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Egyptian desert, south of Aswan—1937
As he ran, Alex O'Connell tried again to shake the Bracelet of Anubis from his wrist. Still locked tight. Behind him he could hear the bones of the fierce pygmy skeletons pounding against the ground as they chased him and his father through the jungle of Ahm Shere. If Alex and his father didn't get to the golden pyramid of Anubis before the sun hit it, the bracelet was going to destroy him . . . and if they didn't outrun the pygmies, they would be devoured.
"Now that the bracelet is on Alex's wrist," Ardeth Bay had warned, "the Scorpion King will wake and raise the Army of Anubis." Ardeth Bay was their trusted friend and the leader of the Medjai. For five thousand years, these bold adventurers had guarded mummies' tombs, trying to keep foolish men from unleashing the evil locked inside.
"We must kill the Scorpion King and send his warriors back to the underworld. Otherwise"—Ardeth Bay had paused—"the Scorpion King will wipe out the world." Only this time, Ardeth Bay's warning had come too late. The O'Connells had stumbled into a disaster.
Alex and his father dove into the temple's entrance just as the sun struck the top of the golden pyramid. Pop! The bracelet opened and clattered to the floor.
Suddenly, the ground began to shake and tremble. "Who disturbs the Temple of Anubis?" a voice bellowed from the hall, as thundering footsteps headed their way.
Alex and his father stared at each other in horror, remembering Ardeth Bay's words.
The footsteps grew louder, as Alex prepared to die. . . .
Alex O'Connellwoke with a start, his heart beating loudly in his chest. He looked quickly around, then breathed a sigh of relief. It was only a dream, the same one he'd had since meeting the Scorpion King four years ago. He was in the desert, and the Scorpion King was dead.
By the light of ten thousand stars, a huge black scorpion stalked through the dirt toward his hand.
Just what I need now, Alex thought, bugs trying to poison me. Nervous sweat trickled down his face.
He hated scorpions, but he didn't move. For hours he had been spying on a camp of men that he suspected were tomb raiders. But the afternoon sun had lulled him to sleep. Now a German guard stood ten feet away, a machine gun cradled in his arm. Fifty yards away, a group of men sprawled around several campfires. Half a dozen of them were guards. Alex hardly dared breathe, much less creep away from the scorpion.
If Alex was caught, the men might think he was a thief. By Egyptian law, they could chop off his hands for stealing. These Germans looked like a grim bunch. They might just shoot him.
Alex remained perfectly still, hidden in a cluster of rocks. He crouched on hands and knees with his back bent and his head down so that his tan robes looked like a rock. Pebbles cut into his palms and knees. A black turban covered his head.
Alex suspected that the robes and darkness could not hide him. The campfires were too bright, and a couple of tents had lamps lit inside, so they glowed like coals.
The scorpion scampered forward and stopped mere inches from his hand.
Alex tried to calm himself. He centered his mind on the teachings of Ardeth Bay, whispering, "The Medjai protect mankind in secret, not openly. The Medjai should see, but not be seen. The Medjai should strike, and no cry should ever be raised."
The Medjai should not fall asleep on duty, he added, blushing.
More than anything, twelve-year-old Alex wanted to be a Medjai, a guardian of the mummies' tombs. He had seen the powerful forces hidden in these tombs firsthand and didn't want tomb raiders to make the same mistake he'd made. The risk was too great.
He'd been studying the ways of the Medjai every chance he had since meeting his parent's friend, Ardeth Bay, four years ago. Now when Alex's parents were away, they often left him with Ardeth Bay. The Lord of the Medjai was a trustworthy man.
Ardeth Bay's idea of child rearing was nothing like Alex's mum's. For her, education meant studying Latin and ancient Egyptian. Ardeth Bay agreed—except he included sword fighting in the daily lessons. If Alex was to be a Medjai, he had to know how to sabotage tomb raiders' efforts.
Even after four years of studying the ways of the Medjai, Alex had not yet become one of them. Knowing how to swing a sword didn't make a man a Medjai. He had to prove that he was a "true protector of mankind," with perfect courage and tenacity.
That's why Alex was in this situation now. His mum and dad had left by ship for England, where his mum would be presenting a paper to the Bembridge scholars. They would be there for three weeks.
During this time Ardeth Bay had decided that Alex was ready for his Mushw?r Wa, his lone walk. Alex could begin to prove that he was worthy to become a Medjai. He had no idea where Ardeth Bay and the other Medjai might be. But this morning Alex had spotted some suspicious-looking Germans leaving the town of Aswan. As a Medjai in training, it was Alex's duty to follow their caravan and spy on them. If they were just honest folks, he'd leave them alone. But if they were tomb raiders . . .
In the distance Alex heard an engine growl as a car moved over the desert. Three yards away, a cricket chirped.
Alex bit his lip as the scorpion crawled closer. It hesitated only an inch from his hand. Perhaps the scorpion thought his finger was a cricket.
Alex's eyes shifted back up to the guard. The big man stared over Alex's head at the empty desert and drew a long puff on a cigarette.
Alex wondered why the Germans needed so many guards. Maybe they're just scaredy-cats.
The guard overhead tossed his cigarette on the ground and strode back to the campfire.
The scorpion raised its tail and lurched forward. Alex slammed his fist on the insect before it could deliver a killing sting. "Dreadfully sorry!" Alex whispered.
Then he peered up. No one was watching. He sneaked from the rocks to a shadow beneath a nearby truck. He wanted to find out what kind of equipment the Germans were carrying.
The Germans had some Egyptian servants in their camp. The servants, the suffragis, were roasting pigeons over the campfire. The spicy scent made Alex's mouth water as he neared the truck. From a nearby tent, he could smell pipe smoke. But beneath these sweet aromas, he detected another that he knew too well—the dusty odor of rotted mummies.
The Germans have already found a tomb! That's why the guards are so edgy. The trucks might be full of mummies and gold.