8 Sep

Teos, priest of Neith, was deeply troubled.

Everyone in the western delta city of Sais had heard of the unusual deaths occurring in recent days.

Perfectly healthy individuals, both men and women, had lost their lives in the darkest hours of night. There appeared to be no evident cause.

Teos worried over the strange contagion of death.

How long would it continue and whom would it strike down next?

Since his duties included providing medical care in the western district of the city, between the Temple of Neith and the banks of the Nile, he was now obliged to visit an ailing resident. A young boy had come to the clerical quarters requesting that a sick man named Iny be seen and treated. The priest became free to do that as a rosy dusk fell on the city and the river. The messenger led Teos through the dark streets to a low mudbrick cottage close to the bank of the Nile.

With caution the would-be healer entered what without question was a hovel. The interior was dimly lit by a single wax candle. There was no furniture about anywhere. The place reflected a life of total poverty.

Teos at once caught sight of a low pallet with a small figure lying upon it. From the pale ashen color of the face and the red curl of hair on the left side of the head, the priest recognized what sort of person he would have to deal with.

Sea blue eyes looked up at him as if imploring aid and protection. The desperation of this person was plainly visible in his haggard face.

Everything about the individual identified him as a descendent of migrants from west of Egypt, of Libyan invaders who came with feathers in their hair. This was a child of savages who came here from a distance as desperate raiders.

Teos smiled at the stranger. “Greetings, good man. Am I correct that your name is Iny, and that you sent a boy to the Great Temple to ask that someone with medical knowledge come to you?”

“Yes,” croaked the one on the pallet.

As the priest introduced himself, he stepped closer.

“My examination will be quick,” said Teos. “Can you give me a description of how you feel? Do you sense pain anywhere? How extreme is it?”

Words flowed weakly from the pale lips of the young man.

“I have never had such sensations before in my life. It is hard to describe. I feel as if there is something foreign within me, as if I swallowed an object that is harmful and corrupting that I cannot eject or get rid of. Why this happened to me I cannot explain, not at all. But I am undergoing terrible torture inside me.”

“Allow me to look over all your organs,” requested the priest.

This task took only a short time to complete.

Iny appeared undisturbed by the probing about his body. The priest had learned in years of treatment experiences how to carry out an examination with gentleness. Time had trained his hands and fingers.

At last, Teos straightened up and looked his patient directly in the face.

“What is the matter with me, sir?” begged Iny.

The priest did not give a direct answer. “I have with me a pair of powders that will bring you sleep tonight. When will it be best that we meet again?”

The young man told him he could return the following evening to see him again.

Teos said farewell and departed, leaving behind two glass vials of powder for the stranger to swallow with water.

A blanket of blackness, thick and unbroken, filled the streets of Sais.

It was the lowest nadir of the night. The curtain of stars was too distant to provide much illumunation. Dark shadows reigned. No sound rose anywhere.

The only pedestrians were a few police guards assigned to one-man patrols in the otherwise deserted streets of the sleeping town.

One such protector of the silent peace moved slowly through the area near the river. His knowledge of the pathways and turns came from years of experience on this job. Habit directed his careful steps through the unlighted gloom where it was impossible to make out anything.

All at once, the preserver of order felt an unseen presence close to him.

There was no time to act, only to come to an instant halt.

Something wet and slimy touched him on the throat. It seemed to be a tongue.

In less than a second, the thing broke the skin and entered his windpipe.

The policeman had a sensation of being bitten by a dangerous reptile that he could not see.

How could this be? was his final thought as he fell down in unconsciousness.

If he had been awake, the victim might have heard sounds of slurping and swallowing. The strange noise was that of the draining off of crystalline fluid out of his thyroid. The attacker had a specific objective it was after, knowing precisely what it wanted.

Ages in the future, the substance would be labelled an amino acid, thyroxine. In the early ages of Egypt, it had no specific name or identification. No one could have defined or described it.

Lying inertly in the street, the dead guard waited to be discovered by someone in the dim light of a foggy dawn.

The ancient temple at the center of Sais was dedicated to Neith, the primeval giver of birth, the mother of the supreme diety of the sun, holy Re.

