A child of prophecy, in her life she would bear three names, one as a peasant and mercenary, yet another after she was captured and enslaved. Despite it all she would rise to become Priestess of Isis and High Priestess of all Egypt and face her greatest challenge...an nearly immortal evil.
It was late in the afternoon when they came within sight of the tall, thick walls of the fort, slowing to a canter as they approached.
An eerie silence prevailed, unbroken by the sound of the birds that normally scavenged the refuse and detritus of the fort’s dunghill. All they heard was the wind blowing over the sand, a soft ominous hiss.
Khai looked to the walls.
They were empty. The gates were open wide, almost in invitation. No one could seen, within or without.
Something was badly wrong.
Instinctively, nervously, the archers strung their bows and carried them at the ready as the charioteers held their horses on a tight rein, the animals tossing their heads restlessly.
At Irisi’s side, Nebi made an anxious noise low in his throat, shaking his mane uneasily as his tail twitched.
Unsettled as well, Irisi reached behind her to loosen her swords in their scabbards.
The towers at each corner were unoccupied, as was the interior as far as they could see through the narrow aperture of the open gates. Nothing moved beyond them. The garrison should have been bustling with men drilling and patrols coming and going. Especially in light of the stories they’d heard.
Everyone looked around nervously as they rode through the gates in the outer wall.
No one challenged their right to enter. Shadows pooled unnaturally beneath the walls.
They passed through the first wall then through the second and into open marshalling yard.
To all appearances, the complex of barracks and buildings was completely empty. The square before them was barren, no soldiers drilled, no one repaired their gear or sharpened their swords, nor did the commandant come to greet them.
It was unnatural, eerie and disquieting. The entire garrison seemed to have vanished.
A silence unlike any other, broken only by the whistling of the wind, surrounded them.
“How many?” Irisi whispered.
Khai shook his head. “A hundred, perhaps more.”
The enormity of it…
With gestures, Khai split his people and sent them scouting carefully through the complex.
He and Irisi dismounted to cautiously approach the commandant’s quarters.
They could see nothing within the shadows of the entry but those shadows seemed darker than usual.
Nebi pressed protectively close to Irisi. Out of habit, she rested her hand on his head, her fingers in his mane.
Darkness seemed to press against her, though the sun was still high in the sky. Something was wrong… The closer they walked to the commander’s quarters the more disturbed she felt. She tried to tell herself it was her imagination.
Malevolent… Evil… Gathering…
With a great coughing roar, Nebi suddenly crouched.
“Khai,” Irisi shouted and threw herself at him.
Nebi leaped just as something with wicked teeth and claws erupted from within the concealing darkness.
Whatever it was that burst from the cover of the commandant’s quarters was like nothing Irisi had ever seen before… And yet it was familiar in a strange way, something she’d only read about, something to haunt her nightmares.
Nebi met it, snarling and roaring.
More of the thing bounded out in the wake of the first.
They looked like hyenas but they weren’t, everything about them was slightly wrong, from their oversized teeth to the too long claws on their feet, yet the powerful bone-crushing jaws of the hyena they resembled were still very much a danger.
Irisi spun away from Khai, throwing her swords up to defend herself as one of the things launched itself at her.
“Call your people back, Khai,” Irisi cried. “Get them back.”
The thing twisted to evade the iron in the rough steel of her swords.
Khai shouted for his people as more of the things and new, different, ones erupted from the shadows where they’d been hiding.
Things that resembled smoke but weren’t flowed from the barracks around them in rolling billows. That smoke transformed into creatures that were shaped roughly like men. It was there that all resemblance ended.
Rough creatures, their skin was as black as charcoal and rimose, threaded with glints of red like the coals of a banked fire. Their eyes were narrow glowing slits, their noses and mouths a slash of embers. Others shifted shape and form, some appeared to be men who’d suffered a terrible battle – all bore fearsome wounds. Khai feared he knew who they were and from where they’d come… The fallen of the fort.
With a howl, a hyena thing leaped at Irisi. She spun away, her swords flashing. It screamed in frustrated fury as her blade cut it while another leaped at Khai himself.
Khai took the thing down with a two-handed swing of his own sword, sending it tumbling across the ground. It instantly rolled to its feet and raced toward them once again. A spear thrown by one of his men pierced it. It howled, rolling, scrabbling and biting at itself.
“Don’t let the shadows touch you,” Irisi cried out in warning, as she cut an ifrit in two.
If she was right… Fear shot through her.
Gesturing, she called up a burst of wind to drive back the shadows closest to them and their people.
“What are they?” Khai demanded, turning to put Irisi at his back as his people raced to join them, most of them ducking, dodging and fighting the creatures that seemed to burst through or ooze from nearly every orifice of the fort.
He saw the smoke that wasn’t smoke swirl around one of his men.
Screaming, the man’s eyes bulged as he fell, his clothing stained red even as he toppled.
Irisi threw herself against Khai as he instinctively responded, going to the aid of his man.
“No,” she cried, “you can’t save him.”
More of the things appeared.
Nebi leaped past them to take another, his massive jaws locking on the throat of one of the hyena things.
“Djinn,” she answered as she looked around in horror. “They’re Dark Djinn…”
They came from everywhere.
Ifrit in the shape of hyena, sila – fire demons – ghuls who would eat the dead or a man alive...and the marid, beautiful spirits who would steal a man’s soul.
In all her reading Irisi had never heard of such a thing. Djinn didn’t fight together. Djinn never fought together. They were solitary creatures. And yet here they were.
United like this…
They couldn’t fight so many, not with so small a force.
Dear Gods and Goddesses, help us, she thought.
To Khai’s horror, his fallen man rose up to take sword against them.