"The hand-plucked rose loses meaning as life is leached. Red love, once clutched to breast, putrefies and is thrown to the midden.
The hand leaked life as meaning was picked. Putrefaction clutched love and was thrown to the midden."
― Michael R. Fletcher, Beyond Redemption
It was late in the afternoon on the fourth day of their voyage when the group had reached the Valley of the Kings. They had traveled tirelessly to reach their destination, and were glad to finally dismount their camels to stretch and crack their tired bodies.
Melia had her map out, nose deep and searching for the tombs she wanted to camp near. She walked in a circle, sometimes pointing in different directions and muttering to herself. Eshne looked at Alistair and smiled.
"Your girlfriend seems a bit lost." She said.
"Yes well we have travelled for a long...hey!" Alistair glared at Eshne.
"Ha!" Melia shouted, pointing to her right, "This way." She set off.
There was a collective sigh of relief as everyone started to pick up their things. Melia quickly turned around and went to the left.
"Sorry this way!" She called, almost racing down the hill into the valley.
The whole group let out a groan, turning to follow behind Melia, who was almost running at this point.
By the time they reached the bottom, Melia was already talking to nobody about where the supplies would go and where they would start excavations. She was so excited in fact, that she had drifted off between English and Arabic.
Nani and Eshne could see the corners of Sten's mouth start to crease into a smile.
"He does feel." Nani whispered to Eshne, who giggled.
Melia walked over to Sten, speaking excitedly and jumping up once or twice. Sten only just nodded.
"What's she saying?" Alistair asked.
"I can only make out a few words," Leliana said, "But I'll hazard a guess and say she's just very happy to be here."
"She wants us to put the supplies near the tomb of Ramesses III," Nicolai interrupted, "She says we'll start there."
"Well, you heard the little lady." Alistair said.
They slowly started to put up their camp, finishing just before sunset. Each of them women took off their veils, wearing now only their trousers and their kaftans, save Nani, who rid herself of her tob sebleh in favor of a tank top. Melia had tied her kaftan up so that it now hung around her waist, and Eshne had followed suit.
Morrigan went around the camp, checking up on each person to make sure they hadn't sustained any injury during their trek. Once she was done, she stayed with Nani to change the bandages on her ears.
"Has your hearing improved?" She asked.
Nani shrugged, "Only slightly." She pet Argos, "Tell it to me straight, doc."
Morrigan sighed, "I think you are lucky you are not completely deaf. But I'm afraid you've sustained permanent damage."
"Nani, I'm sorry…" Jowan started.
"I don't want to hear it." Nani said, "Oh wait."
Both she and Eshne started to cackle, Jowan's face fell and he slunk away.
Melia was looking at the maps with Cullen and Leliana when they heard the horses. Both dogs started to bark, snarling at the hoofbeats came closer.
There was whooping and hollering that echoed through the valley. Melia took off her reading glasses, watching as a group of people arrived at their site. Each of them had guns on them, and they were unloading their supplies into the already established camp.
"What is the meaning of this?" Melia demanded, addressing a man who looked at if he constantly smelled something awful.
"Out of my way, girl," He said, "I wish to speak to the man in charge!" He yelled.
Sten stepped forward to pummel the man, but Melia already grabbed him by the shirt collar and brought him down to her height.
"That would be me." She spoke through her teeth, her green eyes flashing with rage.
"Highly doubtful." The man said.
"Hey, professor," One of his men said, his accent clearly American, "You didn't say anyone else would be here." He stepped down from his horse, guns on his hips.
"It seems you are misinformed then," Melia said, pushing the professor away, "You will have to find somewhere else to go."
"Fool woman," The professor said, "You have no idea what lies under these sands." He called to the American, "Now, Samuel…"
"I know exactly what I'm doing here thank you," Melia said, interrupting the professor, "But insult me again and I will have your head."
"No one ever said we would get our own Cleopatra out here." Samuel laughed, "I bet you bite too."
Alistair stepped forward, his fist balled. Melia stopped him when there was a gunshot, Samuel started hopping around and holding his foot, screaming and swearing in pain.
Melia looked behind her, Nani put her gun back in its holster and walked up next to Melia.
"Now listen here, jackasses," She said, "This is how it's going to go. You bunch of fuckers are going to get out of here as fast as you can, and never bother my fine Lady Mahariel ever again. Clear?"
"Mahariel?" The professor crinkled his nose, "I should have known. You're a family of cockroaches…"
"Watch your tongue." Sten snapped, "To insult the Mahariel name is to insult me." He glared, causing a few of the horses and men to back away.
"How did you even know there was to be an expedition here?" Melia demanded.
"I have my ways, Lady Mahariel." The professor said with a wry smile.
