Prologue

September 17th, 2007

Near Cairo, Egypt

The desert sands stretched for miles around, creating the illusion of a never ending plane of the stuff. The only thing that one could use to tell the difference between East and West was the sun, that hot, blistering companion that can just as easily be your death as your salvation. That constant companion was, in this case, a guide.

A sole camel stomped its way across the desert towards what her rider knew was civilization. He had come this way many times, and while he knew taking a car would have been far quicker, how do you bring a camel with you in a car? So, he had opted to ride.

The rider squinted his eyes against the harsh sunlight, and in the distance could make out the vague shape of a skyscraper. He glanced down at the ground and noticed that, subtly, the earth's composition had been changing from sand to rock. From rolling hills to the foothills of mountains. He was in the Nile Valley.

Cairo was just ahead.

The rider didn't dismount as he entered the city limits, choosing instead to sit upon his steed, and glare egocentrically down at the tourists who gawked at him from their little Toyotas and Hondas. He was, he was sure, a sight for sore eyes… or rather, curious eyes.

He was fairly confident he'd not been followed, but after all, in these days you could never be too sure.

He finally dismounted as he pulled up before an inn, fashionably named in English. The rider tethered his camel outside the door, and walked in to the inn, the sign reading 'The Dancing Donkey" above his head flapping slightly in the desert breeze that thankfully didn't carry any sand in it.

The man wore an Arab keffiyeh around his neck, a cloak that hid his body from the sun, and had a rope tied around his waist, presumably for strapping things to his back. His head was covered with a bandana to protect his head. He smiled jovially as he approached the bartender, and cried, in broken Arabic "Adli! My friend! Been far too long, it has! How are you?"

"Spare yourself the indignity, Mr. Laurence," the bartender laughed in English, putting down the mug he was cleaning. "Speak in English."

"Alright, alright," Laurence muttered, sounding insulted. "I just wanted to try it out – no need to be insulting, Adli!"

"You know I mean no harm, Mr. Laurence," Adli said, trying hard to keep a straight face. "Anyways, how may I help you?"

Laurence lowered his voice, and murmured, "We need more weapons, Adli. The Cairo offensive will start later today, and we need weapons. Those G3s you gave us are wonderful, but alas, my friend, they're simply not plentiful enough. Is there anything you've got a larger quantity of?"

Adli thought for a second, and then said, in a normal voice, much to the camel rider's chagrin. "I've got two things to say, Mr. Laurence. One, don't whisper if you're trying to keep people from listening in. Speak normally – people suspect strangers who whisper, especially a westerner like you. Secondly…"

"Yes, yes?" Laurence said in his normal voice, a note of impatience and irritation entering his voice. "What is it, Adli?"

"I have 73 AK-74's, but very little ammo. If you take them all off my hands now instead of waiting for more ammo, I'll charge you the regular price instead of double for the change in quantity. Is that acceptable, Mr. Laurence?"

Laurence thought about it for a second, and then a smile came to his lips, and he laughed, and said, "Perfectly acceptable, mate. I've got her tethered to your door."

Adli's eye brightened and he stepped out from behind the counter to follow Laurence out the door to inspect the camel that was indeed tethered to the Dancing Donkey's door. The bartender whistled, and ran his hands along her back, feeling her fur. He then sighed, and said, "The camel is beautiful, Laurence. How on earth do you find them?"

Laurence laughed, and said, "That's for me to know, and you to never find out."

The bartender smiled, and extended his arm for a sealing handshake. "It's good doing business with you, Mr. Laurence."

"You too, my friend. Tell me, when will the… 'Goods' be expected to arrive?"

"I'll send them out later this afternoon. They should arrive before you head out for your… uh, operation."

"Brilliant," The camel-seller smiled and waved goodbye to the bartender, who headed back inside. As soon as Adli was gone, though, the smile left his face, and he pulled a cell phone out of his cloak's pocket. Upon flipping it open, he pulled it to his ear after dialling the number.

"Jessie?" He muttered in to the mouthpiece, ducking his head. "Jessie, thank God you picked up. There's an order of AK-74's coming in this afternoon, for Operation Cairo. Hand them out to the units. And when they arrive… kill him."

There was a buzz at the other end of the phone, and then Laurence slammed it shut. He then ordered a taxi, and rode to a hotel in western Cairo.

As soon as he stepped in to the hotel, however, he felt watched, as if a sniper's eyes were on his back, locking him in his crosshairs. He could practically feel the sniper's finger closing around the trigger, waiting for a clear shot. Perhaps it was just his intuition, knowing when he was in danger.

