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By:Anna Hackett
Chapter One

She was hot, dusty, and she’d never felt better.

Dr. Layne Rush walked across her dig, her boots sinking into the hot Egyptian sand. Ahead, she saw her team of archeologists and students kneeling over the new section of the dig, dusting sand away with brushes and small spades, methodically uncovering a recently discovered burial ground.

To her left, the yawning hole in the ground where they’d started the dig was like a large mouth, ringed on one side by a wooden scaffold.

In there, below the sands, was a fantastic tomb, and Layne was only beginning to unravel its secrets.

She paused and drew in a breath of warm desert air. To the east lay the Nile, the lifeblood of Egypt. She swiveled and watched the red-orange orb of the sun sinking into the Western Desert sands. All around, the dunes glowed. It made her think of gold.

Excitement was a hit to her bloodstream. Only days ago, they’d discovered some stunning golden artifacts down in the excavation. She’d found the first one—a small ushabti funerary figurine that would have been placed there to serve the tomb’s as-yet-unknown occupant in the afterlife. After that, her team had discovered jewelry, a golden scarab, and a small amulet of a dog-like animal.

Stars started appearing in the sky, like tiny pinpricks of light through velvet. She breathed in again. The most exciting thing was the strange inscriptions carved into the dog amulet.

They had mentioned Zerzura.

Oh, Layne really wanted to believe Zerzura existed—a fabulous lost oasis in the desert, filled with treasure. She smiled as she watched the night darkness shroud the dunes. Her parents had read her bedtime stories of Zerzura as a child.

Thoughts of her parents, and the hard punch of grief that followed, made Layne’s smile disappear. Unfortunately, life had taught her that fairytales didn’t exist.

She shook off the melancholy. She’d made a life for herself, a career, and spent most of her time off on adventures on remote dig sites. She’d held treasures in her hands. She shared her love of history with anyone who’d listen. She hoped that if her mom and dad were still alive, they’d be proud of what she’d achieved.

Layne made her way toward the large square tents set up for dealing with the artifacts. One was for storage and one for study.

“Hey, Dr. Rush.”

Layne spotted her assistant, Piper Ross, trudging up the dune toward her. The young woman was smart, opinionated, and not afraid to speak her mind. Her dark hair was cut short, the tips colored purple.

“Hi, Piper.”

The young woman grinned. “Give you a whip and you’d look like something out of a movie.” Piper swept a palm through the air. “Dr. Rush, dashing female adventurer.”

Layne rolled her eyes. “Don’t start. I still haven’t lived down that last interview I did.” What Layne had thought was a serious article on archeology had morphed into a story that turned her into a damned movie character. They’d even Photoshopped a whip in her hand and a hat on her head. “How’s that new eastern quadrant coming along?”

“Excellent.” Piper stopped, swiping her arm across her sweaty forehead. “I’ve got it all documented and photographed, and the tape laid out. We’re ready to start digging tomorrow morning.”

“Well done.” Layne was hoping the new area would yield some excellent finds.

“Well, I am insanely good at my job—that’s why you hired me, remember?” Piper grinned.

Layne tapped her chin. “Was that it? I thought it was because you kept me in a constant supply of Diet Coke and chocolate.”

Piper snorted. “Here they call it Coke Light, remember?”

Layne screwed up her nose. “I remember. The damn stuff doesn’t taste the same.”

“Yes, you really have to suffer out here on these remote digs.”

“Can the sarcasm, Ross. Or I might forget why I keep you around.”

Piper laughed. “A few of us are heading into Dakhla for the evening. Want to come?”

Dakhla Oasis was a two-hour drive north-east of the dig site. A group of communities, including the main town of Mut, were centered on the oasis. It was also where most of their local workers came from, and where they got their supplies.

Layne shook her head. “No, but thanks for the offer. I want to spend a bit more time on the artifacts we found, and take another look at the tomb plans. The main burial chamber and sarcophagus have to be in there somewhere.”

“Unless grave robbers got to it,” Piper suggested.

Layne shook her head. “When that local boy discovered this place it was clearly undisturbed.” In between the discovery that had made headlines and her university being awarded the right to dig, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities had kept tight security on the place. She knew the Ministry would have preferred to run the dig themselves, but they just didn’t have the funding to run every dig in the country. “I’m going to find out who’s buried here, Piper.”