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Say your last prayers to your deceased deity, and prepare to face the eternal fire. The Black Sun will scorch the flesh from your bones, and burn you to ashes. Go forth, my children, and devour this blasphemy in the name of Aten! For the Sun! For the Black Sun!
~ Abdel Daoud, leader of the Cult of the Aten.

The Cult of the Aten is a villainous organization and cult appearing in the second major story arc of the Funcom MMORPG The Secret World. First established in Egypt by the infamous Pharaoh Akhenaten, the cult was thought extinct for millennia, having been formally dissolved by the Marya at the end of its founder's reign, with all known means of rebuilding the organization being destroyed or suppressed.

However, in 2012, something awoke the long-dormant forces that once commanded the Atenists, and now the cult has been reborn; though the Marya have prevented the Atenist armies from moving beyond the desert valley where it first reappeared, the cult is currently moving more expeditiously towards it new goals: releasing Akhenaten from his tomb and paving the way for the arrival of the Aten, the monstrous deity they serve. If the player cannot stop them, apocalyptic consequences are sure to follow.

History

Of Solar Predecessors

Unknown to all but a select few, the Atenists were by no means unique among cults: at the time of their inception, they were only the latest in a long line of deranged sun worshippers stretching back to the very beginning of the Fourth Age - and likely even earlier than that. Along with their faith in some form of sun deity, these groups all shared a few things in common: fanatical secrecy; a system of indoctrination designed to destroy any sense of individuality or free will; a dangerous obsession with the substance known as the Filth; an unbending belief in a divinely ordained apocalypse of their own making; and last but certainly not least, the same otherworldly patrons.

Every single cult in this sun-worshipping tradition had been secretly created by the Dreamers, either by corrupting a preexisting religion from within or simply inspiring the creation of a new movement. Though imprisoned beyond our reality since time immemorial and kept asleep by the ancient mechanisms of the Gaia Engines, the Dreamers were able to reach out to individuals sensitive to their psychic whispers, promising them all manner of rewards in exchange for their unquestioning loyalty: presenting themselves as gods or muses of some kind, they instructed these susceptible figures to form cults devoted to worshipping them, serving them, and ultimately freeing them from captivity. Those who followed the Dreamers' anointed ones never knew what they were truly worshipping, oblivious to the true nature of their religion until indoctrination began; along the way, they were invariably exposed to the Filth that leaked from the malfunctioning Gaia Engines, ensuring that even those rare cultists who resisted indoctrination were reduced to the puppets of the Sleeping Ones. Thus, the entities who wanted nothing more than to devour every sun and star in the universe slowly became known as the benevolent sun-gods of pre-Christian tradition.

From Sumeria to Babylon, the Dreamers, the Filth and those worshipped them had always been present to one degree or another; indeed, one of the earliest known titles for the Filth in Fourth Age history is "Nergal's Rot", so named for the Mesopotamian sun deity of healing and disease. However, few of these cults had been met with great success: some were destroyed by rival cults, others were hunted down by those who recognized the danger of their worship, and a few simply failed to uncover the Gaia Engines that would set their masters free - and from there, collapsed swiftly into infighting and irrelevance. From what little information survives from this period, most cults were kept small-scale and innocuous so as to avoid detection, few intruding on politics to any meaningful degree.

However, all this changed in Egypt's 18th Dynasty: by that time, the Land of the Pharaohs had developed an extensive pantheon of gods and goddesses ruled over by the sun-deity Amun-Ra. However, the Dreamers chose not to corrupt the worshippers of Amun-Ra to their service, but instead decided to inspire the creation of a new religion altogether.

Dawn of A New Religion

Just as they had since the moment they had begun to stir in their slumber, the Dreamers once again sought out a mind capable of perceiving their whispers. Eventually, they found their chosen one in the form of the reigning monarch, Pharaoh Amenhotep IV. At the time, the young king was celebrated as a just and pious ruler, beloved by both the peasantry and the nobility; given time, his advisers believed that he could bring Egypt into a golden age of prosperity and triumph.

