The sun rose over what looked like the city of Cairo. The early morning light cleared the horizon and was bright and sharp, stinging the eyes with its searing, illuminating essence. The duskiness of night, suddenly evaporated in a single moment, stark and striking. The land had an alien presence as if it were someplace else, far removed from humanity, and in its way, it was. This was not Egypt of Earth, though it resembled it very closely. The markets slowly rising, people going about their tasks, farmers working the land, fishermen gathering their nets, weavers gathering their reeds, bureaucrats readying their papyrus, pharaohs discussing the affairs of this place, this Kemet, the perfect Egypt. This was the land of legend, of the thousand and one Arabian Nights, a place of mystery, populated by the spirits of men, lead by the god-born and protected by the remnants of the once-great gods of this place. And in this place, Ptah, grandfather to the gods of Kemet, saluted the morning Sun, his brother-son, Ra as his laughter trailed off into the morning.
His laugh was punctuated with the rhythmic stride of running alongside a well formed young man of twenty five or so, it was so hard to remember, it seemed as soon as you got to know them they died, but he liked this young man, full of questions, heresy and rage, eager to take on a world that had done nothing good for him. He had grown strong during his training with Ptah, his body and spirit forged by his time in the Desert Outside of Time. This place was in the boy, filling him with its essence, becoming a part of him, the silence, the vastness, the stillness of the desert, hiding its secrets from all but the most knowledgeable. I brought him out here one last time to reveal the last great Secret to him. He deserves to know where his Fate will lead him.
"What do you mean the gods did not create the universe?" Lumumba gasped in the warming desert air. His incredulity pasted on his face along with the sweat and windswept sand of the early morning air. "Everything I was ever taught, no matter the religion, indicated that the gods, or God or whatever we worshiped created the universe and everything we know in it."
Ptah ran effortlessly alongside Lumumba, his bare feet barely touching the hot sand, his short and powerful frame clothed in little more than a pair of biking shorts. His night black skin, shown with a shimmer of sweat and a mild musky scent rose from him, otherworldly and intoxicating. "I, or someone like me, I forget which, was said to have created the universe, and populated it with my sister-wives and brothers who, then, in some manner created the world, then the animals, populating it finally with people who, of course, look like us, and ultimately worship us and we share our wisdom with our children and we all live happily ever after, or something like that. What's missing is the detail. And the truth of the matter is that no god, old or modern has any interest in humanity knowing the truth of our origins." Ptah, smiling Ptah, was for the first time since Lumumba met him, was not smiling. "Rest a moment."
"Thank you, I needed to stop. You say I don't need to breath or eat or sleep here, but I always feel just as tired as if I did." Lumumba sat down on a nearby rock and caught his breath, sipping from an old canteen he wore on his belt.
"And you will, as long as you believe you need to. You have come here for almost fifteen years and still do not understand the nature of this place." Ptah's smile returned to his face as he turned toward the morning sun.
"And how would I ever learn it's true nature, oh mysterious one, when you do everything in your power to make sure I never truly understand this place?"
"The question is the answer."
"That is exactly what I am talking about Ptah, you never tell me anything useful. Just print that stuff on some fortune cookies and we are in business." The tone is light and bantering, as this was a conversation that had been chewed on before same as the rough unleavened bread they shared.
"Perhaps the idea is to convince you to think for yourself. There may come a time, when such free lunches will be not forthcoming. It will be time for you to leave us soon. We only have one more teacher for you to see." Ptah was ever-smiling but his face seemed to have another, more subtle, cast this early morning as perhaps a secret burden weighed heavy upon him.
"Another teacher? We had been spending so much time together lately, I assumed there was no other teaching left for me, your august company excluded." Lumumba's mind cast back to his early days in the Desert. Lumumba stared at Ptah and considered just how long he had been coming to the Desert with its silver sands, strange oases, and perfect palms. The Desert also hid a collection of eclectic folk who wander its sand sea dunes, hidden from the rest of the afterworld.
