Chapter Sixty

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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.

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Chapter Fifty-Nine

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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

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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

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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

Chapter Fifty-Five

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Chapter Fifty-Five – A new beginning

Sefani grew more like her beautiful mother with each passing day. Her gentleness and her happy laughter filled the air of their hillside home with infectious love. While Shaila and Tihke missed their son terribly, Sefani and her sweet nature helped to ease the pain they felt in their hearts. Because of her evil lineage, through Pashtek’s meddling, compounded by the relationship of her loving parents, she had latent powers that would soon see the light of day. Whether they were benign or malignant, I could not tell, dear reader. But I knew I would have to watch her progress carefully as she grew up.

~~~

Max returned two months after he and Melos departed. Shaila panicked when she saw him returning alone, but Max soon calmed her fears when he told them about the Nephile community and how young Melos was being schooled by them, and was steadily developing into a fine student. Anxious to see their son, Shaila and Tihke returned with Max to Marsaxlokk, leaving Talia, Goran, and Sefani behind in the peaceful surroundings of the hills above Victoria.

Over the next few years, Sefani grew into a beautiful sweet natured happy young woman, admired by the young Nephile males who often accompanied Max on his journey back to his friends. Word spread among the Nephile community about her and an invitation was made for her and her parents to visit Marsaxlokk. Talia and Goran missed their friends Tihke and Shaila, and it was time for Sefani to be with young people of her own age, so they decided to head south.

She was sad to leave the beautiful hills she had spent so many happy hours exploring, accompanied by the birds and animals she had played with, and nursed whenever they were sick. Sefani had a power within her for healing, which she put to good use on many occasions. Her gift first came to her parents’ attention when Goran cut his hand while sharpening a knife. Sefani demonstrated her power when she took her father’s hand gently in hers and closed her eyes in deep concentration. Talia and Goran stared in utter disbelief as the wound healed before their eyes, leaving no scar.

There was another side to her that rarely surfaced – violent uncontrollable anger. Talia had witnessed it when Sefani was much younger. A small bird caught by a feral cat was lying at death’s door. In her fury towards the cat, Sefani tore it apart with her bare hands. That was the only incident and was soon forgotten over the years. As they headed south, Talia remembered the incident once more and was frightened for her daughter’s safety among the Nephile, should her anger arise.

~~~

Their arrival in Marsaxlokk coincided with a festival honouring Hor, the great Nephile general and friend of Max and his brothers, who had perished with the thousands killed by Shu’s berserker army in Ur so long ago. The wide expanse of the old dried-up harbour below Marsaxlokk had been turned into a field for athletics and games for the festival, now that the crops had been harvested.

Goran encouraged his daughter to enter one of the races. She took her place among the dark haired young Nephile women on the starting line. A blast from a stag horn signalled the start of the race. Sefani’s flying golden tresses, olive skinned complexion, and tall athletic figure, made her stand out in the crowd of competitors as she effortlessly made her way through them before crossing the line in first place. As she stood there, head and shoulders above the admiring crowd of young Nephile males who had come to congratulate her, she heard a familiar voice. “Congratulations Sefani that was a fine win.” Sefani smiled as she spun round to see a tall handsome berserker youth staring back at her.

“Melos!” she cried, with tears of happiness flowing down her cheeks, as they hugged each other. He was no longer the foul tempered little boy who had cruelly tormented her in their childhood. His time here in Marsaxlokk, under the watchful eye of his mentor, Ausar, transformed him into a fine gentle young man. He proudly presented his ‘sister’ Sefani to Ausar, as they crossed the field where their reunited parents and Max sat in the shade of an awning, with Ausar’s wife Nekhbet and her daughter Het-Heru. In her excitement at seeing her beloved uncle, Sefani nearly knocked Max over when she set eyes on him, as she jumped into his arms. Sefani kissed everyone, she was so happy. Nothing could ever spoil the way she felt that day.

