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Today you can read the first chapter of @EvaEEHa new Book “The Stone Of The Mummy King”
The Stubbornness of Women
“Wu groaned as quietly as possible and rubbed his eyes. Reading by candlelight became a challenge after a few hours of peering intently at the old scriptures. He had bent over a little too low over the historical book he was studying and his back hurt from sitting motionless the entire time. Slowly and very carefully, he straightened himself and looked around the room. The huge library in the venerable halls of Ninjago University was almost deserted at this late hour. He squinted to make out the hands on the large clock which was hanging on the western wall in the gloomy light. It was almost nine o‘clock in the evening. The library would close soon and he needed to catch the last omnibus to Yamagita, so he would not have to walk all the way to the monastery on foot, in the middle of the night……”
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Wu groaned as quietly as possible and rubbed his eyes. Reading by candlelight became a challenge after a few hours of peering intently at the old scriptures. He had bent over a little too low over the historical book he was studying and his back hurt from sitting motionless the entire time. Slowly and very carefully, he straightened himself and looked around the room. The huge library in the venerable halls of Ninjago University was almost deserted at this late hour. He squinted to make out the hands on the large clock which was hanging on the western wall in the gloomy light. It was almost nine o‘clock in the evening. The library would close soon and he needed to catch the last omnibus to Yamagita, so he would not have to walk all the way to the monastery on foot, in the middle of the night.
To his great surprise, he noticed he was not alone in the room. Two tables ahead, another figure sat bent over an ancient book, engrossed in the research of times past. Wu studied the young woman for a moment. She seemed completely lost in her reading and her lips moved slightly as her eyes followed the words on the page. She must be from a good family, Wu thought, if her elegant foam green daydress, elaborate hairstyle and exquisite jewelly were any indication. Probably a rich merchant‘s daughter, or the young wife of a feudal lord. The only thing he did not understand was why she was allowed to spend time alone at a deserted library at this hour, unchaperoned, no less. He looked around for a companion or officious footman lurking in the shadows, waiting for their mistress to finish her reading, but could not see anyone. By the looks of it, they were the only people left in the building, aside from the night guard, who had fallen asleep in his chair near the entrance hours ago.
Wu tore his his gaze away from the young woman and sighed. Whatever her reasons for being here at this hour, it really was none of his business.
He tried to focus on the words in front of him once more, but the letters started to dance before his eyes. Maybe he should call it a night. Unvoluntarily, his gaze flicked to the woman again. She was actually quite attractive, he thought, with her long brown hair, pinned up in a complicated updo style – definitely done by a maid -, her full, rosy lips, long lashes and smooth skin. Her delicate hands traced the words on the manuscript as she was reading and Wu thought he detected a faint scent of lilacs in the air. That most definitely did not originate from the burly nightguard.
As if she had sensed his gaze on her, the woman‘s head suddenly jerked up and their eyes met. To his horror, Wu realised he had been caught staring and hastily closed the book on his desk, then started to gather up the sheets of paper containing his notes. He could not be certain, but he thought he heard her chuckle softly over the rustle of the papers. Deliberately avoiding to look at the young woman again, he got up quickly to return the book to the cart and make a beeline for the exit. But as soon as he had placed the old book onto the wheeled cart, his conscience kicked in and he felt obliged to ask her if she needed an escort, at least up to the next bus stop or respecatble area. Couldn‘t let this young lady walk around the city at night all by herself, could he? With another sigh, he retraced his steps and approched his fellow history enthusiast. When she did not look up from her book, Wu cleared his throat. The scent of lilacs had intensified and, paired with the exposed line of her neck, threatened to dull his senses.
“Excuse me, miss…?”, he tried.
The woman raised her head and studied his face with an expression that had settled somewhere between surpise, annoyance and amusement. Wu risked a glance at the open book in front of her. His eyebrows shot up in wonder.
“What are you reading?“, he asked, as casually as he could muster, although he was pretty sure he already knew what it was.
One corner of her mouth kicked up in a half-smile. She appeared to gauge whether he was someone worth talking to. Then her features softened and her eyes took on a mischievous gleam.
