EGYPT, MAY 1340 BCE

Nebi dropped the last few feet down to the temple grounds. He landed in soft sand with a muffled thud. The night was clear and starlit, dimly lit by the quarter moon overhead.

His heart was pounding in his chest as if it was about to explode, but he knew he wouldn’t fail. He had trained vigorously in preparation for this night.

He padded forward silently through the cooling darkness. Gigantic circular columns loomed overhead, the menacing faces of pharaohs and gods peering down.

The temple guards were spread to sparsely to cover the whole perimeter. The few that remained were still loyal to the priests of Amun, but most had moved on to the city of Amarna to serve the heretic Pharaoh.

Nebi didn’t care about politics. He trusted the word of his master, Kamenwati. His master had a purpose, and it was his duty to serve the man who had saved his life.

Nebi had never been inside the temple before, but he had studied the scale models of wood and stone. Karnak was huge, but he had memorized the layout down to the last cubit. He knew where the high priests would be meeting.

He skirted along a low wall, carved with colourful scenes of pharaohs and gods, shadowed with tall palms. Ahead, small lamps threw off a dim golden glow, marking the entrance to their meeting place.

A guard paced across close to a great door, but it would be sealed from the inside, parcel to the ritual.

Only a few short years ago, the temple was the center of religious life in Egypt, a place where power was wielded over the twin kingdoms. Now it was a silent place, fallen from grace and forgotten by the people.

Nebi crossed a courtyard and entered the building through a slave entrance. To his surprise, it wasn’t locked or guarded. He ran down a cold, dusty corridor towards a light.

He startled a slave girl as he approached the main chamber. She was carrying jugs of wine from of a side passage. She opened her mouth to call out, but he twisted her head around until her neck cracked, dropping her to the ground. The jugs shattered against the stone floor, spilling cool wine across his sandaled feet.

It wouldn’t matter if there were guards inside the room; he was committed now.

He took a deep breath and drew his curved swords, feeling their balanced weight in his hands.

He entered the large room swiftly.

The priests were gathered together, talking, feasting and conspiring. Naked slave girls and boys lay on top of the soft cushions in the room. Some were engaged in sexual acts with the priests and with each other.

He screamed out and cut the head from the nearest priest, sending blood streaming across the marble floor.

The entertainment of the gods was no secret to Nebi. He had been rescued from a childhood of serving priests with his body. Kamenwati had been his savior, training him for this single moment of revenge.

He raged and slashed with his swords, arms, legs and heads shattering under his blows.

He jumped through the panicked mass, slashing and cutting, placing himself between the screams and the main door.

There could be no escape.

An old priest lunged at him with a golden dagger. He cut off the man’s hand, and then split his chest open. He watched as the man’s heart took its last beat.

Tonight, Nebi was the bringer of death. He spared no one.

When the priests were dead, he killed the slave boys, and then the girls.

When the killing was over, he was truly exhausted. He didn’t feel the great relief that Kamenwati had promised him. He felt sick.

He looked at the slashed, bloody face of a girl, only a few years younger than himself, and then fell to the floor weeping.

*

Kamenwati looked at the young priests gathered before him. He was an ugly, deformed creature, his head covered in bandages, partially obscured by a hood.

“Thank you for answering my summons,” he said, “Akhenaton has killed the elder priests, and I am all that remains of their hope. I am the last of the ancient high order.”

The priests looked dismayed, their faces twisted in outrage, fear and disgust of Kamenwati. They seemed disillusioned by this uncertain future that stood before them, unsure of how to feel about what they had just heard.

“The assassin of the gods will be punished, and his reign of evil brought to a swift end.”

Nebi watched from behind a curtain. Kamenwati was a liar. He didn’t care about the people, the heretic pharaoh, or the priests.

“You claim that you are all that remains of the old order of high priests, but you are a leper and a merchant, and we do not know of you as a high priest. Why did you bring us here, Kamenwati?” a young priest asked, covering his mouth with his hand.

