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God of Chaos

By Sharnhorst

Romance / Adventure

God of Chaos

CHAPTER ONE

Evelyn O’Connell joined her husband in his study, rearranging a couple of artefacts as she walked past his bookshelves.

“Will you please leave my ornaments alone? Just this once? I had them exactly as I wanted them!” Rick said with exaggerated patience, smiling slowly as Evy put her hands on her hips, ready to do battle.

“How many times do I have to tell you? They are not ornaments...”

“They are artefacts!” he finished for her, grinning as she aimed a blow at his head that he easily fended off. He dragged her onto his lap and gave her a long slow kiss, effectively stopping her from making any more complaints.

“Mmm, that’s better,” he murmured, looking at her flushed face, pleased at his handiwork. “Now that I’ve got your undivided attention, let’s take another look at this letter.”

Evy took the piece of folded paper from his hands and straightened it out. “Well, I don’t know anyone by the name of Wilson, as far as I can remember. Nor does Jonathan, but then, who can tell if he knows what he’s talking about half the time?” She smiled as Rick nodded enthusiastically in agreement with the last statement. “And you yourself said that the name rang no bells. It’s all a bit of a mystery.”

“And you love a good mystery, right?”

You know I do!” she grinned at him. “Who do you think she is?”

He shook his head. “I have no idea, but we only have to wait until tomorrow and then we will finally meet this...” he glanced at the letter again, “Matilda Wilson. Then we’ll discover what this is all about.”

“Well, you’ll meet her anyway! I certainly won’t! I wasn’t included on the invitation!”

Rick arched an eyebrow at her. “Jealous?”

“Completely! Why would a strange woman want to meet with you alone?”

“I could name several reasons. My charm, my good looks, my intelligence...” he ticked off his attributes on his fingers as he spoke.

Evy jabbed him in the ribs. “Let’s not forget your arrogance!”

“Okay, that too!” he agreed happily before getting more serious again, a calculating glint lighting up his eyes that Evy didn’t miss. “You know nobody could ever hold a candle to you. Whoever this woman is, she couldn’t possibly be as beautiful as you are.”

“Flatterer. Stop trying to divert me and lets get back to the matter in hand.”

“I know what I’d like to have in hand,” he whispered, wiggling his brows at her.

“Later! Now, where are you to meet her again?”

“The Regency Hotel. That sure beats digging in the sand!”

“Hey! Don’t knock digging in the sand, darling. It bought everything in this house. Not to mention the house itself. Where there’s sand there’s gold!” she said in a knowledgeable tone.

“I thought it was ‘where there’s muck there’s brass’ or something like that? That’s a weird saying.”

“Not as weird as some of the things we’ve been through in the past few years!”

“And certainly not as weird as Jonathan,” Rick muttered, glaring at the other man as he walked aimlessly into the room.

“Hello all!” he said cheerily, throwing himself into a nearby chair. “Shortage of seats lately?” he inquired, nodding toward Evy seated on Rick’s lap. Rick glared at him even harder and Jonathan squirmed, loosening his collar with one finger.

“Yes, well...erm...so, what’s going on then? Anything that requires my derring-do?” he flexed his thin shoulders. “Trips to exotic places and all that?”

Evy got elegantly up from her perch and placed a kiss on top of Rick’s head. “I don’t think so Jonathan. Not yet anyway. But you never know, we may need that good aim of yours again one day! I know Ardeth was glad of it at Ahm Shere. If not for you, he’d be dead.”

“Yes, well, I don’t like to boast or anything...”

“Of course not,” Rick interjected mockingly.

“Ardeth never actually said thank you, you know. You’d think he’d have written or something. It’s very rude if you ask me!”

“We didn’t ask you!” Rick said impatiently. Evy shushed him.

“Ardeth did nod his thanks to you if you remember correctly. I’m sure he has other, much more important, things on his mind. He was probably very glad to see the back of us when we left!”

“It’s a good job we haven’t had any reason to go back again. I expect the Med-jai are having a well-deserved break from our company. As far as I can see, there shouldn’t be any need for us to return to Egypt.” Rick commented.

“Well, actually darling, I wanted to talk to you about that...” Evy began hesitantly.

“Oh really? About what exactly?” he said slowly, all suspicion.

“Well, the Museum wants to do a dig at Karnak...well, just next to Karnak actually and...well, they want me to go.”

“They do...and what about Alex and me?”

“You’d come with me of course! I certainly couldn’t go without you, you’re my protector!” She smiled dreamily at him and he perked up at her look of admiration.

“I’m not sure Alex should go this time,” he said, frowning.

“Perhaps not. He’s had quite enough excitement over the last few years. But there won’t be any danger this time, I’m sure.”

“Famous last words,” Jonathan said with a dramatic sigh.

“For once we agree on something,” Rick said with a faint look of disgust at being caught agreeing with Jonathan. “Honey, it’s always dangerous. There are always Mummies...and bugs and things!”

“You’re not scared are you?” she teased, stroking his hair away from his forehead.

“Me? Scared? No! I just don’t want you to get hurt. I nearly lost you last time and I’m not willing to take that risk again.”

“There’s no risk. And even if there were it would be mine to take. We’re going and that’s an end to it.”

“You’re really determined huh?”

“It is my job, you know. And you know how much I love it out there! Say you’ll come with me,” she said in her most persuasive tone, bumping up against him as he turned his chair toward her. He reached out and drew her to him, caressing her waist.

“You know I can’t resist you. Okay. But promise me you won’t take any unnecessary risks this time?”

“I promise. Anyway, you’ll be there to do that for me, won’t you? And Jonathan of course!”

“Jonathan’s going too?” he burst out, frowning. “You never said that!”

“I have to go! The British Museum has appointed me head of acquisitions!” Jonathan piped up.

“I’m so glad you want to go! It’s next week by the way.” Evy smiled as she stroked his cheek, trying to divert him again.

“Next week? Oh my God. And what’s this new job of Jonathan’s? When did that happen? Don’t I get to hear anything any more?” Rick shook his head. “Where was I when all the people at the museum went crazy?”

“Actually, it was only today, my dear boy. I’m sure you’d love to congratulate me?”

“You can be sure, if it makes you feel better. I’d rather send my commiseration’s to the museum, although I must say you are over qualified for the position. I’ve never known anyone who could carry so many valuable items at the most dangerous times!”

“Why do you think they hired me?” Jonathan said, smiling inanely. “Well, I’m off to bed. It’s very late,” he said, staring knowingly at the two people who were rapidly becoming oblivious to his presence. He left the room in disgust, muttering to himself ‘Oh, for heaven’s sake!’

Matilda Wilson stepped off the steam train and glanced around her at Victoria Station. It was her second time in London but only her first travelling on a British train. The last time she had been in the City was with her Aunt Amelia on a trip that her Aunt had told her ‘would turn her into a Lady of Intelligence and Wit’ but in truth had bored her. Until, that is, they had gone to the British Museum and seen all the artefacts from Egypt. It was a subject she loved, now more than ever, but there would be no time for such frivolities on this visit. No, this visit would be very different.

She felt apprehensive about the meeting that was to come, but she had high hopes that Rick O’Connell would welcome her visit and her news, even if it all came as a shock to him. He had thought himself an orphan without relatives, but she was here to tell him different.

Matilda had discovered, three years ago, that she had a cousin called Rick. They had both been placed in the same orphanage when he had been a young boy and she only a baby. Thinking that her adoptive parents were in fact her real parents, it had been quite a shock to find that it was all a lie, if a kindly meant one.

She pushed the memories forcefully to the back of her mind and concentrated on the present, focusing on the porter who was busily loading her cases onto a trolley. She glanced nervously about at the crowds of people, drawing a few curious looks from some of them. She ignored the curiosity, used to being looked at because of her unusual colouring. She smoothed her hands down over her new coat, thankful that she was at least wearing the latest fashions and didn’t stand out too much and proceeded to follow the porter out to the small line of Taxi’s outside.

She smiled as the driver helped her into the rear of the vehicle and then went off to help the porter stow her cases away. By and large she didn’t like motor cars, preferring to ride horses; a skill she had acquired back home in Arizona. But unfortunately there seemed to be a lack of the graceful animals on the London streets, taken up as they were by more motor cars, buses and trams. It all seemed very busy to Matilda, very noisy. She hoped she would get used to it before too long.

She looked up with appreciation as they pulled up outside her hotel, admiring the huge elegant building that would be her home for the next few days. Now all she had to do was brace herself for the meeting with Rick O’Connell the next morning. She fervently hoped he would believe what she had to say. Time would tell.

Rick stepped out of the car and walked confidently up the steps of the large hotel, not bothered one bit by the fact that most of the men he passed were wearing smart dark suits. He himself was wearing his habitual adventurer’s outfit, comfortable in the unusual garb and not in the least fazed by the odd looks he received. His one concession to convention were the trousers he was wearing, smart brown ones as opposed to the desert khaki he usually sported.

Not bothering to give the sumptuous interior of the hotel a second glance, he marched directly up to the Maitre d’ at the restaurant entrance. The man looked astonished to see this unusual person striding toward him, but his training took over and he set his features into a polite mask.

“Yes, Sir, and how may I help?”

“I have an appointment for breakfast with Miss Matilda Wilson,” Rick drawled lazily, smirking as the man looked him slowly up and down before looking at the bookings. His attitude became immediately more respectful once he found the information he required.

“Ah, yes Sir. Miss Wilson is waiting for you. Do follow me.” He led Rick into the large dining room, only half full with hotel guests eating their breakfast. He looked around at the people in front of him with interest, wondering which table held the mysterious Miss Wilson. He didn’t have long to wait.

The Maitre d’ stopped at a small table occupied by a young woman in her twenties and seated Rick in the chair opposite her, promising to return and take their order in a few minutes.

“Miss Wilson I presume? I’m Rick O’Connell, I’m pleased to meet you,” he said politely, shaking the hand she held out toward him. “Although, I have to admit I’m a little puzzled. I’ve been trying to work out if I knew anyone by your name and, now that I’ve seen you, I’m sure we’ve never met before.”

Matilda smiled, studying him briefly and liking the openness of his face. “I’m sorry to have confused you. I have some things to discuss with you, Mr. O’Connell, that may confuse you even more. I apologise now for any shock I might cause you but, hopefully, my news will be welcome too.”

Rick smiled at her. “Well, okay, so what’s the news?”

“I guess the best thing to do is to just say it. Mr. O’Connell, I’m your cousin.”

“You’re my cousin?” he repeated dumbly, his expression unchanged.

“Yes. I know it comes as a surprise...”

“It sure does. Considering I spent my entire childhood in an orphanage with absolutely no relatives...well, perhaps you could explain how you could possibly be related to me?”

Matilda grimaced at the impatience that appeared on his face. “I knew this wouldn’t be easy, Mr. O’Connell, but please let me explain. I don’t mean you any harm and I’m not trying to con you or anything.”

Rick looked for any sign of dishonesty, but all that shone out of her clear green eyes was concern at that moment. He couldn’t in all honesty believe what she had said, but he forced himself to relax and listen to what she had to impart; even if she turned out to be a lunatic. He nodded for her to continue.

“Shall we order some coffee...or tea? The British like tea better don’t they?”

“I’m not British. Coffee will do me fine, thank you.”

They waited for the coffee to arrive and only then did Matilda continue to talk.

“Mr. O’Connell, I was adopted at six months old from an orphanage in Cairo. The same orphanage you were placed in. I have lived my entire life in a small town in Arizona and until my parents died I had never questioned where I came from. I never had any need. But it seems that my...” she hesitated, “...adoptive parents failed to mention that I was actually adopted. I believed, always, that they were my true parents. Now that I look back on it I can see that it must have looked strange, a child of my colouring...” she indicated her red hair, “...belonging to two dark-haired parents. But you never really question those things do you?” she asked him, taking a sip of her coffee.

“I guess not,” Rick agreed.

“Anyway, my father died in an automobile accident four years ago and my mother followed him a year later. Natural causes this time. If that wasn’t bad enough, I then learnt from her will that they weren’t even my real parents and that I had been adopted as a baby and taken to America. They mentioned that I had had a cousin at the same orphanage, a young boy of about nine who went by the name Rick O’Connell. It’s taken me three years to find you...” she tailed off and studied his face. “You don’t believe me, do you?”

“It’s not that I don’t believe you. It’s just...this all seems a bit...” he struggled to find the right words.

“Surreal? I understand that feeling, Mr. O’Connell. It’s how I’ve felt for the last three years. Even now, looking at you, I can’t see any resemblance between us. But for some reason I do feel a connection, I can’t explain it. Let me continue and then make your mind up, okay?”

“Fair enough. Go ahead,” he invited, taking a fortifying sip of the hot coffee.

“It seems that our parents were assisting on a dig in Egypt when they had an accident. My mother’s will didn’t say what sort of accident, I’m not sure she even knew. But whatever, they died, all of them. My real father and your father were brothers, which makes us cousins. We weren’t with them when the accident occurred, obviously, but our mothers were. They all died and we were taken to the orphanage. Apparently, both of our mothers were Egyptian. From what the will says, I was adopted and a nurse told them how we had come to be there in the first place. For some reason our origins had been covered up, but this nurse told them the truth, maybe at great cost to herself. My parents decided not to do anything about the information, I suppose they didn’t want to have to give me up. I had a good life with them, I never wanted for anything and I’m now a woman of some means, thanks to the will. I’m only sorry that you never had the life I did.” She reached across the table and took one of his hands in hers, feeling him tense slightly at the unexpected contact. “So when I found out about you, I hired a private detective to find out all he could. It’s taken such a long time, but I’m so glad that we’re finally meeting.”

Rick frowned down at the table. “I can’t believe this. I’ve always thought, always, that I had no living relatives. How can this be?”

“I know it’s a lot to take in. It took me long enough, so I should know. Don’t you remember anything about your time at the orphanage?”

“Not much, really. But I do remember a baby...”

“That would be me, I guess.”

“I guess so.” He shook his head in amazement. “I have a faint memory of holding a baby, and then that baby not being there any more. I thought that was all a dream. I guess it wasn’t. This is so weird!”

“Tell me about yourself. I don’t know much about your life and I’d like to.”

Rick smiled as he thought of some of the stranger things he had done in the past. He started to tell her his life story, laughing out loud a few times at the shock on her face.

Two hours later they stood on the pavement outside the hotel as Matilda prepared to say goodbye to her new found cousin, at least for a few hours.

“Are you sure your wife won’t mind me coming to dinner?”

Rick looked down at her. “Of course I am. Evy will beat me to death if I don’t invite you!” He laughed and took her hands. “Thank you for finding me Matilda. I can’t wait to make you part of my family.”

“Please call me Tilly, everyone does. Matilda sounds like a cow!”

He laughed again. “And call me Rick, everyone does that too. A cow, huh?” He shook his head and opened the door of his car. “We’ll see you promptly at 7.30. I’ll pick you up!”

“I’ll be right here!” she laughed, indicating the spot she was standing on. She stood and watched as he drove away, waving until he turned the corner. Pleased that it had all gone so smoothly, she smiled happily. The fact that she actually liked Rick O’Connell was an added bonus.

At 7.30 that evening she was standing anxiously outside the hotel, twisting her small bag in her hands. She had been there for ten minutes already and she was beginning to feel the cold, but she had been unable to bear pacing around her room waiting. She turned towards the sound of an approaching car and studied the man driving as he stopped at the kerb, sighing as she realised it wasn’t Rick. Her attention went back to the road, and she found herself wondering if he was going to be held up. She hadn’t taken any notice of the other car until she had the strange feeling someone was staring at her and she reluctantly looked back at it. The driver was leaning comfortably against the side of his car, his arms folded as he studied her. He was medium height, slender build and he had wavy hair and, she thought, kind eyes. He was wearing a smart, dark suit and he was every inch the playboy in the way he was observing her. Her cheeks reddened at the fascinated stare she was receiving. Most of the people who looked her way would quickly look away again and continue on their way, but this man seemed to be examining her a little too long and he had a strange smile on his face.

Before she could turn away from him he began making his way towards her, a friendly smile appearing on his face.

“Hello, you must be Matilda!” he said cheerfully, placing a hand under her elbow.

“I...yes…I am. Are you…are you here to drive me to my cousins house?”

“Well, yes, I am indeed. I’m Jonathan Carnahan, Evy’s Brother. Pleased to meet you. It had to be you. That hair is a dead give-away, Rick was right about that.”

“Oh, I see! I’m very pleased to meet you. Rick told me about you when we met today. You do a lot of exploring with them, don’t you?”

“Yes, lots, and I am extremely brave when the situation calls for it, let me tell you,” he happily bragged, pleased to have a willing ear to boast to. “Oh, the adventures we’ve been on and the scrapes we’ve been in. We have a fair drive ahead of us, I’ll tell you all about them on the way.”

They arrived at the car and he helped her inside before jumping back in the driving seat. He started speaking the moment he sat down and Matilda had a feeling he wasn’t going to stop until they got to their destination.

“Well, now, where shall I start? My old buddy Imhotep or perhaps the Scorpion King? Or our good friends the Med-jai? Better to start at the beginning I always say. Now, a few years back…”

Matilda sat back and listened as he recounted some of the stories that Rick had told her that morning. Jonathan’s tales seemed to go a little differently though and she decided she must ask Rick about his brother-in-law’s sanity when she arrived at his home.

Fifteen minutes or so later they pulled up in front of an enormous mansion, and Matilda got her first glimpse into her cousins’ life. As she stepped out of the car the front door was flung open and Rick came bounding down the stairs and grabbed her arm.

“Matilda! I am so sorry, I couldn’t get away and I had no choice but to send him!” he said, nodding toward the thin man just walking around the car. “Was the journey all right?”

She laughed up at him. “It was fine, honestly. Jonathan was good company.”

Rick looked shocked. “He was good company? Are you sure you feel all right?”

“I’m fine!”

“And yet you enjoyed his company?” he asked her, his brows knitting in mock confusion. Not waiting for an answer, he took her arm and pulled her into the house where a pretty, dark-haired woman and a boy of about ten or eleven stood waiting.

“This is my wife, Evelyn, but everyone calls her Evy. And this is my son, Alex, a would-be adventurer and a real pain in the neck at times. Guys, this is my cousin Matilda.”

They all shook hands and Matilda liked Evy immediately. Alex seemed a boisterous young man, but he was unfailingly polite which reflected on his mother and father very well. “Are you really my Dad’s cousin?” he asked, narrowing one eye as he tried to detect any similarities between his father and the young woman in front of him. Tilly nodded. “I sure am. Which means I’m your cousin too.”

“Do you know anything about Egypt?”

“A little yes. I find it fascinating!”

Alex let out a sigh of relief. “Phew, that’s good. Most people Dad knows are really boring! They don’t know the first thing about Egypt or archaeology, not like Mum. If you want I can tell you lots of things about the pyramids...” he began eagerly.

Evy placed a hand over his mouth, laughing at the disgruntled look he gave her. “Maybe later, Alex. We want to get to know Matilda first before you scare her off with ghoulish tales!”

“It’s not fair, you never let me talk to your friends!”

“That’s because you’d never stop! Now why don’t you go and wash your hands before dinner?”

Alex went reluctantly up the stairs, mumbling all the way and casting some petulant glances down at the adults.

Before too much time had passed they were all sitting in the dining room chatting about some of the groups adventures while they enjoyed a glass of after dinner wine.

“The meal was lovely, thank you.” Tilly said to Evy.

“Oh don’t thank me, I didn’t cook it! I have someone to do that for me. Rick insisted upon it.” She cast a glance at her smug husband.

Rick grinned. “If I hadn’t we’d have starved to death long ago. Evy has many talents but cooking isn’t one of them.”

“I have to agree. I could burn water given the opportunity!” Evy replied, not minding in the least what Rick had said. “Well, now, let’s tell you a little about the trips we’ve made. I’m sure Rick told you most of it this morning, but there are other things that might interest you!”

It didn’t take long before Matilda realised that Jonathan wasn’t mad at all, or if he was, then so were all the other people sitting at the table.

“I can’t believe these things all really happened! I mean this is something you read about in fictional adventure magazines, not real life. Rick, you didn’t tell me all of this before! But, if they are true, oh, how I wish I could go with you one day! That is, if you ever go back again after the things that have happened to you. I’d love to see Egypt, to actually see the Pyramids and temples, to touch something so old…it must be fabulous. I don’t think I’d like the scary part though, the monsters and such.” She shuddered at the thought.

Evy exchanged a strange look with Rick and they both grinned. “Well, they were mummies actually. Except for the Scorpion King, he was a sort of big bug. You know, we were hoping you’d feel like that. You see, I work for the British Museum now and they want me to go to Karnak in a week’s time to oversee a dig near the temple. We were wondering if you’d like to come with us and get a taste of the real Egypt?”

“Really? Oh, I would just love to! Would we all be going?”

“All except young Alex here. He’s had quite enough excitement for a few years yet.” Evy looked fondly down at the obviously disappointed boy. “It’s been nearly two years since the Scorpion King incident, but we think he should stay at home this time and try to lead a normal life for a while. Plus he has lots of schoolwork to catch up on!” Alex gave a snort of disgust at this, folding his arms and sulking. Evy ignored him, letting Rick tell the young boy that he wasn’t acting like a proper gentleman. She turned her attention back to the younger woman. “So you really want to go Matilda? I did so hope you would! Perhaps on the way back from the dig we could try and find out more about your origins from the orphanage? Besides, it will be so nice to have another woman along for a change, a bit of civilised conversation for once!” She grinned at Rick who just gave her an ‘I’ll get you later’ look.

“Yes, I really want to go and please, call me Tilly, everyone I know does. Matilda sounds so formal somehow.”

“Actually, she thinks it sounds like a cow,” Rick supplied helpfully.

“Tilly it is.” Evy hesitated. “Would you mind if I asked you a question?”

“Not at all!”

“Is your hair...natural?”

Tilly laughed. “Yes, it’s my real colour, not out of a dubious bottle. Mind you, there is a strange story behind it...” she began and Evy sat up expectantly.

“As you can see, my darling wife loves anything strange and unusual. She did, after all, marry me!”

“Well, you see, I had brown hair, not unlike Rick’s, until I was thirteen. Then it just sort of...changed.”

“What, overnight?” Evy asked, aghast.

“Oh no, it took about six months, give or take. It just started off with the occasional streak and then it changed entirely. But that’s not all,” she glanced nervously at her new found family, wondering how odd they would think her.

“Yes? Go on, go on!” Evy said quickly, her eyes sparkling at this unusual discovery.

“My eyes...well, they weren’t always green either. That happened at around the same time. They used to be blue, like Rick’s. I guess if I had kept my original appearance I might have looked more like him!”

“So your eyes changed too? That’s very odd. I’ve never heard of that happening before. Did you have an illness of any sort?” Evy enquired, grasping at straws.

“Not that I know of. My mother just said it was unusual but nothing to worry about, so I didn’t. Up until I lost virtually all of my friends because of my appearance. I think they thought I worshipped the devil or something!”

Evy looked down at the other woman’s hands, chewing her lip thoughtfully as she wondered how to ask about something she had noticed earlier.

“Tilly, your hands...how did you get those scars?”

Tilly held out her hands, palms up. “These? I’ve had them for years, I don’t know how I got them. Strange aren’t they?”

Evy took her hands and studied the thin white lines on the palms and her eyes widened. “Why, this looks like...” she began and turned Tilly’s hands so that they were palm outwards in front of her face, thumbs together. “I don’t believe this. Rick, look at this!”

Rick came around the table and stared at the scars, his mouth opening in surprise. “Isn’t that...”

“The Wedjat, the eye of Horus, yes! But how on earth did you get it scarred onto your hands Tilly?”

“I don’t know. Like I said, it’s always been there as far as I know. I always assumed I must have grabbed something out of the fire when I was a toddler. But you say it’s a ...Wedjat? What’s that?”

“It’s a symbol, known as the eye of Horus, a powerful protective symbol. Somebody must have done this to you deliberately. But I have no idea for what reason!”

“Do you think it might have anything to do with her hair and eyes changing too?” Rick asked.

“It could well have a lot to do with it. Maybe she got these marks in the orphanage, like you did with your tattoo.”

“What tattoo?” Tilly asked, a little taken aback by everything that was happening. Rick undid his cuff and showed her the pyramid tattoo on his wrist.

“This, according to Ardeth Bay, means that I am a ‘warrior for God, one of the Masonic Templars, a Med-jai’ apparently!” he said, doing a fairly good impression of the serious Arab. “I must admit, he does have a point though. I saw this on the wrist of a carving on a wall at Ahm Shere and it showed me how to defeat the Scorpion King. So it’s not all hokum. Evy could be right about your scars. If I’m a warrior for God you may be something too!”

“The question is...what?” Evy said slowly. “Maybe we can sort all this out when we’re in Egypt. We could even ask Ardeth, he may know a myth about all this. If we can find him of course.” She studied Tilly’s troubled eyes and decided to change the subject before they upset the young woman. “Anyway, for now, it’s getting late. Now that we’ve had dinner perhaps we can show you around and then tomorrow we’ll do some sightseeing!”

“I’d like that,” Tilly said, smiling with relief that they now seemed to be back in the normal world.

“Yeah, I guess you’d like that too?” Rick asked his son, giving him a knowing look. He looked up at Tilly again, his expression one of resignation as Alex started chattering away about Egypt and all the museums in London. “He knows more than Evy does about the British Museum, so he can help be your tour guide. In the meantime, we’ll get you back to your hotel where you can pack.”

“Pack? I thought we weren’t going for a week?” Tilly asked in confusion.

“We aren’t. But you’re family. I don’t want you staying at a hotel, when you could stay here with us.”

“I don’t want to impose...”

“Don’t be silly!” Evy said, smiling. “We want you to stay here. In fact, we wouldn’t have it any other way!”

“Well then, thank you. I’d love to,” she said.

“Well, we’ll do that in a little while. First, let me show you around the house. I think we have a few things you may be interested in!” Rick said, laughing at her enthusiasm for all things ancient as he showed her around their artefact filled rooms.

CHAPTER TWO

Tilly spent a week getting to know Rick and his family, also becoming more familiar with London and the countryside surrounding it. Jonathan proved to be a wonderful person, if a little bit unusual. He made her laugh and he seemed to enjoy her company and she his, though not in any romantic way. On the eve of their departure to Egypt Evy came into Tilly’s room to help her pack what she would require in the heat of the desert. They had already been shopping for the unusual clothing that Evy preferred and she had kitted Tilly out in everything she thought was appropriate.

“You seem to have everything you need, now,” she remarked as they filled a case. “Although you will need a hat and a veil to protect you from the heat and sand. I have one you can take with you, and an old shirt too. We’re about the same fit although you’re a little shorter. So,” she said, sitting on the bed, “are you excited?”

Tilly laughed at Evie’s expression, knowing she could clearly see how excited she was.

“I can’t wait! I just know I won’t be able to sleep tonight! I can’t wait for tomorrow to come!”

“Well, tomorrow will come soon enough. But it will take us several hours before we even get there, so try to calm down a little! Rick and Jonathan have chartered a plane and it’s not the most comfortable form of travel. Still, it’s a lot quicker than going on a ship, so that’s a bonus.”

“I’ve never been on a plane before. I hope I’ll be okay. I think I’ll turn in now and maybe I can go straight to sleep. That way the morning will be here even sooner.”

Evy shook her head in defeat and left the younger woman’s room, bumping into Rick as she walked towards their own room.

“Hello, darling. What are you doing lurking about in the dark?”

He loomed over her and grinned wickedly. “Waiting for a beautiful young maiden to come my way so that I can ravish her!” he growled down at her, sweeping her off the floor and carrying her purposefully into the bedroom.

“Oh, Puh-lease,” muttered Jonathan as he made his way past their door to his own set of rooms, shaking his head in disgust at the muffled giggles coming from their room.

The next day dawned dull and rainy, but nothing could dampen Tilly’s spirits as they all piled into a taxi to take them to the airfield. She was positively leaping about with excitement. She looked out of the car window, watching Evy and Rick hug their son goodbye, leaving him in the capable hands of the new nanny they had hired.

“Good grief, anyone would think you’d never travelled before!” Evy exclaimed as she joined them.

“Well, I haven’t! Only to London and only twice. But apart from that I’ve never left Arizona, ever!” She grinned at Jonathan as he sat next to her and nudged her, obviously excited about the journey too.

“Anyway, I’m allowed to be excited. What’s his excuse?” She pointed at Jonathan.

“He doesn’t need an excuse. He’s an imbecile!”

“Are we talking about Jonathan by any chance?” Rick asked, having just gotten into the car and heard the last word.

“Indeed we are,” Evy answered

“Hey! I take offence at that!” Jonathan quibbled. And then they were on their way, bickering and laughing all the way to the airfield and onto the rickety looking plane that would, in a matter of hours, arrive in Cairo.

Tilly enjoyed every moment of the trip, even though the sensation of being aloft felt incredibly unusual to her. She looked out of the small round window and watched the ground recede, wondering vaguely if she would start feeling ill with the motion of the plane. Luckily, even after an hour, she felt fine and was enjoying herself immensely. Evy was good company, as were the others, and they filled her in on anything she might need to know about Egypt…

And then they were there, disembarking into the heat and noise of Cairo. Tilly didn’t think she had ever seen so many people before in one place and there were market stalls and traders everywhere she looked. She was glad now that Evy had given her the hat and veil, similar to the one Evy herself wore, as the heat was intense. She had taken Evie’s advice and braided her long thick hair tight against her head and pulled the hat over it, taking the weight and heat away from her neck and shoulders. She was also glad that the veil covered her face as they received some odd looks from the local people, although Evy and Rick seemed oblivious to them. Before long they were booked into the largest hotel in Cairo, looking out across the pyramids from their top floor suites. Tilly could hardly get enough of the sight, hardly believing that she was actually here! Evy and Rick came to her room after they had freshened up and they told her they were going to take her to the pyramids.

“Really? Right now?”

“Right now. Come on, Jonathan went and obtained some horses for us. You did say you could ride?”

“Oh yes, very well in fact. Well, come on then, we can’t stand here all day!” she said and marched ahead of them to the stairs.

“She’s worse than you,” Rick said under his breath.

Evy punched him. “I heard that!”

They made their way downstairs and out to where Jonathan was standing away from the buildings holding onto four horses and looking very stressed.

“You should have seen how much they charged me for these flea-bitten beasts!” he complained.

“Jonathan, you’re rich, what are you complaining about?” Rick said, choosing the biggest horse and vaulting easily onto it’s back.

“It’s not the money, exactly, it’s the principle of the thing!”

“I seem to remember having this conversation before...” Rick muttered, giving Jonathan an impatient stare.

“Yes well...time to go is it?” the slender man mumbled, pulling himself with some difficulty up onto his animal.

Evy and Tilly sniggered at the two men’s bickering and climbed on the backs of their own horses, both women very at home on the graceful animals. They rode off together towards the distant pyramids, Tilly getting faster and faster as the gigantic structures got nearer. They spent the next three hours exploring what they could of the ancient tombs, but soon the sun began to go down and Rick warned them it was time to go back.

Tilly was disappointed to leave but Evy assured her they could return in a few weeks after they had been at the dig site. “After all, you and Rick have some detective work to do, about your parents? That will keep us in Cairo for quite a while.” She chewed her lip thoughtfully. “I might send for Alex when we get back here. He loves this place and I can’t say I blame him!”

Tilly nodded. “How long will it take us to get there? To Karnak I mean?” she asked, changing the subject.

“It depends on how we travel really. We were going to take the boat, but we had a...bad experience on one of those before. Plus that would really take some time, Karnak is over 300 miles away!”

“So far? I didn’t realise!”

“Nobody does until they actually get here. Anyway, we could take the train, but I think Rick was going to make arrangements to fly there. It’ll be much quicker and we can land next to the Nile, upriver of Karnak, and ride camels!”

Tilly smiled, her eyes taking on a faraway look as she thought of the journey to come.

The next day they dressed themselves in trousers, shirts and sturdy boots, once again donning the large veiled hats.

“Today we ride camels!” Evy told her happily.

“I’ve never ridden a camel before! Is it hard?”

“Not at all. We know you can ride a horse!”

“Oh yes, I ride one all the time back home. Is it anything like that?”

“No, not really. It’s higher up for one thing and the gait takes a lot of getting used to. But once you do it’s very simple. Don’t worry. We’ll show you the ropes. Believe me, if Jonathan can do it then anyone can!”

Tilly felt reassured until she was actually standing next to one of the beasts, almost bending over backwards to look up at it. It was bigger than she had thought but, paradoxically, smaller than she had imagined too. They had spent what felt like days on the same plane that had brought them to Egypt, and Tilly felt her cramped muscles start to protest at the mere thought of getting up on the awkward looking animal.

“I can’t do it Rick! I can’t possibly get up on that thing!”

“You don’t climb up on it silly. It comes down to you.”

The camel master gave a sharp command and the camel got down on its knees until it was almost level with her then Rick helped her up into the precarious looking saddle.

“Now just hold on tight and everything will be fine,” he told her as the camel stood up, jerking her forward and then back again. She managed to cling on, just. But Rick and Evy were right, once the animal had been moving for a while it became easier and easier until she was quite confident riding along on it’s back.

It took hardly any time at all to get to Karnak, in fact they could see the temples from where they had landed, and they stopped the camels within sight of the vast ruins and the dig that was well under way and made camp not far from a large man-made lake. Tilly found everything interesting, the texture of the sand that all around was full of small bits of crumbling rock, not smooth as she had imagined it. Trees and shrubbery stretched from the banks of the Nile towards their destination. “This place is absolutely enormous!” Tilly enthused as she gaped at the crumbling buildings beyond the water, the greenery that she hadn’t expected to see. “I didn’t realise how big it would be. When you talked about the temples at Karnak I imagined them being smallish buildings, certainly nothing as vast as this! Look at the size of this lake!”

Evy laughed at the amazement on the other girls face. “I thought you might be impressed,” she said, glancing around at the stunning ancient architecture she had seen so many times before. “When we’ve rested for a while I’ll show you around, although we won’t get it all done in one day. Or even two or three, if you want to see it in detail. It’s even more complex than it looks at first, I assure you. You wait until we explore the Hypostyle Hall!”

“Which one is that?” Tilly enquired, looking around.

“It’s over there, the one behind us to the left. This one next to us is part of it all, but was built later, inside it there’s what would have been the festival hall and back there, just inside, is a shrine to Seti II. The Hypostyle hall is my favourite though, simply because of the sheer size of it. Do you know it’s got over 130 columns in there? They’re over 40 ft tall and the biggest ones, the ones that line the main aisle, are 70 ft tall and absolutely massive!” Evy was getting excited herself now, seeing the temple for the first time through Tilly’s eyes.

“What about those ruins over there?” Tilly asked, pointing to the right of the lake.

