Nightwalker – Jacquelyn Frank

Kamenwati awoke with a sharp intake of breath. He exhaled when he realized that the dream was just that…a dream. He sat up in his bed and turned on the light on the nightstand beside him. The room still felt alien to him. Probably because it was not really his room and it was not meant to be comfortable. It was meant to be something just shy of a prison cell. So be it. Considering the unforgivable nature of his crimes against his hosts and against humanity in general, he should have gotten much worse than this comfortable bed, a room of his own, and three exquisite meals a day. In truth, very little had changed about his daily life since coming to this place. He spent his days studying ancient texts, scrolls, and papyrus that were brittle to the touch and on the verge of crumbling to dust. He studied new spells and magic, studied histories and old languages. Just as he had done before. But while these were things that had once given him great pleasure and devoured much of his time, his pleasure had since crumbled to dust, just like an old parchment. And rightfully so. For it was in one of these scrolls that he’d uncovered the spell that allowed him to inadvertently unleash the deadly and dangerous imp god, Apep.

Intentionally or not, he had done it. He was responsible. And therefore it was he who must find the means to destroy the god he had brought forth. He had walked into the “enemy” camp, the Bodywalker Politic, and thrown himself on their mercy. Then he had thrown himself into studying every piece of ancient text he could find to discover the way to destroy the god. There had to be a way. It was simply a matter of whether they could find the solution. Kamen turned and threw his legs over the bed. He let the sheets pull away, leaving his bare legs exposed to the chill air. The inside of the New Mexico stronghold was climate controlled for the most part, but he always found it to be a little too cold for his liking.

But since he was more a prisoner than a guest, it wasn’t as though he could complain. He stood up, feeling the need to move. He had grown very restless of late, which thankfully coincided with his jailors allowing him more freedom to move about. He was no longer confined to his quarters—although that had been a rather loosely adhered to policy from the beginning. In truth, these people were really lucky he was honestly trying to reform himself. He could have caused a great deal of damage to them had he been of a mind to. He knew more than enough spells to wreak havoc if he wished to. For centuries, he had been gathering spells like a child gathers wildflowers from a field. Each time he was reborn into a new host body, he would learn more, and that knowledge stayed with him throughout his many lives, even in the Ether, that bodiless state of being where a Bodywalker spirit resides for the one hundred years in between lives. For he was indeed a Bodywalker: a soul that had originated during the long lost dynasties of ancient Egypt.

He had been born, he had lived a life, and he had died. And like many noble Egyptians, he had been mummified and buried with all of his wealth, intending to take it with him into the afterlife. But apparently, the hubris of such an act, of trying to force the hand of the powers of life and death, had instead given the Egyptians’ souls life everlasting…in the Ether. Knowing no eternal rest, no heaven or hell, no life other than to exist and watch the years unfold on the earthly plane. Until one day one soul thought to ask a living soul on earth who was on the cusp of death if he wished to share his body in exchange for being returned to full health, as well as having the powers of immortality and extraordinary self-healing. The living man had agreed and both souls returned to the living man’s body. The souls eventually Blended and become as one, harmonious inside the human host. And once one soul was able to do so, all the other souls followed suit and began to share the bodies of human mortals who would have died otherwise. Only, some Bodywalkers wanted full control without having to answer to the original soul, so they did as little Blending as possible, suppressing the human soul until its voice became nearly nonexistent. These were the Templars.

The Politic Bodywalkers were of an opposing mentality. They respected the original soul by sharing its body on equal footing and honoring the agreement they had made. Kamen had been the second most powerful Templar there was, the favorite of their leader, the most powerful Templar, Odjit. And in turn, Kamen had loved Odjit. Not as a man loves a woman, but as a devoted follower loves his master. He thought it was Odjit’s plan to do away with the animosity between the two sides of the Bodywalker race so they could all live in harmony one day. He had believed in her cause—in their cause. He had been blind, he thought as he pulled on a pair of slacks. He had discovered that she just wanted power for herself at any cost. Kamen was a very smart man, but he had been very stupid when it came to Odjit.

