Andune, King of Time
“Samuel!” The elderly pink Kyrii slapped her husband’s hand. “Not until after dinner!”
The Scorchio rubbed his green hand. “Dannie, I am sixty-seven years old. I think I’ve earned a taste of pie before dinner.”
“It’s too hot, Hon.” She patted his cheek and went back to the kitchen, confident that he would not try a second time.
Danielle smiled as she cut the vegetables, musing about the first years she and Mr. Neilson spent in the archeological digs around Sakhmet, where his impatience had gotten them both into trouble numerous times.
She touched the golden amulet that rested beneath her blouse. The first artifact he ever gave her; it had not left her neck for over forty years.
She heard a clang in the den. “You alright, Hon?” she called.
While drying a potato in her apron she moved closer to the door. “Hon, are you alright?”
She frowned and wiped her hands off before going into the den. Sam wasn’t in his chair. She was about to head for the bedroom when she felt something strange. What was it?
The chair didn’t look as worn as it used to. She touched the rims of her glasses to clean them when it struck her; the pictures were gone.
She examined the shelf above the fireplace, always clustered with pictures of her and Sam in the Lost Desert, at digs, at galas, visiting the Sakhmetian palace. But they were gone, replaced with pictures of Danielle—and only Danielle. Danielle touring Sakhmet City, Danielle visiting her mother, Danielle at... where was that? A Shenkese temple? The Danielle in the picture was not twenty, and yet she had only been to Shenkuu for the first time on their 35th anniversary.
Danielle clutched her chest and fell back into Sam’s chair. She gazed around the room at walls naked of pictures, naked of tapestries and trinkets she and Sam had brought home from the Lost Desert. What was going on?
Was she losing her mind?
The metal of her amulet touched her hand, and she looked down at it, now resting in her hand. “Oh no,” she whispered.
Danielle raced upstairs to their library, full of ancient texts and notebooks with translations in them. But she was not interested in these.
The Kyrii went straight to a glass case locked by combination, opened it, and stared with her mouth agape. Not at what was there, but what was missing. Only a few of her notebooks remained, none of Sam’s. She picked up each notebook and tossed it aside, until the safe was empty.
The Kyrii felt herself becoming dizzy and grabbed onto a bookshelf to hold herself up. “It’s gone. My book of the King of Time is gone.”
The Kyrii slid to the floor, lost in her own memory.
Forty years earlier, outside Sakhmet City...
“Yes?” replied the Kyrii and the Scorchio in unison. They shot each other funny looks.
“Which Doctor Neilson, Kesu?”
The Sakhmetian Kacheek nodded at the Scorchio. “Mister Doctor Neilson, Joseph wants you at the pit.”
The pink Kyrii resumed softly brushing dirt off the painted wall of an unopened tomb. Sam stood, brushed the dirt off his pants, and followed the Kacheek.
Danielle had found the confusion of the “Doctors Neilson” charming at first, but slowly it was starting to become more of a hassle than anything else. She had moved on to recording the hieroglyphs in her notebook when Sam came back.
“Dannie, guess what!”
“Sam, I’ve been looking at these hieroglyphs and I think we might have the translation wrong.”
“Forget about that for now. You have got to come see this!”
She grabbed Sam’s hand to help herself up and followed him to the pit, as the five-meters-deep dig spot was now called.
“Danielle!” From the bottom of the pit, Joseph, a local archeologist, waved at them. “You are going to love this.”
The Neilsons climbed down the rung ladder into a bustle of young Sakhmetians running around recording notes and sketching artifacts.
Sam’s smile was positively giddy as he led Danielle to the sealed tomb door, which would remain unopened until they figured out how to get inside without damaging the centuries-old structure.
Joseph, a Ruki, stood beside the boulder that sealed the entrance, and pointed out an inscription, so faded as to be almost unnoticeable. “What do you think, Danielle?”
She looked over the hieroglyphs, far different from any she had seen elsewhere around the tomb. “How very strange.”
“Yes, but do you see what it says? This is the tomb of the long lost ‘Greatest King of all Time, Andune!’”
Danielle leaned back with her hands on her hips. “So it does.”
“Dannie, what’s the problem?” asked Sam. “I thought you would go wild over this!”
“Oh, I am very excited; it’s just that I was looking over the writing on the east wall, and I think we have the translation wrong.”
