xover: Dancing Before the Music Starts
David J. Duncan
For notes & such, please see Part 1
That night, Ardeth Bey tossed and turned in his tent. His head was filled with strange visions and dreams of a time long ago.
He saw himself talking to a tall woman dressed in leather and minimal armor. Her companion, a mediumly built lady was outlining a strategy of some kind which he couldn't quite make out. Then, mounting a horse, he took off in a roundabout fashion across the desert. Why? For ten minutes, he only saw the shifting sands. Finally, he rode up behind a shelter made of animal hides.
"Is she here?" he heard himself say. Leaning close to the wall, he heard chanting and realized, "Xena's daughter! It has to be her!" With that, he cut a hole in the side of the shelter and crawled inside to find an attractive woman of fair skin and long brown hair bound inside.
"Who are you?" the captive inquired.
"My name is Antonius and I am here to rescue you," he heard himself state. "Now, come, your mother and Gabrielle are outside...fighting the witch. I must get you to safety." With that, he cut the ropes at her wrists and ankles and helped her out the "back door". Once there, they climbed on his steed and rode away toward the rendezvous point, knowing that the battle was about to click into high gear....
At that point, Ardeth stirred from his sleep and muttered, "Allah be merciful." Then, he collapsed back into a nervous sleep.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the camp, Rick was having problems as well. In his vision, he watched a dark robed swarthy companion named Antonius ride off into the desert to rescue someone. Then, he stood by his other companion, a young woman named Cleopatra whom he loved desperately. Somehow, he wasn't surprised that she had Evy's face.
"What are our odds?" he asked her.
"What does it matter as long as we're together?" she informed him. "Now, stay close and be ready. I will need your strength."
In front of them, three figures were dancing a deadly pirouette of steel and fisticuffs.
About ten minutes into the battle, Cleopatra stepped forward and exposed her necklace's jewel to the sun, causing it to glow brightly. "Hold me up, please, Claudius!" she implored him.
He readily complied and felt a burning sensation as the sun's rays were collected in the jewel's facets. Then, the energy was released, and he heard screaming. For several long minutes, the protests continued, and then all was silent....
"Now, we must hurry. She will be unconscious long enough for us to get her to Thebes, but we shouldn't tarry here," Cleopatra directed.
With that, the group started off for the temple even as Rick started to stir from his reverie. Looking around, he saw Evy's slumbering form and heard Jonathan's snoring coming from across the campsite.
"Now, what have you gotten us into, Evy?" he worried, falling back onto his sleeping bag and into a fitful sleep.
By 9 AM, the trio of archaeologists had returned to the temple. As they prepared to split up and follow up on their earlier work, Rick tapped Lorenzo on the arm. "Now, if you find anything, Larry...come and get us, OK?" he insisted.
Given his associates' history with this place, he nodded, "Fine with me. Good luck, you two."
With that, he disappeared into the shaft which was Hallway # 9.
Evy turned to her husband, "I hope he'll be okay."
He rubbed her shoulder and reassured her, "I'm sure he'll be fine. Now, let's see what else we can dig up in the treasure room...."
For hours, Lorenzo eased his way carefully down the narrow passageway. With only his torch to guide him, he trudged ahead, staring at the strangely blank walls and thinking that it would be odd not to see hieroglyphs in a hallway related to a temple of this sort.
"It's almost as if they didn't want anyone to know that this place was here," he thought and kept going. Finally, he came up against a solid barrier...a wall of some sort.
"Well, about time that the passage came to an end," he huffed and scribbled some notes in his journal. Then, he beheld that the wall in front of him was covered in spider webs. This fascinated him because nowhere else in the passage had there been a single shred of the silky substance. "Fascinating. I wonder if...?" he started and cleared away the cobwebs to find a door. But the painting on the door froze him in his tracks, making his eyes bulge, and his jaw drop in wonder. "It's real!" he exclaimed. "It's really here!" Even as he said this, he remembered Rick's request. "I have to get them! Evelyn will be so excited!" Turning, he rushed as quickly as he could up the passage and to the rooms above.
