Anubis copyright c. 2015 T.A. Chase
“Are you ready to call it a night?”
Jamil glanced up when Ahmed spoke. He spied the man standing in the doorway of the room, leaning against the frame with his arms crossed over his broad chest. Jamil rubbed his eyes and sighed.
“Yeah. My brain’s about fried, so I’m not going to learn anything else today.” He shut down his computer then started to put the artifacts he’d been studying away.
Ahmed strolled closer. “Can I help with this?” His hand hovered over one of the gold armbands they’d dug up in the antechamber.
“Sure. Just grab a pair of gloves.” Jamil gestured to a stack of cotton gloves Sandy had gotten out earlier. “Not that I needed to tell you that. You’ve probably handled way more artifacts than I have over the years.”
“Hmm…” Ahmed’s reply was distracted as he put on the gloves before picking put the armband. His startled gasp caused Jamil to turn.
Ahmed stared at the jewelry in his trembling hands. “This was mine,” he whispered.
Shaking his head, Jamil figured he’d heard wrong. “We’re not sure who that belonged to. It doesn’t seem quite ornamental enough to be one of the royal family’s, but still whoever wore it had to be a high ranking member of the court.”
“The jackals denote that the wearer was a personal bodyguard for the prince,” Ahmed said absently as he ran his fingers lightly over the raised images. “The entwined branches marked him as more than that. He was the prince’s lover.”
“Lover? But the prince had a wife and a son.”
Ahmed snorted. “Having those exclude Okilma from having a lover?”
Jamil’s cheeks warmed. “Well no, but still…How do you know all this? I’m pretty sure your family legends don’t have all this information in them.” Jamil narrowed his eyes as he gazed at Ahmed. “There’s something else going on here.”
“Our records of this particular society are quite extensive,” Ahmed seemed to be dodging the question.
“Anubis, we have to go.”
Jamil jumped as Thomas spoke from behind him. Whirling, he saw the man standing in the middle of the room. “Where the hell did you come from? You weren’t here a minute ago.”
Thomas waved away his inquiry. “Did you hear me, brother? They are back at Petra right now and this time they’re destroying the graves in the caves.”
“Fuck. They must be looking for the book.” Ahmed gathered all the artifact trays and took them to the vault. “Jamil, hurry. Put all of the items from the dig in the vault. Make sure it’s locked. I can’t guarantee they won’t come for them here.”
“Who are they? What are they looking for? What the fuck is going on here?” Jamil wanted answers, but the urgency in both men’s voices convinced him not to balk on what Ahmed wanted. “Why did he call you Anubis?”
“Are the others coming? Or will it just be you and me?” Ahmed met Thomas’s eyes and nodded. “Okay. I haven’t had time to look at the book, but it’s safe, even if they were to break into my suite.”
Jamil shut the vault door then set the lock and alarm before he turned to the men. “What book? Did you take something from the site, Ahmed? You can’t do that.”
Thomas swung to face him. “Stop with the questions. None of it is your concern. Go back to your house and lock yourself inside. They might come for you next if they don’t find what they want and if we can’t stop them tonight.”
He reared back, about to argue with Thomas. Ahmed stepped between them and took his face in his hands. Jamil looked up into Ahmed’s worried gaze.
“Thoth, go. I’ll join you in a minute. Just watch them for now, but don’t let them leave,” Ahmed ordered Thomas without looking away from Jamil.
A loud annoyed exhale told them how Thomas felt about the whole situation, but he disappeared in a blink of Jamil’s eyes. He tensed.
“Did he just vanish? Why did you call him Thoth? What’s going on here, Ahmed?”
“You were never supposed to find out. We’ve existed for millennium outside the boundaries of your world, watching and searching for ways to save all of us from destruction,” Ahmed muttered as he rubbed his thumb over Jamil’s bottom lip. “Our gods and goddesses bound us to this task.”
Jamil frowned, confusion and worry sweeping through him. He’d never have guessed Ahmed was crazy. “Let me help you,” he pleaded. “You should talk to someone about your delusions.”
Ahmed chuckled. “Oh, love. Doctors and therapists won’t fix what’s wrong with me. Please, go to my suite and stay there. Don’t let anyone in. No matter who they say they are. If I send someone for you, they won’t need you to open the door for them. Once I take care of the men at the site, I’ll return and tell you everything.”
“I’ll call the police. They’ll go out and catch whoever it is that’s doing this.”
“No.” Ahmed shook his head. “We can’t allow the police to get involved. This problem goes beyond what they can handle. Thoth and I will deal with the intruders and find out what they are looking for. Also, we need to know who they work for. These aren’t just some grave robbers, Jamil. If they were, they’d have stolen a few artifacts or waited until the dig was over to search in the new rooms for items. They haven’t done that. Plus, they’ve killed two guards, quite viciously. I don’t want you to be the third life taken.”
“Aren’t you worried they’ll kill you? Why do you keep calling Hutchinson Thoth? I thought his name was Thomas.” Jamil stated to pull out of Ahmed’s grip. “None of this makes sense.”
Ahmed inhaled deeply and nodded. “I know it doesn’t make sense, Jamil. And you’ll probably still think I’m insane once I explain it. I can’t help that. But I need to go and you need to get to the hotel. You must stay safe.”
