Author: VampireNaomi PM
Based on Broken Sword I. Alternative take on the Syria section. George and Khan stumble upon another mystery.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure - Words: 11,864 - Reviews: 6 - Favs: 5 - Published: 02-13-05 - Status: Complete - id: 2261773
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
I don't own Broken Sword, the characters, places or items mentioned in this story. Everything belongs to Revolution Software and absolutely no money is being made with this story.
This is an alternative version of the events that took place at the Bull's Head hill. I got the idea when I first played the game and I just had to give it a try - especially since it will make a nice prequel to a much longer BS story I plan to write.
Thanks to everybody who helped me with the small Latin translation at the GAFF boards and to Xman.
Special thanks go to Skizzo who beta read this for me and pointed out some errors.
"To the west, to the edge of the world..." George translated aloud. His fingers followed the writing on the carving. The carved picture looked familiar, and he closed his eyes for a moment to remember what it reminded him of.
Suddenly something hard was pushed against his side and he froze.
"I was hoping we wouldn't have to meet again," a familiar voice said. Khan! George cursed himself for not having heard the man's arrival at all. He had been too concentrated on understanding the meaning of the carving.
"Quick! We have to get out before the door closes!" he hurried but didn't dare to move as long as Khan's gun - at least he guessed it was a gun - was pressed against him.
"What -" the assassin started, but got a hold of the situation when the growl of a closing door reached their ears. George felt how Khan pulled his gun away, and he turned around to see how the assassin rushed to see what had happened to the door.
"It's no use, it is and will remain shut," he pointed out.
"I'm aware of that, Mr. Stobbart," Khan replied.
George wasn't sure what to say to that. What could he say to a murderer whose motives were everything but clear to him?
"Well, what are you going to do about it? There has to be a way out of here," he finally said.
"I doubt it. One of the Templars' clues is here and they hardly meant it to fall into the hands of anyone who is stupid enough to walk into their trap," Khan said.
"I guess that doesn't make the two of us look very good," George said.
"No," was the short answer he received.
"Looks like lengthy conversations are one thing we won't be having," George said. Khan glared at him but said nothing more. Instead, he knelt in front of the door and started to go through its surface. George watched in curiosity and hope as the assassin worked. His fingers sought out every crack trying to find a way to open the door. Finally he had to admit defeat, and he stood up.
"Tell me what you're doing. Perhaps I can help," George suggested as the assassin raised his gaze to look at the brick ceiling above them. When the man turned to look at him, George merely shrugged. "I'm in trouble too. If I have to work with a psychotic killer to get out, what else can I do?"
He figured out it wasn't probably the best thing to say. However, Khan only frowned and stared at him for a while more.
"There is little you can do. You must have noticed yourself that this place is well built. Besides," he nodded at Klausner's dried corpse, "I'm sure he tried everything imaginable."
"Yeah, but there are two of us here now. Surely we'll come up with something he didn't think of. After all, he was a German," George said.
"Are you always as optimistic, Mr. Stobbart? One would think that facing certain death would break any man," Khan stated. He walked up and down the short corridor touching the brick walls and keeping his eyes on the ceiling.
"You don't look like you're giving it much thought either. And how did you learn my name?" George asked. He walked in the assassin's trail attempting to figure out what he was trying to achieve.
"I have no reason to fear death. And for your second question, I have my connections," Khan said.
"In other words, you bought a beer to one of those guys in Ireland and bribed them into telling about me."
For a moment neither of them said anything. George watched how the assassin continued his silent work, and he tried to understand as much as possible. This was his first real chance of taking a look at the man he had tried to track down.
Khan was a cruel man, which was what George could see immediately. It didn't come as a surprise to him. He knew the man had killed at least four men already and they had to be only a fraction of his victims. On the other hand, he was effective and knew what he was doing.
I wish I knew what he's doing, George thought to himself. He didn't really have an idea of what the man's ultimate goal was. He only knew that Khan wasn't on the same side with the Templars. He wondered if that was good or bad. As far as he was concerned, only Khan had done something evil.
He took a look at Klausner's remains and tried not to shudder. The thought of one American soon accompanying the German disgusted him. And ironically enough, the only chance of avoiding that fate was learning to cope with the man who would most likely kill him in the end.
"You know, I am a bit surprised that you haven't shot me yet," he said to start a new conversation. Khan said nothing. "Come on. At least say if there is anything I can do."
The assassin stopped his work for a moment. "I'm sparing you. In afew days I will grow weak, thirsty and hungry. When it happens it will be useful to have something fresh around," he said.
George felt sick. He wondered if Khan was capable of telling jokes. He wouldn't have been surprised if the man was serious.
"However, you could search the end of the tunnel and see if you can do anything," Khan continued after a while. George couldn't tell if it was the man's way of revealing the joke or not. Perhaps he was proposing a truce? One never knew with foreigners.
George did what Khan suggested. He took one glance at the writing on the carving and then concentrated on investigating the wall. From what, he saw he figured out that it was a normal wall. Built of dark, hard stone with no cracks or holes. It also looked like it wouldn't move an inch.
He tried to dig the carving out of the wall but only managed to hurt his fingers in the process. He felt sudden sympathy for Klausner and was thankful for not being alone with his fate.
"Hey, you've got a gun, right?" he asked suddenly and turned to Khan. The assassin nodded.
"That is a coward's way out," he stated and George realised what the man had to be thinking.
"No, I didn't mean it that way! I just wondered if it would be possible to cause so much noise that it makes Ultar come here to see what is going on," he hurried to explain.
Khan considered it and nodded slowly. "It could work," he admitted. He took out his gun and told George to retreat to the end of the tunnel. The American obeyed as he didn't want to be on the way if the bullet decided to ricochet somewhere.
The shot rang out and was followed by a chink when the bullet found its way into the wall. The tunnel made the bang echo and George covered his ears.
"Do you think Ultar heard that?" he asked after the noise had settled down.
"If he is on the bottom of the hill, I don't think so," Khan replied. "I'd suppose that the Templars did everything to make sure that nothing can be heard from the outside."
"That doesn't seem to bother you", George pointed out. He was really starting to get enough of the dim tunnel and it was frustrating to see how someone didn't take the situation seriously.
