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Authors: Mike Resnick

The Amulet of Power

BOOK: The Amulet of Power
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MIKE RESNICK

BALLANTINE BOOKS • NEW YORK

To Carol, as always
And to Kristine Kathryn Rusch
and Dean Wesley Smith
fine writers
fine editors
finer friends

PROLOGUE

She awoke to a dull throbbing at the base of her skull. She tried to touch it gingerly with her fingers, but found that she couldn’t move her left hand.

What’s happened?
she wondered hazily. And then:
Why can’t I breathe?

Her mouth was filled with dust, and some instinct made her turn her head slightly before she inhaled through her nostrils.

Where am I?

Then, very slowly, it came back to her. She almost wished it hadn’t. She was buried in the rubble of a tomb beneath the Temple of Horus in the Egyptian town of Edfu. Something was pinning her left arm to the ground, something bigger than a rock, smaller than a boulder.

Were her legs pinned, too? She didn’t know. She couldn’t feel them.

She tried to open her eyes to see if there was any light in the tomb. Her left eye opened. It was pitch black. Her right was stuck shut; a tear had mixed with the dust to form a layer of mud that glued her eyelashes together.

All right. Don’t panic. Can I move my right arm?

She tried. It worked.

Okay, I can’t free the left arm. Is it broken? Do the fingers work?

The fingers moved.

What am I doing here?

Slowly it came back to her. Set, the evil Egyptian god she had inadvertently set free, the battle, and finally his capture. And then, in her moment of triumph, the collapse of the temple.

How about the rest of me? Can I roll over, sit up, move one way or another?

She tensed, ready to try, and the pain in her skull became so great that she passed out again.

She dreamed that she was stuck to a gigantic spiderweb. The more she tried to pull free, the more she was held motionless.

“Is someone there?”

Oh my God,
she thought, still in her dream,
the spider is talking to me!

She squirmed, trying to free herself, but she couldn’t move her left arm or her legs.

“If you’re there, call out!”

Call out and let the spider know where I am? How foolish does it think I am?

“Hang on! I’m almost there!”

It’s almost here! I’ve got to get loose!

She twisted desperately, but the web held her tight.

She heard noises, rocks scraping against rocks, and the air was filled with clouds of dust again. Then a beam of light fell upon her.

Her skull began throbbing once more. The fingers of her right hand gathered up a handful of dust.

This isn’t an ant or a fly you’re coming after, spider. This is Lara Croft, and I don’t plan to die without a fight!

She forced her left eye open, and saw a hand reaching for her. It was puzzling. She could have sworn spiders didn’t have hands.

It had to be a trick, a way to get her to trust it. She waited until the spider’s hand was inches away, then threw the dust where she knew its eyes would be.

“Damn it!” snapped the spider in perfect English. “What did you do that for?”

She tried to rasp out the words, “Get away from me or I’ll kill you!” but her mouth was still filled with dust, and she could only cough weakly.

Two hands began moving the rubble off her.

That’s very strange behavior for a spider.

Suddenly the spider’s face was very near her own. It looked exactly like a human being, a rather handsome one at that.

“You’re safe now,” it said as it began lifting her up.

She was trying to remember whether spiders could lie when she passed out again.

PART I

EGYPT

         

1

This time she was able to open both eyes, and was almost blinded by the brilliant whiteness of her surroundings. She wondered if her left arm was working yet. She was able to move it slightly, but it felt strange. She looked at it and saw a pair of tubes going into it. That meant something, but she couldn’t quite think of what.

Her head still hurt, and her eyes had trouble staying focused. She tried to wiggle her toes. It
felt
like they were moving. She looked to make sure, and found that she couldn’t see them.

“My feet!” she rasped. “Where are my feet?”

She heard a deep masculine chuckle, and then a hand pulled away what she only then recognized as a bedsheet, revealing her bare feet.

“They were hiding from you,” said an amused voice with a cultivated British accent.

She stared at the owner of the voice. It was the same face she’d seen in the tomb. He was a tall man, a bit on the lean side, tanned from long exposure to the sun. His hair had probably been sandy at one point, but it had been bleached almost white by the sun. She’d been right, back in the tomb: He
was
handsome, though at the moment he needed a shave and a change of clothes.

“Welcome back to the world. I thought we were going to lose you for a while there. It was quite a trip; I drove you all the way here from Edfu.”

“Where is here?”

“You’re in the Cairo Hospital.”

She stared at him without speaking.

“Where are my manners?” he said. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Kevin Mason.” He paused. “And you are . . . ?”

“Lara Croft.”

“Lara Croft,” repeated Mason. “I’ve heard of you.”

She continued staring at him, trying to get her brain to function. “Kevin Mason,” she repeated.

“That’s right.”

She frowned. “You can’t be Kevin Mason, the archaeologist. I know him.”

“I’m his son—Kevin Mason Junior.” He smiled. “Just Kevin to my friends.”

“I’ve read all your father’s books,” said Lara. “He’s one of my heroes.”

“He’s one of mine, too,” said Mason. “That’s why I followed in his footsteps. I’m an archaeologist, too.”

She tried to clear the cobwebs from her mind. “You saved my life.”

