Its Time To Pay The Piper!

reading

Yesterday’s Chapter of Onet’s Tale was the last. Whether you appreciate the fact or not, thanks to my generosity of spirit I gave each and every one of you the privilege of reading a one of a kind novel, one chapter at a time, written in 2003 by myself then briefly published in 2010 before being pulled by the publisher when I left them after a dispute over their reluctance to pay royalties owed.

Now here’s the thing, according to WordPress’ stats, confirmed by Google Analytics, the number of you who actually took advantage of my offer, to say the least is pathetically small. Out of the five hundred and twenty people who currently follow this blog, only three actually read and commented as well as ‘Liking’. One of you from the prologue to the end. One is approximately nine tenths the way through as she catches up. The third is a late starter, still working his way through the early chapters. Together with one other person, two of them reblogged each chapter, for which I thank them.

What I need to know is how many of the few others who ‘Liked’ each chapter, actually read them? When I began posting Onet’s Tale over sixty days ago, I asked this exact same question of one fellow writer of my acquaintance. Unbelievably she informed me that she just ‘Liked’ because she did it out of respect. When I asked her if she had actually read the chapters she ‘Liked’, she replied that she hadn’t!

How can you possibly ‘Like’ a blog post unless you have taken the opportunity to actually read it in the first place. It makes no sense whatsoever! Her completely illogical response is why I’m now asking the few others who ‘Liked’ each chapter, other than the three who took the trouble to read the chapters as I published them, and then ‘Like’, did you actually read the book at least in part, or not?

We all know that while there are millions who still love to read, the majority who class themselves as writers these days, especially on all forms of Social Media – appear not too. Instead they pontificate endlessly on the English language and its use. In other words they do everything but write.

Whereas one or two of us like myself and my fellow authors Adele Marie Park, Bob Van Laerhoven and Derek Haines, are actually the genuine article. We don’t spend our entire time just talking about writing. We are writers in the truest sense of the word.

Now back to the totally illogical practice of ‘Liking’ blog posts. The whole concept of why people do it without reading the post(s) first, is utterly beyond me. After all, you wouldn’t ‘Like’ or dislike a sculpture, painting or play without first familiarising yourself with it first!

All I’m asking is that you try to break a bad habit. Start with this post. Don’t just click ‘Like’ – comment on it for goodness sake! Even if as one of the so-called writers out there who follow my blog, you completely disagree.

One thing is abundantly clear. I’m not the only one needing answers as to why it is people feel compelled to ‘Like’ blog posts, but neither read nor comment. Help me and everyone else make sense of this nonsensicle practice.

As for the fact that only three people actually read, or are currently still reading Onet’s Tale. It makes me wonder why people bother to ‘follow’ my blog, or anyone else’ for that matter, if they have no intention of reading the posts we provide. Perhaps seeing how many blogs you can follow is today’s equivalent of collecting stamps…

~~~

 Now I’m going back to where I had got up to in Frederiche Nietzsche’ “Thus Spoke Zaresthustra”, before I began posting Onet’s Tale for you, two months ago.  😉

Chapter Sixty

19e08f0eecaf156e7aeb0b5c57ea8ac7

Chapter Sixty – Evil does Not Die!

Sefani sat in the doorway of their home below the snowline on the eastern slopes of the mountains above Ain Beida, making chains of flowers with Talia, as the baby inside her grew. They had all witnessed the celestial event when Onet and his captive, Melos, were removed by the giant planet as it passed by. For several months life in the idyllic surroundings of their home followed its peaceful pattern.

One day in late autumn, Talia had just brought her father a cool drink in the field where he was ploughing, when her keen eyes spotted someone far below, steadily climbing up towards them. Nehket scooped her up and ran to the house, telling Sefani to take her inside and lock the doors and windows. He armed himself with bow and arrow and began working his way down the mountainside. An outcrop of rock above the lower slopes marked the halfway point between where the person was climbing and Nehket’s family were, as he continued towards them.

He had to stop from time to time, resting in the rarefied air of the high mountain pastures, because he was not used to high altitude. When he was less than two hundred meters from Nehket, he stopped and sat down on the edge of an old stone wall. Then he shouted, “Do you always greet your visitors this way?”

~~~

That night and for the next few weeks until Sefani’s second daughter Lea was born, Max stayed with them until it was time to return to Atlan. He told them about the birth of his son, Set and how Sefani’s father, Goran, still continued to live in isolation on the northern coast of Atlan. Sefani gave Max Onet’s account of how berserkers came into being and their struggle for survival after he had entrusted it to her. She insisted it be kept in the great library in Marsaxlokk for all to read and benefit by.

As for Max, he lived a long and hard life for years. Many things contributed to who he was. He considered himself toughened by the life he led. The day he sailed away on the return journey here to Atlan, his heart broke for the third time at leaving the girl he cared for most, his beautiful god-daughter Sefani.

