Main The Pyramid Prophecy

The Pyramid Prophecy

She married the man of her dreams in a fairytale wedding. Then came the nightmare. On her honeymoon, she was buried alive in a secret chamber of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. Alongside her murdered husband. She survived, but her face is unrecognizable. Her memory is gone. Her mind is haunted by Egyptian gods.  And the need for revenge is burning her soul.  Her name is SIXTINE, and you will never forget her.   If you like paranormal thrillers with tough but tormented heroines, archeological mysteries and the sulfurous scent of secret societies, this book is for you. 
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SIXTINE - Book 1

The Pyramid Prophecy

Caroline Vermalle


Part I

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Part II

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Part III

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Part IV

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Chapter 60





Blinding and deafening darkness. Movement around me, taunting me. Stalking me. Panic inside me. Where the hell am I? How did I get here?

And what happened before this, the urgent intake of breath, my eyes cracking open, only to find myself in this bottomless pit of night? Am I asleep? Am I dreaming? My fear tastes of stagnant water and dust.

No chance of a nightmare. This is real and I am not alone.

Amorphous shadows are fleeting past like guilty fugitives, their stare black against black, their tenebrous presence piercing the space around my heart with a thousand icy daggers.

Whoever they are, I know they came looking for me.

They are calling my name, in a raspy whisper.

“Sixtine… Sixtine…”

But it isn’t my name. Nobody calls me Sixtine anymore, not since I was seven years old and they found my mother’s body by the cliffs, algae in her hair, a feather in her hand and her throat full of sand. That was fifteen years ago.

“I am Jessica!” I want to shout. But the thick silence strangles my scream, letting only t; he echo of a weak groan seep into the swarming obscurity.

Suddenly a dim green light colors everything. Instinctively, I search for the source, but there is none. I am in a large room with bare stone walls. There are no doors, no windows. The high ceiling is as empty as the walls. Where does the light come from? How did I get here?

Then I look down and my soul fractures.

My naked body is lying lifeless on the floor.

I can see it with cruel, startling clarity: it is my body, my self! My long, wavy blonde hair is spread on the stone, framing my head like a golden aura. My thick eyebrows the shape of angry waves, my fine nose, and full, defiant lips. My curves and my long legs and the three moles on my left forearm, the scar under my right knee, my narrow ankles and the neon pink nail polish on my toenails. They are all mine.

So why are they outside of me?

There are also things I don’t recognize. Around my neck, a broken necklace woven with gold filigree and blue gemstones has spilled its beads on my breasts.

A black cross is tattooed across my navel.

There are scratches all over my arms. My fingers are a deep shade of red. Dried blood. They are still clasping rotten flowers. Thousands of the same flowers are strewn all over the floor – black stems and black hearts with grey, yellowish petals.

The same color as my skin.

My blue eyes are wide open, still, staring right in my direction.

Am I dead?

The light vanishes. Back to black. I am still here, outside my body, my mind grappling for answers.

I don’t know who I am. What I am. Even if I am at all. And I remember nothing.

Still the darkness whispers.

“Sixtine… Sixtine…”

The shadows inch closer. I feel their poisonous heat, coursing through the veins I no longer have, burning my last drop of strength. It is pitch black, but I make out the edges of one silhouette, his outline drawn in the faintest of green smoke.

A man with a long, black snout, like a dog.

His hand reach out for me.

Then, a familiar sound crashes into my consciousness. With it, a flurry of images, and more friendly voices. Thank heavens, a memory, filling the black murmuring void. A memory vivid and alive and bright!

It was only a few days ago. I was still myself then. Gigi was there. She kept repeating the same words.

It’s bad luck. Don’t go, Jessica. It’s bad luck.

My wedding day.


“It’s bad luck for a bride to see the groom before the ceremony,” my great-aunt said.

But what could happen on such a beautiful morning, in Paris? The Tuileries Gardens was awakening, bathed in the liquid gold of sunrise. The glass pyramid in the Louvre courtyard sparkled like an upside-down diamond, and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I was about to wed the man of my dreams, and the reception would take place there that evening, in a huge, luxurious private hall.

Everything was perfect.

As I crossed the empty cobbled street toward the museum entrance, the breeze carried my mother’s voice, when she read me the fairy tales I loved so much.

“And they lived happily ever after.”

How proud she would have been. True love was all she had ever wished for me, like the one she had known with my father. But my mother was long dead, and my father long vanished. Gigi was my only living relative, and I was making the old woman worry needlessly. But I had barely seen anything of my own wedding preparations. My fiancé had insisted to organize most of it himself, and I gladly let him, too afraid to be unable to come up with something grand enough for him and his wealthy entourage in just a few short weeks. Didn’t I deserve just a little peek?

At the entrance of the glass pyramid, a tall, muscular security guard with a military haircut and a receding hairline despite his young age, sat at a small desk next to a metal detector gate. He looked up lazily at the ID I was showing him.

“Hello, I am Jessica Desroches.”

He rose to his feet a bit too quickly, fiddling with something under the desk. A worn, torn gossip magazine crashed on the floor. On the cover was the long-lens photo of my fiancé and I, stepping out of a yacht in the South of France. Big red letters spelled “ENGAGED!! Billionaire Seth Pryce proposes to model after only 45 days.”

The guard pretended I hadn’t seen it and carried on checking my ID with a studied seriousness. His cheeks were flushed with light purple patches.

“It was eighty-seven days, actually. But who’s counting,” I said, smiling.

It burned my tongue to add that I was not the fame-seeking, gold-digging glamour model that I was painted out to be. Neither was I the poor, helpless orphan who needed to be rescued by a knight in shining armor. I was a broke but hard-working law student who occasionally made ends meet with a modeling contract or two. I was the book-loving girl who had fallen for a guy fifteen years older than her, met in the Ancient History section of the New York Library at closing time. A guy who could make terrific Asian dishes while discussing obscure principles of philosophy. A guy who had a knack for throwing extravagant parties, yet liked to hold my hand when he slept.

A guy who also happened to own a mining operation worth seven billion dollars.

But 87 days was enough to learn how pointless it was to try and change people’s mind about who we were. People wanted a fairy tale, and we were giving it to them. And truth be told, I had originally come to New York to figure out who I was and what I wanted out of life. Meeting Seth, and our ensuing whirlwind romance, had postponed the questions. I still had plenty of figuring out to do, after the wedding.

“It’s my girlfriend’s,” the guard mumbled, glancing down at the magazine. “These mags, they publish such lies. The reception will be held in the Mornay Wing, which is still being prepared. Erm, I don’t know if... Well, we were not expecting you this morning, Miss.”

“I know, it’s a surprise. Don’t tell Seth,” I said conspiratorially. His cheeks turned redder.

“Okay,” he said, finally relaxing. “But isn’t it bad luck to see your fiancé before the ceremony?”

“That superstition dates back from ancient times, when the bride was kept hidden by her family until the ceremony for fear that the groom would find her ugly and change his mind. I know I haven’t known my fiancé for that long, but he has had a look at me.”

“And no sane man would ever change his mind when seeing you, Miss.”

“You’re too kind.”

I don’t know why I felt compelled to add, “Anyway, I wanted to see, just to make sure.”

I regretted my words instantly. He gave an imperceptible nod, his lips tightened into a shy smile, a look of compassion in his eyes. He probably understood what I meant better than my own fiancé. He gave me directions to the Mornay Wing, but I was no longer listening; I realized with startling clarity that it was not mere curiosity that had brought me here, despite Gigi’s warnings.

It was the need for evidence. A proof that it wasn’t all too good to be true.

I thanked the guard and felt his gaze on my back as I hurried towards the museum and its maze of empty corridors. At first I followed a sign to the Mornay Wing, guided by what I thought was the distant hum of voices, of furniture being moved, of glass against glass. I walked through several halls, passed countless Greek and Roman sculptures, my shadow reflected in long glass vitrines gleaming with gold. Soon, the only sound around me was of my footsteps against the vast marble floor. It was barely seven o’clock in the morning, and the museum wouldn’t open for another two hours. I couldn’t see any sign, or anybody who could help me.

I was lost.

I was considering swallowing my pride and retracing my steps back to the friendly security guard, when I saw the silhouette of a man over the balustrade of a grand staircase, on the floor above.

“Excuse me,” I shouted.

By the time I had reached the place where I had spotted him, I had lost his trace. All I could see was an enfilade of rooms, on both sides of the vaulted landing.

Another sign for the Mornay Wing gave me hope and I rushed through a few more empty exhibition rooms smelling of wood wax, old fabric and dust. My footsteps made the antique floorboards creak, piercing the silence with their echo. I hardly glanced at the Egyptian treasures on display, searching instead for more directions.

I saw the man from the staircase again. His tall, thin silhouette had just crossed a doorway a few rooms down. Although he looked to be dressed far more elegantly than any museum staff I had seen, I hoped he would be another security guard, who could escort me to the reception hall. I picked up the pace as I walked towards him, and glanced at my watch. I needed to be back in my hotel in time for the make-up artist and hairstylist.

Once I arrived at the place where I had seen him, he had vanished again. But something else caught my eye, just below the balustrade where I stood. It was so extraordinary that I was struggling to take it all in.

Fountains of white orchids and thousands of other flowers erupted from their arrangements to cover every inch of space, from the columns, banqueting tables and even the grand staircase across from me. Three hundred golden chairs sat empty under thousands of candles yet to be lit, within giant candelabras overhead dripping with crystal. Around them, in the courtyard of marble and sandstone, dozens of ancient sculptures seemed to stand sentry.

The Mornay Wing.

The same hue of blue ran like a silken thread through almost every detail, in ribbons, flowers, favors and monograms. A celebrity blogger had claimed that Seth liked the color because it was the same as my eyes. I knew it was not my eyes that had inspired him, but those of an Egyptian queen who died three thousand years ago.


I also knew that Seth had not chosen Paris and the Louvre Museum because I was born in France, but because it was home to the greatest of all the ancient Egyptian treasures, which have fascinated him since childhood.

Many things I knew, and yet so many I didn’t.

Why had Seth rushed the wedding?

Who were most of the guests?

Why me?

I clasped the cold stone railing, wishing that thought away. The fault of those stupid magazines.

Suddenly, I was swept off my feet, arms were wrapped around my waist, knocking the wind out of me. The room spun and in a second all I could see was the ornate ceiling, and how close I was to the drop over the balcony. My whole body was already fighting back, when a hearty laugh exploded in my ears.

A kiss stopped my scream.

I stopped struggling, and smiled, willing my heartbeat to slow down and my lips to savor the familiar taste.

I was in Seth’s strong arms. Exactly where I wanted to be. Safe.

“Miss Desroches, your curiosity will get you into trouble,” he said.

“Spare me the bad luck speech, the whole world has already warned me.”

