[Story] FORGOTTEN SANDS Chapter 2
Ifeoma Isabella Okeke
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“Do you speak Arabic?”
Lera asked hopefully
She wasn’t very good at English since she’d never gone to school, but she’d picked up enough from the various researchers who were perpetually in the area to make herself understood.
The dark man frowned, murmuring something to himself, then gestured somewhat imperiously towards Lera and spoke again in that strange language. Lera shook her head.
“I don’t understand”.
With a faint sound that could have been a growl, the man took several steps forward and gestured at Lera’s clothes “Dirty”.
Lera blinked “You do speak Arabic!”
Then what the man said registered. “I’ve been digging in the sand to find this temple, of course I’m dirty”
The man scrowled, apparently affronted by this, and looked Lera over slowly. In the dim light, now that the torch was not shining directly on him, he was nearly invisible in the darkness. The only spot of color on him was that of his eyes, shining a soft gold and almost appearing to glow.
Unnerved, Lera looked away.
He had to be a lost tribesman of some sort. That would explain his clothing, or lack thereof, and his strange language. Though how he had gotten here in the first place remained a mystery.
Abruptly the man spoken again, fluid syllables flowing off his tongue and he guestured sharply at Lera before turning and striding from the room. Feeling a little lost, but with nothing better to do, Lera jogged to catch up with him.
The dark man led them through the twists and turns of the temple, into what might have once been a kind of courtyard in its prime. The far end, however, disappeared into a wave of sand, and the way the dark man drew up short killed Lera’s hope that perhaps he might know another way out.
Although Lera still didn’t understand the words the man spit out, the meaning behind them was pretty clear, swear words were pretty universal really.
Done swearing at the sand the dark man looked toward Lera, eyes doing that strange trick of the light again. “You came how?”
Lera rubbed the back of her head.
“Er, I fell”.
The dark man looked puzzled, so Lera gestured and led the way back to the room with hole in the ceiling, pointing up. “I fell through there”.
“Saaa….” the dark man said softly.
“Yeah”. Lera grimaced. “And I doubt anyone will bother to come looking for me, so unless you happen to know another way out, we’re probably going to die here”.
She only had enough water for one day, and that only for one person, after all she was going going to die of thrist. In the important find of her life, with a lost tribesman for company.
So lost in her own morbid thoughts was she that when the dark man spoke again, Lera jumped.
“Do you wish for death?”
Lera frowned, then shook her head “No, of course not. There’s still so much I want to do with my life”.
The dark man regarded her thoughtfully, then tipped his head up to eye the hole in the ceiling. Lera followed his gaze, though it still looked as it had since she’d fallen through. Only the angle of the sun had changed. It was getting late and night would fall soon.
“Come”, the dark man said abruptly “Into the temple we must go. A storm comes”
“A storm?” Lera repeated, scanning the sky through the hole again. Still on change.
“Can you not hear it?” the man asked, already heading for the inner chambers.
Although Lera listened carefully, she could hear nothing out of the ordinary. Still, she didn’t particularly wish to be caught in a sand storm.
Death by suffocation was bound to be even more unpleasant than death by dehydration. So she checked to make certain she wasn’t leaving anything behind, and jogged to catch up with her mysterious companion.
The dark man was waiting for her at the first turn, and they traversed the rooms in silence save for the soft patter of their footsteps.
They stopped in the inner alter room, though the dark man did not go behind the curtains. Instead, he sat down upon the floor with a great deal more grace than Lera was capable of, leaning his back against the wall and closing his eyes.
After a moment Lera followed suit, wiggling to get comfortable, unable to find a good spot on the hard stone. At last she bunched her pack up, and used it as a pillow, settling down with a quiet sigh.
Barring a miracle, she would probably never see her family again. In a couple of days the desert would take her to its collection of dead. Maybe in another thousands years someone would find her dried body and wonder who she’d been.