"I'm still alive."
"But for how long? We can't survive much longer than a day without anything to drink," George snapped. He was surprised for daring to talk back to an armed murderer. Perhaps the fact that he had nothing to lose helped a bit. Except the long last hours of pain and hallucinations, he thought.
"Thank you for stating the obvious," Khan said and turned his back on him. George frowned and watched how he walked to the end of the tunnel to examine the carving there. Why does he bother? It's no use to him anymore.
He crossed his arms on his chest and leaned against the wall. Perhaps he does know a way out. He would have to see how things developed and, if possible, somehow get himself out of the current mess.
"Now that we are going to die here, I would be interested in hearing what this is all about. Why did you kill those people and what do you have to do with the Templars? Nico and I have done our best to track you down," he said and suddenly realised that his chances of seeing Nico again were quite slim.
"I doubt this is the right place or time to talk about that," Khan said. "Occupy yourself with thinking about your lady friend or something along the lines of that. Just don't bother me."
It took a moment before George realised the meaning of the assassin's words.
"How do you know about Nicole?" he wanted to know and stared at Khan as he spoke. The mere thought of the assassin knowing something about the woman, perhaps even where she lived, made him both angry and worried.
"It was not that hard. I have kept an eye on you, and you visit her so often that I would have to be an idiot not to notice it," Khan replied and slipped his hands into his pockets. Perhaps he did it to assure George and show him that at the moment he had no desire to fight.
George should have been pleased because he knew that he would never be able to do anything to a trained killer, but Khan's effort didn't really make him feel any better. Besides, he felt like being a hero. "If you cut a hair from her head -"
"She doesn't interest me as long as she doesn't interfere with my plans."
"Which are? What did Sean Fitzgerald, for example, do to you?" George asked. He knew he was practically shouting and that he most likely wasn't acting like himself, but who could have blamed him? He had gone through who knew what, only for it all to end in a dark chamber in Syria.
And perhaps Nicole would never know.
"He, while not knowing it, worked for my enemies. If he had been smart he would have understood that something was going on and he would have given up. Then I wouldn't have had to kill him," Khan replied. He sounded like he was talking about the weather and George found himself really loathing the man at that moment.
"That's pathetic," he said. "I don't know whose side you're on, but your methods tell enough. There are always other ways."
"Perhaps, but they are not nearly as efficient," Khan said. "But excuse me, I'm not interested in explaining my matters to an ignorant American right now."
Khan knelt down next to Klausner's corpse and went through the German's pockets. George noticed that he had completely forgotten about the lens he had found on the body.
"What are you looking for?" he asked.
Khan turned to look at him. "Something that he should have had. Did you find anything on him?" he asked.
"What? You think I would search a body? Don't make me laugh," George chuckled shortly.
"Don't play with me, Mr. Stobbart. Give me what I want if you want to live long enough to know what dehydration feels like," Khan said sharply.
George considered his options for a moment. Khan's gun was more than enough to convince him of the fact that resistance was not the best thing for him. But what do I have to lose? he thought.
"Fine, it's no use trying to fool you. I have the lens," he admitted.
"Then give it to me." Khan stretched his hand at him.
George shook his head. "No, I think I'll keep it for the moment. If I'm right it is the only thing that stops you from killing me right now," he said.
"I'm not stupid. I knew you would come for the lens at some point, so I hid it in a secret hoard in my shoe. One proper step and it will be in pieces," George lied swiftly. I hope he doesn't search my pockets...
To his surprise Khan looked only mildly annoyed. "You're an interesting man," the assassin stated putting his gun away. "At first I didn't think of you as anything but an American tourist, as useless as your fellow countrymen. However, you seem to be slightly more intelligent than that."
George lifted a brow, but said nothing. He sat to lean against the wall and lifted his gaze to the ceiling. The little light they had didn't reach there and he didn't see much of anything. Not even if it was made of bricks like the walls or not.
He pressed his head against the wall but moved immediately when something fell on his neck.
"Hey!" he exclaimed in annoyance. "If I could at least pick my last resting place in peace..." He rubbed his neck and brought his fingers in front of his eyes. "Hey..."
"What?" Khan asked as George hurried to examine the wall.
"Look! This is not brick or stone but mortar! I didn't notice it in the dim! At least this part of the wall has been built so there might be something on the other side. Why else would they have bothered to put mortar here when the rest is natural stone," George explained. Khan was instantly by his side, and the men took a look at the wall together.
"You're right" the assassin admitted after a while. They had managed to scratch some of the mortar off, just enough for them to be sure that the wall really was artificial. They stopped their work for a while and looked at each other.
"I wonder what there is on the other side," George said. The sudden enthusiasm had made him forget his disgustfor the assassin for a while.
"Only one way to find out."
Even though the two men had never been likely to get along, they shoved their disagreements aside for a while. Neither said a thing, they only worked side by side and managed to tear the skin of their fingertips into shreds as they scratched the mortar and tried to break it.
The mortar was old but hard, and they had to labour for a while before they got any results. When the wall became so hard that their fingers were not of use anymore, they started to kick at it and used Khan's gun as a pick - once the assassin had got the bullets out, of course.
Neither of them knew how long they worked. Hours anyway. After they had got most of the mortar off, they were tired and covered in sweat. Yet their work had been of no use yet.
"I wonder if this will work at all," George stated and wiped his forehead. He had taken his jacket off and had tied it around his waist. His hands hurt and the sweat only made it worse. It was hot, and the previously rather cool chamber reminded him of the heat of the sun outside.
"We will never know unless we try," Khan stated. He continued working on the wall. There were pearls of sweat on his forehead as well, but he didn't look as tired as George.
"Something told me you were going to say that," the American muttered and returned to work. He was not sure if he expected this all to help them somehow, but at least doing something was better than sitting still and waiting for death.
Suddenly he noticed a change in the wall they were destroying. The mortar ended and an old layer of dark bricks was revealed. The men both stopped their work for a while and glanced at each other. This finally proved that they were indeed about to find something.
"This is not even nearly as well built as the rest of this place," George said gesturing at the bricks that covered everything else in the chamber. Anyone could see that attempting to do something to them would be of no use, but the newly discovered bricks looked like they had been put into place in a hurry.
