The text message screen reads:
Who are you???
Who are you???
Who are you???
Who are you???
One question at a time.
Would you believe I’m your conscience?
that was a sarcastic laugh btw
Yes, I gathered that.
no, i don’t believe you’re my conscience.
seriously, i haven’t spoken to anyone in weeks.
Do you know where i am? Or how to leave?
and who ARE you???
I know it may seem hard to believe, but I don’t
want to tell you who I am because you won’t
i believe in a lot of weird stuff i didn’t last
month, and i just saw some really weird shit. try me
I am the Egyptian god of knowledge, magic
and writing, the thrice-great ibis god Thoth.
Look, if you don’t want to tell me who you are,
you don’t have to. is there anything you can tell me
about this place? ive been lost for weeks!
That, I can do.
My “thrice-great” new best friend with a weird sense of humor texts for so long I start to wonder if he’s just typing random buttons to mess with me, and then my phone dings repeatedly with each new message as one full paragraph after another pops up before my eyes, much too fast to be anything but a prepared story, copy/pasted piece by piece:
There once was a land named Kemet. It was rich and famous, powerful and ancient. Its people were convinced they were the holiest of all people, the wisest of all nations. Powerful pharaohs immortalized their accomplishments throughout successful reigns, only for their successors to deface their statues and erase their legacies in vain attempts to guarantee their own posthumous fame, at the expense of another’s.
The empire was mighty and colorful and feared by is neighbors. Its people were well-fed and well-educated, pious and eloquent, old-fashioned and proud. They were born through the pain of their mothers, played by rivers or in the burning sun; they told jokes to each other, worked hard, got drunk, fell in love, raised families, and when it was their time, they died. They hoped to join Osiris’ holy kingdom in death, to be vindicated by the feather of ma’at and allowed eternal life in presence of their gods.
There is much more to tell about these people, but unfortunately, we must focus on their demise. When it was Kemet’s time, it fell, and its people suffered and died just as their foreign neighbors had. Osiris’ kingdom slowly received less and less, until it appeared that Kemet was no more, existing only in the dreams of the living and forgotten upon waking. But dreams are a kingdom in their own right, and some strange beings can build a home for themselves out of dreams.
That is where you are, child. Kemet’s last territory: our kingdom of memories and dreams.
I read the words with a strange mix of incredulous skepticism, and a small but steadily growing anxiety at the eerie familiarity of this story. No matter how far it stretches my suspension of disbelief, it just feels true. With shaking fingers, I type a reply:
We’ve got a few of those, yes.
I wonder why I expected them to deny it, and a shudder sucker-punches me with a sudden inability to ignore the growing terror. If I thought I was afraid when I believed I was completely alone, it’s nothing compared to realizing I am less alone than I would like to be, after all.
srsly, what do i call u?
Thrice-Great, if you must. And what should
I call you, O smarmy neophyte?
Like hell I’m telling this weirdo my name.
how bout u just call me smarmy neophyte?
Very well. Smarmy it is.
I spend the longest period of time in one spot that I have since I entered the ruins, asking questions and trying to convince the mysterious figure to play it straight with me. I quickly (privately) conclude that whoever it is, they’re not the sort of person I would otherwise talk to for very long. They go on informative tangents about seemingly random topics, often concluding with a moral lesson about the subject matter rather than practical answers to my questions. It’s not unlike talking to a professor who’s trying to stick to his lesson plan despite the fact that I’m lost, cold, hungry, and scared -for the moment, I’m more concerned with finding my way out than learning about Egyptology. I’m able to gather that they are claiming this place is a sort of psychic otherworldly mirror to the place’s physical ruins, one populated by the ideas, ghosts, spirits, and gods of the culture it had hosted when it lived.
I find the idea fascinating, and after witnessing this place’s bizarre magical properties firsthand, I have no reason to assume they are lying -although the claim that “the gods live much further in, if you continue trying to leave you’re unlikely to encounter them anyways” to sound suspiciously convenient for someone who once claimed to be one of said gods, but refused to talk on the phone or send a picture, claiming they “can only send words”. Give me a break. If you’re going to impersonate a god, I thought, you should at least make it sound convincing. Who does this guy think he’s fooling? I save the number in my contacts as “Thrice Great” (noting that there still is no phone number in the contact information), and jokingly start referring to him as 3G as both a callback to his absurd claim, and to the strange pockets of magical Wi-Fi that make our conversations possible.
But despite his lack of candor, my new friend obviously knows their way around this place. 3G tells me how to navigate through the halls I’ve already seen. Apparently the routes change somewhat predictably, according to the “hour of the night and the position of the stars”, and even if I manage to find my way back to the right “special dimensions”, I may have to wait until the same day and hour next year to safely travel back to Earth.
i can’t wait that long!!
Relax. There is another option.
what is it?
We’ll need to meet face-to-face to discuss it.
I’ll send you directions to my office.
im supposed to just believe you? how do I know
this isn’t a wild goose chase, or a trap?
What else are you going to do? You’ve
wandered too far to retrace your steps alone.
3G’s right; what other choice do I have? When he sends the instruction to take a left and go down that corridor until I find another Wi-Fi signal, I steel myself against the possibilities the path may hold, and take a left.
I’ll never admit it aloud -least of all to 3G- but the two hours it takes to find the pocket of connectivity 3G are among the most nerve-wracking of my life. After so long talking to no one but myself and the inscrutable writing on the walls around me, being able to text anyone at all is almost intoxicating, even without the tales of ancient magic and myth. I start to wonder if I’ve lost my mind and begun to hallucinate, so I get out my notes and sketch my path as I walk in order to keep my mind occupied.
