Home > The Morning Star (Katerina #3)(12)

The Morning Star (Katerina #3)(12)
Author: Robin Bridges

I did not want Konstantin to have the sword. Could I keep it from him by preventing the return of the Egyptian? Could I prevent the French mages from finding the sword as well? Such a dangerous weapon did not belong in anyone's hands. I did not trust the Grigori. And I could not trust Danilo, for it would not be long before the lich tsar had complete control of the crown prince.

"Let's go," Danilo said, his hand on my arm. "Remember to keep your cold light reined in, Katerina."

"The more time you spend in the Graylands, the more you become like us," Ankh-al-Sekhem warned. "Do not tarry long here, Duchess."

"Do not worry about us, old man," Danilo said. "We will return soon and you will have your talisman."

We followed the scarab out of the necromancer's room and back into the thick mist. The clouds mingled with the tendrils of the crown prince's cold light, as well as my own. It grew harder for me to keep my light pulled in close. I tried to wrap it tighter around me like a cloak. "Ankh-al-Sekhem said it was dangerous to spend so much time in the Graylands," I said to the lich tsar. "But you were here for decades."

"Yes. But I was already dead, Duchess. You have only walked the Graylands as one of the living."

"So it does not affect you? What about the crown prince's body?"

"We are strong, your Danilo and I. Together we will be the most powerful tsar ever."

"Why do you even want to be tsar?" I asked. I could not imagine someone desiring such a burden.

"I am a Romanov," Konstantin said stubbornly. "I was destined to rule from my birth. My grandmother dreamed of re-conquering Byzantium and setting me upon the throne."

"But she never intended for you to rule Russia."

"I was the second son. She never expected my brother to die without an heir."

"Nor did she expect you to marry a blood drinker or become a lich."

He turned to me sharply and growled, "I would be nothing without Johanna!"

"You could have been tsar," I said pointedly. And if he had, then my great-grandfather Nicholas would never have ruled. Nor would his son, Alexander the Second, or his grandson, Alexander the Third. "But you chose love over a crown."

His arm shot out and his fist closed around my throat. "I chose the power of blood over the power of a crown. Do not think that I am weak or swayed by petty emotions. Yes, I loved Johanna. But I loved her because of the power she gave me. It was a pity I underestimated my younger brother."

I stood very still, and he released his grip on me. He began walking again through the mist. I struggled to keep up with him. "Are you saying you would not have loved Johanna if she had not been a necromancer?" I asked.

He did not bother to slow down as he talked. We had to hurry or the enchanted scarab would leave us behind. "When I was just a boy, I thought I loved my first wife, the Saxe-Coburg princess. She was the beautiful girl Grandmother had picked to be my bride. I was infatuated with her. And she ... she was infatuated with my elder brother."

"But Alexander was married to Elizabeth Alexievna," I said. As far as I knew, she'd been completely human and one of the most beautiful empresses who ever lived in St. Petersburg. She was also one of the youngest empresses, and the most naive.

"Theirs was an unhappy marriage," Konstantin said. "Just as mine was. Grandmother had picked the right brides for the wrong brothers."

I could not believe I was having this conversation with the lich tsar. He sounded so vulnerable. So normal. "Do you mean to say that you and Elizabeth Alexievna ...?"

"No." The scarab had finally stopped and fell to the floor, lifeless again in front of us. "But she knew I cared for her. That was before I met Johanna." He picked up the scarab stone and whispered something in Egyptian. A golden door appeared in front of us. He pushed it open. "Follow me."

We entered a dimly lit room, which smelled of hot, dry air. And death.

Chapter Twenty-one

We were inside a tomb. "Is this Cairo?" I asked. The mist had disappeared completely. We had left the Graylands behind. I had a horrible headache from the transition. Or perhaps it was from the heat.

"We are several miles outside of Cairo, actually. This should be the temple of Ankh-al-Sekhem's apprentice. He served as a high priest under Ramses the Second and died in the Tenth Dynasty."

"This is his tomb?" I glanced around at the brilliant gold-leafed paintings on the walls. Lit torches cast unholy shadows across them. An alabaster sarcophagus stood in the center of the temple. Hieroglyphics decorated all four sides, no doubt a curse upon whoever disturbed the apprentice's grave.

