I wrote a short story recently to illustrate certain techniques of characterisation to my students. Fiction writing is hardly my forte and the following is a very provisional piece dashed off in 5-6 hours:
The prayer call sounded from the Dome of the Rock as the last rays of the crimson sun were swallowed by the encroaching night. The ancient sands rose in swirling dream and murmuring winds swept the Old City, mingling the songs of the Koran with the cries of the Hebrew pilgrims and their Prophets. The city of peace, Jerusalem, sank into sultry slumber as hard light from a thousand markets, churches, mosques and synagogues pierced yearningly into the empty sky.
Flames—implacably immense, rose in storm from the center of Al-Aqsa market. Flesh, metal, blood and bone were mingled, ripped and scattered onto the dusty stones. Hungry flames licked the screaming doomed amidst the splintering skeletons of stores and their proud, cackling wares. Few moved—till from the infernal heart, a man arose.
Moshe Levi carefully stepped around the charred and shriveled creature that was his chauffeur. Molten debris of his armored Mercedes lay around him, but his Savile Row suit was pristine and his Patek Philippe watch sparkled in the flames. His middle-aged face glistened with a thin film of perspiration but remained as before—not handsome, but chiseled, firm and commanding. And no one who dared to look into his ageless eyes could doubt the elemental force of the man—a power resplendent with an authority that transcended mere charm.
Moshe put forth his consciousness and stretched it across the ruined marketplace. Tuning out the burning pain and panic of the few survivors, he sought for his assailants. Quickly he found them: over 20 Executioners, each burning with dark demonic flame. There were two who were by far the strongest—their leaders, perhaps. Yet something was wrong. Even the best among them were merely…children.
His physical gaze focused on the men and women who were advancing in a tight formation towards him. He recognized it as the Numa, an arrangement used by the ancient Libyans to hunt massive prey. So perhaps they did know who he was. Contemplating this, Moshe looked serenely at the head of their formation: a small man dressed in a dark red robe—the traditional garb of a pyromancer adept.
‘Shalom,’ the pyromancer greeted in a husky, sarcastic voice. Moshe did not answer but merely smiled coldly. The other Executioners closed in and took up their positions, trapping Moshe in the killing zone.
Feeling triumphant and irritated at Moshe’s nonchalance, the pyromancer rasped, ‘You are the last Guardian, Moshe Levi. Our Order had killed the rest. Today you fools will be no more.’
Moshe chuckled scornfully.
Angered, the pyromancer shouted as he waved his crooked, wrinkled hands at the flayed corpses in the market, ‘You mock me! Have you not witnessed my power?’
Moshe shook his head sadly and replied, ‘Power? You abuse the word, boy. All mortals live under the reign of death. You are but the slave of their destinies—a dispensable tool of the inevitable. And if you haven’t noticed, you have murdered everyone—except the one you need to kill.’
‘I am not here to talk philosophy, you old fool!’ the pyromancer roared.
‘Yes, perhaps philosophy is beyond your feeble mind. Yet would you hear some simple sense? Your Dark Master has deceived you. If you children have challenged any of the Guardians, none of you would still be alive.’
The pyromancer laughed harshly.
‘You think me a fool and a child. Look carefully, Moshe. I am an adept of the Dark Fire and with Its grace I have lived for three hundred years! As the Master says, “He who surrenders to death gains eternal life”.’
‘Indeed? Yet you would soon see there are always exceptions to that little rule.’
‘Enough talk, Gelineau,’ said a woman next to the pyromancer, ‘We have a job to do.’
Moshe turned and looked at her. She was, if anything, even stronger in the demonic fire than the pyromancer. Dressed in pure black, she would appear to be an almost attractive woman to the ordinary eye. But Moshe easily saw the green flame wreathed around her body—a superb shield that could deflect almost any magical or physical attack. Yes, she was a rare one, an adept assassin of the highest rank. Even Moshe knew of few who had survived the horrific ordeals necessary for such proficiency.
