by Heather Kuehl
The sun shone in the cloudless sky, causing a brightness and heat that were almost unbearable. Sand stretched out for miles in every direction, but I could see a city in the distance. The heat created a haze that made the city appear to be a mirage the longer I looked at it.
Several pyramids surrounded the city. At first I thought that I was imagining things, but my companion, the sorcerer Dalamar Shola, had noticed them too. Too many days in the sun with no water were starting to take their toll on me.
I walked back to my horse, my hair whipping in the wind. “Are you sure this is the place, Dalamar?”
“Yes,” he answered. His traveling cloak was wrapped tight around him, keeping the scorching sun from burning his pale skin. “There is something here that shouldn’t be in our world, Amythist.”
I shrugged as I mounted the horse. To me, this felt like just another stretch of desert. Even my power didn’t sense anything. Then again, I didn’t have the magicks in me that he did. I was Dalamar’s apprentice. I had no clue as to what he was looking for, and it wasn’t my place to question his actions. If he felt that this place warranted his curiosity, then so be it.
I was careful to pull my cloak over my hair. Its indigo color marked me as a sorceress. My hair was naturally black, but while mixing potions I had accidentally turned it indigo seven years before. My skin, normally pale from years spent studying and practicing magick, was tinged red from the sun. Dalamar’s skin was also pale, making his green eyes and flaming red hair stand out.
He started his horse toward the city. Several men on camels passed by us, heading toward the large sandstone gates. We joined them, shielding our eyes as the burning sun seemed to turn the sand golden. The large buildings of the city were covered with carvings depicting gods and past rulers.
Dalamar put a hand on my shoulder. “I feel it coming from there,” he muttered. He indicated a large building that was decorated a little more lavishly than the others.
“What is that building?” I asked one of the men we had joined.
“It’s the temple of Osiris.”
“Who is Osiris?” asked Dalamar.
“Osiris is the god of the dead.”
“Isn’t it appropriate that they would be housed there?” asked Dalamar, more to himself than to me.
“What, Dalamar? You never told me what we are looking for.”
“The creatures that built those,” he said, pointing to the pyramids that dotted the landscape. “They aren’t of this world.”
“We tried using slaves,” said one of the men on the camels. “But they couldn’t lift the stone beyond the second tier.” He laughed, and it wasn’t pleasant. “Rumor says that Pharaoh Sekhemkhet made a deal with a demon to make them.”
“A demon?” I glanced at Dalamar, who nodded. “A demon?” I asked again.
“That would explain a lot,” said Dalamar.
I glared at him. “Explain what? I have no idea why we are even here, Dalamar.”
“There is something here that...”
“Doesn’t belong,” I interrupted. “You told me that already. I want you to explain.”
“I can’t,” he said with a sigh. “I just know that something isn’t right. And the fact that the Pharaoh here made a deal with a demon...”
“A rumored deal.”
“Makes me think that it is worse than I thought.”
“Great,” I said, crossing my arms. “Damn you sorcerers and your ability to sense things.”
“Damn sorcerers’ apprentices and their inability to leave their teachers to their own devices.”
I smiled. “If I did, you’d be dead by now.”
Dalamar veered his horse away from the men on camels, riding over toward the temple. I followed, wanting to finish this and be home in Ronand in time for the spring festivals.
“What is your business here, traveler?” asked one of the guards, whose armor gleamed golden in the sunlight.
“I am looking for the metal beast that is housed here,” said Dalamar. “Where did it come from?”
The guards glanced at each other, and even I could sense their uneasiness. We weren’t supposed to know about the metal beast. “You will need an audience with Pharaoh Sekhemkhet. We can put your name in for you, but you will have to stay there for the night.” The guard pointed to a building off to our left. “They will accommodate you and your horses.”
“My thanks,” said Dalamar with a slight bow. “May your gods smile down on you.”
I followed Dalamar as he headed to the building the guards had indicated.
“Beast? You said nothing of a beast. You said creature, not beast.”
“I didn’t know until I was at the temple steps. The guards are afraid of the beast, and with good reason.” He paused, and then said, “Amy, the demon here feeds off the lives of humans, using its creation to do so. In return, the demon creates these pyramids for the pharaoh, who is oblivious to the demon’s true motives.”
“What do you want us to do about it?” I asked, but I already knew the answer.
“We destroy the beast, and send the demon back to its realm.”
