“Keep up, David, we still have a ways to go before nightfall.” The man up front was dressed in clothes that were designed with the philosophy that one could never have too many pockets. And each of those pockets was filled with something or another. There were pockets for food, a pocket for a water bottle, pockets for small tranquilizer darts and even pockets for holding scrolls and books. Not only was his entire costume covered in pockets, he was also carrying a large backpack with a bedroll hanging from it. The heavy load did not seem to bother him much though, as his pace was as brisk as if they were walking through the meadows instead of a dense jungle.
The young man behind him, who he had referred to as David, was less athletically gifted. The slender man with thick glasses was clearly more at ease in a library than trekking through a dense jungle, but fate would have it that he would be here today. “Are you sure we’re still going the right way, boss?” Sweat was visibly dripping from his forehead and there was a dead mosquito that he had slapped but not bothered to remove. He reached for an already drenched handkerchief that was in one of his front pockets and tried to wipe off some of the sweat. Although he succeeded in doing so, it did result in the blood that the mosquito had sucked from his forehead being smeared across his face. He didn’t seem to notice it and his companion did not bother to inform him either. “Of course we’re still going the right way. I have never been lost, and will never get lost or my name is not Balthasar Goodman.”
David let out a deep sigh, readjusted his backpack and tried to pick up the pace. The trek might have been hard, but it wasn’t like he had no interest in getting to their destination. When he applied for the position of an assistant to famous archeologist Balthasar Goodman, he expected the eccentric millionaire to travel in style. He had heard stories about how he always showed up to exhibitions in fancy limousines wearing the most expensive suits on the market. And for the first few weeks after David was hired that was certainly the case. He enjoyed the look into the life of a rich celebrity, as well as the access to untold amounts of books and research papers. A lot of the specific information that they were looking for wasn’t readily available on the internet, but was mostly found in old, long-forgotten books. Having access to those was a dream come true.
But here, in the barely explored wilderness, none of that money and fame had any value. There was no point in wearing a fancy suit with only a handful of pockets. David couldn’t help but feel pride working for a man like Balthasar. He’d had all that money and fame already, but when they figured out the location of this temple, he didn’t hesitate for a second to dive head first into a dangerous land. And he had the physique for it, too.
David, on the other hand, was – as his appearance showed – not the most athletic person on the team. He majored in history and never had much interest in fieldwork. Somehow he got dragged along, and as they had been travelling this jungle for three full days now, he was starting to lose faith.
“What if the information we got was wrong and that’s why we can’t find it?”
Balthasar stopped and turned around. “We found this map hidden in a book deep inside the Baghdad House of Wisdom. There wouldn’t be a fake map in a place like that, now would there? It has been around for ages!”
“Need I remind you, boss, that the original building burned down and that this replacement, although impressive, does not hold the same wisdom.”
“Ah yes, a real tragedy that was. Such an esteemed place of wisdom and knowledge, lost to the flames of time.” He sounded almost sentimental. “Either way, we can’t turn around before we’ve properly explored this area, lest we miss something.” He looked up at the sky beyond the canopy. It was slowly getting darker and if the jungle was a creepy place during the day, that was exacerbated at night. “I suppose we should set up camp, I see a clearing in the distance, I believe.”
David nodded. “I’m completely spent, I can’t believe you can keep up a pace like that all day wearing such a heavy backpack.”
Balthasar chuckled heartily. “I’ve spent years training to get to this point, my boy, you’ll get there as well if you keep this up.”
The two continued for another two minutes, hacking through the dense shrubbery, before reaching the clearing. At the edge of the clearing, opposite from where the two had emerged, was what looked to be a cave entrance. “Bingo.”
They had a small fire burning near the edge of the cave, just far enough beneath the rock cover to be sheltered from the rain and wind. It wasn’t particularly cold, so the wind was bearable. Balthasar took out two rations and handed one to David. He grumbled as he did so. “Day three of eating this space food, I’ll never get used to it.”
