Saturday / Sunday
“It’s Murray,” Merlin answered.
“What about me?” Murray asked warily.
“We’ve all asked the question – why is Murray still alive when everyone else is dead. Murray, I’m sorry. It sounds incredibly blunt an’ insensitive but what else can we think? We know Professor Daly an’ his team are dead. So is Dr al-Nasat. So are a lot of other people.”
“All the native help at the dig site,” Derek volunteered. “Some hotel room staff and a receptionist.”
“We didn’t know about them,” Alopex murmured.
“There’s more?” Derek frowned.
“The hotel staff .. where?” Merlin inquired.
“Here, in Cairo.”
“A different set,” she said to Alopex.
“Peri, explain, please,” Rachel requested, rubbing her chilled arms.
“This .. entity, creature, whatever, is living in a dormant state inside Murray. That’s why he hasn’t died.”
“But I’ve been attacked!” Murray exclaimed.
“We think it’s a side effect, not a full blown attack. The nosebleeds inconvenienced you, Murray. They didn’t kill you.”
“Nosebleeds?” Anna echoed in a faint voice, suddenly remembering the nosebleed Murray had suffered back on Angel Island.
“Really bad ones,” he commented.
“Anna an’ I had a nosebleed today,” Rachel said.
“So did I,” Derek added.
“Not as bad as mine. Mine were all night. They wouldn’t stop.”
“We don’t know why,” Merlin said calmly. “Derek, yours should stop now. As best we can figure it, people are dying because Murray isn’t around. Time an’ distance both play a part. There was a guy on the flight from London to Rio who died suddenly. Checking the passenger manifest, he sat next to Murray. Some room staff at the hotel in Rio where Murray stayed also have died. Someone on the flight from Rio to San Francisco. There could be more.”
Derek’s gaze switched to his friend. “When you left the site and returned to Cairo, where did you stay?”
“The Giza Sheraton. Oh no … ”
“We’ve checked, Derek. I’m affected, so is Andrew. So are you, Rachel an’ Anna. Not Alex – she hasn’t met Murray. Nick may be but his meetings have been short. Those of us who have spent serious time in Murray’s company are at risk. That’s why Andrew an’ I are here. If we’d stayed behind .. we would’ve died.”
“I’m like Typhoid Mary?” Murray ventured, snatching the remark from Rachel’s lips.
“In a way, yeah. We think the entity is feeding off the life force of people Murray encounters. The longer he’s with them, the deeper the .. infestation, if you like. Then, when Murray leaves, the infestation or the link starts to break down. Maybe toxins are released enough to kill. I don’t know how it works. Now that Murray’s here, the link can be renewed, grow deeper .. but hopefully we’ll find a way to get this parasite outta him an’ back where it belongs.”
“An’ then?” Anna asked, her voice rather shrill. “Won’t we still be at risk? Or are we fated to live the rest of our lives camped out by the tomb?”
“I don’t say I have all the answers,” Merlin replied. “Now we know this much .. we can take it from there.”
“Can we infest others?” Rachel queried.
“Doesn’t seem to work that way. It’s only Murray. He seems to be active while the rest of us are .. inert. I have to go explain all this to Nick. Profelis is telling Alex.” Merlin got up. “I want to be free of this. I have to find a way. There’s a lot at stake.”
She went out, leaving a rather stunned silence behind her.
“The sooner we can return to the dig site, the sooner we can .. start to put it right,” Alopex commented.
Derek looked up. “Thank you.”
Alopex nodded and smiled faintly. Derek was grateful that Murray was still alive. It seemed he had remembered the lessons of Colorado Springs as well.
Nick had been pacing when Merlin began the explanation. By the time she’d finished, he was sitting next to her on the bed and holding her hand.
“If I could, I would’ve stayed home. You know I wouldn’t deliberately put our baby in danger, Nicky. I had no choice. I have to go where Murray goes. Alopex an’ Profelis checked the door seal – it’d been disrupted. I couldn’t tell an’ I never thought to ask Derek. I doubt he even looked. Murray was, by all accounts, in a real bad way when he arrived.” She twisted round to look at him. “I’m sorry, okay? I promised an’ I had to go back on it.”
