It wasn’t often that Alex had cause to bless the place she was born and raised, but the fact that French was a natural second language for her made being in Paris easy to cope with. She had spent all Wednesday tracking down leads in the national archives. Nick had called later on Wednesday afternoon to bring her up to speed and tell her what time they’d be arriving in the city. A second call early Thursday morning had her retracing her steps to the archives to hunt any references to blue skinned men associated with darkness.
This curse is .. more like a plague, she reflected. Like the plagues visited on the Egyptians by Moses .. although that has some scientific theory behind it now. So .. if I look for other instances of plague, I may have more luck than if I look for blue skinned men because, so far, no one’s written anything about them.
In London, Anna was having much the same thoughts.
“I wanna go back to the British Museum,” she said. “We could be looking for the wrong thing here.”
They waited patiently, even tiredly, for her explanation. It had been a brutal night and no one had slept much before three thirty.
“Think about it,” Anna invited. “The scribes wrote everything. We’ve found .. the equivalent of the cost index inside tombs. Lists of materials and how much they cost, the hours it took an’ the number of men engaged on the task. If they’d seen it, they would have written it down somewhere – a blue skinned man isn’t something you can shrug off with a slight remark an’ then forget. Even a persistent black cloud hovering in an area would have had the priests an’ magicians, the astronomers, you name it, rushing to investigate an’ write down. But no one has so maybe we’re looking for the wrong thing. We’re being too literal.”
“The artists painted a blue skinned man,” Derek pointed out. “He must have been there.”
Anna pursed her lips. “Okay. I am gonna go way out on a limb here. Turn my back on everything my common sense says I should take as gospel. What if everyone who saw the blue skinned guy died from exposure to him?” she asked and was rewarded by three thoughtful expressions. “This is the scene, the scenario. The Valley of the Kings was not yet the Valley of the Kings. This .. entity was roaming loose, killing at will. Someone decided to shut it away. They excavated a tomb, started to decorate it but the thing turned up early. They lured it inside and sealed it in but, before anyone could get back to a center of civilization to write it down, they died .. an’ the story died with them. What we should be looking for are .. plagues. Numbers of people dying for no apparent reason. Maybe it could be disguised in that they wrote the gods were angry with them; maybe they thought the gods themselves were killing people.” Anna studied them. “Good idea? Bad idea?”
“Smart idea,” Nick commented. “I’ll come with you.”
“Very well,” Derek agreed. “Rachel and I will return George’s papers to the Institute, then go on to the hospital.”
It was late at night on Angel Island and most of the house was bedded down. Two were still awake, however.
Alopex studied her. “You have no power at all? How does it feel?”
Merlin hesitated. “You can’t begin to understand, Jon. It feels really weird. You know how you can talk things out with yourself? How the inner spirit is always focused? I’ve lost that. Aquila is silenced an’ shut away. My thoughts are all over the place. I find it hard to concentrate. An’ I feel vulnerable. I get scared.”
“But it’s worth it?”
“I have to hope it is.”
“I see why I have to go to Egypt with Murray. You can’t go. It’s way too risky.”
“I don’t just have to think about myself now,” she agreed. “I have a growing baby to consider too. Nick’s right. I have to stay behind. I don’t want to. I hate the idea that he might get in trouble an’ I’m not there .. but I couldn’t do anything even if I was.” She looked up. “Keep him safe, Jon. Bring him home to me.”
“I promise,” Alopex nodded.
“To be honest, Dr Corrigan, we couldn’t find a cause of death. Strictly, in those cases, it should go to the coroner for inquest. Witnesses can be called .. but the witnesses to what occurred in Egypt were all dead. The police questioned everyone at the various scenes and they said the victims simply keeled over. We had to put something on the death certificate.”
Rachel nodded. “You ran the usual tox screens for foreign substances?”
“Naturally. There was nothing. Seeing as they’d all recently returned from Egypt, we ran more thorough than normal tox screens, searching for exotic pathogens. There was still nothing. We had four dead bodies which should not have been dead.”
He paused. “Do you have any ideas, Dr Corrigan?”