“Hello father; greetings mother.” A handsome young Nephile warrior in his early twenties joined the group. Het-Heru introduced Sefani to her brother, Geb. When Geb and Sefani met for the first time, and he saw her sweet smiling face and those hypnotically beautiful hazel-green eyes, his heart melted like some lovesick teenager. Over the next few months, the pair became inseparable as their love for one another grew. Geb’s mother took it upon herself to teach Sefani all there was to know about their society and history. Melos and Het-Heru often accompanied Sefani and Geb. Sometimes the four young lovers went with Max, hunting together whenever he grew restless. Even Max had found love there in the shape of Neit, widowed during the great battle, and her two adult children, her daughter Bast and son Nehket. Sefani was so completely happy, surrounded by so much love.

~~~

Goran spent hours in the great library reading about the Nephile and their endless search for safe havens away from the Drana, and now the berserkers. Ausar had led the remnants of the earthbound Nephile people here after the great battle, to one of the places his ancestors had first settled eons before humanity first appeared. In his research over the months, Goran found many references to this place. Time and time again, he came across one name that stuck in his mind—Atlan.

Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the first Nephile had come and cut themselves off from the wild, early human hybrids, living in peace, studying and arming in preparation for the inevitable Drana invasion. They named the place Atlan after a great Nephile warrior on their home world Cydon, who had fought many battles in defence of his people, five thousand years before they came here seeking sanctuary. In the time of the first flood on Earth, Atlan had been reduced to a few islands by the inundation, but because of the second flood, and the geological upheaval, it now stood proudly once more above the waves.

When Geb asked Talia for Sefani’s hand, in accordance with the Nephile tradition, both she and Goran were overjoyed. Sefani hugged her parents. Sefani and Geb strolled into the garden while their parents toasted the happy event. The young lovers were locked in their gentle embrace, when Melos and Het-Heru burst in to announce they were to be wed. So, a combined wedding was planned for the end of the month. however, there was one added complication: Neit and Max had decided to wed also.

The whole community got together in preparation for the wonderful triple event. Geb’s parents offered the use of the beautiful gardens of their home. Neit’s two children took over the massive task of feeding the hundreds who would attend.

The day of the triple wedding finally arrived. Max, Geb, and Melos stood by the dais, like all bridegrooms, nervously waiting for their brides to appear. Goran, Talia, Shaila, and Tihke sat opposite Ausar and Nekhbet. The crowd murmured happily to themselves, ready to witness the weddings. Then the three brides entered holding hands.

As they made their way through the crowd towards their eagerly awaiting lovers, a great blast from a hunting horn in a watchtower, sounded across Atlan. A young Nephile warrior burst into the garden with terrible news that would change everything, and not for the better dear reader. Meral and her cannibal berserkers had landed on the northern shores and were marching south!

~~~

Next time – Chapter Fifty-Six

 

Chapter Fifty-Four

Cart-Ruts-Malta

Chapter Fifty-Four – Marsaxlokk

Max’ journey was full of hazards. He had to backtrack many times on his exploration of the tunnel system. Several times, he had nearly died from falls near rivers of lava, and other unseen traps. As he marked the safe route along the way, he discovered ruined ancient stone circles and old roads from another time, buried beneath the ocean floor. It was one of the latter which finally led him back to the surface.

~~~

Nearly three weeks after they returned to the depths below the island, and on the last night before they reached the safety of the landmass, Max and his young companions made camp inside the last of the stone Neolithic temples hidden beneath the seabed. Its ancient circle of megaliths, topped with horizontal stones, witnessed many strange sacrificial ceremonies over the seven thousand years since they were first dragged to their final positions, and placed upright to form the religious circle.

At one end of the stone circle, in a niche protected by a stone lintel from the rocks above, was a small alter decorated with carved depictions of running goats and ancient mountain sheep along its bottom. Just above the line of carvings, a small jagged piece of carved stone jutted out. When Max pulled it away, revealing the recess it protected, he found an obsidian knife that had been used to bring good fortune and abundant crops through sacrifices to the long forgotten people’s gods.

“I wonder who the people were. Were they farmers or cannibals, like my mother’s tribe?” Talia asked, as they looked at the knife. Its razor sharp edge reflected the light from the glow worms on the cave walls and ceiling above, as she turned it over in her hands.

“Whoever they were, they ate well – look!” Goran pointed to a tangled pile of bones caught in a deep water worn gully in another cave below the circle. Skulls of pygmy elephants, dwarf hippopotami, and deer lay in the tangle of sheep and goat bones, piled up by water from flash floods.

“I don’t think they ate these animals,” Max suggested, as they searched through the pile. “More than likely, these creatures were probably trapped when they fell from above and drowned. I read somewhere a long time ago, about a land bridge between Europe and Africa, thousands of years before the megalith builders arrived, and before the first great flood of biblical times, when the world was inundated. I think these bones belong to that time, long before men erected these stone circles.”

