Read in Thai here thanks to Ashna Bhatt.
Prelude : One morning in early March over breakfast at the Beckenshaw residence an invitation from the Museum Of Egyptian Antiquities arrives. The British Museum is apparently lending some of its Egyptian artifacts for display in Cairo for 6 months. To celebrate the opening a cheese and wine party is to be held amongst the exhibits and Samuel and family are invited. How nice. Samuel hopes the wine is better quality than at the last mueum shindig.
Mirriam and her father receive a similar invitation. There view is rather that the British Museum should give the stolen artifacts back to Egypt and that wine is hardly appropriate in a God fearing country. Nevertheless politics demands they go.
At dusk the Museum night guard Ghadfa makes his winding round to chuck out the last of the stray tourists and local idol worshippers and to put up posters for the new exhibit opening tomorrow.
Night Guard Ghadfa - Ghadfa has a night job wandering the halls of the Cairo Egyptology museum checking nobody steals anything. He only does it because he couldn't get another job. He hates it. It is boring. The place is full of ghosts and evil magics and it scares the life out of him. He is slow and idiosyncratic but dutiful. He has a schedule of constant rounds and sweeping and so forth and does them come what may because he's not up to the imagination to do otherwise. He has keys to all the museum except the wing where the new British exhibits are - it's going to open tomorrow and the British Museum expert insisted on locking it up and taking the key. He probably mutters to himself as he walks round and appeals to any God that seems helpful under the circumstances. He has no truck with science and reason and is a firm believer in ghosts, magicians, spirits, jinn, angels, and the Lochness Monster. The museum is a bad idea.
Two small children are sat on the cask containing the priest Dedefptah's ancient and decayed mummy. They are obstreporous until a sudden transformation overcomes their emotions and they leave dutifully. Ghadfa mutters and continues on his round..
Dedefptah - The rules of Ament are straightforward and cruel. For the time the dead's tomb lies intact they have residence. New things only come to them from offerings laid in their tomb. Dedefptah was a priest of Anubis 2000 years ago and was buried in a rich tomb. He lived the heavenly life for 500 years receiving new gifts each year on the anniversary of his birth. Then the offerings stopped but the Offering Fields were still his home and so he imagined it would always be. No. 1900 years after his death his tomb was plundered by grave robbers, his treasure stolen and his body left in the blowing sands. An archaeologist then found the remains of the plundered tomb and brought the mummy of Dedefptah for display to the Cairo museum.
Now most spirits cling to their mortal remains awhile before succumbing to the inevitability of their end, finally allowing their spirit to be blown to the far ends of the Shadows by the soul destroying gales. Dedefptah is more obstinate. He has stayed trapped in his mummified body, his khat. He has watched, waited and pondered how to return his tomb to its correct order so he can return to Heaven. Perhaps this is because of his study of Anubis' law - he knows that a return can be made with a reburial. He knows that the stray spirit may still command the stone servants he was buried with. More likely he is just extremely hard willed and single minded.
With his body, three pottery servants survived and now these spirits patrol the Shadows at his command. They are not under his direct command so must be instructed, report back and so forth but they can talk and interact with others in the Shadows. His plan is not yet certain. If he could trust someone with his reburial he would do so but who can he trust? The wrong person might seek to force his spirit into servitude or destroy his body completely ending his aspiriations. He has worked on mental powers and can effect the moods of people close to his mummy He waits for an opportunity to further himself, meanwhile seething at the stupid things visitors to the museum say about him...
A light is on in the basement work area. The research student Isifil is dusting and marking some pieces of pottery. Ghadfa and he exchange wary hellos.
Isifil, Archaeologist - Isifil has been studying classics and archaeology for 15 years at the Islamic University (he will finish their graduate program in 5 years). In his spare time he studies Western science and is very impressed with logical thought and deduction. This semester he is spending his evenings (and most of the nights - he's zealous) working on restoration projects at the Egyptology Museum. The staff have come to trust him and he has free reign of the huge collection of exhibits which he likes to wander round after hours developing theories of the past out loud. Actually there's going to be a new exhibit of stuff from the British Museum opening tomorrow which is for now locked in a side wing - he's a bit miffed he can't see it early but not enough to risk opening it up. He has absolutely no truck with myticism and likes nothing better than to get to the bottom of a good mystery.
