Disclaimer:Nothing that belongs to Universal belongs to me. Thanks for all the great comments, I think it's really sweet of you! Oh, yeah, and any inaccuracies are completely mine--I've only seen Mummy Returns a couple of times. Enjoy! :-)
Ardeth Bay strode into the pale tent of the Council of Elders a day after receiving the falcon summons. Inside was very still and swelteringly hot, but Bay said nothing. There were reasons for conducting Elder business behind canvas screens, and he knew all too well that some of those reasons would frighten even seasoned Medjai warriors.
The eleven elders of the eleven tribes—Ardeth being the twelfth—were already seated on their intricately woven rugs. Each bore a distinct design, the design of that particular tribe. Bay's rug was already incorporated into the circle of Elders, a dark blue background and a silver network of stars. Only the other Elders knew exactly what that constellation meant. Ardeth Bay hadn't even told the others of his tribe, as he knew the unorthodox prophecy would only upset them. Until meeting Rick and Evelyn, he hadn't even believed in it much himself. Now, however, after seeing first-hand the power of prophecy and legend, he was willing to believe just about anything.
Ardeth Bay inclined his head at the kneeling men and took his seat among them. There was a strong scent of tea leaves in the air, and somewhere outside Bay could smell the women cooking what would be a large feast that night in honor of the Elder convocation. He wasn't feeling particularly hungry at the moment, however. His entire concern was focused around just what the Elders felt was so important that they had to call a meeting.
He soon found out.
After the ritual formalities, the Elder to Bay's right took a deep breath and began. "We have grave news," he said without attempting to soften the issue. "The Creature is not dead."
Ardeth didn't speak, not trusting his voice at the start of these words.
"He is not strong enough to return to the world of the living without help," the Elder went on, "though soon, we fear, he shall find that help." The man swallowed a great cup of tea, unmindful of the strength to which it had been brewed. "Reading from the Book is the only way to stop him—and it must be done carefully. The Book—the Book of Amun-Ra—has been sent to the English ones you have before worked with, the English man and his wife. While He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named cannot return to the living without interference from this world, he can still manipulate things within it. He sent the books, knowing they would be found and hoping the girl would free him once again…this time, as last, unknowingly."
"She is now smarter than that," Ardeth Bay said.
"So had we hoped, and we do not fear her meddling again," the man responded. "It is another we fear—one hanging between this world and the next. She has the strength to turn the tide and change the world forever. It is all locked in her memory, and her memory has been cast adrift amid the ages. She is not of this world, but she lives in it. She is not human, though she once was. Since her birth she has lived half in one world and half in another—neither accepting her fully."
"I will admit," Ardeth Bay said, the words forced out of him, "I do not understand." Sometimes he wondered if the attitude of some of the other Elders was to keep his office from going to his head. It was not always easy, being the youngest on the Council of Elders.
"Nor do I," the other man said. "But I have heard the spirits talking. She is both dangerous foe and wondrous ally. I do not yet know which path she will take—but she is in England. I, therefore, send you with a select group of your warriors to find her, warn the O'Connells, and see what can be done. Just opening the Book and reading randomly will not work this time."
Ardeth Bay inclined his head and rose from the circle. An order from the Council was an order, and he would leave today. He just hoped that today was soon enough.
It took less time to return to the Hamunaptra ruins than it had to leave them, for what reason Ardeth Bay didn't pretend to know. All he was sure of was that the City of the Dead held magic he himself couldn't unlock. He was only a guard, after all, if a mystic one. The magic of the priestly city needed priests to unlock it, and Bay was no priest.
His hand-picked warriors were both young and old, fast and strong. He chose each for their different skills, knowing they might all be needed in this new journey. He didn't want to be caught off-guard this time if he could help it.
Four days after hearing the will of the Council, Ardeth Bay descended the hill of sand and rock, entering the ruins of Hamunaptra for the first time in several years. Scars of Meela's excavation wounded the silent splendor of the ruins. Sandstorms had filled in the pits, leaving only vague indentations in the sandy pathways of what were once broad avenues. More pillars had fallen, leaving only a very few standing. But the entranceway where the Americans, ten years ago, had smashed their way into the City of the Dead was still gaping wide.
The city was silent as a tomb. Ardeth knew the seemingly-benign silence was truly waiting…for what, he could not guess. Taking his Medjai, he slowly entered the archway into the buried city. He had to find his way back to where the black Book of the Dead had fallen, to see if the visions of the Elders were truth. The smoke-visions lied occasionally, or showed deceptive truth. The Council expected him to verify their statements before embarking on the long trip to England. Whatever was happening couldn't wait…but had to. Bay did not wish to alarm his friends in England unduly.