As the darkness of sleep finally began to over take her, she could just barely hear the faint sound of whistling wind from far way, muffled by the thick stone walls. It seemed the dark man’s storm had come after all…….
When she woke up, Lera was alone. Her things had not been disturbed, not even her water, and Lera took a long drink before getting up gingerly. The stone floor had not been the most comfortable to sleep upon, but at least it was clean. That, and the pristine condition of the walls murals, led her to believe that the temple had been very well cared for in its hey day.
Abruptly Lera realized that she could see the murals, indeed the whole room, without the aid of her torch. There was light spilling in from the doorway, and it was not the wan light of a torch. Her heart racing, Lera swept up her pack and dashed to the doorway, following the lure of the light around one corner, two, and then suddenly she found herself blinking in the middle of an elaborate courtyard as bright sunlight streamed down from overhead.
As her eyes slowly adjusted to the change in light, Lera stared at the unearthed temple around her. Somehow, during the night, the sandstorm had blow away all the concealing layers to leave the temple just as it must have been centuries ago, untouched by time.
Movement nearby drew her attention, and Lera veered off to the left where she found the mysterious man from before, kneeling on the ground next to a square stone box which looked to have been a pool of some sort in ancient times. Dry now, of course, but otherwise intact.
As she approached, the man looked up.
“Sabaah el kheer. Did you sleep well?”
“Sabaah el nuur”, Lera replied automatically, dazed. “I, uh…” she looked around. “This is incredible”.
“What the sand takes, the sands can also give back”, the dark man responded cryptically. It might have simply been Lera’s imagination, but it almost looked like he was smirking. “Since you are not dead, what now will you do with the life you have been given?”
Lera shook her head slowly. “I don’t know… I want to be an archaeologist, study ancient things. I was hoping the discovery of this temple would help, earn me enough money to go to school. But now that it’s unburied, it’s only a matter of time before….”
She trailed off as the glint of sunlight on water caught her attention. Before her eyes the long dried out pool was filled with water so crisp and clear that she could see all the way to the bottom. It was impossible. And yet, there it was, clear as day, while the dark man sat on the edge and trailed his fingers in the water.
“How…” Lera’s words caught in her throat “How did you do that?”
The dark man looked up, a faint smile playing about his lips. “Hmmmmmm?”
Lera swallowed. “A sandstorm can do a lot, but…but not all this”, she gestured around them, “And it certainly cannot make water come out of the ground into a pool that has been buried for millennia”. She licked her lips, which were quite suddenly very dry. “Who are you, really?”
In the sunlight, the man’s golden eyes didn’t seem quite as eerie, though they still glinted in a manner that was far from reassuring to a sane, rational mind.
“You may call me seshem”. He moved his fingers through the clear water, causing ripples that spread out across the pool. Although he appeared to be watching them, at the same time he didn’t appear to be looking at them at all. “The water was meant to be here”.
Lera frowned “Meant to be here? What does that mean?”
Seshem looked up at her, the light catching his eyes. It made Lera want to take a step back, or perhaps forward, she wasn’t sure.
“The sand comes and goes, but it cannot change what is meant to be”. Seshem spoke softly, but there was a strength beneath his words. It allowed no room for denial, for argument, as though what he said had to be the undeniable truth.
“Now that the water has come”, Seshem continued in a more normal voice, “Will you bath?”
What? Lera looked at the water, then at Seshem, and shook her head. “No, I…. I need to be getting back. Mother will be worried”.
Seshem sighed, apparently still harboring some lingering resentment over Lera’s unwashed state, and got to his feet. “I will guide you to your home”.
Lera blinked. “No, that’s fine, I know the way”. She still wasn’t sure what to make of the mysterious Seshem, who didn’t speak Arabic and then did, whose eyes seemed more animal than human, and whose minimal clothing left entirely too much of his toned body exposed. It had been harder to see in the temple, where Seshem’s dark skin blended into the shadows, but out in the bright sun every sleek line seemed to be on display.