Rachel gave an uneasy smile. “It’s all cut an’ dried, as far as the official record is concerned – ”
“I’m aware of that. I know we .. cut corners, that, if it got out, I could be reprimanded, even struck off.” He shook his head and shrugged. “But I had to look at what was in front of me, Dr Corrigan. I had to balance the scales. Two grieving families wanting answers. And two more bodies with no family at all. I believed, and my colleagues concurred, that, if we had refused to issue a death certificate, if it had gone to a coroner’s inquest, those bodies would be in the morgue forever .. because there is no reason why those people died.” He watched her and the tall, silent man at her side. “I can’t change what’s on the death certificates but .. for my own peace of mind, if you can shed any light on this, I would appreciate it.”
Rachel glanced at Derek. “We think it’s possible that they believed they were the victims of a curse,” Derek said.
The pathologist slowly nodded. “The human mind is capable of a lot. It can help us overcome huge obstacles. It follows then that it can also cause us to self destruct. The death wish is, unfortunately, common knowledge. Usually, it affects the elderly, recently bereaved. They .. give up. People say they die of a broken heart. So I can understand how such a belief might have affected them. It’s rare for a death wish to affect the young though .. but a curse … Puts a different complexion on it.”
“We had to rule out any medical factors, obvious or otherwise,” Rachel added. “An’ you have just done that. I thought maybe there could’ve been a slight chance that something was overlooked or misinterpreted. I can see it hasn’t.” She held out her hand. “Thank you for your time, doctor, an’ for agreeing to see us at such short notice.”
“My pleasure. It’s always good to consult with my American colleagues. Take care, safe journey,” he said, nodding at Derek and shaking Rachel’s hand.
Ten minutes later, they were outside in bright sunshine and breathing relatively fresh air. The disinfectant and formaldehyde of the morgue had been replaced with the exhaust fumes of traffic.
Rachel looked at her watch. “It’s ten thirty. What do you want to do? Go visit with Paul or head over to the British Museum? Or maybe just go straight to the airport?”
“Let’s find a park and sit down for a while,” Derek suggested, surprising her.
“Do we have time for that? We can relax at the airport an’ on the plane.”
“I know. But it’s a nice, sunny day, not too cold. Fifteen minutes to enjoy it .. isn’t so much to ask.”
“Okay,” Rachel agreed, her voice pleased but cautious.
“The plagues came before the exodus, an’ the exodus is widely assumed to have taken place during the reign of Rameses the Great,” Alex said under her breath. “Rameses the Great is Rameses the Second, builder of the Ramesseum. New Kingdom.” She leafed carefully thru the old book, wincing at the brittle feel to the pages. “The eighteenth to twentieth dynasties ended in ten fifty BC.” Alex shook her head. “My, but they have a lot of ancient history in Egypt.”
So .. should I look earlier or later? Just because Moses visited plagues on the Egyptians doesn’t mean it was a new phenomenon.
She sat in a basement room at the Louvre, under a single strip light. To one side, Alex had set up her laptop so she could record important facts. The question she’d just asked herself couldn’t be answered but she felt she ought to be doing something while she was on standby.
Alex closed her eyes and put her fingers carefully on the pages. She let her mind go blank. Her left hand trailed to the edge of the book and her thumb nail began to slip down the sides of the sheets. Then it stopped. Alex carefully opened the book at that page and began to read.
Halfway down the left hand page, there was a reference she found intriguing – ‘And in the nineteenth year of the reign of Senusret the third, a darkness fell over the land. The day became as night.’
An eclipse ..? Alex typed the reference into her laptop then looked for more information on Senusret the third.
Senusret, also known as Senwosret or, by the Greeks, Sesostris. A Middle Kingdom pharaoh. The fifth king of the twelfth dynasty, thought to have reigned from around eighteen seventy five to eighteen forty one BC. Succeeded by his son Amenemhet the third, also known as Ammenemes, also twelfth dynasty. Amenemhet is buried under a pyramid at Harawa. Senusret believed to be buried under a pyramid at Dashur. The Valley of the Kings did not yet exist.
She continued to look at other reference materials including astronomical data but there didn’t appear to be any mention of an eclipse in that particular year.