These were wonderful people who trained him in everything from any kind of survival to dining etiquette, combat both open handed and with a wide array of weaponry, ancient or modern, a variety of languages, he could speak nearly two dozen now, without an appreciable accent. He had met people from nearly every culture and every part of the world. They all seemed to be part of the Desert no matter where they were from originally. Everywhere he went, and he was beginning to think, every-when he went, Ptah knew everyone and everyone knew him. There were several times his trainers appeared to be from a range of times, from the Visigoths to Vietnam. It hurt his head to think about it so he just learned to accept it just like everything else he did when he was with Ptah. It was Ptah, and Ptah told him when he met him, to expect the improbable, prepare for the impossible and accept that just about anything could be true, somewhere.
Ptah would take him across the Desert, running, they never rode a vehicle unless their teacher used or needed one. Ptah kept telling him that he wanted the essence of the Desert to sink into him. Since he never really explained it, Lumumba let it go as the random nattering of a senile deity nearly eight thousand years old. Once they reached their teacher, Ptah would leave and promise to return. Eventually he would and the lesson would be over. The teacher was never surprised, but Lumumba was never aware of how they would know. Lumumba was never able to tell what time it was and since his watch refused to keep accurate time in the Desert, he eventually stopped wearing it.
This had been their ritual with the occasional trip to the City, as Ptah called it. But as usual, nothing done with Ptah was simple, easy or made any sense at all. Every trip to the City, started with a trip to a clothing store where they were both fitted for what amounted to period costuming. There were several different shops but they all seem to do the same thing for Ptah, create stylish clothing that was better than the biking shorts or worse, that skirt thing that Ptah tended to favor. Once he put on a suit, he appeared to be quite substantial and deadly serious. Leaving the clothier, Ptah would head into the city proper and find a particular building, and upon opening the door and passing through it, Lumumba and Ptah would find themselves transported to where ever or whenever, their costumes dictated.
Trips to the City, and by proxy, where ever the doors lead were almost always trips that revolved around learning some obscure lesson that could have been delivered by Ptah in the Desert, but it appeared that Ptah enjoyed his jaunts as much as Lumumba secretly did.
"Yes, you have a final teacher, but he cannot be trusted, and rightfully so," Ptah said. "Today is your graduation day and I bear gifts for this day." Reaching into his backpack he pulled out five rods about the length of a man's forearm. On the end of one of them was the head of an eagle. The other rods were ornately festooned with cartouches that Lumumba recognized as the Battle of Horus against Set. "Put it together, using your Ka, like I have shown you."
Lumumba focused his will and his Ka leapt to his command, surging forward and was visible in his fingertips as he held each section of the staff together and smoothed over the separation point until the entire staff was a single piece with the Eagles' head on the top end. The staff was weighted, but perfectly so, and Lumumba's spinning of the staff, appeared effortless. He began a staff ritual weaving the staff in a complex series of movements, that while they appeared random slowly began to form a barrier in the area painted by the staff. After a few more seconds, the sands near the barrier began to rise about knee level and stayed there wavering as if under the effects of anti-gravity.
Ptah walked up to the barrier and studied the work, allowing his divine senses to study his protégé's work. It was perfect, the young man's mastery of his Ka showed a marked improvement even since the last time they did this type of Work. "Explain the basis for our sorcery."
"Sorcery using the Ka harnesses the pure spirit of the caster and is best used for creating constructs and barriers that protect the body and the mind. This is the purest of the spirit forms of magic. It is also the fastest cast, and has the shortest span. It also works well between realms and suffers the least degradation in the realms of Men. Creative use of Ka can often mean the difference between life and death.
"Good, good, go on." Ptah was secretly pleased that his lessons had been received so well. The manifestations Lumumba was creating were without flaw.
"Mastery of the Ba, or blood magic allows for powerful offensive magic. But since you cannot harm without harm, Ba requires a sacrifice of blood or bone, yours or someone else's. Down the dark path is Mastery of Ba, since many of the necromantic arts can be found there." Lumumba manifested the Claws of Ra and cut into his palm allowing a tiny flow of blood. Wiping his blooded hand across his new staff, the head of the staff suddenly sprouted a short two foot spear tip comprised of blood red light. Swirling the weapon, he sliced into the face of a nearby rock, cleaving through it. "The problem with Mastery of Ba is its continued requirement of sacrifice to maintain it. To use this blade, for instance, would require a constant application of blood and in a long battle, that could be dangerous to one's health."