This goddess, the initiator of the birth process at the beginning of time, when no one at all whether mortal or divine had yet been born, was the protectress of all Egyptians and the foe of all foreigners. She had never once befriended or helped migrants from other lands. Aliens had never learned to worship her. She was exclusively dedicated to Egypt and its original inhabitants.

Neith only cared for the natives of the Nile, its oldest population.

Teos was truly surprised that his new patient was descended from invaders out of the West.

Curious about such people, the priest went next day to the scriptorium of the Great Temple to see what he could learn about the migrant population.

One of the copiers found an old historical manuscript for him to read.

Teos took it to his living quarters and delved into it with feverish interest, absorbing every word and sentence.

He read of the attacks on the Nile Delta by the People of the Sea, a large confederation  of diverse peoples from several different lands. They had come into the Nile from different directions. Their purpose was to raid and take what they could.

The light-skinned Tjehayu, the leaders of this invading alliance, came from Libya.

From the west of them, came the warlike Meshwesh, a fierce and unfriendly people. They were to cause enormous amounts of death and destruction.

A group called the Sherden originated on the large island of Sardinia. They were related to the Tyrsenoi, from Etruria on the Italian peninsula.

These confederated groups aspired to move into and put down roots in the rich land of the delta. Though often defeated on the battlefield, they slowly infiltrated Lower Egypt. As war prisoners, they became slave cultivators of the Pharaoh.

Teos recalled the white skin, red hair, and blue eyes of his patient with the unidentified illness.

He had no doubt that he was treating a non-Egyptian outsider, a person unlike himself. One of the newer populations of the Pharaoh’s great kingdom.

What secrets might he learn from him? wondered the priest of Neith. What might the man be able to reveal about the sickness afflicting him?

When he visited the patient that evening, Teos found him in a state of recovery.

Iny sat on a small stool, dressed in a bright yellow kilt. A new spirit of vitality and energy seemed to have enlivened him since the previous night.

“I am in your debt for what your powders have accomplished, sir,” joyfully said the young man. “My body is, to a great degree, restored to its former health and vigor.”

A radiant smile glowed on the alabaster face of Iny.

“It is good to hear that,” responded the priest. “What a surprise! I did not expect such a rapid effect. Tell me this: did anything else influence your quick restoration? Did you experience any kind of dream, for instance?”

All of a sudden, the young man’s smile vanished. For a time, no answer came from him.

“It is strange, but I believe that I had a horrible nightmare that awakened me.”

Teos moved closer. “What was it you saw? I am interested in finding out what may have come to you in sleep vision.”

When he replied, the voice of Iny was tremulant.

“There, in front of my face, was the head of a yellow green serpent. I could not tell whether it was an aspis or a viper. For a time, my dream was one of looking into the burning red eyes of this creature as if under an enchantment. Because of the thick horny lids over these flaming eyes, I concluded that the serpent was a kneph. What else could it be? It was a long, gigantic snake.”

“It frightened you?” asked the priest.

The other nodded yes. “Like a kneph does, it grew larger and larger. I grew terrified that the thing was preparing to attack me. It appeared to be moving toward my mouth with the aim of entering into me.  At that point I forced myself to awaken. It had become impossible for me to continue such a horrible vision. My fear was that the serpent wished to take away my life.”

“I can understand your reluctance,” said Teos with a sigh. “There exist many varieties of poisonous serpents. The valley of the Nile is full of such enemies of humans. They can never be completely extirpated. We shall always have them to plague us. They are our eternal curse.”

“But the effect of the snake in the dream was miraculous, because the result was that I recovered. I have my conscious thoughts to thank for that. They have clarified for me the true nature of the nightmare that I had.”

Teos peered into the rapturous eyes where whiteness mingled with the blue.

“It is best that I return after a few days to observe your progress back to health. Is that alright with you?”

“Of course, sir.”

Teos soon left, his thoughts in a state of confusion over what he had witnessed.

What was the cause of this speedy restoration? he kept asking himself. What was its connection to the dream with the serpent at its center?

In three days, total reversal occurred. The young patient again lay on his pallet. A renewed plea for alleviation of pain reached the ears of  the priest.

