Here’s a prologue from an earlier/much-changed version of the story; one day we may publish this version, until now, here’s a taster of what might have been [warning – not quite the Kabos we know and don’t like!]
The High Priest Kabos flattened the tall grass around him into a circle and dropped the leather knapsack down by his side. He took off his sandals and under his feet, the dusty dryness felt coarse. Across the desert, the tangerine sun dropped behind the horizon as behind him, the pharaoh’s encampment faded in the gloom. The only sound from the tents was the yapping of a young dog. The animal knew it was alone and sensed death laid in its heavy silence over the camp.
Checking the desert around him, Kabos searched for signs of the Royal Guard. A Royal Guard that should have stayed with their pharaoh, but didn’t. His eyes narrowed in the dimness. The valley was well-known for bandits ready to attack the unwary. Kabos had paid a guide to take the Royal Guard into a canyon difficult enough to bewilder the most experienced traveler. With luck, they would get so completely lost that they would be unable to travel back until dawn. The captain would return fearing the rage of the pharaoh, but he would be greeted by deathly silence instead. Kabos smiled as he imagined the confusion and horror as they discovered the carnage.
Kabos sat cross-legged, moved the knapsack onto his lap and its precious contents fell together with a metallic clunk. Deep in the pocket of his robes, he found the pharaoh’s ring. He tugged the severed finger from inside it and tossed the fleshy lump into the tall grass, his eyes fixed on the ring. For Kabos, its beauty was not in the weight of the gold, nor in the perfection of the emerald. It wasn’t even in the exquisitely tooled hieroglyphs around the stone. The majesty of the ring was in what it symbolized: the crown and its kingdom, now within Kabos’ reach.
The blood on his hands and arms was already dried and cracked, and the stains down his robes were long and dark. He didn’t know whose blood it was. It could have belonged to anyone in the royal party (or everyone in the royal party). Patches of it were tightening on his face and he picked some off, placing it on his tongue until it melted. The final parts of his plan had yet to be completed. His night’s work was not yet done.
Tonight, his first spell of the evening wasn’t part of his plan, but then he hadn’t expected the pharaoh’s son, Prince Nisu Ozase to escape. The Prince had been sent scurrying into the desert by his mother, The Queen, at the first signs of the massacre. After searching the perimeter of the encampment and calling out to him repeatedly, Kabos had given up looking. Prince Ozase could be hiding anywhere and he just didn’t have enough time to look.
From the knapsack, Kabos took the young heir’s bead bracelet and placed it on the ground. As he traced circles and symbols around it, he called to gods of dark forces to assist him. The charm would call on a fire serpent to hunt down Prince Ozase. With their dull nature, Dragons were simple to draw with spells, unfortunately, that also made them easy prey for hunters, and only a few of the magical creatures were left.
Almost done, Kabos threw his head back and snapped his teeth together twice. Even if the dragon didn’t find the boy, he was still likely to get lost in the desert by himself. If a pack of wild jackals didn’t kill little Nisu Ozase, the lack of food and water would. The Queen should have let him be killed quickly, he thought. Stupid woman.
As night fell completely, Kabos’s final spell was for himself. He lifted the ring high in the air, closed his eyes, and began his chanting incantation. The ring would be his talisman that opened a portal for travel. Praising the fierce god Seth, he asked to be returned to Egypt’s capital Memphis. Behind him, an animal shrieked a piercing cry into the night, interrupting his chanting. Kabos stalled and considered starting over, but his impatience to return to the temple grew. Repeating the name of the capital over and over, he focused on images of Memphis—the vast river, its tall sculptures of gods, and a clear night sky full of stars. His desire was so strong he could taste the clean drinking water already.
Up on the hillside, the shapeshifter called Thorne watched as Kabos disappeared. In this dimension, he took the form of a centaur; a half-man, half-horse. Thorne looked back towards the encampment, frowned and shook his head. Tutting softly, he stroked the feather across his chin, still watching the flattened circle of ground where Kabos had been. Somewhere out in the desert, an owl hooted softly. Thorne held the feather up and twisted it around, regarding it closely. Blowing gently, he watched as the down at its base twitched and fluttered. Then, in the warm velvet darkness, he began to nod and smile.
Gradually, the air temperature around Kabos changed, and he opened his eyes.
The night air was cool and refreshing, but the stench in his nostrils was acrid and unrecognizable. All around him was rushing noise, and his head became dizzy as he tried to take everything in. The two white, round lights approaching him were moving faster than he knew was possible, and the deafening sound that went with them was unholy. He stood up sharply as the lights seemed to dance an arc in front of him. As the metal object flashed by, a person’s head appeared out of one side of it and shouted something in a language he couldn’t understand. Confused, he staggered over to a nearby strip of grass, almost bumping into the tall metal object that rose up from the ground in front of him. On two straight poles, it was completely foreign.
Kabos looked up at the green-painted board with the peculiar light suspended over it. He frowned. On the board, the hieroglyphics were strange, a language he had never seen before. The white markings were simple, crude even; with no pictures of animals or birds, this was clearly the work of an uneducated tribe: