“Can’t you do something?” Rachel hissed, glaring at Alopex and Profelis. “We have two sick people here. One needs to rest. The other … ” She shook her head.
“Peri is resting,” Profelis replied.
“An’ Derek?” she challenged. “I can’t wake him up. I’ve checked an’ there are no bites, stings, or weird symbols on his skin.”
“We’re not sure about Dr Rayne,” Alopex said. “However, if it helps, he doesn’t appear to be in any discomfort. His vital signs are good, strong, and stable. There is no fever.”
“So we just hide him out here among the rocks an’ wait for .. what? That thing to come looking for a very long delayed breakfast?”
She was frustrated and it showed. Rachel hated feeling helpless. It was a sign that things were out of her control. However, right now, things were out of everyone’s control.
“Rachel, surprising as it may sound, that’s the best option.”
“Excuse me?” Alex promptly queried, twisting round to stare. “That we’re breakfast is our best option?”
“We’re bait. We have to keep the creature in the area. Only a few miles north of here is the Valley of the Kings. Full of innocent tourists. We, at least, have a chance of beating this thing but, to do that, we have to keep it here.”
Murray and Anna were a little farther down the outcrop and off to one side. Murray hunched down and watched the desert. Anna’s eyes were narrowed against the sun as she did the same thing. But it wasn’t an alert watch for either of them. It was more something to do while they waited for instructions.
“I’m sorry, okay?” she muttered. “I never quite believed your story, not totally. I mean, I believed the bit about finding the tomb an’ George dying. I just never … I mean, a curse? What was all that about? C’mon … An’ you were right. They all were. An’ I wanted to believe it was locusts. Hah.”
“It’s all right. I never quite believed it myself. In a way, I’ve been vindicated and, in another, I really wish I hadn’t.”
“You an’ me both,” she grinned. Anna paused to scan the terrain. “Everything I know an’ trust is thrown to the wolves. Demons … They exist. Well .. one exists.”
“Don’t forget Guatemala,” he said.
“Right. Although,” she added, “strictly, that was a myth, not a demon.”
“Oh .. right.”
“You adding this to your list?” Anna inquired.
“Absolutely. If I survive, I’m not going to get killed by it.”
She worked her way around this piece of logic and nodded. “Think I’ll start a list of my own,” she muttered. “So .. what’s the plan?”
“Somehow, we have to repeat what the Ancient Egyptians did.”
Anna nodded again. “There’s only one place to find out what that was.” Murray had to agree. She straightened her shoulders. “Up for it?”
“What? You can’t! That thing’s down there!”
“We avoid it,” she dismissed. “Stay outta its way. Easy.”
“What if it comes back?” Murray choked.
“Are you kidding me? If I’d been stuck in a hole in the ground for almost four hundred decades an’ I suddenly found the world was my oyster, there’s no way in hell I’d .. come back. Right now, the tomb’s the safest place. C’mon! Where’s your spirit of adventure?”
Murray hauled himself upright. “I must be mad … ”
“Don’t blame yourself,” Nick yawned.
“Who else is there to blame? I was inside with the creature. I thought it was typical. Stupid. It was the opposite, “ Alopex commented. “I should have known, Nick. When I went to the tomb with Derek, I smelled evil. It was still strong. That should’ve been my first big clue.” He shook his head, sighing irritably. “It let me out an’ I let it know I wasn’t alone. I never once stopped to think where it was when Ursa an’ I went inside. I knew it was pitch black but we could see like it was noon. There were no lingering pockets of darkness. It wasn’t hiding. It wasn’t there. It followed us inside.”
“Okay, so you screwed up. It happens. You’re only human.”
“Don’t beat on yourself,” Nick encouraged and leaned forward. “Look, it was already out so you didn’t do anything to show it that it was free. You did talk to it. Did you learn anything?”
“How long it had been trapped there. It isn’t much, is it?” Alopex frowned thoughtfully as he ran the entire conversation thru his head again. “Actually, I did learn something new. It’s clever. Devils an’ demons usually aren’t. This one played me, Nick. Appeared weak as I expected it would. Told me what I wanted to hear. Offered me a deal, let me go. It’s clever … That means .. it’s very old.”
Nick nodded. “Give me an idea.”
“Lucifer is smart. Thinks big plans, intricate plans, they last centuries,” Alopex said. “He .. works the numbers, manipulates events, generations, all to some far distant outcome. Lucifer was the first. I’d guess that this creature .. not long after.”
