Gale looked at the ground, running a hand through her hair. “Julian says, well, they all say it, that you’re this great hero.”
“I guess I am,” Brian said. He smiled. “But I don’t have a clue how that could have happened. God playing dice with the universe or something, and He rolled craps.”
Gale held his gaze. “No, I don’t think so. I don’t think it was a mistake.”
“Like I said, I don’t feel like the same person anymore.”
“Well, whoever you are now, you seem like a nice guy.”
“I guess I’d have to be,” Brian said. “Sir Galahad, right? Mister pure of heart. Or a reasonable facsimile.”
“I bet you were always that way,” Gale said. “Had a good heart, I mean. Or you wouldn’t have been, what? Chosen?”
“Maybe,” Brian said. He looked away, up at the sky. Those same dark clouds refused to abandon the horizon. If anything, they’d grown more threatening in the light of morning. Out of the corner of his eye, Brian saw Julian standing some distance away. He wondered how long he had been standing there.
“Please excuse my interruption,” Julian said, walking over. “But I have a gift for you, Brian.” Julian carried underneath one arm what appeared to Brian to be a small mummy.
“But do I want it?” Brian said.
Some two feet long and cylindrical, the bandaged package had been decorated with colorful hieroglyphs. It looked like the mummies Brian remembered seeing in various museums, but smaller. Brian recalled that the ancient Egyptians were known to embalm certain animals. The other alternative, that the bundle contained the remains of a small child, struck him as too distasteful to entertain.
“I have been waiting a long time to do this,” Julian said. “To present this to you.” He placed the bundle in Brian’s lap with a bow.
“Look, man, I asked you to stop that crap,” Brian said. “Ever since I got here, you’ve been acting like I’m some sort of demigod or something. I’m not, so knock off the royal treatment, okay?”
Julian grinned. “A lifetime of psychological conditioning has warped me, I’m afraid. I am sorry if I’ve made you uncomfortable, Brian.”
“It’s cool,” Brian said. “But please, no more bowing.”
“I shall try to refrain,” Julian said. He pulled a knife from its sheath at his belt. “Here. Open it.”
“What is it?” Brian asked.
“Uh-uh. No way am I unwrapping this thing until you tell me what it is.”
Julian laughed. “It was recovered from the desert some years ago, near the time of your birth. It is meant for you.”
“Open it,” Gale said. “See what it is.”
“You, too?” Brian said. “Okay, fine.”
The bandages cut with ease. Brian split the bundle like a loaf of bread. The bandages covered an interior of soft leather, soaked in some sort of aromatic liquid.
“It smells like cooked ham,” Gale said.
“Clove oil,” Julian said. “Among other rare spices.”
Brian pulled the mummified package open. The sun glinted off the ornate hilt and polished blade of a strange sword, of curious shape and decorated with runes and glyphs.
“It’s Egyptian,” Gale said.
“Why, yes,” Julian said. “You recognize the design, Doctor.”
“It’s pretty,” Gale said.
Brian reached for the hilt, then jerked his hand away. “It moved!”
Julian grinned. “It is eager to greet you,” he said. “Perhaps, like me, a bit over-eager.”
“You mean it’s alive?” Gale said.
“I’m not touching it,” Brian said. “I don’t like inanimate objects that aren’t inanimate.”
“But it is your own,” Julian said. “Please, try it.”
Brian frowned at him. He touched the ebony hilt and it jumped into his grasp. Brian pulled it free, held it aloft. A musical whine seemed to emanate from the sword.
Gale gasped. “It’s singing!”
“It’s warm,” Brian said.
“The sword of the last of the Shemsu-Ra,” Julian said. “Capable of rending flesh and, in the proper hands—your hands, Brian—it can also wound the beings of the spiritual realms. Its edge can sever the connection of the Darkness to this world, and send the avatar to join his unholy Master in Hell.”
“The avatar?” Brian said, playing with the weapon, waving it back and forth.
“The pawn of the Darkness in this world,” Julian said. “A man named…”
“Selivanov,” Gale said. She looked at Brian. “Of course. You’re here to stop Selivanov.”