On the evening of the day they expected to do so, the lead riders of the Brandon-Smythe expedition paused at the top of the ridge they had been slowly climbing for several hours. They turned to congratulate themselves on reaching this point and to admire the beauty of the scene before them.

The setting sun contributed greatly to the magnificence of the vista. It turned the red sand and the darker rocks to burnished gold. The slanting rays deepened the shadows where the low remnants of ancient walls could be seen in the valley below. It was the ruins of a long abandoned fortification almost reclaimed by the desert. From this vantage point the full size of the outer perimeter could be judged. It was a fortified town, if not a city. Within those walls the outlines of buildings, including a desert palace for the visiting king and other, humbler structures, were all clearly visible.

“The evidence is in much better condition than I hoped," Griffiths enthused. "I feared the sand had swallowed it whole, but there it lies ready for us to begin exploring and discovering great things."

“Those must be the mines beyond,” Peterson added. "The entrances will surely be blocked, but we will easily overcome that much of an obstacle.”

They were excited, but Brandon-Smythe calmed their enthusiasm by reminding them that it would be dark in an hour and they still needed to descend into the valley and put up the camp.

The descent was precarious. The rocks were weathered into irregular shapes and some of them were loose. They were almost at the bottom when Davenport's horse stumbled and he, the least experienced rider, fell. Chrístõ reached him first and anxiously confirmed that he was severely concussed and had a broken arm. He called for bearers to improvise a stretcher and carry Davenport the rest of the way down to the camp site on the southern edge of the fortress.

A 'hospital tent' was erected first and Chrístõ attended to his patient while the rest of the camp was set up around them. A fire was among the first objectives, and the smell of cooking filled the air as well as the sounds of tent pegs being hammered in tight enough to withstand the surprisingly fierce desert winds.

"I'm a duffer," Davenport complained as he watched his arm being set in a sling. "I came to take pictures and now I can’t manage a camera."

"It’s a clean break," Chrístõ told him. "You'll recover enough to take plenty of pictures before the expedition is finished. Griffith expects to take weeks digging through the foundations of the palace and Peterson's exploration of the mines will be just as in depth."

"Even so, I feel such a fool. Apart from anything else, it wasn’t really the horse stumbling that made me fall. I felt something, just before then. Maybe the horse did, too, and that’s why she stumbled. I felt a strange sense of dread, as if something awful was going to happen. And then it did."

"Self fulfilling prophecy," Chrístõ told him. "Don’t dwell on it. The best thing you can do is get some sleep. Tomorrow you'll feel better."

"Hope so. Not sure I can sleep, though. The arm is very painful."

He wasn't complaining, just stating a fact. His face was pale and drawn from trying to bear the agony.

Chrístõ drew closer to him.

"I've kept your secret for a few days now," he said. "How about you keep one of mine?"

He put his hands gently across Davenport’s forehead and slowly reached into his brain, finding the pain receptors that told him he was hurting. He dulled them until Davenport sighed deeply and reached out his good arm to touch his shoulder.

"That’s a good secret to have," he told him. "Better than mine, anyway. Nobody would want to jail you for it."

"Burn me for witchcraft, maybe," Chrístõ answered grimly. "Go to sleep now. You WILL feel better in the morning, I promise."

Davenport slept. Chrístõ sat by his side for a while, wondering if he ought to have done more for him. He could have mended the broken arm with the same power of his mind that merely relieved the symptoms, but that might have been too much interference in a situation he was not supposed to be interfering in.

He kept forgetting that there was nothing he could do about the ultimate fate of this expedition.

A gaggle of raised voices outside drew him from his thoughts. He stood and went to the front of the tent to see Brandon-Smythe arguing with a deputation of the native servants. Not all of them spoke English, and Brandon-Smythe certainly didn’t speak their language. One of the better educated of the hired help translated the grievances.