“That’s the Temple of Mut, it has a horseshoe shaped lake surrounding it which you must see. This lake is called the Sacred Lake and it’s where the priests would once come and purify themselves three times a day. You know, this is fun. I’ve taught Alex almost all there is to know about this country, but you are like a blank canvas. I can paint this knowledge on you to my hearts content!”

“Well, I’m grateful for it. This is all so interesting! So, who was Mut?”

“She was a goddess, the wife of Amun as legend has it. She was the embodiment of Motherhood incarnate and she and Amun had a son, Khons. There’s also a temple for him back there, we’ll look at that later. These three gods were the triad of Luxor and Karnak, but there was also the triad of Aswan,” Evy began, chattering on about ancient history as they continued walking toward the water. As the men were pitching a large impressive white tent that had been placed there for them a man on a black horse rode up, wearing flowing black robes from top to toe and a black and dark blue head-dress. Tilly and Evy were near the water when they heard him and Evy turned to see who it was and smiled when the man waved at her.

“Who’s that?” Tilly asked curiously, never having seen a man dressed in such a way.

“That’s Ardeth Bay. You remember me telling you about him? He’s been a great help to us over the years and has become one of our dearest friends. I think you’ll like him.”

Ardeth bay looked out over the sand at the two women nearing the waters’ edge and waved at the one he knew was Evy. The other woman was a mystery to him. She was smaller than Evy but he couldn’t make out her features because of her hat and veil. Evy had long since removed hers.

Rick turned at his approach. “Ardeth! Good to see you again! What brings you to Karnak?” he said, shaking his hand vigorously.

Ardeth gave a rare grin and clasped Rick’s hand in his own. “I heard about the dig here and I hoped that perhaps you would be here. I am also glad to see you all. However, I have something of importance to tell you.”

“Oh, no,” Rick backed away, shaking his head and holding his hands up. “No, no, no! Don’t tell me Imhotep is alive again?”

“No, the creature has not been resurrected again, we are being very watchful this time. But there has been activity at Ahm Shere.”

Jonathan arrived at that moment and nodded a greeting to Ardeth.

“Ahm Shere? I thought that all returned to the sands, or whatever?” he waved his hands carelessly about. “It’s not that big Scorpion fellow again is it?”

“No, my friends. It is about another matter I must speak with you. An ancient cult of Seth, the Ka-akhet, have been searching for Imhotep’s resting place.”

“The Ka-akhet? I’ve never heard of them. What do they want with Imhotep?”

“It was written that after the Scorpion King was defeated by the spear of Osiris, the dark God would return to claim his lands.”

“The dark God?” Rick sighed and raised an eyebrow. “This is bad, right?”

“This is not…good. The dark God refers to Seth. It is written that he will be returned from the underworld, returned to his throne by the powerful one. We believe that this ‘powerful one’ is Imhotep.”

“Where the hell are all these things written?” Rick muttered. “So where’s Imhotep, I thought he was buried when the pyramid of Ahm Shere disappeared?”

“So he was, my friend, but a dig was underway there a month ago. We have kept watch and could not tell if anything was found. However, the dig left just one week ago.”

“I thought you said you were watching? They left without Imhotep? That doesn’t make any sense.”

“No. Whatever they did find was not large enough to be Imhotep, but it is possible that they have discovered his resting place. But this is not all.” He hesitated when he saw an uncompromising expression harden Rick’s face.

“This better not have anything to do with Evy or Alex.”

“Or me!” Jonathan piped up. Rick glared at him.

“Do not fear, my friend. This is about Seth’s Queen, she who will share the throne with him and once more rule over Egypt.”

“He has a Queen? What Queen? Not Ancksunamun?”

“No, this woman will be a reincarnation of his Queen. It appears she was reincarnated before but she died, it is not known how. Her name was Meketaten, a daughter of a prominent pharaoh. She worshipped Seth, following an ancient cult which had been started by the Pharaoh Peribsen. It seems the Ka-akhet grew from there, but they disappeared many decades ago.”

“So we’re waiting for a reincarnation of this woman. I suppose we have no idea what she looks like? Who she might be?”

“The Queen was described in much detail, but it seems she will have no memory of who she once was as yet. The Tablets of Amun-Ra are required to give her full knowledge. All we can hope for is that this woman never sets foot in Egypt. If she does…”

“Don’t tell me….the end of the world and all that?” Jonathan chirped.

“Yes, exactly that.” Ardeth said with no trace of humour.

“So, how can we help?”

“We believe that some of the tablets of Amun-Ra are buried at the dig site here. If they are discovered and handed to the wrong people...”

“Don’t worry. We’ll find them for you. We’re good at finding things, it seems. How many are there?”

“From what the ancient text tells us, there are six tablets, three here at Karnak and three at Tell el Amarna, each with a powerful spell on them. They must be destroyed to stop Seth or the Ka-akhet from possessing them.”

“Okay. No problem, we’ve dealt with this sort of thing before. Where’s Tell el Amarna? I’ve never heard of it.”

“You may know it as Akhetaten, the city of Pharaoh Akhenaten and his wife, Nefertiti. The name has been changed and what was left of the city itself was lost beneath the sands for thousands of years until it’s discovery a few years ago. It is far to the North along the Nile, many days ride.”

“Well, we can cope with a journey. At least now it doesn’t involve my family or myself! Now come and say hello to Evy and meet my cousin. We have some questions you may be able to answer for us. But in the meantime explain to me what this Queen is meant to look like. Why is the description so detailed?”

“Because it is so strange. The Queen shall have...”

They turned toward the Oasis just as Tilly removed her hat and started splashing water on her face. Ardeth stopped suddenly, his face paling beneath his tan, and grabbed at Rick’s arm.

“What colour eyes has your cousin?”

“What? Why do you want to know that?”

“Tell me or I go to find out for myself!” Ardeth snapped.

“They’re green. Ardeth, what the hell is wrong with you?”

“I am sorry, my friend, but you were wrong. This does involve your family.”

“You mean...Tilly? Why?”

“The Queen shall have the hair of fire and the eyes of cool jade,” he finished the sentence he had already started. “So it was written. So shall it be. Your cousin matches the description of Seth’s Queen.” He closed his eyes briefly and when he opened them again they were filled with sadness. “You must leave here immediately, remove her from Egypt before they find her and take her.”

“Wait a minute, here! There are lots of women with the same colouring, why should it be Tilly?” he asked, almost frantic because he realised that Ardeth had just answered one of his pending questions without being asked. There was a reason for Tilly’s eye and hair colour changing, and it wasn’t good.

“Because she is here! This can be no chance happening; she is here almost two years to the day of the Scorpion King’s demise! You must have realised by now that coincidence does not happen here. In all my years I have never seen a woman with this colouring. You must remove her...” he breathed out slowly through his nose, almost reluctant to continue, “...or I shall do it myself!”

Rick had never seen Ardeth so upset and angry, even when he had ridden off to fight the Army of Anubis knowing he faced certain death. Before he had a chance to stop him, Ardeth strode off toward the Oasis, heading straight for Tilly.

Tilly knelt on the steps leading into the lake, dabbing at her wet face, relishing the coolness of the water against the heat of her skin. She glanced up as she heard raised voices and then got to her feet as the man in black started walking towards her. As he got nearer she noticed the strange markings on his face and that his eyes, as black as his beard and clothing, were flashing in anger, apparently at her! She backed up a step as he reached her and grabbed her arms.

“Come with me now!” he said and started pulling her away from the water.

Tilly gasped in panic as she felt his strong hold on her arms and violently wrenched herself backwards away from him, hoping to break his grip. Unfortunately she managed more than that and she fell backwards into the water taking the man with her.

She pulled herself to the edge of the lake, spluttering from the drenching she had received and scrambled onto the steps as the extremely angry man surfaced next to her. He made a lunge toward her but she managed to get out before he could grab her again and she ran up to Rick who had just got there, hiding behind him.

Jonathan went to help Ardeth out of the water, the weight of his robes dragging him down. As soon as he was on dry land he moved toward Tilly again.

“No Ardeth!” Evy spoke up and stood in front of him, one hand pushing against his chest. “Whatever’s gotten into you?”

“She must leave immediately!” he growled, wiping water from his face and beard with one hand.

“What on earth for?”

Ardeth related the story to Evy and watched as comprehension dawned on her face.

“Oh I see. But Ardeth, you mustn’t try to just drag her away from us. We’re her family. If you had just explained yourself first…”

“I explained it to O’Connell, but he did nothing and there is no time to waste!”

“You didn’t give me a chance and anyway, what the hell did you expect me to do? Throw her over my shoulder and leave the Country? If she really is ‘the one’ then these….Ka-akhet people will follow her until they get her! What difference does it make what Country she happens to be in? She’ll only be brought back here anyway!”

Ardeth seemed to mull this over for a while before nodding briskly, with resignation at what was to become her fate as well as his. “You are right. Then do you not see that there is only one answer? She must die before she has a chance to destroy us all!” He drew a long, curved sword from a sheath at his hip and once more took a step toward Tilly. Tilly gasped and turned, running toward the tent as if the thin white material would be able to protect her from the wickedly sharp blade. Before she was even halfway toward it she heard him closing in on her. This couldn’t be happening, she told herself in panic! She must be dreaming. But the hand that grabbed her shoulder and practically threw her at his feet told her it was no dream. She watched in horror as he raised the sword to strike, uttering a few strange words as he did so, and then almost passed out with relief when Rick pressed a gun to Ardeth’s temple, stopping him immediately.

“Ardeth, you’re my friend, but I will use this if I have to. Now, give the sword to Jonathan,” he said slowly, talking to Ardeth as he would to a homicidal maniac.

Ardeth handed the sword over to the skinny man with obvious reluctance and almost snarled when another sword which had been concealed at his waist was also removed. He turned to face Rick. “This is a grave mistake!”

“I know. Giving anything sharp to Jonathan is extremely dangerous.”

“I did not mean...”

“I know what you meant. I’m sorry, but someone had to stop you.”

“Very well, you have stopped me for now, but you cannot stop me forever.”

“Think rationally Ardeth,” Rick said, putting his gun away and pulling Ardeth away from the tent with him. “Look at her, she’s just a girl. She’s scared to death of you and with extremely good reason. What harm can she possibly do to you?”

Ardeth looked at the small woman Evy was helping to stand up, noticing how pale she had become and how much she was shaking. “She is not just a girl, my friend. And if they get their hands on her, she can do all of us a great deal of harm.”

“Maybe so. If they get their hands on her. If she really is the one they’re searching for.” he said in a placating tone, although secretly he had no doubt that she was. “We’ll protect her night and day if necessary. In the meantime you can try to find something in the ancient texts that says a way that Seth may be stopped. And then you can apologise to her for trying to kill her. I think that’s only fair, don’t you?”

“I have read the texts many times but perhaps I have missed something. I shall look at them once more. And I shall not apologise for trying to save mankind!”

“I think you should. Whether or not your intentions were noble, you have to admit she’s done absolutely nothing to deserve such treatment!”

The dark-haired man stared at him, obviously struggling to admit Rick was right. He sighed with self-disgust, looking very uncomfortable. “Very well. This once I shall apologise.” he muttered and strode off toward Tilly again.

“No, Ardeth, not now….” Rick spluttered, running after him and pulling him back.

“I do not understand you, O’Connell! You wish for me to apologise and when I do your bidding you stop me!”

“Of course I stop you! At least give her a little time to get over the shock, for crying out loud!”

“You may be right. I shall go to read the texts once more. Perhaps in the morning my words on this matter will be received with more faith! And perhaps I shall apologise.”

And he stormed off, his still wet robes clinging to his tall frame as he leapt onto his horse and bade them farewell, galloping off across the sand until he was no more than a floating speck in the heat mirage.

Rick sighed heavily. Great! Typical! He looked up at the sky as if expecting divine intervention and shook his head in bewilderment. Evy came out of the tent and smiled as she saw his antics.

“Ardeth’s gone then, has he?” she asked, linking her arm through his. “Has he calmed down?”

“Yeah, a bit. I don’t think he’s going to be any better when we see him again. I’ve never seen him get that angry before, not when there was no reason for it. I mean, I could understand it if Tilly had turned into this Queen person and started throwing a spear at him, but...”

“I know. I think that there may be more to this than meets the eye. Tilly’s hair and eyes for example. We knew that there might be a reason for it and it seems we were right. If he comes back tomorrow perhaps you could ask him about all this?” she smiled warmly at him as he readily agreed. “You are a good man really aren’t you? Even though appearances may say differently...hey!” she yelped as he playfully swatted her behind. “And since you haven’t asked...Tilly’s all right by the way, she’s just a bit shaken. It’s not every day a mad Med-jai warrior tries to kill you. She’ll be out in a minute.”

“She’s okay then? Good. This hasn’t made her want to go home or anything? It would be a shame to ruin this for her any more than it already has been.”

“She’s got a great constitution as far as I can tell. She reminds me of...well, you. This hasn’t fazed her at all! She says she wants to explore, so that’s what we’re going to do.”

“Good! Maybe you should go tell her that Ardeth’s gone, that’ll make her feel better anyway. Where’s Jonathan?”

“He’s guarding the entrance to the tent, proving what a big strong man he is!” she laughed and drew Rick around the side of the tent so he could see Jonathan standing to attention, one hand on a pistol tucked into his belt.

“I’ve got an idea,” he whispered to her. They crept around the back of the big tent and lifted the base of it slightly, just giving them enough room to crawl under into the bedroom compartment that would be theirs. “We’ll walk out with Tilly and he’ll have a fit wondering where we came from!”

“I take it all back, you aren’t good. You are an evil man! He’s only trying to be good for a change,” Evy pouted up at him.

“It’s only a joke. Come on!”

They left the compartment and joined Tilly, who had dried herself off and changed her clothes. Apart from still being a little pale, she seemed perfectly fine. Rick patted her shoulder. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, honestly. Just give me a dagger in case he ever comes back!” she laughed shakily.

“I can, if you want me to,” Rick offered, pulling a dagger out of his bag on the floor. He rummaged around until he found a leather belt with a sheath for the small blade. “There you go.”

Tilly reached out and took the small weapon from him, turning it over in her hands as she assessed how much damage it could cause. “Is it okay for me to have this?”

“If it makes you feel safer, sure.”

“It does, thanks. Next time I’ll stab him straight in the heart!”

“I don’t think that will be necessary. You’re a bloodthirsty little thing aren’t you?” he mused.

“Only when the occasion calls for it. That...that...man...caught me off guard this time. It won’t happen again!” she bit off, waving the dagger around.
“You know,” Rick said, pulling Evy against him, “I almost feel sorry for Ardeth. I have a feeling he’s going to pay for what he tried to do!”

“I think you may be right,” Evy murmured with a smile at Tilly, watching the younger woman loop the belt around her waist and put the blade away. “You really can tell she’s your cousin!”

“That’s a good thing right?” he asked with a worried look at the angry Matilda.

Very good, don’t worry. Tilly?” she interrupted the young woman’s mutterings. “We thought we could go and explore now. Ready?”

“Oh yes, sorry. Where are we going to go?”

“We thought you’d like a stroll around the hypostyle Hall. It was built by Seti I and his son Ramses II and it is simply enormous. You’ll love it! Come on,” Evy dragged her out of the tent and past a surprised Jonathan.

“Hey, where did you come from? I never saw you go in...”

“Well, that just goes to show what a good bodyguard you are, doesn’t it Jonathan?” Rick said quietly, giving the thin man’s shoulder a hard squeeze. “Maybe next time you’ll check the tent is pegged down all the way around?”

“Oh, I say, that’s not cricket, you know. Hey, where are you all going?” he yelped as Rick joined the others and they walked away across the sand. “Wait for me!”

They spent several hours looking around Karnak and Tilly was amazed at the sheer size of the temple.

“How on earth did they build pillars like this?” she said, her eyes wide as she looked up at the enormous engraved pillars that lined the Hypostyle hall, the sun shining brightly in the clear blue sky up above them. Jonathan stood behind her, shaking his head. “I have no idea old girl,” he said, placing a hand affectionately on her shoulder. “It must have taken years though, I expect.”

“Doesn’t it just stun you? I never imagined I would ever see anything as a beautiful as this. I would love to go back in time and really see how the great Pharaohs lived. I mean,” she said, gesturing at the great hall, “this looks great now, but imagine what it must have looked like 3000 years ago, before it became a ruin!”

“Before all the sand,” he nodded, oblivious to the grandeur in front of him. Tilly gave him a sideways glance, wondering how he could be so unaffected when he was standing in such an ancient place. But then, she shrugged, that was Jonathan all over. If there was no gold or treasure to be seen then he wasn’t really interested.

Tilly rolled her eyes and began walking down the main aisle of the Hypostyle Hall, once more looking around the near ruins of a building that had been erected so many years ago. Evy and Rick had disappeared into one of the side chambers some time ago and Tilly went off in search of them, grinning as Jonathan rushed up to her with his hand once more on his gun, ready to protect her if necessary.

It was a shame she didn’t find him remotely attractive, she mused, because he was really a rather wonderful person underneath all that fake charm. They found Rick and Evy attempting to decipher some hieroglyphs on a smaller pillar in a side chamber.

“Well, how do you like Karnak so far?” Evy asked, dusting the sand from her palms as she got to her feet.

“It is absolutely wonderful! I’m so glad you asked me to come.”

“Even after what Ardeth did?” Rick joined in.

“Yes, even after that. This makes it all worthwhile, somehow,” she said, gesturing generally around her.

“I know what you mean. You’re very like me, you know. Nothing could dampen my spirits when it comes to exploring!” Evy said, grinning.

Rick agreed with her. “Not even raising a Mummy from the dead and almost being sacrificed!”

“Well, life would be so boring if there was no adventure...” she began.

“Or danger! Or reincarnation, or one hundred other things that are almost guaranteed to get you killed!”

“That’s true. And now it seems it’s Tilly’s turn, unfortunately,” Jonathan chipped in, hugging Tilly comfortingly.

“Thank you for reminding me. But I have a weapon now and no-one is going to get at me!” Tilly said forcefully, trying to will herself to believe it. “Will that Ardeth person be coming back again?”

“Yes. Don’t worry, it was totally out of character for him the way he acted. I’ve never seen him like that before, none of us have. I don’t expect it to be repeated, so try not to kill him on sight okay?” Rick said, laughing at the mental image of this small ferocious woman killing the tall Arab.

“Okay, I’ll allow him to live this once. But if he so much as comes near me...” she threatened.

“I’ll keep him away from you or I’ll be with him whenever he comes near, I promise. Okay?”

She nodded and shook off the nervous feeling again, turning to Evy. “When are we going to see the dig site?”

“Right now if you like. Professor Jackson Millbrook is the man in charge, second only to me of course! He’s really nice, not at all stuffy, although he can be a little...overly charming.” Evy cleared her throat as she thought of what a mild word that was when it came to Jack. “Let’s go and meet him!”

CHAPTER THREE

They left the temple and made their way west across the sands toward the group of men that could be seen in the distance. As they neared the site Tilly could see how busy everyone was, from the few English or American people to the large numbers of Egyptian workers.

Evy explained to her how many local men would be employed to help with the labour. “They get paid fairly well and there are always lots of people signing up for this work. Unless there’s a curse involved, then we don’t see them for dust!”

“Are the curses always true?”

“The ones we’ve come across have been. I’m sure there are some that are only designed to scare people off, but we haven’t found one yet!”

The sand sloped sharply down to the actual heart of the dig, a rock bed, though not the natural desert rock bed that they would normally expect to find; this one was obviously man made, slowly appearing from the yellow surround. It was forming a perfect square, with what looked like eroded carvings at the corners. A man was standing there, his hands on his hips, issuing commands to one of the workers. He was dressed from top to toe in Khaki and had dark hair, slightly long at the collar and greying at the temples. He turned at their approach and gave a beaming smile to Evy, holding out his hands to her which Evy happily grasped.

“Jack! It’s good to see you!” she said, kissing his cheek. “This is Rick’s cousin Matilda. She’s come with us on this dig and it’s her very first time in Egypt...well, the first time she can actually remember anyway!”

Professor Jackson Millbrook turned his blue eyed gaze on Tilly and she was relieved to see friendliness shining from them, together with a touch of male appreciation. He was an unusual looking man, his eyes somewhat small and his nose overly large, but he had a welcoming air about him and a ready smile. He looked to be in his late forties or early fifties. His voice, when he spoke, was deep cultured English.

“How do you do, Matilda. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” He bent over her hand and placed a kiss on her fingertips with olde worlde courtesy before very slowly releasing it. “May I show you around the dig site? You must watch your step in places, here,” he said taking her hand in his, “let me guide you.”

Evy smiled and shook her head as the professor took Tilly over, pointing out different things that had been uncovered over the last few days. He loved lecturing people about archaeology and Tilly was just the sort of person he loved, soaking up the information like a sponge. He was also an inveterate womaniser and, again, Tilly was just his cup of tea. Evy decided she must keep an eye on them. Tilly didn’t seem very worldly and she wouldn’t have it on her conscience if the professor tried to seduce her. Oh yes, she knew the professor very well. In fact, if Rick hadn’t always been so visible and so large, she suspected that the professor would have been more than friendly with herself on occasion.

She followed behind them slowly, keeping a beady eye on where Jack put his hands, relieved to see he was being the perfect gentleman. For a change, she smirked. He was a lovely man, really, she thought, it was just a shame he let his hormones dictate to his brain! Just like Jonathan really, although Jack had much more success regardless of the disparity in their ages! She heard Tilly asking him about the rock base they had uncovered, addressing him as Professor. Her eyes rolled heavenwards as he insisted on being called Jack his hand squeezing Tilly’s for an uncomfortably long time. Evy could see Tilly was looking a trifle uneasy. Time to step in, she thought, heading toward them.

They spent the rest of the daylight hours discussing the few finds Jack had made and postulating on what might soon be found. Rick and Jonathan joined them, finally, saying it was really time to go and eat. As they walked back Jonathan boasted about the meal he had just prepared over an open fire, much to Rick’s amusement.

“Yeah, he’s a real good cook. He didn’t panic or anything when the pot tried to explode in his face!” he laughed.

“That’s a trifle unfair, old chap. How was I supposed to know you had to add water before you put it on the heat?”

“You weren’t to know. But leaving the pot in the fire for twenty minutes before you add cold water does tend to make it hiss and spit a little bit. As you found out!”

“Yes, well, I’ll know better next time won’t I?”

“Now, boys, let’s not argue. It was very nice of Jonathan to cook us a meal. What is it anyway?” Evy cut in, linking her arms through theirs.

“Beats me,” said Rick, shrugging. “It looked sort of like a vegetable stew, I think.”

“That’s exactly what it is!” Jonathan said indignantly.

“We’ll see,” the bigger man murmured.

Tilly walked ahead of them to the camp and stared down curiously into the bubbling pot. It looked like stew, she thought and gave an experimental sniff. It smelled like stew, too. Maybe Jonathan could actually cook. If not, she’d take over for the next meal, she promised herself.

As it turned out the meal wasn’t bad at all. A little bit spicy, but Tilly seemed to be the only one who noticed. Evy explained that they were used to the spicy fare of Egypt and they didn’t even realise when something was a little hot. She assured Tilly that she would soon get used to it and Tilly had to agree, finding the food quite tasty.

Before too long Jonathan gave a huge yawn and stood up, stretching his tired muscles. “I’m beat,” he said, rubbing his hands together. “I’m going to turn in now. Tilly, would you like me to see you to your very own bit of the tent?”

“Yes, that’s very kind of you, thank you.” She stood as well, smiling at the tall, good looking man and the small dark-haired, pretty woman who sat hugging each other and staring into the fire. “Goodnight, Evy, Rick. See you bright and early tomorrow?”

“You sure will. Goodnight Tilly.”

Evy echoed the sentiment and Tilly took Jonathan’s arm as he gallantly escorted her inside the large white tent. Her ‘very own bit’ of the tent consisted of a curtained off corner where a roll of bedding had been laid out for her use. She gave Jonathan a small kiss on the cheek, watching as he blustered and flushed at the unexpected contact.

“Well, goodnight then, my dear. Sleep well...and call out if you need anything. Anything at all!”

“I will. Thank you for being so good to me today. Goodnight.”

Jonathan left her corner of the tent and she heard him moving about noisily in his own area. She changed quickly into the black night-dress Evy had insisted she buy and lay down on the uncomfortable looking bed. She was surprised to find it wasn’t at all as bad as it had looked and that the sand underneath it moulded to her shape, keeping the bed fairly soft. After all the excitement of the day she was sure she would never be able to sleep, but her eyes closed slowly and she sighed in contentment as oblivion washed over her while the desert breeze blew through the tent.

Ardeth Bay rode slowly up to their camp the next day. He had spent the night reading the ancient texts, but appeared to be no closer to a final solution. As he approached the tent his eyes narrowed in contemplation. He knew he would have to apologise to Matilda for the things he had done the day before, and in truth he was heartily ashamed of his behaviour. But first he would find Rick and discuss the matter at hand.

There was one thing that he had discovered whilst he was reading and it needed further investigation. He had spoken briefly with the leaders of the twelve tribes and they were all in agreement. After O’Connell had been told of the full prophecy Ardeth himself would become their protector, guarding them from the coming danger until it was time to fulfil his own destiny. He watched as the tent flap was pulled back and Rick’s head popped out, having heard the horse approach.

“Do you have any idea what time it is?” he enquired politely, running a tired hand over his hair.

“I am sorry, O’Connell. I have much to tell you and I believed it best told early.”

“Very early apparently. This wouldn’t be some ploy to get out of apologising to Tilly?” Rick said slyly, cocking an eyebrow at the other man.

“I am offended that you would think such a thing! I have every intention of giving my apology today, but first we must talk. There are things you must know.”

That sounded ominous, Rick thought as he and Ardeth walked off towards the temple so as not to disturb anyone. When they reached the other side of the ruins Rick perched on a large stone and waved Ardeth down next to him. “This is serious huh?” he asked.

“Yes. The myth...the prophecy I told you of. There is more to it than I have told you. It involves myself.”

“I thought you were hiding something. Go on.”

“The prophecy states that the Queen is the key to summoning Seth. It does not say how...”

“It never does,” Rick mumbled.

“However, it does say who will stop her. It was written that the chief Med-jai will destroy her or be destroyed by her. All the tribes have agreed that this means me. The markings in the writings are the same as the ones I bear,” he indicated his forehead and cheeks. “So you see I have a difficult choice ahead of me. I allow myself to die and the world to be plunged into darkness and chaos or...I kill the Queen. Your cousin,” he lowered his eyes.

“It doesn’t sound like much of a choice. If it were me I’d kill the Queen before she had any chance to kill me. That being so, I can understand why you tried to do what you did. What I don’t understand is why you tried before you had absolute proof.”

“As I have said, there is no coincidence here. The dates are correct, the appearance of your cousin is also correct. It does not take much to...put two and two together...as you say. I...value your friendship O’Connell and that of your family, but I knew that it was a friendship I would soon lose. I thought it best to lose it immediately, to lessen the pain.”

“I would have said that nothing could make you lose our friendship but I have to admit that killing my cousin might just do it!” Rick said with graveyard humour. “I do understand why you did it, Ardeth, honestly, and I don’t think any less of you. The only problem is, what happens now?”

“There is one thing...does your cousin have any unusual marks on her hands?”

Rick was taken aback. “Yes, she’s got a ...Wedjat...scarred onto her palms.”

“And she has no idea how she got this?” he watched as Rick agreed with this, obviously expecting him to. “Then the doubt is now banished. She is, indeed, the one. I am to protect you all, this was agreed with all the tribes. They will be ready for any danger and we will be watched well. However, I must fulfil my destiny. This is something that cannot be avoided.”

“You mean kill Tilly?” Rick almost yelled at him.

“Only if it becomes unavoidable. There is a secret temple somewhere, a secret worshipping place of Seth, the location is not known. We are hoping from what we have read that somehow Matilda will lead us to it, having a hidden knowledge of its location. Then there will be writings on the walls of the temple, perhaps indicating a way to stop her without destroying her. In the meantime I will stay here with you and protect her. It is all I can do for now.”

Rick stared at the other man, noticing the sadness in his eyes. It was obvious that he did not want this duty thrust upon him, but his friendship to Rick ensured that he would help in any way he could.

“Okay. I hope you’re right and we do find something that’ll help because, I hate to say it, I’d kill you before I’d let you hurt that woman!”

“I understand. Please do not think of me as your enemy O’Connell for I am not. Perhaps you could think of it this way. If Matilda becomes the Queen and kills first Jonathan, then me and then your wife...what would you do?”

Rick frowned, realising what the other man was saying. He knew that if anything happened to his family or friends, Evy especially, he’d want to kill Tilly himself, cousin or no cousin.

“I see. You’re right of course. We’ll work together to find a solution to this, if we can. I wouldn’t want any harm to come to you either, you know. Despite what I’ve just said!” He shook Ardeth’s hand, indicating the depth of his friendship with the man who had previously helped to save his son.

Ardeth smiled finally. “Nor I you, my friend. Come, let us go and discover if the others have awoken.”

“I’ll join you in a minute. I need some thinking time.” Rick said, sitting with his arms drooped over his legs. Ardeth nodded his understanding and slowly walked back toward the camp. 

Tilly opened her eyes as the first rays of dawn started shining against the side of the tent and stretched, rubbing her eyes as she tried to focus after a good nights sleep. She sat up and listened carefully for any sign of movement before looking at her wristwatch. No wonder she couldn’t hear anyone, she thought, it was only half past five in the morning! She could tell from how wide awake she was feeling that she wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep again and so she decided to get dressed and wander down to that marvellous lake again. Evy and Rick wouldn’t mind, after all, even if they did happen to wake up and find her gone.

She pulled on a pair of her new black trousers and a loose white blouse, tucking it in and securing a wide looped belt round her waist. After pulling her boots on she tried to make some order of her hair and gave up in frustration, leaving it long and loose. Who was going to see her anyway? she thought. She could straighten it out later. The last item she grabbed was her new knife and she strapped that round her waist as well, thinking she never knew when she might need it. Besides, the weight of it felt strangely comforting against her hip.

Minutes later she had crept stealthily out of the tent and was sitting beside the still water of the lake on the steps, dangling her now bare feet in the water, her boots sitting next to her. She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, taking in the cool air while she still could. It wouldn’t take long before the fierce heat of the sun baked everything again.

With her eyes closed she didn’t see the man standing staring at her strangely, but she certainly heard the sound of his step as he approached her and her eyes snapped open.

“Oh...my...” she began, her voice no more than a whisper as she watched Ardeth Bay approach her. He saw the sudden apprehension on her face and waved his hand in front of him. “No, do not fear. I am not here to harm you.”

Tilly scrambled up from her sitting position and reached for the knife Rick had given her, wrenching it awkwardly from its sheath. Ardeth held his hands up in supplication.

“You...you just stay where you are if you please!” she stammered, angry at the way her voice was betraying her fear. She needed back-up, she decided.

“Rick!” she yelled at the top of her lungs and stood waiting for him, never taking her eyes off the man in front of her. “Rick!”

Rick would’ve laughed if it hadn’t been for the seriousness of Tilly’s expression when he emerged quickly from the back of the temple. Ardeth Bay was being held at...well...bay, he thought, trying not to smile. Tilly was trying to make herself look bigger and was pointing her knife at him as though it could fire bullets. Even Ardeth seemed to find the situation vaguely amusing, if the sparkle in his eyes was anything to go by.

“Good morning,” Rick said to the shaken woman, moving to stand beside her. “I think you can put the knife away now Tilly,” he told her, taking her arm and pulling it down so she was no longer pointing the dagger at Ardeth.

“You have much courage. But do you know how to use that?” the tall dark man asked her, nodding toward the small weapon as he lowered his hands. Her face told him everything he needed to know. Short of just thrusting the blade into his guts she had no other idea of how to handle it. “Perhaps I shall teach you. It is a good skill to acquire.”

Tilly didn’t know quite how to speak to this man and she looked at Rick in confusion. He grinned at her. “It looks like you’re off the endangered species list!” he whispered, making her smile. His blue eyes swivelled back to the other man, vaguely registering that Jonathan and Evy had slowly emerged from the tent behind them. “So, Ardeth, old buddy old pal. Anything to say to anybody?” he said, giving an expectant, and a touch smug, smile.

Ardeth looked briefly uncomfortable, but Rick had to admire him as he turned to Tilly. He would never shirk his responsibility.

“Matilda, I wish to apologise for my behaviour yesterday.” He placed a hand over his heart. “From my heart I am sorry and from my head,” his hand moved to touch his forehead in a ritualistic fashion, “I am ashamed. I had my reasons, but still I have no excuse. Forgive me.”

She reluctantly admitted to herself that she was impressed with the apology, no simple sorry from this man.  She pursed her lips as she tried to think of something to say and sighed angrily because she couldn’t find any words as good as the apology to actually accept it!

“I forgive you,” she said hesitantly. She really didn’t want any bad feeling anyway, what with this being Rick and Evy’s friend. Even so, she still had to force the next words out and try to sound welcoming as her first memory of the man made her wary. “Maybe you could...stay for breakfast? I know Rick and Evy would like that...” she tailed off and looked at the others, who were all heading back to the tent, looking amused.

“It would be a pleasure. Perhaps after the meal I could teach you the arts of the blade?”

“I...well, I suppose so. I’m not sure what Evy had planned today, but...”

“Then it is settled. Come, let us retire to the shade. The sun is gathering heat.” He took her arm and guided her gently toward the tent, ignoring the fact that she felt like a piece of wood where he was touching her. He had to allow for her distrust, he told himself, but in time he hoped to gain her friendship. Although at first he and O’Connell had been bitter enemies, he now felt enriched by knowing him and his family and he hoped that the feeling was mirrored.

“Everything okay?” Rick asked, pointing the question more at Tilly once they were all inside the tent.

“Everything’s fine,” she assured him. “Mr...Bay, here is staying for breakfast.”

“Mr Bay?” Rick asked, smirking at the other man. “Yes, I heard him agree. We were there as well you know!” He looked at her as if she had lost her mind.

“I know...” she flushed and spared the other man a hard glance, her eyes shooting back to Ardeth when he moved toward her.

“Please, Matilda, you must do as the others do and call me Ardeth.”

“Okay,” she said abruptly after a brief silence, turning away to get the makings of breakfast together. Rick prodded her in the back, motioning toward Ardeth with his eyes.

“Oh very well. You must call me Tilly then.”

“An honour,” he said, bowing slightly and making her feel ashamed to have been so rude. “May I help with these...preparations?” He indicated the plates and pots she was collecting, the offer making her feel even worse.

“No, no...thank you for asking though,” she mumbled, carrying her burden outside. Jonathan joined her and offered his help too. This time she accepted, admitting that she had no idea how to build a fire. This made Jonathan puff up in his best ‘me Tarzan, you Jane’ impression, acting the big man. Tilly smiled as he meticulously built the fire up, showing her how to do it for herself in case he was ever absent from her company. Fat chance, she thought, considering he shadowed her almost everywhere. She took some ham and picked out a handful of eggs from their supplies and proceeded to fry the thick meat and try and scramble the eggs in the two flame blackened pots, just about managing to leave them edible in the fierce heat. Jonathan, meanwhile, was busy pulling some bread apart and dividing it between the tin plates.

