“He wants to see you,” Nick relayed. “I’d be ready, if I were you.”
Rachel and Alex glanced at each other. “For what?”
Nick paused. “If you took a gun an’ shot Hitler or some other evil tyrant .. are you doing a good thing or are you still a murderer?” he asked and, not waiting for an answer, he went on his way.
“What does that mean?” Alex wondered as they set off for the mess tent. “We’re going to kill the beast? We’ve done that a lot of times.”
“Beats me,” Rachel agreed. “Are you ready?”
“Sure. As ready as I can be, not knowing what to expect.”
They ducked into the tent and saw Derek sitting at the table. He looked bowed but not defeated.
“Nick said you want to see us,” Rachel began cautiously.
“Did he say why?”
“Only something about .. shooting Hitler,” Alex replied.
“Hmm,” Derek breathed, frowning, but offered nothing more.
Warily, they sat opposite him. “Okay, whatever it is, just tell us,” Rachel said.
“Is Nick getting the firewood together?”
“He headed out of camp,” Alex responded. “Derek .. what is it?”
“The weight of the world is .. extraordinarily heavy. I understand now what they meant. To beat this creature, to .. send it back to where it belongs .. we must overturn everything we believe in and put our trust in the enemy.”
At first, neither woman understood this. But then Alex blinked and sat up and Rachel’s gaze turned to a shocked stare.
“You’re going to ..? Derek, you can’t!”
“There has to be another way,” Alex begged.
“There isn’t,” he said simply. “Believe me, there isn’t. Edumenkhet is too powerful for us to deal with. The gods of this land weren’t strong enough.”
“Then call in the Enforcers. Why did you send them ..? Of course, they’d have to stop you,” Rachel realized.
“They still may, once they discover what I’m doing. If you disagree, join them. They will keep you safe. I, however, have been chosen. I must do this.”
“We’re a team,” Alex pointed out, albeit in a heavy voice. “We’re here for you.”
“Tell us what we have to do,” Rachel requested. “But, Derek, promise me one thing.”
He looked up, his eyes haunted.
“You really have thought of every other option,” she pressed. “What you’re planning .. is allying yourself, and us, to the Darkside.”
“Temporarily,” he offered.
“It could be a trick to get us on their side,” Alex remarked.
“I have thought of that, Alex, but I am only duplicating an event which happened many years ago, certainly before the Legacy even existed.”
“Are you sure it’s only temporary? Once you do it, it’ll be easier should a second time occur,” Rachel commented.
“Rachel, I have done nothing but think of another way, and there isn’t any choice,” Derek sighed. “I have to hope and pray we are all strong enough to resist when the temptation comes again.”
Murray couldn’t believe he was still alive. He was sure that Anna’s question would have been the death of them both but, while it had provoked a murderous rage, it had been directed at the ones who had shut Edumenkhet in this tomb, not at them. Thus far, Murray had attempted to shrink into the background, to escape being noticed, but he glanced at Anna from time to time – mostly in a silent plea for her to do the same – and he noticed that, while she was trembling with fear, she had purpose in her eyes.
Anna wasn’t just talking to fill the silence, she was buying them time and not in an effort to postpone the inevitable painful death. She wasn’t even buying time for her and Murray, although that was a bonus. Anna was buying time for Derek Rayne.
Murray realized with a hard jolt that the main purpose here was not to be rescued. It was the final and ultimate removal of this creature from the face of the world. Nothing else really mattered.
But Anna was starting to run out of steam. Her purposeful gaze was beginning to look hunted.
“I have a question,” Murray said in a small voice. He flinched as Edumenkhet swung slowly round to pierce him with a baleful glare. “The darkness. It went into me and my friends. They died. How .. did it kill them? How did I kill others?”
“You didn’t,” the devil replied. “My kiss is poison.” He gestured at nothing, just an expansive shrug. “When I change, I leave behind my children. They love me. Some were here in the chamber when the long awaited day came and they fled, seeking food for me, and they did not all return. Many did. It is how I knew my imprisonment was over. They told me I was free. I have shared their memories. I have seen many fine places and many people. But, to answer you, my children bring death. Once they are within you, they start to feed for me and they corrupt from the inside. Some people are stronger than others. You are one such. And my children are many. Some are more mature than their siblings, able to spread. They leave to find others. One of these older children came to you. You did not notice. One speck is all it takes.”
“Oh .. I see,” Murray said.
“No, you don’t. You live a pitiful life. Short. Easily ended.” Edumenkhet regarded them. “But I will allow you to live a little longer.”
“What is it we have to do that you can’t do yourself?” Anna inquired.
“Destroy the anchor,” he replied. “Truly .. free me.”
Nick threw down the pile of kindling he’d been able to scavenge from the tough scraggly bushes in the area. It wasn’t exactly a huge bonfire. It wasn’t even big. But it might just be enough.