"These men are from the Negev, even though they live in Port Said," he explained. "They say that this valley has a curse on it and they would not have come if they had known this was the ultimate destination. They accuse you of deception and want to be paid and allowed to leave right away."

"Cheeky blighters," Brandon-Smythe replied. "They'll get no money from me until the job is done - and that means when we're all back in Port Said."

The spokesman translated the reply. It was not well received. The crowd grew ugly. The translator had a fast, angry debate with his fellow works. He looked nearly as nervous as Brandon-Smythe was starting to look. There were more native bearers and drivers than white men. If they chose to rebel, to turn on their masters, then it could only end one way.

"For heaven sake, pay them!" Peterson begged his friend. "Before they slit all our throats."

"I can't, even if I wanted to," Brandon-Smythe answered. "I don’t have the money with me. It’s in Port Said with the shipping agent. Do you think I'd trust this lot if I had cold cash on me?"

Chrístõ watched the increasingly ugly discussion with one hand on his sonic screwdriver. It was not meant to be a weapon, but there were some settings that be could used to defend himself and the helpless Davenport if he absolutely had to.

Was this how it happened, he wondered? Was it just an angry mob outnumbering the expedition members, killing them and leaving their bodies to the carrion birds of the desert?

Well, if it was, he wasn't going to die that easily. If he had to there WAS a laser mode of the sonic that could slice into flesh like a sword.

"Let them take the camels," said a voice in the dark. O'Neill, the Irish rebel came from the shadows armed with a rifle in case the situation got any worse, but also with an idea that might just solve the problem bloodlessly. "Give them the camels in lieu of payment. We don’t need men here who aren’t willing to work. Let them clear out with a camel each. They’re good camels, worth as much as they were going to be paid."

Brandon-Smythe argued, saying that they needed the camels, but Peterson agreed with O'Neill and he reluctantly agreed to the arrangement. After a little more wrangling over details fifteen of the twenty five natives rode away with water and a day's food ration each - enough to get them to the nearest oasis.

An uneasy peace came over the camp after they had gone. The evening meal was quieter than it had been at any time on the journey. Chrístõ joined the others only long enough to eat his food and talk briefly about the strange turn of events.

"It’s little wonder they were superstitious," Griffiths said about the natives who had left. “Davenport's injury has tainted our arrival all round."

"Poppycock," Jolly commented. "A good whipping would have put any ideas of curses out of their minds. Giving them camels... only a soft headed Irishman would have thought of that."

A now familiar feud reignited. In the midst of it, Chrístõ slipped away back to the hospital tent bringing some soup and biscuits in case Davenport woke up hungry.

There was a figure in the shadows near the tent and he was wary even when the native who had translated the others revealed himself.

"What was all that about?" he demanded of the man whose name was Undigu - whether that was a first, second or only name Chrístõ wasn’t certain.

"It is just a local legend," Undigu replied. "But such beliefs go deep in the soul. It is why this place has not been ransacked for any treasure that may be hidden. People believe a jealous demon guards the mines. Anyone who tries to penetrate its secrets will die."

"Sounds like every local legend I ever heard before," Chrístõ responded. "I don’t think you’ll make this lot believe in it."

Undigu shrugged. He had warned them. What they did about his warning was up to them.

Chrístõ nodded in agreement and stepped into the tent. He checked his patient and was pleased to see that he was sleeping soundly with no obvious pain. He slipped into his own bed near enough to Davenport to reassure him if he woke and to help him if he needed anything.

Both men woke just after dawn the next morning to raised voices in the camp.

"Stay put," Chrístõ said. "I'll go see what’s going on."

It was Brandon-Smythe who was shouting. He was angry because two more natives and four camels were missing.

“I call THAT theft,” he blazed. “They had their chance last night to go with stock as payment, but to take and run is downright theft.”

Even Undigu agreed with that.

“The talk of curses continues,” he told Chrístõ, the only white man who acknowledged him in any way. “But I thought those that remained would be loyal. I am ashamed of their deceit.”