“You had no choice,” he said, pulling her into his arms. “Is the baby okay?”
“I don’t know. We haven’t gotten that far in figuring it out. While I’m alive, I have to hope we can get this .. darkness outta me. If I’m dead, there’s no hope of doing that.”
“Am I affected too?”
“Alopex will check you over later. Still .. as we’re all here, we may be able to crack it open more quickly. What can I do to help?”
“You remember your flying lessons?”
“You feel up to a little chauffeur work?”
“Perfect. You’re pilot number two. It’ll cut down our travel time .. an’ that has to be a good thing.”
Merlin smiled. “What’s really good is being here with you. I’ve been strong all my life but, right now, you’re my strength an’ my shield. I’m not scared when you’re with me.”
Nick thought about that and felt a rush of pleasure. She’d had two Enforcers with her in San Francisco, Enforcers who were old friends and who’d accompanied her to Cairo, yet she’d still felt scared. No longer.
“Okay,” Merlin shrugged, “I was scared you’d be really mad at me.”
“It was close,” he admitted. “I would’ve been a jerk .. again.”
“I’m sure it won’t be the last time it happens,” she grinned. “Just promise me something – you’ll stay away from Murray .. at least till we know for sure if you have it an’, if you don’t, until we can get some precautions in place.”
“That could be difficult unless you can do it fast but I’ll try.”
“Thanks. Alex is in the same boat so you won’t be alone, an’ there’re a lot of us to act as go-between. I’d best get back in there. Find out what the plan is.”
“Sure. Don’t be too late. You need to get some sleep.”
“Yes, sir,” she saluted.
In Derek’s room, people sat around or leaned against the wall and looked at each other. Murray was frowning, staring at nothing in particular. Rachel watched him and waited. It had to come, and it would come soon.
Suddenly, Murray’s gaze focused and his head reared.
“My God … ”
“Murray, it isn’t your fault,” Rachel began.
“Yes. It is my fault. George and Gayle, Phil, Rebekka, Hosni … they’re all dead because of me. I’ve killed .. eleven, twelve people? Who knows how many others are at risk? Well, everyone in this room apparently. And that’s just for a start.”
“Rachel’s right,” Derek said. “It isn’t your fault. You didn’t know.”
“And that’s enough to exonerate me? I’m a mass murderer!”
“If you had known and deliberately mixed with people, you would be at fault. But you didn’t know until tonight. Rachel, can you shed any light on the process?”
Rachel hesitated. “I’d have to run some tests to rule out actual biological factors. I’m assuming this isn’t a disease as such which is transmitted by touch or air. I think Peri has nailed it down pretty well. It seems to be time, proximity, and a mixture of both. For instance, flying from London to Rio – that’s very close proximity but short duration. Staying with us at Angel Island, or working together at the dig site an’ sharing the camp facilities – that’s down to time more than distance. Some kinda .. bond is made between the entity an’ the victim. Then, when Murray moves on, the bond starts to break down. I can’t say for sure if toxins are involved. Nothing showed up on the autopsy results. If the contact has been established for several days, the breakdown is catastrophic.”
“Gayle didn’t fit that pattern,” Murray pointed out.
“Her collapse was catastrophic; she was on life support. If help had gotten to the others in time, maybe they would’ve lingered like she did .. but they would still have died. Did you work closely with her?”
His shoulders dropped. “Not as much as I did with the others. This is terrible. I’m so sorry, Derek. I never meant to put you in danger by coming to you.”
“It’s all right, Murray,” Derek soothed.
“Excuse me?” Anna queried as Merlin came back in. “How can you say that? It is not all right. It’s .. it’s a disaster!”
“Anna,” Derek sighed, “we found out in time. None of us have died, nor will we. If you will recall, our exposure to Murray’s .. parasitic entity was not very great. Peri and Andrew ran a far greater risk than we did. The nosebleeds we have suffered may have been a signal, a warning to us that something was wrong, and it may have become a lot worse, even catastrophic, but Murray is here now and the bond has been restored. Now that may have side effects of its own; we don’t know yet. If the entity is drawing on our life force, it will be getting stronger. We will, in turn, be getting weaker. We’ll have to take heed of that. Pace ourselves.”
