Sorry for the absence. I have been very busy. I am currently re-releasing my full catalog of books into a broader market. Now, they will be available in all possible markets (B&N, Kobo, Playstr, etc) instead of just Amazon.
Matt sat unable to focus, nervously looking at the clock. They had been married for almost a year and Amanda was now nine months along. The baby would be coming anytime now. At any moment, he would be getting the call.
He was eager to be a father again. He was so eager that he was pondering whether or not he should retire from his position. The music business had been exceptionally good to him and he hated to leave it behind but he also wanted to spend time with his new daughter.
“Hello?” He picked up the phone as it rang.
“Matt?” Came Marty’s voice. “How are things?”
“Dear God, Marty,” Matt heaved a sigh, “you nearly gave me a heart attack. I have been expecting Amanda’s call to take her to the hospital….it’s almost that time and I don’t want to be absent from another birth. You know how it is.”
“Yep,” came his cousin’s chortle, “and it only gets worse as you await grandkids and great grandkids.” Marty’s tone changed. “But that isn’t why I called.”
“Oh?” He felt the lump rising in his throat. It was never good when someone said that. “What’s going on?”
“Shasta asked us to call,” Marty replied, “and let all the family know that she is gravely ill. Her doctor’s visit didn’t come out good, Matt. She is dying.”
“What is it?” Matt felt the tears welling up in his eyes. Shasta had raised him and his brothers and sisters.
“It is cancer, Matt,” the tears could be heard in Marty’s voice, “it’s cancer.”
“How are the others taking it?” Matt asked, pushing back his own tears, trying to sound strong.
“Star and the others have rushed to her side,” Marty replied, “and sis is with her as well. AS soon as I get done making the calls, I intend to be there as well.” There was a pause. “Will you be able to come as well? I know that Iowa is out of your way, and that you despise the governor there, but she–”
“I will be there,” Matt promised, cutting Marty off, “and so will Amanda and Little Nattie. How is Dani taking it all?”
“Dani is the most broken up about this,” Marty paused uncertainly, “did you say Little Nattie?”
“Yes,” Matt smiled sadly, “We’re naming our baby girl Natalia Shasta Morrow. After her grandmother and great aunt. We thought it fitting, especially after all Aunt Shasta did for us. And no one has been named after mama…and I have been–thinking back.” the phone buzzed, letting Matt know that someone else was trying to get through. “Listen, Marty. I’m going to have to call you back. Someone is trying to buzz through. Talk to you later?”
“Yeh,” Marty replied in a tired voice, “may be a while, though. got a long list to call.”
“Hello?” Matt inquired, clicking over to the other line.
“Matt, Honey?” Came the frantic sound of his beloved Amanda. “I-I think it’s getting close to time. Mind making your way home?”
“I’m on my way, Baby,” He promised.
“Heading out?” T-Bone appeared in his office door.
“Yup,” Matt smiled, “it’s time to get my ass home.” He looked at his friend. “Can you handle things until I get back?”
“Sure thing, Bro,” T-Bone nodded, “go be a husband and watch your daughter being born. Things’ll be here when you get back.”
“I have to make a second trip after Amanda is cleared to come home with Nattie,” Matt replied.
“Family related?” T-Bone raised his eyebrow.
“Yes,” Matt frowned, “I just found out that my aunt is dying.”
“Shasta?” T’s mouth dropped open. Matt nodded. “Oh, God, man! Take all the time you need!”
“Thanks, man,” Matt replied, “I owe you.”
Matt arrived home just in time. Egypt and Amanda were both waiting on the doorstep for him. Egypt loaded the bags into the trunk and Amanda, and herself, into the backseat with Amanda arranged in a more comfortable position.
“Just remember to turn your hazards on, Dad,” Egypt winked, “And drive to the hospital emergency entrance as quickly as you can.” She noticed the sadness in her father’s eyes. “What is it?”
“Your great aunt Shasta is dying, hon,” he replied, “I want her to meet her new great niece before she goes.”
