DISCLAIMER: This is an original work, all copyright reserved, 2009.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many thanks to Chris K. for giving me the idea and pushing me through the writing. No story is complete without work by a beta reader, and she's one of the best. Halloween Comments are more than appreciated. I may not respond to all of them, but I will try. You can reach me at corliss.r@gmail.com.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

LA Riddles
By Shadowriter


Part Two

As Sher and Tara packed a bag for each of them, Steve wandered around the apartment. He couldn't help but see the signs of destruction, from the missing end table he'd seen Sher break, to the scratches in the kitchen counter, to the walls that were missing patches of drywall or had holes punched clear through to the other side.

While most of it could have been done by someone in a temper, it was the scratches that startled him. They were in the exact pattern as fingernails, but how fingernails could score through a hardened formica countertop, he didn't know.

Tara found him in the kitchen, a glass of water in one hand, while his fingers traced the marks, feeling their depth, realizing the power and force behind such a grip.

"You okay?"

He turned quickly, almost embarrassed at his surprise. "Yeah, fine." Unable to stop himself, he glanced back down at the scratches. "Was that -- um --"

"Sher? Yes." Tara opened the refrigerator. "I brought up the cooler from the garage. There's plenty of ice and we can take stuff for sandwiches, and fruit and soda. Sound like a plan?"

"Absolutely." With a final look at the counter, Steve shook himself and moved to her side. "We should make a bag for fresh ice, and then just dump the rest into the cooler."

"Great. I left the cooler in the hall. Can you get it? I'll find the bag and start with that."

"Sure." Putting his glass of water on the small table, he took a step towards the door. Tara's hand on his back stopped him. "Yeah?"

"Steve, thanks." She fidgeted a little, looking away before meeting his gaze. "Whatever may happen, it's a better chance than we had. Thank you for that."

"You're welcome." He smiled and reached back to squeeze her hand before letting go and leaving the kitchen.

The long drive was mostly quiet. Tara rode in the front with Steve, while Sher crashed in the back seat. Every hour Tara's watch would beep a warning, and she'd open a bottle and hand several pills to Sher, who would down them with whatever liquid was handy. They never really put her to sleep, but she remained calm, content to watch the scenery and listen to the music, the monotony broken only by occasional conversation.

The sports car was a little cramped, but none of them had packed overly much, and the cooler had fit neatly behind the front seat, giving Sher a place to put her feet up if she wanted. Besides that, it gave a smooth ride, and Steve easily wove it through the traffic on the I-5 as they headed north.

Following the directions Steve had printed, they found the University about seven-thirty that night and their hotel shortly after that. Taking Sher's warnings seriously, and remembering the destruction he'd seen, Steve had agree that a regular motel wouldn't be appropriate. Instead, they were staying at Canyon Lodge on the edge of the Claremont Canyon Preserve. Beside the lodge were a number of cabins, all separate from each other, but only a short walk to the main building. Tara agreed that they seemed a little more private, and she requested the furthest one from the lodge.

Once settled into Cabin D16, Steve suggested a steak house for dinner but was quickly vetoed by Tara. Instead, they sent him to pick up food from a Chinese restaurant, with Tara calling the order in so he wouldn't have to wait. Before he could argue, she ordered a teriyaki chicken plate for Steve, while keeping to vegetarian for herself and Sher.

When she hung up the phone, he opened his mouth, a slightly outraged look on his face. Holding up a hand, Tara glanced to one of the queen size beds where a lethargic Sher calmly flipped channels.

"Sphinxes are meat eaters. We don't want to encourage bad behavior."

It sounded for all the world like Tara was talking about a naughty child, but the image of the scratches he'd seen leaped to mind, and Steve simply nodded. Chicken wasn't so bad, after all.

Unlike most exhibits from ancient Egypt, the Lathrop collection held no large statuary. The only collossal faces that stared down in royal glory came from tapestries that were hung about the library. The items from the collection were small enough to be presented in glass cabinets that lined the walls along the front area of the library. 