David nodded. “It’s efficient, though.”
They quickly ate their meal as the night sky took hold above them. David took out his laptop. It still had some battery left, but not much. There was internet out there, but he knew better than to connect to it. Scavengers and other grifters were always on the lookout for an opportunity like this and the longer they stayed off the net, the safer it would be for them. For this same reason they had traveled through the jungle for three days instead of just landing closer to this area.
“What are you writing about?” Balthasar asked in between bites.
“I’ve started a research article about this tomb, better get it ready as soon as possible before some other schmuck decides that they’re an expert and writes it first.”
Balthasar laughed. “This attitude is why I hired you, kid, you have what it takes.”
David blushed. A compliment from Balthasar meant a lot to him. He wrote about the trek here and the brutal temperatures combined with their heavy load, and how they found the entrance to a cavern on their third evening. He ended today’s addition with: ‘We will explore the cavern in the morning and hopefully find what we came for.’ He closed the laptop and took the last bite of his food. “The rest will have to wait until we’re back home because this thing is out of battery.”
Balthasar reached for one of his pockets and took out an old looking telephone. “These things last forever, so we should be able to connect and call Stephen when we’re done here.”
That was a relief. Assuming this was the right place, they would be able to retrieve everything and not have to bring it through the jungle back to civilization. That would have likely been impossible anyway – there was a good chance the sarcophagus was too heavy for the two of them to lift up, let alone drag across the jungle.
They sat there for a while before going to sleep. David wasn’t too happy about sleeping in an unexplored tomb, but Balthasar didn’t seem to have a single worry in the world. He was humming to himself while preparing his bedroll. Soon afterwards he went to lie down.
“I recommend you sleep soon too, chap, it will be a busy day tomorrow.”
David nodded and followed his advice, placing his own bedroll on the opposite side of the fire. As he was putting it down on the ground, he noticed a shadow in the distance. When he blinked, it was gone. He figured he must have imagined it, but it did make him a bit more nervous about going to sleep.
It had been a long day though, and even with the feeling of uneasiness creeping in the back of his mind, he still fell asleep rather quickly as he was very tired.
Morning came with the sound of a bustling jungle just outside the entrance to the cave. Balthasar was already up and preparing some instant coffee. He poured two cups and handed one to David who was just getting up. “If there’s one thing I can never get used to, it’s the awful coffee I have to endure on these trips. It’s mind-boggling that we somehow invented commercial spacecrafts before we invented instant coffee that doesn’t taste like ground dirt.”
David laughed. “It’s not that bad, it’s just not as good as freshly ground coffee.”
Balthasar shook his head. “You’ll learn eventually, once I make you a good cup of coffee, that my fresh beans and this goop should not even be mentioned in the same sentence.”
Despite the coffee being verbally abused, it still tasted fine to David and definitely served as a good way to wake up. His body felt stiff from sleeping on a thin bedroll on a dank cave floor, but he had slept better than when they had to sleep in a tent out in the open. The cave had felt more secure and he had all but convinced himself that the shadows were never actually there the last night.
“Shall we?” Balthasar had picked up his stuff and was ready to go. David closed his laptop and followed. They had brought some torches and spare batteries for them, and they were right to have done so. It was pitch black inside and without their own light source they would probably have had to turn around. The naturally formed cave eventually made way to a more manmade structure. The walls were made of rather coarse sandstone bricks. This looked like the inside of a pyramid.
“What did I tell you David, I knew this was the right place.” Balthasar said triumphantly.
“I can’t understand what a pyramid is doing underground on the other side of the world, but you were right after all.”
Balthasar turned around to face him. “It’s absolutely brilliant, I can’t believe it! I wonder what condition it is in.”
David smiled. Balthasar had this childlike wonder about him. He was a millionaire celebrity in his late fifties, but a dank underground pyramid was where he truly felt at home.
The two kept following the hallways, marking their path on a piece of paper. Although it had taken years to find the entrance to the place, finding the main room only took an hour of searching, backtracking, and eventually going the right way.