“With great success, I see. I knew I couldn’t keep any secret from you.”

“And if you don’t let me go, Mr. Pryce, you’ll be the one in trouble.”

He laughed as he released me, his dark eyes sparkling with amusement and just the right amount of lust. He stepped towards the balustrade and for a moment surveyed his work below.

Tanned, with short jet black hair, a thick neck and a square jaw, he looked to have been carved by the elements from some ancient piece of rock. Even in casual khaki pants and a simple white t-shirt, he radiated intensity and focused effort – from his muscular body sculpted by a punishing workout routine to the way he asked questions. He never wasted time in small talk. Or small anything.

“Do you like it?” he asked in an unexpectedly quiet voice.

“Well,” I sighed, still dazzled by the extraordinary display of sophisticated opulence in the hall below. “I didn’t think anything could be more spectacular than our engagement party, but here it is. You’ve outdone yourself.”

“But do you like it?” he asked again, more sharply this time.

The edginess in his tone made me look up to him. His face had gone paler.

“Of course I do, darling. It’s beyond what I could have ever dream of.”

“If you don’t like it, there is still time to change,” he interrupted, his jaws clenched. “I have people on standby, and you haven’t seen half of it yet. Tell me what you want.”

I was about to protest when he winced, his hand shooting to his side. The blood had drained from his cheeks. It had happened a few times in the past weeks.

“Are you alright?”

He nodded.

I gave him a gentle nudge with my shoulder. “Is someone having wedding jitters?”

He smiled. “Yeah. You could say that.”

I probably looked more concerned than I should have. He turned to me, still pale, and put his arm around my shoulders.

“Jessica, I want this to be a celebration worthy of our love, and the commitment we’re making to each other. I want this to be the best day of your life. Nothing less will do.”

“It is, Seth. I’m the luckiest girl in the world. But is it what you want too?”

His forehead touched mine and he stroked my cheek with his powerful hands. They were trembling.

“All I want is to be with you. Forever. And ever and ever.”

When he kissed me, I closed my eyes and surrendered to the sweet relief washing over me.

I had the answer I had come here to find.

The dream had become reality. I was marrying my prince.


The memory fades. Darkness returns. Shadows whisper.

“Sixtine… Sixtine…”

I can almost make out the silhouette in my dark cell, coming slowly towards me. Its shape is unlike anything I have seen before; the body is human but the head cannot be. What beasts does the emptiness hide? It comes closer, and another scream dies in my throat.

When the green light returns, its shape remains on the stone wall like an after-image. But I am no longer looking at it. Instead, all my senses are trying to make sense of another dark shape on the floor.

Another body. Dead, too.

I refuse to believe what I see and my breathing becomes painful, so I focus on details. The short dark hair. The thick neck. The bulky, muscular torso.

My prince. Seth.

Unlike mine, his eyes are closed. Unlike me, his fingernails are not broken, his skin still smooth. Like me, a huge black cross is tattooed on his stomach.

There is a dirty, bloody hole where his heart is supposed to be.

Grief fills every inch of me, washing away even the disbelief, the fear, the questions. But it recedes fast. I understand what I am seeing, and that recognition scorches everything left in me.

He was murdered.

Someone killed my prince, and killed me too. Why else would his chest be empty, and the flesh on my fingertips scraped raw?

I want to throw myself against him, hold him, bring him back to life. I want to scream out loud “Who did this to you?” I want to weep and vow to avenge him. But everything in this room seems to exist in a dimension different to the one I am in. I can only watch as if from behind invisible glass, powerless, ignorant, and haunted.

The green light vanishes, and with it the last trace of my slain prince.

As despair overwhelms me, another memory creeps into my consciousness.


The hands of the large clock in the Mornay Wing pointed to seven-thirty.

In half an hour, an army of assistants would arrive at my hotel to help prepare me for my big day. The hotel was just around the corner, I still had a little time to spare. This was the last opportunity for solitude before a string of long, exhausting days mingling with the wedding party guests, and I was determined to enjoy it.

So I found myself in an Egyptian room, alone with one of the star attractions of the museum.

A mummy.

A three-thousand-year old adult male rested on an ancient table inside a glass case. The strips of linen wrapping his head were weaved into an exquisite pattern, and next to him lay the mask that once had covered his face, decorated with a winged beetle. A scarab.

The explanatory notice described the images depicted on the various parts of the mummy: the apron showed various goddesses and the four sons of Horus, including Hapi, the baboon-headed protector of the throne in the Underworld. Anubis, the jackal-headed god of the afterlife, was painted on the feet. On the casing, hieroglyphs said that the deceased entrusted his destiny beyond to them all.

I was fascinated by the extraordinary artistry of it; yet it struck me that I was looking at a dead man, alone and vulnerable in the middle of a busy museum hall. Would the hordes of tourists and selfie-takers who would pass by him in a couple hours pay him the respect he deserved?

Without thinking, I stepped closer. My hand touched the vitrine; my forehead rested against the cold glass. I couldn’t look away from his bandaged, eyeless, mouthless face.

I couldn’t look away from death.

The nervous excitement which had been bubbling under my skin since dawn morphed into something that took my breath away: a wave of compassion and gratitude and knowing, lifted my trembling chest. I couldn’t quite understand why I was so moved and what these feelings were, or even what I knew exactly. For a moment, I glimpsed at some complex purpose just beyond the reach of my comprehension, the expression of a greater power that lived within me just as it had lived within him, three thousand years ago.

Then the gentlest of caresses brushed my cheek, as if given by an invisible hand. My throat closed tight by emotion, as I knew this sensation well.

My mother was right there.

Her presence revealed itself as a feathery balm, a soothing song whispered silently. These gentle manifestations usually sparked within me an outpouring of hope. But on that day, there was a restlessness which I had never experienced before. As my mind wandered, my eyes blurred over the reflection of the mummy on the opposite pane of glass.

Lost in my thoughts, it took me a few seconds to realize that there was something else in that reflection.

The slim, dark silhouette standing right behind me.

“The symbol of rebirth,” the voice said.

I jumped and turned and at once recognized the man’s face, and that almost feline ability to stand perfectly still. Seth’s childhood best friend, artist and heir of a prodigiously wealthy family.

Thaddeus di Blumagia.

But remembering his name was not quite enough to slow my heart rate.

“Oh, hey, Thaddeus. It was you I saw earlier, wasn’t it? I tried to call after you, in the grand staircase? I was a bit lost.”

He stared straight at me with his deep, light grey eyes, and smiled. We had met only once before, at my engagement party. He was smoking under a No Smoking sign. We had talked on a frosty balcony, we had danced, and I had regretted it. What a strange night that had been. Every detail of the minutes we had spent together came rushing back, and my cheeks tingled with heat at the memory.

Gigi was right. I shouldn’t have come.

Hands dug into the pockets of a midnight blue suit, perfectly poised, he stared at the mummy.

“The scarab beetle. Ancient Egyptians thought it represented the rebirth of the soul. They were popular amulets in the time of Akhenaton and Tutankhamen. Queen Nefertiti, especially, was very fond of them. She had gold scarabs inscribed with her name.”

He seemed lost in thoughts for a while. I was about give a polite excuse to take my leave, when he suddenly turned towards me.

“Aren’t you getting married today?”

I laughed. “Yes. And may I remind you that, as best man, you’ll be right there at the altar. So we should both get going.”

“You know, I don’t think Seth could have picked a worse best man.”

“Oh really. Why?” Humoring him made my uneasiness melt away.

“Two reasons. First, I abhor candles.”

“It’s a church,” I said in a giggle. “Candles are like angels, gold and guilt. Part of the package.”

“For prayer or a funeral. Not for a wedding. There has got to be light, for God’s sake. And by the way, that Egyptian blue? Totally wrong.”

“Wrong,” I repeated, amused. “Aesthetically? Morally?”

“Historically. Egyptian blue comes from calcium copper silicate. What I saw in the decor of the Mornay Wing mimics a mineral from Iran. It’s Persian blue.”

“Mm, you’re right. I can’t see how your friendship of nearly thirty years can survive such polarized opinions.”

“Yeah, that. And also because I’m about to ask you to think twice before saying ‘I do’ to Seth.”

My heartbeat exploded inside my ear drums. I did not dare move. I replayed the sentence in my mind until I was sure I had heard it right. But his deep grey eyes, piercing everything inside me, convinced me I had.

“I am not sure this is appropriate, Thaddeus,” I said, my voice breaking into a reluctant whisper.

“It’s not what you think,” he said, his jaw clenched.

“You don’t know what I think.”

“Your blushing cheeks suggest otherwise.”

“Only because I am shocked by your words, angered and ashamed that you would even suggest that I…” I had raised my voice without noticing. I let its echo die somewhere in the emptiness of the museum. I couldn’t finish my sentence. What in hell was he suggesting?

He raised his hand. “Forgive me. I’m an idiot when I have something important to say.”

I was surprised to notice a flash of genuine anxiety in his eyes, just like the first time I met him. But my heart had leapt again at “something important”, and I was willing it to stop beating furiously.

“I love Seth, like a brother,” he continued. “And believe me, he drives me mad like only a brother can. But the Mornay Wing, the opulence, the gold, the blue, the treasures. The guests will make every effort to appear perfectly blasé. But don’t be fooled. Anyone would be blinded by all this.”

The white heat of anger rose in my chest. “Anyone, right? Not just the poor girl whom he met God knows where, three seconds ago. Isn’t that how it goes? Well, if that’s all you have to say, the mice haven’t finished my dress and my fairy godmother is waiting for me in the basement kitchen, so if you’ll excuse me, I better not keep her waiting.”

He didn’t take my bait, but as I was turning my heels, he caught my arm. He drew me close enough for me to inhale his cologne of exotic flowers and terebenthine, a heady mix which took me right back to the moment we had danced together.

“I’m the last messenger, Jessica. The last person who can tell you that if you remove all the shiny distractions, all that remains is a man, a woman and a promise to be together for eternity, in the name of love. The only thing that matters here and now is the answer to this question: are you ready to make such a promise?”

“Yes.” Oh God, why did my voice have to waver?

“In life, and in death?”

His beautiful face was so close I could see the imperceptible trembling of his lips. A dangerous familiarity had slithered between us; what he wanted out of me was so intimate, so raw. His intense grey eyes raised all the feelings of unworthiness, all the doubts and all the fears from the hidden depths of my soul.

Yet it felt entirely natural that he should know.

As I opened my mouth to speak, his long fingers bit hard into the skin of my arm. And suddenly, the whole universe cracked open in a flash of clarity. That cruel realization filled my stomach with a bitter, icy bile. What a fool I had been to think that the handsome, mysterious Thaddeus di Blumagia would care about me.

