Tuesday / Wednesday
“This isn’t right,” Andrew murmured in obvious concern. “We’re doing everything the first aid book says .. but it isn’t stopping.”
“It’s slowed right down,” Merlin commented. “But you’re right. Ice pack on the nose should shrink the capillaries. Direct pressure … ” She shook her head.
Murray looked a sorry sight with a wad of toilet paper shoved up each nostril and an ice pack held to his face.
“Should we take him to the hospital?” Andrew suggested.
“No.” Murray carefully shook his head.
“Are you taking aspirin, Murray? Warfarin? They all thin the blood. What about any medication like that?” Merlin asked.
“No,” he repeated in a dull voice.
“The hospital’s the best place. They can given you a transfusion.”
He shook his head again. “Derek said I’d be safe here.”
Merlin looked uneasy. “It could’ve been dormant,” she replied. “That would have defeated the .. safety procedures. Your learning to resist might have triggered it. I’m sorry. It’s my fault.”
One eye glared at her. “No. It’s that thing.”
Andrew looked to Merlin. “There’s a thing?”
“Maybe. It may not even be here. It most likely isn’t. But there’s .. definitely a thing somewhere.”
“How reassuring,” Andrew remarked.
“I’m going to try something,” she announced. “It may not work but it might help.” She rubbed her hands together. “Murray, move the ice pack.”
Merlin put one hand on his forehead and another over his nose. She felt the icy cold beneath one hand melt away into a slight warmth.
Please. If I have one gift left, let it be that of healing, she prayed.
Murray gave another soft groan and sat up. “I feel a little better.”
“Don’t move the toilet paper yet. Just loosen it a little.”
After ten minutes, the wads were removed completely and the nosebleed had stopped.
“Have you cured me?” he wondered. “Is it some form of reiki?”
“Yeah, something like that an’, no, I don’t believe I have. But .. it’s under control. I want you to take it very easy today. The least sign that you think it’s coming back, you tell me. Okay?”
“Absolutely. I think I’ll crash for a while. I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“Then sleep in the lounge.”
“He can sleep in here,” Andrew offered. “I’ll keep an eye on him. Dr Rayne would be most distressed to have bloodstains on the lounge furniture. And so would I.”
A quarter of an hour after that, Murray was asleep, his head resting on a towel on the kitchen table. Andrew gestured with his head toward the door and Merlin went with him.
“What thing?” he asked.
“You’re safe, Andrew. You were never in the tomb. It won’t come after you.”
“I’d still like to be prepared. What thing?” he persisted.
“Could be a curse.”
“They’re for real?” he wondered, his eyes widening.
Merlin looked back toward Murray. “This one seems to be.”
Profelis was there inside an hour.
“I feel so helpless,” Merlin told him quietly. “I’m getting nothing from the guy. Will you check him over for me, Evan? I need to get some insight into what the others are dealing with.”
“You can’t smell it?” he asked, his voice sympathetic.
“All I can smell is what Andrew’s prepping for lunch.”
She sounded depressed and he squeezed her hand. “Peri, there’s a good cause behind it. Remember that. I know, it’s tough right now. Your .. baby isn’t showing. Once it does, it’ll be easier to live with .. how you are now.” Profelis smiled. “I’ll stay till Jon gets here to take over. Where is Murray?”
Merlin gave a rueful smile. “Follow your nose.”
They went to the kitchen and Andrew nodded a greeting. “Nothing yet. I’ve watched him carefully.”
“Thanks, Andrew. You want a hand clearing the breakfast dishes?”
Andrew glanced at Profelis and at Murray, then back to Merlin. “Sure. Thank you.” Merlin followed him out. “What’s Professor Ellis going to do?”
“Just wait with him. I figured we’d need help. We can’t both watch Murray every second, day an’ night. With three, we can take it in shifts,” she answered lightly, shrugging.
“Good idea. I’ll stay over, of course.”
“Thanks. Appreciate it. How’s Drake doing these days? An’ Florence an’ Carrie?”
