“You know how to read hieroglyphs don’t you?” Luka’s voice is cutting in and out of the call. Dejan wishes he knew exactly where and in what world Lukas inhabited that Dejan would ever know how to read an ancient Egyptian writing system as an accountant. He sighs.
“No, Luka, I don’t know ancient egyptian.”
There is a crash and the pops of what he hopes isn’t gunfire. Luka shouts out orders in some language that isn’t familiar to his ears before calmly coming back to the conversation.
“Well, I suppose we could always use somebody to tend to the camels. Pack your bags. I’ll send you the details.” The call ends as abruptly as it started. Dejan stares at his monitor blankly, praying for some sort of sense and reason to infiltrate Luka’s head. Ever since Luka had managed to wrangle Mateo to Madrid, he’d call out of the blue like this, to offer an adventure and probably an obscene amount of money along with it. Dejan had a whole drawer full of offers and tickets to Brazil, Germany, Switzerland and countless other countries and cities.
He was happy in Liverpool, he reminded himself.
No reason to throw it all away for a fantasy.
“You look like shit.” Luka greets him before going in for a hug. Dejan can barely recognize him with his three layers of dirt and sweat and aviators on.
“You look...dusty.” He coughs, ignoring the insult. He hadn’t been able to sleep on the flight over, mostly out of fear that they would fall out of the sky and land in Jurassic Park by the looks of the damn plane. It was just like Luka, to give him authenticity over comfort. Dejan still couldn’t believe he managed to rearrange his life for the next three weeks and not get fired.
“How was Rome?” Dejan wracked his brain for the last location he knew Luka and his team had been in.
“Kiev, and it was shit, but that’s where we got this tip. You know Mateo, obviously. This is Sergio Ramos, doesn’t speak much English, good to have in a fight. Gareth Bale, practically your neighbor, doesn’t shut up, resident munitions expert.” Luka introduces the rest.
The bulkier one smiles widely and the one with the topknot flips Luka off before waving.
"He thinks he's being funny. I'm Welsh, not English."
“Ahh, nice to meet you. I’m Dejan, Dejan Lovren.” He shakes hands with both of them before tackling Mateo into a hug and poking at his face a bit before Mateo slapped his hands away.
“Is that what you call a beard?” Dejan mocks.
“Is that what you call a face. I’m surprised you even made it to Cairo.” Mateo quickly glances at Luka who is already on the move and expecting everyone to follow before shoving Dejan again and shouldering his bag.
Dejan shrugs, taking in the streets over his sunglasses. “Always wanted to see the pyramids.”
Mateo laughs like it’s the funniest thing he’s heard in weeks.
Luka snorts, before looking back at them, “you’re going to be shitting sand for months for that view. We have an appointment so pick up the pace.”
“Is he grumpier or have I been away for too long?” Dejan stage-whispers and gets another snort of laughter from Mateo before he gets a hold of himself. Going on a crazy trip with his brothers from another life seemed like a good idea at the time but Dejan has no expectations other than a meal and a bed for tonight.
So when they stop in front of a hotel, he hopes it’s a good sign.
Luka briefly introduces them to a sour-faced man named Toni, and heads off with Bale and Sergio with a short conversation in Spanish. Dejan had been annoyed as he hadn’t picked up any spanish over the course of his life until Mateo offered an early dinner at the hotel’s restaurant.
“It’s nothing personal, you know. You’re a civilian and Luka has been following this lead for months. Egypt’s the first place we should’ve checked but everyone steered us away on a wild goose chase.” Dejan doesn’t raise an eyebrow at ‘civilian’ but does roll his eyes at Luka being dramatic.
“What’s in Egypt then?” He asks, curious despite himself. Mateo looks over the menu and looks furtively around them before leaning in closer to answer.
“A book of sorts.” Dejan mouths a book to himself.
“What kind of book?” He can’t think of any book that would tie Luka into knots like this, nor one worth whatever sum of exorbitant riches he knew would follow the expedition.
“The book.” Mateo still looks worried, as if someone would interrupt them in the middle of their conversation and start swinging or yelling.
“The Bible?” Dejan hazards a guess.
“No, The Book of the Dead.” Mateo whispers before their waiter comes up. He switches to French to order. Dejan still feels unsettled, not just by the fact that the last time he had seen Mateo, he couldn’t understand the French tourists down at the pub much less hold polite conversation with waitstaff. The Book of the Dead sounded alarming and made a shiver run down his spine. It felt like bad news.
He’s in a corridor and someone is calling his name, but it’s not his name. Dejan feels scared, but it’s removed, dulled and rationalized by not being himself. The dust he’s kicking up is different from the sand he’s familiar with. There are torches lighting his way, but why are there torches. He hears his not-name again.
It doesn’t make sense. Why would the Pharoah want to-
“Dejan, Dejan, for fuck’s sake. We need to go.” Mateo shakes him by his shoulders.
“I’m up, I’m up.” He blinks in the lowlight and hopes his body is still jetlagged because it certainly doesn’t feel like a night’s rest and the window outside was still dark. He really, really hopes he is absolutely wrong so he doesn’t have to kill Mateo and apologize to Kati for ruining her wedding.
“Is that BLOOD on your shirt?” He doesn’t shriek out, but does shout. Mateo is stuffing Dejan’s shirts into his pack. The sound of chaos getting closer to their shared room. He had fallen asleep waiting up for Mateo who had “gone for a drink with the team” and wakes up to madness. Not to mention his weird dream had Dejan spooked.
“Yeah, Ramos got shot. He’s alive, but Kroos just tried to double-cross us and Luka had to, forcibly take the map. No idea where Bale is, but he’s always had a thing for Toni. Here, shoot first, ask later unless it’s me or Luka.” Mateo hands him a gun that looks older than he is.
“I’m not shooting anyone.” He definitely shrieks, but grabs the gun anyway. Mateo finishes the bag and hoists it on.
“You will, if it saves your life. Look, Dej, there’s a lot we haven’t been able to tell you, but trust me okay. We make it out of this and Luka will probably answer all your questions. Our mission is fucked if we don’t get off this ship.”
Dejan looks back longingly to the bed.
“Normal civilized people try to get more than three hours of sleep you know.” He points the gun towards the door as the shouting stops and there’s a large thump.
“We haven’t been civilized for long if you think about it. The sad thing is this was your last chance at sleeping on a real bed.”