“Kellan and I will make sure he gets there and stays there, brother.” Another voice replied and Jamil grunted.
“What the fuck is up with people appearing and disappearing? Maybe I’m asleep and dreaming all this shit,” Jamil mumbled as another couple joined them.
The smaller man laughed. “I promise you’re not sleeping. I’m Kellan Largent and this is my husband, Bastet.”
Anubis copyright c. 2015 T.A. Chase
“I’m sorry, my lady.” Anubis bowed his head. “I should know better than that.”
And he should have. When Princess Eesha had been alive, she’d never been the kind who cared what others thought of her. Of course, being a princess gave her more leeway than if she were a regular person, but Anubis had the feeling she would’ve been like that even if she were poor.
“What is in here that you wanted me to see, my lady? Can you show me?”
Something hit his right shoulder, shoving him forward a little. He smiled as he moved in the direction she wanted him to go. Guess she still have some strength left or Anubis is lending her the power so I can find whatever is hidden here.
A small throb in his chest told him his patron god was there and he too wanted Anubis to search. He rubbed the spot over his heart as he walked to stand in the middle of the cavern. When he reached the center, he started turning slowly in a circle. As he faced due east, there was another push and he stalked off. There were moments when he went on these treasure hunts wishing someone had drawn an easy map for him to use, instead of relying on a ghost to give him directions.
::Quit whining and just get it done. We’re at the bodies.:: Thoth’s voice entered his mind.
::What did Jamil say when you told him and the officers?:: Anubis ran into what felt like a wall of air. He grunted in annoyance. Then he repeated the turning thing and headed to the right when he got another push.
::He wasn’t happy about it and he was worried about where you were. I told him you were taking a very important call, which was why you hadn’t come with me.:: Thoth snorted. ::Like anything can happen to you.::
Anubis shrugged, even though Thoth couldn’t see him. ::I’ve always figured that when our jobs were done, the gods would remove their favor and we’d end up growing old and dying like we were supposed to all those thousands of years ago.::
Thoth seemed to be considering what Anubis said. ::You could be right. The police are furious that we fond the scene and keep asking me how I knew it was there. Like I killed the guards, hid their bodies, then suddenly decided to tell the police where I put them. Idiots. If I did it, I wouldn’t be telling anyone about it.::
He let Thoth mutter in the back of his mind while he paused in front of the cavern’s far wall. Anubis knelt to peer at the spot where the wall met the floor. The dirt and stone there looked as though it was a different kind from the original rock. Changing back into his jackal, Anubis pawed at the spot, digging until he uncovered a medium-size hole. He gritted his teeth as he shifted back. Gods, he was going to be exhausted by the time he got to the hotel that night with all the shifting he was doing.
As much as he hated sticking his hand into a dark hole in the desert, Anubis knew it had to be done. Of course, if there was a trap, a snake, or a spider in there, it wasn’t like he would die from a bite or anything. Being immortal did have its perks.
::There are days though where the perks aren’t enough to overlook all the other shit.:: Thoth spoke up.
He closed his hand around a square leather object. Anubis tugged it out then set it aside so he could fill in the hole he’d made. No point in letting someone know exactly where it’d been buried. After picking up the object, he stood, but there wasn’t enough light in the cavern to see what it was except that it was book shape wrapped in leather.
::I’m going to find another way out of here. I don’t want to appear from the tunnel while they’re still processing the scene. Shit. What am I going to do about clothes?:: He’d forgotten he’d left his back at the entrance to the tunnel.
::I’ve got it covered. I stashed your clothes in the cave next to this one. The officers didn’t even notice me taking them.:: Thoth’s tone was scornful.
Anubis sighed. ::They are merely human, brother. They don’t realize there is more in the world than what they see. Thank you. I’ll find my way there and change then come and join you.::
Thoth growled. ::I left my backpack there as well. Stick whatever you found in there and we’ll examine it once we’re out of here.::
Anubis knelt on one knee in the middle of the cavern. “Thank you, my lady. I hope Lord Anubis will offer you sanctuary in the underworld now for your help. I’ve prayed every day since my death that you and your family had survived. It hurts my heart to know you did not. I hope you didn’t suffer before your death.”
The breeze that had guided him through the caves brushed over his cheek like a caress and Anubis’s eyes welled with tears. He’d never really hated Okilma or Eesha for the choices they made to save their own people. He’d understood that one life for many was an acceptable bargain. That they were betrayed anyway broke his heart.
“If there was some way I could avenge your deaths, I would, but I fear I’ve outlived all of those who hurt you.” He closed his eyes, letting his chin fall to his chest. “I’ve outlived all those I loved and I must admit I’m weary at times.”
He tilted his head as he heard whispering in the wind. Straining, he finally made the faint words.
“He loved you most of all, Ahmed. He was a broken man after he gave you over to them.” His princess’s voice was a balm to his ears. “Our lord Anubis has granted me and my son peace, but Okilma wanders this city, trying to find absolution for what he did to you. If you find his spirit, will you grant him forgiveness?”
“Yes, my lady. Okilma was my prince and more for all of my life. I’ve gotten over my anger. I wish I could’ve told him of my love and forgiveness before I died.” He swiped the tears from his cheeks.
