The man known as Al Shabah slipped between the pillars of the crumbling ruin. He spotted the gaping hole across the site, the entrance littered with discarded tools. The tomb raiders thought they’d located the lost tomb of Mekerepsut. Al Shabah smiled – as long as they occupied themselves with the false tomb, they wouldn’t disturb his exploration of the real one. Judging by the silence of the site, they wouldn’t disturb him at all tonight.
The real tomb of the 22nd Dynasty princess lay at the edge of the ruin – Al Shabah found the entrance by accident the day before. Before the revolution, its location would have been reported to the authorities, but now it was every man for himself. Some would call him a grave robber, but the way Al Shabah saw it, he sold what he found to collectors, not pawn brokers. At least he was keeping antiquities in circulation.
A quirk of ancient architecture hid the tomb’s entrance, turning the narrow gap into a shadow cast by a nearby pillar. Al Shabah slipped through the gap, and made his way down the tunnel. Mekerepsut’s burial came long before the temple that hid her tomb, and given her reputation for darker magic, Al Shabah wasn’t sure she’d be pleased to lie beneath the feet of Isis worshippers.
Al Shabah felt his way along the tunnels, his fingers becoming his eyes. Before long, his nails scraped the smooth stone that signalled the entrance to the tomb. He switched on his torch and breathed a sigh of relief to see that the seal was still intact. He knelt down and forced his hand pick into the wall. He always broke in below waist height – if anyone came snooping around they’d expect to see a hole at eye level, not down by the floor.
The rhythm came easily as he chiselled away at the gaps between the bricks before prising them free, and he soon had a neat pile of stones at his side. The hole was large enough to crawl through, although he’d need to enlarge it to remove anything of note. He slipped a white mask over his nose and mouth, and crawled through the gap.
Al Shabah stood up on the other side of the wall and frowned. The tomb was smaller than he expected, its walls carved instead of painted. The sarcophagus lay on the other side of the chamber, surrounded by statues of animals. He thought there would be gold, or perhaps fine furniture, not a stone menagerie. Al Shabah ran his hand over the head of a leopard – he knew a dealer in Cairo who might give him a decent price, but removing them all would take some time.
He flicked the beam of the torch around the tomb. A smaller chamber lay to his right, but he would explore that after he’d looked inside the coffin. He’d sometimes found riches hidden with the body, and someone like Mekerepsut was bound to have plenty of amulets within her wrappings. If she was as dark as he’d been led to believe, those amulets would fetch a fortune on the black market.
Al Shabah smirked at his own joke as he knelt before the sarcophagus. He pushed hard on the lid to test its weight, and it heaved aside with a scrape of stone on stone. More carvings filled the sarcophagus, and Al Shabah recognised snippets of familiar stories among the hieroglyphics.
It’s like they gave her something to read.
He shuddered, and leaned in to examine the coffin. Her painted eyes stared up at him, and their slanted angle made her look sly.
Like she’s plotting something.
Al Shabah found the edge of the lid and wiggled his nails into position. The wood of the cartonnage gave way easily, and he hooked his fingers under the lid. He prised it upwards, and spluttered. The air smelled old, even through his mask.
He gave himself a moment to recover, and peered into the coffin. He expected to see a mummy, swathed in ancient cloth, perhaps weighed down by amulets, or surrounded by shabtis. He once even found a mummy wearing an elaborate death mask, surrounded by scrolls.
What he saw this time was an empty coffin.
“What? Someone got here first?” He swore aloud, and bent over further, running his hand across the wood as if he might find a secret compartment. It wasn’t unheard of.
Something tapped on his shoulder. Al Shabah stifled a shriek and leapt to his feet. One of the grave robbers at the fake tomb must have followed him. The thought his assailant could be armed drove a yelp from his mouth, but then he thought of the empty coffin. Anger replaced fear.
Something long and pointed tapped on his shoulder again. The ghost of a whisper rasped in the stale air behind him. Al Shabah spun around. He had no time to see anything before his world imploded.
His lifeless husk would be found in three days’ time.
Three days is a long head start.
* * *
If you enjoyed this post, why not check out my post over at Nerine Dorman's blog, where you can meet Bakt en Hor, the lady in the image adorning this flash?