He smiled. “They’re good. Drake an’ Flo are dating, have been since we got back. Carrie has had some kind of spiritual cleansing an’ has been promoted at work, and she has a new boyfriend.”
“That’s great! I’m pleased for them. Give them my regards, will you?”
“I will. I’ll tell them you asked about them. Flo is different as well. I think we all are. Haystone was an experience.”
“What’re your plans for this year?” Merlin asked.
“We’re still thinking about them. Carrie wants her boyfriend to be admitted into the group. I’ve met him. He’s a nice guy. Plus he has resources to bring .. like a camper van. Useful. He’s a sound engineer in a studio. Also useful. Of course, with five, I’d feel like the unwanted guest at the wedding.”
“Not if you find a girlfriend.”
Andrew laughed softly at they went into the dining room. “An’ when do I get the time to do that ..?”
Back in the kitchen, Profelis was circling the kitchen table. He could smell the reek of evil but, while it wasn’t fresh, it wasn’t stale either. Murray was smothered by it. It lay draped around him, under him, over him, even thru him. Profelis had no idea how to remove it. For now, he gently held his hands over Murray’s head and upper back, then poured healing energy into him. When he was done, he checked him again and the reek was punctured in several places. He moved away and began to examine other aspects.
Murray’s emotions were a strange mix. Resignation, frustration, a perverse and stubborn hope, and a keen urgency to be doing something. He was also tired and run down, but obstinately refusing to buckle. It was the hope and obstinacy which had prevented the stink from claiming every cell in his body. Right now, Murray Snowden had it balanced. Maybe Profelis had helped tip the balance a little more in his favor but he couldn’t be sure. That much exposure to evil usually found other avenues thru which to strike back, and Profelis, and soon Alopex, would find themselves fighting a running battle.
Merlin and Andrew returned and Profelis nodded at them. “He hasn’t woken.”
“Would you and Professor Ellis like coffee in the lounge?” Andrew inquired.
“That’d be great. Thank you,” Merlin accepted and went out again with Profelis following in her wake.
“Does he know about us?” Profelis whispered.
Merlin shook her head. “He’s just smart. He’s good at watching an’ doing math.” She grinned as she shrugged. “It’s his job, Evan. He’s a butler. What did you find?”
“What’s he been exposed to?”
Merlin related the story to him. “He wants to go back to Egypt. He wants to beat his fear an’ he wants to finish the work Professor Daly started.”
“I don’t think he should,” Profelis commented. “I’ve stabilized him, Peri, but I haven’t cured him. Whatever influence this is which is affecting him, it’s everywhere. Deliberately exposing himself again to it .. he could bleed out.”
“Jon will be going.”
“Where is this thing?”
“We don’t know. It could still be in the area of the tomb. It could’ve moved.”
He nodded grimly. “What does it look like?”
“I’m hazarding a guess here. The Ancient Egyptians portrayed their gods as people with animal an’ bird heads so I’m not totally sure. But, if the printouts of the tomb paintings are any indication at all .. it’s a half naked blue man.”
“Really.” Profelis considered for a moment. “Then he should be easy to spot.”
As Derek, Rachel, Nick and Anna settled back to wait for their flight to be called, and as Merlin, Andrew and Profelis guarded Murray from fresh attacks, it was just past seven that evening in Paris and Alex was about to call room service.
Nick’s phone call had surprised her yet hadn’t surprised her at all. The surprise had been initial – hearing his voice. She hadn’t been surprised to hear what he’d had to say. Alarmed, yes. Intrigued, definitely. That intrigue had grown on her during Tuesday. She’d alerted the Paris house that she was being recalled within the next few days and she’d do what she could in the time she had left, and she’d reassured them that they really didn’t need her to be there. They were more than capable of doing this themselves. She thought they’d believed her. She hoped they did, because her mind was being wrestled away from the hidden vault under Sacre Coeur to wander beneath the bleached sky of the Valley of the Kings. An Ancient Egyptian curse, a previous undiscovered tomb, and she was going there.
