Sunday / Monday
Rachel shook her head. “You need the hospital.”
Murray smiled. “I feel fine.”
Nick waited tensely by the tent flap. “Just say the word. I’ll fly him back to Cairo.”
“I’m fine!” Murray repeated. “All right, I feel like someone’s dragged me over broken glass, I’m thirsty and a little wobbly on my feet but .. a good night’s sleep and I’ll be as good as new. In fact, I feel .. clean.”
Rachel stepped back. “Stay there,” she ordered and gestured with her head for Nick to follow her.
Outside, Alopex was talking quickly to Profelis and Merlin but broke off when Rachel and Nick emerged.
“What happened?” Rachel demanded.
“He was bleeding out and he collapsed,” Alopex replied.
“Uh huh. And?”
Alopex shifted uncomfortably.
“It’s okay. Tell her,” Merlin said softly.
“I couldn’t save him. He died. Then .. the darkness left him and vanished thru the eastern wall, and I figured that, now, I had a chance to bring him back. So I did.”
Rachel nodded. “He says he feels clean. I guess that explains it. He should be in the hospital.”
“I’ll fly him to Cairo,” Nick offered again. “Or somewhere more local. Just say.”
“We’d all have to – ” she began then swallowed. “The risk to us just went off the scale.”
“But now we know we can beat it,” Merlin said. “Murray survived. The others might have survived too if one of us had been there but we weren’t. We’re here now. If it means we each have to die to get this stuff out, that’s what we have to do.”
Rachel stared at her. Around them, shadows were lengthening, the setting sun burnishing the rocks the color of blood. It was an unwelcome reminder.
“You’re not serious.”
Merlin glanced away then back. “Am I laughing? We’re up against something from the beginning, Rachel. Before the Legacy. Before the Enforcers. We don’t know how strong this thing is gonna get. It tells you a little that the guys couldn’t cure Murray until this darkness left his dead body. Only then did we have a chance to bring him back. Alex was right. The thing isn’t inside him. That was a gift. A gift designed to hurt. It’s weakening us an’, yeah, the risk has just gone off the scale. Without the link to Murray .. we could go at any second. But I would rather face dying and coming back than live like this.”
Rachel looked to Nick for support. “Are you okay with that idea?”
“No,” he replied, “but we don’t have the choice.”
She walked him away. “Nick, there are no guarantees. Peri might be saved but what about the baby? She could lose it. It could die in utero.”
“I could lose both of ’em, Rachel. No, I don’t like it but …”
“She’s already lost one baby. You’d put her thru that again?”
Nick flung a wounded glance at her. “Don’t make me choose.”
“I’m just saying – ”
“Don’t. I trust her. I trust them. If this is the only way, it has to be.”
“An’ damn the consequences.”
“Deal with the consequences,” Nick corrected in a tight voice.
“Okay,” she shrugged. “All right,” Rachel said, going back to the others. “All those affected should stay in the same general area. You three will have to stay close by as well. When it happens, it’ll happen fast. We’re putting a lotta faith in you. Don’t let us down.”
Merlin nodded. “Profelis, you take the night shift. Alopex, you pull the day duty,” she told them. “An’ the other is on constant standby. No training while this is going on.”
“Understood,” they chorused.
“I have to go speak with Derek,” Merlin added.
“Oh?” Alopex frowned.
“Yeah. I got a name for this thing.”
Alex scribbled it on a pad. “I don’t recognize it.”
“I doubt you would. I doubt anyone alive today or who has lived for the past .. four thousand years would know that name,” Derek commented. “There’s little point in trying to find out more because there will be nothing recorded to find. The Enforcers have good memories,” he congratulated Merlin.
“It wasn’t me,” she said and both Derek and Alex looked at her. “I had a weird experience. The rock told me. The earth. We had quite a long conversation. Please, don’t mention this to Rachel.”
“Really … I recall also hearing the earth speak, in my vision. I rarely hear sounds; usually, it’s only images and parts of images. But, on this occasion,” Derek related, “I heard the earth’s voice.”
“I’m going to leave you two to talk it over,” Alex remarked, rising. “I bet Andrew could use a hand. And I won’t breathe a word of this to Rachel.”
“Thank you,” Merlin smiled. “Where’s Anna?”
“Around the camp somewhere. I don’t know exactly,” Derek replied. “I’m beginning to think bringing her along was a mistake.”