Life in Atlan continues to blossom. They now trade with their neighbours in Kirenia and Gilgama. They send their brightest to school to be taught by Ausar and other knowledgeable scholars. There are no more tribal wars, since all the tribes united to defeat and drive out Meral and her cannibalistic followers.

Seti and Besal came to visit Goran and Max, staying for nearly a year before returning to Gilgama aboard the trading vessel. Goran shifted back to Marsaxlokk where he now lives with Max, his dear wife Bast, and their son Set. One day soon, Goran will make the voyage across to see Sefani once more.

~~~

Max closed Onet’s manuscript, leaving it on the writing desk in the library. He made his way back through the narrow streets of Marsaxlokk, stopping off at the outdoor café for a chat with some of his friends and having a nightcap before bed. When he entered his home, Bast took her ageing husband into the enclosed back garden where she had lit the fire beneath the earthenware bath over an hour before. She stripped him and helped him climb into its warm waters. After she had washed him, she left him to relax as she prepared the meal. Max lay looking up at the stars twinkling above. He drifted off in the comfort of the warm bath, closing his eyes. Moments before he began drowning, a powerful mind from afar sent him a warning. But it was too late.

Bast screamed when she found him lying at the bottom of the bath with his feet sticking up in the air. Set held his mother close as she trembled with grief and cried. Ausar ordered an autopsy that night, which thanks to Onet’s influence, only confirmed that Max had drowned when he fell asleep. Bast and Set followed the funeral entourage when Max was laid to rest a few weeks later, with Goran, Tihke, and Shaila close behind. Word had been sent to Besal and Seti, but because of ill health and their advancing years, they were unable to attend the funeral of their old friend.

~~~

Epilogue

Both girls splashed each other happily in the warmth of the summer showers. “Time to eat, my darlings,” Sefani smiled, as she watched her daughters playing in the rain.

“Coming mummy.” Talia replied as she turned and smiled back at her mother.

Her baby sister Lea stared into the puddle, watching the scene unfold before her as Set writhed and screamed in agony, bleeding from his mouth, nose, and ears. “Do it again, Lea, that’s funny,” Talia giggled. Baby Lea struck the image with her tiny fists, smiling and gurgling. The boy’s head lay in a pool of blood, squashed like a rotten tomato. Lea’s eyes flashed deep ruby red as she watched the heavy drops of rain fill the puddle, distorting the smooth surface.

After the girls had gone inside, the rain stopped and the surface of the puddle cleared. The image faded from view as the water turned blood red in the strong summer sunlight.

~~~

The planet that was my prison is now Onet’s as it continues on its endless path through the cosmos, passing beyond Orion’s Belt. Now I am free once more, I shall concentrate all my energies to guide my new young protégé Lea as she grows. She shows definite promise for what I have in mind for mankind.

Until we meet again…

~~~

“I am interested only in the relations of a people to the rearing of the individual man. Not by any means owing to the goodness of the people, but because of the struggles of their evil instincts.” Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche.

Chapter Fifty-Nine

142ad5736b23858700dc29905006a3ef

Chapter Fifty-Nine – A Celestial Encounter

With the first warm breeze from the east, spring finally arrived. Migratory birds flew north from Africa. Plants burst through the soil searching for the warmth of the sun, and Goran and Max stood looking at the boat they had built together since Tihke lost interest. Melos had returned to Marsaxlokk not able to face saying goodbye on the day when Sefani would leave. He sought solace in the arms of his wife Het-Heru, in his parents’ home in Marsaxlokk.

Max returned to Marsaxlokk many times during the winter in search of material to construct the boat, staying with Neit’s daughter, Bast. She always greeted him with warmth and loving affection, making him welcome during his brief visits. Despite the considerable age difference between them, Bast and Max grew closer over the winter and now that spring was here, they decided to wed. Bast was two months pregnant and looking forward to the day when their child would enter the world.

