an excerpt


Historians, archeologists, Egyptologists, and a host of other people have always been captured by the wonders of Egypt. They have searched for answers within sand-incarcerated ruins while Hollywood and the imaginations of millions were romanced by the possibilities of what might be.

As the eons progressed, the desert uncloaked elements of its camouflaged, clandestine past, though much remains hidden. Some mysteries stay concealed between its grains. They whisper in the wind, never to be found by brush or trowel.

Uncovered are the ruins of pyramids and cities of old, holding tantalizing scriptures and paintings of the past. For a few, the images unlock hidden doors in a person's mind, transporting them back to the echoes of a life long lost.

Some remains hold more secrets than others. What has survived to the present day is a fraction of the lives and experiences of the people.

A monument to everything ancient is Abydos, one of the oldest cities of earliest Egypt and the first known Egyptian royal cemetery. Discoveries made at the site hold the key to solving many mysteries, and is the starting point of others.

What answers does the site hold?

What path is it poised to set a soul on?

The adventure, for one soul, started in the lush greenery of the British Lickey Hills, but it is not where the original story truly began.

Chapter One

Ever since Benjamin was a small boy, he had been drawn to the wonders and mysteries of Egypt. His grandparents' stories of their homeland had initiated the love. They'd moved to England when his mother was a child, and fifteen years later, she'd met and married Ben's father, also of Egyptian descent. They all lived south of Birmingham, surrounded by hills, trees, and fields. Yet, it was as if there were an invisible tether pulling Ben to the arid desert. His bedroom walls had mimicked a sand texture, layered with maps of Upper and Lower Egypt. Pictures of the pyramids at Giza and the temples of Abu Simbel had covered open spaces like wallpaper. His ceiling became a map of the Valley of the Kings.

Whether asleep or awake, he'd dreamed of Egypt.

Years later, at university, Ben had specialized in the subject of his life's obsession. Every hour of available study, every vacation, had been geared toward his goal of being an Egyptologist. He hadn't missed an opportunity. He'd attended digs in Cairo, became a strong swimmer, and learned to scuba dive so that he could explore the seas off Alexandria. The once-scrawny child had graduated top of his class and joined the excavations of his dreams at Abydos.

The dig itself was huge with areas blinded from each other by the lay of the land. Much attention was focused on Seti I, as Abydos was the location of one of his temples. The ruins and surrounding areas teamed with archeologists eager to find something--anything relating to the great man. Huge columns, white marble temple rooms, and walls littered the site in an organised outline. The more archeologists searched, the more they found.

Benjamin could understand the world's fascination with Seti. After all, wealth in any era was seductive. He was in awe of the man. In the Cairo museum, when Ben looked upon the pharaoh's mummified remains centuries after his death, he saw that Seti had an aura about him that could not be denied. In the glass case, he eternally slept--a physical reminder of the greatness that was Egypt. Captivated, Benjamin had spent many hours by the glass coffins of Seti I and Ramses the Great. The men's mummies were entirely different in appearance. Yet, through their bodily remains, their charisma shone through more than any of the other mummies in the chamber.

Though Ben loved the thought of studying Seti, he was part of a small crew concentrating on Narmer (3180-3120 BC), whose tomb was located to the west of the dig, almost as far away from Seti as a tomb could get. Not much was known about the first pharaoh of the combined kingdoms, and Ben wanted to help discover something new. He wanted to shed light on a life that no one knew about--a new phenomenon to capture the imagination.

Ben had been on-site for a little over a week when he saw an intriguing man talking to Terry, his dig leader. Judging by his skin, Ben suspected the man to be local, but it was difficult to tell. Other than his face, the only other exposed part of him was his hands. The rest of him was covered with clothing designed to keep out the worst of the sand--layered, lightweight, loose, and black.

When the man locked gazes with him, Ben found himself staring into a vibrant blue sea of lapis lazuli, framed with black lashes and dark eyebrows. It wasn't until a fellow worker walked between them that the connection was broken. When Ben sought to re-establish contact, the other had his back to him. Ben returned to his work, clearing out a trench of sand. The heat and excitement over what his group might find overshadowed any musings concerning the stranger.

At the end of the day, Ben was so tired he clambered onto the city-bound truck with as much grace as a stumbling mummy.

That night, while lounging on his bed, images of dark blue assaulted him. The event was rare for him, considering Egypt was his prime...prime everything.

Every day, the journey to the ruins was like being transported back in time. Ben could close his eyes and almost feel like he was there, in ancient Egypt. Often, he imagined he could see a partial image of the hustle and bustle of the ancient civilization continuing around him. At other times, he was in the quiet solitude of a temple. The images were odd, considering ancient Abydos was a graveyard.

From the drop-off point the next day, Ben made his way to tombs B17 and B18--the tombs attributed to Narmer. He worked there all morning with his small, square trowel and brush, slowly moving away the sands of eons.

As lunchtime approached, he relocated to the edge of the main dig and took his break. From there, he would imagine life in ancient Egypt.

Daydreaming, he chose to walk back to his station.

Suddenly, an alarm sounded. It was the warning for a sandstorm. It was similar to what his grandparents had described as the air raid warning from the war.

There was a flurry of activity while people efficiently covered artefacts and other areas of importance. Ben glanced around, noticing the storm was a lot closer than he'd originally thought. It had come out of nowhere. What crept toward the dig seemed like a moving wall of cloud, dense enough to shield the view and engulf anything below it. If it wasn't for the cottonlike plumes of wheat colours, Ben could have believed a curtain of rain was heading his way. The screen of rapid shadow was making quick progress toward the dig, swallowing all in its path. Briefly, Ben went rigid, unable to move. When the sound of hissing reached his consciousness, and sand stung his feet and face, he dashed toward shelter. He was running a losing race.