Matt turned on the hazards and put the car into gear. Carefully, he emerged from his drive and sped toward the hospital. He had to get Amanda to the emergency room before this child decided to make an appearance. He smiled. If Nattie was anything like the rest of the Morrows, she’d make a dramatic entrance.
For some reason, luck, or the fates, seemed to be on their side. Every light stayed green all the way to the hospital. No crazy drivers tried to drive through their red lights. And even the police seemed to be nowhere in sight.
Matt breathed a sigh of relief as he pulled the car into the hospital drive and around under the emergency room awning.They were met at the entrance by a nurse with a wheel chair.
“Mrs. Morrow,” she smiled calmly, “if we can get you into the chair, I will wheel you on into the hospital so your husband can park the car. We’ll try to keep the baby from emerging until he can get to where we are.”
Egypt helped Amanda out of the back seat, then went to the driver’s side door.
“You’re going in,” she stated, “I will park the car.”
Reluctantly, Matt got out of the car and handed it over to his daughter. Still, he realized that it was more important for him to go in with Amanda.
“Pop the trunk,” he instructed.
Egypt did as she was requested and Matt removed the bags, closing the trunk after. Picking up the bags, he followed the nurse as she wheeled Amanda into the hospital through the handicapped entrance.
“Nice girl,” the nurse commented, “family friend?”
“She’s my daughter,” Matt replied proudly.
I am to go with Ninurta for a season. I will return after the Sumerians have trained me in their ways. In my place, Sekhmet will be training a ‘youth’ named Gil-Amarek. Of course, Gil is not exactly a youth. He is 2,000 years old, the same age as Resos the scribe. Correction. 1,000 years younger than Resos.
But our fates are tethered together, Gil and I. We are of the same…cloth. We are both neither human nor Eldyr race. Nor are we of the ancient hunters. We are a separate people altogether. Would that be an accurate assessment?
I am both excited and a bit scared at this move. I have never been outside Egypt and know nothing of the outside world. Until recently, my little piece of Egypt was the world. Now, I will be going into another very foreign world to me.
“Will we see the city-states?” I ask.
“From a distance,” Ninurta assures me, “but there really isn’t much to them. Just small settlements surrounded by supportive farmland. Sumer isn’t really a kingdom. Just a bunch of allied cities that act independently.”
“Somewhat like Egypt,” I state.
“Well,” he smiles, “yes and no. There isn’t really a push to unify at the moment. Just a tendency to cooperate, yet war with one another when the mood strikes or stores get low.”
“I see,” I nod, “but unification is inevitable.”
“Indeed,” he nods, “as it is everywhere.”
“And your settlements?” I ask.
“They lay in the desert,” he remarks, “beyond human settlements. much like here. It is part of our treaties with the people of Sumer. As they expand, we move farther out into the wastes.” He looks at me. “Eventually, we will be left with no place. We will have to…disappear from the midst of man. That is where you and your breed come in. You blend in better. Especially you and Gil. You both can leave this realm and enter the unseen.”
“This is not normal?” I press.
“Not for hunters,” he remarks, “no.”
Night is falling and we have one more hunt to go on. The hunt to destroy the alliance between Tiamat and Set. The dragon and the Devil. We cannot afford their alliance to remain intact, at least not within the bounds of Egypt.
We must push Tiamat back into Sumer so she can be dealt with by her own. Just as Set will be dealt with by our hunters. Or they will flee from the known lands into the abyss. We would rather see them flee into exile if we cannot kill them. The Wadj-men, those Fallen who fled earth with their pale shadow brethren-who are neither hedj nor kem, but a cross between the two-would take them in.
Still, the ideal end would be for them to be killed, not exiled. But it won’t be easy to kill either of them. Balance must be restored and the breach healed. Even if it means the end of the Eldyr Race in order to protect and preserve mankind. Yet, we must try to preserve all races. Man. Vampyr. Lycanthi. Scarabi. Scriboi. Archoni. Serephi. Terrephi. Feyin.