They started to work on the mortar left around the bricks until they had revealed an area large enough. Hours had passed, but the two of them were pleased with themselves anyway.
"This shouldn't be too hard to break," George said as he felt the bricks.
"No," Khan replied and gave the wall a hit with his gun. A piece of stone shattered at their feet and after several more hits it became clear that there was only one layer of bricks.
"Funny," George said. "They didn't really go through much trouble to hide this."
"Perhaps there is nothing interesting. Or perhaps they thought that no one would have the time or desire to examine the wall," Khan guessed.
When the first hole appeared on the wall, George felt his heart jump. Now they were able to get a hold of the bricks around the hole and managed to rip most of them off rather easily. A few scratches more in their already hurt hands felt like nothing.
Now they were facing a hole big enough for one man to step through. They could barely see the first steps of stairs leading down.
"I don't know what I was expecting, but..." George said rubbing his neck.
"It is dangerous to go down without light. We need a flashlight or a torch," Khan said.
"No use of wishing for a flashlight, unless you brought one with you," George replied.
"I didn't, but I have matches," Khan said and dug an almost full box of matches from his pocket. It was identical to the one George had given to the man in front of Club Alamut.
"Well, that's a start," George stated. Khan struck a match and in its light they could see that the stairs were rough and led some distance down. The light didn't carry far enough for them to see where they ended.
George couldn't help it, but the strange, new place really interested him. Fine, he was still stuck with a Syrian assassin, but at least things had started to get rather fascinating.
He touched the jacket around him and thought of something. He pulled out the sewer tool he had already used in so many occasions. Perhaps it would be of use again.
Khan seemed to get the same idea because he, without asking anything, walked to Klausner and took off the corpse's jacket. George couldn't help feeling bad about stealing from the dead man.
"Give that to me," the assassin told and George handed the tool over. He only hoped he would get it back at one point. It had helped him so much that in a way he was starting to get attached to it.
Khan wrapped Klausner's jacket around the tool and gave George the matches. "Try to make it catch fire."
"It won't last forever. I don't like the thought of having to burn our own clothes too," George said as he struck the first match. The small flame licked the jacket, but it was not very enthusiastic to burn. He had to waste a couple of more matches before their torch was usable.
Khan pushed the torch through the hole and now they could see that the stairs continued surprisingly far below and curved in a way that stopped them from seeing the end.
The assassin said nothing as he bent down and stepped through the hole.
George could do nothing but follow. After all, he was not going to leave his beloved tool for lifting manhole covers in the hands of a murderer.
Khan had to admit that he got along with George better than he had expected. He had kept an eye on the man and his female friend ever since it had become clear that they were persistent in tracking him down. Despite this, he had never quite learned what kind of man George Stobbart was.
He was an American. That should have told him enough.
He was mad at himself. Khan considered himself to be intelligent and experienced enough not towalk inside a chamber built by the Knight's Templar. Only amateurs - likeGeorge for example - were stupid enough to walk into traps.
Perhaps he had been too enthusiastic to proceed. George's interference had slowed him down and he was starting to get impatient. Or perhaps he was getting too proud. After all, this was his home country they were in, and he thought he knew it better than well.
Looking for an excuse won't help at all now, he thought to himself. He would have to concentrate on surviving and getting the lens. It was likely that he would have to get rid of the ignorant American in the process, but it couldn't really be helped.
"This place has to be really old," George's voice interrupted his thoughts.
Khan had to admit that the man was right. The stairs they were taking down were worn out and so destroyed at places that they couldn't tell the steps apart. Whoever had built them hadn't cared if they were good or not.
And that could mean that they hadn't been built by the Templars. They had always made sure that their structures stood time. It was even possible that the stairs had existed before the Templars had come and taken the chamber to their use.
Perhaps that was why the stairs had been hidden behind a wall. It was a mystery who had built them and why, but if they had been Muslims the Templars might have decided that they didn't want to have anything to do with them and whatever lay at the end.
"What do you think we'll find down there?" George asked. Khan had to wonder why the American even bothered to attempt being civil with him. He most certainly had no desire to talk to him more than was necessary.
"I believe there is nothing," he replied.
"Yes, it is completely sane and ingenious to build stairs that lead nowhere."
The burning cloth spread a nasty smell around and was giving them less and less light. They would have to light something else soon if they wanted to keep seeing in front of themselves.
"Is it in any way possible there is a remote bar?" George asked. "I'm starting to get really thirsty."
"I'm greatly amused by how you can still joke in a situation like this," Khan stated.
"It makes even these desperate 'I-have-absolutely-no-chance-and-am-going-to-die-a-slow-and-horrible-death' situations seem okay," the American replied.
Khan had no need to cheer up the atmosphere. He knew what trouble they were in, but that was not going to destroy his plans. As long as he was alive and hadn't tried everything there was no need to despair.
Klausner's jacket had now turned into a smoking heap of rags that were about to fall off the sewer tool.
"Give me your jacket," Khan said shortly.
"What?" George asked sounding a bit shocked. He grabbed his jacket as if it was valuable. "Why mine? Why not yours?"
Khan frowned. "Why are you so careful about it? Shouldn't you care more about surviving?" he asked.
"Well, yes... But let's burn yours first. I don't want to give up mine yet," George said. Khan couldn't be bothered to argue with the man. It would have been a waste of time and effort.
He handed the tool to George and took off his jacket. It was wrapped around the tool, lit and they continued on.
When they arrived to the end of the stairs, George instantly noticed that they were not facing a fabulous way out. He hadn't expected them to find a glowing Exit sign, but it was still a disappointment to see that they had only managed to find their way into a round chamber.
And yet it was very interesting. It was not that dark anymore, because there was a hole in the ceiling and sunlight was pouring in through it. The floor under it was covered in rocks and debris, which suggested that the hole had once been filled. During the years the wooden pillars had grown weak and the rocks that they had supported had fallendown and had revealed the hole.
"It's like a chimney," George said as he peered in it. He could see a strip of blue sky and his heart jumped. This had to be their way out!
Khan said nothing, and as he glanced at the assassin, George noticed that the man had found something else interesting. Next to the wall, where sunlight didn't reach, stood a stone chest.