“Will this be enough?” she asked him, looking doubtfully at the amount of egg in the pot.

“Plenty, don’t worry. It never looks much, but you wait and see. Smells good by the way.”

He then proceeded to bang the pot loudly with a spoon, shouting for the others who all quickly exited the tent and sat as far away from the heat of the fire as they could get, watching Tilly serve up the meal. She had to admit that he had been right, there were plenty of scrambled eggs for them all and she watched Ardeth’s face carefully as she handed him his plate, wondering what Arabs normally ate for breakfast. But he made no comment other than thanking her and began tucking into the meal with apparent gusto, unobtrusively moving the ham to one side and leaving it uneaten.

After everyone had finished Jonathan showed her the joys of cleaning the plates with sand which was surprisingly effective. She mentioned Ardeth leaving the ham and asked why. “I think it has something to do with his religion, but you’d have to ask him to be sure. As far as I know the people out here eat goat meat mostly. We’ve got some of that in there somewhere. We’ll make a stew out of it tonight, I’m sure he’ll eat that.”

“We don’t know that he’ll be eating with us again,” Tilly pointed out.

“Ah, but I’ll be asking him to join us, you see? Good! All settled then. Let’s find Evy!”

“I’ll be with you in a minute. I just want to tidy up a bit more.”

When she had put everything neatly away she went to stand next to Jonathan and Evy. “What are we doing today?” she asked.

“Going to the dig site again. At least, I am. The professor thinks he’s found something and I have to go and see. You don’t have to come if you don’t want to, I know Ardeth offered to teach you how to use that knife.”

“I’m not sure...well, I’d prefer to go with you if it’s all the same?”

“Certainly you can come with me. Ardeth will come as well of course.”

“He will? But why?”

“He’s got some bee in his bonnet about protecting us all because of this prophecy. If it makes him happy...” she shrugged.

“Oh I see. He’s a little...” she searched for the right word, “...intimidating.”

“That’s what I thought when we first met him, but he’s very nice really, you should take time and get to know him. After all, you shouldn’t judge someone just because they try and kill you!” she said in a jovial tone, teasing.

“Good heavens no!” Jonathan joined in. “Lots of people have tried to kill me in the past and I don’t bear any grudges at all! Including our man Ardeth too!”

“That’s because it was always your fault, you fool. Getting into trouble gambling or tomb robbing!” Evy nudged him, rolling her eyes at Tilly.

Tilly laughed at Jonathan’s outraged expression, walking with Evy toward the dig site while he regaled them with excuses about his past behaviour, becoming their shadow once more.

They met the professor at the rock base and his eyes lit up with excitement when he saw them. “Quickly, come and see this!” he grabbed Evy’s arm and virtually dragged her toward a corner of the square plot they had excised. Evy’s eyes widened as she saw the edgings of the stone tablet that was being meticulously uncovered.

“Is it...?”

“I believe it is. One of the Tablets of Amun-Ra...look, here, at the corner...that’s cuneiform, I’m sure of it. If your information was right then we’ll find the other tablets here too, maybe today!”

Evy picked up a brush and used it to clear some of the sand away, revealing what was indeed cuneiform writing, etched in stone and inlaid with solid gold.

“How strange, I thought it would be in hieroglyphs not cuneiform.”

“Can you decipher it?” Tilly asked her, looking down at the odd little lines and wedges carved into the stone, the gold sparkling in the sun.

Evy nodded. “Yes, not as well as hieroglyphs I have to admit, but with Jack’s help I think we’ll be able to read them okay. Can we help at all Jack?”

“Yes, you certainly can. Half the workers took it upon themselves to leave today for some reason, so we could do with any help we can get. Maybe your dark friend over there can assist us too?” he nodded to the sandy ridge above them.

Evy and Tilly both turned to find Ardeth slowly making his way down to them. He noted Evy’s expression and looked down at what they had uncovered.

“It is as I said, as it was written. The tablets of Amun-Ra. Do you see Evy?” He bent and almost reverently touched the patterned stone, his fingers running over the notched edges.

“I do. I don’t suppose you’d like to help us out down here would you? The professor says that half his team of workers left today, so he’s short-handed.”

“Perhaps they fear a curse being laid upon them. I do not believe there is one on these tablets, but these men would not know that. I would be glad to help if you would tell me what you wish me to do?” he said graciously.

Evy handed both him and Tilly some small digging implements and brushes, showing them how to uncover the tablet so it suffered no damage. She shouted to Jonathan, who was trying to sidle away at the prospect of doing work. He reluctantly came back and took the implements from her, bending with an exaggerated sigh to start work.

Jackson moved toward Tilly as they began brushing away the sands and took it upon himself to help her.

“Here, hold the brush like this,” he said, covering her hand with his and showing her the most effective method of uncovering the ancient artefacts. His fingers stroked over the back of her hand familiarly and she shivered slightly in discomfort, her eyes shooting to his. He glanced her way and gave a slow smile, obviously thinking his charm was working wonders on her and she wondered how she could extricate herself from this situation with a modicum of politeness.

“Professor...” she began, but he cut her off.

“Jack, my dear, you must call me Jack. I insist,” he said, his fingers still stroking.

“I...alright then...Jack. I’m sorry, but I need my hand back if I’m to carry on with this...” she said quietly, hoping that no-one else could hear them.

“Of course, my dear, I apologise!” he said, slowly releasing her hand, but still hanging over her in an almost threatening manner. Tilly swallowed and wondered at his boldness considering she had already asked for her hand back. Her eyes turned to where Evy was, but she was too immersed in her task to notice Tilly’s discomfort.  She glanced around at the others to see if they would rescue her, but Jonathan, too, was busy concentrating on his given task. When her eyes looked over at Ardeth, however, she found him studying her and the professor, his expression unreadable. Tilly gave him what she hoped was a ‘save me’ kind of look, wondering if he would understand it and, if he did, if he would bother doing anything about it. She needn’t have worried. Ardeth was honourable and very gallant in his own way and he immediately stood up and moved toward them.

His eyes narrowed at the flash of anger that lit up the professor’s expression as he sat down next to Tilly, wondering why the professor was treating Tilly like a possession when they had barely met. He was only glad that his presence was obviously doing what Tilly could not, getting the professor to move away from her.

“May I help you Matilda?” he enquired politely, his hand taking her arm and moving her closer to him and away from the other man.

“Oh, yes, thank you, I...”

“She’s doing quite well actually. I was just giving her a hand,” the professor said, his voice hard.

“I do not mind helping her. I am sure that you must have many more important things to be doing, Professor Millbrook, things that we cannot be of any help with. We shall be fine working together,” Ardeth said, his voice innocent enough, but his eyes flashing a warning.

The professors face changed subtly at that warning look and he stood up abruptly. “Of course, you are correct. But I’ll come back soon and see how Tilly is coming along,” he said, his words a threat of sorts.

Tilly let out a breath when Jackson finally walked away, one hand going to her throat. “Thank you so much!” she said fervently, smiling hesitantly up at the dark warrior. “I didn’t know how to make him go away without being rude.”

“He was acting in a most inappropriate manner, I am happy to have stopped this,” he said, his eyes wandering over her face. “You are not familiar with a man’s possessiveness?”

Her mouth came open at the odd question. “Well, no, not really,” she muttered, fiddling with the brush she was holding.

He nodded solemnly and looked away. “Shall we continue with this excavation?”

“Oh...yes,” she stammered, wondering if all the men her cousin knew were strange. Her mind soon forgot about any unpleasantness as she worked at the ground in front of her.

Tilly found the work exciting, very slow, but interesting and Ardeth worked alongside her, talking to her about Egyptian legends and fables. Before long she found herself relaxing in his company and realised Evy was right, he was a genuinely nice person. He even made her laugh a few times as they worked together, watching as the stone tablet was slowly uncovered all the way and lifted carefully from the sand. It was approximately 12 inches tall and 8 inches wide and, for its comparatively small size, very heavy. Beneath it they found the beginnings of a second stone and the professor almost did a dance as his feelings got the better of him, Ardeth Bay looking at him as if he were a lunatic.

They gathered round the first stone as Evy and the professor tried to decipher what had been written so many thousands of years before. Ardeth uttered a warning to Evy as she began reading the work aloud.

“Do not forget, Evy, what has happened before when you have read these spells. Please, do not utter them aloud, not until we need them.”

“You’re right, I almost forgot! Good grief, we have no idea what these will do yet either!” she looked up at the professor. “Maybe we should continue with the other stones and try deciphering them later?”

He nodded. “You could be right. Best to get the work done as soon as possible. Let’s get going then, although I have to say I can’t wait to find out what they say!”

After another few hours meticulously digging underneath the burning sun, Evy sat back on her haunches and wiped the sweat from her forehead. “Well, it doesn’t look like you’ll have to wait much longer Jack,” she said, looking down at what they had uncovered. The three stones of Amun-Ra that they had expected to find were laid side by side on the rock bed, glinting in the glare of the sun. Jonathan and Ardeth Bay were hunched down over them, examining the writing on them even though they had no idea how to decipher the strange markings.

“Evy...I think you should come and look at this...” Jack called out to her, digging a few feet away at the opposite corner from her. She wiped her hands and joined him.

“Didn’t your friend there say that there were only the three stones?” he asked slowly, pointing at what he was unearthing.

Evy gasped as she saw another stone being revealed. “He did...I don’t understand. Ardeth?” she called out to him and he immediately came over to her.

“Look!” she pointed out.

Ardeth frowned. “This cannot be...the remaining stones are said to be at Amarna.”

“What if the writings are incorrect?” Evy asked suddenly, grasping his arm. “Ardeth, if they are then perhaps the prophecy is wrong too!”

“Perhaps,” he agreed. “But there is truth in it too. The stones are here as it was written, but they are all here not just three. I will meet with the twelve tribes and discuss this. I shall return in two days, but in the meantime I must speak to your husband.”

“Wait a while before you go. We have to see if they are all here before the light fades. You need to be sure.” Evy cautioned and he nodded, bending to help them with the careful work. It wasn’t too much longer before they had their answer. All six stones had indeed been buried there, three at one corner of the ornate rock bed and three at the opposite corner.

“Why were they buried at opposite corners?” asked Tilly. “Is that significant in some way?”

The professor spoke up then. “This corner has the sun engraved on it and the other corner has the moon. They were potent symbols in ancient Egypt. I’m quite sure whoever placed them here had a good reason for exactly where they were placed. That’s my job around here, to find out why they did these things. I won’t be able to puzzle this out until I’m back with my books, I fear. Not unless this gentleman has any answers?” he nodded toward Ardeth, his face pleasant but his eyes still holding a hardness as he looked at the other man.

Ardeth noticed the look but ignored it. “No, I have no explanation for this. I do not know why all six stones were buried here at all. It is time I went back to my people and enlightened them of this. We are now sure of what is here and they must be told.”

“Its such a shame that we don’t have Horus here with us to help.” Evy said, smiling sadly at the brief flash of pain that crossed the Arab’s face. Horus had been his friend, even though it had only been a falcon, but it had also been highly trained and would carry messages across great distances to the twelve tribes. Until Lock-nah had shot it at Ahm Shere. It was obviously still a sore point for Ardeth. He nodded at her. “I must leave you now. I shall speak to O’Connell.” Turning he bade farewell to Tilly and Jonathan, ignoring the professor, bowing slightly as he did so, before striding towards the camp where Rick was cleaning his guns in preparation for any trouble.

He glanced up and grinned as he saw his friend walking toward him. “Problem?” he enquired, wiping down his shotgun with a soft cloth.

“I must go. The stones of Amun-Ra have been found here, as it was written. But the writings are not as accurate as I believed, for all the stones have been uncovered here. I must leave you all for two days to meet with the leaders of the twelve tribes. You are well prepared in case of danger?”

“As you see,” Rick indicated the guns spread out on the ground.

“Yes, but you are one man...”

“Don’t worry about us. Jonathan’s a crack shot, as you’ll remember and Evy isn’t half bad either. If there’s any trouble we’ll cope. Somehow.” He smiled grimly.

“Very well. Then I shall go and apprise my men of the situation.” He touched his heart and his head and uttered words in his own language meaning ‘God be with you.’ Rick watched as the tall elegant man sat astride his horse and moved the animal into a fast gallop across the sand, slowly disappearing from sight. He was sensible enough to know that if Ardeth was worried about the recent find then there was really something to worry about.

CHAPTER FOUR

A group of twelve men wearing dark blue robes surrounded the large altar stone, each placing what looked like a chunk of rock on top of the flat surface; their touch almost reverent.

They moved back a few steps, their heads bowed as a man wearing the same colour robes as them approached the head of the altar, his costume covered in intricate gold patterns that matched those of the dark turban he wore, signifying his status of head priest of the Ka-akhet cult. His face bore marks similar to those of Ardeth Bay, as did the other men in the dark chamber, and he carried an item of great importance in his arms.

Placing the parcel carefully on the floor in front of him he raised his hands up and uttered words of prayer before sweeping his arms dramatically over the altar. The men fell to their knees as their leader, Ankhef-Sem, opened the parcel and drew out the book of the dead, setting it with great ceremony in front of the twelve strange objects, proceeding to open the book with the large ornate ‘key’ that had once been found by Rick O’Connell at Hamunaptra. As the thick pages fell open a cold breeze rushed through the chamber, chilling the occupants with its otherworldly presence.

Ankhef-Sem was wholly unaffected by the strange breeze, having known the great power of the book he now gazed upon. He had waited many years for this day and now his destiny was upon him. The Med-jai had no power to stop what was to happen, he thought, especially not the ‘great warrior’ Ardeth Bay. He would rejoice greatly at that man’s inevitable death; a death he would surely not even know was coming to him. Allowing himself a small, triumphant smile that briefly twisted his thin lips beneath his beard, he began to read from the book, his voice low and steady as he recited the words that would once more allow his master, Seth, the dark God of Chaos, to roam the world. Once the powerful one, Imhotep, was resurrected, the process would truly begin.

As he continued speaking his men began chanting, bowing rhythmically in a circle around the altar; an altar that was now shaking under some unholy influence. Ankhef-Sem’s eyes widened as the misshapen pieces of mummified flesh on the stone slab began to move inexorably toward each other, small blue flashes shooting from them.

The twelve pieces slowly merged into the figure of a man, the broken ends fusing together to form a whole. At last, he thought, Imhotep was being reborn! He watched as his words continued to bring life to the decaying corpse, as the hollow ribcage began to move with its unnecessary breathing and the withered heart endeavoured to beat once more.

His chants grew in volume and fervour, reaching an almost hysterical pitch until finally, and with a deep rumbling of the earth beneath their feet, Imhotep arose; life suddenly restored to him. He leapt from the Altar, looking around at the men who were grovelling before him before confronting the man who had pulled him from his eternal unrest.

“You are of the Ka-akhet!” he spat out the words in his ancient tongue, his sightless eyes dangerous. “Why do you call me now?”

“It is time, my lord, to summon our great master,” Ankhef-Sem replied in the same tongue.

“He is no master of mine!” he roared. “I have none!”

“But you shall have, my lord. The prophecy of the Akhet priests is about to be fulfilled and you must play your part in this, as it was written. To not do so would be most...unwise of you!”

Imhotep moved closer to the confident man. “Why do you speak this way to me, when I shall kill you for it? Do you not know who I am?”

“I know all too well, my lord.”

“Yet you think to threaten me?” the decaying face moved into a hideous smile. “You are brave.”

“I am only loyal, my lord Imhotep, to my one true master.”

“If I am to do this I must regain my powers. I know of this prophecy, I know of the power I need to use.”

“But my lord, the prophecy was only discovered many years after your death...” he began, confused.

“Yet I know of it, as I know of many things. Death is not oblivion for some of us. Perhaps you will find this out soon.” He smiled again, savouring the brief fear he felt emanating from the man. “The chest?” he questioned.

Ankhef-Sem snapped his fingers and his men obediently carried the chest to the altar. Imhotep placed his hand over the intricately carved box that had once held five skilfully made canopic jars, running his fingers over the curse inscribed on the top. “Who is to open this?” he enquired, his head turning once more to the men who were now standing staring at him with awe.

Once again their leader snapped his fingers and called out. A group of his men came into the chamber, dragging three terrified locals with them. They screamed in horror as they laid eyes on the Mummy and tried desperately to get away, struggling in vain against the strong hold of the members of the Ka-akhet cult.

Ankhef-Sem smiled sympathetically at them, listening with pleasure to their urgent pleas. “You are greatly honoured to be in the presence of my lord Imhotep, high priest of Pharaoh Seti I.  He has need of your...essence. However,” he held his hand up, silencing the pleading. “There is one way in which to save yourselves, and one way alone. This chest here has the power to redeem you if you so wish it. All you have to do is lift the lid and you will have saved us all.”

He sounded so sincere that the men, in their fear, didn’t even question the fact that no one else had opened the chest. They rushed blindly toward it and scrabbled with the lid until it fell off and a cloud of dust rose from within its confines, obscuring their view of the hideous creature which, in their brief spurt of relief, they believed to have disappeared.

Their sense of ease only lasted until the dust had dispersed as the creature once again moved it’s decaying features into a semblance of a smile and looked at them over the top of the chest, enjoying their feeble struggles against the inevitable. He reached one withered, rotten arm out and grasped one of the men around the neck, pulling him with an uncanny strength towards his face; a face whose mouth was slowly widening into an obscene, gaping maw. The man’s screams became louder and more high pitched as he neared what was to become his fate, his struggles to no avail and his voice finally giving out as terror paralysed him, allowing Imhotep to effortlessly hold him off the floor while he drew the life giving fluids from his body.

The Ka-akhet members recoiled at the sight, watching with helpless fascination as the mummy’s flesh began to fill out, to become living once more. The local man rapidly became a shell of leathery skin and brittle bones, his entire life essence having been drained by his captor.

Once he was finished, Imhotep dropped the remains of the man like so much rubbish, kicking aside the carcass and turning to his next victim. This time the occupants of the dark chamber didn’t draw back so much, their eyes getting used to a monstrosity that should never have been seen as they observed him drain the next two unfortunate men.

Imhotep breathed in deeply as he dropped the last man, flexing his muscles. He looked down with his new eyes and briefly closed them, savouring the renewed power he felt coursing through him. Ankhef-Sem moved to stand in front of him, looking upon the face of the ‘powerful one’ whom he himself had brought back from the dead. He managed to stop himself taking an involuntary step back when Imhotep’s eyes snapped open and fixed him with a stare that was ageless and resolutely evil, its terrible intensity making sweat trickle unseen down his back. But he would show no fear to this unholy creature, he determined, no weakness to something which would become so wholly unimportant in a matter of days. No, when Imhotep had served his purpose he would be returned to his grave and, as yet, he had no knowledge of this plan. He smiled mockingly at him, looking up confidently into the dark glittering eyes that had seen so many years, so many deaths.

Imhotep, in turn, gazed upon the strangely calm priest in front of him, his eyes narrowing as he weighed up the depth of the mans true fear. He allowed himself a brief smile. The fool thought that he was unaware of his deep seated terror, of his intention to kill him. But he could feel it as clearly as if the man was screaming it at him. He, too, could play this time honoured game. This Ka-akhet nonentity would come to know his own foolishness in good time and he would come to know it in great pain. So Imhotep indulged in an even wider smile and followed the man as he motioned them out of the chamber.

Ankhef-Sem led the way out into an equally shadowed corridor, dark despite the torches lining the walls, and Imhotep strolled casually after him, his eyes bored now as he looked at the labyrinth of tunnels that led off from this one. The blue robed man in front of him seemed to have no doubt of where he was heading as he led them easily this way and that until finally a patch of light fell upon sand covered steps in the distance.

We are beneath the sands? he thought to himself, unwilling to voice the question and satisfy the arrogance of the other man. He tried to puzzle out their location, knowing it was no longer Ahm Shere. His answer came as they emerged from the steps into bright, blinding sunlight.

He scanned the desert around him and the crumbling walls nearby, nodding knowingly. “Akhetaten.” he stated the one word and Ankhef-Sem turned toward him, surprised.

“You recognise this place?”

He didn’t answer, merely smiling grimly. “Seti attempted to rip this place apart. He almost succeeded, but he was unaware that there were worshipping places for your cult hidden beneath these sands...as was I.”

“This is now Amarna, my lord, but I am sure you are already aware of that?” he said, his voice dripping with mockery.

“I am aware of this, Ankhef-Sem,” he saw the flicker of surprise quickly hidden as the other man heard his own name issued from the lips of a man who could not possibly know it. “I am also aware that you believe yourself stronger than me, that you do not fear me. I shall not, at this time, disabuse you of this notion. But be warned, priest, for my patience has limits that are unknown to you.”

Ankhef-Sem tried to measure the truth of this statement on the creatures face, but it was impossible to see beneath the calm countenance. He mentally shrugged off the feeling of someone clawing through his brain, seeking and finding his innermost fears. Imhotep was merely toying with him, he decided.

“We are to journey to Karnak, my lord, to begin the ceremony. As you see we have many camels on which to travel.” He indicated the group of animals lounging on the sand, being held by more cult members.

“What of the hosts? Have you located them?”

“The hosts are already within Egypt. Even now they are at the temple site, unaware of the part which they must play. I believe you know of the people who are with them. A man and woman by the name of O’Connell?”

“Them! They are here? Truly?” His eyes sparkled with a mixture of anger and anticipation.

“Yes, my lord, they are here with the woman’s brother. It also seems that O’Connell has a female relative, she who will be the key.”

“This time I shall destroy them all,” the bald man muttered absently.

“Except the girl, surely? She is needed.”

“But not forever. O’Connell shall know the pain of losing one he holds dear, of losing them all, before he goes to his own death.”

“Perhaps we should start off now, my lord?”

Imhotep merely nodded at the priest before turning and choosing a camel for himself, taking the finest beast and seating himself comfortably upon its back, holding on with an enviable grace as it stood up.

Ankhef-Sem was irritated to find himself rushing to climb onto his own camel’s back, his eyes narrowing in anger as he saw the creature watching him with a smile on his supremely composed face. He barely managed to swallow down the fury he felt, disguising it in action by moving his camel into position in front of all the others, ready to lead the way to Karnak. “It will take us many days to get to the temple, my lord, and perhaps you will find the journey somewhat uncomfortable. I apologise for not having thought of this before, but for myself I am at ease on these animals. If you would prefer we can arrange for some carriers so you can relax?” He addressed the question over his shoulder, not wishing to look into those eyes again. He was doomed to disappointment, however, as Imhotep stopped next to him and pinned him with his steely gaze.

“I am content. I know of ways to bring Karnak closer to us, to make the journey pass by in a blink, but I think I shall enjoy a lengthy ride now that I am once more able to breathe. I shall lead, Ankhef-Sem, and you shall follow,” he stated this in an almost flat monotone, his eyes glazing as he looked straight through the priest and urged his camel into movement, heading south along the wide river that flowed steadily to their right.

His smile never left his face as they moved along, his thoughts turning over in his mind the most imaginative way to make this priest die. Briefly the image of Ancksunamun appeared to him and his face hardened at the sight, much as he wished his heart would do. Despite her actions at Ahm Shere he still held feelings for her, a love that could never die, never be destroyed. This time, however, hatred was steadily growing alongside the love. It wasn’t enough yet for him to see her as an enemy, but it was enough for him to thirst for a measure of vengeance. Perhaps he would yet resurrect her, he thought, and see how guilty she felt about leaving him to the underworld. They had ripped him to shreds after he had thrown himself into the clutching throng, pulling his body into twelve equal pieces. How the priest had found those pieces was a mystery to him, one of the few things he did not already know. No matter, he would do as his destiny predicted and then he would change his future. This time, he would not be destroyed.

They rode on under the burning sun, Imhotep pulling the black robes he had been given over his head for protection, never once glancing back to see if the cult members were following. It didn’t matter, it was he who would perform the ceremony not the deluded priest behind him. If he goaded him further he may not live to see the ceremony take place at all.

CHAPTER FIVE

At the precise moment of Imhotep’s resurrection, miles across the desert at Karnak, Tilly stood up suddenly and swayed. She put a hand to her head as if to ward off the overwhelming dizziness.

“Tilly? What’s wrong?” Evy asked, also standing up from where she was studying the stone tablets and rushing over to the younger woman.

“I’m so dizzy,” she gasped, trying desperately not to fall down. Evy quickly grabbed her arm and called to Jonathan, who joined them hurriedly and helped to support her.

“What’s wrong with her?” he asked, not bothering to ask the sick girl who was getting paler by the second. To his shock she suddenly slumped in a dead faint and he found himself holding her entire weight.

“Uh-oh,” he muttered, trying to stop her from falling to the ground. The professor came over and swung her up in his arms fairly easily, her hat falling from her head to the sand below.

Evy put a hand to Tilly’s forehead, but it was relatively cool to the touch. “Let’s get her back to the tent,” she said, leading Jackson and Jonathan up the slope towards the camp. “Maybe she’s had too much sun?”

“With the size of that hat? I shouldn’t think so! What if it’s some illness? We can’t stay out here, she may need a doctor!” Jonathan said from behind them.

“Don’t let’s panic just yet, brother dear. It could still be the heat. She isn’t used to it yet.”

Rick looked up from cleaning his Thompson Machine gun and threw it to the ground when he saw them approaching, getting swiftly to his feet.

“What happened?”

“Tilly fainted. She said she felt dizzy and then she just fell down,” Evy explained quickly. “I have no idea what’s wrong with her other than maybe the heat.”

“Professor, put her inside on her bed. Evy,” Rick said, issuing orders as was his custom. “Loosen her clothing? That’s what you have to do isn’t it? I’ll get some water from the lake.”

They all went about doing their tasks, Evy ordering the hovering Jonathan away whilst she stripped Tilly down and put her thin night-gown on her. At least it was perfectly respectable to be seen in, she thought, because there was no way Rick and Jonathan were going to keep away.

Tilly suddenly started moaning, almost as if in pain, her voice getting louder and louder. Evy thought she was coming round and she was shocked when she suddenly started speaking in ancient Egyptian, a language Evy knew Tilly had no knowledge of.

“Rick?” she called, the sloshing of water in a bucket alerting her to his nearing presence. He pulled back the white dividing curtain to Tilly’s corner and frowned when he heard her speaking although still unconscious. The professor joined them, his eyes taking in Tilly’s semi-clothed appearance.

“What the hell is she saying?” Rick asked.

“It’s a bit mixed up...she’s saying that he is near...that he will begin the life...” she shook her head. “It doesn’t make any sense. But I guess this means it wasn’t the heat that got to her.”

“Why’s that?”

“She doesn’t know any Egyptian, Rick, not a word.”

“Oh God, then this is...what? The start of that damn prophecy? Ardeth didn’t say anything about her getting ill!”

“I don’t think she’s really ill, you know. I think something somewhere has happened and her unconscious mind has started taking over. I know it sounds ridiculous,” she said, catching his cynical look. “But Ardeth said she has no knowledge of who she is...yet. Perhaps this is a precursor to whatever ceremony has to take place?”

“Well, it sounds convincing anyway. The question is, what do we do now?”

“She may come round soon. I’ll stay with her and make sure she’s okay. You and Jonathan get the professor somewhere safe with those tablets and keep guard!”

Rick ran out of the tent with the professor, hollering at Jonathan as he went and they all made their way down to the dig site.

“Is there anything wrong? Miss Wilson is doing fine isn’t she?” The professor asked suddenly as if he hadn’t been in the tent with them. Rick stopped dead and stared at him in astonishment. “You were just in the tent with us...you carried her back...don’t you remember?”

The professor frowned. “I’m not sure. Yes, vaguely, I think...is she alright?”

“No, not really,” Rick replied, grimacing. “We don’t think it’s just a faint. She’s started speaking some sort of ancient Egyptian, but she’s still unconscious.”

“Then I may be able to help Evy with the translation?”

“Why not? We need to get these tablets somewhere safe and you along with them. It may as well be at the camp, at least I’ll be able to watch everyone at the same time!” He motioned to Jonathan and Jack to collect the stones and they took them quickly back to the tent with them. Rick took a moment to tell his wife of Jack’s sudden strange amnesia before the man himself walked in and was drawn to where Tilly lay speaking the strange language. He smiled at Evy and cocked his head to one side, listening for a moment.

“That doesn’t seem to make much sense.”

“I know. I have no idea what it is she’s trying to say. She doesn’t speak this language you know.”

“Not even a word? But she sounds fluent...” he began.

“She does now. I think this is that prophecy I told you about. Otherwise, how do I explain this sudden knowledge of ancient Egyptian?”

“I see what you mean. Why does she keep mentioning the lake?”

“I’m not sure. She keeps saying ‘the lake is deep’ and then at other times ‘the central door’ but...well, I’m stumped, to tell the truth. The only thing I can even begin to think of is what Ardeth told us. He said that she may lead us to the secret temple, even though consciously she knows nothing about its location. What do you think?”

“Well, if your friend is right, then it must have something to do with the lake?”

“That’s what I thought, so I went and had a good look at it. There’s nothing unusual there.”

“Has she said anything else? Any other locations mentioned?”

“She said something about the river, something about the hypostyle hall, she’s been muttering obscenities about Seti...I don’t know what to think about any of it. Until she starts making a tiny bit of sense there’s not really anything we can do! It’s so frustrating!”

“Did your friend say who she was again?” the professor asked, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

“Who she was? Oh! In her past life, you mean. Meketaten. She was a...”

“A princess, daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. Yes, I’ve heard of her. She died young apparently. I would suggest travelling to Amarna to see what’s written there, but...”

“Most of the city was pulled down by Seti.” Evy finished for him. “Even if it hadn’t been, he made sure that nearly all references to the Aten were destroyed, so we probably wouldn’t find much anyway.”

“Yes. However, when they excavated the site...”

“Before the war?” Evy asked.

“No, no, later...the British team, not the German one,” he watched her nod and continued. “The professor in charge was a friend of mine. He told me there was a mural, a scene of great mourning featuring Akhenaten and his Queen. Apparently this was for Meketaten...”

“Yes, but Ardeth said she worshipped Seth. Her entire family worshipped the Aten, so I doubt they would have mourned her passing to such a great degree! They would have thought of her as a heretic!”

“Exactly. So what really happened to Princess Meketaten? Did she just die of some mysterious illness that was never written about or...”

“Was she killed?”

Jack nodded, his straight hair falling over his forehead with the movement. “Of course, the only problem with that theory is what’s happening now and who it was exactly who killed her!”

“Well, it could have been her own family.”

“Which is what I thought at first, but the few things we have found out about the Pharaoh suggest that he treasured his family and showed a public devotion to them that was unprecedented. It seems unlikely that they would have killed her themselves.”

“She may have been sacrificed then.” Evy stated, frowning thoughtfully. “That would explain why she’s about to make a comeback, I suppose.”

“Yes, it would indeed. It would also explain why the family mourned her so much, because she was murdered. That would be something they would have been quick to cover up, hence the lack of details on her death.” He smiled warmly at Evy and his eyes sparkled down at her. “It’s an awful shame you’re married Evy, because we think so much alike sometimes it’s uncanny!”

“I don’t think it’s a shame she’s married,” Rick said, coming up behind them and draping a possessive arm around Evy’s waist. He was taller and broader than Jackson Millbrook and he made sure the professor was aware of that fact at any given opportunity. He nodded his head towards the still figure of Tilly. “How’s she doing?”

“Exactly the same. She’s still been speaking that gobbledegook, although she seems to be a little quieter now. I’m worried she hasn’t come out of it yet.”

“There’s nothing we can do except wait, honey. Why don’t we take a look at those tablets you found? It’ll at least be a way to pass the time.”

“I’d almost forgotten about them. You’re right, let’s go and examine them, maybe they’ll offer us some insight into all of this. Come on Jack.” She grabbed Jack’s arm, much to Rick’s annoyance, and she smiled to herself as she thought of how jealous he would be when they were on their own...and of how ardent he could be when he was trying to win her round. She cleared her throat and felt her cheeks redden when Rick gave her a knowing look, receiving a narrow eyed glare from her.

They sat outside under the rapidly darkening sky and placed the stones in front of them. Jonathan built the fire up so they could see better and Rick prepared them all some coffee, using the small stash of tea he had brought with him for Evy. He placed it in her hands and sat next to her, giving her a lingering kiss that made Jonathan and Jackson look away with slight embarrassment. So, thought Evy, he’s already marking his territory. She smiled and snuggled against him, sipping her tea whilst Jackson picked up one of the tablets.

“What’s that stuff written all over it? Doesn’t look anything like hieroglyphs,” Rick remarked.

“It’s cuneiform writing...” Evy began.

“This is the cuneiform script of Mesopotamia, and it’s in Akkadian,” the professor cut in, glancing up briefly at Rick and seeing the blankness that filled the other man’s eyes. “Akkadian was a Semitic dialect of Babylonia and Assyria. It was much used in Akhenaten’s time.”

“Akhenaten?”

“Oh, we didn’t tell you. Ardeth said that Tilly was to become Meketaten, who was a princess in the Eighteenth Dynasty, which was about 3000 or so years ago. Anyway, her father was Akhenaten, a great Pharaoh of the time, who turned against all the known religions and worshipped a single god instead, the Aten.”

“Yes, I remember Ardeth talking about this Akhenaten and his wife, Nefertiti.”

“We were thinking that Meketaten may have been sacrificed by this cult Ardeth was talking about and now it’s her time to rise again.”

“In Tilly.” he stated.

“Unfortunately yes. Now all we have to do is find a way to stop it all.” Evy sighed.

“Oh nothing difficult then?” he said wryly.

“Well, nothing any more difficult than usual!”

She leaned forward and started examining one of the other tablets, going over the words in her head this time instead of saying them aloud. Rick fidgeted and sighed loudly when neither she nor the professor enlightened him of what they were reading after over an hour of silence. “Oh all right!” she grumbled when Rick had jogged her more than once. “Patience, darling. I can’t say these words aloud...”

“About time you learnt that lesson,” Rick muttered, getting a slap on the thigh for his troubles.

“These are spells, quite powerful spells by the look of them. They’re mainly for resurrection, but this one and this one...” she handed him two of the tablets which, he thought, looked exactly the same as all the rest. “These are spells of transference.”

“Transference?”

“Yes it means...”

“I know what it means. But it’s to transfer what to what?”

“At a guess, and it is only a guess mind you, I’d say it was to transfer the spirit of Meketaten into Tilly...”

“But she’s already becoming her isn’t she?”

“Maybe, maybe not. The other one might be to transfer the essence of Seth into another living person.”

“Another living person? Who? Not one of us surely?” Jonathan joined in.