Harmony must be kept, balance restored. Light must overcome the dark, order over chaos. Otherwise, the universe will be destroyed. And I, I will play a part in the defense and preservation of the universe.
“Be light on your feet,” Ninurta instructs, “Tiamat can feel rhythm, especially made by heavy footsteps or marching.”
“We have noticed the same with Set,” Sekhmet replies.
“My earlier scoutings have shown me that Ammit and her pets will be nowhere near Set’s abode,” Naunet states, “Meretseger, Khepri, Renenutet, Sepa, Wadjet, and Selket helped on patrol. We patrolled in an inconspicuous manner.”
“In other words, they became snakes,” Khnum smirks, pausing for a bit of drama, “and bugs. Always fun when they become something smaller to avoid being noticed. They can go just about anywhere.”
“And where did they go?” I ask, in response to Naunet’s piece of information, but nodding to acknowledge Khnum’s wisecrack.
“They were sent westward into the western desert,” she replies, “to seek a temple. Or some safe place where Set could hold out if need be.”
“He must be expecting an attack,” Sekhmet nods, “and is seeking a place to hide.”
“If he expecting an attack,” Aten begins, “then we must strike him on all sides. Give him no room for retreat.”
As we near Set’s hellish abode, a great dragon rises from the ground and flies to the east. Tiamat. She is retreating to Sumer. Set is on his own. Luckily she has not spotted us.
We wait until she is no longer visible, then move in. Set, it seems, really isn’t expecting us. His blood drinkers offer little resistance. I can’t really call it much of a battle. Apparently, they have glutted themselves on blood and are unable to put up a defense.
They die almost too easily. It’s all a little too easy. Almost unnerving. It is almost as if they had held a blood-feast to celebrate something. But what?
We gain access to Set’s palace. There are dead everywhere. Farmers. Slaves. Minor nobles. Town folk that have been missing for weeks.
“You’re too late,” Set says wickedly, “if you’re here to save them.” He motions to the bodies littering the floor of his throne room. “They served as a wonderful banquet to celebrate a wonderful alliance.”
“We already know that you met with Tiamat,” Ninurta interrupts him, “The question is why?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Set grins darkly. “We want to defeat you. Unfortunately, she could not stay to relish in your defeat.”
He rushes to attack me, but I see a weakness in his approach and trip him…moving quickly to one side to avoid his reaching grasp. he falls harmlessly to the ground, embarrassed. He rises, angry at the affront.
“Until next time, runt,” He hisses, then vanishes.
“Looks like you caught him off guard,” Khnum snickers.
“He’ll be back,” Sekhmet replies, “when he thinks things have quieted down.”
“You’ve just worded his pride, boy,” Ninurta smiles, “But to truly defeat him, you’ll have to come with me and learn our ways as well. The more you know, the better you will become as a fighter and a defender.”
“Then,” I nod, “I shall accompany you to Sumer.”
We are playing host to a wayfarer, a traveler from Sumer. Ninurta, a great legendary warrior and blood drinker hunter, has come in search of Tiamat. He believes that she is working closely with Set.
“The Dragon,” Ninurta is saying, “has left Sumer. She is wandering the lands of Earth. Elell, or Enlil as you know him, has sent me to find her and kill her if I can. He thinks that she is here in Egypt, helping Seqt.”
“Would you know anything about a new ally of Set’s,” Sekhmet probes, “named Wishmaster?”
“He is a priest of Seqt,” he nods, “who was sent to gain her alliance for Seqt. Apparently, she accepted and they have combined their power. Something to do with a youth that has evaded death more than once.”
“That would be our young child-priest, Amun-Nekeb,” she smiles, “who happens to be more than he appears to be.”
“Ah,” he grins, “one of the promised ones, is he?”
“We are thinking so,” she responds, “he is far more powerful than he appears. And far more powerful than any other pupil we have had.”
“Power to see the future?” He inquires.