The boat was provisioned and launched. Goran held his sweet daughter in his arms for the last time, with tears flowing down his handsome face. He embraced Nehket, charging him with the protection of his precious daughter, neither of them knowing Sefani had a life stirring inside her. She had pleaded with her beloved uncle Max to come with them, but the wonderful news that his lover Bast was expecting a child silenced her plea. So she hugged him for the last time and climbed aboard the boat, waving a tearful farewell to them both, as Nehket headed out to sea. The boat worked its way around the western coast of Atlan, with Goran and Max following its progress until it disappeared from sight. Goran remained alone on the hill above ancient Victoria, never returning south, but always welcoming the visits by Max, Melos, Tihke, and their families. When Bast learned her brother had gone with Sefani she wept for them both. The arrival of her son Set soon drove away the sorrow of her loss.

~~~

The way south through the choppy springtime waters around the western edge of Atlan, almost proved fatal for Sefani and Nehket when the tiny boat was swamped by rogue waves. For two months, the tiny craft battled its way against wind and tide, never far from the rocky shore of Atlan. Eventually they were able to turn south west and away from the dangerous shoals and reefs. By the time they first caught site of the snow-capped peaks of Ain Beida in the Atlas Mountains dear reader, Sefani was close to giving birth. The tiny boat eventually surfed ashore on the eastern side of Cape Bon on the north-eastern coast of this island.

Until Sefani’s time came and the pair was blessed with a beautiful baby daughter of their own, who they named Talia in loving memory of Sefani’s mother, they lived in the ruins of a long forgotten town on the coast. Nehket was able to fish and cultivate some of the vegetable crops growing wild in the old gardens of the town. They stayed there for five years until little Talia was strong enough for the arduous journey through the mountain foothills.

In my mind, I watched their progress as they steadily drew near to me, still convinced that Sefani was the one I now waited for. But the other event in my long life was drawing near also, the return of my home planet on its long three thousand million year journey through space. When it had first arrived near my old home world millions of years ago, dear reader, a meteor was diverted by the giant planet’s path, and I was plucked from my dying home world, cut off from my evil kind. I was safe on my new planet. Over the many centuries of its journey through the cosmos, its environment altered my make-up and nurtured me until it released me here to await its return.

It has now entered the outer reaches of the solar system close to Neptune. In a matter of months, it will be close enough for me to return to my home in the stars, where this time I sense it will spend the rest of its existence circling round the star Mintaka in the belt of stars in the constellation of Orion, never to wander again through the cosmos. If I miss this opportunity, dear reader, I will be trapped here with you on Earth until my time runs out. I must take the one I seek with me to prevent the evil spreading. I know my planet will alter her, turning her into a benign force for good. But I digress dear reader, forgive me.

Sefani, Nehket, and little Talia struggled towards where I live, for many weeks. With the increased altitude came the decrease in temperature to below freezing. This was when I became aware that Talia had powers far stronger than her mother. They sheltered in a cave away from the ferocious icy winds. Nehket found some wood and tried desperately to light it by striking his sword with a piece of flint. Seeing the disappointment in her father’s face, little Talia stared angrily at the wood and it burst into flame. Sefani and Nehket were horrified, as was I, by the demonstration from the little girl. Here was the one I had been waiting for so long to arrive, not her mother! They are all with me now, here in my cave, as we wait for my planet to arrive. Sefani and Nehket are both distressed by the thought of losing their daughter, but believe it is for the best. I shall have to stop for the moment. I sense another approaching, dear reader…

~~~

Melos stumbled into the cave and looked with shocked surprise at Sefani and Nehket seated beside the fire; he had expected her to be alone! On a ledge on one side of the cave, he saw a little girl talking to a tall red-eyed albino creature – myself; he was horrified when he first saw me. “Uncle Onet, how long before we go home?” she asked me.

“Not long, my child,” I replied. “Soon you’ll be safe from harm and away from all the violence that this world thrives on.” I turned to look at Melos. “Welcome, have you come to say farewell to Talia?”

Melos stood dumbfounded by the resignation in the eyes of Sefani and Nehket. “How can you let this abomination take your daughter, Sefani? What is he, some kind of god? Why would any parent let their child be taken like this?” Melos grew angrier by the second. He yelled at me. “Leave her, you freak, she’s not going with you!” Drawing his sword, he angrily seized little Talia and pushed her behind him. Melos’ terrifying berserker cry filled the cave as he leapt at me. My body emitted its pungent odour. I overcame my fear, and despite my great age and near blindness, I managed to dodge the young warrior.

“Don’t do this, Melos, you are mistaken,” I cried, as I tried to reason with him. “I have been waiting eons for this evil child to arrive. I must rid the cosmos of that evil by taking her with me to my home in the stars.”

Melos lost his footing and his sword flew across the floor of the cave. He leapt to his feet and dived at me as I tried to get my hands on little Talia, when she ran crying to her parents. I took Melos by surprise. For one so old and lightly built, I still have some strength, left dear reader. I grappled with Melos, who in his frenzied state, was trying to choke me to death. I realized the evil I sought was not Talia, it was Melos after all! In my desperation, I frantically searched around with my one remaining free hand on the ledge, where I was fighting for my life. Eventually I found what I was looking for and plunged it into Melos’ neck. He screamed as the fluid from the stasis injector flooded through his body. I rolled away and angrily watched Melos being encased in its solid transparent cocoon. Nehket and Sefani hugged little Talia, wide eyed with fear while I raged, succumbing to my long dormant Khaz fury. I wandered out of the cave into the snowstorm, ashamed for letting my own evil rise once more to the surface. Returning to where Talia sat crying and clinging to her mother’s neck in fear, I said, “I’m sorry Talia, forgive me. I was wrong about you. You’re not the one I seek, Melos is. I felt it when we fought.”

