.

Hamunaptra, The City of the Dead, 1210 B.C.

.

The desert lands stretch endless and choking-hot, and he has nowhere else to flee.

Men name him Khaldun, in fearful whispers over the rim of their goblets, in the hurried stomping of animal hooves echoing behind him, as they chase him across Egypt. It's been eighty unbearable years since Akhenaton's murder. Not a single wrinkle to his too-pale skin, no age spots, no creaking and weathered bones.

He wears the name of immortal like a silk sash round his chest, glaring brightly—a stripe of fresh blood.

The city in the night seems empty, howling in a rage against the wind. But it's only a matter of time. Khaldun is tired of running. He clutches his spell-book to him, arm trembling, as he dismounts his horse, and enters.

Somewhere within, Akhenaton is buried. Spoiled, disgraced and left without prayer.

He lights a torch, with only a swaying motion of his hand, the flames blooming in chrysanthemum-yellows and oranges. As does the unnatural, entrancing glow-fire in his eyes.

Time has not been kind. Neither have the Medjai.

He discovers the corpse of the Pharaoh's beloved vizier—someone who should have been honoured in death—left a plain, dirt-covered box, without ceremony.

Khaldun's lips curl up, exposing his teeth in fury. Perspiration and hot tears leaking down his face.

The corpse was once rotted meat and sinew, and no more now than dusty, browned bone.

He murmurs an incantation, thumbing his precious, stolen item (but, how can one steal what is already theirs by right—it's impossible. This magic belongs to no one else.) Apprehension builds inside him, worsening the low buzz around him.

An eye-blink, a passing breath, and the corpse is whole.

With his spell-book placing to the ground, Khaldun's hands fist together, resisting touch. Resisting the urge to hold and caress. This is everything he ever desired—but the soul is not here with him. Akhenaton's sun-golden skin would be ice to his touch. He would be unfeeling, unresponsive to loving words and deed.

That doesn't mean…

A knife flashes out from his belt, crudely-shaped and pearly silver. Newly sharpened on his journey.

He slices diagonally the chest in front of him, not deep enough to scrape ribs. Dead, blackened blood wells up. It cascades out the sides of the flap of human skin, as Khaldun thrusts his forearm down within the viscous, cold matter.

Until he violently rips himself out, fingers coated thick and hardening with old blood, slippery around a gore-caked heart.

Flecks of sour, dark fluid splatter Khaldun's thinning mouth and high on his forehead.

The whites of his eyes swollen and veined. They glisten with tears once more, bright with a crazed fever.

Duat is where he will go—with Akhenaton's heart, to offer—

Blinding, white-hot agony shoves, his lungs shuddering, as a khopesh-sword impales him from behind. The long blade juts out, the tip curving from Khaldun's sternum, dripping, glaring red.

Khaldun is what they name him.

Vision blurring, he watches in open-mouthed horror, as the heart crumbles to dried ashes between his fingers.

.

London, 1923 A.C.

.

He hasn't seen a cloudless sky in days. And at the moment, it's framed heavily by smoke.

Arthur peers around from the open balcony, waving a hand near his face. It's routine. Mithian enjoys one or two cigarettes while in bed, after they fuck, daring to light them with her hair in her face and bare-breasted.

The smell is terrible and clings to Arthur's overcoat, but this is not his home. Not worth complaining.

He bunches his nose in mild disgust, rubbing his chest.

"Everything alright?"

"Any reason it shouldn't be?" Arthur retorts, softly. His hand clenches into his featureless night-shirt. He shucks it off, balling and tossing the material to the luxurious, plush carpet. It's making his skin irritable.

Used to his little tantrums, Mithian ignores the grumpy tone, lounging back fully on her bed.

"You were muttering in your sleep a couple hours ago," she tells him, blowing out a gust of blue-tinged smoke. Her mouth purses, and her voice is equally lulling and distracting. "Thought it may have been a nightmare."

"I don't remember," he lies. "I rarely do."

"Alright, yes," she says, coughing and laughing. It's an unconvinced look Mithian sends him as she goes up on her elbows. Her rosy nails pinch out her cigarette. "Well, if you ask me, it's rather lonely over here."

It's not coquettish what she does. Arthur's well-aware of what Mithian believes she's accomplishing.

Shifting on the pile of cushions and pillows, she opens her legs, where Arthur's eyes are instantly drawn to. Her inner thighs expose their colour milky-white and dotted with faint moles. She's firmness, and yet softness where it counts.

Even at the foot of the bed, he can see the tiny nest of her pubic hair. How it's dark, velvety brown like her curls. The lips of her cunt slick and visibly wet, a flushed, hot pink. Arthur remembers them kissing and gaping open for his prick, swallowing him, holding on eagerly while he thumped his hips unsteady against her.

Two of Mithian's fingers lower.

She begins massaging her cunt, sensually rolling her fingers. The lips spread apart, revealing more of herself, more wet skin. More evidence of their previous fuck as droplets of semen escape. Mithian squirms on the bed, keeping eye-contact with him, increasing her pace. Her large, full breasts heave up, and then down, when her breathing quickens. A moaning gasp leaves her, and Arthur's bollocks are so tight to his body they feel jammed.

Arthur crawls over the bed to her despite his cock being ramrod and bouncing in the way. He kisses her the way she likes it, slowly licking Mithian's mouth, before plunging in and suckling around her tongue. He replaces every one of her senses with himself, until she's crooning and overwhelmed, arching her back.

He tries sliding inside her, angling his hips and prodding the fat cockhead at her entrance. Even with her dampness, both his and hers, it's too tight. Not quite the fit needed.

Arthur pushes up against that pliant, warm flesh. He tries again and groans in exasperation when her legs cross themselves and she nudges him away.

"You can do better than that, love," Mithian teases, corners of her lips upturned as he gazes down on her.

A chuckle.

His face burns, but he takes the hint.

Arthur scoots back down her voluptuous form, occasionally leaving a light nip on her stomach or hipbone. Mithian whines in delight.

He circles his tongue, mouthing and sucking gently where her cunt leaks. She pulses like a heartbeat when Arthur presses in and laps at the moisture. He strips his prick one-handed, furiously, when she thrusts her hips a last time and cries out, tensing. Her muscles spasm weakly to Arthur's hungry lips, his release sticky to his own fingers.

He wipes off with the plum-coloured cloth nearby. Mithian allows him to cuddle up beside her, kissing and nuzzling against her collarbone.

"Mm," Arthur hums, pleased.

"That was very entertaining," she says, far too amused by his sleepy affections. "But don't you need to be going?"

Damn it all—she's right.

Arthur doesn't want to leave the warmth and light. The streets below grow dark with nighttime and solemn souls, and it's bloody freezing. "I've dismissed myself from the military."

"Military? I believed you to be an adventurer, Arthur dear."

"Yes, of course, my mistake," he answers, smug when Mithian laughs against him—a full-bodied laugh. "But now I can properly be."

"Oh… don't tell me you're not a real explorer!"

She pretends to tut disapprovingly, watching Arthur get up, admiring the view as he stretches arse-naked and tugs on his clothes, buttoning his trousers.

"I've been away from the country many times. There is much to see, I must say."

"Such as?"

"America." He runs a hand through yellow-blond locks, slipping on the grey, knitted jumper from yesterday, nodding. "I was born there. Grew up in London for most of my life. I went overseas out east with the French Foreign Legion."

Mithian's face brightens with childish glee.

"America, really? That sounds thrilling."

She climbs to her feet and slips on a thin, persimmon robe to her shoulders, loosely tied. Her nipples peek against the satin. Arthur's muscular hands gather in hers, and perhaps it's better, because he half-considers putting them inside her robe.

He clears his throat, nervously. His cheeks burning again.

"How much do I—?"

Mithian squeezes his hands, letting go.

"Don't fuss, you overpaid me last time," she says, cheerfully.

Arthur doesn't remember this, but minds himself and dutifully kisses her hand. She may be for soliciting, but he's a gentleman.

On his way to the door, Mithian says aloud, "My father loved American writers and their novels. He used to quote them to me in his study, after the dinner parties as a girl. Always the ones he believed to be of import."

"Such as?" Arthur parrots her.

He then stares in complete bemusement at her frown, brown eyes hooding.

"A man who chases after death… has forgotten how to live."

.

.

The pouring rain beats down hard on his head.

Arthur protectively grips his over-sized, twill coat to himself, dodging one or two equally shivering people. The road is lit ghostly with lanterns. His thoughts elsewhere.

Chases after death?

No, he has been trapped in its foreboding shadow since a nurseling.

His parents married young. Uther Penford had been a wealthy English explorer, hellbent on seeing the world and sampling its delights—even with a baby girl in his custody. He left Arthur's orphaned half-sister in the care of nannies and strict tutors in his home country, forwarding money and resources they required.

Eventually, Uther found a reason to slow down. He fell in love.

He met an Egyptian woman, beautiful and willful, and Uther married her. He convinced Arthur's mother to join him in America then, wishing to expand their family.

She died three months after Arthur Tristan Penford came into the world.

It had not been any of the birthing complications, despite her labour being for two days, exhausting and painful. Ygraine carried a rare genetic cancer, and never told anyone in fear and shame. She watched her father die as a child, helpless, paralyzed, his brain and lungs so full of tumors and sacs of fluid that living had been a burden.

Arthur's mother went blind first, the cancer eating away at her frontal cortex. And then, her immune system ceased to work. Their physicians demanded she obey their instructions and keep herself on restricted bed-rest. When he was old enough to understand, Arthur was told she died of pneumonia.

Others were trying to shelter him from the reality of the situation: Ygraine took her own life, before the cancer did.

Uther discovered her passed out in the foyer, in a puddle of her own sick. Arthur's mother overdosed herself on medical narcotics. He kept that all from the papers, away from the greedy, exploitative knowledge of the public eye.

In a way, Arthur had been grateful for Uther's decision. But, he grew up angry.

Angry with everyone, angry with himself.

She never lived to see thirty. His father spoke of her delicate wit and charm, her thick, lovely hair she dyed yellow-blond like the women's fashion in America. Her shock of blue eyes, the ones Arthur inherited from her.

He began dying his hair the same colour at fifteen-years-old.

At nineteen, Arthur dropped out of private schooling and joined the military. He drank himself to stupidity, gambled his earnings, killed men and women and children in the name of service, fucked whoever offered themselves to him—regardless of their gender, when Arthur was rat-arsed drunk.

Uther, of all things, died in a plane crash across the Atlantic. The wreckage was never unearthed.

