A/N: I particularly loved Tomb of the Lost Queen and wanted to write something for it. I wrote this a while back and posted it on HerInteractive, but I never got around to posting it on here. So, without further ado except for this disclaimer:
Disclaimer: Don't own.
DECAY OF A MEMORY
Death shall come on swift wings to him who disturbs the peace of the king.
I wanted to know the conclusion. It was a necessary means to completing this journey, the reason that I climbed onto an airplane and seated myself between a large mustached man and a petite gray-haired lady. The conclusion was the way that I chose to see myself, the stimulus that would bear me into the past to tell me why all had come to such an end.
This tomb was the past, the medium through which the lion that spoke could be heard. In every step that was taken within this recess of the centuries there was an echo of what had been lost: and in every step that was taken here there was the tiny trickle of realization that this was history in itself. This tomb was not a place of the past. This tomb was the past.
My every breath seemed to catch momentarily in my throat as I approached my conclusion, knowing all the time that the answer was already in my head. The golden sarcophagus glittered with the glimmering shine of something that knows where it belongs. I hesitated as I halted before it, feeling my heartbeat fluttering madly somewhere inside me, understanding that once I opened this tomb the end was here.
I reached for the square, decorated buttons that adorned the head of the sarcophagus. Slowly – ever so slowly – I pressed the buttons in the order I believed they were to be pressed. The moment I had pressed the last one, savoring every second as my fingertips brushed the lid, there was a loud click: and then there was silence.
The silence had never been louder. Before I could sink into its depths I leaned down and shoved at the lid of the sarcophagus, trying to remove it, trying to see what lay within. The lid would not surrender to my will. I forced myself to stop my attempts after several moments, thinking that I needed help. I had always needed help, but I had never admitted it. I supposed vaguely that it was about time that I actually asked someone for the assistance I was never given.
I made my way back through the twisty dark of the tunnels, under the impression that I could ask Abdullah for whatever help he could give. If anyone fit into the scenery here it was Abdullah. He was a thing of the past, with his graying hair and his strange outlooks. He was the lion that spoke and no one understood. Surely he would be the necessary agent to opening the sarcophagus.
"Abdullah," I said as I approached him, my hands in my pockets, "Are you busy?"
Abdullah was facing his all-important wall, his hands pressed against it, shaking his head as if he would never be able to fathom the strange and beautiful intricacies of the world. "No, darling," he said tiredly. "No, I am not busy."
"I found a gold sarcophagus, but I need help opening it."
"Do not open it," he said suddenly. He didn't even bother to turn around, still presumably gazing at the tile of the colorful wall. "Please, I beg of you. Do not open it. The curse…what will result…" Abdullah, the lion that had always been so confident and sure, hesitated before trying to explain. "I fear I do not understand anymore, Nancy."
That idea in itself was so entirely puzzling and shocking that I took a step backward as if he had given me a physical blow to the head. "I – please, Abdullah. Just help me. This could be – this could be Nefertari, this could be what we've been looking for –"
"What am I looking for, darling?" asked Abdullah. "Tell me, what do you assume I am looking for?"
Although I had been so certain that Abdullah, as Dylan had said, was simply looking for popularity and the opportunity to reach his peak in the media, I abruptly saw that I had no idea what Abdullah was looking for. The possibilities were an endless expanse, stretching onward for only God knew how long. I looked at Abdullah, suddenly so old, and turned away, heading for the tunnel I knew Jamila would be lingering within. Abdullah had been my first choice for assistance because I knew he would be so gentle and harsh with the sarcophagus: I had pictured him easily lifting the lid away from the dead queen. Jamila was my only other option for help. I did not desire to ask Lily, because when I thought of Lily I thought of the bitter slithering animal of deceit that had somehow taken hold of her somewhere inside.
Jamila was inspecting the wall that she usually did, looking down at her book and then back up at the cool dark stone. "Hello, Nancy," she said without turning, running her fingers smoothly over the pages as if she were searching for a blind man's answer. "What is it you seek?"
"I need your help," I told Jamila, shaking off the uneasy feeling that being around her usually gave me. "I found a gold sarcophagus, but I can't lift the lid."
"Of course I will help you," Jamila replied with a faint smile. She finally turned to look at me, her dark eyes flashing with a buzzing emotion that I could no more translate than hieroglyphs. "This could be Nefertari, couldn't it?" I nodded. Jamila's semblance of a grin suddenly fell away, replaced with trembling caution. "We should not move her, Nancy. She deserves to rest in the peace that she never had in life."