Derek emerged from the tent with a subdued Rachel and Alex in his wake.
“Best I can find,” Nick said with a slight gesture.
“It will serve its purpose,” Derek responded. “I will need your help, all of you.”
Alex slowly shook her head. “I don’t know, Derek. I said we’re in this with you but … This is wrong.”
“There’s no choice, Alex,” Nick pointed out.
“There’s always a choice,” she retorted hotly. “Isn’t that what you’re always telling us?”
“Sure, you’re right, but let’s look at what they are here,” he invited in a hard voice. “We can do this an’ end the situation once an’ for all. Or we can not do it an’ try to find another way. That means attempting to take this thing out on our own. I spoke with Peri. She doesn’t think Alopex an’ Profelis together can do it .. but we can? Get real. We need help an’, this once, the Enforcers aren’t it.” Nick regarded them. “I don’t like the idea but I am for whatever gets the job done. Nobody ever said the Legacy was easy. Raising Hell .. why not? Derek needs our help to do that. I’m in.”
“An’ what happens after?” Rachel argued.
“Who the hell knows?” Nick shrugged. “We throw a party an’ celebrate.”
“Having opened a portal an’ invited God only knows what to come thru, can we put them back again? Will we be able to close the portal?” she persisted. “Or will these things follow us home to San Francisco? Plague us, the city .. an’ it’ll be our fault.”
“We deal with it if it happens,” Nick responded.
“Rachel, I have been chosen,” Derek said. “Thoth has touched me. I represent the triangle. It is not without risk but I am as confident as I can be that we can do this and conclude it successfully. But we are running out of time. Edumenkhet is preparing to enter the labyrinth for the last time.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because I sense him. The darkness is still within me but now I control it. We have to move. Now.”
“Let’s do it,” Nick decided.
“Light the fire,” Derek ordered.
“Uh huh,” Anna nodded. “An’ .. what’s in it for me? For us?”
Edumenkhet lowered his head until his eyes were on a level with hers. “What did you say?”
“You’re not deaf. What’s in it for Murray an’ me?” She held up a hand and Murray noticed it was not shaking at all. “I think your probable answer is gonna be that you’ll let us live a little longer. I have to say, from my own point of view, it isn’t good enough.”
“You are attempting to .. negotiate?”
“Well .. let’s look at what’s on the table here. Right, Murray?”
“Absolutely,” he agreed.
“You need us to .. destroy your anchor because you can’t do it. Assuming we can’ an’ we do, you’ll then kill us. Excuse me, but I just don’t see the incentive in that,” Anna remarked.
“Me neither,” Murray said promptly.
“Now .. I think I speak for my colleague here too when I say .. we want more. Otherwise, we may as well refuse to help you. You’re gonna kill us anyway so why go to any effort? Of course, if we do that, we’re dead an’ you’re still anchored.”
Murray nodded briskly. “My thoughts precisely.”
“What we need here is a win, win situation. So .. what can you do for us?” Anna inquired.
Edumenkhet was learning something not usually known about archeologists. As well as being learned and academic, they were ferocious negotiators and they stuck together. It came from having to secure funding for their various expeditions. He watched Anna and Murray closely. They stood shoulder to shoulder, arms crossed, a steely glint in their eyes.
“I do not trust you,” Edumenkhet said.
“We don’t trust you either an’ that is a big problem. Y’see, trust is necessary when it comes to bargaining. How about we try to trust each other a little?”
“A flat fee for services rendered,” Murray added.
“I suggest that, in return for us doing you a service, you let us go.”
“I’m hungry,” Edumenkhet smiled.
“I bet you are!” Anna laughed. “But, hey, we’re two an’ there are over six billion people in the world. Once you’re free to .. roam at will, you can gorge till you’re sick of the taste of human flesh an’ blood. Or we can withdraw the offer, you eat us, an’ that’s it. All that mass of sweet humanity beyond your reach.”
“Small price to pay,” Murray coaxed.
Anna had recognized the signs. Edumenkhet had even said it. He was hungry. He may have meant he had a physical hunger but the underlying thread here was greed. At the mention of six billion, his eyes had flickered. Two against so many ..?
“Very well,” the devil said. “Free me and I will let you go.”
Anna held out her hand. “Shake on it. Seal the bargain.”
Edumenkhet extended a blue skinned, clawed hand and closed it around her fingers.
“Okay. Where’s this anchor?” she asked, surreptitiously wiping her palm on her rump.
The devil went to the false door. “Thru here.”
“Ah. Then we have a slight prob – ”
Edumenkhet hit the wall and it crazed and cracked. He hit it again and the magnificent painting shattered. One last strike punched a man sized hole in it.
Anna wrinkled her nose. “The Antiquities Department is gonna be really pissed about that …”
Flames crackled and consumed the kindling. It was a merry sound, totally inappropriate for the atmosphere, and, in the baking heat of the early afternoon, very unwelcome.