Half of the fortune went immediately to Arthur, and the other to his half-sister, sporting as troublesome reputation as him.

He doesn't want to visit his father's physicians, doesn't wish to confirm what Arthur already suspects… because, he won't live to see the age of thirty either. So, it's better to feel alive now, to risk, to avoid unnecessary commitment.

A relationship, a marriage would do that, and no one deserves to suffer the weight of his loss. Not like his family.

To roam winding, endless corridors with the gilded, decorative mirrors and the portraits removed. To feel estranged, barren.

No one.

.

Cairo, Egypt

.

He shakes off his numbing legs and arms, stepping off the train.

It's nearing the end of midday, just as Arthur expected to arrive during his trip, and sweltering hot. Enough to tack the sweat coursing on the back of his neck. Up ahead of him, the Museum of Antiquities towers over the other buildings like an imposing relic.

Closing hours by the looks of it, and he jiggles his pocket for the tools. Arthur goes for the self-bolting doors, used for deliveries and larger shipments of artifacts, and picks it open.

He peers around for any security, relieved to see the lack of guards this time—crossing into the mummification room.

About four feet in, one of the 'mummies' pop up from a sarcophagus, shrieking at the top of their lungs. Arthur's right hand yanks out his pistol, aiming.

"God have MERCY, MORGANA—!" he shouts at the cackling person kicking up her legs. "—I could have SHOT you!"

"You sh-should have seen your stupid f-face!" Morgana wheezes between bouts of laughter, wiping at her face. Spots of bright red to her alabaster, round cheeks.

He growls at her, clicking back on the safety and holstering his weapon.

"And were you planning on doing that to poor, sweet Gwendolyn, you great tart?"

Morgana lets out a mock-gasp, her pale green eyes widening. "I'm deeply hurt by such an insinuation, baby brother," she declares, laying a 'mummified' hand across her breast. "No, as soon as I saw it was you—I couldn't resist."

Unaffected by Arthur's continuous glaring, she rises to her feet, tossing her undone, coal-black hair over her shoulder.

"God, Arthur—you reek like donkey piss."

He shakes his head. "You are the least ladylike person I have ever met," he proclaims, amazed.

"Mm, that's progress," Morgana says, grinning. She leaps off the ridged end of the sarcophagus. He opens his arms for her, catching her slender waist effortlessly, feeling her hands grasping his shoulders. Arthur sets her down, narrowing his eyes when Morgana promptly kisses his mouth with obvious, familial intent.

"Soo, have you finally come to—" she drapes her hand over her forehead, theatrically, "—romance Gwen?"

Arthur smiles, unamused.

"No, I haven't," he says, folding his arms.

"Good." Morgana stares, narrowing her eyes also. Her chin tilting up. "That's not your job. It's mine."

A torch-light approaches, illuminating the pair. They've been too noticeable.

"I surely can't see the appeal," the librarian announces, an ever-growing smile to her brown, pleasant expression. Arthur greets her, one-arm hugging, pressing a dry kiss to Gwen's temple. She's urged away to the other woman, with Morgana softly rubbing her thumbs over Gwen's wrists.

"You don't mean that, darling, do you?"

Gwen's eyes dart, as if she's embarrassed.

"I really wish you wouldn't call me that," she murmurs, face warming. Morgana does not pull away, but slides their hands together. Her grin fades from existence, replacing with woeful acceptance. They stand in silence.

Arthur observes from the side-lines, mentally weighing how to break it.

"I wish she wouldn't wear a man's trousers, but I doubt there's changing that either," he speaks up, voice monotone.

Morgana childishly sticks out her tongue, earning a humoured giggle from Gwen.

"You lot are working against me," she says, pouting. "I know why I'm here, Arthur—why are you? Shouldn't you be back in London with—?" The words stall themselves, and he can practically see the gears shifting in everyone's heads.

With the specialists, hoping to examine him for a breakthrough… with the unending cycle of new physicians, and the hospitals… drawing gallons of his blood, testing him over and over like a lab rat.

Morgana looks pleadingly at Gwen, before letting their hands go.

And oh, if only he could throttle all that pity…

"Arthur, I didn't mean—"

"—I'm not waiting to die," he says, jaw gritting. She sucks in a laborious breath. Gwen's lip worries under her front teeth. "If these are the last years I have for myself, I'm spending them with the people I care about."

"Well, no matter, I'm glad you are here." Gwen beams, smiling once more, and it eases him. "I believe we both are."

The other woman nods in agreement, smoothing her silk, emerald blouse.

"Why are you here in Cairo?" Arthur asks, eyes on Morgana.

"Started out in Thebes, on a holiday for myself, and ran across a man talking big game about an object he acquired—"

He sighs. "Let me guess: you pick-pocketed from him?"

Morgana scrunches her tiny nose, teeth baring fiercely.

"You're so a-dor-able," she says, reaching into a knapsack strung across her chest. "Anyway, I have it with me. I know I never find anything of value—please tell me I did this time." Arthur's interest piques from the negative digits as the object is held up. Stone-grey and carved with hieroglyphics.

Gwen 'oohs' from the background, a professionally curious 'ohh' as she reaches for it.

"How do you get it to open?" she asks, twirling it between her brown fingers, minding its intricate surface.

"Dunno. Maybe it needs a key. If it's worthless, we can force it." Morgana sighs, frustrated. "I haven't gotten the damn thing to open for me. Hand it to Arthur, perhaps he can."

Gwen shrugs. Her lips are parting and she's talking, but Arthur's unable to hear.

His fingers grasp the key—

there's a mile of oasis — Anubis cradled in a gilded box — twist of his hand, and the puzzle-box springs open, like a miniature sun in his palm — radiant pinks and violet-blues of lotus flowers — they float across the shimmering Nile, and nestle in dark, wet, curling hair — Pharaoh smiles close-lipped upon him, and he's certain that —

his gem-ringed fingers, touching a hundred outstretched hands festering with boils and warts — a bed in the flame-light, the occupant turned away, their back pale and grotesquely scarred —

he's on the same bed, rolling to his knees, settling with a heavy presence rearing over him and grinding down on his arse — a man's hands covering his, knuckles bony, lacing their fingers — clenching the sheets — a cock pounding inside him — warmth flooding his belly — hot, whimpering breaths in his ear —

Akhenaton —

The roaring in his head dulls. He finds himself reeling back, lowering to his knees as hands grab him, steady him.

"Arthur—!"

Morgana kneels with him, a hand on his back and another grasping his chin, leveling his face to hers. The horror on her features is enough to bolt a sense of wrongness through him. He can't find the strength within him to stand or open his mouth.

"Arthur, talk to me."

"Goodness, are you okay?" Gwen's voice is tear-filled, hysterical. "You were trembling… your eyes, they…"

Morgana examines him, stating grimly, "It may have been a seizure."

Arthur knocks her hand off his chin, finally leaning away.

"Tamam."

"What?"

"I said I'm fine," he snaps. They back away. Arthur's hand tightens on the puzzle-box in his right hand, and grips the top of it with his left. He twists its center, with three audible clicks, and then twists it in the opposite direction, one, two clicks.

Gwen questions, blinking, "What are you doing?"

"This… it doesn't need a key," Arthur says, voice low. "This is the key."

With a springing noise, its top separating into a solar-like metamorphosis, the object reveals a folded parchment.

"Morgana…"

"Yes?" she replies, breathless.

"… I think you may have found something."

.

.

By eve-fall, the tavern down the dusty road is less than inviting. Especially with the appearance of two young, attractive women.

Gwen and Arthur pull up bar-stools to their little corner table, out of view of anyone's prying interest. Somewhere within the low-lit scenery and hunching figures, Morgana thrives on the contentious, dreary atmosphere.

The beer is cheap and stale, but it's still beer, so he gulps it down.

"You were speaking Egyptian before," Gwen says, sipping, eyeing him curiously. "I didn't think you ever learned."

"Tried, but failed," Arthur corrects her, offering a quick half-smile.

"Maybe you're not so bad at it." She straightens up, meticulously revealing the puzzle-box's scrap of parchment. "Even if the Bembridge scholars refuse to admit it, I am the best applicant to teaching. After all I can—"

Arthur recites with her, "—read and write ancient Egyptian, decipher hieroglyphics and hieratic." He chuckles at her miffed look, adding, "Yes. I am aware, Gwendolyn Thomas. You are the pinnacle of perfection among your gender."

Gwen raps him smartly on the elbow with her magnifying glass.

"You better not let your sister hear that," she mutters.

He places down his beer glass, smiling mischievously. "Oh, believe me, she thinks you're an Egyptian goddess." Heats runs up Gwen's face and her neck. "Considering your birth home. I really don't imagine she could be more smitten with you…"

"Don't think I won't dip your hand in some warm water in the middle of the night."

Arthur nudges her leg, still smiling and watches her.

"Ever miss your brother, Gwen?"

An offhanded snort. "What about Elyan?"

"He's family."

"Apparently he doesn't think so." Gwen's lips thin together. "I haven't heard from him in ages—now, look at this."

He leans in, focusing on what appears to be the map she flattens out. It's inked with more hieroglyphics than the puzzle-box, and it's absolutely intimidating.

"This must be over a thousand years old, at least," Gwen concludes, squinting one eye through her magnifying glass.

"Where does it lead to?"

She goes quiet a minute. Her brown-skinned hands lay on the table as Gwen suddenly laughs uncontrollably, tears rolling down her face. Arthur glances apprehensively to his surroundings, at the one or two tavern-goers peering over.

"Ehm, am I missing something?"

"It's—oh my," a deep, shaky breath, she tries to explain, "it's a map to Hamunaptra, of all bloody things."

Arthur's eyebrows shoot up.

"Then it's really old."

Gwen starts laughing, this time faintly. She wipes her eyes. "Yes, really old. Three thousand years, more like."

"It's just a story," he says, protesting. "Rubbish, isn't it?"

"Well, no one has been able to prove whether it is or not. Many conquerors have been in search of the city and its treasure buried underneath, and none have ever returned alive." Her fingertip glides over one of the inked, red paths. "According to this, there's a real way to Hamunaptra… and that means, to the books of ritual power. The Black Book."

A memory tickles at him— Uther disappearing into his study, veins bulging, yelling into a telephone.

"I've heard that name before." Arthur says, distantly. "My father… he mentioned it."

Gwen's mouth strains. "It's known as The Book of the Dead. It's been used for foul incantations to bring the dead to life. Magic like that… was considered unholy."

He nods, eyes stinging. His throat clamps up.

