The First Ark: Deathless Prequel

Contents

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Prologue- Zep Tepi

Chapter 1- The First Ark

Chapter 2- Tragedy

Chapter 3- Chamber of the Gods

Chapter 4- Ka

Chapter 5- The Conduit

Chapter 6- The Mutagen

Chapter 7- Ka-Ken

Chapter 8- Salvation

Chapter 9- Damnation

Chapter 10- Hope

Chapter 11- Despair

Epilogue

Note to the Reader

THE FIRST ARK

Chris Fox

This novel is fiction, except for the parts that aren't.
 

Copyright © 2014 Chris Fox

All rights reserved.

To Kathy. You are and will forever be
The Mother
.

Prologue- Zep Tepi

Ancient Egyptian ruins speak of Zep Tepi, a time in the distant past when gods walked alongside mankind. It began in the wake of a great flood that drowned the world, leaving but few survivors to reclaim their world.

They speak of mighty Osiris, the king of the dead. His wife and sister Isis, mother of Pharaohs and goddess of magic. Their cruel brother Set, god of violence and chaos.

Legends speak of Set's treachery, of his anger and jealousy at all his brother Osiris possessed. In his infinite rage, Set ambushed Osiris and struck him down. He butchered his brother's body, scattering its pieces to the corners of the world.

Isis was horrified by the death of her beloved and used her potent magic to gather the pieces of his body. She returned Osiris to half-life, a state where he was neither living nor dead. He became the Lord of the Underworld, the guardian of the distant west. Osiris took his revenge on his brother Set, driving his treacherous kin into the wilderness where he seethed with ever more rage and jealousy.

The Egyptians believed that these three gods were directly responsible for the creation of their culture, that they led the first tribe to the river of life. The Mighty Nile. They do not know from what faraway land their gods came from, or just how old they were.
 

That mystery has been lost to time. One can only guess at the truth.

Chapter 1- The First Ark

24,000 BCE, Central England

Isis huddled in a small gully with the last survivors of her tribe, shivering beneath layers of crudely stitched fur. Fat flakes of snow fell from the sky, dusting them all in a thick layer of white. They needed to find shelter soon, or they'd no longer need to fear their pursuers. The land would claim them.

"How much longer will that take? We cannot be here when night falls, or we will leave nothing but our own corpses for our pursuers," Sobek growled. He was short, but stocky. Arms thick with muscle from launching spears on many hunts. He cradled one such in his right hand, the flint still as sharp as the day he'd shaped it. The snow had painted his bristly beard white and Isis could not help but smile. His appearance made it difficult to take his words seriously, despite their dire situation.
 

The man he'd spoken to looked up calmly with gray eyes, Osiris, her mate. His hair was also dark, though it was more brown than black. His beard was shorter but just as tangled as the other man's. It too had been painted white. He struck deftly at a flint core with swift, sure, strokes. It was nearly complete, a perfect fit for the yew shaft propped against the rock face next to him. If Sobek's words alarmed Osiris, he did not show it. "If Set and his followers catch us and we are unarmed then we will be just as dead. My last blade was lost saving
your
life, Sobek."

The heat in his words worried her. Osiris only showed anger when he was afraid, and in this instance he had cause. Set had abandoned their ways and joined with the flesh eaters. If they were caught it meant more than death. It meant being eaten alive.

"Patience. We have time yet," Isis said, hoping her words would cool both men's fire since the snow would not.

"Precious little of it," Sekhmet said, rising from a bundle of furs piled between two rocks. She towered over Isis's comparatively tiny form. Her long, red hair bound with a simple leather cord. She too carried a spear, one of the few women accepted into the hunters. She was Isis's near sister. More than that, she was her closest friend. "They've dogged us for many days now. I still do not understand why Set is so persistent. Osiris, you are chieftain now. We will follow where you lead, but Sobek is not wrong."

"I know, Sekhmet," he said, without looking up to meet her gaze. "That is why you will head to the top of the ridge and see if we are still pursued. Silently, like a cave lion."

The flame-haired warrior scrambled up the hillside in near silence, kicking loose little drifts of snow as she ascended. She was out of sight in seconds, moving with a grace Isis knew she could never possess.

"You know as well as I that our pursuers have not given up. What did you not wish her to hear?" Sobek rumbled. He folded his arms and stared a challenge at Osiris.

Osiris didn't answer, didn't address the challenge in any way. He turned to Isis, meeting her gaze. The love was fierce there, the need to protect her. Yet it was suborned by his need to protect the tribe, as well it should be.

"Isis, you speak for the spirits. The Valley of Hidden Voices is close. Will the spirits protect us if we enter?" Osiris asked, striking a final flake from his new blade and then affixing it into a notch cut in the top of the spear shaft. He applied a thick glue she'd blended from amber and animal fat, then wrapped the shaft in a leather strip.

"You cannot mean to enter," Sobek hissed, eyes narrowing as he took a step toward Osiris.
 

Osiris uncoiled like a viper, the tip of his new spear resting against Sobek's throat before the smaller man could react. "I am chieftain now, Sobek. Not your rival. Not your far brother. Your chieftain. You will abide by my decision, or we will take your meat to sustain the tribe."

"I am sorry, Osiris," Sobek said, shrinking away from the newly made stone blade. He was a strong warrior, but there was a reason Osiris had become chieftain and not he. "But surely there is another way. If we go there, we will be damned. No one returns from the Valley of Hidden Voices. It is cursed."

