1 Chapter One

The sands were on fire. Billowing in heated heats and crashing like dusty waves against the half-finished structures that would house the earthly remains of Kings.

They should have been finished now but the tools had been dropped, the slaves and overseers fleeing from their work, prostrating themselves before their ruler for forgiveness. Forgiveness he could do naught but grant for who could face the wrath of a God?

From the vast world beyond the eyes a great court was in session. Masked forms that seemed hybrids of man and beast discussed the events that blighted progress.

One hand rose and all fell silent. None would speak over the creator of all.

Atum slowly rose to his feet, making no sound as he paced some the flight of steps to the stone hall below him.

His eyes were hard as the door flew open, revealing the one who made them tremble.

Powerful in figure and fierce in face when covered with the head of a hunting hound it was only due to his creator's touch that the chains binding his clawed hands held firm.

"How is it, Am-Heh," his gravelly voice echoed in the silence "that you turn to torment and crave the powers that you cannot have?"

"Neither man nor God deserve what they have. From the sins of the few I have decreed they all deserve death and their lives should be made brief. Even you mighty one, even I... but I shall reign with fire and fury until that time."

His words were cold and a stark contrast to the lakes of fire he often roamed. Yet even with the anger raging in the dark eyes there was a curtain drawn across them, hiding a reality that he would not lower himself to reveal.

Atum's eyes glazed. He had created chaos indeed but none that could not be reined in. It seemed this was his only mistake.

And only he could right it.

"Bow down Am-Heh," he commanded in a voice that would freeze the Nile even beneath the burning sun. The God had no choice but to obey, for Atum was all powerful, none would dare defy him, even one with such a lust for blood. Slowly the elder God moved forward, a soft glow radiating from his hands as he laid his fingers on the others shoulder. "I have no choice. You shall be confined to stone and face the seas of darkness where none may explore. Your name shall be forgotten and left to decay on papyrus. Woe be unto the earth should you ever be released."

A low snarl echoed from Am-Heh's throat but it died as his body stiffened, withering in the light of the other until it reached a brightness none could stand. When it cleared all that was left was a small statue in his likeness.

Plucking it from the ground Atum tossed it down and into the dust of a hidden tomb.

----

Present Day:

Asher, or Ash for short and to his colleagues, had been at the museum just over a year. A mature student he had degrees in history, Greece in particular. The country and its legends had always been fascinating to him and finally, after flunking out of school and travelling for six months, decided that he would eventually make his career of it.

Easier said than done when one took into account student fees but it had finally paid off.

It wasn't his dream to work in the dusty back of a museum but it brought the brunette closer to artefacts that one day he hoped to unearth himself or perhaps solve the real mysteries behind some of them.

A pipe dream perhaps but still a dream, something to work towards.

The box seemed to have more dust than history and sorting through those in the back of the storage room he lost count of how many times he had sneezed. Pulling a tissue out he blew his nose loudly, thanking whatever God there was that he wasn't asthmatic.

The room was too small for the delivery and grime waltzed in an ungainly fashion with the cobwebs, causing even the spiders to flee into the crevices in the roof space.

"Arrow heads...boring...fossils...seen em' all before..." He muttered tiredly to himself as he carefully examined the bits and jotted them down; this part of the job was tedious and grated the nerves.

Talking to himself was a consequence of such tedium, as was arguing with himself. For the unwary passer-by it was either amusing or unnerving to watch.

With a sigh he pushed the box aside and moved over another crate, sifting the Styrofoam aside. His eyes drifted to the peculiar little figure nestling like a fledging within.

"What on earth's that? I mean I know what it is but who is it supposed to be?"

He'd seen all the Gods, their varied forms and this one didn't seem to match any description of any. He slipped past to see it a little closer; his fingers itching to hold it but excitement didn't blend well with this job, especially not with someone who had a habit of dropping things.

A pencil he could get away with but something like a Ming vase?

No.

"It looks a bit like Anubis but the patternation of the headpiece and body shape is wrong..."

He shook his head. Perhaps the curator would know since he was the expert after all.

--

Isaac had been fascinated in Ancient Egypt since he was small and have studied for years through school and college. His heritage had Egypt in its blood, clear from the dark curls that crowned his head and delicate olive hue to his skin.

Lucid dreams and images of those humid, heated sands had graced his sleep and his favourite gift one Christmas was an old amulet in the shape of a sacred scarab beetle, passed down through generations if one believed that tale.

He had always been a sickly child and his grandparents mentioned the amulet was one for health and protection, the bloody red gem set in the onyx was a protective property.

It was that ill health that prevented him from travelling to experience the wonders up close and so he had been thrilled when an opening came up for an assistant curator.

