Neiko’s vision turned from the green light to the world spinning around her in dizzying speed. Neiko wasn’t moving, but she felt like she was in freefall—like someone had cut the cable from an elevator, and she was plummeting with it. Descending in what—space and time? The evergreen and colorful deciduous vegetation of the Hawote woodlands changed to a desert with a river with some greenery and palms nearby. The cool autumn air of Hawote in October transformed into stifling, searing, dry heat. Pyramids, sphinxes, and strange statues spun around her after her house, porch, and front yard disappeared within the vortex. It was nighttime in Hawote, but the sun rose and set as time flew by—from west to east—backwards. Beneath her bare feet the wood from her front porch turned to nothing then into hot, soft sand.
Neiko’s world stopped spinning, and the sun was high in the sky. Neiko watched the sun to be sure it didn’t move again. Wherever she ended up, she guessed the time must be about high noon there judging by the sun’s position in the sky after a few moments of observation. The heat was intense, and she discovered she must be somewhere far from home. “Where?” was the ultimate question. A gust of wind blew the feathers in her long, black hair. Her hair wrapped around her face, and she brushed it back. Sweat beaded out on her body, and she tugged at her shirt and headband. “Phew! It’s hot out here! Where am I—Death Valley?” she asked. Death Valley was the only desert place she thought of off the top of her head. She had never been there, but she’d read and watched TV programs about the place. She looked around, and a city was only a few feet away. She could see the buildings down below from the high dune where she stood. She took a deep breath and fingered the fringed sheath of her knife to reassure her confidence—without thinking and by instinct. Then after a few more seconds, she trudged down to the city in the soft sand from the dune to go find some answers.
Neiko entered the city still dressed in her buckskin, decorated warrior clothes and painted for war. As she took in the sights and from the confusion, she had forgotten she was armed. Her machete was sheathed to her back, and so was her knife on her side. Incense, perfumes, and music filled the air. She didn’t recognize any of the smells, but the music seemed to be like Egyptian reenactments in movies. The buildings were white alabaster covered in brilliant wall paintings. Some men rode on camels like horses and others led them by a leash. Chariots cantered by. Neiko looked around in amazement. This ruled out Death Valley, Arizona. Neiko lifted her eyes to the sun to get a bearing on north. North was as good of a direction as any to begin a search for answers. After her eyes fell from the sun and to the north, she could see the Pyramids of Giza towering in the distance. She recognized them instantly. She had seen enough pictures and documentaries on the monuments—they were unmistakable. Even though they were miles away, they towered above the city and in view. This definitely wasn’t Death Valley.
In that case I can get on the first flight home, she thought. She believed that she had landed in Cairo. This city came to mind because it’s the only one close to the Pyramids of Giza. Then she realized she didn’t have any money as she put her hands in the pockets of her buckskin shorts and only felt the house key. She had left her wallet in the car back at home when she left from Phoenix’s house after the battle.
“Well, I can probably make up some story that I was abducted or something—which is sort of true. Really funny, Francesco. I guess you meant no way back since I’m broke. I’ll hitchhike back to Hawote if I have to. I’ll scrounge around to see if I can find some change for a pay phone on the road,” she remarked to herself, and maybe the phone book would have some information on where to find an airport or something. But, then again, would the phonebook be written in English or Arabic? It was a chance she had to take. The worst that could happen was not getting anywhere.
Neiko began walking to find help, change, a pay phone, the U.S. Embassy, an airport, or whatever she could find first. After a few more minutes of exploring, she recognized the clothing of the people: white linen kilts, some wore robes and fine jewelry, some wore headcloths while others did not. No one seemed to be dressed like the Arab residents of 21st century Egypt. “Why is everyone dressed like ancient Egyptians?” she asked herself. She wondered if this was some sort of a cult or a weird secret society that lived like the Amish in Cairo.
A small group of armed soldiers marched in front of her, but they didn’t pay any attention to her. They carried swords, shields, spears, and were dressed in ancient Egyptian armor. She had seen it in books and movies. They weren’t carrying guns or dressed in desert camouflage BDUs like Egyptian soldiers of the 21st century.
She headed farther in to the marketplace. It was obvious since people had shops and bazaars selling goods. People were yelling and haggling. People thrust things at Neiko trying to entice her to buy. Neiko put up her hands and shook her head. She couldn’t understand a word anyone was saying. Funny, no one seemed to be selling T-shirts, souvenirs, or that type stuff for tourists. Quite frankly, no one seemed to be selling any maps.
Neiko walked up to a man who was a merchant at a bazaar. He was selling all manner of fine jewelry. Heavy collars, bracelets, necklaces, arm pieces, earrings were on display. All gaudy like the ancient Egyptians liked. “Excuse me, can you tell me where I am? I seem to be lost. Do you know where I can find a map or where the airport is? A phone?” she asked as she made her hand like a phone and put it to her ear; her thumb the earpiece and her pinkie the mouthpiece.
