**chapter six: demon in the Globe
Relief flooded Carson like heady wine as he leaned heavily against the wall. The girl had somehow managed to find the concealed mechanism, opening the door with only moments to spare.
He turned to her with a smile. “Thanks for saving my life. I’m sorry, but I don’t even know your name. By the way, mine is Matthew.”
To Carson it seemed a paltry thing to say, but it was the best he could offer in the way of gratitude at that moment.
Damn, he thought. A braying mule would have made a prettier speech.
She returned his smile. “I am called Mayet. Please, Matthew, we must be going. They’ll have a battering ram at this door now they know its here. Some time ago I discovered the existence of these passages. I do not know them all but can guess where this one leads. Follow me.”
“I’ve a thousand questions about this city, about you and that woman who calls herself the Sorceress,” he said as her followed her slim form down the corridor.
The girl nodded. “These strange events began about seven days ago, I think, for it is difficult to keep track of time when there is neither day nor night, only the strange radiance of the ever glowing dome; but I digress. My father, Patah, who was mayor of Amonubis, saw a falling star one evening whilst walking in the garden. It blazed a trail across the heavens and fell to earth at the outskirts of our city.
"In the morning my father, accompanied by servants, went to investigate and found the star – it was a ball of smoky quartz about six cubits* in diameter. Thinking it a gift from the gods, he had it brought within the city and to the Temple of Ra where Menkeri, the High Priest, ordered it placed before the alter of the god.
[* The Egyptian Royal cubit was a linear measure of 20.62 inches.]
"Many people came to see this wonder as did my stepmother, Nefret. Without the slightest warning, something like black lightning leapt from the sphere and engulfed my father’s wife in sable flames. The demon hidden within the globe entered her body and the two became one – the Sorceress.
"By calling upon its dark magic she transformed the sphere to a huge disc that now hangs suspended in the air within the temple. This strange talisman, which she calls the Time-wheel, enclosed our city beneath a magic dome that carries Amonubis through time as if it were but a boat upon the Nile.
"Of course my father and the High Priest opposed her, demanded in Pharaoh’s name she free our people, even tried to exorcise the evil spirit within her. But their efforts were in vain and the demon rose out of her, killing them for their trouble.”
The girl faltered in her speech, supernatural terrors overwhelming her for a moment; but not so Carson, who realized that the globe could only be an interstellar vessel of some kind; the demon an alien entity that needed a host to house its consciousness. He knew he’d have to let Mayet think in religious terms, realizing that a rational hypothesis would be meaningless to her, not because the girl was unintelligent, but because she was from a culture that knew nothing of modern science.
“Go on,” he prompted, gently. “What happened next?”
“Nefret, who was always jealous of me, made me her slave. Slowly, I learnt the truth – a simple task for she has a boastful tongue. From what I can understand, the demon was a fugitive from heaven, forced to flee from other more powerful beings that are its enemies.
"It was cast upon the shores of earth; needed a body to house its ka* and chose Nefret by chance alone. She always was a woman of ruthless ambition, and with the merging of the demon’s ka and her own, has become more so. The Sorceress now wants to rule the world; not mine, but a future one she believes will possess luxuries of which we can’t conceive. Indeed, she considers the world her pot, and wants it down to the very bottom**.
[*The ka was the ancient Egyptian term for the soul.]
[**Derived from the ancient Egyptian proverb “I want my pot down to its bottom.” Probable meaning: “I want all of what’s rightfully mine.”]
"I plotted to avenge my father, to free my people from Nefret’s oppressive rule by destroying the Time-wheel, which is the source of magic so powerful that it can conquer the earth. Alas, my plan was discovered. You know the rest.”
“You were not afraid to oppose the Sorceress?”
“I was, but I am my father’s daughter,” was her proud reply, and from her tone he knew the answer was sufficient unto itself.
Suddenly, a hollow boom sounded, its fleeing echoes crying through the gloom.
“It’s the ram,” cried Mayet as she broke into a sprint, only to pull up suddenly with a cry of terror.
Carson collided with the girl as she leapt back like a startled cat, and immediately saw the cause of her frightened reaction – scattered upon the floor before them were at least a dozen venomous serpents, no doubt attracted by the rats and mice infesting these hidden ways.
Again, the ram sounded as if in cruel laughter at their plight. Mayet felt sick with fear – in her mind’s eye she saw the stone door, the spreading cracks that grew and grew with every mighty blow.
Carson squatted. “Quickly girl, climb upon my shoulders. I’ll carry you through.”
“It’s madness,” she cried. “The cobra’s bite is deadly.”
“No time to argue. We can’t go back.”
He felt her reluctantly climb upon him, slowly stood, and stepped cautiously among the writhing forms. Again the ram sounded, spurring him to haste. A cobra rose, hood flaring, venting a warning hiss; Carson froze, sweat upon his brow, heart pounding. He felt Mayet tense.
Steady, he thought. Keep calm. One false step could be the end.
The serpent settled, he moved cautiously, slowly sliding through the living minefield. They were halfway across when another crash rang out, quickly followed by the sound of falling stone – the ram had breached the door, and in but a moment the racing warriors would be upon them.
This story is copyright by Kirk Straughen. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)