Red Sands

Outside the Fort
12th February 1889

They had little idea of what they were going to do when they reached the Fort, nor of what sort of welcome they would receive. Various plans were discussed en route.

But now they could actually see the looming stone walls and the glint of rifles lining their battlements. They were stopped in a rocky defile, their camels left some hundred yards or so further down the gulley. By climbing up to a cluster of rocks they were about 200 yards away from the west side of the fort.

The Fort itself seemed very quiet, and even more oddly a knotted rope was visible hanging down from the wall. Sebastian turned round to see Saleem hurrying up towards them.

“Bedouin!” he hissed, they have ridden off the camels and they are moving up the gully towards us."

Even as he pointed he could make out about a dozen silent forms flitting their way through the rocks towards them.

“There are many!” said Saleem . “And now we have neither food nor water”

“The Fort it is then” said Sebastian, realising that once the remainder of the riders joined the skirmishers they would be ridden down. “Everyone. Run!”

They didn’t have to be told twice. Marko and Esmeralda sprinted straight for the walls, followed by Saleem and Lady Glossop..

The skirmishers had other ideas however: they attacked in three groups, with one group always firing, and the others either reloading their breach loading rifles, or moving forward. Clearly they had done this before.

Bertie and Henry took cover behind some rocks, and started to shoot at their pursuers, taking a few down. The Bedouin return fire was not as accurate, but Lady Glossop was creased by a shot which knocked her down senseless – possibly even dead.

“Damn and Blast that woman!” muttered Sebastian. “I’ll try to rescue the foolish chit, if you keep their heads down!” Henry and Bertie nodded, as did Saleem who was giving a good account of himself with his Mauser.

With bullets missing all around him, Sebastian scooped up Lady Glossop, and sprinted for the walls. More Bedouin went down to his covering fire.

“They’re pulling back!” shouted Henry.

“Only till their friends arrive!” called Sebastian. “Get to the Fort. NOW!”

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On Camelback Across the Libyan Desert
10th February 1889

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At one of the villages comprising Baharya, Lady Glossop and Esmeralda, both speaking fluent Arabic, engaged with some of the local women in the market. Here they learned that a party of eight camels had indeed passed that way twice in recent weeks, once going north, and later retuning and leaving to the west for Siwah.

The party comprised two civilians – both French – a man and a woman, obviously wealthy. With them were six French Soldiers of the Foreign Legion.

“Off their turf aren’t they?” said Henry. “But I suppose the border with Libya isn’t that far off.”

“No” muttered Sebastian, “And obviously these damn frogs were up to no good poking their noses in British Territory.”

At Siwah they also had news of this party, and learned that they had retuned to Fort Oublie: a small outpost just across the border.

“Fort Oublie it is then” said Sebastian.

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Interlude in Cairo
21st january 1889

From Cairo they had despatched the recovered artifacts to the museum in Alexandria, and made their plans while the injured recovered. It would seem that the mysterious cigar smoking camel riders had conceivably stolen the Scroll of Annubis – though as to what its significance was they were at a loss. Clearly its importance might have outweighed poor professor Hutchinson’s life however.

Henry dropped Molly into the best Cairo Gunsmith he could find: she could be repaired, but it would take time. He sighed, and purchased a couple of Lee Metfords for their expedition in the meanwhile.

Their destination would initially be the Baharya oasis, approximately a weeks travel from Giza, across genuine desert. Saleem’s experience would be vital, but with him recovering it fell to himself, Marko and Sebastian to supplement their gear and supplies. After a week, they were ready, and on a cold morning they set out once more towards Saqquara.

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Confrontation
14th january 1889

They were glad to see daylight again. There seemed to be a bit of a wind up outside, its keen sounds carrying even into the rock.

As their eyes adjusted they could see a figure stood before them: a handsome egyptian man, with a shaven head, and wearing a white tropical suit and spats. Several turbaned heads bobbed from the rocks around them.

“I am your God Imhotep. For the desecration of my beloveds tomb, you must die. If you have harmed her, you will die slowly. Either way, your pitiful lives are over.”

“I’m C of E I’m afraid” said Sebastian, and shot one of the flunkies: the fight was on.