“What do you mean? It’s not a tomb?”
“Oh it’s a tomb alright. I’m just not convinced that Andune was called ‘the Greatest King of All Time.’”
“Why do you say that?” Sam asked.
“Well, it’s just that the other possible translation may be disregarded as impossible or improbable by most translators. The literal translation of course is ‘King of Time All,’ and we transliterate it to ‘Greatest King of All Time,’ which makes sense. But what if the true translation doesn’t make sense at first? What if Andune was called ‘King of Time?’ It makes more sense in the context of the writings.”
“Andune, King of Time?” interrupted Joseph. “What are you saying, Danielle?”
“I’m not sure,” she replied as she chewed her lip, staring at the writing on the boulder.
Danielle’s breathing had calmed, and she picked herself up. She walked downstairs and she grabbed her purse and a cantine before walking out the door. Outside, Sakhmet’s clay buildings were blushing at the first pinks of sunset, but it did not matter that night was approaching. There was no time to lose.
No time. How funny.
She caught the attention of a man riding an Apis and pressed four gold coins in his hand with the condition that he take her immediately to the Royal Library.
Dusk had settled in by the time he helped her off the Apis, and she made her way up the golden steps to the library. Its doors were closed, but she pounded on the door, yelling relentlessly until it was opened for her.
An aged Ruki peered through the half-opened door. “What in blazes is going on?” He blinked at her. “Danielle? Is that you?”
She pushed past him into the library. “We have to talk Joseph, now.”
He followed her into his office. “Danielle, what’s going on? I haven’t seen you in years.”
“Do you remember the tomb of Andune, Joseph?” It was a real question; she could take no chances.
His face clouded. “It’s a hard thing to forget, Danielle.” He sat in his chair, suddenly looking very old and very tired. “Why are you here?”
“I need you to take me there. Tonight.”
“What? Have you lost your mind?”
“I... I am not sure.”
Joseph moved to support her arm. “Danielle, sit down for a moment. You look very ill; I will go get you some tea.”
She did not argue.
Once Joseph had settled Danielle into what he deemed a comfortable position, with tea in her hand and a pillow behind her back, he allowed her to speak.
“Joseph, what I am going to tell you may sound strange, delusional even. But I assure you it is entirely true. You said you remember the tomb of Andune?”
“Of course, Danielle. That was when the accident happened. After that, there was no heart left to the dig. We packed up and left. After we sealed the tomb’s entrance of course.”
The Kyrii nodded. “Yes, I thought that might be what happened.”
“What are you talking about, Danielle?”
“What if I told you I remember things a little differently? You remember, of course, that we did make it inside the tomb, into that never-ending labyrinth. And eventually, Sam and I found something remarkable, a message left by the King of Time. You remember it, of course. ‘The power of my secret resides in this, my own resting place. Only let he with the greatest wisdom enter here.’ Hm, wisdom indeed.
“It took us three months to figure out that labyrinth of puzzles and combination locks, dead ends and trap doors. And finally, Sam and I, we found the room. The room of an ancient faerie magic unlike anything known today. The Chamber of Time. And here is where what I remember changes.” The Kyrii stared into her tea cup and recalled those last days of the dig.
The young Kyrii darted around the control panel, pressing keys, referring to her translation notes as she went.
“Dannie, where do you suppose Andune found her?”
Danielle glanced up at Sam. Rather than helping her activate the time mechanism, he was staring at the smoky glassy orb that loomed above the control panel. Inside rested an ancient form.
“I don’t know, Sam. Some of these records indicate that Andune hunted down and captured a Faerie, but I don’t know where she came from or even what element she was.”
“She must be very old.”
“Long-dead is more like it.”
Sam glanced back down at the control panel and ran his finger over one of the symbols engraved in the stone. “What does this one mean?”
Danielle looked over his shoulder. “In Sakhmetian it means sunrise, but in Andune’s language, I believe it means beginning, dawn, or start.” She looked up at him. “Sam,” she said with her warning voice, “what are you thinking?”
“I think this is how to turn it on.”
She looked at the panel he was looking over. “‘Here lies the Faerie of Time. These are the gates of life’s river’—no, ‘gates of time’s river.’ What do you think that means?”
“I don’t know. But I’m going to try it out.”