Ghostly fingers ran though his hair, tugging gently on the ends. “He always knew he had your heart. I think it was that knowledge that got him through the last days. That and the thought he might see you again some day in the afterlife. Yet when we got there, you were nowhere to be found.”
“Lord Anubis had other plans for me,” he said.
Anubis copyright c. 2015 T.A. Chase
“How do we go about getting the officers back here?” Thoth tapped his hand against the stone. “It’s not like we can say we knew about this and just happened not to mention it to them.”
Anubis sat on his haunches as he studied the gruesome remains of what would probably turn out to be the two missing guards. ::This is more than worshippers wanting the ruins left alone. There’s something else going on, Thoth. I’m afraid that all of the archaeology group are in danger.::
“You mean Jamil is in danger and that’s what we’re here for.” Thoth paused then said, “Well, mostly we’re here to find whatever is hidden in Petra, but we can do our best to keep Jamil and the others safe as well.”
::The best way to do that would be to shut the dig down until we can figure out exactly what artifact is here.::
Thoth snorted then coughed as the hideous scent filled his nose. “Yeah. Good luck with that. I’m pretty sure none of them will think your idea is the best one.”
He shot his brother an annoyed look—or as annoyed as he could get while as a jackal. ::I realize that, idiot. I simply said it was the best way, not that it would happen. I’ll stay here to make sure no one comes to shut the tunnel. You go out and get the police. They shouldn’t have left yet. Let me know when you’re close and I’ll head off down one of the corridors so they don’t see me.::
“It’s the best option. I’ll tell them that it was open like this when I walked through here. I can implant the memory of one of the guards letting me in.” Thoth sighed. “I fucking hate when there’s death involved.”
::Of course you do. There are times when I wish my patron wasn’t the god of the dead. Maybe then a sight like this could bother me.::
Thoth touched Anubis’s head lightly in sympathy before he headed toward the entrance of the cave. Anubis sat there, staring not at the bodies before him, but at the bones of the dead who’d been buried in the caves millennium ago. Was Okilma’s skeleton somewhere in the catacombs riddling the canyon side? Or had their enemies simply tossed his body out for scavengers to feed off of?
Where did you end up, Okilma? What secret does Petra hide that someone will kill for it? Is it why you and your family were killed?
There was only silence to his questions, but Anubis hadn’t expected to hear anything. While spirits filled the tombs, they weren’t inclined to talk to him. At least not yet. Maybe if he had more time wandering, he would find some that wished to tell their stories. Yet there was no guarantee what they had to say would help him in his search.
A small gentle breeze brushed his fur and instead of death, his lungs filled with the fresh scent of jasmine. It was the scent he’d always associated with Okilma’s wife, Princess Eesha. He sniffed then shifted, trying to figure out where the breeze came from. It drifted from beyond the bodies, farther down the hidden tunnel. Anubis whined, wanting to follow the enticing fragrance, but his human side overruled the jackal in him and he stayed where he was.
Please wait, my lady, he pleaded silently. I’ll come see what you have to show me in a minute. I must wait for my friend to return.
There was a soft caress to one of his ears as though it really was the princess’s spirit and she understood what he’d said. For one of the few times since Anubis woke up as an Earth Warrior, he sent a prayer to his god that Anubis would grant Princess Eesha’s spirit the strength to remain on the earthly plane until she could tell him what she knew.
He shuddered when a fierce flood of heat swamped his chest. Was it a sign of the god’s approval? He could only hope so.
While he waited, he nosed around, searching for any clues. There were very few, but Anubis knew what he found wouldn’t make sense to the police, yet Thoth would collect them so they could look at them later. He sent a mental image of each piece of evidence to his brother. Thoth acknowledged him then warned they were almost to the gate.
Relief flowed through him. Now he was released to go where the princess wanted—or needed—him. It was possible her soul hadn’t been able to leave because of unfinished business on earth. Anubis had run across spirits like that before.
After leaping the crime scene, he landed on the other side and paused, thinking about his paw prints. Someone with a keen eye would spot them. He growled low in frustration.
::Here is how to fix that problem.::
He didn’t have time to startle at Sekhmet’s voice before his brother took over his mid to show him how to turn into mist. It was deceptively simple, yet he knew it was going to take a lot of energy.
::You won’t be able to sustain the form for long, but it will get you far enough way from the dead that no one will remark on your prints. Thoth will get rid of the ones around the bodies. Now go.::
Sekhmet’s order got him moving. He shifted from solid into mist then floated down the tunnel without hesitation as though Princess Eesha walked in front of him in her human form.
He didn’t know how far he’d gone before he lost hold of the mist and returned to his jackal form. Shaking his body from head to toe, Anubis continued to trot through the pitch black caves. Whenever he came to a fork in the path, the jasmine would be stronger in one direction and he’d go that way.
Finally the path dead ended in a large cavern and Anubis did his best to search every inch of it with his eyes before he took one step in. There was nothing there except the heavy presence of the princess.
He shifted and edged forward. “Are you in here, my lady? Is there where your body is? Do you want me to have them unearth you and move you to a more respectable tomb?”