“I hate you right now.”
The door bursts open and Luka looks like an extra out of a zombie movie. Dejan can’t even ask how his shirt managed to get torn in half before he waved them out of the room.
“We need to go.” It’s a boat, and there’s a finite amount of space for them to walk through with certain bodies being in the way along with splintered doors and debris. Dejan gives back the gun to a confused Mateo before grabbing a sturdy bit of pipe and swinging it before Lukas whistles sharply. They hear a whistle back and a shout.
“Time to jump,” Mateo swings over the railing awkwardly. Dejan looks up to the night sky and takes a deep breath before plunging into the river.
It’s shockingly cold. They wade in one direction. Dejan’s eyes on Luka’s blonde hair to guide him. When they reach shore, they hear more shouting, but no gunfire. Dejan flops onto the ground, exhausted from adrenaline and lack of sleep in the last 48 hours. Lukas shouts back and Mateo offers Dejan a hand up.
“What is he saying?”
“Mostly cursing Ramos and his horses. And that we’re on right side of the river.” Mateo grins.
They pick up a stray while bargaining for camels, which Dejan counts as a win since they had lost half of the team to treachery. Naser Elneny is completely normal unlike Mateo and Luka, so Dejan tries to be friendly for the duration of the trip to Memphis.
“So you are treasure-hunters?” Naser asks eagerly. Dejan is debating the merits of falling asleep while riding a camel and definitely not thinking about the fact that Mateo and Luka were basically pirates for hire, without boats and at the whim of rich people who really wanted something shiny for their collection. The Book of the Dead didn’t seem like something that should be handed over to some millionaire with an ego problem.
“They are. I’m just here for a vacation.” He knows his smile falls under the category of slightly deranged rather than charming currently, but he had a lot on his plate. Elneny certainly seemed to be the type to dive into the unknown whether that meant staying with the group of foreign treasure-hunters until he got paid for the camels or going into some ancient temple ruins with said strangers.
Thinking about sleeping made him think about the dream he had, being chased by guards or something, through long stretches of clay and sand.
“What do you know about the Book of the Dead?” Dejan’s gut tells him it’s no good and he needs the proof.
“It’s a legend. A book of spells, ancient magic that could bring even the dead back to life. Whoever reads of it is said to be eternally cursed.” Elneny’s brows come together in consternation.
“Is that what your friends are looking for?” Dejan looks at Luka’s back, leading the herd.
“Not if I can help it.” He says determined to not get anyone cursed, eternally or otherwise.
They set up camp just outside Mit Rahini. Dejan can barely get through his beans with a side of jerky before falling onto his bedroll in relief. The closer they had gotten to their destination, the more Dejan had wanted to turn his camel around and go back to Cairo.
“We’re waking up early to scope out the site, so try to get as much sleep as you can.” Luka nudges him with an elbow.
Dejan yawns, “you don’t have to tell me twice. Goodnight.” He turns on his side and curls up as much as he can between blankets. The fire is slowly dying and the flickering light lulls him to sleep fast, reminding him of something he can’t quite remember.
The royal chambers had always looks cavernous to him, growing up first with many brothers and sisters, then staying in the simple quarters meant for guards all shared spaces and no personality. The Prince’s room was sparse beyond the reminders of his duties as a High Priest of Ptah.
Men-nefer was a devout land.with an equally devout ruler.
“Jabare, how may this servant of Ptah be of service to you?” Prince Khaemweset always remembered the common people around the great temple and never thought a request to be too small. He was humble unlike his brother Crown Prince Amun-her-khepeshef. It was clear the Pharaoh had favored Amun-her-khepeshef for the throne, but Khaemweset had gone to Men-nefer gracefully and served the kingdom through Ptah.
“Nothing at the moment, Sem-Priest.” He bows his head.
“Then accompany me to the cook’s quarters, would you faithful Jabare?” It’s the lilting amused tone that makes him look up to Khaemweset.
“Of course, Sem-Priest.” He nods, standing to the side to follow the High Priest. Jabare had become a guard because of Prince Khaemweset. Servitude wasn’t such a hardship with the prince. Guarding him was an honor of the highest order. It offered moments of kinship between them, even if they were small fictions made grand in his head. They carried Jabare through the loneliness of being so far from his family.
“The cook’s daughter, do you know her?” The Prince asked quietly, the great temple of Ptah demanded respect at all times.
“No, I know of her of course, and the baby she has given birth to, my Prince.” Jabare kept his eyes ahead, catching sight of the short wig on the Prince’s head as was the fashion for priests. He had once seen the Prince without a wig when they were younger. It was Jabare’s secret along with many other things.
“All life is given through Ptah’s will, which is why I must do my best to ease the child’s sickness. It is worrying, a life so young being in danger. I’ve brought a gift to keep spirits of evil away from him and of course, the blessing of our lord.” Jabare tensed at the word gift.
It would look like a favor and the more salacious of the servants would wag their tongues. No matter how generous the High Priest was, no matter how kind, there would always be talk and scrutiny. Jabare may be the Prince’s guard against physical threat, but he worried over any harm to befall him.
“Perhaps, a gift from the Sem-priest and all those serving Ptah for new life gracing his great temple would be agreeable.” He fights the deferential bow he wants to make to watch the Prince go around a corner.
The Prince stops and turns. Jabare freezes, lowering his eyes to his feet. He shouldn’t have given a suggestion to the High Priest of Ptah.
“That sounds better than a personal gift, doesn’t it?” He sounds a little saddened and Jabare flinches, stopping himself from getting on bended knee to offer his life for his grievance. The Prince touches him, a fingertip barely lifting his chin. He doesn’t dare breathe. There is a small smile on his face, a mercy.
“Thank you, Jabare.” He turns abruptly to keep walking.
Jabare stands, stunned until his legs force him to follow the Prince’s shadow.
“Lovren? Dejan? Is he alright?” Naser sounds far away. Dejan shakes his head to dislodge the crazy dream he’d just had and finds himself in front of a wall.
“What the fuck.” It’s a rock actually. A rock in front of a crumbling wall with symbols, the famous hieroglyphics.
“I didn’t know you sleep walk.” Luka comes up behind him and Dejan takes an extra second to panic, because he first instinct was to incapacitate Luka instead of jumping out of his skin like he normally would.
“I don’t-- I don’t walk in my sleep. I don’t even move in my sleep.” He frowns at the wall, trying not lose it.