The hallway opened up into a large chamber, about twelve meters across. The room was square and the ceiling was rather low. If David stood up straight and reached up, he could touch it with his hands. In each corner stood a diamond-encrusted golden vase, with coins and other offerings in them. In the center was a surprisingly plain sarcophagus.
David stepped towards the sarcophagus in awe.
“Don’t just walk into the room without checking for…”
Whatever Balthasar was going to say was cut off, but David figured out the missing word. Traps.
The room filled with gas and both men quickly covered their noses and mouths. It was too late though, the gas had already entered their bodies and their vision started to become blurry. A few seconds passed and David fell to the ground, his consciousness gone.
“So you’re the one who found my resting place?” A female voice appeared in David’s head. He slowly opened his eyes. He was somewhere completely different from before. The dark underground resting place had been replaced with a large garden. There was a pond in front of him with koi swimming around, as well as beautiful trees and flowers all around him. A small bridge led to a large bamboo throne. On the throne sat a young woman with whiskers on her tanned face. The sound of a nearby shishi-odoshi, one of those wooden garden ornaments that break up the silence, almost made him jump.
The young woman looked amused by his panicked state of mind.
“Where am I?” David asked.
“You’re in the subconsciousness of an immortal queen, my dear.”
“The what of a what now?” David was at a loss for words. Several bright blue butterflies flew around him in circles before flying up to the woman and landing on the backrest of her throne.
“It’s no surprise that someone as powerful as me can mess with your mind a little bit, don’t you think?” Her eyes became narrow as she looked him up and down. “You don’t fully realize who I am, do you?”
“You’re an ancient Egyptian ruler, one of the first and most revered in history.”
The woman let out a sigh. “Well, at least you figured out a part of it.” She uncrossed her legs then crossed them the other way. “I suppose I can tell you who I actually am. After all, it’s not like you’ll remember anything after the gas wears off.”
David wanted to say something, but the glare she gave him made him think twice. Instead, he waited for her to continue talking.
“My name, as it seems you have figured out by now, is Danahsereth. You can call me Dana, since that’s better than butchering the pronunciation of my full name. I am the host of an ancient, immortal spirit that has existed for centuries and centuries. To keep a long story short, I had a falling out with my companions and fled to Egypt, where the people were very lovely. Unfortunately, not all of them were as lovely as they appeared, and a few of them tricked me into this sarcophagus. They then moved it to this dark cave in an effort to hide me from the world. I am very grateful that you and your friend found me, because it’s about time I stretched my legs and wreaked some havoc on some mortals.”
David stepped back. It almost seemed like the woman had grown bigger and more feral as she was talking. Sharp teeth appeared in the corners of her mouth and her eyes turned into a deep yellow. Her ears slowly started growing hairs and changed shape to be pointier. Her nails turned long and sharp until they looked more like claws than fingernails.
“If you make threats like that, I don’t think it’s such a good plan to let you out of this place.”
Danahsereth giggled. “Oh, sweet innocent boy, I’m afraid you don’t have a say in all of this. You will wake up from this dream. You will have forgotten all about meeting me. You will release me from this place.” She said the last part with a ferocity that shook David to his core. He took another step back and tumbled backwards onto the ground. The blue butterflies that sat on Danahsereth’s throne had turned a crimson red.
“No need to be scared, I have no quarrels with you personally. I’ll let you take all the glory for finding this ancient tomb and I will not harm you or your friend. You’re doing me a great service after all.” She stood up and snapped her fingers. David’s vision went blurry again and his consciousness faded.
“Dave, are you alright, mate?” Balthasar’s worried voice woke him up. He blinked a few times adjusting to the light of the torch before he remembered where he was. “What happened to us?” he asked.
Balthasar shook his head. “I believe you triggered a trap with sleeping gas. It’s a good thing it wasn’t poisonous or we both would have been goners.” He smacked David on the back. “Be more careful next time, you never know.”
