Set stood in the midst of his temple as his priests helped him into his armor. One stood at his side sharpening the already deadly spear he carried to war. Others looked on and whispered but Set kept his head high. There were whispers of deceit and lies. There were those who feared some other god, some other husband of a goddess, would suffer the same fate as Osiris. What they did not remember was the day that stood to go dark. This day spoke of a duty they had forgotten long ago.
The priests called for the universe to bring strength to their god. They called to Sekhmet to grant him strength of arms and to Ma'at for a righteous aim with his spear. When the last of his armor was clasped to his wrists Set stood proud before all that had gathered. His vicious gaze caused some of the other gods who had gathered to back away.
Set ruled many things. He was the great wind that stirred the sandstorms and the god who oversaw violent deaths. He stood as a symbol of pride and vice and revenge and all other things that drove mere mortals from the grace of Ma'at. Set however had found a way to stand as a deceiver and yet hold close the glory of balance. Others forgot it was in his shortcomings that the universe found true balance between the good and evil, chaos and order. Set straddled the boundaries between the two. Perhaps this was the reason that Ma'at appeared in his temple. Her wings shone with a multitude of colors but none so brilliantly this night as the golden halo that trailed from the feather tips. She bore a shield in her hands.
When she approached Set she did not bow for truth was a servant to none. Despite her lack of submission she smiled which was a gift as rare as Set acting as he would this night.
"May this shield protect you from your enemies as you protect us from ours." Ma'at held out the shield to the much taller and darker god.
Set took it in hand. The grips felt perfect in his hand. The shield seemed lighter than the air and produced a glow that reminded him of the moon cast upon the desert sand. The hushed whispers started once more. It fueled the anger deep in the god. They spoke of how it was impossible that he protected any. They spoke that he must have manipulated and betrayed Truth itself.
"Heed not their falsehood." Ma'at whispered so quietly that the sound barely reached Set's ears. "Before this night they will know the truth and see you stand in balance and within my light."
The words soothed away the anger which was quickly replaced with a courage and determination unlike any Set had felt.
"Go now. Our king awaits you." Ma'at was gone by the time Set's eyes turned to the place she had occupied. Her words though remained clear in his mind. Set strode calmly out of his temple into the quickly darkening day. His skiff waited in anchor at the entrance to the sacred lake which lay beside his temple. The boat bobbed restlessly in the water. Ebony shine flashing and dark sails pulling as Set willed the wind to bring him speed. When he stepped aboard, the small boat unfettered itself and started on course.
The boat went swiftly, tossing as it rode the chaotic waves. All along the bank Set could see the other gods and goddesses watching. He kept his head high and focused on maintaining his balance as the chaotic waters attempted to take away his footing on the water slicked deck. His hand tightened on his spear as he saw the great mountains of Aker growing large in his vision.
Without fear he rode between the peaks of death. This night, the longest night of the year Set would die. He would pass into the underworld and face the things that rose up on his night. Set was the darkness and it was here, when the sun passed the longest through the night that only Set bore the strength to hold back the chaos and enemies of the ordered world.
The skiff had slowed and Set pulled it to the bank of the great Celestial Nile. His eyes watched the head of the river for the barque of the sun. Already serpents rolled through the water. He saw them gathering and waiting. They too knew their strength peaked on this night. They imagined Set stood at their aid. How wrong they were for his pride and seeking of praise stood far above his desire for deceit and evil.
A glow lit the Pylon where Set had anchored. The solar ship was coming. Set maneuvered his smaller ship out into the current and watched the approach of the lavish boat on which road Atum, father sun who gives life. His servants retrieved the tow rope and pulled Set's ship to theirs. He climbed in but only nodded to the presence of Atum the great one. Set bowed before none.
Striding to the front of the barque he peered into the water. Serpents of all sizes turned and twisted beneath the surface. These were not what he was here to fight. They reared from the water but the archers who served the sun quickly sent them back to the deep. So passed much of the night but as the darkness grew deeper arrows began to fail and archers were pulled from the boat by sleek black coils.
Set closed his eyes and took a breath to calm himself in the face of battle. His hand gripped tighter to the gift from Ma'at. It was only in these moments he noticed the scales which had been painted on the thick hide. He steadied the tall shield and renewed the grip on the spear. All light was going out. Even the soft glow of the sun behind him faded to nothing but a haze. Set stepped back to the side of his king. Atum was weary and old in his bed. He would be no help to fight those things that would rise from these waters. Set knew the depths of the darkness.