“He has that,” she replies, “as well as all of our powers combined….and possibly yours and those of your clan.”
“I believe that we must put him to the test,” he agrees, “perhaps we should arrange a pupil swap. After all, we have a youth among our own who is possibly as powerful.”
“The 1,000 year old youth we have all heard about from Resos?” She pries.
“Yes,” he avers, “Gil-Amarek….better known as Gilgamesh.”
“We shall arrange a trade before Amun is to take up the priesthood,” she states, “the more powerful he is, and the more he knows, the better able he will be to protect humanity.”
“Agreed,” he nods, “but, for the moment, we need to make sure that Tiamat and Seqt are not joining forces…or we will have a problem on our hands.”
“Indeed,” Amun interjects, “and not just a problem. A calamity.”
“When do we start?” Khnum inquires.
“I need to rest,” Ninurta replies, “I suggest tomorrow night. Darkness will give us enough cover to sneak close enough to Seqt’s little piece of desert to find out who he’s making allegiances with.”
Our guest is asleep and we are under attack. Seems that Ammit has sent her little servant, Kinslayer, to try again.
“Seems you have a problem,” she sneers at Sekhmet, “my master’s lover has a visitor from beyond the peninsula.”
“Kinslayer,” Amun begins, “those who hate cannot love. they can only use, abuse, and take for granted through lust.”
“How dare you!!!” She snarls. “You’ll pay for that.”
“Why not try the one you came to kill?” I inquire with a humble smile.
“It’ll be my pleasure!” She hisses.
My teachers look at me with questioning looks. I smile at them and shrug. After all, she has no clue what I can and cannot do. She still thinks that all I can do is shape-shift, since that was what I was learning when she attacked the first time.
The battle begins. She slowly, awkwardly, picks at my defenses trying to find my weaknesses. Her inability to find any starts to burn as anger in her eyes. She is frustrated, I can tell. I keep meeting her every attempt with an equal defensive move that leaves no opening.
“You’re not playing fair,” she whines.
“In other words,” I smile, “I am not as inexperienced as you believed.”
“Your cockiness will be your fall,” she threatens.
“Experience,” I respond, “is not cockiness.”
Around us, her blood drinkers are dying by the hundreds. We are locked in a life and death battle, both of us determined to win. But there can only be one winner, and we both know it. Yet, neither of us wants to cede to to other the victory.
But she is growing tired. Her power is weakening. Her resolve, now beginning to crack. But I am not weakening, nor am I growing tired. And my resolve is unbreakable.
I feign a weak point, causing my body to become a mist-like mirage. Thinking that she has the upper hand, she strikes but finds emptiness. My hand enters her chest and I grab her heart.
“If I become solid again,” I inform her, “I will be able to pull your heart from your body.”
“Do your worst,” she hisses bitterly, dropping her weapons from exhausted hands, “you have me at a disadvantage. You have beaten me.”
I materialize and yank my hand out of her chest, grasping her heart. She blinks in disbelief at the sight of her heart, then falls lifeless to the ground.
I kneel next to her and place her heart next to her.
“I really didn’t want it to end that way,” I comment mournfully, “I would rather she yield, not die.”
“They rarely give in and surrender twice,” Amun states sadly, “It is their pride. They cannot accept that one bests them the first time and chooses to die rather than surrender the second time.”
“Send her heart to Ammit,” I respond, “as a warning. I want her to know that her servants are failing her.”
“It will be done,” Khnum replies, “feigning weakness and becoming a mirage was ingenious, especially grabbing her heart and giving her a choice. You did what was right in the end. Had you been merciful and turned away, not taking the opportunity you had, she would have killed you.”
“Agreed,” Sekhmet avers, “and she would have taken your lifeless body back to Set with her. You showed infinite wisdom in killing her.”
“What did I miss?” Ninurta asks, emerging from the palace.
“Long version,” Atum smiles, “or short?”
“Short will suffice,” our guest responds.