“There is nothing for you to be ashamed of,” Chrístõ told him. The others were placating Brandon-Smythe. Two men less still left eight to help with the hard work that was to be done now that the camp was established.

Chrístõ had hoped to get involved with the mine exploration, but he still needed to keep an eye on Davenport. He was feeling better for a peaceful night’s sleep, but his arm was still painful. After breakfast, when the workgroups were assigned, Chrístõ sat him down under a canvas with the butte of clean drinking water close by and his camera mounted on a frame so that he could work it one handed and take close up photographs of any artefacts found in the course of the day.

Chrístõ joined in with the digging at the place where Brandon-Smythe judged to be the likely site of the king's treasure house. Brandon-Smythe and Griffith both worked at the manual labour themselves. So did Jolly, who had, apparently, been in the Royal Engineers and was familiar with the business end of a shovel.

Jolly did his fair share of work, though he also did more than his fair share of complaining about the reduced number of natives to shoulder the burden. Of the men working in the exploratory trenches only Undigu could speak English so his increasingly offensive comments went over their heads, but eventually Griffiths rose in defence of the locals when he complained that this was work for them and not for white men.

"White men dug the canals and cut the ground for the railways and roads of England," he pointed out.

"Irish peasants," Jolly answered. "They're no better than these natives - lazy good for nothings without the lash of the taskmaster to keep them working."

Brandon-Smythe didn't do or say anything to dispute Jolly's racism, though he didn’t seem happy with the discussion.

Chrístõ was puzzled by Jolly. Brandon-Smythe's upper class indifference to anyone not of his own sort was understandable enough. He knew the sort among his father’s political and personal associates. But the only explanation for the working class soldier's attitude was an assumption that he was better than the natives simply because of skin colour. He needed somebody to be his inferior.

The argument faltered and the digging continued until close to eleven o'clock when it became too hot. The natives retreated to the shade of one of the ancient walls while the white men had their canvas cover. They ate cold roast goat and barley bread and there was gin and bottled tonic waters though no ice, of course. Chrístõ drank the tonic with a slice of lime and advised Davenport to do the same, avoiding alcohol so soon after a concussion.

They talked of archaeology over their lunch. The dig had thrown up some pottery shards with designs that seemed appropriate to the time of King Solomon. They were clearly on the right track and there was reason for optimism about the project.

Then Davenport drew their attention to a vulture that noisily circled overhead.

“That's the sixth I've seen in an hour. They’re hovering over that way...."

He waved towards the south east.

"If could be a dead animal," Griffiths suggested quite logically, but there was an uneasy feeling that was almost palpable.

"Undigu, come with me," Chrístõ decided. He picked up a rifle and checked it before handing it to the native. He himself brought a spade. Even if it was just a dead animal, the presence of the vultures was unnerving. Burying the carrion would disperse them.

But they hadn't walked more than a half an hour before they found two dead men.

"They’re the two who went missing overnight," Undigu said in a matter of fact way of somebody who had seen death before.

"The vultures have had a good feast," Chrístõ commented, noting that the eyes and other soft parts were already gone. "But there’s no obvious cause of death. They weren’t attacked. It wasn’t dehydration. They have full water skins and they hadn’t gone far enough, anyway. The only thing I can think is...."

He looked at what was left of the faces and shuddered.

"If I had to guess I’d say they died of fright."

Undigu nodded. It looked that way to him, too. Though what could do that to a man in the middle of a desert? A white man with a nervous disposition and an active imagination might work himself up to such a state, but not one who knew the territory.

Chrístõ would have liked to have done an autopsy, but there were no such facilities in the camp and it was just gone midday, after all.

"I’m going to bury them now," he said to Undigu. "When we go back to camp, I am going to tell everyone that we found a dead animal. I don’t want the "curse" rumour starting again."

"I understand," Undigu told him. "But let me dig the grave."

"Because white men shouldn’t dig?"

