so by Vicorin. All the soldiers seemed to like Vicorin, for some reason. Any time one of them came back from a “conversation” with him with a shiny new bruise or busted small-bone, the other soldiers gathered and asked just how awesome it was. Cerissa continued to muse over the ways of soldiers as she let the knife bite a little deeper than her usual scars. She idly wondered what the strong tendon that ran down her inner thigh to her knee looked like, and if she could possibly catch a glimpse of it without maiming herself in the process.
She was lost in that field of white, digging up red clay and watching how it moved, when she heard a basso voice from just outside the roomy stall. “We didn’t lose today, Cerlissa.”
Cerlissa flinched, her spine stiffening and her head snapping upward to attention. Tauntaun was stretching his nose out to someone in the hallway, and after a moment she recognized Baldred’s voice and relaxed a bit. She moved to grab the green wool blanket she had nearby to cover her legs when she felt an unexpected pain. Eyes widening, she suddenly feared the worst and checked to make sure she hadn’t accidentally injured herself seriously. With Baldred just a few feet away, the notion of intentionally breaking your own skin seemed ludicrous and illogical. She looked down and saw that the wound in her leg was deeper than she had intended… or was it? What was she thinking? She grabbed at the blanket and looked up again to see Baldred’s face regarding her cooly from the stall door.
“Ummm…” Cerlissa looked under her blanket at her thigh again and back at Baldred. “I think I need stitches.”
Baldred didn’t move, just looked at her sternly a moment and said, “Is Tauntaun abusing you? Because if he is, you can tell us you know. You shouldn’t be out here alone with abusive horses, you might end up needing stitches.” Baldred gave Tauntaun a firm punch in the neck and a squint-eyed glare as he opened the stall door and slipped inside, the crutch under his left arm expertly handled. Tauntaun didn’t seem to notice. “Let me see.”
Cerlissa squirmed under his scrutiny and said, “Would you believe me if I said I got it in the castle?”
“Yes.” Baldred motioned for her to remove the blanket and expose her legs. Had it been anyone but a fellow patrolman, she might be shy about wearing only shorts. Fortunately, the last several months had gotten the Dawn Patrol fairly accustomed to each other’s bodies, and Cerlissa only blushed from embarrassment of the deep gash she’d accidentally inflicted on herself. “Except that we both know that for all the blood on your armor, not a drop of it is yours.”
Cerlissa’s hand met her face, and Baldred chuckled. He looked at her flushed cheeks and continued, “We all know that this is a thing that you do when you think that you have failed us, Cerlissa. We simply let you have your strange comforts. The same way we let Grakkus and Vicorin become witless in their strong drinks. Arya was too nervous to approach you here. She is also convinced that Rachni dislikes her. Strange creature.”
Scowling now, Cerlissa asked quietly, “Do you have thread on on you?”
“No, but I do have it here in my pocket.”
“Ha. And you like to think you’re more serious than the other boys.”
“Just let me do it, okay? I have something to say to you that I wanted you to sit still for, anyway.”
At that, Cerlissa gave Baldred a curious look and leaned her back against the wall. Baldred shuffled around and took a seat beside her and promptly pulled out a small first aid kit. Her scowl deepened when she saw that it was Grakkus’ kit, rather than Baldred’s, whose case was more suited for treating burns, while Grakkus’ was geared toward closing torn flesh. Cerlissa continued to glare at Baldred until he took a breath to speak.
“You have always had… mmm… less compassion than I’ve ever been completely comfortable with…” Cerlissa took in a breath to interrupt him, but Baldred cut her off with a gesture,
“But that is who you are, and I’m not faulting you on it. What I am attempting to say is that the minute we walked through the wall of Utica, you took a turn for the worse and I am not entirely sure that you realize it.”
Cerlissa flinched as Baldred added another stitch, and after a moment she asked, “What do you mean?”
“I mean that the anger that fueled you to kill Redhammer is beginning to poison you, and you have a more personal… well, demon, to contend with that you will need more anger to defeat. It is in the interest of all of Cinderfell that you do not allow your anger to poison you further.” Baldred motioned toward her armor, which lay dismantled for cleaning and repairs at a work table down the hall, “Your bone armor was made from the beasts you once owned, correct? Now, you intend to make it from trophies.”