“I really don’t know. But so far Tilly is the only one who’s showing any signs of anything unusual, so we shouldn’t start panicking. Jack? What do you think?”

Jackson was silent for such a long time that Evy thought he hadn’t heard her. “Sorry?” he said, his head whipping around as if she had only just spoken.

“Where were you?” she asked, smiling at the disorientated man.

“I have no idea! I must have drifted off for a second there. Now, what was it you were saying?” He shook his head as if to clear it and Rick’s eyes narrowed as he studied the older man.

“I was just asking what you think about these tablets?” she prompted him.

“Well, they’re the Akhet priest spells.”

“The what?” she asked him, stunned that he had information that he hadn’t told her.

“The...Akhet priest spells...” he frowned. “How did I know that?”

“Oh no,” Rick said under his breath. “What was that about nobody else acting unusual? Famous last words sound about right to you?”

“I was thinking exactly the same thing,” she replied, her brow furrowing in a troubled frown. “Jack, is there anything else you know?”

He shook his head in bewilderment. “Nothing that I haven’t already told you.  I don’t understand how that just popped into my head. It was as if I had known about it forever but wasn’t able to voice it. Very strange. I sincerely hope it doesn’t happen again!”

“Well I sincerely hope it does!” Evy replied. “The more we can find out about this the better for all of us! Now who on Earth are, or were, the Akhet priests?”

“They were the Ka-akhet leaders, the ones who made the prophecy.” He squeezed his eyes shut and grimaced. “There it goes again. I have no idea how I know that! It’s not a pleasant feeling at all, rather like a headache!”

“It seems to me that it’s a small price to pay to get more information,” Rick said, his jaw hardening.

“Jack, it appears that if we ask the right questions then the answers just pop into your head. I know it’s not pleasant, but would you mind if we continued? You know how important it is,” Evy pleaded.

“Go ahead, if it gets more than merely unpleasant I’ll tell you. Maybe we can help Tilly, that will be more than worth this dull pain!”

“Thank you. Well then, the priests. When they made the prophecy did they actually see Imhotep as the ‘powerful one’ or someone else entirely?”

“Imhotep is the ‘powerful one’, no doubt about it. They saw his death in a vision, the first one, the Hom-dai, but more than that they also saw his fall into the underworld at Ahm Shere. They knew he was the only one with the power to breathe life into Seth.” Jackson was trying not to look confused and failing miserably.

“We thought that a ceremony might have to take place, is that right?”

“Yes, the Ka ceremony must take place before the transference spells can be invoked. This will begin the right of passage for the key. Once it is complete and the spells have been read, then twenty four hours must pass for the transference to become embedded for all eternity.”

“You mean Tilly will become this Queen or key or whatever and never be able to change back? Ever?” Rick burst out, horrified.

“Not after the twenty four hours. Even before that her consciousness will be buried so deep that you won’t be able to reach her without great difficulty.”

“What if we took her away from here? Took her back to London?” Evy asked.

“No, that won’t work. If she’s removed from this place, and I mean right here at Karnak, she’ll die. Not straight away but she won’t ever wake up again.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry Evy. I feel like this is all my fault even though that’s totally illogical.”

“Just because you’re telling us all this doesn’t mean that you’re making it happen. It just means...well, to tell the truth, I don’t know what it means. What about you? Why do you know all this?”

Jackson waited a while and then shrugged. “Now that, apparently, they don’t want me to know!”

“Okay, how about the secret temple?” she asked, narrowing one eye and smiling.

“Again, absolutely nothing!” he said after a minute.

“Great! has it gone?” Rick asked finally.

“I don’t know. Ask me something else.”

“Why don’t you know where the temple is?” Rick muttered, fed up.

“Because only the Queen knows the path,” Jackson answered swiftly.

Evy, who had been staring at her husband, swung her head back round to Jack. “Tilly knows where it is?”

“She will,” he corrected.

“Here’s something we haven’t bothered asking yet,” Jonathan said suddenly, making them jump as he had been so silent. “How long have we got until Imhotep is resurrected?”

“For once Jonathan actually has a good point!” Rick exclaimed.

“Imhotep is already arisen,” Jack answered slowly, his eyes widening as he realised what he was saying.

“What!?” they all said in unison.

“He is already arisen and is on his way here. In a few days it will all begin...in a week it will all be over!”

“We only have a week? Until he gets here?”

“No, he’ll be here in three days. The ceremony will then take place and then twenty four hours later the transference will be complete. In less than a week it will all be too late!”

“Oh my God, Rick, what are we going to do? We can’t take Tilly away because she’ll die and we can’t just stay here and wait for Imhotep!” Evy asked, her voice almost a whisper.

“We don’t appear to have any choice about that, honey. Like you said, we can’t leave. We’ll just have to get ready for whatever’s coming.”

“Jack, who will be coming with Imhotep?”

“The high priest and the cult members will accompany him from Amarna,” he replied, shaking his head. “That’s all, it seems.”

“We have to get somewhere a little safer,” Rick said, his eyes scanning their surroundings. “What about that side chamber you were in? It actually had a roof, so it would provide a little more safety?” Jonathan suggested.

“Good idea!” Evy said, patting Jonathan proudly on the arm. “I’ll start getting things together. Come on Jonathan, you can give me a hand. Jack and Rick can get all the guns and things we need.”

They busied themselves carrying all the essentials into the side chamber, Rick noisily dropping what seemed to be half a ton of weapons in the corner while Jackson placed torches around the small room, bringing a small measure of light to the pitch blackness. After everything had been placed to Evy’s satisfaction Rick made his way back to the tent and carefully picked Tilly up, waiting until Evy had picked up the bedding before he started back to the small chamber that would hopefully be their haven for a short while. He looked at the unconscious girl as he carried her into the dark room, glad that at least now she had stopped all that strange talking. Now all she had to do was wake up and everything would be fine, at least for a few days.

“When’s Ardeth coming back?” Jonathan asked, his voice low.

“Two days, he said,” Rick replied, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. “I’m kind of hoping it’ll be sooner. God knows we’re going to need him and probably all his friends too!”

“Don’t you think we’ll be able to handle this ourselves?”

“Come on, Jonathan, get real. Could we have handled Ahm Shere by ourselves? For all we know this could be worse.”

Jonathan shuddered. “I hope not!”

“Let’s not dwell on it right now. We’ve got three days and in that time we have to try and find this secret temple,” Evy said, seating herself in between the two men. “Tilly’s been talking about the Hypostyle hall and the lake mostly, so this is where we should start.”

“Well, it’s too dark to do anything until morning, so we may as well try and get some rest.” Rick said, getting slowly to his feet. “Jonathan, you can sleep for now and I’ll take the first watch.”

“The first watch?” Jonathan groaned. “Does this mean I have to be woken up just when I’m having a wonderful dream?”

“That’s exactly what it means!” Rick said, patting him none too gently on the shoulder as he went past him to the entrance. Evy watched as he checked his shotgun was loaded and leaned against one of the ornate pillars, his eyes beginning what she knew would be a constant surveillance of the ruins and the desert beyond.

Several miles away across the desert, Ardeth Bay sat with the leaders of the twelve tribes around a small fire, his face solemn as he took in the news they had been desperate to relay to him. They spoke in Arabic, at times all speaking at once until he held up his hand.

“So the creature is alive?”

“Yes, as we have said. Even now, he moves toward Karnak!” one of the elders said.

“How did this happen. Ahm Shere was watched closely!” he said.

“We do not understand this ourselves, but there is no doubt that it was the creature we saw emerging from the sands at Amarna. He was in the company of Ankhef-Sem.”

“That traitor still lives?” Ardeth spat, his face twisting with rage.

“Unfortunately, yes. He had several dozen men with him, all Ka-akhet.”

“We must prepare, Ardeth. The ceremony cannot be allowed to take place,” the elder spoke again.

Ardeth nodded. “Gather the tribes and ready them to fight. Do we know how many this cult numbers?”

“We do not know an exact number, but our information so far suggests over two thousand warriors. They are highly trained and skilful fighters who may not be easily beaten.”

“The Med-jai, too, are highly trained, and our numbers are many.”

“This is true Ardeth, but we have been depleted over the last few years, especially after Ahm Shere. The less...loyal ones left us after that horror and most of them joined with Ankhef-Sem.”

“We still outnumber him. You must rally your men and make them realise the consequences of defection at this point. I do not expect to leave even one of his men alive, no matter how long that may take.” Ardeth’s dark eyes flashed his anger at the other men and they nodded in agreement with his sentiments.

“We will prepare. You must go to Karnak, where your destiny awaits you. Destroy the stones and the Queen so that we may be free. God go with you,” the elder said, touching his chest and head, the others following suit. Ardeth returned the blessing and climbed back on the horse he had only dismounted from mere hours before, turning it skilfully and riding off into the night. He had managed to meet with the leaders only a few hours from Karnak, so he would be able to return there before the sun rose once more.

Some hours later Jonathan sat with his back against a pillar holding another of Rick’s shotguns in his arms. He was glad that he could see a faint glimmer of light on the horizon now as the sun started to rise, because it had been faintly creepy sitting here in the dark whilst everyone else slept. His eyes tried to close again and he rubbed at them impatiently, so tired he almost missed them and hit his cheeks. He turned his bleary gaze back to the room and listened to the soft snores and breathing that filled the dark space. One minute won’t hurt, he thought, and who would know? He allowed his heavy lids to fall and rested his head back on the stone, almost instantly falling asleep.

At the other side of the chamber Tilly’s eyes suddenly snapped open, slowly focusing on the dark stone surrounding her. She sat up unsteadily, her eyes fixed on a spot just above Jonathan’s head, and after a few minutes she stood up, walking toward the entrance. Jonathan didn’t stir as she swept past him, his mouth open and contented snores issuing from it.

“I have to be at the lake,” Tilly whispered, as if speaking to someone or answering an unasked question. She made her way to the edge of the lake and knelt down on the sand covered stone, her hair blowing around her in the soft breeze, it’s brightness standing out starkly against her pale skin and black gown.

Her eyes narrowed as she stared down into the water, extending a hand as if to help someone out of the murky depths. She strained every muscle as she leaned forward, balancing precariously on the edge, her fingers stretching toward the centre of the water where small bubbles began to surface. Small gasps came from her throat and sweat started forming on her forehead as if she were under some great strain. The bubbles started getting larger, rushing to the surface as if called by her, until the lake took on the appearance of a bubbling cauldron, air flowing upwards at an almost immeasurable rate and a green glow emanating from beneath the surface. She was so engrossed that she didn’t hear a horse stopping nearby or its rider shout her name. The first she knew of anything was when two arms encircled her waist and pulled her from the threat of the violently shifting waters, mere seconds before she would have fallen in.

Ardeth Bay had seen the waters of the lake glowing and moving from quite a distance and had spurred his horse on as fast as it would go. Only then had he seen the figure of Tilly kneeling beside it, her arms outstretched and about to topple over into it. He had moved by pure instinct and grabbed her, throwing them both backwards away from the treacherous waters. He lay winded for a second, Tilly laying half on top of him, her back across his chest and her hair covering his face. When he got his breath back he lifted her from him and turned her around, her stillness worrying him. Her eyes were blank when he looked into them, her face streaked with sweat and her breathing laboured.

“Matilda?” he said, frowning, his hands going to her shoulders and giving her a shake. She remained absolutely statue-still. “Matilda?” he raised his voice and shook her harder, the sharp movement making her head snap back and forth. Still no response. He grimaced and slapped her, not comfortable with the well needed action, but pleased with the results. She groaned and her hands raised up, trying to move his arms. She squeezed her eyes shut and then opened them again, staring in bewilderment into Ardeth’s face.

“What...what am I doing here?” she looked around and then down at her attire. “Why am I wearing this? I don’t understand. I was at the dig site...I feel so odd,” she said, putting a hand to her forehead, tears misting her eyes with confusion and fear.

“You have no idea of how you came to be out here, of what happened to the lake?” he asked her softly, indicating the lake that was still bubbling violently.

She shook her head. “I don’t think so, I can’t seem to...grasp...the memory. I was trying to help...” she stopped, lost in thought, her hand involuntarily reaching out as she had at the lake.

“You remember doing this?”

“I do, but I don’t know what I was trying to do...”

“You said you were trying to help. Help who?”

“The man...” she shook her head again and frowned. “I don’t know. What’s happening to me?”

He squeezed her arms comfortingly. “I believe you have shown us the secret temple, as we thought that you might. This is the beginning, Matilda, you understand?”

“I don’t want this to happen,” she said miserably.

“Nor I, but our destiny is not always in our own hands. We will do what we can to stop this, but...”

“But you may not be able to.” She finished for him, the dread of the prophecy getting to her for the first time. It was as if, she thought, subconsciously she hadn’t believed any of it up until now. She shuddered to think of what was going to happen to her if Rick and Ardeth couldn’t help. She became aware suddenly of Ardeth’s hands moving from her upper arms down to her hands, grasping her cold fingers in his.

“You have shown me your courage briefly when you confronted me with the dagger, and I admired you for it. Do not lose it now when you need it more than ever.”

“Easy for you to say, you’re not going to die!”

“We do not know this. If I cannot find a way to destroy the Queen within you then you will destroy me. This is as it was written.”

“So one of us will die then? It’s just a question of who?”

“I am hoping that this will not be the case.” He looked almost fierce, but she could see the indecision and sadness in the eyes that were fixed on the hands he was holding.

She withdrew one hand from his and tentatively touched his face, feeling a sudden, inexplicable urge to comfort the man who had already tried to kill her once. “I wouldn’t...I wouldn’t deliberately hurt you, you know?”

He covered her hand with his own. “I know this. Whatever happens you shall bear no blame and must carry no guilt.”

“What the hell is going on out here?” Rick yelled as he came storming out of the temple, his eyes taking in the lake and the two people nearby in one quick sweep. He had given Jonathan a sharp kick when he had found Tilly gone, leaving the other man nursing a sore leg. Now he found his cousin and his friend in a very unusual situation, she touching his face and he letting her. He rushed over to them, watching with faint amusement as Ardeth shot away from Tilly as though he had been scalded, his face a picture of guilt.

“Tilly! Are you okay?” He pulled her against him and hugged her warmly, almost overwhelmed with relief that she had finally woken up.

“I think so. I don’t know what’s going on though. Why am I out here?”

“Who knows. Tilly, you fainted yesterday at the dig site, do you remember that?”

“I remember being at the dig site, and I do remember feeling a bit dizzy...but no, the next thing I know Ardeth’s shaking me and...” her eyes shot to the dark man and narrowed. “You hit me!”

“You shook her? You hit her?” Rick said, staring in amazement at the taciturn man next to him.

“She was unaware of her surroundings. I only did what I thought best. I did not hit her, merely a light slap. I found her at the lake, reaching toward the middle and, as you can see, the water has gone wild and it has a strange glow. I believe this may be where the temple is located.”

“You may be right,” Rick replied, staring at the churning waters and wondering if he would ever find anything surprising in his life again. He went on to tell the other man of everything that had happened since he had left the day before. Ardeth listened silently, his eyes sliding sideways to Tilly as she wandered over to the lake again, staring into the luminescent water but being careful to keep back from the edge. He, in turn, related all he knew. Rick sighed tiredly. “I’m glad you got back so soon. We thought we might have to do this alone,” he finished.

“I would not have abandoned you, my friend.” He took a few steps toward the lake. “The waters are calming.”

“How did she do that?”

“I do not imagine she has any idea of how it happened. But something within her was destined to know the path to the temple, as the professor said. We must look in the waters ourselves.”

“I’m not getting in that!” Rick said, pulling a face at the thought of standing in the glowing, moving lake. It was less agitated than it had been, but it still looked dangerous to him.

“We shall wait and see if it calms entirely. Only then shall we begin our search. We must hope it is before Imhotep arrives.”

“Your people will be watching won’t they?”

“Yes, the tribes are preparing as we speak, do not fear. They will stop the Ka-akhet from nearing here, but we must deal with the few who do get through them.”

“I hope it isn’t many. Imhotep is enough to cope with on his own, as we all know.” He smiled and shot a sideways look at the dark man. “So Ardeth, what exactly were you doing when I came out here? You and Tilly seemed very...close.”

“Your cousin was upset. I can assure you there was nothing untoward happening...” he began urgently, his composure briefly forgotten.

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask your intentions or anything!” Rick laughed.

“My intentions?”

“Toward Tilly. It’s okay, I trust you,” he baited the other man, holding up his hands and apologising at the outraged expression on the Arab’s face. “Only joking!”

“You have a strange sense of humour, O’Connell, and a strange sense of timing. I do not believe I will ever understand you,” Ardeth remarked, reverting back to his normal self, confused at the way this westerner acted at times. “Besides this, I would never have considered Matilda as a...” he hesitated. “A potential choice.”

“Really? Why’s that? Isn’t she pretty enough for you?”

“She is most attractive. However, she is not of my people.”

“I see,” Rick said, starting to move slowly toward the temple. “Actually, her mother and mine were Egyptian, apparently. So she really is of your people, sort of,” he said and grinned at the other man.

“This is no joking matter, my friend!”

“I’m not joking this time. Anyway, sometimes the situation needs lightening up, don’t you think?” Rick asked him.

“Sometimes the situation must be taken seriously, though.”

“Yes it must. But I find it easier not to upset the people around me with my true feelings. Especially not Tilly at the moment, she’s having a hard enough time as it is. Come on, let’s go and wake up the professor and Evy and see if I managed to break Jonathan’s leg with that kick!”

“What kick?” Ardeth asked as they moved off toward the temple, Tilly joining them while Rick enlightened them of the way his brother-in-law had been caught napping and the subsequent hard kick he had been the recipient of.

CHAPTER SIX

Later that day Tilly made her way back to the lake again, having finally managed to get some time on her own without Ardeth, Rick and Jonathan hanging around like some sort of constant hulking watchdogs. She was appreciative of the care they were taking of her but, if what they had told her was true, it would make no difference in the long run.

Her eyes flitted across the surface of the water, almost calm again now, and looked through the rapidly clearing depths. For just a second she thought she could see a straight line standing out from the sands that had accumulated at the base but, before she could focus on it again, it was gone. With all the turmoil her emotions were in she nearly dismissed what she had seen, but it kept nibbling away at her conscience, making her eyes constantly scan the waters. She knelt down at the edge in much the way she had early on that day, but this time she was in control of her faculties, and she waited for the waters to clear some more - however long that might take.

Rick and Ardeth sat selecting weapons for the coming trouble, making sure they were all in good working order. Rick had a vast array of guns and chose only what he could comfortably carry on his person, which turned out to be quite a lot considering the amount of different holsters he was wearing. Ardeth, though, chose only the Thompson Machine Gun, his favourite weapon of choice. Apart from that he had his swords, blades that he was incredibly adept at using, which had come in very handy when fighting the Army of Anubis as the only way to kill them had been to take off their heads. Jonathan had been assigned ‘Tilly watch’ some time ago and had been given two hand guns, the only things Rick trusted him with but, as usual, he couldn’t even manage the simplest task. He came running along the back of the vast temple ruins to where Rick and Ardeth were sitting, his face turning red as the other men looked at him with irritation.

“Where is she?” Rick asked, his face a picture of forced patience.

“She...er...well she gave me the slip. She was right next to me and then she just...wasn’t,” Jonathan stammered. “Sorry, but she has a knack of disappearing. She obviously didn’t want to be watched anymore!”

“Whether she wanted it or not is immaterial don’t you think?” Rick pointed out, giving his brother in law a hard look. “If we don’t watch her we won’t know what she does next. Here,” he thrust a couple of guns at the thinner man. “Clean these and I’ll go and watch her. Maybe you can manage to do that properly at least!” He marched off and left Jonathan sitting with Ardeth, the Arab chuckling at the despondency with which Jonathan set about his new task.

“Do not take his words to heart, Jonathan,” he said, trying to wipe the smile off his face and failing. “He has a measure of respect for you which he does not always show.”

“You could have fooled me,” Jonathan muttered.

“Why else would he have relied on your shooting ability to help rescue his son at Ahm Shere?”

“Because he had no other choice?” the thinner man grumbled.

“Not so. He could have asked many people, including other Med-jai, to help him. You are part of his family and you have helped him in the past, a fact of which he is not ignorant. He is perhaps more grateful to you than you realise, as am I.”

“You are?”

“You did, after all, kill a man who intended to kill me, did you not? One of Lock-nah’s men at Ahm Shere? You were too far away for me to thank at the time and then you left for London so I had no chance to say the words. But I am grateful for your skill with the rifle and thank you for my life,” Ardeth said, not in the least reticent about voicing his feelings.

Jonathan smiled and shrugged, slightly embarrassed by the Arab’s candour. “Well, it was nothing really. I would have done it for anyone, even Rick I suppose,” he said, turning his attention back to the gun he was cleaning, clearing his throat roughly.

“So, who are we going to have to fight this time then?” he said, changing the subject.

“The Ka-akhet number some two thousand warriors and the twelve tribes are preparing for the coming battle. But this number is not definite, there may be many more than we are expecting.”

“That won’t be a problem will it? I mean, your men will be able to stop them?”

“I have great faith that they will. But in Egypt, it seems, nothing is certain. Our own past history has taught us this, I think.”

“You’re right there!” Jonathan agreed fervently, nodding his head as he thought of the strange things that had happened to them in this particular country.

“Yet this history has not stopped you from returning here again?” Ardeth enquired, puzzled as to why these people who were now his friends had never been scared off.

“Not really. For myself I would be quite content to stay in London my entire life, but Evy and Rick do enjoy these little adventures and I invariably get dragged along with them,” he said, his voice taking on a tone that warned Ardeth of imminent boasting.

“Perhaps these ‘little adventures’ become less tedious when gold is found?” he asked, raising his eyebrows mockingly.

“Yes perhaps they do,” Jonathan replied, the mockery going right over his head as his mind thought of all the treasure they might yet find. Ardeth shook his head and stood up, swinging the gun strap over his shoulder.

“I will go to see if O’Connell has found his cousin,” he stated, nodding at the other man as he walked calmly out of sight. Jonathan had yet to realise that material wealth was not everything, something Rick had learnt some time ago and Ardeth had known for many years.

It took some time to walk from one side of the temple to the other and he eventually found Rick sitting next to his cousin at the lake, both of them staring into the water as if searching for something.

Rick raised his head as Ardeth approached, beckoning him closer and answering the question in his eyes. “Tilly said she saw something at the bottom of the water, something solid, possibly, with a straight edge? We’re trying to see if it becomes visible again,” he explained. “Care to join us?”

“Yes, I believe I shall. Do you think it could be the entrance?”

“That’s exactly what I think,” Rick replied as Ardeth knelt next to them, his black eyes narrowing as he, too, looked into the water. They sat like statues for over half an hour under the hot sun, Rick occasionally handing out a water flask for them to share which Tilly took the lions share of, still not used to the drying effects of the heat as Rick and Ardeth were.

“There!” Tilly suddenly burst out, pointing excitedly at the middle of the lake. “Can you see it? It’s definitely a straight edge! It looks like...a stone slab or something,” she continued, her eyes narrowing in concentration, trying to get a better focus on the unknown object that was so far from the edge.

“I see it,” Rick nodded at last, wondering how the cloudy water had cleared so quickly. The green glow that it had taken on had all but disappeared now and the surface was as calm as a mill pond. He looked at Ardeth and saw the same expression on his face.

“It is strange,” Ardeth said, as if Rick had asked him a question. “But it is no more strange than the way the lake became agitated in the first place, so we should perhaps not dwell on this too much.”

“You’re right. Why bother wasting time thinking about something we’ll never figure out? What we should spend time on is examining whatever that is,” he nodded toward the lake. “Shall we take a dip?” He stood up and took off his shoes, shirt and gun belt, amused to see Ardeth only remove his swords and gun, not his shoes or robes. “What about the headdress?” he said, smirking.

Ardeth removed it and placed it next to the lake, his black hair falling onto his forehead as he did so, giving Rick an almost embarrassed glance before heading toward the steps. He led the way down into the water, his black robes floating on the surface as he descended to the bottom, the water nearly coming up to his chest. Rick joined him and together they waded through the water to the place, roughly in the centre of the lake, where they had seen the straight edge of something emerging from the layer of sand at the bottom.

“Wouldn’t this be easier for you if you removed your robes?” Rick asked curiously.

“I cannot remove them at this time,” he replied. Rick waited but it was obvious he was going to get no further explanation unless he asked.

“Okay, why not?”

“Because there is a female present,” Ardeth replied, obviously thinking that his words said enough. Rick pursed his lips and wondered if it was some archaic custom of his tribe and decided not to pursue the subject.

He looked into the water and wasted no time finding out what it was that they had seen, submerging himself and brushing the sand away from the stone base, revealing a corner and another edge to the ever increasing size of something made out of stone. He came up for a breath and stared at Ardeth, who hadn’t joined him and was merely watching his pursuits.

“Are you going to help or are you waiting to see how long it takes for your legs to get wrinkly?” he asked sarcastically.

“I am not...fond of the water,” the other man said with obvious reluctance.

“Are you telling me you can’t swim?”

“I can swim, but I do not like being underneath the surface of the water.”

“You mean to say, you’ve faced Imhotep and several of his mummified priests, numerous bugs and other ghastly things and even the army of Anubis, and you’re scared of the water?” Rick’s tone was incredulous and Ardeth felt a faint flush of embarrassment stain his high cheekbones. Rick relented when he saw the other man’s discomfort.

“No wonder you weren’t happy when Tilly pulled you into the lake the other day. Well, I’ll do all the underwater stuff, you just use your feet to move some of the sand, okay?”

Ardeth nodded and hesitated before starting his assigned task. “You will keep this to yourself?”

Rick tried hard not to smirk again. “Of course I will, you can trust me. Just don’t let Jonathan hear you, because he’ll tell anything with ears!”

The dark eyed man nodded gratefully at his friend and immediately started his task, secretly pleased that he had this brief reprieve, because he knew that at some time he would have to get his head underwater, whether he wanted to or not.

Before too much time had passed they had uncovered an area 4 ft by 4 ft square, obviously inlaid into the base of the lake and covered in symbols. Tilly had joined them by now along with Evy who she had informed of the find. The water came up to their necks and they had to duck underneath the water to look at what Rick was doing. The professor and Jonathan declined their invitation to enter the lake, preferring to sit at the edge and watch rather than get wet. Tilly stared through the water at the square of stone in front of her, barely able to make it out through the clouds of sand that had been kicked up. Evy had no such problem, swiftly diving down deeper to join her husband. She examined what she could of it and suddenly let out a whoosh of air bubbles before rapidly surfacing. “Did you see it?” she asked her husband as he stood up next to her.

“I uncovered it, of course I saw it!”

“No, no! The mechanism on the side of it? It’s a door!”

“A door? The door?”

“It must be! It has the same mechanism as the door where the bracelet of Anubis was, remember? We must try and turn it!” she said excitedly, turning to get back down in the water before Rick stopped her, his hand holding her arm gently.

“Don’t you think we should be a little more cautious this time?” he asked, looking across at Ardeth and the others for support. He didn’t get any, they were as eager to open the door as Evy was. “Oh for God’s sake!” he muttered. “Okay, but we do it together, we have no idea what’s in there remember?”

Evy nodded her agreement, smiling widely because she knew she had won again, before disappearing beneath the surface and grabbing the mechanism in her hands. She pulled it out and turned it twice one way, and then once back again, not without some difficulty. As soon as she pushed the huge golden dial back in the door began to give way, slowly lowering downwards, its slow momentum defying the laws of gravity. Evy surfaced for air and she and Rick stood looking down as the door continued opening until a gaping black hole had appeared in the bottom of the lake.

“Well, it must be full of water already, because it didn’t seem that any water rushed into it,” Rick said, looking at Evy as she chewed her lip in concentration.

“What do you think it is? A room?” she asked.

“I guess someone would have to go down there to find that out,” Rick said, knowing full well he would be the only one who would dare to go. Evy’s persuasive glance convinced him that he would definitely be going soon. Straight away if those eyes were anything to go by. Ardeth moved closer to Rick. “You must not go without making sure you are anchored here. If you have some rope we can tie it around your waist and we can hold it whilst you are underwater. We do not know where this leads or how far you will have to go, so the rope will ensure you can get back safely, do you not agree?”

Rick appreciated his friend’s concern. “You’re right, as always. I’ve got some rope at the tent that I hadn’t moved, Jonathan can go get it. Jonathan!” he yelled to the slim man sitting idly on the edge of the lake. After telling him what he needed he shrugged off the irritation he felt at Jonathan’s reluctance to do anything that involved moving. He moved to the side of the lake as Jonathan returned, moving up the steps and grabbing the rope. Evy helped him tie the thick rope securely around his waist, resting her hands lightly on his chest when she had finished.

“Don’t take any unnecessary risks,” she whispered, unconsciously echoing the words he had said to her before they had left London. “I don’t want to lose you.”

Rick smiled softly and bent down to claim the lips of his wife, one hand coming up to caress her face. “Don’t worry, I’m a good swimmer. Anyway, it might only be a tiny space beyond that door and I might not even fit in it. Besides, I have no intention of getting lost before you tell me to! Come on, you can help me by feeding the rope to me if I need it,” he said, taking her hand and walking down into the water again and joining Ardeth in the centre. Evy obediently held the rope for her husband while Ardeth took the very end of it, coiling it several times around his hand to get a strong grip. Tilly stood to one side, feeling fairly useless at that moment, watching the movements of the others.

Rick took a few deep breaths, not saying a word before he dived neatly under the water and swam through the doorway. The first thing that hit him was the oppressive darkness, no light at all filtering down into whatever this place was. He reached his arms out and felt the walls either side if him and then felt one below him as well. The only place to go was straight in front of him and the walls didn’t vary in width more than an inch, feeling to him very much like a corridor. He felt around a bit more to make sure of his bearings before rising up through the door again and surfacing for another deep breath.

“What is it? Is it a room?” Evy asked the moment his head popped through the water.

“I think it’s some sort of tunnel or corridor, because when you get down there you hit the floor again, but there seems to be a passage in front of me. It’s so dark I can barely tell though. Well, here goes again!” he said before diving back down again, swimming more confidently now along the underwater passage. Every few feet he stopped and explored the walls to his sides and above him, not finding anything unusual or irregular in them. All of a sudden he hit a wall in front of him and realised the corridor had ended and looking around noticed a faint glow coming from somewhere directly over his head. He propelled himself upwards with a strong thrust from his legs, getting closer to the glow and closer still, until finally he surfaced in what looked to him like a chamber of some sort, lit very dully with a single torch on one of the walls. He took a breath, wrinkling his nose at the musty, unused smell the place had. Pushing aside the temptation to explore the place thoroughly, he pulled himself out of the water and untied the rope from around his waist, tying it around the metal torch holder that was firmly attached to one rocky wall. As he looked closer, he realised that the walls were actually those of a cave and not man made at all, although there were a few flat surfaces carved from the rock with inscriptions on them. Several dark patches signified doorways to other places dotted around the cave, which he reckoned to be about 14 ft across.

He lowered himself back into the water and used the rope to guide him back, taking no time at all to get back to Evy and easily holding his breath for the short distance.

“Well?” Evy asked eagerly when he was standing next to her. He wiped the water from his face before replying. “It’s a cave, it’s got a lit torch in it, so someone has been there recently. It looks like it’s got doorways leading off from it but I didn’t bother looking in them yet because I knew you’d probably beat me to death for not including you!” Evy shot a punch at him and he grinned at her.

“Well, it’s not far to swim and I tied the rope inside the cave so we can just pull ourselves along it. Are you game?”

Evy nodded rapidly and Rick looked at Ardeth Bay. “You?”

“I...do not...” he hesitated.

“We will need you in there if anything...you know...comes to life.” Rick said and looked at the indecision on the other mans face. He turned to Evy. “Honey, why don’t you go first? Just follow the rope, it isn’t far, okay?”

Evy nodded, needing no further urging and quickly dived under the water. Tilly moved up next to Rick and Ardeth, glancing from one of them to the other, not understanding the odd tension she could feel from the Arab. “Is everything okay?” she asked him.

“Everything’s fine. You want to go too?” Rick answered for Ardeth, diverting Tilly with his own question.

“Oh Yes! Is it safe? It looks a bit...dark,” she said.

“It seemed fairly safe, but who knows? Keep hold of the rope and pull yourself along. Go ahead, we’ll join you in a second,” he said, watching as Tilly disappeared under the surface to follow Evy. He turned to Ardeth when the women had gone, knowing Jonathan and the professor were too far away to hear what he was saying.

“Ardeth, we need you,” he said simply.

“I will go with you, but I do not know if I can face...going under the water,” he said, swallowing his pride briefly.

“What is it that bothers you about it? You’re not actually scared of the water because you can swim, so what is it?”

“I do not like being underneath the surface, I feel...trapped. It brings me memories I do not want.”

“Memories? Of what?”

Ardeth stared at Rick for a space of seconds before replying, almost reluctantly. “Many years ago, before you and I first met, I lost my family to the Nile. My mother and father and my...” he hesitated, as if needing a deep breath to gird himself to continue. “My young sister. We were all in a boat making our way toward Cairo in the time of the floods.”

“The floods?”

“The Nile floods every year, but this year was particularly bad and it had nearly destroyed my parents home. They were moving all their remaining belongings to a new location. But on the way there was an attack from a man called Ankhef-Sem, an enemy of mine, he who was once a Med-jai. He had others with him and they attacked the boat, injuring me and causing the boat to capsize.” His voice, like his eyes, became distant with the memory.

“He obviously believed me to be dead because he left us. The waters were dangerous, flowing faster than I had seen them, and my parents were swept away. My sister went beneath the surface and I went after her...but I could not save her, no matter how I tried. I nearly drowned myself in my attempts, but I was saved by some of my men who had followed Ankhef-Sem. Since this time I have had a hatred for the water which I cannot lose.”

“I’m sorry,” Rick said simply.

“You did not know,” Ardeth shrugged.

“It explains why you won’t go under water.” Rick ran a hand through his hair, wondering whether they would be all right without this man. “You better stay here then, if you really think you can’t do this then I understand.”

“I do not wish to let you down O’Connell. I have been placed here to protect you all and this I cannot do if I am not by your side. I shall go with you.” He frowned down at the hole in the lake, obviously already disturbed at the thought of going in there.

“I appreciate it. This might actually help you get over it all. Have you been in the water since this happened? Under the water I mean?” He watched as the other man shook his head. “Maybe it’s past time that you did. If you avoid it forever it’ll never get any easier. Just follow me and don’t panic okay? You can hold on to my belt if you want,” he offered.

“No, I do not believe that will be necessary, but I thank you. I shall take a moment to tie this rope,” he said, indicating the end of the rope he was holding, the heavy coils draped over his arms.

“Pass it to Jonathan and he can tie it at the side,” Rick told him, watching as Ardeth walked toward the edge and handed the rope to Jonathan. When he walked back they looked at each other and Ardeth nodded to indicate he was ready.

