chapter eight: a span of Ages
“Nefret is before us, the guards behind,” came his desperate whisper. “But even so, we’re going in. Quickly, give me the spear. This is what you must do …”
The Sorceress gazed with elation upon the Time-wheel, a strange mixture of human and alien thoughts coursing through her mind. She was certain her goal was fast approaching – her probing of the stranger’s mind had revealed some knowledge before he had forced her out.
As she grasped the device’s control knob, the human part of Nefret fumed silently at the memory of his defiance. No matter, what was one man? With the awesome power that was now hers to command the whole world would soon cower before her like a whipped cur before its master.
Suddenly, a flash of movement caught her eye. She turned, eyes wide with astonishment.
Carson sprinted towards the Sorceress, his spear leveled for the kill, felt her mind striking his own with rays of mental force. He faltered for a moment; then steeled his courage, surging forward once more, fighting off the insidious power that, like some nightmarish vampire, sought to sap his strength.
Seeing she had not yet accumulated a sufficient charge of mental force, Nefret snatched a dagger from her girdle. Leaping aside, she tripped Carson as he hurtled passed sending him sprawling to the floor, and leapt upon him, her slim blade plunging towards his unprotected back.
Mayet ran for the Time-wheel, knifed by fear for Carson’s safety as she saw him roll aside, barely avoiding the Sorceress’s flashing dagger. She grasped the device’s control knob then wavered; knowing she stood upon the brink of the unknown, was about to leap across a span of ages to what strange land not even the gods themselves might know, forever cut off from all familiarity.
The Guards burst through the secret door, charged towards Mayet. Their sudden appearance spurred her to action, and she spun the knob to its utmost setting. The Time-wheel accelerated to a blur of motion, its crimson lightning leaping in flaring arcs. The warriors skidded to a halt, milled about in fearful hesitation at the awesome spectacle.
Carson gripped Nefret’s arms, fought to stave off the deadly blade that sought his life, felt his arms weakening under the unnatural strength of the Sorceress’s muscles. Mayet ran towards the struggling pair, grabbed Nefret by the hair; hauled her off, threw her to the floor and pressed one knee into the struggling woman’s back whilst maintaining a painful grip upon her tresses.
Seeing their mistress in peril and fearing her wrath, the guards rushed forward, were almost upon them when Carson snatched up the Sorceress’s dagger and pressed it to her throat.
“Stop!” he cried, the charging warriors faltering at his harsh command. “Or your mistress dies.” And then to Nefret: “Call off your dogs, woman, and quickly or you’ll feel the dagger’s bite.”
The Sorceress stared at Carson, her dark eyes alive with hatred and defiance, mouth set in a thin hard line. Grimly, he pressed the blade to her throat, drawing blood.
Common sense prevailed: “Go,” she cried. “Leave us. Quickly, do as I say.”
Mayet spoke: “We have defeated the Sorceress. We are mightier than Nefret’s magic. Her rule is ended. Spread this joyous news among the people.”
The warriors retreated, muttering among themselves, casting glances over their shoulders, some hopeful, others fearful and uncertain of what lay ahead.
Carson turned his eyes from the departing figures to the Sorceress, and was tempted to cut her throat. It was probably the safest thing to do, but as he was no ruthless killer, he turned to Mayet, saying: “I’ll hold Nefret prisoner, you know what to do.”
The girl nodded as they changed places, snatched up the fallen spear and ran to the altar – a long rectangular block of polished granite whose hollow interior held at least a hundred gallons of scented oil that fed the sacred flame flaring from a bronze bowel in its center.
Circling to the altar’s rear, Mayet saw the spigot that drained the oil from its chamber. Using the butt of her weapon, she broke the valve with a single blow, ignited the spear’s end with the sacred flame, and thrust it into the jet of streaming oil that gushed from the broken tap. The volatile liquid burst into roaring flames, splattering the wall with burning oil that ignited the cedar panels, clothing them in a tapestry of living fire.
Nefret looked on, her impassive expression concealing the powerful charge of mental energy she had been generating. Suddenly, she thrust out a needle of psychic force that lanced Carson’s brain. He cried out, the dagger dropping from nerveless fingers. Falling to the floor he clutched his head, which throbbed with searing pain.