“The lost city of Khem K’mar,” she said and her tone indicated that she was quite excited about the topic.
Wu’s eyes went wide. So he had been right. “Ahemhotep?”, he said on a breath.
The young woman nodded eagerly. “The Mummy King,” she announced in a husky voice, as if it was a great secret. Or rather a curse, that better not be uttered at all.
The embarrassement of his earlier faux pas completely forgotten, he pulled up a chair and let himself drop down on the opposite side of her desk. “Why are you reading up on the legend of the Mummy King?” Now his own excitement bubbled to the surface.
The woman opened her mouth to speak, but closed it again, as if she had thought better of it. She raised her nose and sniffed. “I can’t tell you that.” Her eyes flicked across the room, searching for any signs of an uninvited audience. Her comment caught him by surprise.
“Why not?”, he asked and watched her gathering up the books on her desk into a small pile. She seemed to consider his question, then finally answered.
“Well, if you must know, I am trying to apply for membership with the Explorer’s Club,” she said haughtily, straightening her back even further.
Wu tried to stifle his laughter, in a hopeless attempt to mask it with a cough, but it was already too late. The fierce look on Misako‘s face told him that she was not amused at all. Wu felt somewhat intimidated by her accusatory glare and bit his tongue. He decided to try a more cautious approach instead.
“B-but isn’t that a… you know… men-only kind of club?”, he tried. The sound of her fist crashing onto the wooden table top made him jump. As if stung by a bee, she leapt up from her chair.
“Those blabbering, backward idiots!”, she exclaimed with a vehemence that made Wu shrink back even further in his seat. She started pacing. “Obnoxious, conceited fossiles! How dare they judge me like that! Looking down at me, mocking me? Treating me like some second-class imbecile. Bah!” She jerked her head to the side, shaking off an invisible strain of hair from her face. She drew a long, deliberate breath before she continued. “I am an educated woman.” For emphasis, she stabbed the pile of books with her hand like a dagger. Probably what she wanted to do with the Honorable Chaiman’s heart, Wu presumed. The Explorer’s Club was the most conservative Men’s Club he had ever heard of. Not in a million years would they be coaxed into letting a woman join their ranks. No matter how attractive she was.
Yes, that’s what he meant.
No matter how educated she was.
Confused by his own thoughts, he stood up and joined her on the other side of the desk.
“Please calm down, miss… I’m sorry, I haven’t had the pleasure of catching your name, yet,” he said sheepishly.
She hesitated, then said, “Montgomery. Misako Montgomery.”
Montgomery? Like the ship owner? So she was, indeed, a wealthy merchant’s daughter. Recalling his manners, Wu bowed slightly and murmured, “Delighted to make your acquaintance, Miss Montgomery.”
She puffed out air between her lips. “Please – Miss Montgomery is my older sister.” By the way she emphasised the word ‘older’, Wu assumed they were not getting along all too well. Short of an eye roll, she could not have been clearer. “Call me Misako, if you will,” she added.
Wu could not stop a smirk from breaking free. This young woman was a bit of a rebel, it seemed. It certainly explained a lot.
“Charmed,” he said.
Had no idea where to go from there.
In between his studies, training with the Masters of the Elemental Alliance, keeping his brother in check and regular retreats into meditative silence, Wu did not have time for socialising with the ladies, much less well situated ones. He was a penniless ninja, albeit one of noble heritage.
Alas, people were not too interested in the legend that had been his father these days. Society had moved on from the phase of adoration and worship of the First Spinjitzu Master and turned their focus on other idols instead. The creator of this realm and the Masters of the Elements had been pushed back into a dark and dusty corner of people’s minds.
That might change, however, if the increasing unrest among the snake tribes became a threat at some point, Wu thought. So far, he had only heard rumours about single incidents in the rural areas of the region.
Misako’s words propelled him out of his sinister thoughts.
“Are you a secret agent,” she asked, and her annoyance was written all over her face. She had her arms crossed and impatiently tapped a foot on the parquet floor. It was clearly meant as a reproach because he had failed to introduce himself.