"You will tell me…"
"Or I'll shoot your ass too." Nani cocked her pistol.
The group of cowboys behind the professor aimed their guns at Nani now.
"Nani, please..." Melia said.
"I suppose it's our lucky day then," Samuel said suddenly, holding his foot, "Not only the daughter of Osiris Mahariel, but the daughter of Redding fucking Surana. This couldn't get any better! Where's my spicy little redhead?"
"Get the fuck out of here, Samuel Callahan." Eshne said.
"There she is! It's been a while, darlin'. You're pretty out of the bedroom." Samuel winked.
"That's enough-" Cullen started.
The guns now pointed to him, Cullen just sighed out of annoyance.
"Alright!" Melia shouted, "Children. Let's just, try to settle things. Shall we? I see no reason why we couldn't share the valley." She looked at Nani, "There are other places to look once we prepare to dig. Right?"
Nani lowered her gun, "Fine."
"You will not take the tomb of Ramesses." The professor said.
Melia scoffed, "Which one, you ignorant and uneducated jackass?"
Both Eshne and Nani beamed with pride.
"Well…" The professor started, looking through his journals and maps.
"That's what I thought," Melia said, her tone was icy, "Set your camp where you like, but do not bring your idiocy into mine."
"Very well, Lady Mahariel," The professor said, still looking devilish. He turned to his men, "We'll camp a bit further that way!" He shouted.
Eshne walked up to Melia and patted her shoulder.
"You sure showed those assholes, huh?" She smiled.
Melia frowned, "I want to know how they knew where to look for the tomb. We were the only ones making this trip."
"We'll make that fight tomorrow," Leliana said, "For now, we have our camp."
"Or we could kill them all in their sleep." Nani suggested.
"I say yes." Eshne agreed.
"Seconded." Oghren added.
"No one is killing anybody." Cullen sighed.
Nani huffed, "I never get to kill people anymore."
"Oh yes, what a shame." Alistair rolled his eyes.
The camp had quieted down for a time. Every once in awhile, Melia would look over to the other camp, seeing that they had supplies to last them for months, rather than weeks.
Oghren and Sten had set to building a fire to stave off the cool desert night. Nani and Leliana were discussing ways to get into the other camp for a "reconnaissance".
Nicolai sat next to Melia, handing her a blanket to put around her shoulders.
"I looked more at the handwriting in the journals…" Melia said to him.
Melia sighed, "I'm starting to think they're forgeries," She picked one of them up, "I compared the handwriting to an entry that my father had written when they had an expedition in Tibet," She pointed to a few letters, "There's only a slight variation with certain letters, but whoever it was kept it near impossible to tell."
"Why would someone go through the trouble of forging this?" Nicolai asked, "It's as if they really didn't want us looking at these tombs…"
"That's what doesn't make sense to me. Explorers came here all of the time, I can't think of any reason why. Sure, the war kept people from this place, but there are bound to be others…" She nonchalantly pointed to the American camp, "Which I suppose begs the question…"
"And what question is that?" Nicolai asked.
Melia looked at him, "What the Hell is in that tomb?"
It was early morning when the group descended into the tomb. Sten walked ahead with Nani, holding up lanterns so that everyone could see.
Eshne coughed a few times, the must and sand irritating her lungs. Cullen was right by her side with her inhaler, holding her hand in the dark where no one could see.
Up ahead, Sten had lit a few torches, handing one to Alistair and one to Nicolai.
"Oh my…" Melia felt her breath leave her.
All along the walls were delicately painted hieroglyphs, Melia extended her fingers out to touch them, but stopped short, not wanting to damage anything.
The torchlight flickered, illuminating the colorfully painted walls. As they continued through, they observed the extensive work that was put into the glyphs.
"This is amazing." Leliana marveled.
After walking a ways, they had decided to split off into pairs to cover more ground. Each going into different chambers. Melia and Nicolai had already gone off further into the tomb before Alistair had a chance to join them, so he and Nani followed with the dogs. Eshne and Cullen went to explore a few side rooms, while the other five went around to catalogue a few of their findings.
Nicolai held a torch up for Melia so that she could see a few markings. They had reached the main burial chamber, and Melia had been babbling about random facts about the dead pharaoh.
"And...my parents walked through these halls…" She said, "It's…" She stopped.
"Melia?" Nicolai looked at her.
"Where's the entrance that was mentioned in the journals?" Melia looked around, "It should be...well somewhere."
She and Nicolai looked around for a while. They stepped over the dilapidated columns, a few rays of sun poking through the broken ceiling. Melia felt her chest start to burn, she held her hand to her breast, moving up to the ankh around her neck.
"Are you alright?" Nicolai asked.
"I-I um…" Melia scratched at her collarbone.