“So,” Alex murmured, “if it wasn’t an eclipse .. what turned the day into night ..?”
“Excuse me?” Nick frowned.
“Locusts. When they swarm, they appear as a black cloud. They can, literally, turn day into night,” Professor Garner said. “They are voracious feeders. They do the equivalent to crops what piranha do to living flesh. Strip it. Locusts were regarded as a plague. People died, not from locust attack but from the starvation which followed their fields being decimated. Bread was the staple food.”
Nick glanced at Anna and saw that she was swallowing this whole. It was her reasonable, scientific explanation.
“Were these attacks regular?” Nick asked.
“There was no pattern. It wasn’t as if they swarmed every year or every other year. The Egyptians had a very orderly society, Mr Boyle. They kept amazingly detailed and accurate records. If it was noticed that the attacks happened every other year, for example, they would have planned for it. The fact they didn’t indicates the swarms occurred randomly but regularly enough to be recognized as a plague.”
Anna nodded. “Pre-New Kingdom dynasties, are there records to show this plague as occurring?”
“We’re looking prior to the Valley of the Kings.”
“Ah. Yes is the answer. Whole swathes of the population wiped out by hunger.”
“But .. these locusts,” Nick began, “they continued .. all thru history?”
“Definitely. They can still be a problem today. Not in such devastating style though. We have developed pesticides.”
“Is there any other mention of darkness plaguing the land?”
“Nick, he’s just told us,” Anna interrupted.
“Do you have a minute?” Nick asked. “Excuse us a second.” He took her elbow and walked her a few steps away. “Think about it,” he invited. “The darkness which was so bad it had to be trapped forever in a tomb. Murray said the tomb was empty of everything. No dead locust bodies. If it was locusts, the threat wouldn’t have continued.”
“Maybe it was symbolic. A gesture by the pharaoh to the people.”
Nick regarded her. “George Daly was killed by a vindictive locust ghost? I can’t see that. It’s a neat, plausible explanation but it doesn’t fit the facts, Anna. Where’s the blue skinned guy in all this? You’re clutching at straws.”
She flushed. “Maybe I am but I find it easier to accept than .. an entity.”
“I know. Easy doesn’t mean right.” He turned back. “Professor Garner, is there any other mention of .. people dying in big numbers?”
He thought about it. “A few, yes. Mostly legend though. Act of the gods. Hathor is reputed to have gone on rampaging massacres from time to time.”
“But, in historical fact, are there any references to what might have been considered natural disasters simply because there’s no other way to describe them?” Nick pressed.
“Yes. During the Middle Kingdom, an entire town was discovered dead. They think it was a poisoned well, but even the Egyptians weren’t sure.”
“Where was this?” Anna asked, her voice heavily reluctant.
“Upper Egypt,” Professor Garner answered. “Near the border with Nubia.”
“I spoke with Peri last night,” Derek announced.
“I know, I was there.” Rachel watched the pigeons.
She glanced round. “Oh?”
“She confirmed the appearance of darkness, Rachel. Profelis has spoken with George and Gayle Daly, and the others. When George first broke the seal and shone a flashlight inside, he saw darkness. When I was at the Institute yesterday, I went to the auditorium. I saw .. darkness when George collapsed and died. Like a living cloud.” He frowned, his chin tucking into his chest. “I can’t explain it. It seems that I should recognize this .. cloud and yet I don’t. Peri said I should speak with you. I have to .. understand this before I go anywhere near the tomb. I have to know the enemy. I think what Peri means is for you to hypnotize me, take me back and unlock this memory.”
“Hence the quiet, sunny park bench in the middle of London.”
“We may have to take it in stages. Best to start as soon as possible. And .. this is something I would prefer Anna not to see.” Derek’s chin lowered even more until he was staring at his shoes. “She is already having a tough time with all this. Entities and visions … Hypnosis and regression would be demanding too much.”
“Okay,” Rachel agreed. “All you have so far is a .. a feeling that you should recognize the cloud. No .. fleeting memory that just needs to be pinned down?”
He shook his head. “Just a feeling, and even that is .. so faint. Like an itch which, when you go to scratch, goes away.”