"What is it?" George asked stepping closer. Khan brushed dust and pieces of stone off the chest and kept the burning rags above it to see it better. The assassin didn't reply, but he didn't even have to.
It was a really old stone tomb.
Why would they bury someone here? There is nothing in here,George thought.
"There are no decorations apart from this text," Khan stated.
"Hic dormit perditus. Here sleeps the lost one," George read aloud. The letters were simple and looked like they had been carved in a hurry. There was no clue who the deceased might have been.
Khan placed the sewer tool into an old ring on the wall and grabbed the stone lid. George stepped up to help him and together they removed the cover. It felt useless somehow. They had a slight chance of getting out alive and they were wasting their time examining an old tomb?
Sometimes George couldn't understand himself.
He licked his dry lips and wished that he had something to drink. He had drank a little water on his way from Marib to the hill, but it had been hours ago. The heat of Syria and working with the wall had done the job.
However, he didn't think about the dryness for too long because something else caught his attention. The tomb was not empty.
A yellowish skeleton lay inside it, arms crossed on the chest.
"Strange," George said. "It looks like he was buried naked." There was nothing on the skeleton, not even rags. If there ever had been clothes, something should have been left of them.
"Maybe he was," Khan stated and put his hand in the tomb. The assassin picked up something where the skeleton's stomach had once been. He blew dust off the small item and examined it on his palm.
It was an old key with a rooster carving on it.
"Yes, and before that he was fed a key," George said. To be serious, he understood what had happened. The key had been very important to the deceased and he had wanted to prevent it from getting into wrong hands. So he had, probably guessing what his fate would be, swallowed it.
But who was he and where did the key fit? He would most likely never know.
Khan slipped the key into his pocket before George had time to ask to see it. He would have liked to take a look at it as well but let it be. Perhaps after he had got out, got something to drink and made sure he would survive.
"Whoever he was, the Templars wanted to hide his tomb from the world," Khan said.
"No wonder if he's a lost soul."
Khan shrugged and looked like it didn't really interest him. George tried to see from the assassin's face if he was as thirsty and tired as he was.
Either he is an actor worth of an Academy Award or not a human at all, he thought.
"Any ideas how we'll get out of here? I'd hate to stay here with that guy," George said pointing at the tomb. Khan walked under the hole in the ceiling and looked up.
"There have once been stairs in the stone here," he said. "They have been destroyed but it shouldn't be too difficult to carve new oneswith your wonder tool."
"Yeah, if we suddenly grow a feet or two taller." George's voice sounded hoarse in this throat and swallowing was difficult. As if his throat was full of dust. He licked his lips again.
Despite everything, he was not as pessimistic as his words suggested. There were only a little less than three metres between the floor and the ceiling.
"If we can drag the tomb here and pile these rocks on it, it shouldn't be too difficult to reach the hole," he guessed.
"Perhaps," Khan admitted.
They started by clearing away the rocks that lay under the hole. There were quite many of them. George glanced up again as he threw yet another boulder away. The sky seemed to be further away than the previous time and he thought it would take an eternity before they managed to carve anything on the stone.
Why would anyone even build such a place? From what he had learned, the Templars had been intelligent and practical men, and he couldn't understand what they had hoped to achieve by building a chamber with no way out. If it had been them who had built it. And why seal it away? It made no sense.
He considered whether he should ask Khan about it, but he decided not to. Even though his mind was itching to learn more about the mystery, he knew that they wouldn't survive for very long if they didn't concentrate on what was important. They had perhaps a day and proceeding would only get more difficult without any water.
His hands and arms were sore. Some of the boulders had sharp edges and they cut into his flesh as he moved them. He didn't dare to take his jacket off his waist because of the lens. Khan had already scared him by demanding the jacket to be burnt.
It took them a little over half an hour to free the floor of rocks and debris. It hadn't been too hard, but the already tired George was happy when it was done. The worst was still ahead, of course. Had he been a pessimist by nature, he would have said that they had no chance.
"I hope this guy doesn't mind us disturbing his rest this way," he said as they prepared to move the tomb. It was so heavy that they would never be able to lift it, but it was possible to push it under the hole.
The floor was uneven and moving the tomb was sweaty work. They were able to make it move an inch or two and then they had to stop to catch their breath.
George took a look at how far they would have to move the tomb. It was only a couple of metres, but it felt almost impossible. He was already very tired and yet he would have to find the strength for carving stairs as well.
The stone tomb made noise as they moved it towards the centre of the room. The skeleton in it was silent though, but George wouldn't have been surprised if it had suddenly attacked them. Somehow he felt like everything could have been possible at that moment.
When they finally got the tomb under the hole, George had to lean on his knees and pant. As he glanced at Khan, he saw that he too was having a break and catching his breath while leaning on the tomb.
Next they placed the cover back. It fell on its place and the sound stayed with them for a moment. Khan climbed on top of the tomb and pushed his head into the hole. George watched how the assassin touched the walls with his hands and examined the remains of the old steps.
"We need to pile a heap of the larger stones on the tomb so that we'll be able to reach one of the remaining steps," he said as he jumped to the ground.
"So they aren't all gone," George asked as he lifted one of the rocks he had previously thrown away on the cover.
"No," Khan replied. He stopped to look at George work for a while. "It would be the best if I took the first turn. You look like you will fall and break your neck if you go up there."
"I'm just as strong as you are," George threw back with little enthusiasm. To be honest, he didn't want to argue with the Syrian about that. So, as Khan took the sewer tool off the wall and climbed on the pile of rocks they had created, George sat on the floor. He leaned against the wall and sighed.
Nico will never believe this, he thought. Not that he would have ever believed that his vacation in Paris could turn into such a mess and take him into an underground chamber to struggle with a Syrian assassin.
The sound of Khan hammering stone echoed in the chamber. George looked at the man's work for a while, but his thoughts soon travelled elsewhere.
Oh, how thirsty he was. He licked his cracking lips. How long had he been without water? Half a day at least. Normally it might not have bothered him so, but now he had laboured in the heat of Syria for long enough. Good thing the sun wasn't shining down on them at the moment.