Unfortunately, the intervention of the Dreamers brought an end to that: styling itself as an aspect of Ra, one of the Sleeping Ones reached out to Amenhotep in his dreams and introduced itself as Aten, the Sun Disk, demanding worship for its newest supplicant; anxious for divine guidance in the early years of his reign and perhaps too pious for his own good, the Pharaoh readily accepted the Dreamer's commands.

Over the course of the next few years, Amenhotep changed his name to Akhenaten, abolished the worship of all other deities in the Egyptian pantheon, moved the nation's capital from Thebes to Amarna, and embarked on a massive construction program throughout the land. Naturally, his advisers did not look upon these developments favorably, and many of them attempted to dissuade him from continuing his program of religious persecution - in particular, the High Priest of Amun, Ptahmose. Akhenaten refused to listen to their advice, forcing them to convert to Atenism or face harsh penalties; eventually, the only courtiers who were able to provide any sort of guidance were his mother Tiye and his wife Nefertiti - the latter desperately trying to convince her husband to return to tradition, the former gleefully riding her son's coattails and encouraging him at every turn.

As Akhenaten's divinely inspired dreams grew more extravagant, so did his methods: penalties for denying Aten grew harsher and harsher, worship of the traditional Egyptian pantheon eventually becoming punishable by imprisonment and even execution; building projects grew ever more ambitious, requiring the deaths of countless workers to complete if they were finished at all; slavery flourished, crueler and more ruthless than ever before - Akhenaten acquiring lasting infamy in scripture as the Pharaoh of Exodus. Though many resisted conversion, many more flocked to his banner in fits of religious mania: even King Rib-Haddah of Byblos was ensnared by Akhenaten's persuasive rhetoric, slowly moving from begging the Pharaoh for military aid to actively serving the monarch of a distant land, worshipping the same god, and even being entombed in Egypt with the rest of the Sun-King's cult.

However, in these early years, the truly nightmarish aspects of the cult had yet to emerge: at the time, it was widely believed that the Cult of the Aten was just another religion, and most of the organized resistance came from disenfranchised priests struggling to ensure the survival of their traditions. Neither the priests or the peasantry had any idea of what Akhenaten truly served - or the consequences of doing so.

The Red Nights

At the behest of his god, Akhenaten had been seeking out the Gaia Engines, likely in the hopes of destroying it and releasing the Aten from captivity. Undergoing a pilgrimage across his kingdom, he was eventually led by the whisperings of his patrons to a stretch of desert north of the isolated city of Thinis, where he commanded his slaves to dig: over the course of the next few months, his fellow "pilgrims" slowly carved their way into the unforgiving bedrock below the sands, tunneling hundreds of feet downwards into an immense shaft carved in the stone, deeper and deeper until they finally reached a vast underground chamber flooded with Filth. By this time, dozens of slaves had already been crushed or suffocated to death over the course of the excavation, but the toxic fluid below them wrought unimaginable casualties on the workforce - and not all of them stayed dead, either.

Undeterred by the deaths, Akhenaten instructed his followers to harvest the Filth, claiming that it was the condensed breath of the Aten. Fortunately, the fluid was still too weak to survive aboveground and evaporated the moment it was brought into the sunlight; unfortunately, Akhenaten quickly realized that if the blessings of his god couldn't be brought to the people, his people would have to descend and claim it in person. Slowly, the mine shaft was sculpted into a colossal temple devoted to the Aten, built around several enormous staircases winding deeper into the chasm, each one allowing worshippers access to ancillary shrines and chambers along the way - the heart of the temple and the great altar to the Aten lying at the very bottom of the shaft amidst the lake of Filth.