Even without giant statues, the exhibit was impressive. Barnaby Lathrop had chosen his items for their shine, or their rare beauty, and gold gleamed throughout the room. Even simple objects such as a comb were inlaid with faience or had a gem inset, or were covered in gold leaf.

Steve let Tara and Sher get well ahead of him as he took his time looking at some of the items. Unknown to the others, he had memorized the list of pieces his grandfather had been forced to return. He checked several off his mental list; there was a small stringed instrument with golden hieroglyphs, as well as a necklace with a lion's head pendant and a golden amulet in the form of the eye of Horus.

What he didn't see was the one small statue Lathrop had spirited across the ocean. It had sat in his grandfather's den, suddenly disappearing when Steve was still a small boy.

Nor was there an alabaster jar like the plastic one he'd found.

Sher seemed to be lost in her own pensive thoughts, whether memories or not, Steve couldn't be sure. Her hands at times reached out to the glass, as if to take hold of the items inside. When the glass stopped her, she frowned, laying her palms flat on the surface and staring for a moment more before moving on.

Tara had left her partner to wander and had walked through the collection. She came back to Steve now with a frown.

"It's not here."

"So I'd gathered. Has Sher noticed?"

With a sigh, Tara shook her head, turning a little to keep her partner in view. "I don't think so. She took a few extra pills, just in case . . . "

Steve said nothing. He'd seen the handful of pills that counted as 'a few extra'.

Hands in pockets, he glanced around. "Well, I can tell you this. Several of the items loaned to my grandfather aren't here, so I'm hoping they have them in back. I'm going to find a curator or librarian or something. Stay with Sher, okay?"

"All right."

He found the person he was looking for at an information desk. Wearing a name tag that identified her as 'Kathleen', she was reading a book on hieroglyphics while making notes on a pad next to her. As Steve approached, she looked up with a smile.

"Can I help you?"

Steve blinked for a moment, surprised to find himself staring into her warm brown eyes. After a moment he caught himself and glanced down, hoping she hadn't noticed. When he brought his gaze back up to hers, her smile said she'd noticed, but wasn't offended.

"Hi. I'm hoping you can help me. Is this the entire Lathrop collection?"

"Well, no, but these are the traditional pieces always shown to the public. There are a few items we didn't have space for here in the exhibit room."

Swallowing a bolt of excitement, Steve leaned a little closer. "Are those pieces here in the library?"

The woman nodded. "They're being kept for study by our students. A few of them hold unusual hieroglyphic texts that have never been adequately copied or examined."

"I don't suppose there are any alabaster jars in that part of the collection?" From Steve's recollection there should have been several.

"There are. How did you know that?"

Smiling, he held out his hand. "Hi. I'm Steven Hearst."

She looked puzzled, but took his hand anyway. "Should I know that name?"

His expression dimmed, but only a little. "You've never heard of Stephen Hearst, the film director? He used --"

"Oh, him. Sands of the Sphinx. The controversy over the Lathrop items he used. Yes, I remember." She was smiling and still shaking his hand, but her head tilted. "You can't be him, you're too young. And I thought I heard that he died."

"He did. I'm his grandson, Steven with a 'v'." He grinned again, finally letting go of her hand. "Listen, Kathleen --"

"Kathy." She blushed. "I asked them to change it on my name tag, but they never listen."

"I get it; no one listens to me either." He winked at her, enjoying the slight flush that covered her cheeks. She was pretty, and he found himself on the verge of flirting. "Kathy, could you show me where I can find those other items? A couple of them were in my granddad's place when I was just a little boy, and when I saw the notice of the exhibit, well, I got a little sentimental." He did his best to appear bashful for admitting this.

"I'm so sorry, Steven, that area is off limits to the public. It's strictly a work place for students."

He nodded. "I understand. But, listen, even though I'm not a student, I'm kind of attached to these things."

"I understand, but --"

"Even after he was forced to return the items, Grandfather kept the copies at the house, and --"

"Copies? He had copies made?"

"Props, for the movie?"

"Ah, yes, I see."

