Fiur and Vlamme
The Curse Of The Pharaoh
The episode "The Xena Scrolls", as well as the characters of Janice Covington and Melinda Pappas, belong to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended, we are just borrowing them for some fun, without making any profit.
All other characters, the ideas for this story and the story itself belong to us, since it jumped from our imagination. The ideas have been floating in our minds for quite some time and now we finally managed to bring them to virtual paper. :-)
This story is set in real and fictional places. It also contains love between women, fights, curses and a lot more.
We hope you will have as much fun reading this as we had writing it. :-)
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(c) 2012 by Fiur and Vlamme
London, Autumn 1945
Janice stood in one of the library's narrow corridors, reading in a book, which was entitled 'Egyptian Languages For Beginners'. What had started as a slightly annoyed frown quickly turned to a dark expression until she slammed the book shut, glaring at it.
A scowling librarian chose that moment to pass by her, admonishing her with an unfriendly "Shhh!" to keep quiet.
Janice watched her leave, shooting daggers at her retreating back, before leaning against the bookcase, contemplating what she had read.
A familiar voice, coming from the end of the corridor, caught her attention. "Mel?" she whispered in disbelief to herself.
Slowly, she walked along the bookcase. Hesitating, Janice stopped, looking across a row of books.
Melinda stood in a corner, talking to a man.
Janice saw only the back of her friend. She had a much better view of the man. The first glance at his high held nose and the strongly pomaded hair caused her to instantly dislike him, although she didn't know him at all. He had put one hand casually in the pocket of his expensive, tailor-made suit, while Melinda dexterously adjusted his silk tie.
"Thank you, my dear," he said in a snobby undertone, revealing his British upper class upbringing. That was at least what Janice thought, upon hearing him speak for the first time.
"But Eugene..." Mel breathed, slightly embarrassed.
Janice could actually see her blush, even if the other woman still had her back towards her. The thought made her grin.
This Eugene fellow smoothed his moustache, before wrapping both arms around Melinda's slender form and kissing her cheek.
Janice's mouth gaped open and her eyes widened.
"We will see each other for dinner this evening," Eugene said. "I can hardly wait until we can be alone, my darling." With that, he left.
Suppressing the sudden nausea that rose, Janice pulled a face.
Melinda turned around at the same time, her red cheeks clearly visible. Astonished, she gazed into the wide open eyes of Janice, who was still staring at her from across the books.
The dark-haired woman's mouth opened and closed without a sound.
"Uhm..." Janice stammered, flustered and blushing. "I... well... you are here? What a surprise..."
Slowly they walked toward each other until they were face to face.
"And here I thought you were in South Carolina," Janice started again.
Melinda slightly shook her head and adjusted her glasses. "I have been working for some years here at the British Museum. I'm the curator for the Egyptian department."
"Ohh, that is nice."
"Yes, I think so too."
Janice scratched her head and asked nonchalantly, "And... and the man, who just left?"
"You mean Eugene?" Mel smiled briefly, a touch embarrassed. "That was Eugene Pomeroy... my fiancé."
The news hit Janice like a ton of bricks and she paled. Swallowing hard, she tried to force a smile to her expression. "How nice for him... uh... of course, for you too... I mean... uh... for the both of you..." she stuttered, fighting to finally regain her composure, before punching the other woman's arm in a rough gesture of congratulation.
Nodding, Mel pressed her lips together. She was very excited about the unexpected reunion. "He works at his father's bank, here in London."
"Great," Janice mumbled for lack of other words. "So..."
The librarian interrupted their conversation with a harsh glare.
"I think it will be best if we go outside," Melinda suggested and the blonde archeologist happily agreed.
Across the street from the library, they had entered a small cafe. Silently, they sat at the table.
Melinda squeezed some lemon juice into her black tea, while Janice kept staring hard at the brown liquid of her coffee cup, not knowing what to say.
"I wanted to write you a letter," the dark-haired woman began. "I wanted to tell you about my engagement."
Looking at her friend, Janice leaned back. "I really am very sorry that I disappeared like that... without telling you."
Melinda sipped her tea. "One day you were suddenly gone."
Sighing, Janice admitted, "I know, I've made a mistake."
"Do you know what it feels like to be at the airport of Thessaloniki with two plane tickets to the United States, only to have to fly all alone?" Mel asked, slightly miffed.
