Hello everyone. Thank so much to Lyn, MADdy, and guest for the reviews. You all are so awesome! As my Christmas present to you, Chapter Nine is quite a bit longer than usual. Hope you enjoy! : )
"Blisters, Alek," Deryn said, eyeing the boy up and down. "It really took you that long, just to put on a suit and tie?"
Alek looked at his clothes, then at Deryn. "I suppose it did," he said.
But it hadn't been his fault exactly. The first dress jacket he'd tried on had had a tear in it, and the next had been missing a button. He'd finally found one that was intact, but the sleeves had been too short. It seemed he had grown a bit since last year.
Alek adjusted his tie. Perhaps it was time for some new clothes.
"Well at least you're here now," Deryn grumbled, walking over to stand on the curb.
She scanned the street in front of their apartment building, looking for a taxi. Other flats stood on the opposite side, their stone structures a dim grey in the moonlight. A yellow glow shone from a few windows, casting a faint light to the pavement below.
Traffic was fairly light for a Friday evening, and only a few carriages pulled by relatively small fabs trundled past.
Deryn shifted her weight impatiently. If only Alek had hurried a bit more. They had planned to take an omnibus to the party, but because of his dawdling, now a taxi would be quicker. And taxis could be hard to get.
At last she spotted one.
"Oi!" she called, waving her arm to catch the driver's attention.
The man saw her and flicked his whip to guide the beastie over. The panther-equses' powerful muscles barely strained against its huge harness as it made its way through the traffic.
Alek joined Deryn on the curb.
"I thought we were riding the omnibus," he said, a puzzled look on his face.
"Aye, we were," Deryn replied, watching as the taxi came to a halt in front of them. "Until you decided to take half the barking night getting dressed."
The boy scowled. "I wasn't trying to take that long," he said, his eyes shifting to glance uneasily at the giant beastie. It was taller than Deryn and had a mean glint in its eye. Its coarse fur was shaggy and matted. Not exactly something you would want to annoy.
The driver jumped down from his seat and pulled open the door to the carriage.
"Where to, gents?" he said.
Deryn stared up at the imposing house, before raising a hand and rapping the lion's head knocker against the door.
The great beast's eyes stared straight at her, and its jaws hung open as if about to unleash a mighty roar.
Deryn took a step back to stand next to Alek.
"Dr. Barlow didn't say the man lived in a barking castle!" she exclaimed.
"It is rather large, isn't it?" Alek said, tilting his head back to gaze up at the
"Colossal," the loris said from its perch on his shoulder.
Professor Redgrave's house rose up high before them, a faint glow shining from the narrow windows, and a wisp of smoke curling from the chimney far overhead. The other homes nearby were also built in the Tudor style and all appeared equally as grand.
Deryn glanced at Alek, wondering what it would be like having to live in a house as large as one of these. It couldn't have been too much fun, especially considering he was an only child.
While she stood there musing, the heavy, oak door creaked open and a servant appeared.
The old man peered down his nose at them.
Deryn stepped forward, holding out her and Alek's invitations.
"Deryn Sharp and Aleksandar Hohenberg, sir." she said. "We received invitations to the mummy unwrapping party."
The man examined the notes, then glanced at them.
"Indeed," he said, opening the door wider. "If you'll please follow me then."
Deryn and Alek stepped through the doorway. A crystal chandelier hung in the front entrance, throwing soft light to the floor below. Wooden beams stretched across the ceiling, and a knight's suit of armor gleamed in the corner.
Professor Redgrave's house was practically a museum!
The manservant led them down a long, wood-panelled corridor, lined on either side by portraits of rather austere-looking people.
Deryn whispered to Alek. "I wonder what in blazes they ate to turn their faces that sour?"
He grinned. "It must have been something quite dreadful, I should think."
But then his expression turned serious.
"Deryn, what do you think will happen if the man at the party really does turn out to be the same as the one who tried to kill me?"
She shook her head. "I don't know," she said. "I wish the lady boffin had been a bit more helpful."
