An unknown group, apparently allied with the Ice, active in north Africa.
Lybia: Troublesome news came out of the province of Faiyum in 1685. A party of Europeans had come to some of the ancient ruins just to the north of the town of Saqqara and had begun excavations near one of the slumped hills that dotted the plains thereabout. After some weeks a great black sandstorm roared out of the desert and swept over the town. A merchant, arriving with a boatload of cotton and dates a few days later, found the town deserted - all of its inhabitants vanished and their homes filled with drifts of sand. Of the Europeans, nothing more was seen but the slumped hill was gone, replaced by an odd-shaped pyramid of cut stone blocks.
The Nile Valley, A Moonless Night
Stone ground against stone as the vault door swung ponderously open. Torchlight flickered on the walls, illuminating paintings that had been ancient when Rome had ruled these lands. Lines of animals followed along the walls as the torches moved, though many of the figures were strange and unnatural. A dozen feyaheen in dirty brown robes grunted and strained against wire-cored rope. Two men watched from the shadows, one young, one of middle age.
“Master, what about the…”
The older man made a slight motion with his head.
“Never speak of these things while among those who are not of our Order. The thrice-cursed Pope has too many agents abroad in the land to speak unwisely.”
The door, a slab of black mirrored basalt, at last stood open. A fetid breath oozed forth from the opening, causing the feyaheen to scurry back in fear. The smell of age-old corruption crawled out of the tomb.
“Ah,” said the older man, his dark eyes glinting in amusement. “I see that the presence of the Queen has not improved with age. Come, let us enter.”
The younger man moved to pick up one of the lanterns that sat on the floor next to them. A hand like steel stopped him, grasping his shoulder. Well trained, the youth did not cry out.
“No light can enter this chamber, lest we wish to receive a gift we are not ready to embrace. Put out the lantern.”
Swallowing his fear, the young man pinched out the wick of the lantern. Complete darkness descended, unbroken by any light. Moments later there was a sound of movement and then the rustle of desert robes.
The two men entered the chamber. The only sound was the gentle susurration of their breathing.
Libya: His camel loped up over a great dune and Al’Fahd brushed back the tail of his burnouse. His eyes widened in horror, for the sprawling complex of machine and wood-working shops, barracks, great hangars, separation tanks and mess-halls that he had left behind six months before was a smoking ruin. Heedless of the danger, he urged the camel to rush down the slope and within minutes he was picking his way through the devastation that had been the Number Two Drafting and Machine Shop.
Behind him, his guardsmen fanned out, looking for survivors, their Krupp-Liefson carbines at the ready. Al’Fahd sifted through the sooty debris, but he knew in his heart that nothing of their massive enterprise remained. Years of work by the best minds of the Emirate had been snuffed out in one mighty blow.
Damn the filthy Swedes!
“Ho! Sheykh!” Al’Fahd looked up. One of the guardsmen was reaching down, into some hidden cavity in the hard-packed earth near the burned out ruin of the mess hall. Al’Fahd hurried towards them. A man was crawling out of the rubble.
It was Abdoon, the lead technician for the water separation tanks. His face was burned as if by acid and one eye stared out, a milky white orb, sightless. But he was alive. Al’Fahd seized him by the grimy remains of his robe.
“What happened!” Al’Fahd was shouting, but he did not care. “Who did this?”
“There… there was a breakthrough.” Abdoon could barely speak, his voice a rough whisper. One of the guardsmen forced the copper spout of a drinking skin between the man’s teeth. Abdoon sucked at it greedily. There were no wells within two days ride of the base. All of the water had been brought in by camel and stored in massive underground cisterns.
When he could talk gain, Abdoon said: “The Brothers… they finally solved the problem with the re-circulating engine. It worked! Spin tests yielded four thousand rotations… Rusath designed a propelling shaft and we built it.”
Al’Fahd snarled in disgust. “How many did you make?”
Abdoon raised a hand, puckered with scars. “Five, lord. Enough for the prototype and a spare to carry inside the ship. We worked day and night, without sleep, without food. We were men possessed. But in the end…”
“What?” Al’Fahd bent close, for Abdoon’s voice was failing him. “Did it fly?”
“Yes, lord, like an angel… Rusath and the senior engineers took it up at dawn. It rocked a little in the cold air, but it flew! But then… then they came out of the sand, howling and yelping. There were thousands of them…”
Abdoon’s face collapsed, showing naked fear. After that, he could say nothing, only make an odd hair-raising yelping noise. Al’Fahd stared around him in horror, finally seeing the white glint of bones poking up from the sand. Something unnatural had happened here. A scrap of blowing paper caught his eye. He reached down and snatched it up.