"Because I know their names."

"Good point," Chrístõ conceded. He handed over the spade and took the rifle in case anything bigger than a vulture approached.

He was not entirely sure he wasn’t looking out for something a rifle couldn’t stop. Unlike the other white men in the party he knew that demons did exist. Often they had other names, but he knew there were all sorts of things that did not conform to known physical laws - bullets didn’t kill them and walls would not hold them. Demons were as good a name as any for them.

And if there really was something of that supernatural kind in this desert valley, then he couldn't be sure if even he could fight it with all the intellectual and physical advantages he had over the humans he had come to know.

He couldn’t save them.

He wasn’t even sure he was supposed to save them.

The sombre deed was done without any disturbance other than the shriek of a departing vulture. Undigu murmured a prayer in his own language and religion for the souls of the two dead men then they made their way back to the camp. Chrístõ filled the silence by asking Undigu about his obvious education. He had been born and raised in Port Said, his father working in the civil service. His own chances of a professional career were wiped out along with his family during a cholera epidemic when he was fourteen. Destitute and homeless he made his way in more humble circumstances.

“It surprises the white men to have a native carrying baggage speak in grammatically correct sentences,” he said. “I used to try the pigeon English, but I kept forgetting all the time, so now I don’t disguise it. To certain men it makes no difference. They don’t listen to what I have to say anyway.”

Chrístõ nodded in sympathy for the hardworking and uncomplaining man. He wished he could see a better future for him in the political changes ahead for Egypt and Transjordan, but the reports stated that nobody came back from the Brandon-Smythe expedition. Of course, the ‘nobody’ referred to the white men, and perhaps nobody even counted the native workers, but that part of it all was depressingly uncertain.

There was excitement around the dig site when they arrived. Some eight feet down part of the exploratory trench had given way to a large subterranean room. Griffiths was just about to descend by rope.

"It’s the treasure room," he said. "Or at least the ante-chamber. I’m sure of it. I can’t believe we struck it with only half a day's work."

“Don’t count your chickens," Chrístõ warned him. "It might be nothing but an empty room."

"Even an empty room that used to be a treasure house is worth exploring," he answered in the true spirit of an archaeologist as he began to lower himself down. From above, the others saw the light of his battery operated torch and heard him exclaim in excitement about murals on the walls and the possibility of an inner chamber where the treasure might be.

Then the light went out and Griffith stopped calling.

“The air must be bad,” Brandon-Smythe exclaimed. “Pull him up.”

“There’s no weight on the line. He must have fallen,” Jolly replied. In proof, he and Undigu quickly pulled the empty rope back out of the hole.

“Stand out of the way,” Chrístõ told them. He took the rope and tied it around his waist. “When you hear me call, haul up quickly.”

“Don’t be insane, man,” Brandon-Smythe told him. “The air… you’ll end up the same.”

“I can hold my breath for a really incredibly long time,” he answered before dropping down on the rope.

He could hold his breath for about fifteen minutes, recycling his oxygen within his body, but there was no need. It was not a lack of oxygen or the presence of any other gas that had affected Griffith. The air was stale from being trapped for centuries but breathable.

The torch was smashed, but Griffith was relatively intact. He must only have fallen a short way. He was certainly concussed – the second such injury in as many days, Chrístõ reflected – but what caused the fall was a mystery, unless it was over excitement about the magnificent space that he had been the first to see since, perhaps, the days of Solomon.

The walls were at least fifty metres apart and they were covered in murals, some of them done with real gold paint. The still, hermetically sealed air had not dulled the sheen that the sonic screwdriver’s penlight mode now awoke. Only a thin layer of dust had covered the exquisite glass mosaic floor.

The walls, ceiling and floor were inscribed in Sanskrit, telling stories of the wisdom and greatness of Solomon. Pictures illustrated the stories, picked out in semi-precious stones. The one familiar to most bible readers – about the great king settling a dispute about a baby was prominent. Chrístõ smiled and remembered thinking when he first heard that story that a DNA test would have taken a few hours at most.

