All was silent except for the gentle rustle of the breeze and the subtle creaking of the ship as it floated slowly down the river. The moon shone pale and bright, casting gray shadows about the wreckage on the deck of the ship. Night animals made their music and the tall grasses rustled like a thousand whispering voices contemplating the strange vessel before them.
The long shadow of a crocodile slid through the grasses and vanished beneath the silvery surface, hunting for food.
Night birds and bats chittered in the shadows, or fluttered to and fro above the water, seeking prey.
A single figure landed on the deck without a sound. Not even the wind seemed to notice it. It was the figure of a man, tall and thin, with a cadaverous pallor to his skin. His sharp nails bit into the hard wood of the deck as his red eyes surveyed the scene.
Just ahead and to his right he saw one figure, lying motionless, face down. By the heat of her body, it was obvious that this one was still alive. He paused, hovering over her and considered the elaborate tattoo of a dragon stretched across her back. The painted face seemed to stare back at him with menacing eyes.
The man licked his lips expectantly, but then had to force his desire to feed back down. He had his instructions and they did not include sating his thirst.
He looked forward and saw the mass of tumbled fabric and tangle of ropes that had been the main sail, draped over the bow like a funeral shroud. The thick main mast itself hung precariously over the smashed railing.
At the near edge of the mess, he spied a single bare foot protruding from beneath the canvas.
With less sound than a scuttling rat, he moved to the bow and lifted the torn sail out of his way. There, lying unconscious against the shattered railing was a man.
His eyes focused on the man's face for a moment, went wide in astonishment and then narrowed again in suspicion. A breath like the hiss of a viper escaped from between his colorless lips.
"Nickoli." The word floated on the wind.
A soft moan sounded behind him and his red eyes turned to see the female figure stirring.
Gabrielle pushed herself up onto her elbows and looked forward. She thought she caught a flicker of motion, as if something had just leapt over the side of the boat, but the haze in her mind made it impossible to know for certain. Her entire body was throbbing with the pain of her landing. Looking back towards the aft, she realized that she had been thrown nearly half way across the long axis of the ship. She winced as she forced her bruised body to move.
When she looked back up again, she saw David, lying on his side against the railing. The main mast had landed within a foot of his body.
"David?" she groaned. Her concern overcame her pain and she crawled over to him.
As she approached him, she saw, with relief that he was also beginning to move. His hand flopped forward as if searching for something and his head moved.
Gabrielle grasped his hand.
"David?" she asked.
David's eyes fluttered open. His head rose and he looked about in a daze.
"Licno!" he called groggily.
"Gone," Gabrielle said. "Along with the whole crew."
David cursed, pulling himself upright. He winced as he sat back against the railing.
Looking at the carnage about them, he managed a grim smile.
"That was one hell of a ride," he said thickly. Above him, the remains of the fore sail fluttered in the breeze, just enough to pull them slowly down the river. The fore mast groaned dangerously under the gentle pressure. "Better than Disney World."
"Can you walk?" Gabrielle asked earnestly. "Anything broken?"
David rolled over and tried to get his feet beneath him, groaning loudly as he forced himself to his feet. Then he helped Gabrielle up.
They saw lush vegetation on either side of them. The boat seemed to be holding the center of the river. Occasionally something groaned beneath their feet as the ship scraped the bottom.
David looked at the mangled mast and sail beside him and shuddered.
"That was close," he commented. Then he looked back out at the landscape. "Where the hell are we?"
Gabrielle shook her head helplessly. "I don't know. We must have been out for hours?"
All about them was quiet country. No sign of the carnage that a tsunami would have caused, which meant that they had left the destruction far behind them.
"Well, that's something," David thought out loud.
The two of them stumbled aft and climbed up to the wheel.
"Do we keep going?" David asked her. "Or run her aground and wait till morning?"
Gabriele considered the vacant, unspoiled land around them. There were no signs of any habitation or people.
"If we run aground," she said musing. "We could be days away from the nearest settlement. I say we keep going."
David nodded. "Keep going, it is." He pulled the rope from the wheel and steered them more central in the river before tying it off again. Then he noticed the bruises appearing on Gabrielle's shoulders and legs.
