So a dwarf and a lady walk into a pyramid…
The professor stuffed tobacco into his pipe as he eyed the entrance to the pyramid. He paced nervously, waiting for his assistant to light the way. Standing only four feet tall, he had learned never to take chances with his footing.
“I say, Ms. Darbyshire, are you quite all right down there?” he called.
In the depths below his assistant rolled her eyes,
“For Heaven’s sake, Professor, I’ve been with you for seven months. Please call me Victoria. And yes, I’ve almost got the final torches lit. Take a rest if you need to…”
“Rest!? he shouted. “Confound it, woman-” He thought better of himself and stopped. He gave a frustrated look to their camels they had tied to a makeshift post.
Professor Maxamillian Book and Victoria Darbyshire’s working relationship was one more of necessity than anything else. The eccentricity of his theories, as well as his short stature, won him few colleagues. Victoria’s sin was being born the wrong gender for her particular field of interest. The two tolerated each other in exchange for being taken seriously as a scientist.
“We’re on the precipice of a major discovery! If my calculations are correct, and they most assuredly are, the jade statue of Bastet should be here.”
Victoria lit the last torch and wiped her forehead. Her studies at the library had taught her Egyptian history and how to translate hieroglyphs, but it hadn’t prepared her for the claustrophobic nature of a real pyramid. The passageway, if it could be called that, was only two feet wide and Victoria found herself for the first time thankful she was so slight. Although the work was dirty and cloying, she relished the opportunity to wear trousers as she tramped back up the steep staircase in a huff.
“This investigation would go much faster if you hadn’t insisted on lighting the way with torches every five feet,” she said, marching through the entrance. “The measurements alone are a ghastly waste of time!”
She had let her temper flair, and now a wave of regret washed over her as she saw his cane leaning against the stone entrance. A moment of silence passed between them. She swallowed hard.
“What I mean is, you’re more than capable of-” she began, but Book dismissed it with a wave of his hand.
“It’s not that, my dear,” he said bluntly and his eyes drifted far away to the East. “You’re still young yet. But I’m an old man…” His eyes wandered. “…and I do not wish to tempt what awaits in the darkness.” Book stood quietly for a moment, lost in thought.
He snapped back to reality. “…Egads! Are you finished, Ms. Darbyshire!?”
“Vic-” she corrected.
“Then we’re off!” he trumpeted as he raced down the steps, lantern in hand. Victoria followed quickly, snatching up his cane on her way past.
The light of the desert sun faded quickly as they descended the steps into the pyramid. When they reached the bottom the Professor handed Victoria the lantern so he could inspect some hieroglyphs carved into the wall. He muttered to himself, tracing his fingers over the pictures lightly. But he quickly disregarded it and hurried along.
The stone, white walls began to open up into a larger room and Victoria breathed a sigh of relief.
“What’s the library’s interest in this statue?” she mused, thinking back to the tedious hours she’d spent at the University of Cairo library. “I must have cataloged a hundred jade statues in the repository.”
“Nothing whatsoever,” he said mechanically as his mind was clearly elsewhere. “This is a personal venture. Are you familiar with Priest Amunatet?”
Victoria scanned her memory.
“I believe so…Old Kingdom, 2200 B.C?”
Book gave her a proud smile. “Spot on, my dear!” He continued down the passageway.
“Amunatet was said to have had the extraordinary ability to communicate with the Gods. Accounts say he would be lost in deep meditation for days, and then snap awake, dictating messages from beyond this world in a strange language.”
“Ah. I understand your need to a linguist now. And the statue…?”
“The jade statue may be last surviving relic to have been inscribed with the bizarre phraseology-” he stopped mid sentence and lashed his cane to the side blocking Victoria’s path. He eyed the ground and then took his cane and tripped a wire that had been covered in dust. There was a great whoosh as three large darts flew past the two archeologists and into the opposite wall. Victoria blinked in astonishment.
“Well done, sir,” she said.
