The museum was quiet.
Just the way he liked it.
Ibrahim Hadmani yanked his tie loose and felt a wonderful sense of freedom wash over him as he undid the top two buttons on his shirt. He sucked in a deep breath. Odd that it tasted so much better when he didn’t have a tie up around his throat throttling him.
He glanced up at the clock high on the museum wall. A few minutes past six. The last of the visitors had been politely ushered out - at least Ibrahim hoped it had been politely - and the new term didn’t start for another week. That meant most of the students who attended the university attached to the museum either hadn’t arrived back in London yet or they were in the local bars and clubs getting some practice in for the alcohol and hormone fuelled carnage that would be Freshers Week.
At a few months past his thirty-sixth birthday, Ibrahim was in good shape. He went to the gym a couple of times a week and was mostly careful about what he ate. He still saw himself as a young man. He certainly ran rings around most of the younger lads at football on a Sunday morning.
But compared to the students he was a dinosaur.
He allowed himself a slight smile at the memory of his own days as a student. The current crop of kids wouldn’t believe it, but whatever mayhem they indulged in, Ibrahim was pretty sure he already had the t-shirt. Been there, seen it, done it, he thought wryly.
And I enjoyed it too.
Ibrahim took a quiet stroll through the museum. Over the centuries, the London University of History and Antiquity had gained a collection of historical artefacts every bit as impressive and extraordinary as the university’s reputation for scholarship and intellectual integrity. It housed items from numerous Crusades, including a cup once believed to have been the Holy Grail, and which had been the subject of a series of battles which raged over a several decades before its history was disproved. Instead, the cup was brought back to England carrying the heart of the last knight who had fallen in its defence. In another room there were relics from Agincourt. Another was devoted to Rome and its empire, which had been an interest of Ibrahim‘s since even before university.
Intrigued by those as he was - and as respectful of their history as any true historian would be - it was the Egyptian Collection which always captured Ibrahim. True, he was an Egyptian himself, and without the collection’s presence he would not have been in London. It had been part of the deal between the Egyptian government and the university that these sacred relics of a great past would only be loaned to the museum if an Egyptian Curator was appointed, and Ibrahim had leaped at the chance when the job was offered. His family was one of the oldest in Egypt, steeped in the lore and traditions of the ancient country. As a graduate of this university himself, Ibrahim was the perfect choice to be the new curator. And more importantly for Ibrahim, it meant he could return to London for the entire ten years of the collection’s loan period.
He loved the city. His schooling had all been in London, and as much as he loved Egypt, London felt like home. If he could study these amazing artefacts, while living in his favourite city, then that was a deal Ibrahim couldn’t resist.
If only he didn’t have to wear a damn tie.
Ibrahim pulled his tie off completely and shoved it carelessly into his pocket. After six o’clock, when the public were gone, he could dress as he saw fit. He was sure that the pharaohs whose treasures filled the room wouldn’t object. He paused at a glass case and looked at the mummified remains of a young prince inside. The dry, broken skin, desiccated and aged by the passing of almost three and a half thousand years looked brittle and fragile like old paper. It was hard to believe that it had once been a young man, full of life, a man who should have ruled the world. Ibrahim said a short prayer from the Book of the Dead before moving deeper into the room.
The chamber was impossibly old. Burning torches cast flickering lights across the sandstone walls, making the hieroglyphic characters leap and jump. Each of the friezes was filled with death. Even those who couldn’t read these ancient writings would have no difficulty in understanding their meaning. Bolts of lightning flew from the hand of a massive hyena-headed figure, blasting through the chests and heads of Egyptian soldiers. The detail in the carvings was incredibly intricate. The severed limbs and spraying blood of the Egyptian soldiers as they were slain by the Jackal-God’s lightning was made even more disturbing by the expression of malevolent delight carved on the god’s face.
In the middle of this chamber, Leon Davis was in hell.