"Damn, girl," he said. "You alright?"
Gabrielle inspected her injuries and nodded. "I'll be a bit stiff for a while. You?"
David moved his shoulders experimentally and winced when he rolled his left one. "Just about."
"Let me see," Gabrielle ordered. She helped him pull the shirt over his head and gasped in shock when she saw his back.
The color of his flesh was marred by a series of purplish yellow/black bruises nearly as thick as her arm, running parallel across his shoulders and upper back. She also saw the swelling that indicated damage to his left shoulder.
"You really hit that rail hard," she said, gently touching the wound. He winced and pulled away instinctively at her touch. "I'm surprised you didn't go all the way through it?"
"That bad?" David asked.
Gabrielle only nodded. "Come over here and sit down," she instructed. He moved and seated himself on a small wooden cask letting his elbows rest on his knees.
Gabrielle gently probed the wound and felt the slight dislocation in his shoulder. She winced in sympathy.
"Well," she said lightly. "This is going to take a little work."
She moved to stand before him, her fingers slowly working the joint.
Then she looked down at him and smiled softly. "Serves you right, you know?"
"What?" David asked in surprise. "What do you mean by that?"
Gabrielle looked down at him, her fingers still gently working on the injured joint. She smiled again.
"I mean," she said absently. "That is was your crazy idea, after all?"
"Now just a second," David protested.
Gabrielle leaned over and kissed him suddenly. It was a deep, sensuous kiss filled with promise. She felt his whole body relax and then quickly snapped the joint back into place with an audible crack.
David flinched away from her kiss. The cask bounced across the deck and fell into the river with a splash.
"Wow!" he cried out in pain. He looked at Gabrielle in astonishment. "What did you go and do that for?"
"Think about how much it would have hurt if you had been thinking about it?" Gabrielle offered slyly.
David's mouth opened and closed several times and his gaze darkened.
"I'll never trust you again when you kiss me like that," he growled. "I owe you big for that one."
"Does the shoulder feel better?" Gabrielle asked innocently.
"Yeah," David said, moving his arm again. He smiled at her. "That isn't the part that's bugging me now, though?"
"One thing at a time, dear," Gabrielle smiled.
David's eyebrows rose in surprise as her seductive look remained on her face for a few more moments, and then she looked out past the front of the ship.
In the distance, they could see the dark outline of something large and triangular.
David's soft smile was replaced by a more excited look. "Giza," he breathed. "Damn. That wave really gave us a shove." He leaned against the wheel and stared out at the approaching pyramids in awe. Then he perked up suddenly.
"The river course is different!" he exclaimed.
"Different?" Gabrielle asked. "How?"
"Where I came from, the Nile didn't run right next to the plateau!" David pointed. "But for now, it does! Archeologists always suspected that the course of the river shifted at some point in time, they just never agreed on when that actually happened!"
A single pale hand brushed aside several blades of the tall reeds and fierce pale blue eyes stared out at the shrinking silhouette of the boat as it moved lazily down the river towards the sacred plateau.
The eyes were filled with a predatory hatred, mixed in measure with curiosity and balanced by dark wisdom.
She could still see the two figures on the aft deck as clearly as if they stood directly before her.
"How is it possible?" her voice hissed musically.
She turned with an almost ethereal grace and faced her three companions.
She was tall and slender, with dark hair, which shone black in the moonlight. She wore a simple, pleated linen dress of local design and her hair was held back in a circlet of pale silver. Her delicate features would have been quite lovely if it were not for the marble white pallor of her flesh and the subtle protrusion of the fangs beneath her upper lip. The fangs lengthened and her eyes went from icy blue to fiery red as she breathed deeply.
"Seftus," she said in a quiet voice. "Answer me. How is this possible?"
The rail thin man who had boarded the ship earlier shrugged his bony shoulders.
"Lady Imani," he said as he inclined his head forward. "I know not how this has happened. I can only tell you what I beheld. It was the Lord Nickoli aboard that vessel, yet, it was not. He was no longer one of us. The other, I do not recall."