"That's why my father would have been looking for it. He would use it to bring my mother back," Arthur whispers, disbelieving. "I was only a boy. I didn't know…"

"Oh, Arthur." Gwen pats his forearm, consoling. "As far as I understand it, the map can guide us there. But, I'm not sure we—"

A crashing, like shattered bottles, and then men cheering. They jerk their heads up, gazing towards the door-frame to witness someone throw a punch at Morgana. It slams into her nose and whips her head sideways, her black hair fanning.

What he remembers before passing out is calling her name, leaping over the bar-table, rage exploding. He remembers a spray of a man's blood on his white, open-collared shirt. He remembers the map. Flames licking around it as the parchment hovers over a candle.

.

.

"We lost the map."

"Mmhm."

Arthur gestures to their outdoor holding cell, his shackles rattling. "Arrested," he says, wryly.

"Mhm."

"Gwen's furious with us."

"Mm."

On the other side, Morgana remains pressed to the iron bars. She cradles a kerchief to her blood-crusted nose.

"You're going to be executed for stealing," he points out.

She lifts her head, expression savage and dark. Her dirt-smeared lips lifting to a scowl. "I wasn't stealing. I was robbed, and I fought him—"

"Sure, whatever you say," Arthur answers dismissively. "It doesn't matter, because I'm going to get us out of here."

"How exactly?"

"Still working that part out."

.

.

It's the most furious she's ever been.

More than her brother vanishing out of her life, more than her first rejection letter from the scholars.

Gwen stomps around the uniformed, stern-faced guards and prisoners who gyrate in her direction, leering and flashing their genitals. They're chained and a good distance from her, and all she can think about is…

"You've made a right mess of things, haven't you?" she shouts, approaching the holding cell. Morgana grimaces at the sound, and then grimaces at grimacing, her nose throbbing in agony. Her long curls in tangles around her pale face and her fine, silk trousers begrimed. "… Where's Arthur?"

"I think he's been moved to another cell." Morgana looks over her shoulder cautiously, and then inches closer. "Gwendolyn, I'm sorry," she apologises. "For what its worth, if it means anything at all to you."

Gwen frowns, looking her up and down.

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"I want you to remember me better than this… I… we visited Vernazza last year, do you remember it? How happy we were?" Morgana pleads, desperation entwining her words. Her nostrils are scabbed dark red. "Remember that for me. Not in a shit-covered prison… I couldn't bear it. I couldn't."

The other woman gapes, speechless.

"Gwen, please."

"I'm not letting you be executed," Gwen says, beginning to frown.

Morgana gestures her in, fingers clenching on the iron-bars, as if restraining herself. Gazing around them, her companion wrings her hands and steps closer in, obeying.

"Yes?" Gwen inhales sharply. "What is it?"

"Would you…"

"Yes?"

Gwen's fancy ribboned-hat lowers, and then tumbles into the sand, forgotten.

When she's within breathing space, Morgana grabs Gwen's cheeks with both palms, eliciting a squeal out of her. She smashes their lips together, wetly. It's too rough and too short-lived, as a new guard bursts in, dragging Morgana away and striking her hip.

"Morgana! MORGANA—oh please! No!" Gwen screeches, pushing whole-bodied against the cell. "Lucy!"

She begins sobbing, panicked, reaching and reaching, until the interior door bangs shut.

.

.

Jostled through the shadows and peeks of white sunlight filtering in, Morgana listens to other prisoners grunting and weeping.

"Don't think I won't kill you, you spineless bastard," she barks.

The long, beating stick nudges her forward, before she feels her shackles unclasp, clattering to the ground. Morgana jerks her battered, arching arms to herself, preparing to go for his throat. The guard anticipates it, careening her backwards.

Arthur appears through a hole in the building, in time to catch her violent fall. He straightens them, gently embracing Morgana's waist.

"Finally," he says. Morgana's eyes dart between him and the now handsomely smiling guard. "Are you alright?"

"What the hell is going on?"

The guard throws off his belt, tossing it aside. "How'd you lot get into this scuffle?"

"It's a long story—thank you, Gwaine," Arthur says.

They shake hands, and it's meant to be brief, but with someone like Gwaine—there's hardly ever a meaningless gesture. He embraces Arthur, clapping his back. "Been a while, mate. I didn't think you missed me. I haven't seen a letter in years from either of you." Gwaine winks at Morgana who proceeds to roll her eyes. "So, what's this I hear about Hamunaptra?"

"We found a key that contained a map."

"And you mean to go?" Gwaine hisses when Arthur nods, wincing. "Ooh, you're risking a very painful death."

"Better than being hanged, I suppose."

"You still have it?"

"The map's destroyed. Gwendolyn has the key with her."

"Shoddy luck there."

The other man seems to think everything over, scratching his dark, furry beard. Gwaine smacks his hands together. "I'll get you there—on one condition," he announces.

"What is it, Gwaine?" Arthur asks, reluctantly.

"You'll need men and guns. I bring my mates, and we get our share of the treasure."

Morgana spins around, astonished, pale green eyes widening.

"You weaselly little—"

Her brother snatches onto her wrist, forcing her back as Morgana advances, fury written all over her.

"Agreed."

.

Nile River, Egypt

.

Adventure could be worse than crammed up on a boat for days.

Gwaine joins him on deck, without so much as creaking the wooden planks beneath his feet. It's a talent few have. Arthur keeps his eyes on the inviting sight of a cloudless starry sky, content for once. The other man spits, dangerously near Arthur's ear, and proceeds to flick his ruby-lit cigarette into the water.

"What do you make of them?"

From a distance, his acquaintances bellow at each other. They swear and laugh over drinks and cards. Leon, Percy, and the other two men seem to be overtly cheerful and arrogant, but proficient in weapons and survival.

Arthur pensively twists his mother's ring on his forefinger. Gwaine's eyes follow the slightly hypnotic motion.

He tosses back the question, this time, making eye-contact, "You trust them?"

"I do."

"That's good enough for me," Arthur says.

Gwaine rubs the back of his own head, his brown, greasy locks tousling.

"Your sister still doesn't fancy the likes of me, ay?" he says, beginning to simper.

"I believe the phrase earlier was 'filthy, rude, and a complete scoundrel'—" Arthur slaps Gwaine's shoulder in sympathy, starting to grin as the other man groans dramatically. "She'll be alright. Morgana hardly is impressed by anyone."

Gwaine faces him, eyes roaming him.

"You alright?" he asks, quietly.

Arthur's hand drops away, as if burned from the contact. His grin twisting to a snarl.

"The next person who asks me that—"

"Not… for fuck's sake, mate, not about that." Gwaine does a fair impression of Morgana's infamous eye-roll, but he accompanies it with a much calmer smile. Arthur's body burns, slow and persistent, when Gwaine's fingers rake through the mop of yellow-blond, easing it out of Arthur's face. "Thought maybe you'd like some company…"

That's how he discovers himself kissing Gwaine against the boat's railing. Wanting to soak in the comfort, the familiarity of hands like his. Wanting, just wanting.

One of Gwaine's hands release from cupping Arthur's nape, going to circle his waist.

Arthur jolts in place, as if startled—another body presses to him, softly but intently. Gwaine's lips trace to Arthur's jawline, shushing him. "It's only Percy," he whispers, massaging fingers into Arthur's hair and against his neck. Despite the close proximity, Percy does not take advantage, only holding loosely onto Arthur's hips.

"He's a good lover," Gwaine adds, setting a softer peck to Arthur's mouth, to raw, kiss-warmed flesh. "Best I've ever had. What about it, Penford? Think you can handle a challenge?"

It's lonely over here.

"Yeh," Arthur rasps, eyes growing lust-dazed. "I—"

Percy's hands hesitate on the buckles to Arthur's shoulder-holsters, and then slip them free. His fingers are huge, dragging under Arthur's clothes, nails scraping. Arthur imagines the rest of Percy is likely just as glorious and imposing.

.

.

The universe isn't always rooting against her, it seems: her nose isn't broken.

Which makes it easier to concentrate.

Morgana strips down her Chamelot-Delvigne Model 1873 revolver, piecing back the cylinders. She peers up, never breaking her pace as Gwen passes by absently, reciting and mumbling a passage from her textbook. Her makeup is scrubbed away, and her long, dark hair in ringlets along her back.

She's a true beauty and a wonder. Morgana hates herself sometimes for being difficult—it's not been so simple. Lately, she hasn't felt much like herself with the periods of vomiting, and the fatigue spells arriving when it's less than convenient. Some foreign flu, or elsewise.

"You called me Lucy back at the prison."

Gwen gazes pensively around at her.

"You know I hate that name," Morgana says, toneless.

"Then I won't do it again."

Maybe it would have been the end of it, but Gwen looks back on her passage and goes silent. Doesn't walk forward. She gazes around again, shyly, at Morgana rotating the cylinders and tucking away her revolver. "… Why did you kiss me, by the way?"

"I thought I was going to die. Honestly, it seemed like a good idea at the time."

Gwen's face hardens. She huffs, leaving Morgana with stupefaction and resentment consuming.

.

.

He's been on the receiving end of an exchange before, and it's hardly ever been like this.

Fitting both himself and Percy on a ship-cot is an damn near impossibility. Arthur kneels up on it, hands to the wall, occasionally resting his head. Percy goes into him like he's a fine opium drug, taking all he can get, hard and fast, pawing at Arthur.

It's the biggest cock Arthur's ever had.

He was sure initially about being cleaved in two, until the shudders disappear and Arthur manages to unclench around Percy's shaft, the oil gushing around his rim.

"You should see your arse right now," Gwaine declares from a single chair in the room. He watches, lips twitching to a smile, fondling himself as Arthur pants and moans at each thrust, gagging and drooling on the bandanna stuffed in his mouth. It's a request Arthur himself wanted—to avoid a commotion.

"Fuck, it's magnificent. You've got an arse made for his prick."

What is magnificent is Percy's strength. He's able to handle Arthur's muscle mass, and lift him like a rag doll. Percy does just that, shifting them together in a sitting-position on the cot, impaling Arthur further down, legs opening.

In moments, he's coming all over Percy's hand tugging on his prick, and Gwaine's there, removing the bandanna. Gwaine's cock tastes like heated skin and linen, as it prods into Arthur's widening mouth. Percy's orgasm fills him, ripping a needy moan out of Arthur's throat. But the noise has nowhere to go, Gwaine's pace brutal and straining open Arthur's jaw.

He grunts, fisting Arthur's hair, but slows and allows the other man to move against the harsh motions.

