Chapter 1

Despite the stifling humidity, the insects, and the ever watchful eye of the Egyptian government, the day had been a success. Laila’s entire body is dusted with desert sand, and it’s a condition she has gotten rather used to. She’s spent months in Giza on this dig. The Pyramids of Giza have been excavated for many years before she was even born, but Laila simply couldn’t resist. She can rarely turn down an invitation to excavate in Egypt. Like many other Archeologists, Egypt is what enchanted her into the study. Her stories, her structures, and all of her mystery had caught Laila at a very young age, luring her into a life of digging holes and staring at very old objects for very long periods of time.

                Laila wipes her dust coated hands into the thin khaki material of her pants. Her golden complexion is coated in a thin veil of dust and debris. She removes an instrument from her belt that resembles a mid-sized paint brush and stares at the wall limestone wall before her. The only light in the dark cavern is coming from the flashlight on her helmet, but even with it she can see a faint inscription in the stone wall. If it says what she believes it to say, than this trip will be more than just a success, it will put to rest much of the speculation behind a great mystery of the 4th Dynasty. Laila gently brushes the dust away from the inscription. The Hieroglyphs seem in excellent condition for the centuries of wear and tear they must have suffered. The golden shapes seem to almost glimmer beneath the caked on dust. Laila feels her heart tighten in her chest. There is an anxiety that she only feels before something amazing or something horrible happens.

“Dr. Walker? A muffled voice comes from within one of Laila’s deep pockets. Annoyed, she pulls her two way radio. “Yeah, what it is it Barkley?” She snaps at one of her grad students lucky enough to earn a place on her excavation. “The young man stammers. “You told me to call down for you to come up for air and water now, remember Dr. Walker?” Laila sighs and murmurs a swear to herself. Of course the transmission would come right when she is on the verge of possibly discovering something important and unseen for thousands of years. If this weren’t a teaching exhibition, she’d ignore the rules, but it is and she can’t, so up for air it is.

Laila trudges out of the narrow, dark cavern that had been excavated by her talented team of diggers. Technically the tunnel isn’t open for study yet, it hadn’t been deemed safe, but as per usual, Laila Walker found a way around the rules. The blaring sun chases her from the dark passage right into the shade of her tent not a far ways off. No one follows her, the crew knows better than to bother Dr. Walker when she’s this focused.  They know she’ll only be top side long enough to swallow her sandwich whole, down a lukewarm water bottle, and shake some of the sand from her thick, curly hair with great effort but few results.    

Laila grabs her dusty white helmet and presses it on over her mass of curls before walking out of her tent and back into the blazing sun of the desert. “Here Dr. Walker.” Her doctoral student Clay Barkley offers Laila a cool water bottle the moment she steps into the sun. Barkley had worked hard to earn a spot in Laila’s team, and even harder to become her assistant. “Thanks Barkley, you’re a life saver” she says between long gulps. The young man blushes at the recognition.

It’s pretty well known to the entire team that Barkley had developed a little bit of a crush on Laila over the months they spent rooting around in the dirt together. Laila could care less so long as it doesn’t affect his work. The boy is brilliant and damned good at dating even the smallest most insignificant piece of nothing that they’ve come across in any culture around the world.

“Of course Dr. Walker, whatever it is you need.” Laila nods in barely noticeable recognition. She wishes he’d turn his attention to one of the many young interns who would die for it. Between his tall, lean stature and demure British accent, he is definitely a hit with the archeology and anthropology girls working on the dig. His dirty blonde hair and puppy dog brown eyes certainly don’t hurt the boy’s chances with the ladies. Laila hates that he wastes his time pining after the unattainable. While he’s an attractive indiscretion, he’s an indiscretion none the less, and one she won’t have sullying her reputation.

“Dr. Walker, are you certain you don’t want one of us to go down with you? This area hasn’t been explored thoroughly and there is no guarantee that it’s safe. Maybe we should wait until we can have the stability of the walls and ceilings verified before you head back down.” Barkley sounds nervous. He, like everyone else, knows better than to question Laila’s decision making. Barkley, however, is the only one brave enough to speak up, even if it is just a little bit in a small, nervous voice.

