=== New York – Veritas Headquarters / 2004 ===
Juliet worked intently on her thesis about comparative mythology, and that morning, with special excitement. A thick letter had arrived, indicating with its worn out envelope and the multiple postage stamps the long journey behind it.
"It's from Abba Hayed, from the monastery of Saint Catherine!" she had announced the curious rest of the team, hastily unpacking the not anymore expected present. A year had passed since she had found the first indication of this ancient codex from the early Coptic period – 4th century A. D. – in a library in Cairo. Since then, she had struggled through the Egyptian bureaucracy to get a permission to write another permission… and so on. Many doors had only opened after a considerable sum had been paid. Thanks God, Juliet thought; her mentor Solomon Zond was no one who had to economize. Every other scholar would've been forced to give up! Eventually, she had the desired paperwork done and - found herself confronted with the scruples of the monks of St. Catherine, who already had lost many precious treasures to ruthless thiefs and now were even more suspicious. Contacts had to be revived; sums paid; promises made… everything started anew, and Juliet had strongly doubted she would ever be able to look at this old manuscript presumably harboring the oldest version of the legend of Saint Anthony.
Now, she hadn't exactly the parchment pages in her hand – but the microfiches generated with the equipment the team had sponsored the monastery. However, she felt exactly that well known tickling she sensed when coming in contact with something ancient, mysterious; something telling a long-lost story about long forgotten people! She just needed to read and translate, and the past would take shape again! It was this sensation, which had instigated her to study History and Ancient Languages. It had lost nothing of its fascination, despite the many strange things she had witnessed as part of Dr. Zond's team so far.
She typed, zoomed in, sharpened the photograph of the 1600 years old faint letters, filtered them – but on this particular page, barely anything was perceptible. At least not, what she wanted to read. Nonetheless, after the multiple filtering and contrast heightening something ELSE showed up on the microfiche of the old page…
"I don't believe this!"
"What? Found some treasure map?" sounded Nikko's voice through the room. He had just entered, and, still playing with his baseball, seemed in a funny mood.
"There are hieroglyphs on that page! Abraded, but still visible with some filters!" Juliet said without really answering, but only speaking out her surprise.
"Impossible." That was Cal, who worked on his own project some meters away and – of course – knew perfectly well on what Juliet was working. "No one knew hieroglyphs anymore in the 4th century. In fact, they were already in disuse 500 years earlier!"
"That I know." Juliet indulged a sigh. Calvin was a nice guy and a hard worker, but he could have something very annoying habits!
"Maybe they've just taken some old paper, erased the stuff and…" Nikko let the baseball hop from one hand into the other. "Maybe they thought ecological! – What is this you're working on, anyway?"
The next pitch didn't land the ball in his other hand – because Vincent had snatched it in between.
"Hieroglyphs were written on papyrus," Cal felt the need to add in Nikko's direction. "When people started writing on parchment, they didn't know hieroglyphs anymore. Got it?"
"Thanks for the lecture, professor." Nikko shot him a grumpy look. He couldn't let an opportunity pass, couldn't he?
"Fact is, there ARE hieroglyphs on that page," Juliet took the word again, still staring at the screen her eyes narrowed and her lips pressed together.
"And what do they say?" Vincent asked ,as usual not bothering if anything could or should be or not, but attacking the fact.
"I'm trying to figure that out. It's just a small part of a greater text. Maybe there's more on other pages. … I'll run a comparison matrix with other texts in the database…"
Some minutes passed in silence. Everyone in the room – Calvin, Nikko and Vincent – had gathered behind Juliet and her computer screens. Anticipation had infected Nikko. This was the Veritas team. So – hey – this had to be an unusual, important text, something great and mysterious! For sure, it wasn't a cookbook! If it only didn't take that long to decipher it! Calvin had been in Egypt not so long ago and found these hidden chambers under the pyramid of Abusir. Maybe…
"Got something…" Juliet said, startling him. "This seems to be a historical account of the deeds of a pharaoh. These here, are the king's titles." She pointed to the screen. "And further down… it speaks of …. Yes, this could be the sign for 'resting place' … And this is another title … and name. Im-ho-tep."
Nikko grinned. „Imhotep? Like THAT Imhotep, you know? Revived mummy, ten plagues of Egypt…"
Cal shot him his best 'why do I have to be next to such a moron'-glance. Nikko raised his hands and laughed. "Man, it was a joke! Next time I make one, I'll hold up a note first, okay? – And besides, that was a great movie. Loved it. Now, who was this guy in your text?"
"The constructor of the step pyramid, the first pyramid ever built." Juliet's eyes were wide with awe.
"A mathematical genius," Calvin fell in, with a little tremble in his voice and bent down to get a better look at the faint hieroglyphs.
"Not only that. He was a physician, too," said Vincent. "In later centuries, people ascribed to him the invention of all magic. He was worshipped as a god, and temples were built for him."