A chill crawled down my spine. Suddenly I felt as though I was no longer alone with Jamila in the confines of a dank preserve of history: I was in the center of a crowded room with people breathing down my neck in the unending presence of now. And although the gleaming golden sarcophagus represented all the answers to all my questions, I no longer desired to open it. I only wanted to know who attacked Professor Boyle and why.
I only wanted to go home.
"You know, Jamila," I finally said, "I think you're right. I'm not going to open it."
"Good," said Jamila, nodding with a real smile. "That's very good, Nancy. I'm glad you've finally understood." Leaving me with that strange ghost of a thought she turned to her book and her wall. I just looked at her for a few more seconds, trying and failing to understand the enigma that was Jamila El-Dine, and decided that it was time to return to the surface.
I passed out of the tunnel and into the main room. Abdullah was no longer leaning against the wall as if it was his life, but he was seated with his back to me, looking down at something he was holding in his hand. I assumed it was a book of some sort. As I passed I cast a curious glance in his direction and saw that he was holding his phone, staring down at it with such a look of utter despair that I suddenly saw not Abdullah Bakhoum but the crumbling wall of civilization finally giving in to what desperation had been plaguing it for so long.
Some memory of a memory tugged at the back of my mind, but I repressed it, trying to ignore it. These tunnels – this tomb – were so entirely unsettling now that all I wished was that I'd never come. I wanted to be like Bess. I wanted to go where I hadn't been in so long without a care. I wanted to go home.
Dylan's chair was still outside the main tent. It was the utterly tragic symbol of all that had been forfeited on this journey into the past: Professor Boyle's health, Lily's second chance, Abdullah's dignity, Dylan's fullness of life, and all the thrill of my travels. I saw that chair and saw Professor Boyle's limp form, Lily's devastated face, Abdullah's tear-streaked phone call, Dylan's broken body – and all that I had left behind to get here.
Suddenly I found myself unable to look at the unoccupied chair any longer. I looked down to my cell phone instead, which I used to call Professor Boyle. I wanted to tell him that I found Nefertari and I knew who had attacked him. I was unsure as to the Nefertari portion of what I desired to say to Professor Boyle, but I was entirely certain that I knew who was behind Professor Boyle's headaches. It had been the brokenness of spirit that had given it away to me. I understood that there was far more to the story than I truly knew, and I had no desire to handle it anymore.
"Hi, Professor Boyle, it's Nancy."
"Nancy! How are you? How are things at the site?"
I hesitated. The vibrancy of his voice threw me off. It was as though there was a dying man with a voice that told stories of places he had never been, stories of the high seas and the rolling hills and the green valleys and the blue mountain peaks. "Professor Boyle, I'm not sure, but I think I found Nefertari. And I think I found who attacked you."
"That's great, Nancy!"
"It was Abdullah," I told him, and as I said it I knew it was true. "I think he's working in the black market, Professor Boyle. But I don't think it's his choice." And as suddenly as a strike of white-violet lightning I knew: "That's why he wouldn't give Dylan clearance. He knew that Dylan wanted in and he wouldn't let Dylan in."
I slowly rotated, turning away from the faded green of the main tent to face the steps that led down into the abyss of a tomb. I stared down at the columns and the beige-colored sands as they shifted slightly in the dry breeze and wondered if I had ever known a culprit that didn't want to be a culprit. Had I ever captured a perpetrator that despised what he perpetrated, even as he completed it? I blinked, feeling an unfamiliar moisture gathering in my eyes. Abdullah was a lion of the past, the last of his kind; it was because he spoke another language entirely that nobody had recognized his cries for help.
"I'm coming out there, Nancy," said Professor Boyle on the other end of the line. "Hold on. Keep Abdullah there."
I looked down at my phone detachedly as Professor Boyle hung up. I watched his picture blink for a few moments before his face faded from the screen. I stood there for a minute, debating between what I could do and what I needed to do. I knew I could no longer take the lead on the case of Abdullah Bakhoum. If he was involved with other countries, there were larger organizations such as Interpol that needed to take the lead. I couldn't do more without threatening somebody's national security.
I lifted my phone again before it could slip through my fingers the way everything else seemed to do so easily. My conclusion, as it turned out, was not in the underground golden sarcophagus after all. My conclusion had been with me inside me the entire time. There were things I needed to do that I could not get done here. I needed to tell Ned I still loved him, tell George I never forgot her, tell Bess she was always appreciated, and above all, see my own father for the first time in years. That was my conclusion. That was my past, and the future that I wanted so suddenly and so very badly.
The moment Bess picked up, I spoke. "I'm coming home."