He had spent far too much time engrossed in his books and spells and not enough time living in the real world and seeing truths for what they were. Kamen pulled on a collared shirt but did not button it. He knew he was likely to be the only one up at this time of the day so he didn’t bother. He looked out of the windows, their polarized glass keeping all hint of sunlight from touching anyone in the house. Bodywalkers were paralyzed by the touch of the sun. All Nightwalkers, in fact, had a weakness to sunlight. Djynns blistered and burned unless they turned to their smoke form, Night Angel skin turned from ebony to albino and their natural abilities became muffled. From what he had read, Mysticals were forced to be in their mystical form rather than their human form. Phoenixes burst into flame at the touch of the sun, leaving only ash from which they would be reborn once darkness fell, and one touch of the sun made Wraiths—who spent the darkness in their ghostly forms that could phase right through solid objects—instantly solid, which was deadly if they happened to be phasing through something at the time. He had found out about all of these weaknesses during his hours of study.

What he did not know was what the weaknesses of the other six Nightwalkers were, the new Nightwalkers they had only just discovered: Demons, Lycanthropes, Mistrals, Vampires, Druids, and Shadowdwellers. He wanted to learn about them, but so far, it had proven next to impossible. Nothing in their written languages made sense to him, and, in fact, without a human translator, there wasn’t even any way of speaking with them. It was as if they weren’t there at all. Besides, Kamen didn’t think they would be all that willing to share information about their weaknesses in any event, never mind sharing it with the likes of him. Still, Kamen had spent hours in conversation with the Druid called Bella, whose talent was the ability to read any language put before her. Any language, that is, written by humans or the six Nightwalker races she knew of. The Bodywalkers wrote in Egyptian or the language they were reborn into, plus any languages they had studied over their incarnations. Kamen himself could read and write and speak almost any language put in front of him. The product of having his nose constantly in a book whenever he had a body.

But while this Bella could read Egyptian, she could not read anything that referred to any of the six races she was not familiar with. Instead, the pages would simply be filled with the Egyptian alphabet. Something that might seem strange, but not strange enough to have gotten her to question it earlier. And when books in the Demon language were brought to Kamen, all he could see was gibberish that meant absolutely nothing and was completely indecipherable. If Bella wrote something in English about the other Nightwalkers, it just looked like pages filled with the English alphabet. It was clear that whatever was keeping the two factions apart was determined to do it in such a way that they would never have questioned it. And yet, for all of this misdirection and codification, somehow a prophecy in the Demon language about the twelve Nightwalker nations had survived, giving a hint of what was out there. It had been useless with no context, until Bella, a half-breed Druid, had literally run into Kat, a half-breed Djynn. While they could not see each other nor speak to each other, they could write to each other and use humans as go-betweens when getting messages across. It made for slow going, this communication process.

It had been seven months now since they had first found each other and they were still trying to smooth out ways of communicating and transferring messages back and forth. He had been working with Bella since he had a larger store of language capability than anyone else in the Portales, New Mexico, compound. If a solution was going to be found, it was going to be found by the two of them. They just had to hope it would happen sooner rather than later. Time was growing short. For Apep was about to give birth. In this incarnation, the imp god had taken over Odjit’s body. He had then chosen a father from among the Nightwalker breeds, a powerful Night Angel named Dax, and had raped him in order to impregnate himself. Apep was due to deliver the child into the world any day now. One god was nearly impossible to fight, but two? And while there was still hope they might stumble upon a text somewhere that would tell them how to get rid of Apep, the god’s child would be something never seen before.