“That’s old,” Nick agreed. “So .. with Derek out of commission an’ Peri unable to take part, what do we do? Can you stop it?”
“I don’t know,” Alopex replied.
Anna and Murray took a circumspect roundabout route back to the tomb. They hugged outcrops, hunched low when they ran from one rock to the next, and tried to keep the noise to a minimum. They could hear the creature in the area but it wasn’t near the entrance to the chamber.
“You wanna stay out here? Keep watch?” Anna inquired.
“No,” Murray answered flatly. “I don’t want to see it coming, thank you. Even if I did, we couldn’t get away in time.”
She shrugged. “You’re right. We’ll hear it coming so we don’t need to see it. Two heads will make light work. C’mon.”
Shaking his head but not letting the doubts as to the wisdom of this expedition stop him, Murray followed her down the steps. “You bring a flashlight?”
“Brought two,” she grinned.
“You’re not scared at all, are you?” he marveled.
Anna paused to switch on one of the flashlights and send a slender beam around the chamber. “I was but I don’t think I was scared of the .. thing. Well, yeah, maybe for a while. Mostly, I was scared of being seen as a waste of space. Derek asked for my help here on site. This is the first real chance I’ve had to do my job, Murray. An’ I’m here with you. That helps.”
“Oh,” he blushed. “I’m sure I’m not responsible for bolstering your courage – ”
“That isn’t why I said it.” She leaned closer to one of the unfinished walls. “Come hold this flashlight for me.”
As he took the flashlight and Anna dug a notebook and pen from her pocket, he asked, “Why did you say it then?”
“I know you. Know what you can do. We’ve worked together before.” She looked up then down and sketched quickly. “The others are good people but .. they’re not like us. They .. see this an’ their brains come to different conclusions. The way I saw this panning out was you, me an’ Derek would work the tomb, the others would do something else. Derek’s out of it for the moment so that leaves me an’ you. I meant it when I said two heads will make light work. Lighter, anyway.”
Murray nodded. “I guess you’re right. What are you studying?”
“These unfinished drawings. I know my Ancient Egypt. The artists painted scenes of everyday life. I’m hoping that .. somewhere in this collection of sketches is something we can use to cage the beast again.”
He glanced at her. “So we can repeat what they did. Even if we don't find it exactly, maybe there’s something to hint at what they did. How they started, anyway.”
“Right. If a magician is indicated, we know they tried some form of ancient magic or esoteric rite. If it’s a priest, the gods were invoked. It has to be here. And we just have to find it.”
Merlin shifted and blinked. “Why are we outside?”
When they had moved, they’d woken her but she’d been more out of it than in.
“Camp isn’t safe. We’re hiding.”
“Even with a perimeter?” she queried.
“I think so,” Nick replied as he concentrated on cleaning his pistol.
Cautiously, she sat up to look around. “It’s out.”
“Oh yeah. We’re the bait.”
Merlin nodded. “Yeah, that makes sense.” She glanced at him. “Did we let it out?”
“Professor Daly did.” Nick shifted too, trying to find a patch of rapidly shrinking shade. “It’s good that it hasn’t moved on but I don’t know why it’s still in the area. Pickings are a little thin around here.”
“Okay, bring me up to speed. What happened last night an’ this morning.”
Nick started at the beginning and told her everything he knew and what he’d been told up to her waking. She took the news of her own death calmly but a small flame of anger burned behind her eyes.
“Derek’s still asleep?”
He nodded. “Doesn’t seem right to me.”
“No .. unless he isn’t sleeping but doing something else. Fingers crossed, huh? Alopex is wrong, by the way.”
“About what?” Nick frowned, glancing at her.
“Lucifer wasn’t the first.” Merlin stretched out her legs. “He’s number one now but he wasn’t the first. Lucifer didn’t invent evil. It was there in the world while he was still God’s right hand. He saw how strong evil was, how God let it continue, an’ he was corrupted. He fell, or was cast out, an’ then .. he took over. Lucifer didn’t establish downstairs, Nick. This devil here .. could be older than his boss.”
Nick thought about this. “Alopex did say it wasn’t typical, not what he’d expected. This one is clever.”
“Sounds older by a long way. Having taken over, Lucifer didn’t want someone else trying the same trick so he kept ’em dumb after that. But there are few he usurped who are as smart as he is. He watches ’em. Keep ’em busy so they don’t get ideas. The so-called Princes of Hell.”