“I cnnot understand what is happening to me, sir. My previous condition is back in full force. Will there ever be escape from illness for me? It appears that my illness is returning with full force.”

Teos felt a spinning in his heart, the organ the Egyptians saw as the seat of thought and emotion, the center of one’s conscious existence.

“I will provide you with stronger powders. But that will have to be tomorrow, for I did not bring anything like that with me. How could I have foreseen such an unexpected turn? You shall have to suffer until I find what is needed and prepare it for you. Can you wait for my return, Iny?”

“I must do so then,” moaned the young man.

The priest excused himself and left the cottage as fast as he could.

In the dead of night, a lone figure traversed the sleepy alleys of Sais close to the Nile waters. It happened to be a tiny young woman wrapped in a body sheet of white linen. What was she doing outdoors at such an empty, silent hour? What was her purpose or destination? Why did she challenge the perils of night?

No one was ever to know her reason for walking through the darkness.

She had no sense of the approaching climactic turn in store for her.

Without the least warning, a forked tongue stretched forth from the black void and touched the front of her delicate throat.

Before she could register surprise her defeat was completed. In an incredibly short time the attacking foe obtained the desired prize, the crystalized fluid in the thyroid.

The victim fell to the ground, all but a corpse. The snake crawled off in silence, having satisfied its strange, uncanny hunger.

Only with the return of the sun in early morning did a pedestrian discover the lifeless form laying in the street.

A small group quickly congregated about the disturbing sight of death.

One man thought to go and summon the city guard to do something about the lifeless body that would never move again.

Teos, on his way to his new patient with medicinal powder, came upon the crowd in the middle of the street. He went among them to ask questions and learn what had brought them there.

“A young woman died right here.”

“When did it happen?”

“It must have been in the night. She was found at dawn.”

“Who is she?”

“An orphan who lived alone. She was destitute, buried in poverty.”

“She had no relatives?”

“None whatever.”

Teos, reaching the fallen body, stared down at it. An urge to solve the riddle of the deaths in the darkness seized strong hold of him. What was causing this outbreak of unexplainable extinction?

The cleric lowered himself till he was stooped beside the dead shape.

Something within him commanded that he lift the head and examine it. While doing so, his eyes caught sight of minute punctures about the middle of the throat.

A feeling of significant discovery came upon him. Here was something to provide him a way forward. It appeared to be a meaningful clue.

He reached out with his right hand and touched the skin about the larynx, stretching out the flesh in the area of the tiny holes.

In a flash, insight came to him.

These were signs of something having bitten the skin, but from inside the throat.

He lifted himself up as a pair of guards arrived to take charge of the situation. Slipping away, he connected what he had just seen with what his newest patient had told him about his horrible dream.

Teos hurried off to deliver the powder he had promised to suffering Iny.

The mysterious, inexplicable dream now had meaning for him.

“Thank you for the medicine,” said Iny in a barely audible voice. “It helped me the first time, and I am certain it will do so again.”

For a time, Teos said nothing as he studied the face of the patient. Finally, he asked a personal question of Iny.

“How much do you know about your ancestry, my friend? Where did your forefathers come here from?”

Iny appeared startled. “Why are you interested in that?” the patient came back.

“That may help to explain your malady. Each nation has different propensities for particular illnesses, it is said.”

The face of the sick man stiffened.

“I am a Libyan, a member of the Tjehayu people. The only other inheritance I have is from a great-great-grandfather who happened to be a Tyrsenoi from across the sea in Etruria. That in the country called Italy, a long peninsula. That is the extent of my knowledge about my ancestors.”

The priest realized he had found something significant.

“What do you know about this distant forefather of yours? What reputation did he leave behind?”

Iny lifted his head from the pallet and glared at the healer.

“Why do you ask me such odd questions?”

All at once, Teos lunged forward, grabbing hold of Ihy by the neck with both hands.

“Because I have concluded that you are unknowingly a kneph man, one that is under the control of a snake that came here from a foreign land.”

The hands squeezed tighter and tighter, choking the throat of the patient, nearly suffocating the breath of life out of him.