“What are they doing ..?” Profelis whispered, peering over the top of a ridge of stone.
Merlin shook her head. “Something they shouldn’t.” She slithered down the slope and straightened. “Okay, people, listen up,” she said, turning to face her army. “They must not know you’re there. I realize you’ll want to act decisively. You mustn’t. You are the last resort option. Let Derek Rayne try to end this. If he fails, you end it. If he succeeds an’ then runs into trouble, you end it. End it however you can, no matter the cost. Otherwise .. stay back. Any questions?”
“What about the Legacy people?”
“Try to avoid collateral damage,” Merlin replied. “There are also two innocent civilians in the tomb. They must not be harmed. Anything else?” She waited. “Okay. Your local commander will be Alopex. Begin by establishing a cordon around the camp .. an’ then wait an’ see.”
A moment later, she stood alone. Merlin cast one look over her shoulder in the direction of the camp then sighed and began to walk away.
Behind her, in the center of the camp, his face bathed in firelight, Derek nodded.
“Do as I do, repeat what I say,” he instructed and raised his arms.
Nick copied him. Alex and Rachel looked sick but also obeyed. For a moment, Derek hesitated but then drew in a measured breath.
“By the rite of fire, I call you. By the rite of time, I call you. In the voice of the gods of this land, I call you. We have need. I call you in Thoth’s name.”
They repeated it in turn and Derek repeated it twice more, changing the name each time. “I call you in the name of the earth,” he concluded. “Come to us now.”
Derek closed his eyes and bowed his head. Cautiously, Rachel, Alex and Nick did the same. The air was growing breathlessly still.
“I call you to come to this place. As it was then so let it be again. The way is open. You are welcome.”
There was a deep, low groaning, as if the bones of the world were being torn apart. Nick swallowed quickly. Derek opened his eyes again and slowly lowered his arms.
It was done. Now they just had to wait.
He’d been confident, telling Rachel they could successfully conclude this, but, in truth, he wasn’t sure. Derek had performed the calling exactly as the three gods had told him .. but they hadn’t told him how to close the portal afterward. They hadn’t needed to do that, it had just happened. Derek accepted it but also acknowledged that they were gods. He wasn’t.
“This is some kinda maze,” Anna whispered. “I’ve never been in a tomb like this before. Have you, Murray?”
“No, never. Every other tomb complex is relatively simple in layout but ornate in decoration. This is intricate but plain.”
“Is there a reason for it to be so .. involved?” Anna asked the devil.
“In what way?” Edumenkhet inquired.
“Something symbolic, maybe,” she suggested.
Edumenkhet glanced back over his shoulder. “They shut me away. Imprisoned me.”
She nodded then snapped her fingers. “So .. this is an exercise yard. Something to walk round to stop you going stir crazy.”
“If I understand your words correctly, you are right.”
“How many chambers?” Murray asked. He was sketching the route in his notebook.
“There are three in total.”
“I’d really like to take a look at them,” he said. “Oh .. after you’re free and on your way, of course.”
“I will no longer require this place. Explore at your leisure,” the devil shrugged.
“Thank you,” Murray replied and cringed. Had he really just thanked a seven feet tall, blue skinned devil? The same devil who’d killed his friends?
“Where’s the first chamber?” Anna asked.
“At the end of this passage.” He gestured ahead. “This is the first time I have seen light in here. It is really very plain, isn’t it?”
For a split second, Anna found herself feeling sorry for him but then, like Murray, she cringed. Edumenkhet was responsible for thousands of deaths thru prehistory. His latest victims had been close friends of hers.
“You never noticed that before?” she queried.
“I was too angry to notice anything. It was some time before I walked the passages.”
“Must have been a .. terrible ordeal,” she said.
“Is that the chamber?” Murray asked, poking Anna in the back with his pencil to warn her against buying in. She glanced over her shoulder at him and pulled a face to show she wasn’t buying into anything.
“The anchor is inside.” Edumenkhet stood solemnly away to let them enter.
Anna shone the flashlight around. “This?” she wondered.
“But .. it’s a stone bench.”
Rachel staggered sideways but regained her balance. The groaning beneath her feet had matured into a cracking, snapping shriek of tortured stone. Alex eased back slowly from the fire. She could scarcely breathe with trepidation. It was one thing, she felt, to be tricked by the Darkside into helping them. It was one thing to be seduced by the Darkside and tempted into joining them. But this … This was so beyond her expectations. She’d walked into it with her heart filled with doubt and her eyes wide open.
With little warning, the fire collapsed into the gaping hole which tore open almost at their feet. Rachel moved away sharply. Even Nick retreated a few steps to safer ground. But Derek stayed where he was. His eyes were filled with tears, probably from the heat of the fire but he wouldn’t have been able to swear to it.
