It’s late in the 27th century BCE in what is today the central parts of the Red Sea governorate in Egypt, about 30 kilometres West of Port Safaga. The wind blows hard and fast, blasting a ceremonial caravan with sand as they travel against the storm into the wild unknown, surrounded by brown stone hills sprouting from the golden sands that now too fill the air like an infinite swarm of locusts. A beautiful sarcophagus, carved from the blackest stone, is being carried on gilded metal rods by a company of twenty priests. Following the stone coffin; a parade of nine wooden coffins, each painted in all the colours of the rainbow. Their destination is a funerary complex unknown to all others that would soon lay forgotten for millennia to come.
Ahead, the necropolis rises tall on the hillside site, somehow - as if by magic - shielded from the fierce sandstorm around it. At the base, a village of labourers are working hard to construct the extravagant complex, twice the size of the necropolis of Qubbet el-Hawa, carefully carving great pillars, halls, and hieroglyph-covered walls. As the caravan pulls up to the complex, all work stops and the people fall to the ground with hands in front of their heads. Their god has returned to the Duat, and they have been preparing his palace in anticipation of his arrival so that he may live in splendour even in death. And so, the sarcophagus is carried into the complex, the entourage of coffins placed around the temple structures as if to guard the oil-black casket so intricately decorated. Once all is done and over with, the life that once surrounded the complex fades into obscurity, just like the necropolis itself.
Thus, abandoned and forgotten the tomb lies hidden in the hillside unbeknownst to anyone…
Into the Eye of the storm
1934, Somewhere in the Red Sea Governorate, Egypt.
“And so, the Prince would step forth, hands bloodied and dripping, staining the limestone floor with trails of crimson hue. ‘Hew none further’ he spake, ice-blue rondures, fear-stricken and sorrowful, gazing vacantly over the seeming ocean of lavish robe-clad folks of Court. ‘May this be the la-” Elizabeth’s reading was interrupted by a somewhat aggressive nudge against her shoulder; “Liza!”, her father exclaimed, having tried to get her attention for some time. “Father, this book perfectly captures the shock of a loved one’s death” she explained, to which he simply shook his head. “Liza”, he started, “perhaps this once, you might actually peel your eyes from the pages and pay attention to your surroundings. If our lead is correct, this could be the discovery of the century! A completely unmarked temple, with no references made to in any historical records! Marvellous thought, no?”. Elizabeth nodded in agreement, reluctantly closing her book - though not before folding a corner on the page she was on so that she could easily find it again next she’d be drawn to its seductive and fantastical storytelling. The book itself had no remarkable exterior, but Liza’s fascination with the story made it worth gold in her mind. Though, her father had never been much for reading works of fiction and, in fact, thought it somewhat of a waste of one’s time when one could instead dedicate that very same time to more intellectual conversations, or perhaps even research to further one’s ever-growing intellectuality. But Elizabeth knew that even fiction can stimulate one’s intellectual needs and desires, for what is a better teacher than one’s imagination?
Professor Clarke, Elizabeth’s father, taught archaeology at Oxford and was leading this expedition into the untouched deserts of Eastern Egypt. He was an ageing man, but he could still hold his own in the field. His daughter certainly shared her father’s love for fieldwork, though she preferred to spend her days in the preservatory making sure all the artefacts recovered were properly preserved. The convoy consisted of 5 vehicles; two trucks that carried the diggers, mechanic James Colville, and the all-important tools and supplies needed for a proper excavation. Two six-wheeled military cars with roof and windows removed followed behind the trucks, and in the front, leading the caravan, a Kerry Tourer where we find the Clarkes as well as their guide ‘Hassan’ and Professor Walter Hawkins, who taught history and linguistics at the very same institute where we’d usually find the Clarkes. Elizabeth herself was fairly young and unmarried, to her father’s dismay. She too worked at Oxford, but in the conservatory where she would tend to the many artefacts that arrived each season.
As the greying Clarke went on about how he despised having Professor Morris of Cambridge University as part of the crew, the sudden sputtering of the car’s engine cut him off - to Liza’s great relief, followed by a concerning pop as black smoke erupted from underneath the hood bringing the car to a slow stop. “What’s going on now?” asked Clarke, mildly irritated as he leaned forward trying to catch a closer glimpse at the smouldering hood. Though, naturally, he still had to step out of the car - albeit reluctantly. As the professor stepped forth towards the front of the car where Mr Colville was already on the case, hands deep into the engineering abyss of the smoking engine. In the distance, the light shuffling of limping steps in the sand made Clarke’s skin crawl. “Morris…” he muttered, turning to face the old Professor and preparing for a tirade of complaints and needless input. All just to get some time in the spotlight before age made him fade into irrelevance.