"Very good, what is next?"
"Sheut Mastery is the control of the shadow side of all things. By interacting with the shadow of an object or a person, it is the same as interacting with that object. With Sheut, I can temporarily control the will of a man or destroy or move a physical object that does not possess a living will simply by interacting with its sheut. Mastery of the Sheut is one of the most difficult of magics because, subverting a living will is forbidden due to its karmic costs. However, Sheut is a powerful force if one is attempting to destroy unliving objects since they cannot object to their Sheut being disrupted by a sorcerer of sufficient strength. This is also a magic that works well in the world of Men because it does not violate the Compact and reveal the existence of magic. Sheut is a very flexible form and there are sorcerers who practice nothing but Sheut because of its wide range of applications from destruction of matter to animation of objects."
"Ren Mysticism, or the Mastery of the Name. Bequeathed by Brother Thoth and Sister Isis, Ren Mystics seek the secret names of all things. The secret name of a person or object allows complete mastery of that object, weaving the threats of reality and control to the mystic using it. This is why we keep our secret names to ourselves and only reveal them to those who love us best. To know the Name of a thing or person allows the greatest power over an individual, mastery of their very soul forces and life essence. A powerful Ren Mystic can slay the living and raise the dead. This power barely works in the world of the Living due to the disruption it causes in the Compact, but in Spirit World, it is one of the greatest powers possessed by the learned. You have taught me to guard my Name and the power that could be had if someone knew it. I have never told another soul. I have woven the threads that might reveal my Name tightly within my essence to make them proof against mortal divination. I have learned to read the threads of all things in order to find their secrets as well."
"And the last?"
"The Forbidden Power of Akh. Practitioners of this power create imperfect resurrections of formerly living beings. There is no rule that says these creatures could not be beneficent servants but the power seems generally sought to return men to life with a form of immortality placing them beyond the reach of Death. It is forbidden because almost all who seek this power become corrupted while under its influence. Life is for living and when one's allotted time is due, one graciously leaves the world and returns to the Cycle here in the Desert Outside of Time, awaiting a return to life in the future. Using the Forbidden Power disrupts the cycle and imbalances the Spirit World. With sufficient imbalance, the two worlds fall from balance and can both be destroyed. Hence the prohibition of this very dark art. All who use it, with only the tiniest of exceptions are slain and their creations destroyed. I have learned it, as you have taught it, to return the dead to the Cycle and to disrupt the creations that utilize that art. I am never to pervert the dead to create Akh-life, except in the defense of a greater good."
"And as far as I am concerned, there is no greater good that would warrant such a creation, but to not teach it to you would make you vulnerable to anyone who knew it." Ptah was pleased that this, his greatest gift, had been received well and it would be used wisely.
The two had been walking and talking for some time away from Memphis and Ptah had been manipulating their path until they had come to what appeared to be a great forest along the edge of the Desert. "That is the Great Forest. A manifestation of all of the World's greatest forested regions, jungles, rainforests, and other planted regions. We are expected there. As they approached the Great Forest, the smell of immense age wafted from the Forest. The air of the Desert was dry, crisp with a light metallic taste, the forest's scent was cooler, mustier, like an old closet filled with woolen sweaters, still but not unpleasant.
As they grew closer, the size of the immense trees became more apparent, from a distance they appeared to be the size of a strong man, but when they were closer, it was clear they were much, much larger. It would take twenty men, arm to arm to encircle even the smallest of these trees. The trees vanished into the sky and covered the sun allowing only the tiniest spots of light to reach the ground. Great eagles were also seen flying in the canopy, each, incredibly large, some the size of a small airplane.
As they left the Desert behind and moved deeper into the forest, the sense of age only increased and they walked until they had come to an area that seemed older, the trees more bent, great spider webs were woven through the canopy, whispering their secrets, waving in an unfelt breeze.
"Welcome, weary travelers to my land," said a great voice from apparently nowhere. Lumumba looked around but could see no one speaking, and the voice seemed to come from everywhere.