He squinted against the glare of the sun. “Can you take it down?”
She knew what he meant. He wasn’t asking Merlin, he was asking if the Enforcers could do it.
Merlin thought it over carefully. “We’re pretty tough. Definitely strong. Got the tools to do the job. We’re more powerful now than for a very long time because there’re so few of us. But .. I don’t think we can. Not now. If I were still in the game .. there would’ve been a good chance, but I’m not. Alopex an’ Profelis .. even together, they’re not enough.” She pursed her lips. “They’d try, I know. They’d give it everything they have. They’d both be killed.”
Nick nodded slowly. “We’ve gotten used to you just .. doing it.”
“Complacency is a thief, Nicky,” she commented sadly. “I never really saw us doing much here except helping with security. It’s kinda gotten away from us. This one is down to you guys an’ Derek in particular.”
“He’s been chosen,” he agreed. “But .. how? If you can’t do it, even in a group assault, how can Derek?”
“Maybe he’ll know when he wakes up,” Merlin replied. “Where’s Anna?”
“Hey .. take a look at this … ” Anna breathed. “Did Gayle an’ Phil ever study these sketches?”
“They looked but they worked more on the finished wall. They were going to move onto the rest next season. What is it?” Murray inquired.
“There’re no hieroglyphs to act as commentary but they have drawn the lines ready. However, these sketches are scenes from the life of Mr Blue Skin over there. See here? These are Nubians. Always depicted like that.”
“Uh huh,” he nodded.
“Nubians at war with Egyptians,” she pointed. “Here .. a lot of dead Egyptians. This figure, taller than all the others .. has to be Mr Blue Skin. It might have been Senusret – he was tall – but he isn’t wearing any of the usual royal paraphernalia. No crown, no crook an’ flail.”
“All right,” Murray accepted. “Although I am professionally obliged to point out that these are only sketches. They could’ve intended to add the paraphernalia when they finished.”
“Murray, he’s standing in the middle of a bunch of dead bodies. Would Senusret have wanted that shown? These corpses are his own people, not dead Nubians!” She paused to draw in a calming breath. “Okay, I’ll take it under advisement. This tomb was never intended to be opened so maybe Senusret was okay with the truth being shown. There again, no other tomb in Egyptian history was ever meant to be opened either and they were decorated with a sanitized version of the truth .. except maybe Akhenaten. Now .. here we see the same tall figure .. what’s that he’s doing? It looks like he’s being sick.”
“Vomiting darkness ..?” Murray tentatively suggested.
“An’ these soldiers are falling over. This scene shows him .. oh, eating their guts.”
“It probably isn’t the pharaoh then.”
She winked at him. “Okay, let’s skip the middle section an’ go to the final reel. No Mr Blue Skin in this scene but it does show a lotta guys being industrious with picks an’ hammers.”
“Digging the tomb. Preparing it. There’s the architect.”
They moved along the wall. “Ah, here it starts to get interesting,” Anna commented. “These soldiers seem to be .. acting as a lure, drawing Mr Blue Skin in this direction. What’s this?”
Murray squinted. “Looks like priests. They’re sacrificing animals. Bait?”
“Calling on their gods. Making offerings.” Anna nodded to herself. “I think they knew they were outclassed. They couldn’t beat Mr Blue Skin without divine help.”
“And here they are! Thoth,” Murray pointed. “Anubis .. and Horus.”
“Okay, now we have gods.” Anna paused. “Murray, if it took the help of the gods to beat this thing, how the hell are we supposed to do it?”
“Derek,” he replied instantly. “He saw these three in a dream. He’s been chosen.”
“An’ here we are, putting our necks in the noose, an’ all the time Derek’s got the answers.” Anna sighed. “Last I saw of him, Derek was out cold. Not a great deal of help in the overall scheme of things.”
“I guess not. Okay, what do these gods do?”
Anna scanned along the row. “It seems that they .. build a big bonfire .. then stand around it and lift their arms .. an’ .. oh, who’s this?”
“The tall figure.”
“It can’t be. Not the same one. For one thing, he’s still chasing soldiers. See?” she pointed. “For another .. here, there’s more than one of him. Whaddya know, Murray – the gods had to call in help.”
“She was there!” Alex insisted. “Her and Murray.”
