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Hero Elizabeth with Ring
book cover

The Clty of Azeba

Near the Headwaters of the Blue Nile

3000 Years Ago


THE SONG OF HUNDREDS  fills the cathedral with spiritual unity, for on this Sabbath day, the blessed of Azeba have come to pray. Melodic voices rise above the layered harmonies of the chorus to give thanks and praise to The Most Hight, The Almighty, The One Who Cannot Be Named. Positive vibrations from the music and the ceremony lift every man, woman and child with feelings of love and adulation.

A rumble goes unnoticed as the sanctuary’s imposing front doors are drawn open by heavily muscled, armed guards.

Facing row after row of prone worshippers, Queen Makeda of Sheba, Empress of Abyssinia, and her entourage of nobles shade their eyes from the slice of morning sunshine cast upon the altar from the distant opening.

Soiled, his clothing rent, an ebony-skinned man crosses the threshold and staggers up the center aisle, ferried along by another vagabond carrying a weathered brass urn.

“What is this, Tocoro?” Zadok, the high priest, angrily demands of the Captain of the Guards who shepherds the men towards the raised royal dais. “Who are these beggars? How dare you interrup’–” 

“Ahh!” The Queen’s scream of recognition cuts him off. “Menelik! Oh my God!’

Queen Makeda’s face twists in horror. She frantically waves her arms.

“Just don’t stand there,” she turns to her royal advisors, Joktan and Zadok, and points, “help him.” But they’re slow to realize this tramp is actually the Queen’s only son. When it finally registers, the High Priest Zadok is immobilized by an overwhelming dread. Queen Makeda notices. She puts her hand on his back and shoves.

“Go to him, old man.”

The nobles descend the stone stairs, rushing forward to meet Menelik. They arrive just in time to catch him before he collapses. Slaves scurry to bring the Prince pillows and water. The Queen’s men ease her son and his companion onto a heap of feather cushions hurriedly placed in front of her throne.

Menelik’s face is drawn, his lips cracked, split open and raw. He’s barely strong enough to take small sips from the silver dish of offered liquid, but he manages to gasp,

“No, Raydan first.”

“Of course. Do not worry my Prince, there is plenty for you both,” assures Tocoro, his voice tinged with worry.

Other servants dampen and gently wipe his and Raydan’s head, neck and arms with cooling, wet cloths.

The high priest, Zadok, his face growing ever more concerned with thoughts and revelations, moves quickly to step between several slave girls to collect the brass urn from Menelik’s squire.

Her dark eyes filled with tears, Queen Makeda kneels beside her son.

“Oh Menelik, what is this that has befallen you? I believed you to be in Jerusalem with your father,” she whimpers.

“I was… a mission,” he croaks, between sips. “Solomon entrusted me… everything.” After another swallow he implores, “Call out our armies… no time to lose. Dagon comes.”

“Impossible,” scoffs the Queen’s brother, Prince Nourad, from over his sister’s shoulder. “I defeated the armies of Cain at Gondar. You’re mistaken.”

Despite his exhaustion, Nourad’s retort emboldens a snarl.

“That is not what happened… and you know it, Uncle,” says Menelik.

“He’s delirious,” Nourad announces to the hushed crowd, a bit too forcefully. “I watched General Azaryas die myself,” he turns to his sister. “You know this. I brought you his head.”

Menelik takes another swig, the pomegranate water and wet towels starting to revive him.

“No, Uncle,” he shakes his head, “the general lives. Soon come.”

“Are you calling me a liar?” Prince Nourad pretends to be taken aback.

Menelik’s face twists with anger. “Yes. A liar and a dirty traitor,” he growls.

As every pore on his bald head erupts with sweat, Prince Nourad’s mind spins. Dumbfounded, he opens his mouth to speak but is saved from having to answer.

Through the open doors a gust of ice-cold, black fog rushes into the temple. The stench of rot and death assails every nostril, pruning faces with revulsion and disgust. Only Prince Nourad smiles. 

Outside, war cries, screams and clashing metal resound. The wail of war horns, the sworn enemy’s, are calling the men of Cain to charge, sending every Azeba citizen’s blood racing.

Above the high altar, the black fog swirls, coiling into a vortex. An even darker shape in its center begins to manifest.


The guards at the entrance, jolted from their inertia, frantically push against the doors, the muscles of their arms and legs bulging with effort. But before the entrance can be sealed, a handful of white-skinned warriors leaps through the narrowing slot, swinging swords.