Alex had never been to Egypt. She knew a lot about it but she’d never been. She was looking forward to seeing the pyramids and gazing up at the Sphinx before flying south again. In the meantime, however, she could do some research. The French had explored extensively in Egypt with Napoleon. It had been a Frenchman who had first cracked the mystery of hieroglyphs when he’d translated the Rosetta Stone. Nick had said they’d be at least one day in London which meant they wouldn’t be going on to Paris until Thursday at the very earliest; more likely, it would be Friday. That meant Alex had two days to dig up what she could from any records in the French archives.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t make a start on that now. It was closed for the night. She had her laptop, however, so she called room service and ordered dinner, then booted up her computer and began work. Nick hadn’t given her much information because, at the time he’d called, he didn’t have it to give. Alex decided to start with looking at curses in relation to Ancient Egypt.
The most famous one, of course, was that linked to the boy pharaoh – Tutankhamun. It was fascinating reading, if a little macabre. Yes, most of it had been explained away by science. No such thing as a curse, they’d scoffed. However … Science couldn’t deny it was a lot of coincidence. The tomb had contained a plaque bearing a curse. Lord Caernarvon, patron of the excavation, had died of an infected mosquito bite shortly after. At the same moment, the lights had gone out everywhere in Cairo and, thousands of miles away at his home at Highclere, his pet dog had howled and dropped down dead as well. Howard Carter, leader of the excavation, had survived but his pet canary was attacked and killed at his home by a cobra. Other members of the excavation team had suffered sickness and ill health had dogged them for years. The one guy who appeared to escape retribution was Carter but he was beset with personal failure for the rest of his life and, after his death, his reputation was at least smeared. The curse didn’t end with the team who’d found the tomb and revealed such awesome treasures to the world. It continued to, allegedly, work into the Sixties and Seventies – people who had dealt with the treasure in the Cairo Museum died suddenly of heart attacks.
Alex read the scientific attempts to explain. Mercury poisoning. Lead poisoning. Radioactivity. There was even the very latest discovery of a white powder which was refined gold and reputed to have fantastic powers. There was a theory just published that a pot of this powder was in the Ark of the Covenant and it was this which gave the Ark its magical powers. According to the same source, pharaohs used to eat this powder, and that the powder was also the manna which sustained the Israelites during the exodus and years of wandering.
Alex knew that magic was supposed to have begun in Ancient Egypt and the pharaohs had magicians in their palaces. The priests interpreted the will of the gods and the magicians tried to find ways around it. Maybe they’d worked in conjunction with the priests to make a curse work over centuries, something intangible which would still protect the dead kings and queens as they dwelt in the afterlife.
She believed it was at least possible. Alex wasn’t the kind of woman to instantly dismiss anything as impossible, unbelievable or completely unfeasible. Once, plaques bearing a curse had been put in tombs. A joke? A desperate, last ditch attempt to avert tomb robbers? Or was it that, at the time, people had believed in these curses? Science, time and distance had pulled their teeth, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t work. It just meant people dismissed curses as impossible, unbelievable and primitive. The Ancient Egyptians were definitely not primitive.
Her dinner arrived and she ate while she worked. She made notes of the various dynasties and pharaohs, and then looked up references to each one, noting down the major events – social, building, political and warfare – of each reign. She made notes of the main cities because they tended to come and go in favor, and, coupled with this, the main gods in favor too.
Before she knew it, the time was after midnight. Even so, it was with reluctance that Alex shut down the computer and prepared for bed. This was a puzzle with claws and teeth. Five had already died. More could die. The discovery was recent, the deaths even more so. This curse – if it was a curse – was real and powerful. Alex was going to Egypt .. and she may also be going into terrible danger.
Murray woke up in time for a late lunch and pronounced he was feeling his old self again. He looked pale but not resigned to his fate.
“You sure?” Merlin asked as they ate.