"And some said, he was one of the last descendants of the Ancients," Juliet concluded. "Many treasure and wisdom seekers already searched for Imhotep's burial site, thinking there they would find wisdom and ancient techniques! The search started already in the late Roman period of Egypt."
"That's pretty cool, uh! Over 2000 years people are digging after this tomb and haven't found it, and you think this is the route description?"
"I'm not sure yet, Nikko. It's only a small fragment of text. I mean, basically, it could say 'there's the burial place of Imhotep's favorite cat' or something like that. I have to check the manuscript, if there are any more abraded pages in it. I need some time."
Meant: waiting. Something Nikko hated the most in this 'profession'. Immediately, a thousand questions had formed in his head. Fortunately for Juliet, Vincent had grabbed the impatient youngster by the shoulders and guided him out, before there was time to start asking.
It was already past midnight. Solomon and Maggie were still at the Getty Museum in L.A. and weren't expected back before the next evening. And Juliet was still working in front of the screens, now and then yawning, taking her glasses off and rubbing her eyes.
"You should have some rest."
Vincent! How long had he been standing there already? Knowing him, she assumed quite some time. In the beginning, when she had just joined the Veritas team, Vincent and his habits had intimidated and scared her. He seemed to show up out of nowhere, moved stealthily, a calm, shadow-like figure in his almost always black clothes. Oh yes, he had made her feel quite uncomfortable! The more after she had had the opportunity to witness his skills in combat. Undoubtedly, he would've been capable of killing them all fast and swiftly – and without a trace, if he chose so… Well, this fear was over. Juliet did not know when it had happened or which event had made her reaction to his presence switch to absolute trust. It had just been the case. As long as he was there, the abyss of hell itself could have opened right in front of her feet, and she would not have been scared – she supposed.
Nonetheless, why couldn't he stop sneaking up on people like that? But, on the other hand, Juliet decided she had been that buried in her research she wouldn't have noticed anyone entering the room, not even Nikko!
"Tired eyes see things, which aren't there." Vincent added, halting some steps in front of her. "It's nearly as dangerous as seeing nothing."
She wanted to fend off, but couldn't suppress a yawn and thus nullified her attempts to stand the ground in an instant. Vincent gave her a tiny half-smile, when she finally stood up.
"Good night, then!"
When she was out of the room, he walked to the computer and looked down at the file, worry displayed in his face.
=== Egypt / Near Cairo / Anno Domini 1218 ===
The battle was raging on since daybreak, and when the red-colored sky of sunrise gave way to clear blue, the red color had tinted the ground and the water instead. The crusader's army, en route to Cairo after a hard-won entrance into Damietta further North, had walked into a well-prepared trap. Now, severely outnumbered, weakened by the blazing sun and several illnesses, they were an easy prey for the enemy. Nonetheless, the small group of Knights Templar amidst the other crusaders, fought with all the ferocity of men knowing that they had to expect nothing when taken prisoner. One after the other of the brave men fell.
A young man, barely more than a teenager, just had grabbed the sword from the hand of his dead comrade and attacked, a fierce battle cry on his lips. The once impeccable white of his tunic had become as red as the cross on his chest hours ago, and shred into pieces around his legs and arms. His handsome face was covered with dirt and blood as well - he looked very much like the demons of hell themselves. Roaring, the young Templar pierced a Sarasin enemy with his weapon, ripped the sword back, stumbled and lost ground in the mixture of mud and blood under his boots. The scimitar of the enemy splashed into the wet ground next to his head. He rolled over, tried to get on his feet - when his dangerous enemy was felled by a mighty strike done by another Templar. Now, the old scar faced warrior, bent down to his young brother in arms, whispering: "Flee!"
"I'm not a deserter!"
The old Templar grasped the young comrade's arm. "I give you an order!" He shouted to make himself understood in the noise of the battle. "We have a mission! You know that! Greater than this war, greater…" Now the lips of the old man were close to his comrade's ear: "…than Jerusalem itself!"
The young man looked tortured. He had been drilled and prepared to fight till the last breath, not to run!
"You must go now! The battle is lost, and we can't hold them back much longer!"
"We've protected you thus far, now it's your turn to fulfill the pledge!"
Preoccupied with their conversation, neither of the two Templars had seen the enemy taking aim with his bow. Only when the eyes of the old warrior widened in shock and pain, both men discerned their foe. However, it was too late; the arrow had hit a vulnerable part of the armor and gone right through the old man. Death was only seconds away. They knew it.
"Go! Find the … seal… of … Imhotep!" the old man rasped and coughed blood. "Before… THEY… do…"
=== VERITAS - Headquarters New York / 2004 ===
Solomon and Maggie had returned and eagerly listened to the unsuspected news Juliet had to offer.
"The tomb of Imhotep," Solomon repeated her just spoken words like a magic incantation itself. An almost solemn atmosphere had settled in the room.
"The tomb seems not the most important thing, though, as far as I've been able to decipher these text fragments," Juliet continued. "There's a hieroglyph which can be read as seal or key. Look here!"