“Different surroundings, makes your body react differently. I started snoring after Brazil.” Mateo jumps in, looking worried.
It sounded like grade A bullshit and Dejan was too tired, despite actually getting a full night’s rest, to deal with whatever secrets his friends were still keeping from him. He stops trying to find the meaning of life in the wall of text in front of him and mentally wills himself to not freak the fuck out.
“Can you read this?” He gestures to the wall, getting a yes from Elneny and two nos from Mateo and Luka. Dejan rubs his eyes.
“It’s the temple of Ptah, dedicated to him and his consort Sekhmet and their son Nefertem.” Naser informs them.
Dejan feels sick.
Mateo, though not the munitions expert, sets up charges to get past the boulders blocking their way into the temple. The explosion was minor but enough to get them angry locals from the town that Naser has to hastily mediate with before telling Luka, they hadn’t been the firsts to try, that a Frenchman with another group was on the east side of wall doing the same.
Luka swore, “It’s Benzema and Ronaldo. That rat Toni must’ve tagged them in after we didn’t play nice. We have to get in there before they do. It’s going to take ages to figure out where the damn Book is even in the Scribes’ Wing.”
“Why would it be with there? The Scribes wrote down records, made copies. They wouldn’t be able to look at the Book of the Dead, much less copy from it.” Dejan said absently.
The group turned to stare at him.
Dejan finally realizes what he’s done, going a little grey at outing himself and his dreams in one fell swoop.
“How do you know that?” Luka didn’t sound like he was planning to break a finger or two for information just yet so Dejan counted himself lucky.
“Been having dreams, since I landed in this fucking country. It’s all about your little expedition.”
Mateo swore a blue streak, “What do you mean?”
“I mean, I’ve been having nightmares about this temple as someone who lived there, back then.” Dejan says flatly.
Jabare knows the shorthand peasant way of writing but reading was another matter. The characters swam around in his head. No one expected someone of such a low station to read regularly. Books were meant for scribes and priests and kings, not soldiers and servants.
“I can teach you, if you wish.” The Prince says as he catches his eyes wandering to the texts all around the room. He had explained and apologized for the mess, wanting to consult Thoth’s knowledge on a certain subject.
“I do not think I would be of any use, my Prince, and I wouldn’t want to take time away from the duties of a High Priest.” His eyes lower for as short as he can manage without being disrespectful before meeting his gaze once more. The Prince had wanted to be treated with less deference, sighing whenever Jabare and others slipped up. He was High Priest, he had said, but not a God himself, even in the lineage of Pharaohs, there had to be a crocodile among the hippopotamus .
“I have enough free time to aid a friend, I think. I can call you that, can’t I?”
Jabare swallows down his reaction to study the Prince. Even in the panther skins and gold, he looked young, too young suddenly, wisdom receding into vulnerability of wanting companionship. Jabare hadn’t realized how alone the Prince had felt until now. The other priests were considerably older and their deputies were closer to his age, but Khaemweset couldn’t seek out their company without imagined slight or scandal.
He hadn’t ever heard of the Prince entertaining women in his rooms.
“Yes, my Prince. I can be your friend.” He doesn’t lower his gaze, and is rewarded by a brilliant smile, like the sun rising before the moon.
“Jabare,” he puts on an air of admonishment, play-acting, “you already are my friend. So I will teach you to read and if any of the others want to learn, I shall tell the priests to hold classes. Everyone should learn if they wish to.” The Prince moves over to the low shelf that held smaller tomes.
“None of these will do. You should learn to read for pleasure. I’ll have someone get the tales my mother would read to me as a child. It’s early still, but it would be a good exercise for the young scribes in the west wing to help me with.” He talks almost to himself.
“The Sem-Priest doesn’t need to go through so much trouble for a guard. I will read what is available.” He says stiffly, uncomfortable with the effort.
Jabare hears the Prince sigh, the disappointment stings, but the statement is true nonetheless.
“I will teach you what lengths I go to for my friends, and I will get you to be more familiar one day, Jabare. I promise you.”
He doesn’t smile, because that would only serve to encourage the Prince to break tradition further but he doesn’t doubt he will try his hardest to dissuade him of protocol.
The lessons go slow. Jabare not exaggerating his trouble with reading, but Prince Khaemweset is patient and tenacious. The other priests had politely gone along with the High Priest’s request to teach the handful of servants that wanted to learn but no one else had shown up to the Prince’s lessons.
He relished their time together, even as his head burned with the strain of learning.
When he managed to read the short passage the Prince had written down for the day without tripping over his tongue at all, the Prince had asked the cook for a special meal brought to his rooms. Jabare could still taste the honey on his tongue if he thought back hard enough.
It is unexpectedly painful then, when the Prince finds his presence in the room puzzling.
“Isn’t it Turo’s time to follow me around the temple?”
“It is, but the other guards know to come back after my lesson, since I could guard the High Priest in that time. Would the Prince like me to call him?” Complacency had sunk into his bones, Jabare thought. He had grown too comfortable with what was given to him. Eventually, the lessons would stop and Jabare would still be Jabare.
“No, no.I didn’t forget. I’m sorry, Jabare. I told Betrest to tell you. A messenger arrived with urgency from Waset. Imhotep requested something of me. I have to speak to Apis on this matter.”
His heart rises into his throat after sinking to his feet. Jabare doesn’t want to feel relieved, shouldn’t feel the way he feels for the Prince.
“The Sem-Priest doesn’t need to apologize, matters between the highest of magicians with the Prince is more important than--” the Prince lays his hand on Jabare’s shoulder. He could have cleaved his tongue in two with how fast he stops speaking. Guards, even ones protecting royalty, didn’t have much in the way of jewelry. A collar full of copper would weigh him down. He wore teeth and beads strung on a necklace and had an amulet that his father had traded hair for, a tiger with blood red eyes to protect him.
Nothing could protect him from the warmth of the Prince’s hand on his skin. He shuddered minutely, skin rippling away and re-molding itself to fit against the fingers and palm against it. He wished, wanted for something, something like if his soul was immutable then it should carry the imprint of the Prince’s hand across it forever, but it was forbidden. No amount of want could change that.
He snapped back into himself and recoiled in horror as he saw the Prince bow his head to him.
“I should’ve seeked you out, my friend. Nothing is more important than the trust of a kindred spirit. I’ve broken faith with you, Jabare.”
