The Agents' boat gently weaved between ships and barges as they headed into the port in the early morning sun. As usual, they drew a few strange looks.
'Look there,' said Arthur, slowing the boat so as look as inconspicuous as you could, having just came in from the Atlantic in a speedboat.
Two police boats had converged around what looked like a crash. Bits of wood was scattered on the water's surface.
Not wanting to get too close, X held the boat back so it was merely riding the current.
X nudged Arthur, who dropped his hand into the water. A bit of the flotsam floated smoothly as it was cradled in Arthur's hand. 'Fort-William's?' X asked.
'Possibly...' Arthur watched police divers come up with shrug. 'I doubt he was on it though.'
Ody repositioned the pistol on his chest holster. He didn't know why he kept it — he was an archaeologist, for heaven's sake. But he often had dreams of shooting some Arabian show-off who had been flashing his swords around for about half an hour threatening to kill him... these also usually ended up with him carrying some maiden back with him into the sunset on his horse. Well, he had the horse, but the maiden was still unknown to him....
The gun was an antique of recent vintage — an heirloom, in fact. The only piece of of a family long since dead and buried. Ody found the whole thing bitterly ironic, that his only remaining connection with his father was a weapon of death.
Something didn't feel right. He looked around. He'd always kind of had a sixth sense that had served him well in life. And now it was throbbing like it had never throbbed before. His horse clearly felt it too, because it was throwing its head around and moving unusually. He carried on cautiously, with his pursuers just out of range. Soon he was approaching the camp again, back where he felt more comfortable, away from the city...
At the dig site, in a dark and remote corner away from the circle of tents that marked the expedition's focus, a new wall, previously unseen, came into sight. The ambitious digger carried until there was a crack. Through the crack — a moment's reflection on something — a deep blue glow, and the digger couldn't take his eyes off it. Something had been unleashed from a tomb that had been hidden for thousands of years....
Imagine a camel marching past a metaphorical camera, which pulls out to show a busy Moroccan street, then pans up to settle on the window overlooking the street and the forlorn figure inside, pacing about looking anxious and agitated.
Arthur watched and sighed from the window of a small room before turning and placing the splintered part of Fort-William's boat on a square table, next to some unappealing waxen fruit. He flopped down in the chair and rubbed his forehead, then, to the shock of X — who was dozing on a collapsible bed — slammed his fist on the table in frustration.
'What do we do?' said Arthur to the room in general, 'We've got nothing! Fort-William could have left Casablanca by now and we wouldn't even know it. He probably has. Back on a ship to Gibralter or... or... something. And we're just sitting here waggling our thumbs.'
X looked at his hands and quickly stopped waggling his thumbs, embarrassed. 'We don't even have anything on where Sreka and Daltmooreby took that girl,' X unhelpfully pointed out.
'We have nothing at all,' Arthur sighed heavily. 'No, wait, we haven't got nothing, we've got a bit of wood. Well, that's just great isn't it?' he mockingly waved the piece of boat in the air.
'Something'll turn up,' X said, trying to soothe the splinters in Arthur's professional pride. 'It always does,' he added encouragingly.
Ody arrived back at the dig site just in time to see the flurry of excitement and activity draw workers from all across the camp. He got down off the horse and found Haziz, the sort of foreman of the local diggers in his employ, on the dig.
'Haziz, what's happening?' he said, grasping the man by the shoulders as he hopped down off the horse.
'Not sure, Ody. Follow me.'
Ody kept pace with Haziz, and over the far side of the camp they found Jamila headfirst down a hole. Ody bent down, hands on his knees. He flicked up the rim of his fedora and, addressing Jamila's ankles, asked the obvious question. 'Erm... what's going on?'
Jamila started at his voice and clambered out of the hole. 'Oh, Ody — it's incredible,' she said, giving him a sandy hug.
'What? What is?'
'Oh, oh, right,' she said, wiping the dirt away from her face on her sleeve, 'you remember those hieroglyphs you found on the plinth last month?'
'Yeah, the odd ones. Not in the glyph database.'
'Yes, not in any of the recognised forms...' Ody peered down into the hole. There was a glimmer; it reminded him of something... '...Hieratic, Demotic or Coptic.'
Still gazing somewhat distractedly over her shoulder at the hole, Ody murmered 'Uh-huh.'
'I set a dig here this morning on a hunch. After you left, I figured the glyphs were not describing star constellations like in Giza, but local coordinates, tracking from the north, to give a location on a map. It's set out a little way away from the rest of the ruins we've found, which makes me think this is a far bigger site than we originally anticipated.'
Ody was impressed. 'What on earth is it?'
'I think it's a door — or a coverstone, more likely. It's probably a sealed entrance into another chamber. What I can't figure, though, is that light — there's something down there that's catching the light. Balthazar broke the seal by accident as he dug into the sand to clear it.'
'Well then, let's get it opened,' said Ody.
'Today?' said Jamila, surprised and excited.
'Sure. If that thing has been under the sand for all these centuries I want to know what's glowing in there after all this time.' Ody stood upright and looked to the horizon, in a calm wistfulness. Nothing but blue sky and sand dunes as far as the eye could see.
