Khait yanked at the ropes binding him to the stone table. To his surprise, they failed to give even the slightest amount. He frowned, then began struggling in earnest. The last thing he remembered was a woman pouring him wine. There were a half-dozen black-robed figures moving around the room. One of them came toward him with a knife. Khait blinked as the figure began cutting off his clothing. Then he smirked. “Ah, it’s going to be like that, is it?” He licked his lips. “You know, if you wanted to pl…” He cut off as a woman came through the door. “Oh.”
“Tighten the restraints. He needs to be still.” She waved a hand at one of the robed figures.
He grunted as the figure obeyed. “Isis, look, I’m certain this is…” His eyes widened as she drew a knife of her own, and cut open his arm. “Isis, you and I go back a long way, and…” She touched her finger to the blood, then began using it to draw a glyph on his chest. “Isis. Isis.” He started shaking his head. “This isn’t…”
“You…” Her eyes gleamed with an unnatural light. “Were warned.”
What he hoped was a charming smile came to his face. “Look, I get that you are angry, but why don’t we just —”
“Your antics have jeopardized us all.” She shook her head.
“I…” He winced as she worked the blade again to draw more blood. Though he knew it would do him little good, he tried to summon up his magic anyway. He felt as though he were trying to get purchase on ice. “Isis, you don’t want to do this. You want to just eat me and go one with —”
“Eating you…” Isis rolled her eyes. “Would do me little good.”
“Little good? You’d get a good meal, I’d be out of your hair, you win.” He tried struggling again, but the restraints prevented him from moving. They pulled at his joints, straining them until just breathing was painful. “Isis —”
“I’m well aware killing you is not an option.” She leaned down until her lips were near his ear. “Usariel.”
Not good. Painful or not, he started thrashing. He even managed to nearly pull his arm free before it was yanked down and secured again. He opened his mouth. “Isi—” Metal was forced between his teeth, both gagging him and holding his head in place.
Isis stood. Her eyes had left the masquerade of humanity behind, and glowed with green fire. She set a gemstone on his forehead. Power seemed to wrap around him, and then it started to tear.
Behind the gag, he screamed.
Abigail opened the door, and made a vexed noise. The curtains were drawn, the blinds shut, and no lights were on. What little light manages to sneak in through the gaps showed piles of laundry and half-eaten junk food strewn about the room. A hand emerged from the mound of blankets on the bed, despite it being well into the afternoon. Ruthlessly, she slammed the door behind her and walked over to the curtains to fling them open. Light poured in.
The shapeless mound on the bed made a hissing sound. Abigail shook her head, grabbed the blankets, and yanked them away. The hand attempted to grab them back, but Abigail got them out of reach quickly. “Girl.” She flipped on the light.
“Go away.” Bridget glared at her.
“Do not make me get a bucket of ice water.” Abigail glared right back. “Get up. Get in the shower. We have an appointment.”
“We do not.” Bridget grabbed her pillow and put it over her head.
She walked over, snatched the pillow away, and started beating Bridget with it. “Get up. Get up. Get up. Get up.”
“I’m up, I’m up.” Bridget growled at her as she stood.
“Shower.” Abigail pointed.
“I’m not —”
“I will drag you in there and scrub you down myself if you do not get your ass in the shower by the time I count to ten.”
“I’m not —”
“Abigail.” Bridget folded her arms.
“Two.” Abigail stared at her. “Three.”
“Bitch.” Bridget stalked off toward the bathroom.
“And shave your legs.” Abigail called after her. She nodded to herself when she heard Bridget curse in response, then looked around. A sigh escaped her as she surveyed the mess. “Oh, Bridget.” She laughed softly, then went to find a trash bag.
She tried to stay mad at Abigail, but felt the funk of the last couple weeks starting to slip away as she drank the coffee her best friend had brought. “She blocked my number.”
