Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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Herneith woke with a start, her body shaking with such severity that it scared her.
Something was terribly wrong.
She threw the covers from over her and hurried out of bed, pulling a robe onto her slender body as she exited her room. The two men assigned to her from the Guard stood at attention as she raced past them, and immediately followed suit. The Keep was quiet, which was something she was growing more and more accustomed to as members of the Order left for weeks on assignments.
Herneith raced down narrow corridors and skipped stairs as she descended to the ground floor. The Keep had stood strong for centuries, even before the Order had formed. It was a home to the Ancients and their kind when the entire world had been hunting them, and Herneith couldn’t remember the last time she had left the comfort and safety of its walls. Tucked away in the mountains, it had stayed hidden from the eyes of the world for as long as she could remember, impenetrable.
Except for once.
Herneith crossed the immense halls towards the library, her Guard following close behind. Chandeliers hung from the ceilings, the Gothic architecture throwing shadows in every corner that would have made anyone else uncomfortable. However, this was her home, and she knew every inch of it like the back of her hand. She pushed through the large doors of the Keep’s library and stopped when she saw a figure standing over a glass encasement, alone with the vastness of texts surrounding him, his back to the doors, oblivious to her intrusion.
“Mitry,” Herneith said, walking towards the man, closing her robe tighter around her body as the man looked up at her and eyed her from top to bottom. Her brother’s advisor had always made her uncomfortable.
“Your highness,” Mitry bowed. “I believe it is well before your regular waking hours.”
“I could say the same about you,” Herneith commented, peaking at the encasement behind him. Inside was an old scroll from her homeland that had been rolled out on display, its edges burnt, and the hieroglyphs barely legible. It was one of the many scrolls that had risen from the ashes, but the only one that had caused so much destruction.
“We should have burnt that by now,” Herneith said, almost to herself.
“Knowledge is a treasure, your highness, and is always good,” Mitry replied, looking at the scroll. “It is what we do with it that matters. You should not blame knowledge for the actions of men.”
“You should work for gun control,” Herneith smirked.
Mitry smiled and folded his arms. “How can I be of service?”
For starters, you could stop undressing me with your eyes.
Herneith bit her lip. She knew how important Mitry was for the Keep and the Order in general. He was all that remained from the essence of her brother, and like it or not, she had to put up with him. There were rules, unwritten ones, ancient ones, that she could not change and would not dare question. For now, he was a reality in her life that could not be easily removed.
“I didn’t want to disturb you,” Herneith said. “I was just on my way to see my brother.”
Mitry’s smile widened. “Wonderful, your highness,” he said too eagerly. “Let me join you.”
“I really don’t want to trouble you.”
“No trouble at all. I have often wanted to visit the king, yet never had the courage to ask you to take me. This would be a splendid opportunity.”
“Very well,” Herneith nodded and threw a glance at one of her guards, a discreet gesture to make sure they kept an eye on the advisor.
She led the way to a corner of the library and pushed an oak door inwards, quickly descending the staircase behind it and going deeper into the Keep. The staircase opened into a narrow passageway, its walls still built of the old stone and lined with unlit torches. Herneith lit the first torch, and with a flick of her hand sent the flame across the passageway to ignite the rest. The small party followed the passage as it turned and curved until they reached a second door, the signs of the elements chiselled into the stone.
Herneith raised a hand and placed it firmly on the fire sign, closing her eyes as she called the torch flames to her. The fire came to her hand like threads, snaking across the insignia, filling it with flames. The door suddenly lurched and moved inwards, then began to slide open. Herneith flicked her hand again and the flames rushed into the dark room, lighting the torches within and illuminating the massive chamber.
She walked into the crypt, slowly, embracing the nostalgic feeling of the earth beneath her bare feet. This was holy ground, a place where few had ever been and most had only heard rumors of. Mitry followed her slowly, mumbling a prayer as he walked in, the Guards remaining behind.
The chamber had been built in the shape of a pentagon, each corner a nook with an element’s sign etched in the walls behind massive sarcophagi. The sarcophagi lay open, awaiting their future contents, except for one. Herneith crossed the vast room and stood in front of her brother’s resting place. His name had been embroidered on the top of the sarcophagus, an ancient practice from a world they had long left behind and forgotten. She got down on her knees and sat silently, the only other sound coming from the advisor standing behind her as he prayed.
