Daniels could’ve sworn that his heart was still beating double-time a good half-hour after the impromptu battle with the horsemen ended. He and his men had all collapsed back into their tents after joining up the groups for the night, fearing another attack under the cover of darkness. O’Connell had said that the attackers had been desert people, that they valued water, not gold, but then why else would they be so keen to kill everyone or kick them out of Hamunaptra?
Something didn’t add up.
This single thought kept him up for hours, until everyone around him had slowly dropped off to sleep, including the drunken dame over with O’Connell, after he’d gently tucked her into bed. There was definitely something going on between those two, if the way he held her said anything.
It seemed like he was the only person awake in the desert, in this whole vast land that he was the only one staring up at the stars, breathing in the cool desert air that still smelled of gunpowder, the sky opening up above him to swallow him up. It was almost a humbling feeling, but that wouldn’t stop him from obtaining any of the treasure in the depths of the lost city of the dead. He wouldn’t risk his life for nothing.
Which was why he was so surprised when O’Connell slowly picked his way out of his bedroll and across the campsite with barely a sound, Daniels quiet and pretending to sleep as he tracked him across the sand. The man was probably just going for a piss, but he didn’t even take a lamp with him, and in the darkness of the desert and the ruins you didn’t know what was gonna be out there. Daniels narrowed his eyes, pulled on his jacket, and followed him. It was difficult without a lantern, but the full moon lent its light and he just managed to keep O’Connell within his sights.
He hid just behind a crumbled rock wall that O’Connell had just passed, and Daniels peeked out to see that the man had stopped, leaning comfortably back on the wall with his arms crossed, staring up at the sky. He stayed like that for minutes, completely still, and Daniels grew more suspicious by the minute. Then a voice finally spoke from the darkness.
“Do you know what you have done?” the voice said, a figure materializing out of the darkness – black robes, dark skin, tattooed face… and that rolling, accented voice was awfully familiar. Daniels thought that he’d never be able to forget it.
“Relax, honey, I’ve got this under control,” O’Connell drawled to the warrior who stood before him, brow furrowed and headdress removed to reveal tresses of shoulder-length black hair.
“I thought I told you that we were not to go through with this foolish idea of yours!” the warrior hissed quietly so as not to wake up the others sleeping in the camp – voices carried far in the silent night.
“So what? You wanna hang around with this sitting on our heads for the next three thousand years until some bumbling idiot comes along and wakes him up? If we can control the situation, then we don’t have to worry about the inevitable fuck-up in the future. And I know that you didn’t agree to what Seti’s men sentenced him to either,” O’Connell argued, and the warrior sighed. Daniels had no idea what they were talking about, but it sounded like something that had been an issue for a very long time.
But O’Connell and this man did not know each other. Or did they?
“I agree that when they sentenced him to the Hom-Dai the punishment brought too much of a risk, even for killing a Pharaoh such as Seti, and yes they probably should have just beheaded him and saved us the trouble, but that does not mean that you should resurrect him!” the warrior argued ardently, fisting a hand into O’Connell’s shirt. O’Connell gently rest his hand over the fist in his shirt, an intimate gesture that almost made Daniels want to look away, the man’s thumb gently stroking the thin skin of the warrior’s wrist.
“Exactly. We get this over with, we control the situation, we find both books and kill him once and for all and we can move on, we’ve got other shit we have to deal with! I mean hell, the girl even reads ancient Egyptian! We don’t have to worry about plagues or death, we can worry about protecting the other things we have been assigned to,” O’Connell argued, and the warrior’s mouth remained stubbornly downturned. O’Connell sighed and brought his other hand up to the side of the warrior’s neck, thumb resting on his stubbled jawline.
“Ardeth,” O’Connell pleaded. The warrior – Ardeth – sighed and pursed his lips, his shoulders sinking slightly.
“I know, Jabari, I know,” Ardeth murmured. “I trust you, but there are too many variables that could go wrong and I cannot risk losing you.”
“You know you can’t lose me, Ardeth,” O’Connell smirked like it was some inside joke between the two of them. Ardeth rolled his eyes at the man’s antics and took a step forward. The space between them was barely existent, intimate, and almost reverent.
“We sacrificed what we did for each other and to protect the world and to keep it safe. If we follow through with this, there is the chance that we doom it entirely and break our vows to the gods,” Ardeth said, his tone dark and serious. O’Connell brought his hand up to cup the back of the man’s head.
“So we get the gold book before we find the black book, stand at the ready and we get it done in… what, under a minute? Maybe find a cat while we’re at it to make things a bit easier,” O’Connell joked, and Ardeth huffed out a small laugh. O’Connell grinned like he knew that he’d won whatever this argument was about. Ardeth leaned up slightly to rest his forehead against O’Connell’s, and Daniels really did have to look away at the intimacy of the moment. Were they…?
He heard murmurs in a foreign language, the sounds rolling slow off the tongue like it was long-dead, and then the murmurs cut off to the quiet sounds of lips pressed against each other and Daniels didn’t want to stay around. He crept off quietly back the way he came, his mind reeling. He had no idea what O’Connell and the warrior had been talking about, but it left him confused, suspicious, disgusted and just a little bit disturbed.
The next night Evelyn Carnahan stole both the black book and the key to open it, and O’Connell’s face had gone as white as a sheet as a swarm of locusts began to hum in the distance.