“You couldn’t have left her behind. If she hadn’t gone with you, she would’ve come with us.” Merlin regarded him. “When you were in Guatemala, how was she then?”
“Supportive. Steady. Courageous.”
“An’ that’s changed how?”
He frowned. “She’s .. needy. Leaning. Resentful.”
“In Guatemala, you were the appendage to the established team. She had confidence because she knew the guys she was working with an’ the work she was doing. Here, she’s the newbie. She’s leaning on you because you’re a familiar face. Now we’re at the dig site, she’ll find a purpose. She knows what she’s doing.”
Derek nodded. “I hope that won’t get her killed.”
“It probably will. I hope it does.”
He only looked at her, his eyes hard.
Merlin met that steady gaze. “That’s what happened to Murray. He’s clean now. An’ that means the rest of us are ticking time bombs. We’ll all have to die so the darkness can leave.”
She nodded slowly. “Whatever this creature was, is, it’s too old for us.” She sat back. “Way back at the very beginning, when demons an’ devils an’ darkness walked the world bringing disaster an’ hopelessness an’ misery, they were powerful creatures. The ones around today are a lot weaker. The blood runs thin, y’know? But they still have one thing in common. They’re singularly minded. Dumb. Their egos are so inflated they believe completely that they’re number one; nothing else is important enough, strong enough, or smart enough to beat ’em. An’ that’s their biggest weakness. They believe raw, brutal power will win thru over strategy an’ tactics. Put ’em up against a good plan, they fall down every time.”
“This is from someone who fights with raw, brutal power.”
Merlin laughed wryly. “Well .. yeah, but I like to think I apply it with finesse. I don’t just go in with guns blazing. I choose my ground and know where the exits are.”
“Hmm,” Derek breathed. “And where do we find such a good plan?”
Merlin tapped her head then pointed at his. “In here. It’s all we have.”
“And the earth told you the creature’s name is Edumenkhet.”
“What else did it tell you?” Derek inquired.
“It said, now we’re here, we have to be cautious. The thing’s hunting but, until now, it didn’t have anyone to take down. The earth is both its victim an’ its jailer. Told me its name wasn’t important. We have to find ‘the others’ so we can restore the trust an’ renew the pact.”
“The others?” he frowned.
“Apparently, there’s a triangle – ”
“Yes. Anubis, Thoth and Horus.”
“Different triangle. This one is the callers, the others an’ the earth. The callers have called, the others have not answered. We have to find them.”
“Trust … I’d forgotten that part until you said it. The pact is broken, the trust has been betrayed.” He shivered suddenly. “We – I have to find the others. Where should I start to look?”
Merlin considered. “I’m no archeologist, Derek, but .. I’d start in the tomb. Alopex said you had another vision in there. What’d you see?”
“I believe it was the distant past. I was in the chamber. I felt a wind raging around me, like I was in the eye of a hurricane or at the center of a tornado, but it wasn’t wind, it was a voice, screaming with rage. It said .. ‘I will be free’. Anubis, Horus and Thoth were there. They turned their backs to it and said ‘not while we are remembered’. I looked toward the door and the wall was being built. Time seemed to speed up. Anubis watched from the steps outside until it was finished. I was still in the tomb, in total darkness, and the wind dropped away. I heard the voice again .. quietly, almost as if speaking to itself. It said ‘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 glanced up. “Trust again.”
“Interesting.” Merlin thought but offered nothing more. “Rachel says we should hang together – all the similarly afflicted. Profelis an’ Alopex are on twenty four, seven standby. One of ’em will always be with us to .. bring us back when the hammer falls. If I were you, I wouldn’t say anything to Anna an’ Andrew.”
“How is Murray now?” Derek asked.
“Tired. Bit wobbly, but I think I would be too if I’d had to walk all that way back to camp after I’d just died. Essentially, though, he’s fine. Be even better come the morning.”
“Then I’ll say nothing to Anna and Andrew,” he agreed. “And pray it is the .. good thing to do.”
“Evan, you have things under control?” Alopex murmured.
“Derek asked me to look behind the eastern wall of the tomb. I said I’d go tonight.”
“Oh no, Jon. No way. Not in this situation. Look, I’m all for finding out, sure, but what if something happens to you in there? I can’t cope with bringing back multiple fatalities on my own. Who do I save first? I can’t make that kinda choice. And I won’t be able to come rescue you.” Profelis folded his arms. “Call someone in. Let them do it. Or have them take your place here, just so I have backup.”