“I had been dreaming,” Herneith whispered, not sure if she was talking to her dead brother or to herself.
“I had been dreaming of fire, and death, and waves of salt water so high they could have put the fires out if allowed to.”
“Your memories haunt you, your highness.”
“This was different. These weren’t memories,” Herneith shook her head.
“What else, then?”
Herneith frowned. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “Someone was there, in my dream. A woman who looked very familiar, but I did not know.”
“Dreams have a way of playing tricks on the mind, your highness.”
Herneith didn’t reply. The man’s attempts at sounding deep and profound sickened her, but she knew well not to say anything. She stole a glance at one of the nooks, the only one with no signs on the walls, the sarcophagus closed yet empty. Her eyes lingered there for a moment before returning to her brother’s. Shaking off the feeling that was hanging over her like a dark shroud, she kissed his sarcophagus and stood up to leave.
“Could it have been your sister?” Mitry asked, lingering a little too close for comfort. “Sometimes guilt returns to us in our dreams, your highness.”
Herneith turned to the man with fury. “I have no guilt for my sister,” she hissed.
She felt herself losing control, and quickly got a hold of herself. She was on sacred ground, after all, and this was no place to take her anger out on the snake of a man that stood in front of her.
Mitry quickly bowed his head and took a few steps back. “My apologies,” he said, Herneith almost disgusted at how spineless he was. Her brother had had many advisors throughout the years, but this one seemed to be the least worthy of the honour.
“We’re done here,” Herneith said, and without another word, walked out of the crypt and back to her room.
“What the hell was that?”
Lucius and Calliope stopped their conversation as soon as Rick walked in, getting up from their respective seats, expecting the worst. The Guards in the room looked at each other and quickly made their way out without waiting for the order. Rick walked straight up to Lucius, staring him straight in the eye, his fists clenched with anger.
“You’re going to have to calm down,” Lucius said.
“You’re joking, right?” Rick mocked. “Please say you’re joking.”
Rick was beyond furious. He had woken up a few hours before, sitting in the passenger seat of Patricia’s car, speeding across the interstate with the others following. In the backseat Ethan had been asleep, unconscious and unresponsive. Patricia had given him a quick update on something she herself couldn’t understand, and when they had stopped to refuel, Leah had avoided him completely. They had arrived at the safe house tired and angry, with Leah locking herself in a room to make sure no one disturbed her.
The place was crawling with Guards, most still wearing their field suits. Rick knew that they had been called in on short notice, and he had a good idea that what had happened at the motel was the reason why. He was still exhausted, but his need for answers and the adrenaline that was pumping through him made that seem irrelevant.
“Sit down, Rick,” Calliope said, pushing a chair towards him.
“I’m fine right here,” Rick answered, still staring Lucius down. The older man broke the stare and walked away from him, running a hand through his hair as he took the seat himself.
Calliope sighed. “What do you remember?”
“An ambush, for starters,” Rick turned his attention to her. “If it weren’t for whatever Leah had done, we would have all been dead by now.”
Calliope understood the boy’s frustration. Rick had always considered himself the protector of his Quartet, and losing all control was something he never handled well. It was customary for the water elemental to lead his Quartet, usually being the one most capable of keeping his cool. Still, a water elemental’s fury was worse than all the elements combined.
“How’s Ethan?” Lucius asked.
“Hasn’t opened his eyes since,” Rick said, slowly calming down. “Nadia’s with him.”
Calliope nodded and gestured towards the couch. Rick stared at her a moment longer before he sighed and loosened his fists. He sat down, the exhaustion finally taking over, and closed his eyes as he laid his head back. Calliope stole a glance at Lucius who was watching Rick closely, studying the situation as he usually did and calculating his next words carefully.
“He’s a Fifth,” Lucius said quietly. “I’m guessing you know that by now.”
Rick rubbed his eyes and nodded. “He’s our Fifth, isn’t he?”
Calliope leaned forward. “I can’t express how important this is,” she said quickly. “This is a situation that is not just rare, but incredibly delicate.”
Rick looked at her gravely. “How much do we tell him?” Lucius and Calliope were both silent, and that surprised him. “He’s going to find out anyway. We are inducting him after all. This isn’t something you can hide. If we don’t tell him, others will.”
“We have to be careful about this, Rick,” Lucius said.