"Look up, my son," Ptah had already found an immense stump to sit on and was pointing skyward.
Lumumba looked up and was surprised to see the largest spider he had ever seen dangling just a few feet from his head. It was the size of truck and its eight eyes, burned with intelligence. Lumumba could feel its will pressing down upon him, a physical presence, making the air thick and his movement slow. He wanted to move his hand to invoke his Ka, but he simply could not move his fingers at all.
"So this is the savior, the protector of mankind, the one we have been waiting for nearly a thousand years? He certainly does not look like much to me. As a matter of fact, I think he is an arachnophobe to boot." The great spider moved with an alarming agility for something so large, and swung itself down to land in front of Lumumba. Its eight eyes never lost their intensity, as the spider made its way around him, viewing him from all sides. "I thought he would be taller."
"You say that about all the heroes, Anansi. I am a respectable four feet tall and it has not held me back any," Ptah responds with a jocular tint to his tone. This eases Lumumba's fear of the giant spider plucking his clothing and his new staff with its glistening razor sharp pedipalps.
"Yes, boy, that glistening substance is venom; enough in each bite to slay a thousand men. A single touch from me and you would be dead before you knew it. No, I am not a spider. I resemble one, but a spider my size could not exist where you come from. Consider me the iconic representation of what all spiders imagine themselves to be, awe-inspiring, powerful, killing machines. And no, I am not reading your mind, your face says everything."
"And let's not forget humble and full of grace."
"You scare the boy in your way and I scare him in mine, Ptah."
"Did your master tell you about me, Horus-ka?" hissed Anansi as it waved its forelegs around Lumumba.
It was hard for Lumumba to listen to Anansi's voice, it caused him to want to run away and never stop, so filled with menace, its very presence confounded his concentration. Lumumba watched as he began to sense the weaving of the threads of magic. "Yes, sir, he did mention you in passing when he talked about well known deities of the African continent. He said, you were a known liar and scoundrel. And that if I were to meet you in person, to not trust a single thing you said to me unless you swore on your ancestors first."
"He said what?" roared Anansi, his huge forelegs waving faster around Lumumba, his body tense and hair all over his form stood erect and crackled with what appeared to be electrical energy. "A liar, and a scoundrel, not to be trusted, eh? Did he tell you that I stole the moon and the stars for man, did he tell you that I liberated all of the stories of the world for humanity, so that you would have something to do around your fires for the last fifteen thousand years? Did he tell you that without me, you would not have fire, since the gods wanted to keep it for themselves?"
The air in the clearing was still as Lumumba considered his answer. Lying to deities was almost always the wrong thing to do, since most could tell when you were. But Ptah did mention that diplomacy when discussing them was always the best choice since gods were known to be a bit thin-skinned, sensitive about their exploits and capricious in the response to how they are seen by humans. Lumumba decided to go with candor. He hoped Ptah would step in before anything bad happened.
"Yes, sir, he did tell me some of those things. He said that you stole the stars but spilled them on your way out of heaven so they scattered throughout the sky. He mentioned that you borrowed the sun because you lost your way coming out of the underworld and forgot to put it back when you were done. He also mentioned that you did liberate all of the stories of the world, but you did it so that you would have people pay you to hear them. On your way to the market, it was said that the stories fell into the river from the calabash you carried them in and were lost, found by beggars and fishwives who used them to get money from people. On the matter of fire, he mentioned that you did steal fire for us, but only because you took pity on us one day when we were freezing and you did not have a warm place to stay having been kicked out of Heaven again and so you gave us fire, so you could be warm." Lumumba had begun to regret his decision as he felt the energy of Anansi building in front of him, its claws waving closer and closer to his body. He dared not move since the claws were sweeping all around him front to back, faster and faster.
Ptah snickered and turned away from Anansi, taking a sip of water to hide his laughter.
"So he did, did he? Anansi whispered. A deep breath followed with Anansi sounding just a little bit contrite. "Well, so that the truth be known, he has not lied. Not once. All of those things are as you say. I am a selfish deity who happens to benefit others while I am trying to benefit myself. As I have done now. He is ready, Ptah." Anansi stopped waving his claws over Lumumba and backed away.