Rachel took a coin from her pocket and held it up. “Focus on this. Listen to my voice … ”
The sun glinted on the coin in regular pulses of light as Rachel moved it slightly. Derek’s gaze focused then unfocused.
“Can you hear me?” Rachel asked.
“Yes … ”
“Move back, back thru time. Move slowly. Think about darkness. Search for a memory of it.”
The pigeons moved closer, hopeful for a snack, then, disappointed, walked away again.
“Yes … ”
“Take a step outside your body. Observe your surroundings. Tell me where you are.”
“I’m on the airplane. I’m asleep. I’m dreaming.”
“Are you dreaming?”
“I look like I am but I’m not. I’m seeing … ”
“Go back into your body. Tell me what you see.”
“I’m in Egypt. I’m watching George break down the door. He’s shining a flashlight into the hole. The earth is silent now. It dares not cry a warning. Dark, dark, doom and death … The darkness is escaping. It’s going into each body. Invading them.”
“Why didn’t you remember this?” Rachel asked softly.
“Anna woke me before I was ready. Before it ended … ”
Rachel bit at her lip. “There’s more to your vision?”
A frown flickered. “Yes … I cannot tell if it is past or a warning of what is to come. The earth is dying. Water boils away. People are choking, unable to breathe. It’s very hot … Darkness is covering the world. And now I am not alone. Three others stand with me. Thoth, Horus, Anubis. I stand in the heart of the triangle. I ask them a question. They say .. the trust has been betrayed, the pact is broken. I ask them what I must do. Thoth puts his hand upon my shoulder and I am forced to my knees. The weight of the world is upon me … I am chosen. I ask again what I must do .. but they do not answer, they only leave me … I wake, and I forget.”
Rachel felt cold despite the sun. “Derek, listen to me. I want you to come forward again. Come to the present day. When I count to three, you’ll wake up and remember everything. Do you understand?”
“One .. two .. three.”
He let out a long sigh and blinked. For a moment, his face was wiped of expression then Derek swiveled his head to look at her.
“My God, Rachel .. what do I do?”
“Nubia?” Nick queried as they went to find the rental car.
“Yeah, a long way to the south,” Anna replied. “Nowhere near the Valley of the Kings.”
Nick thought about it then shrugged philosophically. “Another piece to the puzzle .. if it’s even relevant. C’mon, we’d better get moving. Heathrow’s a fair distance an’ this traffic isn’t exactly flying by.”
“Nubia,” Anna repeated as she picked up her pace by lengthening her stride. “Nubia was an old enemy. They fought wars with Egypt over a very long period. The Nubians were dark skinned. Maybe, in a certain light, they could have appeared blue. Darkness … ” She tried to put them together. “I know, I’m clutching at straws again.”
“Don’t beat yourself up,” Nick commented. “I’m a skeptic too but I’ve seen too much to be a complete skeptic. There are more weird an’ wonderful things in this world than you can imagine, an’ there are even more down an’ dirty things. Worst nightmares don’t even come close.” He grinned quickly at her. “The locusts were a good idea but they didn’t fit. I would love to tell Derek it was down to locusts. He wouldn’t believe me an’ he’d just send me out to start again.”
“There could have been locusts,” she said wistfully.
“Sure, an’ I bet there was .. but not in this situation.”
“We’re looking at .. down an’ dirty.”
“Oh yeah,” he confirmed.
Derek was curiously quiet at the airport, and on the flight to Paris. Rachel made sure the others left him alone by diverting their attention away from him and onto her. She updated them on her conversation with the pathologist. More pieces to the puzzle, yes, but they were just pieces of sky. They added nothing to the picture except to fill in space.
At Orly, Alex was waiting for them and she broke into a broad smile as they came thru immigration.
Derek snapped back to his usual self as if Alex’s voice had pressed a button. “Alex! You look well.”
“You look tired,” she commented.
“We haven’t really stopped since we left San Francisco,” Rachel explained.
“Well, tonight, you can rest up, shower, eat, get a good night’s sleep. I’ve gotten rooms for you all at the same hotel I’m using.”