I could not help but chuckle. “I think you’re wrong,” I said in a tone dripping with disgusted glee. “You make a great best man, watching out for your friend and his gold. But you have nothing to worry about. Seth’s lawyers made me sign an iron-clad, gold-digger-safe prenup.”

I yanked my arm from his grip and whirled around.

“Jessica!” he called out after me, his voice magnified by the marble floors and glass cases. “There are things happening which are greater than you and me and Seth and a damn prenup! If you love him with all your heart as you say you do, you will live through everything. But if you don’t–”

“If I don’t, then what?” I shouted.

For the first time, he seemed at a loss for words, and his eyes flickered. Finally, he murmured in a voice so fractured it went straight to the deepest part of me. “I don’t know.”

We stood facing each other, united in our brokenness, an embalmed man as our witness. Around me, the world shattered. Time seemed to stop and wait for me to look away from Thaddeus’ grey eyes. They were burning with an ardent fire – threat or prayer, I couldn’t tell. I had to run before it consumed me too.

Before I walked away, I managed a smile and willed my painful throat to open enough to utter a few last words. “Well, I do. At the stroke of midnight, it all turns into a bloody pumpkin. Good try, Thaddeus. See you in church.”

I ran all the way to the hotel, the gentle Paris breeze toying with my blonde hair and my nascent tears.


“Sixtine… Sixtine…”

Darkness again follows the dying of the green light. I am now certain that there is no light source coming and going. Light and darkness co-habit within the same four walls, as do the dead bodies with the murmuring shadows. They belong to different dimensions, different worlds, invisible to each other.

Yet I can see both worlds. I ignore which one I belong to, but something tells me I have joined the shadows. It is said that only a thin veil separates the beyond, to the reality of the living.

The veil has lifted.

I now understand why this cell has no exit.

It’s a tomb. My tomb.

This is neither a dream, nor a vision. I am dead, my body resting for eternity in this very real place, next to my husband. I am just a soul. Headed for a place unknown.

“Sixtine… Sixtine…”

The black void swarms and swirls and the terrifying shape emerges again. I recognize it only when it is close enough to touch me. A man as tall as the walls, with the head of a black dog. I saw him on the mummy casing.

He is the Egyptian god Anubis, the usher of souls into the afterlife.

The air in the room vanishes. I am everywhere and nowhere, and so is the dog-headed god leading me away. I try to struggle, to hang on to what is left of the world I know. I try to rush to my dead self on the floor, to Seth with the hole in his chest, but I no longer have a body to fight or flee.

Will I ever know what happened to us? Will I ever know what enemies condemned us to this excruciating torment, our unjust fate haunting me just as I become powerless? Will the murderers live their mortal lives unpunished, free to enjoy the transient, imperfect, beloved world, while I don’t? Or do truth and vengeance travel through the veil as well?

Will I ever exact revenge?

“Come, my sister,” the voice of Anubis whispers. It is soft and almost kind – yet it is not a plea, but an order.

As he invites my soul into a new kind of darkness, my tomb and the bodies bathed in green light fade from view. Just before they disappear, I notice something in the corner of the room. A gold object glistening weakly in the diminishing light. Its afterimage perishes last; soon there is nothing left of it. Did I really see this, or are my eyes playing tricks on me?

Would a treasure so precious, cherished by all mankind, beyond races and cultures, be in the same world as my dead body, in my earthly tomb?

“Come, my sister. The tribunal is waiting.”

At the threshold between two worlds, I give in to the golden eyes of Anubis, and let go.

As I am about to depart, I remember one last thing.


“This is my ‘something new’ to ward off the evil eye,” I said to Gigi, attempting to sound light-hearted. I walked from the mirror to her armchair, and brought the fabric of the skirt to her hands.

I had asked everybody to leave me alone with my great-aunt, in my hotel room overlooking the Louvre. She was eighty-three years old, and lately she had been easily exhausted by noise and people. But if I was honest, it was more for me. Thaddeus’ words had carved such a raw wound inside me that I wanted to gather my thoughts before the ceremony, and Gigi always managed to soothe me when I was anxious. She was the one who raised me after my mother’s death, with a tenderness I had not always deserved.

She had also been blind most of her life.

Her battered fingers stroked the long, ample tulle skirt. The dress was a simple off-white A-line with a strapless silk corset. No lace, no embellishments or embroidery, with only barely visible speckles of gold sewn into the tulle. I had picked it for its simplicity.

“And this is old, blue and borrowed,” I said as I sat gracefully on the luxurious rug at the foot of the armchair. “It’s three thousand years old. Found in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.”

Gigi’s fingertips discovered a woven necklace of fine gold filigree with blue gemstones, which covered all my neck, shoulders, and décolletage. As if by magic, the dress adorned with the jewels acquired a royal dimension.

“How precious,” Gigi whispered. “Fit for a queen.”

I lowered my gaze, letting silence fill the hotel room for a while. I toyed with the soft carpet tufts under the hem of my tulle skirt, until I finally found the courage to say what had weighed on my mind.

“Gigi, do you think we’re rushing into things?”

“Ah,” Gigi smiled, as if she was relieved that I had finally asked the question. “Well, Jessica, I never expected anything else from you. Ever since you were a little girl, you’ve always embraced things as they came, with all your heart. Patience was never your strong suit, was it? Neither was caution.”

I laughed. “Touché. At least you’re not asking me if I love him. I mean, of course I do. I couldn’t marry someone I didn’t love, not in a million years.” I paused, my smile fading gradually. “But is love enough?”

She didn’t answer, but instead cocked her head slightly, a faint smile on her lips. When I was a little girl, that meant that she knew I hadn’t told the whole truth, and was waiting for it. I considered for a moment telling her what Thaddeus had said, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. My stomach had become a ball of bitterness again.

“I mean, Seth and I grew up in such different worlds, and I barely understand the one he lives in. With all that wealth and power and influence, I feel if I make a wrong move there is so much at stake, and there are so many rules and expectations. It’s terrifying. Perhaps I should have waited until I became a bit more– “

“Someone else?” Gigi said gently.

“Ready,” I corrected.

After a pause, she said, “Love can mean many things and take many forms, and we’re not always good at recognizing them for what they are. But true love? True love is always enough, my darling.”

“How do I recognize true love?”

“You don’t. It shows itself to you when you stop asking for proof of its existence.”

“I was hoping for a bit more than the ‘when you know, you know’ cliché, my Gigi.”

She fumbled to take my hands in hers.

“It exists beyond time, beyond loss, beyond death – it becomes the immortal part in us. It doesn’t fear anything, least of all proofs. But if you’re searching for it, I’ll tell you the one place where you are likely to find it.”

I smiled, rested my chin on her lap and whispered: “Tell me the secret, Gigi.”

She drew closer and, in the same soft voice as my mother when she bid me good night, murmured:

“True love requires the greatest leap of faith you will ever take.”

And with those words, as if by magic, the weight of several months of questions lifted. I closed my eyes, my mind finally appeased, and my heart filling with gratitude. I sat at my great-aunt’s feet while she stroke my hair and listened to the everyday sounds of Paris outside my windows, like a quiet, simple lullaby.

When church bells finally tolled in the distance, it felt like I was awakening from a long, peaceful sleep.


Everything that followed, passed in a blur.

All too soon, I ascended the church steps, holding onto Gigi’s fragile arm. The doors of the great Church of the Madeleine opened and the angelic voices of an invisible choir spilled out, taking my breath away. I took careful steps down the aisle, trying not to gape in wonder at the sight all around me. Millions of candles floated in mid-air, their glow soothed the blue, the gold and the marble of what looked less like a French church and more like an ancient Roman temple. Hundreds of pairs of eyes gazed at me; the crowd seemed to stretch beyond the gigantic columns, into the painted frescoes and ornate detail of the walls. Benevolent rays of light cascaded from the zenith of the domes above, as if coming from the heavens.

And at the end of the aisle, dwarfed under the monumental sculpted altar, was Seth, beaming.

My heart pounded beneath the ancient necklace; I barely noticed Gigi letting go of my arm. In an instant, I was beside Seth. His eyes sparkled with emotion. I hadn’t expected to see him so vulnerable.

The priest began his sermon but I struggled to concentrate. All I could think of was how magical everything was. Everything was bigger and more extraordinary than anything the little girl in me could have imagined. This moment was beyond fairy tales, beyond dreams. My chest was bursting with the need to talk to my mother, to find a way of telling her “Everything turned out alright, Mama.”

Tears filled my eyes and my throat. Then the priest turned to say Seth’s name.

I heard my prince say “I do”.

For a second, I thought I saw a shadow cross over the priest’s face; but it was only a candle that had gone out, leaving behind a ghostly helix of smoke that spiral-led upwards towards the heavens.

“Jessica Desroches,” the priest proclaimed, “do you take Seth Pryce to be your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part?”

As I was about to answer, I caught sight of Thaddeus. I hadn’t noticed him before, although he was right behind Seth. He looked straight at me, his face sombre, his eyes shining a fierce silvery light.

In a split second, my mind flooded with the images of the dead man in the Louvre, the double reflection of Thaddeus on its glass case, my head resting on Gigi’s lap, the meaning of true love, my mother washed away on a wintry beach. Love, life and death all crystallized in this one instant, when my voice was suspended in silence, the promise it hid illuminated by a million candles. As the milliseconds turned to dust, my gaze was pulled skyward by an invisible hand, to the figures towering above the altar.

Saint Mary Magdalene, eyes downcast, hands outstretched, was letting go of her mortal self. And, lifting her to the heavens beyond, five formidable angels, their dazzling white wings as tall as a man.

Then, in an instant, as if ascending from a great depth, the church around me, with all its splendor, luxury and gold, rushed back in. As everything coalesced into focus, words finally took form in my mouth.

“I do.”

Seth let out a silent breath, his trembling hand reaching for his stomach, then quickly falling by his side again. To shut down the murmurs and whispers creeping on the cold stone floor, the priest bellowed, “The ring is the outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible love that binds your two hearts together.”

It all became a blur again, the sermon reaching me by fragments. Soon, the ring was on my finger and the gold reflected the monumental shape of Mary Magdalene above.

“Jessica and Seth, you have pledged yourselves to each other by your solemn vows and by the giving of rings, before God and these witnesses.”

The word ‘witness’ made me glance in the direction of Thaddeus, bute had entirely disappeared from my line of sight. It felt like a relief.

“I now pronounce you husband and wife. Those whom God hath joined together, let no man separate.”

Seth cupped my face with his hands; his fingers brushing the skin of my neck sent waves of warmth to my spine. When he kissed me, his lips tasted of joy and tenderness. My happiness was so complete it felt like I was taking flight.

Our kiss would be the last thing I would ever remember.


I am on a boat, sailing on a green river.

