Art Pact 262 - Tombs

"This is all very well," she says to me, brushing the sand out of her hair, "but it's not really getting us any further in there"--she gestures towards the opening to the crypt, which is still covered by the carved stone block.

"Look. Do you really want to go in there?" I ask.

"Of course I want to go in there. It's the whole reason I came here."

It's not the whole reason she came here, and I know it. And she knows that I know, and I know that, of course, because otherwise I wouldn't be able to tell you. But we haven't yet crossed that line, the line where she admits to me that she came here to seek revenge as well as fame, and I admit to her that I know that, that I've known it all along, that anyone who met her during her voyage has a good chance of having worked it out too, that it is, as they refer to them, an open secret.

"I came here to get my place in the department by being the first person into the tomb and by getting some photographs that will go in textbooks hundreds of years from now," she says gently. "I didn't come here to piss about with side excavations and dodgy monoliths."

"'Don't get too focused on means and forget your aims'," I quote, which she responds to with a disgusted face and a dismissive wave of her hand. "No, listen. You want your place in the department, it doesn't matter how you get it. This will get you it, I guarantee. Well, actually I don't guarantee, but I mean this is better than going into the tomb. Safer, more interesting. Your dean wants a steady source of donations to keep the department in professors and undergraduates for years to come, right? This will have him sitting pretty. This is a gold-mine of research right here, you've got hieroglyphs, you've got artifacts, you've got the whole shebang. Just give up the idea of going into that damn tomb!"

Before I finish the sentence I know I've chosen the wrong word. Her face, which has been relatively open to my argument, sets into stone the instant the words "give up" leave my mouth. There's no telling Nur to give up. She's not the giving up type. She's not the type, even, to forgive someone easily for suggesting she might give up. Once upon a time I would have tried to infer something about her upbringing, her school days or home life by this, but that sort of thinking bit me in the arise when it came to Michelle, and I have learnt not to speculate so far beyond the bounds of the information I have.

"I didn't mean give up," I say quickly, putting my hands up. "I meant postpone. We can come back to the tomb, of course, but the tomb is going to be there for a long while. Everyone knows about it, and in all these years no-one's been able to get inside. But this stuff is-"

"Let me just stop you there," she cuts in. "When we met, on the boat, you promised me that you could get me into the tomb. You said that you'd discovered something that would make it easy, that all I needed to worry about was providing the equipment and the funding. Well, I've done that. Here's the equipment you asked for, and I distinctly remember handing over what seemed like quite a lot of funding at the time. Hmm, let me think"--she cupped her chin between finger and thumb, and stared up into the sky with a mock pondering expression--"yes, it still seems like quite a lot of funding. Are you telling me that you cannot, in fact, get me into the tomb?"

"Well, I mean-"

"Don't tell me what you mean, say something that actually means the truth."

Her expression is now way beyond mockery - she's no longer poking at me verbally to goad me into action, she is actually genuinely angry at me, angry in a way that I've only seen her be before in the matter of her father's death. I realise that she's close to lumping me in that great category of grudges she has in her head: obstructions to justice. Once I'm in there, I'm dog meat.

"Look, we can get into the tomb," I reassure her. "We can get into the tomb."

"Get us into the damn tomb, then."

"It's just a little more complicated..."

It is a little more complicated, but not in any way I can tell her without bursting the bubble. We can get in there easily enough if we have something from the new dig site. I was just hoping to be able to tempt her from her current destructive path by one of the other baubles that we'd uncover on the way to the important one. Perhaps I should have been more up-front with the information in the first place, let her know all along that what she needed for getting into the tomb was in the antechambers and let the lure of the antechambers themselves work to drag her off her path.

No, that would never have worked. On someone as single-minded as Nur? No. She would have marched straight through the place without so much as an interested glance left or right. The quest for vengeance has grown inside her to such a monstrous size that it's blinkered her to everything. If she stumbled across a way to bring her father back from the dead I doubt she'd even notice it, so warped has her judgement on this matter become.

"Simplify it for me," she growls.

"Okay, okay!"

I tell her about the keystone. She's skeptical - perhaps something in her senses the trap that I had just been thinking about, that it might be enough just to walk her through the potentially fabulous discoveries in the antechambers - but her expression begins to thaw slightly. I describe roughly where I think it is (this is more of a lie, since I have only the vaguest idea, but I put in sufficient certainty to give her hope, sufficient fuzziness to buy me some time at the other end), and slowly, slowly, she seems to have forgotten about my slip of the tongue earlier. Now she has a straightforward path ahead of her - we go into the antechamber, we find the keystone, we open the tomb, and after that...

"If you'd just told me this in the first place we could have been down there already," she says, pointing into the tomb. Which is precisely why I didn't tell you, I think, because the longer we're out here and not in that damn tomb the safer we'll be and the better I'll feel.

"I wasn't certain before," I lie. "I mean, there's a lot of space around here, I wasn't sure I'd be able to find the antechamber that easily, that's why all the equipment and the money, you know? It wasn't a done deal."

"Well," she says, "it's a done deal now. Good work, old man. I'll get my kit together and we'll start inside in about half an hour, okay?"

I nod, sadly. There's an old saying - Chinese, I think: "If you dedicate yourself to revenge, first dig two graves". Well, I think to myself as Nur begins to walk towards the tents, just look at that tomb:

There's room inside it for thousands of graves. 


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