Searching for words, Janice stammered, "It... it was a stupid mistake. That... I... it was never my intention to hurt you like that. I have... I had problems, which I tried to solve. I didn't want you to get caught up in them as well." After a little break, she continued, "I wanted to contact you so many times." Nervously, she fidgeted on the chair. "Every day it became harder and I kept putting it off. One day, I thought maybe it was for the best... like this," she finished, gazing into the unforgotten, sky-blue eyes of the other woman.
Knowing how much this confession had cost the blonde archeologist, Melinda reached over, gently patting a hand that was clamped tightly around the coffee cup. "Oh my. Janice, how could you think something like that? I didn't wish for anything more than to hear from you. I was always thinking about you. And of course, I have been worried about you." She smiled and added, " What with your lifestyle."
Janice couldn't help but return the smile. "Well, you do know me well," she said softly.
"I'm happy that we have met again."
"Me too," Janice replied, nodding. Lost in thought, she regarded her friend and the conversation turned to a dark topic. "Were you here in London during the attack in 1941?"
"No," Melinda replied. "We returned in July 1941. Before, we were evacuated due to the heavy bombings. After it was certain that the invasion of Great Britain would luckily fail, we were allowed to return. I had to fight my own hard battle to be able to come back to London."
Janice released a relieved breath. "You are a strong woman, Melinda Pappas."
Touched by the compliment, the other woman responded, "I'm just happy that this horrible war is finally over."
The blonde nodded in agreement.
"Well, now you know what I've been doing since our last meeting. What about you?" Melinda inquired, successfully turning their talk to a different matter.
"Oh... you know..." Janice said evasively, "This and that."
"You are a fountain of information like always," Mel laughed. "Tell me at least what led you to London, please?"
"Well, I work for an art collector."
When Janice didn't continue, Mel raised an eyebrow and cocked her head slightly.
"A very rich art collector... from England," Janice added and began to squirm unconsciously, trying to escape the inquisitive stare of the other woman.
Melinda though was unwilling to leave her off the hook that easily. "You simply don't want to tell me the whole truth, do you?"
The blonde bent forward, pulling her chair closer to the table. Lowering her voice, she said, "He hired me to find something for him. With the help of this piece of papyrus." Janice reached inside her leather jacket and pulled a small wooden case from the inner pocket. She placed it in front of Mel on the table.
"Oh, my God," the dark-haired woman gasped in surprise, after she had opened the tiny lock.
The case had been lined with a fine, dark fabric. Embedded was an ancient piece of inscribed
papyrus. Excited, Melinda adjusted her glasses, lifting the case to her face. "This seems to be a part of a scroll." Sighing, she took a closer look. "It's too bad that you have only this tiny piece, considering that a scroll can easily be two to three meters long. Well, once they also found one that was over twenty meters long..."
The archeologist waited patiently until Mel turned back to the subject at hand.
"Anyway... the writing is very contiguous... Egyptian... interesting..."
Janice listened attentively, feeling her heartbeat pick up.
Completely engrossed, Melinda continued, "Really, very interesting. There is even a little drawing. Hmm, it looks like an image of the winged goddess Isis, a symbol for protection. If I had a magnifying glass with me I could have given you a rough translation. Too bad."
"You... you can read this?"
Mel looked at her friend over the rim of her glasses. "Yes, of course."
"Let's go to my office immediately and I will translate it." Melinda beamed.
"Yes!" Janice exclaimed in excitement, only to remember something a second later. "Uh, no. Unfortunately, that's impossible. I have an appointment that I can't postpone."
"Oh, what a pity." Melinda carefully closed the lock and pushed the case across the table.
The archeologist thought for a moment and an idea came to her. "Why don't you take the papyrus with you and I come visit you later? Would that be okay?"
Mel placed a hand on her chest. "You really want to entrust something of such high value to me?"
"I trust you," Janice confirmed.
"Fine. We will see each other later at my office in the British Museum."
Both women rose and said goodbye with a gentle hug.
Before the dark-haired woman could leave, Janice called her back. "Mel?"
"It's nice seeing you again."
Happily waving, Melinda entered a cab.
The blonde's smile disappeared as soon as the black car had left. Looking at the clock that hung on the cafe's wall, she quickly drank the now cold rest of her coffee. "I have to hurry."
Evening was closing in, as Janice raced up the stairs to the entrance of the 5-star-hotel.
A bellhop bowed in greeting and opened the door for her.
"How do I get to the bar?" she wanted to know.
Slightly confused, the boy looked at her.