This subterranean complex came to be known as "The Ankh", so named for the Egyptian symbol of life and rebirth, and in Akhenaten's increasingly warped perspective, this place was indeed a place of rebirth: spurred on by the encouragement of their Pharaoh, hesitant citizens set out on pilgrimage to the Ankh and partook of the Aten's breath; this baptismal Filth induced horrific visions, frequent nightmares, a gradual loss of free will, and an increasingly devastating array of deformities. Thus, it was in the bowels of the Ankh that the Cult of the Aten took shape, and it was in the bedlam of the Ankh's deepest temples that Akhenaten's religious mania spiraled into insanity. Though he had not found a Gaia Engine, the Sun-King had found a means of ensuring that all of Egypt could be converted to the worship of Aten, and his patrons were most pleased: through the weak points in reality generated by the Filth reservoir, they blessed Akhenaten with unnatural powers, his body becoming increasingly inhuman as the gifts of the Dreamers took hold.

As the cult grew in strength, so did the Filth: as the Dreamers assimilated more information from the minds of the infected, their dreams grew more lucid - one of those dreams being the Filth. Having started as little more than black water at the bottom of the shaft, it began to thicken into a viscous oil, even sprouting rudimentary tendrils as it slowly changed from an inert fluid to a living mass, growing and spreading throughout the Ankh - until it began climbing to the surface. Now immune to the sunlight, it gathered around the lip of the shaft in enormous bubbles and roots, reaching further and further into the desert. Perhaps inspired by the growing power of the Aten's breath, Akhenaten took the rituals a step further.

While delirious cultists bathed in the tarry depths of the Filth lake, growing more nightmarish with every immersion, the priests of the cult took steps to ensure that the worshippers of Aten would never end their service to the Sun God - not even in death. Perverting the sacred tradition of mummification, they created their own burial rites: instead of guiding the soul of the deceased to the afterlife, these monstrous ceremonies were designed to trap the soul in their embalmed bodies for all eternity, forcing them to one day rise again the service of Aten. All too many of these damned cultists were mummified while still alive, kept conscious and screaming while the embalming process slowly stripped them of organs, life and sanity. Some, known as the Vessels of Aten, were assigned the role of mouthpieces for the Sun God, their minds dissolved in the process that allowed them to convey the thoughts and wishes of the Dreamers; others were made into elite soldiers, the Wrath of Aten, their bodies grown to gigantic sizes by the infestations of Filth entities and other monstrous spirits; a rare and twisted few were designated the Hands of the Aten for their mastery of magic and devotion to the cause, willingly mummifying themselves to serve the cult for all eternity. Even cats were mummified just as they were in traditional Egyptian burials, the undead felines rising again with monstrous strength and mauling children - much to the depraved Pharaoh's amusement.

However, such atrocities against the deeply held traditions of Egypt could not be maintained in secret forever; word eventually reached the ears of those outside the cult, prompting widespread unrest. Akhenaten, having long since abandoned all notions of mercy or tolerance, extinguished the dissent in as quick and painful a manner as possible; more vicious than ever before, he took further steps to wipe out the remaining vestiges of the traditional Egyptian faith, conducting mass-executions of all who failed to convert. In the escalating pogrom, many believers in the old ways were forced to flee the cities and spend their lives as nomads hidden in the deserts, as was the case with Ptahmose and his family. The violence and bloodshed of these times eventually grew so horrific that many surviving records of this period of history refer to it only as "The Red Nights."

Young Warriors, Setting Suns

It was at this point that Akhenaten's wife Nefertiti tried one last time to convince her husband to change his ways: approaching him in spite of his increasingly monstrous appearance, she pleaded with him to give up the worship of Aten and cease abusing the citizens of Egypt, begging him to return to the light. In response, Akhenaten savagely murdered her. However, this act of betrayal did not go unnoticed: the Pharaoh's son, Tutankhamen, could only watch in horror as his mother was left bleeding in the dirt and discarded; grief-stricken, he called out to the Bees of Agartha and made them a solemn vow to purge the infection from the land before it destroyed them all.