A barrage of gunfire felled the majority of the sabre wielding attackers, but Imhotep merely adjusted his lapels, raised both hands and muttered something in a dead tongue. From the rocks and tomb entrance behind them a swarm of beetles, scorpions and vermin swarmed out, and climbed over Lady Glossop, Esmeralda and Henry. Bertie rushed up some ruined steps leading above them, and fired at another of their turbaned foes.

From the sands around them, silently and purposefully, the bedraggled bandage wrapped forms they had encountered in the tomb started to emerge. One of them throttled lady Glossop from behind. Another appeared behind Bertie on the steps, which Marko head butted backwards hard into the rock face.

“You need more bandages now” he said laconically, re adjusting his cap..

Saleem too was felled by one of the mummies, while with his seemingly strange powers Imhotep continued to avoid damage, and wreak havoc, with swarms of vermin briefly biting and stinging the group, and then dispersing.

Esmeralda crept around the wings of the conflict, and fired her pistol at Imhotep. She missed, and he turned and smiled at her, walking towards her and wagging his finger.

“No. No. " he smiled. “Allow me to snap your neck, and cease with this nonsense.” . He staked towards her, and she attempted to flee.

Meanwhile the others were preoccupied with the remaining mummy.

“My minions are defeated, but they were merely a diversion. You will all fall before my power” smiled Imhotep. With the final mummy fallen (along with lady Glossop and Saleem), this was about to be put to the test.

No longer summoning vermin Imhotep merely sought to grab or strike his attackers: he didn’t even bother using a weapon. Marko, Bertie and Sebastian closed in, while Henry stood off and tried to shoot. Unfortunately a faulty cartridge blew back rendering Molly useless, and he was forced to draw his Le Mat.

Marko and Sebastian managed to put in some good blows, but Imhotep always seemed to bounce back. It was Esmeralda who noticed first.

“That cut from Sebastian has just healed! " she observed. “Maybe he is immortal!” A nagging at the back of her mind gave her the feeling that she missing something important. And then she remembered.

“I have hidden the Ring of Thoth in the safest of all possible places—in my beloved’s arms. With her protecting it, no one will be able to use it against me.”

The Ring of Thoth: she trawled her memory for some reference and recalled that it was supposedly a tool fashioned by the God of Magic to cow eth and bring him to heel: because it was a weapon which could kill an immortal. Could the ring slay Imhotep?

Ducking away from Imhotep she ran over to the fallen lady Glossop, and after frantic searching produced the inscribed golden ring, with its fierce snarling baboon head. She ran close to Bertie.

“Bertie! The ring. There’s likely some trick to it – I think it can harm him!” she called excitedly in Latin.

“Er, Righto” said Bertie fumbling. They could certainly do with some help. Apart from a damaged suit Imhotep seemed completely unharmed, but his iron fists had battered all of them. Both Bertie’s and Sebatian sabres had snapped, and henry was out of bullets and reduced to a Bowie Knife.

As he fumbled the head shifted slightly, and a pair of wicked looking fangs emerged from the baboon head.

“Now see here Mr. Imhotep” taunted Bertie. “I’m going to biff you with this jolly old baboon ring, and then we’ll see if you’re quite so cocky Feller – Me -Lad.”

Imhotep noticed, and a look of genuine panic flashed across his face.

“The Ring of Thoth!” he screamed, “I will make you all pay for this!”

He opened his mouth and screamed in his deep voice, and then it seemed that the sand around him whipped up, stinging their eyes and sending them staggering backwards. But when they looked around again, Imhotep was gone.

“Just as well” said Sebastian. “He had the better of us. Good thinking young Esmeralda.” Esmeralda beamed.

Saleem and Lady Glossop were alive, but in poor shape: they were in no condition to pursue ancient Gods or mysterious cigar smokers.

“Let’s get out of here” said Henry. “The sooner the better.”

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Ancient Mysteries
14th January 1889

The mummy was dead. Or was it?

“Is that….blood” asked Henry. It certainly looked like it, though possibly of a slightly thicker consistency.

“We need to look down there!” said Esmeralda. Bertie was not convinced, but nevertheless followed Henry down.