The lobby manager joined them, asking, "Are you a guest here... Ma'am?" With cold eyes he sized her up, wrinkling his nose in disgust at her outfit.
Janice placed both hands on her hips and replied in a similar cold voice, "I will overlook your impolite behavior. I am expected... Sir!"
The lobby manager bowed stiffly. "Very well. Follow me, please."
"I know the way," she hissed, glaring at him.
"It will be my pleasure to accompany you," he responded with an arrogant grin.
Clenching her teeth, Janice followed him to the bar. Since most people were having dinner, the place was almost empty.
"Thanks for the escort," the blonde archeologist spat sarcastically. Leaving the lobby manager behind, she marched straight to a well-dressed, middle-aged man with a well-groomed beard. He sat in a leather armchair, smoking a cigar with relish.
"Lancaster," Janice said in greeting, her voice as warm as an iceberg. She sat down in another armchair.
"Covington," he replied smugly.
"Let's get to business," the blonde growled, not being somebody to beat around the bush.
"If you came to beg for another advance of money, I will have to disappoint you."
Janice's eyes flashed with barely restrained fury. "No, this time I'm in the better position. I'm almost at a breakthrough in my search."
He laughed. "Splendid. Reminds me of all the other times you promised me the same."
"This time it's different. That's why I'm here. We need to set new boundaries for our deal."
Lancaster's expression changed instantly at these words. His eyes narrowed to tiny slits and the smug grin disappeared. "I have the money. You want the money. Or do you not need it anymore?" Relaxing, he leaned back, blowing little rings of smoke into the air.
Janice curled her hands to fists, stomping down on the eruption of anger that rose with each passing second.
He smirked in satisfaction. "I knew it. We understand each other, don't we? My contract, my conditions apply!" For a moment he looked pensively at his glowing cigar. "You had better pray that your little friend can decipher the text."
That remark shocked Janice to the core. "How do you know..."
Lancaster chuckled. "Covington, I beg you," he mocked. "Don't ever think I only trust you. I've got more tricks up my sleeve."
Janice jumped up, yelling, "Leave her out of this!"
"Tsk, tsk, tsk, Covington. Where are your manners?" He smiled again.
"Lancaster, I'm warning you." Janice growled, her voice and small frame shaking with anger.
"How dare you threaten me? Be very careful, Covington, otherwise there will be hell to pay." He had spoken quietly, but the dangerous undertone was unmistakable.
It took all of Janice's self-control to keep from pummeling him senseless. "Fine. You've won for now. The deal stays the same. And you stay away from her!" With this last angry outburst, she left the bar.
Forcefully, Janice knocked at the entrance door of the museum. It was almost midnight and she feared that Melinda might have already left. She waited, straining her ears if anything stirred. After some time, she heard the rattling of keys. A side door was being unlocked and an old man with white hair opened the door.
She walked over to him. "Good evening, Sir. My name is Janice Covington. Miss Pappas is expecting me."
"Yes, I heard," he husked. "Come on inside."
The archeologist did as she was told.
Pointing a finger in the correct direction, the old man explained, "Go upstairs to the first floor. Then take the corridor to the left and follow it until you reach the end."
"Thank you," Janice said and hurried up the stairs, taking two steps at one time. In front of Melinda's office, she bend slightly forward to catch her breath. After that, she raised her arm to knock. A small brass sign on the door said 'Dr. M. Pappas'. Janice whistled impressed when she read it. Nobody answered to her knock, so she shrugged her shoulders and entered.
The office walls were covered with shelves and bookcases, reaching from the floor to the ceiling, containing books, ancient artwork and a multitude of artifacts. A leather couch and a table dominated the middle of the office.
Melinda sat at an enormous desk, located in front of the sole window at the room's other end. She was bent over a sketch, next to several open books, completely wrapped up in her work.
Janice cleared her throat, gaining the dark-haired woman's attention.
"Oh my, I'm so sorry. I was utterly enraptured."
The other woman quirked a grin and sauntered towards her. "Yes, I noticed. No problem. I'm looking forward to your conclusion."
Mel rose, indicating for Janice to take a seat. "I even canceled dinner with Eugene because I couldn't let go of the translation."
Looking around, Janice frowned slightly. "Where is the papyrus?"
"It is secure in our safe." Mel explained, leaning back against her desk, while the blonde made herself comfortable on the couch. Patiently, she waited for further answers.