“No, no, my Prince, please.” He doesn’t dare touch him, “Don’t bow to me. All is forgiven.” He whispers frantically as if Ptah would strike him down for entertaining the ludicrous display.
“Call me Khamwas then.” The Prince finally lifted his head, desperation still in his eyes. Jabare wanted to look away, didn’t want to witness his pain, never wanted to. He dreaded the day he would have to stand side by side with men who were charged to defend the temple and the high priest without knowing him.
“I can’t. I can’t.” He doesn’t know what he is denying anymore. His heart is thundering, lightning strikes under his skin as Khaemweset’s dark eyes dart down to his lips.
“We can’t.” leaves him so quietly, he thinks Ptah, who listens to prayers wherever they may come from, is the only one to hear it. The Prince grabs his hand.
“Then come with me. I need to show you why I will be gone for as long as it takes to get an answer.” Jabare knows once they are out of these rooms, they will have to forget everything and act as normal, as a guard and the high priest. He takes his hand back, the warmth pressed into it, fleeting, and returns it to his side, empty as it should be.
“I will go where you wish, Sem-Priest.” The Prince smiles sadly, understanding in ways that didn’t need to voiced.
He takes him into rooms Jabare knows he shouldn’t be privy to. He takes him to a room that is dead of spirit and in it, the Book of the Dead resided.
“This is what Imhotep wants, and if something should happen. I fear the worst. I fear for my father, my grandfather, for everyone. No one can know where it is but me, and you now. I trust you, Jabare, my faithful protector. Remember the way, and guard it as well as you guard me.”
The High Priest retires into ritual chambers after that.
He doesn’t come out for three days.
“Why the fuck am I here?” Dejan spat out looking at Luka, who only stuck out his chin as if daring him to punch him.
“You were dreaming again.” He calmly replies like they aren’t in the middle of some ruin.
“No, why the fuck am I here, Luka, why did you invite me to Egypt. Why does Mateo keep looking at me like I’m a fucking stranger. What the fuck is happening to me? You know something.” He points a finger at him, voice breaking on the crest of his anger.
“We were told to bring you, just us. No one else knew. There was an old guy. Kiev was a shitshow and a dead-end. I was ready to throw in the towel on the Book. I don’t believe in curses, Dej, but someone or something is pulling strings here. I promised Kova this would be the last one, then he could go get married and have kids and the picket fence life. And this guy shows up, when we’re drinking to our shit luck. Tells us ‘you have to bring your friend, the one with the broken spirit to Egypt.’ and Mateo and I both knew he was talking about you, somehow.”
“Toni somehow got the map, said the last team to try had only managed to get to through one wing of the place before getting run off. Luka called you, and you actually came. You know things about this place don’t you? It was fate.” Mateo is still looking at him like he’s proof of a miracle or something. Dejan shakes his head furiously.
“No, I don’t believe in ghosts and I certainly don’t believe in whatever fucked up dreams I’m having. I’m not broken. I have a life out there, without ancient temples and priest kings and treasure hunting. I have a normal life, a good one.” The more words that come out of his mouth, the more hollow they feel. He’d seen something, felt it as Jabare. Something he didn’t have in the real world.
“Then leave,” Luka doesn’t break stride on his even, infuriating tone.
“What?” Mateo and Dejan both say.
“Leave if you want, go back to that normal life you covet so much. Tell us where the Book is on the map and we’ll get it on our own.”
“No, I have to--” Dejan stops. The urge doesn’t go away. He has to know the truth. He doesn’t want to walk away. He doesn’t want to leave his friends to get cursed, and he certainly won’t let them take the book to their patron now that he knows, really knows about it.
“You have to what?” Mateo asks.
“I can’t let you go in there alone. What if something happens? I can’t tell Charlie or Kati I just left you to the forces of evil. I have to go with you, for better or for worse.”
Mateo finally smiles and doesn’t look at him like he wasn’t just Dejan.
“I’m not marrying you.”
“Fuck you, I’m a catch.” He doesn’t think about whatever doomed and star-crossed love Jabare had with Khaemweset.
“You’re really not. So you’re going to show us the way?” Luka asked a little warily.
“Yeah, I am.”
It’s not in the room. Dejan walks around the space, feeling truly lost. What had happened after he had died. Imhotep’s priests had infiltrated the temple. Khaemweset had told him to defend the rest, that he would go after the Book. He was missing something.
“I thought you said you knew where the Book was?” Mateo kicked up some dust, watching the motes swirl in the beam of the flashlight.
“It was here. The Apis had died. The High Priest suspected foul play on the king. Imhotep moved on the temple with his priests. He must have moved it, but where? The burial, the burial of the Apis. Imhotep wouldn’t dare mess with that. You said there was a team that tried to get in before, what did they find? Where did they go?” Dejan had a flash of inspiration.
“They found a mummy, a man, and gold northwest of here.” Luka looked at his map to make sure.
“The City of the Dead. All the complexes are connected by tunnels. The Prince was-- He cared about restoring places that had been broken in age. It’s why he came here. The old seat of the Pharaoh. Waset was more popular by the time his father ruled.”
Luka stared at him, perplexed.
“Don’t you look up the history of the places you rob?” Dejan snapped out testily.
“Yes, but no one calls Thebes, Waset, anymore. Are you sure you want to go the giant cemetery with us. You might see something you don’t want to see.”
“They buried bulls and kings there. I’m not going to faint at the sight of a wrapped mummy.”
“I might, don’t they smell? Why did they bury bulls, seems like a waste of coffin space.” Mateo casually breaks the tension brewing between them
“They were Apis, sacred bulls.” Dejan explained.
“Sacred, right, well, let’s go see some bull mummies, shall we?”
The tunnels were free from debris and somehow air was circulating enough for them to safely travel through them still. He wasn’t a builder, but he couldn’t help but marvel at the ingenuity. These places had survived under the harsh conditions of the desert and would continue to survive after.
“I found something.” Mateo coughed. He scouted ahead, being the fastest out of the three of them. Naser had refused to come into the City of the Dead, actually waiting with the camels like Dejan probably should’ve been if not for whatever past life he had discovered on the job.
The gallery was impressive. The tombs of several bulls along with their documentation lined the walls. Most of the sarcophagi looked untouched on the side of the room. As if someone had managed to stumble in and stumble out just as quickly. Grave robbers weren’t particularly brave, he supposed.
