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Three men moved into the ancient mosque at the edge of Cairo. It was far past sunset, in the early summer of 1992 and the evening had turned cold. May nights could be quite chilly in Egypt, even though the day temperatures were known to reach baking beneath the desert sun. Yet, this night in particular, carried an even darker chill.
Following the small dark Egyptian that was their guide, Thomas Dussault and James Rutledge crept through the old temple. No one ever came here much, for the purpose of this particular mosque had long been forgotten by time. Yet the little Egyptian claimed to know the secret of the shrine. The two Americans, still clad in official Army desert fatigues, followed him closely. The shrine's halls were narrow, its ceilings low; Thomas Dussault and James Rutledge barely squeezed in their six foot frames. But the proportions of the inner structure seemed to fit the Egyptian perfectly.
Arman Imandi moved swiftly through the rooms of the shrine; down ancient halls dimly lit by the face of the moon as it shone through the few sparsely placed windows and reflected silver upon the limestone walls of the inner chambers. The two American soldiers didn't know exactly where it was they were going, but they moved on nevertheless. The Egyptian had promised it would be well worth the cost. 'A treasure yet to be unearthed.' And they were intending to be the first to find it.
As they walked the halls, the path sloped ever downward in a gradual curve and they realized that the temple was much larger than it had appeared from the outside. It seemed they had been travelling for miles and had yet more miles to go. Onlywhen they had passed through several doorways, and turned several corners before reaching a deep chamber did the Egyptian stop their rapid pace. They had come to a dead-end. A wall inscribed with ancient hieroglyphs blocked their path. Neither of the American's could read the dusty scribbling, so it was up to their guide to decipher.
Arman Imandi stood pondering the wall for a moment. Dussault and Rutledge waited, arms folded in the grey darkness that surrounded them. It looked like this was indeed the place where the Egyptian had intended to take them. But why had they stopped here? Was this the barrier to an ancient undiscovered tomb? They wondered. Were the promised riches waiting just behind? Surely there had to be more than just this chamber, both men thought, for this wasn't at all like they had expected. It was hardly worth all the legends of the curse they had been warned about.
Somewhere a wind blew through the passages, howling like the ghost of a long dead banshee; echoing mournful cries of sadness lost between worlds. The Egyptian shivered.
"The spirits of the dead are restless tonight," Arman Imandi said in English laced with a thick Arabian accent, for the old languages were no longer spoken among his people. "I do not think they approve of our presence in the shrine."
"Stop it with that horse shit," grunted Dussault, his voice twanging with the Southern interpretation of American English, the words drawn and lazy--though they didn't quite disguise his own growing anxiety. "All we've seen is walls. Can we just get on with this? Rutledge and I need to be back in camp before roll call!"
Arman fixed the American with an icy stare, his brown eyes gazing like those of the dead. His jaw tightened, and his fingers curled into clenched fists. If his starving family hadn't needed the money so badly, he would have never offered to bring the two soldiers here. If he didn't need the money so bad, he would have broken the man. Nothing would have pleased Arman more than to crush the fool beneath his clenched fists--both of them, in fact. They had no respect for the ancients--none at all. It was a disgrace. And even worse was the fact that he had been forced so low himself to have actually brought them here.
"I said move!" Dussault commanded. He glared back at the little man to show he was serious, and not about to be intimidated.
Armand Imandi sighed, allowing the hatred and anger to wash out of him. It was no good to get upset. It would only cloud his judgment. Despite his dislike for the Americans, he had a commitment to fulfil. The last thing he wanted to do was back out on their deal. Especially not now that they had come this far.
The wind continued to howl in the distance; spirits beckoning to their lost loves from ages long ago, heard still as echoes in time. It seemed almost as though a bellowing spirit walked the halls, though it could only have been the wind. 'Still' thought the Egyptian in the back of his mind, 'could you ever truly be sure of that in a place like this? Who knew what might have awakened over the ages?' But he shrugged away his bad feelings and directed his attention fully to the task at hand.
Dussault and Rutledge were looking at the ancient writings upon the stones; their faces contorted into scowls of confusion. Arman could tell just by watching them that they had only a superficial knowledge of such places. They were hungry for knowledge and wealth, but lacked much of the necessary understanding of the ancient forces with which they were dealing. For their benefit, he thought it best to familiarize them with the legacy to make sure they truly knew what they were about to do. Not to mention making sure that he truly knew as well.