“Don’t you hurt my mother and father,” she blurted out to me, through her pursed lips, while her eyes filled with angry childish tears. She dropped down to the ground and stared angrily at a rock near me, causing it to melt. I dropped to my knees in front of the child. My head sank to my chest as I sat back on my haunches, sobbing over what had happened. Talia ran over to me, a loving little girl once more, hugging my ancient Khaz body, kissing my large head with all the natural tenderness she had inherited from her mother. Nehket looked at Melos, entombed but alive, in the stasis cocoon.

Sefani and Talia helped me rise to my feet. I was exhausted by all the sudden physical violence, as they guided me back to the ledge. “I will tell you all that I know about the evil that I have been waiting to appear for so many centuries, and about your history and those who lived before you,” I said, as I closed my clouded red eyes. “But first I must rest.” Sefani and Nehket lay in each other’s arms in the warmth of the fire that night with little Talia nestled safe between them.

~~~

It is morning now, dear reader, and I am refreshed from another night’s sleep. Talia and her parents still continue to share this cave with me. Two months have gone by since the time when my violent fight for survival with Melos took place. My planet draws nearer; it is now only a short distance away between Mars and the moon. I have spent the intervening months filling in all the gaps for Sefani and her family. I’m sorry, please forgive me, I tend to get ahead of myself sometimes. Of course, you do not know what I’m talking about, so let us continue.

Sefani naturally had many questions for me. She wanted to return to Atlan and their families, but I counselled against it, telling her that to return would only provoke the Atlantians. So reluctantly, she and her family decided to make their home here on this great island, just below the snowline in the lush high pastures of these mountains. Another life is about to begin next winter. Little Talia will soon have a baby sister. I never disclosed to them how I knew, preferring instead to let them be surprised when the happy time came.

Melos had followed Sefani after stealing a boat, deserting Het-Heru and their child, wanting to be close to Sefani, not knowing that she and Nehket were together or that they had a child. Since those violent moments when we grappled with each other, I feel the evil around me growing more intensely each day now, dear reader.

Melos’ grandfather Seti’s DNA had been altered long ago by Hesket when Seti and his brothers were under his influence aboard Shu’s great ship Kalki, which is why I am satisfied that Melos is the one. When Pashtek and Meral reached Earth and began their scanning search for Brak, Lek, and Tuluk, Pashtek never sensed me because I had been changed by the planet I now wait for. While it’s true I am of Khaz origin, my DNA has been radically altered. Of the three hybrids created by Pashtek, Banab was the closest to my new form, but he still retained the Khaz evil, which unfortunately was enhanced by Pashtek’s meddling. Like me, Banab was undetectable by our Khaz brothers and myself. I only knew of his presence from the thoughts of Pashtek and Meral.

Unless I return to my planet when it passes in the next few weeks, I feel I will revert back to my old Khaz ways once more. When I grew angry in the struggle with Melos, I knew the early stages had already begun, which is why I said earlier, that my time is short, dear reader!

When Goran was born, I feared that he may be the evil one at first. The intervening years have been times of confusion for me as you will understand now from reading this sad saga. I told Sefani why I must take Melos with me, since I realized that when Hesket interfered with his grandfather Seti’s DNA, he had unknowingly sown the evil seed for Melos to be born. Also that now would be my last chance to return to my planet, because it would never pass this way again. Forgive me if I repeat myself dear reader; my great age sometimes muddles my mind.

I told her how I was marooned here on Earth, three thousand million years ago; when the planet left me here on my own, while it continued its journey through the cosmos. It came as a shock to Sefani and Nehket when I explained about the sudden appearance of sentient bipeds like her here on this planet, and how they had spread from here through the cosmos over the millennia, not the way Shu had so firmly believed when she was released on Kallorn by Hoetep. You see, dear reader, I was lonely here on my prison. I craved companionship, so I created creatures from my own altered DNA, simply for that reason. At first, they led peaceful lives wandering this virgin planet, harming nothing, gathering plants and fruits for food. In those early years, I often joined them on their peaceful journeys, enjoying their friendship and the bounty that grew here. Unfortunately, like all living things, they evolved into completely different beings, plagued with all the angry Khaz emotions that lay dormant inside me.

I grew afraid of what I had created and hid here in this cave, away from what my former peaceful children had now become. I deeply regret my foolishness, dear reader. It is too late to reverse my mistake; I shall return to my home leaving you all to your destinies. Goodbye. Please forgive me if you can…

~~~

Next time – The Final Chapter

Chapter Fifty-Eight

arch_vic_splash2

Chapter Fifty-Eight – The Decision

Meral stood less than a meter from Sefani as both women stared at each other with hatred in their eyes while they prepared to fight to the death. Sefani’s hazel-green eyes filled with tears of anger as she looked at the woman who had caused so much pain and anguish with her vile ways, and now with her cruel words. “Fight, you berserker whore!” she snarled, as she lunged at Meral, leaving an angry open wound on the queen’s thigh. “Your words are lies,” she screamed, parrying Meral’s sword blow with her shield.