Below was a square chamber with exits leading off to south and east. It contained a collection of canopic jars, a pair of jackal-headed statues, and an elaborately decorated stone sarcophagus, also empty. As hnery scanned round with his lamp he heard an ominous heavy creaking behind him. turning slowly he saw that one of the jackel headed statues had steped off its plinth, and was stepping towards Bertie..

Before he could yell a warning Bertie had half turned round, and just had time to yell as a heavy staff cracked down on his shoulder, dropping him to his knees. He pulled out his Le Mat and fired, the bullets seemingly bouncing off its solid exterior.

Another figure appeared in the south doorway, this time another shambling mummy figure, but wearing a painted golden mask of a beautiful woman. Lady Glossop shrieked, and fainted. Again.

The figure pointed and a swarm of oval black shape scuttled across the floor towards him. As they swarmed up his legs, biting deep he saw with disgust that they were large black beetles. He screamed and slapped, crushing their bodies into a disgusting paste, as their jaws pierced his flesh. Sebastian and Marko were down now, and the shotgun was blowing chunks off the statue, allowing Bertie to stagger away. Esmeralda poured accurate fire at the female mummy, while Sebastian rushed in to engage her with his sabre.

Another blast and the statue made a high pitched whine, before locking up and toppling rigid against a wall, fragmenting the decorated plaster.

The female mummy , its mask impassive, simply stood its ground, oblivious to their attacks. A swipe with the strength of a gorilla knocked Sebastian sprawling, and it seemed to have some strange abilities which hampered their efforts to harm it. A lucky shot from Henry finally spun the creature sideways, and pressing their advantage the others poured fire into it till it fell.

There was coughing and several moments of silent. Esmeralda leaned over the statue.

“There appears to be some sort of mechanism inside” she said. “But who could possibly make such a thing?”

“And the mummy. Blood again.” said Henry.

“False bits in jars too” said Bertie, breaking one open before Esmeralda could object.

One of the doorways led to a small library, with a canvas camp chair set before a collapsible trestle table. Around the room were hundreds of papyrus scrolls stored in carved niches. Several more were spread out on the many gold lecterns around the room.

“A lot of these seem to be architects drawings and technical treatises” said Esmerlda. “Hmm… this one is strange, listen.”

“When I used the ancient key, the pillars glowed like moonlight. When my slaves moved the pillars to my new temple, the light grew brighter. I believe they are somehow drawing Ba from Atlantis itself, and the closer the pillars are brought to the sunken island, the more powerful they become. I could use this light to guide me to Atlantis itself! I have been given the powers and lifespan of the Gods to remake the world in their name. I am their son and their heir, and the herald of the New Age”

There was also a oxford notebook, somewhat incongruous in the setting. indeed there was a supply of modern paper and writing materials. The writing inside was, however, in hieroglyphs. Esmeralda read it aloud.

“I have hidden the Ring of Thoth in the safest of all possible places—in my beloved’s arms. With her protecting it, no one will be able to use it against me.”

There was a sound of scrabbling as Lady Glossop disappeared for a moment, and then re appeared with a baboon headed ring.

“Look what I found” she smiled wanly.

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Beneath the Pyramid
14th January 1889

A set of steps led down to a long pillered chamber: they were well below the pyramid now, and even below the level of the ‘moat’ floor. The top of the steps was sealed by a stone door, and here Saleem again drew their attention.

Fixed into the wall were three sets of huge brass hinges; the makers mark could clearly be read.

“George Price of Wolverhampton.”

“Wolverhampton! WOLVERHAMPTON!?” exclaimed Sebastian. “What the Deuce are door fittings from a Brummie Locksmith doing below an ancient pyramid?”

“They make the locks for most of the big bank vaults I understand” offered Lady Glossop.

“Did Hutchinson do this?” asked Henry.

“No sahib” said Saleem. “The metal gate at the entrance – that is ours. But this. This is as we found it. The main entrance was hidden with rockfall and thorns.”

“Someone has been here before the Professeur " said Marko simply.

The pillered chamber had a number of statues and further hieroglyphic inscriptions. A corridor which led to a crossroads of sorts snaked ahead, but as Marko was about to enter Sebastian restrained him.