"Yeah, so, I really liked some of those things, and to see the originals -- well, that would be fantastic."

"Steven, I don't --"

"It's Steve, and I would really appreciate just a glimpse." She looked a little uncertain, and he smiled shyly. "Please?"

Kathy looked a little exasperated, but a smile lingered on her lips. "You're flirting with me, aren't you?"

"Maybe." He tilted his head. "Is it hurting my case?"

After another moment, her own gaze turned shy. "No, not really."

"Then, yes, I'm flirting." To his surprise, he really wanted to. "Tell you what. If you're not doing anything tonight, maybe we could go to dinner?"

"Oh, I--"

"I can at least buy you coffee for taking me to see the rest of the collection."

"Which I haven't agreed yet to do."

"But you will." With one hand he reached across the counter and took the hand he'd been holding a moment ago. "Cause I'm irresistible. Right?" To seal it, he winked at her.

She laughed, shaking her head. "You're something else, you know that? Besides, didn't I see you come in with two other women?"

"Wow, your eyes are sharp as well as beautiful. You did see me come in with a couple of friends who happen to be female."

"And very attractive."

"They are." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "So sad that they're lesbians and they're hotness is wasted on each other instead of me." He winked again, then chuckled at her expression. Speaking in a normal voice, he explained. "Seriously, they are. They're a couple of good friends of mine, and they wanted to come with me to see the collection." He shrugged and motioned toward them with his head. "Besides, Sher's Egyptian on her mom's side."

He could see Kathy glancing at them, then back at him, as if trying to judge what he was saying. Steve kept his expression interested and a little shy, his smile as non-threatening as he could make it.

Finally, Kathy sighed and nodded. "Fine. I shouldn't, I know it, but I don't see what it can hurt."

Trying to contain his excitement, he fought against doing a fist pump. "Kathy, thank you so much. I appreciate this very --"

"But!" She held up a finger in his face. "But -- not until tonight. There's no one signed up for studying after seven-thirty, and the library doesn't close until nine-thirty. And I'm known to show up at odd hours to get some time in, so no one will think anything about it." Kathy reached for a piece of paper and pulled a pen from a cup on the desk. "You can take me to dinner first. There's a wonderful Japanese restaurant I love not far from here. Call me later, about four, and I'll give you directions to it."

"I'm not picking you up?"

She looked at him. "Are you kidding me? I know nothing about you other than your name."

"Well, I'm twenty-seven, I have a trust fund I'll inherit when I'm thirty, and I'm trying to be a screenwriter. I live in Los Angeles." He shrugged. "And I just got an offer for one of my scripts, so go me. Anything else you want to know?"

Kathy laughed and thrust the paper at him. "Not right now, no. Call me at four."

"I will. And thanks, Kathy." He squeezed her hand and winked. "Can't wait for dinner."

"Neither can I." Steve started to turn away, but Kathy stopped him with a word. "By the way, there's more than one reason I said yes."

"Oh, really?" He raised his eyebrows and grinned, surprised that she suddenly looked so serious.

"Really. There are a couple of mysteries about some of the items your grandfather had for so long. Questions that have never really been answered. I'm hoping you can answer some of them for me."

His smile faded and he swallowed. "I'll answer anything I can."

"Good." She nodded. "Talk with you later, Steve."

"I'll call. Bye, Kathy."

He didn't look back at the collection, merely giving a head motion to Tara. She followed him quickly, towing Sher behind her.

"Steve? What did you find?"

"A way to the rest of the collection, but I have to go alone, and it's gonna cost me dinner, first." He shook his head, a smile lifting the corners of his mouth. "Not that I mind. She's kinda cute."

Sher chuckled. "Yeah, she is. Way to go, stud."

The happy look faded a little. "I'm doing it for you, Sher."

"I know." She shrugged, her arm sliding around Tara''s waist. "But it's okay for you to have a little fun. Besides, what's the likelihood of this one having a psycho girlfriend?"