The sky above is a strange shade of black; stories in an alphabet I don’t understand, written in blue ink, appear in the firmament like constellations, and morph as we progress on the emerald current. Rays of light brush against my bare skin every now and then, as if there is a hole in the black veil. On the banks, giant centipedes slide into the water.

“We have arrived,” Anubis says.

The boat is still in the middle of the large river. I am about to ask where we are, but the water suddenly boils, and becomes a giant green eye. In an instant, dozens of figures surround us, looking down on our boat.

“Bow, my sister, before Osiris, Lord of the Underworld and just Judge of the Dead. Bow before the forty-two jurors.”

I stand in the centre of a vast cave in the middle of where the green river flows. The jurors are sitting in niches on the cliff face. The green eye is filling the void on the dark horizon.

I obey and bow, my gaze lowered.

A terrible and yet familiar scent awaken my senses. The shadows move to reveal a beast; a grotesque mixture of a crocodile, a hippopotamus, and a lion.

“Ammut will devour you if you do not tell the truth,” Anubis says.

I want to say that I am telling the truth, but I have no voice, yet the black dog understands me all the same.

“We shall see when we put your heart on the scales.”

And with these words, he plunges his claws into my ethereal chest.


A man with a long, curved beak writes in blue ink, sits opposite me. It’s Thoth, the god of writing and magic, keeper of the Moon, watching a set of scales. In one of the scale’s trays, a feather, soft as a mother’s skin.

The Feather of Truth.

In the other, my heart, still beating. With each successive beat, it transforms. From red to blue, then from dull to shiny as legs grow from its flanks. Its back smoothens and divides into two wings.

My heart has turned into a scarab.

Anubis, Thoth and the green eye of Osiris observe the two trays of the scales, rising and descending in turn.

I feel the breath of the beast, its vile scent chilling my core.

A baboon suddenly swings on the chain, upsetting the scales and further delaying the moment of truth. He laughs maniacally and shouts, “If your voice is true, my sister, your heart-scarab will be as light as the feather of Good and Evil. And you will enter, blessed, into the Fields of Reeds. However, if your voice is false, your heart-scarab will be heavy, and the beast will devour your stinking soul. Have you told the truth, my sister?”

I know who he is.

Hapi, son of Horus, keeper of the lungs of the dead, warden of the throne. In a shriek, he jumps on my shoulder. Together we watch as the see-saw motion of the scales slows, up, down, up, down. The links of the chain creak and their song mingles with the distant sound of the green river.

When the trays stop, there is no sound at all.

The scales are perfectly aligned.

The beast grunts.

“Your voice is true,” Thoth says.

Then Horus the hawk, the sun in one eye and the moon in the other, appears before me. He smiles at me and takes me by the arm. He guides my steps towards a pinkish, orange light whose warmth fills my empty chest. A few more steps and it illuminates my fingers, my hand, my arm. On the horizon, I see infinite fields bathed in a benevolent sunrise. I feel whole again, and my soul expands with bliss.

A scream tears the fields apart. Hapi, terrified, points at the scales and screeches,

“The heart!”

A hubbub fills the great cave as the jurors stand up to watch. The trays of the scales are moving again.

Osiris’ eye darkens, and the big blue scarab, my own heart, starts speaking in a tongue I do not understand.

“Chapter Thirty of the Book of the Dead is missing!” Thoth growls.

“The heart!” Hapi sneers, his monkey eyes burning a hungry fever. “The heart will betray!”

* * *


* * *

I am the powerless witness to my heart-scarab’s betrayal.

The orange light which has spun between my fingers has vanished. Now the walls shake with the bellows of outraged jurors and Hapi’s amused sneers.

“Tsk, tsk, tsk, my sister,” he hisses. “Did you not heed what was written in Chapter Thirty of the Book of the Dead? Before it is weighed, travelers must always silence their heart, for it is a great traitor. This court has never witnessed a heart’s own testimony. What fate awaits you, my sister?”

The voice of Osiris fills the cave. “Your voice is true. But your heart-scarab refuses the orange light. You must go back.”

I do not understand. The baboon on my shoulder stops whistling. The emerald water ripples with the whispers of the jurors.

Anubis is already at my side, pulling me from Horus, dragging me towards the boat. I want to struggle, but my body is only ether.

“But the green river flows only in one direction,” Thoth protests.

“Then our sister’s soul will go with her Night Traveler,” Osiris declares.

The words in blue ink stop moving. The silence is disturbed only by the gentle lapping of the water against our boat. Everything in the universe holds its breath. Even the beast.

The voice of the heart-scarab rises again. But what it says doesn’t sound like a statement; more like a long wail. The heart’s tale of woes seems to enthrall everyone present. When it comes to an end, Hapi’s face is streaked with tears.

An animated murmur ripples through the cave like a shiver: “The Prophecy! The Prophecy!”

Anubis glances, almost anxious, towards the eye of the judge. Thoth has stopped writing; he slowly looks up to the sky. Soon, everybody’s gaze move skywards. Mouths open in disbelief.

The blue ink spells only one word. Its large letters turn into pure, golden light.

It seems to cast a spell on gods and beasts alike. Everything is still; even the river has stopped flowing. Then a lone voice wails.

“War is coming! Our enemies have entered the House of Osiris!”

The rumours of bad omens seep into every corner of the cave like an icy fog. I can’t take my eyes off the word in the sky. I don’t know what it means, I can’t recognize the alphabet. One letter could be shaped like a pyramid but I cannot be sure. Yet it speaks to my missing heart. The lines it draws suggest a map, showing me the way home. A home I haven’t lived in yet.

“Silence!” Horus bellows.

Hapi sinks his claws into my shoulder.

“The House of Osiris is not at war,” continues the hawk. “Yet.”

“Why is Ma’at summoning the Prophecy now?”

“Because Ma’at has chosen our warrior.”

Suddenly, my ethereal body is burning. The fire within me grows until I look around. All eyes are on me.

“It can’t be! She is not ready!” a juror cries out.

“None of them ever are,” Osiris retorts. “They must become it. She will become it.”

“Does she even know her purpose?”

“None of them ever do. They must seek it. She will seek it.”

A whole chorus of voices spill out from the jurors’ niches. “Who will ensure that the Night Traveler follows the right path? Is the heart true? Is she really the chosen one?”

Suddenly a thundering echo erupts, engulfing the river and its swarming banks.

“How dare you question Ma’at, goddess of truth? How dare you question her Prophecy?” The green eye has nearly turned black with anger. It scans each one of the jurors, silencing them with his unforgiving stare. Once every single objection has been squashed, he declares:

“The Truth must not be told.”

“The Truth must not be told,” the forty-two jurors dutifully repeat.

Then the gigantic eye of Osiris turns to me, filling me with burning ice.

“My sister, you have earned the Fields of Reed, the scales of Ma’at have told us so. They will be your home when you are returned to us. Until then, you must attend to your heart’s unfinished work, and fulfil the Prophecy of Ma’at.”

“When will our sister be returned to me?” Horus asks.

“When the Night Traveler finds the path, and lets her go.”

“Who will ensure the Night Traveler finds the path?”

“Anubis’ messenger.”

Horus turns to Anubis, who nods solemnly. Horus lowers his eyes and whispers, “Thus it shall be.”

With this final, unchallenged proclamation, the eye dissolves into tumultuous waves; Anubis grabs hold of the oar of our boat and manoeuvers it against the flow of the current. I turn back one last time to see Thoth holding my scarab heart and lifting it up to the black sky like a precious offering. Soon there is nothing left of my tribunal other than darkness and raging waters. Hapi digs his claws into my shoulder again, so as not to be thrown off the boat. The storm is monstrous, and Anubis bears his teeth, planting the oars in the green froth at our flanks, to keep us afloat. My eyes open wide to comprehend what we are heading for.

A vast and angry maelstrom.

Overwhelming pain gradually invades all my limbs, my skin, my senses, my mind. I can feel my body again, but the price to pay is too great. I turn to Anubis to beg to return, but his eyes are elsewhere, filled with horror.

We are no longer alone in the boat.

Crouched in the shadow of the little cabin, there is a woman, a satisfied grin drawn on her sublime features. She wears a blue war crown, and her eyes are two empty sockets filled with a moonlit sky.

The monkey, hypnotized, yelps.

“The Queen warrior! Nefertiti!”

Paralyzed by pain and horror, I contemplate jumping into the water. But it is already swirling around us, pushing us down into the black hole of the maelstrom. Its edges are smooth and silvery like a mirror. As the monkey screams again, I catch my reflection in the water.

I am myself again. I have a body. I am no longer a ghost.

But my hair is grey. And my eyes are as green as the green river swallowing us all.

Suddenly Hapi jumps on me, baring his teeth. In one violent push, he forces his muzzle into my lungs. I draw a painful gasp.

I can suddenly breathe.

With breath comes my voice.

With my voice come words.

They are the only thing left when our boat disappears into the dark, watery void.

NEX exists, amen, I am sane? Time, axis. The main exit is... I am the main exit, former saint, inmate, east, east, east! Main exit... is me! NAME EAST I AM SIN MEATS XIII SIXTINE I AM I AM SIXTINE EAT SIN I AM SIXTINE I AM SIXTINE I AM SIXTINE

I am Sixtine.



Nasser Moswen ran, panting down the halls of the Egyptian Museum of Cairo, the loud echo of his steps pregnant with malignant urgency.

Some visitors had paused in their dawdling, throwing off anxious looks: the museum was just a step away from Tahrir Square and stood amongst gutted buildings that were now nothing more than cinders. Egypt was still in the throes of a revolution and, barely one year before, the museum had been ransacked and its mummies decapitated.

The small man continued to run. His mouth dry, his crimson face bathed in sweat, a cell phone grasped in one clammy hand. He zigzagged clumsily between the ancient statues and windows smudged with dust.

With luck, he would be at the Four Seasons hotel in twenty minutes. He swore a silent oath under his mustache and continued his marathon towards the large door that led out onto the street. He took the steps four at a time and sprinted for his car.

Nothing seemed unusual in the streets of Cairo. The ripped sidewalks and twisted pipes from clashes a year before were now part of the ordinary landscape of the Egyptian capital.

It was absurd, Moswen thought. The world should have slowed down, like when one watches an accident unfold. His own life was slipping away, he was so sure of it, and it made him sick.

But if he did not arrive at the Four Seasons in time, it would be even worse.

He started his battered and rusty car and sped off, foot to the floor, into the dense traffic that jammed into the neck of the 6th of October Bridge. He hooted and pounded on his steering wheel all the while pressing “Redial” on his phone.

“Four Seasons Hotel. How may I help you?”

“Has Dr. Al-Shamy arrived?” Moswen screamed.

“Room number, please?”

“No, no, no, I called earlier. Dr. Al-Shamy. He’s giving a press conference in the Champollion room. It’s urgent, I must speak to him immediately!”