The man looked at her startled because of her strange appearance and because he couldn’t understand her. He was dressed in linen like everyone else and sported some of that same Egyptian bling since he was a successful jeweler.
“That’s a little out of style, don’t you think? I mean, guys don’t wear eyeliner…and, that skirt and that sheet on your head are not how people dress nowadays. People dress like ancient Egyptians only on Halloween. Last I checked it was still three weeks away,” Neiko said to the man as she shook her head.
The man chattered in a language she didn’t understand—God knows what he was saying to her. He thrust at her a fine scarab necklace. Neiko looked at him puzzled with her right eyebrow raised. The language didn’t sound like Arabic since she watched a lot of action movies. Neiko put up her hands and shook her head and signed “map” and “phone” and spoke the words in every language that she knew of but got nowhere.
“Never mind,” she said, throwing her hands up in defeat and walking off with a frustrated sigh. “Okay, that is no language I know. I can usually tell, but it’s not anything I’ve heard before except in a few movies.”
Neiko stopped a scantily clad woman. She was topless with hardly anything to her loincloth. “Pardon me, do you speak English? Greyhawk? Cherokee? Blackfoot? Or how about Spanish?” The woman looked at Neiko like she was an alien from another planet. “You need to get some clothes on, girl, before you get charged with indecent exposure,” she said as she had unknowingly come across an Egyptian dancer. “Strippers wear more clothes than that when walking down the street in Vegas—or so I’ve heard or saw in the movies!” she mumbled, shaking her head. Neiko watched a lot of TV when she wasn’t busy busting Crackedskull heads or going on quests in the Five Lands.
“Okay, I’m getting nowhere fast,” Neiko grumbled as she looked at sphinxes and animal-headed gods. The Pyramids grew as she headed north. Neiko walked through the streets of the city looking at everything, and many people looked at her because of her foreign appearance. Some people stared. Many young men gawked at her beauty. Neiko found it annoying and tried to ignore them. These people act like they’ve never seen an Indian before, she thought as she twisted her mouth and shook her head. After some time it dawned on her that there was no trace of modern day technology. She hadn’t even seen a car in the past hour which unnerved her. Neiko bit her lip as a weight began to grow in the pit of her stomach at this realization.
“It seems like ancient Egypt, but how in the world did I get here? Or, is this just some place he made up to make it look like…I—no, this has to be; I’m sure of it. But, I also need to find out where and when I am. I guess Cairo is definitely out. I think it was built later…if this is ancient Egypt, then I know there is a pharaoh here somewhere, and I know how they treat outsiders. I don’t know how they would feel about Indians—most people don’t like us anyway. And, who is the pharaoh? Now I know what he meant about me not returning. Well, I figured out what country I’m in at least—if that’s even the case—” she mused, and then her thoughts were scattered because a group of men stopped in front of her blocking her path. She hadn’t noticed them since she was in her own little world.
At the head was a rich man, clothed in fine clothes, gold and jewels. He motioned for his men to fan out to seal off her possible escape routes. Seeing her armed, some of other men drew their weapons. He looked at her closely—very closely. He rubbed his hands together and grinned like he had just found gold. There was another glint in his eye that she didn’t like—the kind of look when someone is obviously checking you out. Neiko understood that very well.
Neiko looked at him with a frown and a cocked eyebrow. Her hand went to her knife, but she didn’t draw it. Her insides told her to run, but she was so startled and confused she was immobilized like a deer blinded by headlights before they get run over. There were also too many of them to take down by herself, and she was surrounded in a tight circle.
But before Neiko could react, the man pointed at her and started barking commands to his followers. They were on her in seconds. They grabbed her and bound her wrists in front of her as they disarmed her. She tried to resist them, but it didn’t do any good. “Hey, what gives?” Neiko asked as they dragged her along behind the man.
* * *
Neiko was taken to the man’s house and put in a cell with three other men. The dungeon reeked of urine and BO. The floor was nothing more than trampled sand. Cells lined the hallway, and it was fairly dark. Very little light came in through the tiny windows in the cells in the late afternoon sometime before dusk. Then they shut the door and locked it and walked away laughing and chattering.
Neiko yelled at the men, saying, “C’mon, gimmie a break! I didn’t do anything to you! I didn’t steal your horse—or whatever you’re accusing me of! Let me outa here!” she shouted from in between the bars and pushing on the door in aggravation.
The men didn’t pay her any attention as they continued to walk away, laughing and talking.