Tara winced while Steve looked away. Sher sighed, pulling her arm away and sticking her hands deep in her pockets. "Sorry. The censor switch is broken right now. Think I'll wait in the car." With that, she walked away from both of them, her shoulders slumped, but her back rigidly straight.

"Well, at least it wasn't an angry tantrum?"

"Don't even joke about it, Steve."

There wasn't much conversation in the car on the way back to the lodge. Sher dutifully took several pills and seemed to sleep a little, while Steve kept his eyes on the road. Tara stayed in the back, her arm around Sher, hand gently rubbing her back. Occasionally, when he had to look in the rear view mirror, Steve would see the two curled up and have to acknowledge, to himself at least, just how much it hurt. 

Then he would think of his date and a sense of excitement would light inside him, like an exclamation point. Steve wasn't sure if it was because of what he might find, or just because of the date, but remembering the look in Kathy's eyes made that exclamation point glow like a candle.

When they reached the hotel, Tara watched her girlfriend carefully until Sher got tired of it. 

"Tara, I'm okay. Really."

"I know, I just --"

"You don't know. You think I'm going to -- fly off the handle, or scratch Steve's eyes out or something. And I'm not." She kissed Tara firmly. "Really. I'm feeling okay right now. Please stop worrying. Please?"

Tara nodded, but even as she sat down to watch television her eyes would drift to her girlfriend every few minutes. 

Finally, Sher decided to take matters into her own hands. Moving right up beside Steve she whispered in his ear. 

"Can I ask you to leave the cabin for a little while? I need to prove to my girlfriend that I'm okay and I love her, and it might get a bit noisy." 

"Noisy?" He whispered back.

"Yeah. Besides that, I don't need an audience."

Slowly, Steve nodded. "Give me a minute or two. I wanted to check the score on the UCLA game."

"Right. Well, we'll be in the shower."

With that, she walked over to Tara and took her hand, pulling her from the chair. 


"Just come with me."

The bathroom door closed hard, but Steve had a feeling the bang had to do with someone being pushed up against the door rather than someone deliberately slamming it closed. 

After a few minutes Steve could hear giggling, then Tara's voice. The water turned on, her words disintegrating in the noise of falling water. Adjusting his grip on the remote he continued watching the scroll at the bottom of the screen, concentrating on reading the scores.

He dropped the remote when the noises started. First a rhythmic pounding against the wall that echoed through the cabin. Then a high-pitched squeal accompanied by a deeper voice moaning. Even through the sound of the shower, Steve could identify who was who, and hear Tara yell her lover's name. 

As he turned off the television, the jealousy he'd been fighting grew inside him. He tossed the remote back on the bed and grabbed his jacket, his mind playing a litany of photographs to match the sounds he'd been hearing. Envy turned to anger as he left the room, and as the door closed behind him he turned and slugged it.

"Goddamn son-of-a-bitch, that fucking hurt!" Recoiling at the pain in his fist, he shook his hand out before heading away from the cabin.

"Fucking lodge and its stupid hard doors."

A while later the door from the bathroom opened slowly, and Sher leaned out. She had a towel wrapped around her waist, and another one in front of her to hide her breasts.


There was no answer. She took a step out of the bathroom and looked over at the beds. Then she dropped the upper towel and waved at Tara.

"It's okay, he's not here."

"Where'd he go?" Tara came out of the slowly, naked.

"I don't know. Somewhere not here." With a flourish, Sher stripped the towel from around her waist, making her as naked as her girlfriend. "Ta-da!"

Tara giggled, even as she moved toward her open suitcase. "Cute, Sher. Now put some clothes on; Steve could be back any minute."

"I doubt it. I think he's more intelligent than that." Taking hold of Tara's hips, she pulled her backwards against her body. "Besides, he's got plenty of time before his date -- and I'm not finished with you yet."

"Oh, no?" Tara turned in her arms. "What did you have in mind, Miss Rahema?"

"Oh, nothing much. I just wanted to hear you scream again like you did a few minutes ago." She let her hands drift down her girlfriend's body, her fingers trailing against skin still heated from the shower.