“Please hold.”

Moswen overtook a truck and avoided an oncoming SUV by inches, creating a cacophony of horns and shouting to accompany the music from the Four Season’s switchboard.

“Sir, I am sorry but the press conference has begun, and we are not able–”

“I am Dr. Nasser Moswen, the assistant curator at the Egyptian Museum, Dr. Al-Shamy’s deputy. It is of the utmost importance, I repeat, the utmost importance, that I speak to him. It’s a matter of national security–”

“Beep beep beep.”

No network coverage. In a rage, Moswen cursed and tossed the phone onto the ripped passenger seat.

Soon, the massive facade of the Four Seasons loomed up against the blue sky. He drove up onto the sidewalk and almost jammed the horn before finally coming to a screeching halt in front of the hotel entrance. He knew his way to the Champollion Room, his boss’s favorite venue for his many press conferences. As he rushed into the cavernous lobby and then shot past several hotel employees, all dressed in their signature gold and black waistcoats, he felt their disdainful looks as if his race against time had no place in this cosseted world of wealth and privilege.

After finally reaching his destination, Moswen opened the gilt-painted doors. He gasped.

Never before had he seen the room so tightly packed. Cameras on tripods lined each side of the seating area. Every seat was occupied, and large numbers of journalists were sitting on the floor leaning against the walls. The logos stuck to the cameras boasted of all the big international media outlets. Some of the spectators turned to Moswen, who suddenly saw himself as they must have seen him: disheveled and, in its wake, the stale smell of sweat and fear.

But he quickly forgot them: Dr. Al-Shamy, general secretary of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), director of the Egyptian Museum of Cairo and premier archeologist in the country, had stepped onto the podium.

An image of a mummy appeared on the huge screen. A murmur of admiration ran through the room. Then silence settled.

Al-Shamy, a large man of indeterminate age, bent over the pulpit. His hair was jet black, underlined by fine grey lines at the temples and all of it much too thick to be real. The black shirt and blue jeans may have seemed too informal for the gravity of the occasion, but together with tinted glasses which hid the hollowness of his features, were carefully designed to disguise the passage of years. This was a man who had learned the hard way that perception was everything.

The archeologist adjusted his piercing gaze and began to speak in his characteristic nasal monotone.

“For ninety years, since Howard Carter first brought to light the tomb of Tutankhamen in the Valley of the Kings in 1922, there has been a tradition within media circles of insisting on claiming that even the slightest find associated with Pharaonic Egypt is ‘the biggest discovery since Tutankhamen'. Throughout my career as a guardian of the treasures of King Tut and as a representative of Egyptian archaeology, I have personally never used this phrase, even though many of you have tried to force me into it.”

Discrete and knowing chuckles rippled through the room.

“But today,” Al-Shamy continued gravely, “with the discovery of Queen Nefertiti and the seventy-three items associated with her tomb, I give you, ladies and gentlemen of the press, after a century of waiting, the soundbite you've been waiting for. Yes, I can confirm that this is, indeed, the greatest discovery since Tutankhamen.”

Journalists applauded as Al-Shamy, looking even more severe than usual, posed for the photographers in front of the large picture of Nefertiti.

Moswen squinted as the camera flashes caused a new wave of nausea and forced him to hesitate. His head throbbed as he searched in vain for a solution. How was he supposed to talk to Al-Shamy in front of all these journalists? And what if one of the media overheard what he had to say to his boss? Before he could find the answers to his questions, the stern voice of Al-Shamy rang out once again from beneath the gilded moldings.

“Before I share with you the treasures that this discovery has brought to light, I want to talk a little about Nefertiti. We often forget that the epoch in which she lived, called the Eighteenth Dynasty, was a period marked by profound revolution. The pharaoh Akhenaten, her husband, had abandoned the religion of the time and established a new order. This would have impacted all levels of Egyptian life and met with strong resistance from the people and the powers that reigned. The country was also experiencing major epidemics of influenza and plague, which weakened it further. When I look at the history of Egypt in the time of Akhenaten, I can’t help but see similarities with the upheavals that our country endures today. And yet, more than three thousand years later, do we remember Akhenaten’s reign as one of chaos? No. Instead, we recall it as one that gave birth to such excellence that it is still shines today. But most importantly, we remember the serene grace of Nefertiti.”

He cleared his throat and continued to speak.

“Nefertiti is the symbol of our resilience and of our culture. From schoolchildren forming their identity as citizens, to men and women who build the Egypt of tomorrow from the debris of Tahrir Square, right through to the archeologists who work day and night to safeguard our heritage: all Egyptians recognize Nefertiti as their queen.”

He paused and stared at his audience like a judge staring down the accused.

“Nefertiti represents eternal Egypt,” he continued, hammering his words onto the ears of his listeners. “And yet she will never return to Egypt.”

A journalist shouted: “Is it true the mummy is cursed?”

Al-Shamy’s dark, unforgiving stare zeroed in on the corner of the room where the unwelcome question had erupted. He said nothing, letting silence express the magnitude of his contempt for both the rumor and the press corps. The reporter cowered in his seat.

As the entire Champollion Room waited in baited breath, Moswen slowly approached the podium.


A few hours earlier

* * *

Florence sighed with frustration.

It was a pain to be sitting here, and the impressive view of the three pyramids of Giza was no compensation at all. She was hot and her fluorescent tank top stuck to her curves. It was six in the evening, and yet she was sure that she could feel the sting of sunburn on the white tattooed skin of her shoulders.

The cameraman was dozing against his tripod. The sound recordist was grumbling because he couldn’t get his caffeine fix. They had rushed dinner to be here on time, but now the guide was late.

The night shoot for BBC Television was not starting out well at all.

And to think that at that very moment, Florence could have been sipping iced tea surrounded by the cold marble of the Four Seasons Hotel lobby. Her mind turned again to Andrew, that moron. But that only made her temper worse.

Florence Mornay had pink hair, red fuchsia lips regardless of the season or reason, a sharp tongue and gave the impression of not taking anything too seriously. Her deep vowels and perfect diction combined with a slight West Country twang suggested upper-class roots from somewhere near Cornwall, but this was so out of keeping with her numerous tattoos and prolific swearing that many thought it just a ruse.

They were wrong.

Her full name was Florence Ottoline Desiree Mornay-Devereux. The name Mornay-Devereux had been emblazoned upon the pages of encyclopedias thanks to the glorious deeds her ancestors had performed through the ages. Many statesmen, some intellectuals, a few knights – but none so well remembered as Vivant Mornay, a gentleman traveler, archeologist and antiques collector. His name was still mentioned more than a hundred years after his death, not because he had led a more remarkable existence than his forefathers, or left a deeper imprint in humanity’s history. But his gracious – some said convenient – contributions to the world’s top museums had earned him the honor to have one of the less visited wings of both the British Museum and the Louvre named after him.

Charles Mornay, Florence’s father and the tenth Viscount of Falmouth, had long worked to distance himself from Vivant Mornay and his brand of mindless plundering, cultural appropriation and colonial arrogance. Charles had instead worked all his life, and in his spare time railed against the establishment from his seat in the House of Lords. He had instilled in Florence, his only daughter, a healthy respect for hard work and cultural sensitivity. He had taught her to always question the easy path presented by the good fortune of noble birth, and for that Florence was grateful.

The family tree of her mother was just as storied and perhaps even more prestigious. So much so that it had proved too burdensome for Eloïse Devereux, the young hippie poet who, as soon as her daughter was born, chose to fly towards the freedom offered by a spiritual community in India, rather than face being caged in Falmouth Manor’s luxurious domesticity. She never returned.

Florence, the last in the direct bloodline, gifted at birth with a famous surname, a loving father and a revenge to take on an abandonment never quite explained, desired one thing only: to make a name for herself. But despite a doctorate in archeology from the University of Oxford and a few minor screen television credits for a couple of BBC films, at twenty-eight years of age, the prodigal daughter was decidedly a nobody.

Until she found the Nefertiti story.

She would never forget that stormy night in Berlin when she first heard it. She had tried hard to, though. The faceless mummy in the dark basement, the woman with a skull tattooed on her face, and that strange fever that had brought visions and long-buried secrets. If the world media found what was on record fascinating, her off-the-record conversation had to be the strangest she’d ever had. A shiver ran down her spine. She got up and paced to make the images of that night go away. Nobody had to know how she had secured the exclusive rights to a prime time television documentary – that was her secret. Hers and the tattooed woman, but she wouldn’t talk, she was sure of it. All that mattered was that Florence got her promotion and her name would forever be linked to Nefertiti. All was well, if it wasn’t for Andrew Sheets, the incompetent toad who had been assigned to co-direct the documentary with her.

She looked at her watch again. Twenty minutes had passed and the site of Giza was practically deserted. Since the revolution, it seemed that guides outnumbered tourists. To get a filming permit had been complicated by the fact that the Supreme Council of Antiquities was in complete disarray. Staff changed every other day and at the senior levels, only Dr. Al-Shamy, the general secretary, had managed to retain his position. But, just when she had given up, Florence had received the filming permit she had been waiting for with only days to spare. As luck would have it, the slot they had been given had fallen at precisely the same time as the press conference. Andrew got the air-conned Four Seasons, she got the sweltering heat and the claustrophobia-inducing pyramid.

The sound recordist cursed. The guide who was to accompany them into the pyramid stood only a few yards away from them, just out of earshot. He had been speaking for over a quarter of an hour with a young male tourist who looked like some kind of Ghostbuster.

Amateur Egyptologist, Florence thought. Cairo had always been full of them.

The guide was gesticulating wildly, and the Ghostbuster seemed to be getting increasingly angry. Finally, the young man gave up, sat down on a stone and took out a cigarette. The guide signaled to Florence and her team to follow him towards the pyramid.

As they entered Cheops, the largest of the three pyramids in the Giza site, Florence took a deep breath. She could already feel the panic mounting within her. Millions of tons of stone suspended above her. The largest tomb in the world. Only one way out. Hell on earth.

The pungent odor emanating from the corridors didn’t help. She had no memory of having been assaulted by the smell on her previous visit as a tourist when she was younger, and yet now it was so strong that she was on the verge of losing her early dinner.

“Does it always stink like that?” she asked the guide.

“It is sulfur, in the Queen's Chamber,” he replied in broken English. “But in recent days, very strong.”

Unfortunately, the foul-smelling Queen's Chamber was precisely the room they had to film in first. The room, so named by the early archeologists to differentiate it from the King's Chamber located higher up, was at the crossroads of the axis of the pyramid. Except for its unequal paving and a gate set into a corbeled niche on one side, it comprised only of bare sandstone walls about fifteen feet long by fifteen feet wide.

Not exactly photogenic, Florence thought.

