by James McCormick © 2003

The young prince leaned back in his throne, knocking the wine goblet away in a petulant display, 'Amal,' he cried, 'do not presume to tell me what I can and can't do.'

'But, your majesty,' the tall, powerful captain of the guards replied, 'since this 'seer' as the people have come to call him, came to our kingdom, he has brought only evil. His prophecies bring tragedy to those he speaks to and many that have met him have gone insane from terrible dreams. He is like a disease that has invaded the body of our land.'

The king's handsome face darkened, 'Really?' he replied, unconvinced.

Amal sighed, running a hand over his dark beard, 'Yes, your highness. The most recent tale I heard was of a woman told her husband would die, leaving her a pauper. She nagged him to work harder to pay off their debts. He did work harder, and was so tired that he fell asleep at the corn wheel and was crushed.'

The king threw his captain a defiant stare, 'Peasant nonsense.' he replied. 'I need this seer. There are plots against me, spies here from Babylon and Egypt, scheming with my enemies. You will bring him to me.'

Amal kept his anger held tightly inside his chest. 'As you wish, your highness,' he said with a bow.


'Build a wall around the city,' the Seer said in a deep, hypnotic voice. 'Allow no trade in or out and let no one leave or enter. If you do not do this, then you will be deposed on your thirty first birthday.' Fear and anger flashed on the princes' face, 'My enemies,' he spat. 'They give me no choice.'


The whole kingdom toiled by blazing, sunlit day, and silver, moonlit night. Every craftsman was employed in making the millions of clay bricks for the barrier, while the rest of the population was mobilised to build it. When it was finished the great wall stood forty feet high. The people of Assir were now closed off from the world, and prisoners in their own land.


Amal had not been born in Assir, but had been brought here as a slave from Mesopotamia as a boy. He had carried with him many stories and legends. One of these was of the Dark Man, a demon that used an enslaved human host to travel abroad, and brought madness and destruction to the cities of man. Amal knew who his enemy was.


'What is the meaning of this?' the king cried as Amal and the other warriors burst into his chambers. The king was lounging on a thick animal rug, talking to the Seer.

No one answered the prince. Blades drawn, they fell on their enemy. When they'd finished he lay on the floor, a mass of gaping wounds and pouring blood.

'Quick,' Amal cried, 'we must seal the demon in the body before it can escape.' As if in response to the captain's words, the dying man's eyes opened. They were now a terrible, burning red. He lifted his arm and stretched out a slender finger.

The next moment the king, forgotten amongst the slaughter, cried out, screaming as he put his hands to his eyes. Between his fingers, the eyes began to burn red. 'The demon is in the king,' the captain cried. He turned to one of the soldiers, an older man with long greying hair, 'The seal, have it ready.'

The warrior produced a circular, metallic object from under his cloak, covered in a myriad of symbols. It had been one of the few possessions Amal had carried with him when he was brought to this kingdom, a charm against the Dark Man. The captain raised his sword, 'Forgive me my lord for what I must do.' He brought the blade down, piercing the prince through the chest. The body convulsed then became still.

Amal turned to the older warrior, 'Now,' he barked.

The guard thrust the seal down onto the body's chest, so powerfully that the breastbone cracked. With the last spark of organic life left in the body, the demon opened its mouth to speak. 'You think to defeat me?' it hissed in an inhuman voice, blood flecking the lips. 'I have walked this earth long before your people were here, and I will do so after the last of you is but dust.' 'You will never bring evil to man again,' Amal spat.

They impaled the talisman to the chest and wrapped the body in bandages as if for mummification. Next they sealed the form up in a large casket that Amal had stowed in his own quarters. Smashing their way through the great wall, they rode out into the desert and deposited the casket inside a dark, winding cave that wound its way down into the rocky chambers, far below the sands.


The people vowed never to forget what happened, but over the years, that is what happened. A strange amnesia fell over the land.

When Amal himself began to grow old, and realising he too was succumbing to this same forgetfulness, he scribbled down the account on a roll of parchment as a warning to later generations. It would be two centuries before anyone would look on his words.


Atabi entered the tomb, winding his way slowly to where the casket lay. It was open. He stepped forward. He didn't believe the warning his great ancestor had left on the faded parchment he'd found in the chest, but he was still scared. His heart pounded in his ears as he forced himself to gaze down into the casket. He looked, then breathed a sigh of relief. If there had been some demon there, a Dark Man, he was long gone.

x x x

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