Alek's green eyes glimmered in the light. "Indeed. She might have at least sent some extra protection."
"I suppose she did. Me," Deryn grumbled. She wouldn't have minded a bit of help. Particularly since the man they were after happened to be barking dangerous. But that was what came frommaking herself useful, she supposed.
They continued down the hallway until the manservant came to a halt. Sounds of people talking and laughing drifted out of an open door.
The man gestured toward the room. "The party is in there, gentlemen."
"Thank you," Alek said. He turned to Deryn, a smirk on his face. "After you," he said with a bow. Deryn brushed past him, rolling her eyes. "Get stuffed," she said. The loris chuckled.
Deryn and Alek entered what was evidently the library, its walls lined with shelves, all thoroughly crammed with books. Most of the people were gathered in the middle of the space, around what Deryn reckoned must be the mummy.
She let her eyes wander across the crowded room, wondering which boffin, scientist, or reporter was Alek's would-be assassin. She felt her hands tighten into fists, thinking about what might have happened. Deryn Sharp had lost her father; she wasn't about to lose Alek, too.
"Do you see him yet?" she asked Alek in a low voice. She didn't want to attract any attention.
He shook his head. "No. He might not even be here. After all, Dr. Barlow only said that a man who resembled my description would be attending the party. We don't know for certain."
"Aye," Deryn nodded. "But if it does turn out to be him, we'll be in for some trouble."
She pushed her way through the crowd, trying to get a closer look at the mummy. A table covered with a white cloth stood before her. Underneath the sheet must be the sarcophagus, and inside it, the mummy.
Just then, the lights dimmed for a moment, quieting the gathering. A thin man, wearing spectacles and dressed in a slightly rumpled suit, strode to the middle of the room. He cleared his throat before speaking.
"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen," he said. "I am Professor Arnold Ulysses Redgrave, archaeologist and curator at the Natural History Museum. I have invited you all here tonight, to witness the unwrapping of a genuine Egyptian mummy, which I managed to procure on my latest expedition to Thebes. Now, if you all will please direct your attention here-" He walked over to the table and lifted the cloth. "You will see a sarcophagus, the inside of which, no man has seen since the year 1500 B.C."
The crowd let out a gasp as the white sheet floated to the floor, and the Egyptian coffin was revealed. Deryn and Alek gazed at the 3 foot long box, covered in hieroglyphics and gold paint, its head carved in the shape of a feline.
"Blisters," Deryn whispered. "I didn't realize it was a cat mummy! I didn't even know they made cat mummies."
"Nor did I," Alek whispered back, continuing to stare at the golden face and pointed ears of the sarcophagus.
With help from an assistant, Professor Redgrave began to lift the lid of the coffin. A pungeant smell rolled out from the box, causing several ladies to hold hankerchiefs to their noses.
A few candles were lit around the room, casting flickering shadows over the professor, as he peered inside the coffin.
"The mummy appears to be in excellent condition," he said. "Its mask is still in place, the wrappings still tight. . ." Professor Redgrave's voice trailed off, his attention focused completely on the mummy,
Deryn could hardly tear her eyes away, but she needed to to look for Alek's near-murderer. After all, that was the entire point of the mission.
She scanned the faces in the crowd around her. A man uncomfortably pulling at his bow tie, an elderly gentlemen in a bowler hat-obviously a boffin-and then a man with dark hair and a mustache.
Deryn's eyes paused over him. He, along with everyone else, was watching with rapt attention as Professor Redgrave carefully eased the mummy from its sarcophagus.
Deryn nudged Alek, tilting her head in the direction of the man.
The boy went pale as he recognized the tall, furtive figure.
"It's him," he said.
As the words left his mouth, the man slowly turned and looked at them.
A/N: Thanks for reading! Just so you know, the Natural History Museum is a real museum in London,England. It was founded in 1881 after the British Museum ran out of room for some of its artifacts. Also, I made up the character of A. U. Redgrave. I have no idea who was employed at the Natural History Museum in 1915.