She touched his arm. “Sam, we don’t know what this thing does. It just so... out of its time. It’s beyond our time, even.”
“I’m not going to use it; I just want to see if it turns on. It probably won’t anyway. It looks like it drew power from that Faerie, and like you said it looks like she’s been dead for centuries. Probably why this thing was abandoned.”
“What about traps, Sam? Something like this is bound to be rigged.”
“We’ve already checked, Dannie.” He gave her a reassuring smile. “Stop worrying. I’m only going to see if it turns on.”
Danielle nodded and took a step away from the machine. That was Sam, diving in head-first and checking for trouble later.
He pushed his palm against a clay tile that slid into the wall, and he did the same to a second one. In response, a third tile pushed out of the wall. He grinned and gingerly gripped it with both hands, pulling it out of the wall. Carefully he carried it to the center panel, a console, with the grey sphere hanging overhead. He let the tile drop into a rectangular indent in the console, and it slid in perfectly. The hieroglyphs lit up with blue light.
Sam jumped back. “Danielle!” he cried with glee. He stepped forward again to press a key. The moment his skin touched the glowing letters, an electric pulse crackled through his body.
“Sam!” Danielle screamed as electricity threw the Scorchio back. His body fell to the floor.
“Sam!” She flung herself onto him, pounding his chest, feeling for a pulse. “Sam!”
“Danielle!” Joseph stood in the doorway, frozen. He ran to her side. “What happened?”
“That machine!” she screamed and flailed an arm at the panels. “It killed him!”
“I’ll call a medic, Danielle, stay with him, everything’s going to be alright!” The Ruki ran out of the chamber, yelling to those on the surface.
Dannie looked at Sam, and knew Joseph would be too late. She looked over at the machine, crying, screaming. Then she stopped, transfixed. The blue light had quieted to a glow, and the glass sphere above the panel lit up.
Dannie gasped and jumped up from Sam. A figure floated in the sphere, its eyes glowing faintly of the same blue. “Anthat ha’mun,” whispered the figure. The Faerie of Time.
Danielle wiped her face with her sleeve.
The Faerie repeated itself. “Anthat ha’mun.”
“What time?” Danielle whispered the translation to herself. She glanced back at Sam on the floor, his eyes closed. She walked up to the Faerie. “Ha’mun ghesk sharak.”
The eyes glowed bright. “Hashat te’mek ek par deph!”
Danielle stood in front of a wall filled with hieroglyphs. She could not breathe for a moment as her mind tried to recover, tried to figure out what had happened, where she was, when she was. The Faerie had said something, but even now the words fled from her like a forgotten dream.
“What does this one mean?”
Danielle jumped back, saw Sam standing in front of the lifeless console, running his fingers over the symbols engraved in stone.
“This symbol here, what does it mean?”
She forced herself to take in a breath and looked over his shoulder. “In Sakhmetian it means sunrise, but in Andune’s language, I believe it means beginning, dawn, or start.” She looked up at him. “Sam, let’s go get lunch.”
“Huh?” He looked at her with scrunched eyebrows.
She took his hand and squeezed it, trying not to show her tears. “Please, I’m hungry. Let’s go eat. Now. Everything will still be here when we get back.”
“Okay. Are you alright?”
“I’m fine, really. I’m just hungry.”
She led him out of the Chamber of Time, up to the surface.
“I snuck away for a few moments during lunch,” said the elderly woman to the Ruki. “Found some of the explosives used to clear rock beds, and let’s just say the cave-in made it impossible to go back. And then when we returned to Sakhmet, I made sure that no one would ever be able to go back. So what do you think, Joseph? Am I mad? I suppose I probably am. But that is what happened. And for some reason, it has been undone. Sam died back there, and I’m not sure why I remember what happened—what didn’t happen. But I do remember.”
Joseph rested his folded hands on the table and looked intently at her. “Danielle,” he said with a cracked voice, “I wasn’t going to tell you because of Sam’s death, but... two weeks ago a new team went back to Andune’s tomb.”
Danielle leaned forward, her eyes watering. “Back... to the Chamber of Time?”
“But then that means they must have done something to it....”
The Ruki clenched his eyes shut. “I am so sorry, Danielle.”
“Take me there.”
“I said take me there! Take me to Andune’s tomb. Now.”
Joseph opened his mouth to protest, but sighed. “Alright,” he said as he lifted himself up. “I’ll call for a pair of Apis.”