Suddenly the sound of Khan working stopped and George paid attention to the man again. He watched how Khan grabbed something above him, jumped a little and managed to lift himself in the hole with difficulty. George stood up and went to take a look.
Khan had carved one step and after grabbing the old one above it, he had lifted himself up. The assassin leaned against the wall of the hole with his back and kept his feet on the other side. Despite the uncomfortable position he started to work on a new step.
I hope I'll be able to do that, George thought to himself. He wasn't exactly an acrobat and decided to rest some more before it was his turn.
It was actually pretty funny that he was so tired. He had always been in a decent shape, and he considered himself to be quite handy. After all, he had already climbed down into sewers, balanced on window sills, a heap of hay and a castle wall.
After some time the sewer tool fell to the ground with a high pitched sound, and Khan climbed down after it. His clothes were covered in dust and pearls of sweat fell down his face. "Your turn, Stobbart" he stated and sat down against the wall.
He stopped calling me a mister, George noted to himself, stood up and picked up the tool. Then he climbed on top of the tomb and the pile of rocks to inspect the situation.
He could see the steps that Khan had carved clearly. Compared to the originals they were quite clumsy and sharp, but did their job. The assassin had managed to get two of them done before climbing down.
George slipped the tool under his jacket. It would take forever to make their way up. Suppressing a sigh he jumped and caught first of the original steps. He quickly grabbed one of Khan's steps and pulled himself up.
There was no real place to hold on to, but he managed to stay up by leaning his back on the wall and pushing his feet into the steps. It was a most uncomfortable position.
Better get working so that I'll get something done before I fall down, he thought. He took the tool in his hands and started to continue Khan's work.
The stone was not quite as hard as he had imagined it to be, and it crushed into tiny shreds as he hammered it. Dust was created in the process and it tickled his already dry throat. There was no way for him to cover his face as he needed his other hand to keep his balance, so he could only cough.
When he had got one step done his back was already stiff and sore. Yet he climbed one step higher in determination and started working again.
After getting yet another step done, he was starting to feel that he would come crashing down at any minute. George dropped the tool like Khan had done and climbed down.
They worked in shifts the entire night. When morning dawned, George was so tired that he was afraid of falling asleep while carving the steps. He hadn't slept at all the entire night and if he had been thirsty before, he was now dying of thirst.
He raised his gaze to see the sky. The sun would be on them soon. They had been cold at night and had been forced to blow into their hands to stop them from completely freezing.
There was pretty much nothing between him and the outside world now. Only a metre and he would be out. George had already finished his turn, but he had no intention of climbing back down when freedom was so close. He would find strength to finish the last step no matter what.
And so he started working. The edge that was just above his reach gave him power to keep going and that last step was finished sooner than any of the previous ones. Yet it felt like getting it done had taken an eternity.
George climbed higher and finally managed to get a hold of the edge. His fingertips bled because of all the climbing and sharp stones, but he didn't even notice it as he dragged himself on the top of the hill.
He was free. His cracked lips were forced into a smile and he roseto his feet. The desert spread around him and the sun was just rising on the sky that was a mixture of blue, purple and yellow. It was the most beautiful sight George had ever witnessed.
For a while he merely looked around. It was little less than a day since he had been trapped in the Templar chamber, but he was nevertheless glad to see it end.
But everything wasn't in order yet. He would be pleased only when he had gotten back to Marib, had got at least two galleons of water to drink, had been able to have a wash and had slept two days non-stop.
"Hey, Khan!" he yelled down. "I made it!"
He turned to take a look at the view again. He was on the top of Bull's Head, but on a different side of the hill than on the previous day. It still wasn't hard to figure out where he had originally come from and where his anchor rope was.
He walked to the edge to see if it would be easier to get down there. He wasn't feeling very enthusiastic about walking over the hill to the other side to go down the same way he had come up.
From the corner of his eye he saw how Khan climbed up and walked to him. George didn't really pay much attention to the assassin but concentrated on eyeing the side of the hill. It was just as rough as the other and it would make no difference which way he took down.
"Turn around, Stobbart."
George was startled as he heard Khan's voice and he did exactly as he wastold. The man's voice was even hoarser than usual and something in his words worried George. This turned out to be a justified feeling when he realised that Khan was pointing his gun at him.
"I have never shot a man in the back in my life," Khan said as George only stared, "and I'm not planning to do it now either."
"Come on," George tried. "Is this the right place and time to start this again? We are both fainting of thirst and you think it's necessary to argue about the lens and Templars?"
"This place is as good as any. Give the lens to me to get this over with."
"Even after we worked together to survive? Shouldn't we at least have a little more trust in each other?" George asked.
Khan shrugged. "One doesn't need to be a great man to be able to get along with an enemy at the moment of danger," he said and George had a strong feeling that the assassin wasn't talking about himself. I guess he really doesn't respect me that much, he thought.
What the heck could he do? He was not interested in fighting with Khan, especially since he had the gun again. On the other hand, there was no way he could hand over the lens. He had no idea what Khan would do with it.
"Let's at least get back to Marib. I promise I'll give the lens to you once the situation looks better again," he said.
"I'm starting to get impatient. I assure you, I'm thirsty and tired too, but I can go on longer than you. Hand over the lens or I will be forced to shoot you. I'm ready to take the risk of breaking the lens in the process," Khan said.
The rays of the rising sun flooded over them and George wondered for how long they would have to stand there on the top of the hill. He had no doubt about whether Khan would shoot him or not - even if he did give him the lens.
George suddenly realised that the sewer tool was still in his hand. All right, my loyal friend. You'll get the chance to help me one more time, he thought.
"Fine, you win," he sighed and lifted his foot, as if attempting to take off his shoe. "I didn't break the skin of my hands for nothing. The lens is yours."
The tip of Khan's gun followed him as he bent down and George went through his desperate plan once more. If his luck failed him now...
He took a better grab of the tool and suddenly swung it at Khan's wrist as hard as he could. Just as he had hoped, the assassin yelped in surprise and pain and dropped his gun without firing it.
Khan had stood directly at the edge of the cliff and the hit had made him take a step away from George - unfortunately there was nothing under his feet then. George could only hear the assassin's exclaim and a nasty thump.