She looked away, so as not to be seen staring.
“The desert can be dangerous for the unwary”. Seshem announced, once more in that tone which brooked no argument. “I would be remiss in my duty if I did not see you safely home”.
Giving in Lera adjusted her pack so that it lay comfortably and set off toward the city. Seshem hadn’t harmed her the prior night, and Lera did have some less than savory areas of town to walk through on the way..
They walked in silence,but it was an easy silence rather than the awkward kind. Every so often Seshem would steer her around a particular patch of unassuming sand,and Lera acquiesced rather than argue,as it was never a large detour. Strange,but everything about Seshem was strange
Lera wondered again about Seshem had gotten into the temple,as it didn’t seem to have been the same Lera had.He’d just appeared,as though he’d always been there,though of course that couldn’t be right as the temple had been buried for thousands of years.Then there was the thing with water,which was downright impossible,and the way he’d known the sand storm was coming long before Lera had been able to hear it
Was he some sort of con man?Had he somehow engineered all of those miraculous feats?But that didn’t make sense.It would be pointless to go to so much effort to impress her.Unless Seshem had been waiting for someone else,but that didn’t make sense either as no one else thought the temple was even there
So just who was Seshem?
It was a puzzle Lera was no closer to solving when they reached the outskirts of the city
Curiously Seshem kept pace with her perfectly as they navigated the streets,seeming to know the way to their destination as well as Lera despite it being Lera’s house and not Seshem’s
She was jolted rather abruptly out of her thoughts as she rounded a corner and ran smack into someone.Unbalanced,she started to fall only to be caught by a pair of strong dark hands that swiftly had her back to her feet.The man she’d walked into didn’t need any extra aid to stay vertical,though he seemed to have quite a bit of support as several more men appeared from nearby
“Ah,I’m sorry” Lera apologized “I wasn’t watching where I was going”
The man she’d run into,a street tough maybe only a year or so older than her,scowled “You got me dirty,stupid dog”
Lera looked at her feet,hoping not to irritate the man further,but the way his friends seemed to be forming a loose semicircle around them certainly wasn’t very re-assuring “My apologies,I did not mean to disturb you”
“No?” There was some movement,then Seshem’s hands landed on her shoulders once more,and every seemed to slow to a halt.When Lera looked up,the street tough’s eyes were wide,all staring at something behind
One of the toughs took a step back,then shook his head “I’m outta here” In that moments,the street was clear.
Lera took a step forward,then turned to looked at Seshem.His eyes were doing that strange thing with the light again,but other wise he didn’t look particularly unnerving.
“What did you do?”
Seshem smiled,baring his teeth ever so slightly “I advised them that it would be not to their advantage to pick a fight”
Lera frowned “But you didn’t say anything”.
Seshem chuckled quietly “Not all communication needs be in words” He gentle steered Lera back in the direction they’d been heading before the interruption “Come,your mother waits for you”
Not quite ready to let it go,but sensings he’d get nothing more out of Seshem,Lera slowly began walking again.There was something going on,and she didn’t know what,but she was going to find out.
When they stopped right outside her house,Lera was not surprised.She stepped inside,Seshem following as far as the threshold.Lera shook her head
There was a sound from the cooking area,then her mother appeared in the doorway “Ah,there you are.Out all night,you must be….” She tailed off,the bowl
she was holding sliding from her hands and hitting the floor with a clatter.By some miracle it didn’t break
There was a soft sound from just behind Lera,then Seshem swept past she to kneel at her mother’s feet,carefully picking up the bowl and depositing its contents back inside before rising and placing it gently back into her hands with a smile.
“You…” Her mother found her voice again “You are…more than you seem”.
Smiling,Seshem gently kissed her cheek “Indeed”
Lera found herself scowling “All right,I’ve played along this whole time,but this is too much.Who are you really?What are you doing all this?What do you want?”
