The midday sun beat down on the small village. Children danced between the huts as adults sat in the shade provided by the handful of trees littering the centre of the village.
It was a quiet place.
Far from the reaches of civilisation, the village had settled itself in the Indian plains and been largely untouched by the changing landscape of the country. Where tourism and modern life had slowly settled in the bigger cities and coastal towns, the small village had remained an untouched taste of traditional India.
Close to the banks of the Tiber river, it existed, an essence of peace and tranquillity.
Until that morning.
Against the distant sound of the rolling river that carried on the gentle wind, there was nothing but the sounds of village life. Rustling leaves, the giggle of excited children, the clatters and noises of daily life all filled the air.
And in the distance, away from the river, emerging from the mirage of shimmering heat came the rising sound of rotors.
At first, the village seemed unaware of the growing sound, the rhythmic thump-thump of the helicopter that approached. Finally, the eyes of a small girl turned toward the sound as it grew louder and nearer. Squinting against the mirage of the desert she tried to identify the source of the noise, and as the helicopter flew into view, her eyes widened.
Turning, she left her playmates and sprinted across the village to a lonely hut that sat isolated overlooking the Tiber.
The small girl, thin and doused in a layer of sweat, dashed around the hut and called excitedly into the opening of the tent.
‘Shamen, shamen.’ She panted and waited for a reply.
To the unfamiliar ear, their language was coarse, rough and strange. After two more attempts to rouse the hut’s occupant the young girl stepped into the dark interior and out of view.
As she stepped into the hut the helicopter came into view on the rippling horizon. The thump-thump of the rotors finally caught the attention of the entire village.
All eyes glared across at the approaching helicopter. The smaller children scattered in fear, taking refuge in their homes or behind whatever items would give them cover. When the helicopter finally reached the village, it thundered overhead and circled around slowly.
After completing a full circuit of the village, the helicopter descended and landed to the west of the village, away from the main collection of huts but close to the solitary hut the girl had run to.
As the engine died and the spinning rotor blades ground to an almost silent, slow spin the side door to the helicopter slid open. Allowing the billowing dust to settle, the sole passenger stepped to the open door and dropped to the ground.
The figure stood tall. A long piece of maroon material flapped in the moving air, disturbed by the slowing rotors. The maroon fabric was slung over the figure’s right arm like a side-worn cape. Beneath the cloak, the dominant figure was clad in military garb. A pair of desert camouflage cargo trousers above a pair of desert boots. All appeared normal, the cargo trousers, compression top, desert boots and to some extent the side-slung cape.
That was until the dust settled and the new arrival’s face, or lack of face.
Instead, the figure wore a gilded silver mask devoid of expression or detail. Eyeholes, nostrils and a narrow mouth had been cut from the metal, but all else had been omitted. Around the right eye, a series of jagged lines had been gouged, exploding from the right eyehole like a starburst of veins that had been intricately painted with blood-red paint.
The mask glistened in the sun as whoever wore it looked around the village slowly, casting their hidden gaze around the village.
‘Shamen Shikikeh.’ A deep bellowing voice roared from beneath the mask.
At the sound of the voice, pairs of curious eyes peered over and around their shelter from the dust.
Eyes looked, but no voices answered.
‘I wish to speak with Shamen Shikikeh.’
The voice was clearly male, strong and profound. His words were laced with the hint of an accent, hard to place but to the unfamiliar ear, it sounded Austrian or German.
Again the demand was met with nothing.
Stepping away from the helicopter the full extent of the mask came into view. Not only covering his face, but the mask also extended over his head, appearing like an entire head covering.
His whole head reflected the bright sun, and finally, an old man emerged from the remote hut away from the main village. The masked figure stepped across the dusty village and towards the old man.
A head of silver hair hung in different length braids and plaits down beyond his waist. He appeared old, his skin weathered and deeply wrinkled, yet his eyes seemed youthful. Stepping slowly from the shade of his hut the old Shamen encouraged the small girl to return to her family.
Only once the girl had disappeared from view did the old Shamen return his attention to the masked man.
‘And why does a masked man from the West come to disturb the lives of my village?’ The old man asked defiantly.
‘I take it you are Shamen Shikikeh, at least I hope you are,’ the masked man’s words were calm and calculated as he stopped a short distance away from the old man.
‘I would not be speaking to you if I was not,’ Shikekeh mocked. ‘Unlike your culture, we respect the wishes of others, and only those you call for will answer your uninvited demands.’
Shikekeh’s defiance caught the masked man by surprise. Had his face been exposed a look of curiosity would have been clearly visible.
‘It would seem you are not accustomed to the politeness of introductions.’
