The Hunting Grounds are reserved only for Isis and her minions. As you might guess, they don’t hunt rabbit, deer, or even boars there. Most of the time they hunt that most elusive target: men. Other times, Isis conjures some horrific beast for the Black Demon to practice on.
Merlin had witnessed enough of these hunts to realize his master was a psychotic monster. He had vowed not to return to the Hunting Grounds again. Yet now he stands on the central plain, surrounded by the scrubby forests and mountains of Isis’ playground.
The woman herself stands in front of him with a haughty grin. “Welcome back,” she says.
“I won’t be here long.”
“No, of course not. It won’t take long to destroy you.” Her grin widens. “But why bother with such destruction? Why not rejoin me? Then we can finish what we began.”
“Enslaving the world? I have no interest in that.”
“Come now, Merlin, what do you think this will accomplish? It was a worthy attempt, but we both know you can’t kill a god.”
“You’re not a god. You’re only a vain woman who sold her soul to satisfy her lust for beauty and power.”
“After all this time you still pine for Nephthys? How pathetic.”
“She was a beautiful girl, much more so than her mother. That’s why you had to kill her. You couldn’t stand the thought she might eclipse you.”
Isis’ eyes narrow. “That hook-nosed little wretch could never have eclipsed me. But she did bewitch you, didn’t she?” Isis’s smirk returns. “I can bring her back, just the way you remember. You can be reunited.”
“Whatever you conjure might look like Nephthys, but it will not be her. It will only be another of your soulless abominations.”
“Perhaps. But I’m certain if we combine our power, we can bring her back.”
People nowadays especially like to think of my master as this otherworldly person, some kind of demigod. It’s true he does have the power of a demigod, but his heart is just like any man’s. He thinks of Nephthys, the beautiful young daughter of Isis.
He remembers when they first met. He was just a young acolyte of Horus back then. He heard someone by the entrance to the temple. He turned and his jaw dropped.
As an acolyte, he had mostly stayed away from women during his adolescence. So it’s no surprise he just about fainted away at the sight of Nephthys. She stood in the sun, her smooth skin seeming to glow and her black hair shimmering. He thought this must be one of the goddesses come to visit him.
She carried a basket in her arms. He hurried forward to take it from her. “Are you one of the priests?” she asked in a musical voice.
He was tempted to answer yes so he could be the one to help her. The penalty for that was a lashing that would leave his back bloody and sore for days. The pain would be worth it so he could remain close to her.
“I’m the priest,” the actual priest said. “What brings you here, young one?”
“I’ve come to ask for Horus’ blessing for my father. He’s very ill.”
“Yes, of course. This way.” The priest took the basket from Merlin and guided Nephthys away.
But she hesitated for a moment. She nodded to Merlin. “Thank you for your assistance, acolyte.”
“It was no trouble, my lady.”
It was more or less love at first sight. Nephthys’ father died from a fever, but she still found excuses to come to the temple. Eventually, she and Merlin started to rendezvous away from prying eyes. They found a little oasis in the desert where they could be alone. There, on the grass, next to a pool of water, they made love for the first time.
Fate was cruel to them. On the day they were going to elope to Thebes, Nephthys disappeared. My master waited in the marketplace for her for hours, but she never showed up. He returned to the temple, certain she had rejected him.
He feels her soft touch as she takes his hand. Her silky hair brushes against his cheek. “You can bring me back,” she whispers. “I know you can. With the strength of you and my mother, you can’t fail. Then we can be together again.”
Her lips press against his. They feel real enough, like those he had kissed back in the oasis. Then he opens his eyes and looks into hers. But something is wrong; her eyes are black, like those of her mother.
He holds up a hand. The shape of Nephthys is hurled away. When it hits the ground, it shatters into black dust. Isis laughs. “You are still weak. Far too weak to face me.”
“Vile temptress! I will put an end to your evil once and for all.”
And so the battle begins.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Tomorrow, Merlin and Isis face off with the fate of the world at stake!