Her mother gave a sound akin to a stifled gasp,but Seshem simply looked amused “I told you,I am Seshem”.
Lera frowned,crossing her arms “So you said,But there’s a lot more to it than that.Seshem isn’t even really your name,is it?”
This time,his response was a low chuckle “I never said it was”.
Making a frustrated sound,Lera only barely resisted the urge to stamp her foot “Then who are you? What game are you playing? I’m no one; I don’t know what you expect to get from me”.
All of a sudden Seshem was far too close,though Lera could hardly even remember him moving.
A heartbeat passed,then Seshem’s lips curled upward in ever so slight a smile as Lera failed to react “You don’t even realize,do you?” he murmured “You found me,you set me free,and you don’t even know what it is that you have done”.
Struggling to pull herself away from that hypnotic gaze, Lera shook her head
“What are you talking about? I didn’t free us, that sandstorm did”
Seshem’s eyes, shimmered. There was no other word for it “Of course”. He stepped back, putting him not quite so immediately in Lera’s space, and Lera had just started to relax when everything tilted, heat and spice and oh great gods of her mother Seshem is kissing her.
She barely even noticed when Seshem pull away, her head still reeling it wasn’t until that rich voice sounded somewhere behind her that Lera managed to pull herself together enough to turn.
Seshem was standing in the door way, backlit by the sun, making him appear as an ebony shadow with golden eyes.
“I will return to you, when the time is right, my unknowing priestess”.
Then he was gone.
When the hand touched her shoulder, Lera jumped and spun. Her mother let out a little squeak,taking several steps back and holding her hand close to her chest. They both stared at one another for a long moment, then Lera let herself relax and moved foward to take her hands in apology.
“I’m sorry, Ummi. I didn’t mean to startle you”.
Her mother shook her head “You, that man…………”
Lera felt her cheeks fill with color “That…….. I didn’t expect………”
“He is an ancient soul”.
Lera blinked “What?”
Her eyes were intent “He knows time, but it does not know him. Step carefully, my daughter”.
“An ancient soul?” Lera frowned “What does that mean?”
She reached up and touched her cheek “I have told you before that stories are real. Now you have brought them home, and still you don’t believe. If that one cannot teach you, you truly are hopeless”.
Lera frowned, but she did not let her speak.
“Go get washed. You are going to be late to work”.
And that did the magic.
As she rushed to get cleaned up and off to work, she attempted to force all thoughts of the mysterious Seshem out of her mind. It was just a bit of trickery that had no place in the real world, best to forget all about it and go on with her life.
But even after she was hard at work, she could never quite put the image of golden eyes out of her mind.
Three weeks passed, and though golden eyes still haunted her dreams, in the day light hours Lera had nearly managed to put all thoughts of Seshem from mind.
The museum still would not acknowledge her, and the university simply laughed. Everyday she expected to see someone else get credit for her find, but there was nothing, no news of a newly discovered temple, not a word. Surely someone had to have noticed it, and yet, nothing.
“What the sands take, the sand can also give back”.
What if the sands had again taken away, and buried the temple in a sea of of featureless gold once more? Perhaps that was the reason no one found it.
She needed to go and see for herself. She had a full day off tomorrow, she could go out to the temple and see—
Lera stopped dead, staring at the image which had caught her eyes. Staring back at her from the pages of a newspaper was Seshem, no longer practically naked but dressed to the nines.
Tearing her gaze away from that so familar face, Lera forced herself to read the Caption.
Sufyan Ameed Aburan
Then something else cuaght her eyes
Fury riseing up in her, Lera crushed the paper in her hands, her feet already moving well before she realized where she was going. By that point, her course was set, and there was no altering it.
They looked at her askance as she stormed into the building, but it wasn’t until she attempted to enter the elevators that they tried to stop her.
“Where is he?” Lera demanded, wrenching her arm out of the grip that had held it “Sufyan or Seshem or whatever he’s calling himself”.
