Chapter Forty-Two – Deadly Encounter
Drawing closer to where they could see Shu surrounded by the nine guards, the five brothers stopped and listened to Akhen’s powerful voice booming out around them. “What’s he saying?” Max asked, as he prepared to fight.
“I can’t understand him either,” Akkad said, shifting his grip on his shield.
“Shhh listen.” Seti raised his sword for silence.
“Well, what language is it?” Besal demanded, looking towards the impregnable wall of shields three hundred meters ahead.
“Quiet!” Khan hissed.
Akhen was delivering some kind of ultimatum, but in a language unfamiliar to his brothers and my kin. Seti’s keen eyes caught the look of fear on Shu’s face. “Shu understands what he is saying,” he whispered, “And so do I; it’s ancient Sumerian!” Seti began translating for his brothers.
“Sud, queen of death,” Akhen boomed. “In the name of all the gods, I Enlil, your husband and lord of Sumer, son of Anu king of the skies, challenge you to fight to the death here on the plains of my kingdom. Hear me wife, for I am sent to deliver all my subjects from your wrath. The time of your cruelty is over. You have murdered my children in this fertile land. No more! Come forth and prepare to die by my sword, for I am Enlil, mightiest of all warriors!” The last strange words echoed around the ruined ancient city as Seti finished relating Akhen’s challenge. Silence descended across Ur, and for a moment the birds returned to the marshy banks of the river. Shu’s eyes once more took on their dark ruby red colour as she issued orders to her guards. Five of them ran forward searching for Akhen. As they made their way through the wreckage of the battlefield, high above them a frightened hawk made a desperate barrel roll in an effort to escape the path of two deadly arrows. The sound of the arrows cleaving their way through metal shields, flesh and bone, and finally embedding themselves in the wreck of an upturned crawler, pinning the berserker guards like pieces of raw meat on a kebab skewer, sent shivers through all who witnessed the event. “Come out Sud, come out alone!” Akhen’s deep voice pulverised the air, loosening ancient mortar from between the bricks which dropped to the ground like tiny dusty waterfalls.
The berserkers watched Shu and her guards, as she looked for a way out of the deadly killing field surrounding them. Another arrow descended. This time striking one guard barely half a meter from her, entering his body through the left side of his neck and out through his right thigh, pinning him to the sun baked ground. His terrified screams of agony from the shock of the mortal wound and Seti’s poison coating the Nazpa arrowhead rapidly killing him, soon turned to whimpers as his life ended.
Khan looked across towards the hideous scene as this time two arrows skewered two guards together, one arrow through their chests piercing their hearts, the other through their stomachs sending them flying across the ground and slamming them into the wall behind Shu, where the projectiles suspended them above the ground, lifeless. Deathly silence descended once more. Shu screamed in sheer terror. Her eyes changed to emerald green then back to deep ruby red as she fought to control the panic building inside her. The one remaining guard looked skyward, trying in vain to see where the next deadly missiles were. Then all eyes turned west towards the deadly irradiated sand dunes kilometres away where so many of Shu’s berserkers still lay, their bones now bleaching in the harsh heat of the sun.
Akhen stood legs apart with his left arm through the red crystal shield that glistened in the sun. His protected left hand protruded through the bite in the edge of the shield rim, holding the bow as the two fingers of his right hand drew back the bowstring with one more arrow notched with its deadly barbed Nazpa arrowhead aimed above the guard’s head. Before anyone realized it the deadly missile crossed the distance and ended the remaining guard’s life, skewering him to the wall with his backbone severed, alongside the others. Now Shu stood alone.
Khan, Akkad, Seti, Besal, and Max stepped forward and stood in the sunlight. Shu glared across at them while her hand gripped the red crystal. The brothers raised their swords and delivered their berserker salute, then tried to cut off her retreat back to the river, never closing with her but always remaining in visible contact. Shu’s powerful red crystal vaporised the low walls of the ancient ruins between her and the brothers, causing them to dive for cover.
“Sud!” Akhen’s voice boomed, stopping her angry attack. Ignoring the brothers, she quickly turned round. Akhen now stood less than a kilometre away at the outer edge of the old defensive ring, armed only with sword and shield. “Face me wife!” he roared, sending the birds at the river into the air in panic again. Even the scorpions dived for cover as his voice shook the very foundations of the crumbling ancient Sumerian city ruins. Snakes slithered away and hid deep inside the reed beds; spiders abandoned their patient watch over their webs and scuttled into cracks, away from the terrible shock waves of sound.
Shu picked up her sword and shield, and slowly advanced towards Akhen. When she was barely half a kilometre from him, she drove her double-edged sword into the ground up to the hilt guard. Akhen watched her every move as she unscrewed the end of the hilt, withdrawing a red crystal. Then opening the silver filigree cage between her breasts, she removed the other red crystal. Holding both crystals, one in each hand, she glanced across the half kilometre gap to where Akhen was waiting.
For a moment, she stood there with her hands at her sides calmly looking at Akhen. Despite the bloodthirsty she-devil she had become, her breathtaking beauty was still undeniable to all that witnessed the scene that day. The honey blond hair framing her face fell in soft cascades across her slender back and shoulders towards her breasts, shining with an almost translucent quality. Her slim waist and flat stomach, and the gentle curve of her hips and pear-shaped buttocks, only served to accentuate her femininity. Her long slender legs, despite being blood soaked from the carnage minutes earlier, shone in the reflected heat of the scorching sand.
Shu’s eyes closed briefly. She bent down and placed the crystals on the sand. She slowly released the silk cape from around her neck and the loincloth from her waist and watched them flutter to the ground at her feet. Removing the filigree cage and its gold chain from around her neck, she dropped it to the ground. Then picking up the crystals, her hands scribed an arc towards each other above her head as she stood now completely naked. She looked to where her two hands met. Violent red-lit lightning bolts of energy flashed around her as she absorbed the power of the crystals inside a red protective shield. The two small irregular crystals had merged into one large perfectly formed gem, which now spun above her as she lowered her arms. Her eyes flashed with a stronger intensity than before as the power of the crystal continued to build up inside her.
Akhen dropped to one knee behind the protection of the shield as two powerful red bolts of energy leapt from Shu’s eyes vaporising the air as they cut a path across the gap and struck his defence. The shield’s crystal outer skin absorbed some of the energy before the force sent him flying backwards for several hundred meters until his powerful frame was smashed into a dune in a cloud of dust and sand. Quickly picking himself up he brought the shield up to protect himself yet again as two more of Shu’s energy bolts struck home, sending him further into the irradiated wasteland. Within her protective shield Shu advanced steadily towards him, the glow in her eyes increasing as the crystal’s power continued to grow.
For several hours, the five brothers watched the terrible clash between the two most powerful beings the Earth had ever seen from the edge of the old battlefield, not daring to enter the poisoned irradiated wasteland. Akhen’s shield continued to absorb and fend off the savage power of Shu’s deadly bolts. Despite his enormous strength and stamina, Akhen was bruised and battered by the ordeal but otherwise unhurt. Shu was angrily toying with him now, playing with her victim. Eventually she would tire of the game and move in for the kill. By nightfall, the red lightning bolts of death lit up the surrounding desert as Shu repeatedly bombarded Akhen, each time weakening him by degrees.
Then the course of the battle changed in Akhen’s favour. He noticed the time between charges was lengthening slightly. The energy bolts were still as powerful, but the crystal above her head was draining with each recharge. Taking advantage of a brief lull while Shu’s eyes charged up, Akhen dropped his sword and seized the bow. Fitting the last three arrows from the quiver, he pulled back the bowstring and aimed above the crystal. For a moment, his powerful frame trembled and the triple curved bow creaked in protest under the terrific strain. Taking a deep breath, he briefly relaxed before releasing the deadly trio into the cold night air of the desert. As they spun their way through the darkness, Shu’s face twisted into a deadly mask as the energy in her eyes reached its maximum. Clenching her fists, she prepared to release the deadly bolts. The Nazpa arrowheads struck their target shattering the crystal into hundreds of jagged red shards, which fell to the ground around Shu’s now completely unprotected naked body. The destruction of the crystal caught her unawares. Angered, she directed the last two bolts towards where Akhen had fired from. They buried themselves explosively into the side of a sand dune fifteen kilometres away, turning the grains of sand to liquid that rapidly cooled to form a layer of glass in the freezing temperatures of the desert night.
Shu never heard Akhen’s razor sharp double-edged blade as it spun out of the darkness, until it was too late, moments before it cleaved her heart in two, pinning her to the desert floor.
When the sun rose the next day, Besal peered into the haze of early morning. A lone shimmering black dot on the horizon slowly moved through a mirage lake steadily towards him. Waking the others, he drew his sword in readiness. Khan, Max, Akkad, and Seti joined him, watching the dot silhouetted by the rising sun, gradually begin to take on a familiar form. “Akhen,” Khan cried, as he ran forward, followed by the others. They eagerly met their bruised and battered brother carrying the lifeless body of Shu over his powerful shoulders. He did not acknowledge their welcome as he continued towards Ur. The brothers fell in step silently behind him as he strode towards the Ziggurat at the centre of the ancient ruins. After climbing its steps he gently laid Shu on the alter stone. Saying nothing, Akhen disappeared towards the river returning two hours later with two massive bails of dried reeds, sandalwood and palm fronds.
All watched as he built a funeral pyre. Using water from the river, he murmured the words of an ancient Sumerian ritual while he gently bathed Shu’s lifeless corpse and anointed her hair with palm oil, while muttering ritualistic incantations. Akhen then carefully plunged his hand through the vicious wound beneath her left breast withdrawing the two halves of her heart and put them on the pyre. Next, he beheaded her and placed it reverently beside the two pieces of her heart. Sprinkling the pyre with palm oil, Akhen struck the blade of his sword with a rock sending sparks into the tinder dry reeds. While the flames of the pyre burned fiercely, the air all around the berserker brothers was perfumed by the smell of the sandalwood and palm oil as Akhen tearfully stood at the head of the pyre reciting an ancient Sumerian poem of farewell. The flames consumed Shu’s head and heart as Akhen’s eyes deepened their ruby red colour.
He commanded his brothers to carry her headless corpse out into the desert and bury her deep below the surface, far away from scavengers. When they returned hours later towards sunset, Akhen had once more departed…
Next time – Chapter Forty-Three