Eye Of The Aten

The Aten manifesting above the Black Pyramid

Meanwhile, Akhenaten's behavior suddenly took a turn for the utterly inexplicable: having already replaced his murdered queen with Kiya, one of the royal concubines, he then decided to replace his capital city of Amarna too. Once again venturing into the deserts north of Thinis, further even than the Ankh, he found a desolate valley caged on all sides by impassable cliffs. Akhenaten declared this place the perfect site for his new capital - the City of the Sun God. The construction was a massive undertaking, even greater than that of the Ankh, and likely came dangerously close to bankrupting the royal treasury in the process: consisting of a colossal array of temples, monuments and statues, the centerpiece of the city took the form of a vast Black Pyramid intended to house Akhenaten's mortal remains in the event of his death. Confusingly enough, the Pyramid seemed to directly contravene physical laws, its internal chambers seeming much larger than the external dimensions would suggest, a seemingly bottomless pit situated beneath Akhenaten's mausoleum.

At the time, most had no idea why the Pharaoh chose to bother with such a metropolis in the name of his god when he already had an entire city's worth of temples and solar lodges back in Amarna; however, later evidence suggests that the Dreamers lured Akhenaten to this site in order to take advantage of the many Third Age artifacts that had been buried under the valley, perhaps hoping that these potent technomagic weapons might be able to spread his influence further afield. Lore entries suggest further reasons, one of them extremely troubling: the Bees imply that the whispers of the Aten emanate from the chasm below the burial chamber. This, combined with the sun disc that manifests above the tip of the Pyramid and the presence of Prometheus Initiative teams in the area during the mission "Black Sun, Red Sand", suggests that Akhenaten deliberately built his Pyramid over a Gaia Engine, intending to use it as a means of protecting the source of the Filth - and disabling it when the time came to awaken Aten from his slumber.

However, the time of the Aten's awakening never arrived, and the City of the Sun God was never completed: though the Black Pyramid and a handful of other monuments were finished, the overwhelming majority of the city's buildings and amenities were left in pieces long before entropy set in. Indeed, much of the city did not even have roads at the time construction ground to a halt. In the end, Akhenaten's last great building project came to a premature conclusion when Egypt finally turned on him.

By now, Tutankhamen had sent out a call to all who had been abused and disenfranchised under his father's reign, rallying them to a banner of revolution: priests, warriors, mages, all flocked to the Boy-King's side in a vast rebel army known as the Marya - the "Young Warriors." Ptahmose himself came out of retirement to join them, bringing the eldest and strongest of his children along with him - Thutmose, Nefertari and Hemineter. Together, the Marya and their allies whittled away at Akhenaten's powerbase, winning victory after victory against the Cult of the Aten: one by one, the cities once loyal to the Pharaoh raised the banners of revolution, until even Amarna rejected its architect. In the final battle that followed, Akhenaten was finally slain in combat with the Young Warriors, struck down despite all of the blessings that the Aten had bestowed upon him.

The reparation process was slow and difficult: as Tutankhamen ascended to the throne, he went about restoring the traditional beliefs of Egypt, forbidding the worship of Aten, and issuing pardons to those condemned under his father's reign; the Ankh was sealed shut, the Filth-claimed worshippers buried along with it; the Atenist mummies were forcibly interred in the City of the Sun God; and last but certainly not least, Akhenaten himself was entombed within his Black Pyramid, his works outside the city defaced, and his name abominated as a byword for atrocity and madness - the Pyramid's sole inhabitant known only as "The Black Pharaoh" from that day onward.

Unfortunately, Ptahmose knew that killing their great enemy wouldn't be enough: the rituals of Atenism had already ensured the resurrection of countless mummies before him, and if the Black Pharaoh were to rise again, his deity would soon follow him into the world - bringing the apocalypse with it. Ptahmose needed to prevent Akhenaten from ever awakening from his deathly slumber and hide the city from the outside world, lest his followers attempt to awaken him themselves. So, with a heavy heart, he sacrificed the lives of all seven of his children to create the Sentinels: seven gigantic statues overlooking the abandoned City of the Sun God, each one modeled on one of the traditional Egyptian deities, each one imbued with the soul of one of his children. All of them had duties to perform, either cleansing the valley of Filth or simply preventing the city from ever being discovered; together, the unified voices of the Sentinels formed a hymn that would keep the Black Pharaoh suppressed and his power weakened.