They struggled for a few moments more, until a rich, familar voice caused everyone to freeze.
“Hmmmmm, you’re early”.
Lera turned to find Seshem regarding her thoughtfully. He held out a hand, and Lera was utterly unsurprised to find herself moving forward to take it. Seshem whisked them both into the elevator, and the doors slid shut.
“You……….” Lera pulled away “What do you think you are doing? That was my find, my temple, and now you’ve brought up half the excavation teams in Cairo ! Just what-“.
The rest of her tirade was cut short as Seshem pulled her close and kissed her.
“So much beauty and passion bottled up inside, it is remarkable that no one has seen it. I think they are all blind”.
Lera blinked slowly, then her brow furrowed in confusion. “What are you talking about? You never make any sense”. Seshem laughed, low and rich. “Of course not. You have not yet learned to listen properly. But you will”.
“I listen just fine”, Lera muttered, but at that moment the elevator doors slid open again as they reached their destination. Seshem stepped out first, though he only made it a few paces before stopping dead.
In the middle of what appeared to be a very expensive office stood a man. He was dressed like someone out of a history book, in strange armor with a sword at his back, a helmet resting on a nearby table. His features marked him as a foreigner, not remotely Egyptian, though the best Lera could guess was European of some sort.
The strange man smiled coldy at them.
“Anubis. So nice to see you again”.
Seshem did not smile back. “Ares”.
Lera frowned. Ares? Anubis? What game were they playing at?
“It’s been a while”, ‘Ares’ said, the easy, casual words at odds with the way he held himself, as though tensed for a fight.
“It has”, Seshem agreed neutrally. “However did you get out?” Ares inquired, smiling through his teeth.
Seshem smiled back, just as chillingly. “That which is meant to be, will be. You should know this by now, for all that you struggle against it”.
Ares scowled. “You and your riddles. You’re as bad as that dammed sphinx”.
“Given the relative intelligences of you and the lady and question, I shall take that as a compliment”.
Seshem replied dryly.
“You insult me, sand dog”, Ares snarled, reaching up to grasp the hilt of his sword.
Lera tensed. Whatever was going on, it was getting to the point where she’d rather be somewhere else.
A glance at Seshem, though, showed that the dark man seemed ulterly unconcerned with the weapon- wielding mad man in his office. Just as he’d been unconcerned when they’d been trapped in the temple, or when those street toughs had threatened them.
Who was Seshem? Lera’s own mother had said he was ‘more than he seemed’, but what did that mean? And did it have anything to do with the way this Ares was calling him Anubis?
Anubis, the Jackal-Headed god of the dead. There had been a statue of Anubis in the temple, the one she’d removed that odd pendant from. That Greek pendant.
Slowly, so as not to call attention to herself, Lera slid a hand into her pocket and wrapped her fingers around the object she found there, eyes still on the two men standing stock still, poised on the edge of conflict.
Seshem had shown after Lera had removed the pendant from the statue of Anubis.
The Greek pendant, on an Egyptian statue, and now there was a man calling himself after a Greek god asking how Seshem, or Anubis had ‘gotton out’ of the temple? Or……
Fist wrapped tightly around the object in her hand, Lera carefully slid it out and surreptitiously looked down. The golden pendant was exactly as she remembered it, including the pervading sense of wrongness.
She couldn’t believe she was even considering the idea, but the longer she looked at it. The more certain she become, no matter how impossible it might be.
Her mother had been right all along. There were gods in the world, and they were real.
Infact, they were about ready to tear one another to pieces……
Fist closing again,Lera drew in a careful breath and took a step forward. “Ares? Is that your name?”
Attention briefly diverted from Seshem,Ares glance barely acknowledged her before returning to the only real threat in the room.
After all,Lera was only human.It wasn’t like she could actually do Ares any harm. At least,Lera thought with an internal smile that did not show on her face,that was what Ares believed.