“We have to be smart about this, Lucius,” Rick shot back.
Calliope cut in. “We’ve had one war and we’re fighting another because of Quintets,” she said seriously. “What do you think is going to happen when he knows what he can do?”
“So you don’t trust us?”
“It’s not you I’m worried about.”
“You don’t know him.”
“Neither do you,” Calliope said angrily. “Don’t be an idiot, Rick. We’ve been at this since before your grandparents were born.”
Rick couldn’t reply, but he didn’t like what he was hearing. Calliope had every reason to be worried, but after what he had happened, he felt differently. Something had happened back at the motel that he couldn’t explain. The surge of energy, the flare of emotions, the momentary loss of control, it had all been too much for any of them to handle. But, there had been something else.
For an instant during the chaos, a split second that would have passed unnoticed, he had felt connected to the others in a way he had never felt before. He had felt Leah’s fury, Eric’s urgency, Nadia’s fear. He had felt them inside him, their emotions mixed with his own, as if they were one. For that single moment, he had felt like he knew them better than he had ever known them before. Their thoughts, their dreams, their deepest secrets, their fears and their hopes. Mixed with the energy that had soared through his body, it had been more than he could handle, and he was sure the same thing had happened to the others.
“There’s something about him,” Rick said. “I know I can trust him.”
Calliope sighed and shook her head. She looked up at Lucius for support, but he just shrugged. They had seen too much destruction from Quintets to let this matter go lightly. Being careful was what they had been trained to do. There had been a time when recklessness had been needed, but that was over now. They were losing a war one battle at a time, and caution was most important if they wanted to change that.
“Steven will be here in an hour,” Calliope said. “I’ll have him take Ethan back to the Keep. He can work on training him until I return.”
“We can take him there ourselves,” Rick almost shouted.
“I don’t want you anywhere near him,” Calliope warned. “You’ll get another assignment for now.”
Rick stood up in anger. “Cali, we’ve been on the road for months. We need a break!”
“Watch it, Rick,” Calliope said, standing up. “Don’t forget your place.”
Rick stared at her a moment longer, his eyes blazing fury. Without a second word, he turned and walked out of the room. Calliope sat back down with a sigh.
“Nice,” Lucius said.
“Shut up,” Calliope rubbed the nape of her neck. “You weren’t much help.”
“I thought you could do a better job. Apparently I was wrong.”
“What did you want me to do, Lucius?” Calliope sighed, looking at him tiredly.
“I don’t know,” Lucius admitted, “but one thing’s for sure. If Herneith finds out, that boy’s dead.”
“We’re supposed to be protecting our kind,” Calliope said. “Isn’t that what we’re fighting for?”
“Our kind is killing one another, Cali,” Rick said, standing up and stretching. “One war after the other, and things are just getting more complicated.”
“We’re doing the right thing.”
“Are we?” Lucius looked at her, smiling sadly. He fished in his pocket for the key he had brought with him and handed it to her. “Send this home with Steven.”
“Don’t hold your breath. The best we can hope for is that they stay out of the war altogether.” Lucius winked at her and started to leave.
“Where are you going?” Calliope asked.
“Sleep,” Lucius called back. “You should try it some time.”
Sarah hit the wall hard and fell onto the cold floor.
She spat blood as she slowly pushed herself to her feet, the pain in her neck excruciating. She felt her teeth with her tongue, making sure they were all there, before turning to face her opponent. Sebastian smiled at her, standing with one arm behind his back as the other moved in circles in front of him. Sarah’s eyes darted to the water at his feet, twirling as he manipulated the torrents, teasing her.
She mustered as much energy as she could, at least as much as she had left, and leaped towards Sebastian, her arms pushing in front of her as she felt the air bend and shoot towards him. His smile only widened as he moved aside lightly, bringing his hand up and out. The water followed his command and shot towards her, hitting her squarely in the chest and throwing her off her feet again.
“If you’re going to make it easy, I might as well find a replacement for my training,”
Sebastian laughed as Sarah slowly pushed herself off the ground. She hated training with him, hours upon hours of humiliation at the expense of his fancy. His viciousness scared her, and despite her respect for his leadership, she sometimes wondered how long it would before he killed her just for the fun of it. Sebastian was the embodiment of what happened to an elemental whose powers controlled him.