Being in her element, Melinda's eyes sparkled happily and the excitement was clearly audible in her voice. "There are parts in the text that remind me strongly of 'The Egyptian Book of the Dead'. Four different translations of said book have been released at the end of the former century. Though since 1898 nobody tried to translate the complete book."
"Why not?" Janice wanted to know.
Melinda began to pace, explaining with sweeping gestures. "Well, first thing is, there are no punctuation rules with Egyptian hieroglyphics. It is quite difficult not knowing where something starts or ends. The book is full of mythological implications, strange pictures and formulas, which probably stem from magic and mystery cults..."
Janice interrupted her rambling. "To keep it short, we just don't understand it."
Slightly irritated, because her friend had made her lose her train of thought, Melinda adjusted her glasses. "Uh... yes. You could say it like that."
"Okay, let's get to the important matter then. Were you able to decipher the papyrus?"
The blonde sat up expectantly. "And?"
"Well, it was a bit weird."
"What is it saying?"
"I have never seen anything like that before."
Growing more impatient, Janice began to squirm. "Come on, Mel. This is torture!"
"I cannot relate the exact wording of course, but I understood the text."
"It seems that it's been written by a high official."
"High official?" Janice exclaimed. "That must mean we're at the court of a pharaoh!" Behind her forehead the wheels started turning, her gaze turning thoughtful and serious.
Melinda was oblivious to it and continued, "Could be... they only talk in the past tense and no names are revealed either. The text contains a description to the palace. It also speaks of a major disaster that brought death to them all. There is a direct link that the divine race of the pharaohs was betrayed and mentioning of a forbidden ritual. Apparently, a magical amulet of the Goddess Isis exists, which aids in entering the palace that contains unspeakable treasures. Everything about this is quite mysterious, but it's not all. It is really uncommon to find a drawing on a scroll..."
"Argh, who cares?" Janice said. Sighing, she slumped back. "It's far worse that all of it is just a myth. The amulet doesn't exist and so on and so on."
"But that's not true," Melinda responded, regarding her skeptic friend. "I think I recognize the amulet. Already at the cafe I found it familiar and during my earlier research here, I remembered it." She beamed.
"What?" Janice jumped off the couch. Still skeptical, she added, "It's probably somewhere where we can't reach it."
Mel's grin widened. "No. It is here, at the museum. It's in the cellar, stored in one of the stack-rooms."
Janice's mouth gaped open. "Are you serious?"
The dark-haired woman nodded. "When I first started working here, I took a look around to get familiar with my new surroundings. I found an old stack-room then."
Janice couldn't believe her luck. "Mel..."
"You are a real treasure!" Janice laughed, cupped her face and pressed a big kiss on the unsuspecting woman's lips. Happily prancing to the door, the blonde called out, "Let's check the cellar now. I need to see this amulet!"
Melinda stood rooted to the spot, completely flabbergasted by this unexpected show of affection, which was so unusual for the archeologist.
Janice rolled her eyes and grabbed her arm. "Come on."
Awakening from her stupor, Mel responded, "Wait. I have to get the keys." She went around the desk, opened one of the drawers and took out a giant key chain. Some of them were partly rusted. "I got those earlier. I had a feeling that you would want to check it out immediately."
"It's like I said, you're a real treasure."
Both woman hurried down the stairs of the museum to the cellar. After making it through the labyrinth of corridors, they reached the final stack-room. While Janice impatiently shifted her weight from one leg to the other, Melinda searched for the right key to open the heavy iron door. The restlessly flickering light of the electric lamps on the wall made this a difficult venture. "Not one artifact in this room has been subject of an inventory. I don't know why they've been so sloppy with this. I couldn't find any records concerning the pieces' origins or time of discovery. I guess eventually they were just forgotten."
The lock clicked and Melinda shoved the door open. "There's no electricity in this room. But this old kerosene lamp should do."
Janice took it and pulled a lighter from one of her pockets. "Yep, this should work." She lit the lamp.
Together they entered the old vault and immediately Melinda began to search. "Janice, I need some light back here, please. I am pretty sure it was in this shelf area. Look for a little wooden box with the imprint 'EGYPT'."
"Roger that." The archeologist started to thoroughly check the shelves. She whirled around as she felt a gust of air at the nape of her neck, but couldn't find anything out of the ordinary.
At the same time, Melinda joyfully cried out, "I found the box!"
Janice placed down the lamp and went to her.