“You guys conspiring about something?” Nick inquired.
“Debating something,” Alopex replied. “An’ Profelis is right. I’ll call in Ursa.”
“Why?” Nick asked.
“Derek wants me to look behind the eastern wall. I can’t do that until Profelis has backup in case of a multiple emergency. Therefore, I’ll call Ursa.”
“Didn’t you say the darkness vanished thru the eastern wall after it left Murray?”
“You wanna risk facing that thing on your own?” Nick inquired.
“Not particularly. Why?”
“Call in two others. Ursa .. an’ Leo. Have one of ’em watch your back in there.” Nick shrugged. “I know you guys are trained to be self-sufficient loners but better safe than sorry, right?” He watched them. “Think how pissed Peri’s gonna be if you get hurt.”
“In spirit form, I can’t get hurt.”
“Oh, right, I forgot. Think how pissed she’ll be if you get caught an’ held as a plaything, an’ you have to be rescued.”
“That could happen,” Profelis commented. “Call Ursa an’ Leo. An’ do it soon. I got the feeling this is gonna be a long night.”
Anna had wandered a little way outside the camp because she needed to be alone for a while to get a grip on everything. Some of her closest friends said she had a tendency to over-control. Anna felt that wasn’t a bad thing. It was her way. Yet, now, she felt she’d lost control. People were telling her what to do, when to do it, even how to do it. She didn’t like that. What was a lot worse was that her ideas were being dismissed. Thus far, she’d had one idea they’d gone with. Everything else had been ‘clutching at straws’.
Dr Anna Cowley, the eminent archeologist … Dammit, I am not a child. I’m here to make an important difference … Actually, I’m here because, if I’d stayed behind, I’d’ve gone the same way as George Daly. Then it would be Dr Anna Cowley, the eminent archeologist obituary. But I am here and I have a contribution to make. Look at what I’ve done so far.
Okay, what have you done so far?
You’ve been unable to identify the blue skinned man. You’ve said locusts were to blame. You wanted to do CPR on a man who was bleeding out. You’ve been scared, and marginalized. You haven’t helped at all.
I took Alex and Rachel around the Giza plateau …
Wow … Big contribution. Face it, you’ve done nothing.
But you could. Take a step back, face the fear, acknowledge it, then let it go. And then .. do your job. You have a recently discovered tomb to examine. You know Ancient Egypt. Work.
“First thing in the morning,” Anna decided out loud. “I’ll show ’em all just exactly why I’m an eminent archeologist. I, Dr Anna Cowley, will be the one to break this thing wide open.”
“Is that the name of .. the thing?” Andrew inquired, reading Alex’s notepad over her shoulder.
“Uh huh. No one recognizes it.”
“Too old, I expect.” He lingered and she twisted to face him. “I hear I’m being put in the quarantine ward.”
“Yes. It’s for your own protection. Rachel feels it’s for the best.”
“A case of physician, heal thyself,” he remarked. “Well .. I got to see the pyramids. I expect now I’ll get to see the inside of a newly discovered tomb. Not many can say that.”
Alex smiled sympathetically. “I guess not. Andrew, I have to congratulate you on your attitude. Not many would be so calm about this. You’re almost seeing it as a learning experience and that’s good.”
He hesitated then cautiously sat down opposite her. “May I speak freely?”
“Of course,” she said, blinking in surprise.
Even with permission, Andrew hesitated again. “I .. know you an’ Dr Rayne, Dr Corrigan an’ Nick aren’t just ghost hunters. I’ve never been told exactly what it is you do but I’ve seen too many weird things with my own eyes. I’ve read the titles of the books in the library .. and I know you’re in the house even though you’re not in any of the rooms I have access to. You go somewhere. The sword of Amaterasu, what happened then … This trip to Egypt an’ Ancient Egyptian curses … Haystone was nothing in comparison to this. A sane man would have quit a long time ago. I’m not crazy, Alex, but I am loyal. I don’t ask that you let me share in the secrets, only acknowledge I have eyes an’ ears, I see things an’ I hear ’em too. I won’t betray you or let something slip. As for this being a learning experience … ”
Andrew grinned suddenly. “Every day on the island with you guys is a learning experience. Butlers are trained to .. expect the unexpected an’ take it in their stride. Make everything seem smooth an’ normal. Yeah, occasionally, I do have to dig deep inside to do that but I wouldn’t work anywhere else.”