Sarah tried a different approach, standing entirely still as she manipulated the air behind Sebastian, gathering enough power that when she raised her hands and pulled, the force came racing towards her, crashing into the man from behind. Sebastian was thrown off his feet, but gracefully rolled through the air currents, laughing all the time.
“Finally some spice,” he said, grinning as he stood.
Sarah took advantage of the situation and slammed her hands together as she brought the winds crashing into him from both sides. He was ready, though, the water rising in waves about him as the wind slammed into them. She hesitated, thinking of her next move, when she watched in horror as the waves rose and fell around her, surrounding her in water.
“Let’s see what you can do without your air,” Sebastian sneered.
He brought the waves up again and pushed them inwards, Sarah suddenly finding herself floating in a pocket of water, unable to breathe. She tried to break free, even swim out, but the water pushed her back. She was stuck holding her breath and running out of air. Suddenly she felt threads of water seep into her nostrils and down her throat. She automatically tried to breathe, and was suddenly choking on water, drowning.
Then, just as suddenly, the water dispersed and she fell to the ground, coughing hard. She felt a sting in her nose and throat, and every breath she choked was greeted with more coughing.
“You could have killed me!” she choked.
Sebastian laughed. “Our enemies won’t show you the same courtesy.”
Sarah tried to push off the ground, but she was too weak to move, too spent to even think. The coughing subsided, but her chest burned, and she was finding it extremely difficult to breathe. She was only able to push to her knees before she felt Sebastian’s boot against her as he pushed her back to the floor.
“You’re pathetic,” he hissed. “Why do I even expect you to bring in results?”
“Because she’s the only one you haven’t killed yet.”
Sebastian and Sarah both looked up to a corner of the room where a man materialized from the shadows. Rakel crossed the open space slowly, his eyes on Sarah as he approached Sebastian and placed a hand on his shoulder. The other man was smiling, reminding her of a dog whose master had suddenly given him a treat for a trick well done.
“Still, she is getting quite good at catching you off guard,” Rakel commented.
“If I didn’t give her a win or two, she’d give up completely,” Sebastian sneered. “What use would she be then?”
“Probably as much use as Surage was.”
Sebastian shrunk at that and took a step away from Rakel, lowering his head. Sarah smiled inwardly, loving the precious few moments she got to see Sebastian weak and scared. Despite her many quarrels with Surage, losing him had been hard, especially since they were growing short on seasoned fighters.
“Can you imagine how difficult it is to come back from months of recruitment just to find one of our most valuable soldiers dead?” Rakel asked. His voice was calm, but Sarah knew better. It didn’t take much to send Rakel over the edge. One minute he could be calm, and the next he would be breaking all the bones in your body, smiling the whole time. A man who could make Sebastian shiver was a dangerous man indeed.
“The girl caught them by surprise,” Sebastian tried to explain. “If Surage had done his fieldwork properly, he would have known what he was going up against.”
“See, that’s what I always hated about you, Sebastian,” Rakel moved in closer. “Always shifting blame instead of looking for solutions, or avoiding problems altogether.”
Sebastian was about to say something when Rakel raised a hand to silence him. “Now, Sarah, be a doll and go check on our new recruits. Sebastian and I have some things to discuss.”
“And the girl?” Sarah asked.
“Yes, the girl,” Rakel whispered. He kept his eyes on Sebastian, but the other man didn’t return the gaze. “What’s her name?”
“Alicia.” Rakel let the name roll over his tongue. He smiled. “Maybe Silk can have a little talk with her. She’s been a convincing girl so far.”
Sarah lowered her head in response and quickly left the room. Whatever the two men had to talk about, she didn’t want to be around when it happened.
The fires scorched his skin.
Or at least Ethan believed it was skin. He was standing in the same position he had stood in for countless dreams, watching the huts in front of him burning, the flames rising high into the sky as if trying to reach the stars. There were screams, shouts of urgency, and in the pandemonium that surrounded him he could see people desperately try to help each other escape. The surf was crashing hard behind him, and as he tried to turn his eye caught the figure of a man standing at the edge of the beach, hands outstretched and face contorted in concentration. Ethan looked at the sea behind him, waves rising and falling into each other. He wanted to call out to the man, but the words that left his mouth were foreign to him, a language he knew only in his dreams.