And then .. three men stood there. Or, as Derek might have said, man shaped anyway. Their skin was dark colored, shades of blue black, blue green and blue purple, and there was a hint of maybe scales in the parts visible outside the loose robes they wore. Their eyes, though, said plainly they were not men. The pupils were black slits, like a cat’s, the irises crimson, yellow orange and a peculiar ice white.
They turned to look at Rachel, then Alex, and forked tongues tasted the air. Their gaze seemed to move as one as it shifted round to Nick, and, finally, came to rest on Derek.
“You are the caller. We are the others,” they said in one voice.
“Edumenkhet has been released although he is not yet free,” Derek said.
“The pact has been broken then.”
“That is not our concern.”
Derek took a step toward them. “He is about to destroy the anchor holding him to this place.”
“He cannot do that. It is a safeguard put in place millennia ago by your reckoning. We were promised he would be kept confined until the end of everything. We required such a promise before we would act. That was the pact. But we did not trust .. totally .. the ones who called us for this task. Thus the safeguard was included as well. He cannot destroy it.”
“He has two innocents with him. Maybe they can do what he can’t,” Derek pointed out. “He is still able to kill, to cause misery. And, if he succeeds in liberating himself, he will challenge Lucifer for the domination of Hell, Heaven, and this world. Lucifer will not want that to happen. It will disrupt his own plans. The trust has been lost and the pact broken. It is time for the trust to be renewed and the pact remade.”
“You do not trust us.”
Rachel and Alex flushed. “No, we don’t.”
“I do,” Derek said. “I am the caller. I am the chosen representative of the old gods.”
They didn’t respond, only watched him carefully.
“I trust that you can do this. The pact, however, must be different because the world has moved on. People travel extensively, they are curious about the past. If Edumenkhet is returned to the earth, someone will only come along at some point in the future and all this will start again. You must take him with you when you leave and you must keep him there.”
“He was offered that choice the last time and he refused. He could have returned whenever he wanted but he never has.”
“Why?” Rachel asked. “Why would he have preferred prison over .. going home?”
“Strangely, for the same reason Lucifer left Heaven,” Derek told her. “Here .. once .. Edumenkhet ruled supreme. If he went back, he would lose that. In his tomb, he was still king. In Hell, he would be … ”
“Always subservient,” the three said. “Always suspect. Always watched. Always punished for refusing to accept the offer to return. Once, a long time ago, he was one of the first. Then Lucifer came and Edumenkhet was deposed. He refused to pledge loyalty to Lucifer. He refused to serve our Lord and Master and he came here, to this plane of existence. Here, he could rule. Lucifer was angry and, when the call came before, sent us in answer. We offered Edumenkhet the chance to come home. He refused, as Lucifer expected he would. Thus he was put in the tomb the old gods had ordered prepared for him and the wall was built. The earth would hold him. Should he change his mind, the chance was still there for him. He never did. Edumenkhet has no loyalty. Not to Lucifer, nor to his brothers.” They smiled. “He is clever .. but not as clever as us. We swore obedience to our Lord and Master.”
“He’s a wild card, a loose cannon,” Nick commented. “He’s too dangerous to be left roaming around. You could’ve taken him back the last time but you decided to teach him a lesson instead. Isolation .. hunger, loneliness .. it should have forced a little humility into him. Hasn’t worked.”
“Lucifer does not demand much from the first ones. Those, like us, who have pledged to serve are treated well. We are the Princes of Hell. Our status is recognized and honored. If our brother had returned and knelt before Lucifer, he would have been welcomed. As you say, he has not learned his lesson.”
Derek watched them as they turned to each other to silently debate. His heart was racing and his chest felt tight. This was walking on a knife edge.
They turned around to face him again. “He cannot be permitted unlimited freedom. He is too powerful. And you are now too weak to maintain the pact.”
They flickered and vanished.
“To you, a stone bench,” Edumenkhet said with a sneer. “To me, a millstone about my neck. Destroy it!”
Anna glanced at Murray. “You bring something that could smash that?”
“No. Did you?”
“Couple of flashlights an’ a notebook an’ pen,” she answered. “Hey, you smashed the wall easily enough. Why can’t you do the same with this?”
Edumenkhet entered the chamber. “You tell me you are something of an expert on this culture. Would you say then that this tomb is typical?”
“No, the opposite .. but then it was built to house a very .. atypical inhabitant. For one thing, you’re alive.”
“In the other tombs you have visited, is there furniture?”
Murray nodded. “Yes, there is. Quite a lot of furniture.”
“Is this typical of the furniture found in other tombs?” Edumenkhet inquired, gesturing at the bench.
“No way. The furniture I’ve seen is .. wooden, finely crafted, beautifully carved an’ decorated with gold and precious stones. Marvelous things. This,” Anna went on, also gesturing at the bench, “with all due respect, is a lump of stone crudely fashioned into .. maybe something to sit on.”