Meanwhile in a hut in a strange jungle the ancient spirits of the Shamans' of the Unmatabwi speak their chants to ward off the monkies and Tiger.
The Ntabi Mbota - The witch doctors of the Unmatabwi tribe do not die. They live on through the Ntabi Mbota, the sacred mask of the people, so their knowledge and wisdom is not lost to the tribe. The dead sit in a council hut on reed mats about the fire while monkies howl for their blood without and the Tiger sniffs at the base of the walls. The dead chant the old songs to drive away the evil spirits and recall the old ways, the making of poisons, the weaving of baskets, the techniques of the hunt. They are there for their people but their people are lost to them. The witch doctors do not know how, but the Ntabi Mbota was sundered from the tribe and carried somewhere strange and alien.
Their goal is simply to return to the Unmatabwi but they have no idea how. In the absence of an achievable purpose the witch doctors constantly argue and politic. They are tired of each other and a few of the dead have even left the tent, never to return, eaten by the spirits without. They claimed the Ntabi Mbota's purpose was at an end and the tribe forever lost. Those remaining still hold out the hope of a reunion though.
Apart from their store of tribal knowledge they have only few avenues to explore. They can possess the spirits of rats and mice to explore their immediate environment - seeing and hearing through them. The world without is a strange land of stone floor and alien artifacts. There is no sign of the jungle or sound of monkies out there. So they send out rats to reconnoitre and hope that something new will be revealed that will aid them. Remember that there are many of them and different witch doctors can chose to speak at will - they can be self contradictory (though they don't argue verbally when possessing someone, instead there may be long pauses and then a change of opinion). Some plead for knowledge about home, others threaten, others plot.
The Shaman's argue before finally deciding who will take a rat out on reconnisance tonight. They finally give in and one of their number who the others consider dangerously proactive is allowed a chance out.
Dedefptah organises his servants for the night instructing them to go about their usual surveillance.
Ghadfa is patrolling the second floor main gallery when he is approached by a rat. It stops a respectable distance away and unbeknownst to him attempts to communicate by performing the rain dance of the Unmatabwi. The convulsing rat has clealy been possessed by a spirit and Ghadfa seeks to make his escape but the rat follows. Isifil who has been wandering the galleries looking for a match to a piece of pottery hears the hurried footsteps and goes to offer aid. The rat must be ill and should be put in a box to get better or die. Isifil goes to get a box.
Dedefptah's servants have observed all this and seek to intervene with the possessed rat. They can see each others spirits but the Shaman can only squeek through the rat. Communication is limited but the rat is directed to Dedefptah's chamber.
Ghadfa is relieved the rat has left. Isifil has to put his box away the two return to the basement. As Ghadfa leaves the basement again he hears a voice say, "Well at least there's somebody here". It seems to come from a storage room in the basement but there's nobody there. He mutters and continues his rounds.
Dedefptah runs into the same communication barrier as his servant. the interview is interrupted by a strange voice pronouncing that, "Spirits of this place come forth and offer aid and obedience to Lion King Kalatanit". A servant is sent ot investigate. The words have come from a statue of a sphinx the eyes of which are glowing faintly blue. The servant acts as a servant should to a sphinx and offers help. Kalatanit apparently wants some of the statues in the museum moved and wants the servant spirit to work out how and to report back every hour. The rat goes off to find ink...
Isifil overhears a similar pronouncement by Kalatanit elsewhere in the museum but can't find the person responsible. Ghadfa has retreated for some sanity to the shop where the small sphinx figurines for sale start speaking in the same fashion. They are very spooked and Isifil has to stop Ghadfa smashing all the shop's figurines. Certain there must be a sensible explanation he decides to stake out the biggest sphinx in the museum. He hides behind a ceremonial boat and is there when Dedeptah's servant comes by to report in. he sees the sphinx's eyes light up (a chemical effect presumably) and hears the Sphinx speak in response to the unheard questions of the servant in the Shadows. There is some confusion when Isifil attempts to join conversation and the interview stops short. Kalatanit has indicated that there is another spirit opposing him and he wants to know who it is.