Mayet turned, saw Carson lying upon the ground, the Sorceress sprinting towards the Time-wheel. The girl ran to intercept Nefret, swung the flaming spear. The Sorceress ducked, tackled Mayet; both fell upon the floor, hands locked about each other’s throats.
The flames leapt higher. Sparks fell an in incandescent rain, showering Carson with burning embers. Gasping, he looked up, saw the roof timbers enfolded in fire, dark smoke roiling in ominous clouds.
Mayet lay gasping, straddled by Nefret whose strangling grip drew death’s dark curtain across her vision. The Sorceress gazed upon her helpless victim, eyes alive with gleeful vengeance; the alien presence within hungering for the girl’s life force. It rose up, a writhing mass of dark shadows that seemed to surge across vast gulfs, as if it were not fully within our own reality.
Nefret’s black aura flamed, put forth tendrils of ebon force that coiled intimately about Mayet’s body, probing with ravenous sinuosity. Suddenly, a fist smashed heavily against the Sorceress’s skull. She reeled; her aura collapsing in upon itself, then plunged into unconsciousness’ ebon depths, dragging down the dark being that was entangled with her fading mind.
Carson quickly slung Mayet’s limp form across his broad shoulders, fear clawing at him as he looked about. Walls and ceiling were wrapped in flames, and choking smoke filled the air with constricting vapors. An ominous creaking warned him that the roof was near to collapse, its timbers weakened by the hungry flames.
To hell with the Sorceress, he thought, running for the exit as a tide of blazing oil threatened to cut off escape. I’ll be lucky if I can save the girl and myself.
A fit of coughing made him stumble, Mayet’s weight slowing him further. Barely regaining his balance, Carson mustered his fading strength, sprinted passed the fiery liquid just as flaming beams began to fall, exploding upon the floor in a spray of sparks that struck like burning arrows.
The temple collapsed in a roar of stone. The earth shook with the thunderous concussion that spewed forth smoke, dust and glowing embers in a surging cloud that shrouded the scene within the churning tumult of its dark efflux.
All was silent, deathly still. A cool breeze stirred, slowly dissipating the vapors with its gentle breath. Two figures lay revealed. Carson coughed, rolled off Mayet’s body. The girl opened her eyes; then gasped when she beheld the heavens.
“Look,” she cried. “The sky is blue once more, the magic dome has vanished.”
They both stood shakily, each supporting the other, and gazed upon the temple’s smoldering ruin. Beyond the shattered building lay a strange landscape, the butte giving a panoramic view of the surrounding vista – not harsh desert, but lush purple grassland broken by a mighty river and its tributaries that flowed to the sparkling sea, perhaps two miles away.
The countryside was empty of Man - only distant herds of strange animals populated this unknown wilderness, and Carson grew weak with the full realization that his own age was now forever lost in the mists of time. How far had they come, a million years or more perhaps? Only a great span of eons could have changed the landscape so.
And where were the people of this distant age? Surely their advanced science would have detected the appearance of this city. But the sky remained empty of flying machines. Only birds, or something like them ruled the air, and it came to Carson forcefully that humanity was no more, rendered dust by who knows what calamity. He felt shaken to the very core.
Mayet looked at him, concern in her eyes. “I feel it too – the earth knows not the tread of men. Take courage though,” she said, turning to the crowd that had joined them. “For we are not alone.”
The people, mostly priests and scribes from the adjoining temple complex that remained undamaged, stood about, uncertain, casting fearful glances at the ruined building, half expecting the Sorceress to emerge from the smoldering rubble. Then, after a long moment, the eyes of the throng turned expectantly upon Carson and the girl.
Mayet stepped forward, addressed them: “The Sorceress is dead, but her magic has brought us to this new land. It is not Egypt, true, but then again it is not so strange that we cannot prosper here.”
Carson watched, feeling somewhat useless as the girl gave orders, sent the priests and scribes into the city to organize the digging of irrigation canals, the planting of crops and all the other things that were necessary for survival in this new world.
She stood there without fear or shame, and in her lithe beauty he suddenly saw hope, and the prospect of new beginnings that drove away his melancholy reflections on Man’s passing. Carson stepped to her side, and hesitantly placed his arm about her waist. She smiled shyly at him, eyes glancing like a doe, moved closer, and together they gazed with confidence upon their new world.
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.)