“They’re not lies, child, they’re the truth! Deep down in your soul you know it.” Meral laughed as she dodged another vicious sword blow a split second before it crashed into her shield. Again, the sound of sword blows echoed back and forth across the empty ground between the two camps. Goran watched his daughter and mother fight like hell cats in the blazing sun. For nearly three hours, the two female amazons searched for a weak spot in each others defences. Sefani was equal to Meral in every way in the vicious close combat they were both engaged in. Finally, it was stamina, not technique that ended the fight. Meral stumbled and fell on her back, winded by a blow to her ribs from the flat of Sefani’s sword. She quickly swung again; slicing Meral’s left leg in two above the knee. Meral screamed in agony from the shock of the amputation, as her life blood pumped out onto the hot dusty ground from her severed stump. She knew her time had come as her granddaughter stood over her, ready to end the fight.

She could have struck back, but her cruel words had done far more damage than merely killing the beautiful young woman who had appointed herself as her grandmother’s judge, jury, and executioner. Meral dropped her sword and shield as she looked up to where Sefani’s blood soaked breasts heaved as her lungs sucked in oxygen. Holding her reversed sword in both hands above her head, she stood ready to drive its double-edged blade into her grandmother’s prone body. Meral’s insane smile showed itself for the last time as the cold steel smashed its way through her chest, piercing her heart, ending her tortured existence. Sefani dropped to her knees in tears as Meral’s final breath signalled her death.

~~~

The remaining female berserkers turned and headed back unchallenged to the northern coast of Atlan and left never to be seen again. Talia committed suicide by jumping from the high cliffs to the rocks below. Sadly, Neit had also died in the struggle on the cliff top to stop Talia, when she slipped and fell to her own death trying to prevent Talia from jumping. Goran and Max returned heartbroken to the northern end of Gozo, taking grief-stricken Sefani with them.

For days, those who had witnessed the fight and heard the cruel but true statement delivered by Meral, wandered about dazed and saddened over the loss of Geb and Neit. Ausar finally called a meeting of all who remained in Marsaxlokk. “Sefani must leave Atlan; there is an evil in her that cannot be allowed to infect others. You, Shaila and Tihke, and your son Melos, are welcome to remain with us. Max and Goran may stay if they wish. None of you is to blame for what Sefani has become. I know she grieves for her mother and my son Geb, but she cannot stay here. Is there anyone here who disagrees with what I say?”

Tihke stood briefly and opened his mouth to object then quickly sat down beside Shaila, sadly shaking his head. Melos stood up. “Ausar, I’ll go and tell Sefani. We grew up together; she’s like a sister to me. Let me go to her – please?” With Ausar’s approval, Melos found Max and Goran and informed them of the community’s decision. Goran’s heart broke for the second time. First he’d lost the woman he loved more than life itself, now he was to lose his beloved daughter as well. Max held Goran close as he broke down in tears of frustration and anger, pointing in the direction of his god-daughter’s favourite glade.

Melos found her sitting in the sunlight with birds feeding from her hand, returned once more to the sweet young woman who everybody loved. Melos held her, gently wiping away the tears rolling down her beautiful face, after he told her of the harsh decision to banish her. He kissed her forehead and cradled her in his arms while he sat with her, until she fell into a tearful, exhausted sleep.

Goran made the journey back to Marsaxlokk to plead his daughter’s case, but Ausar and the rest of the community were adamant – Sefani had to go. He found an ally in Neit’s son Nehket, who showed Goran scrolls in the library about the rumoured existence of an ancient and wise being living in the mountains across the ocean south west of Atlan, which Goran spent days studying. I must admit dear reader; I had never thought of myself as ancient – learned, yes… Goran went to Ausar with the sketchy information about my whereabouts and pleaded once more for Sefani to be allowed to stay, at least until the following spring when the weather no longer whipped the ocean into mountainous deadly waves. Besides, he needed time to build her a boat that would survive the journey. Ausar consulted the other elders and delivered their answer. “She can stay. But she must remain in the north with you, Goran, until you’ve completed the construction of the boat, then she must leave!” Goran thanked Ausar and the elders and returned north.

~~~

During the months of winter Goran and Max, occasionally helped by Tihke when he visited, spent every waking hour constructing Sefani’s boat at the northern end of Atlan, cutting down trees for its construction, from her favourite spot above their home. Melos stayed with Sefani throughout the construction of the boat, sometimes accompanied by Nehket, when he could manage to sneak out past the guards placed to ensure Sefani never again set foot in Marsaxlokk.