This is unfortunate, because the path takes me through an abandoned temple of Heru, and the walls are decorated with the more grisly details of his story. A few months ago I was too green to read these hieroglyphics as I walk, being on my very first field assignment and inexperienced with interpreting the symbols without help. Now though, I’ve memorized enough of the symbols to be able to make out the gist as I walk slowly, keeping pace with the six-inch-tall birdheaded avatar of the falcon god as it transforms into a hippo and struggles with another of the dangerous water mammals, the one with the stationary hieroglyphics above the scene name as the god of chaos, Set, with his distinctive long-eared mystery animal.
I scribble “Contendings” over the sketch of the hallway I’m walking in, then look back at the next portion of the wall. I don’t need to struggle through the descriptive hieroglyphics to recognize the story the avatars are acting out: Heru’s mother Aset, moved by her murderous brother’s cry for help, flings her spear at her son. I watch, strangely fascinated as the spear moves in slow motion into the hippo’s shoulder; the avatar pauses in its battle against the other wounded hippo, and then transforms back into the falcon-headed god. He pulls the spear out of his shoulder, flings it aside, and then rushes toward the winged female avatar of his mother.
Despite knowing what happens next, I wince when the avatar pulls out its little hieroglyphic sword and decapitates his mother. The head even seems to roll once on the dirt, before the avatar for Aset fades altogether, and Heru’s avatar takes off running. To my surprise, he runs faster than I’m walking, and then disappears around a corner- the opposite way that 3G had advised me to walk.
I’m possessed by a short-lived, wild impulse to forget about the map, and follow the avatar to the conclusion of his story. It’s a bad idea. For one thing, I know how the story goes; for another, these hieroglyphics never tell just one myth at a time. One myth leads into another, or sometimes are just the justification for a lengthy, dry wall full of Egyptian spells for everything from fighting headaches, to having a healthy baby, to defeating the enemies of Ra. If I try to follow Heru’s little avatar into the desert, there’s no telling where I’ll end up -and who’s to say the route won’t change, once I leave?
Following the hieroglyphics through this maze is the quickest road to insanity. I take a right, following the path that is outlined in the text messages on my phone, rubbing a stubborn stray eyelash out of my right eye as I walk.
The next pocket of Wi-Fi is where 3G had said it would be, and as soon as I see I have a stronger signal here than I’ve had since last week, I immediately pull out the sharp iron spike I’d managed to break off a booby trap a few days in and start carving the symbol into the wall. As I finish the third, smallest curved line, my ringtone goes off, and once I’m done with my task, I pull out the phone and check my messages.
That’s the wrong symbol, you know.
it’s the wifi symbol
I know; that’s the wrong symbol. You should
be using ear stelae. I can send you an
example if you like.
those are for talking to gods. i just need
to remember where the wifi is
Haven’t you noticed the power the old glyphs
have in here? If you want to make it through
this place, it will behoove you to play by its
christ, why do you always have to talk like that?
“It would behoove you,” I mutter to myself, mocking. What a windbag.
Wait a minute.
how did you even see what i carved???
I would tell you, but you won’t believe me.
Forgive my impatience, but we both have
more pressing matters to attend to -no time
to argue every little matter. It is simply enough
that I can see, nevermind how.
this is so fucked up. you’re probably a serial
killer in a room full of screens from hidden cameras
Don’t be so melodramatic. You must trust me:
I am your ally, and once you arrive at my
office, all will be explained. For now, heed my
warning: those who try to navigate through
Kemet while denying the power of heka itself
never fare well.
Overwhelmed, I sink to the floor under the “incorrect” symbol I’ve carved, not caring if it means I lose the signal. I’d assumed 3G was someone else like me, who’d been in here so long that they lost touch with reality (and with normal social skills), become so obsessed with the magic of the place they fancy themselves a deific guide to others travelling through. He clearly was able to contact me through some kind of hieroglyphic magic, but I’d never considered that he had the ability to watch me -all in order to scold me about taking the ancient Egyptian’s magic seriously, no less!
I scroll up to re-read one of the first texts 3G sent: “I am the Egyptian god of knowledge, magic and writing, the thrice-great ibis god Thoth.” Thoth the Egyptian god would certainly feel strongly about defacing temples with non-Egyptian symbols, as well as the important of heka. Could it be…?
I shake the silly thought from my head vigorously, rubbing my eye as it begins to itch again (I must’ve scratched it when I was digging the eyelash out earlier). 3G is just an annoying pedant who’s figured out how to use this place’s magic to his advantage and likes roleplaying as a big powerful ancient god, nothing more. But either way, he clearly has great insight into how to navigate, and may even have greater power here than he’s letting on. If I play along with his delusions of grandeur and appear to acquiesce to his demands, I may be able to get further assistance -or even learn how he’s able to use hieroglyphics to halt objects flying through the air, or spy on people who are connected to magical Wi-fi. I text back:
ok, ok. i’ll change it.
I do my best to carve the top curve around, into an ear shape, and add a few more adjustments to make the signal look as similar to the ancient ear stelae that the Egyptians used to carve near temples, in order to boost their voices to be heard by their gods.
Good. Now that we’ve settled that, we can move
on to figuring out the best route forward.
tfw you’re writing a character who’s smarter than you but the character still is doing the urban fantasy thing where they’re like “yeah this magic thing is undoubtedly magic but i’m 100% positive this OTHER magic thing is obviously bullshit, i’m not an idiot” even though that makes no sense