“Go closer,” he said.
“Will it bite me?” she asked.
“Go closer,” Edumenkhet repeated. “Both of you.”
They inched nearer to the bench. Anna frowned. “What is that?”
“A .. buzzing. A droning,” Murray replied, angling his head. “Like a .. a vibration in the air.”
“Power,” Edumenkhet explained. “I may sit upon it to contemplate my existence housed in this relentless night yet I cannot harm it.”
“So how can we destroy it?” Murray asked.
“You are not from the same place as me or this anchor. To you, it is different.”
“Different, different ..?” Anna looked around for inspiration. “Different .. how? Like .. fragile maybe?” she wondered. She reached out with the flashlight …
“Where’d they go?” Alex choked. The stench of sulfur was overpowering.
“The tomb! Come on!” Derek urged, breaking into a run.
Nick was already moving. He was astonished that the Enforcers had let them get away with so much. Deliberately opening a portal to Hell was bad enough and easily warranted corrective action and maybe even an element of punishment. Calling on evil, inviting it to come into the world when you couldn’t guarantee you could send it back again had to be even worse. Yet .. Merlin had acquiesced to Derek’s appeal to leave the camp and stay away. Maybe she had given it some thought and figured out not only what and how but why as well. Maybe she was holding Alopex and Profelis on a leash.
Then, out of the corner of his eye, just for a second, he saw the air ripple. It moved fast, overtaking him, racing ahead. Going in the same direction as him. He wondered which of the two it was. Then Nick noticed another strange distortion. Maybe his eye was trained to see it now. Then, to his dismay, he saw a lot more. Merlin might have them on a leash but she was ready to slip it at a moment’s notice. She’d brought in an army to police not only the devils but the Legacy too.
And only now did Nick understand Derek’s earlier remark. It wasn’t the raising Hell that might kill them, it was the Legacy’s allies.
“I don’t know how they can do that,” Andrew remarked, his voice soft with admiration.
“What?” Merlin asked.
“Lay down like that and go to sleep,” he said, gesturing at the two unconscious bodies in the space under one of the helicopters. “It’s remarkable. I mean, only .. what, an hour ago, Alopex was all for going back to the camp an’ talking with Dr Rayne. Then he took a walk with you an’ came back here, made some calls, then lay down an’ went to sleep.”
Merlin shrugged. “I have great powers of persuasion.”
“Oh, I know that from Haystone.” He glanced at her. “So .. why aren’t you taking a nap too?”
“Are you kidding? I slept a lot this morning. I’m not tired.”
“They didn’t look tired when they lay down.” Andrew came to stand before her. “There’s something linking you to them. It isn’t genetic but .. you all have the white streaks in your hair. It’s like a family thing yet it isn’t. Are you members of the same secret society?”
Merlin lit a cigarette. “A what?”
“Like .. the Freemasons or something. The hair is some kind of identifying symbol, like others may have a secret handshake or tattoo.”
“Something like that, yeah. A club. Demonologists. It’s a hobby, an interest, kinda like you an’ the Ghost Club. We met thru the internet.”
“Really .. how interesting! I can understand how you’d be of use to the Luna Foundation then. Is that how you met Nick? Thru your studies? Or did you help out in an investigation?”
Merlin thought back to the trip to Hell and William Sloan’s rescue. “Yeah. I helped out. No big deal. I just did what I’m good at.”
The flashlight rapped onto the stone. Nothing happened. “That idea didn’t work,” Anna commented.
“Nor can you destroy the anchor,” said a triple voice behind them.
Edumenkhet turned sharply.
“Time for us to beat a hasty retreat,” Murray muttered in a whisper. “The gang’s all here.”
“Y’mean, the cavalry,” she corrected. “An’ they’re kinda blocking the entrance.”
“I will be free,” Edumenkhet announced.
“Yes,” they agreed.
“Definitely time for us to be somewhere else,” Murray urged, taking her arm and hustling Anna off to one side.
Not only did they speak as one, the three moved as one as well. They came into the chamber. Edumenkhet stepped forward, his arms open.
“How nice. A family reunion,” Murray remarked, pushing Anna toward the passageway where they fled to the left.
“I think we’re going the wrong way,” she gasped.
“Is it away from them?” Murray asked. “Why, yes, it is. It’s the right way.”
“How can you say that?” Anna wondered but she didn’t slow down. “Surely .. outside is the right way. What if we have to get past four of ’em?”
Murray faltered. “You think they’re teaming up?”
“Did they look completely human to you?”
“And did he not say ‘my brothers’ to which you remarked it was a nice family reunion?”
“All right, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, we get away and we hide. Derek must be aware that we’re missing by now.”
“Sure .. if he’s woken up.”
“Then Nick will. Someone will have noticed we’re gone.”