Khaemweset would have never been able to see it as it was now, but it was part of his legacy as High Priest.
“There’s a room down here.” Luka yells, but Dejan was riveted to the sarcophagus that had been undisturbed in the line of opened tombs. He heard a whisper, a quiet roaring rushing sound. He pushed the heavy slab over, his eyes glazed over.
You found me, Khu
His arms reach inside, pulling out a cloth covered bundle. The plates and binding are gold, protected by the Eye of Horus and scarab. He traced the ankh with trembling fingers.
“What are you--is that, is that the Book?” Mateo grabs his arm.
“No, it’s the Book of the Living.” He says faintly, the roaring still in his ears. A wind picks up and blows across the chamber. He meets Mateo’s scared eyes before Luka runs in with a small box in his hand, paler than a ghost.
“I found the Prince.” Dejan takes off, leaving the book with Mateo.
There is nothing left of the face he once knew. The golden falcon that had adorned his kilt and scattered pieces he favored wearing, befitting of his station and birth accompanied him in the afterlife. He doesn’t touch him. Why should he in this life, where he was Dejan instead of Jabare. Why was he the one to be resurrected instead of a King’s son. He must’ve done something awful, in his past life, to have to suffer life and death over again, instead of whatever peace had awaited Khaemweset.
“Are you okay?” Mateo asks, next to him, holding the book to his chest.
Dejan shakes his head, “He was my….friend.” He doesn’t know what else to say, how else to convey it, sensing that he could spend the whole afternoon trying to string words into what Khaemweset meant to him as a subject and a friend without scratching the surface.
Mateo nudges him gently with a shoulder.
“We should go, find a way to get out of her before dark. Get back to camp.”
He nods in agreement, tearing his eyes away from the Mummy.
It’s only when they get to camp that they notice the dark clouds and it’s fortunate that they had bartered in town for tents, even as Dejan’s back hurt from setting them up.
Mateo had been fiddling with the box when they found it turned into the key to the book. Luka had failed to mention he had found under the mummy’s arm in the place of a heart scarab. Dejan had reached his breaking point and had retired to his own tent without dinner.
“Can you really read this?” Mateo hadn’t let go of the Book since Dejan had given it to him. The thin plates that made the Book’s pages would be worth a fortune apiece if he cared for that sort of thing. Mateo flipped through it like he was waiting for something to happen or to suddenly be able to read it himself.
“Yes, please, let yourself in.” He said sarcastically.
“Does it look like a normal alphabet to you?” Mateo asked, as if he himself wasn’t able to speak five different languages and believed in magical translation. Dejan sighed.
“No, you idiot. It’s just like any other language. I have to translate it in my head. I just know the basics.” He tried not to think about his lessons, but the dream had unearthed too much to ignore. Flashes of his past kept interrupting his thoughts and the day was long enough without adding another life to it.
“Can you read some of it to me?” Mateo pleaded.
Dejan got up from his prone position on the bedroll.
“It’s not a bedtime story, Mateo, it was an important text to them, a magical and sacred thing that you shouldn’t be playing around with.”
Mateo didn’t budge, staring at him with wide eyes that never actually worked on anyone but Katarina. Luka only gave in when he got tired of Mateo’s whining. Dejan didn’t feel comfortable reading from the Book, even if it wasn’t the original Book they had set out for. Luka had said it was better than nothing and they had no way of knowing if the Book of the Dead was still around.
Truthfully, Dejan thought Luka had been happy enough to find something to get him out of the desert.
“This one isn’t cursed. It’s the Book of the Living so it can’t be that bad. What does this mean?” He points at the glyph, ignoring Dejan’s protest.
“Sun, or morning or day. It depends on the rest.” He answers reluctantly.
Mateo smirks in triumph before snapping his fingers as he gets an idea.
“Just read it out loud. You don’t even have to translate. I’ll let you go back to sulking and I get to hear ancient egyptian right from the source. Everyone wins.” Dejan rolls his eyes, but motions for the book and takes a deep breath, head suddenly pounding.
It’s a short spell about light merging with the soul and Osiris meeting the Sun in the underworld, pretty, almost like a poem. The wind howls outside the tent even as Mateo claps. Naser comes in with a wrapped bread roll and a warning about a dust storm. He shoos both of his visitors out suddenly sapped of any energy. Dejan just hopes he can sleep through the night without waking up somewhere else.
The High Priest had been preoccupied since the ritual sacrifice of Apis. There were many preparations to oversee and Jabare had been irrationally angry at the rest of the conclave for not stepping in where they could. Why make the effort, they probably thought, when the High Priest could do it all.
The Prince requesting his presence is unusual but not worrying, even as their lessons had been sparse and hurried over the last week.
“I have something for you. My deputy scribe has just finished it.” He follows Khaemweset into his bedchamber, hesitating only briefly before stepping through the privacy hangings. The Prince is fever bright and much less weary than he had been as he holds bound papyrus sheets out to him.
“A gift?” He asks cautiously.
The High Priest wets his lips.
“Yes, the children’s stories I promised you. Every one I could remember and some I couldn’t, for you to read. It will be good practice now that you’ve advanced in your skill.”
He takes the gift, prostrating himself slightly, not quite on one knee to show his gratitude.
“Thank you, my Prince.” There is a charge to the air, not unlike the last time they had been alone in a room together. Jabare is aware any false step could lead to disaster or banishment. His eyes travel from the curve of his calf to the turquoise pectoral resting on his chest.
“You of all, Jabare, should not bow to me.” He speaks, and Jabare would bow, would kneel, would serve Khaemweset if he willed it.
“Ptah showed me the way, and the way led me to you,” He murmurs, bringing both hands to Jabare’s face. Desire thrums in him as if his heart had turned into a hive of bees. He closes his eyes, waiting for judgement.
“You, Jabare, are chosen for greater things than you know. I have seen it.” He brushes his lips against his temples like a blessing.
“I am no one.” He whispers back. He is empty of thought, empty of breath, empty but for the feel of the Prince. His lips skip down his face, heat bursting to meet every touch. It is everything he had ever wanted, holding him in place.
“You are everything.” His lips move to cover his. Khaemweset took his headdress off. Jabare dropped the papyrus to grab at his shoulders, adorned with leopard skin and the white robes of his rank. There was less to worry about on Jabare’s person, but that was its own curse, hands already wandering down his sides.