"This has been a secret known to my family only for the last thirty centuries," he spoke slowly, enunciating carefully so that none of his words were missed. For they were all very important, and must be heeded. "It has been passed on from father to son for all the ages since before the fall of the last great Egyptian Dynasty. It is our last family tradition." His eyes searched the soldier's eager faces, hoping to find they understood--but he saw only the greed that lay beneath. They didn't care for this land, this temple, these traditions and ancient religion as did he. Arman doubted he could instil upon them even a vague conception of the knowledge it had taken a lifetime for him to acquire--knowledge that he himself didn't completely understand, or dare he say it, even believe--yet he had to try. It was a family legacy, meant to be revered. But was it true? For the first time, he was about to find out--at the very same moment that he betrayed it. He only wished the American's at least had some concept of the importance of it all--but then, this was really no surprise that they wouldn't. He had known when he had first met them what they wanted. They had never made that a secret--it was just that he was finding himself a bit reluctant to actually go through with this. He had to do it. There was really no other choice that he could see, if he wished his family to survive.
"The privacy of the dead, to us, has been a very sacred courtesy. Today, I am breaking that promise made long ago by my forbearing fathers." Arman continued as the wind cried longingly through the passages, seemingly trying to reach them with an outstretched and ghostly hand to prevent what was about to occur. But they were too deep in the belly of the lair. "Once we leave here, I hope you shall continue to honor this sanctity. No one else must ever know this place exists, do you understand, sirs?"
Thomas Dussault and James Rutledge slowly nodded their heads, almost in unison. Arman took a brief moment to gather his thoughts and his strength before translating the text upon the walls. A chill crept up his spine, and his heart beat in his throat. He needed the money, but then, there was the wrath of the legends with which he would have to deal with. Though he had never truly believed in it, the question lingered in his mind: What if?
"According to the custom of the time," he started again at great length. He had to take a moment to reconsider the ancient warnings inscribed upon the wall. His gut told him to take heed, for though he had been here many a time and all his family were well acquainted with these passages and the rumoured secrets kept within, he had never passed this point. And he approached the prospect now with some trepidation.
Arman swallowed hard, then continued.
"There is said to be a curse upon these grounds, in this temple," he said, his voice resounding rather hollow, as though not from him, but the ghost of the tomb itself. He had to swallow again as his throat cracked before he could read from the inscription. "Those who cross the barrier shall suffer generations of ill tidings. To disturb the shrine, the dead and the damned shall walk again. All those who have trespassed upon the hallowed grounds shall beware the hunting sorrow, for it has the strength to wake the dead and to command them at its will..."
"C'mon, man," Dussault growled suddenly. "You're not telling me you really believe in those curses and spirits and walking dead and all that hocus-pocus, are ya?" He erupted with a snotty laughter, and his partner chimed in weakly like the smallest of echoes. "Get real, man. This is the 90s!"
Again, Arman employed the icy stare. The Americans were becoming increasingly intolerable. He almost wished there really was a curse now--just so he could inflict it upon these two.
"Sirs," he returned coldly, doing his best to suppress the anger quickly welling up inside. If he didn't know better, he would have sworn the wind increased its haunting cries as if in response to the American's mocking laughter. In fact, the whole atmosphere in the passageway seemed to have become frostier, as if the temple itself was developing distaste for the two soldiers.
"My people consider curses to be serious matters--not something to be joked about." Arman's voice was as firm as he knew how to make it. "And no, I do not believe the 'dead will rise,' or even can rise. I don't believe in the wrath of a vengeful spirit, if that is what you mean." He took a breath, secretly wishing he was as confident as he sounded. "But there are reasons, gentlemen, for why the curses were written in the legends and tombs of the ancients in the first place. This is in hope that it will scare off those who would raid the tombs, or those who do not respect the rights of the dead as they should. Those curses, friends, are more than mere words, and should not be taken lightly.
"What you believe about them is not my concern. But at least respect the words of the ancients."
Once finished, and having sensed he'd pushed the Americans' growing hostility and impatience as far as he could, Arman turned about to face the wall again. The sooner this was done with now, the better, he thought and began to read from the text once more.
"The ancient language here tells the secret to entering the chamber," he spoke aloud as he groped about in the darkness. In a moment, he found a stone slightly looser than the others, and pushed it inward. Part of the wall slid ajar--releasing a cloud of dust and smoke. The three men coughed in the haze, clearing the dust from their bodies as much as they could with their hands. Once settled, they found themselves staring into a chamber beyond the door--engulfed nearly completely in blackness. A strange breeze seemed to emanate from within, freezing them with its chill. Dussault and James Rutledge took a step back without quite realizing it.
"Shall we proceed?" The Egyptian offered, gesturing widely with his left hand and a courteous little bow. He tried to keep the corners of his mouth from twitching as he catalogued the apprehension evident upon the soldiers' faces. If indeed something was waiting for them in there, he thought, they deserved what they got.