He was in hell and he knew he was going to die.
Leon was stretched on his back across an ancient sandstone altar eight feet long by three feet wide. It stood a good four feet above the floor of the chamber. The altar was also covered with carved hieroglyphics, as violent and bloody as those on the walls. But the hieroglyphs on the altar had a different look, as if they had been filled in with a black dye. When Leon had realised what it really was inside the carvings, he had yanked and pulled at the chains. Even when he felt them slicing into his ankles and wrists he had strained every muscle in an effort to rip them free.
It was blood inside the hieroglyphs. Dried blood. And his own blood would soon be joining it unless he could somehow break free. He strained for what seemed like hours. There was no way to keep track of the time in the chamber. When his muscles ached so badly that he could barely move them, Leon yelled and screamed for help until his voice had grown hoarse and failed him. But no help had come. He hadn’t expected any.
Because this couldn’t be happening. Not now, not here. It just couldn’t. He had even wondered if this was some kind of stunt, some English prank played at the expense of a Fresher. Maybe something more sinister? Make the Yank suffer. Show him why America shouldn’t get involved in the Middle East. It was a crazy thought. Even students wouldn’t go that far for a stunt. But it was no crazier than the alternative.
And he wanted to believe anything except the alternative.
Leon heard the flames on the torches crackle and the light danced. He jerked his head round. A heavy tapestry, embroidered with the same bloodlust as the hieroglyphs on the walls, had been pushed aside. The tapestry hadn’t been there before. He was sure of it. But that didn’t matter. He scarcely saw it. His attention was focused on the dozen figures who glided through the doorway behind the tapestry. Each wore a long, heavily embroidered robe, with a cowled hood which kept their faces in darkness.
All except for the last member of the coven.
His cloak was far more intricately decorated with scenes of mutilation and torture embroidered in the style of Egyptian paintings. Unlike the others, his cowl was pushed back, From under it, the face of a jackal stared directly at Leon. A row of sharp teeth protruded from the long snout. Blood was painted on them. No, it wasn’t paint. The blood was real. Above the snout, the eyes glowed a hellish red as if lit from within.
Leon strained again. He had thought he had no strength left, but the sight of the jackal and its coven fired energy through his body and he pulled at the chains, straining with every muscle. He had run track in high school, played on the defensive line for the football team, he had wrestled. He was strong, fit. The chains had to give. They had to.
But they didn’t give. The cuffs bit deeper into Leon’s skin and he felt the hot flow of his own blood on his wrists. He didn’t care. The blood spurred him on. He pulled harder. Felt the blood flow faster. Ignored it. Pulled. Twisted his body so that every muscle could pull at the chains. If even one came free he had a chance. A chance to fight. The chain could be a weapon. He just need to one to come loose. Just one. It had to.
It had to.
The coven had surrounded the altar, watching Leon struggle. He felt a change in the chain. For just an instant he thought his hand come free but then it registered in his brain that the chain felt heavier. A fraction later he became aware that his limbs were heavier too. He could hardly move them. Too late, he saw the bowl of smoking incense being held close to his head by one of the coven. Smoke from the burner had drifted around Leon. It moved like a living thing, twisting its way into his nose and mouth. Even as he choked, trying to spit his sickening sweet taste of the incense from his mouth, Leon felt the paralysis spread through his body. His arms stopped moving, his legs felt dead to him and he fell back onto the altar. His breathing was shallow, painful.
He knew it was over. He just hoped that the drug would kill him before this coven could do anything worse to him. Leon’s sight blurred for a moment. Instinctively, he blinked hard, trying to focus. One of the coven had pushed at one of the great sandstones in the wall and it had slid upwards allowing some sort of brightly lit computer panel to slide out of the wall in its place.
It didn’t belong.
Didn’t belong any more than an Egyptian sect could belong in 21st century London.