“Great,” Nick smiled.
“You must be Anna,” Alex said.
“Yeah. An’ you’re Alex.” Anna shook Alex’s hand. “Some mystery this is, huh?”
“I think I may be able to shed some light,” Alex replied.
Later, when they’d eaten, showered and caught their breath, they met up in Alex’s room.
“I figured that, as the French had explored Egypt, I could take a look at what material they have in the national archives. But I got the best result at the Louvre today. First, let me hear what you’ve turned up. I may have nothing to add.”
“I doubt that very much,” Derek responded.
Alex listened, engrossed, as Murray’s story was told again and then they each gave a full progress report. It was the first time Derek and Rachel learned of the locust theory and the destroyed town near the Nubian border. As Nick had warned, Derek instantly dismissed the locust idea.
“Ah,” Alex said and smiled. “I can add to the Nubia scenario.”
They all sat forward.
“There’s this really old book in one of the basements at the Louvre and I found one reference which sparked my interest. It said ‘And in the nineteenth year of the reign of Senusret the third, a darkness fell over the land. The day became as night.’ Well, that could be interpreted as a locust swarm but the scribes would have said locusts. They didn’t. They couldn’t explain it any more than they did. I thought it might have been an eclipse but there weren’t any that year or in the five years either side of the alleged year. So I checked out Senusret the third. He had carried out extensive campaigns against Nubia and had set up a number of fortresses along the border to stop any incursion by Nubia into Egypt. The Egyptians didn’t fight clean wars. They killed the men, took the women and children, slaughtered livestock and poisoned wells.”
Derek’s eyes narrowed. “Senusret the third. He was .. twelfth dynasty, yes?”
“Right,” Alex nodded. She met his steady gaze for a long moment then looked away.
“I’m about beat,” Anna announced. “I’m used to long days an’ short nights but I don’t get all the traveling in between. Can we pick this up in the morning?”
“Of course,” Derek promptly agreed. “The Luna Foundation is somewhat accustomed to burning the midnight oil – ”
“An’ the oil of all the other hours,” Nick cut in.
“ – but even we should .. make the most of our chances – to sleep, to recharge, to .. consider what we’ve heard.” He rose. “Shall I walk you to your room?”
“I don’t need a nursemaid, Derek,” Anna replied. “Later, everyone.”
“G’night, Anna,” Rachel called and Nick waved a hand. Alex smiled and nodded.
Derek went with her to the door and opened it. “Sleep well.”
“Guaranteed .. for once,” Anna said and wandered wearily down the hallway.
Derek carefully closed the door again and returned to his place. “Now we can talk,” he said.
Eight in the evening in Paris was eleven in the morning in San Francisco. Murray was packing his bags. He had his seat reserved and he was just about ready to go.
In the library, Profelis, Alopex and Merlin were doggedly reading pages and pages of history.
“The guy who wrote this embodies the old saying dust to dust,” Merlin remarked, her chin propped in one hand, her eyes hooded. “My God but he seriously lacked a life.”
Alopex pushed away the thick volume he was attempting to read. “Maybe we’re thinking the wrong way.”
“Go for it,” she invited.
“We’re working with books because it’s an activity Murray can help us with. He isn’t here right now. What do we have in our history that could help?”
Merlin’s eyes narrowed even more. “Nothing about blue skinned guys … Several instances of demons whose natural state here is smoke, fumes, mist an’ fog, invariably black or dark colored. Instances of said nebulous conditions wiping out general areas of population .. a few. Area in question … Yeah.”
Profelis leaned forward. “Can you recall details?”
“An’ your parents never gave you history lessons?” she retorted.
“Not as detailed as your parents,” he said cheerfully. “I wasn’t one of the first family.”
Merlin eased back. “Egypt, circa eighteen fifty nine, eighteen sixty BC. We hadn’t been around very long then, only a thousand years or so, an’ hardly any of us had gone into Egypt. But there are reports of a massacre down south, cause unknown. Could be linked to the disappearance of a fairly high ranking devil called .. oh, damn, what’s his name ..? Azimanthet? Something like that anyway. He hasn’t been seen since .. around that time and he became nebulous to travel, only materializing when he had to feed.”
