Thank you for all of your support. As promised here is the first chapter of MA reposted.
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No sooner than the disembodied voice had finished giving the command and the hundred or so men who had been concealed by the inky darkness charged zealously into the heart of the small unsuspecting village. In the chaos that followed fifty or so terrified villagers were dragged from their beds and stabbed, beheaded, skewered or disemboweled (depending on the preferences of the men who had stormed their particular house) before being left to lie on the dirt floors of their hovels while the marauders continued on their rampage.
Men, women, children of all ages were slaughtered without thought. Not even the elderly were spared the blade as the raiders converged on their peaceful settlement with deadly intent, starting with the houses on the outskirts of the main plaza and working inward to ensure no one's escape. In one of the larger outlying houses a man with jet black hair and bright green eyes slept peacefully, unaware of the danger.
He was still half asleep as he was hauled roughly from his warm bed, along with his pregnant wife of only six months. He kicked out wildly at his captors, gaining a moment of freedom as he dropped to the floor to avoid the grasping hands.
With a swift movement he lashed out with his foot, dropping one of the intruders to the floor with him and the two of them wrestled for control of the man's sword. A hand found its way to his hair and pulled, trying to separate them but he managed to duck away. Unfortunately it gave the other man time to move out of his reach.
"What in the name of –AHHH!" Otogi's question was cut off as a second chunk of hair was ripped from his head in his attempt to escape the bruising grip.
He pushed himself from the floor at his wife's pained scream. It was as if the whole world stood still. As he managed to find his footing it was to find his hands full of his dying bride.
Her throat cut, blood dripped down her mouth as she fought to whisper her last declaration of love. He laid a gentle kiss on her lips as he held her close, tears slipping from his eyes as he forgot all about the reason he was no longer asleep and watching the love of his life breathe her last breath. But the situation was brought back to him swiftly as a sharp pain in his back took his breath away.
"Hahahaha! Check out the lovebirds Canton!" A manic voice laughed in the darkness.
"Oh shut it Crom, just another whore and her paycheck – not like you've never seen it before." A second voice sneered.
The cruel comment fell on deaf ears as Otogi glanced down, barely feeling the pull as the sword was withdrawn from his body. He fell to his knees holding on to his sweetheart with the last of his strength. Perhaps he should have tried a little harder to convince Shizuka to come to the royal city. At least The Pharaoh would have been able to protect her from a situation like this.
"Th-the…Ph…Phar…Pharaoh…will…" And he dropped his head to the floor without being able to impart his message.
"The Pharaoh! Ooohhh we're so afraid!" The second man chuckled as he gave a vicious kick to the dead man's body before he and his partner charged out of the house to join the rest of their comrades in their bloody rampage.
In reality the gruesome act took barely a half an hour to accomplish, leaving only an eerie silence after the last sword was sheathed. But to the men who were set on completing their mission – and those who had watched as their lives became forfeit on this moonless night – time had a way of distorting itself to the role they played in this long-planned out event, leaving many of the raiders clueless as to how long the actual deed had taken.
Once the last remaining victim was slain the men quickly set about rounding up the bodies and tossing them on a makeshift pyre in the center of town. An hour later, as the last body was thrown on top of the pile and the tinder beneath lit by way of torch a cry of victory was heard in the dead silence. It was the signal to those waiting on the outskirts of town that the marauders' victory was complete. And those who were waiting heeded and acknowledged with a short bird-call.
Once the return call was heard the men surrounding the macabre bonfire then feasted on the dead villagers' store of food as they swapped stories of their feats and poked fun at some of the fearful reactions of their victims. Tomorrow would be another day of training and hardship. But they had ensured their place in history with this act and they had earned the right to celebrate a little before going back to their daily routine.
As the fire wound down, hours later, many of the raiders wandered about the vacant dwellings, searching for anything of worth. Any item that caught their interest was immediately pocketed for further inspection. Clues were planted in obvious places as they demolished what they could of the town itself just for the fun of it.
And before long the call came from their superior that it was time to vacate the premises. As the last man left he touched his torch to one of the outlying homes, setting it ablaze. The fire would cover up what needed to be unknown, leaving in plain sight what needed to be seen. Their work finished they slunk back into the shadows from where they came.
