HELIOPOLIS, 3100 BCE
It was early in the lifetime of mankind and all was well in the kingdom of Khem. The sun-disk, guided by the sun god Amun, glided across the sky each day before setting in the blood of slain Apep, to journey through the underworld and be reborn from Nut the following morn. The floods came every year, layering the earth with rich, black soil for fertile crops; the ancient kings ruled wisely and well. All went according to Ma’at, the guiding principle of universal truth and good. (Or, if not all, at least as much as can be expected within human events.)
Then came the Other.
Some said It came from the depths of Nun, and that Its form was that of a serpent; others said It came first as something unclean, cast out from beyond the realm of Ma’at and somehow It learned to walk upright like a man. It is certain that Its journey, whether pilgrim or outcast, took a great toll upon Its power. But regardless of how or why, It came unto the lands of Khem in those days, from beyond the sight of gods, into the realm of Man.
It wandered for an unknowable time in Its weakened state, leaving strange wounds in the earth and in the animals It found, until, at last, It sought out a small group of magicians. It showed them great powers of the mind. It promised to share Its powers and teach many wondrous things to all who wished to learn. It promised them power, knowledge, even immortality itself, if they would but give It worship.
The magicians agreed. Yet they were wise in many things, these men of the gods, and cunning. Once they had availed themselves of Its wisdom, they betrayed and bound the alien Thing from beyond. It was a thing of Isfet, and had no Name. It was from outside, and had no form by which It could be bound. And so, with their own Heka they did Name It, so that It might be bound. They called It the Atum. They did form a priesthood to Osiris, but their true, secret purpose was not merely to worship. To the initiated, they became the Order of the Four Sons of Horus. Like the four canopic jars, their task, with the aid of the gods, was to contain.
Betrayed by Its own would-be worshippers, trapped as a spirit into form and thus bound into the fetters of magic, the Atum could only wait.
As the priests of this would-be god continued their careful vigil, year after year, It watched them well, and grew wise in the ways of Man. Rumors inevitably rose, sparked by the dreams of the more sensitive commoners, of a hungry, hermaphroditic Thing of the setting sun that predated the gods themselves. The priests did their best to quell these rumors. Across the generations, Atum was given a place of sorts within their own gods’ history. As Its prison became more and more secure, all trace of Its presence was finally contained and the dreams faded from living memory.
Finally, Its patience was rewarded.
Amenhotep IV, a sorcerer-priest of the Atum temple, had become heir to the throne of Kemet. He chafed under the hold the priests of Amun had over the kingdom. His very taking of the throne depended upon their approval and their declaration that he had passed mystic tests of purity. As a master sorcerer himself, he understood such tests far better than they. Long had he resented his teachers within the Atum priesthood, whose gifts could never hope to equal his own, who unjustly held him back from his rightful power as a sorcerer and as Pharaoh. Eventually, he came to master the lore they guarded, but he found it was not enough. He wanted more.
None shall ever know whether he somehow found a way to reach and bargain with the Atum, or whether, over centuries of patience, It had somehow found Its way to him. Neither does it matter. What is known is that when he broke away from the priesthood of Atum, some members of the priesthood and its inner circle went with him.
Together, the new king and his followers formed a secret order, the Keepers of the Starry Wisdom. They pledged themselves to the quest for power and to the Atum as the means to that power. Publicly, Amenhotep proclaimed the rule of a new god, Aton, and he re-named himself Akhenaton, meaning, “Aton is pleased.”
Akhenaton ceremonially dedicated all pain and suffering in his kingdom to Aton who was previously Atum. The people cried out and prayed to him for succor. The royal family of Akhenaton, his wife, Nefertiti, and their children, were all declared to be gods who walked the earth and worshipped accordingly. Aton grew powerful again, and Akhenaton was granted his share of the power.
Aton was indeed pleased, and it seemed the sun had set upon the Two Lands of Khem for good and all.
With the kingdom’s temples closed, the poor began to starve. And their new ruler, their king in yellow, so named for his legendary fondness for gold, planned to move the capital city away from its traditional place to a desolate site ill-favored by both the gods and good sense alike. This he named Akhetaton, the Horizon of the Aten.
At first, the priests and the common folk had taken this to be a political coup, the actions of a heretical sect bent on revenge. Deplorable, yes, but well within the scope of human capability. But in time, it became apparent that otherworldly forces were at work, as Akhenaton’s skin had begun to darken.
It was scarcely noteworthy at first-- after all, skin and hair dyes were as common as wigs among the noble houses. Then it turned black, blacker than the silt from the Nile, and no human color. It lost all luster and absorbed whatever light touched it. His eyes also took on a strange hue, glowing as if all the light taken in through his flesh collected in them and showed out a brilliant shade of lapis. Finally, he began to display signs of womanhood, his waist offsetting his broadening hips and breasts.
So carefully made was the Atum’s prison, that only when the inner circle of priests examined the vessel that had held It did they realize what had happened. But now they saw the truth: the king was becoming something other than human.
The Atum had not only escaped, It had found a host.
