Chapter 15

The inevitable happened. Queen Delar became a student of Suzama's and a short time after the dream reading, Suzama privately initiated the queen in a small room in Suzama's own home. Suzama refused to do it in the Great Pyramid, saying the vibrations in there would never recover from Ory and the evil Setian initiations. Also, Suzama did not want the powerful priests to know what was happening. She asked the queen to keep quiet about her practices for the time being. Suzama knew King Namok did not have long to live.

Six months later the king did die, and Queen Delar moved more boldly than Suzama wished.

The queen immediately proclaimed her spiritual path via the Isis techniques and encouraged any who wished to follow Suzama to do so. Yet the queen was wise enough not to make it a state order. Suzama refused to teach anyone who was forced into the practice. At the same time the queen instructed a large team of laborers to build a temple to Isis not far from the Great Pyramid, which Suzama refused to enter. The queen wanted an elaborate temple but Suzama persuaded her to construct a modest building, and so Suzama had her own place in which to teach within a year of the king's death. Suzama filled it with plants and flowers and different-colored crystals brought from all over the continent.

Naturally, during this period, the Setians suf?fered a great setback as far as their influence was concerned. Yet the queen did not banish them from the land, because Suzama had advised her not to. I questioned my friend about not banishing them. But Suzama felt so strongly about freedom of thought that she even protected what was clearly an evil group. Yet I doubt if even Suzama knew how many assassins Ory sent to dispose of Suzama and me. Of course, none of those assassins ever re-turned to their leader, even when they came in groups of three and four. I seldom rested in those days and never sat with my back to a door.

But I never drank Setian blood. Just the smell of it filled me with bad feelings. The group was definitely working with subtle powers of some kind, and I began to pay more heed to their rumored contacts with an ancient reptilian race, which they achieved through a mind-meld process that used identical twins as catalysts. Even more important, I began to investigate their rumored liaisons with the direct remains of the same race, which now existed on different worlds circling other suns. I knew the Setians were getting their power from somewhere else, and I wanted to find the root of it. Yet I made little progress.

Even the Setians I killed had great strength in their eyes, a magnetic field they could generate to subdue weaker wills. Naturally, their power did not work on me, but I could see the effect on the people in the city, wherever they were allowed to speak. Suzama should have been welcomed as a great prophet and the masses should have embraced her teachings, yet her following, even when her temple was complete, was relatively small. The Setians were constantly stirring up hate and lies against her.

Fortunately, Suzama did shield the queen from Ory and his cult. Queen Delar wouldn't even meet with Ory once the king died, although I did see Ory from time to time. Even though he was always polite to me, I never failed to hear the hiss of a snake beneath his breath. Why shouldn't I recog-nize it? In a sense we were cousins. Yaksha, a yashini by nature, had created me. And the yashinis were well known in India as a race of mystical serpents.

Yet Ory never reminded me of Yaksha, who loved Krishna above all things. And my power to influence the wills of others was much different from the power of the Setians. For their power left their victims weak and disoriented. Many never recovered from it and this power became known by the seldom spoken name of seedling, because it sowed seeds of consciousness that were not one's own.

I could see that matters would eventually come to a head with the Setians, only the climax came more quickly and with a destructive force greater than I could ever have imagined. Suzama was only nineteen when I received a personal invitation from Ory. He wanted to meet me alone in the desert so that we could discuss our differences and try to put an end to our conflict. This was only six days after I had slain ten of his people who had stolen into the Temple of Isis in the middle of the night. Ory had never sent so many before and I had been lucky to kill them all, had he sent twice the number both Suzama and I would have died. Actually, I wondered why he had not, which should have served as a warning to me.

I sent back a messenger saying I would be happy to meet him.

He planned to kill me as surely as I planned to kill him.

Before heading to the desert I met with Suzama to tell her my plans. She was in her inner chamber in the temple and in a particularly reflective mood. She was writing when I entered but put aside the papyrus so that I could not see it. Her usual warm greeting was missing. Before I could speak, she wanted to know why I was dressed for the desert.

"You are wrong to think your enemies possess any virtues," I say. "I tire of our always having to be on guard. I am meeting with Ory tonight deep in the desert. He has chosen the spot but I know it well. When the head vanishes, the body falls. It will end tonight."

But Suzama shook her head. "This is not my will. You have not asked my permission. Tonight the stars are particularly inauspicious. Cancel the meeting right now."

I sat beside her. She almost seemed to disappear in the large silk cushions. Dressed in a simple white robe, she wore a blue scarf around her neck. Woven inside it were threads of gold that outlined all the constellations in the sky, even those seen from the bottom of the world. The latter, Suzama said, she had seen in visions. I had no doubt they were correct, even though I would not listen to her when it came to Ory. It was my turn to shake my head.

"I never told you how many of his people I slew last week," I said.

"How many?"


She grimaced. "In here?"

"I was able to deal with most of them outside. But there will be more if I don't destroy Ory now."

"But you don't know Ory. You don't know what he is."

"Of course I do. He is a Setian."