The smoky torches smoldered as the warriors stalked through the ancient, stale air of underground Hamunaptra. It had been a decade and more since Ardeth last passed this way, and he didn't know if he quite remembered the way to the underground sacrificial altar where the black Book had fallen. He didn't see any point in searching for the golden book—it had fallen into the pit of souls, and the black water was death to any that touched it.
Long minutes passed in silence as they retraced the path from the underground treasure chamber to the statue of Horus and through the blasted doorway still bearing scorch marks from O'Connell's dynamite. The heavy air was thick, nearly too thick to breathe, and the sand kept swirling around their feet as if to keep them back.
This trip would have been impossible, had Meela not raised the city from the depths of the sand a year ago. Ardeth Bay still did not know how she had known what to do or how to do it, but raise it she did, and used her mysterious knowledge to find and wake Imhotep. Now there was a chance he was alive again…or very near it.
None of the warriors had registered surprise at the underground treasure chamber. Ardeth planned to take several of the smaller artifacts—jewels, gold trinkets—to pay for his passage to England if indeed he found truth to the Council's words. He had little care for gold, but the curse of Hamunaptra would have stayed his hand even if he did.
They passed down the long tunnels, each step spiraling them down toward the depths of the city. The air grew thicker and warmer, the meters of stone above them acting as a greenhouse to heat these bottom layers of the city. And then, rounding a final corner, Ardeth saw it.
They stepped cautiously down the ancient stairway to the stone floor of the sacrificial cavern. The mirrors that were supposed to reflect the sunlight were smashed beyond recognition, evidence of the City's sinking ten years previous. The flickering torches cast strange, moving shadows on the carved walls and broken objects littering the floor. Though not prone to flights of imagination, Ardeth felt his skin prickle. He could imagine an entire army of priest-mummies, their unnatural limping walk, the way they seemed to screech and groan with no vocal chords or tongue to make the sound…
They descended to the very bottom of the stairway and picked their way across the floor. None of the Medjai said a word, blindly following Ardeth Bay the way they would follow him anywhere—the way they were sworn to follow him. They would follow to the grave if he asked it of them, and do it willingly. He was their leader, and that was the law of the Medjai.
The first words spoken inside the City came from Bay. "Spread out, but keep near a torch and don't touch anything," he said, his voice hushed. It still through haunting echoes back from the vaulted ceiling hidden in blackness above them. "We are looking for a book of pure obsidian. If you find it, do not touch it!" His words were forceful, and they made true echoes from the tunnels across the passageway. A faint rumble followed them. Falling stone, Ardeth thought, filing the information away in his brain to be recalled again later. They might have need to find an alternative route out of Hamunaptra's depths.
For a good half an hour they scoured the large room. The only sounds were the scrape of boot against stone and the clink of metal on metal as the warriors touched their swords. All were as spooked as Ardeth, though they had not seen firsthand the mummies as he had.
When it was obvious the Book of the Dead was not still in the burial chamber, Ardeth led his men back toward the surface. Though they all seemed quite happy to be leaving the cursed city, Bay's forehead was creased with both disappointment and thought. His thoughts were black as his softly curling hair as he climbed the passageways and stumbled up the uneven stairs. His thoughts kept turning to Meela. Could she have somehow retrieved the Book from Hamunaptra when she found Imhotep? He hadn't actually descended into the melee during the rescue of Evelyn from the Museum. He simply thought the man had been told the incantations to bring Imhotep back—Meela knew much—should she not also know the sacred words to raise the dead?
But now it seemed likely that she had recovered the two books along with Imhotep's body. And if she had the books…where would they be now? He supposed they had been sucked back into the Underworld with everything else from Ahm Shere…
Panic then caught at his lungs, and he took a deep breath. If the undead priest ever got his hands on the two books, he could do what he liked with them. There was a good chance that they were indeed sitting in the O'Connell household…just waiting to be discovered again.
Ardeth didn't fear that Evelyn would read from the books again. But he did experience a little wave of panic with the remembrance of the little O'Connell boy. The boy had a thirst for adventure not unlike his father's, and he was as fearless as his mother. He also didn't know what those books were capable of. What if he read…?
And this new person, the girl, that he had been warned of. What was she, exactly, with a foot in both worlds? Surely human—surely. He hoped. The only thing he could think was that he had to return to England as soon as possible, now that his fears about the Book of the Dead had been confirmed.
Another quiet rumbling jerked him out of his thoughts. This one didn't fade away, however. It got louder. And then, just as the skeletal remains of some unlucky traveler came into view, the doorway leading out of the treasure chamber and into the final passage to the world above collapsed into a pile of rubble. The torches flickered, threatening to go out as their supply of oxygen was reduced.
The Medjai immediately formed a ring, facing outward, swords drawn. There they took their stand for a long moment while the dust from the cave-in swirled around their black robes. The unseeing corpse of Beni grinned his horrible death grimace right in Bay's face it seemed. The torches flickered again, shining on clean white bone and empty eye sockets. Nobody said a word.