“Do you want to go first?” Rick asked.

“I believe it is best,” he replied, taking a deep breath and plunging himself under the surface. Rick admired him for the way he was facing this fear, not doing things bit by bit but going for it full force. It reminded him of himself. No wonder they had become friends, he thought. He dived in after him and followed him through the doorway. He could barely make him out at first and then not at all as the darkness closed in around them and he hoped Ardeth wouldn’t panic. He needn’t have worried. As they reached the chamber he surfaced next to the other man, whose only sign of fear was the slightly heavier breathing than usual.

“Okay?” Rick asked.

“I believe so. It was...not the ordeal I had expected.”

“I’m glad. Come on, let’s have a look around!”

They climbed out of the water and Ardeth got his first look at the cave, walking towards the flat engraved surfaces on the walls and examining them. He could barely see them in the dull light from the single torch and moved closer to it whilst Rick talked to Evy. He only noticed Tilly sitting underneath the torch when he almost tripped over her.

“Matilda? Are you alright?”

“I’m...fine. Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” she said, not sounding like her normal self.

“Why do you sit here? Why do you not join Evy in exploring the walls. I am sure she would have things of great interest to tell you,” he enquired.

“It’s a bit...er...dark over there. I prefer it near the torch.”

“You do not like the darkness?”

She reluctantly shook her head and he found himself smiling. Here he was, worrying about his own fear and this woman was afraid of the dark. A fine bunch of warriors they would make, he thought, shaking his head.

“What’s so funny?” Tilly asked, her voice irritated now.

“Nothing. Perhaps you would feel safer if I accompanied you?” he offered, reaching down a hand to her.

Tilly stared at his hand for a second before taking it and allowing him to help her to her feet. “Thank you, but you really don’t have to. I’m not really scared, it’s just...”

“I know what it is to fear something, Matilda, and there is no shame in it. Allow me to walk with you if it makes you feel better,” he said, his voice low enough so only she could hear him.

“Okay, if you don’t mind? If you have something you and Rick have to do then don’t let me get in your way, okay?”

“I have nothing more important to do than to help you and protect you in any way I can. This is my calling, you understand? It is the reason I am here.”

“Oh? I thought the reason you were here was to kill me?” she said, gaining a little more spirit and trying to lighten her own mood.

He could see the sparkle of amusement in her eyes. “Do not worry. I am sure I will find the time to do this also!” he whispered, showing a playful side that she hadn’t previously seen. “Come, let us explore one of these doorways,” he said, taking the torch from the wall to carry with them, much to Tilly’s relief.

Evy and Rick followed where the light went and they walked through the largest doorway that lay directly in front of the water they had emerged from, Rick and Ardeth ducking slightly under the low lintel. Evy was surprised to see how close Tilly was sticking to Ardeth, considering how scared she had been of him and how much she had been prepared to stab him, and she mentioned it to Rick. “I know,” he said, chuckling. “You didn’t see them at the lake before, either. Ardeth looked very guilty!” He grinned at her, raising his eyebrows.

“Don’t be so silly! Ardeth is much too honourable to do anything immoral and anyway, he’s probably got a wife tucked away somewhere!”

“Not that he’s ever told me about. Mmm, this could get very interesting!”

“You old romantic, you!” Evy said, hugging him around the waist.

“You know it,” he whispered, hugging her back and wondering how he had ever got this lucky. Ardeth looked back as he caught his name faintly, watching the two people who at that moment saw only each other, and found himself smiling. He vividly remembered a time when the same two people were not exactly on the best of terms, the first time they had found Imhotep. But they had overcome their differences in no time at all and soon became the happy people he counted among his best friends. He glanced down at Tilly and found her watching him, quickly looking away with embarrassment, much to his amusement.

“O’Connell tells me that your mother was Egyptian?”

“Yes, so I was told. I was adopted so I never knew my real mother, but it seems she came from this country.”

“That would explain your connection to this place. You do not look like one of my countrymen though,” he mused, looking at her pale skin and unusual colouring.

“Well, I’m not a man, so I sincerely hope not!” she said mock seriously.

“Ah, more western humour! I believe I shall understand this one day soon, perhaps before I die,” he smiled.

“I think you understand it perfectly well already, despite your fake sheikh impression!”

“Fake sheikh?” he looked genuinely puzzled at this.

“It was a movie...a moving picture? A few years back...” she tailed off as he continued looking puzzled. “Well, maybe Rick can tell you about it,” she mumbled, looking around for something to change the subject. “Shall we take a look around then?”

“Yes,” Ardeth said, holding the torch out, lighting up one of the walls. These walls were smooth and obviously man-made, covered in inscriptions, some in hieroglyphs and others in cuneiform. He moved along the wall until he found what he was looking for, another torch, unlit, resting in a metal holder.

“Good. Perhaps there are more of these on the walls,” he said, using the torch he was holding to light the other one. The moment the flame leapt from one torch to another, the chamber they were in suddenly exploded into light, every torch lining the walls spontaneously combusting at the same time. All of them seemed to gasp in unison, Evy and Rick jumping back from the wall where they stood as a torch ignited next to them. For a second it was so bright that they had to close their eyes, but it soon calmed down so that they could see again, and they all looked at one another, somewhat shell shocked.

“Well, that’s never happened before,” Rick said, staring around at the now revealed room, the symbol covered walls and the statues standing looking down upon them.

“This certainly looks like a temple,” Evy said, moving to examine a large statue recessed in one wall, its head looking down at a stone slab set in the ground at its feet, the top of it reaching the ceiling 10 ft above them.

“So then this is the temple?” Rick asked, walking across the floor to another statue. The space was huge, easily 100 ft square, lined with statues over 6 ft tall, all pointing towards the one Evy was looking at. A large stone table was placed in the centre of the room, taking pride of place. But the thing that made them all stop and stare was the amount of gold lining the walls and statuary, even the floor and stone table covered in ornate decoration. Small recesses around the entire chamber, in between the statues and above the heads, held solid gold urns and vases, odd shaped dishes and scarabs, some of them with the addition of jewels.

Evy reached out and rubbed at the main statue, looking amazed when it glinted back at her, this too made of gold. The eyes of the statue were emeralds, the surfaces sparkling in the light from the torches, set in a face and body that she recognised only too well.

“This is Seth,” she said quietly, knowing that her voice would be heard in the repercussive space. Ardeth and Tilly joined her immediately, Rick not far behind.

“Are you sure?” Rick asked, staring up at the ugly face of the statue.

“Very sure. See the head? It has a tapering snout, tall straight-topped ears.”

“It’s not very pretty, “ he said.

“It represents chaos and it’s face signifies this with it’s unusual appearance. It’s quite oppressive,” she continued, shuddering as she looked up at the face.

“There’s no doubt now, then. This is definitely the place we’ve been looking for. Now all we have to do is wait for you-know-who and see what happens,” Rick said, smiling grimly.

Evy looked over at Tilly and frowned when she saw the other girl’s expression. She moved next to her. “Are you okay?”

Tilly stood transfixed, staring up at the statue, shivering. She shook her head. “I want to go back out, I don’t...I don’t feel well, I don’t like it in here.”

Ardeth Bay stepped up when he heard what she was saying. “I will escort her back out,” he offered, immediately taking her arm.

“Is that okay?” Evy asked her. She nodded, still darting glances at the statue. “We’ll stay here for a while longer, but we’ll join you soon,” Evy continued.

Tilly nodded again and let Ardeth lead her into the other chamber and, after placing the torch back in it’s holder, into the water. “May I ask you a question?” he asked, jerking her back from her deep thoughts briefly. She nodded. “How did you manage to get through the underwater passage on your own? It is very dark in there.”

“I pulled myself along the rope and just...closed my eyes,” she shrugged.

“And is that how you are going to do it this time?”

“I guess so. I hadn’t thought about it.”

“You can hold on to me if you wish,” he offered.

“I should be okay, I think.” She shivered again, a combination of cold from her wet clothing and an all consuming dread that she couldn’t explain. “Can we go?”

“Of course, come,” he said and helped her around in front of him, submerging himself at the same time she did so he could guide her back. He didn’t even notice that his own fear was pushed deep inside his subconscious, fading whilst he did what he felt to be his duty. She slowed down half way along the tunnel and he wondered if her fear of the dark was getting to her. He pulled himself along faster and swam around next to her, feeling for her arm and helping her swim the remainder of the tunnel, until they surfaced in the pool.

Tilly quickly made her way to the steps and clambered out of the water, her hair plastered to her head and her clothes dripping all over the place.

“You are feeling alright?” Ardeth asked as he got out next to her.

“I feel a little sick, but I’m just glad to be out of that place. I’m not going back in there again if I can help it.” She shivered at the thought. “It’s strange, but I think I know this place, the temple and that statue. How can that be?”

Ardeth shook his head. “It is probably a buried memory, one that belonged to Meketaten, but it is surfacing in you. It is the same as the time you were unconscious and spoke things that you have no knowledge of. I believe that many things of this sort may happen in the coming days, so you should prepare yourself.”

“I guess so.” She looked down at herself. “I think I’ll go and get changed.” Her eyes lifted and looked at his sopping wet clothing. “Do you have any extra...er...robes with you?”

“No, I have just what I am wearing,” he said, not seeming in the least bothered to be soaking wet.

“Well, would you like to borrow some of Rick’s clothes? You’re about the same size,” she offered.

“No, it is not necessary. The sun will soon have me dry again, do not worry.” He smiled and nodded, watching her as she went toward the temples to get her clean clothes.

CHAPTER SEVEN

Ardeth made his way around the lake to where Jonathan and the professor were sitting talking, smiling in greeting to the two men when he joined them.

“Why did you not join us Professor Millbrook? Surely you are interested in seeing the temple?” Ardeth said as he sat down next to them.

“I’m very interested in seeing it, I assure you. I’m not feeling very well, actually. My head is thumping and I feel very queasy. Probably something I ate, I imagine.” Jackson replied, rubbing his stomach.

“I thought I’d keep him company, you know. You can never tell when these things can turn serious,” Jonathan excused himself, waving his hands about airily.

“Of course not,” Ardeth said sardonically, giving him a knowing look. He pursed his lips and smothered a smile as he continued. “It is a shame, however, that you did not join us. The temple has much gold in it.” His eyebrows raised as he looked at Jonathan and noticed the sudden spark of interest.

“Yes, well, perhaps I should go and help Rick and Evy, then. I’m sure I could be of some use to them...” he tailed off and got up, brushing sand from his behind as he walked off toward the lake without a backward glance. Ardeth shook his head at Jonathan’s greed for gold.

“So tell me, what was the temple like?” Jackson asked him, snapping his attention back from Jonathan’s retreating back.

“It is very large inside, the walls are covered with writings and there are a great deal of statues. One, in particular, held Evy’s attention. It is a statue of Seth and it has green jewels for eyes,” he said.

“Is the room itself an oblong shape?”

“Yes, a very large one. There are recesses in the walls that hold vases and other gold ornaments.”

“Where’s the statue of Seth standing?”

“It stands at one end of the chamber, reaching the ceiling in height and it is looking down towards the feet.”

“Hmmm,” the professor frowned thoughtfully. “What’s at his feet?”

“There is a stone slab at the base of the statue, but I saw nothing else at this time. One other thing, though, that may interest you. As I lit one of the torches lining the walls...”

“All the others ignited at the same time, didn’t they?” the professor broke in.

Ardeth looked surprised. “Yes. How did you know this?”

“Some years ago I read a scroll that had been discovered at Akhetaten. It made references to an unholy temple where light would be a spontaneous event. It didn’t make much sense until now, what with the connection to Akhetaten as well, but I think I’m beginning to understand a lot of things I’ve read before and not comprehended. So where are Evy and her husband now? And Tilly?”

“O’Connell and Evy are still in the temple examining the writings. Matilda has gone to change her clothing.”

“You didn’t stay in there very long.”

“Matilda felt unwell, much the same as yourself. She seemed...frightened of the statue of Seth and was pleased to leave.” He stared thoughtfully at the professor. “Do you think there may be a connection between your feeling ill and Matilda’s sudden nausea?”

“Once upon a time I would have said no and told you not to be ridiculous. Now, however, I should think there is a strong possibility that there’s a connection,” the professor said with a sigh, wondering what was going to be the next thing to happen. His eyes narrowed as he watched Tilly approach them wearing fresh clothing.

“Your friend Ardeth, here, said that you were unwell. How are you feeling now?”

Tilly smiled hesitantly as she sat down across from them, drawing her legs up underneath her as she settled on the slightly rocky sand. Ardeth noticed that she was sitting as far away from the professor as she could get and had shot him a wary look, obviously worried that he might make a move towards her. “I feel sick to my stomach actually,” she admitted.

“Do you have a headache by any chance?” the professor enquired.

“Yes, a slight one, nothing too bad. Why?”

“Because that’s exactly how I feel. With the exception of the headache. It feels as though someone’s trying to tunnel their way out of my brain!” he replied with an attempt at humour.

“Nobody else seems to be feeling ill,” Tilly remarked, glancing across at Ardeth who shook his head at the unspoken question. “Where’s Jonathan?”

“He has gone to look at the temple, a task he was not interested in until he heard of the gold within,” Ardeth said, smiling derisively.

Tilly shook her head and smiled back at him. “Poor Jonathan, he’ll never be anybody’s idea of a hero!”

“Not so. He saved my life once, at Ahm Shere. Did he not tell you of this?”

“He did mention something, but I just thought he was boasting. That was you?” Tilly asked, surprised that Jonathan hadn’t made more of his story.

“Yes. I was helping O’Connell to get his son back and I had to fight a man called Lock-nah. When I had beaten him I was nearly killed by one of his men. Jonathan managed to target the man from a great distance and he shot him, a split second before the man would have shot me. Evy’s brother has an undeniable greed for gold but he also has great skill with a gun, for which I shall always be grateful.”

“I suppose he’s not all bad. He’s been very kind to me and hasn’t asked for or expected anything in return. I guess he’s just become part of my new family,” Tilly said, wincing and touching her head as her headache suddenly became worse.

“Are you okay?” the professor asked her, moving near her and touching her arm.

“Sorry, my headache just became more than disagreeable. I might go and lie down, if that’s okay,” she said, getting gingerly to her feet.

“Do you want me to come with you?” Jackson offered, standing up next to her along with Ardeth, still keeping a firm and somewhat uncomfortably familiar hold on her arm. “I don’t think you should go back on your own.” His hand on her arm became tighter and she opened her mouth to tell him he was hurting her. “Come on, let’s go,” he said, before she could get any words out, all but dragging her away.

“No, no, I’ll be fine, but thank you,” she said and attempted to pull away from him. He turned his head and she gasped at the dead look in his eyes, the total lack of humanity and the sneer that darkened his expression.

“You will come with me!” he hissed at her and she turned panicked eyes to Ardeth, who was already moving towards them, one hand on his sword.

“Let her go!” he said quietly, moving quickly in front of them and stopping the professor in mid stride.

Jackson tilted his head to one side and studied the Arab, an evil smile tilting his lips up at the edges. “Or what, Med-jai? What do you think that you can do to stop me?”

Ardeth noticed immediately that the professor’s voice was different, grating roughly against his nerves. He drew his sword and touched the tip to Jackson’s neck. “Perhaps you would like to try and see what I can do?”

He watched as the deadness started to leave the other man’s eyes, almost as though a black cloud had passed over them and he lowered the sword slowly. “Another time,” Jackson whispered, before his eyes cleared completely and he shook his head, looking at Ardeth and Tilly in bewilderment.

“What’s wrong?” he asked them, staring from one to the other.

Tilly pulled her arm from his now loose grasp and rubbed at the skin which she knew would now bruise.

“Do you not remember what you have just done?” Ardeth asked him, frowning.

“What do you mean? What did I just do...hang on, didn’t you just threaten me?” he said, his confusion evident.

“You were hurting Matilda, but I do not believe you were in control,” he explained to the older man.

“I see. I think I see anyway,” Jackson said and looked at Tilly again. “I was going to walk you back to your bed, wasn’t I?  Well, I see no reason not to do that now, I feel fine!” he said and gave a lopsided smile, holding out his hand to her.

Tilly cleared her throat and moved swiftly towards Ardeth’s side. “That’s very nice of you, but Ardeth’s already offered to walk me back, haven’t you?” she asked, looking hopefully up at him.

“Indeed I have,” he answered her without hesitating. “It would be my pleasure,” he said and took her arm, ignoring the muddled look the professor shot him. Tilly didn’t speak until they were out of earshot.

“Thank you. I didn’t want to be any trouble, but I didn’t really want him to walk me back to my bed, not after that. What was wrong with him?”

“I am not sure, but I fear we will find out soon enough!”

“If that wasn’t bad enough, from what Evy said he’s a bit...er...” she faltered. “Well, he’s a bit of a womaniser, apparently. I find him a little too friendly sometimes, a bit threatening.”

“But you do not find me threatening?” He smiled and gave her a sideways glance.

“Not until you said that, no! Well except for the incident with the sword and, of course, the fact that we’re going to try and kill each other eventually!”

Ardeth laughed. “I am glad that you no longer fear me, despite our unconventional first meeting. It will please O’Connell and Evy to know we can be friends.”

“Why don’t you ever call him Rick?”

“It has never occurred to me. He has always been simply O’Connell to me, from the moment I first met him.”

“Wouldn’t you prefer to call him by his given name?”

“With my people it is more a sign of respect to call a man by his family name, not by his given name. I have great respect for your cousin. Perhaps one day I will address him in the same way as you feel free to do,” he explained.

“You’ve known him for a very long time, but I sort of understand where you’re coming from. I wasn’t really sure what to call you at first,” she confessed.

“I saw that, when you called me Mr. Bay,” he said smiling at the memory. “I cannot remember being called that in my entire life. It has always been either Ardeth or Bay or sometimes the two together, never Mr Bay!”

“Well, it’s considered polite where I come from. I didn’t realise it would be different in this country. Mind you, everything is different...” she stopped suddenly and swung her head around as if someone had touched her.

Matilda

“What is it?” Ardeth asked.

“Didn’t you hear that?” she whispered, her eyes wide.

“Hear what? I did not hear anything,” he said.

“I thought I heard someone...”

Matilda

The disembodied voice floated across to her again and she jumped. “You’re telling me you can’t hear that?”

“No, there is nothing! What is it you can hear?”

“Someone’s saying my name, I don’t know the voice...” she tailed off and listened intently, but she could perceive nothing more. “Maybe it was just my imagination.”

“I do not think so, not here and not now. If you believe a voice said your name then I believe it also. If you still need to lie down then I shall stay nearby.” Ardeth said as they entered the small side chamber where her bedding was.

“I do need some rest, I feel pretty lousy right now. My headache seems to be getting worse.”

“Then rest Matilda, do not worry, I will not leave you alone,” he said and helped her sit down on the bedding, watching carefully as she lay down and almost instantly closed her eyes, a weary sigh escaping her. He moved away from her and placed his hand on his ever present swords, now back in position around his waist after his brief swim. Next time, he would take them with him down into the temple, he decided. He trusted his swords as he trusted no man and he would trust them now to protect his friends and himself from whatever came their way, whether it be a mortal or a God. He settled himself in the doorway, leaning against the stone that made up the entrance and staring through the darkening Hypostyle hall at the setting sun. The day had passed quickly, too quickly considering what was coming. In two more days Imhotep would be here with them and, with his powers fully regenerated, he had an even greater chance than usual of killing them all and using Tilly for the transference ceremony.

After a short while the professor walked slowly through the pillars toward him, one hand holding his head. “It seems it’s my turn to lie down. My head is killing me,” he said, his voice slightly husky with his obvious pain.

“Have you heard anyone calling your name at all?” Ardeth asked with sudden interest, quickly associating this mans pain with Tilly’s abrupt illness.

“No, I don’t think so. I’m sorry, I can’t talk right now, I have to lie down. Please excuse me,” Jackson said, and staggered across the chamber, falling onto the first available bed.

“Do you need anything?” Ardeth asked him, concerned at his extreme pallor and weakness.

“Just sleep. Thank you,” the other man muttered, his eyes closing and his breathing quickly becoming regular, signifying he had fallen asleep already. Ardeth moved away from him and took up his position in the doorway again, wondering how long it would be before Evy and Rick returned. If they had not reappeared before night fell he would have to go and get them; they needed to know that Tilly and Jackson were unwell. In the meantime he would have to watch the inside and the outside of the chamber, not wholly trusting the professor and not knowing what might come at them.

It seemed like a tediously long time before Jonathan came walking through the Hypostyle hall, kicking dust up in front of him.

“No gold?” Ardeth enquired, cocking one eyebrow.

“Rick and Evy wouldn’t let me take anything until we know what it’s all for, apparently,” the other man muttered in disgust, water dripping from his wet clothes and forming a puddle in the sand at his feet. “I suppose I’d better get changed or I’ll get pneumonia and Rick will kill me for causing him trouble!”

“Surely the pneumonia will already have done the job for him?”

“Yes, I suppose it would have. I’ll get changed anyway, I don’t much fancy the idea of dying and it does get awfully cold out here at night, you know,” he rambled on, obviously forgetting that this man had lived in the desert for his entire life and had a knowledge and respect for it that he could never match.

“Matilda and the professor are asleep, Jonathan, so please do not make too much noise. They were both feeling unwell. How long is your sister going to stay in the temple?”

“Not long. They were just about to make their way back actually. They sent me on to make them something to eat, like I was a slave or something! I mean, what did their last servant die of?” Jonathan continued rambling whilst he changed his clothing in a dark corner of the chamber.

“Jonathan, Matilda is unwell, as is Professor Millbrook.” Ardeth told him abruptly, wondering if he had heard him when he had said it before, eager to stop his complaining about trivial matters when something much more serious was happening.

“Tilly’s ill? Is she okay? Oh, and the professor of course. What’s the matter with them?” Jonathan reappeared from the shadows tucking a dry shirt into his trousers.

“They both began to feel unwell, nauseous,” he replied. “Also, they had headaches. As you can see they have had to lie down and are now asleep.” He frowned at the still figures laying on their beds. “I think this is more serious than it first appears,” he added.

“Evy and Rick should be back in a minute. What should we do about them?” Jonathan said, nodding his head in the general direction of Tilly.

“There is nothing that we can do at this time. We must let them sleep and keep watch over them. I am sure that the professor is going to play a part in what is to come, his illness may be the warning for this.”

“Can’t this just be something simple?” Jonathan asked, exasperated at Ardeth’s seriousness in all things. “Can’t they just have eaten something bad? Can’t this be anything other than this damn Seth thingamabob?”

“It is doubtful. Imhotep will be upon us in two days, perhaps less. Anything out of the ordinary will no doubt be linked to the return of Seth,” he replied, still deadly serious.

Jonathan sighed. “Why can’t I have a peaceful life?”

“Because you’re always throwing yourself in the path of danger, brother dear,” Evy said as she walked back into the chamber, Rick following. Their sudden appearance shocked Ardeth, who hadn’t been watching the Hypostyle hall whilst he was talking to Jonathan. He turned hurriedly back to his self appointed post and narrowed his eyes in concentration, scanning the hall. No-one would surprise him again, he promised himself, not if he had to stay awake for the entire two days.

Rick joined him, holding a shotgun loosely in one hand. “Keeping guard?” he asked, pushing his wet hair back out of his eyes.

“Has Jonathan told you of Matilda’s illness?” Ardeth asked, completely ignoring his question.

“He said she wasn’t well and nor was the professor. I assumed this was something to do with all this Seth stuff.” He looked at Ardeth and received a nod in confirmation. Ardeth went on to tell him of the professor’s odd behaviour. “Thank God you came back out here with her!” Rick said, shuddering at what could have happened. “Evy’s taking a look at Tilly now. She seemed to be sleeping peacefully, to me, but you never know.” He leaned back against the doorway wearily. “I have to admit I feel guilty. We brought her here with us as an adventure, her first time in Egypt and all that,” he smiled bleakly. “Well, it’s turning out to be an adventure all right, there’s no doubt about that. God, she’s never going to want to see us again after this!”

“Do not blame yourself, my friend. As you said before, they would have found her whatever country she was in. In fact, this could turn out to be the best way for this to happen,” Ardeth said, reassuring his friend.

“Really? And how do you work that one out?”

“Had Matilda been taken from her home she would now be alone and at the mercy of Imhotep. This way she has you and your family to help her.”

“And it seems she has you, as well.” Rick said, looking innocently out through the huge pillars around them, a smile slowly appearing on his face.

“Is this another attempt to lighten the situation?” Ardeth asked, feeling an answering smile reluctantly tug at his lips.

“Is it working?” Rick replied unabashed.

“Perhaps a little. Matilda said that she thought I already understood your sense of humour, despite my fake sheikh impression. I did not understand this and she said it was a moving picture some years ago and that perhaps I could ask you about it,” he raised his eyebrows enquiringly and then wondered if Tilly had been making a fool of him when Rick started laughing helplessly.

“Oh, God, sorry,” he chuckled, wiping a tear from his eye. “I was just picturing you as Rudolph Valentino, looming over some helpless woman! I guess that’s the sort of person Tilly expected to meet out here, not someone like you!” He laughed again.

“Who is this Rudolph Valentino?”

“He was a movie star in America. He died...oh, about 10 years ago now. But he made a film called ‘The Sheikh’ and millions of women thought he was God’s gift to women. Including Tilly, it seems!”

“What did this Sheikh look like?” Ardeth enquired, thinking he must have some similarity to this figure.

“Nothing like you. He was tall and dark and that’s where the resemblance ends. He wore white flowing robes and a white head-dress thing, very Hollywood makeover. No beard or long hair or...” he waved his hand about, pointing at Ardeth’s face. “Marks of any sort. Maybe Tilly sees something of him in you, although what is anyone’s guess. Maybe it’s because you’re so...foreign.”

“I am not the foreigner in this place, O’Connell. But I think I understand your meaning.” He looked down at his attire. “Perhaps the robes reminded her of this sheikh, regardless of the colour?”

“Possibly. Or maybe she likes you, ever thought of that?”

“She has stopped distrusting me, it is true,” Ardeth said, Rick’s point either going completely over his head or else he was ignoring the true meaning.

“Mmm,” Rick murmured, narrowing his eyes at him. “Have you ever thought of coming back to London one day? Just to visit?”

“I have not had the opportunity, in truth. Nor have I had an invitation,” Ardeth said, wondering at this change of subject.

“That’s our fault, we should have asked you sooner. Would you like to come over for a visit? Call it a holiday,” he encouraged.

“The last time I was there it was a little...chaotic. However, I can make no plans until I know what is happening here and have spoken to the twelve tribes.”

“Well, after this is all over...if we come out of it all right, then make arrangements with the tribes for a leave of absence, okay? You have a standing invitation to come over any time you like,” Rick offered.

“I thank you. We shall see what happens, first.”

Rick stared at Ardeth, taking in the faint tiredness in his eyes. “When was the last time you got some sleep?”

“Two days ago,” he replied, looking at Rick. “Do not be concerned, I am feeling fine.”

“Well, be that as it may, you’re going to go and get some sleep right now. I’ll keep guard and I’ll wake you up when it’s your turn. Go on,” he said when Ardeth showed every sign of protesting. “You’re no good to any of us if you flake out from tiredness. I’ve had some sleep, you haven’t. Go!” he ordered and Ardeth reluctantly walked away to find some bedding, Evy showing him where he could lay down.

The next few hours passed peacefully enough, no sign of anyone approaching and Rick just sat there, deep in thought about what was about to happen. Evy joined him after having a short sleep and sat in front of him, leaning back against his chest. His arms instantly moved around her and rested lightly on her stomach and she felt a soft kiss touch her hair.

“Have I told you today that I love you?” he said softly.

“You have indeed, but go ahead and say it again, I don’t mind!” she whispered back, turning her head so that he could give her a nice long kiss.

“Mmm, very nice. I do love you, you know. You and Alex are my whole world,” he said, resting his chin on top of her head.

“And you are mine. And I suppose Jonathan is as well,” she continued, frowning.

“Well, he is your brother. Or so we think. I’ve never been able to see it myself, but I suppose not all families look alike. He certainly doesn’t have half your brains!”

“Actually he does, he just doesn’t use them very often. You’re too hard on him, you know,” she admonished.

“Yeah, I know. But it’s so much fun winding him up, watching him sweat,” he said nastily, smiling.

“You wicked man!”

“Mmm-hmm, I sure am. That’s why you married me!” he said irrepressibly. “I have more than I ever thought I’d have. Including a new family member in Tilly. That sure came as a surprise!”

“But a nice one,” Evy said, looking up at him.

“Yeah, a nice one. She found me so she could get to know her real family and I repay her by bringing her here and getting her condemned to some God-awful death! What a great prize I turned out to be!”

Evy squeezed his hands comfortingly. “Don’t be like that. It’s hardly your fault any more than it’s mine or Ardeth’s or Jonathan’s .You shouldn’t feel guilty. Just be there for her, the way you’ve always been there for me.”

“Oh right, like I was there when you were stabbed by that woman? Yeah, I can see where I might come in handy!”

“Don’t be an idiot!” she said, turning and hitting him. “That wasn’t your fault either! I love you and I’m sure Tilly loves you too! Now shut up and stop feeling sorry for yourself!”

He looked down at her smiling face. “Feeling brave are we?” he said, raising an eyebrow.

“Oh, yes. I think I can handle anything you throw at me...” she broke off and squealed when he wrestled her to the ground and lay squarely on top of her, holding her arms above her head.

“Still feeling brave?” he said, giving her a devilish grin as he bent to kiss the breath out of her.

“I find this a very unusual way of keeping watch,” Ardeth said as he stepped over them and took up position, now holding his favoured Tommy gun.

Rick took his time releasing his wife, not in the least embarrassed. “Really? You should try it. Maybe Jonathan would partner you,” he said, watching Ardeth’s look of shock and horror. “Or maybe Tilly would?” he added slyly, watching the Arab’s expression briefly change to one of consideration before returning to impassivity.

He stood up pulling Evy with him. “Did you get enough rest?” he asked the other man.

“Yes, I am sufficiently rested, thank you,” he replied, looking up at the sky. “Dawn is approaching,” he remarked.

Rick looked up too. “So it is,” he replied, looking at his wife’s interested gaze directed at Ardeth. “I’ll go get some rest now. Will you be okay?”

“Of course. Get some sleep.”

Rick walked off, his arm around Evy. “What’s all this about Tilly? Is he interested in her?” she asked eagerly, her eyes huge.

“You just love a bit of gossip, don’t you?” he laughed as she impatiently jabbed him in the ribs. “Okay, okay! I think he is, and I think she is too. But I don’t think anything will come of it.”

“Well, you never know!” Evy replied. “Stranger things have happened!”

“They sure have!” he murmured, pulling her down onto the bedding with him. “Want me to prove it?”

Ardeth listened to the discordant noise of their laughter floating across the chamber toward him and smiled involuntarily. They were totally unashamed in their love for each other, even so many years after they had been married. He hoped one day to have the same for himself. His attention returned to the ruins again and he began his watch .  He had been sitting there for an hour watching the sun begin its slow ascent into the sky when a wave of tiredness washed over him, knocking him senseless, and he slumped sideways, his gun falling to the floor from his nerveless fingers.

CHAPTER EIGHT

Imhotep looked around him at the darkness of the desert, savouring the coolness of the night. He had been forced to stop because of the lack of stamina of the mortal men around him and smiled as he remembered how weak they could be. He watched from afar as the men made camp, not bothering to waste time helping them. As far as he was concerned they were mere insects, put there to do his bidding. His eyes narrowed as he spotted Ankhef-Sem issuing orders. The man was an irritant that he would soon remove, he thought, smiling in anticipation. He had thought being alive would hold no pleasures for him after Ancksunamun’s defection, but he had been wrong. The pleasure he would gain by making these mortals suffer would be beyond compare, especially the O’Connells. Ah yes, they would suffer more than any human in the history of the planet, more so even than he had when he had endured the Hom-dai. He closed his eyes, relishing the thought.

He was rudely interrupted from these reflections by Ankhef-Sem, who walked up next to him and actually had the audacity to touch his arm. Imhotep’s eyes snapped open and he examined the hand on his upper arm as if it were a particularly repellent creature, slowly raising his eyes to those of the priest. Ankhef-Sem immediately dropped his hand, moving back a few steps as Imhotep moved toward him.

“Never make the error of touching me again priest, or I shall remove your hands so that you will not touch anything for the remainder of your life. Do you understand?”

The other man paled slightly and bowed his head. “I understand, my lord, and I apologise for my lack of respect,” he said, gritting his teeth as he said the insincere words. How he would enjoy killing this monster when the time came. He lifted his head once more. “I merely wished to let you know that your tent is ready for you,” he said, gesturing with his hand.

Imhotep nodded. “I shall perhaps have use of it, but not at the present time. I would suggest that you sleep, priest, so that we may continue our journey when the sun lights the horizon,” he said and turned away from him, walking casually toward the Nile, making his way through the sparse trees that grew nearby. He walked straight into the waters, stopping only when he was submerged up to his thighs. Dipping his hands into the waters, the surface glittering darkly in the moonlight, he closed his eyes and envisioned the girl who would become the key. A smile touched his mouth briefly as he located her, disappearing as he saw who she was walking with. The Med-jai! No matter, he would soon be dealt with. He concentrated harder and smiled once more. Her name was Matilda. He called softly to her and reached out a hand to touch her, watching as she turned around and scanned the surrounding area. She was pretty, he thought. Once he would have enjoyed a woman like this, but he had learnt a hard lesson that he would not soon forget. He whispered her name once more and enjoyed the fear that crossed her face as she frantically spoke to the Med-jai, letting him lead her through the temple at Karnak. They would be easy to locate when he needed them. He opened his eyes and walked back to the bank, watching as the cult members milled around the tents like ants. He would wait a few hours and then contact the girl again to see how well she responded to his powers. It was an important thing to know, but he could not do it with the Med-jai in attendance.

He waited for a few hours, sitting on his own at the side of the river, his eyes staring unseeingly out across the vast stretch of water. Dawn was touching the horizon when he got to his feet again and stepped into the water, taking up his original position, and placing his hands into the current again.

He instantly saw Ardeth Bay sitting guarding the people within the chamber and cursed. He had hoped they would all be asleep, but this did not matter. He murmured a few words and watched as the Med-jai slumped to the floor, unconscious, smiling at the ease with which the spell had been embraced. He found the girl asleep on the floor and searched through her mind, finding the presence of Meketaten already there, tunnelling through the girls consciousness in readiness for her resurrection. His attention turned toward the people sleeping nearby, focusing intently on Rick and Evy, discounting Jonathan and then studying Jackson Millbrook. This was interesting, he thought as he scrutinised the contents of the man’s mind. This mortal’s consciousness had also been altered, in fact he could detect the man’s pain, but there was no presence there to account for it. He burrowed further inside his head, his eyes narrowing in concentration as he finally found what he was searching for. Ah yes, he thought, there you are. He could detect two green glowing eyes, nothing more, but it was enough. This mortal would be the vessel of Seth and, as strong as his mind might be, he would not survive.