‘And neither are you, although I expect you know I realise what you are.’ Shikekeh continued to speak as he strolled towards the masked man.
Wrinkled and shrunken by an untold age Shikekeh stood level with the taller masked man’s chest. Although shorter in stature the old shamen refused to crane his neck to look up at him, instead he levelled his gaze at the man’s chest and spoke at that level.
‘Indeed, I would expect my appearance resembles something you have seen before.’
‘You are right, expect without the gratuitous grandeur of your own.’ Shikekeh quickly retorted.
‘Enough games.’ The masked man snapped, frustrated. ‘I am not here for small talk or friendly discussion. You must know why I am here.’
‘I do,’ was Shikekeh’s curt reply. ‘But you will find yourself disappointed and leaving empty handed.’
‘I doubt that. I will raze your village to the ground to recover what I have come for.’
‘And you will destroy my village for nothing in that case. It is not here.’
By now the villager’s curiosity had taken hold. The cowering faces had begun to emerge, and now a crowd had gathered at the far end of the village square, watching the interaction between their Shamen and the mysterious new arrival.
‘Am I supposed to believe that?’
‘Believe what you want, do what you want. It will change nothing.’
In one swift move, the masked man withdrew a dagger from beneath the cape. Casting the material aside he sliced the blade through the air and brought the tip to rest against Shikekeh’s throat.
The old man did not move, he showed no emotion at the threat which only infuriated the masked man all the more.
‘Do what you will,’ Shikikeh whispered as the masked man leant closer. ‘I have fulfilled my promise, if it is my time to die, then I accept that.’
Shikikeh closed his eyes and waited for the man to strike.
‘Where is the diary?’ The masked man growled.
Shikikeh did not answer. Instead, he took in a deep breath and kept his eyes closed.
The masked man had reached the limit of his patience. Removing the dagger, he snatched the mask from his face and drew it through the air. The metal head mask flew through the air as he struck it hard against Shikekeh’s face sending the old Shamen sprawling to the floor.
The old man landed roughly on the floor and opened his eyes to stare up at the now exposed face of his attacker.
It was not what the old man had expected to see.
Looking down at him was the face of a young man in his thirties. One eye was strikingly green while the other had a milky off-white look. Three deep, jagged scars stretched from the man’s forehead down to his jaw on the right side of his face. The scars were raw and red, the skin appearing fresh and in the early stages of healing.
The jagged lines looked to have been caused by claws or similar. Where one passed above and below the man’s right eye, it was evident it had been the cause of his milky blindness.
‘My name is Viktor Franklyn, and I am Veks. I come in search for the legacy of the man that slay the beast, the legend you would call Archy.’
‘Well, Viktor Franklyn you will leave this place as empty handed as you arrived. I no longer protect the legacy of Archy.’
‘Where is it?’ Viktor grasped Shikekeh’s robes and tore him from the ground.
Lifting the old Shamen from the floor, he held him close to his face and spoke slowly, his words filled with menace.
‘Only one person needs to die here today, only you need to pay the price of betrayal to my master.’
‘Do what you must, it changes nothing.’
‘You frustrating old man,’ He turned to face the gathered crowd of villagers. ‘So be it. You will watch your village suffer and in your last breath perhaps then you will tell me the truth.’
Dropping Shikekeh to the floor once more Viktor turned from him and raised his hand into the air.
At the signal, a crescendo of gunshots erupted from a dozen unseen soldiers that had surrounded the village.
Transfixed on Viktor and Shikekeh nobody had noticed the troops moving silently into place. The first any knew of them was when the gunshots began, and the bodies began to fall.
Shikekeh watched in horror as his friends, his family and his village was destroyed before him.
Tears filled his eyes as Viktor slowly turned to face him once again.
‘I warned you.’ Viktor snarled angrily.
For the first time, Shikekeh’s defiance waned, and he could not meet the other man’s gaze.
‘Before you die do you wish to tell me where to find Archy’s legacy?’
‘It is where it belongs,’ Shikekeh sighed as his tears fell to the dry earth beneath him.
Finally, the gunshots ended. The village was once again silent.
Shikekeh did not look up. Instead, he closed his eyes, took another deep breath and spoke slowly.
‘I think it is time you did what you came here to do.’ As Viktor raised his dagger into the air, Shikekeh spoke one last time. ‘I have set a new generation on their path to destroy your wicked cult and the beast that you foolishly worship.’
As Viktor sliced the dagger through the air, his frustration erupted. Slicing the blade downwards he screamed at the old man.
’That beast has a name, she is The Magdon, and she is my master.’
Shikekeh never heard the angry cry of his killer as the dagger took the life from him and he finally accepted death.
He had fulfilled his promise and served his purpose, Shikekeh died at peace.