Meanwhile the rat has been trying to move a bottle of ink from the basement work rooms to Dedeptah's display room but finds the stairs hard going. Kalatanit puts in an appearance via a sphinx statue in a store room behind some Nubian statues but is disappointed to only make contact with a rat. The rat goes back to the rest of the Shaman and they recruit a mass of rats to help with the ink. Ghadfa and Isifil are bemused to find the hoard on the stairs and rescue their ink bottle. The rats change tack and steal a more managable grease stick from the artifact labelling room.
Back in Dedefptah's display room the rats start drawing on the floor. It is hard work but somehow the squiggles get across that the rats want to go home and will dig a new grave for the mummy if he helps.Isifil interrupts and starts to wonder who has been training the rats. Ghadfa is terrified. Amongst the squiggles on the floor is one of the African mask from one of the display rooms. Clearly the mask should be placed on a spinx's head! Kalatanit and the Unmatabwi are brought into communication. Kalatanit explains that he wants them to move the sphinx statue from the basement to a prominent place in the museum and for them to find out who the spirit that is competing with him for living space in the sphinx statues is. By now the confused Isifil is interrupting the conversation continuously and Kalatanit tells him to shut up. Isifil tromps off with the mask and puts it back where he found it ending the conversation.
A new voice starts to speak from various sphinx statues. It is a woman who at various times asks who was calling, says she's trapped in smoke and dark and generally seems confused. Isifil first thinks she is trapped in the British exhibit section so smashes in the door (Ghadfa refuses to get involved and tromps on his rounds) but finding her not there concludes the trapped woman must be in the boiler room and he's hearing her voice echo through the ducts.
The supernatural spirits finally get their act together and Kalatanit tells Dedefptah's servants to get the mice to bring a sphinx statue from the shop to the mask. This done they all talk. Kalatanit now wants two statues moved one for him and one for the other spirit so they can talk. In return he will offer a boon to which ever of the shamen or Dedefptah achieves the goal. They're suspicious of his ability to deliver but are willing to try.
dawn approaches and the spirits are becoming restricted in their movements. Isifil is exhausted and Ghadfa's shift is over... until tomororw night.
In fact Isifil and Ghadfa are both given a stern talking to by the museum curator and a few nights off are suggested as a good idea. Quite why they broke down a door is unclear.
Sarah and Mirriam and their respective fathers prepare for the opening party and arrive in all their finery. 50 or do well dressed socialites are milling around the exhibits sipping at wine and nibbling cheese. Sarah and Mirriam do their rounds - Mirriam is invited to help the museum staff with their cross referencing of the British collection with their own. After a while they spot each other and go Darb hunting. He is indeed here but seems eager to escape when they corner him. Mirriam is disappointed.
Meanwhile the supernatural entities of the museum are out and about again. The rats of the Ntabi Mbota try to understand where all the people have come from and work out who the leader is. Dedefptah's servant spirits also check out the party. Kalatanit takes a more proactive role and scares some poor party goer to death by speaking to her from a sphinx statue in the shop.
Kalatanit gives up and goes to talk to the Unmatabwi. he convinces them to send a rat to spread a few statues around the museum. A rat pushes one out into the main hall and pretty soon screams of "A rat!" echo through the museum. Mirriam and Sarah cat and go hunting. Mirriam catches the rat while Sarah is insulted by the sphinx statue. This is more interesting than playing with the rat and they eventually get the idea that there are sphinxs, ghosts and possessed rats around.
The speeches and opening of the new exhibit break up the discussion. The curator obsequiously thanks the British Museum and then Samuel opens the door to the new hall. People ooh and aah for a few minutes before the curator embarks on a new speech - the Victoria and Albert museum has also lent them a piece of jewelry alledgedly warn by Cleopatra - a large sapphire which he places rounds Sarah's neck for the evening. Kalatanit recognises it as the heart stone of a sphinx and squeeks away from his statue about slavery and immorality until placed in a deep pocket.
Mirriam goes to speak with the mummy which she finds quite talkative in the Shadows. Dedefptah wants to be reburied and disapproves strongly of the whole archaeology thing. Rats appear and start drawing on the floor though its rather confused. Kalatanit tries to stir things up through out.