He released the professor’s mind and turned once again to the one called Matilda. He said her name, as he had before, and watched as she moved restlessly in her sleep. Once more he called to her and she sat up, her breathing laboured and her eyes vacant.

“Come to me, Matilda. Show me your loyalty,” he whispered and smiled as she got out of the bed and walked quietly out of the chamber, making her way toward the river. She stopped on the banks and stood still, her chin lifting slightly.

Imhotep raised his hands and chanted a short spell and the sands near Matilda started to rise up, forming the shape of a man. In her almost comatose state she felt no fear, only watching with mild interest as the sandy figure walked toward her and spoke, his hands going to her arms.

“You are Meketaten,” the creature stated, and she nodded numbly. “I will join you soon and you will live once more. The sun is rising. When it sets twice more you must come to me. The mortals who protect you will be dealt with, but the man Jackson will be with you and he will bring you to me. Do you understand?”

“I understand, my lord, but I am weak. I need to gather my energy,” she said, her voice a monotone.

“You will remain in a sleeping state until dawn touches the sky once more, then you will be strong, stronger than any of the mortal’s who surround you,” he broke off and the strange, sand face raised to look across at the temple as a man came running out of it, yelling.

“I must leave you now. Remember my words, Meketaten,” he continued, the grainy hands dropping from her arms as the figure stepped back and turned its attention toward Rick, who was running toward them with his shotgun levelled at Imhotep’s imitation figure. He fired twice into him, the bullets passing straight through the sand and Imhotep threw back his head and laughed at this puny attack. Miles along the Nile the real Imhotep raised his arms and threw something invisible at Rick. By the time this was transferred to his sand figure the invisible item had turned into an enormous cloud of sand, which flew with some speed through the air and hit Rick directly in the face, cutting off his oxygen in seconds. The sand figure remained to watch the other man struggle for a few seconds before losing it’s form and dropping back to the desert floor. Imhotep did not need it anyway, he could still see quite clearly what was happening at Karnak. The O’Connell man had managed to get most of the sand out of his nose and mouth and was coughing up what had entered his windpipe. It had not been intended to kill him, anyway. That was something Imhotep would have the pleasure of doing face to face. He drew his consciousness back from Rick and Matilda and focused once more on the surrounding area.

The sun had risen now and he could see that the men were readying the camels to leave.  he walked back out of the water and joined Ankhef-Sem, who had made his way to the banks of the river to watch what was happening. He had no idea what the creature had been doing, but it was obviously something enjoyable, judging from his expression.

Imhotep gave the priest a mocking smile as he passed him and headed straight for his camel, climbing elegantly on top of it and turning it towards Karnak.

Once again Ankhef-Sem found himself rushing to catch up with him, ordering his men to pack the remainder of their things and follow them, then they were on their way again. They would make camp once more before they reached Karnak, thought Ankhef-Sem, then he would use the creature and destroy him. He smiled as the thought cheered him and he urged his camel to move faster, catching up with Imhotep and riding next to him, knowing how much it would irritate him.

Imhotep turned his head sideways and fixed the man with an impassive, but nevertheless frightening, stare. He almost admired the priests courage as he refused to lower his gaze, but he felt the time had come to teach the man who was the master here. He pulled his camel to a stop and waited patiently for it to sit down before stepping down from it. Ankhef-Sem pulled his own mount up a short distance further on, having been surprised at the creature’s sudden cessation, and turned reluctantly back.

“I do not understand, my lord. Why have we stopped? I believed you were eager for us to continue?” he said, looking down on the creature from his seat on the camel. Imhotep waited silently to see if the priest would get down, his eyes narrow, and he realised he was not wrong in his opinion of the other man’s character when he remained seated.

Without saying a word he lifted his hand and pointed at the priest, raising his hand higher as he did so. The priests face took on a look of astonishment as he started to lift from the animal’s back, his arms flailing outwards as he rose higher and higher over the desert.

Imhotep cocked his head sideways and examined the man who was so surprised at his power, wondering how best to punish him. He smiled as a mosquito flitted past his head and he remembered one of the priests fears. So he did not like insects? A few masterfully spoken words passed his lips and a deep buzzing could be heard from all around, as every mosquito in the vicinity of the Nile flew up into the air, forming a black cloud which swung in several directions before aiming for the priest.

Ankhef-Sem screamed as the cloud of insects converged on him and he felt the first tiny bites sting his exposed arms and face. Common sense made him close his mouth before it was filled with the disease ridden flies, but he couldn’t close his nose as well, or his ears, and the insects took every advantage of that fact, attaching themselves to any millimetre of skin that gave them access to his blood supply. He desperately tried not to scream again as the high pitched whining creatures entered his ears and bit into the sensitive flesh there, but he couldn’t prevent the noises that escaped his lips. As soon as his mouth opened even a fraction, the insects attached themselves to the soft skin just inside his lips, drinking greedily of his blood. The horror of the insects crawling inside ears and nose, the noise and the sensation, threatened to drive him out of his mind and he could feel himself beginning to weaken as his blood was drained at an alarming rate.

Imhotep watched with extreme gratification, revelling in listening to the men behind him gasping and yelling in terror. After a minute had passed he commanded the cloud of mosquitoes to disperse and lowered Ankhef-Sem to the ground, where he lay shivering. He walked over to the priest and stared down indifferently at the damage he had caused. The man’s face was smothered in lumps, the skin red and broken in places, his nose almost completely closed up with the bites that were now beginning to swell. Even his eyelids were swollen and bumpy and he seemed to be having difficulty blinking. He stared up at Imhotep silently, his mouth too painful to speak, and realised how big a mistake he had made in trying to outthink this creature. He lifted his hands and shuddered at the appearance of them. It looked as though a plague had hit him, as though he were in the throes of Smallpox, and he could barely move his fingers. But he was alive, for now. He knew that if Imhotep had wanted him dead, then he would not be lying here now. How the bites would affect him, however, was another matter. He could yet die of infection. He tried to stand up, but his legs were too weak to support him and two of his men rushed forward to help him, carrying him to his camel and placing him on the back of it.

Imhotep returned to his own animal, looking imperiously down his nose at the men who were now cringing away from him. It was good to flex his supernatural muscles again, good to know he could control his powers and feel them growing stronger by the hour. The priest, at least, was no longer in any doubt as to his mastery.

He urged his camel to move and trotted slowly away, not in the least interested in what the priest was doing now, simply looking ahead to the time he would reach Karnak. In another day and a half, he would be able to see the girl in the flesh and watch as he called the spirit of Meketaten to possess her body. He twisted his lips into a parody of a smile. Perhaps he would get the girl to kill the priest so that he could sit back and watch. It was something to look forward to. That, and the fact that he would finally destroy the O’Connells.

CHAPTER NINE

Ardeth, deep in his enchanted sleep, didn’t see Matilda get up from her bedding and walk slowly out of the temple, stepping over him as she did so. Nor did Rick or any of the others, all being fast asleep. The first Rick knew was when a slight noise from somewhere made him snap his eyes open. For a moment he wondered what had woken him and he moved Evy gently away from his chest, sitting up and looking around the chamber that was slowly being illuminated by the rising sun filtering in. He leapt up as he noticed the empty bedding where Tilly had been and rushed over to talk to Ardeth, finding him slumped unconscious in the doorway. He took a second to shake him, but he wouldn’t awaken, so he continued out in search of Tilly.  He heard the noise again, the one that had awoken him, a sound of wind blowing wildly, even though there was no discernible breeze.

When he emerged from the ruins he saw Tilly in the distance, standing near the river, a strange figure standing in front of her. There was something unusual about the person, but it wasn’t until Rick had moved closer that he realised it wasn’t a man at all, but a figure made of sand. A moving and apparently talking figure, and a familiar one. He cocked the shotgun and ran toward them, yelling as he aimed at the imitation of Imhotep. The creature dropped the hands that had been holding Tilly’s shoulders and Rick fired twice, cursing roundly when the bullets made no impact. He turned to Rick, raising his arms. A cloud of sand slowly grew between the creature’s outstretched arms, becoming larger and more dense as it was drawn from the desert floor. Rick had no time to avoid it as it was hurled through the air at him and engulfed his head, blurring his vision instantly and stopping him breathing. He fell to his knees, clawing at the sand that seemed to stick to his face, struggling to get it out of his airway. He didn’t see Imhotep disappear or Matilda slump to the ground, he was too involved in his own survival. All of a sudden he felt the sand loosen and turn to powder once more and he coughed the vile stuff out of his throat and cleared his nose and eyes, drawing in deep breaths of clean air greedily into his lungs. When he managed to stagger to his feet he saw Tilly laying unconscious again and rushed over to her. Thank God, he thought, as he felt her pulse, she was still alive. But, if nothing else, this had proved to him that they couldn’t protect her. He bent and lifted her into his arms and carried her back towards the temple, watching with worried eyes as Ardeth stumbled out. He quickly joined Rick and looked with concern at Tilly.

“Is she alright?” he asked urgently, his eyes never once leaving her face.

“She’s alive. At least for now. What the hell happened?” he shot at the other man, trying not to sound too annoyed.

“I cannot tell you. One moment I was guarding the entrance and the next I awoke on the floor. I do not understand this myself, as I was not tired,” he said, shaking his head in obvious bewilderment.

Rick relented at Ardeth’s apparent concern about Tilly. “Don’t worry about it,” he said as they continued into the chamber and he laid Tilly back down. He stood up and the two men stared down at her.

“She is not merely sleeping, is she?” Ardeth asked quietly.

“No. No, I don’t think she is,” Rick replied with resignation. “I’m wondering if we’re ever going to see the real Tilly again. Somehow, I don’t think we are. I haven’t even had time to get to know her properly!”

Ardeth could offer no words of encouragement. Rick’s words so closely mirrored his own thoughts. “We should go and look in the temple again today, see if there are any more clues there,” he said to Rick. “I will stay with you this time,” he added.

Rick turned and looked at him and nodded. “Thank you. I know this is hard for you, what with the water and all, but I’m more grateful than I can say.” He clapped him on the shoulder. “Jonathan can stay and watch Tilly and the professor. There’s no point in either of us being here, not anymore. Today just proved to me how ineffectual we’re going to be unless we can find something to help!”

“Then let us awaken the others and begin. We have little time to waste,” Ardeth replied, making his way over to Jonathan and the professor while Rick bent to wake Evy up.

A few minutes later they were all standing together looking down at the professor, frowns furrowing their brows. “This is getting a bit...worrying,” Evy said, chewing her lip almost until it bled. Rick’s hand came up and stopped her. “Don’t do that, you’ll make your mouth sore and I won’t be able to kiss you,” he said, pulling her in front of him and wrapping her up in a warm embrace. “There’s no point in worrying. There’s nothing we can do now. I think we both know what this means,” he said, talking about the professor’s state of unconsciousness which so closely reflected Tilly’s condition.

Ardeth spoke up as Evy nodded. “It would seem that the professor is to be the receptacle for Seth,” he stated confidently.

“How can you be sure?” Jonathan chipped in, earning himself a hard stare from the other three people.

“How many people are unconscious here, Jonathan?” Evy asked him, exasperated. “Do you think it’s all a coincidence?”

“I suppose it can’t be. Ardeth said something about that before, something about a line,” he prattled on, oblivious to how irritating he could get.

“There is a fine line between coincidence and fate,” Ardeth repeated what he had told Rick on their way to Ahm Shere. “In this case, the line is almost non-existent.”

“I don’t like the sound of that,” the slender man went on. “What’s going to happen when our mummified friend gets here?”

“Who knows? Death, destruction, disease...take your pick,” Rick muttered grimly, turning away and leaving the temple, holding his shotgun under one arm.

Evy looked up at Jonathan. “We’re going to the temple again so you need to stay here and keep watch. If you see anything, anything at all, you dive in that lake and find us, do you understand?”

“You can trust me, Evy, don’t worry,” he said on a more serious note, smiling encouragingly at her. “I may be stupid, but I’m not a total loss!”

“I know you’re not. You’re my brother, after all, and I have every faith in you!” she said, giving him an impromptu hug which he gave back with a touch of embarrassment.

“I was to accompany you today, Evy. But perhaps I will remain here to watch over them also,” Ardeth said, joining them. “The time is getting close and we must be vigilant.”

Evy nodded and gave them an encouraging smile. “We’ll be back before it gets dark.”

The day passed quickly, too quickly for Jonathan’s liking. Evy and Rick remained in the secret temple, picking up as many clues about their situation as they could, whilst Jonathan and Ardeth kept close guard over the ruins and the small chamber where Tilly and Jackson lay in their involuntary slumber. Ardeth left Jonathan alone every hour or so and prowled restlessly around the entire area of Karnak, his eyes ever watchful on the horizon. Imhotep had previously been unpredictable, and he would take no chances this time.

Evy and Rick surfaced in the middle of the lake just as the sun was setting and they joined the others at the chamber as Jonathan started dishing up the supper he had taken time over cooking.

They all ate in silence, waiting until each of them had finished before speaking of what they had found in the temple during the day.

“We’ve been looking at the inscriptions on the walls all day and my eyes are aching at having to concentrate so hard!” Evy said, smiling wearily and leaning back against her husbands legs.

“The really good news is that there is a way to stop this, even if it’s already started, and it’s incredibly simple!” Her smile widened and she shook her head as Jonathan and Ardeth started throwing questions at her.

“It’s her hands, those marks she carries. All she has to do is put her hands together so that the marks come together to form the wedjat and apparently, according to what I’ve read, this will stop Seth and send him back to rule over the dead. It doesn’t exactly say how...”

“What does it say?” Ardeth asked quickly.

“Well, it says that the wedjat will form and repel Seth, the light of the sun facing his darkness and removing him from this world. I think that means she has to sort of point her hands in his direction.” She looked at the others.

“At the statue, you mean?” Jonathan asked.

“Well, no, I think it means at Seth himself, or at least at his human form. There is just one thing, though,” she began and heard them groan. “Meketaten will be in control of Tilly, and there’s no way we can make her form the wedjat because she’ll do everything in her power to stop it. The writings say that the Queen must be blocked for the light to shine.”

“So we have to bring Tilly back to awareness?” Rick said, biting his lower lip, his eyes lost in thought.

“Exactly. Of course, I couldn’t find anything that said how to do that. If we can’t stop the ceremony from taking place, if we can’t stop Imhotep, then the only thing we can do is watch carefully for any sign that Tilly is aware of her surroundings and tell her what to do. If she wakes up before Imhotep gets here, then we can tell her what to do before it all gets started.” Evy said, shrugging her shoulders in defeat.

“But even if she knows this, it may not be of any help. She will still become Meketaten and then the information will be buried!” Ardeth said, not helping anyone’s mood.

“Then we’ll just have to look for any opportunity to bring her back to her senses. Maybe if we could keep talking to her...” Evy replied.

“If they don’t take her away and keep her away!” Rick said sharply. “This is getting us nowhere. We’ve been talking about this for ages and we’re still no closer to a solution. I’m going to get some rest,” he said, turning towards Ardeth. “I’ll come and relieve you in a couple of hours.”

He went and laid down, leaving Jonathan and Ardeth to watch over them all as the night closed in around them.

“What of the doorways in the cave?” Ardeth asked Evy when Rick had gone.

“We’re not sure where they go and yes, we have looked in them. They’re all passages, and they go on for some distance, because we tried them and we got bored after an hour of walking and turned back. I don’t have the faintest idea of where they lead, although there are markings outside each one. Sort of like an ancient signpost.”

“What do the markings say”?

“I could only make out one, the others seem to have been purposely vandalised. The only one readable says ‘Abu Simbel’. That could mean that it leads there, I suppose, or...” she shrugged and stood up. “I’m really stumped. Well, I’ve done enough thinking for today, oblivion awaits me and I can’t wait!” She gave them a small smile and went to join her husband, curling against him on the bedroll as his arms came around her.

Rick, as promised, relieved Ardeth after a couple of hours, leaving Evy to sleep and sending Jonathan to rest as well. He set himself up just outside the chamber and glanced up as Ardeth sat next to him.

“I thought you were going to get some sleep?”

“I will, my friend. But I am going to rest here, near you, so that I shall be available should you need me.” he answered, settling down with his back against the wall.

“Maybe that’s the best idea,” Rick muttered, his eyes busily scanning the darkness for any sign of movement. He looked back at Ardeth after a while and noticed he was already asleep. It was going to be another long night, he thought, giving a deep sigh.

Ardeth and Rick spent the night alternately sleeping and watching, taking it in turns and then both staying awake whilst one of them patrolled the surrounding area. It was a relief to them both when dawn finally sent streamers of light shooting across the horizon, giving them a renewed vigour. Rick left Ardeth at the entrance and walked slowly inside to check on the others.  He looked down at the professor and then at Tilly, wondering how long they would remain in their current state. Evy snuck up behind him as he stood there and prepared to make him jump.

“I know you’re there, you aren’t that quiet!” he said and spun around to grab her, pulling her against him and smiling gently down at her.

“Oooh, you pig! I can never surprise you!”

“That’s not true, honey, you surprise me all the time!” he replied and gave her a slow kiss, letting his tension start to drain away. His eyes shot open and he pulled back from her when he heard a soft noise behind them. They both spun towards the sound at the same time and stared down at Tilly, who was stretching and yawning as if she had just woken up from a perfectly ordinary sleep. She opened her eyes and stared up at them, blinking at the amazed expressions they wore.

“What?” she asked self-consciously as she sat up and brushed her hair back out of her face.

“You’re awake!” Evy said, smiling happily.

“Yeah, I’m awake. Is that unusual?” she asked as if nothing had happened.

“Well, actually, it is. You keep passing out and staying unconscious for absolutely ages! Don’t you remember anything?”

Tilly frowned in concentration and rubbed her forehead, as if that could bring the memory back. “I sort of remember feeling sick and having a headache...oh! The professor went all weird on me! Ardeth stopped him!”

“Yes, that’s right. Can you remember anything else?” Evy urged.

“Ardeth walked me back here and I guess I went to sleep...and now I’m awake. What’s so odd about that?”

“Well, you slept for an entire day and night!” Rick pointed out. “Did you...dream about anything?”

“Not that I can recall. Why do you ask?” she said, getting up and stretching again.

“You went walkies again yesterday. I found you out by the river talking to an old friend of ours. Well, not him exactly, but a sort of facsimile of him, made of sand.”

“I was talking to some sand?”

“Uh-huh. I know it sounds crazy, but believe me, that’s nothing.” Rick said, giving her a wry smile. “Anyway, it was Imhotep. It seems he’s found a way to contact you that you can subconsciously detect.”

“Oh.” Tilly looked around her, not knowing what else to say. “Is everyone else alright?”

“The professor isn’t. He’s been the same as you for the last day, but since you’re awake then I don’t suppose it’ll be long before he wakes up too!” Rick said and went over to where the professor lay, still soundly asleep. He reached out and shook the man’s arm, watching with mild surprise as Jackson’s eyes slowly flickered open and stared uncomprehendingly back at him.

“Good morning,” Rick said, giving the older man a reserved smile.

“Good morning Mr. O’Connell,” he sat up and looked over at Tilly and Evy. “Is everything alright?”

Rick relayed the sequence of events to the stunned man. “Did I do anything odd?”

“No, you just remained unconscious the entire time. Listen, just let me know if you start feeling bad again okay?” Rick said. He stayed long enough for the professor to nod his head and then he left him and went to talk to Ardeth Bay, finding the man still standing just beyond the entrance to the chamber.

“The professor’s awake,” he said, joining him near a huge pillar.

Ardeth’s head swung toward him. “And Matilda?”

“She’s awake too. They both seem to be fine now,” he said, watching the Med-jai chieftains reaction carefully.

“This is good but unexpected. I believed that they would not be themselves,” the darker man said.

“Me too,” Rick answered. “But they seem okay, at least for now. Evy said yesterday that we would go back in the temple again today. Apparently she saw something yesterday that confused her and she wants a closer look. I’m wondering whether it would be safer to leave Tilly here or take her with us.”

“If the temple is where the ceremony is to take place then it may be too risky to take her down there again. However, to leave her out here may be more dangerous if Imhotep should come along whilst we are in the temple.” Ardeth frowned at his friend. “This is not a decision I would wish to make, not when the time of his arrival is so near.”

“Gee, thanks a lot, you’re a great help! So it’s up to me then?” Rick said sarcastically.

“She is your relative, O’Connell, her life is now in your hands.” Ardeth shrugged.

“Then I guess she’d better stay out here with the professor and Jonathan. You can come with us,” his eyes met the other mans and he gave him an evil smile.

“My time would be better occupied keeping watch over your cousin,” Ardeth said, smiling right back at him.

“Too scared of the water to come with me?” Rick said, his smile getting worse.

“Not at all,” Ardeth replied, not remotely insulted by Rick’s ribbing. “In fact, I find that the thought no longer disturbs me as it has done in past years.” He watched as Rick rubbed a hand over his face, wiping away his forced easiness.

“There really isn’t anything we can do is there?” he asked helplessly, his eyes looking out over the beautiful vista before them, absently taking in the yellow sands shifting endlessly to the horizon.

“We do not know that. Evy has told us of a way to stop this, we simply need to look for the right time to act,” Ardeth said, his tone calming.

“If we recognise that time for what it is,” he replied. Ardeth couldn’t remember ever hearing him so defeated and was at a loss for words. Rick glanced up and caught his wary look and gave him a reassuring smile.

“It’s okay, I haven’t lost the plot entirely,” he said with a trace of humour. “Me and Evy will go down to the temple alone, don’t worry.”

Ardeth seemed to consider his options for a few seconds, remaining silent. “No, I shall accompany you. Jonathan is more than capable of letting us know if anything is happening and we can check on everyone during the day.”

“Okay. Let’s go then, we haven’t got much time left,” Rick said grimly and went to get Evy.

Ardeth joined them as Rick was giving instructions to Jonathan about what to do. The professor was standing beside Tilly watching them talk with only mild interest.

“Is it safe for me to go back to the dig site at all?” he asked, interrupting Rick’s endless stream of words.

“No!” Evy and Rick said at the same time, making the professor jump. He shrugged and moved away from them.

“I don’t have to stay in this room all day do I?” Tilly asked. “Can’t I come with you?”

“Sorry, honey, but we think it might be safer if you stay here. Jonathan will protect you, he’s a crack shot with that rifle,” Rick said, nodding toward the long gun Jonathan was holding.

“We won’t be long, okay?”

“Okay. I still think it’d be better if I came with you but I don’t suppose you’re going to let me argue with you about it.”

“You can bet on that!” he replied and chucked her under the chin before striding quickly out of the chamber with Evy at his side.

“Take great care,” Ardeth said to Jonathan as Evy left the chamber. “We cannot afford to let them be taken,” he added, giving one last look at Tilly before leaving the room himself and heading toward the lake that had previously held so many terrors for him. He almost laughed as he thought about his former phobia, now buried as the seriousness of their situation grew worse. He could still feel a slight palpitation in his chest as he went under the water, but it was nothing compared to how it had been. He used the rope to guide him through the darkened tunnel until he emerged in the cave, moving swiftly into the temple where Rick and Evy already were.

They spent a few hours examining various things inside the temple, Ardeth drawn to the large stone table and searching around it in case there were any unusual openings in or around it. Rick left them briefly to swim back and check on the others, rejoining them a short time later and relaying that everyone was fine, even if Tilly was bored out of her skull.

“Look at this,” Evy said quietly, almost as if she were afraid to wake up the undead, calling Rick and Ardeth over to where she was kneeling beside the large statue. Her hands traced deep niches in the wall as she spoke. “These are the exact same size as the stone tablets. I think they’re supposed to be placed here. Look, there are three either side of the statue.”

Rick knelt down next to her. “So this is where they put the tablets and then all hell breaks loose, right?”  “Right,” she answered. “I think that placing the tablets may be how the ceremony starts. Although, I’m not sure how the spells could be read out if the tablets were already in the wall. I suppose that’s something we would have to witness...”

“But this must not happen!” Ardeth burst out. “The leaders of the twelve tribes and I discussed this, but in all that has happened I have allowed it to be forgotten. This is unforgivable! We must destroy the tablets, it is the only way to stop this from even beginning!” he said and turned to go back into the cave.

“Wait a minute!” Rick yelled, rushing after him. “You mean you were supposed to destroy the tablets the day you got back? That’s how this can all be stopped?”

“Yes, and I failed to do my duty! I do not know how I could have allowed myself to forget something so important, but in truth I have only just remembered my discussion with the leaders. I must do this now, before it is too late!” He stepped down into the water and took a deep breath, plunging into the darkness below and swimming swiftly away.

Rick yelled to Evy that he had to go with him and he went after him, catching him up as they surfaced in the lake. The sun was making it’s descent in the sky, sending out floods of colour across the clouds, deep purple and orange settling along the horizon. The two men moved to the side and started up the steps when a movement in the distance caught their attention. Ardeth’s hand shot out and he pushed Rick down to his knees and crouched down next to him.

“Somebody is here,” he said in hushed tones, his hand reaching for one of his swords. “We must get to the weapons without being seen!”

The two men crept stealthily away from the lake and over towards the Hypostyle hall, using the pillars within to remain hidden from the distant figures. Jonathan was still standing in the doorway when they got there and hadn’t seen anyone approaching. He noticed the hard looks on the faces of the two men and immediately moved inside the room with them, not saying anything, merely helping them gather up the weaponry they would need.

Tilly stood watching their actions and knew the time had come, that Imhotep, or at least some of his henchmen, were here. She touched Rick’s arm hesitantly. “What do we have to do?” she whispered.

He stared at her for a few seconds, trying to decide the best plan of action. “I think we should try and hide you somewhere else, somewhere a little harder to find. Come on, stick next to me and don’t make a sound,” he urged her, aiming his words at the professor too. They all crept out of the chamber and Rick poked his head around one of the pillars. He could see dark clad figures getting closer to their position, but they had not yet made it as far as the temple ruins, so they had a few precious minutes to get out of their way. His eyes restlessly scanned the area for somewhere they could hide, somewhere at least big enough and concealed enough to put Tilly, but all he could see were various side chambers, some only partially standing others in complete ruin. Further in the distance, nearer to the temple of Mut he could see where a chamber had collapsed,. leaving a hollowed out area that was completely black. It would do, he thought, it would have to, they had no more time because now he could hear the men approaching, hear the sharply given orders. He looked across at Ardeth and was glad of the man’s training and watchfulness, because he had his eyes steadily on the approaching figures, ready to give a warning at any second.

Rick pointed out where he wanted them to go and they began slowly picking their way across the sands, using any piece of fallen stone they could find to hide behind until they had made it to the far temple, Rick and the other men glancing back every once in a while to check on the other men’s progress.  Crouching down next to the entrance he had seen from the Hypostyle hall, Rick looked carefully inside. It was small, but big enough for maybe three people, although it was as hot as hell inside the dark confines. He looked up at Tilly and the professor and then swung his attention to Jonathan.

“I want you to stay here Jonathan, stay with Tilly and Professor Millbrook and guard them with your life, do you understand? Nobody must be allowed to come near here. You can all conceal yourselves inside until we come back, okay? And for God’s sake don’t make a noise!”

He waited until Jonathan nodded, watching his face pale slightly as he took in the gravity of his duty and then Rick helped them crawl under the collapsed lintel and into the chamber. He whispered a quick goodbye and then he and Ardeth moved stealthily toward the lake, ducking down at the last second as they saw the men fast approaching the water. Rick’s eyes widened when he saw Imhotep get elegantly down from the camel he was riding and stride purposefully toward the lake, his own eyes narrowing as he saw the entrance to the temple laying darkly at the base of the water.

Rick felt himself shudder involuntarily as he laid eyes on the creature that he had already killed twice, a man he had never thought to see again outside of a nightmare and in fact had prayed not to see. He gripped the shotgun tighter and turned to look at his companion. Ardeth looked furious, more angry than Rick could recall seeing him, except for the time he had tried to kill him at Hamunaptra. He raised his eyebrows in a silent question and waited patiently for him to speak.

“The man who accompanies him, the one with the gold motif on his robes, he is Ankhef-Sem, my sworn enemy!”

“What’s wrong with him?” Rick asked, staring at the oddly misshapen look to the man’s skin, the way he was walking slowly, being held by two cult members.

“I do not know, he appears to be injured, perhaps the doing of Imhotep. It does not matter, he will die shortly!”

“What did he do to you to make you hate him so much? Apart from raise Imhotep, of course?” Rick asked, having forgotten the name of the man Ardeth had already told him about.

“He killed my sister and my parents. Now I am sworn to take my revenge, and I have waited many years for the time to arrive.”

“I forgot you already told me. I’m sorry. So he’s that man. When the time comes I’ll help you,” he offered.

“No. I thank you for the offer, but this is my duty, my honour. I must do this alone.”

Rick nodded and clapped his friend on the shoulder. “I understand. If it had been my family I’d tear the man apart.”

“That is my intention,” Ardeth replied grimly.

Rick stared at him and thanked God he wasn’t on the wrong side of this man. He knew they weren’t badly matched when it came to a fight, but Ardeth hadn’t even been that angry when they had fought previously and he wondered what the outcome would have been if he had. He had a feeling that things may have turned out differently. He turned his attention back to the men and watched as they stood looking into the waters, standing back to let Imhotep pass them as he went down the steps and, without a pause, down towards the entrance.

“Oh my God, Evy!” Rick whispered and went to move, but Ardeth caught his shoulder.

“No! They will kill you!”

“They’ll kill Evy as soon as they see her! You know it! I have to go!”

“What use will you be to her if you are killed?” Ardeth asked reasonably, finding it hard restraining his large friend.

“And what use will I be to anybody if she’s killed? I have to try, dammit!” He wrenched his shoulder away from Ardeth and ran quietly out to the lake. His momentum was such that he managed to leap into the water before anyone saw him and, by the time they did, he had managed to dive neatly into the entrance. Even Imhotep was apparently surprised by this, but showed no outward concern as he knew the man would pose no serious threat to him this time. He raised his hand to stop the forward motion of the men and called Ankhef-Sem towards him. The priest walked slowly and painfully down into the waters, the coolness touching the sensitive bites he was covered in and making him wince.

“Yes, my lord, how may I serve you?” he mumbled through his swollen lips as he stopped in front of the arrogant creature.

“You will have the men search these ruins, find the girl and the man who will take part in the ceremony, then follow us into the temple. Leave two here as guards and kill anyone else you find. Where are the main body of the Ka-akhet?”

“Even now my lord they are moving towards us. They should have no problem getting rid of the Med-jai warriors. By sunrise tomorrow they will join us.”

“Good. Now, let us begin,” he said and went down under the water and through the entrance, leaving the priest to carry out his orders and follow him.

Rick swam faster than he ever had in his life and emerged in the cave gasping for breath, wasting no time before vaulting out of the water and rushing into the temple. Evy swung around at his hurried approach and watched wide-eyed as he grabbed hold of her and pushed her into the cave and through one of the dark doorways into the tunnel beyond.

“What’s the matter?” she asked breathlessly, trying to keep up with his fast pace.

“They’re here, about two seconds behind us!” he said through gritted teeth, trying to keep his voice down in the echoing confines of the tunnel.

“Oh my God, what about Tilly and the others?”

“They’re hidden, but Imhotep knows we’re here. He was heading in here and I ran past him and dived in, so he’s sure to come looking for us.” He stopped walking and glanced back at the distant entrance, softly glowing with the torch light from the cave. “This will do for now. They won’t be able to see us unless they come down here with a torch. We’ll have to wait for an opportunity to get out without being seen. At least we’ll be able to see if they get the others!”

“Where’s Ardeth?” Evy asked him, panting from the sudden exercise.

“I left him hiding behind some rocks. Hopefully he’ll keep an eye on the others and keep them safe.”

Evy put her arms around him and gave him a squeeze. “Don’t sound so defeated, darling, we’ll make it,” she said, trying to comfort the man who sounded so subdued. “We always do.”

“Yeah, I know,” he said, trying to convince himself that it would be so. He knew that one day the time would come when they wouldn’t be able to defeat whatever evil came their way, and was also aware of the fact that this could be that day. He crouched down on the floor and pulled her down with him and they waited.

CHAPTER TEN

Ardeth stayed hidden behind the ruins, watching as the small group of men disappeared into the water, leaving only two men remaining to guard the lake and two more to search for Tilly and the others, presided over by the hated figure of Ankhef-Sem. There were too many for him to handle alone, and he was too far from Jonathan to alert him. He weighed up his options, realising with a grimace that they were very few at this time. He had no choice but to pick his way back to where the others were hidden so that Jonathan could help him fight these men. He only hoped he wasn’t spotted.

Accustomed to moving swiftly and covertly, he got the short distance to the fallen chamber in record time, not once having been spotted flitting amongst the ruins by the unobservant guards. He crawled inside the tiny space, making the others gasp and crowd backwards as far as they could.

“What’s going on?” Jonathan asked him, when the dark man had caught his breath.

“The Ka-akhet are here, and so is Imhotep. O’Connell has gone into the temple to get to Evy before the creature can, but I do not know if he has been successful.” He looked through the murkiness at Tilly, noting the fear written on her shadowed face. “There are four cult members out there and their leader, too many for me to take on my own. I will need your help, Jonathan. Do you think you will be able to take two of them?”

“With this I can, never fear!” he said, holding up a rifle and expertly cocking it. “What about these two?”

Ardeth turned to Tilly and Jackson. “I will have to leave you here, for now, but as soon as we have disposed of these men we will return.”

Tilly moved forward and caught his arm. “Please be careful. Don’t...don’t get yourself hurt, will you?”

He smiled tightly at her concern. “I will do my very best, do not worry. We shall return shortly!”

And with that the two men looked out of the chamber and then darted away, leaving Tilly and Jackson in the smothering heat and darkness. She jumped when she felt the touch on her arm and turned to the shadowy outline of the professor.

“Are you scared, Matilda?” he asked, his voice strange.

“Yeah, a bit. Are you okay? You sound...weird,” she said, shivering as his hand tightened. Her mind went into overdrive as his hand squeezed hard and she bit back a cry of pain and panic as she realised what was happening to him.

“Professor Millbrook...please,” she gasped, trying to disentangle her arm from his painful grip. “Please let go, you’re hurting me. Professor?”

“It is time,” he said, his voice grating. With a jerk he pulled her half out of the chamber before she could even begin to think and he bellowed for the guards, his voice not remotely resembling its normal sound.

“No!” Tilly gasped, pulling frantically at him, trying to get away before the guards got to them. She looked around for a weapon, anything she could use to free herself and her eyes fell on the rocks spread liberally around them. She grabbed up a good sized one and hit him hard over the head with it. It made no impact, none at all, except to make him turn his face toward her. Even though she had distinctly heard a crack and could see blood in his hair, the blow did not seem to be affecting him, or perhaps it was not affecting the being within him, she thought. She suddenly got a good look at those dead eyes again and could feel uncontrollable hysteria rising in her. This was it, she thought, this was the end, unless she could do something about it.

She lifted the rock and hit him again, as hard as she could and he staggered, his hold loosening a fraction. She took the opportunity and wrenched her arm away from him, hurting the now tender flesh of her upper arm. Her eyes shot up and judged the distance between her and the fast approaching guards, trying to see Ardeth and Jonathan through the ruins. There was no time to try and locate them, not with the men in blue robes closing in on her so quickly and she had no doubt that the professor...or whatever he now was...would soon recover. She took off as fast as her legs would carry her, running not toward the river but toward the desert, thinking that heat and thirst would be the least of her worries if she didn’t get away from these men. But as fast as she could run, she was no match for the large, fit men behind her and within minutes they had caught her and tackled her to the ground. She coughed as sand flew up into her nose and mouth from the impact and tried to squirm away from the man holding her. He had his weight squarely over her legs up to her thighs and his arms were gripped around her hips, pinning her face down into the sand. She threw her head back and shouted in frustration and anger, the sound more of a yell than the expected shrill piercing scream.

As if she weighed nothing at all, she was lifted and thrown over a large shoulder and carried effortlessly back toward the lake. She struggled wildly, kicking and hitting the man anywhere she could reach, shouting insults at him that he didn’t seem to understand. She was so scared that she thought she might faint, and she used her fear to try and hurt the man holding her. He grunted a couple of times when a particularly well placed kick connected, but it didn’t even slow him down. 

As they turned the corner of the large ruins she looked around and saw Ardeth and Jonathan being held by two extremely large guards, ones she hadn’t seen when she had been running away. In fact, she noticed several other men in blue robes standing in the background who hadn’t been there before either.

When they drew level with the others she was dumped unceremoniously onto the ground at their feet, the breath knocked out of her. She lifted her watering eyes to the only two men in the crowd who meant anything to her and was alarmed to see blood trickling down Ardeth’s temple. She stood up and went to move towards him when she was pulled around to face a hideously disfigured man, a look of utter horror distorting her face before she could hide it. The man was dressed in blue like the others, but he had intricate patterning on his robes. His face was smothered in lumps, swellings that were red and angry looking, and she was surprised to see that underneath the repulsive skin he had similar marks to the ones Ardeth bore. Even his hands were covered in them and she felt herself recoiling from his touch.

“Do not worry,” he said slowly, smiling down at her mockingly. “This is not contagious, nor will it last very long. But I believe this is not a concern you should have right now. There are other, more pressing, matters that you should be thinking about, are there not?”

Before she could answer him the professor moved up next to her and tilted her chin up to his dull, black gaze and she felt another guard come up behind her and grab her arms.

“Prepare her for the ceremony. We have wasted enough time. Her ability to defy us will soon be gone!” he said roughly and bent to kiss her, pressing hard against her lips as she struggled to move away from him, her eyes wide with revulsion and shock. She could hear Ardeth and Jonathan trying to free themselves behind her and a sharp groan as one of them was subdued roughly. She shuddered as the parody of a kiss went on and suddenly grasped the tiny bit of courage she still possessed and bit down on the professors lip, drawing blood.

He pulled away from her and slapped her hard across the face, knocking her head sideways and back against the chest of the guard who had come up to hold her arms.

“You have courage,” he murmured, wiping the blood from his mouth and moving his dead eyes to stare at her. “A pity that it will not help you, or your friends.” His eyes narrowed and he smiled evilly at her, reaching out to stroke a hand down the side of her face. “I think I may let you watch one of them die before the priests take away your consciousness, and I think also I shall let you choose which one it is to be. Ankhef-Sem, you will come with me,” he said as he turned to the man in the ornate robes, receiving a respectful bow in reply. He motioned for the guards to follow him and walked down into the lake and disappeared beneath the surface, Ankhef-Sem following closely behind. Tilly watched as Jonathan and Ardeth were dragged away, Jonathan hanging limply from the guards hands and she realised it must have been him who she had heard being hit. The man holding her wrenched her arms behind her back as he forced her to enter the water and she groaned in pain, watching as Ardeth’s face darkened with rage. She looked at him and shook her head, telling him silently not to try and escape, not to get himself or anyone else killed in a foolish attempt. It was all she had time to do before she was dragged under the water and pulled down the tunnel behind the guard. A few seconds later she found herself being pulled out the other side and picked up, the guard now carrying her as if her struggles were becoming tiresome.

Her panicked eyes looked around as she was taken into the chamber for any sign of Rick and Evy, but they were nowhere to be seen and she breathed a sigh of relief. At least they hadn’t been caught. Yet, she added mentally.

She saw Ardeth and Jonathan being dragged in behind her and her eyes swung around to find the professor. He was standing in front of the huge statue, staring up at it with narrowed eyes and a strange smile playing around his lips, a tall, bald headed man standing next to him impassively. She recognised the man from somewhere, but she couldn’t grasp where it was from. As one they turned to her as the guard dropped her in front of them, and she found her legs shaking uncontrollably. The bald man smiled at the professor and spoke in a language Tilly didn’t recognise. They seemed to be discussing her face and hair, a thought that was backed up when the bald man reached out and touched her fiery tresses. He gave her an almost indulgent smile and waved his hand in front of her face, chanting a few words as he did so.

When he opened his mouth and spoke again, she could understand every word and she frowned. Even though she knew what he was saying, she somehow knew that it wasn’t English.

“I am Imhotep, high priest of Seti. I shall be performing the ceremony shortly. First, we must prepare you. Come with me,” he held his hand out to her and she stared at it numbly.

This was Imhotep? She had expected him to look...decayed...from what Rick had told her. But this man was fairly normal looking, almost handsome, even though his eyes shone with an unholy evil as he stared at her.

Her eyes turned to the professor as his shoulders slumped and she watched in confusion as he slowly fell to the floor, clutching his head. “Oh God, my head, what happened...?” he gasped out and Tilly realised he was back to his normal self again. He looked up at the bald man in front of him and then at Tilly, his expression worried. Then he took in the rest of the chambers occupants and suddenly realised what was happening. “Oh no...Tilly are you alright?” he asked, his eyes taking in her reddened cheek from the stinging blow she had received.

“I...I think so. Is your head alright? I had to hit you, I’m sorry...oh!” she gasped as Imhotep pulled her back to face him. “Why do you ignore me when you know you will suffer for it?”

Tilly gritted her teeth and looked back up at the man in front of her. “I won’t help you,” she said, gathering her courage again.

He raised one eyebrow and smiled wider still. “You have no choice in this.”

“You can’t make me do anything...you can’t hurt me, you need me alive,” she said, hoping that what she said was true.

“It is true that we need you, but do not make the mistake of thinking that we cannot hurt you. All we need are your eyes, and we can avoid harming them. Now come with me,” he said, his voice deeper and angrier than before.

She bit her lip and looked over at Jonathan and Ardeth. They stood there helplessly, unable to offer any advice or assistance. Her eyes turned back to Imhotep. “Let my friends go and I’ll do whatever you want,” she offered, her voice shaking as fear started to overtake her.

“You will do my bidding whether I let them go or not, and I choose not to. I have an old grudge to settle with them.” His dark eyes turned to the two men and then he looked to the guards standing near the entrance to the cave. “Have they been found yet?”

One of the guards nodded. “Yes my lord. They were hidden in a side chamber.”

Tilly’s heart jumped painfully, thinking that Rick and Evy had been discovered, but when he said side chamber she realised it couldn’t be them. Then what...?

“Bring them to me,” Imhotep ordered. “It is time.” He grabbed her wrist and pulled her with him, no longer waiting for her to come of her own accord and her eyes widened as she saw men entering the chamber holding the tablets reverently in their hands.

“No!” Ardeth shouted, his frustration at being held evident in the fierce scowl on his face.

“Quieten him,” said Imhotep, not even bothering to turn and look at the outraged Med-jai warrior as he dragged Tilly to the large stone altar table.

She looked round to see one of the large guards hit him round the head with the butt of a rifle, knocking him senseless briefly. Other men filed in and started to tie up both of the men, looping the ropes through metal rings high up on the walls so they were suspended by their tightly bound wrists. Soon the temple held over a dozen men in blue robes, Ankhef-Sem and Imhotep, Ardeth, Jonathan, Tilly and Jackson Millbrook. The professor hadn’t moved an inch since realising who the people surrounding him were and, having seen how Ardeth and Jonathan were treated for protesting even mildly, he decided the best course of action was to stay still and quiet. Besides, when he tried to move the pain that shot through his head almost rendered him unconscious.

He watched with slight double vision as Tilly was dragged over to the altar and pushed onto the cold stone, restrained easily by the bald man who he had heard call himself Imhotep. Tilly tried protesting and struggled, sitting up from her prone position and pushing against the hand Imhotep had placed against her neck. He looked amused for a second by her frantic movements, but soon a frown moved across his face and he tightened his hand around her neck, cutting off her air in the space of seconds. She clawed at the hand, breaking his skin, but the scratches healed up before her horrified eyes and he continued squeezing.

“I have no problem with hurting you, my lady, so perhaps you would be wise to remain passive.” His eyes stared down into hers from a space of inches and he smiled again, enjoying her discomfort. Her starved lungs felt ready to explode, the lack of oxygen causing her face to darken and spots appear before her eyes. Just when she thought she would pass out, he released her and shoved her roughly back down onto the altar, where she lay gasping for breath like a fish out of water. She felt something soft and light thrown at her and she looked down to find a blue and gold garment laying across her body, one of the guards holding gold accessories in his hands.

“You will dress in these robes,” Imhotep instructed her and stood back, waiting for her to comply.

“I...I won’t...” she began and cringed back when he raised his hand toward her. “I won’t get undressed in front of all these people!” she finished quickly, before he could strike her.

He seemed to contemplate what she had said for a second and then dragged her off the table and thrust her towards the cave. “Very well, you will dress out there, but a guard will be with you all the time.”

“I don’t want to be watched,” she said quietly, feeling almost ridiculous for saying such a thing when, in truth, they could do whatever they wanted to her and she would be able to do nothing about it.

Imhotep reached out and took her chin in his hand, his touch almost gentle. “Many centuries ago you would have been prized for your beauty and your innocence,” he said, his expression warming briefly before the icy coldness took it over again. “The guard will not observe you dressing or I will remove his eyes.” He turned away from her and motioned for the guard to escort her whilst she changed, not needing to order the guard not to observe her as the large blue robed man had obviously understood what had previously been said.

She changed quickly, aware of the man standing behind her with his head slightly averted. There was no possible way to get out of this place without him seeing her and stopping her. She sighed and turned her attention back to what she was doing. The robes she had been given were at least well fitting, draping her from her neck down to the floor, the soft sheer material looped around her neck, halter style, and flowed in elegant folds down her body, pulled in at the waist with the gold chain that had been handed to her. Also on her body she had to wear golden jewellery, a large heavy band on her upper arm, a green and gold ring and a similar band to go round her head, a large green gem resting on her forehead.

The overall effect, with her hair loosened down her back, was breathtaking. She walked back into the chamber, unaware of the stunned looks she attracted from the men within, her eyes dropping to the ground near where Ardeth and Jonathan were tied and she bit back a gasp of surprise. Ardeth’s swords had been taken from him and flung on the ground near his feet, probably as a taunt so that he could see them but be unable to use them to free anyone. She measured the distance from herself to the nearest guards and wondered if she could possibly get away with what she was thinking.

Ardeth and Jonathan both saw what she was contemplating and Jonathan tried to attract her attention without making too much noise, his eyes constantly darting to where Imhotep was standing in case he looked in their direction.

“Tilly, don’t even think about it. Do as he tells you...” he broke off as Imhotep turned his head at the sound of his voice.

“I can’t just sit back and do nothing!” she whispered harshly and bent quickly, evading the sudden onrush of her guard at her unexpected movement. Her hands fumbled for one of the scimitars and grabbed it awkwardly, bringing it up as hard as she could and swinging at the large man behind her. The razor sharp blade cut a deep straight line from below his navel up to his chest, disembowelling him with seemingly no effort at all. She almost passed out at the hideous sight of his innards spilling out of the ever widening gash, his blood staining the sand covered stone beneath him as he slid to the floor, dead before he even hit it. She swallowed hard and spun again, taking in the sight of the other guards coming toward her. Before she could lose her nerve she swung the sword again, slashing at the ropes holding Ardeth and Jonathan, the loose bonds almost hanging from the wall, and was elated to see them break cleanly, releasing the two men.

Ardeth wasted no time in picking up the other scimitar and lunging into the group of men who were now upon them. Tilly joined him with more enthusiasm than skill, swinging the scimitar wildly at the men who had surrounded her and catching two of them off guard, causing near fatal injuries to one and death for the other. She knew that it wouldn’t be long before they got her and she promised herself she would cause as much damage as she could before that happened.

Evy and Rick had watched from the shadowy confines of the tunnel as Tilly and the others were dragged from the water into the cave and then unceremoniously bundled into the temple.

They saw Tilly come back out into the cave and disappear into the shadows, re-emerging a short time later dressed in a flowing outfit of some sort, gold glinting from her indicating jewellery of some kind.

“Rick, what are we going to do?” Evy whispered urgently, grasping his arm for comfort. “They’ve got all of them, even Ardeth!” She could feel the tension humming through her husbands large, taut body.

“I’m not sure...it won’t be long before they come looking for us, of that I am sure,” he shrugged.

“We can’t leave them in there!” she whispered furiously, hitting his arm.

“I have no intention of leaving them in there, honey, I just have to try and work out what to do. At the moment my brain doesn’t seem to be coming up with any ideas!”

“Well, we haven’t got time to waste standing here doing nothing! We have to help them!” Evy continued, pulling him along as she moved toward the dimly lit cave.

“Wait, here, take this,” he said, stopping her briefly and handing her a gun from his belt. “Don’t take too many risks and just shoot anything that moves, okay?”

She took the heavy hand gun and put a hand on his chest. “I remember how to use it. Don’t you take any risks either. Let’s just try and get them out of there.”

He bent and kissed her softly, pulling away almost reluctantly and leading the way down the tunnel to the cave. He poked his head out from the doorway and then jerked himself back inside.

“There aren’t any guards at the temple doorway, I couldn’t see clearly to tell how many were inside the temple itself, but it looked like quite a crowd and there’s a commotion going on. Are you ready?”

Evy nodded and positioned herself at the opposite side from him, looking at him and waiting for the signal.

“Now!” he said and charged out of the tunnel, his shotgun coming up as they entered the temple and blasting into the chest of one of the guards, causing another one to turn his head in time to see his colleague collapse to the ground with a gaping wound in his chest. Before he had time to react he felt his own chest explode inwards with the impact of the next shotgun blast and he knew no more.

Evy had taken in the situation as soon as they had entered the temple, seeing Ardeth fighting madly against a bunch of cult members with Jonathan by his side, using a sword from one of the fallen men. She was as shocked as Rick to see Tilly valiantly trying to hold off a small group of large men, her small frame straining with the effort of swinging the heavy sword.

Tilly had managed to cut down three men in total, but the others were now familiar with her movements and she couldn’t get near them, half of her apparent success had been the surprise element. Rick had taken care of two, but had missed some of them and was now forced to reload. Evy hadn’t fatally wounded anyone as yet and Ardeth and Jonathan had only had minimum luck with their strikes, only one having died from Ardeth’s skilled fighting. He looked around and realised that where there should only have been six or so men left, instead they seemed to be multiplying, and he knew that they couldn’t possibly win against this many without help.

Things turned against them so suddenly that they had barely any chance to react as the blue robed men swarmed around them and subdued the revolt, knocking Rick and Ardeth unconscious and restraining the others.

Evy watched as Tilly slumped in the hold of one of the men, her face giving away her utter despair. No matter how brave she had been, she now knew that there was nothing they could do to prevent what was about to happen. She looked up as she was dragged over to Imhotep and noticed the professor standing next to him, smiling calmly at her. No wonder he hadn’t joined in, she thought, he had been taken over again. Her eyes swung to the creature and saw the cold fury with which he regarded her. His eyes roamed over her in a dismissive manner before he turned away and told the men to tie the others up, adding a warning that the consequences would be dire if they should escape again.

Tilly watched helplessly as her new friends and family were attached to the wall like so much cattle, her last hope of rescue seemingly at an end. She put up a brief struggle as she was once again laid on the altar, her arms and legs held firmly against the cold stone by four guards. It seemed that Imhotep would take no chances with her anymore.

She shuddered as his hand grabbed her chin and forced her face round to his, bending over her as he spoke. “You cannot escape this time, my lady. Very soon you will not even want to. Now we begin,” he said, pulling a long curved dagger from his waist. The blade was made of gold and the handle was intricately covered with precious stones interspersed with ancient symbols of some sort. He ordered the men to move her hands so that they were placed either side of her head, right next to two grooves that ran the length of the altar and went over the end towards the large imposing statue of Seth. The professor moved in and placed the tablets of Amun-Ra along the head of the altar, directly in front of the creature and then Ankhef-Sem came and stood next to him, his hands holding the book of the dead. To Tilly’s eyes the man seemed to be recovering rapidly, his skin becoming smoother by the hour and his body quite obviously regaining some strength, judging by the way he was standing tall.

“Good,” Imhotep nodded, one hand reverently touching the dark book. “This will be needed after the transference.”

Tilly watched with horror as he raised the dagger and chanted from one of the tablets, Ankhef-Sem chanting along with him, their voices resonating deeply in the large chamber. The blade suddenly sliced through the air and she felt a stinging pain as it hit first one wrist and then the other, her eyes widening as she watched her blood flow freely from the deep wounds to pool into the grooves and begin to run along them.  The two priests continued chanting from each tablet until they finally reached the last one and raised their hands toward the statue as they spoke the final words. By this time, Tilly felt her body weaken from the blood loss, the lines of red fluid having reached the end of the altar. She couldn’t see what happened to it after that as she could no longer raise her head, but she could faintly hear it dripping down into something, almost like it was being collected.

Imhotep and Ankhef-Sem took three tablets each and placed them either side of the statue in the niches reserved for them and then returned to the table and looked down on her.

“Do not fear, my lady, you are not going to die,” Imhotep said and, reaching out, he ran his fingers over the wounds on her wrists, closing them up, before her disbelieving eyes. “You remember, we said that your eyes were needed.”

 He motioned to the men that she was to be moved and she felt herself lifted and carried over to the golden statue, where she was made to kneel on the large stone at the base. She lifted her head, finding the movement difficult in her weakened state, and sent a glare of hatred at Imhotep, a last hint of defiance before they finished her off. He merely smiled and took the large golden bowl that Ankhef-Sem offered him, and she finally saw what had happened to her blood. The bowl was half full of the deep red fluid. Imhotep placed his fingers into it, stirring it around almost absently, then he lifted his hand and placed some blood onto the first stone tablet. Tilly watched agape as the blood settled onto the stone and took on a life of its own, running onto the strange cuneiform writing and filling in all the small grooves until the stone almost glowed a bright, luminescent scarlet, the blood covering the inlaid gold with a thin red film. He continued this way until all the stones were covered and the bowl was almost empty, then he emptied the last of the contents onto the feet of the statue. She felt small tremors running through the stone at her knees. When Imhotep had finished chanting some strange prayer he walked over to her and took hold of her head on either side, directing her gaze to two holes at the base of the statue, holes that she hadn’t even noticed before now. She realised, belatedly, that they were going to make her look through them and she felt a brief spurt of adrenaline as fear shot through her. Two guards pulled her arms straight out at the shoulder and back, forcing her head closer to the holes and she couldn’t contain her screams at what might happen next.

“No! No!” she yelled, trying desperately to fight them, but she didn’t have the strength and her face, with the help of Imhotep, was placed directly in line with the holes. She closed her eyes in a last ditch attempt to stop whatever was happening. and felt the grip on her head grow until she thought her head would explode.

“If you do not open your eyes I will peel your eyelids back so that they will remain open until you die!” he threatened in that strange language. Nothing could be worse than the end of the world, she decided and she kept her eyes tightly squeezed shut.

“This does not make you fear for your safety, I see. Perhaps you care more for your friends?” he said, letting go of her head suddenly, moving away from her.

She reluctantly opened her eyes a tiny bit, until she saw what he was about to do and then they widened. He had that same golden dagger, and he was holding it up against Rick’s throat, ignoring Evy’s cries of terror and rage. He looked toward Tilly and raised an eyebrow in question. “What is it to be?” he asked her, his voice deceptively soft.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Rick was just groggily coming round from the blow he had received and the first thing he saw was the evil face of Imhotep, his hand holding a dagger at his throat. It took him only a split second to realise what was happening and he looked at his wife, tied up next to him.

“I love you, Evy,” he whispered, determined that she should hear him say it one last time. He watched as tears ran down her face.

“I love you too. I’m so sorry I made you come here...”

“You didn’t make me do anything. This is nobody’s fault, okay?” he said reassuringly, trying to swallow down his own fear and resentment at the position they now found themselves in. He noticed Ardeth raise his head, wincing as the movement obviously sent a wave of pain through him. He, too, took in the situation at a glance and his eyes swung to Imhotep as the creature spoke to Tilly.

“It is your choice. Would you see your cousin’s blood flow into the sands or will you do as I request?”

Evy worked out what was being said and translated it for the others. “He’s going to kill us, one by one, until she does as he asks!”

“Matilda!” Ardeth shouted. “Do not do what he wants, it will mean the end for every person in this world, do you understand? Whatever happens, do not...” he stopped abruptly as a guard punched him, whipping his head back against the wall. He shook his head to clear it and spat in the face of the man who had hit him, a man he recognised as formerly being a Med-jai. Expecting to be hit again, he was surprised when the man merely wiped the spittle from his face and gave him a mocking smile.

Tilly found her voice, but it was shaking when she spoke. “I won’t do it,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper.

“Will you not?” Imhotep asked and pressed the dagger tighter against Rick’s throat, the razor sharp point puncturing his skin and causing a bead of blood to well up and run down his neck. “Would you rather see this man suffer? To see them all suffer?”

Tilly remained resolutely silent, trying not to let the sight of the drop of blood affect her too much, an almost impossible task. She would spare them all this if she could, she thought, but how? There didn’t seem to be any way.

Imhotep could see her determination, but he could also see the underlying fear, hear all the thoughts running through her head, and he smiled again, looking at her as one would look at a child. His hand pressed harder and Rick hissed in air through his teeth as he felt the blade slowly cut into his flesh. The cut was not deep enough to kill, not long enough to cut right across his throat and it seemed that the creature was going to slowly torture him.

Tilly had to grit her teeth at the sound of Rick’s pain, knowing he would do his best not to make any noise, but also knowing that he may not be able to help it. She watched as the creature turned to look at her again. “Would you like me to sever his head from his body in front of his woman?” He waited for her answer and looked pleased when she shook her head. “Then you are ready to submit?” His expression changed to anger as she once again shook her head.

He made a sound of rage and turned to Rick once again, lengthening the gash in his throat until it was bleeding freely down his shirt, making him grunt with the sudden pain. “This is not enough to kill him, my lady, not quite yet. But another stroke of the blade and I can sever the arteries and also then stop him breathing.” He looked toward Tilly and watched as tears rolled down her face, pleased that he could make her react, but angry that she still seemed determined to thwart him. “Or perhaps one with softer skin will convince you!”

He moved over to Evy, signalling the guards to stop Rick’s angry protests. The tip of the blade touched her neck and Evy closed her eyes and willed herself to remain calm, feeling the first stab into her skin and breathing in sharply at the stinging pain. She could hear Tilly crying openly now, distraught to be made to watch the torture and possibly the death of her friends. Evy’s eyes shot open when she heard Tilly shout for Imhotep to stop and she felt the blade removed.

“You will now do as I ask?” Imhotep asked her, his eyes sparkling with the beginnings of triumph.

“Yes, oh God yes, please just don’t hurt them anymore!” she sobbed, no longer able to stand the sight of their pain.

“No!” Rick shouted at the same time as Ardeth, their voices almost deafening as they echoed across to her.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!” she said brokenly and lowered her eyes, not wanting to see the condemnation on their faces, the looks of accusation she was sure would be there at her cowardice. She felt her chin grasped and looked into Imhotep’s face, seeing his exultation at her defeat. The professor, or whatever he now was, calmly walked over to the altar and lay down on it, positioning himself like a sacrificial victim.

The guards pushed her against the statue again, and Imhotep once again held her head, moving her so that her eyes lined up with the holes, this time encountering no resistance to his plans. “Open your eyes and look, my lady, and the world will be yours,” he said softly, watching as she looked through the small holes.

She didn’t know what she might see and at first it seemed as if there wasn’t anything to see, but after a second she caught a small glimmer of light from what seemed miles back and squinted so as to see it better. She could hear Ankhef-Sem reading from the tablets once more and her head started to feel fuzzy as the light grew brighter until it seemed like two glowing green eyes were staring back at her from out of the darkness. As the chants behind her grew in volume so the light glowed brighter until, with a sudden flash, it connected with her eyes and knocked her back from the statue, the scream of shock frozen on her lips.

Rick and the others watched in consternation as she dropped to the floor, the guards holding her obviously expecting it and letting her go. Imhotep moved to the altar and began invoking the spells from the tablets again, raising his hands over the professor’s still form. Jackson seemed to get more agitated as the spells went on, until the last one was chanted and his body raised up from the altar, floating a few feet above the hard surface, his muscles twitching spasmodically as an ancient and unholy power started to course through him.

Evy turned her head to look at her husband, grimacing at the sight of his blood soaked shirt, the wound in his neck only now slowing to a slight trickle. “Are you alright?” she whispered, almost afraid to make any noise, although every pair of eyes in the room was transfixed by what was taking place near Imhotep and Ankhef-Sem.

Rick turned his head painfully to look at Evy. “I’m okay, it’s not as bad as it looks, I think. What about you?”

“I’m alright. Rick, is she dead?” Evy voiced the question that had plagued her since Tilly had collapsed.

“She is not dead, Evelyn, she is to be his Queen, you remember?” Ardeth interjected, trying his best to comfort the other people. Only Jonathan remained silent, having given up long ago, thinking that in all the things that had happened in the past, this was how it was going to end.

“What are we going to do?” Evy said helplessly, her eyes taking in the small figure Tilly made as she lay at the feet of the statue, barely breathing it seemed.

“I don’t know honey, I really don’t know. Unless we can get free...” he left the words hanging in the air and shrugged as best he could with his arms tied above his head. They had been in bad situations before, really bad situations, but there had always been some hope, some glimmer of light. He hated that this time, he felt as if there was no hope at all. His head jerked around as he heard Tilly groan, moving about on the floor as she came round. She sat up and put a hand to her head and then her eyes, rubbing them as if she had just come out of a deep sleep, standing up seconds later and emphasising it with a stretch. Then she raised her head and Rick finally got a good look at the girl who had been his cousin...and who was now something very different. Her face was serene, her eyes calm, but the smile that played around her lips was pure evil and, when she turned to look in their direction, he could see that Tilly was gone. There was no longer any warmth in her expression, only a deep seated hatred that she did nothing to disguise, especially when she looked at Ardeth.

“Med-jai!” she spat out, turning enquiringly to Ankhef-Sem. “What is a Med-jai doing here at this time?”

“My princess, my Queen,” he muttered, bowing down and grovelling at her feet. “He is of no matter, he shall be a gift to you to do with as you please!”

She placed a hand beneath his chin and raised his face to look at her. “That does not answer my question, priest!”

“Forgive me, my Queen. His presence here was unavoidable. He and the others were attempting to sabotage the ceremony...”

“Then why were they not killed?” she hissed at him.

“The body you now occupy, she is affiliated with these non-believers. The high priest Imhotep used them as persuasion to make her obey him.”

She lifted her eyes to Imhotep and stared hard at him, her attention slowly drifting to the body suspended above the altar. “My lord Seth,” she whispered reverently and moved toward him, her smile widening as she neared him. She watched patiently as Imhotep finished chanting and opened his eyes, watching as the figure glowed brightly, then fell gently back onto the stone surface, laying still for a few seconds.

“Meketaten,” he whispered as his eyes slowly opened and he looked up at her face. His eyes had no whites, every tiny bit completely black. She took his hand and clasped it in both of hers.

“Yes, my lord, it is I. Are you yet strong enough to sit up?”

He didn’t answer her, merely sitting straight up and looking from Ankhef-Sem to Imhotep. “You have served me well, Imhotep, and you shall be rewarded. When this transference is complete you may name your price and it shall be yours.”

The creature nodded gratefully at this, not looking too deeply into Seth’s eyes lest the dark God should see that his true loyalty lay with himself and no-one else. He looked up to study Ankhef-Sem’s expression as the God turned toward him and spoke, seeing the eager way with which he accepted the attention from his master, sickened by the subservient manner with which he acted. Perhaps he should ask that Ankhef-Sem be made his slave, to always do his bidding for time eternal, because he could think of such horrors to bestow upon him.

“Ankhef-Sem, my priest, you too have served me well. What would you ask of me as adequate payment? Immortality? Riches beyond measure?”

Imhotep turned his attention to Seth as he spoke, realising that he, too, was aware of the other man’s weaknesses and was toying with him.

“My lord Seth, my needs are few, I would not want to ask much of you...” he began, almost grovelling.

“I am not interested in your needs, Ankhef-Sem. I will help you once and once only. Name your price!” Seth broke in, his voice harsh.

“I would ask that I have the Med-jai, that I may finish his life,” he began eagerly, his small piggy eyes darting to Ardeth Bay, a smile of malice playing around his lips.

“No!” Meketaten said, her hand laying over Seth’s as if to persuade him to her way of thinking. “I want the Med-jai for myself. He will suffer far more at my hands than he ever could at yours, priest, and you have already said that he may be mine. You will have to think of something else.”

Seth took her hand, and brought it to his lips, kissing the back of her fingers softly, belying the fact that he was a monster. “Whatever you wish my Queen.” He turned back to Ankhef-Sem, noting the quick anger that touched his eyes when he looked at Meketaten at having been denied his prize. “You would wish my Queen harm, Ankhef-Sem?” Seth asked sharply, moving off the altar to stand in front of the shocked man.

“No, my lord Seth, never!” he said abruptly, kneeling in front of him.

“That is good to hear, priest, because if you ever tried to harm this lady I would make you suffer in a way that would be spoken of for millennia! Meketaten shall have the Med-jai.” His words had the ring of finality about them and Ankhef-Sem knew better than to argue, knowing that this dark god of chaos could do whatever he liked, whenever he liked. Seth turned to Meketaten once more, holding her in front of him. “And what of the others?”

Evy watched as Tilly, now Meketaten, turned her head and stared at them all slowly. “This body knows them and has affection for them and they all care about one another. Perhaps it would be...amusing...for them to watch the Med-jai die, and then each one of them in turn. They would be able to see what awaits them,” she said, smiling coldly at Evy.

Seth threw back his head and laughed at this. “You are truly evil, my love. I have chosen well, it seems. Would you allow the priests to assist you?”

“I would prefer that you assist me, my lord,” she said, glancing coyly up at him and moving closer.

He pulled her against him and smiled. “Ah, I had forgotten how it was to have a mortal form. I am sure there are pleasures we can explore together that will please you. As for these other mortals, I will not assist you in their destruction, my love. Their deaths would come too quick at my hands and I know how much you like to see suffering. Take care of them yourself and I shall be content to watch. It will make the coming time pass much faster that way,” he said and released her, turning her toward Rick and the others. “Enjoy yourself.”

Rick, in no time at all, found himself staring into a pair of unnerving green eyes that seemed to glow at him with some unearthly light. If it hadn’t been Tilly’s face in front of him he would never have been able to detect any humanity at all. He tried not to tense as she ran her hand over his blood-soaked shirt, her lips curving up into a catty smile. She raised an eyebrow at him and traced the cut on his neck, dipping her finger into it and then raising it to her lips, sucking the blood from the tip. A small laugh escaped her at the look of disgust on his face and she went along to Evy, running a finger down her cheek, the laugh escaping once again as Evy turned her head sharply away from the touch. When she paused in front of Jonathan, she seemed to stop and contemplate him seriously for a second, as if searching for a memory. Then the smile returned and she placed her hands on his chest and leaned in toward him, planting a kiss full on his lips. Jonathan did his best to pull away from her, but with his arms held over his head with the ropes and his back flat against the wall, there wasn’t really anywhere for him to go. She pulled back from him and gave another cold smile. “You like this female, I can tell. What a shame you’ll never have her,” she said softly and abruptly turned from him and moved toward Ardeth, leaving Jonathan breathing a brief sigh of relief.

It was Ardeth’s turn to gaze into the cold, beautiful, green eyes now and he had the same problem as Rick in trying not to noticeably tense up. So this was to be his fate? he thought. After all the undead creatures he had fought, all the perilous times he had led his men into battle, his death would now fall to this delicate creature in front of him. But delicate or not, she now had another life force living within her and her strength would probably far exceed his, especially after the hard blows he had received to his head. He took time to briefly glance at Rick with an apology in his eyes, knowing that if there was any possible way of defeating her, he would take it. That she was O’Connells cousin made no difference any more. She had become something infinitely more deadly.

His eyes swivelled back to her as she touched his face, her fingers tracing the tattoos on his cheeks, her mouth turned down in a sneer. “The signs of bravery, of skill, of loyalty!” shespat at him and he was surprised to hear her speak in his own tongue. “But loyalty to whom, Med-jai? Where were you when my father’s city was destroyed by Seti?”

“My ancestors served Seti, they would not have gone against him or his wishes,” he replied calmly.

“Your ancestors were supposed to serve all the pharaohs! My father was a great leader, and yet the Med-jai allowed his memory and his city to be desecrated! Where was your loyalty then Med-jai? And now, where does your loyalty lie now? The pharaohs are no more!” She seemed happy to belittle him and his existence.

“My loyalty still lies with the pharaohs of old, and I will serve them until the day I die. You, as a dissenter, would not have an idea of true loyalty, and this is why it is so hard for you to understand,” he said, his voice still calm, but cold.

Her eyes widened. “I am not a dissenter, I have always been true to my beliefs!” she said through gritted teeth, her eyes flashing fire at him.

“But not true to your father’s beliefs. That being so, I cannot understand why the destruction of his city means so much to you!” He looked her up and down as if she was the lowest form of life, pleased to see the angry sparkle of her eyes as she watched him.

She gave a laugh of incredulity. “What is wrong with you Med-jai? Why do you speak in such a manner when you must know that I will make your death even slower?”

“I do not fear death, nor the manner in which it arrives. Can you say the same?”

“You may think you do not fear death, Med-jai, but you will soon learn to. For where I will send you is a place of eternal suffering, not the wondrous place you are thinking to travel to. And shortly after I have disposed of you, your friends will join you there!” Her face took on a look of utter fury when he laughed loudly at her statement.