Nehket and Sefani were drawn closer together during those long months. Despite what she had become that day in the heat of her anger, Nehket was not afraid of her. He knew that she had simply avenged the death of her lover Geb, nothing more. He knew in his heart that the elders were wrong to be fearful of her. I, on the other hand, was not so sure, dear reader. If the Nephile still had some of their equipment to alter DNA, they could have reconstructed her, removing any vestige of the angry side of her nature.

Nehket had made up his mind to go with her blinded by love. He leaned across to where Sefani sat, completely overwhelmed by her beauty in the winter sunshine, watching her feeding the birds from her hands full of corn, and gently kissed her cheek. She turned and gazed at him with her bewitching hazel-green eyes, drawing his head towards hers in her slender hands. Their pent-up physical need for one another triggered by their tender kiss, shut out the world around them. For the rest of the day the lovers remained in the glade, locked in their passionate embrace. Nehket sat with his back against a tree, embracing sweet Sefani as she lay with her back against the warmth of his chest in the golden hour before sunset. “When you go my sweet love, I go to. No matter what happens we’ll face it together.” Sefani turned and looked into Nehket’s dark brown eyes. She smiled her sweet smile, cradling his face in her hands before kissing him again, then wrapping her arms around him, she lay her head on his chest and closed her eyes.

~~~

Next time – Chapter Fifty-Nine

Chapter Fifty-Seven

megalithic-temples-malta

Chapter Fifty-Seven – Revelation

Marsaxlokk was rudely awoken by the sound of laser mines exploding in the cold hour before dawn as Meral and Cilla began their combined attack. The agonizing screams of hundreds of dying female berserkers, mixed with the frenzied war cries of their advancing sisters, echoed across the ancient city, as they charged towards the ramparts through the tangle of mines and booby-traps. Deadly showers of jagged stone from the exploding Semac and molecular charges cut the advancing berserkers to ribbons before Meral finally sounded the retreat. Her army of two thousand now numbered less than fifty, most of them walking wounded. She sent a runner to Cilla with orders to bring her remaining warriors back to where Meral now stood, licking her wounds.

Cilla found Meral seated alone on a hill less than a kilometre from Marsaxlokk, angrily surveying the scene of destruction before her. “They’re too strong for us, my queen,” Cilla said, as she stood with Meral looking at the ramparts across the bloody battlefield.

Meral’s scarred face twisted into an evil mask. “What are you saying?” She delivered the words like a cobra spitting venom, covering Cilla’s battle scarred face in a shower of spittle. “Are you suggesting we retreat?”

Cilla saw the hatred in Meral’s eyes and lowered her head, avoiding her queen’s stare. “I’m not saying that my queen. But you were right, they do have weapons more powerful than ours. What do we do now?” Meral gradually calmed down. Her brow furrowed and the vicious pink scar that marred her otherwise beautiful face, twisted as she searched the dark recesses of her insane mind for ways to overcome the Nephile defences.

~~~

Cilla crawled forward under cover of darkness, carrying out the suicidal command of her insane leader and friend. She slowly worked her way through the bodies of her dead sisters until she was within bow shot of the ramparts. She sat for the rest of the night awaiting her opportunity. The early light of dawn revealed the defenders on the ramparts. A lone figure stood on the top of an ancient tower, silhouetted against the sky. Cilla selected an arrow from the meagre supply in the quiver beside her. She placed its nock against the bowstring and held it between the first two fingers of her right hand as she brought the bow up and aimed. Geb toppled lifeless from the tower, his throat torn out by the arrow, before his body smashed into the paving stones below. Disrupter rifles fired blindly into the gloom by the defenders, sent showers of razor sharp rock fragments flying as they searched for the unseen assassin.

Sefani let out a terrifying berserker cry when Geb’s limp body was carried back by Max to the garden. Meral shivered when she heard the cry. The Nephile community was totally unnerved by the sudden change in the sweet young woman they all loved and admired. Talia tried to comfort her, but it was too late. The terrible anger within Sefani was once again rising to the surface; she would not rest until she found the murderer of her sweet love, Geb. Sefani stripped her clothing from her body, arming herself with sword and shield, and ran to the ramparts. No one, not even Goran or Max, dared stop her.

She began her hunt through the tangle of ruined buildings. Cilla was soon cut off as Sefani circled behind. Meral watched as she closed for the kill. There was something very familiar about the naked young warrior easily dodging Cilla’s arrows as she closed for the kill.

Cilla dropped her bow and drew her sword to face the oncoming young huntress. Sefani stood in the light of the early morning sun, her hair shining as the wind gently blew it back over her olive skinned shoulders. “Fight me you murdering bitch, come out and die!” Sefani’s hazel-green eyes flashed with such intensity, they sent shivers of fear up Cilla’s spine.