Slepp and Daltmooreby ducked quickly out of sight when they saw the archaeologist turn their way. 'Do you think he saw us?' hissed Daltmooreby.
'No,' said Slepp.
'Oh thank goodness,' said Daltmooreby, patting his heart theatrically. Dark thoughts of last night briefly surfaced and he struggled to catch his breath.
'I don't understand you,' Slepp said critically, 'We've come all this way for him, but why him — what's so special about that man that we had to come out into this desert?'
Daltmooreby told him.
For the longest time, Slepp just stared at Daltmooreby blankly. 'What?' he finally muttered.
'Look, I'm not happy about this either... but if we are ever to find the location of the Turquoise Moon for Mary....' Daltmooreby left the point hanging and dragged his fingers tensely over light grey stubble that ran down his throat.
'It's strange,' said Slepp icily, picking at an unbent paperclip.
'That your son would be head of archaeology here... of all places.' There was no trace of any kind of suspicion in Slepp's level tone.
'Yes — it is a coincidence, isn't it?' said Daltmooreby through gritted teeth. 'I remember when he was a boy, I was... away... a lot; he always said he hated living in London, Berlin, Moscow. Cities just appeal to different people, I guess,' he said, peeking slightly over the dune, trying to catch a glimpse of his child.
'And the mother?' said Slepp inquiringly.
'HIS MOTHER IS DEAD!' Daltmooreby snapped.
'He'll hear you!' hissed Slepp, waving his hand at Daltmooreby to shut him up.
Daltmooreby calmed down. 'I'll take first watch — from over there,' he said, indicating a distant dune. 'I don't appreciate having my life raked over by an assassin.'
'But aren't you?' said Slepp, the voice of conscience and reason.
'Aren't I what?' growled Daltmooreby.
'An assassin too?'
'For my sins,'. Daltmooreby replied, turned and left.
'motherisdead!!' — the words came to Ody's mind like a voice on the wind. He reached for his jacket pocket and the photograph.
Memories. Not yet. Work first. He took his hand away.
Grand High Mage Wizard Zenokryptonvulcanisationfort-william was near to where the agents were located. In the secluded corner of a casbah, an ancient fortification from a wealthy tyrant now boasted a McDonalds, a Carphone Warehouse and a Starbucks. He was preparing to put through a long-distance collect call from a pay phone.
'Thank you, operator. Yes, I'll hold.'
After a few moments, the operator came back. 'The line appears to be inactive, sir. There is, however, a messaging service — would you like me to put through the call anyway?'
'Yes, yes, do it.' Fort-William was nervous. The Agents might be on his tail; he had to be fast.
There was a metallic blip that made his ears ring uncomfortably. Finally... 'You have reached the Grand Holy Order of The Dying Pilchard, blessed be thy phone call, please leave your name and charitable donation after the beep.'
'It's me!' hissed Fort-William into the receiver. 'Fort-William... er... um... zencryptographysomethingorother — is someone there?'
The receiver on the other end was picked up. The voice that spoke was leisurely — that is to say, old, taking its time because it had no reason to want to hurry. 'Yeeees. Thiiiiis iiiiiis Theee Graaaand Maaaassteeerrr.'
'The Gibraltar operation has gone a little sour.'
'Heh!~Wheeeeere areee youuuu, noooooow?'
'I'm hiding out in Casablanca. What of Stonehenge? Is he risen to power yet?'
'Weeee haaaave heeeard nuuuuuuurrrthing.'
'And me, what can I do?'
'Weeeee heh~xpeeeeeect yoouuuu to dooo youuuuuur duuuuuuuty by thee cuuuuuuuult.' The Grand Master hung up. He'd be abandoned.
'Curse them!' spat Fort-William. 'I'll see that decrepit, wizened old fool turn on a spit for this treachery!' Fort-William saw no sense in running now. 'They will look for me, but I will find them first.'
X had taken Arthur's place and was pacing back and forth, looking guiltily at the fragment of boat on the table. Arthur was taking the opportunity to nap. He had his elbow draped over his eyes and was just slumped on the bed, more or less, where he had fallen in a fit of pique. He didn't stir when there was a knock at the door. X walked over to it and peered out of the security peephole. Whoever it was, they were studiously examining the cheap Van Gogh print on the wall in just such a fashion as to obscure all of their salient features. Arthur didn't move at all. X stepped back from the peephole undid the latch with a click.
Arthur woke suddenly. 'X — no!' he cried, arm outstretched.
X opened the door and Fort-William smiled at him from behind the business end of the gun he was holding. 'Get inside.' He gestured with the barrel. 'Hands where I can see 'em!'
Arthur stood off the bed, hands raised. X backed towards the wall next to Arthur. Fort-William pulled out the chair from underneath the table. It clattered across the wooden floorboards with a hollow thud, which to Arthur for all the world sounded like the opening of gallow doors. For-William sat down and let the gun slip idly from his grasp so that it dangled on his index finger.
'I've come... to seekasylum.'
X and Arthur looked at each other.
'I am at yourmercy.'