A harsh wind blew by his ear, telling Anubis he’d angered her.
In case you were interested in getting Always Ready as a single release, it’s available now at all 3rd party sellers. This one was in the Semper Fidelis anthology.
Anubis copyright c. 2015 T.A. Chase
Anubis and Thoth strolled away, for all the world looking as though they were in no hurry to get wherever they were headed. Yet both of them wanted to get to the caves. Anubis snarled at the internal tugging he felt every time he thought about them.
“What do you think is going on in the caves that our gods want us to search them?” Thoth rubbed his chest and grimaced.
“You feel it too, huh?” Anubis had never had this strong a demand before.
Thoth grunted then said, “We knew there had to be something else going on beside some fringe group not wanting the site disturbed. Hell, you could get up in arms about it since it’s your people they’re digging up.”
Anubis shrugged. “I’ve been skirting the edges of believability and soon Jamil’s going to figure out I know far more than I’d have learned from legends. I’m trying to act normal, knowing that Okilma, the princess, and their son were killed at some point after they sacrificed me.”
“You know we’re all sorry about that,” Thoth commented quietly as they approached the first of the caves.
The gate that kept visitors out yielded to Anubis’s magic. He could’ve gone and gotten a key from one of the guards, but he didn’t want anyone escorting them. They weren’t grave robbers, interested in ancient artifacts to sell on the black market. Neither he nor Thoth would desecrate a grave like that. Even if they had been that kind of person, their gods wouldn’t allow it.
Thoth glanced around before meeting Anubis’s gaze. “You’re safe.”
He rolled his eyes. “Safety is relative.”
“All right, asshole. You’re clear. There’s no one around and I’ll make sure everyone stays away.” Thoth turned his back on Anubis, lifting his hand to touch the gate they’d shut behind them.
After stripping out of his clothes, Anubis folded them and set them on a shelf close to the top of the cave. He closed his eyes then let his magic roll over him as his shift took hold. His mind went blank. When he could think again, he breathed deep and sneezed.
“I don’t have super smelling and I think it stinks in here,” Thoth spoke from where he stood further inside the first cave.
Anubis shook his entire body, adjusting to having four paws and a tail as he did so. Then he tilted his head as he stared past Thoth.
“What?” Thoth looked down at his shirt and pants. “I can’t change. It would look really odd if someone wandered by and saw a hawk in the caves. A jackal’s one thing. You might be rare around here, but it wouldn’t be strange that you’d gotten in somehow.”
Shaking his head, Anubis huffed. ::I wasn’t looking at you. I see shadows behind you.::
“Shadows?” Thoth whirled around and peered into the darkness. “What kind of shadows? Like someone left a lantern—or torch—on and the flame is moving with the breeze? Or like there are actual people back there waiting to attack us?”
::Shadows like spirits drifting on the air as though they don’t realize they’re dead or are trying to find their way out of the cave.:: He growled. ::Sekhmet should come here and bless this place. Apparently no one has done it yet. Maybe then the dead will be happy.:: Joy swelled in his heart at his thought and he sighed. How was he going to get Sekhmet to do that when he rarely saw his brother? Maybe he would suggest it to Isis and he could discuss it with Sekhmet.
“Good luck with that,” Thoth quipped. “Let’s go. We have to get this over with before your boyfriend comes looking for us. Don’t need him to find out his lover can turn into a jackal and is thousands of years old.”
::Shut up.:: Anubis didn’t want to discuss Jamil or the possibility of the man discovering exactly what Anubis was. ::He’s just a way to pass the time while we’re here.::
Thoth snorted then coughed. “Ugh! That stench is getting stronger and we haven’t even moved yet. And try pulling my other leg. There’s something going on between you and the archaeologist, Anubis. Pretend all you want, but even I can see it.”
Curling his upper lip to expose his canines, Anubis acknowledged Thoth was right about the smell. The breeze hadn’t changed in intensity since they’d entered the caves. It was almost as if whatever created the aroma was moving.
::There can’t be anything between us, Thoth. You know that we are meant to spend our time alone until our gods and goddesses free us from our duty.::
“What kind of bullshit is that? If that was true, then Bastet would’ve never found Kellan and his goddess wouldn’t have blessed their union. You’re just scared of losing Jamil to old age.” Thoth held up his hand when Anubis took a step toward him. “Stop it. We’re all scared of that. I mean really? How many lovers have we lost over the years? Too many to count, yet for some reason, we keep falling in love. I don’t think our patrons meant for us to spend our lives alone.”
Anubis decided he was done with the conversation. He trotted past Thoth, heading deeper into the first cave. All of the burial caves were connected, though the humans hadn’t found the tunnels between them yet. The ancients that had buried their dead in the caves had made sure about that.
The scent grew stronger as he hunted. His human side wanted to gag and throw up at the rotting flesh smell. His jackal wanted to find it and eat since scavenging was its primary way of feeding. ::There’s something—or someone—dead ahead of us in one of the hidden tunnels.::
“Do you suppose it’s one of the guards that’s disappeared?” Thoth had stuck close, in case Anubis needed a pair of hands to open a door or something. It kept him from wasting energy to shift back and forth between forms.