A small museum it relied on mostly borrowed items, each year hosting an annual event on one theme or another to bring in extra funds along with hiring conference rooms for art shows or other meetings.

It was a beautiful building, spacious and gothic, a piece of history in itself. Columns spiralled proudly to support the domed ceiling, engraved with depictions of ivy curling about it.

Spacious rooms were full, but not crowded, with pieces of history, from the beginning of the dinosaurs to the more modern wars. Nothing seemed out of place even with the majesty they resided in.

The glass of the huge windows allowed light to spill through as if heaven itself wanted to enter, casting a warm glow even on rainy days and enhancing the exhibits. It was a picture of past grandeur in an otherwise modern, bustling city.

That particular morning had been dreary, the clouds hanging low, heavily pregnant with rain. The sky was so grey he wondered if there was a sun at all.

Wandering aimlessly about the exhibits he adjusted a few of the exhibitions that had been knocked during the week. The weekdays were often the quietest when the weather was dull and it was almost empty save for a few people who just wanted to escape the damp.

As the clock clicked to eleven the curator came through the door in a harried, excitable hurry, his hands pressed together as if in prayer.

Mr Alan Montford had been a professor of Egyptology and, although none would ever say it him, with his frizzed white hair and round glasses that always seemed about to fall off his nose he was the image of a mad professor.

His watery eyes sparkled as he excitedly revealed the piece Ash had found when rummaging in the boxes.

"Something exciting, Isaac! It's from a private collection," He said, gripping Isaac by the arm and practically dragging him into the office "the person did not sign their name but stated their uncle had passed away and they thought it would be of interest."

Closing the door of the rather claustrophobic room, cluttered with bookshelves, cabinets and myriad of various articles Isaac craned his head to view what had caused such a hubbub. Mt Montford was inherently an excitable man and Isaac was keeping a calm head and not anticipating too much.

"It isn't stolen?" Isaac asked as he eyed the plain, brown box amongst the sea of papers on his desk. The last thing they needed was a lawsuit.

"No, it was acquired via an auction; there are papers in there somewhere, it was on loan to another museum along with several other items."

Putting on a pair of disposable gloves similar to ones worn in theatre he carefully lifted out an intricately carved box, the sides and lid decorated in the most glorious and perfect images he had ever seen.

It was embellished with only the purest gold, drawing the eye in such a manner it was almost hypnotic.

"That hardly looks a day old," he said in awe "let alone thousands of years, there isn't a sign of age on it."

"The box is a replica. I assume the original, if indeed there was one, was destroyed. It works well to keep the real treasure it decent condition."

Isaac nodded and watched with interest as he opened the ornate lid and lifted out a far less impressive jar.

The surface was scuffed and a large hairline crack trailed the base, reminding him of the Canopic jars used to store the organs of the pharaoh's after their deaths.

The difference was that this one did not have the head of an animal as its lid; instead, it was adorned with hieroglyphics and sealed far tighter than any he had seen.

"I haven't opened it yet," Mr. Montford continued "I almost dare not to attempt it. Despite its appearance it doesn't seem to be for storage, so it is a bit of a puzzle."

He smiled, a Cheshire grin, like me he was fond of the ancient mysteries, enigma's that had puzzled mankind for centuries, perhaps never to be solved.

The door opened and Ash hastened inside, his cheeks flushed and hair covered in dust from the backroom.

"I didn't want to miss you looking it over, Egypt isn't my strong suit but I still want to know what it is. I also found this," he ferreted in his pocket for a moment, pulling out a crumpled piece of paper. "It doesn't really say much but it's a start."

Mr Montford reached over and looked at the typed note, his glasses falling lower over his beaked nose.

Exhibit 20201: Unknown Deity. Figure is approx. 3000 years old. Found in chamber K19 of a Giza pyramid. Immaculate despite age, the cause of the condition is unknown.

It was found with an old papyrus but so far it has been too fragile and complex to translate. On close inspection the symbols on the headpiece are able to be recognised. They depict a sigil that is deemed to have protective powers, whether the piece is for protection or the symbol is to protect against the piece itself in not known.

"Maybe they had art classes back then? Could be a student piece." Ash grinned as he turned "good job they didn't trust me to make images of them. All they would have gotten would be deformed lumps and perhaps something that might have resembled a frog."

Isaac smiled and looked again at the figure. How the piece had gotten through the years with barely more than a few scrapes was beyond him, if it was genuine anyway. The more he looked at it the more he doubted it was a known deity.

As he eyes remained on it a shiver ran through him, dancing along his spine in a cold line. Almost as if it didn't like the attention.

Mr Montford cautiously leaned to examine the piece closer, his eyes squinting to take in every crack, every granule. Each one led to discovery, each speck was historic and important in his words. The one grain of lingering sand could be an answer to an urgent question.