Two hours later, Rick stood in the main chamber of the temple, or rather, what was left of it after their previous adventure here. The pillars still lay in a jumbled mess. The walls were washed clean by the torrent which had nearly killed him and Evy, depositing them almost in the exact place where he now stood.
"It's really too bad," he sighed to himself. "What a waste."
Just then, the former adventurer heard hurried footsteps and the dim echoing of somebody yelling. "I hope Larry's okay," he wondered and, after walking over to the passageway's entrance, waved his torch in the darkness and bellowed, "Larry!"
"Rick!" his friend's voice called back. "Find Evelyn! We must tell her...about the...door."
The ex-legionnaire drew one of his trusty pistols. Despite the fact that the young professor sounded okay, it was better to be safe than sorry, especially given their history with this place and its builder.
Lorenzo spilled into the room, doubled over from lack of breath. Obviously, he had been dashing for the surface with everything he had and was huffing and puffing for breath. "Whew!...Made it!"
"Are you sure you're okay?" Rick asked.
"I'm...fine," the other man assured him.
"Nothing chasing you?" Rick pursued.
"N...No," Lorenzo replied. "Rick, I found it! I found the tomb at the end of Hallway #9!"
"Are you sure?"
The Luccese professor nodded, "What else in this area would be sealed with both Egyptian and Amazon safeguards?"
"Good point," Rick agreed, although he was getting that sinking feeling again. If something was that bad that two cultures worked together to seal it in, should they let it out? As badly as he wanted to say "no", he knew that Evy would say "yes" and let the consequences be damned. Oh well, might as well get this over with..... "C'mon."
The two men walked into the treasury room and toward the sacred vault where Evy toiled away at cataloging the vases against the wall.
"Evy?" Rick inquired.
"Hmmm? Yes, did you have a good break, Dear?" she asked, continuing with her work at hand.
"Yeah, but Larry found something that you should know about," her husband continued.
"I found the tomb," he reported.
Her eyebrows scrunched at the statement. Did she hear him right? "Is this the tomb to which you were referring last night?" she probed.
Lorenzo nodded gleefully, "It is indeed! With the painting of Anubis and the Amazon charms! We found the crypt!"
That news brought the devilish smile back to her face. Standing up straight, she faced her younger colleague and asked, "And this chamber is at the end of Hallway #9?"
"Si," Lorenzo replied.
She shook her head in disbelief. "Oh, the Bembridge Scholars are never going to live this one down," she chuckled. "Not after I'm through with them. Let's go down there."
"Down where? Evy...." Rick protested. A sharp look from the modern day Pandora cut off his response. "Oh, what the Hell?" he relented, picking up his tools. "Might as well do this all over again. Maybe this time, we'll get it right."
"Now, Rick, there's no need to be so cynical," she informed him. "Lorenzo's going to show us the way down to the tomb. Come on!"
He just shrugged and silently followed, keeping his eyes open for any sign of trouble.
[Somewhere in Heaven]
Rick wasn't the only person concerned about their progress into the catacombs. For above the clouds, the Archangels Michael and Raphael observed the scene carefully, dreading what these mortals were about to unleash upon the world once again.
"Can we stop them?" Raphael probed, turning his dark-haired head toward his companion.
"Unfortunately, Raphael, we cannot," his blonde, well-built companion stated. "Mortals have free will and so, we can only step in once something has occurred. In the case of these particular mortals, they haven't learned from their previous mistakes."
"And we can do nothing to prevent it from happening again?" his fellow angel asked.
"The witch will be released again," Michael foretold grimly and procured a familiar obsidian book with a golden star key design on its cover. "And we will have to fight fire with fire to defeat her."
"The Book of the Dead?" Raphael protested. "You cannot mean to awaken that accursed priest, Imhotep!"
"And who would be able to stop her in that period and in that form? Xena and Gabrielle are long dead," the chief angel replied and began to open the text. "And no, I do not wish to bring neither her nor her future friends into this matter, if it can be helped. I don't trust Xena to keep her word...and I don't trust Dubois' self-control in the face of Alti. It has to be this way, Raphael, trust me."