Unknown to either the torch bearer or his friends their movements and descriptions were being watched and committed to memory by a child of no older than ten harvests. Their blood drenched blue soldiers' uniforms and the distinctive golden insignia on the breastplate of their leather armor was noted and recognized as the injured youth slipped silently away from the scene of the bloodbath.
"Is he finally gone?" One of the men who had hung about on the outskirts of town asked huffily without turning around just in case the child realized he was being watched.
A nod from the other mounted man. "He will be well on his way to informing the Pharaoh of all that he witnessed. Our mission is complete." A chuckle. "Now we wait and see just how long the prin – I mean our dear King – can hold out against his superior forces. Especially when his resources are so drained."
The first man chuckled as well. "That kid won't know what hit him. And once he's gone we'll be the ones with the power."
The first man swiveled his mount around and took off after the retreating soldiers, the other following at a more sedate pace. It was a pity their king had died, and the older prince along with him. Perhaps they shouldn't have been messing around where they weren't wanted. But even more the pity was that they left behind the weakling to guard the throne.
That was just asking for someone to come into their country and take it over for themselves. The country needed someone with power to take the throne. Someone like him. This plan would guarantee that. By the time he was finished the boy would meet the same end as the rest of the royal impostors – and he wouldn't even have to get his hands dirty. The Pharaoh of Egypt would do the deed for him.
The best part was that the high council of countries would have no cause to investigate into the circumstances leading up to the falling out between his country and Egypt. They would chalk it up to the Egyptian ruler's uncertain temperament. He would be a shoe-in for their next king. He was well acquainted with the Pharaoh's council – as well as most of the other men who reigned on the high council – after all. Everything was set for his coronation within the next six months, no matter whose decision it was.
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Pharaoh Atemu, adolescent ruler of Upper and Lower Egypt, absentmindedly drummed his slender, bejeweled fingers on the arm of his throne, his expression one of condemned boredom as he listened with only half an ear while his six priests and head vizier squabble amongst themselves over when to implement the newest improvements to their crumbling irrigation system.
His piercing scarlet eyes glazed over as he fought an internal battle with his conscience over whether or not to adjourn the meeting. Something didn't feel right, it hadn't since early yesterday. The sinister feeling continued to grow in strength as the day wore on, as if trouble was approaching the palace on steady, silent wings.
But since he had no other evidence to back up his intuition, the irritated royal allowed his seven council members battle it out as a means of distraction. Whatever was wrong would rear its ugly head if he gave it time enough. After the last patch of trouble he had dealt with he truly didn't want to go looking for it. He was fed up with violence, with watching those under his protection die for no other reason than to sate someone else's need for more power.
He had thought that – after the first couple of times where he had viciously defended his country against attackers –people would have figured out Egypt was not an easy target, despite the fact that he had not yet reached his majority. Apparently, though, the concept that he was not a pushover hadn't quite made it through some people's thick heads (especially the Hittites – who even now hung about Egypt's borders waiting for another chance to strike). Perhaps that was what weighed so heavily on his mind.
Atemu coughed discreetly and reached for a goblet of wine to wet his parched throat as Akunadin made a particularly nasty comment directed at Shadi. How much longer were they going to continue to snipe at each other this way?
Directly in front of the dais on which the throne sat, two of his favored priests Shadi and Isis – along with Siamun were going head to head against the combined determination of Seto and Akunadin. The three of them were rambling off each and every reason they could think of to stall the rebuilding of the ancient structures until after the flood waters had receded. Seto and Akunadin had argued back just as passionately for immediate construction.
"The threat of loss of life alone should be worth the contemplation. Not that you would consider it a concern." Isis shouted, throwing her hands in the air as she turned and walked away from those who had angered her to this point of raising her normally quiet voice.
"The loss of life will be just as high if we let this go for another season." Seto retorted just as hotly, crossing his arms over his chest and glaring defiantly back at the trio of challengers. "The channels are corroded and weak."
"Since when have you given a thought to loss of slaves' lives?" Shadi inquired, his brow raised.