“End of the road,” Anna said and hoped it wasn’t prophetic. “Right or left?”
They skidded around the corner and fled along the short passageway into a dead end. The flashlight skipped nervously around, looking for another way out, but, instead, gave light to the many bleached bones idly scattered everywhere.
“I don’t like this chamber … ” Anna whispered in a hollow voice. “Wanna try for the other direction?”
“Good idea,” Murray agreed.
Big mistake, bad mistake …
It went on in an endless chant thru Alex’s mind as she forced her legs to run. The heat was draining, doubt and fear merely doubled the effect.
I knew the day would have to come, she thought. We trust Derek implicitly. We believe in him, in his integrity, his .. goodness, but he’s only human. We do question at times yet we always go along with his plans. The day has to come when that trust drags us all down with him. If it was simply because we were outmatched, outclassed or outgunned, I wouldn’t completely mind dying. Sure, I’d be annoyed because I still have so much I want to do with my life but dying in the line of duty to the Legacy .. well, I wouldn’t be the first and I won’t be the last. But this way … Yes, I’m mad about it. We have no one to blame but ourselves. We opened the portal, we called them thru. All because we trust Derek Rayne. And now we’ve lost whatever control we had over this situation.
Rachel was running at Alex’s left shoulder. She had a painful stitch in her side and she grimaced as she panted for air but she refused to ease up the pace. Like Alex, she was angry that they’d done this, that they’d brought it on themselves but she was also terrified for Anna and Murray. Their situation had been bad before, trapped in the tomb by Edumenkhet. Now they were trapped by the beast and three others even worse than him. Rachel didn’t trust the trio and saw the situation in the tomb developing in one of two ways – they would either band together or they would fight each other. Either way, Anna and Murray were in for a rough time. Maybe even a fatal time. They needed backup and rescue fast. A stitch in the side was not going to impede Rachel’s efforts to bring those things to the innocent victims. Rachel had signed on and expected the worst to happen. Anna and Murray hadn’t. Hell, Anna had been on vacation before being dragged into this.
Nick was used to this level of exercise although it had been some years since he’d pounded the sand in this degree of heat. His mind had neatly slipped into what he called ‘the zone’. Physical pain wasn’t felt in the zone. He was aware of it but only at a distance. His breathing was easy and regular, and he just kept on going and he could have kept on going at this pace for quite a while. However, while his physical reactions were in the zone, the thinking part of his mind was considering a whole raft of possible complications. Before, he reasoned, we had one we couldn’t beat. Now we have four. So far, the three newcomers have said more or less all the right things but there are no guarantees they’ll follow thru and do what we’ve asked them to. I said I would back Derek but there has to be a limit to that. A line. If it goes wrong, what do we do? Call for help? And, if we do that, will they believe us? Believe we had the best intentions? Road to Hell is paved with them. Am I going to be forced to beg for my life because I trusted my Precept? Derek, you’ve had some wild ideas in the past and I’ve gone along with them. Don’t make me out to be a fool this time …
Derek was the only one who felt any kind of serenity and it grew the closer he got to the tomb. He thought maybe the reason for this strange peacefulness was because he sensed a similar emotion in Edumenkhet. Yet Derek’s serenity was tempered with his own emotion of, surprisingly, guilt.
Edumenkhet believed his brothers had come to free him. Once again, he put his trust in them. Once again, that trust would be betrayed. Derek felt guilty at being the cause. The darkness within him perversely shone a light into the devil’s heart. Derek had tasted the rage and the aching despair. Yet he also knew that Edumenkhet could never warrant sympathy and would never deserve it.
Further down the list of emotions was anxiety for Anna and Murray, and regret that he hadn’t explained to Merlin what he intended and why. He felt that could perhaps backfire on all of them because Merlin was smart and could easily figure it out.
The tomb entrance was only a hundred yards away now, and it seemed deathly silent.
Thoth, Horus, Anubis ... I have done what you said I must. Don’t fail me now …
“There it is,” Edumenkhet pointed. “Destroy it. Set me free and I will hold no grudge against you for your past actions.”
“We do not believe you.”
“Why?” the devil inquired.
“You have no loyalty, Edumenkhet. You walk your own path. You always have.”
“I tell you the truth. Yes, I was angry. For many, many years, my rage consumed me. But I will set it aside if you set me free.”
“A skill I have but recently learned.”
“There is one way only that we will believe you.”
“And that is ..?”
“Kneel to our Lord and Master and swear obedience to Lucifer.”
Edumenkhet’s eyes narrowed. “I kneel to no one,” he said. “But .. if it is the only way … ” Stiffly, he sank to the ground. “I swear obedience to Lucifer.”
The trio glanced at each other.
“May I rise now?” he asked stolidly.
Edumenkhet straightened. The three separated. One went to the bench, the other two moved to stand at Edumenkhet’s shoulders. A clawed hand reached out and touched the crude stone, and it crumbled into gray dust. Edumenkhet drew in a deep breath and began to laugh.