“Floor looks suspicious” he said. “Pressure mechanism maybe?” To be sure they carefully jumped over, and proceeded more carefully: indeed there was a similar plate on the far side of the crossroads. Bertie gulped nervously: he didn’t fancy being mashed to the floor.

At the crossroads the left turn led down another set of stairs into a square chamber, and here was yet more mystery. Several empty sarcophagi, and what appeared to be a canvas camping chair. Across one side of the room was a complex arrangement of glass retorts and tubes, leading to what seemed like a large syringe looped over the arm of a metal retort stand, next to the chair. On the other side was another syringe leading from a less complex arrangement, feeding from a large bell jar of some df crimson liquid.

“This looks to me” said Esmeralda, “Like some sort of distillation apparatus. Something … some raw materials…. is being distilled and redistilled into some purer form, before being injected here.”

“On the other side there is a much simpler screening process, before this red liquid is also injected.”

“It could be blood” suggested Lady Glossop. “Something very strange is going on here.”

There was a crash as Bertie inadvertently knocked over a canoptic jar. He leaned over and picked something up.

“Terribly sorry and all that. But this wooden….er….heart, seems to be ok. Nice paint job”

“Paint job? Let me see?” demanded Esmeralda.

“I don’t understand: this is a wooden facsimile of a wooden heart. The mummification process removes and preserves the real organs in canoptic jars”

The crossroads passage to the right led to a similar arrangement, and so they proceeded onwards.

“This looks more important” said Esmeralda. "I think this held the bodies of servants and others deemed useful in the afterlife. A dozen upright sarcophagi lined the walls of the room, and a 20-foot diameter circular pit sat in the centre of the chamber. A modern wooden ladder led down. They shrugged, and Bertie sighed and started to climb down.

It was then that the single remaining mummy stepped out of the shadows, and reached for his throat. He shrieked and leapt backwards, forgetting that there was a pit behind him. He yelped as he fell. He heard Lady Glossop shriek, but didn’t see her faint.

The nightmare figure, swathed in ancient bandages veered round the pit towards the others, and was met with a hail of gunfire. It emitted an almost soundless hiss, and groped forward, staggering with each successive blast. Eventually a shotgun blast removed one of its legs, and the thing collapsed, still moving until half a dozen extra bullets had blown parts if it to dust.

“Can someone help me up?” wailed Bertie, gripping on to a ladder rung with one hand.

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The Pyramid of Djoser
14th January 1889

Saleem led them across the wide ditch which surrounded the pyramid; Esmeralda seemed puzzled.

“Isn’t the entrance around the other side? Leading to the catacomb complex below?” she asked.

“Wait” said Saleem, as they round a corner of the edifice. Above them the main bulk of the pyramid loomed, and some ten yards along the wall of the moat another entrance appeared to have been excavated into the bedrock below the pyramid. As they approached they saw that a metal gate had been fitted across the entrance, and Saleem produced a key and opened the padlock.

“Another entrance!” said Esmeralda excitedly..

“Another tomb. Another complex separate from the other” confirmed Saleem. “Though I have not explored beyond the first chamber.”

Lighting their lamps they entered into a small chamber covered with hieroglyphs. Unlike the main complex of the pyramid, explained Esmeralda, this appeared to be entirely underground.

“Hmm the usual imprecations and curses” read Esmeralda, and then, “Oh!”.

“What is it? What does it say?” asked Sebastian.

“They tell the story of Imhotep and Atma, his consort. It makes reference to them as ‘Living Gods’ and….wait. I don’t understand this.”

“Understand what?” asked Lady Glossop. “Is it too hard for you Dear?”. She was still irked at Esmeralda’s marksmanship against the attackers the previous night. Three shots, three downed.

“Some of the events referred to here…. they’re known to have taken place…. what….two hundred years after the death of Djoser – and by extension Imhotep.”

“You mean” said Henry, “That he was still alive two hundred years after he was supposed to be?”

“Yes.” she replied, puzzled. "There’s more. Something about ‘a malady of the Gods’, and Atma being to laid to rest with her servants, ‘until the world turns’.