One of the other stories was obviously about the ring and its power over angels and demons. A life-size image of King Solomon with a ring shining on his outstretched hand illustrated the story, but he had no time to look at it closely. He needed to get Griffiths back up to the camp and his hospital tent.

He rigged the rope into a crude sling and fastened it around Griffiths. He called out and a few moments later the men above started to haul him up. He looked around a little more while he waited for the rope to be dropped back down to him. He read some more of the ancient mural texts and thought he understood part of the great mystery.

Brandon-Smythe shouted down to him to watch for the rope. As he did so, he felt a strange coldness wash over him. The adjective was completely appropriate. It felt like a tide of water engulfing him and with it came a fleeting but very real feeling of horror.

The sensation had barely passed when the rope dropped down, catching him on the shoulder and scaring him a second time before he gathered his senses and climbed quickly up to the bright, warm, open air.

His patient had already been carried to the hospital tent. He quickly went there with no other instruction except to prevent anyone else from going down into the ante-chamber. He only hoped that Brandon-Smythe would take notice of his warning and not try to do anything precipitous.

Riley Davenport followed him, offering what help he might render.

"I've got this covered," Chrístõ assured him. "There's a very bad concussion, but it shouldn’t cause any permanent damage."

"What do you think made him fall?" Davenport asked. "Do you think it was the same thing that happened to me?"

"He wasn't on a horse," Chrístõ pointed out.

"That's not what I meant. The fear... the sudden awful fear that I felt... could he have felt something like it?"

"No," Chrístõ answered, but Davenport looked at him so firmly he couldn't lie to him. "Yes, I think he might. There is something here. It was weaker when you fell, but now the trench is open and the mines are being explored its power and its anger is growing.”


“Something Brandon-Smythe doesn’t believe in, but the natives very definitely do. The natives are right, by the way. It is real. It is beyond human comprehension. Everything that has happened from your accident to the natives leaving, then the other two... and now Griffith's accident...."

"What about the other two natives?" Davenport asked, picking up on his slip of the tongue. "Has something happened to them? Why did you count them separately if they just left?"

He tried to lie, but Davenport read his face just too quickly once more.

"You found bodies in the desert, didn’t you?"

"There is no need for the others to know," Chrístõ said. "We have to keep everyone calm. "

But calm was becoming increasingly difficult outside the hospital tent. Brandon-Smythe ordered a new exploratory trench to be dug and he, with Jolly set to work on it. The native workers were reluctant and had to be shouted at and threatened with financial penalties before they would do anything. Slowly the afternoon turned to evening. Chrístõ tended to his two patients, checking Davenport’s broken arm and Griffith’s head injury regularly. He was worried that the latter had not yet woken and was becoming feverish. At least the medical kit was well stocked. He knew he could treat the symptoms with ordinary methods appropriate to the time and place.

Near sunset, with the light starting to fade, a commotion outside brought him outside to see a stretcher party bearing a body covered over with a sheet. Two brown feet in sandals stuck out to suggest it was a native worker who had suffered a fatal accident. Peterson, dusty and red faced, limping slightly and with blood on his shirt, stood by the stretcher as Chrístõ bent to make a preliminary examination.

"He looks as if something frightened him badly," he said, noting the expression on the dead man's face. He had seen the same expression twice, now - first on the two dead men in the desert and then on Griffith's face when he was at the bottom of the rope.

'What happened?" he asked.

"We were making our way down through the mine," Peterson answered. "It was long since played out, though there was the odd trace of copper ore to be seen. Copper, not gold, but just as valuable a metal then and now."

Chrístõ didn't care about the copper. He prompted Peterson to tell him what happened to the dead man.

"We came to a wide gallery. - as empty as any other, but it felt as if... as if...."

He struggled to describe how it had felt, murmuring about a sense of dread that overwhelmed him.

