Silence. Then a roof tile tipped from the hole in the roof, above and bounced off Asteri’s horns and shattered on the floor. Naida flinched and turned to look at the woman beside her, who had her arms around Asteri’s neck, crying. Then to the man sliding down to sit on the floor, Horus staff across his lap.
Sybaris swayed, and then collapsed in a pile of coils. Naida gasped and ran to try and catch her head so she not hit the floor with it, and pulled up her belt to try and stop Syb’s face from bleeding. She… she was badly burned. All around her mouth… closed mouth… how bad was she burned inside? Every gemstone she had on her scales was cracked or discoloured or just melted off her, and she was raw all down her front, all her coils where she’d grabbed the Djinn. Her hair was half burned away, with melty drips all down her back. Naida started crying as she tried to help, realized her own palms were raw and bloody. She laid her hands on Sybaris and willed that she get better.
The Horus staff twitched out of the man’s hands and flew over to Syb and Naida. “Tsk,” Re’s voice came out of the beak. “I don’t like my friends getting hurt.”
There was a soundless thunderclap along with a flash of light that rattled lampstands all across the city and when her sight cleared, Naida could see that everything had been returned to wholeness.
Bodhi sat, cross-legged on the floor by the litter, next to the lamp, hands softly folded. “I could make some tea, if you liked. Or we could just sit for a while.” He smiled, sweetly.
No hole in the roof. No melted gold cheetahs and burnt tiles. Nobody’s hands were raw. Nobody’s body was burned. Sybaris’s hair flowed down in its old glory and her gems shone bright as her eyes as she opened them and rose to her coils. “Well,” she said, and bowed to the woman wiping her nose surreptitiously under Asteri’s wings. Then she bowed to the man climbing to his feet, using the Horus staff which was again in his hand, as a prop as if he were very tired.
“Candace,” she said. “Consort.” She turned Naida around with the tip of her tail and Kurama hopped into her arms. “My name is Sybaris and this is your long-lost daughter, Efra, though she goes by Naida to honour her—“
The Candace let out a shriek and flung herself down the two steps, around the empty litter, and caught Naida and Kurama up in a hug, lifting her right off her feet. “It was you yelling ‘mama, daddy’! Daughter! Oh my strong girl, my beautiful girl!”
People were peeking around the edges of the doors, daring to enter after all the ruckus and Amani-shakhete turned Naida around to face them, throwing her arms around her in a hug from behind. “Behold, Meroe! My daughter Efra-Naida returns just in time to save us all from a mistake I made twenty years ago!”
“What? I did?”
“You did,” Kurama whispered in her ear. “Your mama caught a Djinn and locked it up, apparently. It just nearly got away from her.”
“Oh, my,” was all she could say, just as another pair of arms wrapped around both her and her mother. She looked up into her tall daddy’s eyes and at his enormous grin, old, old seamed scars running over his shoulders and she just knew he’d gotten them trying to save her. “Hi. Daddy. Mama… it took me a while but I’m home.”
“No more ‘dirt girl’ for you,” Kurama whispered in her ear, as Asteri spread his wings over all of them and Naida started giggling. No more dirt girl.
- 30 --