Laila thinks of the promise she’d just made her parents that she wouldn’t do anything stupid or dangerous on this trip, as she had many times before. She’s earned a reputation for being both brilliant and reckless.  “I know it’s dangerous Barkley, that’s why I’m going in alone and not letting any of my students down before I know it is safe. It would be irresponsible of me to do otherwise.” Laila says that confidently, sure that it sounds like a good excuse for doing something stupid and dangerous after assuring her family that she wouldn’t. She reaches into her top and pulls out the small cross pendant hanging from her thin gold necklace. “See, I’m never alone Barkley. She kisses the pendant and then tucks it back in between her golden brown C cups beneath her white wife beater. “Of course Dr. Walker, I’ll be standing by for radio transmission.” She smiles at the hopeful boy. “I know Barkley.”

It’s not long before Laila weaves her way through the annals of the dark underground tunnel system to the limestone wall she’d left before. Even from a distance she can see a faint glimmer of gold on the wall as she approaches it. She wonders how it is no one else saw it in the many times these tunnels have been explored over the years, and also how no one had found this passageway that she and her team had discovered. She’s found herself wondering the same thing at many of her discoveries. She’s gained a reputation for seeing what no one else can on an excavation.

Many of her professional colleagues have worked hard to debunk her findings for the simple fact that she found something that they missed in their own in depth studies and digs. She’s been called everything from a fraud to just very lucky. No one has been able to prove her a fraud yet, and no one ever would. Laila knows she is the real thing, and luck has nothing to do with it. She works hard and she’s good at her job. She’s been studying antiquities and artifacts since she was introduced to them when she was twelve years old. It’s not her fault she was adopted by a museum curator who fostered a love for all things ancient in her.

Laila approaches the wall and just stares. She is mesmerized by the glittering scrolling on the wall. The broken symbols seem to come together in her mind until she clearly sees the symbol for Queen Hetepheres I shimmering back at her beneath the layers of dust. “Amazing” Laila whispers as she traces the pattern with her fingers just a hairsbreadth above the walls surface, careful not to touch anything. She pulls a small tube from her pockets and brushes some dirt from around the inscription inside for testing. She can send it to an entomologist for any clues they can offer her as to the time this particular passage was built. She brushes away more of the silt collected until more images are revealed. They are remarkably well preserved unless they aren’t nearly as old as she imagines them to be.

Despite everything that she knows to be right, Laila can’t help the urge to reach out and touch the golden flecks. Her fingers tremble as she nears the ancient image. Something about this place and this particular queen is drawing her. She can feel herself being pulled into it. The moment her skin touches the cool surface of the wall, a shock pulses through her system. Heat, like an overwhelming white light seams to fill her entire being. Laila attempts to cry out but she can only gasp. Her head swims the immense sensations suddenly pulsing into her body through her finger tips. What had she done? Had she triggered an ancient booby trap? Has the tunnel collapsed behind her and she’s hallucinating from a head trauma? All she can see is bright, golden-white light.

Slowly her eyes begin to clear. Laila’s fingertips remain on the surface of limestone wall. She slowly pulls her fingers away. The images are no longer faint and covered with dust. They are bright, vibrant and immaculately kept. Laila can hardly believe her eyes. She doesn’t believe her eyes at all. “I’m hallucinating” she murmurs. “I must be hallucinating.”

Even in her believed delirium, Laila can’t take her eyes off of the beautiful image on the wall. There are three women, all dressed in royal garments. The woman in the center stands elevated over the others. Laila assumes immediately that she is Queen Hetepheres and the others are either her guards, her servants or lesser wives of the Pharaoh. They are depicted too close in age to be her daughters. The women stand arms lifted and palms facing upward each holding an element. The woman to right of the queen holds a spherical drop of water, the woman to her left holds red flame and the queen elevates what looks like jagged rock or stone of some sort. Laila can tell from the image that these women were greatly revered by the people or at least some small cult with the political or religious power to etch their likenesses in a tunnel beneath the Great pyramid of Khufu.