“At last, I am fr – What is this?” he asked as two hands were laid on his arms.
“You are free, brother. Free to return home.”
“I will not!”
“It is your duty. You have sworn obedience. It is the Master’s will.”
Edumenkhet took a step back.
“We caution you,” they said. “If you have sworn falsely, you must face the consequences. If, on the other hand, you swore truly, you will come home.”
Edumenkhet slowly nodded. “Either way, I am still trapped. You gave me freedom and took it back before I had a chance to savor it.”
“We are creatures of chaos, the same as you. You trusted us .. again, and, again, you will pay the price. It is time. Come.”
Nick reached the stairs and was about to race down them when Derek caught up with him and shoved him aside.
“After you,” Nick invited in a biting voice.
“If anyone must pay for this day’s work, Nick, it will be me,” Derek countered as he hurried down the steps. “Not you.”
Alex and Rachel followed Nick down the stairs and into the chamber. They saw the ragged hole in the wall and Derek disappearing thru it.
“You wanna wait out here?” Nick asked them.
Alex hesitated but Rachel said, “Yes, an’ no. Like Murray, we have to see this ended .. or we’ll never be sure.”
“Okay. Stay behind me.”
They could hear Derek’s footsteps hurrying into the dark distance and they tried to keep up. Within seconds of entering the maze, the dim light had fled and they bunched together to rely on Nick’s slim flashlight.
At the far end of the complex, Anna and Murray were in the other chamber and, in a professional way, feeling extremely disappointed.
“There’s nothing,” Murray remarked. “Not even a half finished sketch. To think George died for this. What a waste.”
Anna’s flashlight skipped across the floor and came back to linger on the lip of stone. “That’s unusual.”
“Oh, yes. It is. What is it? The rim of a pool but the water’s evaporated?”
“A pool? Why would he want a pool, Murray? Wash the dust off his feet, maybe? It’s hardly a reflecting pool – it’s pitch black down here.”
While they were on their knees to check the rim for hieroglyphs, they heard footsteps coming toward them.
“Uh oh,” Murray said.
And more footsteps behind the first set, running then walking briskly.
“Now that could be the cavalry,” Anna commented as she came to her feet again.
“But first we have to deal with ... ” Murray lapsed into silence and pointed at the entrance.
Anna slowly turned. “Right. No problem.”
Edumenkhet froze at the threshold. “I will not go in.”
“You must,” said the three. “It has been here for you all along.”
“It’s a trap. There’s no way out.”
“It’s the way home.”
Anna, who’d been listening intently to this, nudged Murray in the ribs. “Got it. False door.”
“In the floor? Why ..? Oh. Right.”
Derek came to a breathless halt ten feet away. He saw the three force Edumenkhet into the chamber. He hurried on.
“Anna? Murray? If you’re in there, get back! Stay away from them!”
“As if he has to tell us … ” Anna muttered, wedged into a corner.
“I will not go!” Edumenkhet raged. “I will be free!”
They tightened their grip on him and, in the blink of an eye, Edumenkhet became black smoke. Murray’s eyes widened and he flattened himself against the wall. Anna turned her face away but just had to look. The three devils smothered Edumenkhet so not one particle of smoke could escape. Derek, panting in the chamber’s entrance, watched them step over the lip. For a fraction of a second, he also saw the ghostly shadows of Thoth, Horus and Anubis. They nodded at him. Then he blinked and they were gone. And so were the three and Edumenkhet. Vanished thru the false door. His gaze went to Anna and Murray.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
She nodded. “Yeah, I think so. Murray?”
“Disappointed .. but relieved. Very relieved.”
Rachel and Alex cautiously peered around the entrance. “What happened. Did we miss it?”
“It’s all right, Rachel,” Murray said with a smile. “I saw it end.”
Merlin didn’t say anything when Nick came to tell her it was okay to return to the camp. She merely looked at him.
“Thanks,” he said and she nodded. The warning was there in her eyes though. Don’t push your luck a second time.
When Andrew, Merlin and the two Enforcers arrived, they found a curiously subdued atmosphere. People weren’t talking, weren’t looking at each other. It was something Alopex, Profelis and Merlin had never understood – the sense of anticlimax. Enforcers, Flamefalls never felt that. Apart from the training week wrap up, they didn’t go in for backslapping and an effusive show of congratulations but they acknowledged a job successfully concluded with a sense of satisfaction. The good guys had won. It seemed the Legacy wasn’t happy with that.
And none of them, not even Andrew, could ever know the details. Merlin hadn’t been there .. officially. Andrew wasn’t a member of the Legacy and could therefore never know its secrets. The answer to his ‘what happened?’ was met with an ‘it’s over’ delivered in a weary monotone.
