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*I am the last.*

This thought haunted the being called Bata, as inescapable as his own shadow. Finding an ill-defined trail, he chose a direction at random, heading east. His melancholy followed him, relentless. Anger had coupled with grief and given birth to fear, to weariness, to apathy. The three bastard emotions warred for supremacy in the warrior’s heart. Having slain hope, each turned upon the other.

*The last of my race.*

All around him, the sands steeped in the heat, conjuring mirages from the painful glare. Out here, there were no pyramids, no temples, no trace of the grandeur that had once marked Bata’s homeland. Khem. Egypt, men called its remnants now. The structures reared from these sands by Bata’s ancestors had long since returned to them. This land was dead, as dead as the men and gods who once thrived here.

*The last of the Shemsu-Ra.*

The man himself could have been a mirage. In form, at least, he was a man. His body bore the quiet strength of the proud Maasai, though he stood taller than any amidst the people, prone even as they were to unnatural height. His ebony skin bore numerous tattoos and the ritual scarification common to his tribesmen. But the Maasai were his children, his descendants, not he theirs. None among them bore the elongated, gourd-shaped skull that set apart the older race- the Shemsu-Ra, the Companions of Ra.

*And now they are no more.*

Bata had sensed it when each one of them had died.

He closed his eyes, allowing the memory to take him. How long ago had it been, their last gathering? Not so very long. The last time the moon had been full and fat. Bata’s spirit, following the path of the Ka, returned to that night, the night of the council, when the Brotherhood had spoken for the final time…

The moonlight washed over the wind-smoothed desert, lending to the sand hills the appearance of snowdrifts. Bata knelt before a thin stream, brushing its surface with a calloused hand, then wetting his face.

“You smell of the Nile, little one,” Bata said. The dam at Aswan had tamed the great river, ended its floods, yet still the rains came, the cycle continued. From the shallow depths of the water emerged the bud of a tiny flower, delicate and pale blue. The blossom opened to the night, offering its faint aroma to the breeze, a supplicant to the life-sustaining moon.

“Ah,” Bata said. “The lotus blooms.”

About him stood the others, twelve in all. Each wore a blue, hooded cloak. Their skins were of various hue, from dusky to copper to black, toughened to leather by exposure to wind and sun over countless human lifetimes; otherwise they were identical. Each bore over their right eye one tattoo larger and darker than the others that adorned their bodies. The Uadjet- the Eye of Horus the Falcon. Ever open, watchful. Vigilant, the charge of the Brotherhood.

“Brother Bata,” one of the others said. He spoke in a language that, had any outsider been present to hear it, would have been unintelligible, a tongue old when Egypt was in her infancy. “We await your order.”

Bata stood, turned to the group. He listened to the gentle soughing of the wind over the sands, inhaled the cool scent of the water lotus. Then he spoke.

“Brothers,” he said. “We have all read the signs alike. The prophecy is fulfilled. The Chosen One has been born.”

“We must act,” another of the gathering said. “Our Enemy will seek the Child.”

“He must be protected at all costs,” offered a third.

“Yes,” Bata said. “Yet the living Darkness is not defied without great cost. By taking action, we reveal ourselves.”

“Who then will be left to protect the Child?” demanded another.

“The prophecy speaks of one,” Bata said, “who is to stand beside the Chosen when he comes to the time of trial. It is foretold. As for us, our duty is clear.” Bata held out his hands. “The Child must be hidden from our Adversary. Brothers, we must sing the song of the Ancients one last time. Let the Enemy be blinded by unyielding Light!”

The gathering clasped hands, formed a ring. They began to speak, to chant, their voices resonating into one. Bata felt the energy wash over him, his own Ka—his soul—joining with it. Deep and primal, the song carried above the desert hills, growing in volume. The wind hushed as though ashamed; jackals stood frozen in silence. For the splinter of a second, reality itself seemed to hearken to the song. Too fast to be noticed by most of the world’s living things, like a ripple passing through clear water, reality shifted. And, somewhere beyond that reality, in a place beyond sound, the Enemy roared in fury.

Bata dropped to his knees in the sand. The others collapsed around him, exhausted. After a few moments, Bata spoke.

“It is done,” he said. “The Darkness will not find the Child. He is safe.”

“For a time,” said another. “As for us, our time is at an end. Our story is completed.”