Someone grabbed his arm and forced him around, a young woman screaming in his face, her arms sizzling with burns, her words as incomprehensible as everything else surrounding him. She was pointing at the huts and pulling him along, but he couldn’t move. She tried again, then gave up and left him behind. Ethan watched the chaos around him, and was suddenly very scared. He closed his eyes and prayed for release. He wanted to wake up. He needed to wake up now.
When he opened his eyes, he was still standing in the midst of the fiery carnage, his legs cemented in place. From the corner of his eye he saw someone emerge from the flames, a woman. She was walking towards him, slowly, fire rising from her hands as she approached. He watched in horror as she neared him and raised her arms, releasing the flames in threads towards him, and in the back of his mind he heard himself scream.
Nadia was almost asleep when Ethan woke up.
She had been sitting at a table near his bed, head resting on her arms as she watched him sleep. She had spent most of the evening trying to calm herself down. The fight at the motel had shaken her to the core, and she had Eric drive them here, unable to control her emotions, let alone a moving vehicle. All in all, she was grateful that Rick had asked her to stay with Ethan instead of join him on his quest for answers. She had never been good with confrontations.
Ethan woke with a start, thrashing at the covers and clawing at his chest, trying to rip off his shirt. His sudden arousal startled her for only a second before she ran to his side, grabbed his arms and shook him awake. He struggled a little, Nadia having to use all her strength to keep him from lashing out at her, and only when she called out his name did his eyes fly open. He looked around the room, confused and out of place, his breathing slowing down as he started to realize he wasn’t burning. Nadia let go of his arms slowly, backing away as she let him regain control.
“You don’t sleep very well,” she said, grabbing the water bottle next to the bed and handing it to him. Ethan closed and opened his eyes, trying to focus on his surroundings. He took a sip from the bottle, wetting his lips with its freshness, and then downed its contents.
“Where are we?”
“Safe house,” Nadia said, taking the empty bottle from him and throwing it in the bin. “You were out for a few hours.”
“That seems to be happening a lot lately,” Ethan’s voice broke. He pushed himself up and threw his legs over the side of the bed, burying his face in his hands. He massaged his temples, feeling a headache coming on.
“Where’s everyone else?” he asked after a while.
“They’re all here,” Nadia replied. “Keeping their distance for now.”
Ethan looked up at her, confused only until he remembered the incident at the motel. “What happened back there?”
Nadia shook her head. “Rick’s trying to get some answers, but honestly, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“You and me both.”
Nadia sat back down and crossed her legs. “Nightmares?”
“Were you having a nightmare?” she asked again.
Ethan shook his head slowly and ran a hand through his hair, looking about the room. “It’s been the same one for a while. Burning village, and I’m just standing there watching it all go to hell.”
“My mother used to say that a man plagued with nightmares usually has something profound to hide.”
“Wise woman,” Ethan said with a hint of sarcasm. “If you call her any time soon, tell her she might be wrong about that one.”
“My mother’s dead,” Nadia said solemnly.
Ethan immediately regretted saying anything at all, wishing that sometimes he would just think about what he was going to say before blurting it out. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.
Nadia shrugged. “It was a long time ago.”
‘If it makes you feel better, I lost both my parents when I was fifteen,” Ethan said, trying to ease the sudden awkwardness in the room.
“Why would that make me feel better?”
Ethan almost slapped himself. “Never mind.”
“I can see why Eric likes you so much,” she said, a smile on her face. “The two of you are pretty much the same.”
Ethan stood up and stretched his legs, feeling bouts of pain race through his muscles. He felt like he could sleep for a few more days. If the nightmares would let him.
“We didn’t really hit it off very well,” Ethan admitted.
“Yeah, I got that from the way he bumped your head around when he helped carry you in here.”
Ethan almost smiled. He pulled out the chair in front of Nadia and slumped down, grabbing for another bottle of water. Nadia watched him drink, quietly studying him. She was about to say something when the door to the room opened and Patricia stuck her head in.
“Good, you’re awake,” she said when she saw Ethan. “Get ready. You’re ride is here.”
“This is as far as we take you, I’m afraid.”
Nadia got up, confused. “What about us?”
“A new assignment,” Patricia answered.
Ethan watched Nadia frown and shake her head. She grabbed her coat off her chair and brushed past Patricia.
“She’s obviously happy.”