Thus, with the Sentinels watching over the land and the cursed valley sealed off, it was believed that the Cult of the Aten was gone forever.

A Slumber of Centuries

However, Atenism was not entirely destroyed: despite the best efforts of the Marya, they couldn't erase every last trace of the cult from Egypt: the mortal followers of Aten were much harder to detect, and unlike the Filth-infected worshippers at the Ankh and the mummified cultists of Akhenaten's honor guard, they couldn't be confined to tombs and caverns by magical wards. Several human members of the cult, having avoided being touched by the supernatural, escaped the Marya's notice and went into hiding in the backwaters of Egypt. When the great city of Thinis finally collapsed into ruin and the village of al-Merayah was built upon its ruins, the Atenists concealed themselves among the newly-settled townsfolk, meeting only in secret and practicing their blasphemous rites strictly behind closed doors. Though they were within walking distance of locations like the Ankh and the City of the Sun God, these holy sites were still barred to them, leaving the cultists with little else to do but carry on with their day-to-day lives, keeping the worship of Aten alive through word of mouth and traditions passed on from father to son - in the hope that they might one day serve the Sun God again.

Beyond the borders of Egypt, the Dreamers found new servants among new religions, from the Roman faith in Sol Invictus to the Mayan belief in the Fifth Sun; however, few if any of them reached the same heights as Atenism had, though both came close to unearthing Gaia Engines in Transylvania and Maine, respectively. When it was forced out of Rome by the rise of Christianity, Sol Invictus even found sanctuary in Egypt, not far from the Ankh; though they tried to imitate their noble forebears among the Atenists, their attempts at creating mummified vessels for the Dreamers came to naught and their efforts to release their gods from captivity failed - as did their humble colony. In the end, the city of Sol Glorificus went the same way as the Ankh and the Pharaoh's capital before them - lost amidst the sands of the deserts, its inhabitants entombed in a prison of their own making, patiently waiting for the day when they could rise again.

Centuries passed, and the once-mighty defenders of Egypt grew lax: though the Marya passed on their traditions to the next generation of defenders, they could not detect the Atenists hiding in al-Merayah, nor could they expand too broadly; as the modern times dawned, armed guerrillas wandering the desert were not looked upon so charitably, and the Marya had to keep their numbers low in order to avoid the the attentions of mundane authorities. Meanwhile, the Sentinels also began faltering in their duties: having kept watch over the Black Pyramid for millennia, quite a few of them took to squabbling among themselves out of cabin fever, frustrations over their inability to leave boiling over into bilious arguments; others succumbed to despair over the mortal lives they had been forced to abandon, their grief driving them to distraction. Though their song kept the Black Pharaoh suppressed within his tomb, their ancillary duties were left unfinished - including the work of keeping the city hidden from mortal eyes.

Akhenaten

Pharaoh Akhenaten as a mummy.

As such, when an earthquake revealed one of the secret entrances to the City of the Sun God in 2012, the Sentinels acted too little and too late to stop the locals from investigating: by the time they realized something was wrong, an Orochi research team had already invaded the area and began stealing artifacts - including one of the Songs of the Sentinels. Without the song, the mechanisms keeping Akhenaten suppressed finally failed; deep within the Black Pyramid, Akhenaten stirred in his tomb, unable to leave but just awake enough to reach out to the minds of his followers, just as the Dreamers had reached out to him over three thousand years ago.