“If this is the same demon we think it is,” Alopex said, “it is a ruthless adversary. It used to gorge on entire communities. A handful of people will not be enough to pacify its hunger after four thousand years of captivity. As yet, it’s still weak. It gives us time to .. take the next step.”
“And you know this .. how?” Anna inquired.
“It’s an area we study. Demonology. It’s why Peri called us in.”
Derek nodded. “I think we can say that Murray is as much a victim as anyone else. The demon within has given you some immunity,” he told him, “but you’re not exempt.”
“That goes with what we know,” Alopex commented. “This demon has no understanding of loyalty. It doesn’t recognize friend or foe and doesn’t confer privilege. It’s using you, Murray, and, if you die as a result, it means nothing to this creature. Right now, our best hope is that it’s dormant or as near dormant as makes no difference. It is feeding – on you and on everyone you meet – but it’s slow.”
“Right,” Rachel agreed. “Think of long term chronic conditions. Coma, for example. You don’t spring into instant action once you wake up. It takes time an’ you have to build up gradually.”
“So .. what’s the plan?” Anna asked in a surly voice.
“Murray, are you up to going there tomorrow?” Derek inquired. “We had intended to give you time to recover from the trip and fly down on Monday but time now is critical.”
“I’ll be ready,” Murray nodded. “If I have to crawl there, I’ll be ready.”
“Then everyone should get a good night’s sleep .. as best they can,” Derek decided. “Peri, Alopex, will you remain for a few minutes.”
The others filed out and Derek sat back, stretching out his legs.
“What can you do for us?” he asked. “Can you give us some kind of protection?”
“The damage has been done. We can do for you what we’ve done for Murray and that is stabilize you if an attack begins. We can protect Alex because, thus far, she hasn’t had any contact with Murray. We’re not sure yet about Nick. We have to assess him,” Alopex replied.
“And .. what about removing this demon?” Derek asked next.
“We’re not surgeons, Derek,” Merlin answered. “We don’t go in with a scalpel. Yeah, we do surgical strikes, but we take out the building.”
He nodded. “Then .. we have to find another way.”
“Sure. Any idea how?” she asked.
“There’s at least one .. and I hope it won’t come to that,” Derek said on a sigh. “We wait until this thing is strong enough not to need Murray as its incubator. Once it leaves him, you’ll be free to act.” He looked up. “I appreciate the fact that you’ve done nothing so far. I know it’s difficult for you, to do nothing when confronted by such a situation. However, the act of leaving Murray may kill him anyway. What do you know of this demon? Do you have a name for it yet?”
Merlin wrinkled her nose. “I’m still trying to remember. It wasn’t one we dealt with in the past so it was only ever mentioned in passing, an’ the mention was that it was a nasty sonofabitch. The name which comes to me is Azimanthet .. but I don’t think that’s right. It’s .. similar.”
“We know it used to hunt in Nubia and it vanished during the reign of Pharaoh Senusret the third,” Alopex added.
“So the pact made in ancient times was not between the pharaoh and an Enforcer.”
“No. Wasn’t us at all.”
“Then .. who was it with, I wonder,” Derek mused. After a moment, he looked at them. “Go get some rest. Tomorrow is going to be a long, long day.”
It was a tense few minutes while Alopex examined Nick but then he smiled. “You’re free of infestation. We can protect you.”
“That’s good news,” Nick said on a sigh of relief. “I can sleep tonight.”
“Derek’s advancing the plan. We fly down tomorrow.”
Nick flinched as Alopex put a hand on his shoulder and a jolt ran thru his body. “Okay. Early start. I’ll load up the gear, you bring Alex, Anna an’ Rachel. They can make a start on putting the camp together. I want this over an’ done. Alopex, you stick to Murray like glue. No one else dies, okay?”
“I understand. Profelis an’ I put an energy sheath around him on the flight over to reduce the risk of contamination.”
“Once we got here, they removed it. Without that contact … ” Merlin shrugged.