Nicolai tried to pull her hands away, seeing that her nails broke the skin. But Melia had leaned against a wall, facing Nicolai.
"I don't know what's wrong...I can't…" Melia started gasping for breath.
"Morrigan!" Nicolai called, "There's something…"
Melia's eyes turned white, she grasped the wall. Just as Alistair and Nani had raced into the room, the wall behind Melia had given way. She fell through, the wall then closing in on itself.
"Melia!" Alistair called, running to the wall, trying to push his way through it as Melia had done.
He threw himself up against it, Nicolai doing the same. Nani pushed them both aside, taking one of Oghren's sledgehammers and breaking the wall.
The dogs growled and barked as she did. Argos had whined, his tail tucked as he slunk away. Blue bared his teeth, his hairs bristling upwards.
"What's going on?" Morrigan asked, coming into the room as Nani broke down the wall.
"Melia fell." Nicolai said.
Sten rushed forward, helping Nani break up the wall, cutting his hands on the stone.
Oghren and Jowan appeared through the doorway.
"We have a problem." Jowan said.
"You think?" Nani snapped.
"It's the other group," Oghren said, "They're trying to dig another way into the tomb…"
"Damn…" Nani threw the hammer down, nearly missing Alistair's foot, "Alright. This is what we'll do. Oghren, you get Cullen, Leliana, Jowan, Morrigan, and Sten to help you keep them away. Tell Eshne to meet us down here."
"What?" Sten shouted.
"The rest of us will go and find Lady Mahariel. We'll bring her up to the camp immediately." Nani barked, "Let's go we don't have all day."
They separated again, and Nani stepped into the dark.
Melia groaned, holding her head. She wasn't sure if it had been bleeding, but she didn't want to keep lying there. Slowly, she stood up, shooting pains radiating through her chest.
It was extremely dark, save an unnatural blue glow that seemed to flow through the stony hall. She stepped forward, careful with her steps. The narrow walls making it easy for her to grasp as she stumbled through. She then realized she must have sprained her ankle when she fell, as she had started to limp from a shooting pain that ran up her leg.
The hallway led to an open chamber. Melia hadn't seen anything like it, noticing that the carvings were from a completely different dynasty.
She searched for her reading glasses, pouting when she saw one of the lenses was cracked. She put them on, reading the hieroglyphs that were on the wall with what little light she had.
"Know this…" She had begun to read, "Whomsoever disturbs...his rest. Will be-" She squinted her eyes, trying to decipher what the glyphs were saying, "Cursed?" She kept reading, "Here is one, we do not speak his name. Only the...key can bring him back, and on that day-the Gods are truly...dead?"
Melia felt an overwhelming sense of emotion, not sure if her body wanted her to cry or scream. A chill ran down her spine. Her necklace started to burn her again.
She backed away, bumping into what she had thought to be the opposite wall. Were it not for the crunching sound, she wouldn't have turned around. She felt all of the color leave her face.
There was a low growl as she looked at what was now before her.
A rotted corpse, shimmering in the unnatural light, was staring at her, despite having no eyes. Melia backed away, feeling a scream rise into her throat. But the creature stepped forward. Lifted up her necklace with a rotted finger, Melia could see its black teeth as the dried mouth curled up into a sinister grin.
"Ankhesenamun." The creature gurgled out, its voice crackled and unnaturally deep.
It gripped the ankh, tearing it from Melia's neck. It held the necklace up, the gold shimmering in the dark.
The creature now looked at Melia, running a finger over her cheek. Melia felt the urge to vomit. It spoke in the tongue of ancients, but Melia had learned enough to know that the creature had said, 'Soon, my love.'
Nani had run over to her, grabbing her arm, not noticing the creature until she saw the expression on Melia's face.
"Holy shit…" Nani said.
The creature roared at her, both Nani and Melia could smell the death and must on its breath.
"Fuck you too!" Nani yelled, shooting its face and then pulling Melia away.
The two of them ran as fast as they could, bumping into the others.
"Fucking run!" Nani screamed at them.\
There was a loud bellow from behind them, and they all took off running, not knowing where they were going.
"Nani, what the fuck is chasing us?" Eshne cried.
"Who the fuck knows! But it was beat to death with an ugly stick!" Nani said.
Melia tried to keep up, but her ankle kept giving out. She fought back the pain as she ran with Nani. She let out a yelp as she was swept up from behind. Alistair had lifted her up, carrying her bridal style.
"Where are we going?" Nicolai called.
"Anywhere away from ugly back there!" Nani answered.
"Oh fantastic!" Eshne screeched, "This is just like Moscow all over again! But it smells worse!"
"At least we could see!" Nani retorted.
"Just run!" Alistair shouted at both of them as they weaved through another set of chambers.
After they felt they had gotten a good distance, they had stopped to see where they were.