“Where would they ..?” Rachel began, glaring around. “You don’t think the creature took them?”
“I don’t believe Anna would let herself be taken without letting people know it was happening,” Alex pointed out.
“She’s doing her job,” Nick said, shoving his firearm into the holster at the back of his jeans. “She’s gone to the tomb. Murray’s with her.”
“She wouldn’t be so … Yeah, she would,” Rachel agreed. “She’s stubborn enough to do that. We’ll have to go after them,” she shrugged angrily.
“I can stay with Dr Rayne,” Andrew offered.
“Peri stays too,” Nick added. “We don’t go after ’em to pull ’em out, just to keep their exit route clear.”
“Nick! You’d let them stay in a dangerous situation?” Rachel accused.
“There’s a creature out there,” Alex commented.
“I think I know by now the way Anna sees things,” Nick replied. “Creature trapped a long time, now free, wouldn’t return to the place of imprisonment without cause. They snuck in. Anna’s headstrong but she isn’t stupid, Rachel. And she’s an archeologist. So’s Murray. We wouldn’t know what to look for in there. They do. Everyone set?”
Alex and Rachel nodded.
“We take it slow an’ careful. Stay low. According to Alopex, the creature has a good sense of smell.”
“So should I spray perfume or roll in dung?” Rachel inquired.
Nick smiled quickly. “Just be careful. You follow me. No one makes a move until I say so. Okay?”
They nodded again, swallowed down nerves and started off in his footsteps.
Anna squinted and leaned in closer. “What d’you make of this?”
Murray was squinting at the same set of pictures. “I’m not sure. It looks like .. these strangers and Mr Blue Skin are having a conversation. There’re no soldiers around, no priests, no gods.”
“A talk .. about what?” Anna wondered. “Shouldn’t they be fighting .. or something?”
“Maybe. Well .. that’s it. No more pictures. I guess the artisans cleared out while this group was talking. Fortunate for us that they managed to sketch this much. Somehow, and in a very short space of time, Mr Blue Skin was .. put inside the tomb and sealed up, then buried.”
“Okay. Well .. that’s it. Now we take this back to the others.”
“Don’t you want to know how it ended?”
Anna almost swallowed her tongue. Murray dropped the flashlight. Anna glanced quickly back over her shoulder.
“Your picture .. doesn’t do you justice.”
Edumenkhet smiled as he stood at the base of the steps.
“An’ yeah, we’d love to know how it ended,” she said. “Tell us, please. An’ .. take your time.”
“You okay?” Andrew asked.
Merlin nodded slowly, her eyes distracted. “You?”
“Oh .. sure. All things considered, it could be a lot worse.”
She blinked then smiled and began to laugh. “You’re a funny guy. Is it deliberate or natural?”
Andrew cast a slightly wounded look her way. “I don’t understand.”
She twisted to face him. “You’re a butler. Now it is true that I don’t fully grasp what it is that butlers do because, first, Joseph an’ then you are so damned good at doing it. It just .. seems to flow. Everything. There’s always beer in the icebox, food in the larder. Never any dust anywhere. You make it happen .. like magic because I really don’t ever see you working. I could think someone else does it but I know you do it. An’ .. to make it look so easy means you are very good at what you do. You’re a smart guy. You learn by watching an’ listening, an’ thinking about it. So .. making a comment like that in this situation is funny. It lightened the atmosphere which is pretty much doom an’ gloom right now. What I don’t know is if it’s your natural behavior or if it’s something you’ve been taught to do as a part of your job.”
Andrew couldn’t say anything for a moment. His mouth worked but no words came out. Eventually, he gave a small shrug. “Thank you. It’s .. rare to hear such honesty.” He smiled. “And it’s great to get such a compliment.”
“You’re very welcome. One day, when things are quiet, you’ll have to tell me how you do it.”
“I make lists,” he replied. “It’s that simple.”
Derek gave a deep sigh and woke up. He blinked rapidly in the bright sunlight then rolled onto his side and sat up.
“Where is everybody?” he asked.
“We’re here,” Merlin replied. “Alopex an’ Profelis are out walking the boundary. Nick, Rachel an’ Alex have gone after Anna an’ Murray who have gone to the tomb.”
“The beast is free,” Derek said.
“S’right,” she nodded and didn’t ask how he knew.
“Peri, I want you to find Alopex and Profelis and go wait by the helicopters. Take Andrew with you.”