Gwaine's semen collects in his mouth and on his tongue, hot and bitter.

As soon as he's able, Arthur pulls himself off Percy's cock. "Take it easy," Percy warns, acting benevolent, helping a dizzy Arthur stabilize himself. "Easy."

The sink gurgles—a buffer for the noises of Arthur hacking and spitting into it. He feels engorged, wrecked, filthy. Tauten out from the pleasure of his body being used. His heart races like mad, fighting and thrashing itself within.

In the mirror, Arthur can see where the purpling, bruising marks of hand-prints. Small, red marks littering his upper body, from teeth and from nails. The dark roots on his scalp beginning to peek from honey-yellow colour—and he doesn't care anymore.

None of it matters.

He closes his eyes when Gwaine's reflection sidles up beside him, roaming a hand over Arthur's broad, hairy chest. "Feels good, doesn't it?" Gwaine murmurs, his beard scratchy to Arthur's cheek. He pushes his insisting fingers to Arthur's stretched hole, rubbing against his slick cleft before burying in.

Arthur closes his eyes and forgets where he is, smelling river water and lotuses bathing in morning-light.

.

.

"To the Egyptians, every being, including Pharaoh and the gods, had to abide by the fundamental cosmic principle of ma'at, personified by Ma'at, the goddess of order, justice, and…"

Gwen breathes curtly out her mouth, pressing her textbook on her abdomen.

"And…" she repeats, dreamily.

The ceiling above her sways with the riverboat, as does the private room's cot Gwen lies against. Is she overreacting? Morgana hadn't meant to harm her feelings, surely. And what does one innocent kiss mean anyway?

She picks up her book, tilting her chin in and staring blankly.

Except it had been her first kiss, and the kind of thrilling that left gentle somersaults in Gwen's chest.

Gwen tosses her prized possession aside with a flourish, hitting her knuckles to her forehead. "Oh, it wasn't that good of a kiss anyway!" she cries out. Her limbs flopping on bedding.

Damn everything.

Morgana is a troublemaker, only fit to scold. She's gorgeous and flirtatious, and positively evil. If anything of that nature constituted as evil.

Gwen's nipples peak against the material of her nightie, arousal sweeping down her belly, to her centre. She brings her legs together and squeezes in her thighs and wills herself not to temptation. It would be so easy—imagining Morgana lying beside her, kissing her throat, nibbling Gwen's earlobe and whispering sweet promises to her.

With a surge of energy, Gwen jumps to her feet, busying herself by locating her hairbrush.

She rummages through her bag, humming nonsensically, and then stops as a dagger-blade presses to her neck. A tattooed man, dressed in a black hooded robe. He presses down a little more on her exposed skin, when Gwen wails high-pitched, frightened.

"Where's the key, girl?"

He speaks fluent Arabic, and just as she contemplates begging for her life—a gun fires.

The tattooed man yells, his weight slamming against the wall, fracturing the hanging mirror. His lifeblood spews from the bullet-wound.

"Come on! We've got to go now!" Morgana screams, motioning with her smoking revolver.

Gwen curses, running around the dying man and plucking up the only bag worth saving—the one containing the puzzle-box. Half of the riverboat is smolder, choking with smoke, quickly up in flames. Passengers abandon it for the Nile, frantically howling at each other.

"Can you swim, Gwen?"

"If the occasion calls for it!"

Morgana hooks their arms, climbing over the rail and urging Gwen to follow. "Trust me, it calls for it!" she hollers. "Take a breath, are you ready?"

Before she can agree, Morgana jumps, diving straight in and yanking her companion with her.

.

Sahara Desert, Egypt

.

He wakes from the rhythmic, drowsy rocking of his saddle.

His camel brays hoarsely for his attention.

"Arthur?"

Gwen's murmur carries on the wind, right to his ears. Arthur glances off to the side, exhaustion brimming him, but he smiles thinly for her. On his right, she stretches over and pets the head of his camel who snorts a delighted animal noise. Sunrise gleams over the horizon.

"What is it?"

"I was thinking about the riverboat and the fire," she tells him, face tightening. "Do you think those men…?"

Only a fleeting time ago, their group dragged themselves onto shore, having survived the unwarranted attack. Arthur questioned the other men, as well as survivors among them, but no one had an answer to who the identities of the black-cloaked men were.

"They were after us," he proclaims, feeling eyes peering at the back of his skull. "I don't doubt that."

"Roasted alive by the end of it, those chaps," Leon says, almost boasting. He nudges his horse to Gwaine's. "How much longer, fella? I want to get there before I turn old and gray."

"Think it's a bit too late for that," Morgana remarks.

She plays with the ends of reddish gold curls spilling over his shoulders, laughing at his annoyed grunt. Morgana's bare arms wind him, as she presses herself up further to his back.

Their coziness is noted by several other members of their group: Percy hiding an apprehensive smile by turning his head from everyone, an unidentifiable snicker and a groan of protest, Arthur's lips twisting, and Gwen shutting her eyes, face empty.

Gwaine points in the distance.

"There," he says, and one of the men sneers.

"And where exactly is this—Jesus bleedin' Christ!"

The towering city floats down, materializing in the glassy, invisible haze and the hills of sand like a heat-mirage.

"Here we go again," Gwaine says grimly, underneath the cheers, urging his horse with a cluck of his tongue.

.

Hamunaptra, The City of the Dead

.

They have enough rope to venture down, locating secret compartments beneath the earth. Arthur refuses Gwaine's offer to dig with their group, accompanying himself with his half-sister and Gwen, unable to shake a new sense of foreboding crawling over him.

The city's underground becomes well-lit as Gwen fumbles with the ancient Egyptian mirrors.

"Do you realize… we are standing in a room no one else has seen in over three thousand years?"

Her awe rubs off on him a little. "Suppose that's true," Arthur says, observing the cobwebs and decay around him.

Two feet above, Morgana slides the rest of the way down, climbing off the rope when she lands on her feet. "It doesn't smell too ghastly considering, uugh—" Morgana cuts herself off with a small moan, clamping a hand over her mouth.

Arthur's eyebrows furrow.

"What's the problem?" he asks, concerned.

"You."

"Why do you do that?" Arthur says, not registering his voice getting louder and indignant. "I'm your brother, Morgana."

She flashes her teeth in a clearly disarmed, but mean attempt at a smile.

"Then that especially means you are an idiot."

"Will the pair of you hush up and look at what this is—!" Gwen sounds anything but irritated, her dark brown, lovely expression grinning as she circles the ancient room, her wool skirt twirling. "This is an ibu!"

"Pardon?"

"A preparation room!" Her scholarly glee is unmistakable. "For entering the afterlife…"

Morgana thumps the back of Arthur's shoulder, examining his outright confusion. "Mummies, my good son," she concludes, exaggerating a gloom-and-doom in her voice. "This is where they made the mummies."

"You're not here for mummies."

"No, I'm here for the treasure, Arthur."

Gwen leads on, excitement teeming from her, hoisting up Arthur's flaming torch.

Partway through the narrow chamber, everyone looks up and covers their ears. What sounds like a thousand scurrying insects echo off the walls and ceiling. Morgana jumps in place, brushing her clothing as Arthur yanks out his pistol, on instinct. There's nothing but increasing darkness ahead. The sound vanishes, leaving their heavy exhales and terror.

"I think it's gone," Gwen says, unconvinced. Her face tilting to the direction of the murky ceiling.

He urges Gwen behind him, touching her arm and lowering it, gazing back.

"Morgana, have you got your—?"

"Yes, of course." She presents her Double Derringer out, finger locked to the trigger. "Wouldn't leave home without it."

Arthur motions with his weapon, now leading and accepting the torch from Gwen.

"Take the rear," he says.

A little smirk passes over her rouged mouth.

"I believed that to be your—OW, Gweeeen!" she whines, receiving a particularly hard smack.

"You deserved that."

.

.

Hours later and above ground, there's nothing but rubbish and sand to examine.

"We've had it better than Gwaine's lot, so I hear," Arthur states. He goes on a smoothed lump of boulder besides Gwen, his yellow hair fanning and illuminating in the sunset's light. "Their diggers they hired were… melted."

Morgana scrunches her face. "How do you mean melted?"

"Pressured salt acid," he explains, dully. "Some ancient booby-trap. They're… mostly dead."

A sort of disquiet hovers over everyone, thickened like tar. Morgana busies reaching behind herself, pulling a knotted, leathered bag into her lap.

"For the record, if I die out here… don't put me down for mummification."

"Likewise," Arthur agrees, muttering, stretching his legs. "Anything yet, Gwen?"

"Oh goodness, I'm afraid so," she says, worry in her eyes. The dusty tablet clenching in her hands. "According to this, a man was buried here without a name. They were only allowed to refer to him as 'He-Who-Is-Unnamed'—meaning, he was not loved or respected by the people who buried him here. I can only imagine why."

Morgana shrugs. "Probably got too randy with the Pharaoh's daughter," she says, leering.

"If it was a serious enough offense, his death must have been long and very painful."

"Maybe this place really is cursed," Arthur says, offhandedly. A sudden wind picks up, blowing wildly, causing the fire to lower before it crackles once more, feeding on the kindling.

"Oh my god, you are being ridiculous!" Morgana shouts, as her two companions stare at the fire in grave expectancy.

"Says the woman who joined an expedition for the promise of a lost city covered in gold."

She blatantly ignores Arthur's dry remark, approaching Gwen.

"Gwen, I, uhm…" Morgana holds out the leathered bag, trying to smile coyly, affectionately but her nervousness obvious. "I got this for you. Borrowed it off one of the men, it turns out."

Gwen's dark brown eyes stare up, amazed.

"Oh," she whispers.

"I thought you might like it—or might need it. If, y'know—" Morgana's pale cheeks flush. As the other woman carefully unties the bag, she retreats from the campfire. "What the hell are you looking at?" Morgana barks at Arthur, who coughs to disguise his laughter. He takes a hearty gulp from his wine bottle.

"I'm going to take a walk," he says lowly to Gwen. "Call for me if there's any trouble."

There's not much light to go on as time passes, as dusk transforms to inky-black sky overhead. Arthur wanders by himself through the ruins, drinking occasionally from the wine. Feeling his courage strengthen bit-by-bit.

What kind of city had this been at its prime? Is it truly keeping piles and piles of ancient gold pieces and jewels inside? There's ancient corpses, of course. He expects to run into those—kings and queens and others of higher ranking and nobility. Had it been priests who only visited? Could anyone who desired it attend to the dying and the already dead?