She slid forward like a serpentine shadow. Moshe recognized the move immediately. She was an expert in Heruka, an ancient Egyptian martial arts superbly suited for assassinations. Two cobra shaped Heruka blades emerged from her sleeves as she spiraled forward in a gyrating, confusing dance.
Moshe gazed intently as she closed in. The faces of her countless victims flashed before his mind. Her own family, her own child, were among them—no doubt one of the sacrifices necessary for her rank. She was one who deserved no mercy. Yet he saw something more. Buried deep in this twisted fallen being was a faint remnant of humanity—a spark of kindness and regret. Given time, maybe even she could be redeemed. But there was no more time.
The assassin looked hungrily at the eyes of Moshe as her blades flashed with green devouring flames. She was only a meter away, and she lusted for the moment when life would drain painfully away from those eyes. Then despite herself, she paused. She had killed so many, and the eyes of her victims were always full of fear or hatred, yet in Moshe’s, she saw only…pity. Then to her sudden horror she found that her shield was gone and her Heruka blades were flashing with an unfamiliar white flame. Her world exploded in searing pain as the blades pierced through her throat.
The assassin crumbled just inches away from Moshe. Aghast, the pyromancer and six of his followers raised their palms in unison. Crimson flames cracked the concrete ground and roared towards Moshe—who quickly disappeared in a diamond-like fireball. Exulting, the pyromancer concentrated his mind and put forth all his might. He did not even wish to see the ashes of Moshe.
Then suddenly the pyromancer found that he was alone. Surrounding him were 6 charred corpses. He realized that the flames had inexplicably turned around to consume his disciples! Moshe however was still standing there, looking as fresh as ever. His clothes were not even dusty. The pyromancer gaped for an instant before a bone-shattering force rammed into him and hurled him into a burning store.
Shocked at the fast demise of their leaders, the foot soldiers—mere novices of the dark arts—tried to open fire with their Uzi machine guns. Yet their guns mysteriously jammed. Then the Uzis twisted in their hands, pointed straight at their faces, and fired.
Shaking his head at the killings, Moshe—who had not moved at all for the whole battle—turned his mind to the pyromancer. He had kept that fellow alive for questioning. The pyromancer had in fact crawled out from the burning store, with burnt flesh peeling from his bones. Fixing his baleful eyes on Moshe, he was holding a green sphere. Moshe recognized it as a mind sphere used for mental attacks. He almost chuckled at the audacity of the pyromancer. Surely he was not attempting a mental attack?
The pyromancer focused his mind into the stone and drew on the dark energy of the sphere. Then he put forth his consciousness and sought hungrily for the soft, enticing brilliance of the human intelligence. He was an expert at this craft and even in most intelligent minds he had always been able to find some vulnerability—a sordid fear, a strange devious cruelty or simply plain weakness—that he could exploit to inject his mental venom. Yet when he reached the mind of Moshe, he found something completely different. In the first place, it did not feel like a human mind. It felt…like a force of nature: wide as the sky, soaring like Olympian eagles and burning with a fierce implacable flame. He could not even begin to fathom it, much less attack it. The pyromancer realized at last that he was doomed.
A ruthless, mountainous force ripped into the pyromancer’s consciousness, tearing out every memory and shredding it apart. He fell down oblivious and mindless.
Moshe turned away from the fallen pyromancer and contemplated the memories he had retrieved. Scanning quickly through the various crimes and perversities of the pyromancer, he sought for the scene he wanted. There. So Anedjib had sent them. Yet where was he?
It was then that he heard it—a horrific tingling and a soft wailing music that rippled across the burning market—one of the fatal anthems of the nether world. He knew what was coming. To fight it, his modern disguise was only a hindrance. A blinding flash of light blazed from his body, transfiguring it. His eyes became long and ancient, his face old and scarred with deep, unfathomable wrinkles—the visage of a race long since vanished from the earth. His clothes became a flaming white robe and a staff blazing with seven colored rays appeared at his side. Mentuhotep, a Guardian of the Flame, one of the archmages of the ancient world, revealed his true self.