"Really." Responding in kind, Tara began rubbing Sher's shoulders in a circular motion, less massage and more enticement. Slowly, she began dragging her hands down and across Sher's breasts, ending with her palms over two stiff nipples, only to start again.

"Oh, yes. Screaming, moaning -- begging."

"I don't beg."

"You will." Sher took hold of her waist and lifted, giving her girlfriend an uncharacteristic show of her strength. Gently, the smaller woman was placed gently on the bed they shared. Sher knelt in between Tara's legs, her fingertips tracing patterns down her lover's torso. "You will, because I want you to."

Tara smiled, but didn't disagree. She raised one hand to the back of Sher's head and pulled her closer, kissing her deeply. As Sher's lips moved to her cheek, then down her throat to her collar bone, she bit her lip and closed her eyes.



"Do you -- I mean, are you --" She took a breath, not sure if she should even bring up the subject.

Sher seemed to understand. "I'm okay. I can't guarantee how long, but at least an hour or two. There's no anger, Tara. Just -- want." Pulling back slightly, she slipped her hands up to either side of Tara's head, kissing her gently, then more firmly. "I want you. Let me have you, Tara."

Letting her eyes meet Sher's heated gaze, Tara could only nod. Then it was just Sher, and heat, and moist flesh, filling her with overwhelming sensation until she begged, and screamed, and collapsed back on the bed, exhausted.

With a tender smile, Sher watched her girlfriend's eyes flutter closed. Staying absolutely still, she waited, humming softly as Tara's body relaxed, sinking deeper into the bed. It was only when she was certain the woman was asleep that she slowly moved away, stopping whenever Tara twitched, or even frowned.

Finally, she was able to stand completely, moving away from the bed. After donning a pair of shorts and slipping on a tank top, she carefully pulled up the sheets, covering Tara's naked body. Checking the clock, she noted that she probably didn't have much time.

She pulled a cola from the cooler and settled down at the table. Finding a piece of stationary and a pen, she leaned back, staring at them, trying to figure out what she wanted to put in the note.

The journal entry seemed easier and she started with that. 

So here we are, in Berkeley. We went to see the exhibit today. There was no bottle, but Steve's wrangled an invite to see some of the collection that's been held back from the public. He thinks it might be there, hidden, and he charmed one of the grad students into letting him look for it.

The strange thing is, he's starting to believe. He's beginning to accept the beast inside me, this monstrous creature that's taking me over. Of course, he's never seen it, not even the barest hint of change. The temper? Sure. But nothing else. And yet, because of several other small things, he's starting to believe -- while I lose any faith I once had. 

Steve and Tara think he can find this magical jar, and then come save the day. I no longer believe it. The only thing I believe is that if I don't do something, the beast will take control. It's becoming stronger, more aware. It knows the pills make it sleep, make us both sleep, but it hasn't stopped me from taking them. It's the only defense I have left. 

So Tara and I will wait, supposedly, for Steve to pull off his miracle. I think he'll come back empty handed. What he doesn't know is that when he does, he'll be coming back to a corpse. The only question will be if it's mine or Tara's. 

I'm going to try very hard to make sure it's mine.  

Dear Tara, 

First off, know that I love you. In all the years I've been on this earth, no one has made me happier, no one has offered as much of themselves, no one has accepted and loved me the way you have. Without you this life would have been less, and I need you to know how much I care. 

Steve thinks he'll come back with a miracle. You and I, as much as we want him to, know that he won't. The jar of Bastet, where ever it's been hidden, is beyond our reach. And I'm out of time. 

I want you to know 

Sher stopped, putting her pen down, words failing her. There was so much she wanted Tara to know, but what did one say when she knew she was going to die?

Steve was playing with his key card as he walked towards the cabin. Surprisingly, the lodge had a pretty nice bar, and he'd had a good afternoon watching a college basketball game while flirting with a pretty bartender. He'd had a cheeseburger that had taken the edge off his hunger, while two beers had done the same to his temper.

