The Rite of Return
There is no work that day. The inner servants call you to chambers below the palace, where they wash and perfume you ina fire-lit chamber. They burn your clothes and then give you a linen robe, covered in strange hieroglyphs. They command that you drink a thick, bitter liquid from a black stone cup. You agree.
As you enter the vaults, you discover that Irem’s pillars transfix the earth, and one of them passes through the hall. You realize that you can no longer feel your extremities, and your solemn pace degrades to barely a shuffle. Sounds grow loud and strange, as if passing through water, though you can hear a chant that begins once you are laid down on to a stained stone slab. You are surprised when you realize that the chant comes from the mouth of one of the Shan’iatu, the hoarse growl seeming out of place on his ageless face. Your master looms above you with a long, copper spike, and you feel so very thirsty. Then all there that there is is replaced by white hot pain.
You die, for a time. It is a long Journey to Duat, and times slithers like a dream. No matter what the world around you now looks like, you feel the weight of descent. You walk West, away from the weak, red sun that never moves. You do not possess the weapons and tools, traveler spells, or even a barge between the earth and the outer sky, all you possess is an instinct to walk and the names of places, demons, and incantations you manage to remember through the torture of the ritual murder. Demons called Slaughterers stalk you with stone knives and you flee swarms of beetles, pulling snakes from your heels along the way.
Sometimes you bury yourself int eh cold earth against waves of flame, which stir in the wind, droplets blown from a sea of fire that begins to brighten your journey. Sometimes you simply walk through the fires, burning. Every one of the Arisen develops their own tactic for fighting the fires, from covering themselves in clay and letting the fire harden it into armor, to cutting long wounds in their limbs to that the blood will quench the flames. Beyond the sea of fire lies a black metal gate as massive as those built in Irem. Duats guardians await you there, named He Who Dances In Blood and Dweller in Snakes, and passage beyond them requires a mixture of guile and determination, each trial possessing a unique challenge. Every trial, from riddles, shapeshifted lovers, or tortures that no living human could endure seemingly question your right to even exist.
While the previous gates are surrounded by flame, the seventh one stands amidst trees of lapis lazuli and sands of glittering, ground gems. The guard of this gate is named Shezmu, the Executioner—A lion-headed man with blood every-flowing from his mane and fangs. Shezmu is the patron of Irem’s armies, and he crushes the weak into blood-wine for the blue-skinned Lord of Duat. You do not know what happens to failures, you succeed. You answer with the highest magic, and though the words vary from one individual to the next, they all possess a common meaning: “This is who I am, and no matter what you do, my soul is unyielding”.
And the Executioner steps aside.
While Shezmu now knows your soul, it is up to the 42 Judges to determine the exact parameters of your fate. Each of them demands to know more of your soul’s true nature. They test you with torture, trials, and visions of terrible scenarios. When one Judge touches a part of your soul that will not break, it passes it on to the next, again and again until you stand face to face with the last of the Judges, the one who identifies the one, immovable Pillar of spirit. You declare your nature before it, and you know this is your last chance to turn back, accepting dishonor rather than fulfill your role. But, having won so far up to this moment, you press forward and pronounce your decree, and in that moment, the last Judges knows your soul as one of the blessed dead and it becomes the patron of your service for eternity, whispering the secrets of your Pillar and the magics within. You close your eyes, and when you open them again, you are one of the Arisen.