With that, he began to read....
[Back in the Temple]
Lorenzo led his two companions deeper and deeper into Hallway #9. Evy's breathing grew rapider with each moment due to her eagerness and excitement. Rick kept a steady eye out for intruders or any other threat. After an hour, they stood before the doorway to the tomb.
"This is it!" the Luccese professor indicated.
The curator of the British Museum analyzed the portal. Yes, there was Anubis guarding the passage...and on top of it, those charm-things hung around the gateway as well. "Whoever is in here was either very special..." she started.
"'Or did something very naughty'," Rick finished the phrase in his head from Hamunaptra. "So, what do we do now?"
"We open it, of course!" Evy exclaimed.
"Of course, we open it. Never mind what happened with our old buddy, Imhotep. Evy, for once...." Rick begged.
"Nothing's going to happen," she assured him and studied the door. Sure enough, there was a primitive combination lock just like the ones on the doors upstairs. "Stand back." With two deft turns to the right and one to the left, in addition to a hefty tug from the two archaeologists, the door released a cloud of ancient dust and creaked open.
"See? I told you," she gloated to her husband and paraded into the unknown expanse followed closely by her junior colleague.
Rick shook his head. It didn't matter. Sooner or later, his lovely yet jinxed wife was going to trip something and, as usual, they would be right at Ground Zero when she did it. "Oh well, best see what it looks like," he told himself and walked in after his peers.
She had lit the tapers on either side of the room to reveal blank walls once again. The only glyphs were on the coffin itself.
"This is very strange," she stated.
"What is it?" Rick asked.
"The inscription is in both hieratic and Greek," Evy explained. "Dating from the...first century BC?"
"Yes," Lorenzo stated, although starting to lose his resolve. Something about the sarcophagus was giving him the chills....
Rick observed this transformation in the other man with grim satisfaction. At least, he knew where the line was. "Can you read the inscriptions, Larry?"
The younger man leaned over the granite and transliterated, "In this tomb, lay Alti, most evil of shamanesses, outcast of the Amazons. Under no conditions should the lid be opened lest she be released upon the world again."
"That's all I needed to hear," Rick agreed with the words. "Let's just study the tomb and be done with it."
"You're such a ninny," Evy chided, observing the curious depression in the lid. "This slot resembles the gem in the necklace. I wonder what this does?"
Lorenzo backed away until he joined Rick's position. "She's not going to...."
"Oh yeah, she is," Rick shrugged.
"Is she crazy?" the other protested. "Evelyn, stop! For the love of God, don't!"
"Trust me, get ready to run," the adventurer advised.
Ignoring her male companions, the female archaeologist inserted the key into the hole and gave a twist. Instantly, the coffin sprang open and a mist seeped forth. Suddenly, the air turned dank and chilly.
"Uh, Evy?" Rick stated. "I think we should get out of here!"
Her eyes grew round and desperate. "I agree! Let's go!" she indicated, taking to her heels.
The other man waited for her and Rick to exit the area before he left as well. At least the torches along the way helped them to sprint quickly toward the surface....
Back in the tomb, a strong hand groped at the misty air above the now-opened sarcophagus. Then, a few creaks from long-unused bones could be heard echoing throughout the chamber. Finally, Alti climbed from the coffin. At full height, she easily cleared six feet, with brown hair, jet-black armor, and a standard battle helmet without a face guard. Her eyes resembled a raccoon's in that their bright white stood out in a sea of ebony shading. For the first time in 2,000 years, she was free of her prison.
"Free at last!" she snickered. "Now, where did those fools go?" Then, she spied the door. "Yes! They fled!" She closed her eyes and savored the vestigial fear left in the chamber. "Mmmm...yes...Now, I want the rest of it!" Evoking a spell, she sped in a black blur through the winding passages toward the surface.
Meanwhile, the O'Connells and Lorenzo bolted from the temple and reached the camp in record time. This sudden appearance, as can be imagined, startled Jonathan and Alex.
"Mum? Dad? What is it? Isn't it a little early for lunch?" the boy inquired of his parents.