Merlin didn’t move. “Why?” she asked.
“Because I’ve just told you,” Derek replied patiently but there was a crusty edge to his voice. “I’ve been chosen. I know what I have to do. I also know you cannot help me do it.”
“Maybe I should wait till the others get back – ”
“No, it is unnecessary.”
“Okay. I trust you, Derek. I trust you really do know what you’re doing.”
He smiled faintly. “How did everyone cope last night?”
“Well .. we’re all clean now. The only one who’s still affected – ”
“Is me,” he interrupted. “And there’s a reason for that. I wasn’t just sleeping, Peri. I was .. under instruction.”
Merlin got to her feet. “We’ll be by the helicopters. How long are we likely to be waiting there?”
“I’d take supplies and blankets,” Derek advised.
Derek watched them negotiate their way down the outcrop and set off toward the helicopters in the middle distance. He saw Merlin talking into her cell phone and, five minutes later, as he was making a call himself, he noticed two other figures jogging toward her and Andrew.
Out in the desert, Nick was making steady progress toward the tomb when his cell phone began to bleep at him and blew any hope of stealthy progress out of the water.
“Damn!” he muttered, hauling up and dragging the phone from his back pocket. “Yeah?” he asked tersely as he watched the surrounding desert for signs that the bleeping had alerted the creature.
“Nick, get back here,” Derek said.
“Hey, you’re awake. Welcome back.”
“Did you hear me?” Derek asked.
“Anna an’ Murray have gone to the tomb – ” Nick began, already anticipating the outburst of anger. He was in the lead, he hadn’t done his job, people were missing. Derek was going to explode.
But he didn’t.
“I know and they are not alone in there. Attempting a rescue would be foolhardy. Return to the camp.”
Startled, Nick wavered. “If the creature’s with them – ”
“It is and it would kill you. Trust me, please. I know what I’m doing.”
It jarred every good instinct he had and Nick really had to struggle to comply. In the end, it came down to trust, pure and simple.
“Okay,” Nick said, his voice heavy.
“Be swift. We don’t have much time and there are things to do.”
The line clicked dead and Nick looked at his phone.
“Yes, boss,” he muttered. “So much for being the lead, huh.”
Orders are orders. He studied the desert in case Derek had gotten it wrong about the entity being in the tomb but everywhere was silent. It was as close to a confirmation as he could get without physically going to check for himself so he jogged back to where Alex and Rachel were waiting for his signal.
“Trouble?” Alex queried.
“Change of orders,” Nick said. “We’re retreating to the camp.”
Rachel’s eyes widened even as she felt a surge of relief. “We’re leaving them?”
“Not exactly. The creature has them.”
“Then we have to go on,” Alex decided.
“We’re going back,” Nick countered. “Derek’s awake .. an’ seems to be in overdrive.”
Rachel hesitated. “Well, that’s good news .. I hope.”
“So do I,” Nick murmured.
While he waited for the others to return, Derek ate a very late breakfast and reviewed what he’d learned while he’d slept. Sending the Enforcers away filled him with dread yet he knew he had no choice. It wasn’t that this was a Legacy matter and thus they had no role to play. It was clear the opposite was true. But this wasn’t an Enforcer matter either. At least, not these Enforcers.
From what Derek had learned of Merlin’s history, they were there to fight fire with fire. Supremely powerful beings yet the saying was that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Therefore, there were stringent rules in place to stop any corruption taking hold. What Derek planned to do was what had to be done. It was why he’d been chosen and no one else. He saw that now. It terrified him but he faced the terror bravely. What he was dreading most was telling the others. They trusted him, trusted his judgment. How much longer that would last would come down to their personal loyalty because, even to him, the plan was madness.
He’d gone to sleep the previous night fully expecting to die sometime before dawn. He’d put his faith in Profelis and Alopex, believing they would do what was necessary to save him. Sleep had come quickly, possibly in response to his prayer – Derek had not wanted to be awake when death came to claim him. In sleep, in dreams, time is no consequence. It passes without being noticed. So Derek hadn’t been sure how long he’d been asleep when the … He wasn’t sure what to call it. It hadn’t been a dream. Dreams are remote. It hadn’t been a vision. This was something different. It was .. an experience. Interactive. It was an out of body, other dimension, between the worlds, experience. Not now, not then, not here, not there. It was timeless and boundless. And necessary.