“Alopex, can you check on our baby?” Nick asked.
“It’s still very small, Nick. I can’t tell. I’m not a baby doctor .. but .. isn’t there something about babies being immune to things which affect the mother?”
“Uh uh. If it’s in the blood, it can cross over.”
“Then I can’t check. Another month or so .. sure but not yet.”
“Nick, we have to be patient,” Merlin said, squeezing his hand. “Now .. I’m so tired. I have to get some sleep.” She shrugged wearily as she went toward the bathroom. “At least this devil isn’t feasting on Enforcer energy. It’s just .. plain ol’ me. I’m not sure if this being so tired is down to jet lag, pregnancy or being an entrée.”
Nick laughed softly and briefly. “Still got a sense of humor.”
“And a temper,” Alopex commented. “When she heard she was infested .. she made your outbursts look tame. Goodnight, Nick.”
He paused after Alopex had gone to think about Merlin’s temper. He admired her in so many ways. Temper wasn’t a reason for admiration but Nick still felt it.
Merli loses her temper for the right reasons, the good reasons. She explodes very rarely and it’s always over very fast. She controls it even then. Just enough to get it out, to make the point, then she lets it go .. and she always learns from it. She always asks herself what can I do to stop this situation making me mad again. I could learn from her example, I really could.
Alex had gone thru the same protection procedure as Nick but had asked Profelis a lot of questions about it. Basically, it was a seal under the skin, he’d replied. It blocks things getting in. No, it isn’t permanent. It’ll fade naturally in a month or so. Hopefully, this will be resolved long before that time. At least now you’ll be able to take part, interact with the carrier.
Profelis had gone and Derek had dropped by to inform her of what he’d learned and of the change in plans. He had advised her to get an early night.
Alex thought he’d sounded depressed. Well, I guess, if I were in his position, I’d be depressed too, she thought. A friend comes to me for help, naturally I agree and, in return, I’m infested with .. some kind of evil energy. That doesn’t hurt me, not instantly, but slowly it weakens me. And, if the carrier and the .. recipient of my life force moves too far away, I will die. Suddenly .. because I’m weak. Yeah, I think I’d be depressed if that was the result of me helping a friend in need.
She lay back in bed, oblivious to the fantastic sight of the Giza plateau outside her window. She wasn’t ignoring it. Alex’s mind had switched tracks from personal to business. She felt sympathy for Derek, Rachel and Anna. And Andrew. If ever someone had been dragged into a situation not of his making, it was Andrew. Alex also felt relief that she’d never met Murray.
Okay, she began, stretching out her legs under the cool crisp cotton sheet, let me think about all this. How does it fit with the curse?
A demon, or some kind of energy, was rampaging thru Nubia and was either sent or enticed over the border into Egypt. Lured maybe to a place where a tomb, or trap, had been prepared for it, and then tempted inside where it was snared. The wall was bricked up and a warning put on the wall, and the stairway was filled in. Science has done so much to explain curses as being nothing to worry about that people laugh about them but the curse here was inside the tomb. The warning was ignored, the wall was breached, the curse escaped to .. choose Murray Snowden.
That’s where I don’t get it. Why Murray? He isn’t, from what I’ve heard, the kind of guy who’d actively help an entity feed on innocent people. He didn’t even know it was inside him.
All right, let’s backtrack a little. Let’s pretend I’m the entity. I’m locked away for almost four thousand years in a stone room. Maybe I have some passages to walk around and other rooms to wait in but, essentially, I’m stuck underground. Four thousand years. That .. way over a million days. How would I feel? Angry. Furious. Maybe for the first ten years or so, I’d be angry with whoever shut me in there but then I’d been really furious with myself. I allowed my .. greed to trap me. As I’m an evil entity, I don’t learn from my anger. I just let it .. concentrate, become pure. An essence. What else would I feel? Hunger. A million days of not eating when I’d been used to eating whatever and whenever I liked .. I’d be ravenous, ready to eat the first thing I see. I can’t die because I’m an entity, I’m not mortal. But .. like a star which eats itself, eventually, I’d shrink. Become a small, angry, starving essence of pure evil. Would I be weakened ..? Stars which collapse become very dense. Look at black holes – the most powerful phenomena in the universe. Not even light can escape the pull of a black hole. Definitely not weak.