“No.” Bata stood. He trembled, steadied himself. “Not yet. We have one last battle before us.” He looked around at the others. From beneath their cowls, their eyes, watching him, reflected the moonlight.

“We will not await the contest like a gaggle of geese,” Bata said. “Rather, we will offer to our Enemy a flock of eagles in flight, so that the Darkness may weary itself with the hunt. Remember, brothers, as it is written in the prophecy, ‘Death comes on wings to those who defy the Darkness.’ If it must be so, then let us sell our lives at great cost, and leave the Darkness to bear the scars of its last contest with the Shemsu-Ra!”

Bata’s eyes snapped open, returning him to the heat of daylight and to the present. Still alone, yet what had drawn his Ka back to his flesh? Bata stood alert, listening. He scanned the path before and behind him, the wastes on both sides. Nothing could be seen save the pale sands, disturbed by a low breeze; nothing could be heard but the sighing wind.

Beneath his blue cloak, now stained with sweat and dirt, the blade of Bata’s sword brushed against his thigh. It’s metal, cool to the touch, vibrated at the contact, humming.
*It senses them as well.*

“Ah, yes, my friend,” Bata said, grasping the hilt where it jutted from his belt. “I am not so alone after all. We will make this last stand together, yes?” The sword purred. Bata grinned, jerking the weapon from its sheath. “Show yourselves, cowards!” Bata roared. “Or do you fear to face me? Would it please you should I turn my back?”

The moaning of the wind became laughter, musical and distant. “Do you mock us, slave of the Lotus?” a voice spoke, beautiful, refined. A tiny whirlwind lifted a handful of sand, then another and another until it stood as tall as Bata. It danced towards him.

“What of you brothers, Shaitan?” Bata said. “Will they cower like jackals until the lion has filled his belly? Let them join us.”

“A grandiose death you desire, then?” the whirlwind asked. “As you will.”

Several more small cyclones flitted in the shimmering heat, their laughter akin to
singing. The Arabs called such creatures Djinn, though Bata knew them by many names.
Whatever men deemed to call them, Bata knew all too well what they were capable of. He knew all too well that he had no chance.

“We give you to the Darkness,” the first Djinni said. “May the Master feast upon
your sweet soul.”

“My Ka is beyond your reach,” Bata said. “But I offer you a taste of my steel!”

Bata caught glimpses of their physical forms as the demons advanced on him. Plated, scaled skin that leaked steam, stretched to the thinness of a membrane over skeletal bats’ wings. Curving fangs, gaping mouths, darting tongues and eyes like blazing jewels. Bata twisted his sweating hands tighter around the hilt of his sword. The weapon’s blade, forged in the style of the ancient Egyptian swords, curved somewhat like a scimitar, but was more gracile. Upon the brilliant, coppery finish, numerous runes and arcane symbols from various languages had been etched. These, along with the spells at the ritual of forging, imparted to the blade a power that transcended the physical. Unlike bullets or explosives, unlike any modern weaponry, the sword possessed the capability to cause injury to such creatures as the Djinn, beings existing beyond the material plane.

Provided, of course, that Bata could make contact.

The Djinn swirled around, darting closer and then back, taunting him. Bata hissed through his clenched teeth, controlling his breathing, forcing his body to obey the
discipline of his mind, his spirit. One of the demons moved in too close and Bata’s sword
slashed through the whirlwind. The blade met resistance and a piercing shriek rose above
the desert as a flaming, indistinct mass hopped away over the sands, trailing a smear of
inky blood.

“For your Master!” Bata yelled.

Then they were upon him. The Djinn struck in unison, allowing Bata no opportunity for defense. His sword slipped from his fingers as claws hotter than a blowtorch ripped at his skin, teeth like chainsaws severed his left arm at the elbow. The whirlwinds turned crimson as they filled with blood, spraying it upward in a fountain. It fell back to the earth like rain, swallowed up by the desert. They bore him, still alive, still struggling, to the ground. Bata felt himself being pulled beneath the sands. It filled his eyes, his mouth, his throat and lungs.

Within moments, the desert looked as it had for centuries, for millennia. An ocean of sand, seemingly endless, undisturbed. Nothing remained to mark the spot where the
last of the Companions of Ra fell to earth, save an Egyptian curved sword protruding, half buried, from the wastes, its brilliant steel reflecting the blinding grief of the Sun God far overhead.

TheCheezman • January 22, 2020

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