"I know the other," Imani hissed, looking at the second companion. She was a fledgling, almost mortal to behold. Her flesh had not achieved the marble hue and hardness. Her dark eyes were clear, bright, and hungry. She still wore the garb of the Amazon warrior that she had been in life.
Imani smiled. "She is Gabrielle. The same child that aided us a generation ago. Why has she also changed so little? How is that possible?"
"She is Queen Gabrielle?" the young Amazon asked. It was as if she finally believed it was possible.
"She should be dead," Imani's eyes turned back to the river. "Or, in the least, old and frail."
"I don't care!" The young Amazon protested. "I still want their blood!"
"Patience, Sindis," the third figure said, gently patting the young warrior's arm. He was a more rotund figure, clad in thick desert robes and wearing a fine blue silk turban. His black whiskers folded their way around his mouth.
Sindis wrested her arm away from the elder and stalked towards the river.
"Patience be damned," she cursed. "I want their blood now!"
Instantly, Imani fastened on the fledgling and forced her back against a nearby tree, her red eyes glowing like hot coals and she hissed like a rabid cat.
"You will do nothing!" she whispered. "That is my father on that boat. Our father creator. I will know how he has retuned to the land of the living before I set you loose upon him!"
"There is also another possibility we should entertain," The shorter blood drinker put in.
The other three turned to stare at him.
"This man may not be our Lord," he shrugged.
"Shut up Arijani!" Seftus shot back. "I know what I saw! It was the Lord Nickoli!"
Arijani merely shrugged. "I simply suggest that we consider this possibility, Seftus. No more or less."
"All of you be quiet!" Imani barked. She let the startled Sindis back down to the ground. "We will do nothing to them, for the present." She fixed Sindis with a deadly look. "We will watch and wait, and see what transpires."
Her eyes drifted to a nearby cluster of firelight. "In the mean time. We have other things to attend to." Her lips parted in a cold smile.
In one, all for of them swooped towards the tiny encampment. A few moments later, terrified cries rose from the place, but only for a brief time. Then the land fell once again into silence.
Utanhk, High Priest of Osirus lay curled upon his sleeping pallet. The retching had finally ceased, but his body was still wracked with unbelievable pain. Through his glassy eyes, he saw one of the adjutants of the temple hovering at the doorway to his private chambers.
His brown eyes cleared slightly as he tried to mask his torment.
"Enter," he croaked.
The young man – a boy really – timidly stepped into the chamber.
"Forgive me, Master," he said quietly. "But you wished to be informed of anything strange?"
Utanhk forced himself to sit upright, and then got stiffly to his feet. The latest incantation had been a near disaster. As he shrugged his robe over his shoulders he looked back at the young man impatiently. "Well?"
The young boy blinked out of his momentary stupor. "Yes," he said nervously. "Strange rumors have begun to arrive about a tragedy on the coast. It is told that Alexandria has fallen into the sea?"
Utanhk scoffed aloud. "The rituals are powerful indeed," he said. "But they are not that powerful."
"Also," The boy continued after swallowing. "A ship is coming up the river, from the sea."
"You see?" Utanhk gestured with his hand. "How could a ship be coming from that part of the river if, as you say, the coast has been beset by some disaster?"
"The boat is of foreign design, Master," the young boy replied. "And was made to sail upon the ocean, not the river? Somehow it made it through the delta?"
"That is impossible," Utanhk said, suppressing a nervous twitch in his belly.
"Come see for yourself, Master," the boy offered.
Utanhk paused in the midst of fastening the clasp of his ceremonial necklace. He fixed a hard gaze on the boy.
The boy swallowed and then gestured towards the outside.
"It approaches as we speak," he explained. "It is badly damaged."
The High Priest fastened the two golden cuffs about his wrists and a third about his left upper arm before turning and pushing past the boy. All his pain and weariness forgotten in this revelation.
He halted at on a balcony that showed the river below, stretching out like a silver line in the moonlight. Clearly, he could make out the shape of a large vessel coming towards the temple. He was no river man, but even his untrained eyes could make out the damage to the upper deck. He also knew, without experience, that a vessel that size could never navigate the Nile Delta without running aground. By all accounts, this ship should not be there.