~~~

The next day they left the circle behind and followed Max along the long forgotten stone road. Its surface was scarred by deep ruts, as if many loads had been dragged along it on sledges or carts over the countless centuries of occupation. The stone road gradually ascended from the depths as they drew nearer to the southern landmass. “Not far now,” Max announced cheerfully, as the road climbed at a steeper angle. Goran and Talia were helping Shaila over a boulder that partially blocked the ancient thoroughfare when they heard Tihke running towards them, shouting and waving his arms, frantically trying to get their attention. Moments later, they felt a powerful blast of air coming from Tihke’s direction.

“Run, run for your lives! The sea’s broken through, we’ll all drown!” Tihke yelled, as he scrambled over the rock, dragging Shaila with him. The pressure of the trapped air being forced along the tunnel by the wall of seawater, knocked them down many times as they frantically ran along the remaining few meters of the tunnel. Max scrambled up and out of the hole, then turned to grab Talia’s wrist as Goran lifted her up. Tihke and Goran threw Shaila up to Max before frantically scrambling out themselves, moments before a geyser of seawater erupted out of the hole, drenching them in its foaming fury.They lay exhausted, watching the water slowly retreat, as the sea found a new level. The way back to Sicily was cut off forever.

Tihke reflected on what had just happened. He had hung back, fascinated by the hundreds of stone tools lying along the way, left as offerings, or discarded as useless by their owners so long ago. As Tihke slowly followed the others, his eyes caught the dull reflection of the eerie light on a flint arrowhead in the low ceiling of the tunnel. Curiosity overcame him when, just like his father Seti who still loved collecting shiny things, he set himself the task of retrieving it as a memento of their travels. The arrowhead was firmly embedded in the ancient sedimentary layers of seabed that made up the rocky surrounding walls and ceiling of the tunnel.