“We’ve been on the road for months,” Patricia sighed. “It’s hard on all of us.”
“I guess this is good bye.”
Ethan was about to reply when Patricia closed the door.
Leah ignored the knocking on her door. She had locked herself in the minute they had arrived, crawling into bed in a fetus position as she cried. She had held the tears back as long as she could, and had avoided everyone as soon as they had arrived at the safe house. The memories of the motel had been too much, and her entire body was still shaking when the knocking started.
“Leah,” she heard her brother call from the other side. “It’s me, open up.”
Leah jumped out of bed, quickly rushing across the room. She threw herself in Steven’s arms the minute she opened the door, crying freely as he held her tight in his arms. He pushed her closer and placed a hand on her head as she wept, rocking her slowly as he tried to calm her down. She could feel her body shake like a leaf, her face buried in the crook of his shoulders as her tears stained his shirt.
“There’s my little sister,” Steven cooed, stroking her hair. “Easy now, easy.”
Her arms wrapped around his neck and she cried harder, squeezing her brother. She had always been the tough one in their family, taking the beatings her father had delivered like a champion, always coming out strong. Even after having run away, she had never been good with letting her emotions show. Not to Steven, not to anyone. The ice queen whose fire never thawed the hard shell she had built around herself.
Now, though, she needed this more than anything. She needed to let go.
“You’re starting to scare me a bit,” Steven said.
Leah pulled back and wiped her eyes quickly, sniffing as she pulled herself together and threw her shoulders back. She gave her brother a smirk and a salute, and then laughed when he stuck his tongue out at her.
“That’s a little more like it,” Steven smiled as he closed the door behind him and reached for a chair. “They tell me you’ve been in here for almost five hours.”
“I just couldn’t,” Leah said, waving at everything around her. “I needed space.”
Steven nodded as he sat down and crossed one leg over the other. Leah slumped down onto the bed and smiled at her brother. She hadn’t seen him for almost a year, their last encounter when they had been allowed to visit home. Since then she had been on numerous assignments, their contact limited to quick phone calls.
“How’s the Keep?” she asked him.
Steven shrugged. “You know, big, dark and gloomy. I always expect Dracula to walk up from the cellars and laugh his way down the halls. It’s creepy, but it’s home now.”
“Home,” Leah sighed. “My home is my bike, a bunch of cheap motels and a safe house here and there.”
“That last one is getting smaller and smaller, if what I’m hearing is correct,” Steven said. “I heard we lost three in the last month.”
Leah felt a shudder run through her. She had been in one of the safe houses when it had been attacked. They had been taken completely by surprise, barely escaping the firing squad that had been sent to take them out. If it hadn’t been for Patricia, they would have all died in there.
“Chicago was a disaster,” Leah commented, the memory still fresh in her head.
“Rick’s girl is pretty good on her feet,” Steven smiled. “Imagine if she could do what we can.”
“That’s a scary thought,” Leah laughed.
Steven looked at her hard, the smile on his face slowly fading. “Rick told me what happened at the motel. You ok?”
Leah sniffed and shook her head. She had tried to come to terms with what had happened, but she could still feel the fire inside. The energy that had run through her, the control that she had lost, almost as if she had been on autopilot.
“A Fifth,” Leah confirmed, hugging herself to stop the shaking that had started again. “Our Fifth by the looks of it.”
Steven nodded slowly, but she could see he wasn’t too happy about it. “Does he know?” he asked.
“He doesn’t know anything,” Leah said. “He’s being patient about it, although I have no idea why. I wouldn’t have put up with half of what he’s been through without answers.”
“So it’s true?” Steven asked. “What they say about a full Quintet.”
Leah stared at him for a moment, then looked away. “We’d be dead if he hadn’t been with us.”
“You don’t seem too happy about it.”
“I’m not.” Leah stood up and paced the room. “What’s going to happen to us when he knows the truth?”
Steven shrugged. “You’re not the first full Quintet, Leah,” Steven said, trying to sound calm. “We’ve seen them happen before.”
“And a war’s happened each time one popped up.”
“Are you actually comparing yourself to those maniacs?”
“Come on, Steven, be a little more realistic.”
“I am,” her brother said, leaning forward. “Lam was a monster, Leah, and Rakel isn’t any better.”
Leah sighed and leant against the wall, scratching her forehead as she tried to wrap her head around what was happening. “We don’t know anything about him.”