"We felt as if there was a wind coming from every direction, and yet there wasn't a wind. Our clothes weren’t ruffled. It was a wind without another. movement of the air if that's even possible.

"It shouldn’t be," Chrístõ answered. Not in ordinary circumstances. But here….”

“The native panicked. He tried to run, and fell down a partially hidden shaft. I tried to reach him, but I slipped and twisted my ankle. It was too late, anyway. He was dead. We retrieved the body and….”

His words were drowned by a terrible scream. Chrístõ turned in utter horror to see Griffith running from the hospital tent in a blind delirium. Undigu and O'Neill tried to restrain him, but he screamed all the louder and broke free of them before collapsing in a pathetic heap only a few paces later.

"Is he..." Davenport began as Chrístõ went to his side. He had run after Griffiths, too, but his own injury prevented him doing much to help.

"He's dead." Chrístõ closed the staring eyes and gently manipulated the jaw to disguise the expression of terror. "I think... the concussion combined with some kind of panic... the sudden movement… caused a haemorrhage of the brain. I'm sorry. I thought he was resting. I should have tried to restrain him."

Though it was early evening it would be humid for many hours, yet. It was necessary to bury both dead men very quickly. Brandon-Smythe insisted on two distinctly separate graves and two separate funerals. Undigu led the remaining workers in mourning their colleague while the white men stood beside Griffiths' grave.

The most affected by his death was O'Neill, who choked back tears for his friend, but Davenport took it personally, too.

"I liked Griffiths from the first time we met at the Royal Academy," he said. "It was his idea for me to come on this trip. He saw my pictures of the Stonehenge explorations and thought I could do a good job."

"He was a fine man," Brandon-Smythe admitted. "Despite an inherent emotionalism that doubtless stems from his celtic blood."

"What the hell are those bloody natives doing?" Jolly demanded as a sound rose above the quiet contemplation at the graveside. "Have they no sense of decorum?"

The natives were circling the camp, chanting and drawing symbols in the sand with long sticks at the cardinal points.

"They are trying to perform a counter charm to protect all of us," Chrístõ answered. "They believe it will keep the demon from us. Unfortunately it is probably already too late."

"Claptrap," Brandon-Smythe declared dismissively. "Heathen tosh. There's nothing out there and even if there was, I'd put my faith in a repeating rifle before mumbo jumbo like that."

"Ordinarily, I would agree," Peterson argued. "But, Ralph ... you weren’t down that mine. You didn't feel what I felt... The horror... the terrible, terrible horror."

"Get a grip, man," Brandon-Smythe replied scathingly. "Call yourself an Englishman? This is no way to behave on front if the natives."

"How do you explain the man who died down there, then?" Peterson demanded. "And what happened to Griffiths?"

"Who knows what frightens heathens?" Brandon-Smythe replied. "As for Griffiths... the heat got to him. I thought he was made of sterner stuff, but I was mistaken."

"There is something here," Chrístõ said quietly. "It has no name, and no form, but you might call it a demon. It is here to guard the Treasure of Solomon from plunderers. It has been exerting its influence since Davenport's horse stumbled. It disturbed the natives and those who knew the legend made their escape. We ought to have gone with them if we had any sense. Instead we stayed to explore, to pursue the treasure, and now two more men are dead. That ought to be warning enough."

"Poppycock!" Brandon-Smythe dismissed him at once. "And I thought YOU were an Englishman. Where are the backbones of this expedition?"

"The writing is on the wall," Chrístõ insisted. "The wall down there in the chamber. It warns against taking the ring that gives the power of god to mortals and promises that death awaits those who defy the warning."

Again Brandon-Smythe was dismissive. Peterson had questions, though. He had not yet heard of the chamber's amazing decoration. He was excited.

"Don’t go down there," Chrístõ told him. "It is dangerous. You can't...."

"The mines are a dead loss, just played out copper. It looks as if the chamber is the place. I HAVE to see it."