So .. four thousand years pass and, one day, someone breaks open the door. Alex Moreau would be surprised. Even startled. Definitely grateful. But Alex is a good person. An evil essence wouldn’t feel grateful or surprised. It’d think only of itself. Maybe even expect to be released, expect that the people outside knew it was there. It wouldn’t begin to think it could have been forgotten in all that time. So .. there I am, heading for the opening. I’m ravenous for food, still furious. I see who’s outside. I dip into each, to give me a quick fix of energy. And then .. I choose Murray Snowden to carry me into the world … Why?
Alex frowned. Why would I choose him? He wasn’t the youngest or the fittest. He wasn’t the leader of the group.
I don’t think it is in Murray. I don’t know what is, but I don’t think it’s a weak, dormant entity. And that means .. it’s still out there. And it could be anywhere.
Nick made calls to the airport to make sure the gear the Cairo house had put together plus the extras he’d purchased and leased were all there and ready to go, as well as a second helicopter. Then he went knocking on doors.
“Alex! Breakfast an’ hit the road in thirty.”
Merlin roused Rachel with the same message. Rachel eased the door open a fraction.
“I didn’t have a very good night,” she admitted. “I kept on thinking of Kat an’ .. what if I never see her again.”
“I don’t blame you but Nick will be mad if you’re not ready to go in a half hour. Sooner we get down there, sooner we can get the genie back in his bottle, sooner you can go home to Kat.”
Rachel sighed and nodded. “Okay. You think it is a genie?”
“I don’t think it is, no. Wrong part of the Middle East.”
She went on down to breakfast. Murray was in the dining room and he smiled a welcome. “Hi. Good morning. I feel like the world’s biggest pariah,” he said. “I should be ringing a bell and shouting ‘unclean!’”
“That’s lepers,” Nick commented as he sat down. “But I get the point.”
“Thanks.” He fell silent for a moment then pushed away his plate and picked up his coffee cup. “Y’know what really pisses me off?” Murray announced. “I am a consummate professional. I do not mix business with pleasure. The nature of my work means I am very often with a close knit group for several months at a time in some really terrible places. We have fun, play jokes on each other, relieve the tedium of when we’re not digging, but there’s a line and I don’t cross it. I do not become .. familiar with my colleagues. Usually, the most physical contact I have with males and females alike is .. maybe our hands touch when a tool is passed along or the salt at supper. I don’t even brush shoulders in official photographs. I know for a fact that I didn’t touch anyone in George’s group. I worked alone most of the nine days I was with them. And yet .. I am somehow, and in total ignorance, responsible for killing people with some kind of supernatural bug entity.”
“Don’t let it get to you,” Merlin responded.
“Really. And how do you propose I do that? Any mental exercises I can do? Any particular form of meditation?”
She shook her head. “You said it – total ignorance. It lets you off the hook. Feel sorry for those people but don’t let it stop you working or helping. If you let it paralyze you, Murray, you may a well put a knife to my throat an’ drop me right now because I’d have no reason to go on. I’m not giving up. I won’t let you give up either. Get over it.”
Anna came into the dining room. “Murray.”
“Anna,” he acknowledged.
She paused by their table. “How could you do this?”
“Hey, deal with it, Dr Cowley!” Merlin said sharply. “No one points any fingers here. You got issues, we deal with them as a group. You’re not prepared to do that, stay here.”
“I can’t. I have to go where he goes.”
“I can make it an order,” Nick said quietly. “Picking on Murray won’t help any of us.”
“And are you affected?” Anna asked.
“No, I’m clean,” Nick replied.
“Lucky for you, huh.”
Merlin slowly got to her feet. “Bitterness doesn’t suit you, Anna. Put it away or stay behind. Simple choice. Make it.”
Anna went to collect her breakfast just as Rachel and Alex came in. “Never expected frost in Cairo,” Rachel commented.