Then everything was silent. George stood up and peered over the cliff to see what had happened. Khan hadn't fallen the whole way down, but lay on a small cliff about half way down the slope.
"Khan?" he called not knowing why he bothered. There was no answer, so George started to get down carefully. Loose ground rolled down under his feet and small rocks provided little support, but somehow he still managed to get there in one piece.
Khan lay covered in dust near a large stone. He moved a little and was obviously trying to lift himself up. George couldn't say if he should have felt relieved or disappointed - he most certainly wasn't feeling either way.
He hurried to the assassin to get a better look. The man had hit his head quite badly, and the ground around him was already covered in blood. George knew little about head injuries, only that they tended to bleed a lot and this one didn't seem to be an exception.
"I didn't mean for you to fall," he said. It felt ridiculous to say that to an injured man, but it was the best he could come up with. He watched how Khan tried to sit up, but had to give up in the end. Apparently he was in worse shape than he looked like.
George lifted his eyes to the sky. He couldn't see a single bird yet, but he knew the vultures wouldn't take long to appear. If he left Khan there it wouldn't be too hard to guess what would happen to him. There was no way he could do that to anyone.
"Here, let me help a little," he said - knowing he would regret his decision later - and slipped Khan's other arm over his shoulders and lifted the man up. The sudden movement made the assassin hiss, but George tried not to care. He had neither the talent nor the time to be gentler and to be honest, Khan didn't even deserve it. Someone else than George would have left him there to die, so he didn't really have a reason to complain.
They started getting down the slope. The road to Marib was on the other side of the hill, but George figured it wouldn't take too long to walk there.
The sight that was revealed behind the corner made George's heart sink. Ultar's taxi was no longer there.
"He's gone," he muttered. They had been inside the hill almost one day and one night and Ultar must have got bored with waiting for him. George felt horrible. One of the reasons that had kept him going had been that he had thought Ultar would take him back to Marib.
Khan was barely conscious and wouldn't have remained standing without George's help. His breathing was difficult and his face was covered in a mixture of sweat and blood.
George knew that it would be practically impossible to make it to the town alone, and that he would never be able to do it if he had to drag an injured assassin with him. Yet he was not about to leave him to die - even though Khan had been ready to kill him just a moment ago.
He was so tired, and he thought he didn't even remember what it felt like to not be thirsty. How would they survive with Ultar gone? He decided to keep going, though, and hoping for the best.
The sun rose above them and burnt the sand road with no pity. They kept walking, but after a while their progress got slower and slower until George had to drag Khan after him.
Finally he too felt too tired to go on, and he collapsed to lean on a rock near the road. He took a position as comfortable as possible and closed his eyes from the sun. I'll only rest for a moment, he promisedto himself.
Perhaps he had fallen asleep or lost consciousness for a moment, because the next time he opened his eyes the sun had dragged the shadow of the rock farther away from them. When he glanced at Khan George saw that the man was still breathing. He wasn't dying just yet, only unable to do anything for himself.
Suddenly he lifted his head. Had he heard something?
The growl that had been barely audible at first grew stronger all the time, and soon George's tired brain understood that a car was nearing them.
He stumbled on his feet and leaned on the rock. It was obvious that the passengers of the vehicle would see them in any case, but at that point he didn't want to take anything for granted.
"Hey!" he shouted hoarsely and ran in the middle of the road. The car wasn't far away now and he recognised it immediately. It was Ultar's taxi!
"Ultar!" George called. When the Syrian's truck stopped in front of him, he noticed that a man unfamiliar to him was travelling with the taxi driver.
"Oh, my dear and most generous friend! How cruel that Ultar must see you in a state like this," the driver said dramatically as he jumped off his car. George couldn't even remember when he had last time heard such wonderful words.
"Do you have any water?" he asked immediately. Nothing else mattered at the moment.
"But of course! Ultar never go out to desert without water," Ultar said and - obviously understanding that George was more than thirsty - took a skin from his car and offered it to him.
George snatched it from the man's hands and drank. Water splashed all over his face and wet his clothes, but he barely noticed it. Never before in his life had he tasted anything that lovely. Not even the greasy taste of the skin bothered him, and he drank until he felt he would burst.
"You should not drink that fast to an empty stomach, my friend," Ultar advised as George gave the skin back. "Unless you want to throw up in a minute."
George already felt like being greedy hadn't been such a good idea, and in the next instant he found himself emptying his stomach at the other side of the road.
"Why didn't you warn me?" he asked as he wiped the corners of his mouth and turned to face Ultar again.
The taxi driver looked amused. "You is too hasty, my friend. Ultar have no time to react," he said and gave the skin back to George. This time he drank much more carefully and less to keep at least some of it inside him.
Then he remembered Khan and the strange man who had come with Ultar. He noticed that the stranger had already hurried to the assassin and was doing his best to help him.
"He fell from the top of the hill," George explained and Ultar translated to the other man who most likely didn't speak a word of English. He replied in a mixed mess of Arabic that George understood nothing of.
"What an unfortunate event indeed," Ultar preached. "But even this dark cloud has a silver frame to it! The injured one happens to be Fakhir's brother-in-law. Your friend will be taken good care of."
Brother-in-law? George was more than surprised to hear that Khan had a sister. As he looked at how Fakhir and Ultar lifted the unconscious Khan to the back of the truck, he got the feeling that perhaps getting the assassin in jail wouldn't be that easy after all.
They all climbed to the truck, Ultar and George in the cab and Fakhir in the back. George leaned back against the seat. He felt like he could have slept forever.
"Where did you get that guy?" he asked.
"Ultar waited for you at the bottom of the hill but you didn't come back. That's why Ultar drove to a garage near by and brought Fakhir to help the most generous client," the driver said.
"Well, good that you got here. We wouldn't have been able to go on for much longer," George said. His eye lids felt tired, and he had to fight to stay awake. Not even the bumpy road and the jumping of the car bothered him.
"Your friend is the man who was in Alamut days before? How did he manage to fall?" Ultar asked and looked at George in curiosity. The American thought it was quite embarrassing to answer the Syrian.
"He was careless and stumbled. Those things happen."
"Ah, Ultar understand."
George would have liked to stay up, but in the end he had to give in to his body's demands and close his eyes.