“I guess it would be wrong if we just turned around and left,” I said after a moment. I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t follow him on his quest to slay any beasts. But what kind of person would I be if I just ignored this? “I don’t think the pharaoh will be pleased with us.”
“He will be, once he realizes what the demon is doing.”
“And if he already knows?”
Dalamar glared at me. “If he does, let’s hope that he has an heir.”
An old lady at the door of the building led us upstairs, yelling over her shoulder for the stable boy to take care of our horses. We followed, memorizing the entrances and exits out of habit. The old woman kept glancing over at me, and I couldn’t help but wonder what it was she found so interesting.
“Is something wrong?” I asked. The woman turned toward me, as did Dalamar.
“We don’t get travelers much,” she said, her accent thick.
She motioned us inside a room to our left. It was plain, but we didn’t need luxury. I put my saddlebag at the foot of one of the cots as the woman explained where we could find our morning meal. We nodded our thanks as she stepped out and shut the door. I flopped down on the cot and was asleep in seconds. I didn’t think I had ever been so tired.
* * *
“Amythist Dyier, wake up!”
Dalamar’s voice interrupted my dreams and I forced myself to wake up.
I heard men downstairs, speaking in a language I didn’t understand. I heard the old woman scream and then footsteps on the stairs. Then I felt the earth move beneath us. I looked at Dalamar with wide eyes.
“I think the beast is awake.”
“You think?” I asked incredulously. I tossed aside my blankets and stalked over to the door. Damn, it was locked. I glanced around as my heart began to race. There were no windows in here. We were trapped.
I closed my eyes, about to tap into my magick, when I felt Dalamar’s hand close over my arm.
“There isn’t anything I can do, Amy. We might need the magick later.”
“And later we may be dead,” I said, opening my eyes and letting my power coil back within me. “We can’t use magick when we’re dead, Dalli.”
I heard footsteps outside the door, and then it exploded inwards, sending shards of splintered wood flying at us. I felt one pierce my thigh and I cried out as I pulled the piece out and flung it aside. Three men entered our room and I braced myself for the worst.
A man stood in front of me, dressed in velvets and silks rather than the linens and sandals that the guards flanking him wore. The man’s clothes were styled in a way I had never seen before. At my confused look he narrowed his eyes, and his form shimmered. The clothes transformed into a pair of brown leather pants and a brown jerkin with gold accents. A smile spread across his lips as my eyes took him in. I shook my head and looked up at his face.
His long red hair hung loosely around his face, emphasizing his emerald eyes. His high cheekbones and full lips were enough to make me find him attractive, but every movement caused his form to blur. This human form wasn’t real for him.
“You have gained your audience,” he said. A slight accent caught my ear, but it was something old that wasn’t heard in the world anymore.
“Audience?” Dalamar and I asked in unison.
“With the pharaoh. It has been granted and judgment has been passed.”
Dalamar and I looked at each other, not understanding what the man — the demon — was saying. “We never met the pharaoh.”
“That’s not what he thinks,” said the demon with a smile. “Pharaoh Sekhemkhet has decreed that you must join the slaves, to build the pyramids to honor his rule.”
“That is not why we are here,” said Dalamar. I could feel the magick in his voice as he tried to influence the demon.
The demon laughed, his voice holding more power in it than Dalamar could ever raise. This wasn’t good. If the pharaoh’s thoughts could be easily influenced to think that he had already seen us and passed judgment, what was to stop him from thinking that his people were doing the work themselves?
My stomach turned as I realized that he probably had no idea that the demon was feeding on the lives of his people. I looked at Dalamar to see if he had come to the same conclusion, but the expression on Dalamar’s face told me he was scared of the demon in front of us. I had never seen Dalli afraid before.
“Who are you?” Dalamar asked.
“I have been called many names. I think they” — he pointed at the men flanking him — “call me Kizmetta. But that shouldn’t matter to you now. You won’t live out the night.” Kizmetta’s hands shot out to us and I could feel his power envelop me as he locked our magick in place. The men flanking Kizmetta sprung into action, tying our hands behind our backs and leading us downstairs.
While Egyptian days held unbearable heat, the nights were frigid. I shivered, moving closer to Dalamar. He leaned against me as his eyes told me what words couldn’t — unless Kizmetta unbound our powers, we were going to die.