"C'mon, Alex. Leave your stuff. We need to go! Now!" his father explained.
"Do as he says," Evy added.
The boy and his uncle exchanged skeptical looks at each other.
Finally, Alex probed, "Mum, you did it again, didn't you?"
"Did what? I didn't go down there. We went down there," she replied sharply.
"We? What we?" Rick sighed, voicing his familiar refrain to this all-too-familiar debate as he threw gear into bags and hoisted them onto the truck. "You opened the sarcophagus!"
"That's right, it was me, me, me...I, I, I," she snapped, looking at her associate.
"Don't look at me!" Lorenzo shrugged. "I'm with Rick on this one, Evelyn. I begged you not to open it."
"Look, we can argue about this later...I...," Rick urged yet, already feeling an icy sensation running up and down his backbone. "Shit," he cursed.
Standing about ten feet from them, Alti smiled coldly and advanced quickly on the party.
"For the love of Pete, who?" Jonathan posed frantically.
"Later!" Rick growled and started to produce a pistol from one of his holsters.
However, in the time it took for him to do so and aim it, the witch had already grabbed his throat and lifted him off of the ground. "Ah, let's see...what your deepest pain is...."
From within his mind, Rick felt himself flash back to the prison camp in Cairo. Once again, he was dropping through the trapdoor and strangling on the tight hemp around his throat. "Gaahhh," he choked. For two minutes, he swung near death, trapped in his memories. Then, he felt himself drop and hit the sand...He was back at Thebes. Something had released him.
The shamaness cursed and pulled a dagger from her arm. "Who would dare?" she spat and turned to see Ardeth Bey galloping toward her, scimitar already raised.
"Allah, smite you, Woman!" he challenged.
"I think not," she grinned and touched the horse's mane as he rode by. With that bit of contact, she inspired fear in the animal, causing him to throw the Bedouin to the ground.
"Now, what to do with you?" she snickered and began picking through his memories. First, he was whirling breathlessly with O'Connell and Winston Havelok in the sandstorm. Then, the mummy soldier was carving him to ribbons. Finally, the wound he received at the manor house reopened. In a great deal of pain and bleeding profusely, he rolled on the ground.
Turning towards the others, Alti sensed the fear and emotional energy dripping from them. Especially the dark-haired woman.... "I'll have fun taking that spiritual energy from you!" she laughed and moved towards Evy and Alex.
Jonathan tried to intercede. "Not if I have anything to say about it!"
The shamaness frowned, sighed, and backhanded the ne'er-do-well adventurer aside. "You don't!" she spat at his stunned face while still advancing on her intended victims.
Rick, desperately trying to climb to his feet, could only manage to prop himself painfully on his elbows and even this display left him huffing from the effort. Who was that woman? It didn't matter. Even winded, he could get a shot off from here....
"What...?" Ardeth winced.
"I can't let her harm Evy and Alex," he coughed and fired a round straight at the witch. Yet, due to the blurred vision, he missed just wide. At least, it can't get any worse.
"Be patient! I'll kill you soon enough!" she hissed at him and then, a smile formed on her face. "And who might you be?"
Rick and Ardeth rolled painfully over and stared in the opposite direction. To their horror, another threat approached the camp from the west. For Imhotep roamed the Earth again and now, they were caught between a rock and a hard place.
"I think we're in trouble," the former legionnaire wheezed and slumped back to the ground.
Imhotep, for his part, felt a familiar hatred mixed up with respect at the sight of his frequent adversaries, the O' Connells. If the situation allowed, he would deal with them accordingly and get the satisfaction which he richly deserved from the insolent mortals. The woman in front of him represented a different puzzle. On the one hand, her garb indicated that she was a skilled warrior. Yet, her aura reeked of dark power at least the equal of his own. "Interesting," he mused and challenged, "Who are you to invade my sacred temple grounds?"
For some reason, Alti was able to understand his ancient Egyptian challenge. Cackling back, she retorted, "I was imprisoned here, you Fool. Whoever the designer of this temple was, needs a lesson in aesthetics."