I could not help shuddering. The crown prince drew a small knife from a scabbard inside his jacket. "Katerina, your assistance is required."

I realized what he intended to do. "No. I will not let you take my blood."

"Relax, Duchess. I do hope it will not come to that." He laughed as he used the blade to break the wax seal on the sarcophagus. "You must help me lift the lid."

"Must we open it?" I asked.

"Where else do you think the apprentice hid the sword? It is buried with him. I'm sure of it."

Relieved he did not intend to resurrect the Egyptian, I helped him shove the heavy lid to the side. I took a torch from the wall and held it over the open sarcophagus, giving Danilo light to examine the body inside. The heat from the flames was oppressive in the tiny space.

The apprentice's mummified body had been wrapped in linen that had long since dried in the arid desert climate. No gold ornaments adorned his body. The only thing of value buried with the unfortunate man was a scroll that was clasped in his calcified hand. The fingers broke off as Danilo pried the scroll out. He unrolled it and held it up to the light, his face first triumphant, then clouded with disappointment. "It is not here." He threw the scroll to the floor and turned back to the tomb. He reached in and pulled at the linens. "The sword must be in here with him."

"What does the scroll say?" I asked.

"It is rubbish. A prayer to the gods." He pulled great frayed lengths of linen out of the sarcophagus. He was destroying the mummy. If the Egyptian authorities discovered us, we could be arrested. "What has he done with it?" Danilo shouted. "It must be in here!"

Thick black smoke began to pour out around the sarcophagus. The dim light the torch gave us was not enough to help see through the smoke. I was too frightened to move.

"Stupid Egyptian," Danilo snarled. "Does he think he can frighten us with his tricks? Katerina, it's merely levers and chemicals. A way to frighten off grave robbers. Pay no attention to it. Bring the light closer."

I stepped toward his voice, finding him leaning over the sarcophagus. "Shine the light in here," he said.

I held the torch over his head. There was nothing left of the mummy of Ankh-al-Sekhem's apprentice except a pile of shredded linen at the bottom of the alabaster tomb. "There is no sword, Danilo."

"Damn!" He banged the side of the sarcophagus with his palms and stared into the dark tomb for several moments before finally speaking. "Well, there's only one other thing to do, then." He drew out his blade again. "I will need your hand, Katerina."

"Absolutely not."

His sharp teeth gleamed as he smiled. "I'm afraid you have no say in the matter." He grabbed my wrist and twisted it, wrenching my palm up. With a quick slice, he opened my palm, the blood rushing to fill the cut. My hand throbbed in pain.

Danilo closed his eyes as he raised my hand to his lips. "The strength of Isis, the heart of Isis, the power of Isis is mine," he said.

As he drank my blood, I felt dizzy, and the room began to spin. The talisman around my neck grew warm.

A horrible moan, low and deep, rose out of the sarcophagus and grew into a screech. All of the black smoke in the room gathered in the center, creating a whirlwind. The smoke was being drawn back into the sarcophagus.

"What are you doing?" I cried as I pulled my hand out of Danilo's grasp. "We must get out of here!"

"No!" the crown prince shouted. He glared at the smoke. "Apprentice! Show yourself!"

Out of the black smoke, the ancient Egyptian rose. No longer wrapped in the burial linens, he was little more than a shrunken corpse. There were no eyes in the sockets in his face, only black holes. But I could still recognize him. Ankh-al-Sekhem had tricked us. This had been his tomb. Not that of his apprentice.

The smoke turned into a swarm of insects, black moths and scarabs. I tried to shield my face with my arm.

"Konstantin Pavlovich." The undead Egyptian's voice was hoarse. "I will have my revenge upon you at last!" He reached for me with a cold, clawlike hand.

I stumbled backward in fright. "Danilo! Do something!"

"He should be under your control, Katerina! Use the talisman! Make him return inside the sarcophagus!"

But the Egyptian was not under my control. I had not raised him from the dead. He had used ancient black magic and my blood to return from the Graylands.