“Well, Baldred, up until now anyone who got close enough to me to break my armor had to kill my horse first.” She gestured toward the big white beast that stood in front of them, to indicate that he was clearly unharmed.
Baldred grunted in reply and began to put away Grakkus’ first aid kit. “Cerlissa, you are deflecting the point I am trying to make. When we killed Red Hammer, your personal cares outweighed your conscience, and now that I point it out to you, I know that you feel it too.”
Cerlissa couldn’t counter his argument. She knew something had changed, though it was when she felt the power that the demon stone gave her, more than when Redhammer died. Instead of saying anything in her irritation, she watched Baldred as he reached into his bag and pulled out a small container.
“I want you to have this.” Baldred said, staring at the little box he held in his hands. It looked like the kind of box a piece of jewelry would come in. “I do not give it lightly. I give it to you because you will need it, as I once did.”
Cerlissa was instantly interested in whatever trinket was in the box, and Baldred had all her attention as he cautiously opened it.
The thing she saw surprised her. It was the most beautiful, brightest shade of blue she had ever seen. It wasn’t quite a joyous, electric blue, but more like the color of someone’s face who had recently drowned, but a hundred times brighter. It was about the size of her thumb nail, and seemed to shine as if illuminated by an internal light source. Upon closer inspection, she realized that there were specks of red on it, as if it were stained with blood. She began to reached for it, but snatched her hand back when the jewel began to move. Against the darkness of the box, she hadn’t noticed the long, thin, barbed legs and powerful jaws. She only saw the glittering carapace of the blood-covered beetle.
“What the hell?”
Baldred carefully reached into the little box and picked the beetle up with two fingers. “This is the Shen Kamaat. It is a parasitic beetle from my homeland. The most devout of Nubians wear red ones as others might wear rubies, all about their necks, so as to prove their vigilance. They are not common, and can only be found after a long journey into the sands. Sometimes others wear them as well, for other reasons. To remember something, or as penance. This particular kind on Shen Kamaat has never been seen.”
“So what aren’t you telling me?”
He paused for breath and smiled,“To wear a Shen Kamaat is to feel. It does not hurt, exactly, but you will forever feel it. And I mean forever. The Shen Kamaat is immortal.” Baldred hesitated a moment, as if reliving a painful memory, “And to remove the Shen Kamaat is to feel agony. It must be dug from the flesh that it holds.”
Cerlissa’s eyebrows knitted together, and she stared at the beetle. She wasn’t sure that she needed any reminding to be a good person, but she knew that she had hate, and without the Dawn Patrol she would likely not be the same person at all. These people were basically good, and remained that way, for the most part. Baldred was the best of them, never wavering from his damned high horse.
“Damn your high horse.”
Baldred’s face froze in what looked like surprise. He had taken a breath to continue explaining the beetle, but instead drawled uncertainly, “So…”
“Yes, I’ll do it. I’m fallible and and I’m consorting with Demons so what do I do?” She held her hand out to take the beetle, but he didn’t give it to her.
“There’s one more thing. The carapace of the Shen Kamaat is very tough, and even if it is broken, the beetle is very, very difficult to kill. However, if it is killed, it has the ability to force its host into a sort of blood frenzy. Very difficult to control. You must be very careful.”
“Like Vicorin?” She asked.
“Not quite, but good enough.”
Baldred shifted uneasily, “I admit, this seems easier than it should be. Most Nubians will deliberate for weeks before accepting a Shen Kamaat… or fight it tooth and nail.”
“Baldred,” Cerlissa admonished, “You’re going to talk me out of it if you keep talking like this. You say I need it, and I know that while you’re here I don’t, but I’m basically a demon now.” She looked down at her hands, her fingernails still had blood in their creases. “I wish I could say that we’d always be fighting together, but from the looks of it I’m going to outlive you, and look at what happened to Zumeli after he lived for too long.”
He didn’t answer at first, but after a moment he simply asked, “Where?”
“My back, opposite this scar.” She put her right hand over her chest, indicating the spiral-shaped scar directly above her heart, “As if the arrow had gone straight through.”
Baldred cocked his head and asked, “Mind if I ask why? It seems strange choice.”
