Set against the glory and tragedy of ancient Roman Egypt, this novel brings to bring to life the greatest love story of all time.
Sixteen-year-old Hal Stevens is a budding historical scholar from a small town in Colorado. A virtual outcast at high school, he has only two friends: Roberto the Biker Witch and Cleo Mallawi. Cleo claims to be the reincarnation of Queen Cleopatra. She also believes she's being stalked by an ancient Egyptian demon, Ammut, the Devourer of the Dead.
But when Hal and Roberto find Cleo murdered in the forest near her home, it appears she may have been telling the truth. Her last request sends them journeying to Egypt with famed archaeologist Dr. James Moriarity, where it quickly becomes clear that Cleo has set them on the search of a lifetime: the search for the lost graves of Marc Antony and Cleopatra.
But they are not alone in their search. Cleo's murderers are watching their every move. And not all of them are human...
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|Product dimensions:||8.30(w) x 6.00(h) x 1.10(d)|
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By the time I was thirteen, I knew that the girl of my dreams was not what anyone would call a sane child. My first hint came on a bright autumn afternoon when Cleopatra Mallawi was helping me rake up mountains of fallen maple leaves from our front yard in Georgetown, Colorado.
At around two o'clock, Cleo took a break to lean on her rake and stare up at the mountain peaks visible through the branches that spread across the blue sky. Straight coal-black hair hung to her shoulders.
"Look, Halloran. A demon."
My full name is Halloran Justin Stevens, but pretty much everyone, except Cleo, calls me Hal.
After I'd combed blond hair away from my blue eyes, I glanced around the leaf-filled yard. I've always been overweight, and exertion really gets to me. My hooked nose was dripping sweat down the front of my denim shirt, so I wiped it on my sleeve. All I saw was another two hours of work.
"I don't see anything."
"Oh." She sounded disappointed. "That's okay."
She quietly returned to raking leaves, but I couldn't take my eyes off the place near the maple where she'd been looking. After a couple of minutes of examining every pile of leaves for hidden claws or fangs, I shrugged and started raking again.
Cleo was definitely the most interesting person in Georgetown. She'd been born in Macedonia, but grew up in Egypt, was fluent in nine languages, and had been orphaned during the revolution that rocked Egypt a few years before. She'd studied ancient Egyptian history-claimed she'd been Queen Cleopatra in a former life-and said she'd personally met a variety of Egyptian gods and demons. Not only that, Cleo had supposedly shot a demon with her father's pistol at the age of ten. Right after her parents' deaths, the demons had invaded her home, wearing gas masks, and she'd barely escaped with her life.
Hypnotized by the idea that a demon might be standing there-a demon only Cleo could see-I stopped raking, and asked, "Which demon?"
I've won the Colorado Classics Award three times-which is the state record. It's an award for young ancient history scholars, so I take this stuff seriously.
Cleo turned toward the maple. "A huge one with the head of a crocodile, the front legs of a lion and the hindquarters of a hippopotamus. She is known as Ammut, the Devourer of the Damned. Today she has turquoise skin. She and her earthly priests have kept me from reaching the Island of the Two Flames for over two thousand years."
The Island of the Two Flames was one version of the ancient Egyptian land of the dead. There were several versions. After all, Ptolemaic Egyptians were way more creative than modern people.
"Where do you see her exactly? Where's she standing?"
As though the famed demon from the Egyptian Book of the Dead was right there, only a few feet away, dread filled Cleo's eyes. "She's leaning against the maple with her arms crossed. Don't you see her at all, Halloran? Not even her shadow?"
I looked. "No."
"Well, she sees you. She's watching you."
Naturally, my blood had turned to ice.
You have to understand, I'm a true fear fanatic. I'm the happiest when I'm scared to the point of filling my Levis, which was one of the reasons I found Cleo so fascinating. Every time she talked about the demons that chased her, I had spectacular nightmares where I found myself running headlong down the streets of ancient Alexandria with giant lion-headed beasts bounding after me. The honking of horns on the Colorado street outside would metamorphose into court trumpets, the traffic on the Interstate became the roar of cheering crowds, and the shadows of tree branches cast upon my bedroom wall by the moonlight became gnarly demonic arms reaching out for me. Cool stuff.