In a surprisingly short time, the overpowered Ihy was in an unconscious coma.

The strangler panted with boiling emotion. His thoughts whirled around and around. What was he to do with this strange creature he had uncovered?

I have done a righteous deed in identifying a kneph man, the punisher told himself as he rushed from the cottage into the daylight streets of Sais.

Teos went at once to the scriptorium of the Temple of Neith. He found the documents he had recently read concerning the Sea People and their migration to the Nile Delta.

Memory took him to specific passages that had helped him find the account that he was after.

He read with his entire body shaking.

“The Tyrsenoi of Etruria, also called the Etruscans, are a people troubled by the existence among them of persons of a snake-man nature. Those so afflicted have no knowledge of demonic actions while in the sleeping state. They go forth as in a dream and attack innocent victims. This occurs because they have an insatiable need for and crave the vital crystals inside the larynx of the throat. Once the substance is taken, the kneph awakens without memory of what the serpent compelled him to do. The snake then slumbers until the next time it needs the fluid and the crystals of an innocent victim.

“The kneph man carrying the snake has frequent spells of grave illness between the attacks on victims.”

Teos drew a deep breath. The guilty killer, though possessed by another being, had to be stopped from further crimes like those he had already committed. The horrible outrages at night in Sais had to come to an end.

The priest decided that he had to expose his patient to the official police of the kingdom and hand over responsibility to the Pharaoh’s authorities.

It was easier than he imagined to go to the guard center and make his report to the chief crime investigator in Sais.

“You denounce this foreigner, Iny, as a demonic murderer who has been possessed by an evil serpent that came from abroad?” finally said the official.

“Yes, that is the reality that I uncovered in my treatment of this person called Iny,” admitted Teos in a shaking tone.

“This matter must be investigated at once,” barked out the policeman. “I shall go at once to question the man, and you shall come along and accompany me.”

“Is that necessary, that I be present?”

“I will need your evidence and corroboration when I arrest this kneph man,” said the other with force.

No one answered the door when the investigator knocked on it, but it proved to be open when he pushed upon it.

Teos followed him into the cottage of Iny.

Both men gasped for breath when they found the body of the resident lying on his palette in a strangely twisted position.

The police inspector leaned down over Iny and examined him for signs of what his condition was. A decision came within seconds.

“He is motionless and without breath. The man I came to arrest is dead.”

“May I examine his corpse?” asked Teos with trepidation.

“Go ahead and do it,” said the other.

Teos raised the neck of the dead man, finding what he expected to be there, the marks of penetration by the fangs of a serpent.

The kneph has taken away the life of its agent and escaped elsewhere, seeking a new tool of its ghastly appetite, the priest said to himself as he left the cottage together with the official.

Why did the serpent abandon its host? Did it sense that Iny was doomed to be identified and punished for his crimes? Did this foreknowledge force it to move into a new home?

“The killings may have stopped,” Teos told the policeman. “At least for now,” he added.


Night was a time of dread shadows in the Nile Delta city of Heliopolis.

Young Khton had migrated there to become a student novice in the great temple of divine Re. His father and countless ancestors for unnumbered generations had been members of the priestly caste serving in the temples of the supreme sun-god. Now it was the turn of Khton to learn the ritual ceremonies aimed at the worship and propitiation of the highest deity who passed across the sky each day, illuminating the heavens and the earth below.

Through the dark night streets, under the blanket of the star points, walked the tall, emaciated future priest of Re. Khton looked forward to witnessing that evening an arcane mystery that the general public never saw. He was excited with anticipation of what he was going to experience. For he would be present at a special rite restricted to the initiates who served in the temple of Re.

This evening promised to be a step upward for both his career and the moral development of his own self. He realized that he was about to learn things known only to the priestly cognoscenti.

As he moved through the silent, deserted shadows, his thoughts became focused on what was soon to come. The young man in the yellow robe failed to see the small, slippery form sliding over the small stones of the street.

The serpentine shape swiftly crossed the path ahead of him, surprising and unnerving him.

Khton, giving a start, instantly halted and watched as the hurrying object disappeared into the lightless shadows. It seemed to melt into the thick, solid obscurity between the cube-like apartment buildings.