Arthur sips his bottle, and then hesitates.

In front of him, washed in the shadows, is a massive statue atop an eroded slab of rock. He recognizes the jackal-headed figure as Anubis—the god of the Egyptian afterlife.

How fitting for a dead city, he thinks.

That's when the ground begins quaking. It starts in whispers, floating around him like softly droning bees, filling the inside of his head, inside his mouth, and Arthur's left unsure of his immediate sobriety. And then, the shrieking. It comes at all sides of him, and the earth beneath gapes open. He stumbles away, clutching his temples.

Sand pours itself into a misshapen, enormous face, with twin eyes, a nose, and a permanently howling mouth.

Arthur flees, having abandoned his wine bottle, his own cries of horror lodged in his throat. Back towards the camping area, he comes face-to-face with a tattooed rider swinging a khopesh-sword. It misses Arthur's face by inches.

Guns fire around him, popping off rounds in deadly precision, and Arthur is seized violently into memories of the battlegrounds.

He grabs onto the horse's reins, yanking. Then, fistfuls of black hood, throwing the rider onto the sand. Arthur manages to wrestle away the sword, punching the man's enraged face. He jams the heavy, sharp weapon into his attacker's torso with enough force to rupture organs.

"Morgana!"

She tosses him one of the shotguns, as Arthur sprints over to her hideout, hunkering down. He checks the tubular magazine before peering over and aiming, killing one of the black-hooded men careening straight for them.

"Remember the times I used to beat you at target practice, baby brother?" Morgana crows, grinning hard enough to spread her lips over her teeth.

She takes aim for another enemy, striking a bullet into his forehead. His spasming, blood-soaked body tumbles out of sight.

"That never happened!" Arthur yells, indignantly.

The commotion halts.

Gwen is standing by herself, surrounded by their attackers, sweating and breathing hard. She grasps a stick of dynamite in her right hand. Its fuse already lit, sparking and growing less and less. Arthur feels Morgana pitch herself forwards, and grabs her arm, holding her in place. His blood pounding. Oh, god.

One of the hooded men pulls his whinnying horse back.

"Who are you?" Gwen demands. "What do you want with us?"

"We are Medjai. Warriors for God and protectors of man. You are not welcome to this place." The man's English is clear and loud, if not accented, and his every word tinges ominous. "Too much blood has been spilled this night. Leave now, before it's too late!"

The riders—the Medjai—vanish with their horses, stomping back into the eve-fall.

Arthur dimly hears his company cheering in victory, spitting curses at their defeated enemies and firing their guns impulsively.

Gwen wretches off the dynamite's fuse, tossing it into the sand. She tosses the explosive stick away as well, in the opposite direction, and opens her arms. Her best friend hugs her. Morgana is almost tumbling in Gwen's arms, babbling praise and cradling Gwen's slick, flushing face.

.

.

The roomy, private tent is solely theirs—as they are the only women present.

"You were so brave," murmurs underneath Gwen's ear, as Morgana nuzzles lips to her neck. It's long past when everyone else has fell asleep, but they remain together, curled on the same bedding. "You saved us all, Gwen."

"I'm not," Gwen insists sleepily, inhaling as Morgana's hand slips over her nightdress. She squirms, teething on her bottom lip. The flowery, cotton fabric bunches up slowly, exposing the side of her Gwen's leg and hip.

Morgana meets her eyes as neither of them pull away from each other, smiling fondly.

"Now is not the time to be humble," she says, palming over Gwen's naked hip, sneaking the tip of a warm finger under her knickers.

A low, wanting gasp threatens to escape her. Gwen holds onto the nape of Morgana's neck, their mouths grazing, no more than a butterfly's wing to the other's skin. "Are you too humble for me, Gwen?"

"No," she answers, placidly.

Warmth and arousal captures her senses, to plump, soft lips. It's far from the rude, disheveling kiss in Cairo. Morgana treats her gently, in reverence and it's too far from any thrill. Gwen presses against her, wishing to abandon the idea of any chastity in this. Morgana's hand pull her knickers down, enough to burrow in the exquisite heat of Gwen's thighs.

A whimper escapes, muffled to Morgana's lips covering hers, tongue sweeping hers.

Heroes always won the affections of the girl, her storybooks told her. But, Morgana's heart could not be won. Not by anyone.

It was too carefree, too savage and full of love to be bargained or sacrificed.

For anything.

.

.

Deep below the ground, the corridors are silent and the air stagnant except for the ringing of their voices.

"You believe you saw… what was it, a face?" Gwen asks, uncertainly. "A man's face in the sand?"

Arthur resists groaning. "When you say it like that, Gwendolyn," he comments, straightening the grip of his pistol and glaring over his shoulder. "Then yes, it does seem barmy."

"You said it, not me," she says under her breath, a touch scornful. "How much did you have to drink last night?"

This time, he does groan.

"Not enough to be a terrible shot, if you—hang on." Arthur raises his torch in his other hand, frowning pensively. "We're going the wrong way," he murmurs, inattentively. His too-blue eyes wandering, darting at everything around them.

Gwen cocks an eyebrow.

"There was a right way? I didn't think we were—" she hesitates, watching him make a sudden turn into another corridor, Gwen follows after, not wanting to be left exposed in the darkness. "Arthur, love, what is it?"

He tucks his pistol into the empty flap of his shoulder-holster. Arthur's hand presses tentatively to a dry wall.

"Where's the key?" Arthur questions, his gaze dazed in the shadow-light, haunted. "There's an entrance-way."

After pushing themselves to the wall, forcing the give, they locate a hidden antechamber. It's assembled with hand-carved holes, like shelves all over, but most have been emptied. Centuries of dreck and sand layering them.

"I feel like I've been here before," Arthur says, sounding so far-away. "I know I've been here before…"

Gwen shakes her head.

"Unless you were here thousands of years ago," she points out.

"Then how do I seem to know exactly where I am going?"

In another connected passage to the antechamber, Arthur's torchlight reveals a huge, obsidian sarcophagus. Propped upright. On the right-hand side, at above eye-level for Gwen, is the hieroglyphics from the puzzle-box.

Arthur twists it open, placing the key in its lock.

"Okay, you're starting to scare me," Gwen announces, timidly.

His heart threads an uneven, staccato beat, right in the middle of his throat.

"… I'm starting to scare myself," he replies, voice hoarse.

Despite it, Arthur jerks the key in place, and the top of the sarcophagus bursts open, clouds of acidic-smelling dust leaking out. It thunders and shatters to the floor in jagged pieces, as he and Gwen leap out of its path. From within, the rotting corpse topples out, partway.

A scream of absolute fright rises from Gwen's lips. She grabs onto the back of Arthur's vest, hiding her face.

Once the dust settles, there's nothing jumping about. Only more silence.

Arthur lowers his arm, and subsequently, the torch. Revulsion and awe crossing his expression.

"Is this…?"

Gwen peers around him, gulping in a breath. "It's the unnamed man, isn't it," she declares after a long moment, her fear dampening away to outright grinning enthusiasm. "Oh, I dreamed of this moment ever since I was a little girl!"

Arthur's mouth twitches. "You dream about dead blokes?" he asks, curtly.

She shushes him, approaching and examining the brownish-grey profile of the corpse.

"Why does he look… juicy?" Arthur says, thoughtfully.

"That's odd… he…" Gwen cants her head, lips tightening together. "He still looks like he's decomposing." She examines the interior of the sarcophagus, reaching in heedfully and stroking her fingers on the obsidian-stone.

"Gwendolyn, for god's sake, don't—"

"Arthur, there are claw marks in here. Loads of them," she interrupts, grimly. "This man was buried still alive."

.

.

The weather remains thankfully mild, and Gwen unpins her frizzing hair, shaking it out.

"See these?"

Arthur glances up from oiling a pistol, lowering his rag. What looks like a dark lump is posed between her thumb and forefinger. In fact, there's a small pile of them in the lap of her skirt.

"I found these scarab skeletons with our mummy," Gwen explains. "They were considered flesh-eaters. There must have been… well, many of them buried with him. Consuming him. They could live feasting off the flesh of a human being for years."

His stomach roils.

"That's unbelievable," he says, as Morgana ventures over.

"Is that a bug—ohmygod!" she shrieks, batting it away as Arthur tosses one at her, grinning. "You prick! I hate bugs!"

"Where did you find that?"

Morgana hugs an item one-handed, shielding it with her body. "I believe that's none of your business, Arthur," she says in a honey-sweetness veiling the venom.

"That's a canopic jar, isn't it," Gwen says, curiously.

"A gold-encrusted jar," the other woman announces, flashing her a haughty smile. "It will fetch a pretty penny, don't you agree?" Morgana cradles it up, eye-to-eye with the miniature pottery head of a black-striped falcon, speaking to it, "Or maybe you should sit on the mantle? Hmm? You would certainly liven up all the boring conversations bound to happen."

Arthur flexes his hand in the rag. "Gwaine must be pleased," he says.

"The little weasel left before we discovered the chest, therefore he gets rot."

Morgana shoulders off a braided, hefty knapsack, not belonging to her by the looks of it. She wretches out the drawstring.

"I did, however… acquire this, too."

Arthur knows the instant his eyes set on it.

The Book of the Dead.

Gwen spoke of it being entirely golden, like the rays of the sun, dazzling and blinding quality. But it is as dark as the obsidian of their newly discovered sarcophagus, gleaming like it's been dipped in blackened, dead blood.

An ice-cold shiver jolts through him, and he watches benumbed as Gwen's hands eagerly clasp it.

"Oh, thank you," she says, happily.

"And what did you lot happen upon?" Morgana turns to Arthur, as their companion takes out the puzzle-box. A pinch of arrogance. "A nice, stinky mummy, was that it?"

The spell-book pops its latch open. The insistent feeling of cold dread and foreboding increases in Arthur's chest.

"You sure about this…?" he asks Gwen, shaking his head.

A light, softhearted chuckle.

"It's just a book, Arthur," she replies. "No harm ever came from reading a book."

.

.

{Amun Ra. Amun Dei.}

Magic flows, coursing through the roots and soil of the earth.

{Death will come, on swift wings.}

It finds it bearer, its home in the shadows, and wraps around the rotting mummy. Penetrating within, warming, awakening.

{Death is only the beginning.}

A gruesome, sucking howl. The mummy—crumbling bone and meaty, putrid remains—wretches out of its thousands-year enclosure. He howls and howls, clawing at his own eyeless face, ripping away loose, gaunt-like membrane.

.

.

It's not much to go on, but sex is a fulfillment. Arthur has his reason for living, and she has hers.

