A brightly striped camel hair tent was sitting on a hill in the middle of the desert, in a place once known as the ancient city of Aznac. In the distance before the tent, was a undulating valley made up entirely of sand, ending abruptly narrow belt of emerald green. A wide strip of palm trees, verdant farm fields, irrigation ditches, mud brick homes and boundary walls marked the course of the Nile. Elsewhere, there was nothing but sand. Sand that had held its secrets close to its heart, for thousands of years.
In the direction of the river, faintly heard on the wind, came snatches of the call to prayer from a distant minaret. Sometimes one could hear the crowing of a cockerel or the braying of a donkey. Otherwise, the only sound was the caressing whisper of the ceaseless desert wind. The sun was just setting. It turned the monotonous beige dunes crimson as blood. Normally, this would be a peaceful moment at the end of a long January day. But, from inside the tent, came the sound of angry voices.
"Tell him I'll hear no more about it!" Shouted a clipped, cultured Englishman's voice. "I'm a modern man of science. And I assure you all, there are no such things as evil spirits. I can unequivocally guarantee there's no monsters lurking about 'round here. It's all a load of superstitious tommy-rot! This is nineteen hundred and thirty-eight A.D., not nine hundred and thirty B.C. And as for you, young man...you've caused me a lot of unnecessary bother. I want you off of this dig as soon as you can pack your things. I mean, right now! And you can forget about a place at university. I wouldn't recommend you for a job as a...a...fish monger!"
The ornately decorated rug placed across the tent's opening was violently pushed aside. There emerged a man with a stormy, choleric expression, whom walked briskly away. He didn't notice the Nile or the sunset. He was too busy cursing under his breath. The man was short and wiry, with a trim, pencil-thin black mustache. He was wearing khaki jodhpurs, a white shirt, tweed jacket and a bow tie. On his head was a pith helmet, and his feet were encased in dusty brown paddock boots. An old army revolver in a brown holster was strapped to his belt. A few dozen paces in front of the tent was an archaeological excavation site, which he headed purposely towards without so much as a backwards glance.
All around the area were sweaty, dirty, robe-clad labourers with rustic digging tools. They were working near what appeared to be the remains of a rather substantial stone wall. Or rather, the men had been working. Now they'd stopped. All of them had fallen strangely silent. They were staring apprehensively at a deep, dark crack in the sands around one corner of the wall. It had opened without warning, sucking one worker into its fathomless depths. The man had given a terrifying scream, which seemed to go on forever, before it cut out quite suddenly with one final, horrific shriek.
Professor Havensworth chalked it up to a simple cave in. Obviously they'd stumbled upon some sort of underground chamber or tunnel. He cast a baleful eye at the workers and sniffed with disdain. As far as he was concerned, these fellows were merely ignorant superstitious peasants. He supposed they simply had looked for any excuse to stop working. However, the local sheik or whatever he was, whom had been summoned here, seemed to disagree.
Out of the tent strode a tall, powerfully built middle aged man. He was dressed in a red and white patterned Arab headscarf and immaculate unadorned scarlet and white robes. His craggy, bearded face had a fierce, warrior-like expression. Flanked by two giant Nubian's as he walked, this man exuded an air of power and authority. The pair of guards were clothed in scarlet and gold trimmed uniforms and red fez's. Both carried huge shiny curved swords at their sides.
Behind these two, came a young Egyptian man. Unlike the others, he was wearing worn but clean
dark brown trousers and a tan shirt with frayed cuffs under a faded blue jumper. His hair was neatly combed, and his face and hands bore evidence of having been recently washed and scrubbed. Despite his humble posture, the young man's eyes wore a quick, intelligent expression. This was Ahmed, the Englishman's assistant and interpretor.
It was he who bore the worker's fears and concerns to the professor, while Havensworth was busy examining some finds in his tent. When the professor ignored him, Ahmed walked away, shaking his head in dismay. In the end, he had one of the men go and get someone in authority to come here. And just got sacked for his trouble.
"Get back to work you lot! I'm not paying you to lark about, gawking at a hole in the dirt!" Havenworth berated the workers, waving his arms about ineffectually.
Behind him, came the tall man with his guards. Ignoring the professor, the man began to shout at the workers. He indicated with his hand that they should go. Spinning on his heels, Havensworth couldn't understand a word the head man of the area was saying, but the man's gestures spoke volumes.
"What? Now hold on, old chap. You can't... What do you think you're doing? No! Don't do that!" He hurried up to the man, but the two guards warily kept him at bay.
Havensworth stared in disbelief. He pointed at himself. "Me. In. Charge. You understand, yes?"
The man's face was unreadable, his posture implacable. He said or did nothing to indicate he'd even heard Havensworth. He simply stood unmoved, watching the workers file out of the work site.
Without his young interrupter, Havensworth was at a loss. He stood before the worker's leader, gesticulating and pronouncing his words as if he were speaking to a wee child, or an idiot
"Men..." The professor pointed towards the workers, who were putting down their tools, relief clearly showing on their faces, "no go! Men stay! They work. Get money. Feed their families. Yes?"
But, the man he so disrespectfully addressed was no child. Nor was he an idiot. He knew of the evil thing which lay beneath the sands of Aznac. Now, so did all of the workers. And they wisely wanted no part of it.
Professor Havensworth knew something very special and mysterious awaited his discovery here. But, he didn't believe for a second that it was anything dangerous. At least, not to him. To his staid mind, the most mordacious things on the site were scorpions and vipers. But he was wrong. Very wrong. Something was waiting, down in that crack in the earth. Something which had lain dormant for three thousand years. Disturbed by the digging, it was awakening. And it was hungry.