Ankh-al-Sekhem's laughter was raspy. "You are both powerful, but not that powerful. The prayer your vain crown prince recited brought me back. It needed only your blood to add to the magic and set off the spell." He climbed out of his sarcophagus, surprising me with his sudden agility. "And now, at last, I can seek my revenge upon you, Konstantin Pavlovich!"

The crown prince pulled me out of the way just in time and ran to the next chamber, a room crowded with stacked piles of sarcophagi. The chamber opened up onto a long hall lined with more mummies. I didn't know where to run. We were surrounded by the dead.

"You cannot escape me!" the Egyptian wheezed.

We had nowhere left to run.

"Katerina, we must work together if we are to defeat him," Danilo said. "Give me your hand!"

"No! There must be some other way!" I shouted. "Sheult Anubis!" I raised my hands and drew a cloak of shadows around us. It was the only spell I knew as a necromancer.

But as soon as the shadows began to gather, Ankh-al-Sekhem waved the bony fingers on the hand he had left. "Clever, young duchess. But not clever enough." His magic caused the shadows to scatter.

I had nothing left with which to protect us. Except the Talisman of Isis. I held it to my bleeding hand and closed my eyes. "The blood of Isis, the strength of Isis, the power of Isis is mine," I whispered. My hand burned and it took everything I had to hold on to the talisman.

"Katerina, what are you doing?" Danilo shouted. He held his knife out, as if he could defend us against Ankh-al-Sekhem with it. But the Egyptian necromancer smiled as the blade flew out of Danilo's hand and skittered across the stone floor.

I felt a low, rumbling vibration as the temple shook. Most of the moths and scarabs had scattered, although there were a few with broken wings fluttering helplessly at my feet. With my incantation, the dead insects became my servants. They heralded the arrival of Danilo's and my new allies, the mummies that had been buried in the temple with Ankh-al-Sekhem.

Hissing and moaning, the mummies shuffled into the burial chamber. Most of them had been sacrificed ritually to accompany the necromancer in his death. They were ready to reap their vengeance upon Ankh-al-Sekhem.

As dozens of scrabbling dried mummies clawed their way toward us, I tried to stay calm. I had to keep them under my control or we'd be dead. "Defend us!" I shouted to my new minions.

The ancient necromancer was able to deflect those first attacks, but the mummies continued to come after him. Danilo laughed. "Very clever, Katerina. Now we must go while he is distracted." He pulled me by the arm down the long hallway. We saw light at the end and hoped it was a doorway to the outside.

"You will never learn where the Morning Star is hidden!" Ankh-al-Sekhem yelled after us.

As soon as we made it into the fresh air, Danilo pushed the stone door shut and sealed Ankh-al-Sekhem inside his tomb, along with the angry undead mummies. We could no longer hear his screams.

I sank down into the sand, clutching the talisman to me. My breathing was ragged and uneven. Why had I helped Konstantin instead of the Egyptian? Wasn't one evil necromancer just as bad as the other?

Chapter Twenty-two

Danilo was laughing like a madman. "I didn't know what else to do," I began. "I-"

He stopped laughing and helped me up, pulling me into a ferocious embrace. He spun me around until I was dizzy. "You ... you were brilliant!"

"But the sword... "

"We will still find it, Katerina. And without Ankh-al-Sekhem's meddling." He placed me gently back on my own two feet. Danilo's face grew serious. "You will make a wonderful tsarina, my love."

I pulled out of his arms, uncomfortable that I'd noticed how muscular they were. "I never wanted to be tsarina. All I ever wanted was to be a doctor."

Danilo laughed again. "Such a small imagination you have. Do you not realize you could conjure up all the ancient teachers of medicine-Hippocrates, Galen, even da Vinci-and have them at your command?"

"How ridiculous! I don't want to study ancient medicine. I need to know the latest in research. I need to study at a real medical university!"

In an instant, the friendliness was gone from Danilo's face. The lich tsar had returned and was in complete control of the crown prince. He grabbed my arm painfully. "You need to remember that you are my betrothed, Katerina. You will act accordingly."

More angry now than afraid, I decided to push back. "You have to be strong, Danilo," I shouted. "You cannot let Konstantin win." I searched his face and held my breath. His eyes were still a murky hazel as the two people battled within the same body. Finally, the crown prince's eyes resumed their normal black.

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