In destroying and pillaging the temples, Akhenaton had destroyed the Kemetic way of life and brought the world’s most civilized nation to the very brink of destruction. Enemy kingdoms had begun to chip away at the ill-defended borders over the years, even as the sick and the starving filled the streets.
So it was that in 1395 BCE, a secret war was declared, to be fought in the shadows of an unsuspecting nation. Acting in secret, the priests of Atum would fight to save their kingdom and their world from Starry Wisdom...and the Thing from beyond that ruled their land.
With the help of the gods, Ma’at would be restored.
The smell of decay was everywhere. He tripped over something in the dark and fell to the floor. The lighting was strange here, as it was everywhere else in this place, like being underwater, dim and wavery and yellow. The shadows seemed to ripple around him as he rose unsteadily to his feet. The rotted wall crumbled slightly under his hand as he pushed against it to rise, mingling new odors of dust and plaster in his nostrils. Motes flew into his eyes and coated the back of his throat. Squinching his eyes shut, he struggled to suppress a cough. He couldn’t recall what fresh air smelled like. It occurred to him that he may never smell or taste fresh air again.
He shook his head, trying to clear it. There wasn’t much time. If he was lucky, they hadn’t missed him yet. If he wasn’t, then they were hunting him. Right now.
Despite the humid air of the place, he shivered. Willing his limbs to move, he staggered on. You’re not hurt, dammit! Make contact. Give the report. That’s all that matters now. Give the report.
He’d seen a shape in the gloom before. It was a chance...a chance in hell. Literally. But a chance nonetheless.
There it was: an old telephone hanging from the wall, black, heavy, coated with dust, but intact. It might still work.
He half-expected the call to cost twenty-five cents. Out of long habit, his hand went for his pocket to root for change. A few hours ago, (Days? Weeks? No way to tell) that might have been funny. Now he was just trying to hurry without rushing. If he rushed, he might fuck up. And surely they’d noticed by now that he’d gone. Surely they were coming.
He gripped the receiver, terrified it would be silent, dead, as dead as he was. Don’t fuck this up. Can’t fuck up. Dial the number. Make the report. He put it to his ear.
It was there—the dial tone. It worked.
Amazement and disbelief coursed through him, causing him to sway a bit. His right hip and shoulder fell against the wall. Tucking the receiver under his chin, he fumbled with the old rotary dial.
It rang once.
A cool, female voice came on the line. “Good morning, IMSET. How may I direct your call?”
He closed his eyes. Some part of him had finally accepted that this would be his last contact with another human being.
There was the tense exchange of signs and countersigns and, without bothering to wait for the transfer to finish, he began to speak, quickly, intently. The call would be recorded anyway. He started as he’d always been trained: the important details first, then the context, always assuming that he could be interrupted at any time.
He’d just begun to identify his captors when he heard the growls. And then they were upon him.
Kansas City, MO
April 23, 2005
The Director’s assistant was asleep on a cot in her office when the call came through, jolting her awake. She sprang off the cot and crossed quickly to the desk, knowing as soon as she laid her hand on the receiver that they had another emergency. Blinking in the early morning light, she groped for something on which to scribble a few notes. Then stopped short as she heard the voice on the other end.
Her eyes widened briefly then narrowed. She was a serious-looking young woman in her early twenties, but looked much younger. She had let her hair down to nap and the thick dark waves now brushed the desktop as she leaned over, listening. Only the last twenty seconds or so of the call had come through, but it was enough.
Wide awake now, she hung up the phone and went quickly over to the door that connected her office to the Director’s and banged on it. “Clayton!” she called. “Clayton, get up! Another one.”
The door opened and he stuck his head out. Clearly, he hadn’t slept. “Where and when?” he asked resignedly.
“Call just came in from Excelsior Springs.” She snatched up her boots and sat down in a chair to pull them on.
He stepped out into her office, a tall, whip-thin man in his mid-sixties, wearing only his shirtsleeves and a pair of rumpled slacks. His once-dark hair was now almost completely gray. His eyes, also gray, usually twinkled with irrepressible good humor. Right now, they were pouched and blood-shot with equal parts worry and sleep deprivation. “Reliable source?”
The Director paused. It was the exhaustion. If he had been well-rested, he would have known the name immediately. “Rios...Rios... The Rios who disappeared in—what, ‘85?”
Her expression told him everything he needed to know.
“My God. Is he all right? Where is he?”
“I don’t think so.” She finished lacing up and rested her elbows on her knees. “There’s something else.”
She frowned. “I don’t know. Something.”
Balefully, he scratched at his three-day-old-beard. “I don’t like it when you don’t know.”
She said nothing. At the best of times, she wasn’t a chatty person and these were distinctly not the best of times.
Heaving himself up off the cot, the Director went over to the coffee maker and removed the pot from its burner. Peering into the stagnant brew, he shook it a little, gauging its drinkability. Grimacing, he turned to the sink and dumped it out. “Who have we got left? Last team was administration, right?”
“Administration, three trainees, and a reserve.”