“Because I can’t reach it there.” Cerlissa let him figure out the meaning of it from there. While no one ever mentioned her cutting habits, they all knew. She was liable to pick and dig at it if it were somewhere easily accessible to her, and she could handle quite a lot of pain if she inflicted it herself. After a moment she asked, “Can I ask you a question?”
“Of course.” Baldred gestured for her to turn and lift her shirt.
“Why did you take it? What did you need to remember?”
“I…” He sighed, and Cerlissa turned away from him, her back exposed, “It doesn’t matter, I don’t need it anymore. I think the scar is a good enough reminder.”
With that, he placed the beetle gingerly on her back, just left of her spine.
Cerlissa gasped and arched as she felt the Shen Kamaat bite her skin, then clawed at her side and shoulder when its long, thin legs burrowed deep, between two ribs, the barbs tearing and hooking into her muscles. Within moments, it was over, and though she didn’t remember how she got there, Baldred was holding her firmly to his chest. A sob bubbled out from her throat and she choked on it. When she came back to her senses, Baldred was rocking her and humming a slow tune that she didn’t recognize, but sounded like a lullaby.
“I should have taken you outside, I think.” Baldred mused. Cerlissa was still breathing heavily as the pain subsided to a strange sensation. It wasn’t quite prickly, and it didn’t quite sting. It didn’t feel good by any means but it didn’t really feel bad. Like there was a pressure there. Like a dent in her armor but it never began to wear at her skin. He released her after she had relaxed and when she looked at him she stared in horror.
“I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to—” She began to cast about in panic, “Did I start a fire in the stable?”
No fires were found in the immediate area, but Baldred sported a few new burns about his upper body, and one on his chin that looked like it might scar. Tauntaun reached around and nudged Cerlissa with his massive head, throwing her back at Baldred and forcing him to catch her again.
“Holy crap, Baldred, you could have warned me!”
Baldred ignored her, “Make another fire, Cerlissa.”
“You’re crazy! This is a stable! Lamps aren’t even allowed in here! Apparently I shouldn’t be allowed in here!”
“Then do it out the window, but do it again!” Baldred seemed excited for some reason, focused on her hands.
Absolutely perplexed, Cerlissa asked, “Why?”
Giving Baldred a suspicious look, Cerlissa moved to the window. It had been raining the past two or three hours, and the shutters were damp to the touch as she opened them. With all the control she could muster, she called the smallest possible flame into her protectively cupped hands, no bigger than a match flame. When she saw what Baldred was so excited about, the tiny flame grew a little larger.
It was blue. The same glittering, drowning blue as the Shen Kamaat now whispering its presence on her back. The flattish, thumbnail sized bug had changed something, and now the dirty, soot orange flames once granted her by Baphomet were all her own, and they were blue.
“I have to show Gwind!” Cerlissa breathed, then got up, looked around, grabbed her Dawn Patrol jacket and decided to just hop out the window. “Thank you for the stitches, Baldred!”
She called back as she disappeared into the night in search of her Vulcani ‘wife’.
Baldred was left with Tauntaun, his expression utterly baffled at her sudden excitement and lack of concern for the tremendous pain she had just endured. He had nothing else to do but grab his bag and his crutch and shuffle his way back to his room.
A loop of rope that has no beginning and no end, it symbolized eternity. The sun disk is often depicted in the center of it. The shen also seems to be a symbol of protection. It is often seen being clutched by deities in bird form, Horus the falcon, Mut the vulture. Hovering over Pharaohs head with their wings outstretched in a gesture of protection. The word shen comes from the word “shenu” which means “encircle,” and in its elongated form became the cartouche which surrounded the king’s name.
The ka is usually translated as “soul” or “spirit” The ka came into existence when an individual was born. It was believed that the ram-headed god Khnum crafted the ka on his potter’s wheel at a persons birth. It was thought that when someone died they “met their ka”. A persons ka would live on after their body had died. Some tombs included model houses as the ka needed a place to live. Offerings of food and drink would be left at the tomb entrance so the ka could eat and drink.
Represents truth, justice, morality and balance. Deities are often seen standing on this symbol, as if standing on a foundation of Maat.