“Probably just religious mumbo jumbo” snorted Sebastian. “Anyway, I’m sure our ancient records aren’t that complete.”

“True” said Esmeralda. “But it is a puzzle.”

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First Light
14th January 1889

They stood some distance from the camp, behind another curve in the valley.

“The morning after the murder I search around the area” said Saleem. “In this place were many camel tracks, half a dozen. And waiting here for some time. And they left to the south west on the trail to Baharya.”

“Which is what?” asked Sebastian.

“is oasis. Maybe 300 km: nearly a week journey. And the camels were well laden.” Saleem replied. “There were also these”.

He produced a small pouch, and emptied its contents carefully out into the palm of his hand. They were the butts of a very expensive brand of French cigars.

“Europeans then!” exclaimed Sebastian. “The plot thickens.”

“Now we should go to the main excavation” said Saleem.

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Knives in the Dark
14th January 1889

It was Lady Glossop who caught the movement; she and Saleem were on guard. She called a warning, and then the figures raced towards them. Clad in arab robes with black turbans, and wielding an ugly selection of knives and scimitars.

As he raced towards her, Saleem uppercut one of them with the butt of his rifle, sending him sprawling. Marko and Sebastian emerged from their tent, and the fight was on.

Good luck prevailed however, and the attackers – a dozen all told, attacking in groups of four from different directions, were all defeated.

“What’s this mean?” asked henry, holding up the wrist of a dead attacker: a strange hieroglyph was tattooed above his wrist.

“Never heard of the fellow” said Bertie.

“Oddly enough he’s connected with this site” said Esmeralda. "He lived around BC 2650–2600 BC. His name means “the one who comes in peace, is with peace”. He was a real polymath who served under the Third Dynasty king Djoser as chancellor to the pharaoh and high priest of the sun god Ra at Heliopolis. The step pyramid is Djoser’s remember."

“He’s considered by some to be the earliest known architect and engineer and physician in early history. He is credited with building the step pyramid for the Pharoah.”

“An important man then?” asked Henry.

“Indeed: an impressive list of titles. He was one of only a few commoners ever to be accorded divine status after death. The center of his cult was Memphis, and his sayings were famous.”

“Is he buried here then?” asked Lady Glossop.

“The pyramid was Djoser’s tomb” replied Esmeralda. "The location of Imhotep’s self-constructed tomb was well hidden from the beginning and it remains unknown even today, though it’s likely it’s somewhere at Saquarra. "

“But it looks like there could still be a cult or something?” mused Bertie. “maybe protecting his tomb?”

“There are things I must show you at first light” said Saleem.

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The Dig at Saqqara
13th January 1889

It was late in the afternoon when they entered the valley, and their first priority was to make camp. Fortunately the dog tents of Hutchinson’s dig were still present, though the smaller tents had already been removed. Esmeralda immediately occupied herself with sorting out the finds which still remained, and sorted them into crates for despatch back to the museum.

Bertie and Sebastian assisted, also with an eye to digging out any illuminating paperwork while the others made camp. By suppertime they had made sense of the mess, and Esmeralda retired to her tent making some final sense of the inventory she had compiled.

“There’s an item missing” she said.

“Oh?” queried Sebastian. “What is it?”

“Something called the Scroll of Annubis.” she replied. “Recovered from the tomb – oh, some three weeks ago. Hutchinson’s notes indicate that he sent some work back too the museum about it.”

“What is it?” asked Henry.

“Well there are some sketches” said Esmeralda. “An elaborate scroll case with some unusual markings, and it appeared to be sealed. Hutchinson wouldn’t have wanted to open it out here for fear of damaging it.” she paused, frowning thoughtfully.

“What’s the matter?” asked Bertie. “Vapours or something?”

“What?!” replied Esmeralda. “No. These markings….. I wonder if this is why Hutchinson called me out here?”

“Eh I don’t understand” said Bertie. “I’m sure Hutchinson could read Hieroglyphs as well as you, surely?”

“Of course” she replied. " But some of these hieroglyphs, They’re not Egyptian."

“What are they then?” asked Lady Glossop.

“Martian.”

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