“My fault,” Murray shrugged. “All roads lead to Rome and, here, all fingers point to me.” He grinned as he said it.
Alex sat down. “What’s the plan?”
“I’m flying the first batch of gear down. Peri will follow me in the second chopper, taking you, Rachel an’ Anna. You’ll start setting up the camp while we head back here, pick up the rest of the gear, an’ Derek, Murray an’ Profelis. Then I’ll come back to pick up Alopex an’ Andrew plus .. whatever else needs to go.”
“Can Alopex or Profelis come in the first flight?” Alex asked. “There’s room.”
“Any particular reason?” Nick asked, sipping his coffee.
“Paranoia. I’d feel safer,” Alex said with a smile. “I spent some time last night thinking. I don’t believe Peri’s got the right spin on it. I’d just like to be prepared .. just in case.”
“I don’t have any objections,” Nick replied. “Peri, can you call Alopex? Get him down here.”
“Sure. No problem.” Her gaze swung to Alex. “How am I wrong?”
“I’m not saying you are.”
“It’s okay, Alex. I’d love to be wrong. Tell me.”
“Tell each other on the trip,” Nick ordered. “It’s a long way down there. You’ll have plenty of time.”
“So .. what’s the story?” Merlin asked.
Alex smiled. “It’ll sound ridiculous,” she commented. “Can they hear me in back?”
“I’ve got the comms switched to just us.”
“Well .. I put myself in the place of the demon. Tried to imagine what it would be like to be in that tomb for so long an’ how I’d feel about it. How I’d feel when I got out.”
“Uh huh. And?”
Alex shrugged slightly. “I wondered why I’d choose Murray to be my vessel.”
“No one would look twice at him.”
“I guess .. but I came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t be weak or dormant. I’d be .. like a black hole. Collapsed in on myself, sustained by fury. I wouldn’t need a vessel.”
Merlin frowned. “Go on.”
“I don’t know what Murray has but it could be something like .. like a seed. Something malicious but .. a demon’s form of joke almost. If I were that hungry and that malevolent, I’d be out for revenge on whoever put me away. I’d wreak havoc in the area. I’d have a massive tantrum. I’d do a lot of things but I wouldn’t curl up an’ go to sleep inside Murray Snowden.”
“Mmm. You may have something there, Alex.”
“And if this thing is still near the tomb .. that’s why I asked for Alopex to come along.”
“Good idea. Plus Alopex is good at organizing camp sites an’ he won’t take any shit from Anna.”
They flew on in silence for a while then Merlin shifted slightly.
“Makes you wonder who did put it away, doesn’t it?”
“The pharaoh’s magicians maybe? In conjunction with the priests?”
“Well, yeah, I guess it’s a possibility. I doubt they’d be strong enough, not to hold something that big for so long.”
“It wasn’t one of you.”
“Nope. We had nothing to do with this. We don’t set traps as a long term solution.”
Alex twisted round a little. “Derek’s vision was of three gods.”
“Could’ve been them, sure. But why did they choose a very mortal man to be their representative? They told him the pact had been broken, didn’t they?”
“If it was with them .. why’d they say that?” Merlin asked.
“Passing on information,” Alex answered.
“Sure but wouldn’t they have said ‘our pact’ is broken? Just my opinion. I don’t work for those guys.”
Alex shrugged again. “I don’t know. Derek needs to see more. Any idea yet who we’re dealing with? I ran searches but I found nothing.”
Merlin shook her head. “It’ll come to me.”
The flights were done by three thirty Sunday afternoon and the helicopters securely parked a quarter mile from the camp site. Alex, Anna, Rachel and Alopex had worked hard, putting up tents and beds, setting up the basic facilities. Derek, Murray, Andrew and Profelis had helped out once they’d arrived. So did Merlin. Nick had made the last trip alone, bringing the final pieces of gear. They had a generator and plenty of fuel for it, a properly organized camp site with work areas, lights and heating for the cold desert night.
“The tomb is about a third of a mile away,” Derek said, pointing. “that direction.”
“The light’s good enough. Shall we take a look?” Murray suggested, obviously keen to make amends.