Atemu mirrored his priest's facial expression, having been coherent enough to realize where this fiasco was headed. The young royal opened his mouth to make a remark, but his Vizier beat him to it.
"Shadi! There's no call for personal attacks!" Siamun admonished.
"Well t'is the truth!" The bald priest defended his comment with a shrug. "He could not care less for the loss of a slave's life unless it affects him directly."
The other two priests – Karim and Mahaado – who had stood patiently off to the side watching intently as they waited for a clear victor to emerge before adding their comments, cringed at the vicious comment. The young ruler rolled his eyes skyward as a stream of disparaging insults issued from Akunadin's mouth after being provoked by Shadi's careless comment.
"Of all the fucking…! Who died and made you…you fucking…coward!"
"CEASE!" Atemu roared over the melee.
It was time to end this nonsense. He didn't have the endurance to sit and listen to the ongoing, petty grievances that his high council held against each other. And he expressed this thought eloquently as he advised the five main combatants to resolve their differences before he did it for them. Each one of them bowed their heads contritely as he verbally boxed their ears for their pettiness.
Atemu understood that they all cared for each other in their own strange way and would stand together against anyone who dared utter a spiteful remark against any of others. But more often than not they would fight such as siblings did in order to gain his favor. And right now was really not the time. His mind was overloaded as it was. He didn't need their malicious comments to add to the burden.
As soon as he said what needed to be heard Atemu dismissed the council from his mind as they returned to their originally quiet discussion, his eyes drawn to the open balcony off the throne room. He couldn't place the feeling of discord but it wouldn't let his conscience rest. Having held the throne from the tender age of eleven he knew better than to ignore such a powerful feeling, but until he knew of the source there was nothing he could do but wait it out. And that was the hardest part.
No sooner had he again attempted to dismiss the foreboding feeling and a frantic knock sounded on the massive ornamental doors to the throne room, startling him out of his thoughts and he shook his head to clear it before bidding the person enter. The doors were thrown open with a resounding bang, catching the attention of everyone in the room and halting the newest argument in progress as Siamun and the priests looked on in shock.
"Pharaoh!" Marik – newly appointed head of the royal guard – raced into the room, and dropping to his knees bowed low before the council. Without waiting for the command to rise he raised his head and met Atemu's startled gaze with hardened violet eyes. "We have word of a massacre!"
"What?" Atemu shot out of his seat. "Where?"
Gods not again!
But before the young ruler could utter another word a second form shot into the room in a flurry of snow white hair and bronze skin, carrying what appeared to be a bundle wrapped in a bloodstained blanket. Without showing any sign of respect to either his ruler or the council the teen held the unconscious burden up for Atemu's appraisal.
"He is the only survivor." Marik exclaimed. "A child, really…"
Atemu flew down the steps to his friend's side, immediately assessing the child's frail condition. The boy had been stabbed in the stomach and it looked like he had very nearly bled out. There was so much blood; it almost coated the worn blanket in its entirety. The shaken royal found it amazing that the boy was yet clinging to life, so dire was his situation.
Bakura took a couple of deep breaths to calm his racing heart. Running all the way from the outskirts of town where he had been posing as a merchant before having stumbled across his find was no picnic and he was out of breath.
"Two of the soldiers found this boy…huddled in this blanket…on the outskirts of town. They thought him to be a thief or an orphan, but when they got close enough…It was…" The generally stoic former thief began to trip over his words in his haste to make his friend understand what had happened. "He said…he said…Otogi's village! It was Otogi's village! It's been destroyed!"
Atemu froze completely; his hand pressed over the dying child's heart, as the words gradually sank into his brain. Otogi! His friend! The foreign boy with green eyes who had appeared one day out of the desert and not long after risked his life to save him from an assassination attempt when he was only one harvest into his rule – a feat which earned the boy a place on his unofficial council along with Marik and Bakura.
The close friend who he had given blessing not six months ago to take a bride of Hyksos blood and live in one of the villages on the shared border of their lands.
No this couldn't be!
Atemu sprang into action, barking orders at the shocked group as he started backing towards the doors. "Isis, collect your most competent healers to see to this boy's welfare. Bakura, Marik gather a contingent of willing men and make ready for our departure. Siamun, Shadi, I need you to prepare the palace for my departure. Everyone else attend your duties as if this were just another day. We will meet in the throne room as Re passes halfway through his journey."