“I can show you.” Khaemweset says between kissing him. Jabare reaches for his wig, knocking it off in his haste and Khaemweset laughs. The Prince steps away to untie and disrobe until he stands naked before him. He is glorious and without shame, splaying out his arms in a teasing challenge. Jabare drops to his knees, thanking every God for this gift.
Dejan wakes up, scrambling out of his sleeping bag, overheated and uncomfortable. It was cruel of his mind to keep dangling ancient history in front of him, when he couldn’t do anything to fix it. Jabare had gotten his only wish, Dejan shivered with the sense memory of the night, but they had paid for it in triple. No use for an epic love when you both end up dead at the hands of an evil priest.
“Fuck,” he scrubs at his hair, holding his head in his hands for a second, trying to will his thoughts away from Jabare and Khaemweset. It would be easier to deal with everything if he didn’t feel guilty for having these memories, for being himself.
A commotion outside distracts him from beating himself up for another round.
“What the fuck is it now?” He rips open his tent zipper, ready to fight if Ramos and Bale had come back to steal the Book from their camp. Naser was pointing at a speck in the horizon, as Luka and Mateo stared at the wall of sand in the distance.
“Look, it’s a horse!” Elneny was so focused on the sight that he completely missed that there was a rider on top of the black steed. Luka shouted out orders to Mateo to guard the Book, grabbing his gun and getting ready to ask questions later. Dejan shielded his eyes from the sun with a hand, squinting to get a better look in the wavering heat.
The horse gallops past Luka to stop in front of Dejan with a hard pull of the reins.
Luka is shouting in as many languages as he can before telling Naser to translate. The world has stopped spinning on its axis for Dejan. His clothes are ill-fitting and the scarf wrapped around his head is nothing like a headdress or a wig, but he recognizes his face. How could he not, he’s been seeing it every night since they had gotten here.
“Jabare,” He breathes out in wonder, and somehow it is louder than Luka and the wind picking up around them.
Dejan’s mind goes blank.
It’s Prince Khaemweset, Sem-Priest of Ptah and son of Ramesses II, alive and in the flesh.
“So I heard your ex-boyfriend came back from the dead.” Dejan groans, doesn’t even ask how Charlie got a key to his room because Luka was and always will be a coward when it comes to dealing with human emotions.
“Where the hell did Luka drag you from, Charlie?” Dejan asks, disgruntled by Charlie’s attempt to strangle or hug him.
“Around. Point is, I can make him stay dead if you know what I mean. I have immunity in Egypt.” Charlie says so matter of factly that Dejan doesn’t want to question it. Some things shouldn’t be poked at, how Charlie gets away with everything is one of those things.
“He’s not my ex-boyfriend. He’s my- you know what it doesn’t matter. Are you here to clean up the mess?”
Charlie hums non-committedly.
“You’re really swinging for the fences with this one. I mean if he’s really a Prince. Are you sure you don’t want him back? He’s pretty charming, and there’s a ton of stray cats in the lobby acting like he’s some sort of human catnip.”
Dejan is well aware that Khaemweset is out of his league, undead or not but Charlie doesn’t have to rub it in.
“Look, I know okay. I might’ve have missed the obvious with treasure hunter one and two but you’re definitely some sort of hitman, destroying careers with one word and wiping any trace of Luka’s stealing habit away from anyone who might find that upsetting.”
Charlie fakes a shocked and hurt look while getting comfortable in the bed with his boots on like an animal.
“You’ve grown really paranoid in your old age, Dej. You need to get laid.”
“Don’t let Luka hear that. He may shank me in my sleep.” He says dryly, getting out of bed to wash his face in an attempt to get eau de Charlie off him and to stop himself from pinching his arm again. They had made it back to Cairo before the sandstorm blew in and Dejan had pretty much had enough of Egypt and undead Princes.
He looked ragged in the mirror. No amount of washing would get rid of Khaemweset’s devoted staring and declarations of love.
“Who the fuck even says shit like that.”
Upon setting on the camp like some knight in shining armor, Dejan had promptly crawled back into his tent to hyperventilate for a few minutes while everyone else realized there was an undead man on a horse. A man they had seen as a rotting corpse just hours ago in the City of Dead.
“Are you unwell?” Of course he had followed him into his tent, and no one thought to stop him. Where was Luka’s gun-waving hysteria now.
“Am I unwell? How are you, you.” He gestures to his not-rotting body.
The Prince looks confused.
“You brought me back. You read from the Book of Breathing. We are bound together, Jabare, your soul and mine.” Dejan wants to break something at his earnestness. Khaemweset draws closer and absurdly, Dejan thinks he’s shorter than he remembers.
“Don’t call me that. I’m not Jabare. My name is Dejan. I’m not him.” He runs a hand through his hair, longer than Jabare’s had ever been.
“Dejan then, your soul is the same, and I would recognize you in whatever body you would reside. This form is still pleasing to me if you have any doubt.” His eyes swept across him like a hot stone, making Dejan realize all at once, that he hadn’t put a shirt on and Khaemweset was taking the whole being alive thing just fine.
“Prince Khaemweset, why are you here?”
His eyes turned dark and furious.
He turns on the tap, wondering if Charlie was actually here to kill the Prince or if he was joking. The water, clear at first, turns brown. Dejan tries the other tap and the water spurts red and viscous.
“Uh, Charlie.” He calls out.
“I’m not going to wash your hair for you, no matter how sad you look. Oski doesn’t need a new daddy.” Charlie says through the door.
“Your dog would love me. Please, never say daddy ever again. I know I’m not a expert in sanity lately but I think there’s something wrong with the water.” Charlie opens the door and raises an eyebrow at the running faucet of blood.
“Never gets boring around here, does it?” He dips his finger into the stream and goes to smell it.
“How likely is it that there’s some sort of dead body polluting the nearby water source instead of some mystical mumbo jumbo.” Charlie asks, licking his finger before wiping it on a towel.
“0 percent chance of it being a creative murder.” Dejan sighs.
“Better go find Luka and his shiny new book then.”
Luka looked mad enough to start spitting acid, pacing around the suite he shared with Mateo.
“Locals just told me they pulled a corpse matching Bale’s description from the temple ruins after a kid got dared to investigate. Cause of death: flesh eating beetles. Asked your friend if he knew anything about man-eating insects and he said Imhotep. So we’ve got two undead people running around that I didn’t sign up for.”