Even more wonderful for my overactive adolescent imagination were the stories she told about plucking the lyre of Orpheus with her own hands or traveling to Sparta to smooth her fingers over the egg from which Helen of Troy had hatched. Since I was a voracious reader of historical tomes and considered myself to be the future world expert on ancient Rome and Egypt, being around Cleo was as exotic as seeing an alien spaceship land on the football field at Georgetown High. I plagued her to tell me stories about her life, which she did in a quiet dignified voice, only slightly accented. Such stunning wonders filled her long-gone world that I felt this modern age was but a pale reflection, tepid and boring beyond endurance. Which is probably why I play so many ancient world video games.
How she'd gotten to Georgetown was mostly a mystery, though I knew she'd come to live with her aunt and uncle. Apparently, her aunt was the only family she had left in the world. On the fateful day that Aunt Sophia had learned Cleo survived the riots, and her parents were dead, she'd immediately flown to Egypt to pick Cleo up and bring her back to America. Cleo's uncle, Dr. James Moriarity, taught Egyptian archaeology at Colorado State University in Fort Collins during the school year, but in the summers he excavated sites abroad. That's where he'd met Cleo's Aunt Sophia, a woman twenty years his junior, digging in Egypt.
By the time I was sixteen, I was five-nine, weighed two-ten, and was desperately in love with Cleo. We were inseparable. Often, we would lie together on the floor of my bedroom-as we were on this sunny May afternoon-studying maps of Ptolemaic Egypt and role-playing. She was my Cleopatra, and I was her Marcus Antonius.
The most famous lovers in history, their doomed romance was brilliant and passionate, and far more tragic than Romeo and Juliet, because Cleopatra and Antonius were not theatrical inventions. They had lived. And each had died by his or her own hand in 30 BC. Their rulership of ancient Egypt and their battle against Octavian was also one of the most glorious war stories of all time. The fact that Cleopatra and Antonius had suffered a spectacular defeat made them even more interesting to me. Especially Cleopatra. A queen at eighteen, for twenty-two years she ruled the last great Egyptian empire, lost it once, regained it, and-finally-heartbroken and alone, she lost everything.
"Who's that?" I tapped the image. The map was ringed with artistic sketches of notable people, most of whom I recognized, but not this one.
Cleo tilted her head to study the figure. "That's Cicero. He was a member of the Roman Senate and a detestable man." She added, "Antonius despised him as much as I did. He called Cicero the greatest boaster alive."
In the process of becoming scrupulous intellectuals, we insisted upon historical accuracy, so we refused to say things like Marc Antony or Beirut. It was Marcus Antonius and Berytus. We read aloud the works of Lucan, Plutarch, Appian, Josephus, and Dio, and discovered that none of those ancient authors could be trusted. In fact, when it came to the truth about the lives of Cleopatra and Antonius, there was obviously a secret historical conspiracy to destroy the evidence. Not one authoritative painting or sculpture of Cleopatra existed. Even Cicero's letters from 44 BC when Julius Caesar and Cleopatra had been together in Rome, were mysteriously missing. Dellius, who'd betrayed Antonius and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, had also written a chronicle. But it, too, had vanished. And though Appian had promised to tell more about Cleopatra and Caesar in his vast four-volume history of Egypt, none of those books existed today.
While Cleo could not say why (because she'd died before those things had happened), I concluded that Octavian had purposely purged the archives of all references to his dead enemies. He would later become known as the legendary Augustus Caesar, first Emperor of Rome. In fact, Octavian's own account of the Battle of Actium, where he'd defeated Antonius and Cleopatra, left out all references to them. To make matters worse, after their deaths, Octavian convinced the Roman Senate to issue a decree that the names "Marcus" and "Antonius" could never again be conjoined. It made perfect sense that the new Roman Emperor would leave no stone unturned when it came to conquering his enemies, including erasing their very existences.
Therefore-in the absence of facts-I turned to Cleo for information and sat rapt, listening to her extol the history she had supposedly lived. It was all mythic, larger-than-life, and utterly amazing. I so longed to step into her memories that I only felt truly alive when her soft lilting voice was guiding me into the past to walk the streets of Alexandria-a vision of gleaming white marble with the famed lighthouse soaring four hundred feet above the ocean waves in the distance.
Someday, we're going to Egypt together. To prepare me, she's been teaching me Egyptian, as well as ancient Greek and Latin, and she's promised to show me where Antonius is buried. That's really important, because no one knows where either of them is buried. Their true graves have never been found.
I rolled to my side and propped my head on my hand. "But Cicero was one of the greatest orators in history."
Cleo reached out to gently touch my cheek and stare into my eyes. Her smile melted my heart. "He was, Hal, that's what made him so dangerous. People listened to him."