"Where are you going Your Highness?" Seto questioned, falling into step with Atemu.
Atemu turned his questioning gaze on Marik.
"The village that was attacked is a day's ride, on the Hyksos border." Marik replied, already knowing what his Pharaoh wanted without it having to be said.
"Very well, Seto that is where we are headed." Atemu glanced at the other to make sure he understood.
"Than I shall accompany you." Seto said as he bowed and walked away to gather his equipment for the journey.
"As will I." Mahaado added, bowing before sprinting off towards a different corridor.
"As you wish." Atemu called back. "But do not think to slow me down with your constant bickering. I have no issue with leaving the two of you behind."
A little further down the hall the rest of the group split into different directions, Atemu headed towards his personal chambers with a heavy heart. This was not the news they needed. His country had just gotten back into a state of normalcy after their most recent skirmish with the Hittites. And here he had thought them to be the cause of his distress! Now he found himself wishing that they were.
But this…now this was personal, one of his closest friends may have lost his life, if the news was to be believed. This heinous deed would not go unpunished. High council of countries be damned. They had never helped his country in times of need anyways – only condemned his actions after the fact.
Why did it feel like, lately, he had a large target tattooed on the middle of his back, right next to the one bearing the likeness of Re? Grumbling under his breath Atemu finished making his arrangements for the ride ahead, the thought of having lost another person he was close to clouding his reason. So help him if he found the person who was responsible. He could not be accountable for his actions!
The troubled royal slid his decorated sword from its scabbard, unable to take his eyes off of the way the rubies seemed to glow in the midmorning sunlight. It had been his father's sword before he died. And now, as he always did when forced to prepare for bloodshed, Atemu found himself wishing greatly that his dad were still among the living. Even though Siamun may have stepped into the mentor role with an ease born of familiarity, he couldn't fulfill the role of father that Atemu needed in times of difficulty.
With a forlorn sigh Atemu sheathed the precious heirloom and hastily exited the room. There was so much to be done to secure the palace in his absence, but he would not think of being left behind. It was his duty to lead his soldiers and his privilege to avenge the death of his friend.
As the group finally met back in the throne room after completing their assigned tasks the general mood fluctuated between a stunned despair and growing rage. Isis had informed them all that the boy had indeed given up his fight for life and now resided in the field of reeds along with the rest of his kin. But before he had gone the child imparted some very useful information. It was as they had assumed – Hyksos invaders. The child had described their royal insignia to a tee in a drawing that he had held so tightly in his clenched fist.
Atemu seethed inside. He had met the elder Hyksos king twice before when he was younger and managed even to eventually reach a tentative agreement of peace between their countries, although his personal dislike of the man caused him to be a little overbearing with the terms of that agreement. But that was over! Now that proclamation of peace was ended.
When he was finished with their sovereign there wouldn't even be enough left to toss to the jackals. And then he would incorporate the man's kingdom into his so that this situation would not arise again. He would avenge his people with as little violence as possible, just as he had before.
The group marched out of the palace. Standing at the top of the stairs Atemu slid his sword from the scabbard, raising it into the air. "We ride!"
A chorus of cheers met his statement and the thousand or so men who he kept on retainer all year round mounted their horses, setting out for the site of the massacre. Atemu followed suit, mounting up on his trusted white stallion that he had named Heba – for his continued love of any game that would capture his attention long enough to take his mind off the pressures of ruling a country.
Row by row the fully armed military marched out of the city and towards the lands bordering the kingdom of Hyksos gathering curious stares from the villagers as they paraded down the main road. Once out in the open plains the command was given to make haste and the dreary desert scenery passed by in a blur, not that Atemu or any of the others would have taken the time to look. Their thoughts were with their childhood friend who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The journey into the border village took nearly a day and a half, leaving Atemu wondering just how one lone boy had managed to make it to the royal city before he finally succumbed to his injuries. When they reached the place where the little village was to have been they found only rubble where there used to be homes. An eerie silence settled over the group as they gazed upon the wanton destruction.
