They were little more than stories when Ardeth was a boy, told late at night by his father before sleep while his mother looked on and smiled when Ardeth went wide-eyed at the imagery. She warned, occasionally, that a story of the “the unholy flesheater” spoken in his father’s booming voice, might be too frightening for Ardeth to hear, but Ardeth always asked for more.
“Someday, my son,” his father told him often. “You will do great things. You will be a protector of mankind, just as I and so many of our ancestors have been,” and that makes Ardeth feel bright and proud, unafraid of whatever he might have to do battle with in the future.
His father talked about the ancient religions, gods with the head of a jackal or a hawk, one for every aspect of life, to guide people through one life and into the next.
“But,” Ardeth asked one evening as his father explained the pantheon of gods and goddesses and the connection between the pharaohs and the gods. “Is there not but one god – Allah?”
His mother smiled at that, which confused him. “The gods laugh when we make assumptions.”
He blinked at her, more confused now. “What does that mean?”
“It means,” his father replied. “That you must seek the knowledge for yourself, come to your own understandings. You must believe for yourself.”
So he did seek knowledge for himself – he studied religion as he grew, Islam and Christianity and Judaism and the ancient religion of his ancestors. He respected the teachings of the last prophet of Allah, and he came to understand the nuances between belief and religion.
But it was when he saw for the first time how the sands of Hamunaptra rumbled and shifted under the power of the ancient, murderous priest, he knew what it was he would protect humanity from. His father laughed a bit as Ardeth shrunk back on instinct, despite their distance atop a high dune from the sands below.
“Did you think I was making it all up?” his father asked, and Ardeth could only shrug in response.
He worked up his courage and peered down at the Hamunaptra below them once more, daring the mummy trapped below to test him. He’d be ready for it.