“Wasn’t he originally based in what’s now Sudan?” Alopex queried.
“Which, back then, was Nubia, right?” Profelis ventured.
“And was he blue?”
“There are no pictures of him an’ he hasn’t been seen since. I don’t know, Profelis. He could’ve been. He could’ve been yellow with green spots.”
“Nubia is south of Egypt,” Alopex pointed out. “Nubia was often at war with Egypt. They could have summoned him, offered him free rein over the border to take down the enemy.”
“Or they might have suggested he try over the border to stop him terrorizing their own land,” Profelis went on.
“Sure. An’ I said could be linked to,” Merlin pointed out.
“Can you go ask someone?” Profelis suggested.
“Down at the library maybe? I can’t go anywhere, remember?”
He blushed. “I’m sorry. I forgot.”
“We have to figure this out. But at least it’s a lead. Who was in charge around that time?” she asked Alopex.
He consulted his list. “Guy called Senusret.”
Nick swallowed. “Chosen?”
Derek nodded. “It does tend to put pressure on me. The weight of the world is .. rather heavy. Symbolic, naturally, but it was enough to drive me to my knees. If we cannot find this entity and cage it again, it means the end of everything. Darkness will cover the earth, water will boil away. People will choke to death.”
“But .. we have a little time, right?” Nick persisted. “This ‘end of the world’ scenario isn’t gonna happen overnight.” He looked round. “Is it?”
“I don’t know,” Derek replied. “If the sun doesn’t rise tomorrow, I’d say we’re in trouble.”
They smiled but it was weak.
“Wait a second, go back a little,” Alex requested. “What pact? You said ‘the pact is broken.’ What does it mean?”
“Some kinda contract, I guess,” Rachel replied, “between these three gods an’ .. someone or something else.”
“The entity?” Alex frowned.
“Or whoever put the thing in the tomb,” Nick suggested. “A hit man.”
going back a long way in history,” Alex remarked. “A long time before even the Legacy was around. Hit men are a modern invention. Anyway, what kind of assassin would take on
a contract like that?”
“An Enforcer,” Derek replied. “I know that, when the Legacy first went into Egypt, the Enforcers met them. They were there a long time before us.”
“So .. way back, someone like Peri trapped this thing in a tomb ..?” Rachel queried. She shook her head. “That isn’t how she works. We’ve all seen it. She kills, she doesn’t trap. An’ don’t tell me this thing couldn’t be killed.”
Nick’s mind was racing ahead. “What’s behind the false door?” he asked quietly. “What if an Enforcer deliberately let himself be sealed in there with the entity, with a view to keeping it occupied while the wall was bricked up an’ then killing it .. only he died at its hands? We could find a skeleton behind that wall.”
“We could,” Derek agreed heavily. “Or we may not. We’re running before we can walk. Nick, call Peri. See if she can answer any of these questions. Alex, you wanted to add something to your earlier report.”
“Yes. You noticed.” She smiled at him. “Senusret is probably the best recorded pharaoh of the Middle Kingdom. He was very tall, way over six feet in height, and ruled for maybe thirty seven years. But it was his military campaigns which set him apart. His predecessors hadn’t been active in Nubia and Senusret began a series of big campaigns against the old enemy. They occurred in years six, eight, ten, sixteen and nineteen of his reign – or so the experts say. He built more fortresses along the border and extended the border farther south than any ruler before him. However, in that last campaign, his efforts didn’t go so well. Apparently, the level of the Nile dropped and his army had to retreat. Later, Senusret the third was made a god in Nubia.”
Alex fell silent and no one spoke while they each attempted to fit the facts they’d discovered into some kind of logical pattern.
“Nubia’s down south,” Nick began. “There’s a dead settlement near the border, maybe due to a poisoned well .. which this king was apparently okay doing .. but to his own people? A report that darkness covered the land an’ day became night .. an’ this was in the nineteenth year of his reign.”
“The same year the level of the Nile dropped forcing his army to retreat,” Rachel added.