Sarah approaches Darb again and he explains that he was giving Mirriam the cold shoulder because his interest was rebuffed by her father.
Mirriam walks through the Shadows to the African mask room and finds herself in a thick jungle. There's a hut in which she meets the Unmatabwi shamans - they want to go home too. She says she'll try to find home for them. When they offer to help her she wonders if they can win Darb's heart for her.. or convince her father.
Mirriam and Sarah meet and exchange info. Mirriam heads off to the library to find the Unmatabwi homeland and Sarah circulates more. After some searching the homeland is revealed to be in Southern Rhodesia, at leats according to a rather sketchy map in an old journal. The information is conveyed to the shamans who don't fully seem to appreciate the distances involved.
Sarah ends up in Dedefptah's room and slips into the Shadows (to her surprise). Dedefptah assures that he can help convince Mirriam, Darb and Mirriam's father to come to an arrangement if only they're brought here. Kalatanit assures her that as a seer he can guarantee the success of the venture - the time is ripe for the love birds apparently. Mirriam shows up and seems to want to go along with the idea. They get Mirriam's father and Dedefptah subtly (or not so) manipulates the conversation to matters of the heart then sends Sarah off to get Darb. The rats watch on.
Darb is slightly scandalized to be led off by Sarah to look at the exhibits but is lured into the mummy room. Dedefptah takes over and produces pleasant accord between Darb and Mirriam's father. The others excuse themselves and Dedefptah tries to get Mirriam's father to accept the marriage but without rolling over him to such an extent that later when not influenced he'll revoke it. The rats get tired of the game and possess Mirriam's father. He declares the marriage agreed to and then rushes off. darb and Mirriam impersonate goldfish.
Mirriam's father heads downstairs still possessed and announces the engagement to Samuel (who is not quite sure what to say). Surprisingly when offered a celebratory glass of wine he accepts before heading off. Sarah is horrified by the whole chain of events. Kalatanit points out that rats should not be sent to do a Sphinx's work.
Mirriam and Darb discuss their engagement and are both very happy with the matter.
Meanwhile the Unmatabwi plan their trip home, a short walk along the stream called Nile. The have Mirriam's father collect a bag for the mask and return upstairs. Mirriam, Sarah and Darb intercept him but aren't quite sure what to do. He continues on.
Dedefptah has been brooding on the failure of his plans to get reburied (those treacherous Unmatabwi) and finally flips. As Mirriam's father comes by he controls him to lure a young married couple, George and Mildred, into his room and shut the door. The Unmatabwi continue on with their plans. "Oh George is that a sacrificial dagger? Should you be opening the case dear? What ARE you doing George? George? GEORGE!".
Mildred's screams echo about the museum and everyone goes running. On opening the mummy room door they find George standing over the bloodied corpse of his wife - he leaps forward to attack! Everyone flees and George chases until he's outside control radius and collapses hysterically.
Darb has been trying to sheild Mirriam from seeing all this but she decides now's as good a time as any to break the news to Darb and vanishes into the Shadows infront of him leaving him the sphinx statue to explain! Sarah in cat form has been investiagting the mummy room too. They both see Dedefptah, energized by the fresh kill, shambling his mummy from the room (he distracts those without by starting a second round of attacks in the hall). He shrugs off Mirriam's irrate protestations and heads for the ground floor exhibits to collect new things for his tomb.
Meanwhile Sarah had decided to follow the Unmatabwi who colelct their mask and head for the door. Once outside Sarah intercepts and demands Mirriam's father back. They strike a deal and Sarah leads them to a coffee shop where they hijack a local for the walk. They head off for Rhodesia and are not seen again... Mirriam's father seems to have relapsed into his mental breakdown (and who can blame him).
Mirriam goes back to Darb who has been unable to get much sense out of Kalatanit. He has lots of questions but remarkably snaps into things quickly. The mummy must be stopped. Kalatanit decides to pop downstairs and shout "fire, fire!" very loudly as his part in clearing the building. Darb learning of possession abilities opts for an old hunting gun he saw in an exhibit and heads off.