::It could be and that would explain why no one found them yet. They don’t know about them.::
“Someone does. That’s not a good thing, Anubis.”
Thoth’s comment was an understatement. Whoever had done this knew more about Petra then the police and the people who worked there. Anubis wasn’t sure what that meant yet, but he knew it was going to be important some time soon.
Anubis copyright c. 2015 T.A. Chase
Ahmed grinned. “I’ve had sort of the same thing happen to me. I got lost hiking in Peru. Must have stepped off the trail I was supposed to be following, ended up wandering deeper into the jungle. Found a faint path leading in the direction I knew I had to be taking.”
Jamil watched Ahmed’s face as he recounted his tale and noticed how his gaze seemed to turn in as though he were seeing the jungle around him. Hutchinson didn’t say a word, but he looked as fascinated as Jamil felt. Has he never heard this story before? I thought they were friends.
“The whole time I walked, it was dark and cool under the canopy. I could only see glimpses of the sun through the leaves. It was as though the entire forest watched me while I wandered through their world.” Ahmed shrugged. “I mean I know I was being watched by the monkeys and other animals that live in there, but this was a different feeling. There was a weight behind those eyes.”
“A weight?” Hutchinson asked.
Jamil wanted to punch him for speaking. He was afraid it would drag Ahmed out of his memories and Jamil wanted to hear the whole experience.
Ahmed met Hutchinson’s gaze and something passed between them. “Yes, a weight of centuries as if the person watching me had been in the jungle for longer than I had been alive. As though it had been around at the birth of the world.”
“A god,” Hutchinson whispered, drawing a nod from Ahmed.
As much as Jamil wanted to scoff at the idea of there being hidden gods, he couldn’t. While he wasn’t sure he believed in any gods, he had seen how strong the belief in one could be. Hell, people were dying in the name of their god all over the world right now.
Ahmed exhaled like he’d been holding his breath. “The path led to a temple. It should’ve been abandoned, out there in the middle of nowhere, but there was no dirt anywhere as though a monk—or worshiper—had just swept it out minutes before I arrived. None of the vines had invaded the stones. No animals had made nests in the walls or on the altar. It was pristine.”
“That’s unusual. If it hadn’t been discovered yet, the rainforest should have been reclaiming it after all the centuries.” Jamil had seen quite a few temples like that in Thailand and India. Also, Mexico and South America, where they were still discovering ancient cities under the cover of the foliage.
“You’re right. It wasn’t on any tourist map for the hiking trails and I’m pretty sure no guide would’ve ever taken anyone there. The path was worn but faint. There weren’t any footprints besides mine that day. I suppose they could’ve come in from a different direction, but I looked around before I left and didn’t see any signs of someone else being there.” Ahmed stuffed his hands in his pockets. “I went in to pray and leave an offering on the altar. As I left, a cool breeze brushed by my cheek, which was unusual because it had been hot and humid the entire day with no real wind to speak of.”
Both Jamil and Hutchinson nodded. Jamil had had experiences like that before and in his deepest soul, he believed it was a spirit letting him know they were around. Whether that spirit was a god or not, he didn’t know.
“The god was saying thank you for me acknowledging its presence. It was thanking me for taking a few minutes out of my day to pray to it. After I left, it was almost as if a trail appeared that hadn’t been there a moment ago. I took it and within thirty minutes was back on the path I was supposed to have been on all along.” Ahmed shot them a shy smile. “It’s something I’ve never forgotten.”
Jamil couldn’t resist. He laid his hand on Ahmed’s arm. “You shouldn’t. Every time you relive that moment, you’re ensuring the spirit—or god—isn’t forgotten and as long as there’s one person in the world who still thinks about them, they’ll never disappear.”
Ahmed nodded. “That’s why, no matter where I am, if there is a temple, church, or just a simple altar somewhere, I take a minute to say a prayer to the universe. It builds karma points and I never know when I might need those.”
Hutchinson laughed. “We all need those from time to time.”
“Right. Now we need to get moving,” Ahmed said, shaking off the spell of his memories. “Jamil, talk to the others and decide where else you’re going to dig today. I think we should leave the anteroom alone until tomorrow. Allow the negative energy to dissipate before you do any more.”
It was a good idea. “I might have Sandy and Eesha go back to the city with me. I want to get a start on sorting and cataloging the artifacts we’ve already found. The rest can take the day off. They’ve been working hard and deserve it.”
He watched as Hutchinson started to walk off. Ahmed bent to brush a kiss over Jamil’s cheek.
“I’ll get a ride back to the city with Thomas. Call me to check in before you leave though. I’d like to know where you are. Then when I return, I’ll find you.” Ahmed motioned toward the caves. “If we find anything, I’ll let you know and you can decide what to do with it.”
“Thank you. Be safe, both of you,” he raised his voice to make sure Hutchinson heard him.
The other man raised his hand in acknowledgement but didn’t turn back. Jamil chuckled. “He is an ass, isn’t he?”
“Yes, but he has his usefulness and his good points.” Ahmed squeezed Jamil’s hand before he left.
“What the hell happened, Jamil?” Sandy didn’t even wait to get close before she asked.
“I’ll tell you in a minute. Let me give everyone else the day off then we can talk,” he promised his best friend.