Morgana has been letting Leon fuck her for weeks before the riverboat, when their group properly acquainted at last. His eyes never took interest in anything else at first, persistent, retreating to the viewing pleasures of her low-cut dress.

She invited him for drinks, for her exclusive company that evening, and was delighted with his ability to handle her ferocity—buckling and riding on top of him, Leon's hands scrambling to grasp at her sweaty buttocks. He called her "an experienced stallion-mounter" between groaning thrusts. It made her laugh so hard that his cock slipped out.

He's not what she truly wants, but according to her friends, Morgana is "insatiable" and "a tart".

So, what can she do? They already made up their minds about her.

Leon suckles and bites her breasts, pushing them together, licking around the abused, reddened skin—and it's never been like this. She's oversensitive, whining, clenching down at a too-shallow thrust, his prick barely moving inside her.

"You're the most gorgeous woman there ever was," he mouths on her left nipple, kissing it. His thumb runs playfully over Morgana's bottom lip. It's sickeningly admiring for such a gesture. She licks the tip of his thumb, encouraging it past her teeth. A tinge of gun-powder. "God, I could fuck you all day." Leon pins Morgana's wrists over her head, easing them upwards. He pulls his cock back, almost out, and then slams himself in.

"Could make you my wife, hmm? Watch you get fat with my children." It's possessive, it's filthy-wrong, she's heard it before and she doesn't care. The edge is so close, her orgasm inches from her. Leon's cock plunges in deeper, unrelenting on his pace. His hands grab her hips, lifting Morgana's arse from the blanket, her legs dangling uselessly.

Each gasp and moaning breath passes her lips louder. One of Morgana's hands, now freed, searches down, rubbing her clit furiously as she supports her lessened weight up. It's dizzyingly perfect, somehow.

"You're gonna look—uugh," Leon groans, pulling her hips in and shuddering. Her cunt floods with hot dampness, soothing an ache too-deep inside her. Morgana screams out, pink-faced when she joins him in pleasure, what feels like her belly so full of his long, hammering prick and his release.

He lazily thrusts in her heat, murmuring intelligibly, before she pulls out his cock.

When Leon tries to kiss her, she avoids him, rolling and weakly climbing to her knees. "Where do you think you're going?" Leon asks mischievously, lips skimming to her neck, nudging her legs wider open and roughly palming her. Now it hurt.

Instead of yelling, telling him to go to hell, Morgana expertly cracks him with her elbow, right into Leon's eyesocket. He yelps, falling on the blanket, clutching his face.

Her robe is flimsy, not appropriate for leaving. Morgana ties it on anyway and pushes open the tent's flap. She isn't followed, not even when Leon recovers from his utter shock and anger. Several yards later, she empties her stomach's contents behind some ruins. Nausea grapples with her, it seems…

Body-warm fluid trickles down one of Morgana's thighs. She cups herself, disbelieving, and relocates her hand to her abdomen.

Fuck.

.

.

Morgana's in shambles—red, bitten lips, her white skin blotched with heat.

She smells like wild, unforgiving sex, and looks it too, but it's anything but a pleasant expression on her face.

Gwen hovers nearby, leading her to rest in their tent, helping Morgana disrobe. "It's going to be alright, you're alright," she whispers, consolingly, as the other woman cries noiselessly, with the exception of her trembling exhales.

The basin of water cleanses Morgana's tears from her cheeks, the perspiration from her brow. She dares a tender kiss to Morgana's forehead, hearing a tiny hitch of a sob.

"I'm here, love," Gwen tells her, putting all true emotion she can muster behind it.

She washes Morgana's arms and legs, eyeing her breasts colouring with little marks and bruises. It's not what she expects at all. Making love is romantic, and Gwen imagined it so—but, by the appearance of it, Morgana's body must be hurting. Gwen then halts, leaving Morgana the bowl to finish herself and dutifully averting her gaze.

The crumpled, soaked cloth returns into her sight, faded with red stipple.

"I'm aware of it, you know," Morgana speaks up, having tugged on Gwen's second nightie—the jet black contrasting her pallor. She rubs at her own bare arms, jaw stiffening. "I know what other people think of me. That I don't believe in marrying someone before getting into bed. Whore, tart—I'm not. I don't have to answer to anyone."

Gwen nods, lips pressing together.

"… I don't love him, Gwendolyn."

"I know you don't," she says, patiently.

In her heart, Gwen already did. Hoped that it was true.

"Oh god… I think I'm pregnant…"

The confusion and other numerous feelings (even the ones she refused the most: being appalled and a selfish, jealous betrayal) drift into the background of Gwen's mind. "I don't think there's anything you can do about it now," she tells her.

Morgana's eyes gleam with tears.

"Gwen—" she sobs out, reaching out for her as Gwen hushes her, touching her cheek and kissing her. It surprises them both, how honest and how loving one kiss can be. She kisses Morgana again, licking apart her puffy, flushed lips and smiling against her mouth as the other woman relaxes.

"You're scared, it's alright," Gwen breathes, staring up so close that she can count Morgana's eyelashes. "The baby—"

"It's not that," rushes out, almost too faint to hear. Morgana sniffles, teeth clenching to keep herself from losing restraint, her features tight. "I'm scared of how much… how much you mean to me," she admits, more tears blinking out. "What you make me feel."

The surface of Gwen's cheeks, her own eyes burn in misery.

"… … That's my fault?" she asks, doubtfully.

When Morgana's whole body shakes, the crying full-forced, Gwen holds her close and rocks them. She massages her fingers into coal-black, messy hair. "Someone is going to need to help you raise the poor dear," she waits to inform her, pressing a comforting grin to Morgana's scalp. "I fear you're useless without me."

A hiccup-laugh as a reply, and it's better than tears.

"Don't tell Arthur, not right now," Morgana begs her, whispering. "I will. I don't want this to…"

"I promise."

.

.

Exploring the lost city, treasure or no treasure, will take longer than expected.

Arthur decides to accompany Gwaine this time, guns drawn, a new torch for each man.

"You've been here before," he observes, wincing and tugging a floating wad of cobweb out of his face.

"Never inside. My troop marched through Libya, and decided to fight the locals. All we found here was sand and blood." Gwaine peers at their surroundings, frowning. "There's something… unholy about this place, if you can believe it."

"I do," Arthur says, gravely. He feels it. Anyone with half a wit about them should, he considers.

In the distance, a blood-curdling scream.

They take off, sprinting to another underground chamber, the flames on their torches whipping overhead. Arthur crashes into Gwaine's back, unable to sense the complete stop. "What ARE you—?" he bellows, and then gapes.

Mountaining from the ground, a swarm of insects—blue and gold scarabs—chitter, pouncing onto the calves of one of Gwaine's men. He waves his gold canopic jar over his head, hollering and pleading for their help. Arthur hurries forward, despite his terror, and is heaved backwards by the collar of his white, sand-dirtied shirt.

"Arthur, no!" Gwaine yells, pressing up against him thrashing, blocking him. "You'll be a dead man!"

The scarab-swarm buries the man alive within moments, gurgling his agonized shrieks.

It dissipates just as fast, revealing a bone-dried corpse with a pair of silver-rimmed glasses. Instead of forming another swarm, the insects melt and stretch into the animated form of the mummy. Jaw unhinged, a pair of crusty, sickly eyes, and a wiggling tongue in the exposed, mucus-lined cavern of mouth.

"Go back to hell!" Gwaine roars, lighting a dynamite stick from his pack and tossing it.

Arthur gathers himself into his reality, racing down a lone corridor as the explosion rings in his eardrums. Murky wafts of smoke following him. He must have split up with Gwaine, he realises. Arthur slows, panting for air, checking himself over. One pistol gone.

There's a way out of here—there has to be. Gwen spoke of trapdoors leading out of the ruins.

With some fortune, he does happen upon one, springing it—and accidentally falling through. Arthur lands on his feet in the semi-darkness, but at the cost of something popping in his leg. He limps, his hands quivering on the wall.

The cursed mummy returns into view, out of the shadows, approaching him with a low, rumbling growl.

Arthur yanks out his Colt M1911 gun, firing round after round.

The bullets pass through the rotting flesh, blowing decent-sized holes, but not even lagging the creature's stride.

He leans further to the wall, counting out his ammo left. Arthur fires the last bullet for the center of the mummy's head, wringing his other hand to the creature's slimy throat. The headshot bursts clean through. It's a clear victory until the mutilated, wet tissue and muscles reassemble.

Arthur drops his gun, shocked.

This is it.

He braces for ripping, tearing of his organs and his precious lungs, and closes his eyes.

Nothing. Stillness.

Arthur reopens his eyes, staring wide-eyed as the mummy's face morphs into human-looking, whole flesh.

What terrifies Arthur just as much as the impossible situation, is that the face is eerily familiar to him—like he's dreaming. The expressive, clearwater blue eyes. The long, full eyelashes. Angular, pale cheekbones. His lips, parting in wonder.

Arthur's caught and helpless, in the eyes of someone dead, feeling longing and loss for no reason.

The backs of rotting fingers sweep to Arthur's jaw, millimeters from touching.

"Akhenton…"

It's more of a question than a statement.

Before he can think of responding, if that's something Arthur can even do, there comes more screams—more confusion and more voices, and hands dragging him to an exit. More guns, more bullets. The mummy echoes their screams, shaking its head in fury, no longer handsome-faced and bewitching.

.

Fort Brydon, Cairo

.

Somewhere during this catastrophe, returning from Hamunaptra, they've befriend the Medjai. But for an unexpected reason.

"You've started the apocalypse," their leader proclaims, narrowing his eyes. "That's what you do while I'm gone?"

Gwen retorts across the table, her words frigid, "That's a bit silly to assume, seeing that you don't have anything to do with my life anymore, Elyan. Take your men and find someone else to blame for this." From across the parlour, Gwaine whistles, impressed.

Arthur gruffly motions for him to cut it out.

"What exactly is happening?" he asks.

"It seems my sister read from The Black Book and awakened the curse."

Elyan Thomas—older brother to Gwendolyn, a warrior for God, protector of man, and tattooed with the same marks on his face as his brethren—gestures to the obsidian book laid out in front of everyone. "I've had time to learn of legends. He-Who-Is-Unnamed is walking among the living now. He will bring the ten plagues of Egypt with him, consummating his curse. His killing will begin with those who disturbed and stole his relics."

Arthur's brows lower. "Gwaine and his men…?"

"Gwaine wasn't there—I was," Morgana says aloud, lounging on a chaise. She presents her canopic jar, mournfully.