Suzama spoke gravely. "He is a real Setian. Just as you are no longer human, he is not one of our kind. Those he sent to kill us before were mere students." She paused. "I suspect he is not from this world."

"I don't care," I say. "If he comes alone, I can deal with him. And if he doesn't, then I will know and decide what to do. But I know I must face him. It is foolish to wait."

Suzama was reflective. "Wisdom is not always logical."

"Lacking your wisdom, I can only decide based on what I see and know."

She stroked my leg, which was bare beneath my robe.

"You know, I foresaw this conversation," she said. "Nothing I say to you right now will change your mind. That is because of who you are and because of the stars above. They pretend to be your stars but they're not." She paused and spoke as if she were far away. "They are arranged as they were the night you were transformed into a vampire."

I am shocked. "Is this true?"

She nods solemnly. "The serpent walked the forest. The lizard crawls in the sand. It is the same difference." She squeezed my leg and her eyes were damp. "Tonight is a time of transformation for you. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"Yes. Death is the biggest transformation. Ory might kill me."

"Yes. It is possible."

"You don't know for sure?"

She was a long time answering.

"No. The Divine Mother does not show me." She shook herself and came back to Earth, for a moment. She kissed the side of my face. "Words are useless tonight, even written words. Go then, and go with tight I will wait here for you. I will be here when you return,"

I hug her. "I owe you a great deal. Tonight, perhaps I can repay you."

There was a place twenty miles from the city, deep in the desert, called the Bowl of Flies. In the late spring the flies would be so thick there during the day that it would be hard to breathe without inhaling them. Yet at night they would all but vanish, and there was no reason to explain why they came at all. There was nothing for the flies to eat, unless a small animal chanced to die there. But then again, an unusual number of animals did collapse in that spot Even a bird could seize up in midflight and fall dead into the place.

Ory wanted to meet me in the bowl.

I arrived early to see if he had assassins hidden. The area appeared empty for far around. There was no moon but I didn't need it. My eyes were not drawn to the sky as they usually were when the stars were so bright Suzama's words continued to haunt me. She had ended our good-bye almost in midsentence. Words are useless now.

Ory was suddenly there, sitting on a camel.

It was strange how I hadn't heard him approach.

He got down off his animal and slowly moved toward me. I had also come on a camel but had sent my beast off. For me to run twenty mites across the desert at night was nothing. On the way home I hoped to be carrying Ory's head. Like me, he wore a long naked sword in his belt, along with his sharp dagger. Listening closely, I could still detect no others, and I thought him a fool to meet me under such circumstances. Yet he smiled as he approached, his huge bald head shiny even in the faint starlight. It smelled as if he had oiled his skull before coming, a disgusting ointment smell.

"Sita," he said. "I thought maybe you would not come."

I mocked him. "It is not often I am granted an exclusive audience with such a renowned spiritual figure."

"Do you know whence our spiritual power comes?"

"An unhappy place. A place without love or compassion. I do not know the name of this place, but I do know I never want to go there."

He stood close, yet his hands stayed clear of his sword. He gestured to the sky. "This world is not the only one. There are many kingdoms for us to rule, and I can gain you safe passage to these other places, if you will join me. I have watched you closely these last two years, Sita, and I know you are one of us. You have power, you take what you wish. You kill as a matter of course to satisfy your hunger, to satisfy your lust for life. You move without the burden of conscience. Yet you hide behind the dress of that slave fortune teller. This I do not understand."

"I hide behind no one. Suzama is much more than a seer of the future. She sees into the hearts of men and women. She brings peace where there is pain, healing where there is sickness. The Setians do none of these things. They are interested in power for power's sake. Nothing could be more boring to me, or more offensive. You think we are alike only because I am strong. But that is the only thing we have in common, and before this night is over, even that will not be true. Because you will be buried in the sand, and I will be laughing in the city as I free it of the last of your kind."

He was amused at that. "Does your blessed Suzama permit such killings?"

"I will tell Suzama about it after I am done."

"And you think you could destroy all Setians so easily?"

I shrugged. "I have had no trouble in the past."

He came close and his smile vanished. "You are a fool. I sent mere apprentices to test your strength. In all the time you have been in the city, you have met fewer than a handful of our secret order. And you didn't even know them when you met them. We seldom come out from the depths of the Great Pyramid. Only I, Ory, the leader regularly attends to the things of this world. But I will not share this world with another, neither you nor Suzama. It is your choice. You join us now, and swear a sacred oath to me, or you will not leave this place alive."

I laughed. "You keep telling me what I don't know. I tell you that you don't know what I am." I drew my sword. "The blood that runs in my veins is not human, but I have the strength of many humans. Draw your sword and fight me, Ory. Die like a soldier rather than a coward and fake priest who puts silly spells on unsuspecting souls."

But he did not draw his sword. He lifted his arms upward.

A strange red light shimmered in his eyes.

His voice, as he spoke, boomed like thunder.

"Behold the night of Set, the will of those who came before humanity. It lives inside the stars that shine with the light of blood. Look up and see what force you think to defy."