"I call you Horus-Ka, the spirit of Horus. Your next answer will determine the fate of men and gods. When confronted by evil, do you use the force of arms or the strength of will to resolve the problem?"
Horus-Ka looked to Ptah but his face was stony and unresponsive. "Sir, --"
"I am Anansi, The Weaver of Fate, Teller of Tales, Trickster of the Gods, Defender of Man, I am no man. Call me as I am, Kwaku Anansi," interrupted Anansi with enough force to nearly knock Horus-Ka from his feet.
"Forgive me Kwaku Anasi, Ptah, Father to the Gods, I have been taught when confronting evil that force of arms is almost never the only solution to a problem, and that truly winning the battle relies on a keen eye, a strong mind, a full heart, a ready wit and a forceful will. I will only use force of weapons when no other avenue presents itself. This I pledge to you, my masters." As Horus-Ka completed his statement, two circles of fire formed with a bridge of flame connecting them.
The circle around Horus-Ka was filled and surrounded with a variety of cartouches each flickering in multi-colored flame, the second circle about ten meters away was much larger and opened to a vista similar to the Great Forest Horus-Ka had seen earlier in the day with one vital difference. A giant creature seeming to be comprised of earth tore through the Forest and approached the barriers that kept the Forest and the Real World separate. If the scale were to be believed, this creature stood over a thousand feet tall, towering over the redwoods of the Great Forest. Giant Eagles and tiny men sitting on those eagles seemed to be engaging the creature unsuccessfully. One tower had already fallen and when three of them were toppled, the creature would be able to cross into the world of Men.
"That is your first great task, Horus-Ka. You must protect the world of Men. It is too close to the boundary for any of us to be of any help to you. Your gifts and your training will need to be enough. Know that the people you see there are denizens of the Spirit World, when they die, they fall from the cycle of life, never to return. They need you to stop this creature. If it pierces the boundary, it will cause a massive earthquake wiping out the Atlantic coast of Africa, South America and parts of the North American continent."
"Who could have done this, how is this even possible? Ptah, you said that the Compact prevented magic like this from even working in the world of Men?
"These creatures do not obey the Compact and have begun their assault on our world. They have begun a battle which will pit all of the Spirit Realms and the World of Men against each other, and when the White Host, the Cold Gods and Demon of Babylon have exhausted themselves, they will destroy the victors. This opening volley will liberate the Demon and you cannot allow that. If she is freed too soon, things will not be in place. Ptah, what of your brothers and sisters?"
"They are hidden in the world of Men with no memory of who they are, it is their only chance of survival and the only chance there will be some gods left when this Scourge is done. We are the last, and Horus-Ka, son of man and gods, you must be our weapon. Otherwise we have none. As a man, you may go places even gods fear to tread. Now go, we shall buy your freedom with our lives, if it comes to that."
The clearing was suddenly lit from the distance as beams of cold white light streaked through the trees and illuminated the webbing of the clearing. Screams of agony and rage are heard in the distance.
"I do not think they like the decorating I left for them. It is so hard to find venom laced webbing these days." Anansi turned to Ptah. Make ready my brother, my traps will not hold them long." Anansi leapt into the trees, and skittered across a web work hidden in the canopy. "Horus-Ka, the weavings of fate upon you are strong, I wove them myself. But you were given a thread of Fate before I met you. That fate I could not change. Be strong and in your darkest hour know that Fate is your ally, even if you cannot believe it at the time. Farewell, son and spirit of Horus."
Ptah turned to Horus-Ka and took a necklace from his bag. It held an icon of a disk with the Eye of Ra upon it. "When I am gone, you will be unable to return here without this talisman. Only Ra will remain behind to protect the Spirit World because he is safe within his chariot of fire. All of the souls here will depend on you once we are gone. Now go. Make us proud.
"Is that it? No ideas, no clues how to defeat the thousand foot tall colossus? "
"If heroism were easy, everyone would do it." Ptah's armored hand snatches a spiny arrow from the air, mere inches from Horus-Ka's face. "I am confident you will do what is necessary. Go." And with that Ptah pushes Horus-Ka into the second circle of flame and into his destiny.