I looked away from Dalamar’s emerald depths and screamed. Looming over the buildings around us, with its metal skin glittering in the moonlight, stood the beast. My eyes widened, trying to take it all in. It had hands and feet that were clawed, able to firmly grasp large objects. It had no discernible head or eyes, no way to see or speak on its large diamond-shaped body. Etched across its silver skin were Egyptian hieroglyphics that meant nothing to us.
Kizmetta looked upon it with a smile. “The creature has pulleys and gears inside of it, but it needed an energy source. The lives and souls of humans produce so much power.”
My eyes traveled down the metal expanse of the creature, until they reached the bottom. There was a small opening and the city guards were leading people inside. Their thin, frail bodies didn’t put up a fight, relinquishing themselves to their inevitable deaths. The guards shoved us into line, and I felt Kizmetta’s power slowly melt off of us as the demon walked away. I looked at Dalamar and he nodded. It was time.
The ties burned as we ignited our power. The magick slid across our skin, flowing off our hands in wisps of smoke. I raised my hands, lavender magick turning to fire as I shot out my hand towards the demon. A metal on metal sound told me that the creature had moved, and I had only a second to dodge out of the way of one of its clawed hands. Fire roared above me as Dalamar used his magick to fend it off. I got to my feet, grabbing the nearest slave.
“Run!” I yelled to him, trying to get the slaves as far away as possible. “Run!”
The slaves cried out and ran away from the metal beast above them. Kizmetta walked over to me, lifting me off the ground with his power.
“You need to try harder,” the demon laughed. His power wrapped around me, squeezing the air out of my lungs. A flash of lightening sent Kizmetta crumbling to the ground and Dalamar came up beside me.
“Magick isn’t working on it,” he said, pointing at the metal beast that was trying to grab up the running slaves. “I think it’s absorbing it.”
“Then how do we kill it?” I rasped.
“Kizmetta controls it. If we kill Kizmetta...”
“He’s a demon, Dalli. We can’t kill demons.”
“But we can send it to another realm.” Dalamar gripped my shoulder. “We can send him far enough away where he can’t power the monster.”
“Once he realizes what we are up to, he’ll bind our powers again.”
“Not if we act fast enough.”
I heard the sound of metal hitting stone and turned. The metal beast’s arms were flailing, smashing into random buildings. Kizmetta controlled the monster, but he couldn’t fight us and control it at the same time. I turned back to Dalamar.
“Dalli, I’m your apprentice. I don’t have that kind of power.”
“Neither do I. But together, I think we can do it.”
Dalamar took my hand as he started to chant. The words were foreign, and I had not yet learned their meaning. That lesson was supposed to come later. Dalamar let the words fall from his lips, his free hand conjuring emerald magick to protect us.
The metal beast’s clawed hand came down on us, absorbing the magick that Dalamar was using to protect us. His hand tightened on mine and I closed my eyes, concentrating on the chant. The chant that Dalli was saying was a repetition of seven words, and I memorized them before joining in. I needed to make sure that I said it right. One wrong word would ruin everything.
I heard Kizmetta yell, and I felt Dalamar sink to the ground beside me as the beast drained him of his power. The air around us thickened, my ears popped, and then there was nothing but silence.
I opened my eyes. The metal beast was on the ground, motionless. Kizmetta was nowhere to be seen. I looked around, taking in the moon and stars. The night was so clear. I smiled, laughter bubbling up to the surface, and looked down at Dalamar.
His verdant eyes were staring up at me, glazed over and unseeing. I dropped down to the ground, shaking him. No. This couldn’t happen. I still had so much to learn.
“Dalamar, get up. Kizmetta’s gone. We did it!” I shook him again. “Dalamar? Dalli!”
The metal monster had drained all of Dalamar’s magick until it was gone. Then it took his life. I screamed, shaking Dalamar and pounding on his chest until exhaustion took over. I let go of his hand and stumbled back, tears leaving the clear Egyptian night blurry.
“Dalli,” I whispered. “Dalli please don’t leave me. Come back to me.”
But it was too late.
I sang prayers and well-wishes to Dalamar until the sun rose. My heart hardened as I realized what I had to do. In the morning I was back on the road, delivering Dalamar’s body back to the sorcerers in Ronand.
Dalamar had fulfilled his quest, but mine was just beginning. Kizmetta could run as far as he wanted, but he couldn’t hide from me. He was going to pay for creating the monster that murdered my mentor.
Copyright © 2011 by Heather Kuehl