When George woke up, he didn't know where he was. He lay on the floor on a colourful carpet in a room that he had never seen before. Everything was built of light stone and the first rays of the sun flooded in through the only window.
How long have I slept? he asked himself and rubbed his temples. His every muscle was sore and it felt like his fingertips were on fire. For a moment he could only lie there.
Where was he? He stood up and walked to the window. A round courtyard, surrounded by several buildings, opened in front of him. There was a sign on the top of the biggest one and something was written on it, first in Arabic and then in English.
"Hadiya's Garage," George muttered to himself. So he wasn't back in Marib but at the garage Ultar had mentioned. In other words, he was with Khan's family.
Taking into consideration in which conditions the assassin had been injured, the place wasn't probably the safest one around for George.
He heard a sound behind him and turned around. A young, tanned boy had stepped in. He was perhaps a year or two older than Nejo. He had curly black hair, and he was dressed in simple brown clothes. In his hands he held food and George suddenly realised how hungry he was.
"Hello. Do you speak English?" he asked.
"Yes I do. I'm a friend of Nejo. He taught me a little English," the boy replied proudly. His accent was much sharper than his friend's, but George didn't think it would interrupt their conversation.
"That's nice. Is that food for me?" was his next question.
"Of course. Here you go." The boy gave the food to George who dug in trying to control himself a little. No matter how hungry he was, he didn't want to act like a pig when he was a guest at someone else's place.
"What is your name?" he asked after he had eaten some.
"Saad. It means good fortune," the boy replied and looked at him with curiosity in his brown eyes. George tried to see if he looked anything like Khan, but he saw nothing alike in those two.
Saad had had very good fortune indeed.
"My name is George Stobbart. How did I end up here?" he asked. He had presumed and hoped that Ultar would have taken him back to Marib and got him a room in an inn or something.
"When mother heard that you saved uncle she insisted that you would stay. She is very grateful for what you have done. Like we all."
George could only hope that no one figured out what had really happened before he was long gone.
"Say Saad, how well do you know your uncle?"
The boy shook his head. "Not at all. I last met him when I was five. He doesn't visit us. We didn't even know he was in the area," he said.
"Could you tell me his name?" George asked.
Saad looked a little surprised. "You don't know it? Then what were you doing with him at Bull's Head if you don't even know him?" he asked.
"Ultar said that you're an American," Saad said, quickly changing the subject. An excited sparkle appeared in his eyes.
"I am. From California," George replied.
"Do you have a car?" George was starting to feel he knew why Saad was being so nice with him. It was no wonder, really. The boy had grown up in a garage, after all.
"Sorry to disappoint you, but no. I don't drive," he said.
Saad looked disappointed. "How can someone not drive? When I'm old enough I will visit America and buy myself a big car. Like the ones they have in Texas," he said. Then he noticed that George had finished eating. "My mother wants to meet you and thank you. I will leave you to refresh for a moment and will be back then."
"Sure," George said feeling a little insecure. Saad was a nice kid, but his family wouldn't probably like him as much and he was not eager to meet them.
It didn't take too long for George to make sure he was in shape to meet other people. Saad brought him a little water for washing up and despite the pain, he felt quite good.
He must have slept over a day as it was a beautiful morning outside. George felt well rested and he was eager to return to France to tell everything to Nicole.
Suddenly he thought of something and slipped his hand into his pocket. He sighed in relief as he felt the glass in his fingers. He still had the lens.
"Are you ready?" Saad asked peering in. George nodded. As ready as possible, at least.
Saad led him to a bigger room where a whole family of people was gathered. The first thing George paid attention to was a woman, next to Fakhir, dressed in black. Must be Khan's sister, he thought.
The woman hadn't covered her face, but she wore a scarf that kept all of her hair hidden. She was in no sense spectacular and George couldn't say much about her because of her clothes. He noticed she looked a little like Khan, but that was it.
Other than Saad, there were four other children in the room. Right next to her mother stood a girl, but her face was completely hidden, excluding the eyes, so George couldn't say anything about her age. He guessed her to be a teenager. The other children were male, all younger than Saad. The youngest one stood holding onto his father and stared at George with big, curious eyes.
He didn't know what to do in front of them. Should he have said something? Could anyone but Saad even speak English?
Fakhir said something to his children and they all, with the exception of Saad, ran off. The veiled girl lifted the youngest boy in her arms and carried him away.
After the children were gone, Fakhir turned his eyes on George and said something in Arabic. George didn't understand a word and looked at Saad for help. The boy started to translate his father's words.
"My parents are grateful for what you did. Without you my uncle would most likely be dead," he said.
"Well, I only did what everyone would have done. Nothing special in that. It was nice to help though," George said feeling a little embarrassed. The situation was quite formal. Saad translated the words to his parents and they seemed pleased. A tiny smile appeared on the face of Fakhir's wife and George wondered if her name was Hadiya. It was the name he had seen on the sign earlier.
Fakhir said a couple of words more. George guessed them to be nothing more but general thanks. When he looked at the man's face he couldn't help getting the feeling that they were all acting quite reserved despite that a relative had been saved from death. No big smiles, no tearful thanking, no laughing and just no feeling.
"How is your uncle?" he asked then, realising that he didn't know what to call Khan. There was no way he could have asked the man's real name. Saad had already been too suspicious about it.
"He will be fine," Saad replied. "And he wants to talk with you before you leave."
"Oh, really?" George asked not sounding very enthusiastic.
"Of course. I'm sure he wants to thank you as well." George didn't really agree, but what could he have said? He couldn't just say no and tell this peaceful family what kind of man Khan was. He doubted they knew.
"That's nice, but shouldn't we let him rest?" he asked.
"No, he insisted on meeting you," Saad replied.
Oh boy, George thought. But what did he have to lose? Khan was injured and there was nothing he could do to force him to hand over the lens.
"Fine, if he really wants it," he agreed. "How do I get back to Marib?"
"Father will take you once you're ready to go," Saad said and George glanced at Fakhir. Now that he had been thanked for his stunt, the man didn't look that pleased with him anymore. His wife wasn't looking that happy either.
As if they disapproved ofme, George thought. He couldn't come up with an explanation though, so he settled with following Saad into another room.
