The full moon shone over the Sahara Desert, limning the figures scurrying across the sand in a thin, pearlescent glow. Narrow strips of cloud ribboned the sky, but swirled away from the moon as if afraid to interrupt the moonlight and mar the sand dunes with shadows.
Neferhe took a moment to savor the soft illumination of the moon. A thousand lovers are gazing up at that moon. But none of them know that it's the last full moon they'll ever see.
From her perch on a rock outcropping, Neferhe regarded her minions below. Oblivious to the moon's glow, they moved obelisks into place across the desert floor, chanting as they did so. Whip-wielding overseers -- priests chosen personally by Neferhe -- ensured that each obelisk fit perfectly into its ancient pattern on the desert floor.
It's different from last time, Neferhe thought. I never would have imagined using electronic contrivances -- GPS units -- to position the obelisks. My father had nothing but paces for measurement and the stars for direction.
But that was thousands of years ago, Neferhe reminded herself. She remembered herself as a young girl, precocious in the priestly arts, when her father the pharaoh stood on this very outcropping and directed slaves to place the obelisks in the profane, looping spiral. She remembered the shakiness in his hands and the quaver in his voice as the ritual began. Signs of weakness I'd never seen before. But once I saw them, I knew I had to act.
Neferhe remembered her slim, wavy dagger sliding across his throat as he knelt. She recalled how it had slipped between tendons, then poked redly from the side of his neck. The priests had started screaming, and a sandstorm began seconds later. Khufu Ashpanutet, loyal Khufu, he whisked me away. Then he buried me deep, and I slept until the stars would be right again.
With shouts from the cultists, the last obelisk was moved into place, then tilted upright. The capstones on each obelisk began to glow a deep red, scattering firefly motes of light across the desert sands. With a wave, Neferhe bid the priestesses forward to the base of the outcropping, then intoned: "Let the scaly darkness be given presence in this place. Let black coils choke all that is weak and poison with pain all that is pure. Let the Ancient One, Set, come forth and feast on a world stricken with rot and ruin!"
It's started now. And you'd be proud of me, father. My hands aren't shaking.
White-robed priestesses shuffled forward in pairs as chants rose up from the cluster of cultists encircling each obelisk. In unison each lifted a razor-sharp dagger in her right hand, then cut open the left eyelid of her partner. Blood streamed down each left cheek, but the right side of each priestly face remained moon-white.
Neferhe smiled, then gripped her own wavy bladed dagger. It'll be my turn soon. But tonight we listen to the chant and revel in Set's presence in the world.
She gave an involuntary shiver as she briefly sensed a flicker across her skin. Then, firmer, she felt a scaly caress around her thigh. Some of her minions were sprawling across the desert sands, wrestling with unseen foes. It's strongest here, but tonight Set's presence will be made known across the world.
Over the course of the next several hours, Neferhe extended her sorcerous perception across the globe, flitting across the electronic ether, looking for signs of Set's presence.
Bomb blasts rocked Damascus and Baghdad, destroying mosques and killing hundreds . . .
Freak tornadoes ripped through southern Illinois, tearing the roof off an elementary school and baffling meteorologists . . .
With the thunder of artillery, Pakistani troops crossed the border into disputed Kashmir this morning in a surprise attack . . .
The Aeolian Towers skyscraper in downtown Detroit collapsed without warning this afternoon . . .
Typhoon Gil abruptly changed course today, threatening . . .
. . . Sudden virulent plague . . .
. . . Earthquakes destroyed the capital . . .
. . . Suicide bombers . . .
. . . Mob violence . . .
Neferhe joined the chant, holding her hands in front of her face. Still no shaking. With Set's presence, I can't be stopped now.
Then a dark cloud clipped a corner of the moon, casting a pall over the writhing, chanting cultists and the red-tipped obelisks.
Neferhe looked upward. Why are the clouds not obeying me? With a sorcerous thought, she directed her dragon-demon abomination to emerge from its sandy tomb and scour the desert for intruders.
To be continued...