Plus, he'd had time to think about his 'date' that evening, and found that he was looking forward to it. He'd actually thought more about Kathy than he had about Tara and what she and Sher were doing in the shower.

And then he'd called her, at four on the dot, and the two had flirted over the phone. He had directions to the restaurant, and would meet her there at quarter to six which gave him plenty of time for a shower and change. He'd picked up a brand new shirt in the shop downstairs, a nice green polo that would look nice with his stonewashed jeans.

Arriving at the hotel room door he paused, trying to listen for any signs that he shouldn't go in. Things seemed silent, but then again, he mused, it was a steel door. Even so, everything seemed calm, and there was no "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door. Steve had a feeling Sher might be perverse enough to even use a pair of panties on the door handle to warn him away, and he shook his head, thinking he actually had a bit in common with Tara's girlfriend.

But the silence continued as he unlocked the door. He pushed it open, then leaned through the opening to look. Only Sher was visible, sitting in a chair against the wall, one foot on the chair seat, her knee under her chin. She turned her head and raised her finger to her lips, then motioned him to come in.

Steve did so quietly, not speaking, and not letting the door slam behind him. As he stepped in far enough to see the beds, he noticed Tara. Her bare shoulders made him realize she was naked under the sheets, and he blushed for a moment, turning away. His gaze landed on Sher, who was slightly smirking at him.

"Sorry," she whispered. "Didn't want to wake her just to put clothes on her."

"Nah, it's fine." Steve whispered back, then cleared his throat softly. "Good afternoon, I take it?"

She nodded, the smirk changing to a genuine smile. "I think so. I wanted to make it good for her, you know?"

Returning both nod and smile, Steve slipped into a chair on the opposite side of the table.

"How are you feeling?"

"For the moment, not bad." She shrugged. "It won't last. Even now I can feel it stirring within me."

"Do you need some pills?" Steve started to stand, but sat back when she waved him away.

"I took a few a little while ago." Sher shifted around to face him instead of the bed. "When do you leave for your date? You did call her, right?"

"I called. We're meeting at the restaurant, and I think it's about a twenty-five minute drive."

"So you'll leave here at, what, five or so?"

"Five or five-fifteen. I'd like to be early, give her a good impression, you know?"

"I get it." She smiled at him. "She's cute, Steve. And I think she likes you."


"Yeah." Stretching, she moved her foot from the chair down the floor and leaned across the table towards him. "Do we have time for a talk before you need to shower?"

There were a thousand things she might have wanted to talk to him about, but the only thing that went through his head was the kiss. Steve gulped, glancing at Tara in the bed.

"Um. Sure."

"Don't be so nervous. I'm not angry with you."

"You're not?"

"No." She tilted her head. "I know you kissed her. I know you like her. I only hope you remember that she's a lesbian, Steve. That will hurt you worse than I ever could."

Steve stared at her. "You -- uh -- how did? Um, did she tell you . . .?"

"Did Tara tell me you kissed her? No." She shook her head. "She wouldn't do that to you. The other night when she came home I could smell you on her. I figured something happened, and since I doubted she'd slept with you, I figured there was at least a kiss, so . . ."

"You mean, you guessed. And I just confirmed it."

She grinned. "You could say that."


Sher's laughter was quiet, and after a moment, Steve joined in.

"I know she's a lesbian, Sher, and I know she loves you."

"Yeah." That brought on a sigh. "And that's what I want to talk to you about." Folding her hands in front of her, Sher took a deep breath and became serious. "When I die, she's going to need you, Steve."

He froze. It was a scenario he hadn't truly considered. "You're not going to die, Sher."

"I have to."


With another sigh, she clenched her hands tighter. "I don't think I can stop it anymore, Steve. The change, I mean. And if I can't stop the change, then I have to make sure I can't change. Dying is the only way to do that. You see?"

"No." He shook his head. "Look, I'm just starting to believe in this change of yours, that there's something inside of you. But what you're talking about is suicide, Sher. I can't let you do that." He leaned forward, looking as serious as she did. "Besides, I thought the bottle or jar or whatever it is will save you. Isn't that what you told Tara? Isn't that the whole point of my date tonight?" 