Anubis copyright c. 2015 T.A. Chase
“Come. We need you to look over the area so we can bag everything up and send it to the lab.” Kasha motioned for them to get moving.
Jamil wasn’t about to argue with anyone as long as they got to the anteroom quickly. He saw the police tape stretched across some of the opening, enough to deter someone from crossing. Kasha lifted it and gestured for them to go in.
Wrinkling his nose at the metallic smell, Jamil stayed at the edge of the room, running his gaze over everything. As far as he could tell, nothing had been taken or even destroyed. That didn’t surprise him. Jamil never thought the vandalism was about damaging anything. Whoever was doing it was interested more in stopping the digging and worshipping whatever god they believed in. At least that’s what he was hoping for.
“The guard still hasn’t been found,” Kasha told them.
Jamil nodded in acknowledgement, but Ahmed and Hutchinson knelt down by the makeshift altar. He eased closer and overheard them talking in some language he didn’t understand. It wasn’t Arabic or any modern language Jamil knew. Even though he couldn’t translate what they were saying, he could sense they were worried about something. He made a mental note to ask after Kasha left.
“Can my men gather the evidence?” The officer asked.
Ahmed nodded. “Yes. I don’t believe this is human blood, though I could be wrong. You may take everything and send your report to Doctor Ahlid.”
Kasha looked at Jamil for verification and he nodded. Ahmed crooked a finger at Jamil, motioning for him to come with him and Hutchison. They went back outside to sit, staying out of the police’s way. He met Ahmed’s gaze.
“What did you find when you looked at the altar? What makes you think it’s not human blood?”
Ahmed shared a glance with Hutchinson then shrugged. “I know what human blood looks like when it dries. I think they used goat’s. Probably sacrificed here and they took the body. Not sure why.”
“They wanted to freak out whoever entered the anteroom first after they left. You’re more likely to panic if you think someone’s been murdered then if you see a goat lying there,” Hutchinson suggested.
“I think if I saw any animal on the ground with its throat slit and blood all over the place, I’d panic,” Jamil mumbled.
Ahmed smiled. “Yes, it would be startling. What we need to figure out is where the guards are. This is the second one to disappear right? When it happens, something like that is found.”
Jamil rubbed his palms on his thighs. “You don’t think they were killed and buried somewhere else, do you?”
“That’s possible. Have the officers found the last place the guard was? Maybe if we take a look at it, we’ll be able to find something they’ve missed.” Ahmed stared down the canyon, watching as others from Jamil’s team started to arrive. “Why don’t you go talk to them and assign them to different areas—if you can?”
“What will you be doing?” His suspicious nature drove him to ask. There was definitely something Ahmed and Hutchinson knew that they weren’t sharing and it annoyed him. “And will you tell me what you were whispering about back there at some point?”
Ahmed reached over, covering Jamil’s hand with his. “At some point, we’ll explain what we think is going on. You’ll think we’re crazy, but we’re used to that. I don’t think this is the right time though. Your people will have questions, plus Thomas and I must discuss some things before we do anything else.”
Hutchinson stood then held out his hand to Ahmed. “Come, brother. Let’s have our talk before we go look through some of the caves.”
“Caves?” Jamil pushed to his feet, not wanting them to tower over him. He did his best to ignore Hutchinson’s calling Ahmed ‘brother’. It sounded as though he truly thought of Ahmed as family.
“Yes. I’m sure the police did that and will do it again, but we’d like to wander through them as well. Maybe we’ll see something they didn’t.” Ahmed pursed his lips, which made Jamil wish the man would kiss him again.
There wasn’t time for that at the moment. Sandy and Eesha were approaching, their faces filled with concern. Ahmed touched Jamil’s cheek, caressing his skin lightly.
“Go talk to the ladies. I’ll come and find you when we’re done.”
Jamil sighed. “Be careful. Some of the caves are unstable and spirits haunt those dark areas.”
Hutchinson huffed. “You believe in ghosts?”
Ahmed nudged the man, but Jamil wasn’t bothered by the question.
“Yes, I do. You might think my job wouldn’t lead me to acknowledging the paranormal, but I’ve spent a lot of time digging in places where I’ve felt the weight of eyes on me while I was alone. I’ve come to believe they exist.” Jamil chuckled. “Of course, all the noises I hear while I’m alone at a dig could be my imagination.”
He was surprised when both Ahmed and Hutchinson shook their heads.
“We’re practical men, Jamil,” Ahmed said. “For the most part, we believe in only what we see, hear and touch. Yet we’ve had experiences like you. We’ve seen things in the deserts. Flashes of color where none should be. Shadows made by bodies that weren’t there. Moments in time relived over and over without the realization of the person’s death.”
Hutchinson shivered. “I was doing a job in a Thailand temple. It was later in the day as the sun was setting and the native people we’d hired to help with the dig always left before night fell. I was supposed to be alone then I felt as though someone had entered the room with me. I turned around to find a small monk standing there, watching me. I knew he wasn’t real because I could see right through him.”
“What did you do?” Jamil held up his hand to stop Sandy and Eesha from getting closer.
“I knelt and asked him to bless me.” Hutchinson’s cheeks tinged with red as though he was embarrassed by what he’d done. “The top of my head went cold like he had touched me and as strange as it seems, peace filled me for several days after that.”