Anna Cowley and Murray Snowden felt the same sense of anticlimax but for a different reason. The tomb had been a disappointment. It had been so promising from an archeology point of view and, yes, they had found that it had housed something .. different, but, in itself, it had turned out to be nothing much. The one wall which had been interesting had been destroyed.
For the others – Derek, Rachel, Alex and, to a lesser extent, Nick – there was the fallout to deal with. It couldn’t be denied that they colluded with evil. Their motive had been good but they had still called up an ancient evil and let it loose into the world.
The backlash would come later. First, they had to deal with their own emotions of guilt and shame. All the vaunted principles of the Legacy had been tossed aside .. and now they had to accept what they’d done. They’d crossed the line.
“It’s too late to pack up now,” Derek decided. “We’ll stay here the night. Head back to Cairo in the morning.”
“Sir, if it’s possible,” Andrew began, “I would like to see the tomb before we leave.”
“Very well,” Derek sighed. It was the last place he wanted to go.
When dawn came on Tuesday morning, Andrew and Merlin were quite excited at the prospect of exploring. Anna tried to let them down gently.
“There’s really nothing to see. Basically .. it’s a hole in the ground. That’s all it ever was.”
”Even so … ” Andrew shrugged. “I’d like to take a look.”
“Okay,” she sighed.
Anna set off in the lead. Merlin and Andrew were right behind. Derek had intended not to go but changed his mind. He didn’t particularly like the atmosphere in the camp. It was one of unspoken accusation. Murray felt it too and walked at Derek’s side.
“I’m sorry. If I had known … ”
“Everything happens for a reason, Murray,” Derek said. “Think of what we’ve accomplished, not how it was done.”
“The end justifies the means?”
“It has to or I have sacrificed my beliefs for nothing.”
“I’m sorry for that. I hope the damage isn’t irreparable.”
“So do I.”
Back at the camp, Nick was thinking about starting to dismantle the tents and pack the gear but he didn’t want to do it alone, and Rachel and Alex were too despondent to help.
“It’s Colorado Springs all over again only the boot’s on the other foot,” Rachel sighed. “Back then, Peri wanted to stick to the principles an’ we said she was wrong. Now we’ve abandoned ours .. an’ we feel the same way with Derek .. and ourselves as we did with her. We understand why but disagree with the method.”
Alex shook her head. “Trust is a .. strange thing, Rachel. It’s strong enough to defy so much yet it’s so fragile. I hate the idea that I may always have a shred of doubt now. I have trusted Derek from the day I met him. I don’t know if I still do.”
“What do you think, Nick?” Rachel called.
“You heard what Anna said last night about the sketches in the chamber. We did what the gods did way back when,” he replied. “It wasn’t us abandoning anything. The Legacy took a chance .. an’ saved the world. Same old same old. Just another day at the office.”
“And if Derek ever suggests we ally ourselves with the enemy again?” Alex inquired.
“Depends,” Nick shrugged. He paused then came to squat down in front of them. “I didn’t have a problem this time because .. in the past, I’ve done some nasty stuff to get the job done. Stuff I’m not proud of doing. This time, we’d been involved from the get go. Slogged our way thru the research, talked to people on three different continents. It was a multi focus investigation. No one held back. Everything came to one conclusion. I don’t see it as allying ourselves to anything. I still trust Derek to know the difference between good, bad an’ evil. What he did .. wasn’t good, but it wasn’t evil. We got the result. If he suddenly announces we have to raise Hell again an’ we haven’t done the research or traveled a half way around the world, I’d ask why.” He glanced up at them. “We all would because .. trust is a matter of freewill an’ personal choice. Plus, next time,” he grinned, “Peri won’t go wait by the helicopters.”
They nodded slowly.
“So .. are we murderers or heroes?” Nick asked.
Rachel considered the alternative as shown in Derek’s vision and smiled quickly. “Heroes. Definitely.”
Anna reached the steps to the tomb. “Here it is.” She tossed Andrew a flashlight. “Enjoy.”
Andrew and Merlin went down the steps and vanished into the chamber. There was a moment of silence and Anna shook her head. Nothing to see. Waste of time.
“Dr Cowley ..?” Andrew called.
She looked round. “Yeah.”
“I think you should .. come down.”
Derek and Murray had arrived in time to hear this and they frowned. Anna looked puzzled and they all descended the steps and ducked into the chamber. Her mouth dropped open.
“It … ”
“It’s fabulous, isn’t it?” Merlin marveled.
“It .. It wasn’t like this yesterday,” Anna said.
Murray’s astounded gaze traveled over the decorated walls, the hieroglyphs, the odd assortment of artifacts on the floor.
“It’s .. a proper tomb,” he whispered, “Look, Derek, there on the wall … Gods. Thoth, Horus and Anubis.”
Derek looked and smiled. It was a proper tomb, and it was also a reward for a job done well.