“Please forgive me,” Wu said quickly, bowing again, “my name is Wu. I am… just Wu.” He had been about to say, ‘the son of the First Spinjitzu Master’, but had thought better of it. Misako chortled.
“So, tell me, Just-Wu, what do you know about the fabled Mummy King?”
Wu was about to answer, when suddenly the night guard appeared beside them. Usually very perceptive, Wu had completely failed to notice the man’s footfalls on the wooden floor while chatting up Misako. He even jumped a little when the guard addressed them.
“My apologies, I’m afraid I have to ask you to leave, we are closing for the night. Please feel free to return tomorrow at 09:00 hrs to continue your studies,” the guard offered politely. A stolen glimpse at his pocket watch betrayed his impatience to call it a night.
Still rattled by the unwelcome interruption, Wu straightened himself to his full height and offered Misako his arm. “May I escort you home, Misako?” Involuntarily, he held his breath waiting for her answer.
To his great satisfaction, Misako took his arm and smiled. “It would be my pleasure,” she said, then added, “let’s get out of here,” with a wink. Once again, Wu admired her long lashes, then walked her out of the building. The night was balmy and the cicadas were chirping their nocturnal song. High above their heads, the stars twinkled silently in the ink black sky.
“What a beautiful night,” Misako said dreamily, then immediately picked up their conversation where they had left off earlier, all on the same breath. “Come on,” she nudged him with her elbow, “what do you know about the Mummy King?”
Wu could not help but smile at her enthusiasm. He consulted his memory as they walked on. “Well, I know the legend, of course, nothing much. Ahemhotep was the king of the Khem’ka, a desert tribe of sun worshippers, about two thousand years ago,” Wu began. He had come across the legend several times during his research of ancient cultures and religions. His father had never grown tired of reminding him and his brother Garmadon, that the study of the past was the key to the future. From his early youth onwards, Wu had been reading as many historical texts as possible, to please his father and learn as much as he could about the once great, but lost civilisations. “The king ruled over his people with an iron hand and had them build an enormous palace for him, right in the middle of the desert. The legend says he ruled a hundred years. He had a full life. But when his time came, he refused to part from this world.”
Misako nodded eagerly and her eyes shimmered in the dark, reflecting her excitement. “He was a sorcerer, of the dark forces. He practiced dark magic openly because no one dared oppose him or criticise his methods.” She shuddered, but Wu could not decide whether it was out of discomfort or zeal. “He used an artefact to prevent his own death, and as he desperately wished to keep his status as king of his tribe, he cursed his entire retinue and all of his subjects, so he could rule over them for all eternity.” Misako looked up and down the street, as if to make sure that no one was about to overhear their conversation. “Alas, the curse turned them all into Mummies. Can you imagine? It must have been such a gruesome sight! Their souls were trapped inside a body that was neither dead, nor alive, preserved until the end of time…” Her voice trailed off and she shuddered.
Wu nodded. “Yes, I have read about the curse in an ancient scroll.” He raised a critical eyebrow. “But it’s now part of a private collection, if I recall correctly.”
Misako clicked her tongue and waved him off. “Sir Reginald is a friend of my father’s. We used to visit for tea regularly and it was terribly boring. I liked to sneak away from the tea party and slip into his private library to study the old books in his collection when no one was looking.” She briefly closed her eyes and lifted her shoulders, as she drew in a delicious breath. “Ah, that’s probably where I hopelessly fell in love.”
Wu’s face fell. “I-in love?”, he stammered.
“With books, of course!” She chuckled.
“Oh… I see.” Wu felt his cheeks burn and was glad that it was probably too dark for her to notice. “Of course.” His mind raced as he frantically searched it for a way to steer the conversation back on track. “The artefact, have you come across any more detailed information about it?”, he asked, now truly curious. Her mischievous smile told him that she had.
“It’s a stone. A gemstone. The ancient scripture was almost illegible, but from what I could gather, the stone was ‘as black as the deepest night’ and streaked with some sort of purple quartz crystal. He was wearing it in his crown. Isn’t that exciting?” Now she was bobbing on the tips of her feet. Wu had to restrain himself not to do the same. This was exciting news, indeed. A detailed description like that indicated that there might be more than just a kernel of truth to the legend after all. Could it be possible that she was onto something?