"And now I go to mine. Anansi save some for me."
"There are plenty to go around, my brother. You know I could not undo what Fate had given him."
"I know, but you gave him a chance to save the world first."
The number of lights in the forest increased and the number of eyes those lights came from doubled. And doubled again; and again. Soon the forest was lit and there was no darkness. Ptah and Anansi held the portal open until Horus-Ka arrived. Then the portal closed and was sealed, unable to be opened again. After that moment, no one without the Eye of Ra would be able to enter or leave the spirit realm. This would not help Ptah, who armored with a mighty staff whose head of Anubis, slew any that it touched instantly, a magnificent flaming helm which shot forth beams of the light of Ra, incinerating all it shown upon, whose thews allowed him to strike each hexapedal creature and slay them with a single blow and mighty Anansi, whose webs, fangs, claws, and venom destroyed dozens of these creatures a second, and it was still not enough. Both of these beings were soon overwhelmed and the number of their enemy soon exceeded their ability to slay them, formidable though they both were.
But they were not trying to win. They simply needed to buy some time. This was not the real battle. The real battle was being fought in the heart of a boy they rescued twenty years ago against a monstrosity of stone and magic. Anansi projected a blast of venom and hurled a star from the sky upon a cluster of the enemy. His venom seared their stony flesh and the star destroyed then by the dozens. But after a day and a night, he had begun to tire. Standing upon a mound of the dead, he and Ptah were surrounded and exhausted.
The six legged creatures fell back for the first time in two days. A man-like creature strode forward, lit by the light of glowing sigils. He had two winged serpents flying over his shoulders. His body was gnarled and bent, but glowed with boundless power. He wore an elaborate headdress and metallic bracers on his arms and feet. His face was covered but the area of the headdress where his face might be was illuminated with a pale light which showed the face in shadow, a long aquiline nose and a cruel sharp jawline. His voice was liquid menace and if a human were listening he would have heard a language thought dead, the tongue of the Mayan Olmecs. "Never send a dog to do a man's job." The two serpents turned toward Ptah and Anansi and opened their mouths. A sound like the rattling of a thousand bones of the dead being ground to dust, slowly, agonizingly streamed toward the two gods.
Anansi, reached heavenward again and pulled another star from the firmament. The star streaked toward the forest. Exhausted by this final effort, Anansi fell still holding the star only with his will alone.
Ptah's helm shown again with Ra's Light but it weakened and guttered. Ptah moved the last few steps toward Anansi and he could hear the star's imminent arrival. The Great Forest was lit from above as the star grew in the night sky. The remaining hexapeds turned their eyes skyward and the Olmec directed his will upon Ptah and Anansi. And then, Ptah's light went out and a star incinerated the Forest.
* * *
Horus-Ka arrived about two kilometers from the edge of the forest where the second barrier to the world of Men shimmered in the early morning light. There were many defenders already in place whose variety of weapons were made ready. Some were familiar to Horus-Ka, many were not. The defenders were sitting still preparing their Ka for this final confrontation. Many were invoking sigils that would no matter what happened meant their ultimate dissolution as entities on the Wheel of Life. Horus-Ka did not stop them. Each man had to make his own decision. As he walked toward the forward line, many of the men and women stopped as he passed and whispered. The monstrosity drew closer and nothing being done seemed to have any effect on it. Beams of light and mighty songs rang out, each filled with spiritual puissance. The drummers at this second line began to beat their rhythm and sing. As they sang, the swords and spears of their brothers began to glow and smolder. The creature despite its terrifying appearance was not alone. It had a vanguard of smaller creatures that attacked and destroyed any siege weaponry that might have a chance against the beast. Several mortars were already set up and ranging to the creature was being taken. Several mortar teams had already begun fire and as soon as they did, the creatures turned as a unit and bore down on those mortar squads. The defenders opened up with a variety of rifles and other ranged weapons, including bows, crossbows and atlatls. As long as the drummers played and sang, their weaponry struck the hexapeds blasting hunks of their armor away, blowing off their heads or limbs. But there seemed to be an unstoppable wave of the creatures so the defenders whittled away and slowed the wave of creatures but could not stop it.