“We know that Tiamat is definitely with Set,” Horus states, “as is Ammit, the soul eater.”
“We were attacked by Kinslayer,” Thoth smiles, “and her blood drinkers. Young Amun-Nekeb defeated her. Ripped her heart out of her chest. The most surprising thing to watch.”
Ninurta looks at the dead Kinslayer, rolling her over to view the hole in her chest. He grimaces at the sight, then notes the glazed look of pained shock on Kinslayer’s face.
“That had to hurt,” he shakes his head in pity, “having your hand solidify inside her chest. Not to mention the extreme torture of having one’s heart pulled out of their chest. Novel approach.”
“He gave her a chance to yield,” Satet remarks.
“And yet,” he smiles sadly, “her pride was too much to allow her a second defeat.”
The death of Negus has most assuredly reached Ammit by now. If that is the case, then so has the tale of my survival despite her attempts to kill me. Both of these facts are sure to enrage her. But then, so will the loss of most of her blood drinkers.
Thousands of blood drinkers were burned during the morning hours after being stacked like kindling. We slept through the burnings and now rise for a night of hunting. A rumor has reached Sekhmet that shadows are coming to life and attacking humans and hunters alike. She has called them the Shadowkin.
Living shadows. Vile and ruthless, they seem to be everywhere. It leads me to wonder if they will be the next weapon sent by Ammit. No matter, I shall be ready for anything.
I only wonder one thing. How will we see them after dark? Is there something special about them that makes them visible even though they seem to be made of shadow? If so, what? And how do we know that we have actually killed them?
“Half of us are staying behind to defend the sanctuary,” Sekhmet begins, “while the rest of us will go in search of these Shadowkin.”
“Is there a reason for the sanctuary’s defense?” Khnum asks for my benefit.
“Yes,” Sekhmet admits, “we expect another attack tonight. If it comes, it will be in retaliation for killing Negus. He was pretty high up the chain of command and Ammit will be seething and wanting to exact revenge. We must be ready from this point on for whatever she may throw at us.”
“And Amun-Nekeb?” Amun asks for my benefit.
“The boy-priest will be out hunting with us on purpose,” Sekhmet answers with a smile, “Ammit will expect him to be here, but he will not. Those left in defense must be extra careful. They will be coming to kill, not to injure.”
“Duly noted,” Isis nods, “they will be bringing the fight to us as you are taking the fight to them. Sort of.”
“Precisely,” Sekhmet agrees, “and those in the hunting party will have to be just as careful. After all, we know virtually nothing about these Shadowkin or what their powers are.”
“Understood,” Khnum avers.
With this, we leave the relative safety of the sanctuary. We are only at half the strength we generally take with us. But I am not afraid. We shall overcome.
We travel in silence. We must not draw attention to ourselves where blood drinkers or other possible allies of the Fallen are concerned. Our targets will not be drawn by noise, but by our casting shadows. Seems strange to be drawn to shadows, but that is their tendency.
We are out three hours from the sanctuary when the first Shadowkin appears. Then, we are surrounded. They’re everywhere. In front of us. Behind us.
“What do we have here?” a disembodied voice seems to sneer. “A group of hunters?”
Their red eyes, almost slit-like, mark them as something other than shadow as do their vile white grins. Now I realize how to spot them. And I realize exactly what they are. And how to kill them.
“Thrust for their hearts,” I alert the others, “or their heads. Those are the only way to kill them.”
“The man-child is smart,” the disembodied voice hisses, “but he will soon regret his revelation.”
I wait for a Shadowkin to draw close to me, then stick my staff through its shadowy head. It screams and bursts into flame. There are bursts of flame everywhere. But the more we kill, the more that appear.
We are at a standstill in our advance, unable to move forward. Or backward. Still, we have accomplished exactly what we set out to do. We have drawn out the new foe and successfully diminished their numbers.