“Just a stroke of luck. I heard—well,
felt
is probably the proper word—I felt the tomb collapse. And I had to assume that if it hadn’t collapsed in over two thousand years, there had to be a reason, so I had my men help me open it up.” He stared at her. “You were in a bad way. I don’t think you could have survived another hour trapped in there. I carried you to my car and drove to the Edfu infirmary, but they were having one of their periodic power outages, so I brought you here, to Cairo. You’ve been in hospital for almost five hours now.”

“And when can I get out of here?” asked Lara.

Mason shrugged. “You’ve been banged up pretty thoroughly, and you’ve suffered a severe concussion, but they don’t think anything’s broken. Probably a day or two of bed rest and you’ll be as good as new—though they need to make sure you haven’t done any lasting damage to your lungs by breathing in all that dust.” He smiled.

“Can you find me a mirror?”

“Trust me,” said Mason. “You don’t want to look at yourself. Not right now.”

“Please,” she insisted.

“As you wish,” he said, walking to the bathroom and returning with a mirror that had hung on the wall. “But remember: You’ve been warned.”

Lara took the mirror and studied the face that stared out at her. Both eyes were blackened and almost swollen shut. A roll of cotton had been inserted in her right nostril to keep it from collapsing. Her lips were dry and cracked and covered with crusted blood, her jaw was badly swollen, and her hair was still caked with dust.

“Could be worse,” she muttered, handing the mirror back to him.

“Well, I’ll be damned!” said Mason. “Most women would burst into tears if they looked like that.”

“I’m not most women.”

A nurse entered just then, walked silently to the bed, took Lara’s pulse and temperature, scribbled her readings on a chart, and left.

Lara tried to sit up to better see and converse with the man who had saved her, but the effort produced blinding pains in her skull, and she fell back onto the bed.

“Hey, take it easy,” said Mason. “I told you—you’ve had a major concussion.” He pulled a chair up to the bed. “Here,” he said, sitting down. “Now you don’t have to move to see me.”

“I read your father’s paper on ancient Sudanese artifacts just last month,” said Lara as the pain began to subside. “It was brilliant.”

“On his behalf, I thank you. The Sudan’s become my field of study, too.”

“Then what were you doing here in Egypt at the Temple of Horus?”

“The Sudan is my specialty, but my field of study encompasses all of North Africa. I felt it was time for a change, so I came to Egypt.” He smiled again—a very handsome smile, she noted. “It’s a damned lucky thing I did. The temple is off-limits to tourists while they’re restoring some of the hieroglyphs. It was all but empty when the tomb collapsed.”

“Lucky is an understatement,” she said.

“Maybe it wasn’t all due to luck,” he amended. “You keep yourself in remarkable condition. Most people wouldn’t have survived.”

“I’ve survived worse,” she said.

He raised an eyebrow. “I believe you, Ms. Croft.”

“I think you’ve earned the right to call me Lara, Dr. Mason.”

“Kevin,” he said.

“Tell me, Kevin. What were you looking for at the Temple of Horus?”

“Oh, nothing in particular,” he answered with a shrug.

Nobody digs for “nothing in particular,”
she thought, studying his expression.
Oh, well, there’s no reason why you should share any information with me. I’m certainly not going to grill you. You saved my life; that’s more than enough.

As if reading her thoughts, he said, “One never knows what rare and beautiful artifacts might turn up in these old temples. They’re always worth a visit. After all, I found you, didn’t I?” He smiled again, and continued, “I’ll stick around Cairo for a day or two to make sure you’re all right, and then I’ll go back to work.”

“I’m fine,” she said. “There’s no reason you have to stay.”

“I’ve never settled for half-measures as an archaeologist, and I won’t settle for them as a hero,” he said wryly. “As long as I’m responsible for your life, I’m going to make sure it’s properly restored to you.”

“I appreciate it, Kevin, but . . .”

He held a hand up. “It’s settled.”

She was going to protest again, but the pain returned, and she just lay still, waiting for it to subside.

“I know why
I
was at the Temple,” Mason said after a moment, staring at her intently, “but I’ve no idea what
you
were doing there.”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” she said, remembering how Set had screamed in rage when she’d returned the evil god to his prison.

“I won’t ask what you were searching for—that’s your business. But if you left something behind in the wreckage, Lara, I’d be happy to look for it. It would remain your discovery, of course,” he added hastily.

“I appreciate that, Kevin, but there was nothing, really.”

“That was quite a bump on the noggin you received. If anything should come back to you, I assure you I don’t steal artifacts or credit from my peers.”

“I’m sure you don’t.”

He got to his feet. “They have this ridiculous policy at this place of only feeding patients, so if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go out for dinner. I’ll be back in a few hours to see how you’re doing.”

“You’ve done enough already.”

He smiled. “Don’t make me lecture you again.”

“All right.” Then, “You have a very nice smile.”

He looked embarrassed. “So do you. I think. Perhaps someday I’ll actually get to see it.”

She tried to smile, but her dry lips started to split, and she groaned instead.

“No hurry,” said Mason. “Let’s not rush anything—not even a smile.”

Then he was gone.

BOOK: The Amulet of Power
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