“Yes. I may drift off during the afternoon because I do still feel a little tired but I don’t feel like I’m going to pass out thru blood loss. Thanks. I thought earlier, despite all the exercises and positive reinforcement, that I was going to die. I’d go like Gayle – slowly.”
“We’re not going to let you die, Murray,” she responded. “Derek would never forgive me if we let that happen. Besides, you have Professor Daly’s work to finish. You can’t do that if you’re dead. In fact, if you want to do something constructive with your afternoon, you can help me hit the books.”
“Certainly,” he agreed with enthusiasm. “What are we looking for?”
“References to your blue skinned guy.”
He nodded thoughtfully. “Of course, I’ll help but I don’t think you’ll find anything. There were no blue skinned gods in the pantheon.”
“I never said gods. I said guy.”
Murray laughed quietly. “I know there were no blue skinned guys in Ancient Egypt. The Celtic area, yes. Men painted themselves with woad. But they didn’t do it in Ancient Egypt.”
Merlin swallowed a mouthful of salad. “I know that. I also know they were a pretty regular type of people. They had order, structure, an’ hierarchy. Well educated. Religious an’ devout. Their lives weren’t exactly long by our standards but some lived to a ripe old age. Their society was established an’ ancient, even to them. Hell, Tuthmose had to unbury the Sphinx when all that was showing was its head. What I’m getting at here is .. they didn’t suddenly start painting guys with blue skins in their tombs. They painted stylized pictures, sure, but accurate pictures. Scenes of everyday life. People making bread, writing on papyri, working the fields. Each tomb is a snapshot of life outside so it could continue in the afterlife. So, for them to paint a guy with blue skin … ”
“Means there was, somewhere, a blue skinned man,” Murray concluded.
“Unusual. An’ unusual enough for someone to have written it down. They loved writing things down, Murray. They loved lists. They had master scribes, scribes, an’ apprentice scribes. Somewhere, there has to be a reference, no matter how small or irrelevant it seems.”
He nodded again. “All right. I hope Derek has a decent collection of books here.”
“Oh, he does,” she said in a flat voice. “Trust me on that.”
Nick was sleeping. Anna was sleeping too. Long haul flights were boring. Rachel was reading a journal and concentrating on the article. Derek was frowning. Something was nudging him for attention but he couldn’t focus on what exactly it was.
“Rachel,” he murmured, his voice soft so not to disturb Anna who sat beside him.
“Yeah.” She put down the journal and looked at him.
“I feel I’m missing something but I cannot determine what it is. Last night, over supper, we went around the table and we each gave an update to the others.”
He hesitated. “As best you can recall, what did everyone say?”
Rachel blew out her cheeks. “I gave an update on my examination of the four autopsies. I hadn’t found anything obvious to account for the deaths. Anna said .. she’d gone thru the article an’ confirmed it was Professor Daly’s language. She said she’d helped you with the hieroglyphs. Then she looked at the printouts of the photographs of the tomb.”
His eyes had been half closed as he listened then, at that point, they flew open. “That’s it!” he exclaimed quietly. “The pictures. Do you have them?”
Rachel turned in the other direction and put a hand on Nick’s arm. He started awake at once, sucking in a breath and blinking, every muscle tensed for action. Rachel snatched her hand away and Nick gave her a sheepish grin.
“Old habits,” he apologized as he stretched. “What’s up?”
“Derek needs the printouts of the chamber interior.”
Nick reached under the seat in front to retrieve his carry on bag, opened it and removed the master file. It was getting thicker. Quickly, he sorted thru the printed sheets and handed a few to Rachel who passed them on to Derek. Frowning, Derek studied them, carefully looking at each. These weren’t vacation pictures. There was no one standing, grinning broadly, in front of the painted wall. These were important records and they only showed the walls of the chamber.
Slowly, he nodded.
“What is it?” Rachel asked and Nick eased a little closer as well.
“Something Anna said yesterday which passed me by until now. It is astonishing how relative isolation and being unable to move freely liberates the mind to go over small details.”