“He didn’t lose a horse. He just acquired another slave,” said one of the men in the cell in English. He was covered in smudges, dirt, and had long, stringy, and ratty black hair. The man looked remotely like a Native American. His skin was not the golden bronze like the rest of the Egyptians—a red hue showed through his tan.
“Aye, I bet he will fancy this one because she’s gorgeous which won’t be good,” said another.
“Hey, she’s an Indian. Do you think she looks familiar, Mactalon?” asked the third.
Neiko looked at the men like her ears were playing tricks on her. Her mouth gaped open and she raised her eyebrows. “How do you know about Indians and how to speak English? And—how come you have a name just like one of my long-lost friends?” Neiko asked, perplexed. All three of these men had seen their better days, but in some ways they seemed almost familiar—like older versions of the boys that had been missing for eleven years.
“That’s because Mactacon’s my name. I am an Indian along with my pals here—Tito and Panthero. Nice to meet you, dear lady—it’s nice to see an Indian again. But why are you here in Egypt?” asked Mactalon as he nodded her way. Neiko’s buckskin clothes and appearance was unmistakable to him.
The three off them were in servants’ clothes: plain linen kilts, and no shirts. Their appearance was homely because of their filthiness. Their hair was long and stringy, and strangely enough they didn’t have beards, a tell tale sign that they were Indians. They looked as they hadn’t bathed in weeks. They were covered in dust and had shackles on their ankles.
“Well, Francesco, the ex Grand High Mohican, sent me here. It’s nice to see you guys aren’t dead. I’m Neiko—do you remember me?” she asked with her eyes filled with hope.
The three looked at her closely and remembered the young warrior child. “Neiko? What a fine young woman you have turned out to be—and beautiful too! So why did the GHM send you here?” asked Tito.
“Because I exposed him for whom he really was—a dirty rotten traitor. Also, he was actually a Crackedskull who somehow wormed his way up to the top after he was adopted into the Mohican-Sparra. He used that to spy for Raven all these years. My being here is his revenge. I bet Raven and Bloodhawk will be mad to know that he did this. So where’s Sito and what’s your story?” Neiko asked with a shrug.
“Well, I have no idea where my brother is. We uncovered a plot by the GHM to send classified logs to Raven, and he disposed of us—the exact same task you were going to do but we stopped you, remember?” asked Tito as he shifted to a more comfortable position on the dusty floor.
Neiko nodded and couldn’t imagine what might have happened if she was sent away instead. She shuddered at the thought.
“The three of us came together, but Sito got separated from us upon arrival—how—I don’t know. We tried looking all over Egypt for him but had no luck in finding him. We came here and have been enslaved by Kenes—that’s the rich jerk you met today,” replied Tito.
“Where are we, and do you know who the pharaoh is?” asked Neiko as she hooked her thumbs in her belt loops and leaned against the wall.
“We are in Memphis right now—the old capital city of Egypt—it’s still a booming city though. I heard that Seti I passed on recently and his son Ramesses took the throne about three months ago. Boy, Egypt is perilous in these days for foreigners and slaves,” Panthero replied shaking his head.
Neiko looked at them with disgust with a “you’ve got to be kidding” look. “He wouldn’t be THE Ramesses—uh—Ramesses II by any chance, would it?”
“Yup. The one and only Ramesses the Great,” chimed Tito.
Neiko slapped her hand on her head and groaned. “Of course—Francesco’s personal role model. He had a thing for this guy and knew a lot about him. It is on the borderline between an obsession and a fetish, if you ask me. He sent you here during Seti’s reign, right?”
“Yep. We’ve been here for eleven years—and been serving Kenes for ten and a half. We spent six months trying to find my brother. We work in Kenes’ gardens from sunrise to sunset–normally, but I hate to see what your service will be,” said Tito. “That pretty face is going to get you into a heap of trouble here.”
Neiko shrugged indifferently. “Things could be worse. I mean, we could be making bricks or statues for that tyrant Ramesses—”
Tito put up his hands and shushed Neiko. “Don’t go around saying his name like he’s your next door neighbor–that isn’t done here! You only speak his name in reverence out of his presence!” Tito warned. “Furthermore, you don’t talk bad about him behind his back—he finds out quickly somehow, and it’s his personal pet peeve. I don’t know how I know that, but trust me!”
Neiko shrugged and scratched her head with “so what” written all over her face.
“Well, everyone loves him except for people like us,” said Mactalon.
“Is Sito still alive?” asked Neiko.
“Yes. Sometimes he’s happy, but oftentimes he’s extremely sad. We feel each other through our twin telepathy, and he feels my pain,” said Tito.
“What’re the only places you haven’t looked?” asked Neiko.
“The only place we haven’t gone is Thebes. Thebes is where Pharaoh is until he gets his new treasure cities built, and they will be finished in about another five years or so. We came to Memphis to avoid any confrontations from both Seti and Ramesses in Thebes. That was the last place we were going until we were captured and enslaved,” said Mactalon.