It was part of a machinists drawing, showing the measurements for some mechanism or gear. The strange looking device, all cylinders and hoses, struck a chord in him. With mounting unease, he scrabbled in his carry-bag. He found one of the sheets that had been distributed by the Georgians at the meeting. On it, laboriously etched, was a picture of one of the engines dragged from the wreckage at Homs. He held the two pieces of paper up, side by side.
It was the same mechanism.
The Mountain Called Stormhelm, Somewhere In East Afriqa: Wind gusted in through the bay doors of the Saqqara as it drifted over the shoulder of the mountain. A short bearded man, his vaguely Arabic features offset by a pair of startlingly blue eyes, hung from a line in the door, watching the ground rush past below. Great trees spread their crowns wide below him. Beneath them he could see a thick forest understory. The peak of the mountain was thick with snow and ice, but here, in the sub-tropical belt that clung to its flanks, there was little to be seen of the ground.
A horn called mournfully from the forward observation blister and the pilots on the command deck throttled back the engines. Behind the cargo bay, four great engines sputtered to a halt, spilling kerosene and lubricating oil into the jungle below.
“There it is!” Rusath, of the Brotherhood, shaded his eyes. The spotters hung in baskets suspended from the conical nose of the great airship. One of them was waving, pointing towards a great cliff that now emerged from the mist shrouding the mountain.
Now Rusath could see it for himself. It was huge, towering above the giants of the forest, a vast planed slab of granite. Enormous figures emerged from the stone, carved an eon ago by inhuman hands. They flanked a great door, set back into the dark striated stone.
“Ready the charge!” Rusath swung away from the door and scrambled back up to the command deck. In the cargo bay below his feet, his servants rushed to check the lines attached to the bulky object that stood in the center of the bay. One reeled out a thin wire of copper and, after attaching it to an exposed metal plug at the back of the wicker and wood contraption, handed it up to a second man on the swaying command deck. That man attached the copper wire to a device strapped to the decking.
“Weapon secure,” called out the loading master in the cargo bay. Rusath turned, watching the approach to the massive gateway and carving jutting from the mountainside. The pilots had a delicate job, trying to bring the unwieldy airship into the correct approach to deliver the “package” into the center of the doorway. The engines at the rear of the huge ship began to pick up speed. The vibration of their rotation shook the whole ship.
“Weapon away!” The cargo bay suddenly made a clanging sound and the entire floor dropped away as securing bolts were cut free. The bulky package in the center of the bay plummeted towards the treetops rushing past below. In an instant it struck the end of the retaining lines and there was a wrenching shock through the entire airframe. At the same time, the pilots cut in the engines and they roared, trying to pull the airship up as fast as possible.
The package swung, slowly at first, but then rushing forward, towards the center of the ancient temple. The dark doorway loomed large in Rusath’s sight, and the bulky package, it’s line cut loose, hurled towards it.
Seconds later it slammed into the dark stone, making an enormous crashing sound. Rusath held his breath, waiting for the explosion. None came, not for endless seconds as the carefully hoarded explosive cascaded back from the ancient door.
Then it erupted as it fell into the trees. A vast billow of flame rushed out, accompanied by a titantic shock of superheated air. The Saqqara heeled and slewed to one side. The rear engine mounts, stressed beyond measure, tore free, plunging into the trees, leaking burning fuel.
Rusath did not hesitate. He leapt from the stricken airship. For a moment, steaming fetid air rushed past and then he crashed through the upper deck of branches and leaves.
Behind him, flame leapt into the rear gas cell of the Saqqara and the entire five-hundred foot long airship shuddered. Flame licked along the long spars and then, with a cataclysmic boom it blew apart in a fury of fire and smoke and incandescent gas.
Rustah tumbled through branches and tangling vines, hearing his left arm shatter as he bounced off of a stout limb. Moments later he slammed into the rich loamy soil that covered the slope. Above him, through the falling debris and the flame and the smoke, he could see the massive shapes of the statues looming over him.
The door in the stone, he knew, was intact. Doubtless the dark close-grained surface was unblemished. The ancient faces stared down at him, mocking his efforts.
Curse the children of Yith, he snarled to himself. He tried to rise, blocking the pain in his arm and leg with pure controlled thought.
Then he heard the drums in the jungle. Soon the Maasai would come, their long spears searching through the forest for him and his like. Unlike the deluded Europeans, the natives in the deep forest remembered their true enemy. He began to crawl.
An engine, wreathed in flame, crashed into the ground where he had lain, spilling kerosene in all directions. The heat beat against his face, but he continued to drag himself through the mud and vines.