As Mentuhotep’ transfiguration proceeded, the song of hell got louder and louder. Unnatural winds powered by satanic symphonies of death, doom, decay and disease, formed into a monstrous jaw and ripped deeply into the stern shield of light that surrounded Mentuhotep.
Mentuhotep gathered his vast light and mustered all his strength to resist the annihilating Will of death. The very ground cracked as Mentuhotep was driven physically downward and his staff flamed in a tense deathly fire as he held it desperately. The claw of doom closed in and his shield was cracking, but Mentuhotep held on—just barely. Then regaining the initiative with a supreme exertion of will, Mentuhotep roared an ancient word of power.
There was a strange androgynous scream as the infernal claw was ripped apart.
Mentuhotep leaned on his staff for support as blood trickled from his mouth. His fatigued mind scanned the marketplace for Anedjib—or at least what was left of him. He looked down and near his feet was the broken body of a dying crow. Its red eye focused on Mentuhotep as it spoke in a strange whispering voice filled with death and malice.
‘Yes…Anedjib, my brother. You have failed again. And your time has come at last.’
Black blood poured out as the crow twisted its beak into something resembling a smile.
‘My time has come? I am death. My time will never come. I am the devourer, not the devoured.’
Mentuhotep shook his head and did not answer. Their quarrel had gone on for many thousands of years. It was pointless to enter into another futile exchange. Best to finish it definitively and rid the earth of the scourge of Anedjib.
‘Before I send you back to the abyss, you might want to enlighten me why you have sent these children against me. You are a great general—not one to waste your tools.’
The crow croaked in malicious laughter.
‘Waste? Oh yes, oh yes, Mentuhotep, to you death is always waste. But to me, it is a pleasure, a delicious one.’
‘You are insane! Perhaps you intend it as a test? As a distraction?’
‘Will these younglings be able to overcome a Guardian of the Flame, one who walked with the emperors of Rome and who beheld the faces of Moses and the Christ? Obviously I intended something else….’ laughed the crow as it choked on its blood.
The horrific truth struck Mentuhotep. Blood magic! He had fallen into a trap. Sick and tired, Mentuhotep raised his staff and intense diamond flames shot out—he hoped he could destroy Anedjib before it was too late.
The next moment the earth rumbled fiercely and Mentuhotep was knocked to the ground. A black maelstrom swirled around the crow as demonic screams tore across the tortured earth. The crow was ripped apart from within, and its blood coalesced into an infernal Eye of eternal, indsecribable hatred. All around the marketplace, corpses started exploding and every last drop of blood were sucked into the ever-growing Eye.
Mentuhotep knew what had happened. Moloch, the bloodthirsty ‘god’ of Anedjib and one of the most powerful fallen angels had entered the earth. The death and destruction wrought by both him and Anedjib had allowed Moloch to open an infernal portal.
As the Eye glared directly at Mentuhotep, a cosmic voice whose faintest echo would drive most mortals insane rung out fiercely in his mind. It took all of his strength to prevent it from completely possessing him.
‘Mentuhotep, Mentuhotep…are you still a fool? Four thousand years already, the Heavens have been silent. Do you still hope for forgiveness? For redemption?’ the Eye laughed scornfully.
Mentuhotep was shaken to his very core as an inexorable demonic fire forced itself into him, tearing up a terrible memory. Mentuhotep screamed inwardly as he was compelled to look deeply into his crime.
He was the Pharoah of Egypt then. When the Libyan barbarians invaded the Nile Delta during the fifth year of his reign, his beloved queen Neferu had been pierced through with an arrow in the throat and countless thousands of his countrymen had been slaughtered. Insane with hatred, Mentuhotep and his chief of army, his brother Anedjib, led a huge force into the lands of the Libyans. Already a Guardian of the Flame, he abused his God-given powers to unleash demonic violence on the Libyans. Fierce plagues, fires, lightning and floods devastated and annihilated the tribes of the desert. Then he ordered Anedjib and his men to kill every last survivor, taking care to inflict maximum cruelty. Thus infants and children were beheaded in front of their mothers, and countless Libyans were tied to Egyptian chariots and torn to pieces over the rough desert sands. Others were fed to Nile crocodiles or sent out naked into the waterless Sahara to die a slow, painful death.