Tihke tried to jump up to grab the arrowhead without success, slicing his fingers on its sharp edges in the process. So he decided to build a small pile of rocks to help him retrieve it. As he was dragging the last piece of rock over to the pile, he felt water steadily dripping on his head and shoulders from where the arrowhead stubbornly remained. When he had tried to grab it, somehow he had loosened the whole area and it began to collapse, narrowly missing him as hundreds of tons of rock, and millions of tonnes of seawater, rapidly filled the space, forced down by the tremendous pressure from above. Now, as they all sat in the fresh air, gasping for breath, watching the seawater in the hole recede, Tihke quietly tucked the arrowhead into his loincloth, not daring to tell them they had all nearly died because of his stupid curiosity.

~~~

Their hurried exit from the dangerous subterranean system beneath the Mediterranean Ocean had brought them out into the ruins of what had once been the town of Zebbug on the northern coast of Gozo, the northernmost island of the former Maltese group. More ancient eroded stone circles were dotted across the landscape. And in some places, where the rock lay exposed, cart tracks like the ones back in the tunnel criss-crossed the exposed rocky ground.

The new southern landmass consisted of the three islands of Gozo, Comino, and Malta itself, expanding to include the Pelagian islands of Linosa and Lampedusa to the south west. To the north west it stretched to Pantalleria, and finally to the east across the old Medina bank, forming the area supposed by some to have been the mythical island of Atlantis in ancient times. For the next few months, the three men made a home for the group, while they waited for the birth of the two babies growing inside the protection of their mothers’ wombs.

Talia was the first to go into labour, assisted by Shaila and Goran, delivering a beautiful baby girl who she named Sefani. Sefani had her father’s olive complexion and her head was crowned with fine blond hair. She had intense hazel-green eyes like her mother. A few weeks after Sefani arrived, baby Melos lay crying in his mother’s arms, as Tihke proudly looked at his son for the first time. Melos was dark-haired like his grandfather Seti, with deep brown eyes, a berserker’s dark complexion, and cursed with a berserker’s temper.

Max was not left out of the happy events; both sets of parents asked him to be godfather, teacher, and protector of their children. For the next three years, the little group lived in peace in the hills of central Gozo, above its ancient former capital Victoria. It was the perfect setting for two young children to grow up in safety.

Sefani’s sweet nature and her blond good looks, won the hearts of everyone except for Melos. He was an angry little boy, always taxing his parents with his fits of uncontrollable temper and childish cruelty towards Sefani, but was loved just the same. The only adult he ever took notice of was Max. The pair had struck up a friendship when Max took young Melos on hunting and fishing expeditions around Gozo. They spent hours together staring across the swampland between the former islands of Gozo and Comino, towards Malta and beyond, wondering what lay over the hills in the distance. The whole area had been below the sea at one time, forming a channel separating the three islands.

Melos loathed his father Tihke for some reason. Not even Max could find out why. So when Max informed the others that he wanted to take Melos with him to explore the land to the south, their mixed feelings over his proposal were naturally influenced by Shaila’s concerns for the safety of her son. She knew Melos would be in good hands and Max’s steadying influence over him hopefully would dull his young temper. Perhaps it would be the making of him. When Shaila stood with the others on the edge of the marsh, waving a tearful goodbye, Tihke held her gently in his arms to comfort her as she sobbed her farewell. Little Sefani clung lovingly to Shaila’s leg trying to make up for her aunt’s loss, but at the same time she was glad that Melos was going away. He had made her cry many times in the past when they played their children’s games together. Now that he was leaving, she had two mothers and two fathers all to herself. She would miss the hugs and kisses from her darling uncle Max. Sefani stood beside Shaila sticking her tongue out in defiance at the retreating figure of her tormentor seated on uncle Max’s broad shoulders, as they made their way across the treacherous marshland towards Comino on the first leg of their adventure together, wishing she was going instead.

~~~

Max tucked a rough warm blanket around the tiny sleeping form of Melos and stirred the embers of the fire into life, exhausted by the journey from Comino and Melos’ incessant chatter and questions. The northernmost tip of Malta is a long ridge running east-west. From where they camped for the night, just below the southern side of the old ridge road, Max could make out the shape of the valley, which had once been Mellieha bay, on the eastern coast below, where he sat eating the remains of the rabbit they had caught, illuminated by the moonlight.

Over the seven thousand years of its continuous occupation, Malta had been invaded many times. Phoenicians, Egyptians, Romans, Byzantines, Greeks, Normans; they all came. The early Christian, St Paul, was said to have come there on a visit sometime in the first century AD. During the middle ages, Muslim invaders arrived from the northern shores of Africa, spreading their influence. Soldiers from the crusades in the guise of knights of the Order of St John were finally allowed to settle there, following a decree by the pope, allowing them a home, providing protection for the Maltese, and offering their services as hospitalers according to the edicts of their newly formed religious order. Over the years many other people, like the Spanish and Italians, came from Europe making Malta their home at one time or another, occupying this ancient land, leaving behind traces of their time spent there in the many different examples of architecture, and the exotic mix of Malta’s warm people.

All this was sadly now gone since the second great flood, when the Nephile used their deadliest weapon to rid the world of the Drana invasion, almost nine hundred years ago, and the world had once again been turned on its head, creating the new landmasses, where before, there had been shallow seas and a small cluster of islands.