“Just goes to show the pace of life today,” Rachel commented. “We’re always on the move, surrounded by changing circumstances. It’s tough to find time to stop an’ smell the flowers.”
“After my last excursion with William, I should have expected time to reflect,” Derek remarked. “Anna said that she examined the printouts - these printouts. The eastern wall had been finished, the others hadn’t. They were a collection of sketches, line drawings, ready to be completed at a later time. Just as there were apprentice scribes who prepared things for the scribes and then the master scribes attended to the fine detail, so there were apprentice artists who sketched out drawings for the artists to color and then the master artist added the detail,” he explained. “What does this tell us?”
Rachel saw a plain plastered wall with rough sketches on it, and she considered that Ancient Egypt was a structured, ordered civilization. It was Nick who answered.
“They didn’t have time to finish.”
“Exactly. Whatever had to be trapped in this chamber arrived before they were ready for it. Really, it’s a miracle this .. entity was trapped for as long as it was.”
“What’s behind the eastern wall?” Rachel wondered.
Derek shuffled thru the printouts until he came to the shot of the finished painting. He had looked thru them briefly when he’d printed them from the email from the National Institute but he hadn’t studied them this closely. There were quite a few of the eastern wall. Close ups and distance shots. He concentrated on the latter for now.
“We have to understand the nature of their thinking when it came to death and the afterlife,” he began. “For the Ancient Egyptians, the tomb was a home for the deceased’s body but it also represented an earthly manifestation of the home the ka inhabited in the afterlife. The ka was the immortal soul; it needed no real doors, so the architects incorporated false doors. The .. treasure in the tomb was also present and available for the ka to use. Chairs, tables, baskets, food, whatever the person had used during life. You see here, Rachel? There is a false door on this wall. Just an outline, raised slightly from the plaster, but enough for a ka to recognize it as a door and be able to go thru it. As to what’s behind this wall … this is an antechamber. Beyond is probably a passageway leading to another antechamber and a burial chamber. That is if this is a typical tomb.”
“Is it?” Nick asked.
“I don’t believe it is,” Derek replied. “The alignment is wrong.”
“The what?” Rachel queried.
“The alignment. Burial chambers and their passageways ran north, south. This passageway faces east. There is a line of thinking which says entry to the afterlife is north or south. East … ”
“They didn’t want this thing to go anywhere,” Nick reasoned. “They wanted it trapped.”
“It seems a reasonable assumption,” Derek nodded. “Now it’s been freed, maybe we can learn what is behind the false door.”
Nick was silent for a moment then asked, “How did they keep it in there while they sealed the tomb? An ordinary wall would take a while. A wall twice as thick would take twice as long to build. This thing just .. waited there an’ let ’em do it?”
“That will have to wait until we’re closer – to the site and to the answers,” Derek responded. “But it’s a vital question, Nick, and one we must have answered.”
“I see what you mean,” Murray remarked, gazing around. “Where’s the Egyptology section?”
“How the hell do I know?” Merlin commented. “You start upstairs, I’ll start down here. Shout if you find something.”
“Where’s your friend?” he asked. “We could use his help.”
“He’s around. Busy. He’ll help out when he can.”
Profelis was, at that moment, laying on a bed in one of the guest rooms. Or Evan was. Profelis was over the river, paying a visit to what had become a thriving resource in the community.
“Hello,” Joseph greeted as he opened the door.
“Peri sent me,” Profelis said, almost like some kind of password.
“Really! Oh, how is she? I haven’t seen her in quite a while. Do come in and you can tell me how I can assist.”
“She’s very well. I’ll tell her you asked. You’ve built up quite a business,” Profelis commented.
“No money exchanges hands so it isn’t a business,” Joseph corrected. “It’s a .. facility. A halfway house .. but it’s so big these days that it’s more like a halfway mansion. We’ve had to extend, add new wings.”
Profelis nodded as he’d seen this for himself. In fact, the halfway house Joseph had set up was looking a lot like a certain place of former employment.