Book adjusted his monocle. “Indeed.” They hurried along.
The passage soon opened up even further into a great room. Victoria stared in wonder. The room was full of statues, great stacks of papyrus, jewelry, and all other manner of trinkets. She beamed with pride; to think Victoria Anne Darbyshire was inside a Pharaoh’s tomb! Why, just a year ago she thought she would never leave London. If her sisters could see her now!
“Success!” she announced victoriously.
“Yes, this is it! Right here!” she heard Professor Book say from behind her. She turned to see him staring triumphantly at a blank wall. She looked on, dumbfounded.
This antechamber is a ruse! Created to distract degenerate grave robbers. Our real treasure is through here! He began to feel along the edge of the wall.
“What are you looking for?” she asked, trying to peel her eyes away from the piles of artifacts.
He smiled broadly. “This.” He pressed a small depression and the entire wall began to rumble as it slid to the side. Through it there was only darkness, the two pressed onward, shining the lantern to light their way. After a short, cramped passageway the walls gave way to an gigantic room. The professor squealed with delight. “That’s it! There in the center!” By the light of the flame Victoria could see a procession of steps leading to an altar in the middle of the chamber. She studied the area suspiciously as Book hurried over to inspect the altar’s contents,
“Sir, this … this can’t be right.”
“Yes it is! This is it!”
“No, Professor–the room. This is impossible…” But he was already up the stairs.
Book stared in adoration at the small statue perched in the middle of the table, surrounded by incense and other sacrificial items. It was a bright green figure of a cat, its back and shoulders arched with extreme exaggeration. The mouth was open wide, bearing sharp teeth. He was positively ecstatic and could barely recognize that Victoria was talking to him.
“It’s far too…enormous. There’s no way we’re still in the pyramid. Professor Book, please!” She dashed up the steps behind him.
“Oh for God’s sake, Victoria–what!?” he snapped, “Can’t you appreciate the discovery we’ve just made? This chamber hasn’t been opened in thousands of years!”
“I’m not sure…” she trailed off and pointed slowly at the sticks of incense which in his excitement he hadn’t realized were still billowing smoke.
Book’s face went blank. He put his hands, which had been hovering excitedly over the statue, at his side mechanically. They both stared in silence at the winding cords of smoke.
It was Victoria who spoke first. “This isn’t right… not just the room.”
“This,” she gestured toward the figure, “is not Basteet, and to be perfectly frank I’m not even sure it’s Egyptian.”
“Quite,” he answered. But his voice was empty and far away. He seemed to be coming to a horrible realization that Victoria was not privy to.
There was a stirring in the darkness and Book snapped to attention.
“My dear,” said Book, “I believe it’s time we take our leave.” She nodded in agreement and the two began to back away down the stair case.
A rush of sound and light behind them sent Victoria whipping around to face three robed figures with torches. Professor Book rushed in front of her, attempting to look as intimidating as a middle-aged dwarf with a cane possibly could.
Victoria commanded them to move aside in Arabic, but the figures were silent and unmoving. Book held up his hand, gesturing for her to be quiet and took a step forward. He began to speak a different language to the figures; in all her studies at the academy she had never heard anything like it. The dialect was gibberish to her, but the group took notice and recoiled.
“Who are they?” Victoria whispered.
“Cultists,” Book said quietly.
“To a dead God forgotten by history.” His statement seemed more aimed at the robed men than Victoria.
They conferred for a moment and looked again at Professor Book. Suddenly Victoria spotted the figure on the left drawing a long curved blade from its robe.
“Professor!” she screamed, dropping the lantern. Without a moments hesitation she leaped into the air, clearing the Professor’s head, delivering a flying roundhouse kick that sent all three cultists crashing to the ground.
“Ms. Darbyshire!” Book was so stunned his monocle popped out.
“Run, you fool!” she yelled as she dashed past the group of cultists who were just regaining their footing.
The professor snatched up his cane and took off after his assistant. Having dropped the lantern the two hurried back through the narrow passageway in complete darkness. The only sound their own breathe and the furious howling of their pursuers.