“An excellent idea,” Derek agreed, obviously keen to get started.
They set off with Alopex. Anna trudged along behind, resentment stamped on her face. Rachel decided to remain in the camp with Alex, Nick, Merlin and Andrew. Profelis was setting up a perimeter.
“How’re you feeling?” Rachel asked Merlin quietly.
“Okay, all things considered. I wish I could get that name. It’s driving me nuts.”
“Go sit somewhere on your own, somewhere quiet,” Rachel advised. “Since this began, I don’t suppose you’ve had any time to yourself.”
“Not much, that’s true. Thanks.” Merlin got up and wandered away to a patch of rocks.
“This is some camp,” Alex remarked, looking around, her hands on her hips. “It’s .. like the old days. The golden age of archeology.”
“You think?” Nick commented.
“Sure! We have a butler. I bet Lord Caernarvon didn’t rough it either,” she responded, a twinkle in her eye.
“It does make a change to the usual Legacy investigation,” he agreed, grinning. “What d’you think Derek will find?”
“An empty stone chamber .. and no answers, not yet,” Alex replied. “but I’m hoping he may get some more clues.”
Murray hesitated. “I’m not sure I want to go back in there.”
Derek paused as well. “Are you frightened?”
“A little. I laughed about the curse, Derek. Now … ”
“Then wait out here. Alopex and I will go in.”
“You’re going to leave me out here with Anna?”
“Make your peace .. if you can. We have enough to deal with without internal war breaking out as well,” Derek commented.
“Right.” Murray nodded. “Good luck.”
Derek checked his pocket for a flashlight then, with Alopex beside him, descended the stairs. He counted fifteen and they were quite steep. The stone chamber loomed before him like an open mouth.
“There was evil here,” Alopex murmured. “The smell is fading but it’s still strong.”
Derek paused again at the threshold. “Warnings never work. Even if the scribes of old had spelled it out, been honest and open instead of obscure and cryptic, someone would still have broken down this door just to see if they were right. We have to .. find a more permanent solution this time.”
“Can you go thru the false door? See what is on the other side?”
“Yes, but not now. I’ll do it later.” Alopex smiled quickly. “I’m not like Aquila, Derek. I can’t walk an’ talk an’ be somewhere else. I have to lay down before I send myself exploring. A comatose body on the floor in here may cause comment. Later, when we’re back in the camp, okay?”
Derek stepped inside and shone his flashlight onto the eastern wall. “It’s a vibrant painting, isn’t it?”
“Almost alive,” Alopex agreed.
At the top of the steps, Murray was pacing and berating himself in silence. Anna came to a halt midway along the side of the track he was plowing.
“Yes, I’m frightened,” Murray said.
“I don’t blame you. Actually, Murray, I don’t blame you for anything. You didn’t agree to assist George just so you could wreck the entire world. You don’t have that kinda imagination. I’m sorry I was so down on you. I guess I’m frightened too.”
“Truce?” he suggested.
“Hell, let’s go for peace. Fighting amongst ourselves isn’t gonna get us anywhere. We need to pull together if we’re gonna beat this thing.”
Murray smiled tentatively. “I always knew being a boring bastard would be my saving grace.”
“Yeah, believe it,” she commented, smiling too. “Coming in?”
“Sure,” he nodded. “Strength in numbers, right?”
“Strength in numbers, knowledge an’ eyes wide open,” Anna amended. “C’mon.”
Merlin sat quietly on a rocky outcrop and let her mind drift. She’d tried concentrating and it hadn’t worked. Therefore, she deliberately tried not concentrating.
This trickle of psychic energy .. so far, it’s given me nothing. I’ve not had one vision. I can’t hear voices. I can’t heal. I can’t move a grain of sand unless I kick it. It’s an empty gift.
She felt the sun hot on her face and she lay back, closing her eyes. And it was then that she heard the whispering.
Merlin sat up again to peer around suspiciously, thinking her time alone was over and that someone was approaching but there was no one there. Slowly, she lay down once more.
He is free … He hunts but there were none for him to take. Now you are here. Be cautious.
