Osiris drew back the string of the bow and trained it at a palm tree as a bolt of light formed from between his draw fingers across to the belly of the bow. He held it there for a moment, holding his breath steady, then the lightbolt propelled forward as he released the draw. The ‘bolt passed right through the palm tree without leaving a mark.
“What happened? Why isn’t it on fire?” asked Nephthys, frowning. She had seen her brother and father shooting their bows in the range before and when the lightbolts had hit the targets they had burst into flames.
Her brother looked round and smiled. “That was just a practice shot, I didn’t charge the ‘bolt. You can’t just go round shooting trees, you’d burn the whole place down.”
“Charge?” Nephthys asked, curious. This was the first time Osiris had let her come with him, she wanted to learn as much as she could.
He knelt down by her side and wiggled his gloved shooting hand. “This controls the ‘bolt – you can’t shoot without a glove – it’s… kind of plugged in to you, so you just–”
“Like when you mind-hack?” she cut in.
“Yes, just like hacking. So you just think about how much charge you want to give, and that’s what you’ll get.”
Nephthys nodded slowly. “Can I have a go now?”
Her brother laughed. “No, I don’t think so.”
“Why not?” she whined.
“You’re a girl, for starters, you shouldn’t be shooting bows, you should be playing with dolls and dreaming about marriage…”
Nephthys wrinkled her nose. “Yuk. I’m never getting married. And dolls are boring.”
“You will get married,” Osiris said, distracted. He had drawn and loosed his bow once more, again uncharged at the palm. “Some day, anyway. Father will see to that. As to dolls, you’re right they’re boring, but still, you’re too young to shoot.”
Osiris ignored her. “Right, practice is over. How about some real shooting.” He took a small stone from his bag and handed it to her, scanning the lush greenery that crowded the banks of the Nile; he stopped, narrowed his eyes, then raised and drew his bow.
“What are you aiming a–”
“Shh,” her brother cut in in a whisper. “Count to five in your head, then throw the stone into those bushes over there.” The lightbolt nocked on the bow seemed different somehow – Nephthys thought she could feel warmth coming from the ‘bolt.
She counted to five in her head, then threw the stone. A great blue bird burst from the bushes, squarking in alarm. Osiris released the bowstring just as Nephthys realised what was happening.
“No,” she cried as the lightbolt flew through the air. It missed the bird narrowly and shot off into the clear blue sky.
“Shit,” muttered Osiris, drawing the bow again.
Nephthys squeezed her eyes shut, her fists closed tightly too, she reached out with her mind in the direction of the big blue bird…
And she was falling, flailing madly. The second lightbolt from Osiris’s bow missed her as she fell – he’d shot it into the her line of flight, but she’d dropped unexpectedly and he’d already released the shot. Wings! She flapped her wings, awkwardly at first, then with a bit more confidence as she adjusted to the bird’s anatomy. The little girl on the riverbank was tensed stiff as stone – no, wait, that was her. She dipped and dived towards her true self as Osiris drew again, tried to alight on her shoulder but her clumsy claws raked on flesh…
A terrible pain in her shoulder disconnected her from the bird. She let out a squeal and looked down at where the bird – no, where she had cut herself. Her bright blue dress was torn and her blood was soaking it purple. The bird flapped down on the floor behind her and then hopped up onto its feet. Osiris stared wide-eyed, the lightbolt in his bow fading as he slowly un-drew the string.
“Did you just… hack that bird?” he asked in a quiet voice.
“You’re not killing it,” said Nephthys, pouting in defiance. Her shoulder hurt more than anything she’d ever felt before and her vision was swimming with tears. Still she faced her brother unblinking, not letting a single one of those tears touch her cheeks.
“Nephthys, your shoulder,” he gasped, only just noticing the wound. “We need to get you back, come on. Gods, father’s going to kill me.” Osiris gathered up his gear and held his hand out to her.
“I’m bringing Sky,” said Nephthys in the most commanding tone her child’s voice could assume. She scooped up the bird and cradled it in her arms. Despite her best efforts, she blinked and a couple of tears rolled down her cheeks.