Met looked down at the silver knife in front of him, swallowing hard to push back the bile rising in his throat. He couldn’t do this.
He couldn’t, but he had to. This one horrid act meant the difference between life and death for him.
Just a few miles away there was a twenty-first century world with thousands of people going about their normal lives. They had no idea the things of Met's world could even exist. Met loved his life, but right now he wished he could be one of those normal people.
A breeze stirred the linen around his groin. That tiny sensation was enough to remind him of the traditional garb he was wearing, and the ritual that must be completed. Coming back out of his sickening fears, he glanced at the hooded bird on his arm and then out at the faces of his family. He nodded. The falcon’s grip on Met’s flesh was loosening. It was almost time.
The sour taste came back again in a forceful wave of regret. She was his favorite. He’d trained Paniwi himself. The beautiful falcon had been his almost constant companion for the last two years. He always knew this would be the end of things, tried not to get attached; but it couldn’t be helped. She was a beautiful bird.
Met watched the sea of faces out of the corner of his eye as he gently lifted Paniwi from her favorite perch on Met’s arm and laid her down on the stone altar. Her training, and the sedative that had almost taken full effect, would not let her get up. She would wait patiently and unknowingly for her fate.
The whole process made him weak and nauseous. He prayed with all his heart that things could go differently, but he knew that was an empty prayer the gods would ignore. This was a centuries old tradition. If he didn’t complete it, he would die. He could already feel the heaviness of his limbs and the restriction of his chest. His pulse was slowing as his heart began to harden.
His thirteenth birthday was only 24 hours ago, but the change in his blood was already well on its way to completion. If his body did not change and adapt to the thicker, more precious blood, it would kill him in a matter of days: much faster than his death would come otherwise.
The air began to pulse gently as the others started to shift their forms.
He began quietly reciting the prayer, whispering it to Paniwi’s ka. Though the others would hear, it was for her that Met prayed. He thanked her for her devotion, for her life and beautiful qualities. Then he encouraged her soul to speed its way back to the presence of Horus, carrying his vows of servitude with her.
After a short pause, he took a breath and began the next part of the incantation, his voice cracking with emotion as he pled with her for the precious gift he needed. Though he could not yet hear them, he knew the animal minds all around him now melded together to add their voices to the prayer. Met asked for the gift of her essence, her knowledge and skills as a hunter, her wisdom of the animal world, for her connection to the gods, and most importantly, for her form.
The world seemed silent, waiting, as his sob pierced through the air and his knife slit Paniwi’s throat.
His limbs that were once heavy were now on fire. The royal blood inside him thickened more quickly now and every cell in his body screamed in protest, both for the golden blood’s invasion and for the changes they were now being forced to make to accommodate it.
His vision went black, leaving only the memory of the bloody, broken form on the altar. His legs gave into the fierce pressure, buckling underneath him. Met dropped the knife and slipped out of consciousness.
When his vision returned, it was different. His, but not the sight he had known for the first thirteen years of his life. It was sharper, the edges of everything more crisp, colorful, and defined. It was weird. It seemed more focused, but his line of sight had suddenly grown much wider, like his vision suddenly switched from full screen to wide screen format. Met’s new eyes were extremely sensitive to any movement, making every little leaf that shifted in the wind flick suddenly into focus in the forefront of his sight before being dismissed as unimportant.
It was different, but then so was he. He flexed his new wings a little wider, searching for a current that would pull him up and away from the sacred clearing.
Everything still hurt. He was stiff and felt clumsy, but Paniwi’s gift had been given and received. Met’s new form knew its purpose. Tiny portions of his mind began processing the world in ways that were foreign to the old Met, but very familiar to the new Met. He loved the feel of the wind, the newness of the world.
He sent another silent prayer toward Paniwi’s ka, now in her language rather than the language of his forefathers, expressing gratitude for her sacrifice. He would feel the sorrow of her loss for a long time. But he would honor her gift and his heritage with everything that he now was, as his clan had done since the first pharaohs ruled Egypt.
With that promise he let his weary body drift toward earth, coming back down as night descended around him. Met would need to remain in this form for several days before his body could tolerate another transformation. He would still need time to heal, but the pain would fade and soon he would be able to shift between his two forms at will.
He landed on the corner of the family’s food table, directly across from the banquet prepared for their gods, and watched as the members of his clan filed past him on their way toward the food. Most had already shifted back to their human form, but there were still many other shapes present. Each one performed a swift kneeling bow in greeting; honoring his passage into the realm of the gods and also the god Horus who accepted Met as his son and servant.
Man and beast swirled together in a strange dance. There were humans dressed in cotton robes and wraps mingling with birds, cats, baboons, crocodiles, cows, jackals, wolves and many other creatures which most of the world would never see outside of a zoo. This was Met’s world—a place of mythical fantasy that was all too real. It was a life that very few could even imagine, much less know anything about. This life was a secret trust his family kept quietly enfolded in a world that was only partly theirs. This realm was very much out of place in the 21st century.
This was Met’s family.
He watched with weary falcon eyes until the exhaustion and lingering pain became too much. He drifted into an uneasy sleep while the rest of the clan continued to celebrate.
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