"There's four more to die."

"No one is dying," Percy argues, scowling at a vacant-faced Elyan. "We will have to stop him."

"Gwen, look up how, if there's a way." Arthur nods to her, and then adds wryly, "Don't read—just translate."

"This creature is unkillable. There's no stopping him."

"You must be fun at parties," Morgana says cheerfully, earning a sarcastic eye-roll. "What did he call you again?" she asks Arthur, who frowns contemplatively at her.

"… Akhenaton," he says, dredging up the memory. "Whatever the hell that is."

Gwen flips a page, her brown eyes darting over the ancient symbols. "It's obviously a derivation of 'Aton'—one of the Egyptian gods shown as a solar disk," she says to the room, without looking up.

"So he called Arthur a sun god?" A 'pfftt' of air escapes Morgana's smiling lips. "That's a little blasphemous."

"Must be the hair," Gwaine says, smiling wickedly. He ducks a furiously thrown shoe.

Gwen's finger prods the open spell-book, getting their attention. "Listen to this—according to the text, there's a curse to strip away his immortality," she says, beaming. "I just need to decipher it!" Arthur laughs, wishing he could hobble over and kiss her face.

"That's brilliant, Gwen!"

"Now we just have to somehow trap Merlin." Morgana reacts to the suspicious glances with heartfelt indignation. "Merlin? Oh come on, it fits!" she exclaims. "He does magic like a damned sorcerer, and he's immortal! AND…!" Morgana points to each of her original companions, naming them in succession. "Arthur, 'Gwen', and then Morgana—how do you not see that connection?"

"Morgana is your middle name, or has the desert clouded your memories, sister," Arthur says, dryly.

"And that's what I—"

Gwaine points to the nearby window, interrupting, "Is that supposed to be happening?"

Outside, the skies grow black during mid-day, starless and moonless. An eclipse swallowing them all.

.

.

It's a conspiracy. They want him to die.

Arthur rattles on the locked, double doors, pounding his fist repeatedly.

"Let. Me. Out!"

"Arthur, he's searching for you. You'll be safer here with that leg."

"Trapping me?" he yells, the veins in his temple protruding. "Morgana! Gwen! MORGANA!"

Through the wood, Arthur hears shuffling and mumbles. His half-sister tells someone, angrily, "Watch the bloody door, or so help me… I will find you and I will gut you where you stand."

A few minutes later, it's only the sounds of Percy and Leon conversing, eating and drinking. He stumbles to the only item of furniture within reach. The bed is luxuriously-made and plush, and Arthur flops backwards, infuriated.

What sort of plan is this?

He shifts his injured leg, unbuckling his belts and holsters, tossing then aside. To hell with it, hell with everyone.

Arthur lies back down with a grumpy noise, pulling the covers towards him, slipping one of his daggers underneath the pillow.

.

.

By the time they realise they are dying, it's already done.

Two shriveled corpses lie on the floor of the parlour, jaws gaping wide, skin flayed.

He feels pain, fear and confusion, but is completely drawn to an outside source. He is the fine sand pouring through a key-hole. Merlin regenerates, focused on the human man asleep on the bed, washed in the low, yellowing lantern light.

He has no idea he is 'Merlin' to anyone, but he is someone.

And he is someone who belongs to Akhenaton— and they are his sun.

No longer corpse-like, there's a vision of tufted, black hair and spry, toned limbs. Merlin wears black-and-gilded robes, enough to cover his shoulders and his back, but leaves his chest bare. He walks over to the sleeping man, intrigued by his garments, and by his facial expression so tranquil.

Merlin sits down beside him, drifting a hand over Arthur's cheek.

{"I found you."}

His lips descend, touching Arthur's mouth so softly. If he could be brought to tears, Merlin would cry in relief. He holds the kiss, finally pressing to Arthur's warm, brown-golden skin, tracing the shape of his throat and his jaw.

The mouth beneath him opens, surrendering. Merlin slides his tongue on Arthur's upper lip, fondly.

In the corner of the room, a white-furred cat hisses at him.

He lurches, waking Arthur, staring in complete terror at the animal. Merlin screams, and screams, enraged—the darkness inside him like hot coals in his belly. He bursts into a fiery smoke, swirling into a vortex, disappearing out the window.

Gwendolyn and Elyan bolt through the double doors, calling out to a windswept, heavy-eyed Arthur.

He stares into the eclipsed sky.

Arthur understands now.

.

.

It comes to him in fragments—reflections on shards of glass.

.

Thebes, Egypt, 1300 B.C.

.

His family is certain of his destiny. He will serve the Pharaoh as his vizier, and as his closest adviser.

It seems to be planned accordingly, as a member of the nobility. In the court as a boy, he meets face-to-face with his true destiny. The priests speak of another boy, several years younger than Arthur's fourteen, who is considered holy.

He has magic and invincibility—blessed by their gods, blessed by all and greatly admired by those who are graced with his presence.

But, he never expects the boy to be a former child slave, his skin unnaturally pale. His skinny frame undernourished. His hair has been washed and trimmed for the special day, with black curls soft, tousled. They'll be shaved off as soon as he is accepted into the priesthood.

The boy calls him 'Akhenaton'.

It's less than appropriate, even if their stations are close, but he doesn't reprimand the boy or tell him otherwise.

Akhenaton is a worthy name— it will be spoken by only them, in whispers, in secretive, grinning murmurs.

.

Thebes, Egypt, 1290 B.C.

.

There's no breeze, but he dozes, restful and bathing in daybreak.

It would be perfect, lying here unmoving, without his loincloth, sleeping off the building tension in his muscles and his worries…

"Get up, you're going to be late."

Akhenaton's face burrows into his pillow. "Nngn, go away," he complains, hearing a laugh.

"Sorry, but no." His lover's fingers cover the nape of his neck, massaging slowly. They squeeze gently once before removing. He sounds far too cheerful this early. "The officials will report to Pharaoh if you're late again."

"Iah…"

It's not his true name—Akhenaton did not know his slave name from his past, and Iah no longer wanted it. The royal court lovingly referred to him as 'Iah' for 'the moon'. For his mysterious nature and that luminescent, white skin.

Some nudges, vigorous arm-pulls, and the other man gives up. Akhenaton chuckles at his disapproving look.

"And what exactly are you meant to do?"

"I'm Pharaoh's High Priest, as you are aware," Iah remarks, touching the other man's wrist. A bolded, arcane tattoo permanently into his skin. "The gods allow me to be what I am."

"And what might that be?"

"Yours, of course."

Iah's lips caress the Eye of Horus to the inside of Akhenaton's right wrist. His protection, his reverence.

He kisses down his broad, powerfully-made chest, combing his fingers through the dark, curling mat of hair, to his navel. Akhenaton groans and murmurs his name, crooking his legs for Iah's size between them, grinding his cock up against him and smiling at an echoing groan and protest.

Lips sweep over him, dry at first, then moistened with saliva, opening for the blood-darkening ridge of his cockhead. The slide of Iah's throat narrowing and rumbling with pleasure.

The gods created them for each other—there's no doubt of it in Akhenaton's mind. He's overwhelmed by the hot, swallowing passage, raking his hands over Iah's shoulders. Akhenaton glances down, on the sight of Iah never breaking rhythm, bobbing his mouth on his throbbing prick, while slicking two or more fingers with oil. He pulls off, lips a raw, sore pink, jacking and stroking Akhenaton, slipping his fingers inside himself.

He's claimed Iah in that most intimate way before, and Iah has claimed him, merging together in a way a man and woman would share on their marriage-bed… but, they are not innocents. They are not man and woman. Arthur's wife died, bleeding out, having birthed his second son. Arthur's sons were the innocents. No one could know of their father's sins.

It doesn't feel like sin… the High Priest helps absolve the negative energy, to bring Ra's light and worship into the homes and their hearts.

This sin is to love, so profoundly and utterly, it could tear the heavens down.

He embraces Iah, in the cradle of their legs, toes curling as Akhenaton settles inside his lover. It's never immediate, their muscles tightening, and Iah's eyes brighten as he adjusts to the girth of thick cock. "More," he demands in a whisper, mouthing to Akhenaton's ear, whining and lifting his hips. "Damn you, more—uuh—"

Akhenaton's hands grasp him, pressing in deeper. They cling to each other, bathing in the morning-light, before the eyes of the same gods, kissing and nuzzling, murmuring affections.

The boy grew into a man, and Akhenaton is fated to lose him.

.

.

During the festivals, children are allowed into the temple gardens.

He observes from a distance as their High Priest grins and holds a lotus flower in his palms, showing it to everyone, then cupping his hands together.

His lips separate, mumbling. Iah's eyes glow, and he throws his hands up, releasing a pure white songbird into the air.

The children shriek in joy and excitement, and others shy away in mistrust. Their mothers guide them away, averting their gazes. Everything seems peaceful, like the temple's flowers and the tamarisk. The fig trees and sycamores providing shade to the cool ponds.

Akhenaton follows, seating on a pond's ledge.

"Forgive me," he says, to the other man staring down fiercely at his too-pale, scarred hands.

"They know I am no longer chaste…"

"No one will harm you," Akhenaton insists, grazing his knuckles over Iah's cheek. He no longer cares about prying eyes, but about how stung he feels when Iah jerks his face away, glowering. "I won't allow it, do you understand?"

A long, shaky exhale.

"Pharaoh's people love you. You are the highest ranking official—you mustn't do anything to ruin this," Iah says, imploring. His eyes as clear and colourful as the waters beside them. Sometimes, Akhenaton discovers himself staring longer than desired, enthralled by this man, his courage, his tenacity.

"They love me, so they will listen." He extends his fingers again, touching Iah's face, caressing. "They love you."

A reassured smile flickers to life.

Akhenaton plucks up a vividly pink lotus, tucking it behind Iah's ear. It's tradition in the festivals—adorning one's hair and head, and on special occasions, for the men to participate.

"We must celebrate before your long travels," he adds, tidying the silky flower's arrangement.

Dismay clouds Iah's features.

"No, I can't leave you." He begins shaking his head, clutching Akhenaton's forearms, his nails bearing down. "Not now, Akhenaton. We have endangered ourselves, they fear us—the guard, the Pharaoh—"

"Do not speak that way," comes as a subdued reprimanding, trying to soothe the panic in the other man's voice. "Pharaoh's word is law. You must go—he needs you to do this."

"I am afraid."