Steven stood up and crossed the room to his sister. He held her shoulders and looked straight into her eyes. “I know you,” he whispered, “and I know the rest of you. You’re going to be just fine.”
Leah smiled. “You’re a disgusting optimist.”
“One of us has to be,” Steven smiled back. “Besides, I’m taking Ethan home with me. Calliope is separating you guys until we sort this out.”
Leah was only momentarily shocked, then nodded agreement. It was probably for the best. She had no idea what else would happen if Ethan were to stick with them. For now, she felt she needed to be as far away from him as possible.
“Promise me you’re going to be ok,” Steven said, hugging his sister.
“I always am,” Leah replied.
“Not good enough,” Steven said, breaking the hug and looking his sister in the eyes. “I don’t know how they got the jump on you guys, but you have to be more careful now. I want you to promise me you’ll be more careful.”
“Fine,” Leah said, pushing her brother away.
Steven kept his gaze, then nodded and playfully punched his sister’s chin. “I heard your next assignment is close to home. Pass by mom and make sure she’s ok.”
Leah nodded. She hugged her brother again and watched in silence as he opened the door and left.
Ali Hassan was a careful man.
He considered his talents something he had genetically inherited from his father, a man with many talents with a strong devotion to caution. For most of his childhood, Ali had watched his father build an empire from the ground up. Coming from a large family of ambitious men, it had been astonishing to watch his father succeed where his cousins failed.
He had grown up a single child, his mother often blaming the “business” for his lack of siblings. Still, Ali had learned to make use of the advantage. Prestigious schools, a degree in civil engineering, and postgraduate studies abroad had prepared him well to take over once his father had seen it fit to hand over the keys to the castle.
Now, after having had expanded his family’s riches ten-folds, Ali realized that caution was his greatest advantage. That and an incredible amount of patience. Being at the head of a multi-million dollar real-estate business came with many responsibilities, pressures, and stress. Still, he was able to handle it all with a finesse he believed many lacked.
However, things were starting to change, and he felt a sudden urgency that was unsettling. He sat quietly in his office overlooking the Nile and strummed his hands on a massive ledger of ancient Egyptian history. That was another thing he had his father to thank for, a library like none other, rich with knowledge of the past. The secrets within the many volumes of books he had at his disposal were priceless, his family’s business a mere speck of dust in comparison.
Ali had inherited more than just a business. He had inherited a responsibility, a secret his family had hidden for generations.
He contemplated his next move carefully, weighing his options, then took out his cell phone and dialled. He waited and almost hung up after the seventh ring.
“It’s three in the morning,” a gruff voice finally answered. Ali could hear the man’s irritation and winced at the need to plough through it.
“We have a problem,” he said, waiting for the man on the other line to wake up.
“I’m listening,” came the reply.
“We need to start building, or we’ll lose the land.”
Ali could hear the other man groan as he sat up. “If you can elaborate I would greatly appreciate it.”
“I have government officials breathing down my neck,” Ali said. “If we don’t start building soon, we’ll lose the land and it will be sold to the highest bidder.”
“I was told that couldn’t happen.”
“A few years ago, I would have agreed with you, but after the revolution, everything’s changed.” Ali sighed as he shifted his phone from one ear to the other. “The land is in a booming area, and the fact that we haven’t built yet is starting to make people suspicious.”
“The right people,” Ali said. He waited for a reply, and when he didn’t get one, almost hung up with irritation. Taking a deep breath, he counted to ten and calmed down.
“We have a lot hanging on this,” the man finally said. “If we build, then we’ll dig. If we dig, they’re bound to find the village. Then we’ll have the entire archaeological world flying down there.”
“I understand,” Ali said, “but I would like to point out that if we build, at least we will be the ones controlling that process.” Ali paused for effect. “I am sure that is better than someone else unearthing what we don’t want unearthed.”
He could hear the other man breathing, thinking, and finally saying, “You can build around the site? There won’t be any surprises?”
Ali almost laughed. “You insult me, my friend.”
“Very well,” the man gave in. “Do what you must. And the key?”
“Well hidden,” Ali said. “I’ll start work on the site by the end of the week.”
Across the Atlantic, William Fern hung up the phone and lay back in bed, his mind racing. It took him an hour to fall asleep again.