The battle seems to last a few hours. With dawn nearing, the Shadowkin retreat back to their world of shadows, the slowly emerging light destroying their ability to be of any effect. Now, with our path back to the sanctuary clear, we also retreat to safety. Still, we cannot figure out why they attacked with such ferocity. What were they preventing us from returning to find?
We finally return to the sanctuary after three hours. Blood drinkers lay everywhere. Neither dead nor living, they were soulless and now lay lifeless. We find that none of those left to defend the sanctuary have been killed or injured. This last revelation is a good thing. But the carnage is phenomenal.
“They showed a new leader,” Khnum states, “one that the blood drinkers call Wishmaster.”
“Wishmaster?” Sekhmet inquires, raising an eyebrow.
“Yes,” he nods, “at least that is what the blood drinkers called him.”
“What did he look like?” She presses.
“Almost like Set,” he responds, “but not as dark.”
“Send out messengers to the other hunters,” she gives him a concerned look, “and see if they have any information on this new foe.”
“Will do,” Khnum answers.
I watch the diminutive hunter vanish. I look around and find both Neith and Satet also missing. I shrug. They are never far from Khnum.
Atum appears from inside the sanctuary palace.
” Let’s clean up,” he states dryly, “we need to rid ourselves of blood drinker corpses. There isn’t as much work, so we’ll be able to get some rest rather soon.”
It only takes three hours to pile the dead corpses. Atum lights the pyres and we head for our beds. As I ready for bed, I ponder what I learned this night.
Shadows can bleed. They can die. They can talk. And they can wound.
Set and his blood drinkers have a new ally. He is unlike any other we have encountered. He looks like Set…much the same way I look like Amun. And we have yet to find his weakness.
In the mean time, we will try to find out what we can of this new enemy. And hope that none of those we have encountered will return anytime soon. We need time to rest. I need time to finish my training.
The Shadowkin will be back. So will Wishmaster. And so will Kinslayer and Shezmu, eventually. We can be sure of that.
I can see that the descriptions given are accurate. Where there should be a nose and mouth, only slits denote any place to breathe from, but there is no mouth. He speaks through mind-speak. But there is another major difference in his appearance. His hands.
His hands look strange. His fingers look like snake tails, not fingers. And yet, they don’t. They have strange looking cups attached that hold fast to whatever he touches and draws it to him. I fight to stay at a safe distance from his fingers, but they seem to grow to any length as he attempts to catch me.
His eyes, too, seem dead. Unseeing. Or all-seeing. Not sure which.
But if they see all, then his inner sight is off by quite a bit. He is unable to predict my next move. This, I can work to my advantage. Should I time the use of a spear correctly, I can cause him to impale himself on it.
But I have to keep my intent hidden while trying to position the spear so that he will do exactly what is intended. Not an easy task to fulfill. Especially not against a man who seems to see even though he does not.
“You fight well,” He mind-speaks, “Almost like a god. No matter. All your defense is for naught. I will kill you. Maybe not as quick as I would like, But I will still kill you.”
“Has anyone ever told you that you talk too much?” I ask without any emotion.
“All the time,” he responds, “But I still end up killing them.”
“With what?” I inquire. “Boredom?”
I am purposely trying to anger him. I want him to lose control. I want him to drop his guard. I want him to make a mistake.
Correction. I need him to make a mistake. It is the only way I can get him to subconsciously do what I intend for him to do.
He allows an angered growl escape.
“You’re trying to distract me,” he accuses.
“What would I gain by it?” I inquire. “After all, It was you who started the conversation.”
“I hate it when someone deflects,” he growls, now growing more angry ad he realizes that I am telling the truth, “as they attempt to distract.”
“Have it your way,” I remain unemotional, “it makes no difference to me.”
He suddenly loses all reason and makes a blind attack. Now is my chance. I get the point of the spear lined up so that he cannot see it pointing at him, then thrust with purpose. He grabs it and jerks it from my grasp, pulling it hard directly toward himself. And driving it deep into his own chest.