Secretly rejoicing in the rebirth of their messiah, the Cult of the Aten set out to rebuild their numbers: led by local merchant Abdel Daoud and supported by the mysterious supplier Berihun, they went about gathering new recruits from all over al-Merayah, some of them willingly, most of them not. Indeed, many future cultists were simply kidnapped from their beds and dragged before the secret altars to Aten for conversion; others still were gathered through the wells and date farms that Daoud owned, exposed to the Filth through tainted food and drink. One way or another, all of them were infected through the Living Oil of the Dreamers and the whispers of the Aten, their minds dissolved by chemical indoctrination, leaving only fanatical loyalty to the Sun Disk and a fervent desire to see the world burn. In a matter of weeks, the cult expanded its numbers by the thousands, and began making alliances: one of these was with the ancient mummy Säid, a representative of the Kingdom crime syndicate, offering him substantial profit opportunities in exchange for weaponry. Säid, unaware of the danger, agreed to their terms.

Meanwhile, the Dreamers had been met with newfound success: having corrupted the cult of the Morninglight to their worship, their new servants looked for a means of destroying their enemies before setting out to release their masters from captivity. Eventually, they found it in the form of a Third Age Class-1 device - unwittingly supplied by Säid and transported to Tokyo by the Phoenician Brotherhood: converted into a bomb, the device was detonated close to Orochi Tower, sending a vast wave of Filth spreading throughout the subways, infecting Kaidan district and threatening to spread to the rest of Tokyo.

Recognizing the chaos wrought in Tokyo as the doing of their master, the Cult of the Aten once again rejoiced, many of the setting out on a great pilgrimage to the City of the Sun God with the express goal of releasing the Black Pyramid and paving the way for Aten's arrival on Earth. The rest remained in al-Merayah to consolidate control over the region with the intent expanding their reach to the rest of Egypt.

Black Sun, Red Sand

It is at this point in the story that the game truly begins. Following the mission to Solomon Island, players are sent to Egypt in order to investigate the unrest brewing near al-Merayah - and how it can be exploited by their chosen faction. By now, the Council of Venice has started investigating the problem as well, but with the Council too tied in red tape to support their lone agent on the scene, they've called in support from the Big Three.

Players arrive to find al-Merayah under siege from within and without: the Marya have arrived as well to defend the village and have barricaded the gates as best as they can, but while they can easily gun down any Atenists trying to break in or climb over the walls, dealing with the cultists hiding inside the village is nowhere near as easy. Though other Marya platoons have arrived to help, they are still outnumbered by the Atenists; the most they can do is block the roads and seal the area, ensuring that the cult cannot spread any further.

Unfortunately, the cult is no longer restricted to mortal operatives: thanks to Orochi tampering, the Ankh has been reopened, unleashing both its long-trapped inhabitants and a horde of Filth-infected Orochi personnel; Sol Glorificus is now infested with the awakened mummies of another ancient sun cult; vast golems have arisen from the sands of the desert to terrorize the locals; ghouls have swarmed into the area to feed off the corpses; vast fissures of molten rock have been opened in the deserts to the north, unleashing a horde of flame spirits and magma golems, all calling down great fireballs from the sky... and last but not least, the Filth has begun to gather in such devastating quantities that the local river has dried up for good - and Kirsten Geary implies that it may also cause the valley to eventually collapse in on itself.

In between doing errands for the Marya, for Council agent Amparo Osorio, for the repentant Säid, for the local Oxford research team, and for just about everyone else in al-Merayah, players get to work on tracking down the source of the cultists. Following the indoctrinated villagers to their hidden temple, they finally uncover the leaders of the cult, Abdel Daoud and Berihun: the relationship between the two is complex and remarkably tenous, for though Daoud is supposedly the prophet of the cult and the intermediary between Akhenaten and his worshippers, Berihun appears to be pulling Daoud's strings - often threatening to cut off supplies to the cult if certain tasks are not completed. To date, it is uncertain who Berihun really is, for though he appears to support the rise of Aten and the release of the Dreamers, he is clearly an outsider to the cult. Nonetheless, while Daoud gives sermons or enjoys frequent coffee breaks in his secluded townhouse, Berihun roams the streets of al-Merayah, stealing, assassinating and occasionally making bargains with local faction representatives.

