Chapter 06 – A Message from the Gods
AP wondered how Jo could enjoy sipping hot coffee in this weather. The woman appeared unconcerned by the heat, but she was probably used to it, having grown up in southern Alabama. She looked at the map she had bought from a street vendor. To AP’s amazement, she took out a red pen and began making corrections. She didn’t appear to have slept at all the previous night, and no wonder…after hours of lying awake, she had dropped off to be immediately awakened again with the news that someone had tried to break into the house. Concluding that the someone could have been after the strange artifacts, and perhaps the very same someone had thrown the fella’s body in the river, Jo and AP left the house before dawn to take the objects to a safer place: the Temple of Seshat.
AP looked at his empty glass, and waved at the boy for a refill. It wasn’t every day you could get a sasparilla float, and getting dehydrated would be a disaster in this heat. He tapped the time concordance. Four hours late! How could it have happened? Who would build a city without any street signs? “Still no sign of Safekh-Aubi street, Jo?”
She shook her head.
Unexpectedly the device chimed, and the boy looked up. AP tapped the rim of his glass, hoping the similar sound would mislead him. A bubble appeared on the screen that read “Link established- Seshat_Core.” Checking the details, he discovered to his surprise that the little device had been trying to establish an encoding protocol for days.
“Jo” he whispered, “I think I may be able to send a message to the temple from here! Maybe they can give us some directions that will make sense.” She shrugged and went back to her task. At least it kept her from glaring at him. “Wait – if that map is so wrong, directions may not do us any good. I’ll just tell them where we are, and ask them to send a guide out to get us.” He composed a message and tapped “send.” A few seconds later he got a confirmation that the message had been received. “There! That should take care of it. We can just relax here until someone shows up. In the meantime, I’m looking up that instrument I found at the dig house. Your dad’s helper called it a mijwiz. I wonder where I can get reeds?”
There was no response from Jo; she had fallen asleep behind the map. AP shrugged and pulled the instrument from his bag…
It was late afternoon and Hammer was just able to drag himself out of bed. His mouth tasted like… he wasn’t even going to complete that thought. However he tasted, he smelled even worse. His whole arm was on fire and he wanted to tear the skin right off. “I can’t just keep dwelling on it. Got to get a new plan. If I don’t…” Only one drop of poison from that ugly cobra idol. How could it do that? He went to the basin and poured water over it, scrubbing it with soap again. The scrubbing gave a little relief, but as he rinsed it the itching sensation returned with a vengeance. In the glaring light, he could see hundreds of criss-crossing scratches – he must have been clawing at it in his sleep.
“Can’t try the house again. Grab it when they move it?” Moving… How had that statue appeared to move? The screen had cut into his fingers…had there been opium on the sharp edges?
Suddenly overcome with nausea, he retched into the basin.
…he had absolutely not just vomited a large snake. That wasn’t possible. The poison was causing him to see things. He watched with horrified fascination as the hallucination slithered out of the basin and disappeared into the bedroom, then he sat on the cold tile for a while, breathing slowly.
He was starting to feel a bit better…maybe he had vomited up some of the poison. Yes, that was it. Not a snake! There was no snake anywhere to be found. The nausea had gone too, so he could think clearly again.
No use wandering around until I have a plan. If I can’t stay alert, someone will knife me for my boots. He’d feel better if he got out of these sweaty rags. He cleaned himself up and put on fresh clothes, with difficulty as his arm had mercifully started going numb.
“…and to recap our second section, a plan is not complete until it….”
Zizi shifted, trying to keep her bottom from going numb in the narrow seat. Every time she attended one of these compulsory seminars, it became more obvious how much the temple staff had shrunk over the years. Only one seat in twelve was occupied. Her mother had wanted her to carry on the family tradition, but Zizi wondered how long the temple could survive if applications continued to drop. At least the lighting on the audience side of the room was always dim, so the lectures could be a welcome chance to catch a nap after lunch. On the stage Sehmyir stood at the podium, peering at his notes like a myopic turtle. The lecture was putting her to sleep as usual. She let her eyelids droop….
“… Once your plan is complete and has been reviewed, you must be alert to communications from the Neteru. And just how will the gods make themselves known to you? Their ways are subtle and not easily…”
Something tweaked her consciousness, and for a moment she feared that she had been called on. But it was a sensation of green. Her eyes snapped open, and she heard a collective gasp, realizing that she had joined the chorus.
Behind the droning lecturer, huge glowing glyphs were appearing on the wall, one-by-one. After a moment, he looked up and faltered, as he realized his audience was gaping at him. More than one raised their hands to point, and he slowly turned to see another row of green glyphs begin to appear.
Several of the higher clergy had gathered at the front of the room, whispering among themselves, taking notes, studying the archaic symbols. Some of the students were creeping toward the heavy doors, others sat staring goggle-eyed at the message, or furtively scribbling their own translation attempts. Zizi was never one to stick around after the lecture was over and she wasn’t wasting any time now. The teenaged priestess-in-training had her hand on the door when her name was called.
She turned to see the lecturer smiling at her, but it was not an expression of fondness. This was the smile of someone who knew he would soon be rid of a particularly troublesome obstacle. “Miss Aziza, I have a task for you.”