Moments before Shara Isador entered Heliopolis in Queen Takes Checkmate
War was my specialty. But this battle was against myself, the most difficult war of my very long life. Afterlife. Whatever hell this was called.
It certainly wasn’t any kind of paradise.
Gold flashed and glittered everywhere, blazing with agonizing brightness beneath the punishing sun that never set. Soldiers stood at full attention, staring straight ahead without seeing. Without hearing.
Because to see… or hear…
I would be unable to refrain from action. We all would die, then. Especially her.
Six guards including myself stood around the sunken chamber while Ra fucked his last remaining queen. Her formal title was God’s Wife, supposedly the most honored and highest of ladies in his court.
In reality, these women were captives in Heliopolis, and they were never honored. Only tortured and raped, if not by Ra, then by the guards.
One of the soldiers who stood watch with me was one of the rapists. He would be the first to die. Oh yes. Though sadly, it must be quick.
The Sol Invictus Legion were the worst of the lot, but none of us were blameless. My shame lay in doing nothing while a woman was brutally mistreated. Worse, this was no ordinary woman. She was a queen, or witch, as Ra’s minions called the women who wielded the goddesses’ powers.
She was my queen. Or at least, the sunfire demon that rode my soul had claimed her for his own.
Strategy demanded my silence, though shame churned in my bones.
I had no heart. No body. Only a merciless general’s mind trapped in the skeleton I had once used to walk the earth, and a blazing, fiery demon that fueled me.
Soldiers of Light. What a farce. We were corpses that had rotted away ages ago, leaving behind only calcified remains. All that remained of the true Sun Tzu was my formidable will and a few ancient bones. Instead of allowing me to pass on to my higher self, Ra had “resurrected” me here, to this neverending torment. To serve him in all his evil deeds and tarnish every honor I had ever won. Destroy any respect I had once earned. Then force me to watch while he tortured women for millennia. Not just any woman, either. This last one…
The very last queen. My queen.
I couldn’t bear to look upon her for fear of losing the fragile hold on the sunfire demon that possessed me.
:Soon,: I whispered. :Hold for just a bit longer. We need an opening or all will be lost.:
The sunfire didn’t speak words exactly, but I felt its intent and emotions. Overwhelming rage boiled inside it. Me. Sometimes it was hard to separate the two entities we had become. :All is lost already.:
My gaze met the soldier across the chamber from me. Marcus Antonius stood at the door with two fiery sun dogs on either side. His sunfire burned like a cloak across his shoulders, dripping into molten leashes that kept the sun dogs contained. They would have been howling and snarling like hellhounds from the fiery pits if the sunfire hadn’t also muzzled them tightly.
Of the other five guards, four of them were mine. Soldiers I would trust. Soldiers who waited for my signal. Only Galerius would betray us in a heartbeat.
More of my men waited outside, conveniently nearby in case we finally had the break we needed. But I was no fool.
Aurelian was nearby too, and probably his most trusted ally, Sepdet. They knew we plotted a revolt. So did countless other small factions among the Soldiers of Light.
Ra had made a fatal error when he’d brought the world’s greatest strategists, generals, and warriors into one place. We all thought we could best the others. We’d lived and breathed warfare our entire lives, and here, in this golden hell, what else did we have to do but plan how we would overthrow the others?
It wouldn’t be easy, but I was patient. I’d been incredibly patient over the centuries, satisfied with watching the others scuffle for position. Until this queen had drawn my attention.
Time passed in the blink of an eye here, but the days or years of her captivity that I had watched her crawled by with agonizing slowness. Nothing else had ever driven me to haste, urging me to forget all my plans. To risk anything. For her.
I had to save her. Somehow. It would be the greatest feat of my life.
My sunfire screeched in my head, sending a sharp, quick warning image of a man striding toward the door. A moment later, I heard the vizier’s footsteps. Antonius didn’t move aside, forcing the man to step around him as he entered Ra’s pyramid. A small slight, a trivial annoyance to the man we hated nearly as much as we hated Ra.
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