Dedefptah arrives downstairs where the woman are mustered and he mind controls them into thinking he's an elaborate joke. They start following him about and picking up objects he wants for him ("I didn't know we could take bits home!"). He remembers the gun - that would be perfect for duck hunting in the afterlife!
Darb tries desparately to work out how to put gun powder and so forth into a muzzle loading gun then heads forth to do battle. They meet Dedefptah on the stairs. Mirriam sets too on him and his women with tooth and claw. Darb aims and is taken over by Dedefptah. Picking Mirriam as his new target he fires.. but the gun is too old and just futzes. Samuel strides forth to arrest the mummy. "Good Lord what is all this?" Dedefptah tries to use the women folk and Darb to escape but a brawl breaks out in which he is trampled. Finally Darb shakes off the control and stamps the mummy's skull to pieces. He won't be going anywhere now.
Everyone is in shock but Darb pulls through again and grabs up the mummy, collects the other Dedefptah related stuff and drops it all in a box. At Mirriam's suggestion he goes to the basement and buries the lot under a big flag stone. Dedefptah as a last fling controls some guests to bring jewlry and so forth to drop in with him.
meanwhile Kalatanit is getting at Sarah about the ther Sphinx stone. He convinces her to hold the gemstone to a sphinx statue whcih absorbs it. The princess sphinx is free! "Kalatanit you saved me! Shame about the view..." Sarah finds somewhere out of sight and acts out that she was attacked and the gem stolen. Everyone is so exhausted they don't seem too concerned.
The flagstone falls on Dedefptah's new grave. Darb leans on his shovel and fixes his eyes on Mirriam, "You have some expalining to do!"
Later Mirriam briefs Darb on her whole catty side down to the last detail (well look what happened to Quentin and Sarah when they had secrets). Darb is surprised but actually rather delighted. Yes they both still want to get married.
Over the next two weeks Mirriam convinces the museum curator to move the two sphinx statues to prominent places in the museum. The sphinx's seem to think they're due has been delivered when Sarah visits them later. They point out that as they're seers it would behoove her to visit them often.
And finally a little insight into Kalatanit:
Kalatanit - is an Assyrian sphinx of ancient lineage and fickle temperament. The unwary might mistake him for an Assyrian lion king statue but they would be missing the point. He is very much alive and alert and would object strongly to being locked in a subbasement of a museum for 20 years. His frustration would be greater if a collection of Nubian spirit guards were accidently stored between him and the rest of the world, for such spirits would seek to impede his astral travel. This is what has happened. Thankfully the Nubian spirit guards have recently been relocated and he is free to again astrally travel the world and take pleasure from it.
In fact a museum is a rather splendid place for a sphinx in this day and age. The spirit of the Sphinx may only manifest in the world through sphinx statues - he can see through their eyes, speak through their mouths and otherwise perform magics from their sites. Travel between statues that are relatively close is easy but without suitable statues he is trapped. In the golden days of the Assyrian empire, when worshipped as Gods and seers, the statues in every house, street and plaza provided the ultimate freedom of motion. Those days are gone and a museum of antiquities is the next best thing to a modern palace. This is why he arranged to have himself transported to Cairo expecting a prime site in the museum from which he could feel important. He also anticipated there being a considerable number of like spirits, ghosts and so forth in the museum who he could meld to his service and begin the creation of a small empire. He is very much offended that instead he was put into storage.
Having today awoken and discovered the Nubian's removed he is keen to set about restoring his own position. He wants to be placed in the main hall of the museum with a good view. He also wants a certain amount of revenge on people in general for the past 20 years suffering. He wants to have some fun. All of which added together forms a dangerous combination. He must begin by seeking other statues from which to get a world view. Then he will try to assess what other spirits are at large by offering services in return for other services as the whim takes him (he has no compunctions about lying). He will want to feel out the possibilities for enslaving other spirits or making deals with them if they are useful. The plan is then to construct a degree of mayhem, perhaps by setting spirits against each other, which will suitably inconvenience the museum staff that they will agree to move him. He is capricious, a little childish and feeling slighted. In the end though he wants to emerge in a more powerful position and with his dignity intact.