Chapter Twenty-Two -Pimaar and Transformation
That winter Sekhmet died in childbirth. The baby girl was named Hathor. She survived her mother until the spring, before succumbing to an unknown illness. She was buried beside her mother under a tree overlooking the village. Grieving for his family, Nusaan went to live on his own in the valley to the west. From time to time, he was seen by one of Besal’s hunting parties but he never acknowledged their calls.
The decision to go back and find Hoetep no matter how long it took was debated endlessly over the winter months. The vast majority agreed that by now he would have starved to death, but Nefer was adamant that a thorough search had to be carried out. All thoughts of finding the remaining libraries and their knowledge vanished as preparations were made for the difficult task ahead. The community had lost too many of its members. Hoetep had to be found and brought back. Nefer knew he was alive. Iset felt his presence also.
Misakk swung the Bentu towards the setting suns, laying in a course for the high arid plateau in the fork of the mountains on the far off continent to the west. Mdjat sat in the co-pilot’s seat talking to Temo back at New Cydon. In the hold, Akhen and Manesh went over the way in which the search would be carried out while Apis occupied his time by sleeping in the comfort of one of the two crawler’s cabins.
As the dust whipped up by the thrusters cleared, and the Bentu settled down on her landing gear, Mdjat noticed a change in the surface of the plateau. It was covered in giant representations of birdlike creatures scratched out of the arid rocky soil. They were so large that one man could not have created them in a thousand years. Why had they suddenly appeared? Why were they there? Why had they not been noticed before? The answer to these questions would have to wait until Hoetep was found.
Apis drove a crawler along the dried up river bed to the rock formation that they knew contained a library. Manesh lead the way through the maze of corridors and chambers into the library. The scene of utter destruction that greeted them, greatly unnerved them. Clearly Hoetep had gone mad destroying the library, but for what reason? The charred remains of countless scrolls lay underfoot as the rescuers searched in vain for some clue to Hoetep’s whereabouts. Stopping their fruitless search, Manesh and the team returned to the Bentu to report to Akhen. The next day the team divided into two groups, each equipped with a crawler and communications unit, led by Akhen and Manesh, while Misakk remained behind in the Bentu, ready to lift off and come to the rescue if needed. As each crawler departed, the plateau once again grew silent. While Akhen’s crawler crept south, Manesh and his team headed further to the west. The mountain range and retreating ice sheet blocked the way north. By nightfall, the separate teams were far from the relative safety of the Bentu. Both camps that night shared one disturbing thought that either the planet or Shu had transformed gentle Hoetep into a monstrous new form capable of anything.
With the first rays of daylight Manesh awoke. The snoring coming from the sleeping Apis had kept him awake most of the night. He determined that if there were any more nights like that, he would cheerfully suffocate him! The two men ate their breakfast as the triple suns slowly climbed above the mountains. “Where do you look for a madman?” Apis asked, spilling food down his chest in the process. Manesh remained silent. He agreed with the question but had no answer. The two men continued on, taking turns driving the crawler and sitting on its roof with their imagers, scanning the inhospitable landscape of the foothills they now found themselves in.
Akhen and Mdjat were carefully picking their way through deep ravines far to the east in their search. Misakk relayed messages between both search parties from his lonely post thousands of meters above them. The days merged into weeks as the search area increased in size. Eventually Akhen had to admit defeat. It was hopeless. Six weeks after they set out the rescue team returned to New Cydon empty handed. The search may have been in vain but Nefer had a surprise for them – Hoetep had been found alive!
Nusaan suddenly appeared in the village one morning a few weeks ago claiming he had seen Hoetep. Thinking his mind had been affected by his enforced solitude, Nefer gave him a thorough check over. He was fine both mentally and physically so she asked him about what he had witnessed. He had been out wandering far from the valley to the north, and beyond to the tundra region close to the retreating ice sheet, eight weeks away by foot. Sitting one night by the small fire he had made, he thought he saw a cloud of marsh gas drift toward him. It was not gas. It was the green glow of the small pyramid. As it drew closer, Shu appeared. She was troubled and told him about Hoetep and the madness that overcame him.
In his thirst for knowledge, Hoetep had unlocked a terrible secret best left well alone. The scroll in question referred to the ancient rite of Pimaar, or transition to an altered state, forever changing whoever underwent the process. In Shu’s time before the cataclysmic event, it was used to reach a higher state of mind in furtherance of inner peace and harmony, but was abandoned as superstitious nonsense with the tribal divide of the population. Shu knew that Hoetep was sent mad by the effects of Pimaar. She attempted to guide him by trying to use reason. In his anger towards her, he destroyed the library and left. Because of the change in him she no longer had any control over his actions or mind. So she followed his every move as he wandered in his deranged state across the continent towards the ice sheet. She nourished him when he slept, using the protective green shield, always careful to release him before he woke. In the tortured state of mind he was now in, he had somehow managed to find his way to the tundra where Nusaan was camped. Shu took him to where Hoetep sat babbling and cursing in a circle of bird-like creatures scratched in a patch of frozen soil. While Shu kept an eye on Hoetep, Nusaan headed south to New Cydon for help.
Next time – Chapter Twenty-Three