Book huffed as he ran, “This…is why…we light…torches!”
They ran back through the antechamber, past the beacons of light Victoria had staked in place, up the stairs, and finally into the bronze light of the desert. Book turned to see the cultists dashing up the stairs behind them. He snagged one the saddle bags attached to the camels while Victoria untied the reins. With considerable effort, he heaved it down the stairs and it collided with the men.
“Ha ha!” he shouted. “Take that, you Stygian scalawags!”
“Sir! Let’s go!” Victoria was frantic. In an egregious breach of protocol, she grabbed Professor Book by the back of his vest and hoisted him roughly on his camel saddle before pulling herself onto her own. He was still regaining his composure as they rode off into the desert.
After a long distance, it seemed the cultists had not followed them. The two breathed a sigh of relief.
“I say, Victoria,good show back there. Damn good show.” He was referring to the kick.
Victoria blushed. “My brother, John, was stationed in Asia for quite some time. He learned all sorts of-” but she trailed off as she realized the professor was no longer looking at her. He was looking behind them. Gradually a low rumbling noise began.
Victoria turned into the setting sun to see what had grabbed his attention. The pyramid they had just escaped was shaking. With a loud crash long metal spires shot out of the sand surrounding the pyramid. The camels reared in fright and the two looked on in horror. Each of the six spires began to bend in two places and then stabbed back into the desert sand.
“By Jove,” Book gasped.
The new metal legs the pyramid had sprouted now lifted it into the air in a tornado of dust and metallic screeching. It now began to give chase.
Victoria shook herself out of her stunned state and whipped her camel into a run. The wind picked up and sand blasted her face from every direction. From behind her she could barely hear Book screaming expletives at the approaching gargantuan device. As he rode up beside her, she could see the flicker of his tobacco pipe beings jostled up and down. He was lighting something she couldn’t make out in the commotion. Suddenly Book whirled around in his saddle.
“RULE BRITANNIA!” he bellowed and hurled the item into the path of the approaching pyramid.
The was a roaring explosion from behind them that almost lifted the camels through the air. For the moment, Victoria was deaf with only a high-pitched siren resounding in her head. All she could see was the professor laughing triumphantly and make rude gestures to the machine. Thankfully the explosion had slowed down the pyramid.
Professor Book spotted the hot air balloon their supplies had arrived in, although the attendant, no doubt seeing the utter pandemonium that was approaching, had long since fled. Victoria dismounted ungracefully; Book crashing to the ground almost immediately. The two heaved themselves into the basket and launched without delay.
It was still coming at them, but it was clear that they were now too high to be in its reach. Victoria crouched in exhaustion, “Oh thank heavens,” she gushed, almost sobbing. Book, on the other hand, was chuckling to himself. His face was full of zeal as he stood on a sandbag, staring out at the oncoming pyramid.
Victoria stared at him in amazement.
“What on Earth has gotten into you? Why are you laughing!? We almost died!”
He turned to her with a look as if he’d forgotten she was there.
“What’s gotten into me!? Forget the jade statue!
This…this thing,” he flailed wildly toward the machination, “will be my greatest discovery!” He through up his hands and shouted down at the pyramid that continued to lumber in pursuit.
“You hear me!? I’ll be accepted into the Gentlemen Archeologists Society! Huzzah!”
He turned in tearful glee back to Victoria, “I can see the papers now! ‘Shortest Scientist in his field discovers 80 foot-” but that’s when the edge of the cliff caught his eye. The pyramid was following them and was making no adjustment to avoid it.
His expression turned from happiness to complete horror.
“No…NO NO NO NO!” he screamed in impotent rage as the device toppled, ass over tea kettle, off the precipice and crashed into the ravine. Within moments his finest discovery had been reduced to a pile of unrecognizable rubble.
Book and Victoria looked out somberly as the balloon drifted quietly over the ravine.
Book frowned. “Blast.”