As the creatures closed, eventually it came down to hand to hand to protect the mortar squads. Grenades were used as the creatures closed, but hand to hand was simply not enough to protect the mortar teams. As each group were eventually overrun, the creatures seemed momentarily confused before they oriented on their next target.
The mortars had some level of effectiveness as the creature was being blown apart by the explosive rounds. But the creature's incredible mass prevented the mortars from striking a killing blow. Horus watched the battle and for a moment, just a moment, lost all hope of stopping the monstrosity. These people were throwing away their immortal lives against a threat that could not have ever been conceived of.
Then he remembered his training. Ptah had taken him to a hill one day and asked him why the enemy always sought the high ground. Looking around, he realized that when you have the high ground, you have visibility and can see all of your enemy. Ptah told him if you cannot deny your enemy the high ground, deny him the advantage of high ground. He watched the giant and realized the smaller horde moved where the giant was looking. So the great creature was providing vision to the smaller groups. Deny it vision and we might have a chance.
Looking around, he saw a small contingent of what appeared to be military leaders conferring. "Commanders, I was sent by Ptah to help. Do you have any smoke grenades or systems to deliver smoke to the creature. Ideally, smoky mortars would be ideal until I can get close enough to the creature to blind it."
One grizzled veteran smiled and said "Aye, I think we can arrange for some cover and smoke, but if you want to take the battle to its eyes, you will need more than a spear or a staff. We were planning on saving them until the creature grew closer, but if you are willing to get closer, they might work better. We only have a few tanks and they are at the third barrier. I have twelve RPGs and six young men just crazy enough to try and use them."
"We will have to split into two groups, one for each eye. Lay down the smoke around its head which should slow the horde and allow us to do more damage to it reducing its size as well. Concentrate your groups and keep your drummers and spell-singers back. The two groups will approach from eagle-back and make a single pass on each eye at the same time using the cover of smoke. Blinded, the horde should be much less effective. If we are successful, I want you to use your tanks immediately to lay down as much fire as possible, using exploding rounds if you can, but wait until the creature is truly blinded and the horde is pinned down as much as possible. Otherwise, the creatures will make a straight line for those tanks and they will simply not stand a chance if that happens."
The old colonel called to his RPG teams and got four eagles ready. "I have included one spell singer on each eagle. They cannot use the RPGs but if they are singing once you fire, the RPG will be that much more effective. They understand the risk. As do I. I will be on the second eagle."
Looking out over the battlefield, the next mortar squad was readying its weapons and the smoke rounds were being prepared. Two large rotary machine guns were placed in front of the mortar teams and some metallic constructions were also being placed down in front of this squad to give it the longest survival time possible. The command group was being ushered back to the third line, except for the old colonel. The eagle pilots had the eagles ready and the teams were boarding. Horus prepared to get on to his eagle when the old colonel spoke. "Begging your pardon, Horus-Ka, but I do not think you should be going with us. If this goes south, we need you to find a solution, already we are using the ideas you have given us and would be loathe to lose you. Ptah would never forgive us."
Colonel, I don't plan on telling Ptah, do you?" Horus-Ka laughed and climbed aboard the eagle. The four eagles took off and the smoke mortar drops began.
Two other mortar teams also began fire explosive rounds, this time in front of the approaching horde. The smoke spread quickly and began to obscure its vision. As the smoke grew thicker, the horde slowed its approach. The remaining forces, concentrated their fire, from everywhere, tearing into the hexaped armor. Spell singers, rallied, drummers played their hearts out, their fingers bled and they did not stop. The Horde slowed and for a moment, the firepower of the Spirit Army held the creatures at bay.
The smoke was thick and the eagles split off to fly behind the creature to set up their approach. They flew high above the smoke and aligned themselves, with a final wave, all four began their approach. The pilot, spell singer and one commando were on the front half of the eagle, and two commandos were on the back end of the eagle. The smoke was incredibly thick but as they approached the surface of the creature they could see through the smoke and began to set themselves up for the shot.