A mental gasp escapes him as his eyes suddenly show realization at what he has just done. I drive the spear on into his heart. It comes out his back. He goes limp as the spearhead goes through his spine.
“You fooled me,” he mind-whispers, “you knew all along what you were doing..and you fooled me. No one has ever been able to resist my draw to use emotion as a weapon. But you. You had me from the beginning. I…I…I couldn’t read you.”
“Of course not,” I smile, “I am a warrior. And a Warrior does not use emotion. And besides. I held my emotions in check with a warding spell.”
“But,” He gasps, “but human magic is not real!”
“No one said I was ever human,” I reply, “though I was born of human parents, that does not make me human.”
“No,” He shakes his faceless head, “no, of course it doesn’t.”
His eyes close and he dies. The blood drinkers flee into the night as I drop the ward. No need to hold it anymore. The faceless man, Negus, is dead.
I behead him and put his head on a pole. I place the pole outside the sanctuary where any other would-be-attacker will see it and possibly think twice before trying their luck. If Negus was the best that Set’s followers have, I truly feel sorry for them.
“Ammit is not going to be happy,” Amun states, cutting one of Negus’s hands off to send as a warning to Ammit and her minions, “You’ve killed one of her pets. And more easily than she believed it possible.”
“Was he her best?” I ask.
“Oh, no,” he responds, smiling and shaking his head, ” The god-killer is her best, but you have even bested him by taking his hand. But as far as minor evils, Negus is one of her worst…just not the worst.”
“His weakness was his strength,” I state, “What he fed upon was also his only source of strength, but was also something that created a major weakness. using his own negative emotions against him was what proved lethal to him. He could not feed off his own negative emotions and that made him weak.”
“Very good,” He praises, “you are learning.”
“One must always learn,” I reply, “if they are to grow.”
“Indeed,” He chuckles.
I look around. Cleanup is going to be a nightmare. Dead blood drinkers are everywhere. And we are all exhausted.
I look at the sky. The new day is dawning. It will soon be daylight. Still, there is work to be done.
We will be able to rest as soon as we get things cleaned up. I yawn. Then yawn again. No rest for the weary. But, then, I would have it no other way. Dreams and visions can wait.
So can more lessons. No need in worrying about numbers and glyphs. Or even spells, rites, or rituals. Those can be for another day.
There are bodies being burned everywhere. The bodies are stacked outside the sanctuary in multiple piles on pyres of wood doused with pitch. The flames shoot high into the sky. And burn with a heat so intense that the sand itself melts.
Khnum, Neith, and Satet wash away the blood stains. Soon, the sanctuary is clean and I head for bed. Sleep is now more needed than sustenance. Though tomorrow is already here, today is pretty much wasted.
By noon, there is something on the wind I cannot place my finger on. A slight chill, barely noticeable, has begun to nip at me. I notice that no one else seems to notice. Or they cannot feel it.
If they notice, they give no sign. And that bothers me. Why am I the only one noticing this change?
The whispers begin. At first, they are indiscernible. Then they grow louder.
“Can no one hear the whispers?” I ask, breaking the silence. “Do you not feel the chill on the air?”
“Whispers?” Horus responds.
“Almost like a warning,” I aver, “as if someone or something is coming.”
“How cold of a chill?” He asks.
“”Deep,” I remark, “almost soul deep.”
“Silence, all!” He commands, holding his hand up to signal the need. “Our young warrior has sensed a coldness on the breeze and hear the wind whispering!”
“An attack is eminent,” Satet gasps, “they have sent someone dark and evil to deal with the boy. Someone whom we have never chanced to meet.”
“We have taught him well,” Atum smiles, “while we were busy with chattering amongst ourselves, he was in tune with the very air around him. And probing for activity on the other end….even if he did not realize it.”
“I merely sensed a change,” I respond humbly, “and followed it to its source.”
“Indeed,” Amun nods, “You have learned well from us, young Amun.”
“They intend to strike tonight,” Meskhenet announces ominously, “And shall be led by a faceless man.”