Carefully, Mel took the box off the shelf and opened the lid. Pulling aside the simple piece of linen cloth, she revealed a golden amulet, in the size of her palm. It showed the Goddess Isis, whose arms were defined wings.
Janice was rendered speechless at the sight.
With great caution, Mel took the amulet out of its resting place.
Suddenly, the lamp fell over. The glass shattered and the light went out, casting the vault in darkness.
Before the women could fully comprehend what was going on, Janice jerked. The barrel of a gun was pressing strongly into her back and a distant click told her that the safety catch had just been released.
"Janice?" Mel asked uneasily in the darkness.
"Please, give me the amulet," the blonde replied, her voice sounding strained.
The barrel dug harder into her back. Janice was sure it would leave a bruise, but right now she needed to get them out of the dangerous situation. "Shhh. Just stay calm. Do what I say." Reaching toward the position of her friend, her searching fingers closed around the amulet and took it from Melinda's hands. She held it out over her shoulder. Then she felt pain exploding in her head. She sank to the floor, unconscious.
Janice awoke with horrible pain, rubbing the place where she had been hit. Blinking her eyes open, it took a moment for the blurry surroundings to return to their original form. She looked around and realized that she was back in Melinda's office, lying on the leather couch.
"Thank God, you're finally awake," she heard her friend's familiar voice.
"How did I get here?" Janice wanted to know, trying to make sense of the situation.
"Paul, the night guard, who let you in. He helped me carry you here."
"Did he see or hear anything?" Janice blurted.
Janice frowned. "Well, I guess that doesn't come as a surprise. That guy must be almost a hundred years old." Screwing up her face in pain, she carefully sat up. "Do you have something strong to regain my strength?"
Melinda gave her a scotch and she emptied the glass in one shot. It burned down her dry throat. Exhaling sharply, she smiled. "Now, I feel a lot better."
Lost in thought, the dark-haired woman sat down next to her. "Isn't it a strange coincidence that the thief was in the cellar?"
Janice shook her head. "That was no coincidence at all. Someone is trying very hard to oust me."
Confused, Melinda inquired, "What are you talking about?"
Janice looked at the empty glass, slowly turning it in her hands. "My employer..." She stopped for the word left a bitter taste in her mouth. Her expression turned dark. "He announced today that he put somebody else on the job as well."
"And you think that was them?"
"I'm pretty sure it was them," Janice responded firmly.
"Who is your employer?" Melinda, growing serious, placed a hand on her friend's arm. "You must tell me."
"I have no clue if you know him. As I told you already this afternoon, he is a very rich collector of art and antiques. His name is Theodore Jacob Lancaster... the Third," the blonde spat.
"What?" Shocked, Mel leapt off the couch and began to restlessly pace.
Janice raised her eyebrows in surprise. She hadn't expected such a reaction.
"This... oh this... oh my..." Melinda muttered, searching for words. Whirling around, she stared reproachful at the other woman. "And you make deals with the likes of him?!"
Janice shrank back a bit, feeling like a child getting reprimanded.
"He takes what he wants, using legal or illegal ways. Oh Janice, what kind of horrible mess have you gotten yourself into now?" Disappointed, she sat down again. "I thought you were past that?"
Shamefaced, the blonde stared at the floor. "Now, he's got it all," she grumbled, got up and staggered, still not fully recovered from the hit. At the table, she poured herself another drink.
"Maybe not," Melinda said, feeling sorry for the clearly dejected archeologist.
Janice finished the second scotch. "Huh?"
"Well, think about it. If the amulet is the key, we still have the map to the palace in our hands."
Not exactly encouraged, Janice groused, "Great."
"What happened to your zest for action and adventure, hmm? Janice?"
"It vanished with the amulet."
"Trust me. If the thief has the same goal as we do, they will notice very soon that they can't get anywhere with just the amulet."
That roused Janice's curiosity. "Go on."
"They will follow us..."
"Do you want to help them getting the treasure as well?"
Melinda raised an eyebrow. "Janice, I truly hope your sudden slow-wittedness comes from the hit, which your head received."
Baffled by the remark, Janice regarded her friend. "That's a new side to you."
Grinning, Melinda continued. "What's the saying? 'Keep your friends close but your enemy closer'? If we do, we might get a chance to retrieve the amulet."
Janice thought about it. "You know, that's so crazy, it might actually work."
"So, I guess that means we're off to Egypt?"
"Yep. Off to Egypt!" Janice replied, quirking a smile.
***************************************************************************To be continued...
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