Mehen coiled down from the bowers of the bed. The immense serpent served the sun and now held his head erect beside Set. Enemies in the day these two would fight side by side this night. The golden serpent hissed and light shone from its shining scales. Even its light barely illuminated the deck of the barque.
Set watched the stirring waters with trepidation but his pride let none of his exterior fall prey to doubt. Mehen coiled around the bed of the ailing sun. If they failed Atum would not be reborn to Khepri come morning. The sun would no longer shine and all would die. Failure was not an option but Set never recognized failure as a possibility.
From the surface broke a huge maw before the barque. Its skin was of a color deeper than the chaotic dark of Nun before the beginning of time. The eyes burned as darker holes in an already dark visage. Set knew what was before him. This was the undying serpent, Apep the destroyer. Apep the killer of the sun. Set prepared his spear following the huge serpent that swam around the barque to peer in at the sun that now slept.
The strike came and Set put himself between the bite and the sun. The great head impacted his shield and the god stumbled back from the force. In retaliation he attempted to spear the great head but his spear would not penetrate the thick scaled hide. Apep retreated, sinking below the waves. He quickly reappeared and snatched Set by the leg. The god did not cry out from pain or suffering as he sunk the spear into the great maw. He was let go but teeth hooked in his flesh and broke off beneath the surface. He was lamed and noticed that Mehen was fighting back smaller serpents who fell like beasts lost in the scorching desert.
Again Apep came and again. Set fought to keep the serpent from the sun. He had lost his shield when the snake struck and shredded the hide with teeth sharper than any other beast or weapon. Set fell back to the bedside and leaned on his spear. He bled freely but dared not look at his shredded limbs. Poison coursed through his veins, poison that could kill man or god but he did not falter. Pride was not something that allowed Set to admit defeat.
Apep came again and found Mehen's great, hot teeth buried in his scales. Mehen curled around the demon. The mix of sun's heat and darkened water sent up plumes of steam. The barque rocked violently as the two great serpents tangled and fought on its deck. Set stood by with spear poised. He needed to strike before he was too weak from poison to act.
His vision faded and came back in waves that seemed to mimic the rolling of the boat on the currents. The great serpents twisted closer and Set plunged the spear once more into the mouth of Apep. He did not release the solar snake and so Set struck again. This one landed in the eye of the beast. It released Mehen who wrapped around Apep's mouth to forever close his jaws. Set took up the great knife of Ra and sliced Apep to bits which were tossed back into the river.
His duties done Set succumb to the life draining venom. He could see the light of the sun. Khepri would once more shine in the sky. Set tried to believe he would walk in the sun this day but he could hardly hold his feet. His spear was now a crutch that kept his feet beneath him. The shining before him blinded his dark adjusted eyes.
In the next moment he felt the heat of sun soaked sand beneath his feet. The words of Ra, the sun at zenith, broke through the effects of the poison.
"Who will attend the wounds of Set?" The king asked of all the gods and goddesses.
"I will attend my husband." The sound of his wife's voice was welcome to his ears. He could not see her but felt the gentle touch of her hand on his. "I can not heal these wounds. I will require help."
Set knew that his wife's devotion could not cure his wounds. She would try and fail. Another voice came up from the crowd of onlookers. It was a deeper voice, a male voice that also brought the darkness in its wake.
"I will attend the wounds of my mother's husband. I will extract the poison and bind his flesh to heal." Set knew by the words whom had spoken. Anubis had come forth to work his medicinal arts.
"No other will tend to him?" Ra asked of the others. "Isis, will you tend his injuries?"
Well known for her arts of curing, healing and magic Isis denied her aid as did many others. Set, the evil one, they spoke as his name. In absence of others Ra called forth the balm created from his own rays to aid in the healing process. Between the arms of Nephthys and Anubis, Set was taken to his bed chambers to be mended.
It took many hours to bleed the poisons from the bites then sew the wounds shut. He was then left to rest while his ever dutiful wife went to fetch food and drink.
"Set." The words were faint. "Set."
His eyes opened to a pale glow and a smiling face. Warm wings arched over his body and he wondered if he was dead. Were these the wings that would bear his soul back to the underworld?
"You have honored me." Her words were quiet and soothing. "Forever you shall be haunted by your betrayal but to my eyes your soul will always lie in the balance between the violence of revenge and the violence of defense. Rest well for the Ra will need you again."
He felt a warm kiss on his cheek before the feeling faded and sleep came. He would heal and he would once more rise up to fight the evil of the underworld when the night came too long for the others to endure.