“I’m terribly sorry, sir,’ David said as he stood up, brushing the dust from his clothes.
“As long as you’ve learned from this. Now let’s call Stephen and figure out a way to get this sarcophagus out of here and to the museum.”
David put his hand on the sarcophagus and looked at it. He had a nagging feeling in the back of his mind, as if he was forgetting something important. He shook it off. A day later their ride arrived and they quickly but carefully moved the sarcophagus to the entrance of the cave, where their helicopter picked it up. David was the last person to climb aboard. Right as he stepped out of the cave for the last time, he heard a voice in the back of his head. Thank you. He looked behind him to see who spoke to him, but there was no one there.
The helicopter took off and they all made their way back to London.
Three months had passed since they found the sarcophagus of Danahsereth. Both Balthasar and David had replaced their travelling gear with fancy suits and were ready for the opening evening. The sarcophagus would be in the main exhibition hall in the London museum of world history. It was one of the more significant pieces that had been discovered in the past century and critics has been interviewing Balthasar almost every day since they came back. Now the public would finally be able to see the piece.
David and Balthasar were both at the opening night as well, answering questions and talking to people. Admittedly, a lot more people wanted to talk to Balthasar than to David, but he didn’t mind. He was used to the studying part and although there was an allure to a celebrity status, he did really prefer some more quiet.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” A woman next to him said. He turned to her. She looked young, probably in her late twenties, early thirties. She extended a hand to him. “Akane.”
He shook her hand. “David Grant, I was part of the team that uncovered the sarcophagus.”
Akane smiled. “I know you were, I’ve read about it in many newspapers. The assistant, right?”
She saw the disappointment in his face. “I’m joking.” She smiled and looked at the sarcophagus some more. “You know, the simplicity of the overall design implies this wasn’t someone particularly important, but if you actually start looking for the details, there is so much more to it than meets the eye. I specifically like the cat motifs, although I suppose that is something the Egyptians were always all over.”
David nodded. “This is the oldest piece we’ve found with the motif on it, but it confirms the idea that Egyptians have pretty much always liked cats.”
Akane walked to the other side of the cordoned off sarcophagus to look at the back of the thing. There were hieroglyphs on that side as well. “What do you think those mean?” she asked David.
David looked at where she pointed. “Funny you should ask. We’re actually not quite sure. Balthasar theorizes it is an ancient incantation of magic, but since lots of those weird old magics disappeared throughout the years, we have no way of really knowing. At the very least it’s not a regular script.”
Akane thought about that for a moment. “I have a theory, if you don’t mind me sharing.”
David looked surprised. “You do?” He almost forgot himself, but he recovered quickly. “Of course, by all means share what you think. Any new perspective is always welcome, regardless of whether it ends up being correct.”
Akane stepped a bit closer to the rope that was keeping them at a distance and she pointed at the top bit of writing. “I believe that says: Eternal slumber to the plague.” She then pointed at another piece of writing. “To bind forever.” And then she pointed to the side of the sarcophagus. “Let sleeping cats be.”
David thought about this for a moment, looking intensely at the writing that she’d pointed at. “That would fit the motif and it sounds vague enough to be some sort of incantation, but how would you know?” He looked back to where Akane had been, but there was no one. “Akane?”
He looked around confused. The woman he had just been talking to was gone. He caught a glimpse of her walking out of the building and just as he went to follow her, Balthasar walked up to him, with two journalists in tow. “David, my good man, would you tell these journalists all about how the gas in the tomb was almost the end of us?”
David stood still for a second, unsure what to do.
“Did you see a ghost?” Balthasar asked, with a worried expression on his face.
David shook it off. “No, I did not. And the gas wasn’t that bad, it was just sleeping gas.”
Balthasar laughed. “You’re terrible at this job, boy. You always need to embellish the story.” The two journalists laughed with them and they walked around the room to the bar.
David looked around, but Akane was nowhere to be seen. “What a strange day,” he mumbled to himself, as he made his way to the bar as well. He could use a drink after all that.