As he left, Danielle stared into nothing, into memories that never happened.
* * *
After forty years, even in the dark of night, Danielle remembered the way to Andune’s tomb. She shuddered at the sight of it, the short apex of the great underground pyramid. “Who’s in charge of the dig?” she asked Joseph.
“I don’t know; I was only told that it was a private operation, not to be disturbed.”
She jumped off the Apis too quickly and cringed as her knee bones ground together.
“Are you alright?” asked Joseph as he dismounted.
“I’m fine.” She waved him away and went straight for the opening of the tomb.
As she reached the entrance, a lanky Qasalan Xweetok met her, both surprised and grim. “I’m sorry, Ma’am, how can I help you?”
“Out of my way, boy.” She tried to push past him, but he stepped in her way.
“I am very sorry, Ma’am, but who are you? No one is allowed down there except our own people.”
She glared into his eyes. “You listen to me, child, I studied this tomb twenty years before you were born! I have a right to go down there. More a right than you’ll ever know. Now get out of my way; I have to go to the Chamber of Time!” She forced herself past him, and the young Xweetok followed, unwilling to use to force.
“Young man,” called Joseph as he trailed behind them down stairs.
The Xweetok looked up at him, bewildered.
The Ruki put a hand on his shoulder. “I’m afraid there’s no stopping her. That’s Danielle Neilson.”
“You mean Samuel Neilson’s... but I have to follow her. I’m sorry.” The Xweetok continued down the stairs.
Joseph sat on the stairs to wait for Danielle to come back up. He rested his head in his hands. “I truly want to believe you, Danielle.”
The Kyrii walked beneath the metal supports erected in the wake of the cave-in, and found the Chamber of Time. She stopped in her tracks and felt her head swim. Inside the Chamber, a team of scientists scurried about, reading, sketching. And the sphere that held the Faerie of Time was cracked open, empty.
“No...” she whispered and slid to the floor.
A Kougra ran to her. “What are you doing here? This is a restricted area! Jareth! Where are you?”
The Xweetok ran into the room. “I’m sorry, but this... this is Danielle Neilson!”
The Kougra looked down at her and spoke, but Danielle did not hear him. Her unfocused eyes rested on the sphere. “So you woke her,” she whispered. “I knew this would happen one day. I even wrote about it.”
“Mrs. Neilson, are you alright?” The Kougra took her hands and held them to his chest.
She looked into the young man’s eyes. “Andune’s Faerie for the Time mechanism. I read about her, all those years ago, how he captured and imprisoned her. We would have helped free her, but then... Samuel died. And then I didn’t care anymore. Everyone else thought she was dead anyway. And what were a few more years to her after so many centuries? Selfish, I know, beastly even. But he was just lying there, dead, and no price was too high to bring him back. I wrote it all down, you know.”
She looked into the Kougra’s eyes. “I wrote it all down in my book. I knew that after Samuel and I died, someone would find it and come back here, free her. What were forty more years to her? Compared to Samuel and I? A mere breath for her, a lifetime for us.” She looked down at her lap and slid her hands out of the Kougra’s grasp. “Although now that time has changed, the book doesn’t exist anymore.”
“Mrs. Neilson, I don’t understand.”
She shook her head. “Don’t you see? The changes in time were bonded together by her magic and this, this mechanism. Once she left, the bonds were broken, the changes undone. Who knows what history has been undone. I suppose you will never know.”
Danielle leaned on the Kougra to push herself up to her feet. The Kougra jumped up and supported her arm. “So you changed time! That’s amazing. But now it never happened. I’m so sorry, if I’d know I would not have come down here—”
She shook her head. “Of course it happened. I still have it in my head and my heart, and that is more than most can say.” She groaned and touched her forehead. “I fear this desert heat is too much for me these days. Please help me outside.”
The Kougra took her arm and escorted her up out of the tomb, glancing at her from time to time, saying nothing.
Danielle twirled the amulet around her neck as she went up the stairs, deep in thought. Upon reaching the threshold of the tomb, she smiled. She finally remembered now, what the Faerie said before she rewound time. “Hashat te’mek ek par deph,” Danielle whispered. “Two lives for one’s few years, a gift.” She looked down the stairs behind her one last time. “Thank you for my Samuel.”