Alex smiled too. “We wouldn’t want you to.”
“I’d best get to bed. Early start tomorrow .. if I make it thru the night, that is.”
“Why wouldn’t you?” she asked him. “You’re lucky, remember?”
Andrew rose and stretched tiredly. “Always a first time for everything, Alex, even for luck to run out.”
One by one, the lights went off in the various tents and an eerie not quite silence came to the desert. Rocks cracked as they cooled, a soft sighing breeze whispered overhead. Occasionally, a camp bed creaked as someone turned, trying to get comfortable enough to sleep yet, despite the weariness, knowing sleep would be a long time coming.
Profelis stood guard in one tent, keeping a watchful eye on his charges. Leo, an invisible presence, stood in the other.
In the third tent, Alex slept soundly. The other camp bed in there was presently empty.
“No, you can’t,” Alopex persisted. “Nick, Peri would be furious if I let you. I’d be breaking a promise I made to her an’ I won’t do it.”
“To make me stay behind? When is she gonna start trusting me?”
“To bring you home safely to her,” Alopex corrected. “She feels guilty that she can’t protect you.”
Nick felt embarrassed. “I’ll just come as far as the steps,” he muttered.
“No. Ursa will be my backup.” Alopex paused. “Nick .. the creature might think it’s still trapped down there. If it realizes it can get out .. you’ll be in the line of fire. And, no, you couldn’t duck an’ run, you couldn’t escape it. If you must do something, stay here an’ patrol the perimeter. Yes, it’s the safe option but we’re all occupied. We need someone as backup here.”
“To call in reinforcements if they’re needed.”
“Exactly. Promise me you’ll do as I ask.” Alopex leaned closer. “Peri needs you. Your baby needs you.”
Slowly, Nick nodded. “Okay. You got it.”
“Thank you.” He turned to Ursa. “Ready?”
“When you are,” Ursa said placidly.
“Then let’s go.”
Nick stood alone in the center of the camp. He shivered and began to walk the boundary to keep warm.
“We’ll enter in full stealth mode,” Alopex said. “This is fact finding only .. unless there’s no choice. Dr Rayne wants to know what’s behind the eastern wall an’ so do I. There’s a reason the darkness went that way when it left Murray.”
Ursa nodded. “I’ve got your back.”
They faded from sight and descended the steps into the chamber. Ursa glanced quickly at the painting on the wall then ignored it. He followed Alopex across the floor and thru the false door. Normal eyes would have been rendered blind but ethereal eyes could see as well in total darkness as they could in daylight. There was a passage. Alopex signaled they would follow it and began to move off. The floor was gritty underfoot with sand and rock dust but they left no trace of their passing. The walls were rough hewn stone, not the plastered, decorated passages of other tomb complexes. The passage ran east for about thirty yards then turned to the north. Alopex was plotting the route, the layout and the distances. Ten yards north, then east again for another ten yards. Twenty yards north, forty yards west, ten yards north.
They turned the corner, east again, and the passageway stretched ahead. Thus far, they’d seen nothing. This section was sixty yards long and ended in a T intersection. To the right, the south, it vanished into another long section. Ahead, to the east, there was a short passage and an entrance to a second chamber. They went ahead. There was nothing in the chamber except a chair.
Alopex halted to examine this piece of furniture. It wasn’t ornate, wasn’t carved, gilded, or inset with gems. It was just a crudely fashioned stone chair. He nodded to Ursa and they carefully checked out the small chamber for anything small they might otherwise miss. There was nothing.
They backtracked to the T intersection and followed the passage south for forty yards where it ended in another T intersection. There was a ten yard passage to the west and the same to the east. At the end of both was an entrance to a chamber. Alopex signaled they’d go to the west room first. The chamber was full of bones. Skeletons. Bits of skeletons. Some were just a jumble, others were broken, smashed. Human skeletons. They looked but couldn’t begin to guess how long the bones had been in here. Ursa counted skulls while Alopex checked around for something other than bones. Then they explored the other, eastern chamber. Here, there was nothing except for a slightly raised lip of stone in a rectangle shape on the floor.
Alopex glanced at his companion who shrugged. Alopex shook his head as well, then gestured they’d return the way they came.