"By the Gods," he whispered in surprise.
David gently turned the wheel of the ship, following a gentle bend in the river, and stared up in wonder at the face of the massive monument before him. The crouching figure of the Great Sphinx sat poised, as if it would leap out and swat them down at any moment.
It took a minute before he realized that he was staring at the face of Egypt's most well known monument, unmarred by the passage of time. The face was brightly and decoratively painted, and the nose was intact!
"I'll be damned," he leaned his chin on the wheel and a soft laugh escaped his lips. His eyes drank in the sight with the full realization that no one in his own time had ever beheld what he was observing. Just beyond the monument he could see a series of gently lit villas and small temples, a lot more than modern archeology had unearthed in his day. His reverie was interrupted by the sound of a voice shouting at him in a strange dialect.
He raised his head and peered into the gloom.
At the edge of the river, a single figure could be seen, waving his arms and pointing upstream.
David followed the man's gestures and saw, in the distance, the pale glowing of two torches.
His mouth dropped open when he realized that he was staring at the private boat ramp for the temple of Osirus, the heart of the Giza Necropolis. They were being invited to dock their ship before the eyes of the Sphinx itself!
"I guess this is where we tie up for the night?" David called down to Gabrielle. "What do you think?"
Gabrielle, standing at the lower deck rail, looked out over a pile of tangle timber and canvas and saw the intended dock. Already, several men were moving into position to catch the ropes they assumed would be thrown to them.
"Uh, sweetheart?" David called down. "Do you know how to dock a boat?"
Gabrielle looked up at him in surprise and shook her head.
David smiled with false bravado. "Great! Neither do I!"
One of the men on the dock was waving wildly at them now, his arms moving in and up and down motion.
Gabrielle understood it first and scrambled to drop the tattered foresail. She stumbled and fell, looking up at her objective darkly.
From her bag, she drew pout something that flashed silver in the moonlight, and with a grunt, she sent the object flying.
A sound like a saw blade echoed across the deck as David watched the object slice the main rope neatly. The object imbedded itself in the tough wood of the remaining mast. Canvas trailers fell like streamers and the cross brace hit the deck with a crash.
Gabrielle pulled herself over the wreckage to the forward part of the deck, her eyes darting to and fro amidst the wreckage. The men below were all gesticulating wildly now
Gabrielle found what she was looking for and hurled a long coil of rope to the waiting men. Several of them caught it easily and wrapped it expertly about a thick stone piling protruding from the corner of the dock.
"Throw the aft line!" Gabrielle shouted.
David abandoned the wheel and picked up another coil of rope. He tossed it down towards the second group of men. They also wrapped the rope once about another piling and began hauling back on it, pulling the massive ship closer to the dock. The hull hit with a sickening crunch and a shudder.
Several men looked up at David reproachfully. Not understanding, David only shrugged and shook his head.
The waiting gangplank proved to be too short to be practical. Fortunately, a large mass of rope and netting hung over the side. That served well enough as a way to disembark.
Gabrielle retrieved her thrown object and clambered back over the wreckage towards David as he descended the stairs toward her.
David saw the object and smiled.
"I was wondering what ever happened with that?" he asked.
Gabrielle paused and looked down at the chakram in her hand – her chakram now. She smiled with a touch of regret.
"How come you haven't used it before now?" David asked.
Gabrielle only shrugged and looked down over the side.
David followed her gaze and saw a tall, bald man coming down the gentle slope of the ramp. He was dressed in the finery that identified him as a priest. A rather powerful one if the energy his aura gave off was any indication.
David pursed his lips thoughtfully.
"Looks like the boss has come down to greet us?" he commented. "Should we get our stuff and go down to join him?"
"Not many other choices are there?" Gabrielle replied.
David held up one hand, begging patience, and then he and Gabrielle vanished. They returned a few minutes later with their packs and climbed carefully down to the dock.
The priest stared at them for several moments, as if sizing them up. Then he fixed his dark eyes on David. He touched his hands to the opposite shoulders and bowed.
"Ka Na Te Osirus," he greeted as he gave a slight bow.
David set his bag down and pressed his hands together as if in prayer and repeated the gesture.