"Yes," Osiris said, pulling his weapon from Sobek's throat. He began wrapping furs around himself, clearly preparing to depart. "Isis, I would hear your words on this."

He turned to address her. Isis considered carefully before answering. The Valley was a dark place, one even the spirits feared. They held no power there. "The spirits will offer us no protection. If we enter the Valley, we do so at great peril."

"If we do not, then we are all dead," Osiris snapped. He seemed on the verge of saying more, but Sekhmet's silent form dropped into the camp.
 

"They pursue us still. They will be upon this place not long after the sun sleeps," she said. She studied Osiris's preparations for departure. Then she began gathering her own furs.

"All of you need to decide right now if I am truly your chieftain," Osiris said. He straightened, his gaze roaming their assembled faces.

"We go where you go," Sekhmet said simply.
 

Isis answered by reaching up and squeezing Osiris's arm. The flesh was cold and she knew hers was just as cold. They had bare hours before they succumbed to the land.

"You are my chieftain," Sobek snarled. He seized the last of his furs and threw it about his shoulders. "If you wish to doom us with this madness, that is your right."

The long, low trumpet of a horn split the gathering dusk, still distant but far closer than it had been just a day before. That silenced the assembled group. They moved into a loping run as one, departing the gully and winding their way between two hills. How long they ran, Isis wasn't sure. She gave herself fully to the activity, loping through the footsteps pressed into the snow by the others ahead of her.

Clarity returned when the assembled group reached the crest of a tall hill. Isis turned in a wide circle, looking out over ring of hills covered by mighty glaciers. In their center stood the Black Mountain, the very reason the Valley was so feared. It towered over the glaciers, each slope unnaturally smooth and bare of snow as if the unholy place refused to accept winter's touch. Her mother's mother had told her stories, but they captured neither the majesty nor the foreboding of the place.

"Spirits below," Sekhmet breathed. She raised a trembling finger, pointing at the mountain.

Osiris began picking his way down the icy slope without a word. The others followed, with Isis bringing up the rear. Her gut knotted as she darted quick glances at the Black Mountain. Even staring at it seemed wrong, as if so doing might draw its attention.

Her heart beat more swiftly as they reached the Valley floor and moved toward the mountain. It loomed before them, still visible as the last light of the sun fled the sky. The moon cut a hole in the clouds, bathing the awful structure in her light.

Osiris had stopped near a cave in the side of the mountain, its walls cut at sharp angles just like the slopes. Sobek and Sekhmet drew up short next to Osiris as Isis forced herself forward. She yearned to flee as she drew even with the others, but loyalty to her tribe restrained her.
 

The shadows at the mouth of the cave stirred as a figure emerged. It was short like Isis but much broader of shoulder and had a heavy brow that overshadowed its eyes. Thick, dark eyebrows gave it a brutish look, though its eyes glittered with intelligence.
 

The stranger approached slowly, raising a hand to beckon them forward. Its other hand clutched a staff that shone in the moonlight, a magical thing that could not be more different than the carved branch Isis bore. The head of the staff bore strange symbols, etched into the body of a golden scarab with wide wings arcing smoothly over it. It was unmistakably an artifact of the gods, though Isis had never seen one before. No one had. But the legends had survived.

Set into the center of the scarab was a gem the size of her fist, the color of ice. Perhaps she was snow-blind, but it seemed to pulse with its own light. Curious.

Osiris was the first to move, taking several steps closer. He clutched his spear tightly, keeping himself between the stranger and his companions. "Greetings, Old One. Your kind is rare. I have not seen one such as you since I was a child."

The stranger said nothing, instead taking several steps back into the pyramid and beckoning for the others to follow. Osiris did so, then the others. Isis forced her feet to obey, taking a step into the horrible cave. She felt as if she were entering the throat of some great beast, and some part of her knew that if she emerged she would never be the same.

Chapter 2- Tragedy

Isis had only made it a few feet into the strange cave with its too smooth walls before her body betrayed her. She could not force herself even a step further, despite seeing Osiris and the others disappear into the gloom. She darted a glance over her shoulder, wondering if she should take her chances with the cold.

That glance saved her life. Figures moved in the gathering darkness, trotting closer through the swirling snow. The lead figure was familiar, tall and strong like his near brother. Set mirrored Osiris in nearly every way, but where compassion and duty could be found in her chieftain's eyes these things were simply absent in Set.

Set gave a snarl, cocking his arm and hurling the spear in one smooth motion. Isis's eyes widened as it streaked toward her like a diving hawk. She tumbled backwards as the weapon passed a finger's width from her face. The weapon continued its flight, drawing a line of sparks from the wall of the cave as the flint tip exploded.

"Kill them," Set roared, turning to some dozen followers. "Kill them
all
."

Isis sprang to her feet, holding her staff protectively before her as she backed further into the cave. Then she turned and ran. Whatever terrors this place held paled compared to death at Set's hand. His warriors were starving, and right now she was the closest prey. They would divide her flesh and crack her bones before her blood had cooled.

Osiris and Sekhmet were already making their way cautiously back toward her. Both cradled their spears, ready for combat. Sobek lurked behind, reluctant but still armed and ready.

"Set?" Osiris asked as she skidded to a halt near him.

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