He’d ‘woken’ to find himself apparently outside. Stars had twinkled overhead. The night air had a nasty bite to it. Derek had looked around. The camp hadn’t been there. It was just desert – rocks, shale, sand. He’d begun to walk. He hadn’t known to where but it kept him warm and he figured there was a reason for him to be in the desert at night. He didn’t know what the reason was but, if he walked, it would find him.
And so it had. Anubis, Horus and Thoth had shimmered out of the air and become solid, walking to meet him.
“I am chosen,” Derek had greeted them.
“So you are,” Thoth had replied.
“But I do not know what I must do.”
“You must do what you must. What you alone can,” Horus had said. “You must do as we did.”
“We are the callers,” Anubis had added. “Now you must call to the others. We have tried but they no longer hear our voices. Our time is past. Yours is now. You must call as we did in the past.”
Derek had nodded. “Who are the others?”
He closed his eyes, hearing again Thoth’s answer to that question.
“I hope you know what you’re doing,” Nick said as he came in.
“So do I, Nick,” Derek sighed. “My God .. so do I.”
Murray’s mouth was dry. He could barely swallow.
“So this is what you do,” Edumenkhet remarked. “How interesting.”
Murray didn’t know how Anna was doing this. Murray’s mind was on the point of shutting down in abject terror.
“Yeah, it is interesting. It’s .. like unraveling huge mysteries. From, for example, a piece of broken column sticking out of the sand, or the mud, an entire civilization has to be reverse engineered. Its language deciphered, its structure an’ politics uncovered, the way its people decorated themselves, what they looked like, what they ate an’ drank, what they lived in, how they lived an’ died .. an’ what they hoped would happen after that. It’s a really fascinating way to earn a living.”
“And you learn all this from one piece of broken stone.”
“That’s just the start. That piece tells us that something’s there. And from there, entire towns can be excavated. From the layout of the buildings, we can start to make assumptions.”
“And it must be assumptions because there are no living people to ask.”
“You got it. An’ Egypt was an ancient civilization even to the people who lived here thousands of years ago.”
Edumenkhet nodded slowly. “From studying these images, you discover the truth.”
“Or a reasonable version of it, sure,” Anna replied. “Hieroglyphs would make it easier to understand but there are none in this .. prison. There’re only the lines drawn in readiness. Even the images aren’t finished to the standard we’ve come to expect from excavating other tombs. This is an incomplete record.” She turned, smiling brightly. “But today is an exceptional opportunity. Today, I can actually ask someone who was here at the time questions about the situation, the politics, the structure and environment. You could do so much to help our understanding of that period in civilization’s history.”
Murray shook his head, his eyes closing. Anna was being brave and bold, and incredibly, stupidly short sighted.
“I could, yes,” the creature said after a long moment of consideration. “But I won’t. Politics bores me. I have no inclination to care for the environment or even to notice what it is. Structure is anathema to me. And the situation is one requiring vengeance on a grand scale. I am a creature of chaos. My purpose is to destroy order. My joy comes in the misery of others.”
“Oh,” Anna breathed, easing back a step.
“I feed on terror and drink the living energy of the soul. I crack bones and suck the juicy marrow. I drink blood.”
She nodded. “Yeah. I kinda got that from one of the sketches. Can I just ask you one, small question? It’s bugging me. I’d really like to know.”
“No. Your wants and needs are immaterial.”
“Sure, I get that but .. if I’m gonna die anyway … We have a tradition in the US. The condemned get a last meal of their choice. I don’t want food. I’d like to have the answer to one question. C’mon, least you can do,” she coaxed, “in the circumstances.”
The least he can do is kill you, Murray thought, if only to shut you up for five seconds.
“One question,” Anna wheedled.
“What keeps you in this general area?”
Murray’s eyes flew open. Anna’s voice had been chatty and inquisitive but she’d sliced her way to the heart of the matter. It had come out of the blue and Edumenkhet’s face darkened in rage.
Merlin, Alopex, Profelis and Andrew sat by one of the helicopters. They’d given up trying to find a patch of shade because the sun was almost directly overhead. Andrew had stripped to a pair of beach shorts. Alopex and Profelis were bare chested too.
“Did we bring enough water?” Merlin asked.
“Yes,” Andrew replied, yawning. “Enough for now, anyway. How long do we have to sit here?”
“Till Derek says we can come back.”