Suddenly a smile came to the thin lips of the priestly novice as he contemplated what he had just observed.

Was it truly a snake of some sort that he had caught sight of on the city street so late in the night?

With a shake of his head, Khton started to walk on once again.

He soon forgot the creature he believed he had seen.

Within his thoughts now burned the overpowering ambition to master the secret rituals preserved for many ages by the priests of all-mighty Re.

Tonight would be his opportunity to see the central ceremony for himself.

Six persons in red robes stood about the sacred temple table. At the end, was the novice named Khton dressed in yellow. The others were experienced veterans of the great temple of Re. The officiating cleric was the high priest of Heliopolis, an elderly man bent over by the weight of his years.

In the middle of the table rested a large copper vessel in the shape of a Nile boat. This was the sacred fire-box of Re, a symbol of his magnificent victory over his evil enemy, the god named Apophis.

As the six priests chanted the story that told of the nightly voyage of the ship of Re through the netherworld of dank darkness inhabited by the dead and the demons, the high priest lifted up a small sheet of green papyrus upon which was drawn the image of Apophis as a river serpent of the Nile. This snake was the eternal nemesis of the shining, glorious sun-god, mighty Re. The foe was pictured as a crawling abomination without feet or legs of any sort.

The image of Apophis was that of a horrible, deadly monster in a revolting form.

Khton, reciting the old story along with the six priests, observed with fascinated attention as the veteran chief priest lifted up the hinged lid of the fire-box and placed inside it the sacred green papyrus. Then he picked up a long, thin straw, placing its end into the flame of a small oil lantern resting close to the edge of the wide table. As it burned, he used the straw to set fire to the green papyrus that he had deposited inside the model boat. An assisting priest quickly moved forward and closed the lid of the fire-box.

A majestic hymn to Re rose from the sonorous male voices as the image of Apophis burned away inside the box of shining copper.

When the singing came to an end, the high priest stepped forward and opened the lid of the fire-box. All the six participating priests and the novice gazed down at the gray and black ashes of the papyrus that had been destroyed.

For that night, the arch-foe of Re had been killed. But the satanic serpent had not met with its final defeat. All of them knew that Apophis was going to return night after night, reborn and presenting an eternal danger to Re. The struggle against him was an unending one. There were to be continuing attacks against the sacred boat and never any sort of final victory.

Day was to return with the dawn, but in time a new night would see the serpent of evil come once again to attack the vessel of Re.

The eternal battle of the sublime sun-god against the power of absolute chaos had to go on each and every night, on and on. The symbolic ritual of the priests of Re could never end, believed the faithful followers with deep fervor.

The priests of the temple finished by singing and chanting a final song of praise to the sacred cat, the form taken by Re at the beginning of time when the first battle against Apophis occurred.

As the Great Cat of Heliopolis, the sun-god had won his initial glorious victory. In the guise of a knife-wielding feline, Re had succeeded in cutting off the head of the crawling serpent, Apophis. But that had been only a temporary success over the foe, who would return restored the following night and ever after.

All those present for this symbolic enactment, including Khton, knew that the war of these divine beings was to continue without a finish.

The ancient ceremony had to be repeated the next night as well. There was no way to escape that necessity. The same ritual pattern would have to be followed anew by the priests of the sun-god.

Khton returned homeward to his rented room through the still empty streets, his mind focused on the secret ritual he had viewed for the first time. The priests had accepted him as a potential recruit to their customary way, he now concluded. He could see himself as a future active member of the action group around the chief priest.

The night sky was beginning to show the first glow of approaching dawn.

All of a sudden, Khton thought he heard a short, sharp sound impossible to identify. This interrupted his meditation on what he had witnessed that night.

In a state of puzzlement, he stopped and looked about in all directions. The shadows of night persisted everywhere. But all at once a human form wearing a dark robe moved out of a side alley into the wider street where Khton stood surveying the scene, his eyes making out the shape of a person.

What was this unknown stranger carrying over one shoulder? Was it a sack of some sort that projected upward into the air of the dark, soundless night?

Building shadows masked the presence of the viewer, Khton. As a result, the temple novice was able to observe this strange figure without himself being noticed.