“Who are you, little one?” Cilla asked, quickly regaining her composure as she prepared to fight.

“I am Sefani, daughter of Goran and Talia!” Meral gasped as she heard the angry words.

Sefani closed with her quarry as they circled each other. Her beautiful eyes blazed with hatred now, as Cilla probed her defences. From both sides of the battlefield the sound of the women’s swords striking against each other’s shields rang out across the ruins. Meral watched with a mixture of fear and pride as her granddaughter and her champion fought in the heat and dust.

Cilla was no match for Sefani’s inherited natural swordsmanship. Soon she lay in a growing pool of blood at Sefani’s feet, having never seen the vicious blow that ended their duel. Sefani dropped her shield and raised the sword in both hands before delivering the coup de grace, severing Cilla’s head.

She picked up the head and held it high in the air screaming out a berserker cry of triumph. Then she swung her arm and threw it towards where Meral stood. “Meral!” she screamed. Silence fell across the battlefield below the ramparts. Meral shivered. “Come grandmother, or are you afraid to fight your only granddaughter. You tried to murder my parents when you had them thrown into Etna’s crater, but they survived. Now you’ve murdered the man I love. End this madness here and now Meral. Surely you’re not frightened of one woman standing alone, are you?” Sefani’s angry challenge echoed across the field of battle.

Both sides looked to where Meral stood. Her remaining warriors stood down, with their swords and shields slung on their backs. Max and the defenders all watched from the ramparts, looking at the beautiful young female warrior standing bloodstained in the harsh Mediterranean sunlight. For the first time in many long years, Meral knew she was alone. None of her berserkers was going to lift a finger to help her. She sat for a long time absent-mindedly caressing the sharp edge of her sword as she looked across to where her naked nemesis stood patiently waiting. In one of the lucid moments in her otherwise insane frame of mind, she thought back to the dark days of her youth on board the ship when Pashtek had taught her and her two brothers the evil lessons that had ultimately led her here. She thought about her son Merak and her daughter Talia and about Kalma…

Everything became clear. Merak and Goran had to be one and the same person, they had to be! Even if she was mistaken it didn’t matter, she would use it as a weapon. If Sefani was her granddaughter then she was the offspring of siblings. Meral began laughing insanely as her tortured mind took over once more and she rose to her feet, slowly picking up her sword and shield. She may die today, but she had one evil task left to perform. “Very well, Sefani.” Her voice changed, taking on its more familiar venomous tone, but with an added icy chill. “I’ll face you my dear. But before we begin there’s something you should know about your lineage child, something that not even your parents know!” Meral’s hideous laughter rang out across the ground towards Sefani as she stood prepared to fight her insane grandmother. “Your precious parents, Goran and Talia are my children; your father’s real name is Merak. He was conceived in the empty depths of space; his father was a Khaz. I ate the father of Talia, I don’t remember his name. Your parents are half brother and sister!”

The shock of the announcement stunned everyone who heard it. Talia ran from Goran with tears of shame flooding down her cheeks. Goran sat totally stunned by the shocked realization of what Meral had just said, remembering the day long ago when Max had jokingly questioned his berserker heritage. Finally, he understood why he and Talia had such a close bond between them. Max sat beside him with his arm around his shoulder, while Neit, Shaila, Het-Heru, and Bast ran after Talia. Tihke sat dumbfounded on the wall of the ramparts. Ausar and the rest of the Nephile defenders watched from the safety of the defensive ramparts, angered by what had happened to their sanctuary, unfairly blaming it all on the beautiful tall blond young woman and her family. Their unspoken thoughts had already decided Sefani’s fate, should she survive today.

~~~

Next time – Chapter Fifty-Eight

Chapter Fifty-Six

megalithic-temples-malta

Chapter Fifty-Six – Preparations For Defence

Finally, after years of petty squabbling among the tribes in Kirenia, and putting up with Meral’s constant raids, the tribes ended their feuds and joined forces to drive her out, sickened by her cannibalistic ways. Word had travelled to Gilgama and the Kirenian’s cause soon became the Gilgaman’s. Their combined force of over ten thousand berserkers cut off Meral’s army on a narrow isthmus in what had been the Peloponnesian peninsula of southern Greece. Given the option to surrender or fight to the death, she opted to fight. Hundreds of her warriors were killed before a halt was called. A boat was found and Meral and her fifteen remaining berserker females were pushed out to sea never to return.

She and her companions spent years travelling from island to island, now and again coming across tiny pockets of people, staying long enough to get her females pregnant, then eating their captives, until finally she had sufficient numbers to take on larger targets. She tried to return to Mt Etna but the Kirenian’s stood ready to repel her. So she turned south and now Meral and her murderous females were crossing the central plain of Atlan near Mosta, looking hungrily at Marsaxlokk.