Andrew wiped the back of one hand across his forehead. “I can see why Dr Rayne would .. no, actually, I don’t. I can see why he would want me out of the way but not you. And certainly not Alopex an’ the professor. That makes no sense to me at all.” He shifted uncomfortably. “In Haystone, you were the calm one. When the rest of us were losing it, you held us together. I could be sexist an’ say it’s because you’re a woman that Dr Rayne wants you away from danger but Dr Corrigan an’ Alex are still there so it can’t be that. As for the guys .. surely, two capable, competent, strong men would be a help in whatever he’s planning .. yet he’s sent them away too.”
Alopex’s gaze slid round to Merlin, obviously thinking the same things that Andrew was saying out loud.
Merlin shrugged quickly. “I trust Derek.”
“So do I,” Andrew retorted, kicking at the dusty sand. “I just wish I was sure he trusted himself.”
“I should go back,” Alopex remarked, beginning to rise. “I never got the opportunity to talk with Dr Rayne.”
“We stay put.”
“Peri, I have information he may need.”
“Walk with me,” she invited, gesturing with her index finger. She pointed toward the desert, and away from the camp.
Alopex said nothing until they were out of Andrew’s hearing. “I think this .. being normal has blunted your common sense. You’re being too cautious. You’re giving in to what he wants without even bothering to ask him why he wants it.”
Merlin halted. “I did ask, Jon, and he wouldn’t answer. If I had continued to ask, he still wouldn’t have told me.”
“Peri, the creature is evil. We have a duty to be there. We have to fight.”
“You’d be killed. We don’t have a duty to be fucking stupid.”
“Then we have to at least try. Dying in combat is not an issue with us. Never has been. I’m prepared for it, an’ so is Evan.”
“I know that. An’ I know too why Derek told us to temporarily pack our bags an’ ship out.”
Alopex blinked. “You do?”
“Sure. It’s obvious. He’s going to do something we wouldn’t approve of. We’re bound by the rules. If we were there, we’d be forced to act in a way that would jeopardize the solution to this mess. We’d do the good thing. So Derek sent us away so he can do the right thing. The Legacy has a broader base than we do. He’s going to exercise it.” She watched his expression. “So much for my common sense being blunted, huh? Freedom, liberty to do whatever you want is infectious. We’ve gotten used to it in a very short period of time. I don’t agree with Derek’s choice but we have to remember how it used to be under William. We keep back, let ’em try it their way an’, if it blows up in their faces, we go in an’ clean up after ’em .. if we can.” Merlin shrugged. “I don’t know exactly what he intends to do an’ I do hope he knows what he’s doing. Tell me what you discovered in the tomb. It may give me a clue.”
Alopex shook his head but obeyed. He described the layout of the passageways and the chambers. He told her of the bone room, the chair and the strange rectangular lip of stone on the floor.
Merlin nodded slowly. “Well, that explains what happened to the artists who couldn’t run fast enough. A chair … What did it look like?”
“Just .. a bench, really. Two uprights, flat top. Crudely carved stone. Not decorated. Didn’t look Egyptian at all.”
“A keepsake, maybe? A memento of home?” she wondered. “Why just a chair? Why not other pieces of furniture?”
“And the stone shape on the floor?”
“I know what that is,” Merlin said. “An’ I know why he wouldn’t go into that room.”
Murray’s ears were ringing in the aftermath of the roar. It had begun low, so low that he’d felt it more than heard it. Then it had risen up the scale and grown louder, and louder. Anna had her hands to her head and was crying in pain.
Edumenkhet was trembling, quivering with fury. “Why do I stay here? What keeps me here? The anchor. Those .. cowards, those .. cravens! They knew they could not triumph. They knew they could not win. I was too powerful for them. They called for help. And I trusted … I was a fool. For the first time in my existence, I was a fool. I was anchored to this place and then I was shut away … ”
The camp felt strangely empty and too big. Derek was still unwilling to tell them about his plan so Rachel and Alex wandered a little aimlessly around the tents.
“Where is everyone?” Rachel asked. “They’re not by the rocks.”
Alex rubbed her arms, cold despite the searing heat. “Do you feel vulnerable without Peri here?”
Rachel halted. “Do you think Derek sent her away?”
“Not just her. The others have gone too,” Alex pointed out uneasily.
Rachel frowned. “Why would he do that?”
“Maybe he’s sent them to rescue Anna and Murray.”
“Yeah .. he wouldn’t just abandon them.” Her voice sounded certain, her eyes didn’t match the words.