"You are the bravest man I have ever known. Even the Medjai do not have your heart or your strength." Akhenaton vows, "The love I have for you will transcend this life—and we will always find each other. If the day comes, you will save me."

The praise warms Iah's face, spreads his lips into a grin and he kisses him impulsively.

He feels him, desires Akhenaton in every means possible, tasting the bitter grape wine on the insides of his mouth. The temple grounds lulling serene quiet beyond the celebration.

.

.

He knows the moment it happens.

Iah feels the lifeblood gushing out of his stomach, the dying, wheezing rattles for air, the hot ceremonial-blade to his neck—and then, there's nothingness.

Emptiness fills Iah, within his chest cavity, within what remains of his spirit. He rides hard and fast, sparing no words of farewell to the charioteers, stealing one of the horses and journeying until the new red dawn reaches him like tendrils.

Thebes is mourning.

Every citizen weeps, or has long since grown weary of it. They scurry out of his way as he enters the gates with a ruthless gallop, to the center-square, gasping. Iah dismounts, sweat trickling down his exposed body. Out of the corner of his eye, he witnesses Pharaoh and his men high above on the balcony.

His eyes wander to the ground—and all his energy abandons him, sending him to his knees.

"No," Iah's voice small and breathless, his mouth tremouring.

"Oh… oh, no…"

His words sob out, choking and high-pitched, as he crumples to himself, bowing in.

The sand dried and cracked—red as spilled, puddled blood. Iah claws his hands into the giant bloodstain left forgotten, another noisy wail retching out of him, digging his fingers in, smearing what remains of Akhenaton's essence across his lips.

"His treason was your treason."

Iah gazes slowly over his shoulder, in terrifying awe. His cheeks streaking with dirt and tears, eyelashes visibly wet. The crimson sand to his open, panting mouth and his chin.

Pharaoh speaks to him, booming, "You have corrupted the heart of the vizier, my most loyal citizen. A most unforgivable deed!"

This can't be real.

It can't be.

"—You have corrupted your own by slaughtering a good man," Iah yells back, trembling, "in your hatred for me!"

"I do not hate you, my lord Iah." Pharaoh's grief is a lie. It's all been lies, all of it. "I regret to say you were my very dear friend."

"You are a COWARD and a LIAR," Iah bellows, throwing out an arm to the crowd of fearful and mumbling onlookers, his features scowling. "You feared the love your people had for him. You FEARED your rule being taken from you, and the gods allowing it!"

A yellow-orange flamelight creeps over Iah's eyes.

"The gods speak through me… and they do not want an evil man to rule Egypt," he says, softly.

Pharaoh looks him over in stony, grim expression. He orders his army and their weapons down to the square.

"I was going to allow you a painless death, out of the love I once carried for you. The love a father may show his child. But you would speak to your master, and your Pharaoh, with such brazen ignorance. Your death must set an example to all."

Iah gazes numbly at the murder-site of his lover. He then smiles maliciously upwards, eyes flaming hotter.

"… You have already killed me."

The Medjai come upon him, like a storm of blades and dark curses. Iah stretches out his hands towards them, lidding his eyes and contorting his fingers. With a mere turn of a wrist, two hundred men fall dead, glassy-eyed, their spines crushed within their bodies.

"Death will come on swift wings, and WITHOUT MERCY!" he screams this unholy promise.

The one they will name 'Khaldun'—no longer beautiful and pure as the moon—vanishes in a wisp of smoke.

.

Fort Brydon, Cairo, 1923 A.C.

.

Half of the population, as they understand it from the commandment's texts, will be lethally infected by sores and boils.

Morgana—and two of Gwaine's men—have gone missing.

"I'll bring her back." Arthur straps on his artillery belt. "Did you translate the curse to stop him?" he asks.

Gwen nods. "Yes, and you will need this with you," she says, handing him the translation notes and the Book of the Dead. He stares back at her in silent disbelieving. "You need to read directly from it for this to work."

"Anything else?"

She bites her lip, worrying it.

"It's not just… there's more than one person involved now. For her," Gwen explains. At his baffled look, she waves her hands, flustered. "Oh, for goodness sake, just—go already!"

.

.

It's simple enough for Arthur to locate where the creature is hiding.

The army of living-dead people festering with pus-dripping and oozy marks, surrounding and marching the local museum—well, that gives it away.

Despite his suspicions, they seem to be indifferent to his approach, grunting and standing aside to form a long, straight line. Arthur doesn't chance it. He holds up his twin pistols, aiming for anyone hovering too close. Inside the museum's entrance, he heads towards the sounds of reverberating, chanting, and the sole, illuminating light ahead.

He discovers Gwaine's men in the corridor, both very dead and sucked corpse-dry.

Morgana is tied down across a limestone stone-slab, her chains rattling. She's gagged and restrained. Arthur wastes no time unhooking his satchel, digging out what he needs. But, the cursed mummy—looking irrefutably human—yells in his language and thrusts up his ritual dagger, high above his head as if ready to strike. Morgana shrieks, muffled, arching herself sideways.

The Book of the Dead leaves Arthur's hands.

"Stop!" he roars, approaching the dais, weaponless.

The air goes hush.

A glint of light off the ceremonial dagger. Hands lower, reluctantly.

"Please, stop this," Arthur says, this time gently. "I know you can hear me."

Merlin blinks, staring and eyes widening.

{"Akhenaton…?"}

"Why are you killing?"

{"I don't… know."}

Arthur presents his hands in surrender.

"Listen to me. You were cursed," he says. "Your gods cursed you. The Medjai bound you to the darkness… let me free you from this."

The creature stares down impassively at Morgana squirming and crying out around her scarf-gag, kicking her legs.

{"No."}

"Iah!" Arthur calls out, frantically. His mouth tasting of rancid bile. "I—I'm dying!"

With this, the ceremonial dagger clangs loudly to the ground.

"Think I'm dying," he murmurs, watching as Merlin's face twists up, in anguish and rage.

Arthur roots himself in place, tilting his face as the mummy advances. From behind him, Elyan sneaks into view, rescuing Morgana and shushing her, quickly opening the abandoned Book of the Dead. They crouch down and flip it open, hurrying for the cursed passage.

It's the aroma of water-bogged lotuses, of the fig trees and sycamores, wafting to Arthur's nostrils. Merlin's knuckles sweep affectionately to his cheek.

"I told you the day would come. You would save me," Arthur reminds him, smiling faintly and leaning closer.

Merlin smiles back, nodding.

He then drops his arm, away from Arthur's face, glancing over to Elyan and Morgana chanting loudly, their faces pinching in terror. Merlin gazes back at him, smile fading. The earth below opens into hellish pits, quaking the foundation. Arthur grasps onto a pillar, holding on tightly. Rage fills him as Merlin opens his mouth, into a soundless scream, his jaw enlarging bigger and bigger.

A gagging cough.

Merlin's jaw begins to shrink down.

He coughs up dark, visceral matter, free-flowing out of his orifices. The liquid gathers and worms, sliding into the pit behind Merlin. Morgana punches the air in victory, hollering as what looks like a burning flamelight erupts from the creature's body.

Whether it is his immortal spirit, or his powers, Arthur hardly knows it.

Merlin staggers upright, eyes dazed, wrapping his bare arms around himself. He topples into one of the pits—or would have, if Arthur had not grabbed his waist, spinning them both around. He envelopes his arms round Merlin, securely holding onto the other man.

It's not a hug, and it's not exactly benevolent, but Merlin's hands cling to Arthur and refuse to let him go.

Arthur cups the back of Merlin's head to him, absently petting dark, perspiring curls, and whispers useless comforts. Relief surging through every nerve-end.

It's over.

.

London, 1925 A.C.

.

Two years ago, Egypt announced a nation-wide epidemic. An infection that lasted twenty-four hours, and then vanished.

And so, the world moved on, from plagues and from the apocalypse to end all apocalypses—to some sort of normalcy.

Seven months after Hamunaptra, Morgana went into labour at Sophia's flat, bringing home with her… a little girl. Arthur eventually forgave her for telling him after everyone else about her pregnancy. Since then, he received photographs and news about Gwen living with her, making a new life in England.

The purposeful use of "our daughter" in their letters.

Morgana teased him often about going home empty-handed, but… he wouldn't say that exactly happened.

From the bedside, Arthur folds an envelope up, peering over his drowsy partner.

"Good morning," he says in a whisper, leaving a light, perfunctory kiss to Merlin's brow. The other man yawns and stretches in his loose-fitting, striped pyjamas. "I have testing with the physicians in the afternoon—did you want to accompany me?"

"Mhm."

He waits for Merlin to sit up, before handing him a cup of tea.

No immortality, no powers or sorcery, supposedly. Merlin acts as human as they come—sensitive to heat and to the bone-chilling weather, and whines about it constantly. They never arranged for a lifelong relationship, but Arthur supposes that's the intent of destiny. It just happens.

"Are you still…?"

There's a hesitation, like Merlin is cataloging for the right word in English.

"Nervous?" Arthur supplies, monotone, fiddling with his watch.

A firm head-shake.

"Scared," Merlin says, knowingly.

His mouth flattens. Yes, that's the right word indeed. "Come with me? Maybe then it won't feel like this."

Arthur isn't going to beg him, but he lets out a breath as Merlin's face brightens with a grin.

"I will," he proclaims, running his fingers into dyed, yellow-blond hair. "Akhenaton."

A snorting laugh.

"Arthur—it's Arthur. You need to get into the habit of that."

He circles a hand to Merlin's side, as the other man climbs to his feet, turning to him in anticipation. Arthur smirks, pressing their mouths together, eager for the sensation of heat. Merlin kisses him in slow reverence, pushing his hips against Arthur's, and everything else stops weighing on him.

"We'll have to come up with a new name for you as well," he adds. "Merlin's not exactly common."

There's a whole future to prepare for.

Arthur steps out of their bedroom, letting the other man change.

He misses the low, golden glow to Merlin's irises, and the dried, shriveled chrysanthemums in a vase blooming, so slowly back to health.

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So this is my entry to my first ever time in participating in the Merlin Reverse Big Bang! I was paired up with freyafenris (Tumblr) who is an excellent artist and was very excited to work with her on this. You can find her art masterpost at her tumblr!

Any info you need on The Mummy references you can find on the wiki page: mummy DOT wikia DOT com SLASH wiki SLASH Main_Page

I really hope you guys enjoyed reading - a lot of heart and soul went into this - and I'd love to hear any comments/questions on this, whether you just enjoyed the ride or especially if you are a fan of The Mummy lurking around! :) I experienced my childhood all over again while writing this, aahaha.