Max sat in the moonlight, looking south across the ancient rolling hills towards a faint glow in the sky. He began to question his decision to bring young Melos along. Perhaps they weren’t alone after all. Perhaps there were more berserkers. The next morning, after they had both eaten, Melos began excitedly asking Max more questions as they walked south. He was fascinated by the migratory birds flying overhead in great numbers, heading north from their winter feeding grounds in the ancient African continent. At one time they were shot for sport by Malta’s inhabitants, but now they flew without fear on their way north to their nesting sites to bring young into the world, increasing their numbers and repeating the endless cycle of migratory renewal. As early evening approached, Melos and Max stopped on the eastern coast, near to where the town of Bugibba had once stood on the windswept shores of St Paul’s bay. “Uncle Max, can we go for a swim?” Melos pleaded.

Max welcomed the interruption to collecting wood for their camp-fire, and together they paddled and played for an hour, until hunger finally overtook them. Max had taught Melos how to fish, and their bellies were now full from the boy’s triumphant success, as they sat by the fire in the shelter of the rocky foreshore. Melos chatted incessantly about nothing in particular until he finally fell asleep in Max’s arms. He watched his young charge’s chest rise and fall as he slept, before turning in himself.

The next day they walked further south through ancient fields, past ruined farming villages, making their way across the hills to the high plain where the ancient silent city of Mdina and the cathedral dome at Mosta, still guarded the western and eastern approaches of the central part of Malta. By the time they had passed Qormi, they could see the outline of Malta’s former capital, Valletta, between the wide valleys of the old Sliema river and Grand harbour, now dry land after the upheaval. Each night, after Melos was safely tucked up for the night, Max kept a watchful eye in the direction of the glow from the south that steadily increased in intensity as they drew nearer.

The day finally arrived when they stood on the sparsely covered hill overlooking ruined Birzebbuga and the fertile valley that had once been the old port of Marsaxlokk, now several hundred meters above sea level. Max and Melos stayed on the hill for the rest of the day in the intense heat, hiding from the sun beneath the sparse shade of a few bushes.

“Uncle, I see people,” Melos shouted.

Max silenced him with his hand around Melos’ mouth. “We don’t know who they are, Melos; they may be bad,” he whispered. “Let’s play a game. Count how many you can see and I’ll count how many weapons they have,” he continued, trying to distract Melos. The little boy began counting out loud. “Shush,” Max said, holding his finger to Melos’ mouth, “count silently!” Melos pouted, then nodded happily when Max smiled. He began using his chubby fingers to record how many people he could see. Across the fields, on the eastern side of the dried up harbour below the old desalination plant and the ruins of an ancient coastal watchtower erected in the time of the Knights of St John, they could make out hundreds of people going about their peaceful business. They weren’t berserkers; they were Nephile.

When the Nephiles saw Max carrying little Melos on his shoulders, steadily advancing towards them, they ran from the berserker warrior’s path. Armed guards appeared and nervously surrounded them. “Who are you and why are you here?” demanded one of the guards. A crowd gathered behind the protection of the guards, anxious to hear for themselves.

“My name is Max, brother of Akhen and Khan,” Max said. “I’ve travelled here from Kirenia and Gilgama.” The news that one of the six berserker brothers had appeared in their midst brought the Nephile community out in their hundreds to greet the famous warrior. That night, after a banquet in his honour and Melos had been put to bed, Max was told about Marsaxlokk and the Nephile refugees who lived there. In return he told them about Sefani and her parents, Talia and Goran. In particular about Shaila and Tihke, and the reason why he had brought young Melos with him to give his parents and poor Sefani a break. The Nephile leaders understood his decision and promised him that when his friends eventually arrived they would be made welcome.

~~~

Max would be destined to stay there for the rest of his life dear reader. I became more unsettled by young Melos. I sensed something in him that would cause trouble for anyone who crossed him in the future.

~~~

Next time – Chapter Fifty-Five