From his position on the desert sand, Rick winced, "Oh shit! Now, she's done it!"
The high priest smiled wickedly and raised his hands to the sky. "I designed that temple based on the highest advances of my time, Woman!" he roared. "Now, feel the wraith of Imhotep, high priest of Seti I!" Suddenly, a whirling sandstorm blew up out of nowhere, buffeting the Shamaness from all directions.
In response, she pulled her robes over her face and paced out his storm, keeping her mind focused on the task at hand. Using the cover of the sands, she ducked back inside of his temple and baited, "Since this is your temple, why don't you come in after me?"
Grinning at Rick and Ardeth, the most powerful priest of the Old Kingdom smirked and stated in ancient Egyptian, "Prepare yourselves. Once I am finished with her, you're next!" He stalked off towards the temple. Standing in the doorway, he sensed his opponent's vile presence. "Where are you? Show yourself!" he bellowed and looked about the area in horror at the damaged pillars and the flood-scrapped walls. This affront blinded him with rage.
Unfortunately, it also gave Alti the opportunity to grab him from behind and lift him off the granite floor. "Nice display," she complemented. "I want your power! Give it to me!"
"Niay!" he challenged and struggled.
"Very well," the shamaness savored the moment and then, she continued, "Let's see how you enjoy pain!" With that, she reached inside of his mind, and pulled forth the memory of his worst nightmare, the Hum-Dai. "Oh, that looks lovely...Show me..." she urged almost hypnotically, a smile spreading across her face.
Imhotep quivered as once again he felt the Mai-Jai cut out his tongue...and the blood came from his mouth. He felt himself contorted under the linen wrappings. Most horribly, the burning bites of the scarabs eating away at him washed over his person. Under this torture, even the high priest staggered and fell to the floor.
"Poor man....Not so mighty, are you?" she hissed and kept picking away. Now, they were at Hamunaptra some thirteen years earlier. Through his eyes, she saw Rick O' Connell stab him in the stomach, thereby killing him the first time. Once again, the corresponding wound opened on him. He screamed, but still, she advanced into his memories of the underworld and made him relive the burning torment of that place. Then, there was the rematch with O' Connell at Ahm Shere and the bruising blows which produced corresponding welts and a bloody lip on his own chiseled face. Finally, as the coup-de-grace, she forced him to watch again as Anack-su-Namun fled the scene where he hung between this world and the underworld.
"At least, she didn't get much farther than you," she taunted to the pain-wracked being in her choke-grip. "She was stung to death in the next chamber!"
That remark drove him over the edge. Wracked with pain, despair, and anger from three millennia of suffering, Imhotep stiffened and went limp in her grasp.
"Hmmm, too bad. I thought you would be more of a challenge," she shrugged and laid his body aside to absorb his essence later. " Now, to inflict more pain on the O' Connells' party." Walking back outside, she laughed, "I killed him!"
Ardeth stared at her incredulously and protested weakly, "Impossible! Nothing can kill the Creature!"
"Well, I just did," Alti hissed and moved in on the threesome huddled together by the truck.
"Stay away from us," Lorenzo warned. "I'll defend them!"
The shamaness shook her head and, deciding that his answer didn't merit a response, grabbed both him and Alex. Working her magic on them, the two victims screamed.
"Keep away from my son!" Evy yelled and delivered a haymaker to the witch's cheek, the shock of which broke her concentration.
"That actually hurt!" she snarled and backhanded the female archaeologist across the face hard, knocking her unconscious. "This one will join the priest in giving me their spiritual power," she mused. Then, she turned back to her two original victims.
"I'm not afraid of you, Lady!" Alex challenged and smacked her in the thigh with a piece of wood. Unfortunately, it didn't have any effect.
"At least the boy has a backbone," she sighed and grabbed both him and Lorenzo could resist.
"Now, where were we?" she laughed as the two in her grasp screamed in unspeakable pain.
On the ground ten feet away, Rick shook his head, muttering, "We are in some serious trouble now...." With that, he joined Ardeth and Evy in blissful unconsciousness.
(To be continued) Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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