“No.” Abigail shook her head. “We aren’t talking about her.” Abigail folded her arms, and her voice became firm. “We are going to this meeting. You are going to wow the professor. We are going to go on this dig and find the ninth wonder of the world.”
“I don’t think —”
“Bridget. Siobhán. Monaghan.” Abigail slammed her hands down on the counter top. “We are not talking about her. We are going to this meeting. You are going to wow the professor. We are going to go on this dig. We will have the time of our lives.”
“Bridget —” Abigail’s eyes narrowed.
“We won’t talk about her.” Bridget tried to hide the smile. “We will go to the meeting. I will wow the professor. We will go on the dig. We will have the time of our lives.”
“That’s my girl.” Abigail nodded. “Shoes.” She pointed. “And when we get back, I’ll even help you clean.”
“Who are you…” Bridget stared. “And what have you done with Abigail?”
“Well, somebody stole my Bridget.” Abigail gestured at the mess of the apartment, and Bridget realized that Abigail had already cleaned up some of the trash. “I need to find her so I can go back to being the irresponsible one.” She shook her head. “I had to take my own notes in Graham’s class.”
“Oh god.” Bridget gave her a shocked look. “Did it kill you?”
“Yes.” Abigail nodded gravely. “Yes, it did.”
Laughter escaped her. It felt good.
“It’s lunchtime.” Abigail fanned herself with the straw hat. The world around them seemed to blur just a little from the heat rising off the sand. The sand got everywhere. She’d almost forgotten what it was like to eat food that wasn’t full of grit. “This place is incredible.”
“Glad someone is enjoying themselves.” Professor Kravitz offered her a water bottle.
She took it gratefully. “We are in the desert in the summer. What did they expect?” She rolled her eyes before taking a drink. “Well, probably Ireland.” Two of the students had been genuinely shocked to get off the plane in Egypt. Professor Kravitz’s specialty was in European history, but for teaching the practical side of archaeological digs they took what they could get. And what they could get was a small tomb in Egypt. It wasn’t even one of the ancient ones. From what they could tell, this one was only about five hundred or so years old. It was the oddity of it that made it fascinating.
“Ireland was never on the list.” Professor Kravitz chuckled. “I was trying to get us a castle in Germany, but this offers a much wider range of hands-on activities.”
“Oh, no, I love it.” She finished the water. “Where’d Bridget go?”
“I have her cataloging the samples.” He jerked his head toward the tent. “She actually seems to enjoy the paperwork.”
“I didn’t drag her out here for paperwork, Professor.” Abigail sighed. “I swear, she’s the only person in the world who could come to a dig in the desert and not even manage to get a tan.” She picked up her tools. “I’m dragging her off to the other side of the dig, and you are not…” She poked him in the arm. “Giving her any more administrative work.”
“I believe I am in charge of this site.” He narrowed his eyes.
“You just keep telling yourself that, Professor.” She winked at him before heading to the tents.
“Abigail.” Bridget tried to retrieve her arm. “I was working.”
“You can do paperwork back home.” Abigail waved her free hand. “We are here to have an adventure.”
“I was having an adventure.” Bridget tried digging her feet in, and it did her no good. Abigail was like a freight train when she got going.
“Filling out form G6 slash 9 dot 7 point 3 A is not an adventure.” Abigail shook her head, then turned to face Bridget. She put her hands on her hips. “Bridget, luv, I am wearing a halter top and you haven’t even ogled me once.”
“I…” Bridget blinked, then took another look at Abigail. “You’re right.” She shook her head. “What the hell is wrong with me?”
“I know.” Abigail rolled her eyes, then grabbed her hand again. “Come on. We aren’t resting until you’ve dug up something fun. Professor Kravitz said there is a barely explored chamber over here and we are checking it out.”
Despite herself, she smiled. “Alright.” She looked around as soon as they stopped. “Where should we start?”
“Here.” Abigail pointed.
“Why?” Bridget frowned.