Khan was lying on a carpet on the floor when George entered. The assassin glared at him, eyes flaming and George was starting to get the feeling that it had not been a good idea to agree to meet him.
The Syrian looked like he was surprisingly well. The right side of his face was covered in bruises and scratches, his right wrist was swollen and bandages covered his head. He was dressed in clothes that looked identical to the ones Fakhir wore.
"Get out, boy," Khan growled at Saad who had stayed at the door, looking curious. The boy was startled and hurried away leaving George alone with Khan.
"I don't think that your sister or her husband like me that much," George stated after a moment of silence.
"Not surprising. They think you're my colleague," Khan replied. His eyes didn't leave George for a moment and the American was starting to feel uncomfortable. He wondered what Khan wanted. Other than to smash his skull, of course.
"And you let them believe that?" he asked in slight surprise.
"What would you have preferred?"
"Anything. Why did you want to see me? What do you want?" George asked. Khan's expression turned, if possible, even more serious.
"Because of your tricks I can no longer sabotage the work of my enemies, so unfortunately I'm forced to make sure that you do it," the assassin said.
"Who are you talking about? If you mean the Templars, my intention has been to stop them for a while now," George said. To be honest, his original intention had been to find out what was going on. Now he was so deep in the mess that there was no other option but to go on.
"That is exactly what you must do. But don't call them Templars. They are not worthy of that name."
"Right... But wait a minute. If I understood right, we were on the same side all along? Why did you try to take the lens and kill me? We could have worked together!" George snapped. Okay, working with a murderer may not have been a pleasant experience, but at least he wouldn't have just stumbled upon things by accidents.
"I don't need the help of an ignorant tourist to stop them," Khan stated.
"You do now."
"Regrettably so. You have the manuscript, the Lochmarne gem, most likely the tripod and now the lens. Quite good for an amateur," the assassin said ignoring George's earlier comment.
"Thanks," George said dryly. "What do you expect me to do? It would be a great help if you told me what is really going on."
"Continue like you have before this. It has served you well."
"Yes, yes, but tell me something! Who are these people? And why are you fighting them?" George asked. Why couldn't Khan just give him the information he needed? Everything would have been so much easier!
"Even I haven't been informed as well as you think, Stobbart," Khan said. "All you need to know about my enemies is that they must be stopped. They will try to wield the Sword of Baphomet, which they think will be their ticket to power."
"Sounds like a cheap fantasy novel. Is the Sword really that powerful?" George wanted to know.
"Yes, but using it comes with a high price."
"And now it's my job to stop them from ever getting their hands on it?"
"Why me?" George asked. "Surely you know someone like you. Someone who knows about these things and doesn't care if he has to sacrifice lives to reach his goal."
"I do, but they are of no help now. You're a man of honour, Stobbart. Your actions at Bull's Head have proven you to be what is needed to stop our enemies," Khan said.
George felt like he wouldn't be getting anything else out of the assassin. It was relieving to think that he wouldn't have to think about him after this. On the other hand, now he and Nico were alone against the Templars.
Thinking about the woman made him miss Paris. Part of the mystery was still in the dark and he had no time to lose.
"Will you catch up with me when you're feeling better?" he asked then.
"If my sister is in the mood to let me go," Khan replied.
"She didn't seem that bad," George said.
There was a moment of silence during which George shifted his weight on his other leg. He was more than ready to go.
"So," he started. "No hard feelings about what happened here? Bull's Head and all..."
Khan said nothing. George guessed that it was better than "I'll kill you when I can stand!"
The trip back to Marib didn't take too long. George was glad when he could say farewell to Fakhir - though he doubted the man understood him because they had left Saad at the garage.
"George!" a familiar voice exclaimed and suddenly he found himself face to face with Pearl Henderson. "We were so worried about you when you didn't come back the day before."
"Really?" George asked. "You shouldn't have. Bull's Head was a lovely place and I decided to camp there for a while."
"Oh, you're quite an adventurer. I'm not interested in that kind of experimental travelling and neither is Duane. I prefer these small villages that the modern world hasn't ruined yet," Pearl said.
"Well, to be honest, I'm starting to feel I've had enough of Syria. I think I'll go on a tour to Europe," George said.
"Europe? Isn't that a little... old-fashioned?" Pearl asked.
"Perhaps, but that is what I need at the moment."
"Well, whatever you like, honey..."
George could hardly wait to get back to Paris and Nicole. The woman would be really surprised and surely suspiciousof his adventure. Even George himself didn't know how much he should have believed. Well, it was obvious that the Templars weren't up to any good, but he didn't feel comfortable with being on the same side as an assassin.
Suddenly George realised that the key they had found was still with Khan. The item fascinated him, and he was itching to find out the identity of the corpse and the reason to why he had been buried in such a place.
But there was nothing he could do about it. He doubted he'd see the key ever again.
He took the lens from his pocket and kept it against the sun. I guess this mystery will keep me satisfied for a while, he thought.
George woke up with a start. His back ached and the room in which he was, was very dim. It took a while before he remembered anything of what had happened. When the memories finally came back, all he could do was to sigh in relief and try to relax.
"Nico?" he called but received no answer. The woman was probably still asleep. George too closed his eyes and tried to find a comfortable position on the sofa.
It had been unfortunate to see that the hotel they had chosen was almost full. Only one free room and after a short act of dictatorship George had had to settle with the less comfortable piece of furniture.
I wonder what time it is, he thought to himself but didn't feel like getting up and checking. Now he just wanted to lie still and never worry about anything.
They had defeated the Templars on the previous morning. He and Nico. He had had a whole day and night to clear his thoughts, but George still didn't think he was buying everything. What he had experienced was so unique and strange that he doubted he'd ever face anything like it again.
He was sorry for that Rosso was gone. The man had of course been odd and crazy in his own way, but George had never considered him evil.
He would really have to sleep for a couple of hours more. They had stayed up late the previous night and he had lured Nico into celebrating their victory over a glass. It had soon turned out that she hadn't needed that much encouragement.
Khan had been neither seen nor heard since the events in Syria and George was glad for that. He hoped he wouldn't meet the assassin ever again and that his life would be somewhat normal in the future.
Not that he would mind a small adventure, but...