It was from then that Anedjib started down the dark path that eventually consumed him. After the initial rush of hellish pleasure, Mentuhotep repented. But it was too late. The Voice of God in his heart had fallen silent. His powers remained intact, but he no longer could feel the bliss of the Divine Flame. He gave up his throne to his son and went away into the wilderness. For four thousand years he wandered around anonymously, doing good and hoping to be forgiven for his sins. But in his heart there was always silence and an inexorable burden of guilt.
‘Yes, Mentuhotep. You are like me, and my brothers and sisters. Will God ever forgive our war against him? So why would he forgive you?’ the Voice of Moloch taunted, ‘Yes, Mentuhotep, it is your destiny. Is it not obvious? We rebelled because God willed it so. You fell, because he wants you to. It was by his Hand that Neferu fell, it was his Hand that guided the arrow that murdered your beloved. Do you still not understand?’
From the infernal Eye, dark furious energy flooded deeply into the vast being of Mentuhotep, filling him again with the mad rush and bliss of hatred and vengeance. Oh yes, he had enjoyed killing the Libyans, enjoyed seeing them die, watching them beg for mercy before he fed their children to the crocodiles. What great ecstasy he felt as he saw their bodies being ripped apart and their cities grounded into the dust. Has he felt any such joy since? Has there been any reward for 4000 years of lonely service?
‘Yes…’ the Voice whispered seductively as the resolve of Mentuhotep weakened, ‘Look around you, at the weak and the dead. Is it not the will of the Almighty? Have not a thousand bombings and wars already ravaged this city of peace? Is it not the destiny of humanity to enter into my divine joy—the joy of hatred and murder?’
The hypnotic Eye drew near and its Voice dominated Mentuhotep’s whole being—save the small core of light that burnt with love for Neferu and compassion for suffering humanity.
‘Listen, Mentuhotep. You are the most powerful being on this earth. I can make you even greater. Relive the joys of dominion, of slaughtering the weak and crushing them under your feet! God has already rejected you. Do you still not understand? Surrender to me, Mentuhotep, to your true self!’
There was an abrupt pause. Mentuhotep felt himself suddenly lifted out of his tormented body and heart by a quiet light. His vision was raised above the earth and as if from space, he could see the whole world. His attention was drawn to the land of Egypt. There he saw a foul cloud that was spreading in all directions. He understood it to be his crime and the fatal consequences that had followed. His whole being was wracked with guilt.
But for the first time he saw something else. Innumerable seeds of light planted in all the main civilizations of humanity—the deeds of power and love that he had done for countless individuals and nations over the ages. And in most of these cases, no one even suspected the true cause of their blessings. They were anonymous, done without any expectation of reward. And he saw his deeds of mercy, of the pity he showed even to implacable enemies. Then he saw all these seeds flame up and spread in all directions, drowning out the darkness he had unleashed before linking together in a vast field that covered the earth.
‘I understand now,’ Mentuhotep whispered. The Flame had never fallen silent. In his capacity to love, in his compassion, was the Presence of the Flame. Guided by it, a far greater good had been born from his evil. As if in a dream, he heard again the gentle words he had once received on a hillside in Galilee:
‘Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’
A roseate Flame, sweet, omnipotent and majestic, rose up from Mentuhotep’s heart. He was back in his body, but the Flame had freed him from Moloch’s touch. He knew what he had to do.
Raising his staff, Mentuhotep forced all his life, power and consciousness into it before crashing it into the burning Eye of Moloch.
There was a blaze like that of a thousand suns as the staff exploded. Mentuhotep’s broken body was hurled back as a cosmic scream of indescribable hatred and pain pierced the empire of hell.
Moloch, the prince of death, was dead.
Mentuhotep gazed at the stars of the clear Jerusalem sky. They were like the stars of Egypt long ago—the beautiful lights that Neferu loved. As his life drained away at last, Mentuhotep felt at peace. Using his last strength, he searched his heart for the chains of guilt that had bound him for so long and…there were none.