Nick, too, had felt the sense of emptiness in the camp but he refused to leave the mess tent. A lot was going on in his head. Mainly, it was the recriminations he was hurling at himself that he’d abandoned a rescue effort to come back and sit doing nothing. Nick also wanted to know where Merlin was but he knew Alopex and Profelis would keep her safe. His own safety and that of Rachel and Alex was open to debate but it seemed Derek didn’t want to debate anything.
Nick sat opposite him, the table between them, and watched his Precept with unforgiving eyes. Yet Derek seemed oblivious. He gazed at the table top, a slight frown of concentration denting his forehead. He hadn’t answered any of Nick’s questions and, eventually, Nick had given up asking.
Abruptly, Derek straightened.
“We need kindling, for a bonfire.”
“What I don’t get is where the trust comes into it.”
Alopex frowned. “Excuse me?”
Merlin walked on a few more steps then halted and swung round. “Y’know the earth spoke to me – ”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Oh. Well, yesterday, when you went with Derek to the tomb, I went an’ sat by myself and .. I heard this voice. The earth. Nature. Whatever. Anyway, it told me that it was the creature’s victim an’ his jailer. It said there’s a triangle of the callers, the others an’ the earth. We have to find the others so the trust can be restored and the pact renewed. What does that mean?”
Alopex thought quickly. “The callers did a deal. The others, in collaboration with the earth, trapped the creature. The pact was that, if they did this, the earth would keep its prisoner confined. Now the seal’s been smashed an’ the wall broken down, the pact has been broken too.”
“Sounds good,” she agreed. “Where does the trust come into it?”
He shrugged. “What do we know of the creature? It didn’t know the meaning of loyalty. Friends, enemies, it made no difference.”
Merlin looked away, her eyes narrowed. “Derek said he heard the creature – Edumenkhet – in his vision. It said .. who now betrays the trust? So .. how did the others get it into the tomb?”
“We don’t have all the pieces to this, Jon. But, as much as I trust Derek Rayne, I’m starting to get a very bad feeling. He sent us away so he could do something and we couldn’t intervene or interfere. This one’s old,” she said, glancing up. “Older than Lucifer.”
Nick’s training had quelled the impulse to jump. “Sure. Where am I gonna find it in a desert?”
“Look. We must have some. This table is wooden. It will burn.”
“Smash up the camp. Good idea. Kinda leaves us open to the elements an’ the elements here are notoriously relentless.”
Derek leaned forward. “I don’t like your sarcasm, Nick. Help me, if you want, or leave.”
“Just tell me why,” Nick demanded.
“I have to call the others. I need a bonfire to do it. It’s the way they come thru. In fire.”
“You know who the others are?” Nick ventured.
Alopex froze. “You think ..?”
“I’m starting to. Edumenkhet was one that Lucifer deposed. One of the original Princes of Hell. I think Lucifer did a deal an’ went back on it. Who now betrays the trust? As for restoring the trust, the other trust … I figure the only way the old gods of Egypt could deal with this evil was to call for help which was bigger an’ nastier. They trusted each other against a common enemy, an enemy which was not loyal to anyone or anything but himself. Now he’s free .. the trust’s lost.”
“The callers,” Alopex said quietly. “They called for help.”
“The others … The ones who answered.”
“And Derek has sent us away.”
Merlin met his gaze. “There’s nothing we can do. Well, yes, there is. Call the others, our others. Get ’em mobilized. If the Legacy fucks this one up, we’re in for a really tough time.”
Derek hesitated. “Sometimes, to do the good thing isn’t enough. Sometimes, you have to do the right thing and the right thing may involve terrible risks. You have to fight fire with fire.”
“An’ you sent Peri away because ..?”
Derek gave a bleak smile. “She would have stopped me. Allowing them to remain .. would only have killed them all. Or killed us. She cannot cross the line, Nick. None of them can. But we can. I can. I must.”
Nick swallowed. “What are you gonna do, Derek?”
“Summon the others. Devils stronger and more evil than the creature in the tomb. And, this time, they will take Edumenkhet back with them. I’m going to open a portal and raise Hell.”
The younger man thought about this. Nick ran the options, the benefits and disadvantages, the risks and dangers, and the consequences thru his mind. Then he pushed back from the table with a small grin.
“I’m up for raising a little hell,” he commented. “I’ll get your kindling.”