Twenty yards along the passage north, they heard the roaring of a very angry voice. It was ahead of them, blocking their way out.
Rachel gave up trying to sleep and sat up, swinging her feet to the floor. She shivered and dragged the blanket around her shoulders. She felt so tired yet .. she wanted to be there when the attack began. She wanted to know it was finally happening to her. She wanted to struggle and face the moment when death occurred. Her eyes closed and her head drooped forward.
Profelis glided forward and waited tensely. Timing was critical.
In the other tent, Leo hovered over Anna Cowley as she bled to death. Leo waited and felt a burst of sympathy at the moment Anna died. Her fingers itched to do something but Profelis had briefed her well. She had to wait, so wait she did. Long seconds passed, crucial seconds. But, as she’d been warned it would, the darkness slithered out and crept to the floor where it picked up speed and headed out the tent flap and across the camp. Leo didn’t mark in which direction it went – she was busy bringing life back to the dead. No sooner had she finished and paused to draw a breath when she saw Andrew was starting to bleed.
Profelis lay Rachel down on her bed again and turned to Merlin. The other occupant of the tent was Murray and he was well out of it. But Merlin showed no sign of being under a ferocious, lethal attack. Profelis returned to his corner but kept watch as he thought death occurring during sleep had to be the kindest death of all.
Leo had saved two of her three charges. They’d feel tired in the morning but that was all. Derek slept uneasily, his face never quite still, but he wasn’t bleeding. Nick ducked inside. “Leo ..?” he whispered.
“How’s it going?”
“Two down, one to go.”
“Who’s the one?” he inquired.
Nick nodded and eased back into the night. Anna and Andrew were clear. That was good. Andrew and Merlin had spent the most time with Murray, then Rachel and Anna. Derek’s contact had been more limited because he’d spent a lot of time in the control room or in the study. Nick went on to the second quarantine tent.
Profelis looked round. “Is Alopex back yet?”
“Haven’t seen him. How you doing?”
“Rachel is clear.”
“Peri hasn’t shown any signs?” Nick frowned.
“Strange,” Nick remarked. “She an’ Andrew were with him the most – both time an’ proximity. Andrew’s come thru, yet she isn’t … ” He went closer to her camp bed, his head angling. “Profelis? Is it me or is she not breathing?” Nick shone his flashlight into her face. “Let’s move!”
“But she isn’t – ” Profelis protested, unable to argue with the blue tinge to Merlin’s lips.
Nick dragged back the blanket. Merlin’s thighs were soaked with blood.
“Oh God … ” Profelis choked. “Get outta the way!” He shoved at Nick who stumbled back. “Let me save her.”
Save her and our baby, Nick prayed. Please .. don’t let it be too late.
Alopex glanced at Ursa. “We don’t have to go past it,” Ursa whispered.
“No, we don't, but this is fact finding. We need to gather as much information as we can. One of us at least has to get back with it. The thing mostly likely won’t even see us.”
“No, I can’t .. but I can hear you. I can smell you.”
Alopex frowned, doubting that statement.
“You smell of .. goodness. Honey, nectar. Sweet.”
Ursa shrugged and Alopex pointed that they’d go on, toward the voice. Then, abruptly, he halted. Ursa came to a halt as well. Alopex bent to the floor and began to write in the sandy grit.
‘You must leave at once. Get the intel back to Derek. I’ll stay.’
Ursa read this then swiveled his startled eyes to stare. Then he wrote, ‘Why?’
‘Because I believe the demon doesn’t know the door has been breached. I have to keep it occupied. If we leave, it may come looking for us. We can’t risk that. Go.’
Ursa straightened reluctantly. Alopex nodded and his companion disappeared. Alopex began to slowly retrace his steps. Slowly, the voice was coming toward him.
“I never knew I smelled that way,” he called.
“You do. Evil and goodness. Darkness and light. Brimstone and honey. We are all opposites .. and opposites attract.”
“Some opposites repel.”
“You should be repelled by me. I am attracted to you. It is always the way. Good runs in an effort to keep itself pure. Evil is already corrupt and loves to share.”
Alopex felt the wall at his back. He could go west into the bone room or east into the chamber with the lip of stone on the floor.
“So you will run, honey man, until I catch up with you .. and then I will feast and toss the bones aside.”
Okay .. the east chamber, I think.
Alopex crabbed away to his right.