John Morris was once a very prominent member of the archaeological community and the foremost professor of Anthropology at Cambridge University. Though in his later years, his more traditional views had grown out of style among the rest of the community and he now spent most of his time riding the coattails of younger names in the guise of a consultant. By no means was he entirely relevant and had, in fact, on several occasions provided valuable input. But he was not meant for the field like this, and every little thing was an inconvenience that had to be brought up. It also didn’t help that he had quite the problematic limp brought on by a field accident many years ago that never quite healed right. To Clarke’s frustration, Morris’ expansive knowledge of anthropology often did help connect the dots in even his own work - and was therefore a valuable member of this team. Especially if this lead of questionable reliability turned out to actually, well, lead them to something never before seen since the Age of the Pyramids. As the older professor approached Liza’s father, limping forth with one hand in the air, and the other tightly grasping a short cane to help support his weight as he wobbled forwards shouting Professor Clarke’s name. “May God damn this blasted heat, if I have to spend another minute in that accursed vehicle back there I might well perish, curse the thought” he began pointing towards the back of their caravan. “Here I thought you were supposed to have recruited the best of the best with only the finest equipment, and yet here we are, in the middle of no-where, looking for an unmarked grave, frying in this barbaric heat, I’ll be damned if I die of thirst I-” Morris’ rant was cut off by an equally annoyed Prof. Clarke who made a note that had the older man only stayed in his dusty office, the rest of the expedition would’ve been spared from his incessant whining upon which Morris quickly defended himself accusing Clarke of wanting all the glory of the potential find for himself.
Mr Anthony Gray had worked at The Museum of Egyptian Antiquity in Cairo for the past five years and served as a representative of Cairo, and in fact Egypt itself, on the expedition. In the field of Egyptology, none could compete with his extensive experience in the field - which indeed made him an undeniably invaluable asset to the team. He also had a close relationship with the Clarkes as his father used to tutor Professor Clarke and he himself had an intimate interest in Clarke’s daughter, Elizabeth. He and Elizabeth had met at the Cairo Museum some years ago during her first visit to Egypt, and they’d both formed an instant connection in their love for Egyptian history. From that very moment, Anthony had been infatuated with Liza although hiding it as best he could as to not ruin their incredible friendship- and whether Elizabeth felt the same, no one could really tell. For what man could ever truly know a woman’s heart? As Gray exited the car with a deep sigh, he drew the attention of the squabbling men who both turned to face the younger archaeologist intent on ending this silly dispute. When Elizabeth, who’d been secretly peering into her book when no one was looking, saw Anthony exit the car, she too did the same, perhaps to make sure that he did not escalate the already heated situation between the two disgruntled men.
As Liza placed a gentle hand on the now-open car door, she felt a horrible chill, as if long nails on crooked fingers played along her back, from the base of her spine all the way up to her atlas vertebra and around the back of her head. And suddenly, it was as if the rocky facades around them had moved in closer, rising taller than before, surrounding them and suffocating the atmosphere. The air once dry and scorching was now replaced with an unnerving cold- which would have otherwise been a relief, but not here, not now. Not like this. The entire party was frozen and their gazes turned towards the pass ahead of them, their eyes glued to a single point that seemed to have been overtaken by the blackest darkness - even though the sun still shone strong and bright in the sky. Then, coming from the rocky pass, a swift breeze hit them, tugging at Elizabeth’s shawl, loosely wrapped around her head and exposing long locks of blonde hair, glistening like gold in the warm light of the sun. A breeze like none other, seeming more like a warning, than a simple gust of wind. Perhaps, even a threat. And despite this there was an unnerving sense of allure to the wind, as if it was followed by haunted whispers of seduction. The temptation to follow growing ever stronger with the group, like the fearful urge to jump off a steep cliff into the dark waters of the unknown below. Unaware of it, the group had gathered by the nearest vehicle, all looking into the pass in front of them. All because of a gust of wind. A desert breeze...