“Negus,” Ma’at responds, “The deformed. also called the syphon. He is an energy drinker. He tends to feed off your negative energy, using it to become stronger.”
“He has other names,” Isis says sadly, “But this is the one he prefers, since he prefers negativity.”
“The only way to combat him is to not give off any negative emotions,” Sekhmet smiles grily, “or to set a ward that doesn’t allow him to sense your emotions.”
“I can do that,” I assert.
“The whispers,” Menthu explains, “are his blood drinkers. His are not very intelligent, or quiet. They tend to announce themselves in advance. Almost as if they are bragging about being the ones chosen to kill innocence.”
“We must plan a defense,” Thoth suggests.
“Yes, indeed,” Aten agrees.
“Then,” Sekhmet smiles, “plan we shall.
Dusk. My teachers have all slid into the shadows in their defensive positions. As planned, I sit in the center of the practice arena. I have my eyes closed so as to appear as if I am meditating. I make no moves, show no emotion.
And then, they suddenly descend. Without warning, I move. Without opening my eyes, I begin my dance. As I open my eyes, I notice that there seems to be an endless number of attackers. They just keep coming.
It is as if they are meant to wear us down. Make us easy prey. Strangely, they are weak. Almost too easy to defeat. It doesn’t;t make sense.
Still, my emotions are cloaked by a ward. An extremely powerful spell meant to mask, to hide. To keep an enemy from discovering. But where , exactly, is their master?
Or is this an illusion, something meant to make me drop my ward? What if the devils are watching, waiting? NO. Can’t allow myself to think that way. No questions.
And still, they keep on coming. I can’t help but laugh inwardly. The ridiculousness of the situation is amusing. At the same time, this seemingly endless wave is hiding something else. But what?
I refrain from using spells. Or any of the abilities I have been trained to use. I cannot afford to drop the warding spell. I cannot allow him to find me through my emotions.
Keeping my mind on my fluidity keeps it from wandering from the task at hand. Counting moves. Strokes. Slashes. Jabs.
There will likely be no sleep this night. Only battle. And death. And for some reason, I am relishing it all.
Why? Could it be a false emotion? Something to make me drop my guard? Or is it that I have a touch of bloodlust?
Whatever it is, I have to get it under control. Keep it from breaking my concentration and, ultimately, the warding spell. I need to remain resistant. Resilient.
The lives of those around me rely upon my ability to keep control. To lose control would be deadly. For all of us.
Strike. Parry. Sweep. Jab. The motions are ordered, yet staggered. Parry. Jab. Strike. Sweep.
I continue to leave no real rhythm or rhyme to my movements. Sometimes, I repeat movements more than once to throw the opponent off. Sometimes, I omit a move. No two sequences are the same.
It is all to throw off my foes. Every move, every attack. This is the ultimate training session. And, yet, It is the most brutal test.
Both too easy and most difficult, it would be maddening to anyone else. But, then, I am not just anyone. I am the son of priests, born to be a priest. I am to be a protector of kings.
And then, he appears. From out of the dark, he comes, descending from the darkened sky. But he is still uncertain whether I am the child or not. I show no emotion. H can feel no emotion.
“Either my prey has better skills than I was informed,” He states in a bodiless voice, “or he is an empty husk.” He looks at me. “You seem the right size and build, yet you show no emotion.”
“I am a warrior,” I reply, without emotion, “A soldier shows no emotion. Feels no emotion.”
“Not even the thrill of battle?” He mind-whispers.
“Not even the thrill of battle,” I assure him.
“Then,” He looks away, “Let’s see who the better warrior is.”
“Age does not determine one’s being better. Only discipline. And practice,” I respond.
“Indeed,” if he could smile, now would be one of those moments, “indeed.”
“It is your move,” I state.
He lashes out and I catch his strike with ease. Parry. Thrust. Thrust. Jab.
“Do you know who I am?” He asks as he attempts an attack.
“Negus,” I reply, “The faceless man.”