I’m in the last couple of chapters of a book I’ve been struggling to finish the last month. It should be done today, so I’m hoping to give you all installments on Thursday and Friday. If not, then you’ll definitely get one for sure on Friday.
Thanks for being patient. Have a great day.
Anubis copyright c. 2015 T.A. Chase
Jamil shot a quick look over at Ahmed as they drove up to the parking lot where he’d leave his truck. Ahmed hadn’t said a word once they got on the highway to head to Petra, and that worried Jamil. Why wasn’t he talking? Did he think Jamil should be removed from the dig? They climbed out of the vehicle and there were two police officers there to greet them.
“Dr. Ahlid, I must admit I don’t like meeting like this,” The older of the officers said as they approached.
“I know.” Jamil shook hands with him. “Officer Kahsa, this is Doctor Ahmed Al Hazzan. He’s a consulant with UNESCO who arrived two days ago to check on our progress, plus look at some of the artifacts we’ve discovered.”
“Doctor.” Kahsa shook hands with Ahmed. He didn’t bother introducing the young man with him. “We’ve cordoned off the room and left the ‘offering’ there until you could look at it. Our technicians have already taken all the photos we need.”
“Is it the same as last time?” Jamil grabbed his backpack out of the truck then locked it before he motioned for Kahsa to lead the way. He rubbed his suddenly sweaty palms on his jeans. Why was he nervous? Or was it worry?
“Yes. Also exactly except there is more blood.” Kahsa frowned. “I’m not sure if it is animal—or human—blood yet. Our labs will be able to let us know. I told them to rush it since we need to know just how dangerous this person is.”
Ahmed cleared his throat. “Oh, I can almost guarantee that it’s going to be human.”
Both Jamil and Kahsa shot him questioning glances and Ahmed shrugged.
“If they are worshipping the people who used to live here before the Nabataeans, then they will wish to continue their practices of human sacrifice.” Ahmed wrinkled his nose. “At one time, humans believed spilling their own blood would bring favor from the gods. Little did they realize the gods don’t care about humans. They only see them as their playthings.”
Jamil tucked the information away in his brain to bring out when they were alone again. How did Ahmed know these things? Just how much did Ahmed’s tribe know about the people who lived at Petra before the Nabataeans? And why hadn’t they ever talked about the society to anyone? It would be a huge discover, just like the canopic jars Jamil had found.
Kahsa made a subtle gesture as though he were warding himself against something. “You shouldn’t speak with such disrespect for the gods.”
“Do you still believe in the old ones? I thought you would be a convert to Allah or the Christian god.” Ahmed studied Kahsa as though he were an interesting bug he’d uncovered.
“I believe in taking no chances. I worship at my mosque, but I also don’t talk ill of any god. You never know who is listening.” Kahsa waved his hand in a vague motion to encompass the canyons around them. “The old gods might not be visible, but I don’t think they disappeared when the new ones moved in.”
Ahmed grunted, looking pained for a moment, and reached up to rub his temple. “You could be right about that, Officer. I’ll try to temper my speech when I’m with you. I wouldn’t want to get you in trouble with any god.”
“Thank you, Doctor.” Kahsa inclined his head slightly.
“Hey, wait up.”
They whirled around and Jamil was shocked to see Thomas Hutchinson come jogging up to them. He shared a look with Ahmed whose expression could only be called resigned.
“Who are you and what are you doing here?” Kahsa confronted Hutchinson.
Hutchinson stopped next to them, leaning over to catch his breath. Once he could talk, he said, “I’m Dr. Thomas Hutchinson. I’m a consultant for UNESCO. I came to help with translating some of the objects found here. Ahmed text me about the violation and I thought I’d come out to see it for myself. I might be able to help out.”
Jamil turned to Ahmed. “You text him?”
Shrugging, Ahmed said, “I thought it might be wise to have another set of eyes when we looked at the scene. For all his arrogance, Thomas is very observant and he might see something we would miss.”
“Are there any more coming to join us, Dr. Ahlid?” Kahsa didn’t sound happy, but he obviously wasn’t going to keep Hutchinson from going with them.
“Not that I know of. Let’s go. The sooner we get there and check it out, the sooner we can clean it up and get back to work.” Jamil scrubbed his hand over his face. “I’m already two days behind schedule from the first time. Now this one is going to put me even further behind.”
“You have two more sets of hands,” Hutchinson pointed out, slapping Jamil’s back. “Ahmed might not like grubbing in the dirt anymore, but I’m more than happy to help out. Maybe with us, we can get you back on schedule.”
Ahmed moved to put himself between Jamil and Hutchinson, forcing the other man to take his hand from Jamil’s shoulder. “I never said I didn’t like digging, Thomas. I simply haven’t had any opportunity to do it lately. I think you need to keep quiet. We are here on sufferance from Jamil and Officer Kahsa. If they wish, they can deny us access to the site.”