Such was the strength in his voice, that I did glance up for a moment. To my utter astonishment the night sky had changed. Above me were fresh constellations laid over the old ones. They shone with brilliant red stars that seemed to pulse like stellar hearts feeding the burning blood of one huge ravenous cosmic being. Just the sight of them filled me with nausea. How had he managed to change the heavens? He must be a powerful sorcerer, I thought.

I drew my sword and moved toward him to cut off his head.

But there was flash of green light.

The metal of my sword flowed like liquid onto the sand.

My hand burned, the flesh literally black. The pain was so excruciating that I was forced to my knees. Ory towered over me, and behind his large skull the red stars seemed to grow even brighter. It was as if a bunch of them had clustered together and begun to move toward us. Through the mist of my agony I saw them form a circle and begin to spin. The very air seemed to catch fire around them. Ory gloated over me.

"We Setians control the elements," he said. "That was fire, in case you didn't know. Now I will show you the earth element."

He laid his big foot on my chest and kicked hard. He was many times stronger than I, I realized too late. Crashing down hard on my back, my arms spread out to my aides as if I were about to be crucified. No doubt that was the effect he was searching for. Before I could bring them back up and defend myself the red stars over his head seemed to throb again and I heard the sand crack on both sides, for a moment it seemed alive, the very ground, liquid mud shot through with veins of brains, and I watched in horror as it reached out like a thick fist and grabbed my lower arms and covered my hands. Then the sand turned to stone and I could not move. All this seemed to happen in a moment. Ory withdrew his dagger and knelt beside me and held the tip close to my eyes.

"Now you have seen a demonstration of real power," he said.

I spat in his face. "I am not impressed."

He wiped away the spit and played the tip of the dagger over my eyelids. "You are beautiful, Sita. You could have been mine. But I see now it would have been impossible to dominate you. Above all else a Setian must control those who are beneath him."

"Kill me and be done with it. I am tired of talking to you."

He smiled softly. "You will not die easily. I know how quickly your wounds can heal, but I also know that a deep wound cannot heal around a dagger such as this, which is poisoned, and which will fit nicely somewhere in your barren womb."

He stabbed me then, low down in my abdomen, and the blade burned like ice frozen from the tears of a thousand previous victims. I knew then that the stories about him and his dagger were true. He had cut out many eyes and eaten them in front of his victims. But he wouldn't blind me now because he wanted me to see the sun when it rose, and the millions of flies that would cover my body. His poison was subtle, not designed to immediately kill, but to draw out my agony.

I noticed that the red stars were no longer in the sky.

Ory stood and climbed back onto his camel.

"The earth can move as easily in the city as it can in this place," he said. "When the sun is high in the sky, the Temple of Isis will be buried along with your precious Suzama. You may hear the destruc?tion even from here. Just know that the flies that feed here are always hungry, and that it will not be long before you join her."

"Ory!" I called as he rode off.

He paused. "Yes Sita?"

"I will see you again someday. It is not over."

"For you it is." He laughed as he rode away.

The sun rose and the flies came. Slowly my wound bled and steadily my pain increased. It seemed as if the desert wind were fire and the sky rained darts. The sound of the many flies sucking on my blood was enough to drive me mad. The filthy insects polluted my soul as much as my wound. All I had to look forward to was the midday sun, when my friend would die. I had a feeling I would hear something.

The day wore on. Breathing became a nightmare. Existence itself was the greatest torture. How I prayed to die then, for the first time ever. How I cursed Krishna. Where was his fabled grace now? I had not disobeyed him. Only he had set me up before an unstoppable foe. There was no hope for the world, I realized. The Setians were worse than a million vampires. And they were spreading across the stars.

The sun reached its high point. It was a red sun.

The interior of my skull began to boil and I heard myself scream.

Then the noise came, waves of rolling thunder. The ground began to shake, then to dance, tearing apart at the seams. The frozen sand that bound my arms and legs cracked, and I would have been able to stand if the entire desert had not suddenly been transformed into a torrential ocean. What had Ory set in motion? The elements had gone insane. The earth believed it was water. Beyond the Bowl of Flies I heard sand dunes pitch and break like waves upon a shore.

Then it stopped and all was silent.

Pulling out the dagger, I brushed off the flies and crawled out of the bowl. When I reached the upper rim, I stared at a desert I did not recognize.

It was entirely flat.

Slowly, for me, my wound healed.

Somehow I managed to stagger back to the city. Ory's poison was still in my veins but maybe it had lost some of its potency. When the city finally came into view, I saw that Ory's day had passed, as had Suzama's. Either Ory had lost control of his pre?cious earth element or else Suzama had seized control of it at the last moment and stuffed it down his throat. The worship of Isis and Set was over for that time.

A gash in the earth as thick as the Great Pyramid had opened up and swallowed the bulk of the city. The pyramid and all the other temples were gone. Those buildings that had not fallen into the chasm were nevertheless flattened. A handful of survivors stumbled around in the midst of this destruction but few looked as if they still possessed their wits.

I searched for Suzama but never found her.

Not long afterward I left Egypt.

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