Charlie thrust the white cat that had somehow made its way to the room balcony and stolen his heart into Luka’s arms.
“Pet her and calm down. All we need to do is find Imhotep and send him back to where he came from. Have you talked to the ex yet?” Charlie directed his question at Dejan.
“No,” he grumbled. Avoidance had served him well. He almost felt back to normal.
“Well, you’re gonna have to suck it up buttercup, you’re the only who can understand him. We need more intel on Imhotep.” Charlie steers him out of the door and shuts it none too gently. Dejan curses his luck and prays he doesn’t come back to something he doesn’t want to see. At least he didn’t have the room connected to Luka’s.
He finds Khaemweset at the bar, drinking in the company of old men who had seen better days and weren’t fazed by the fountain of blood in the lobby.
“Prince Khaemweset,” he leaned against the counter instead of sitting, close enough to touch but better to run. The undead still had nice teeth. The smile was more muted than back then, troubles still lining his shoulders in a borrowed shirt from Luka he guessed from the way it stretched out.
“Why do you insist on titles this new world has no use for? I’m no more a prince than you are a guard. This tastes better than the spirits we had.” Dejan thinks it might be scotch in his glass.
“I don’t know what else to call you.” Khaemweset laughs slowly, like he was still learning to use his vocal chords.
“All I ever wanted for you to call me was Khamwas before, will you now?” Dejan’s throat goes dry.
“Fine, if-” He trails off, his tongue already poised to say if that was what the Prince wished. He wasn’t Jabare and there wasn’t a class system holding them back. There were no secret trysts nor reading lessons. He wasn’t a King’s son’s guard looking at a Prince. He was Dejan, an accountant looking at a ghost.
He flags down the bartender.
“I’ll have what he’s having.” It’s easier than he expects, transitioning from a dead language to english. Certainly easier than his childhood struggle learning croatian.
“We need to know about Imhotep. What happened at the Temple?” Khaemweset sighs.
“Imhotep was powerful, more than I expected. Apis had indicated to let Imhotep have the Book of the Dead, but I had uneasy feelings about it as you know. I learned later as my Sahu wandered that he had killed my grandfather for Anck-Su-Namun. He was punished but he had already deceived everyone. He cursed me.”
Dejan didn’t touch his drink, goosebumps rising on his arms.
“Imhotep’s greatest fear was death. The death not even Anubis could keep you from. Imhotep thought himself to be better than Pharoah, powerful enough to defy the Gods will. He saw my love for you was crafted by Ptah himself and was envious. So he used the magic in the Book of the Dead to tie his soul to mine. That is why he has risen again.”
Blood rushed to his head. Dejan had inadvertently caused plagues on Egypt because of a fated romance.
“So you have to die,” He realizes with horror filling his veins with ice.
“For Imhotep to die, yes.” Khaemweset finishes for him with a grim set to his lips.
The cats in the lobby start spitting and yowling. Khaemweset shudders in revulsion, head tilted towards the noise.
“He’s here. He’s come for the book.”
Dejan only catches a glimpse of Imhotep’s gross semi-filled head before he unhinges his jaw to roar out a warning. The cats get louder, crowding him in. Luka and the rest are right in the middle of the lobby and the bar before Mateo spots the book in Ramos’ hands behind the cat frenzy.
“Charlie,” he says calmly, gun already trained on Imhotep.
Mateo rolls his eyes behind the two older men.
“We have some trash to take out.” He starts shooting at their ex-team members and the evil mummy. Charlie whoops loudly.
It all sort of descended into chaos after that with guests running from the gunfire and the man in dark robes. Mateo grabs him and the Prince before ducking out of an emergency exit. Swarms of locusts were buzzing in the air, people were clawing at their faces with boils.
“How can we stop this?” He shouts over the drone and screams.
“Sever his tie to me.” They needed the other Book, he reasoned. If it had cursed him then it could un-curse him. A wave of sand engulfed them and Dejan lost consciousness.
He coughed and sputtered as he woke up, sand still stuck to his eyelashes.
“What the fuck.” He was bound to an altar with nobody else in sight. The rope was too snug against his skin to give any slack and as much as he wasn’t squeamish, Dejan would like to keep himself intact before trying to horror movie logic himself out of the situation.
“Okay, okay, don’t panic. Luka and Charlie will come for you guns blazing and no one is going to die except for that son of a bitch Imhotep.” He reassured himself.
He couldn’t hear anything besides the eerie silence of the chamber. The kept Apis here, he thinks, looking around as far as he can. His memories weren’t all complete unfortunately. He thinks his head might be bleeding.
“Jabare, an unpleasant surprise.” Imhotep sounds like he had swallowed some of those flesh-eating scarabs on his way to hell.
“Not Jabare. Where are the others?” Imhotep looms over him and Dejan tries not retch at the smell and sight of his ligaments and eye socket still stitching themselves together. He wonders why the Prince had had a faster recovery right from mummification but then decides it served the leech right to look disgusting.
“The Prince and the small one are locked away. No one will interrupt us.” Dejan swallows down bile.
He watches as a dark, murky cloud takes shape out of the corner of his eye.
“Can’t you use magic, or find some way out of here. This was your house, right?” Mateo had stopped trying to kick down the door. The Prince looked desperate, and not in a good way. He didn’t understand why Imhotep would leave the Book in here with them. He had kidnapped them via sand and left them in a box of a room with nothing else.
Dejan was still out there with the walking corpse.
“Dejan, Dejan is in trouble. We need to help him, so how do we get out of here.” Mateo grabs the Prince’s attention with Dejan’s name and uses hand signals for the rest, hoping it gets through to him.
The Prince replies in a string of syllables that sound like absolutely nothing to Mateo. He makes a face.
This wasn’t going to work, and there was no telling when or if Luka would make it in time. The resurrected royal waved, pointed at his throat and pointed at him, dragging the book over from the corner Mateo had flung it.
The Prince did the same thing, adding the book into the mix. Pointing at a character and pointing at himself and then pointing at Mateo. Mateo nodded. Hieroglyphs 101 was in session and hopefully that meant a way to get out of this tomb like room.
Luka really wanted to kick some mummy ass, right after Toni fucking Kroos.
“Where are they?” Toni just glared at him. Luka sighed exaggerating the length of it, before looking at Charlie who calmly walked up to the chair they had tied Toni to and broke a finger on his right hand.