There would be no telling how to be rid of it. Apep had been quiet for the duration of his pregnancy, but after he gave birth, he would focus on destroying them—Kamen was certain of it. He suspected that the Nightwalkers were key to Apep’s undoing, and that the god knew it. So he would destroy them as soon as he was able. Kamen believed that Apep’s pregnancy made him vulnerable, and while they should probably strike before that weakness was gone from him, there were two problems. They didn’t know how to attack him and they no longer knew where he was. Actually…Kamen was fairly certain he had a spell that could locate him, only he hadn’t mentioned it to the others as yet. He felt in his gut that they weren’t ready to face Apep, that they were missing a key element that would allow them to defeat him at last. Bella agreed with him. And anyway, the surest way to defeat him would be if the two Nightwalker factions could coordinate their attacks, and until they figured out why they couldn’t see each other, they wouldn’t be able to enact that kind of coordination effectively.

It was a curse. It had to be a curse. Kamen’s head spun with these thoughts over and over again. It was no wonder he hadn’t been able to sleep, sometimes for days at a stretch. These people were counting on him to fix the mess he had created, and if he failed…if he failed, every death Apep caused would be on his soul. A weight he would carry from now until the world ended and there were no more humans left to Blend with. And when he did sleep, it was to have horrible nightmares. Nightmares about what he had set loose on the earth. He could end up being solely responsible for the destruction of all mankind, not just Nightwalkers. The only thing in their favor was that any written history about Apep they had found so far, as spare as it had been, had said he craved the adulation of his followers.

Apep would no doubt prefer to enslave the world rather than destroy it. Not that that was anything to feel better about. Kamen walked to the bathroom and splashed some cold water on his face. Then he turned on the lights and picked up one of the ancient tomes he had been studying in hopes of finding a solution to any of his many daunting problems. And, failing that, he was searching for spells, both offensive and defensive—anything that would help protect the Nightwalkers when Apep’s next attack took place. He had been reading for several hours when, suddenly, something on a papyrus scroll jumped out at him—hieroglyphs of the figure of a god using some kind of power to divide a group of twelve beings into two halves. Kamen knew instantly that the god was Apep and that he had used his power to sunder the Nightwalker nation into two. Then it showed that the god had died as a result of the curse. This was new information. He felt an emotion akin to excitement—if a man as jaded as he was could even feel excitement and hope any longer.

If the god could die from the curse, then that meant he could die, period. That his mortal body was fragile enough to be destroyed. The question was, how did they go about destroying that mortal body when they hadn’t even gotten close to doing so in spite of using strength and manmade weapons against him? He’d been shot directly in the heart and it hadn’t even made him blink. If that couldn’t kill him, then what could? But the next hieroglyphs were even more important. They showed the god resurrecting, enslaving people, using his power to kill…and then they showed the twelve beings coming together to fight the god. Eventually destroying him. Did that mean what he thought it meant? That if all twelve nations of Nightwalkers got together they could fight this god? If that were the case then it would be an impossible task. Not only because they couldn’t see one another, but because the twelfth nation, the Wraiths, were enemies to all the other Nightwalkers. True, there had been an unspoken truce of sorts these past decades, more a case of neither making any moves against the other. But every Nightwalker on this side of the faction, known now as the Second Faction, knew the Wraiths were cold-blooded and would just as soon touch you with their instantly fatal deathtouch as not.

The First Faction was lucky they knew nothing of the Wraiths. They made Nightwalker blood run cold. But what if the Wraiths could be made to come to the table? Could be made to understand that it was best for all of them if they worked cooperatively against the god Apep? Surely they had just as much to lose. But the glyphs showed no explanation as to how the twelve were able to coordinate an attack against the god. Hieroglyphs were notoriously open to interpretation and could only get across the most rudimentary of ideas. It wasn’t as though you could glean great philosophical discussions from them. He gingerly touched the aged papyrus. Simple they may be, those few succinct images were the closest they had gotten to some kind of history or explanation or suggestion as to how to end all of this. He put a marker in the page and continued on in search of more, but he went through all the other scrolls and found no hint of further explanation. Twelve nations, working together.

It was worth considering at least. And it wasn’t his place to agree or disagree with the concept. His only role was to report what he learned. And so when dusk fell, that was what he would do.

.

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