“Do you think you have the power to decide where souls go? You are weak and delusional if you believe it to be so!” he said, and laughed again, not stopping even when she slapped his face as hard as she could, which was very hard. Stars exploded behind his eyes at the blow and he had to force himself to keep laughing at her. Goading her may be the only way to make her release him, he thought. To make this a fair fight, to make her think she could only defeat him if he was shackled, that was all that mattered at that moment. If she felt goaded enough to just untie him.…

“How brave you are, princess, to be strong enough to beat a man who is unable to defend himself!” he said, and continued to chuckle, tasting the blood on the inside of his cheek where her blow had pressed the flesh against his teeth. He made the word princess sound like the worst swear word.

“Silence!” she hissed, striking him again and splitting his lip open. His head whipped sideways again and the taste of blood intensified. His eyes fell on Rick and the others, seeing the concern and confusion that lay on their faces. He tried to give them an encouraging smile, but his mouth hurt too much. When he turned his head back to her he found she was holding a dagger, the same golden one that had been used to cut her wrists. Only this time, it was going to be used on him. He felt a brief flash of hope that she would cut his ropes, but she trailed it slowly over his chest instead, slowly slicing through the material of his robes, but otherwise causing no damage. Yet, he added silently.

“You think to defy me, Med-jai?” she asked, her voice becoming almost hoarse in her anger and she dug the knife into his skin, the blade penetrating between his ribs, the cut only shallow, but painful. He sucked in his breath through his teeth as she dragged the blade from his side to his stomach, her eyes watching his reaction. It took all his willpower and strength not to show how much this hurt. He made his mind think of more pleasant things, to see if this would actually work as Rick had once told him it could make you forget what was actually taking place at a certain moment. It didn’t lessen the pain any and so he thought about some of his past injuries and how much worse they had been. That helped a little bit and he stared at her defiantly.

“Coward,” he said softly, pinning her with a contemptuous glare. She shrieked in fury at him and jabbed the knife into the muscle of his chest, wrenching the blade through the hard flesh and giving it a twist. The blade only went in about an inch, but the blood that poured from the wound made him think that perhaps she had cut a vein. Already feeling weak, he was now weakened further by the blood pumping from his body. But he couldn’t show his weakness. He must remain strong, no matter what.

“Your actions are those of a spoiled child, a child who knows they cannot possibly win in any other way! Were I not tied you would have no chance against my superior strength, and you are well aware of that fact!” He hoped this gamble would pay off, because if she cut him again he was going to pass out, he knew it. A smile almost formed on his face before he managed to stop it when she reached up and began slicing through the strong ropes that held him.

“I am not afraid of you Med-jai, and it will be you who are surprised when you are free. You do not have greater strength than I, and I will soon prove that fact to you!” She finished cutting through his bonds and the sudden loss of the supporting ties made him drop to his knees, causing her much amusement. “You see how truly strong you are? A new-born baby has more might than you!” She laughed loudly and he heard echoing laughter from across the temple as Seth and Imhotep joined in with her mirth. He raised himself with some difficulty and stood facing her, his eyes going to his scimitars which lay across the chamber from him. If he could only get to his weapons, he thought, and then all other thoughts fled as he doubled over in pain, her fist hitting him squarely in the solar plexus and forcing the air from his body. He fell back down to his knees and struggled to draw breath, his eyes watering from the blow. He cursed himself for being so stupid. He should have been more aware of her movements and he was betraying his training by acting in this manner.

He forced himself back up and spat on the ground at her feet, absently noting the amount of blood in the spittle. “You disgust me, you are no warrior, just a mere woman!”

She reached for him and grabbed him around the throat, pulling his face to within an inch of hers. “I may be a mere woman, Med-jai, but I am as strong and well trained as any warrior!”

He raised an eyebrow. “Truly? I doubt that you have enough proficiency with the sword to beat even one of my lower ranked men!”

She flung him away from her and swirled toward his swords, picking them up and throwing one at him. It landed at his feet and she watched him, nodding toward it to signify that he should pick it up. “Are you afraid to face me Med-jai? Perhaps your words had no truth at all and it is you who is not truly proficient in swordplay?”

She advanced toward him a couple of steps and he bent to pick up the scimitar at his feet, his eyes never once leaving hers. With his peripheral vision he could see where each guard was and how far they were from his friends. They had all been lulled into a false sense of security, it seemed, now that the people who threatened them were a threat no more. Ardeth planned to change that as quickly as he possibly could. It made him furious that half of those guards were former Med-jai, traitors to his people, and that they had obviously so quickly forgotten their lifelong training in the art of battle. A warrior should never let his guard down, should never think that he has won until every enemy is destroyed.

He pushed his mind past the pain that ripped through his chest and ribs with every movement, and calmed his feelings, becoming once again the impassive and indomitable warrior that his people trusted. His eyes narrowed as Meketaten started swinging the scimitar in twisting swipes in front of her, expertly manoeuvring the heavy weapon, giving him a floor show on her obvious fighting skills. No matter how good she was, though, she was nowhere near as skilled as he himself was, he thought, watching her with pursed lips. In his current state he was going to have a real battle on his hands with her, no matter what her level of accomplishment. She stopped the graceful movement of the sword and swung it towards him with a suddenness that made Evy shout out a warning to him. But it was a warning he didn’t need, he had been aware of the move before she had even made it, his keen eyes taking in the delicate play of muscles beneath the skin of her arms and what each muscular movement meant. He had trained enough young boys and men to know how a warrior moved when they were about to attack.

His sword came up and blocked the move deftly, metal grating against metal with a piercing whine that echoed off the walls. She spun around and brought the sword round with her in a deadly arc, aiming for his neck. Again he blocked the blow, but this time he pretended he had found it more difficult to do, purposely putting one arm to his ribs and giving a small groan. The next few strikes were equally as easy to deflect as the first and he made himself seem weaker with each one, moving back a few steps every time until he was nearly within reach of the others.

He rolled away from her next blow and her sword hit the wall near Jonathan’s head, making him gulp and nearly faint at the thought of what may have happened if she had been a few inches to the right. He watched with relief as she spun quickly away, his sigh turning into a gasp at the sight of Ardeth Bay rushing toward him with his sword raised, a battle cry on his lips. Jonathan yelled briefly when the sword swung toward his head...then suddenly he was free. He looked at the others in confusion and noticed that Ardeth had cut them all free with no more than two strokes of his scimitar.

Rick wasted no time, he scuffled with one of the guards and sent the man flying before tumbling under the arm of another one like an acrobat, moving swiftly toward a weapon. Evy had done the same and Jonathan realised that he was the only one standing doing nothing at all. He spotted a gun laying in the dust on the other side of the temple and made a dive for it, surprised by the fact that nobody tried to stop him, as if he was inconsequential. He bristled at that thought and checked the gun, nodding when he found it loaded. Good. He’d show them who was inconsequential here, he thought, and leapt up, aiming with precision at one guard, then another, picking them off with only one shot apiece.

Rick had found his shotgun, glad that the men had been too stupid to dispose of the weapons and he also found the spare ammo, laying a few feet away from the gun itself, partially hidden by a rock. Before long he, too, was picking off the guards. His pride in his wife knew no bounds when he saw how well Evy was fighting. She had found another sword and was using her reincarnated skill with the blade to slice the men open, her lips set in a tight line of determination.

Ardeth had managed to cut their ropes and turn back to Meketaten just as her sword came whistling through the air and made contact with his chest, criss-crossing the wound she had made earlier. The blow knocked him back and he stumbled, tripping over some loose rocks that scattered the floor. The next thing he knew he was laying on his back staring up at the ceiling and she was leaning over him, the tip of the sword pressing him under the chin, a light of triumph in her eyes.

CHAPTER TWELVE

“How did you ever become the Med-jai chieftain?” she mocked him, her eyebrows arching as she took in his supine position. He felt the tip of the sword move down his neck and he swallowed, wondering why she hadn’t finished him. If it had been him in the same position, her head would no longer be attached to her shoulders, he thought. He felt the blade move down his chest and tensed his muscles, waiting for the killing blow.  But it never came. Instead he was shocked to feel her straddle his thighs and lean down until she was pressed along his length, her face mere inches from his own. “Feeling weak are we?” she taunted him and sniffed at his cheek, running her tongue along it. He recoiled from her and went to push her away, but she moved swiftly and ended up kneeling on his arms, rendering him defenceless for what felt like the first time in his life. He knew his strength was finally deserting him and that the adrenaline flow that had helped him fight her before was ebbing away. His last hope was that he could replenish his energy whilst she taunted him and maybe make a move when she least expected it.  He let himself go limp under her and she smiled triumphantly as she felt him yield.

“Do you still think I am merely a weak woman?” she asked him, running a finger down the side of his face, supremely unaffected by the fighting going on around them. “or do you concede that I am actually the stronger fighter?”

“I will concede to that one point alone, that you are stronger at this moment,” he said, his voice a harsh whisper. “But you are still a weak woman, and you are not as skilled a fighter as I, nor will you ever be!”

The triumph disappeared from her face instantly at her words and she raised the sword up, her eyes glittering down into his with savage satisfaction as she plunged it into his left shoulder, the blade going deep this time. He could not stop the hoarse yell of pain escaping his tight lips as he felt the steel cut through the muscle and hit bone, sending waves of pain screaming along nerve endings to his brain.

“Does it hurt Med-jai?” she hissed at him, smiling cruelly as she watched him suffer. “How about this?” she said and twisted the blade sharply, widening and opening the wound in one deft move.

He almost blacked out from the pain this time, forcing himself to stay conscious and ride the pain out, turning it into anger and adrenaline. He yelled loudly and brought his knees up, thrusting her up and off him in one swift movement and sending her tumbling across the floor, the sword quickly removed from his shoulder as she still held it in a tight grip. She landed awkwardly and her head hit one of the many rocks littered about, almost making her lose consciousness. She sat up, swaying slightly, one hand holding her forehead and stared around her at the chaos.

“Ardeth?” she asked, her voice small and confused and very frightened as she spotted him trying to get up from his prone position. “Oh my God!”

Ardeth couldn’t believe his ears. When she had hit her head she had obviously been knocked back to herself, and he could see that this was Tilly again and not the evil woman who had just tried to kill him.

“Matilda,” he said urgently, pressing one hand to the gaping wound in his shoulder. “Your hands, the sign. You must use it now! Now!” he almost shouted to her and she stood up shakily, holding her hands in front of her and moving them towards one another.

Seth had been immobile through most of the fighting, watching patiently as the guards were defeated one by one. He would not interfere until it was no longer possible to sit on the sidelines, but when he saw Tilly starting to join her hands, palm outwards, into the wedjat, he stood and shouted for her to stop.

“No! Meketaten, no!” he yelled, trying to stop her from doing what he knew his Queen would never do to him. He had no great powers yet to stop her. He turned to where Imhotep had been standing, intending to ask him to put a binding spell on her, but the bald man was gone, probably fighting some of the foreigners, no doubt.

Tilly paused briefly when he yelled the name Meketaten, almost as if she were being taken over again, and Ardeth moved toward her. He had taken only one step when she gritted her teeth and brought her hands fully together and he saw, for the first time, the full image of the wedjat scarred onto her palms. He had only a brief second to witness it before it glowed so brightly that he had to turn his head away or be blinded.

Tilly had no such luck, her eyes were transfixed to the sudden white hot brightness as it burned her hands and then sent out a vast stream of light toward the professor, hitting him squarely in the chest. Even the people fighting had stopped to witness what was happening, their mouths hanging open in shock.

Seth screamed as the light struck him, the beam made of an energy so pure that it made pain course through him in waves of sheer agony, sucking his soul out of the human body slowly. This was the power of Horus he could feel, his reviled enemy, the one who he had sworn he would defeat if it took an eternity. It seemed that the time to destroy him wouldn’t be now, however. His scream took on a roar as anger joined the pain, anger at being denied an earthly existence.

Tilly’s scream joined his as the pain in her hands travelled up her arms and settled in her chest, making her feel as if she were having a heart attack as the power flowing from her started draining her own reserves of strength. Her head shot back as the light grew just a touch brighter and then shot a bolt of energy straight into the body of the professor and then just stopped, as if someone had flipped a switch somewhere. Ardeth moved to catch her when she collapsed on the floor, but a hand digging harshly into his wounded shoulder prevented him from reaching her and he turned around with a grunt of pain to face his new assailant. He sucked his breath in through his teeth as he came face to face with Ankhef-Sem, the hated man holding a sword in his hand, obviously ready to kill, his eyes glittering in his disfigured countenance.

Ankhef-Sem smiled grimly at the wounded Med-jai, knowing that the time had finally come - finally! - when he would be able to kill the proud warrior. He rejoiced at the chieftain’s weakened state, knowing that he could truly let him fight back without worrying about getting himself killed in the process. Oh yes, he was going to enjoy this greatly. He thrust Ardeth’s sword into his hands.

“Your sword, Ardeth Bay,” he said, spitting his name out. “You will fight me!”

Ardeth bowed gracefully, his gaze fixed upon that of his enemy, the strength on his face belying the fact that he was badly wounded. “It will be my pleasure to destroy you, traitor,” he said arrogantly to the priest, raising an eyebrow. “Let us begin!”

They began trading blows, skirting around Tilly who now lay unconscious on the floor, not seeing anything that was happening around her.

Evy and Rick had watched as the energy bolt shot into the professor and the scream that issued from his mouth was cut off abruptly. His figure almost seemed to shimmer in front of them, as if seen through a heat mirage, and he fell to the floor in a heap, the mirage free floating above him. Evy realised that what she was seeing must be the spirit of Seth and she was confused as to why it wasn’t black, as the soul of Ancksunamun had been. She didn’t have too much time to ponder this, however, as one of the few remaining guards roughly turned her around and attacked her. It took all her strength and skill to counter the attack and she was thrust back into the fighting with a vengeance. She hadn’t even seen what had happened to Tilly.

Ardeth was having no small amount of difficulty fighting his deadliest human enemy, his strength sapped from every blow that he managed to block. Ankhef-Sem was fighting like a madman, his strikes becoming more intense as Ardeth weakened, sensing that he was winning the battle over the chieftain.

Jonathan finished firing on the last of the guards and looked around for someone else to fight, noting that Evy and Rick were both now in hand to hand combat with the last remaining men, and Ardeth was having a sword fight with their leader. He could see that Ardeth was losing this battle, blood leaking steadily from the wound on his shoulder and dripping on the floor wherever he moved, making a macabre pattern in the dust. Without a thought for himself he walked toward the swinging blades and raised his pistol, levelling it at Ankhef-Sem’s head. Ardeth managed to yell out for him to stop just before he depressed the trigger and he swung his head toward him in confusion. “Why in God’s name not?”

“This one...he is for me alone,” Ardeth yelled back, bringing his sword up in the nick of time to stop Ankhef-Sem from taking his arm off.

“But Ardeth, old chap...” Jonathan began, about to say that it was obvious he was losing.

“No!” he yelled at him and Jonathan subsided, content to keep aiming at the man in blue robes in case the Med-jai chieftain had need of his help. It occurred to him, all of a sudden, that he hadn’t seen Tilly for a long time and he glanced around, searching for her. In the dim light from some of the torches he could just make out her figure slumped in the shadows in a heap and he rushed over to her, hoping that this was still Tilly and not that creature that she had become. He knelt down and pulled her head gently onto his lap, stroking her hair back from her face and speaking softly to her, wondering if this was the right thing to do, never having had to deal with unconscious females very much. Dead females, yes, but not unconscious ones, he thought, glancing over to where Evy was beating the hell out of a man twice her size.

Ardeth was slowly gaining the upper hand in his own battle, his powerful and undamaged right arm making a mockery of Ankhef-Sem’s gradually weakening blows, the older man no match for the leader of the Med-jai, even in his wounded condition. His mind was once again overriding the pain and weakness, battling as if this was the most important fight of his life, his sword slicing through the air and deflecting the oncoming blows with growing ease. He caught Ankhef-Sem twice in the following minutes. Once across the chest and once across the stomach, cutting him but not mortally wounding him, merely weakening him.

Ankhef-Sem could feel victory slipping out of his hands and was filled with an incandescent rage that the man in front of him should once again escape death. He began taking foolish risks, raising his arm too high when he attacked and giving Ardeth Bay an opening for his own sword, backing away too slowly, allowing the other man to fool him into making unnecessary and clumsy movements. He spun around as Ardeth tried to slice his sword arm and used his momentum to try and land an upward rotating slice to the chest of the already wounded Med-jai. Instead he had just enough time to widen his eyes in dismay as he saw Ardeth’s sword moving swiftly toward his neck, the blade slicing through the flesh and bone like a knife through butter.

Jonathan gulped and turned an interesting shade of green as Ankhef-Sem’s head landed near his legs, the sightless eyes seeming to look up at him. He tore his gaze away from the dead man’s and looked up as Ardeth approached him, his eyes dropping to look at Tilly.

“Is she...” Ardeth began, his voice trailing off as he tried to ask if she dead.

“She’s alive, she just hasn’t woken up yet,” Jonathan said and then gave Ardeth a glare. “I say, did you have to take his head off like that? Not that I particularly mind, you understand, it’s just...well, you could have aimed it in another direction couldn’t you? The beastly thing is staring at me!” He gave a delicate shudder and moved Tilly from his lap, laying her down carefully before standing up. “Couldn’t you move it somewhere else? I don’t think Tilly or Evy will appreciate seeing that!”

Ardeth frowned as he thought about that. “Of course,” he muttered and, instead of picking up the offending body part, he gave it a swift kick that sent it rolling off into a dark corner.

Jonathan swallowed once, twice and then made a mad dash for the cave where the sounds of vomiting could clearly be heard. Ardeth shook his head and allowed a weary smile to touch his lips before the pain and weakness of the last few hours caught up with him and sent him down to his knees beside Tilly. All sounds of struggles or fighting had ceased and he could vaguely hear Evy and Rick talking to each other, checking that the one they loved was unhurt. Then there was nothing but blessed oblivion as he lost consciousness.

Rick watched as the body of a large guard slumped to the floor in front of him, his neck at an odd angle due to his efforts. He even remembered smiling as he heard the loud crack signifying the break in the spine that had finally killed the man. He spotted the professor and moved over to him, checking for a pulse. His eyes closed and he frowned in disappointment when he felt nothing. His hand turned the professors face toward him and he examined him carefully. Jackson Millbrook’s eyes were wide open and milky, his expression one of pain, etched forever on his face in his dying moments. There was a huge, ugly, wound in the centre of his chest, burnt there by the strange light that Tilly had shot at him, and very obviously the cause of his death. What a bloody waste, Rick thought angrily. His eyes looked helplessly over at Evy, watching with awe as she despatched her attacker in a similar manner to the way he had dealt with his own foe. He had taught her well, it seemed, and his brow furrowed at that thought.

She turned and caught the frown and smiled reassuringly at him, and he quickly moved to her side, feeling her plaster herself against him in a well deserved hug. His big arms closed around her and squeezed her, his eyes closing as he bent his head down and kissed her soft hair. The love he felt for this woman sometimes overwhelmed him with it’s intensity and he found himself crushing her even more.

She made a faint protest at the strength of his arms and he relented slightly, pulling his head back to look into her face, vaguely aware of Jonathan speeding past them. He watched as his beautiful wife smiled up at him, apparently unconcerned at the deaths she had just brought about. “You’re brooding again aren’t you? I can tell!” she said softly, hugging him even tighter.

“Well, it’s pretty hard not to when you see your wife break a man’s neck!”

“Maybe so, but as I’ve told you before, my life is just great as it is! I don’t regret meeting you and I definitely don’t regret all the things you’ve taught me!”

“Yeah, sure, but how many women do you know who have the same sort of life you have? It’s not exactly normal, is it?”

“No it isn’t, but you remember what Ardeth said before? That you were destined to protect me? Well, I think that must be true, and I wouldn’t trade up my life for anything in the world! I love knowing how to kill a man, as bad as that may sound, and there are other perks to being married to you, you know,” she said and reached up on tiptoe to kiss his lips.

“Mmm-hmm, and what might they be?”

“Oh, you know, your lips,” she gave him another kiss. “Your lovely, strong, hands,” she drew his hands to her mouth and kissed them too. “Your gorgeous eyes,” she pulled his head down and planted a soft kiss on each eye, and he smiled wickedly.

“Anything else you want to kiss?”

Her head shot up and she slapped him. “Richard O’Connell!”

He laughed delightedly. “My God, I haven’t heard that tone of voice since I threw you over my shoulder at Fort Brydon to make you stay put! I must be slipping!” He avoided her next blow and grabbed her up against him, covering her mouth with his and giving her a long, seductive kiss. He knew that there was little she could do to fight against such sensual attack, it being his favourite weapon to use against her. He had learnt long ago that she had a peculiar weakness for his deep, drugging kisses and he used them as often as he could.

After a few seconds he lifted his head and noted the satisfactory glazed look that had come over her. Her eyes narrowed. “Oooh, you are the most maddening man...!”

“But you love me,” he said softly, grinning at her.

“Yes I do, stupid woman that I am!” She glanced to the side. “Where are the others?”

“Over there,” he said calmly, nodding his head towards the other end of the temple. “Come on, they’re going to need our help.”

They walked over to where Ardeth and Tilly were laying unconscious and Evy gave them both a quick examination. “Tilly seemes...well...fine I suppose, just unconscious. Her hands are in a pretty bad state though, look,” she said, lifting one of the younger woman’s wrists up so Rick could see what she meant. “That light, that...energy,” she said, for want of a better word, “it’s burnt her palms. There’s a first aid kit I brought along back at the tent. Ardeth’s the one that’s worrying me though.”

She pulled his tattered robes aside and showed Rick the wound to his shoulder and chest. “He’s losing a lot of blood, We’re not going to be able to help him on our own, we need to get him to his people. You go and find Jonathan and see if you can find any other Med-jai. Oh, but help me move him first, and Tilly.” She realised, belatedly, that she had totally forgotten about the professor and she told Rick so, going to move toward the altar where she could see his body, but Rick stopped her. She looked up at him and saw all she needed to see in his stern expression. “Oh no,” she whispered.

“I’m sorry honey, but it’s not a pretty sight. Best leave it to me to...” he searched for a word, “...dispose of it. Him,” he corrected himself.

Evy nodded in response and gave him another hug, burying her face against his chest as she thought of the poor professor. Jonathan returned after a short time, looking pale, but a little better and he helped move the unconscious couple out of the temple and then down through the underwater tunnel. This was the hardest part of the manoeuvre, even though Evy assured him that their bodies would automatically stop breathing once they were under the surface and not breathe in the water whilst they were passed out. The first thing Jonathan checked when they emerged at the other side was whether they were still breathing, relieved to find that both of them came out alright. It was night and the desert was pitch black, but they unerringly found their way across to the tent.

It wasn’t long before they had them comfortably laid out in the original tent, both on a soft bedroll, Evy fussing about and tending to Tilly’s wounds. A gasp escaped her when she looked at Tilly’s hair in the light from one of the torches Rick had brought in. Long brown streaks of colour had appeared in amongst the red. Was her hair now going to revert to it’s original colour, she wondered. She felt an intense relief pass through her when the younger woman’s eyes flickered open and stared up at her, the coldness that had been there previously now gone forever. But they, too, had changed. They were no longer the clear green she had come to recognise, now they were blue, exactly the same shade as Ricks.

“Are you alright?” she asked her softly, bandaging Tilly’s hands as best she could. “Your hands are a bit of a mess, I’m afraid, but they should heal up in no time, so don’t worry.”

“Did...did it work?” Tilly croaked, her throat feeling sore for some reason.

Evy smiled. “It worked. There’s no more Seth, no more Meketaten, no threat at all. You did really well,” she told her.

“I can remember some things...I’m not sure if they’re real memories, mine or...” she shrugged and stared at Evy with guilty eyes. “I hurt you all didn’t I?”

“Not all of us no. You didn’t touch me or Jonathan, well, you did kiss Jonathan actually, but I don’t think that could be classed as hurting him!”

“I kissed him? Why on earth would I...I mean...” she broke off in embarrassment. “Who did I hurt then? Rick? I didn’t hurt Rick did I?”

“Only a tiny bit, just by touching a cut that Imhotep gave him, nothing to worry over.”

Tilly searched Evy’s eyes and could tell she was holding something back. “Please tell me what I did, I need to know. It’s like I’ve got an empty space in my head, like the memories are there but I can’t reach them,” she said slowly, trying to explain how she felt.

“You had a...well, a sword fight with Ardeth, and you very nearly won,” Evy said, watching the shock that flared in Tilly’s eyes.

“But, I can’t fight with a sword, I’ve never...”

“No, but Meketaten has. She...you...were very good at it, but fortunately not as good as Ardeth.”

Tilly seemed to think about that for a second. “So, how come I’m not dead then? He said that one of us would have to die...” she stopped and her eyes widened. “Oh no! Evy, tell me I didn’t kill him!”

“No, no! He’s wounded, but he’s alive! Please, don’t panic like this, you need to stay calm and get some rest!”

“No, I want to see him!” she said and sat up, waiting for a few seconds to make sure she didn’t feel dizzy.

Evy wasn’t sure, but she helped her stand up anyway, and led her from her own small compartment to the one where Ardeth lay. Tilly frowned with concern as she looked down at the man who had undoubtedly saved her life. His breathing was deep and even, that was a good sign. Surprisingly, his colour wasn’t bad either. But the bandages that Evy had applied to his chest and shoulder were already becoming stained with blood and she knew without being told that she had done this to him. She closed her eyes and she could actually see the memories replaying in her head like a moving picture, sickening her at the way she had hurt these people. Not her, she told herself sternly, Meketaten. She opened her eyes again and looked down at her bandaged hands. She couldn’t even be of any help to him changing the bandages, she thought.

“Evy, I don’t feel any pain. Why don’t my hands hurt?”

“They don’t hurt at all?” Evy asked in amazement. She had seen the burns and she knew how painful they could be.

“No. I mean, I remember them hurting when I put them together and that light...but now, they don’t hurt at all! I guess I should just be grateful for small mercies, huh?” She gave a lopsided smile. “Where’s Rick and Jonathan? And Jackson?”

“Rick and Jonathan have gone off on horseback to find the Med-jai, so that they can come and help Ardeth. Jackson...” she shook her head. “He didn’t make it.”

Tilly closed her eyes briefly, opening them again and looking at Evy with a saddened expression. “Now that I did do, I remember it,” she said.

“Yes, but you had no choice and none of us knew it would kill him. It was the only way. Now come on,” she said briskly, “you may have big, fat, bandaged hands, but you can still help me dress his wounds. You can hold the bandages, okay?”

The action was just what Tilly needed and she threw herself into it wholeheartedly. After bandaging Ardeth they went about collecting all their belongings into a big pile so that they would be ready to leave. They were both surprised when they heard the thundering of horses hooves as they sped across the desert towards them. Rick and Jonathan had only been gone two hours. But as they got closer she could see that it was, indeed, the two men surrounded by Med-jai warriors.

They wasted no time moving into the tent and picking up Ardeth. He was placed up on a horse in front of his second in command, the other man taking great care over his leader’s safety and comfort, before bidding them thanks and farewell and galloping off again.

“What’s their rush?” Evy asked her husband, staring into the darkness.

“There’s a small problem, honey,” he began, taking her hands in his and squeezing them absently. “Something I didn’t tell you before.”

She frowned. “What? What could be so bad...”

“Imhotep’s gone.” His words had the ability to strike her dumb almost instantly. “We couldn’t find his body, and there were no readings from any ancient books to dispose of him either. He’s just disappeared, and so has the Book of the Dead.”

“But...we...we don’t have to stay...? Alex!” she exclaimed, gripping his arm tightly. “What if he goes after Alex?”

“He has no reason to, not anymore, but that’s why we’re going home. The Med-jai have assured me that they will no longer need our help, but I’m not so sure. Anyway, I’m sure if they find they do need us, they’ll also find a way to let us know. They’ve been doing this for centuries, we haven’t. Even if it does feel like it sometimes!”

Evy nodded and allowed a frisson of relief to pass through her at his words. They could go home.  She just hoped that Ardeth would be alright. “How will we find out about Ardeth?”

“We can’t leave for a couple of days, honey, mores the pity. There’s no way of getting the plane here any sooner and it’ll take us forever to get to Cairo or anywhere else without it. We still have camels, so we can ride out to the plane when it arrives.” Rick caressed her cheek and gave her a comforting smile. “The Med-jai promised to let us know how Ardeth is before we leave.”

“I’m so glad,” she whispered and pressed into his embrace, closing her eyes contentedly. “Everything will be okay won’t it?”

“It always turns out okay, honey. It’ll be fine,” he replied, his eyes going to Tilly over Evy’s head, happy to see that she seemed to have recovered okay. His family were safe, for now, and that was all that mattered.

Two days later…

Jonathan helped Tilly down from the camel, careful not to touch her heavily bandaged hands. She smiled gratefully and stood looking around her at the desert and the temples beyond, reflecting on what had happened here. The others were all busy preparing to leave, stowing their things away on the plane. But Tilly took this time to get her last glimpse of the beautiful desert, so secretly deadly. She had gotten used to her new appearance over the last two days, constantly borrowing Evy’s small mirror to check her hair and eyes. Her eye colour was very similar to Rick’s now that they were blue, she decided, and her hair seemed to be changing colour by the hour, now more brown than red.

She detected movement in the distance and shielded her eyes from the sun, watching the distant figure move closer, her eyes widening when she recognised Ardeth.

He galloped up, barely stopping his horse before he jumped down and walked toward her, his arm in it’s sling from his injured shoulder obviously not holding him back at all. Tilly stared up at him as he stood in front of her, not saying a word, merely staring intently down at her flushed face. She realised at that moment, as she hadn’t realised before, how much she would miss this stoic man and she felt sheer disappointment wash over her, saddening her expression. “I’m sorry,” she said slowly, her eyes going to his shoulder. “For what I did, I mean. I’m glad that you’re okay.”

“Your eyes...” Ardeth exclaimed and he reached out and touched her hair. “Your hair!”

“I know, it’s changing back to the way it was when I was younger...” she trailed off at the intent look he shot her.

To her utter astonishment he muttered a few harsh words in Arabic and then framed her face in his hands, pulling his arm roughly from its sling, bending to give her a searing kiss that her scattered senses had no chance to avoid. Not that she wanted to. For a brief moment her eyes widened, then they closed on a wave of longing. Her bandaged hands came up and rested lightly against his chest as her eyes flickered closed and she savoured a kiss she had never thought to receive.

Rick, Jonathan and Evy all stood gaping at the two people, shocked beyond words that Ardeth actually had human emotions and was apparently giving vent to them with Tilly!

“Well, that answers any questions we had concerning his health! I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised,” Rick said, shrugging.

“We shouldn’t?” Evy gasped, staring up at him in consternation.

“Don’t tell me you didn’t see this coming? It was obvious to me that they were attracted to each other,” he continued.

“Well, yes, I knew they liked each other, but I thought, considering their different cultures, that Ardeth wouldn’t...you know...touch her!”

“Maybe he couldn’t help himself. I know exactly how that feels,” he said, looking down at his wife with adoring eyes.

“Ugh,” Jonathan mumbled. “How totally nauseating. How come this sort of thing never happens to me?”

“You want Ardeth to kiss you?” Rick asked, surprised.

“No! A woman of course! Why can’t I meet a nice woman in Egypt? Everyone else meets someone here, why not me?” he whined. “Do you think he’s going to let her come up for air?”

“Do you think she wants to?” Rick replied, raising one eyebrow. “Come on, let’s leave them in peace,” he said, leading Evy into the plane and leaving Jonathan to follow.

Ardeth moved one hand from her face and pulled her closer to him, his arm encircling her back and crushing her against him as he deepened the kiss, giving in to it for a last few, precious seconds. He slowly released Tilly’s mouth, staring down into her glazed eyes with guilt and satisfaction mingled together. His hands involuntarily stroked the soft skin of her cheeks, wanting nothing more than to kiss her again. But he knew he couldn’t do that again, that what he had already done was stepping out of the bounds of his own morality. He looked at her for a few more seconds, his expression unreadable, then he walked away and got back on his horse. Turning the animal to get one last look at the stunned girl, he closed his eyes briefly as if in pain and then spurred his mount into a gallop, moving away without saying a single word.

Tilly watched him go with her heart in her throat, wondering if she would ever see him again. She didn’t think she would and she felt an awful sense of loss. Why he had kissed her was a mystery, considering he hadn’t touched her before this, but it had an air of goodbye about it that was undeniable.

Evy came out of the plane and walked over to her, grimacing at her sad face.

“Come on Tilly, we have to go home,” she said gently, not mentioning what had just occurred, just putting one arm around the shattered girl and leading her into the plane. Rick indicated where she should sit and looked about to say something, but his wife gave a quick shake of her head and he stopped himself. Jonathan was completely oblivious to everyone else, occupied as he was by his latest haul. He turned over a small golden flask in his hands, studying the intricate jewel work on one side with satisfaction. He had managed to go back into the temple several times over the last two days and he had quite a little stash of sparkly items. All was well in his life at that moment, he thought, beginning to hum softly to himself. If only he had been able to move that gigantic gold statue! God knew he had tried hard enough! He tossed the green gems in his hand and smiled again. At least he had managed to take it’s eyes, he thought happily.

Tilly looked out of the window as the plane took off, her eyes helplessly scanning the desert for some sign of Ardeth, spotting a dark figure in the distance sitting on horseback and staring up at the plane. She couldn’t see his face, but she knew it was him.

Rick and Evy watched her from their side of the aircraft, Evy shaking her head sadly. “I think we’re going to have to come back here again,” she said.

“I’ve already said that isn’t happening,” Rick replied, nudging her.

“I know, darling, but look at her. What about Ardeth too? We need to come back for their sake,” she decided.

“They haven’t found Imhotep yet, or had you forgotten? All the while he’s out there I won’t set foot in this country again!”

“Not even if Ardeth asked you to?”

“Well, maybe then. But he won’t ask. They’ll find him, I’m sure of it!”

“I hope so, for all our sakes. But Tilly should be brought back here again, someday. You both need to find out about what happened at the orphanage all those years ago, about your parents.”

Rick looked at Tilly again and had to agree with his wife. If there was any chance at all for his desert friend and his pretty young cousin, then they would have to return, because it seemed obvious to him that Ardeth wouldn’t come to England to find her, and he did have to do some detective work about his own childhood.

“I think you may be right. If we can make anyone else as happy as we are then we have to try,” he said, his voice lowering as he took her hand, stroking her fingers.

“I always said you were a romantic.” She leaned her head on his shoulder and stared at Tilly. “It’s not impossible, you know. My mother was Egyptian and she and my father overcame their differences, as your mother and father must have. Love will find a way.”

“I hope you’re right,” Rick murmured, bending to kiss her softly.

“You know I always am!” she whispered back and closed her eyes, secure in the knowledge that they would be return here soon. She had got her own way again.

THE END
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