It is during one of these eavesdropped meetings - with Säid, who pointedly severs ties with the Atenists - that the players become privy to a major attack on the Marya encampments. Once they have successfully averted the attack, players are pointed in the general direction of the Oxford researchers, who - with the aid of clues unearthed from the neighboring dig sites - are able to direct them to the hidden entrance to the City of the Sun God.

Greeted by the immortal Ptahmose, the players are immediately set to work on uniting the voices of the Sentinels to suppress the rise of the Aten and open the way to the Back Pyramid. Eventually following the trail of clues to the now-abandoned Orochi Camp, players are able to return the stolen Song to the Sentinels and finally open the Pyramid's gates. Inside the ancient tomb, they are immediately confronted by a vast army of Atenists led by Abdel Daoud; the battle does not initially appear to be winnable, but at the last minute, reinforcements from both the Marya and the Orochi Group arrive to turn the tide, allowing the player the opportunity to hurry past them into the Black Pharaoh's inner sanctum.

After a grueling battle with Akhenaten, during which the Sentinels frequently lend the players their strength, the Black Pharaoh is killed for the second time, this time apparently suppressed for good. Sadly, Orochi security personnel knock out the players before they can retrieve Akhenaten's staff.

The Last Train to Cairo

With the situation in Egypt reportedly resolved, players are dispatched elsewhere for the time being, dealing with the vampire army gathering in Transylvania and the disappearance of Tyler Freeborn in Solomon Island. However, Issue #6 reveals that the Atenists are still active despite the final death of Akhenaten, and are now emerging in greater numbers than ever before: Marya resistance fighters are being kidnapped all over the valley, new leaders are emerging to fill the vacancy left by the Black Pharaoh, and rumors suggest that the cult have found something that might give them an edge again their opponents in the Big Three.

After receiving introductory mission from Marya explosives expert Nassir, players follow the trail of clues back to a packing plant owned by Abdel Daoud; infiltrating the building, they descend into a series of underground tunnels hidden beneath the complex: here the Atenists keep their Marya captives until they are ready for interrogation - and it is also where the players are lured into an empty cell and locked inside.

Daoud promptly appears before them, revealing that he has ascended to the position of cult leader, now receiving orders directly from the Aten itself; already in line to receive the blessings of his patrons, he has been promised immortality as a reward for continued success. For now, Daoud elects to leave the players alive: quite apart from the fact that the players will simply reappear elsewhere if killed, he also mysteriously remarks that "a dead bee creates no honey". For now, he simply doses the player with a gas that temporarily nullifies their powers and renders them unconscious, before simply leaving them to it.

Regaining consciousness some time later, players are forced to fight their way through the prison with their bare hands, eventually confronting the Cult's chief torturer, Saddur, fresh from beating a Marya captive almost to death. Though Saddur is a dangerous and formidable opponent, players are able to best him in combat and impale him on a length of rebar. The dying Marya operative reveals that the Atenists have indeed found something destructive, and "it" must not leave Egypt, pointing you in the direction of Säid before quietly expiring.

Eventually, Säid explains that the thing the cult discovered is actually another Class 1 device: having witnessed the chaos that just one of these devices unleashed on Tokyo, they intend to replicate the disaster in the name of the Aten; to that end, the cultists are loading it onto train bound for Cairo, intending to ship it to London - headquarters of the Templars. Worse still, they have left behind the device's protective ark, which might just result in the artifact exploding while still aboard the train. Already hell-bent on erasing his part in the Tokyo bombing from his resume, Säid has no overwhelming desire to see it repeated, and he agrees to help you find the protective ark.

After uncovering the ark with the aid of a Third Age Time Tomb, players are hastily recruited to stop the Atenist train before it reaches Cairo; pursuing the freight train in a jeep for a time, players leap aboard the train itself and begin fighting their way across the carriages, killing several dozen cultists along the way. Though Daoud puts up an impressive fight - even making use of the magical powers provided by Aten - he is ultimately defeated and kicked off the train, presumably to his death.

