Near the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt, lies another, less frequented place - the Valley of the Sun God. It is a place of solemn history and occult worship, a forgotten realm where pharaohs and mummies still stir in dusty tombs.
Perched on top of a plateau bordered by mountains and desert is the village of al-Merayah - the Watchtower.
Dating back to some time during the Eighteenth Dynasty, the village is a strange amalgam of old and new. People have made their livelihood in this ancient place for millennia, completely unaware of - and uninterested in - the world outside. It has long been inhabited by people who follow religious traditions that go back countless generations.
Because of its remote location it has also harboured refugees, like Romans who fled religious edicts in the fourth century - telltale ruins mark their past presence. Other ruins also litter the sand dunes and desert cliffs, though hardly any outsiders have seen them.
Few travellers ever chose to visit this remote location, and those who did never stayed long. A few years back, ruins of an old temple were discovered. It has since been reconstructed, offering a slight boost to tourism. An extravagant hotel was built nearby in an effort to attract even more visitors. Although it's mostly finished, it never opened for business and now bakes under the sun like a fata morgana - full of unfulfilled promise.
A spatter of gaudy shops fills the streets of the little village, appeasing whatever unfortunate tourists still scuttle in the streets. Watered-down latte is served in a modern cafe while other stores remain mysterious and unwelcome to noisy outsiders, filled with potions and trinkets and magical ingredients.
When an earthquake blocked the village from the outside world - all transport in and out being halted - the population seemed uncannily indifferent. The people are apprehensive and reclusive, and their attitude towards strangers and newcomers is one of hostility and suspicion. Additionally there's visible tension between the locals, as if some difference of opinion has resulted in a clear divide within the small settlement.
This particular village is a bit different from the rest of Egypt. Here, conventional religion has given way to ancient beliefs that have been passed on from father to son, mother to daughter. Most of the villagers are descendants of the original followers of a solitary ancient god, Aten.
More than anywhere else, al-Merayah served as the cradle of the Aten cult from the days of Pharaoh Akhenaten. According to legend, this is where the Black Pharaoh first had visions of Aten. Converts gathered in this remote valley, built temples and celebrated the glory of their dark god. After the fall of the Pharaoh and the official return to the traditional gods, those who still clung to Aten came to the Valley of the Sun God, though eventually, open worship and veneration were given up here too.
Their faith remained dormant for 3500 years, until the recent quake unearthed passageways to a lost temple city near the village. It was a sign from Aten, a call to prepare for the impending return! Or so the promise of knotted whispers led them to believe.
But instead of godly glory, clouds hung as funeral shrouds over the mountains, a grim forewarning of what was to come. Terrible monsters poured into the desert from every crack in the mountain and sinkhole in the ground. The river nearly ran dry, the water in the oasis became stale and pungent and weeklong sandstorms washed over the region, like during the ancient plagues of Egypt.
Key people in the village convinced the population that their ancient god had finally returned, that everything that had ever happened to them had happened for a reason, and that they had to revive an ancient set of beliefs and finish a holy task begun by their ancestors in the time of the infamous Akhenaten.
They had to wake their sleeping god.
Now, a majority of the villagers have dusted off the traditions left them by their forefathers, while others repudiate such madness and refuse. Barricades have been raised to prevent sabotage. Families have turned against each other, enemies have become friends, and no one can be trusted.
To protect the world outside, the roads in and out of the valley have been blocked by those who want to spare innocent lives. No one can escape and food is running low. The sand is turning red, the water running black.
In the meantime, corruption spreads at alarming speeds through the valley. The village of al-Merayah is the only fortress that withstands, but even here evil lurks. In every corner, there is a shadow; in every hand, a knife. The name of a savage god stands on the tip of every tongue, and in the back of every mind, it whispers.