Like Jamil was going to keep either one of them from it. Ahmed knew more than he was saying about the jars and the forgotten society who once ruled Petra. Jamil wanted that knowledge, along with finding out how Ahmed knew it. The other reason he wouldn’t kick them out was because both worked for UNESCO and if they wanted to, they could go to the board and tell them to revoke permission for Jamil’s dig. He didn’t want that. Digging at Petra was a once in a lifetime chance for him. One he wasn’t about to lose, even if it meant he had to deal with Hutchinson.
Anubis copyright c. 2015 T.A. Chase
“Really?” Jamil twisted to meet Anubis’s eyes. “How do you know that? I couldn’t find any information on any other culture besides the Nabataeans. No one knew there might have been other people who lived in Petra before them.”
Squinting, Anubis tried to think of a realistic lie. There was no way he could tell Jamil he knew because he had been a member of that society. He shrugged. “I must have heard it in the stories my grandfather used to tell me.”
Not wanting to deal with any more questions, even though he’d been the one who brought the subject up in the first place, he asked, “I never got a chance to look at the stuff that had been left at the site. Do you think we could go back to the museum and look at them tomorrow before we go to Petra?”
It was Jamil’s turn to squint at Anubis as though he wanted to say something else, but then he said, “Sure. I have the photos we took of the offering placement on my laptop, so you can study them right now if you want.”
Anubis knew he should do that. He should start to pull away from Jamil. Getting involved with someone while on assignment wasn’t a good idea, especially someone as close to the mission as Jamil was. The man wasn’t stupid either. Eventually he’d start asking questions Anubis couldn’t answer. Well he could answer them, if he wanted Jamil to think he was crazy.
But he didn’t want to. He wanted to stay in bed, wrapped around Jamil. He liked listening to the man breath and feeling the heat of his skin against his own. It had been a long time since he’d felt this way and wanted to take advantage of the moment.
“I can do it later.” He nuzzled Jamil’s temple. “I’m not ready to return to work just yet.”
Laughing, Jamil snuggled closer. “I agree.”
Silence fell between them, yet it had a comfortable feel to it instead of awkwardness. As the minutes drifted by, Anubis heard the sound of Jamil’s breathing even out as the man slept. Anubis stared at the ceiling, not tired at all. He rarely needed to sleep anymore. As he grew in power and learned to deal with the fact that he wasn’t going to die any time soon, he’d discovered his body didn’t need rest.
::I’m sorry to interrupt, brother, but Jamil is about to get a phone call.:: Thoth’s voice broke through Anubis’s thoughts.
::What the hell happened?:: He tried not to tense. There was no point in waking Jamil before the call came.
::Another security guard has disappeared and another offering left at the dig site. I was searching some of the other areas in Petra when it was discovered. You’ll have to make sure to call me, even though I’ll meet you there.::
Anubis groaned silently. ::How did they manage to do that without you knowing about it?::
::I don’t know unless they’d done it before I got here. I didn’t sense anything wrong, though I did wonder where the guard was. I figured he was just on rounds or something.:: Thoth sounded annoyed.
The ringing of a phone broke through the air and Jamil jerked awake, struggling to get out of bed. Anubis shoved the blankets back to make it easier on him. While Jamil dug through his clothes, Anubis climbed out of bed and started to get dressed.
::They’re calling him right now.:: He informed Thoth.
::Good. Don’t forget to call me. I’m in the room right now and I have to say whoever is leaving these offerings has to be disturbed.::
Anubis rolled his eyes. ::Of course they’re disturbed, Thoth. I assume they’ve sacrificed something, right? And there’s a lot of blood around the area.::
“Hello?” Pause…then “Yes this is Jamil Ahlid.” Another pause then Jamil swore. “Damn. All right. I’ll be out there as soon as I can. Have you called the authorities?”
::The police have just arrived, but they’re staying away from it. Not sure if they want to keep from contaminating it or if they’re too scared to touch it.::
::Do you think the guard has been killed?:: If the guards were killed so the person—or persons—could have access to the site, then it was far more serious than Anubis first thought.
He could almost feel Thoth shrug. ::It’s possible. I’m not sensing any other humans around besides the ones at the main site. There are spirits here, but they aren’t strong enough to interfere as far as I can tell.::
Shivering slightly as he zipped up his pants, Anubis chose not to think about whose ghosts might inhabit Petra. Running into Okilma’s would be heartbreaking for him.
“I’m sorry to rush away like this,” Jamil started to say, but Anubis held up his hand.
“It’s fine. I assume something has happened at the site.” Anubis tugged on his shirt then looked around to see where he’d left his boots. “I’m coming with you.”
“Oh you don’t have to.” The relief on Jamil’s face told Anubis he was glad to have his company.
Anubis gripped Jamil’s shoulder and squeezed for a second. “I know I don’t have to, but you shouldn’t go by yourself, and I work for UNESCO. There should be a representative there if at all possible. I’m sure they’ll want a report as quickly as we can get them one as well.”
Jamil grimaced. “They’ll be so happy to hear someone’s desecrating a world heritage site. I just hope they don’t decide to pull my permit to dig there.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll do everything I can to convince them your work is far more important than some nut job’s obsession with the place.”
He guided Jamil through gathering all their stuff then heading to the elevator. Once in the lobby, he pulled out his phone and sent Thoth a text. That would cover Thoth being there. They waited impatiently for Jamil’s truck to be brought around.