“It is many years since I sucked the marrow from a human’s bones. My hunger is infinite, boundless. No, don’t go in there … ”
Alopex halted, wondering about this. Was there a tiny element of .. resentment in the voice? Fear maybe?
“Why not?” he called.
“Because it is a trap. There is no way out.”
Alopex couldn’t argue with that one. He skirted the stone lip and arrived at the far wall. He could go no farther. He watched the opening and, slowly, crawling on all fours, a thin, slavering figure appeared at the chamber’s entrance. It had blue skin. Alopex swallowed.
“She isn’t responding. It .. I could be too late,” Profelis muttered.
Nick squatted down and took Merlin’s hand. “C’mon, babe. Don’t leave me now. Too much still to do. Too many battles still to fight. An’ way too much life yet to live.”
“She wasn’t showing any signs like the others. I didn’t think to look under the blanket.”
“Profelis, stop apologizing an’ work!” Nick ordered tersely. “Michael? Gabriel? C’mon, guys, you promised. You said if her life was in danger … ”
Profelis flinched violently and his hands began to shake. “What have you done?” he asked Nick.
“Called in a favor.”
The energy was flooding out of Profelis and into Merlin. Profelis was finding it difficult to control. The tremors began to spread to his arms and Nick put his hands on top of the Enforcer’s to keep them in place. Then Merlin gave a convulsive shudder and sucked in a breath.
Profelis felt the sudden burst of power fade and he removed his hands. Merlin’s eyelids drifted open.
“Welcome back,” Nick said with a quick smile.
“Was it close? It felt close … ” she breathed. “But .. I got something done. Something I should’ve done before.”
“I spoke with Aquila, told her what was happening. We were in the .. the forest.”
“Get some sleep, Peri,” Profelis urged.
“Is my baby all right?” she asked on a whisper, already slipping away into healing rest.
“We’ll find out in the morning,” Nick replied.
There was nothing more Profelis could do so, leaving Nick to maintain the watch, he went to the second tent to check in with Leo.
“Anything?” he asked.
She shook her head, frowning. “Anna was first, then Andrew. I would’ve thought Derek would have been first. He spent the least amount of time and physical closeness to Murray. But he’s shown no signs.”
“Have you checked? Looked under the blanket?”
“Yes.” Leo shook her head again. “I don’t understand it, Evan. Everyone else in here is clean.”
Profelis frowned too. “Before .. we asked why was Murray being singled out. Now we have to ask why Derek Rayne?”
The tent flap twitched aside and Ursa ducked in. “He stayed behind.”
For a moment, Profelis thought Ursa was answering the question but then another meaning made his heart falter. “Jon’s still in there?” he queried quietly but urgently and Ursa nodded. “You’re supposed to watch his back!”
“He told me to leave. Y’think I would’ve just left him? Someone had to bring out the intel. We couldn’t both come.”
“Why not?” Leo asked.
“Because the thing’s in there. Alopex said he’d keep it occupied. If we both left, it could try to follow us and Alopex believes it doesn’t know the wall’s no longer there.”
Profelis froze for a second. “Then we don’t have much time. Leo, you come with me. Ursa, you stay here an’ watch Derek for signs of bleeding.”
“Okay. Good luck.”
This is interesting, Alopex thought. It won’t cross the threshold. There may be no way out but, in here, I’m safe.
“Who are you? What’s your name?”
The wizened creature laughed quietly. “You think I would tell you? If you know a demon’s name, or a devil’s name, you gain an element of power over it.”
“Really. I didn’t know that.”
“Yes, you did. Don’t attempt to trick me, honey man. It won’t work. Don’t try to pass yourself off as a typical human. I can’t see you but I can smell you and hear you so I know you’re in there.”
“Well, it’s pitch black in here. It’d be tough to see anything.”
“For human eyes. My eyes aren’t human. I can see very well.”
Alopex could see very well too. The creature had shrunken from the muscular depiction on the chamber wall but it didn’t appear weak. Its strength had changed from brute force to that wiry, scrawny kind of devious malevolence. A forked tongue was tasting the air. Saliva dripped from its mouth. It looked hungry.
“How long have you been here?” Alopex asked.
“You know how long.”
“No, I don’t. I didn’t shut you away, nor did my ancestors. Those who did are long gone.”
The creature laughed again. “Really. Then you are more of a fool than I believed.”
