- Author: Kristi Belcamino
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“All strange and terrible events are welcome, but comforts we despise."
Temple of Taposiris Manga
When Dallas Jones’s eyes flickered, open there was nothing to see but a deep, velvet dark. Disoriented, she took a quick inventory. Although her shoulder stung like hell and she was sprawled flat on her back, nothing felt broken.
For a second, she was unsure where she was or why she was on the ground. Then it came back to her: the ground crumbling underneath her boots. A black chasm opening up under her feet, a frantic leap for the edge, fingernails wildly clawing for the dirt and missing.
In flashes, Dallas remembered: She’d been lowered down a narrow, twenty-foot-deep hole from the surface of the dig site. She’d been in a tunnel when the earth underfoot collapsed.
Exploring the tunnel was her reward. She’d earned it. Of course, she was also the only archeologist on the dig small enough to fit down the hole, but that didn’t matter. Nobody questioned that she should be the first one down.
After all, it was her discovery. She was the one who insisted that deep under the temple rested the remains of the world’s first celebrity: Cleopatra.
They lowered her gently and then, as soon as her feet touched the earth and she turned on her flashlight, Dallas discovered she was in a round room. And she wasn’t alone. There was a life-sized statue of Anubis, the god of the underworld. Seeing the statue meant she was close to her goal. Her excitement had drawn her deeper into the dark, down into a tunnel behind the statue that grew increasingly steeper. Her radio had crackled just as the ground had given way and sent her plummeting.
Now, sitting in the dark, even though she’d apparently lost a chunk of time, her body was intact. Her head seemed okay, probably because she’d landed mostly on her shoulder. And it was screaming in pain because of it. But the throbbing of her shoulder faded into the background as she remembered why she was here. She’d found it. Dallas knew it deep in her soul. Soon, she’d find the tomb that contained Cleopatra. She’d solve a centuries old mystery of just where the queen was buried.
She reached up, patting her head to check the headset with the microphone. It was bent and mangled.
“You guys read me? Anyone there? Can you hear me?”
Nothing. One earpiece had broken and hung useless on its cord her shoulder, but the other one was still in her ear. Dallas didn’t even hear any crackling of static.
She was alone somewhere in the bowels of the temple.
She needed her flashlight.
Her good arm stretched out, her hand flailing in a wide circle around her. Her palm slapped dirt. Dallas stretched further. There. She felt plastic. She stretched and managed to hook two fingers over it. Scraping the flashlight across the dirt into her grasp, she managed to pick it up. Her thumb pressed down and a flickering weak circle of light momentarily blinded her. When she opened her eyes again, she pointed the beam of light straight up.
The hole she’d fallen through was at least twelve feet above her. She’d need to stand on something to reach it. Several somethings.
Pushing herself to her knees, Dallas used her good arm to propel herself into a standing position. She pointed the flashlight at the wall across from her.
“Holy smokes.” Dallas breathed the words in a whisper and scrambled to her feet. She was in a circular chamber with walls covered in paintings of ancient Egyptian figures in royal garb. The brilliant reds, blues, golds, and greens looked as if they’d been painted that morning. It was remarkable.
The flashlight beam wavered. No! The light couldn’t go out now.
On one side of the room, directly in front of her, was a tunnel. A dark black yawning hole that was going to be her way out—had to be her way out.
Dallas turned, sweeping the room with a flashlight. What she saw behind her nearly brought her to her knees. A door with a cartouche. A sign that royalty was buried there.
Dallas recognized the cartouche immediately. It contained the two birds and lion she’d studied for so long. It was Cleopatra’s cartouche.
Holding her breath, Dallas stepped closer. Reaching out, her palm rested on the door. She closed her eyes and pushed. Miraculously, the door shifted. She threw her good shoulder into it and it creaked open. The flashlight flickered again but didn’t go out.
She lifted the beam of light and stepped inside.
Her gasp echoed throughout the chamber. She stared, the flashlight shaking in her hand.
The entire room glittered with gold. Gold coins spilled out of golden bowls. Engraved gold jewelry boxes overflowed with anklets, rings, bracelets, and earrings. A massive gold bed inlaid with brilliant colored stones was covered with more shimmering trinkets: daggers, swords, gold headpieces. Everything glinted and gleamed.
Her heart raced as she saw a small black onyx statue of Anubis—the half man, half jackal said to usher the souls of the Egyptian dead into the underworld. It was a smaller version of the statue she’d seen in the upper chamber. And then Dallas saw the most astonishing thing of all—the door across from her was flanked by two life-sized gold statues.
A man and a woman. Cleopatra and Antony. Dressed as Osiris and Isis.
Just then her flashlight went out, plummeting her into darkness. Dallas swore. But she had a candle and matches in her tool belt.
She reached for them. But before her hand lowered, she heard