She turned the screen around so everyone could see it and pointed at a magnified and highlighted sign. There wasn't very much to see, though, and Nikko just raised his eyebrows, wondering once more if the experts had not just stared long enough into the digital noise to discover anything in there. However, Solomon nodded gravely, and even Vincent bent down, narrowed his eyes and then said: "Not 'or'. It's seal-key."
Juliet was surprised. Vincent had never mentioned he knew something about hieroglyphs! However, well, he hadn't mentioned a lot of things, she was sure!
Solomon didn't seem much surprised - he had given up being startled by anything having to do with his friend a long time ago.
"So what is this? The seal at the doors of Imhotep's tomb?" The Ancient Egyptians sealed the doors with wax after the burial rites had been completed. To find intact seals still hanging on their original wire - like Carter did in Tutanchamun's case - meant to find an almost untouched tomb!
"From the context, I would say, no," Juliet answered. "It seems to be a small, moveable object. Sadly, there's no more text."
"DORNA believes the seal of Imhotep is some sort of power source," revealed Vincent. "For the Ring of Truth. The … ignition key."
He had stepped to the windows and glanced outside with that particular look letting Juliet think immediately at an army of snipers surrounding them. "How many people knew about this manuscript?"
"Only Abba Hayed… and the monks who helped install our microfiche machine. But no one could know about the hieroglyphs, until now!" She sounded not very certain, though, given Vincent's expression.
"DORNA is on search for this seal for almost 2000 years. They've killed or let kill Hundreds without giving them a single thought. They ruined countries to lay their hand on this artefact. If we have a trace leading to it, we cannot be cautious enough! - We have to move. And we have to move as fast as we can and guard our backs."
Considering Vincent's usual reticence this was quite a speech. It didn't fail to leave the respective impact.
Dr. Zond walked through the room, mentally checking everything they knew so far about the Ring of Truth. It was said to hold the wisdom and knowledge of the Ancients, even of God, immense power - but the parts they had assembled so far, were nothing but interesting pieces with old scripture on it. It hadn't displayed any mythical power, or superhuman, extraterrestrial power, for that matter! However, what had been Vincent's words? Ignition key? A car was an interesting assembly of metal parts, too, unless someone knew he had to turn the key… He felt excited and a bit anxious with that sudden perspective forming in his mind. And without a doubt, Vincent was right about DORNA!
However… „A trace - that's the point. Do we exactly have a trace? Juliet?"
„These text fragments point to the area in the West of the Step Pyramid. I have found two measurements, written in Ancient Greek units. I'll convert them and feed the data into the satellite map of the area."
Some minutes later, a red crosshair blinked on the screen with the satellite map in front of the impatient VERITAS - Team.
„That's close to the digging site of Edwards," remarked Solomon. „He thought to be close to the discovery of Imhotep's tomb, when he died. But the digs were never continued. There were rumors going on, about a curse."
Nikko grinned. „I mentioned it, didn't I?"
Everyone ignored him, and he shrugged.
„I heard that several members of the Edwards-team had some nasty accidents," Calvin said, taking in the sight on the display.
„DORNA convinced them not to stick their noses any further in the sand, I suppose," replied Solomon. Vincent's look was enough for a ‚yes'.
The next hour passed with preparations. The team was used to relatively hasty changes of place. Computer equipment, scanning devices, digging tools were ready in handy storage boxes, in addition to mountaineer harnesses. Maggie had a high - end medical emergency bag at the ready. And Vincent showed up in the entrance hall of the HQ with a suspicious-looking bag holding some efficient defense systems for sure. A moment later, when Juliet arrived, he was just about to finish his outfit with a small automatic weapon he took from a compartment near the door and stored it into a shoulder belt. His movements displayed the swift routine of an elite soldier.
With a small shiver, Juliet remembered the situation, when Vincent had pressed such a weapon into her hands, simply saying ‚Aim at their heads'. It had been then, when Maggie had been infected with this virus by the Maya - mummy.
Now, closing his jacket, Vincent glanced up to her and smiled, one of these gentle little smiles as if they were guests at a summer party, and not about to plunge themselves into a dangerous quest again!
Before Juliet had time to wonder about him once more, Nikko and Cal appeared, involved in a discussion about the hieroglyphs.
„…and how these hieroglyphs ended up on parchment; as you said yourself this can't be? I mean, maybe that's a fake; hidden camera, you know!"
Hearing that, Vincent's smile became wider. He liked Nikko, because the boy could keep an open mind; he wasn't impressed that easily, he always thought about a third way, the unusual things!
However, in this case, things weren't as inexplicable, as Nikko and Calvin as well thought. The answer was surprisingly simple, in fact.
„The ancient cults and knowledge didn't die out as fast as scholars believed for a long time," his father answered. „Did you know that on the island of Philae, Isis was still worshiped in the 6th century A.D.? These people guarded the wisdom, the stories, of their forefathers, and among them, obviously the secret of Imhotep's tomb, which was already long destroyed by then. Some scientists even belief, the last remnants of the ancient knowledge only was destroyed when Islam occupied Egypt."