Kamenwati laughed, a rasping horror of a sound.

“Why did you come?”

“People say you support our god, Amun,” the young priest proceeded, “and we are in need of help. These are dangerous times.”

“Yes, I am a merchant. And to answer your question, I left your order because of my disease, and because the high priest needed a friend outside of Karnak. I do not wish to return, only to do the will of the god Amun,” he exclaimed.

The priests murmured amongst themselves, their robes drenched in sweat, their bodies stinking of fear.

“You, Ptah shall be announced the new high priest of Karnak, and you and your fellows shall bring the god Amun back to Thebes,” Kamenwati said, with shocking directness.

He motioned to a hooded figure standing to his right.

The figure pulled at a large piece of cloth that covered something to Kamenwati’s left, revealing an array of wicker baskets.

A gasp went up from the young priests.

The baskets were filled with golden rods.

“The people have been giving most generously in secret. The high priest hid the gold here with me to keep it away from Akhenaton’s spies.”

Ptah rose, as did the others.

“There is a basket of gold for each priest here, and many baskets for the temple,” Kamenwati said, waving his hand over gold.

“It was the will of the high priest that we create a secret order, a higher order than the priesthood itself, to restore the rule of Amun to our people,“ he added with as much grandeur as he could muster.

“And who will lead this new order?” Ptah asked.

His eyes fixated on his new riches.

Kamenwati smiled, a wicked grin.

“You are now the high priest of Karnak, Ptah,” Kamenwati said, “And I have the gold.”

Ptah smiled like a child.

“Then you shall be our higher hand,” he agreed.

The others muttered their approval.

*

Nebi watched Kamenwati laugh as the priests left, each now wealthier than they could have ever imagined.

A strange feeling of loathing overcame him. He still felt no relief for his actions in the temple. He felt sick to his stomach, the smell of blood still fresh in his nostrils.

His master had lied to him.

Kamenwati ran a black market operation from a large house in Thebes. He was a cutthroat, a thief and a racketeer. He ran brothels, fenced stolen goods, traded slaves and blackmailed. There was nothing that he and his kind would not do to get gold. He had never met the high priest of Karnak.

Nebi could not believe what he had just seen.

Kamenwati hated men with the same vehemence that Nebi hated priests. It was only in the last three lifetimes that his kind had been able to live in cities at all. They hid as lepers at first, then merchants or wounded soldiers, burned in imaginary fires.

Kamenwati knew he was there; that is how he had found him in the first place. Nebi could sense Kamenwati’s kind when they were close. They had taught him how to use his skills, taught him to take revenge. Taught him to kill.

There were others in the house, moving around underground in the tunnels. Shadow creatures, deep in the sand, or in the back courtyard, hidden from the streets by high walls.

“What are you thinking, Nebi? Why do I ask you to kill the old, then give gold to the young?” he asked.

Nebi stepped forward into the light of the room, nervous.

“I don’t understand it, Master.”

“The Pharaoh Akhenaton has built a new city, and deserted the priests of Karnak and Amun, but it won’t last,” Kamenwati offered, “And when Akhenaton falls, and Amun returns to Thebes as the God of the Egyptians, I will control Amun’s priests, their temples, and soon, the whole of Egypt will dance like charmed snakes whenever I choose.”

“Why?” Nebi asked, “Why do you care to rule men?”

He did not hear the reply. The spear punctured his heart, before he had realized the intent of his attacker.

Kamenwati regarded Nebi’s broken body. The killer limped out of the shadows. He was a hideous deformed creature, with a missing eye.

“Why Nebi?” Kamenwati said, “Because we must take our revenge, as you took yours.”

Nebi heard Kamenwati laugh again, his master’s hideous cackle trailing away as the world faded into darkness.

“We must send a vision to our brothers and sisters, wherever they are. Thank them for their gold, and tell them that it has begun.”

Nebi could hear or see no more.

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