“I’m looking for some new arrivals,” he said. “Some are very new, the last couple of days. They may not even have crossed the river yet. I did look in the forest but I didn’t find them so I thought I’d check here.”
“Wise,” Joseph agreed, nodding. “What are the names?”
“George Daly and his wife Gayle. Phil Bateman an’ Rebekka Staleygate.”
Joseph leaned back, his eyes hooding as he reviewed his guest list. Then he nodded. “Yes, they’re here.”
“All of them?”
“They came in a group of four which was surprising. And I remember them because they’re angry.” Joseph rose to fetch tea and cookies. “I’ve seen angry souls before but it rarely lasts. These four are still angry. Not raging, merely frustrated angry. You want to speak with them?”
“Come thru to the lounge. I’ll find them for you.”
“Do you know why they’re still angry?” Profelis asked, following the former butler from the kitchen.
“Unfinished business, I believe. It has to do with .. being so close yet so far, a matter of requiring money, and an abrupt cessation of their activities. Wait here. I won’t be long.”
Profelis started on the tea and cookies while he waited. Joseph returned a short while later. “I’ve explained that .. you’re not like they are and that you want to help them finish their business,” he murmured. “Don’t let me down.”
“No, sir,” Profelis smiled. “Professor Daly?”
Joseph retreated to the other side of the room where he couldn’t hear what was exchanged but could keep an eye on his guests. Profelis looked into a pair of mild blue eyes set in a wind and sun burned face. George Daly wore shorts and a short sleeved shirt, a bandana knotted around his throat.
“Yes. And you are?”
“Call me Profelis. Everyone does.”
“Joseph tells me you want to help us finish what we began. Good, because I – and the others – are damned angry to find ourselves here.”
“Why did you come then?” Profelis inquired, gesturing the group to one of the sofas while he took the armchair.
“Did we have a choice?” a woman asked in reply. “I’m Gayle Daly. This is Phil Bateman and, on the end, is Rebekka Staleygate.”
“Unfinished business .. a reason for haunting.”
George laughed brusquely, almost scornfully. “I don’t believe in such nonsense. Ghosts indeed.”
“Do you believe in curses?” Profelis then asked and the group fell silent. “Murray tells me you all laughed about it.”
“Where is Murray?” Gayle inquired.
“Presently, he’s in San Francisco. The Luna Foundation has taken up the investigation of your deaths and the cause of them. Murray is helping and is representing you .. seeing as you can’t do it for yourself. He’s also under attack from the same .. source of energy which led to your demise. It’s why I’m here. I need to get your version of events. We’re hoping it’ll throw some much needed light on some rather dark aspects.”
They glanced at each other, then they faced Profelis again.
“All right,” George agreed. “Where should we start?”
“At the beginning. If anyone has anything to add to the main account, please, speak up.”
George Daly took a deep breath. “I’d been searching south of the Valley of the Kings for several years. I felt .. I sensed I was close to something. I didn’t know what.”
“Can I ask, Professor, what made you look there?” Profelis gently interrupted. “Did you read something? Was it an obvious place to choose?”
“It would be useful.”
“The Valley’s been surveyed, searched, examined, probed and tested to death, excuse the dreadful pun. South west of the Valley .. not so much. The farther south you go, the less work’s been done, until you hit the outskirts of Deir el-Bahari. It was .. oh, four years back that I got in the jeep and drove about five miles into the desert .. and something said stop here. Gut instinct, I suppose. The area was terrible. Scrub, shale, sand, rocks. But that was where I wanted to explore. I spent the next three seasons surveying and doing minor excavations. Test holes mostly. We found some small pieces of evidence but not what I’d call a find. And then, as we were nearing the end of the season this year … ”
George shook his head. “I asked Murray Snowden to join us as consultant because he had a fresh eye. We’d been seeing the same patch of scrub, shale, sand and rocks for several years. Murray spent two days with us, walking around, just .. looking, and then suggested digging where we did. Phil mapped a trench, the native help got to work and, just on the eastern edge, we uncovered a step.”