"Onobis Illuminotis," he said calmly.
Gabrielle looked at David in surprise.
"What did you just say?" she asked.
The Egyptian priest smiled. "He explained that he is a Servant of the Light," he said in flawless Greek. "Welcome to the Temple of Osirus. I am Utanhk." He bowed again.
"You speak Greek?" David asked, smiling.
"One of the few benefits that our current Roman guests have brought with them," Utanhk replied easily. He surveyed the ship for a moment and shook his head.
"It looks as though you have had a dangerous time." He stepped to one side and gestured amicably. "If you would follow me? I will arrange some refreshment for you?"
"I thank you," David nodded, speaking with a formality that she had never heard him use before. "If I may, Honored Host, what shall become of the ship and its contents?"
Utanhk looked momentarily puzzled. "The ship is not yours?"
David shook his head. "The captain and crew were – lost." He looked about. "If you please, I would much rather discuss the particulars in private?"
Utanhk nodded. "As would I. At present, the ship will remain here. Since you are the only two aboard her, then the vessel is yours, and all its contents."
David's eyebrows rose in surprise. "Very well," he nodded.
The two of them followed their host up the long ramp and into the temple complex proper. They passed through a thick sandstone arch into the great courtyard where the Sphinx sat.
David gazed up at it in wonder. In spite of himself, he slowed to a halt.
Gabrielle and then Utanhk both stopped and turned back to look at him.
Utanhk smiled with pride. "I take it you have never seen our mighty guardian before?"
David only shook his head.
"It's magnificent." He breathed.
"The Rulers of our land only finished the restoration of our temple this past year." Utanhk said proudly. "Before then, this entire place was buried beneath the sands."
David tore his gaze away from the colossus and looked about. To their left he could see a series of apartments, constructed and painted in Egyptian fashion, but unmistakably roman in design. To his right and over the shoulder of the Sphinx, he saw the smooth sides of the rising pyramids, still glowing faintly with the heat of the fallen sun. They shone like dull embers in the night.
Utanhk gestured again. "This way, please?"
David looked at his host and smiled apologetically. Then he nodded his head once to the Sphinx and followed.
The gesture was not lost upon the High Priest. His eyebrows rose ever so slightly before he turned and resumed leading them to the apartments.
Utanhk led them to a large, lavishly appointed suite of rooms at the far end of the building, very near the temple itself.
"I trust you shall be comfortable here?" Utanhk said cordially. "I shall send food and drink to you. In the mean time, enjoy yourselves. We shall speak at length when you are refreshed."
David nodded his head again. "My Lord," he said formally. "I am hesitant to impose upon your hospitality further, however. My wife and I have lost all our belongings, except what you see here with us. Would it be possible to find clean garments for us?"
Utanhk smiled warmly. "I shall attend to it, honored guest. Clothing for your companion, and the proper vestments for a man of your – "He paused as if searching for the correct word. "Station." He finished. He backed out of the room and gently closed the door after him.
Once the Priest had departed, both of them let out a long breath of relief.
David stepped over to a large comfortable chair and fell into it heavily. "He is definitely one of the big boys," he said. "Right up there with Shilah."
"What do you mean?" Gabrielle asked, inspecting the rooms.
"He's the genuine article," David replied. "Old School High Priest, full of power. I wouldn't want to go up against him in a duel. He makes Alti look like Pee Wee Herman."
Gabrielle stopped in her inspection and smiled when she looked at him.
"Who?" She never understood his references from his time.
David smiled and shook his head. "Let me just say that he's more powerful than you, me, and our late lamented friend, put together."
"Is that why he was so formal with you?" Gabrielle asked. "And you? I've never heard you talk like that before? You sounded almost respectable?"
David mock laughed at her and put his hand to his head, thinking. "What do you want to do about the ship?"
Gabrielle shrugged. "Well. Technically, I guess it does belong to us, since we were the only ones to survive?" She shrugged. "I don't know. Do we have to figure it out tonight?"
Her voice sounded strangely distant.
Frowning, David stood and walked over to her. "I suppose not, I just thought –" He stopped when he saw what had caught Gabrielle's attention. A large earthen stone bath sat before them, steaming expectantly.