“I don’t suppose you want to tell me what’s going on here?” Lera continued,pulse racing,scarcely able to believe she was deliberately approaching a madman with a sword “This guy”,she jerked a thumb at Seshem “is crazy as a monkey,saying all these weird things and now you show up claiming to be Ares, and calling him Anubis, and you don’t really expect me to buy this right?
Frowning,Ares spared her the briefest of glance again,and made a slight shooing gesture with his free hand “Go away,little mortal.I have not the time for you right now”
Lera slid a step closer,keeping her breathing as steady as she could make it “Yeah,I got that.I just wanted to ask you one thing before you two continue your little spat..”
Irritated,Ares finally looked directly at her “What?” he growled
Lera smiled and slowly raised her hand “Is this yours?”
Seshem’s bark of laughter snapped Ares attention away from Lera and back to himself,and Lera promptly took the opportunity to slap the golden pendant against the armored man’s chest
Although Ares head wrenched back down to stare at Lera,the deed was already done.A greyness speard out from the place where Lera’s hand held the pendant against that armored chest,swiftly overtaking the man’s entire body until all that remained was little more than an exquisitely detailed marble statue wearing remarkably aultentic Greek armor,a sword in one hand.
Cautiously,Lera slid her hand away to reveal the golden pendant,now fused to the metal of Ares breastplate.She stared at it several long moments,then slowly turned around to face Seshem
Who was smiling broadly,those impossible golden eyes all but sparkling. “I knew you were special”, Seshem stated,far too smug for his own good,but Lera had no chance to call him on it before she found herself kissed once again,and it was all she could do not to melt into a boneless puddle as his mouth was plundered with far too much skill
When at last they parted,Lera discovered that it was only the strength in the dark arms wrapped around her that was keeping her upright.She flushed,although she didn’t pull away “So,Anubis,huh?” she mananged,looking up at Seshem
Seshem scowled “Anpu.Those fools never could pronounce our names,so they made up their own”
Lera hid a snicker “I see. So what does Seshem mean,then?”
“Guide”,Seshem replied with a smile “One of my many roles”
“Guess that explains the walking me home”, Lera muttered,looking away so that she didn’t have to deal with those eerie golden eyes
Seshem’s strong fingers gripped Lera’s chin,turning her head back so their eyes met again “You are up set”
Lera shook her head “I’ve just seen a man turn to stone before my eyes,and been informed that,by the way,gods are real. And have absolutley no concept of personal space”
Lauging again, Seshem finally let her go,carefully placing his hands behind his back.”Better,my feisty little priestess?”
Lera scowled “Why do you keep calling me that? I’m not a priestess”
Seshem smirked “Of course you are.I chose you,so you are my priestess” He moved closer again. “Who else but a priestess would be able to release me from my cage after finding my temple in a sea of endless forgotten sand?”
“That was just luck. I was looking for a temple,but not specifically yours.I didn’t even know you were there!”
“And yet you found me anyway and freed me.You knew exactly which amulet to remove,and left the rest in peace”
The protest died in Lera’s throat,for she truly had nothing to say to that.
When Lera stayed silent,Seshem took that as a permission to invade her personal space again.
“You will stay with me,yes,pretty priestess?” Seshem asked lowly “Keep me company in this new world that does not know me”
Lera shook her head slowly “Why me?” she asked “I’m just..human.Shouldn’t you be hanging out with other gods”
Lera was startled to see traces of sadness in Seshem’s eyes “The others abandoned this world long ago.Only I am able to move freely between this world and Amenti.For the rest,such a thing is simply not possible”
Lera swallowed,trying and failing to imagine what it must be like to be the last of your people in the world.
“Fine,I’ll be your priestess,but on a trial basis.You learn to behave or i’m out of here”
Seshem’s golden eyes glowed with a positively devious light,right before strong arms wrapped firmly around Lera’s waist
Lera’s scathing reply was lost in the depths of Seshem’s mouth as the man-god kissed her again..
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