“When we get outa here, that’s where we’re going. Don’t try to stop me because I ain’t scared of no pharaoh, especially when we mean him no harm,” Neiko said, folding her arms.
“Okay, you are the same as we remember you. How old are you now, and have we missed anything?” asked Mactalon beaming with curiosity.
“Well, I’m twenty-one now. You missed when I was promoted to admiral, my graduation from high school, and the recent battle that took place before I got sent here that was a washout for the Crackedskulls—we spanked them good,” Neiko replied with a sideways grin.
“Wow! We missed all of the important milestones in your life. And look at you, an admiral,” said Panthero shaking her hand. Indian ranks were different than other known military ranks.
“Yeah, and things seem really sticky now since then. You were young kids when you were sent here too, right?” asked Neiko.
“Yeah, Tito and Sito were twelve, and Panthero and I were thirteen, while you were eleven. We five were the future special warriors, and we started out young too. At least you were able to fight one last battle before you left,” said Mactalon with a wishful sigh.
“Well, I was glad to fight one last battle, too. I wanted to be there to watch the fall of Raven and Bloodhawk, and be the admiral to bring them down. Seems to me like Francesco is a little more unstable and dangerous,” said Neiko as she bit her lip.
“I agree. He seems a little in left field to be looking up to Ramesses like a god or whatever,” joked Mactalon with a snort.
“I know! You oughta have seen his house! He had pictures of the guy everywhere and used his name as the password for his secret stuff in his computer. It looked like Ramesses lived there and not Francesco!” Neiko exclaimed.
“Neiko, again—a word of advice—do not say the name of Pharaoh in public or where anyone else can hear you out of reverence because it’s bad. I would hate to see what Pharaoh would do to you,” warned Tito. “Only say it around us where only we can hear you. That’s what we do.”
“Okay, thanks for the advice—these people act like he’s Jesus or something,” she said with an apathetic shrug and an “I don’t care” look on her face. The others snickered. “I know he hates most outsiders, but how does he feel about Indians?” asked Neiko.
“Close enough. It’s like Amon-Ra incarnate,” said Tito. He and his twin brother, Sito, and father were experts on ancient Egypt. “I don’t know, and I don’t really want to find out because I don’t think he knows about our kind, and I plan to keep it that way,” Tito said with dread and shaking his head.
“I would assume he would send the four of us to Goshen and not think twice about it,” replied Mactalon.
“Where?” asked Neiko, fanning her hands out with an “I’m lost” look on her face.
“Oh, that’s the place he’s building his treasure cities, and that’s where most of the labor gangs are,” answered Mactalon. He only knew since it was the kind of place Tito mentioned to avoid in the beginning.
“Oh yeah! I remember that name now—” Neiko said nodding, but she was interrupted because a man rapped the bars on their door with the handle of his whip.
“Go to sleep,” he snapped at them in Egyptian, but turned and left.
Neiko looked at him with her mouth hung open like she had just said “Huh?” silently.
“Time for bed,” said Panthero as he stood up to go to a pallet in the floor in the back left of the room.
“Can you understand them?” Neiko asked, scratching her head.
“Yeah, if you live in a place long enough, you kind of pick it up. But Sito and I were better prepared because we studied this language as a hobby, remember?” said Tito as he fluffed his pillow and plopped down.
“Oh yeah, and Francesco knows the language and can write in hieroglyphics,” Neiko said standing there and looking for a place to lie down.
“Shut up!” snapped the Egyptian. Apparently he hadn’t left the hallway and still heard them talking.
Neiko turned around. “Okay, okay, don’t get your panties in a wad!” she snapped angrily with her hands on her hips.
The others winced because they knew this could cause trouble.
The man didn’t understand what she said, but he could sense the hostility of her remark. He started to unlock the door with a look of annoyance on his face. He was going to deal with this impudent slave and tell Kenes about this little upstart. But Tito stood up on her behalf by stepping in between them and putting up his hands in surrender.
“She didn’t mean it, and we were just going to bed,” he told the man in his language. “Right, Neiko?” he asked her in English.
She nodded as she slid behind Tito further but peeked from behind his back.
The guard looked at her and then at Tito and then walked away. Everyone released their held breaths.
“If you are going to make it in Egypt, then you have to control that temper of yours,” Mactalon scolded as he thrust his finger into her shoulder. “It’s dangerous for a slave to have a short fuse—definitely a pretty one. Besides, anyone who is not Egyptian is inferior—remember that—and they won’t hesitate to do what they want to you,” warned Mactalon.
Neiko nodded silently as she twisted her mouth.
They all lay down and went to sleep.