He changed out the coffee filter and added fresh grounds while the pot filled up with water. “Then it’s time to hit the rest of the reserves.”
“Not quite. Bill Welsh is back from the field.”
“Good. Did his cameraman make it back, too?” The wet pot hissed as he set it back down on the hot burner.
“Put them both down. Who else?”
She scribbled a note, then went over to the filing cabinet. “Dr. Grigori?”
“Yes, he’s the most qualified we have left.”
With their backs to each other, they both shook their heads. She pulled out Grigori’s file, then flipped through folders in a second drawer. All the names were in the computer but with conditions being as they were, they couldn’t afford to take chances with unexpected energy surges or disappearing data. Plain old paper and manila were a little more impervious. “Okay,” she said. “Who else?”
“Ryan Murphy? The Sicily guy?”
“He’s not even a full member.”
“He’s a cop, which means he can handle field work.”
“He’s a skeptic.”
“Good. Should be one on every team.”
“How about Jim Hale?”
“Jim’s in Calcutta. I want Murphy.”
“All right, all right.” She drew the second file slowly, as if it pained her. “Who else? A trainee?”
“I was thinking...Kate West.” He braced himself for another argument. When none was forthcoming, he stole a glance over his shoulder. She had drawn the third
file and added it to the stack without comment. Apparently, she was reserving judgment on West. Interesting.
At last, the coffee was ready. He poured two cups and offered her one. She accepted it gratefully. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” He took a sip. “So we’ve got Bill and his guy, Grigori, Murphy and Kate.”
She nodded, fanning the files out on the table so he could read their labels. “Team leader—Murphy?”
She jerked her head up at that.
“He has the experience.”
For a moment, she stared at him, hands still splayed on top of the files, clearly at a loss. Then, all at once, her expression went neutral and she straightened, smoothing her shirt. “Okay.”
To anyone else, it would have looked and sounded like resignation, but Clayton knew better. “He has coolness under fire.”
“Yeah.” She dug in her pocket for something. Not finding it, she frowned and turned the pocket inside-out. Clayton watched sourly. He hated it when she did this.
It made him feel like he was being put on the defensive.
“Most importantly, he’ll bring them home.”
She shrugged and tried the other pocket. Finding what she was looking for -- an elastic band -- she idly raised her arms and smoothed her hair into a low ponytail. “Yeah.”
“Dammit, Alyssa! We don’t have time for this. Just tell me if you know something.”
She looked down at the desk, running her gaze over the spread of dossiers. Two geeks, an old man, a burned-out detective and an amnesiac. Have them all walk into a bar together and it sounded like the set-up for a really bad punch line.
And now Garnett. Colonel fucking Garnett. There had been a time when her trust in him had been second only to Clayton, but there was a reason he’d been put on indefinite leave. Now Clayton wanted to bring him back in. Could it really have come to this?
Clayton set his coffee cup down. “Alyssa?”
She’d gone completely still. Occasionally, her eyes would skip back and forth as if she were reading something. She might have been daydreaming, except for the fact that she didn’t blink. Not once.
A minute passed, then two. Clayton waited. He hoped she wouldn’t be long.
Her eyes skipping a little more quickly, scanning. Then she closed them. “You know…”
He leaned forward slightly, but knew better than to expect some big Delphinian pronouncement or hokey rhymed couplets.
“Er...” she looked around at him, still somewhat tranced out. She lifted one shoulder, “You’re right?” The tiniest hint of a question at the end of that sentence was not to indicate doubt, he knew, but to convey that there was a lot more to it than that. But for now, the briefest explanation would have to suffice. The girl just wasn’t a talker. In his experience, the really gifted Oracles weren’t.
He smiled, gratified, and sat back in his chair. “Good,” he patted his shirt pocket for his reading glasses. “Let’s start making calls.”
TO READ THE FULL EPIC TALE GO TO:
The Order Of The Four Sons Book I - by Lauren & her co writer Coyote Kishpaugh is to be launched 25th of September 2015.
Enter the world of the Order.
For centuries, two ancient, magical sects, the Order of the Four Sons of Horus and Starry Wisdom, have battled for possession of the sacred, powerful Staff of Solomon. Whoever possesses the staff can open doors to other dimensions—or rip open the very fabric of existence.
The staff was broken into pieces and scattered across the cosmos.
Now, a member of the Order, Fernando Rios, has disappeared in a small Missouri town.
When a team is sent to investigate, they discover that Rios was close to finding one of the lost segments.
The problem is, he wasn’t the only one.
The Order of the Four Sons by Coyote Kishpaugh and Lauren Scharhag is a classic tale of good versus evil. An epic, magical journey of fantasy and adventure.
Join members of the team, Colonel JD Garnett, novice mage Kate West, Detective Ryan Murphy, scholar Doug Grigori, and field techs Bill Welsh and Cecil Morgan, as they race to stop evil from destroying not just Earth, but a myriad of worlds.
And life as we know it.
THE ORDER OF THE FOUR SONS - BOOK I - Published by Kensington Gore Publishing is aviliable on e-book and coming soon paperback here: