Egypt – December 31st 2011
“Come take a look at this”, Glenda called out excitedly.
Mark couldn’t help smiling, he loved it when his wife got excited about things. They both loved their work as archaeologists, but she was the one who got really enthusiastic about some of the more outlandish theories. He fully expected her to have discovered something potentially groundbreaking, or at least interesting.
As he quietly walked up to her he admired the cargo pants she was wearing. He gave her bottom a quick pinch and she almost dropped her tools, blushed, then smiled.
“Look at this”, she said while pointing to a particularly obscure section of hieroglyphs, quickly bringing their attention back to the work.
Mark gave a small laugh and a smile then focused his attention as well. After twenty years of marriage and two kids they still acted like excited teenagers. They still loved being around each other everyday, their passion for their work and each other never dwindling.
The particular section Glenda was looking at was quite a challenge to decipher. This wasn’t because of damage, the temple they were in was one of the least visited in Egypt, it was because it didn’t translate properly. Ever since the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, the translation of hieroglyphics had become possible, and in nearly all cases the meanings could be deciphered. That wasn’t the case here.
Much of the temple contained quite mundane scripts, detailing the rituals and offerings practised on a daily basis to various gods. There was one section however, down an unfinished corridor at the back of the temple that didn’t make sense. Not traditionally anyway.
Their current theory was that it was written in some form of code, like a cipher, and they had spent the last few years trying to figure it out. Sections such as these had been spotted in various other temples across Egypt and until now nobody had known what to make of them.
Finally they had cracked it. Glenda had almost knocked a priceless statue over with her excitement when they translated their first section. What they had uncovered had led them to this temple and it had mentioned the dawning of a new year, 2012, which was only a few months away.
Mark had been content with studying more of the writings they had at home, getting other researchers involved and sharing their discovery, but Glenda wasn’t having it.
“This isn’t enough, we need more proof. If we go to the temple maybe we will discover something more substantial”.
“Fine”, he conceded. “I’ll book a flight”.
“Well…maybe delay it a few months…”
“You want to be there at new year don’t you?” he said knowingly.
“Something might….happen”. She could barely keep the smile off her face.
He didn’t believe in actual magic, and Glenda didn’t really either. She was entranced by the idea of it however, and he was happy to go along with it. So they planned their trip, which led them to be stood there on New Year’s Eve, in an ancient Egyptian temple in the middle of nowhere, trying to read encoded hieroglyphs by the light of electric lamps.
“It mentions 2012 again, see here”, she pointed.
Their ability to translate the code still wasn’t perfect, but he could just about work that part out. “Have you worked out any of the rest?”
“Yes and no,” she admitted. “It’s talking about some sort of ritual, not unusual in itself, but something seems different, I’m not sure if I’m translating this right but I think this bit says something about creating a god.”
Mark’s eyes narrowed as he to tried to translate the passage. “I’m not sure. I think the meaning is more like giving life to a god, or returning life too it. Do you think they were worshiping an old god that was no longer part of their pantheon?”
“Maybe, but if they were, they were taking one hell of a risk. Those kinds of things were punishable by death.”
“These people, whoever they were, were obviously very careful. Hence the code. Nobody is that careful unless you are doing something that could get you killed. Have you translated any more? I’d love to be able to put a name to this…cult”.
Glenda shook her head, “not yet, but I’ll keep working. Until midnight anyway, I want to watch for anything odd happening”.
Mark rolled his eyes. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye out for anything magical”, he said sarcastically. He got a punch in the arm for his trouble. “Oh, oh no, I can’t go on. You’ll have to leave without me, I’m done for”, he feigned.
She just smiled, “quit being a drama queen and go get me my drink will you. Thirsty work decoding ancient languages you know.”
He laughed, “sure, I’ll be right back”. They had set up a little camp near the entrance to the temple. As he fished the water bottle out of one of Glenda’s seemingly magical bottomless bags of randomness, he stared out of the temple door and admired the moon. It hung brightly in the night sky as midnight fast approached. He allowed himself a moment to imagine that gods and magic were real, that something really could happen as the clock struck midnight. The most popular conspiracy theory was that the world was going to end, but wasn’t it always?
With a smile he zipped up the bag and headed back. As he rose he suddenly felt an overwhelming dizziness and pain in the back of his head. The ground rose up to greet him as he blacked out.
The robed figure that had just struck him on the back of the head caught him before he hit the floor. No sound had been made and two of his colleagues slid past him towards the rear corridor. As they approached Glenda one of them accidentally kicked one of the tools on the floor.
“Oh thanks for th-”, her eyes went wide as she turned and saw the robed figures. There wasn’t even a chance to scream as, baton in hand, one struck her in the temple and she dropped to the floor.
The world spun around him. He could hear indistinct chatter and see vague shapes moving. Was that…two people in robes? What were they doing here? And why did his head hurt so much. As things started to get clearer he tried to rise but stumbled, he tried to move his arms to protect himself as he fell but he couldn’t. They were tied behind his back.
One of the robed men walked over to him and lifted him roughly into a kneeling position. “Stay”.
“Wha….what’s going on”, he groaned out, still woozy. Again he tried to get to his feet. This time the man roughly shoved him back to the floor, pointed a gun at his head and repeated himself.
That certainly woke him up. Nothing like having a gun pointed to your head to make you think clearly. He tried to assess his surroundings, he was still in the temple, kneeling and bound near their camp. Glenda! He thought in panic, and looked around for her. Partially relieved he found her laid out on the floor not far away, her hands also bound. It looked like she was starting to come too as well.
With a strong sense of deja vu he watched as a similar scene played out again, with Glenda trying to stand and getting shoved back down and threatened. After the gun had also cleared her head she noticed him. She was about to speak but he mimed for her to keep quiet as he tried to wiggle closer.
He found it was incredibly difficult to move while knelt and be stealthy at the same time. Glenda got the idea and joined in while the guards weren’t looking, eventually making it to him. “Are you ok?” he whispered.
She nodded, “yes, my head is a bit sore though, they must have knocked me out. How about you?”
“I’m ok, same with the head, I didn’t even see it coming.”
“Unfortunately I did”, she winced.
“Who are they do you think?”
“Take your pick, grave robbers maybe…but why they would be interested in this temple I have no idea. It contains nothing of value. And what is with the strange outfits?”
Mark considered that. They were wearing jet black robes with a red trim, all their faces were in shadow. Not the usual attire for grave robbers…but perhaps. “Hey, you don’t think…” he motioned towards one of the encoded patches of hieroglyphics.
Her eyes went wide. “You think they know about the code? That they think there is some sort of hidden treasure here? It’s certainly possible.”
“Maybe that’s why they kept us alive.”
“What do you mean?”
“To translate the code. I’ve heard that grave robbers in this area have no problem killing to secure treasure, so why keep us alive? It’s the only reason I can think of”.
Glenda frowned, “hmm, maybe…but something doesn’t feel right. How did they even know we were here? We’ve not published anything about our findings yet, and only the guide knew where we were going.”
She had a point, he wasn’t sure what was more disturbing, the anonymity of their attackers, why they were here, or why they were keeping them alive…so far. Their intentions were clearly hostile. But what did they want from them?
Before he could think on it further he was distracted by another robed figure that entered the temple. He nudged Glenda to look as well. All the other figures stopped talking and stood very still as soon as this newcomer entered. They wore a robe similar to the rest, except the red trim extended into artistic patterns around the edges. Mark recognised some of them as hieroglyphs, or close to hieroglyphs anyway, but others he didn’t have a clue. The figure stalked up to them both. Whoever they were they didn’t seem to be in a rush, and why should they be. Both himself and Glenda weren’t going anywhere while the other men had them tied up.
The robed figure that now stood before them was different, they had an aura about them that made Mark feel uneasy. It felt like his body was repelled by this person, like it was trying to move away subconsciously. Slowly, as he gazed almost unwillingly at the figure, they removed their hood. He was taken aback.
Beneath the cowl were the features of a young woman. She was slender with short hair, and was sporting an almost fiendish half smile. It was her eyes though that had shocked him, her eyes were penetrating and he felt like she was looking deep within him. Inside those incandescent brown eyes he saw something. He didn’t know if it was madness or coldness, but it scared him.
“Well Steve will be happy”.
The casual tone was so at odds with her demeanour that it snapped Mark right out of his train of thought. “Err…what?”
“What are your names?” she asked, ignoring the question.
“Oh erm….I’m Mark, and this is Glenda”.
“And what Mark, are you doing here?”
“We’re…erm….archaeologists….we study ancient rui-”
“Yes I know what an archaeologist is. What are you doing HERE”, she emphasised, and waved her hand to indicate the temple. “This isn’t a site of historical interest.”
Mark bit back a sudden urge to be smart and ask why they were here then. This wasn’t the time to be a smart arse. “We are just recording some data, the first people to study this temple weren’t very thorough. It’s very dull work really,” he tried to make it sound casual but he was so nervous he didn’t think he did a good job.
“Oh…oh I see. Like the section at the back of the temple where we found your wife? Pretty nonsensical stuff, can’t imagine why it would be worth recording.” Her eyebrow lifted in a knowing expression.
Mark just slumped with defeat and sighed, “it’s written in code”.
She gasped in mock shock. “Code?! I never would have guessed.” she smiled. “So you figured out the Khito Cipher, impressive.”
Khito? Mark thought. That was where the Rosetta stone was found. Did it have more importance than anyone had even realised.
“But you didn’t know it’s origin I see”.
Mark cursed himself for being so easy to read.
The woman just laughed, “how much have you translated? Not much I imagine”.
Not trusting himself to speak anymore he just kept silent.
“Nothing to say? A pity, you were rather interesting. Very well, I’ll give you the highlights, but first, who knows you are here?”
Knowing he wouldn’t be able to keep silent for long he just said, “nobody, we came alone”.
“Across the desert? I don’t think so. I’ll ask again, who knows you’re here?”
Mark paused, trying to decide what to do. As he did so the woman grabbed Glenda by the hair and brought a wicked looking blade to her neck. He was momentarily stunned, he hadn’t even seen her draw it. It was an ornate curved dagger with several small jewels inlaid into the handle, if this had been any other situation he might have been fascinated by it.
“Please, let her go, I’ll tell you.”
She just looked at him expectantly.
He sighed, “a guide, we hired him in Cairo and told him where we were going once we left the city, he’s the only one who knows.”
The woman let go of Glenda, “and where is this guide?”
“Last I heard he was keeping watch for raiders, so he can’t be far. Not that he did a very good job”, he said mumbling the last part.
The woman laughed loudly, while indicating for a few of her men to search the area. “You think we are raiders? Come to plunder this empty temple have we?”
“No, we’re not raiders, but you’d already figured that part out as well. So what are we?”
“…some sort of cult?”
“One point to the smart one”, she cheered, making a dinging sound. “But no extra points, that was an unimaginative answer. We are far more than a cult.” With a gesture two of the men picked Mark and Glenda up off the floor and led them after the woman, who was walking towards the back of the temple where Glenda had been working.
“Let me introduce myself, I am Priestess Nadon. My friends call me Shred”.
Mark wasn’t about to tempt fate by asking why.
“Don’t worry, my first name is Sheridan and you may call me as such. That’s where the nickname came from…mostly”.
He still kept quiet.
“You see, we are part of a very ancient cult. A cult which dates back to the early days of the Egyptian empire. For thousands of years we ruled Egypt in secret, through magic and sorcery”. She looked at Mark’s expression. “I see you are skeptical, I don’t blame you, magic has long since disappeared from this world. It was taken away from us. When Pharaoh Tomanekh came to power, assisted by ourselves, he knew that we were also his greatest threat. So in secret he and a council of loyal sorcerers forged a great spell which sealed the gods off from this world.”
“What do you mean, sealed the gods off? What were they before?”
When they reached the end of the corridor Sheridan began examining the wall, feeling for something. “The gods were the source of our power. Through bargains made with them they granted us magic. They also used their magic themselves for good or evil, depending on who had their favour. The gods were a direct influence on the world. Ah ha!”
She pushed on a stone and it sunk into the wall. The whole structure shuddered and rumbled as if hidden mechanisms were moving in the walls, before finally the wall in front of them began to lower itself into the floor. As it came to rest several of the robed men walked in ahead of her to light up the dark room beyond.
“Why are you telling us all this?” Mark asked, not sure if he wanted to know the answer.
Sheridan smiled, a dark smile full of promise of misery and death. “Because Mark, we are going to bring magic back to this world. We are going to reconnect with the gods. We have waited thousands upon thousands of years for this day, the day when the spell is at its weakest. The day we break it!”
Torches bursting into light turned Mark’s attention as they lit up the room. What he saw inside made his blood run cold.
Sheridan’s smile only got more wicked. “Yes Mark, you know what we need. To break a spell of this power requires a sacrifice, a human sacrifice.”
Inside the room that had just revealed itself were several statues of Anubis, all arranged around the room looking inwards. Looking towards a single stone table. There was no mistaking it’s function.