Profelis listened to their side of events which closely marked Murray’s version. Occasionally, Phil, Gayle and Rebekka chimed in with personal anecdotes.
“And then, when Murray left, it all seemed to go wrong,” George concluded on an exasperated sigh, then held up a hand. “That isn’t fair. It wasn’t Murray’s fault. Gayle began collating the material for the visuals – she’s a very talented artist and photographer, you know. We were just about out of money. It was the end of the season anyway in a few weeks – no one works in Egypt during the summer, much too hot, so the season is .. October, November thru to March, April – but I wanted, we wanted to get as much done in the time we had left so the Institute would fund us again next season. We got the authorities on board right at the start so my permits would be renewed and the site would be protected until we could get back. Gayle flew home .. oh, three or four days after Murray left. I had him on a retainer so to speak. He’d been with us and was going to start paving the way with the Institute. Whip up some enthusiasm. My presentation would be the conclusion to the campaign.”
He fell silent again, frowning, his lips moving but more in agitation.
“Do you know what it’s like, Profelis, to be thousands of miles away when you get a phone call to say your wife has collapsed, is not only in hospital but on life support?”
“Not exactly, sir. I’m not married, but I have been in that situation recently with a very close friend.”
“I felt .. stunned. Even that doesn’t do it justice. It was a – a numb .. empty hole. Nothing much mattered. Phil made reservations and we flew home. Rebekka stayed on to bed everything down.”
“With Dr al-Nasat?”
Rebekka nodded. “He is lovely. So enthusiastic, so driven. He is really passionate about his country’s history. He, basically, guaranteed our permits for the next season.”
“Have you seen him?” Profelis inquired.
“No .. why?”
“He died about the same time you did.”
“What the fuck is going on?” Phil erupted furiously. “Isn’t it just a little bit bloody strange that everyone who went into that chamber is dead?”
“Except Murray,” Gayle pointed out.
“An’ he’s under attack,” Profelis reminded them. “Can I take you back a little? You laughed about the curse. Why did you do that?”
“It’s a bloody curse!” Phil retorted. “Were we supposed to take it seriously?”
“You might have lived longer if you had.”
Rebekka leaned forward. “You’re saying it’s genuine.”
“Yes,” Profelis nodded.
“We didn’t know,” she replied. “We laughed about it because we thought it was .. not a joke exactly. It was more that we thought it a sad attempt to deter tomb robbers. It was meant for them, not for us. And it was also, in a way, a kind of signal.”
“Of what?” Profelis frowned.
“That the tomb housed someone important,” Phil answered. “You wouldn’t put a curse inscription on the tomb of the royal baker, would you?”
“We laughed because we were excited,” Gayle explained. “We believed we’d found something incredible.”
“You had. And you will be credited with the discovery.”
“Posthumously,” Phil commented, folding his arms.
“Of course. You’re dead. It has to be posthumously. Professor,” Profelis went on, shifting his gaze along the sofa, “were you aware of anything .. unusual when you made the hole in the door?”
George Daly thought at length. “It was very thick. That surprised me. There was a rush of stale air from inside the chamber. Really rather fetid, rank. Stale air isn’t unusual, in fact it’s to be expected but a smell ..? That was strange because there was nothing inside to cause such a smell. Nothing left to molder. Even if there was, after how many thousands of years, the smell wouldn’t have been .. so fresh. It shouldn’t have been there .. at all. When I shone the flashlight into the chamber .. it seemed very dark. It was a powerful beam but it was like trying to look thru black fog or smoke. But then it cleared. It was probably my eyes. The desert’s very bright. Tends to bleach out the retina.”
Profelis regarded him. “I thought you said you made the hole in the door late afternoon.”
“Well .. yes, but the light is still strong.”
Gayle touched his arm. “The stairwell was in shadow, George. It took time to smash a hole. Our eyes had adjusted.”
“Do you have problems with your eyes, Professor Daly?” Profelis inquired.
“No. I don’t even need spectacles.”
