THE FORBIDDEN TOMB
Tuesday, April 11th
Bahariya Oasis, Egypt
(180 miles southwest of Cairo)
The desert didn’t scare him. He knew the dangers of hiking alone in the Sahara, but he had been doing it for so many years that he was prepared for anything.
At least, he thought he was.
A veteran explorer with more than two decades of experience, Dr. Cyril Manjani had taken all of the necessary precautions before leaving camp. He had notified his team of his travel plans and told them when he would return. He had packed food, water, a GPS unit and a compass, and even some glow sticks in case his flashlight failed. They were the same essentials that he always packed before his nightly walks.
His hike had nothing to do with adventure.
He just needed some time to think.
An expert in Egyptology, Manjani had handpicked the members of his team. Though most were graduate students, they represented the cream of the academic crop from some of the world’s finest schools. Together, they covered a wide range of scholarly pursuits that might come in handy on his latest expedition.
Manjani didn’t want identical opinions on this project.
He needed unique perspectives in multiple fields.
They had been toiling in the desert for three long weeks before things started to get interesting. First they had discovered a stone wall around the perimeter of an ancient site. Then came a series of small huts that had been almost perfectly preserved under the sand. Eventually they had found a much larger structure that housed the desiccated remains of several soldiers and a mishmash of objects from several ancient cultures.
That had been yesterday.
Today’s discovery was even more exciting.
So much so that he had refused to leave it at camp.
Resting atop a towering dune, Manjani drank from his thermos before tightening the drawstrings around his neck. The April breeze was chilly, and he was grateful for the warmth of his tea and his jacket. Staring out across the vast emptiness of the Sahara, he felt a sense of wonder wash over him. Undulating waves of sand stretched out for miles in every direction. Most saw the bleak terrain as an adversity that must be overcome, but Manjani saw it as a place of opportunity. The landscape was literally filled with the answers to mysteries that had gone unsolved for centuries.
These were the moments that he cherished most.
Nothing stirred his emotions in quite the same way.
Manjani checked his watch. He had planned to be gone for ninety minutes at most, and he was quickly running out of time. Before heading back, he turned his attention to the nighttime sky. He was always amazed by how much the city lights obscured his view of the heavens. But out here, in the heart of the desert, the celestial bodies glowed against the darkest black he had ever seen. The contrast was so great that he swore he could see stars that he had never seen before.
Though he would have preferred to stay on the dune a little longer, gazing at the panorama above, he felt a sudden chill run up his spine. He pulled his drawstrings tighter and cursed under his breath. He knew a sudden drop in temperature often preceded drastic changes in the weather, and out here, in the middle of nowhere, those changes could be deadly.
Wasting no time, he started his journey back.
The closer he got to camp, the more the breeze picked up strength. He covered his eyes as sand pelted his face, stinging like hordes of microscopic insects. The wind whistled past his ears, drowning out all other sounds around him. Despite the clear sky, Manjani could sense that things were about to turn nasty. As he crested the final dune, he was glad his journey was nearly over.
Unfortunately, his nightmare had just begun.
As the camp came into view, so did the carnage. At first, Manjani assumed that his colleague’s excitement—and the case of brandy that they had insisted on bringing—had gotten the better of them. They appeared to be frolicking about the camp in a state of mass delirium, yelling and tripping over each other like teenagers on spring break. But looking closer, he suddenly realized his mistake. Their movement was an act of desperation, not celebration. Their screams were born of terror, not triumph.
All caused by the demons that swarmed the camp.
Everywhere he looked, cloaked men set upon the members of his team like bloodthirsty butchers. Manjani could not hear the cries of pain above the wailing gusts, but he didn’t have to. He could see the murderous rampage unfold in front of him. He watched in horror as his comrades were mercilessly dispatched, the assassins striking them down with methodical precision. Their deaths were slow and agonizing, inflicted with startling ease by the razor-sharp blades wielded by the intruders.
Familiar with the folklore of the region, Manjani had heard the stories of bogeyman that guarded the desert, but he had paid little attention to the tales. People had been disappearing in the Sahara since the beginning of time, and he had refused to believe that they had all suffered a violent death at the hands of monsters.
Now he wasn’t so sure.
In his heart he yearned to charge forward, to defend the men and women who he had convinced to join him on his quest. But in his head he understood that it was a fool’s errand—one that would result in certain death. Without weapons or training, there was nothing he could do against these armed savages. Charging into camp would not save his friends; it would only ensure that he died with them. He realized the only people he could possibly save were those who may have fled before the slaughter.
Though he was ill-equipped to take on the approaching sandstorm, there was no way he could risk returning to the camp for additional supplies. He would have to face the elements with only what he carried on his back. It was a daunting proposition. Manjani knew that desert winds had killed fitter, more prepared men than he. Given the distance to the nearest settlement, he gave himself a ten percent chance of survival, at best.
But those odds were much better than the ones he faced in camp.
That was a war he couldn’t win, and Manjani knew it. He would rather die searching for others who may have escaped—colleagues who lacked his experience with desert survival or equipment of any kind. He owed his team that much. Their lives now rested on him, as did the legacy of those who had already perished.
Someone needed to tell the world what had happened here.
Someone needed to know what he had found.