Is he a criminal hauling off some stolen loot? wondered Khton. He did not understand what it was he was seeing.

Khton suddenly made the decision to follow behind as a tracker.

Keeping at a distance, but following without making noise of any kind, Khton walked behind the unidentified person into the area of the temple of Re, from which he himself had come.

The novice sensed a rising unease within himself over what he might uncover and find out by doing this.

The one carrying the sack circled the temple of Re, entering the sacred structure through a side entry rarely used except for delivery of material supplies. By the time the mysterious figure with the sack was inside the building, Khton had decided to follow him in.

What possible threat could this secret intruder pose? he asked himself.

It took him only moments to open the small door and move into one of the side corridors of the temple complex. Khton slowly advanced with care down the unlighted hallway.

He had never before been in this part of the large temple structure.

Moving cautiously forward through the darkness, he soon was able to make out a sound of lowly chanting voices. Drawing near the entrance to a chamber unfamiliar to him, Khton understood only a few of the words someone happened to be uttering.

A single voice began to speak in a very ancient dialect of the Egyptian Coptic language.

Khton listened with awe to the ages-old words.

“…the tabby has beautiful blue gray stripes on its back. It will prove a sacrifice of enormous value and make Apophis most happy…”

The listening interloper felt his entire body shake and tremble.

What was he hearing? What did this weird incantation mean? The words had no reasonable sense to him.

On went the invocation of praise to the divine serpent form of Apophis.

All at once, the stunned Khton felt the presence of someone coming close to him from behind.

Then, in a momentary flash, the young novice realized he was caught in the powerful grip of a person grasping him with overwhelming physical strength. The shape holding him was inescapable.

Pressure from behind pushed Khton toward the light flowing out of the side chamber from where the chanting voices had come. Soon it became possible for him to see inside the room.

One look showed that trio were three priests in red robes there, all of whom he recognized. They were positioned around a small circular table. On its top sat the familiar copper model of Re’s boat. Beside the latter was a large, fat blue gray cat that appeared to be sleeping or dead.

The ceremony being recited had stopped and the eyes of the three priests looked out through the open entrance.

A short, slight priest whose name Khton knew to be Xath suddenly posed an unexpected question to the astounded, confused novice.

“What are you doing here? Why are you around at this particular hour? It will soon be morning. You should have left the temple long ago. What you are up to at this time is a terrible outrage.”

The man holding Khton around the waist now began to speak.

“He must have followed me into the temple annex as I brought in tomorrow night’s sacrifice.”

Khton could not avoid presenting a question eating at him from the inside.

“Why was this fellow carrying a sack with a cat inside into the sacred temple of Re? What do you intend to do with such an animal?”

Xath stared at the intruder with uncanny force in his ebony eyes. He studied the thin face of the captured novice as the latter was pushed into the room by the man behind him.

It was the priest called Xath who left the two at the table and stepped forward till he stood directly in front of Khton. He began to whisper to the one who had interrupted their secret activity.

“You have to stay silent while we go about the sacrifice of this feline creature lying on the table. I shall speak to you in private when everything that we do here is finished. You will receive an explanation of what your eyes are about to witness, and you will learn the truth. Never can you speak about what you see or hear to anyone in the temple or anywhere else. Your voice must remain forever silent. Otherwise, you forfeit your own life as the penalty.”

Khton watched in trancelike astonishment as a sight he had never imagined possible appeared before him.

Xath bent his head down over the unconscious cat, till it hung only inches from the furry animal.

The priest, his eyes turning a sightless blank white, opened his mouth as wide as he possibly could. A strange object emerged out of it, looking like the head of some kind of serpent.

The thin, hose-like creature appeared to be a yellowish green kneph snake, like those along the Nile.

This serpent extended forth more and more. Its stony eyes darted about until it found what it was looking for.

The slimy body descended downward from the mouth of Xath till it touched the fur of the bluish gray cat.

Khton, full of disgust and revulsion, observed as the kneph bit into the body of its feline victim, gouging itself on the newly discovered cat flesh.

The devouring of the creature in the fire-box was quick and merciless.