“If that’s true, the Stone of the Mummy King might be one of the most sensational archaeological finds of the century!”, he cried out.
Misako squared her shoulders. “And that’s exactly why intend to steal it,” she said, with an enormous portion of swagger. Her words made Wu stop dead in his tracks.
“Excuse me?” He must have misunderstood her meaning.
Misako shrugged. “If I want those backward, misogynistic dinosaurs at the Club to take me seriously as an archaeologist, I need to ovewhelm them with something extraordinary,” she said, matter-of-factly.
Wu could hardly believe what he was hearing. “Are you insane?”, he blurted out. Quickly bit his lip to stifle the outburst.
Misako thrust her chin forward. “Not at all,” she said snippily. “I am going to travel to the Sea of Sand, find the location of the lost palace, dig the mummy out, snatch the artefact and march straight into the venerable halls of the Explorer’s Club to present it to these idiots. With the Stone of the Mummy King in my possession, they have no choice but to grant me membership to their stupid little club!”
Wu stared at Misako for a moment, unsure whether to declare her mad or deeply admire her passionate spirit. Her cheeks were flushed and her chest heaved with her heavy breathing. She was actually serious, no doubt about it. Wu deliberated this for a moment, then chose his next words very carefully.
“Misako… I truly admire your spirit… But an expedition like that is incredibly dangerous. You cannot just breeze into the Sea of Sand and start digging with your little trowel. That’s Serpentine territory, for the Spirit’s sake! That put aside for a moment, you need to get there in the first place. There’s a good patch of jungle you need to cross, with all kinds of dangers lurking in the shadows. And if, by any divine miracle, you actually manage to arrive there safely, how would you even know where to dig? It’s madness, madness I say!”
She sniffed. “That doesn’t scare me. I will find a way. My father owns dozens of boats. I will simply commandeer one and travel along the Hina River,” she said haughtily.
Forgetting his manners, Wu rolled his eyes. This woman was crazy. “Misako, please, be reasonable. You have neither the experience, nor the training or stamina for such a venture. You would not even last to reach the desert to begin with,” he said bluntly, his voice louder than he had intended.
Misako narrowed her gaze and thrust her fists into her hips. “Oh, really? Ha! You don’t know me at all, mister. Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed about being an explorer. I have studied maps, ancient scriptures and dusty old books relentlessly. I am fluent in six dead languages and I can write three kinds of hieroglyphs without needing a reference.” She stabbed his chest with her right hand. “So don’t tell me what I can or can’t do. I am going on that adventure, whether you’re helping me or not!”
Helping her? Who ever said anything about helping her?
Wu lifted both of his hands in a defensive gesture. “Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait a second… When did I get invited to that particular adventure?”
Misako crossed her arms over her chest. “Well, it doesn’t matter now, since you just got yourself un-invited,” she fumed.
Wu mirrored her defensive pose. “I did now, didn’t I? You know what, that’s fine with me. I would never go on a stupid venture like that, with a madwoman, no less!”
“Fine!”, she spat.
“Fine!”, he spat back.
“Fine.” She paused to take a breath. “I am going anyway.”
“Good for you.”
She glared at him, then turned around on her heel and walked off. “Have a nice life,” she said, without gracing him with so much as a backwards glance.
“I will! Enjoy yours while it lasts,” he added sarcastically, but immediately felt a pinch of guilt in his gut. He stood there for a moment, as if rooted to the spot, and watched her silhouette retreat. Slowly, he shook his head in disbelief.
The subbornness of women was unparallelled.
Was she really planning to go through with it, he wondered.
Not a chance.
Her father would never allow it.
He had an inkling, however, that she did not intend to involve him in her decision.
And also brave.
Part of him admired her for it.
But she was crazy.
And hard to forget.
Still shaking his head, Wu turned around and walked back the way they had come. He had missed the last omnibus and would have to wait in the pub until dawn, then start his journey back home to the monastery in the morning.
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