On the ground, the last of the smoke mortars had been fired and the mortars were packed up as the defenders held the line still using their guns and ranged weapons. The Horde was slowed but not stopped but now it was a retreating battle that constantly poured on the firepower. Machine guns mounted on the tanks began to fire into the horde providing cover for the retreating defenders who ran out of ammunition. As the Horde recovered, they surged forward but their sudden charge was broken by a group of warriors riding large cattle with long spears whose tips flamed red and whose shields deflected the leaping creatures, the warriors garbed in red robes, moved as one, their spears flashing and protecting the retreating spirit army members. Their fury was so great the Horde fell back as the warriors sang and stomped the ground in their approach. The cattle whose great horns were armored gored the creatures and flung them about. The spirit army rallied and began to support the great warriors and broke the rush of the Horde. For the first time today, the Horde retreated.
The eagles made the final dive, the wind roared in Horus-Ka's ears and the pilot raised his hand to indicate the time to fire. The spell-singer began her song, clear and crisp despite the wind, her song to the men, focused their attention, hardened their will and they for a moment forgot they were a thousand feet in the air, terrified of a creature from their most terrible nightmare and were less than one hundred meters from that creature; what a song, literally pure magic.
The eagle banked and the eye loomed into sight. The pilot dropped his hand and everyone fired. The eagle banked again and pulled away as the explosions sounded behind it. The creature screamed a primal sound, a thousand trumpets blaring and Horus-Ka and his team were directly in the blast.
The second team while also successful in the strike were set upon by leaping hexapeds that had climbed up the side of the creature when it saw them approaching it. Their eagle was covered with the hexapeds and the last thing Horus-Ka saw of them was the old colonel firing his hand gun and the spell singer using her magic as a weapon against the horrors and then they faded into the smoke.
Seconds after Horus's eagle was driven from the air by the scream of the creature, tank fire rocked the air and the face of the creature suddenly had craters forming in it as the tank rounds tore through the surface of its stony skin. The smoke was driven away as the mortars and tank fire began to tear into the creatures structure.
The creature's forward approach had been arrested at the third and final barrier and every artillery weapon fired ceaselessly. Blinded, the creature could no longer direct the horde and the Spirit Army while taking heavy losses were destroying the Horde. Drummers who were close to the horde directed their music as a weapon toward the creatures and destroyed them with the vibrations of their drumming. Many drummers died, but none left their drums, destroying creatures with spell, sword and song until the very end.
Once the creature was blinded, the concerted effort of spell-singers, blessed artillery, and the concentrated fire of the Spirit Army ground the creature back to the dust from which it was formed. The horde was decimated and hunted until the last creature could be found and slain.
Horus woke aching and bloody from his crash. "You plan on lying there all day, do you, lad," the old colonel said as he offered Horus his hand. "The beast is dead. Your plan while completely daft, worked. Unfortunately, no one else survived but the three of us." Horus said a quick prayer for those souls lost.
"The spell-singer says the center of this magic is nearby and thinks we should investigate. She is already looking at something, so let's get you up and at it," the colonel gruff tone seemed to focus Horus-Ka's attention.
Horus looked around and saw that both eagles, and their pilots had died in the crash. The creature had fallen over and its open mouth was less than one hundred meters away. As they moved closer, the spell-singer had already climbed up into the mouth of the creature and illuminated the interior of the creature's mouth. "Lord Horus, here is the source of this foul magic." She pointed to a large disk shaped object about a meter in diameter. It seemed to be forged of a strange clay or rock and the patterns etched in it were painstakingly drawn and etched. "This appears to be the magical equivalent of a computer. The program is written along the outer edge and the inner structures seem to direct the magical energy allowing this creature to draw upon the energy of the land for its sinister purpose. It was meant to wander through our world and steal energy to release in the world of the living. Like all magic, it can be traced back to its source if you are willing."
"Now what kind of hero would I be, if I weren't? I have been waiting all my life for this. Colonel, get back to your people and contain this artifact. Learn all you can so if this thing makes another appearance, you won't have the problem we had this time. Let's move this thing and see what we can learn about our enemy."
Thaddeus Howze © 2010, All Rights Reserved