Pandemonium ensues, but the brave men of Azeba don’t hesitate. Nearly all experienced fighters, they quickly swarm and kill the Cain berserkers, some barehanded and only shielded from the slashing, thrusting sabers by their prayer rugs.

The heavy door bolts are thrown, and for a few moments the panicked flock settles.


Above the altar, out of the turning vortex of black fog, a demonic head, half-human, half-carnivore, stares down. The Djinn’s blazing yellow eyes roam over the terrified crowd, searching. Fresh screams rip the air.

“God in Heaven,” wails Joktan.

“What does it want?” Queen Makeda whispers to her son.

“Me. To do the bidding of its master, the Giant, Dagon.”

The Azeba warriors move to confront the demon while the childless women instinctively surround and shield their Queen. 

“It wants that which our King has entrusted to me,” says Menelik.

“Do something, Menelik, anything,” the Queen presses her son.

The slanted yellow eyes fix on the High Priest, Zadok, hugging the brass, quart-sized vessel against his body. Another of the Djinn’s guttural sounds shakes the building and the ghoul’s upper body stretches forty feet in the blink of an eye. In less than a second the horrible face is only inches away from the elder priest’s nose. Overcome with terror, the old man’s heart abruptly stops. Zadok and the brass urn tumble down the stairs.

Prince Nourad backs his way through the crowd, distancing himself from the danger, as several Azeba warriors rush past him with their bows raised, nocking and firing arrows.

The missiles pass through the apparition harmlessly, but unfortunately for the archers, not without attracting the Djinn’s ire. It turns and throws one of its talon-hooked claws towards them. Their hair bursts into flames, the bowmens’ agonized screams striping the air.

A sonic boom rolls though the cathedral as the enormous gateway doors are blown into matchsticks by an explosion.

When the smoke clears, a massive Goliath, at least two-and-one-half meters tall and weighing over two-hundred kilos of hard muscle, stands backlighted by the sun’s morning rays. His luminous skin is completely devoid of melanin. Behind him at least three-thousand more Cain troopers, some brandishing collared ghouls, underline the orders he bellows. 

“STOP. Surrender now and live.” He points to the Queen. “If you dare defy me, not a single soul shall I spare.”

A hush falls over the holy gathering. Faces search back and forth from Dagon to Queen Makeda.

“Last chance,” Dagon booms, “before I grant Sekiro my next wish — to kill!”

The Djinn’s face contorts with delight at the prospect.

Queen Makeda of Sheba, Empress of Abyssinia, rises to make the hardest decision of her life. Outnumbered and outgunned, her choices are grim. She plays for time.

“Who are you? Who dares to invade this Holy Sanctuary?”

The question is brushed aside.

“Give me Menelik.”

“My only son?” she refuses. “He means more to me than my own life.”

“Then have him reveal the location, unless you want all of these good people to die. Do it!”

Queen Makeda whispers a single syllable to Menelik, her eyes pleading.

Prince Menelik and his squire Raydan exchange a look. After months of hardship, overcoming preposterous odds and having accomplished the impossible, there’s a bond between the two men that is stronger than blood. Beyond that is the sacred oath they share, the one they swore to King Solomon and God, that must never be broken. In that one, quick, knowing glance, they understand what to do.

Coming to his feet, Menelik’s voice mocks the giant as he walks unafraid towards him.

“What is it you want, fair-haired child, brat of Cain?”

“Where is it?” Dagon struts down the center aisle, his every footstep making the marble floor tremble.

“Perhaps you are unlearned, and ignorant,” Menelik laughs. “‘It’ tells me nothing. Even an uneducated baboon should know that much. What is this it you want?”

Taking three stairs with each stride, Dagon summits the altar. His face beet red with fury, he reaches down. The giant’s fist, the skin so white the blood, tendons and muscle fibers underneath it are nearly visible, locks around Menelik’s neck and hoists him into the air.

“TELL ME!” He shakes Menelik for emphasis.

With the collective attention completely focused, Raydan inches his way sideways towards the brass urn laying on its side at the bottom of the stone steps.

“You’re choking him, how can he answer?” bawls the Queen, pleading.

Reluctantly, Dagon listens to reason and heaves Menelik backwards. In that brief instant, Raydan palms and throws the brass container. Menelik catches it in midair, lands, and rolls to his feet in a run. Pulling the brass stopper with his teeth, the prince dives under the heap of pillows piled in front of the throne.

“Seize him!” Dagon wails.

Cain warriors surround the throne, flinging the cushions until none remain. Dagon angrily shoves them aside and with the strength of four men, grabs the heavy gilded throne and hurls it against the wall.

But Menelik and his secret have disappeared.

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