Abruptly, he was grabbed and pulled to the floor behind a shallow wall. In a spell of activity as sleek as the sandstorm, a mask was put over his face, and his body along with that of his saviour rolled together. Over and over, they turned. Coming to a halt, and dizzy, Ben found himself cocooned, head to toe in a thick blanket. From the outside, the two of them probably resembled a fat, discarded mummy.

As Ben regained his senses, he could feel a wall to his back and secure arms around him. The only thing between them was his messenger bag containing the bottles of water he was required to keep on him to prevent dehydration in the desert sun.

Panting, he opened his eyes to a familiar sea of lazuli.

The roar of the storm around them made it impossible to talk. Regardless of his earlier forays to Egypt, it was the first sandstorm Ben had ever been in. Scared, he quivered from head to toe as an unusually large gust enveloped them, almost lifting them from the floor. His blue-eyed saviour leaned in closer, shielding him from the worst, anchoring him to the ground. His strong arms and body weight gave Ben the security he needed to calm...slightly. He held on to this enigmatic stranger for all he was worth.

* * *

Time passed, and all Ben could hear of the outside battle was the hiss of sand hitting the wall as it whispered in what sounded like disappointment. The stranger wriggled and loosened his hold on Ben. Reaching into his robes, he produced a bottle of water. Single-handedly, he removed the popper top and placed it between them. Ben was still too anxious and frightened to let go. He was in awe at how collected the man before him was...and thankful.

Ben had read the theory behind surviving sandstorms and knew he had to drink, but his arms seemed to have a mind of their own and wouldn't cooperate. In a similar fashion, his fingers wouldn't unravel from the material beneath them.

His protector moved Ben's mask to the side before offering the bottle with an encouraging nod. Ben covered the nozzle with his lips, and the stranger squeezed the refreshing liquid into his parched mouth. Gently, Ben's mask was replaced, and his companion took his fill, slipping the bottle beneath the material covering the lower half of his face. Ben heard each gulp of water sliding down the man's throat.

The ritual continued for an indeterminable time. The sand built up around them. Ben could feel the sweat trickling down his neck and from his stomach to his back. The man with the eyes of lapis stayed focused and cared for Ben.

When the claxon rang out, signalling the end of the storm, Ben relaxed. He was exhausted from the trauma of it all. Already on the ground--he sank into it even further, his unruly fingers releasing their grip on the material beneath them.

Taking charge, the stranger commanded, "Come. You need something other than water."

The deep honeyed tone of the voice stirred something inside Ben. It roused him from the stress of the ordeal, enough to move. The next thing he knew, he was free of cloth and being led to an RV on the outskirts of the dig.

As they entered, Ben was ushered to a small table where he sat heavily on the seat.

"I take it that was your first sandstorm?"

Ben didn't hear him properly; at least not the words. He picked up on the accent. It had a native lilt, but the diction and tone suggested the man had spent years or was educated in another, probably English-speaking, country. Ben looked toward the man in time to see him sit opposite, place a drink in his hands and bowl of water with a flannel on the table.

They locked eyes again.

There was no headdress to mar the view now. To Ben, the man was handsome. Ebony hair reached halfway down his long neck. Short, black stubble framed his angled jaw, and his plump lips were inviting. Like an exhibit at a gallery, they were a stunning accompaniment to his eyes. Ben doubted Amun-- king of the gods-- could have sculpted anything better.

"Ashari," the man indicated with one hand on his chest. With the other, he encouraged Ben to drink.

"Sorry?" Ben mumbled before taking a sip of the hot liquid and coughing at its strength. Builders' tea--hot, strong, and sweet. Ben wondered how it had been made so quickly. Does the man have a flask?

A deep-throated chuckle reached Ben's ears. The small smile that accompanied it lightened Ben's demeanour.

With humour still in his eyes, Ben's saviour repeated a little slower, "My name is Ashari."

"Oh heavens, my apologies...I'm Ben." He thrust his hand forward in greeting.

When Ashari returned the gesture with an accompanying nod, the vibrations running through Ben's arm made his heart tremor. Then again, it could have been from the remnants of the storm.

Ben noticed the look on Ashari's face was one of shock, which morphed into wonder, and eventually, a small smile. It was as if he were experiencing a memory he'd forgotten. "Drink," he encouraged. "It will help you stop shaking."

Ben could hear the anxiety in his own voice. "Sorry to be such a wreck. That was my first sandstorm."

"I suspected as much," said Ashari, with a wry smile.

"Thank you for saving me."

Ashari bowed his head slightly to the side. "You are most welcome."

Gulping his drink, allowing the heat to ground him, Ben enquired, "How come you stayed so calm?"

"I have experienced numerous storms. They are part of Egypt, and Egypt has been part of me for many years."

For another hour, they drank tea, tided up a little, and chatted generally about the dig. Gradually, Ben's insides stopped shaking. But there remained an occasional missed beat of the heart, which he wasn't sure would go away soon.

When Ben looked at his watch, he swallowed hard. "Shit, I haven't reported in to Terry." He'd been so engrossed in talking to Ashari that he'd forgotten to report to his dig leader. With haste, Ben downed the remainder of his drink and thanked Ashari for his hospitality. He returned to the dig to complete his day's work.

Despite the measures taken to protect Abydos from the sandstorm, there were several hours of careful cleanup duty. By the end, he was, once again, beyond tired.

That evening, after showering, he slumped on his bed and fell into a deep sleep. He dreamed of an era long before his time.

* * *