A warm desert wind blew a couple of spindly tumble weeds through what should have been the main street as Atemu led his men towards the center of town, swords drawn in case of an ambush. But they needn't have worried, by the time they reached the village center it was apparent that the whole place was deserted other than a large pile of what looked to be charred human remains.
Atemu dismounted and made his way over to the macabre sight, his angular face drawn into a mask of rage and pain. It was true, everything that he had heard from Isis, Marik and Bakura. There were no survivors. His thoughts wandered back to the good times he had had evading his own personal guards in the company of Otogi, along with Marik and Bakura – a couple of petty thieves who he had met and befriended as a young prince and elevated to the ranks of his unofficial council when he became Pharaoh.
"Come on Atemu!" The green eyed boy whispered, waving his arms wildly.
"I am coming just hold your horses." A twelve year old Atemu whispered back just as quietly as he kept his concentration on his footing. It would hurt if he fell from this high up on the wall.
"Well then come on or we'll be seen!" Otogi hissed back, his eyes on the guard that was headed their direction.
The nimble footed royal finished scaling the outer wall and dropped into a crouch beside his friend barely daring to breathe as a guard marched past their hiding spot behind the potted plants only moments after he had made it.
"Where are we going anyways?" He whispered once the guard was out of hearing.
It wouldn't do them any good to alert the guards at this late a stage in the game. That would just ruin their fun. It was the two boys' intent to make it to the bazaar and back before anyone knew they were missing. This was the best part of the game. Sneaking out before anyone saw them and could reprimand them for being the immature kids they really were. Very rarely were they caught – although it had happened before.
"We're meeting Bakura and Marik by the first stall of the market – same thing we did last week. Then we just go wherever suits our tastes." Otogi shrugged as he slipped out from behind the pot and drew a hood over his jet black hair.
"You know what I mean smart ass! Where are we going after we meet up with the gruesome twosome?" Atemu followed suit and the two of them crept off towards the bazaar. "I know you're planning something."
Otogi grinned back at him. "I was thinking we might visit that little brothel on the outskirts of town, you know the one I'm thinking of…"
Atemu smirked back. "I know you like her, but I don't know if you should go that far. Think of how many others have been there before you."
"I'm only going to look, you know that! I just want to see what they have to offer." Otogi waved him off.
"Mmm-hmm" Atemu hummed mischievously. The day promised fun if they could stay out of sight of the guards that were able to recognize them.
The three of them, Marik, Otogi and Bakura had his eyes and ears outside of the palace. They could go where he could not. He trusted them implicitly to tell him of his citizens' welfare and treatment by those he had put in power. He had been sorely disappointed when Otogi had told him of his wish to leave the royal city and make his home in one of the outlying villages for his fiancé's comfort, but he had not denied him the request. Now he was wishing that he had.
Marik put a gentle hand on his shoulder, drawing him from his thoughts. "What do you need us to do Your Highness?"
"I know it would be beyond the possible…but I would still like to have them buried – even if it is not a normal entombment." Atemu replied softly. "He deserves a peaceful rest in the afterlife, as do the others. Do what you can…for all of them."
Marik rounded up willing men, having to turn down quite a few volunteers for so many were eager to help, and began handing out instructions as to the care and handling of the fragile remains. Those not chosen went about their normal duties of setting up camp. Atemu and Bakura worked silently among those selected for the chore of dealing with the remains, as did Seto, Mahaado and Marik. It was impossible to tell which one might have been their friend, but it mattered not, all the remains were treated with the respect that their society held for the departed.
And once they laid the last body into the ground, saying rites and prayers over the new graves, they turned their attention towards retribution. Atemu wanted to involve as little innocent people as possible. It had always been his way. He was more than willing to fight, but the risk of collateral damage had to be minimal. Especially when going up against a nation that had all but been enslaved by their recent monarch. Those poor souls had no involvement in this fight unless they refused to back down.
Well into the night; stick in hand, the scarlet eyed royal laid out his careful plans for dealing with their newest enemy in the desert sand that had encroached on the far hill just outside the fallen village. His expression serious as he gave his orders. "This is how we will approach the situation..."
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