The sound of approaching food steps startles Laila into turning from the wall. Her eyes widen like disks. The dark, stuffy, cave of a passage is gone. The tunnel has somehow transformed into a well lit and beautifully adorned hallway. A man, adorned in ancient funerary garments enters the hall with his eyes low to the ground. He moves as if he does not see her standing there, but still she steps out of his way. The man is tall, daunting in size. His skin is a deep chocolate brown, far too dark to be native Egyptian. Immediately Laila notes a marking on his firm bicep, it is one she has seen in her studies before. The man is Nubian, royalty of some kind. There is a great sadness in his dark eyes that she can see clearly though he looks straight through her. The man lifts his hand to the same limestone wall as Laila and presses his hand into the upper right corner of the image. The wall slides open before him and he disappears inside. Laila wants to follow, she wants to see what is behind the wall, but before she can budge, a great bellowing scream echoes from behind the limestone. The man wails so loudly Laila can feel his pain reverberating in her own chest. She gasps for air, feeling suffocated by his grief. She leans forward and grasps the wall just to keep on her feet. What is going on?

The moment the tips of her ruddy fingers touch the flat of the wall again, everything goes instantly dark. It takes Laila several moments before she can acclimate herself to where she is. Again, her eyes must refocus. She finds herself back in the dark, whole of a tunnel she’d began in. “What in the hell was that?” she asks herself. Not really willing to find an answer.

Laila has studied these pyramids and Egyptian mythology for years, but never has she believed in any of it. She doesn’t believe in ghost, past lives, or even ancient curses on tombs. What she does believe in is hallucinations caused by a lack of oxygen or possibly some poisonous spore breeding in the darkness that she may have come across. All of that be damned, Laila knows she’s stumbled upon something.

She grabs her two way radio and speaks quickly. “Barkley, get on your hard hat, grab some equipment and get down here now.” She hears a quick shuffling with the radio before he replies. “Of course Dr. Walker, I’m on my way down.” It seems like just minutes before Clay Barkley is hustling his way down the tunnel. The fit seems much tighter for him since he is more than 6 feet tall to Laila’s 5’8. “I’m here Dr. Walker, what have you found?” His voice is as excited as a child on his birthday. He knows that if Laila finds something important, he will likely get some minor credit for the find as her assistant. “Look, turn on your flashlight. Do you see that there?” She says pointing to the wall. Barkley does not respond, indicating that he sees nothing. Laila shakes her head disappointedly. Why is it that no one can ever see anything she does on a dig until after she points it out in great detail? “You see here, these gold flecks, follow them closely with your eyes, they are making a pattern. There is an image here. It’s hiding beneath many centuries of dirt and clay, but it is here.”

Barkley removes a brush from his tool belt and asks, “May I?” Laila nods, knowing he needs a closer look to see what she sees. Clay spends several moments dusting away layers of dirt and silt until suddenly his hand freezes in its spot. He has uncovered much more of what Laila had seen. “Dr. Walker, is this I think it is? Are we looking at an image depicting members of the royal family that no one has seen in centuries?” Laila smiles appreciatively at how adept Clay is becoming at identifying key figures in Egyptian hieroglyphs.

 “If you read the insignia down below Barkley, you’ll see that we are looking at what I believe to be the best preserved image of Queen Hetepheres I. And if my intuition is right,” Laila continues as she steps forward and examines the wall. “We are looking to back sealed secret entrance into her burial chamber.” Hesitantly, Laila extends her hand to the wall and presses exactly where she’d seen the wailing man do before.

 She presses with a great deal of force, knowing that if there really is a triggering mechanism, it will be decayed, rusted or packed with dirt into place. The wall gives a loud whine, and with a huge puff of dust, it slowly creaks open. “How did you know?” Barkley coughs out while attempting to speak and simultaneously minimize the decades of dirt from entering his lungs. “We’re scientists Barkley. We never know, we merely gather the facts and test the theories. This one just proved to be correct.”

The End

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