“It’s possible,” Alopex agreed. “Is there any reason why you won’t answer me?”
The creature thought. “None. I have been here exactly one million, four hundred nine thousand, three hundred eighty seven days.”
“And you expected me to know that?”
“I am feared. I am the destroyer.”
“Hate to tell you this but no one even remembers you.”
“You lie again!”
“I’m really not.”
The sudden silence rang. “Then why are you here? If you speak the truth, you didn’t expect to find me.”
Alopex thought about a saying he’d heard once and saw how it might apply here. Demons and devils were not overly smart. Their thinking was all straight lines. Yes, they could be sly, devious and manipulative but they telegraphed the end result. To be truly evil, it took a human gone to the black. Their minds were a mass of corkscrews.
The saying he’d heard was ‘if you can’t blind ’em with science, befuddle ’em with bullshit.’ It worked for him.
“I’m a tomb robber,” he said. “Times have moved on a whole lot since you .. disappeared. These days, we can scan for underground tombs from above and project ourselves thru solid rock to check it out. That’s why you can’t see me. I’m not actually here. I’m in a booth on the surface. I have to say, it wasn’t worth my effort. There’s no treasure here to steal.”
“I’m not a fool either. Do you expect me to believe that?”
“Believe or not, it’s the answer to your question. Our scanner picked up an underground complex. Passageways an’ chambers.”
“That may be so .. but why is it that I can smell you?”
“Beats me. Could be a side effect of the projection booth.”
The creature digested this in silence. “The world has .. moved on too?”
“Populations have increased?”
“Uh huh.” He knew where this was going.
“The feast is assured. Now you know I am here, you will release me.”
Alopex grinned. Transparent as glass.
“An’ what’s in it for me?”
“I will not devour you. I will reward you.”
“Okay. You got a deal. It’ll take a little while. We have to unearth the way in, dig it out, break it down. You’ll have to be patient.”
“My patience will only stretch so far. You have one day. Get out.”
“I need longer than twenty four hours!”
“I will show you where to dig. Follow me.”
Alopex felt a jolt of alarm. “Can’t you just tell me? I have the scan map.”
It hauled itself up and began to slowly walk away.
It’s going to the chamber. And then it’ll see it can leave whenever the hell it wants …
He set off after the creature and trailed along behind it as it wound its way thru the dark passageways. When it reached the wall where the false door was, it halted, dissolved into smoke, and vanished. His heart sinking, Alopex followed.
On the steps which led down to the tomb, Profelis and Leo were ready for anything. They stood easily but every nerve was tense and jangling.
Then Alopex emerged. “Nice illusion, guys. It tricked the beast. It thinks the wall’s still there.”
“It didn’t harm you?”
“Uh uh. We spoke for some time and I learned a lot. It’s given me twenty four hours to free it.”
“I’ll be rewarded,” Alopex commented. “I’ll be dessert an’ not the main course.” He grinned. “C’mon, let’s get back to camp. You can fill me in on the way.”
Dawn came to the camp. Rachel opened her eyes and groaned. She was thirsty and had a pounding headache but she struggled up.
“Hey, how you feeling?” Nick asked.
“Okay .. except for the jungle drums in my head. I – ” She saw the state of her T-shirt. It was spattered and smeared with dried blood. “Damn!”
“You’re fine. Cured.”
Her shoulders sagged. “I don’t remember a thing about it an’ I wanted to stare my death in the face. I wanted to fight it. I missed the whole thing. Damn!” Then Rachel realized what Nick had said and she looked up. “I’m really okay?”
“You really are.”
“An’ Peri ..?”
“Close for a while. We had to fight for her. I’m not sure if the baby made it too.”
“Oh, Nick .. I’ll do what I can, of course, but it’s still so early in the pregnancy.”
“I know. She lost a lot of blood.” Nick looked gaunt with worry. “I don’t think it can be good news.”
Rachel squeezed his hand. “You’d be surprised. I mean it,” she persisted. “The urge to survive is with us from the very start. Babies are, essentially, parasites. They will take what they need to the detriment of the mother’s health. They will survive .. all kinds of trauma. Don’t give up hope. I’m sure Aquila is doing all she can.” He didn’t respond to that and Rachel tightened her hold. He didn’t pull away from the physical contact. “Did you sleep at all last night?”
“No,” he said with a quick and tired grin. “Too much was happening.”