The novice felt sick and faint at the ravaging sight in front of him.

Most of the inner organs of the cat were consumed and gorged with incredible speed. Little was left in the fire-box when the kneph returned like a hose back into the mouth of the priest who harbored it.

The eyes of Xath focused on Khton once the sacrificial cat had been eaten and the serpent had returned back to its human home.

The young witness felt his heart pounding with fear and outrage. He had been present at an evil abomination.

Silence fell over the room as Xath and the other priests stared at Khton.

The pair of assisting priests and the supply assistant made their way out into the dark corridor and quickly departed. Only Xath and Khton remained.

“Yes,” said the priest in a strong tone. “I and my comrades happen to be kneph-men who carry serpents within ourselves, as is described in old manuscripts of the Kingdom of Egypt.

“Since you happen to have uncovered us, it is now fated that you must become one of us, with your own serpent residing within your body.”

Exercising an almost hypnotic command over his new pupil, Xath paid visits to the rented rooms of Khton in order to give him direct instruction in the nature and practices of the kheph-human partnership and combination.

“The traditions of our land have always had the link of serpent to man and man to serpent, from the very beginning,” explained the teacher to the novice.

“Several of the earliest beastly creatures were snakes that had human features, such as the face of a man at the front of its body.

“These beings served Apophis and other dieties, such as the death-god Seker, as guards and soldiers. They became the wardens of the dead in the netherworld.

“Shenti was said to have four hands and feet at each of its ends.

“Tepi had four horrible human heads at each of its extremities.

“Ash-hera, the crimson serpent, had five human heads at each end of its very long body.

“Snake fiends such as Sebau, Sa-ta, Nau, Nebebkau, Hau, and Nehe-her had long, sinewy bodies with human faces, hands, and feet attached.

“These monstrous serpents fed on the souls and shadows of the unworthy dead.”

Xath paused a moment, then continued. “They were the ancestors of the kneph-men whom we see in the Egypt of today. But they have shrunk in size and learned to conceal themselves within the human hosts whom they attack and conquer.

“That is what I and my comrades are, Khton. And you shall soon become exactly like us. I will find and choose a special kneph to become resident within your body.

“You shall never be alone from now on, my boy,” said Xath with a sardonic smile on his lips.

How could it be possible to have such opposite orientations, practices, and beliefs within the temple of Re?

Khton asked himself again and again, without coming to any solid conclusion.

Could the same individual serve both Re and Apophis, eternal enemies? How could such a contradiction survive for such a long time? In what mind did such paradoxes exist in harmony?

Khton shuddered when he contemplated what his future life might consist of.

The sun-god in the heavens was a jealous deity who did not share his authority or his priesthood with such a fiendish foe as Apophis, the serpent. That seemed an impossibility, yet it existed.

The immediate problem for troubled Khton involved how he was to act when Xath summoned him to the priest’s quarters in the temple complex. It was the day when he was to have the chosen kneph snake placed within him as a permanent resident.

I will never be the same after that is accomplished, said the novice to himself.

He was continuing to attend the ceremonies that celebrated the victories of Re over sinister, jealous Apophis. In a short while would come his ordination and elevation to the rank of priesthood, with a robe of red to wear in the temple.

Until the injection of his special kneph serpent, he was to be present at the latter, secondary rituals dedicated to Apophis only as an observing neophyte.
Once he had become a genuine kneph-man, his direct, active participation in the latter events became possible.

There was no way for him to escape the horns of the dilemma he faced, Teos realized.

As scheduled and planned, Xath visited the rooms of Khton on the appointed day for the transformation. The young man drank several cups of soporific herbal tea in order to fall into the desired sleep that should make the injection of the serpent painless to him.

Xath entered carrying a strange box large enough to hold the reptile meant to enter into its human residence.

The novice felt no different after his sleep and the entry of a kneph.

Am I the same person I was before? Or have I become a beastly monster, a demonic kneph-man with a new, evil nature?

Have I transformed into a different creature unlike what I previously was?

Khton made himself attend the evening ritual dedicated to Re, as he had been doing before. The six priests, including Xath and his two confederates, took part as they had in the past. The high priest, in charge of the traditional ceremony, gave no sign of perceiving any difference in the attending novice in yellow robe.