When the Jackal spoke, the voice was in English but with a slight accent. Middle East? “Have you found her?” Her? Who were they talking about? Leon was one of the first students to arrive. He had hardly seen anyone else. Except maybe that dark haired girl. What was her name? Why couldn’t he remember her name? She was a Fresher, like him. English, dark haired, quite tall. One of the caretakers had called her ‘posh totty’. He couldn’t remember what that meant.
Now Leon couldn’t remember her face. She had been pretty but what had she looked like? And what had she been wearing?
Was it this girl they were looking for?
“She is not where we expected,” the Jackal’s acolyte answered. He operated a few controls and pressed some buttons - did they have a laptop connected to the control panel somehow? That just seemed silly to Leon. Maybe it was a stupid dream? All of it was a dream. Lights and patterns flowed across the control panel as the acolyte seemed to track a path. “She’s here,” the acolyte said, pointing at part of the screen.
“Are you sure?” The jackal sounded shaken.
The acolyte nodded. “The trace leads here. I have run it three times and each time it tracks her to this location.”
“So far away,” the Jackal said softly. “Did her ancestors try to hide her from us? Did the coward Pharaoh think he could hide the child from Ash-Ama-Teseth? He had more knowledge than even we knew… but he could not hide her forever.” The Jackal turned and strode back to the altar. “Bring her to this place.”
The acolyte bowed and operated control, his hands flicking back and forth between the control panel and the laptop. “The scans have locked to her DNA.”
The Jackal nodded in satisfaction. “We must do our god honour.”
Immediately he had spoken, the coven began a chant. “Imtera-ho-Seth sha lim ka veda rahoshom serium lee din sakk-daran.” The chant was repeated, a low incantation uttered perfectly in unison. Everything in the ritual had to be precise, everything had to follow the instructions laid out so long before.
Years of practice and painful instruction had taught them to fear the repercussions of any failure.
One of the coven detached himself from the circle around Leon and the altar, disappearing into the shadows. He returned a moment later, carrying an ornate dagger. The blade was perhaps thirty centimetres long, and rippled like a snake sliding across the sand. The same hieroglyphs that covered the wall and altar were carved into the hilt and blade, and stained dark by the blood it had spilled over the millennia.
The Jackal took the dagger. “Our master lives in blood. Blood gives him power. Death is his life.”
Two of the coven ripped Leon’s shirt open, baring his chest. He couldn’t move, couldn’t feel any part of his body. Even his mind seemed detached.
The Jackal raised the dagger overhead. “This blade, forged by his will, bearing the blood of his enemies, the source of his exile in eternal night beyond the furthest sky, passed through the millennia, will be the instrument of his release and of his victory. It will be the instrument of this sacrifice which will bring our eternal enemy to us.”
Leon saw the dagger slash downwards through the air. He was vaguely aware of a sudden pressure against his chest, but he felt no pain as the blade ripped through his skin and on, tearing deep into his heart.
“Master, take the blood of this innocent. His life is the sacrifice delivering your freedom.”
Leon thought he heard the sound of some kind of electrics or machinery whining, but it was so far away and so unimportant. Was the Jackal shouting? Was he angry? It didn’t matter. Leon thought briefly of his mother before everything slipped into darkness.
Buy ERIMEM - THE LAST PHARAOH HERE.
ERIMEM - THE LAST PHARAOH
FREE sample chapter
Enjoy a FREE sample chapter of the first novel in our new series of adventures for ERIMEM, former companion of the Fifth Doctor in DOCTOR WHO.
This first novel drags Erimem through time forst to London and then to Ancient Greece, where the legendary Queen Cleopatra is about to face the greatest battle of her life... and Erimem has troubles of her own with a cult of assassins following her through time, intent on sacrificing her to their god.
ERIMEM - THE LAST PHARAOH is wriitem by Iain McLaughlin and Claire Bartlett, with a foreword by Erimem actress, Caroline Morris and a cover by Paul Mudie.
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