He wasted little time in taking the figure carefully, cradling it as though it was a new born chick. In many ways it was just as fragile.

Stepping closer Isaac looked at it, narrowing my eyes to take in the detail that was delicately etched into the sandstone.

"It looks a bit like Anubis," he confirming Ash's thoughts before shaking his head upon reflection. "The mask isn't the same the though, this looks more like a hunting dog, not a jackal."

As he stared at it, a wave of nausea rolled through him, my ears filling with static and pictures forming in a fog in my mind, reaching out like drowning humans, unable to be fully recognized.

Mr Montford glanced briefly over it before shaking his head, an exuberant smile blossoming on his face. Youthful glee flowed through his body when he was presented with something novel.

"This could be something entirely new!" He chirruped, making both Ash and Isaac wonder who the older one of them was. "My word! Can you imagine how much that could help the museum if we were the site of a discovery like that?"

"That's if it isn't a forgery," Isaac mused, pressing a finger to his lips. "I'd have thought they'd have had better things to do than mess about with pranks. But I wonder why it's never been mentioned before if it is a God, must be a reason." He muttered out loud, more to myself than anything "you'd have thought there would be details in the pyramid texts. Unless they've never been discovered either."

All present felt the chill of excitement, this could open so many doors, unveil a whole new dynasty perhaps! Well, maybe that was a bit of an overstatement but it would certainly create a well needed buzz.

And there was the private pride I could feel at having some part in it however mundane.

"I suppose a scraping would at least prove whether it's fake or not but that's risky in itself."

Mr Montford hummed in agreement but Isaac could see he was reticent to risk damage to the piece. That was always a danger when dealing items so old; they could appear as strong as iron then crumble to dust in the wind.

"Go and get an early lunch," he said, wafting a hand at them. "I'll get things set up and we can examine it further, perhaps send a scraping off to be analysed."

"Think I can trust you with it?" Ash teased gently "if you're tired, I don't want you dropping anything!"

"I'm never tired when I have such fascinating mysteries!" He puffed out his chest in mock indignation. "I am an eternal teenager when I need to be and a crotchety old man the remainder of the time. The best of both worlds."

"And you can talk," Isaac gave a wry smile "I still remember that watercolour we had to get restored."

Ash held up his hands. "Accidents happen! And blame the guy who left it so precariously hung!"

Mr Monford's amused smile grew as he watched the bickering, but he was keen to continue. Isaac was right; it was odd that there was absolutely nothing familiar about this particular God, if that was even what it was. But it was something waiting to be fully uncovered. Technically the museum would fund an expedition, especially for something of this magnitude if it turned out to be genuine and the possibilities were endless.

It would not only revive the museum but it could rewrite history as it stood.

"Let me see what I can set up, I will try and calm myself, it might indeed be a fake."

"True," Isaac agreed "but it would be nice to have our own selling points eventually, an item that draws the crowds, like the museum that had the Mona Lisa, people travel for miles to see that."

He could not imagine them ever having something that famous but it who knew what the future held?

He liked to try and remain optimistic about things even if it was hard at times. It was something his parents had instilled when he was in hospital for long periods. Look for the rainbow that follows the storm; imagine the freshness and feeling of relief.

He took that attitude here also, there were other jobs that he was qualified to do which paid much better but he loved this and didn't want to lose it. Keeping his hopes up and trying to see past any struggles was the only way he could function sometimes.

A wistful sigh parted his lips. If only they could get an artefact in that drew that much money to their exhibits. It would help lead the path for future expansions and more room for more exhibits so they could finally get up off their feet. Rotation of the artefacts was time consuming, dangerous, and there was always a chance that one of them could get broken.

Having standalone displays for them would be much better, for everybody, in the long run.

"One can dream," Mr Montford muttered, gaze trailing back down towards the figure. It was still a wonder as to why even those flails and staves had no writing on them. Even that was strange, given the Egyptians long history of detaining almost everything.

Ash turned to Isaac with a smile, foisting his hands in his pockets. "Since it's early do you want to try that new coffee bar a few doors down? It won't be packed out like it is at lunch time."

"Yeah, why not? I forgot to bring lunch today anyway. I left it on the sideboard again." His eyes moved to look at the statue, a frown overtaking the smile that had been there. "They do have veggie stuff, don't they?"

Ash chuckled. "Yes! It isn't like that place we went and all they had left was pork based, although seeing you get by on a box of raisins all afternoon was rather funny."

"Thanks," Isaac rolled his eyes and held the door "at least I know I can rely on you."

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Content and characters © Mandi Martin. (Except the Gods, they belong to the ages.)

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