“Then get some sleep now. Here, use my bed. We’ll push it closer to Peri’s.”
Fifteen minutes later, Rachel and Murray both left the tent to face the day. Behind them, Nick was out for the count, his hand resting on Merlin’s arm. The first thing Rachel and Murray noticed was the smell of breakfast wafting lazily from the mess tent. The next thing was the sight of Profelis, Alopex and two strangers holding a rapid conversation in the middle of the compound.
Boldly, Rachel went forward. “What’s going on?” she asked.
“We’ve made contact,” Alopex replied.
“Great! So, we can pack up an’ all head home, right?” She watched their faces. “It’s over. You guys don’t go in for traps as long term solutions.”
“Dr Rayne wanted us to gather information.”
“Uh huh, but you’ve made contact,” Rachel pointed out.
“We’ll update everyone over breakfast,” Profelis replied.
They went in one direction, Rachel – sighing shortly – went in the other with Murray trotting along at her side.
“What do they mean? H-How did they make contact?” he asked.
“They’re demonologists, Murray. They have their ways just as you have yours an’ I have mine. Hi, Alex, Andrew! How’re you feeling today?”
“I feel great,” Alex said. “Andrew .. not so hot.”
“But grateful to be here an’ alive,” Andrew added. “Apparently, I died in the night.”
“So did I,” Rachel agreed briskly. “Small world, huh?”
“From listening in on various conversations,” Alex remarked, “it seems there was a lot of it around last night. The only one who slept the night thru with no complications was Derek.”
“Look, I’m not trying to be awkward here but .. isn’t that somewhat removed from the academic study of demons?” Murray inquired. “Raising people from the dead … That’s necromancy, isn’t it?”
“Of course not!” Rachel exclaimed. “ER doctors do it all the time. Necromancy is raising the dead after digging ’em up from their graves. People who have only just died can be brought back by CPR.”
He shook his head. “I’m glad I didn’t have to go .. thru .. that. All right, let’s change the subject, shall we? Why didn’t this happen to Derek?”
“I don’t know, Murray, but it could have something to do with the vision he had,” Alex related. “Horus, Anubis and Thoth said he was chosen.”
“Really … ” Murray looked away for a moment then back. “That happens to him a lot, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Rachel confirmed. “I don’t know about you guys but I am gonna celebrate my life with a big breakfast.”
“Twenty four hours?” Andrew queried, some forty minutes later. “That’s cutting it a little fine.”
“Demons don’t think like we do, Andrew,” Alex commented. “They have a different perception of time.”
“This one doesn’t. He gave me the exact number of days he’s been stuck in that underground complex,” Alopex remarked. “He knows what a day is. But it is true they don’t think like us. Any of us,” he added. “I’ve reached some conclusions about the nature of the darkness first encountered in the chamber. We had assumed it was the demon in a non-corporeal state. In a way, it was .. but it was remnants. Flakes of skin. Dandruff. Every time he changes back, not all of him changes. Bits remain as darkness. These escaped from the chamber. There’s an element of hive mind too. The fact that the … ”
“Dandruff,” Rachel supplied in a flat voice.
“Very well, dandruff escaped and entered Murray, the Dalys and the two research assistants suggests awareness. Possibly, the most aware entered Murray. When the others reacted to its presence within themselves with a catastrophic breakdown, the darkness left them.”
“So .. these bits of living dandruff,” Andrew frowned, “are .. floating around somewhere ..?”
“I know the darkness, when it left you, returned to the tomb. I saw it leave you, Murray, an’ it went thru the east wall. Perhaps its task was to gather food to sustain the creature. It’s possible the other remnants are floating around but it’s unlikely. They’re either trying to get back here or they’ve expired. Time and distance do play a part. Anyway,” he went on, “it means that the creature was not in the chamber when Professor Daly breached the wall. It doesn’t know that it can walk out whenever it wants.”
“You are so wrong,” said a voice from the tent flap.
Startled eyes flashed round.
Anna Cowley shook her head at them. “I’ve been outside, listening. You said it could hear you. What makes you think it didn’t hear you say about a fake replacement wall? An’, even if it missed that gem of information, all these .. aware flakes of skin an’ dandruff ..? Left us an’ ran home to Papa? They’re keeping their vacation memories a big secret?”
In the distance, there was a roar of triumph …
“It played me like a violin,” Alopex said in dismay.
“Oh .. shit,” Murray whispered.