Okay, Merlin thought. I’m either going crazy, I have sunstroke, or I’m really hearing a voice.
Yeah, I am. Who are you?
His victim. His jailer.
Merlin blinked. The stone is talking to me?
Yes. The earth has no eyes but sees all. No ears but hears all. No voice yet can speak to those who will listen.
You witnessed what happened here. You saw it. You saw it all.
What is his name?
His name is not important. You must find the others. You must restore the trust, renew the pact.
The others … Y’mean, Derek?
The others. They know his name. The callers, the others, the earth. A triangle. The callers have called, the others have not answered. Find them.
Okay. Where should I look?
I do not know. I only know they came before.
Merlin nodded. If we’re to get rid of this thing once an’ for all, we have to know his name too. You must know it. Tell me, please.
A moment later, she sat up again. “I knew I almost had it.” She paused, then winced. “Rachel’s never gonna believe this one.”
Derek glanced back over his shoulder as Murray came in. And it hit him with no warning. His body went rigid.
He stood in the chamber and a wind howled around him, only it wasn’t wind. It was a voice, howling with suddenly impotent rage.
“I will be free!”
Anubis, Horus and Thoth turned their backs. “Not while we are remembered.”
“I will find you. Hunt you down, rip your heads from your bodies and feast on your entrails!”
Derek turned his back too and saw the wall being built. Not slowly. It was fast. No human hand could build a wall so quickly. Anubis watched from the stairs outside. The light bled away, brick by brick, until Derek stood in darkness. The wind dropped.
“I will be free. You cannot trap me forever. One day, maybe not soon, I will be released and, when I am, I will rule over all. Who now betrays the trust ..?”
He shuddered. He felt sick. Anna took her hand from his arm.
“I don’t think I am.”
“What did you see?” Alopex asked.
“I’m not sure. I have to think about it. I stood in the eye of a storm .. but it makes little sense.” He straightened. “The curse of visions. We never see enough and what we do see is never straightforward. Are you ready to go back to the camp?”
“I’ve seen enough for a first visit,” Anna replied. “Murray?”
“Murray!” Alopex shouted.
Blood was trickling from his mouth, his eyes, his ears … It splashed onto his shirt. He gave a weird little smile and collapsed.
Alopex was already moving. “Get her out of here!” he ordered.
“Hey! I know first – ” Anna began as Derek hastily grabbed her upper arm and began forcibly directing her toward the stairwell. “Do you mind? I can help, Derek!”
“No, you can’t. Let him save Murray. Please. Let him work.”
She tore her arm away and stalked up the steps. “I don’t know why you brought me along. I’m hardly decorative – you have Rachel, Alex an’ Peri for that.”
Derek caught up with her and spun her around. “I brought you here, Anna, because … ”
Her head angled. “Yeah ..? Because ..?”
“I like your company. But .. I have to admit sometimes your attitude is a little wearing. Please, try to understand. Every member of my team has lived an eventful life. What you dismiss as nonsense or make believe is what we do every day. We’re used to skeptics and we do look for the rational, the scientific, but we’re also used to those not applying and we have to deal with what that means. Every one of us is an expert at something. Your first aid will not save Murray. Accept that .. and try to make allowances.”
Tears welled in her eyes. “I’m scared, Derek,” Anna confessed in a small, reluctant voice.
“We are all scared but we face it as bravely as we can. Help us, don’t criticize us. And .. if Peri, Profelis or Alopex say move, you must move.”
“Even you obey them?”
“When they give me an order, I know it’s healthier to obey.”
Below, in the chamber, Alopex was fighting for Murray’s life and, right now, he was losing. “C’mon, Murray,” he muttered. “Don’t you quit now. You have to resist … ”
He worked fast and hard, trying one thing, then another. Eventually, he sat back on his heels and stared down. Alopex shook his head.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
The blood had stopped flowing, spurting, oozing. Murray looked tortured, his face frozen in a mask of pain. Then the darkness which had infested his body seeped out. Thinking it might seek out another living host, Alopex braced himself but the darkness crept along the floor and vanished thru the false door. Puzzled, he hesitated for a fraction of a second then turned back to Murray.