“Because the almighty deity of random choices dictated it to be so.” Abigail handed her a tool bag. “You’ll come up with something later.”
“That is the side that faces the sunrise this time of year, and if you look at the pattern of the stone it was possible there was some kind of astrological significance to the placement.” Bridget chewed on her bottom lip as she walked over. “Look how the stone here is slightly different.”
“Told you.” Abigail nodded before hunkering down beside her. Then she gave a thoughtful frown. “That’s not a sarcophagus, by the way. The scan said that was solid stone all the way through.”
“That’s strange.” Bridget shook her head. “The tables and the like we’ve found have been wooden. Some of them even European. Professor Kravitz was going a little nuts earlier about how many anachronisms this site had. He thinks it may have been some kind of trading post or served a diplomatic function.”
“So why is there an altar?” Abigail gave her a pointed look.
“Don’t pretend you didn’t already know it was here.” Bridget glared at her. She frowned. “This site is only about five centuries old, yet there aren’t written records. Considering the time period, it might be some kind of cult. Some clinging to old ways in the face of European domination.”
“Way too late to be Crusades. The professor thinks it’s late Inquisition.” She smiled. “Heretical cult, but there are still a lot of ties back to Ancient Egypt.” Abigail sighed. “He’s worried all the weirdness is going to get us kicked off the site so bigger names can take over.”
“So if we are going to find something amazing, it needs to be now.” Bridget began moving through the chamber. The walls had once had designs painted on them, though the paint had faded in the intervening years. “The images show dragons, but those weren’t really part of Egyptian mythology.” She bent to start looking through some pots. When she moved one, she saw sand trickle into a small gap in the stone floor. “Huh.”
“Did you find something?” Abigail called over from where she had her camera out and was carefully taking pictures.
“Maybe.” As carefully as possible, she inserted a tool into the gap. “Bring the camera over.” Abigail obliged, immediately coming over to snap pictures as Bridget gently pried the stone up. “Well now.” Inside the hidden cache was a small leather bag. “Someone tried to hide a treasure.”
“Go on.” Abigail grinned encouragingly.
She made sure Abigail got good angles for pictures as she carefully opened the leather bag. Inside was a beautiful ring set with a gleaming opalescent stone. “Wow.”
“Alright.” Abigail shifted position. “Put it on and strike me a pose.” She held up the camera.
Naturally, Bridget balked. “This is an artifact, Abigail. Not a toy.”
“Oh, come on.” Abigail held up the camera. “It’s not like you are pocketing it. You’re trying it on once, making a memory for the camera. First person in…” She shrugged. “However long to touch it.” She grinned. “Rings were made to be worn. You’re honoring the craftsman. You’re fulfilling its purpose. You’re…”
“If I try it on will you stop talking?” Bridget glared at her.
“Uh…” Abigail shook her head, then nodded. “Well, I’ll stop coming up with reasons for you to put it on. Come on. Vogue for me.” She got the camera ready.
Bridget stood, then slid the ring onto her finger. She was halfway to striking a pose when there was a strange burst of light from the ring. Bridget yelped, then immediately began trying to get the ring off again.
“Bridget.” Abigail set the camera aside.
“It won’t come off.” Bridget yanked on the ring frantically. “Abby, it’s stuck.”
“Hang on, calm —” Something thudded.
They both whirled toward the sound. A young man was on the floor of the chamber, as though he’d just rolled off the altar. He was slowly getting up, shaking his head as if dazed. And he was stark naked. “What the…” Bridget’s mouth fell open.
The dark haired young man stood and looked around before his eyes fell on them. He blinked, then rubbed a hand down his face before looking at them again. Then he smiled. “Good morrow.” His voice was strangely accented. When they both just kept staring at him, he raised an eyebrow. “Bonjour? Marhabaan? Salve?”
“Who…” Bridget stared.
“Where the hell are your clothes?” Abigail gaped.