“If you think I’m the mean one, then I’ll assure you right now, Charlie is even meaner. I usually have patience for these sort of things, but Mateo and Dejan are in this mess because of me and I am in this mess because of you. I don’t like messes, Kroos.”
He leans in to watch Toni’s terrified and bloodied expression closely, eyes bulging with the pain.
“Ramos is dead. I will have both Books by the end of the day, and I don’t give a fuck about Perez. I’m going to enjoy my retirement while the fishes eat your toes. Now, where is your zombie friend with my companions?”
He hears a sob.
Charlie wiggles his fingers mockingly.
“The ruins, he went back to-to the ruins. Please, I don’t-I don’t know anything else.” Toni is a bad liar when he can’t hide behind arrogance. Luka looks at his watch. Charlie starts humming a tune. The ruins were going to be tricky to navigate without knowing where Imhotep was exactly. Luka makes a decision.
“I liked Bale, you know?” Toni’s breathing hitches.
“He was funny. You, you’re pathetic.” Luka tells him.
It’s when the chanting starts that Dejan knows he’s well and truly fucked. A choir of shadowy mist does not a party make. Imhotep is smiling like the cat that ate the canary and Dejan wishes he believed in some higher power to make his circumstances bearable.
“Why kill me?” He struggled against his bonds uselessly.
“Because it will hurt him. He will feel the pain I have suffered because of his family. He will know how great the power of Imhotep is.” Dejan starts laughing, partially because that is the funniest thing he’s heard all day and partially because he’s going to die as a sacrifice to a man who is too crazy to see his dick-measuring contest is one-sided and stupid.
“You caused your own pain. You fell in love with someone forbidden to you. No one told you to do anything. You killed your king, committed treason for what you thought was love. So where is she, your Anck-Su-Namun? Not here by your side. You’re alone and you always will be.”
“Silence,” He roared out. Dejan hated him. Imhotep was the Pharaoh's High Priest, respected and well-known in the entire kingdom. If he had really loved the Pharaoh’s mistress, he would’ve died alongside her.
“No,” He could feel anger boiling in him like lava.
“You did everything but die for Anck-Su-Namun and that’s how I know you never really loved her. Your greatest fear took your love and your cowardice made you a wraith. You want to be whole? You never will be, Imhotep. Not truly, if you love her as you say you do. I love that one which you have taken from me, and I wouldn’t just die for him. I would kill him, just to get rid of your stain on his soul.” His words ring in the chamber.
He hears clapping.
“Luka, why don’t you ever sweet-talk me like that?” It’s Charlie. Dejan can’t see them, but he could almost sob in relief.
“I don’t have a poetic soul.” Luka replies from somewhere. Imhotep is craning his head unnaturally to catch the pests. He commands his shadows to continue and starts an incantation to raise his priests. Dejan had wondered where those bastards where.
“Uh guys, you should stop him before he gets a zombie army.” Dejan yells.
Charlie swings in with his cat and a copper sword.
“I haven’t had this much fun in years.” He swings at Imhotep, who only pauses. Luka shoots at the mist before giving it a miss and untying Dejan. The room starts shaking, a rumble that cracks the foundation they were on and pours dust on them.
“I’m never getting this shit out of my hair.” Luka quips, helping Dejan up.
“Shitting sand for months.” Dejan replies in kind, smiling shakily. Imhotep started using the ceremonial dagger to defend himself from Charlie’s jabs. When skeletons start rising from the ground, Dejan kicked away the grasping limbs.
“You started the party without us?” Mateo was covered in gold, and holding more weapons than was probably safe. They went over to him carefully avoiding debris and Imhotep’s bony priests.
“Where’s Khamwas?” Dejan takes a club while Luka takes the sicklesword. Mateo points at the glittering specter helping Charlie against Imhotep. Khaemweset seemed to burn Imhotep whenever they came into contact.
“Oh,” Dejan wasn’t sure what he was looking at. Luka jumped into the fray to take care of the shambling mass of bones.
“I got a crash course in Ancient Egyptian and he got us out doing that.” Mateo claps him on the shoulder before joining the fight. Dejan decapitated and bowled over some priests before grabbing the Book of the Dead off the pedestal when Imhotep had put it. He had to find the spell to sever the bonds of a soul.
Imhotep redirected the shadows to turn their efforts onto Dejan. Khamwas surrounding him in a fog of gold.
“I will protect you, but once you start the spell, I will grow weaker as will Imhotep.” Khaemweset warned him.
Dejan finally lighted upon a page as he heard Charlie yell out in pain. He started reading. The golden mist sunk and shrank into the form of a person. The shadows advanced. Imhotep was casting his own spell. Dejan felt weak, pain throbbing across his temples.
It’s the bond we have. he hears Khamwas’ voice. It will sever this too.
He hears a gargling, Mateo yelping and feels Khamwas’ palm on his cheek.
I will find you again, just as you found me.
It all fades away into dust.
Dejan came back to work on a Tuesday. Ordinary life felt oddly fake to him after the weeks he had spent in the desert. Charlie had to carry him out of the ruins. Mateo had said the shadows had turn on Imhotep after he finished the spell and the golden shimmering prince had turned to dust as did the undead priests.
“You should hold onto hope.” Luka told him on the tarmac, looking more put together. Dejan didn’t want to talk about it. He didn’t want to bring his hopes up on something as fantastical as bonded souls and magic princes.
“Didn’t know you were such a romantic.” Luka adjusts his sunglasses and smiles blandly.
“I don’t believe in curses, remember?”
Mateo had come back to Liverpool with him, citing he needed at least twenty more showers to feel human again and to use Dejan’s wifi to skype Katarina.
So he had a freeloader back at his house and his job was mind-numbingly boring. Dejan was back where he belonged but he himself felt off, felt too small for his skin. There was an entire world out there that had been his for a little while and he missed it.
“Mr. Lovren, your appointment is here to see you.” Siobhan pops her head in, eyes wide. Dejan absently x-ed out of his daily foray into how wrong did Wiki get Ancient Egypt to stand and greet Mr. Salah. Siobhan opens the door to let him in. He thanks her politely, voice smooth with a hint of an accent.
“Mr. Lovren, I’ve heard many good things about you.” Dejan stares in shock. The curls are different, his build, a beard full grown and maintained, but his eyes are the same. He would recognize those eyes anywhere.
“Mr. Salah,” He clears his throat. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”