“Could it have dropped because it boiled away?” Alex ventured. “The people in the settlement died from choking maybe?”
“That all fits together but the tomb is miles away north,” Nick pointed out. “What was there at the time?”
“Settlements on the east bank, certainly,” Derek said. “But the Valley of the Kings had yet to be established. It wouldn’t be for another eight hundred or so years.”
“So the tomb was in an empty area of desert,” Rachel reasoned. “Somewhere, buried underground, likely never to be even found let alone disturbed.”
“An’ the pharaoh took care of business,” Nick murmured. “Waging war against domestic enemies. He’d look out for his people. If something was terrorizing them, he’d do something about it.”
“And his reward was to be made a god,” Alex concluded. “And by his enemy. The response of a grateful people?”
“Possibly,” Derek agreed. “Or it could have been the act of a cowed and broken people.”
“But all the rest – ” Nick began.
“Yes. It fits. It makes sense. I’m not denying that,” Derek cut in. “It has certainly provided us with some leads to follow. Alex, good work. You’ve made excellent use of your time. In fact, you’ve all done good work. But, now, I think we should follow Anna’s example and get some sleep. Let it all sink in. See if it still makes sense in the morning.”
They nodded, and suddenly the pace hit them. They’d hardly stopped since leaving San Francisco. Jet lag had been fought and now it was fighting back. What was more, it was fighting dirty.
“Nick, call Peri. See how things are there,” Derek requested. “And ask her some of these questions. The Enforcers are older than the Legacy after all so she may know something.”
“Sure,” Nick agreed.
It was two in the afternoon back on Angel Island. Murray, Alopex and Profelis were hitting the books in the library. Merlin had used her chance to escape to the control room to use the somewhat faster Legacy mainframe system.
Since learning about her pregnancy, she’d cut right back on the cigarettes and stopped drinking alcohol completely. Cigarettes helped her concentrate and, regretfully, she lit one as she worked. Soon, she hoped to stop altogether. For now, though, she had a need. Aquila wasn’t there to chip in with advice. The occasional cigarette had to take her place.
Her cell phone began to beep and she glanced at the display. Smiling, she connected the call.
“Hi, sailor. How you doing?”
“Damn, I was gonna ask you that.”
“I’m fine. Really. Tired .. which is a little stupid seeing as it’s only early afternoon an’ I’m not exactly rushing around. But it was a late night last night an’ I don’t have the stamina I used to have. You?”
“Dead on my feet,” he admitted. “I’m about to hit the rack. Derek wants to know if you guys have any records going back to the Middle Kingdom.”
Merlin frowned. “Why?”
“He had a kinda dream, vision .. he isn’t sure what it was, but, in it, there was reference to a pact being broken.”
“Really.” She sounded surprised and a little impressed. “It’s possible it was with one of us. While Murray was packing his bags earlier, we took the chance to talk it out from our viewpoint. See if there were any .. stories we were told as kids or something in our version of myths an’ legends.”
“Was there?” Nick asked.
“Yeah. Not much detail, unfortunately. We were never into keeping journals like you guys but important stuff got handed down, family to family. Word of mouth. Only ever the bare bones though.”
“You don’t exaggerate, Merli. I understand. Anything you can share?”
“What there is, sure.” She exhaled smoke. “There was – ”
“Are you smoking?”
She hesitated. “Yeah,” she admitted. “I know I shouldn’t, okay, an’ I’ve cut right back. An’ I’m gonna quit, I promise. Don’t shout at me, okay? I’m having a tough time here.”
“I can imagine. Okay, there was .. what?”
“Reports of a massacre down to the south, cause unknown. Around the same time .. within a year or eighteen months, a high ranking devil disappeared from the scene in general. His name was something like Azimanthet. I can’t remember but it’ll come to me. He was of the kind who was nebulous and only became solid to feed. We don’t know where he went, if he was killed or how he was sent away. He was, apparently, based in what’s now Sudan but was, back then, Nubia.”
“Really,” Nick breathed, his voice taut.
“Making sense to you, huh?”
“You could say that, yeah. Anything else?”