She asked the cameraman to use a handheld camera and to film as if the viewer was walking into the chamber. But to achieve that, he would have to go back into the corridor, an oppressive space three feet wide and only four feet high.

Florence sat on the floor against the wall, by the tripod. She placed the monitor on her lap and connected it to the camera. As the smell threatened to overwhelm her, she said in a bored voice, “Camera. Action.”

John, the cameraman, tried to film the Queen's Chamber from every angle, from every perspective. But ultimately there was nothing to see on the monitor screen other than bare stone walls.

“Cut. That’s fine,” Florence said as she struggled to stand up. “Let’s get out of here.”

“It's not fine for me,” interrupted Robin, the sound recordist, as he removed his earphones. “Someone was talking in the hallway. Can you tell them to shut it?”

Florence looked behind her, as did the crew. The passage was more than a hundred feet long and was completely straight.

There was nobody.

Robin adjusted his headphones again and listened, shifting the boom microphone from one side of the passage to the other.

“Yeah, okay, that’s better,” he said sulkily. “Can we do it again?”

“Fine, but make it quick,” Florence snapped.

She then realized that she had not swallowed in quite some time.

The sides of the passage were closing in on her, and she could sense a claustrophobia attack coming. She clenched her jaw and watched as John repeated his camera movements. But before Florence could say “Cut”, Robin interrupted again.

“I swear there is an echo. If they don’t zip it, we’ll be here all night, for Christ’s sake!”

The guide picked up his walkie-talkie and rattled off a few short sentences in Arabic.

After listening to the response, he said, “We are the only ones inside. No-one else.”

Robin fiddled with a few knobs on his recorder. “There is a voice, I’m not dreaming it. It sounds, like, I don’t know, someone groaning?”

The cameraman sneered. “Cut the crap, Robin, I’m in no mood for this. I’m practically sleepwalking here. Let’s just get this wrapped, alright? Do you really need sound for this, Florence?”

Before she could reply, Robin looked John straight in the eyes and without a word, tore off his headphones and thrust them into the cameraman’s chest. John let out a long sigh and donned the headset. All eyes were fixed on him.

After a few seconds, he took the headset off and said rather jovially, “I don’t hear anything. Robin, you should stay off the shisha–”

Suddenly the echo of an acute growl filled the passage.

Florence almost jumped out of her skin. “What the hell?”

“Sounds like it’s coming from down below,” Robin said, more nervous than smug.

“There is no down,” the guide said. The darkness managed to hide the panic in his eyes but not in his voice. “This passage, the chamber. That's all.”

Robin sought out the origin of the sound with his pole as if searching for buried treasure with a metal detector. Florence’s whole body was focused on the noise.

There it was again. It sounded like it came from a child, or an animal.

There had to be a rational explanation, but at that moment she was incapable of finding it. She noticed that the guide was wringing his hands, never taking his eyes off Robin. She caught John’s gaze and found herself making the familiar sign with her finger which he understood immediately. He pushed a few buttons on the camera.

Secret filming mode.

Robin was kneeling in the hallway when he suddenly exclaimed, “Shit!”

At the bottom of the wall was a hole, the size of a fist. Robin fumbled in his pocket to find a lighter. The flame gave a pop, then danced in front of the hole. There was air coming out of the hole.

“You must all leave now, please,” the guide said hurriedly, no longer trying to hide his panic.

But Robin ignored him. He cupped his hands around his mouth and nose and then pressed them to the bottom of the wall. “Is someone there? Can you hear me?”

Florence had trouble breathing, but she was checking the camera; John was still recording.

He pushed the guide to one side and put the lens against the opening. Florence stared at the monitor, mesmerized. There was a shaft wide enough for two or three rats. The light traveled about three feet into its depth before it was lost in darkness. There was no telling how long it was.

“No filming, no filming!” the guide screamed.

“I'm not filming,” John lied, “it’s just for the light!”

The guide bit his cheek as his walkie-talkie went into over-drive. When Florence checked the small screen again, her heart stopped. She had seen a subtle change in light at the end of the tunnel.

On the other side, something had moved.


“Mom, don’t worry, I'm perfectly safe here.”

Max snuffed out his cigarette before throwing the butt into the small pile he had created. He sat down heavily onto one of the blocks of the Cheops pyramid, his mobile phone to his ear.

With his shoulder-length chestnut hair, six-foot-tall toned frame, fashionable T-shirt, vintage army shoes, and not to mention his twenty-six years, it would be natural to assume that he was not the kind to give in to the impossible recommendations of his mother.

But today, she had watched too many news reports on TV, and he loved her too much to ignore her anxiety.

“Mom, I promise you, nothing will happen to me. Yes, I love you too. Give dad a hug too. Bye, Mom.”

Max hung up, pressed “Redial”, and waited.

On the horizon, the clouds of orange dust rose from the ground, squirmed and disappeared.

The khamsin, Max thought. The wind from the Sahara, with its warm, dry breath that made men crazy and brought bad omens.

“Hello, SCA.”

“Good morning, ma'am,” Max said in Arabic, trying to keep the desperation from his voice.

“My name is Max Hausmann. I am a Ph. D. student in conservation architecture at the Architectural Association in London. This morning one of your colleagues called and gave me permission to come and do an R.P.S. reading in Khufu today at six o’clock. I showed up with all my gear, but no one here seems to know anything about it, and I was not allowed in. This is the third time I call your department, but each time I get cut off. Would you please, ma’am, kindly check in your files? My name is Hausmann, H. A. U. S. M. A. N. N.”

“I’m transferring you to Archives. Please hold.”

Max sighed.

It was a lost cause. Since the revolution, no one was responsible for antiquities, the country, or anything else. What saddened him above all was that, in his excitement at receiving the coveted permission from the Supreme Council of Antiquities, he had not asked for the name of the person who had given it to him, orally, over the phone. And of course, he did not have anything in writing. Beginner’s mistake.

Yet Max was no novice. For thirteen years, he had been studying the internal architecture of the Great Pyramid. In his early teens, he had discovered the mysteries of Egypt in a comic book. Soon after, he was pasting archeologists’ drawings and copies of articles onto his bedroom walls, and, in time, his own photos taken on his first visit to the pyramids, at the age of fourteen. Then followed months of original research for his post-graduate studies.

But apparently somewhere along the way to being highly educated, he had become unbelievably stupid. How could he not ask for the name of the person who gave him that precious permission?

“Hello, SCA, how can I help?”

This time, the voice was male. Max breathed deep and told his story yet again. But then something caught his eye.

A camel galloped straight towards the entrance of the pyramid, and the armed policeman who was riding it yelled at two of his colleagues before rushing inside.

“Do you have the name of the agent who gave you the permission, Mr. Hausmann?” the man at the SCA asked.

“Err… wait,” Max said as he realized that two policemen were running towards him.

“I’m sorry, we don’t have anyone by that name.”

But before Max even had time to consider his options, one of the policeman grabbed his phone and ended the call while the other shouted excitedly and gestured at Max’s equipment.

They spoke too quickly for Max to understand precisely what they wanted, but he began to think that rather than wanting him gone, they were instructing him to follow them.

Inside the pyramid.

Had his luck changed? With palpable tension and fear in the air, somehow this didn’t feel like a lucky break. He asked them to explain what they wanted him to do, but all they could say was “Go, go!”

Max bundled up his equipment and followed the guards into the corridor leading to the Queen's Chamber. Almost at once the smell of sulfur burned his nose and throat. But it wasn’t just sulfur – there was something else in it. At the end of the narrow corridor stood the guide with whom he had argued earlier. He also recognized the sound recordist who had been waiting outside, and the pink-haired girl. She was very pale.

Something felt very wrong.

“Are those archeological instruments?” the guide asked nervously.

“Yes,” Max answered.

“We think there's someone in here.”

“Where? Here?”

With the toe of his boot, the guide gestured towards a hole, almost level with the ground. Max knelt and looked down the small tunnel.

His heart felt like it was bursting in his chest.

He made a sudden gesture, signaling the others to stand back. He looked around, gathering his bearings as he unpacked and assembled the Ground Penetrating Radar unit. He connected the monitor up to its battery pack and took out a small laptop. His focus sharpened as he made more mental calculations and began to envisage the geometry and structure of the whole pyramid. While he unraveled cables and adjusted levels, he pictured the stones, their mass and density, the pressure on the lintels, the mechanics of the whole assembly, the methods of construction and reasons behind the precise location of each of the slabs. There it was, the opportunity to examine what he had been studying for so long.

Now he had a shot at proving what he had suspected: that there were secret chambers behind these very walls.

The GPR screen showed the first results. Ghostly lines revealed what he already knew. There was a difference in density beyond the stone. A void.

Without saying a word, Max connected a small device as big as a credit card, attached to a tiny LED lamp. He positioned it in front of the hole.

The others saw the image appear on the monitor, but the colors were strange and irregular.

“Infrared thermography?” John, the cameraman asked, his mouth dry.

“Yes. Do you mind?” Max asked Robin, pointing to his boom pole.

He nodded. Max grabbed the pole and attached the device to its end with tape that he tore from a large roll with his teeth. In a single movement, he placed the small camera in front of the opening.

Then, for the first time since he had arrived, he hesitated.

The anguish that had gripped the others was making its way inside Max too. The possibility of something, someone beyond those walls, even though preposterous, gave an icy edge to his movement. At the end of this tunnel, there could be a reality that his happy life had not prepared him to face. At that very moment, he met the eyes of the pink-haired journalist. He felt as though he knew her already – a bond had formed in an instant. Her steady gaze spurred him into action.

Pushing his glasses back up the bridge of his nose, he shifted his weight and gingerly inserted the small camera into the darkness. All eyes were on the monitor.

At first, there was nothing but a featureless tunnel. The limestone block that made up the wall seemed interminable. Max pushed the pole further into the depth of the stone. The images reflected an infinite vortex and then finally, the void on the other side. Everybody held their breath.

Then an object appeared on the monitor.

One of the policemen pushed Max aside to get a closer look at the image on the screen. He stifled a disbelieving gasp. It revealed a treasure that could not be there, in a room that could not possibly exist.

“Oh, my God!”

John’s were the only words that escaped any of their lips. Robin's mouth hung open. Florence’s eyes glittered with excitement.

“It looks like…” she began.

“Tutankhamen?” Max breathed.

The guide, as if gripped by madness, began to shout and scream. One of the guards seized Max while the other cocked his assault rifle and pointed it at the film crew.

“Get out!” the guide yelled.

Max tried to struggle but the space was too narrow and the policeman’s grip, strengthened by fear, too tight. In the melee, the guide fell against the pole.

Then Florence screamed.

They all turned towards her. Her hand was on her mouth and her eyes, bulging, stared at the monitor, which became the center of attention again.

A body, a human body, moved slowly in the darkness on the other side of the wall.

Long hair, a delicate neck. A woman.