Or maybe it was his magic flaring up to warn him seconds before the trigger was pulled.

Laurence dived to the side, landing behind a potted plant, and a second later heard the tinkling of glass as a bullet shot through the glass plate front of the hotel, and embedded in the carpeted floor. It shattered, and a wave of magic spread out of the shattered bullet casing, a wave of what looked like purple gas spreading around the room.

"Second level?" Laurence snorted in derision. "They thought they could kill me with a second level?!"

He snapped his fingers, and golden sparks shot out, spreading around the room, and continuing to spark. They encircled the billowing purple smoke, and then there was a roar, and it rapidly condensed in to a copy of the bullet. He then twirled his finger, and then snapped again, and the bullet roared off back the way it came. There was a scream, and a body fell out of a window across the street, engulfed in golden flames. There were cries in the street from tourists, and the fire slowly started to spread. Laurence smiled, and walked up to the terrified looking woman working the check-in counter of the hotel. He looked in to her eyes, and she relaxed visibly as her eyes went blank.

As his magic weaved its way inside her brain, the Wizard smiled pleasantly, and murmured, "You didn't see anything, did you? You have no recollection of what happened here. I'm just a regular client of this hotel. Understand?"

Wordlessly, the woman nodded.

"Now, could I rent a room for the night?

Night had fallen, and the ambulances had left the hotel front hours ago. Only two people were left in the darkness – Laurence, and his partner. Each had a concealed AK-74, and each had two pistols, tucked inside holsters inside their robes. The Wizards looked at each other briefly, and then Laurence spoke.

"Project Cairo begins now. I trust the other units are in place, Lieutenant?"

"Yes, sir!"

The Westerner nodded approvingly, and then said, "Alright, then, Lieutenant. Let us begin."

The two took a few steps forward in to the Arab open-air market – or Souk – before them, and to any watching, it would have appeared as if the shadows of the entranceway had eaten them up alive. In reality, however, they had gone in to a nigh-on invisible state where the limited available light was curved around their bodies instead of reflected. It was a magical trick that was often used by Wizard spies to avoid detection.

The only problem was that those who they were evading could usually see around it.

As the duo rounded a corner in the still not quite quiet Souk, Laurence's magic flared up, and he dived out of the way, crying "Dive!"

The Lieutenant was only a sixth-degree Wizard, and so didn't sense the danger. His eyes went wide as he heard his Commander's tone of voice. However before he could make the dive that would save his life, a spray of bullets shot out of a dark doorway, striking the doomed man down instantly. His body went flying against a stone wall, and then collapsed to the ground, a spray of blood staining the wall.

Laurence didn't even give the man a second thought – he was already dead. He threw up a glimmering, semi-translucent blue veil that seemed to shift and swirl in the air, and then pulled out his cell phone, and dialled.

"Hello, Jessie? …We've been discovered. Full operation - destroy them."

There was a buzz, and then Laurence hung up, stowed the phone, and turned to face the doorway. Two armed men with their faces covered were cocking M16A4s at him. Laurence could feel his eyebrows rise of their own accord in to an expression of disdain.

"A Third-Degree and Fifth-degree Chol? Why does your leader feel the need to send such weak opponents against me?"

The Wizard Commander stretched his hand forward, and then clutched it in to a fist. The shield he had raised shattered, and shot at the two men, stabbing them through and pinning them to the walls. The pieces then dispersed in to the air, and the corpses slumped to the ground.

"Pathetic," Laurence complained, striding past them further in to the Souk. "At this rate we'll have taken Cairo by midnight."

However, for all his magic, and for all of his confidence, Laurence hadn't noticed the third man in the shadows. This man had no part in the conflict, and wasn't even magical. He was an Indian tourist going to university in Montreal, on a trip to Cairo. He had no past conflict with Laurence, and yet, his sense of honour, his shock and awe at the magic – he hadn't even know such a thing existed – he had seen, and his disgust with the murders he had just witnessed told him that he could not stand still. He had to bring those responsible, on both sides, to justice.

He just had no clue how.

The next morning, the news network Al-Jazeera released a report saying that in a 'violent orgy of blood', over 2500 people had died, and not all natives of Cairo as far as they knew.

The event was known in history as the Cairo Massacre, and the causes of it confounded historians – was it racism, gang related, a drug war? No one had any clue, there were no leads.

The Wizards, in the style of every other offensive battle they've fought, dubbed it "the Battle for Cairo." Three hundred and twenty-two of the dead were Wizards, and one thousand, two hundred and twenty-seven of their dreaded enemies, the Chol, were killed. Nine hundred innocents were killed by both sides.

All in a days work for a Wizard.