“Maybe he did have blue skin but I can’t confirm or deny. I just don’t know. The guys an’ I were guessing as to why, if it is the same devil, he ended up in Egypt. But I can tell you that all this happened during the reign of a pharaoh called Senusret.”
Nick was silent for a moment. “Thanks. Big help. It fits with what we’re finding.”
Merlin stubbed out the cigarette. “You think this devil has been released?”
“It’s starting to look that way.”
“Okay. I’ll see if I can find out any more on this story an’ remember the damn name. Alopex is flying out with Murray tomorrow. I’ll do my best to send some intel with them. Nicky?”
“Be careful, okay? I don’t think it was one of us who made the pact. We wouldn’t have trapped it so someone could come along later an’ set it free by accident. Not our MO.”
“Rachel said the same thing.”
“I can tell you that, being snared like that for such a long time, it’s gonna make the target royally pissed. He’ll be angry as well as nasty.”
“An’ hungry. Dig up what you can,” he told her. “We’ll need all the ammo we can get.”
She nodded. “You got it. Sleep tight.”
“Love you. Take care,” he said and hung up.
“You too,” she sighed.
Merlin sat for a moment, deep in thought, then picked up her phone again. The call was very quick and very local. A few minutes after that, she heard Alopex ask Murray to go to the kitchen and fix some coffee and then she heard a cheerful okay and footsteps. She left the control room and went to close the library doors.
“Evan, when you met with Daly an’ his team yesterday, talk me thru it again. Jon, listen in. You should know this.”
Profelis began before she had returned to the table and sat down. Alopex half closed his eyes and Merlin stared down at the table.
Profelis spoke the facts, repeating entire conversations without adding emotional over or undertones. Emotions colored facts and led to incorrect conclusions being drawn, so he simply removed them and spoke in a flat monotone.
At the end, he shrugged. “That’s what was said. Why did you ask?”
“Something Rachel said before she left,” Merlin answered. “I just spoke with Nick. It’s looking like Azi .. whoever has been released.”
“Then it wasn’t one of us,” Alopex remarked.
“I think we can agree on that one,” Merlin nodded. “It’s most likely the reason we have so little firm information. We were never involved so we don’t know. However, what we do know of this devil is that he was vicious an’ fast. Ruthless. Gave no quarter. Friends, enemies .. made no difference. This demon didn’t comprehend the meaning of the word loyalty. He slaughtered without a first thought, let alone a second. An’ that was back then. What’s he gonna be like after near four thousand years of being stuck in a ten by ten stone box?”
“Even worse,” Alopex commented.
“An’ hungry. Starving,” Profelis added.
Merlin nodded. “Nick just said about being hungry too. So .. why isn’t he feeding?”
“Maybe he’s been weakened. Maybe almost four thousand years has given us a little breathing space now. He needs time to build up his strength.”
“So why isn’t he feeding?” Merlin repeated. “Surely, to build up his strength, he’d feed. So far, all we know is that five people are dead. An’ this is a devil which gorged on entire communities.”
They couldn’t answer.
Merlin got to her feet again. “The reason I asked you to tell us what Daly said yesterday, Evan, is a question we really need to answer before Murray leaves this house. Why is he still alive? You said Daly told you he drove into the desert an’ stopped because it felt right. Okay, the guy’s an archeologist. He may have simply had great instincts. But he didn’t find anything in three years of looking. He got Murray on board an’, within days, he’d found the site. He was there when the tomb was unsealed. He worked in it alongside the others. They’re all dead. Murray’s had nosebleeds. Okay, bad nosebleeds but that’s nothing compared to what the others went thru.”
“He is infested with something,” Profelis replied. “Darkness surrounds and permeates him.”
“Yet it didn’t trigger the door seals here. He came in without stumbling.”
“Were you here? Did you see that?” Alopex asked.
“No, but I assume – ”
“Never assume. Evan, go check the seal on the front door,” Alopex ordered.
Merlin slowly sat down. “You think this thing’s living inside Murray?” she asked.
“It could explain why we haven’t been able to heal him.”
She reached for her cigarettes. “Then him going anywhere is a really bad idea.”
“I agree,” Alopex said quietly. “It means we have to kill him.”