“That’s why Steve will be happy”, she said, giving one of the robed men a pat on the back. “He was very brave to volunteer to be sacrificed, he would have been rewarded in the afterlife. Alas it seems Steve your work on this earth is not yet done.” The robed figure just nodded and stepped back to stand with his fellow cultists.
“Tie her down”. The men around them grabbed Glenda and dragged her towards the table. She yelled out and Mark tried to dash after her but he was still bound and another figure barred his way. Cutting her bonds they forced her down on the table. She struggled with all her strength but it was impossible to fight off four of them at once. Antique manacles closed around her wrists, attached at the other end to the underside of the alter table. Despite their age they looked strong.
“You should be proud Mark, your wife is a fighter. But if she goes willingly she will be rewarded.”
Mark stared daggers at her, anger boiling over inside of him. “Let her go! Let her go or I swear I’ll end you!”
“Ooooo, it seems like she’s not the only one who is feisty. Don’t worry, I have something special planned for you. Try and enjoy the show.” She winked at him and signalled for her men to begin.
Around the alter the figures began to chant an ancient incantation, with every repetition it seemed to get louder and louder until it consumed the room. It might have been Mark’s imagination but he could swear the torches flickered in time to the chanting. As the chant reached its peak one of the figures stepped forward holding the knife he had seen earlier, the jewels in the hilt glowing with power. Mark watched as the cultist excruciatingly slowly raised it above his head.
“Please, please stop this, I’ll do anything just please stop this. Take me instead!”
“You are brave to offer yourself in exchange but I have chosen, and besides I have other plans for you.”
Hope dashed, he turned to Glenda. “Glenda! Glenda look at me. Don’t look at it, look at me.”
It was a struggle but she managed to turn to face him. He could see the panic in her eyes, but as they met his he could see her calm.
“Keep watching me Glenda, I love you.”
“I love you too,” she mouthed, unable to summon her voice.
The moment the knife plunged into her heart her eyes went wide for a split second, and then faded. Mark’s heart broke as hers did.
A shadow slowly consumed the altar, spreading across Glenda’s corpse. It didn’t spread like a fog or anything else natural though, it prodded, perused and investigated. As if it were alive.
Sheridan stepped forward. “Oh great spirit of Anubis, I free you from the bonds placed upon you long ago. With this sacrifice your magic is once again released. Let me be your avatar, let me serve you in all things, let us rule this world together.”
The shadow gathered itself up into a vaguely human shape above Glenda’s body, then rushed at the priestess. It entered her chest and she was nearly knocked off her feet. Mark just stared in amazement and horror at what was happening, the woman now began to emit a dark shadow around her body. The aura he had felt before grew stronger, it felt like death.
He watched in abject terror as the woman got to her feet and turned to face him. Her once brown eyes were now black, solid black. He tried not to look at them, they were so deep and dangerous that even with the slightest glance he feared he’d lose himself.
She stepped forwards, approaching him slowly as if walking for the very first time. “You are the mate of my sacrifice, your bond is strong.” The voice wasn’t the one he had heard before, it was deeper and sounded ancient and powerful, but he could still hear Sheridan within it. “You will make a fitting appetizer”. A malevolent smile spread across her face like a void opening into the depths of hell.
Appetizer? he thought, his brain too traumatised to comprehend. Then it clicked. “Oh no, no, noooo!”
She reached out her hand and planted it on his chest. Where the hand touched the shadows spread, engulfing him. Once they had consumed his body they began to withdraw back into her. As they withdrew they took his life with them, his skin aged over 50 years in an instant and all colour was drained from him. As his eyes lost all essence of life they just stared at the ceiling in shock.
“Ahh, it’s good to be back”.
The guide watched from behind a sand dune as the cultists left the temple. He didn’t know who they were or what they had wanted with the Hastingses, but he knew it wasn’t good. He had managed to avoid the robed figures that had searched for him, nobody knew the desert better, but had been afraid to go in to help. As they all left he considered returning to see what had happened, until she appeared.
The very last person to leave the temple was a robed woman. Her hood was down and her body gave off a shadow that made his skin crawl and filled him with a sense of dread the likes of which he had never felt. At that moment he decided he wasn’t going back in. He wasn’t coming near this temple ever again, or any temple for that matter, not while she was out there. Even from his hiding spot among the dunes he felt her, and he felt….death.