Max wrestled control of the pole and the monitor, and managed to adjust the colors. A thermal camera could not lie. The heat levels were there for all to see. The body was orange, red and yellow. But the shades were pale.

“She’s alive,” he breathed in disbelief.

“Get her out!” he started to scream, but the words were stifled in his throat by something else on the monitor.

A man’s body. Rendered in the cold, dead hues of blue.


In the Champollion Room of the Four Seasons Hotel, journalists squirmed in their seats, waiting for Al-Shamy to resume his briefing. A tall, skinny, ginger-haired man with popping eyeballs and a BBC TV badge winced as Moswen elbowed him in the ribs to get closer to his boss.

“According to our research,” Al-Shamy finally bellowed, “Nefertiti was likely discovered in 1932 on the Amarna site in a search led by a German archeologist, Dr. Friedrich Dortius, and financed by a rich merchant from Berlin, Adi Goldman.”

Moswen edged his way close to the dais.He paused, looked up from his notes to make sure he had everyone’s attention.

With a trembling hand, he scribbled a note on the only piece of paper he could find, one of the scattered press briefings that littered the room. His clammy fingers closed on the message. His boss glanced at him sideways for a fraction of a second, before continuing.

“Even at that time, the rules regarding archaeological work were clear: everything had to be declared to the authorities and Egypt had the right to retain half of all artifacts discovered. However, we now know that the vast majority of Dr. Dortius' discoveries, including the mummy of Nefertiti, were dispatched to Mr. Goldman's Berlin address without first going through the proper channels set out by the Cairo Antiquities Bureau.”

“Our records show that at least up to 1937, everything remained untouched. But, by the end of the war, Mr. Goldman was dead, and Nefertiti had vanished.”

Moswen saw the ginger-haired man chuckle silently to himself. No one else was laughing.

“Seventy years later,” continued Al-Shamy, “Mr. Goldman's great-grand-daughter, Sophia Neumann, stumbled upon his correspondence and began searching for Nefertiti. Her investigation led her to an abandoned warehouse in Berlin, where she found a cache containing two hundred and three Ancient Egyptian pieces, all of outstanding beauty. Among them, the sarcophagus of Nefertiti, with its mummy, intact.”

He paused.

“Sophia Neumann called three internationally renowned Egyptologists to assess her treasure. One by one, they delivered the same verdict: everything was fake.”

Gasps rippled through the room.

“The forgeries were not even competent; even the most casual of enthusiasts could see the scale of the deception. As the sale of forgeries is illegal, they advised Miss Neumann to destroy everything.”

“But a few days before she was due to incinerate her fake Egyptian treasure, she met Yohannes DeBok, an antique dealer and renowned ‘fake-buster’, as is called in the profession – an expert in forgeries. When so many fakes are found together, there can sometimes be clues to the methods, identity or ‘signature’ of a known forger. DeBok spent three days and three nights in the warehouse. When he left, he announced to Miss Neumann that her collection of “junk” was worth between thirty and fifty million dollars.”

Al-Shamy allowed the crowd to voice its excitement, letting the tension in the room escalate for a few seconds before continuing.

“To protect his seventy-three real Egyptian antiquities,” he said, clearly relishing the moment, “Goldman had disguised them as worthless copies, and then placed them amongst more than one hundred and thirty fakes of equally mediocre quality. Did Goldman’s ruse confound the Nazis treasure hunters when they discovered the shed and then simply abandoned it, thinking that the pieces were not genuine? Or was the hiding place never discovered at all? We will never know. What we do know, however, is that without the intervention of Yohannes DeBok, Nefertiti and her treasures would all have been burned to ashes.”

With his climax delivered, Al-Shamy stopped to drink from a glass of water and soaked in the exhilarated hubbub that enveloped the room. The journalists were beside themselves: was it not everyone's fantasy to find a priceless treasure in a forgotten attic? But the archeologist didn’t bask long in the glory of his revelations: the sight of a sweaty, mustachioed man holding a crumpled note and bearing down on him from the floor of the hall, caused his smile to falter.

“A very urgent message, Sir,” Moswen whispered in his ear as he passed Al-Shamy the note.

Moswen could feel Al-Shamy’s gaze boring into the back of his skull as he turned and walked away from the stage. When he thought he was a safe distance away, he turned to find that the chief archeologist was already speaking. Had he read the note? Moswen doubted it. His exhausted body relaxed so suddenly that he thought he was falling apart. He had delivered the message. There was nothing else to be done, except wait for the inevitable.

Al-Shamy’s voice once again boomed around the room.

“Today, it would be unthinkable for someone such as Dr. Dortius to tear artifacts from Egyptian soil and then make off with them with such impunity. Forty years ago, UNESCO enshrined in law the principle that antiquities belong by right to the country in which they were found, whether during looting or archaeological excavations. This law facilitated the repatriation of countless illegally acquired treasures which, in turn, supported the creation of museums and a vital tourism industry, but above all, it enabled Egyptians to take back what was always rightfully theirs: their own history.”

A note of evangelical fervor began to resonate in Al-Shamy’s voice.

“But the powerful lobby of antique collectors has succeeded in severely curtailing this law so that it applies only to antiques that were taken out of the country of origin after 1970. Sophia Neumann holds documents that trace the provenance of Nefertiti’s presence in Europe since 1937. And so, this lady, who has never visited our country, can therefore dispose of the remains of one of the greatest queens of Egypt as she wishes, at whatever price she sees fit.”

He marked a pause, as if the grief was too much to bear.

“At best, the buyer will be one of the great museums of the world. But nothing prevents her from selling to some anonymous collector who could, if so inspired by the apothecaries of old, and absolutely within the bounds of the law, reduce the remains of Nefertiti to powder and ingest it, in the false hope that it will enhance sexual prowess.”

The room shuddered with shocked murmurs. Moswen saw the BBC man whisper what seemed like a joke to his cameraman. His colleague reluctantly managed a polite half-smile.

“Egypt,” bellowed Al-Shamy, “does not have to be a slave to such an immoral auction. Ladies and gentlemen, as Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities and Minister of the Egyptian Government, I hereby officially request the repatriation of Queen Nefertiti, not in her capacity as an archaeological treasure, but in the name of the return of the remains of one of Egypt's greatest heads of state.”

Applause thundered around the room as camera flashes strobed chaotically. Al-Shamy kept the uncompromising expression of a schoolmaster, staring down at the projector's remote control. The next moment, all eyes were fixed on the screen as glimpses of the fabulous treasures were revealed: coffins, canopic vases, amulets, furniture, jewels, as well as a wide array of other objects, all of singular beauty and quality. The common consensus in the room was that these treasures easily rivaled those of Tutankhamen.

Only two people were not looking at the screen, but at Al-Shamy, as he unfolded Moswen’s message, read it without blinking and then stuffed it into the pocket of his beige blazer.

One was Moswen.

The other pair of eyes were set within the unique features of a black man well into middle age, with a short, white beard and a gold earring.

Seconds later, a lesser bureaucrat was left to take questions from reporters, as Al-Shamy, followed closely by Moswen, marched toward the black SUV parked in front of the hotel lobby. Al-Shamy was walking faster than his assistant, with a certainty of purpose that made clear he would not be distracted. So much so that when the black man bumped into him and then began to apologize profusely, Al-Shamy quietly walked on without looking back.

The other man, however, observed and followed with interest the race between Al-Shamy and his assistant towards their car. He waited for the vehicle to move off before opening his broad, muscular hand that was clenched around a simple, crumpled note, softened by sweat. The ink had run a little, but the words were still legible:

BBC TV found 2 bodies in room A-55. Woman alive. Police requesting permission to drill. URGENT.

A smile creased the man’s face as his gold earring reflected the dim light of the lobby’s black crystal chandeliers.


When the tour buses arrived in Giza the next morning, it was sheer mayhem.

The plateau was swarming with journalists who had come to film the pyramid, but it was the tourists who posed the bigger problem. Many were crying, some shouted. How could Egypt expect to attract tourist dollars if they were treated so shabbily? The police did their best, forming a protective cordon while guards directed the groups towards Khafre and Mykerinos, but nothing helped to assuage the fury that mounted with each new coach of eager arrivals. As far as they were concerned, there was just no excuse for this, the most shameful of crimes against tourism: the Great Pyramid was closed.

“Crime Scene”.

The night had been long. Al-Shamy and Moswen had been slow to arrive; the streets were clogged by protesters and a police van had been set on fire. Al-Shamy had ordered Moswen to call Mohammed Hassan, one of the police chiefs he knew, and Moswen was forced to be the messenger of more bad news: Hassan had been suspended pending his trial following the death of three protesters. The police officer in charge was Kamal Aqmool, a recent arrival.

“The one that stutters,” Moswen added sourly.

Al-Shamy clenched his teeth but remained calm. As he reversed at speed down the broken sidewalks, trying to extricate himself out of a smoky cul-de-sac, his phone rang. He tossed the handset to Moswen, ordering him to answer. But as his assistant did so, his face was drained of its remaining color. It was the editor of News Night, the BBC’s primetime news program.

She wanted confirmation that two bodies and a treasure had been found in a previously unknown chamber in Cheops.

Al-Shamy cursed and slammed his fist against the steering wheel. Above them, the rotor blades of a helicopter forged a path through the dust and smoke towards the pyramids.

It took all night to extract the bodies, under the cool supervision of police chief Kamal Aqmool.

First, a robotic high-pressure water jet, borrowed from the army's bomb squad, cut through the limestone. The stone was porous and easily cut and all was progressing well. Al-Shamy was told that the damage to the building fabric would me minor. That did not stop him from pacing the length of the Queen's Chamber agitatedly. But soon, it was discovered that the block was too thick, diminishing the efficacy of the water jet. As the night marched on, precision work gave way to bludgeoning. The remaining stone was hacked and hammered away in desperation.

Al-Shamy’s anger mounted, flinching with each blow as if it was an assault on his own body. He had not opposed it, though. The damage to the last remaining Wonder of the World of which he was the custodian may be horrific and irreversible. But the visceral, life-long urge to discover what lay on the other side was so much more powerful. A little before dawn, rubble from the four-ton stone block through which the tunnel was cut, lay strewn across the passage to the Queen's Chamber. The wall was finally breached, and what was behind was, at last, accessible.

And neither Moswen, nor Al-Shamy, nor Kamal Aqmool, nor any witness there that night would ever forget the sight that the ruins revealed.

Once the dust settled, it revealed a room about twenty-three feet long and seven feet wide. The walls were bare, unadorned, without inscription. The floor was entirely covered with a very fine powder of white limestone, a result of the breakthrough. Under this snow-like blanket, a man was lying on his back, along the long axis of the room.