Profelis nodded. “Then I believe it safe to say that there was darkness in the chamber. A real darkness, and not just the absence of light.”
Like the others, Derek had put his watch to London time at the start of the flight. It was already after midnight in the UK so Derek closed his eyes and settled to sleep. He wanted to be alert when they landed. There was a lot to do in London, and not much time to do it. Rachel was dozing beside him and Nick had long ago developed the habit of being able to sleep at a moment’s notice. Anna seemed to be another one with the ability to sleep anywhere, any position, any time.
Derek had given all the printouts back to Nick. But he still saw them. They floated before his eyes, almost teasing him. The answers are all here, they seemed to say. You just have to find them.
At some point in this reflection/dream, the color bled away to black, white and shades of gray, and the images he saw changed. They became sharper, faster. Flashes.
George Daly picking up the hammer and smiling in a kind of proud triumph. At his shoulders stood Murray and a young, sun bronzed man. They were nodding. Behind them, two women, one young, one older. They were all dirty and dusty, streaked with sweat. Around the top of a stairwell, a group of Egyptians in pale robes stood watching, craning their necks.
No, Derek shouted silently, don’t break the seal!
George Daly swinging the hammer. The plaster cracking and crazing. Murray turning away to protect his face from flying splinters. And the earth groaning a warning, loud enough to drown out the raucous cheers of the native help. The hammer swinging again, and the earth answering.
It must stay trapped. It must never be freed. Such was the pact made in ancient times. Do not betray the trust. Dark, dark, doom and death …
George glancing back, saying something and smiling about it. Hefting the hammer and bringing it round, punching a hole, small, no bigger than a fist.
Derek felt his chest tighten as he stood there, an invisible witness to the swinging of the hammer, the hole growing larger. George Daly reaching back for a flashlight and shining it into the opening he’d made.
Dark, dark, doom and death … They couldn’t see it but Derek could. A thick stream of black smoke or fog curled out of the hole, writhing around each, entering their bodies thru nostrils and mouths, even pores of the skin. The late afternoon sun seemed to grow dim, as if a haze of cloud had covered it.
Derek wasn’t sure what happened next. His vision dream changed, flashing from the past to some other time. A world shrouded in darkness. People dying, plants, trees, animals .. all dying. The air was thick to breathe because they seemed to be choking. And it seemed hot, hotter than usual. Water was boiling away. No stars overhead. And it was silent, so silent. The earth was scared and kept its ancient voice hidden. Even its slow heartbeat seemed to falter.
Color crept back and his vision ended, returning to a dream. Yet it was more than that. Anubis with his jackal’s head. Thoth, the ibis headed god. Horus with the head of a falcon. They stood around him, a triangle with Derek in the center. They didn’t speak, merely looked at him.
What? What is it you want me to do?
The trust has been betrayed. The pact is broken.
He frowned, his eyes moving rapidly beneath the closed lids.
You want me to .. fix it? To make it right? Tell me! Help me …
Thoth stepped nearer and Derek swallowed. Thoth, the god credited with inventing writing, reading, medicine and magic. The Great Scribe … Derek felt the weight of a hand on his shoulder and it crushed him because it was also the weight of the world.
You are chosen.
But .. what am I do to? Recapture the evil .. yes, but how? How was it held in there while the door was built?
The three gods drifted away, leaving him on his knees, on his own in a small circle of light amid total blackness.
Doom, doom, dark and death … The earth does not speak. The sun hides, or is driven into captivity. And I must find black smoke and cage it before everything dies … The weight of the world is upon me.
He jerked, his eyes flying open.
“Were you dreaming?” Anna asked.
Derek went to answer but couldn’t. For a split second there, he was sure he had been dreaming and maybe even more than that, but he’d woken so suddenly that, if he had, it had fled from his memory.
He smiled. “If I was, I don’t remember it. It’s nothing important .. obviously.”
“Okay,” she grinned and settled back again.
Derek checked the time and closed his eyes once more. Nothing important. Yes. If it was, he’d’ve remembered.