Chrístõ tried to dissuade him, but this was what he had lived for - the justification of his existence. He was determined to see the chamber for himself.

But at least Brandon-Smythe came down on his side this time. He was adamant that nobody else was going down to the ante-chamber this evening. Peterson, in any case, had a sprained ankle and was in no fit state to climb ropes.

"It’s my belief that those filthy scoundrels I dismissed last night are still around, waiting for a chance to murder us in our beds. We'll keep guard through the night and in the cold light of morning we'll consider how to continue the expedition with one man dead and the natives deserting like rats."

It was O'Neill who pointed out that a native had died along with Griffiths. This and other obvious points like the nature of Griffiths’ death - nothing at all to do with marauding heathens - was glossed over as if Brandon-Smythe's mind was incapable of processing the other concept.

Perhaps it wasn't. He was very certain of himself and of his position - and that of his empire - in the scheme of things. Demons didn’t fit that scheme.

A watch over the camp overnight was a good idea, at least. Whether asking Jolly and O'Neill to take the first quarter together was equally wise remained to be seen.

Chrístõ made Peterson sleep in the hospital tent. His foot was still bad and he might still be in shock. Davenport, too, was still under his care. The two injured men slept eventually and Chrístõ allowed himself the luxury of sleep knowing that competent men - even if they were politically opposed - were on duty.

It was a mistake. He realised that when he woke suddenly and realised that Peterson was gone.

He was scrambling into his boots when a dull explosion was followed by a flickering glow diffused by the canvas walls.

"What is it?" Davenport asked. He had been woken by the explosion and the eerie light.

"Nothing good," Chrístõ answered. He pressed a sharp knife into Davenport’s uninjured hand in case he needed to defend himself and then quickly headed out, his boots still unlaced. He was worried that a knife was no protection against a non -corporeal foe, but at least if Brandon-Smythe was right about treacherous natives than it might just help.

The glow was from Brandon-Smythe's burning tent. A ghastly shape within the flames showed that he had no chance of escape.

O'Neill was pulling Jolly away from the flames, assuring him it was too late to do anything.

"Where did Peterson go?" Chrístõ asked them.

"To the trench," O'Neill answered. "About a half hour ago. He said he had to find out if the ring was real."

"And that's when all this happened.?"

"There was a wind... that wasn’t a wind... and Brandon-Smythe started yelling and thrashing about in his tent. I think he must have knocked over the kerosene lamp. He never stood a chance. All the natives have run off, of course. All except Undigu. He went after Peterson."

"All right," Chrístõ sighed. "Keep up your watch by the hospital tent. I'm going to see if either of them is still alive."

He raced away towards the dig site. The glow of a lamp far below indicated the hole. Chrístõ swung down quickly and landed on the chamber.

by the sealed way on to what may well be a treasure room, though none of the members of this expedition was going to find out, Undigu was bending over Peterson's body, murmuring a prayer in his own language to the deity Christians called God and Muslims like Undigu called Allah.

"He died of fright," Undigu said. "The demon took hold of him and his own fears killed him."

"I believe you," Chrístõ answered. He reached out to Peterson's hand. He was clutching something small.

It was a ring. There was plaster dust stuck to the pure gold signet. Chrístõ looked up at the life-size image of King Solomon. A hole in his hand showed where Peterson had wrenched the ring out.

"I’m sorry it didn’t bring you the peace you longed for," Chrístõ told the still form of the troubled man as he took the ring from him.

"Sir...." Undigu's voice had and urgent tone. He pointed to the small ring hole and to the wider gaps around the edges of a door set invisibly into the wall. Sand was pouring through. The wall was starting to bulge and crumble against the weight of a deluge behind it.

"Out, quick," he told Undigu, who lost no time reaching for the rope and shimmying up it. Chrístõ followed him quickly and both were relieved to reach the open air.