However, the Marya are unable to find his body, leading Nassir to speculate that "he is waiting for sequel".

Structure and Hierarchy

To outsiders, the modern Atenists appear to be little more than mindless zombies, endlessly chanting the name of their chosen deity while destroying anything recognized as a threat, pausing only to gather their mortal remains into burning totems in the name of the Aten; even the leading priests of the cult seem divorced from reality, only capable of reciting the ominous sermons of the cult. For the most part, this perception is accurate: since their resurgence, the Cult of the Aten has been whittling away at those of their number still capable of independent thought; by the start of "Black Sun, Red Sand", the only Atenists still capable of individuality are Berihun, Daoud, Akhenaten's honor guard, and the Black Pharaoh himself. As such, perhaps in memory of the days when Atenism still ruled a kingdom of its own, a new hierarchy has emerged within the cult.

At the lowest levels are the baseline cultists, the soldiers of the Aten: easily recognized by their ashen skin and the black tears leaking continuously from their luminous red eyes, these individuals have been indoctrinated into a life of servitude, their minds effectively erased by microdoses of the Filth. The brain-destroying effects of the Aten's whispering have been so pronounced that most of them can barely speak except to shout Aten's name as they attack - and die.

Above them are the priests of the cult: tasked with gathering the faithful for indoctrination and other rituals in praise of Aten, they are capable of greater degrees of thought that the other cultists, if only for the sake of their ceremonial duties. However, they have still been effectively lobotomized by the Filth, and can only speak in demented sermons to Aten (see the quotes section for more). Many of them are capable of performing magic, and can often be found presiding over major operations in the City of the Sun God.

The mummies of the cult are provided a level of prestige all their own, for thoughthey have no official place within the modern Atenists, they are still afforded a considerable degree of respect. After all, most of them were alive during Akhenaten's heyday, including such figures as King Rib-Hadda and the concubine Kiya, and as such, the mortal cultists do not disturb them - not even the relatively mindless Vessels of Aten.

At the head of the cult are a trinity of ruling figures: Berihun, Abdel Daoud and Akhenaten himself. The exact degree of influence each one has over the cult varies over the course of the Atenists' story arc: though Akhenaten leads the cult, he cannot leave his sarcophagus until the end of "Black Sun, Red Sand" and though Daoud leads the cult in his name, Berihun uses his position as supplier to give the orders. However, when Akhenaten is killed for the final time, Berihun inexplicably vanishes, allowing Daoud to take center stage.

Quotes

Aten, Aten, Aten, Aten, Aten, Aten...
~ The signature warcry of the cult
With your light, burn away all hateful things!
~ A sermon of the cult, as recorded by the Bees
I was blinded by your radiance, and yet I still see...
~ A possible sermon overheard by the players
See how your radiance burns my skin. I am blessed!
~ Another sermon recorded by the Bees
Show me another sign, master; I shall scrabble in Filth for it...
~ Another eavesdropped sermon, unwittingly revealing the source of indoctrination
I give you my eyes, and I see! I see! It is beautiful!
~ Another recorded sermon
Come out, come forth in the desert. Come join us.
~ Atenist recruiter

Gallery

Trivia

  • Akhenaten was a real pharaoh and the cult of the Aten was indeed the ruling faith in Egypt for a time; of course, neither were responsible for as many deaths in this version of history, and were likely only guilty of religious oppression and economic mismanagement - Akhenaten's aggressive construction programs being notoriously costly.
  • Likewise, Rib-Hadda and Kiya were real historical figures as well, the former becoming famous for having written over sixty letters begging Akhenaten for military aid, much to the Pharaoh's annoyance.
  • Aten's in-game symbol is mostly consistent with the real-world emblem of the Sun Disk used during Akhenaten's reign, all other representations of the deity being forbidden save for the sun and its rays.
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