He was naked. The limestone dust covered his black hair, a tattoo on his stomach and a large wound on his chest. It was barely visible, but his body had begun to decompose. Around his body, flowers were already dried and rotted.

Beside him, the body of a woman moved with slight and almost imperceptible jolts, unconscious, but as if in a fever, every so often emitting a soft but tortured moan. Her body was also naked, also tattooed with the same motif, and extremely thin. She was wrapped in a shroud of the same white powder that formed a fragile film over her long, gray hair. One of the paramedics pried open the woman’s eyelid; the iris was emerald green.

As the stretcher-bearers tried to move her body, Al-Shamy entered the room. But he barely looked at the bodies. Instead, his eyes zeroed in on an object lying in a corner, near the opening. He walked towards it, but the police chief's hand gripped the archeologist's thin arm and held him fast.

“Let me go,” Al-Shamy spat, glaring at Aqmool.

“I cannot let you in before the f-f-forensic team has done their job,” the policeman said calmly.

Silence settled between them. The police chief was tall and slight, and his manners betrayed a western education. His grip was firm, and his arms were discreetly toned and muscular. His good looks could have belonged to any of the famous TV actors, and only a slight stutter disturbed this perfect picture.

“How dare you? Do you know who I am?” Al-Shamy erupted, quaking with anger.

“With all due respect, doctor,” Aqmool began.

But then he saw what was shining in the corner of the room. He motioned to one of his colleagues to collect it.

“You'll have plenty of time for your inspections when we're done.”

“And that? Where are you taking that?” Al-Shamy demanded, pointing at a pharaonic mask the policeman was carefully placing into a black plastic bag.

“It is evidence,” Aqmool replied.

Al-Shamy gritted his teeth and looked right at the police chief.

“And how long will that… that circus take?”

“One week. Or more.”

“And the pyramid will have to remain closed?”


“One week? We'll see about that.” Al-Shamy turned to his assistant, “Moswen, you stay here and make sure that these idiots do not damage the rest.” He faced the police chief again.

“You do realize, Aqmool, that it's your history that you've ransacked here? And do you know what's left of our country without its history?”

“We saved the life of a–” the policeman began.

“A woman?” Al-Shamy cut him off. “Hundreds have died since your gang turned this country upside down in the name of revolution, so spare me the heroics. Egypt is already in ruins.” He gestured towards the rubble. “These stones are all that we have left so that the world does not spit on us. That's all that's left of our pride.”

Aqmool remained in the Queen's Chamber. The archeologist contorted his body to make his way out along the passage. The paramedics followed the same path with the stretcher.

But then, Aqmool saw Al-Shamy stop, turn around and look behind him at the woman lying on the stretcher. Before anybody could intervene, Al-Shamy had pushed the medic aside and removing the blanket protecting her. He placed both hands on the victim's neck, and immediately her moans grew louder.

Aqmool ran, but by the time he reached the stretcher, the archeologist had already removed his hands. He had not hurt her, but only wiped away the thick layer of dust from her neck and shoulders to reveal a strange, embossed pattern that glittered and shimmered as the woman’s chest shuddered.

A necklace of the finest gold filigree and lapis lazuli cascaded over her neck and shoulders, setting alight the pupils of the two men that gazed down upon her.


The man with the gold earring walked along the corridors of the Egyptian Museum. He did not hurry, but did not stroll either. He climbed the steps with the calm air of someone who knew where he was going: Room 3, North Wing. The farthest room from the lobby one floor down.

As he passed one of the guards dozing on a chair, he waved. The guard greeted him, watched him for a few seconds, then returned to his sleepy passivity. The museum did not often get visitors like the man with the gold earring. He wandered about like a regular, always alone. But he was not Egyptian. His complexion was caramel, like most Cairns, with light brown European eyes, and facial features that hinted at West African origins. Well into his fifties, but with a straight back, he was wearing a faded black suit that, once, had been expensive; now it was wrinkled and shapeless.

Only the gold earring shimmered anew under the museum’s spotlights.

Two life-size statues guarded the entrance to his destination. There were only about a dozen visitors in the large room. In the past, there was always a crowd of people so dense that one could barely get a glimpse of the display case. The most one could hope for was a fleeting glimpse stolen from over the heads of the tourists. But that was before the revolution. The man had not known that time. He had arrived when everyone was already running away.

He lingered at the edge of the gallery and waited for the space in front of the display case to become free. He looked down at the grooves of the stone tiles. He knew them by heart, and where the natural pattern formed a V, he placed the end of his worn shoe, the one where the leather was slightly stained. He put his other foot next to it, perfectly parallel to the stone's joint. Then he raised his head and looked straight ahead, locking his eyes with those of one of the most famous kings in human history.


The world’s love affair with ancient Egypt began here, with a treasure so vast it was the stuff of dreams, a gift from the gods beyond to the living to feed their hunger for gold and all things precious. The teenage pharaoh went into death with as much luxury as he had possessed in life, as witnessed by the one thousand seven hundred objects of his funerary adornment. The kings of Egypt of the Eighteenth Dynasty were no longer interred with their queens, concubines, foremen and servants as their ancestors before had been.

But, in their place, Tutankhamen took with him four hundred and thirteen ushabtis, the figurines that represented them. Games, hunting weapons and furniture were also found in his tomb, along with his lion-legged throne and the nested caskets, one in gilded wood set with semi-precious stones and the other in solid gold. And the object that crowds flew from all around the word to see and that had become part of the pantheon of universally recognizable images ever since that suffocating summer of 1922:

Tutankhamen’s golden funeral mask.

With his nemes head-cloth of alternating bands of gold and blue glass to match the lapis lazuli, quartz and obsidian of his eyes, Tutankhamen was more than a treasure. He was a physical link to those remote and dazzling days when Egypt had been at the center of the world.

The man looked at the mask in its fortified display case for a long time. He stood motionless, as if wanting to pay homage. Then he opened his shirt to reveal a small compact camera resting on his coffee-colored torso. The guard saw it, breathed deeply and turned away. Photos were strictly forbidden.


The guard did not move from his seat and continued to look to the other side of the gallery. The man with the gold earring shuffled around to the left side of the case, placing his feet on yet another imaginary mark.


He repeated the sequence on the remaining sides of the case.

Click. Click.

After covering the camera with his shirt once last time, he left as he had come, bowing to the guard who was too intent on biting a fingernail to notice.


“Show me this m-m-m-map,” Aqmool said in English.

He was standing in his white police chief uniform, his beret on the desk in front of him between rumpled files and stained coffee cups.

“It's not a map, it's a plan, and it's in the computer you confiscated,” Max replied defensively.

He had answered in Arabic. Max spoke German, English, French, and Arabic fluently, and had used the local dialect hoping the cop would take him seriously. Aqmool shouted for one of his flunkies to retrieve Max's equipment from the evidence locker down the hall.

Max sighed. It was eleven o'clock in the morning. He had not slept for twenty-eight hours, and he was already sweating in the heat. In his unkempt state and apparent disdain for authority, Max may have looked a rebel, but the truth was he had always lived by the rules. He didn’t do drugs or booze and his friends always teased him that girls were the last thing on his mind. Which was incorrect, but Max had never felt the need to set any record straight. All that mattered to him was his pyramid, and the fierce debates he frequently had with his tutors on the subtler points of architectural theory, revealed an extraordinary tenacity, and, when pushed, even temerity.

But in front of this policeman, in the decrepit police station, Max was in alien territory.

Water-green paint peeled off in chunks from the walls and fell to the floor where it collected in the corners of the rooms. Fetid aromas and stale, hot air flowed between the iron bars, leaving behind a grimy film on the once gleaming gold frames that showcased the smiles of the new men in power. Computers were slow, staff were frenzied and he could hear shouts in the street. Max tried to drive out the images of violence he had seen in the press, and replace them with what his own experience over the years: Egyptians were the most welcoming people on the planet. But try as he might, this morning he could not shake an inescapable fact:

He was scared.

The assistant arrived with Max's stuff. It had been confiscated when the police came to Giza, a few minutes after the guide had expelled them all. Together with Florence the pink-haired girl and the film crew, he had spent part of the night in the police hut at Giza and the rest on hard benches. All of their equipment had been taken, but Florence had got word to her boss at the BBC, and the cameraman had managed to conceal a USB thumb-drive with all the images from inside the pyramid, including those taken by the thermal camera. That concealed key made him nervous; he had something to hide. The policeman in front of him did not look like a torturer, though. Who ever heard of a stammering executioner who looked like a soap opera star?

Aqmool slid the laptop towards Max. A few clicks later, Max made two drawings appear on the screen.

One showed the corridor leading to the Queen's Chamber as everybody knew it: a simple pathway leading from the larger hall to the smaller Queen's Chamber. But the other, drawn in red to show the differences with the original, described a very different space: a corridor almost twice as wide, and serving a total of twelve chambers on each side. Each chamber was precisely the same size as the chamber they had discovered the previous night, now called Room X. The drawing suggested that the narrowness of the existing passage was due to the presence of the massive blocks that served to close off the chambers.

Aqmool stared at the screen for a long time.

Max wriggled in his chair, and before the policeman could speak, he blurted out, “That’s four years of work. If you want to know how I got there, then keep scrolling down, there are more than three hundred pages–”

“Who has seen this d-d-drawing?” Aqmool interrupted.

“My teachers at the university, my friends, and the SCA of course. I sent them the documents with my application for the permit.”


“Six or seven months ago. It’s all in there.”

Max reached for his laptop back, but Aqmool pulled it out of reach.

“Mr. Hausmann, what were you d-d-doing at Giza?”

“That's what I tried to tell your colleagues. Someone from the SCA – I didn’t get their name – called me on my cell phone to tell me that my permit application for the GPR reading had been approved.” Max could see the doubt in his interrogator’s face and clasped his hands together to steady his nerves. “You have my cell phone, you can check the calls, the call came in this morning at about ten.”

“We d-d-did,” Aqmool replied slowly. “The call did not come from the SCA.”

“Well, who then?”

“Perhaps you can t-t-tell me?”

Aqmool’s unfriendly smile made the hairs rise on the back of Max’s neck. “How could I? You guys are the ones who are supposed to trace the calls?”

Max’s fear was giving way to frustration and anger.

“I assure you, Mr. Hausmann, there is no need to get upset. If I have kept you here, it is simply because I need your help.” Aqmool took a deep and uneasy breath and looked right into Max's eyes. “I have two victims on my hands. I do not know who they are, what they were doing there, or if anyone else was involved in getting them into the pyramid. But that's for later. First of all, what I would like to know is how such a thing is even possible. It took an entire night, advanced equipment and six men to break through that wall. My men just called to tell me that they have tested the whole length of the walls of that passage and they are convinced they are all of the same material and thickness. Same for the floor and the ceiling. My forensic experts are telling me that the last time these blocks were moved was three thous