But terrible thongs had been happening under the stars. outside the hospital tent both O'Neill and Jolly were dead. The two foes had stood back to back and expended all their ammunition before being overcome by something bullets wouldn't hold back.

"It’s still here, " Davenport said, standing at the tent entrance, his sling hanging off his arm and his shirt torn. "It’s just gathering breath. Those two were strong. They supported each other until the demon finally wore them down. But in a minute it will be back for us."

"I’m ready for it, " Chrístõ said. "Come closer. Undigu... I need one of those circles, quickly... and your best counter chant."

Undigu did as he suggested. Davenport whispered the twenty-third psalm in counterpoint to the Muslim prayer. Chrístõ put the ancient ring on his finger and asked Rassilon for strength in this moment of need.

Whether he got it or not he wasn't quite sure, but he felt the wave of horror washing over him. He felt the presence of something without mortal body and tasked with an immortal duty.

"I understand," he called out. "Really I do. I understand. But let me take these two away and I promise none of us will ever come back."

Around him the sand was moving as if it was a wave of water. It was coming up from the chamber that was now filled and the material still coming. It was up to their ankles and could well go higher, yet. If the guardian of the treasure did not relent they would be buried alive.

But he felt the pressure slacken. He was wearing the ring that commanded demons and the demon accepted his request.

"Come on, now," Chrístõ said. "Move, quickly. Untie the horses from their pickets and bring them."

The terrified horses ran ahead of them up the slope away from the encroaching sand. At the top of the rise Undigu did his best to calm the frightened, sweat lathered animals.

Chrístõ turned and took the ring from his finger. He hurled it as far as he could into the sand that had now engulfed the camp, leaving no trace of it. Desert winds capable of scouring the flesh from the bones of animals would eventually do its own excavation, scattering every fragment of evidence of what had happened across the desert.

When the horses were calm enough Undigu mounted one. Chrístõ took another with Davenport riding pillion, holding on with his good arm. They had no food or water, but they had every chance of reaching the nearest oasis by sun up.

This they did. They drank water and ate dates from the palm trees and rested on their shade for the best part of the day. They talked a little of what had happened, but more of what would happen next.

"What will happen," Chrístõ said decisively. "Is that you will take all the horses at daybreak and head for the closest place you can get a good price for them. They are your payment for your efforts, with my thanks. I think it would be wise to stay away from Port Said and any investigation into the disappearance of the Brandon-Smythe expedition. That money should be enough to keep a low profile with."

"Yes. But what about the two of you?"

"I have my own transport," Chrístõ answered. "We’re going to be fine."

Undigu left at first light with plenty of water and enough dates to be sick and tired of them by the time he found a village with other food available. Chrístõ hoped he and Davenport wouldn’t need to eat them for more than just breakfast. He had sent an emergency transponder signal to his TARDIS which was somewhere within about eighty miles of the oasis. He just had to wait for it to get here.

Meanwhile he told Davenport the truth about himself. Davenport was too exhausted mentally and physically to disbelieve him. When the TARDIS arrived, within the hour, he accepted it without question.

"You're dead according to history," he told him. "I can’t just take you back to England. I'm thinking of Beta Delta. It’s a colony system. New people come all the time. I’ll arrange the paperwork for you to stay. The governor owes me a couple of favours. You can lodge with my friend Cal until you find your feet."

"You're taking me to another planet?"

"In another century. One that is, incidentally, enlightened in one very important way for you. I’m not saying getting it wrong won’t get you punched in the face, but when you find the right man for you, twenty-fourth century laws allow you to get married and live as happily ever after as you choose to be.”

That was the most difficult thing for Davenport to believe about the whole startling situation. Chrístõ left him to think about it by himself while he plotted a course to Beta Delta. He was still shocked by the sudden and deadly turn of events and the deaths of people he had come to like, but he had survived, and so had two of those people, at least. After settling Davenport in with Cal he might go take Julia out to dinner, and then the universe had plenty of new challenges for him.