"Oh fuck...oh fuck." Eshne groaned, "We're fucking lost."
"Great idea, just running through a tomb we had no idea existed." Nicolai panted, trying to catch his breath, "Now if we could just-"
There was a great crash, followed by a rumble in the earth above them. Sand had started to fall, followed by a large blur that had landed on top of Nicolai, followed by broken stones and a flood of sunlight.
The ceiling had opened up, and the group could see the Americans crowded around the hole. They stared down at Melia and the others.
"Quite a predicament you've gotten yourself into, Lady Mahariel." The professor said, he held up a canopic jar, "It seems we've beaten you to the treasure."
"Treasure be damned!" Melia yelled, "Help us up, there's something down here!"
The professor thought for a moment, "I think, Lady Mahariel. This is where we part ways. And to your friend who led us here, I bid you farewell."
"Friend?" Melia asked, looking down at the lump that had been on top of Nicolai. She looked up again, and the Americans were gone.
"Those bastards." Alistair said.
"I'm going to kill them when we get up there, every last one of them." Nani seethed.
There was a loud roar that rang through the tomb.
"If, we get up." Eshne said.
The lump on top of Nicolai started to move, Nicolai groaned.
Nani and Eshne moved away the debris. They now could see a young man with a thick mop of black hair. He sat up, shaking the sand off of him. He blinked rapidly, his large green eyes looking all around him.
"Oh, hello." He said, perking up.
"You." Melia said through her teeth.
"Fuck." The young man said, his eyes widened.
There was another roar, getting closer.
"We need to go!" Eshne cried, helping Nicolai up.
"Seconded!" Nani said, taking Eshne's arm and running, "If we can get back to the entrance we went though, I think we can get back up to the camp!"
"We can certainly try!" Eshne said.
They looked behind, seeing that now Melia was over Alistair's shoulder, he looked pained as she flailed.
"How dare you lead those barbarians here!" Melia shouted, "Oh, Thackery, I could kill you!" She said to the young man who had fallen.
Thackery ran with Nicolai, avoiding Melia's swings.
"Listen, Mel," He ducked, "It's all a big misunderstanding. I swear I-"
"I'll kill you! And it we die down here I'll get you in the afterlife so help me, Thackery Mahariel!" Melia screeched.
Thackery cackled, avoiding her fists.
"Can we just focus on getting out of here?" Alistair begged.
"The Americans dug a tunnel just past the chambers," Thackery called to the others, "We can get out through there!"
Melia looked up at him to scold him again, but her eyes widened when she saw the creature running after them, gaining speed. She started to scream.
Thackery and Nicolai turned their heads.
"What the fuck is that, Mel!" Thackery ran past Alistair.
Melia just kept screaming.
They all ran further into the tomb, barely able to see. All they knew was that they were in a race for their lives.
"Up ahead!" Nani yelled back to them.
They could all now see a light that illuminated the stony halls. Each of them ran faster when they saw it was the exit. There was a commotion by the exit, shadows running every which way.
Oghren and Sten had been placing explosives near the tunnel entrance when they saw the others running towards them in a panic.
"Blow this fucker up!" Nani yelled to them, "Just go!"
The explosions had started just as Nani had run past them. They all fell into the sand, watching the creature burn in the explosions. The newly made tunnel collapsed upon itself. Once the dust settled, they all looked around at each other in bewilderment.
Cullen ran to Eshne, giving her a puff from the inhaler, he checked her for wounds. Nani looked around, taking a headcount.
Melia squirmed away from Alistair, she stood up and limped over to Thackery.
"I am so angry with you!" She yelled.
Thackery ducked away, "Hey, Mel, c'mon! You know you love me."
"I can't believe you were the one to lead the Americans here!" Melia swatted at him, "I'm gonna-" She was quickly interrupted.
"Where's Jowan?" Nani asked.
Jowan walked around the tomb, his hands shaking in the dark. He couldn't see, stumbling about, trying to find his way to where he had heard the others.
"E-Eshne?" Jowan asked nervously.
He could hear a labored breathing, and he stopped cold. He knew he wasn't alone. Jowan looked up, seeing the horribly disfigured face of the mummified creature. It advanced towards him.
Jowan started to mutter tefillah, backing away from the monster. He got to his knees, trying not to weep.
The creature stopped. Jowan looked up, tears streaming down his eyes. He saw the creature extend his hand. Jowan heard the creature call him a 'slave' in Hebrew.
Jowan stood up, nodding quickly, willing to do anything to keep his life.
The creature held up a canopic jar, asking him where the others were, its voice dry and breaking.
Jowan remembered seeing the Americans with the other jars.
"I know where they are." He said in Hebrew.
A smile grew across the monster's face, and the two went away.