"Right," David nodded in understanding. "Relax now, think later."
Gabrielle stripped off her clothes and settled into the steaming water, sighing contentedly.
David shook his head. "Well, let the Honeymoon begin."
"And about time, too," Gabrielle replied. "You coming in?"
David looked down at the water. The bath was more than large enough to accommodate them at the same time. He shrugged.
"Maybe later," he said. "There are a few other things I want to mull over first."
Gabrielle looked up at him, mildly concerned. "Like what?"
David smiled reassuringly. "This place, for one." He pointed out the nearby archway that led to the balcony running the length of the suite.
"Gabrielle," David said excitedly. "I'm standing in a place that people from my time will never know about! I'm living my ancient history in one of the places I've always dreamed about! It's a bit overwhelming. I just want to try and take it all in without being a giddy idiot."
He sighed. "And I just want a few minutes to just "be", you know?"
Gabrielle smiled. "I think I understand." Then she splashed some of the water playfully in his direction. "Just don't take too long?"
David nodded and withdrew.
From the far side of the river, two figures stood concealed within the tall reeds, looking out at the complex intently.
Sindis's eyes focused in on the balcony where her prey had just emerged. She watched him lean against the rail, his gaze turning this way and that, as if drinking in the scenery. His face was calm, set in an expression of contemplative rapture.
A low, animalistic growl escaped her lips.
Beside her, Imani also watched, but with an expression of quiet awe. At the sound of her fledgling, she snapped her gaze upon Sindis.
"Patience," she whispered.
Sindis's fingers twitched expectantly. "I want his blood."
"If he is the Lord Nickoli," Imani said with menacing calm. "Then you will not have him and that is final!"
Sindis looked at her creator angrily. "Why did you grant me this, if you intended to keep me from the vengeance you promised?"
"I did not know whom you sought vengeance against, child," Imani replied. She fixed her gaze upon the man again and a smile began to tug at her delicate mouth. This man's every mannerism was the same. The way he moved. The way he stood. The formality of his exchange with the priest earlier. Even the thoughtful way he seemed to study his surroundings. They all spoke of Nickoli!
"Your desire has blinded you," Sindis said angrily.
"And your thirst for revenge has likewise blinded you!" Imani replied.
Sindis looked at Imani for a long moment and then turned away.
"Where are you going?" Imani asked tersely.
Sindis stopped and flexed her fingers again. "I'm thirsty." She vanished into the gloom.
Imani smiled coldly. Somewhere in the depths of her frozen heart, she felt a twinge of pity for the hapless victim that would cross the young Amazon's path tonight. The spark of compassion vanished almost before she acknowledged it.
"When the time is right," she said to the open air. "You will be perfect."
She watched the man for a few minutes more and then went to sequester herself against the coming day.
David opened his knapsack and rummaged through it, lifting out two objects. One of them was a long flat velvet covered box. The fabric was crushed and matted from being buried beneath his other gear. The second was a small yellow pulp paper book.
He set the two objects down on a small gaming table and then slipped out of his clothing.
Gabrielle looked up at him expectantly when he entered.
David slid into the tub across from his wife and let the heat of the water burn out the soreness in his bruised back. He winced slightly at the contact and then dipped beneath the water before leaning back against the edge, his arms stretched out along the rim.
Gabrielle slipped over and settled down on his lap, leaning back against his chest, her head resting comfortably on his uninjured shoulder. She held his hand when he reached down to hold her and sighed.
They sat there for a long time, just being together, relishing the simple contact.
"Well," David said at last. "We made it?"
Gabrielle smiled and nodded. "Yes we did."
"So?" David asked, his smile spreading across his face. "What's next?"
Gabrielle looked back at him, frowning. "What do you mean?"
"Hey," David said gently. "You won the poker game, remember?"
Gabrielle smiled. "Ah, that's right. I did, didn't I?" She considered for a moment and then moved up to kiss him.
David stopped her just before their lips met.
"Touch my shoulder," he warned her. "And I'll break your arm."
Gabrielle laughed softly and melted into his kiss.
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