"People like Octavian?"
"I knew no one of that name." She lowered her hand, and examined the bust of young Octavian on the map. Her delicate black brows drew together. "After the death of my lover, Julius Caesar, the man you call Octavian was called Gaius Julius Caesar, because Julius had adopted him in his will. I knew him as little Gaius." Venom filled her voice.
I protested, "But all my history books call him Octavian."
"Yes. They're wrong." It was a calm statement of fact.
Determined to prove her wrong, I got up and went to my bookshelf to pull down my encyclopedia, whereupon I discovered she was right. Octavian came from his name, Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus. "Octavian" was actually . . .
There was a sharp knock on my closed door. "Hal? I need to speak to you," my father called.
"Just a minute, Dad."
My parents were experts at keeping me and Cleo apart. They constantly pushed me to date other girls, but I refused. Who needed to date when the reincarnated Queen of Egypt was in my bedroom staring at me with adoring green eyes?
Not only that, I had dirty blond hair, was overweight, and had a hooked nose that resembled an oversize eagle's beak. Plus, I was completely incapable of "small talk." I didn't know the latest movies, music, or celebrities, and I routinely bored girls to tears talking about dead people they'd never heard of. Not exactly the kind of boy that girls line up to date.
Quietly, Cleo said, "Your father wants me to leave, Hal. I'll be waiting on our bench. Come soon?"
"See you in fifteen." Our bench was in front of the local Starbucks.
"Excuse me," My father said as he rudely shoved open my door. "Cleo, I'm sorry, but it's time for you to leave. Hal has other obligations today."
I said, "What?"
Cleo grabbed her canvas shoulder bag and hurried toward him, politely saying, "I had a lovely time today, Mr. Stevens. Thank you for letting me come over. Goodbye."
She veered wide around my father, and her hurt expression broke my heart.
I glared at him. "What is it, Dad?"
Despite the fact that it was a weekend, my father was dressed in a starched white shirt and tan trousers, his blond hair greased and combed with the precision of a Greek statue. He was a high school English teacher, and looked it.
"Please, come into the kitchen, son. We need to talk." He turned and disappeared.
I didn't follow him because I was seething.
Ten minutes later, when I finally deigned to enter the kitchen, I found my father sitting erect at the table with his hands folded neatly in his lap. Trim and athletic, he had an annoyed look on his face. In clipped tones, he said, "You are aware, I assume, that there's no such thing as former lives?"
"Really? How do you know?"
"Don't use that tone with me, Hal. I'm on your side, but we need to have a realistic conversation about Cleo. I know you like her-"
"I love her, Dad."
He gave me one of those narrow-eyed looks. "Look, hands down, you are the best thing that's ever happened to Cleo, and we want her to get well, but she is not mentally stable. It worries us that you spend every free moment with her."
"I'm fine, Dad. Now, I got to go. I got plans." I started for the front door.
"Come back here. Please, sit down?" he asked. "Let me finish."
"I promised Roberto I'd be at his house at three! He has the second edition of 'The Ghost of Cleopatra,' where the ghost follows you through the whole video game, and I've only played it once so far. I'm going to be late!"
"Sit." He stabbed a finger at the chair beside him, and his blond eyebrows plunged down over his slightly hooked nose.
I walked back and slumped into the chair. "What is it?"
Leaning toward me, he held out a hand as though to calm me down. "Hal, do you realize that Cleo's mental illness is one of the reasons you are ostracized at school? Isn't it bad enough that you're the smart kid? No wonder nobody wants to be your friend-"
"I have friends."
"Roberto the Biker Witch is completely pathetic and probably just as mentally unstable as Cleo. Do you really want to fit into that group?"
"Yeah, I do."
Dad ground his teeth for a couple of seconds. "Okay, look, your mother says that Cleo feeds your unnatural obsession with ancient cultures. You eat, sleep, and breathe ancient Rome and Egypt. That's all you talk about. You don't even go to movies, or try out for sports, or-"
"I thought you detested sports when you were in high school?"
"I did." Dad's mouth pressed into a tight white line. "But at least I tried out for football and basket-"
"Does my 'unnatural' obsession embarrass you? Is that the problem?"
Dad propped his elbows on the table and massaged his temples. "No, son. I love you, and I'm proud of you for being a scholar of the ancient world. But you need some time away from Cleo. You don't realize the depths of her illness. Just-"
"She's the best thing that's ever happened to me, Dad."