~~~

Meral stopped to sniff the air. Spread throughout the ruins of what once had been the thriving community of Birkirkara before the flood, two thousand female berserkers stood in readiness. Meral tensed when a feral black cat leapt from its hiding place among the ruins and ran to escape.

“What is it, my queen, what do you see,” her champion Cilla asked.

“Smell, not see, Cilla,” Meral said, quietly shifting her gaze toward Marsaxlokk. “Nephile! We’ve found Nephile.” Meral’s eyes narrowed. She knew that they would put up a strong resistance. “Take half our force and head east for a few kilometres to that ruined town we saw earlier, then turn south. I’ll take the rest with me. Don’t attack unless you’re fired upon. The Nephile are tricky. They may have weapons that none of you has seen before, more powerful than ours. In which case we’ll have to rethink the way we attack them.”

Cilla looked at Meral, puzzled by her leader’s reluctance to charge head on towards the enemy. “My queen, I don’t understand.”

Meral turned and looked deep into Cilla’s eyes. “The Nephile are an old enemy, my friend. I met their kind a long time ago in another time and place. They don’t use swords; they use lethal weapons, which can kill you long before you’re close enough to strike them with your sword. Now go, do as I say, wait for my signal.” Meral hugged her friend and champion, and watched as a thousand of her berserkers followed Cilla, making their way east towards Zebbug.

~~~

“How close are they?” Max asked Geb, as they stood on the hill above Marsaxlokk, looking north.

“Our scouts tell us that an army of two thousand has been seen. They’ve split into two separate groups, one is heading east towards Zebbug, and the other is coming this way via Marsa, skirting the old harbour.”

Max left Geb to continue watching, and returned to Neit and the rest sitting in the garden. “Time to arm ourselves, Goran,” he sighed. “It’s definitely Meral. There’s no question of it. Somehow, she’s found a way of crossing the ocean with her army. I just wish we still had some of the weapons we used against the Drana all those years ago. We could end this, almost before it began. I doubt her female berserkers have ever come across disrupter rifles and the like. God, I wish Akhen and Khan were here beside me!”

Ausar got up and quietly left the garden. Talia hugged Goran with tears in her beautiful eyes, terrified that her mother had found them. “She’ll kill us all.” She broke down, sobbing uncontrollably. Sefani hugged her mother and father. Melos and Het-Heru sat in a circle with Shaila and Tihke holding hands. Ausar soon returned to the garden and beckoned to Max.

Max followed him as he led the way down a winding staircase to an underground vault. Ausar opened the rusting iron door and turned on the light. A broad grin broke across Max’s face. There, safely stored beneath ancient Marsaxlokk, in the ruins of an ancient Neolithic temple, was row upon row of disrupter rifles, Semac charges, and laser mines. In a separate room, off the main arsenal, were eight crates painted red. Max carefully opened the lid of one of the crates. Inside it, nestled in their separate containers, were twenty molecular charges. He had one hundred and sixty of the most lethal Drana antipersonnel mines ever constructed. “I hoped and preyed we would never need these weapons again, Max,” Ausar said, glumly standing in the doorway. “None of our young ones know anything about these weapons or how to use them.”

“No time to lose, my friend. Meral is getting closer. Time to put a few obstacles in her path.” Max yelled loudly, “Goran, Tihke, get down here –now!”

Under Max’s direction, the people of Marsaxlokk began mining the northern approaches to their home. The molecular and Semac charges formed two deadly arcs of destruction five hundred meters away from the defensive walls hastily thrown up to repel Meral’s two pronged attack. In the fifty meter gap between the charges, booby-traps were set up designed to hinder the enemy’s progress, using ancient rusting rolls of barbed wire and reinforcing rods ripped from the crumbling ruins of old buildings. By the time Meral camped for the night at Zetjun, Marsaxlokk stood ready.

From where Geb stood on top of the ruined ancient coastal watchtower, he could see the glow of Meral’s camp-fires to the north. And to the east above Birzebbuga, the fires of Cilla and her army glowed in the warm night air. Sefani climbed the ancient tower to be with her lover. “I’m scared, my love,” she said, wrapping her arms round him and shivering despite the warm breeze of the Mediterranean night. Geb kissed her tenderly as the warmth of the night and the uncertainty of what tomorrow might bring, turned their thoughts for one another to love. Tomorrow they may die; tonight they would share the love that burned between them.

On the hastily erected ramparts, Talia leaned back against Goran’s chest as he hugged her close, staring towards where they could see the glow of Meral’s camp. Max, Neit, Bast, and Nehket ate in silence, wondering if they would survive the battle. Melos and Het-Heru made love on the roof of Melos’ parents’ home, while down below in the comfort of the living room, Tihke and Shaila held each other close, neither saying a word, but silently praying that the nightmare would soon end.

~~~

Next time – Chapter Fifty-Seven