The official, orthodox ritual came to its end and the group of priests quickly left the chamber, except for Khton. He remained standing motionless, involved in deep, introspective thought. His eyes remained focused on the fire-box in which the green papyrus with the serpent of Apophis drawn on it had been burned. This was the container in which several hours later a cat was to be incinerated. Before dawn of the next day, a ritual the opposite of the first one was going to be completed by the followers of Apophis.

Khton, all of a sudden, began to speak a prayer to the supreme deity, Re. He was in an elevated mood of unexpected, unforeseeable exultation without being fully conscious of what was happening to him.

“Save me, shining god Re, from the serpent Apophis and the circle of traitorous pretenders who claim to obey and believe in you. They are not what they claim to be. Do not permit them to engulf and enslave me in their unholy scheme to reverse your endless victories over evil Apophis.

“Help me to defeat those inimical to you. Their guilt is great and unforgiveable. For your sake, they must all be destroyed.

“Forgive me for permitting the entrance of a kneph into my body, the greatest offense against you in my whole life.

“I repent of the foolish crime that I let myself commit.”

Finishing his appeal to Re for help, he left the temple. But instead of returning to his rooms, the novice began to wander the dark, shadowed streets of Heliopolis, as if hunting for something he could not consciously describe or define.

After hours of patternless walking, Khton came back and entered the temple of Re through the annex delivery door. He cautiously made his way to the room he had been in earlier that night for the official ceremony.

The three conspiratorial priests had already arrived just moments earlier. They were arranged around the small table that held the fire-box in which the green papyrus had been burned to ashes. Beside it was the sack containing the captured cat that was going to be the next sacrifice to Apophis.

Khton occupied a vacant space across the table from Xath and waited for the secret ritual to begin.

The mentor of the novice started to chant an ancient prayer directed to the serpent-god. An entrancing aura arose in the chamber, while Khton felt as if he were dropping swiftly into a bottomless abyss of some sort.

All at once, the newest member of the circle felt a profound, painful explosion somewhere within his lower body. What could it be? What was happening to him, causing such unease?

His inner torso seemed to be thrown apart by some internal event in his body organs.

Something moved through his throat, then into his mouth and out of it, past his lips. He was losing self-control. It had to be the kneph-snake that was making a radical exit. His eyes caught sight of its emerging head when he looked down in that direction.

The new internal resident, the implanted serpent, was making its first external foray into the outer world.

The yellow-green head was fully emerged, followed by the long, ropelike reptile middle body. It seemed to be leaping out and forward, aiming at the sack on the table, where the cat rested in some coma of sleep.

Xath stopped his chant. All three priests stared dumbfound at what was happening in front of them.

The kneph’s skin started to break and divide. Pieces of it fell onto the table. The serpent grew and became enormously enlarged. It was shedding its original skin and growing a new, greater one.

Khton, feeling powerless and helpless, watched passively as the growing, exploding kneph came out of his mouth.

The serpent tore into the sack with its sharp fangs, tearing the material.

Was the cat awakening or coming back to life? Was it being summoned by Re to fight a battle with this dangerous agent of its foe, Apophis?

Khton and the three rebel priests watched petrified, paralyzed, as the two animal forms fought a furious, merciless battle with each other. Blood flowed out of both combatants. Each of them scratched and cut wounds in the other.

Chaos reigned as the forms went all out to kill the other one.

None of the human beings around the table had ever imagined that such an event was possible, or that any person would witness such mad, destructive fury.

No one present felt able to withdraw or escape the insane scene.

The cat, with its sharp claws and strong limbs, soon became the victor, slaying the kneph-snake, leaving it motionless on the table top.

But the warfare was not at all finished, for it continued.

The maddened cat attacked Xath, finding it easy to slay him by slicing his throat.

The other two priest were the next victims of the feline symbol of the power of Re. They followed Xath in falling to the ground of the temple.

Khton watched with awe as the animal jumped upon him and began to claw at him.

It is not a beast alone, but vengeful Re who shall now punish me, understood the young novice. That was his final conscious, living thought.


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