"No, the whole date is for you to have fun. I want you to enjoy yourself, Steve. You deserve that." She shook her head. "Look, if you find the jar, wonderful. But then you still have to convince your friend Kathy to let you take it out of the collection, then get it out of the library, through security and make it back here. I know you're resourceful, Steve, but I really don't think you'll be able to do all that before I actually lose control and kill Tara. And I'm not going to take the chance that you won't be in time."

"But -- the pills --"

"Are barely working anymore. For fuck's sake, Steve, I was taking ten an hour and it wasn't even knocking me out. Even when I took more, when I swallowed half the fucking bottle, I could still feel the beast prowling inside me." She shook her head again, frustrated. "I'm going to lose the battle, Steve, really soon. Probably tonight. And I know that Tara won't agree to leaving me alone. And if she's here when it happens, I'll kill her."

They both turned to the bed, where Tara still slept, snoring very lightly.

"Did you drug her?"

Sher smiled softly at the figure in the bed. "No. I just -- exhausted her."

Steve didn't need details to understand how Sher had managed that. "Are you going to let her say goodbye?"

With a hard swallow, Sher shook her head. "That was goodbye."

"That was your goodbye. You should let her have hers."

"Why, so she can argue and try to talk me out of it?"

"If that's what she needs to do. But also because she deserves better than to wake up and find herself alone in a hotel room with the dead body of her girlfriend."

"Steve, I --"

"Look." He reached out and put a hand over hers. "She can't sleep much longer. Sher, you've gotta give her a chance, and you have to give me a chance. Who knows, I might be able to pull off a miracle tonight. Even if I can't, you owe Tara the chance to say goodbye."

"It's too dangerous."

"How were you gonna do it? Blow your brains out? Slit your wrists? Leave her to clean up the blood?"

"No, not if I can help it." She lowered her head. "Besides -- I tried that, the wrist cutting thing. The beast won't let me do it."


"The beast won't let me. I know, I tried while Tara was at your place." Staring at her wrist, she remembered the knife against her skin, the terror she felt when she couldn't actually cut herself.

"So, how?"

Sher swallowed. "Well, that's one of the reasons I've been taking the pills so much. I wanted to get to the point where the beast doesn't think they're meant to hurt me. So it doesn't object." Standing, she moved to the small bag she'd packed, bringing it back to the table. After digging for a moment, she pulled out a bottle of pills. "These aren't the over the counter crap I've been taking."

Steve took the bottle, his eyebrows rising as he read the label. "Oxycontin -- forty pills? You're taking all of these?"

"Yes, all at once, and hopefully it will kill me."

"And if it doesn't?" Steve thought they probably would, but he was grasping at straws. 

"Well, then there might be a mess to clean up. But they should at least put the beast to sleep for a while." Dropping the pills on the bed, she reached into the bag again, digging into a hole at the end. When she pulled her hand out she was holding an automatic pistol. She swallowed, her eyes dropping to the floor as her voice dropped to a whisper. "Don't make Tara do it alone, please?"

For the moment, Steve ignored her last plea, mostly because he couldn't really deal with it yet.

"So -- what, you're just gonna take these and let Tara wake up to find your body?"

"I --"

"No." Steve slapped the bottle onto the table, wincing at the noise it made. Instinctively both of them glanced at Tara, but the woman was still sleeping peacefully, occasional snores coming from her open mouth. "No, Sher, you've gotta give me more time."

"There isn't any more time, Steve."

"You look fine now, what's wrong with a few more hours?"

"Even now I can feel it starting to wake up. It's getting stronger. I can't fight it anymore, Steve."

He began pacing a little, two or three steps back and forth. "Look, I won't even get into the collection until past seven-thirty."

"Steve --"

"No. You have to give me time, Sher, please. If you insist you have to do it tonight, fine, but please, not until nine-thirty at the earliest. You have to give me a little time."

She sighed. After a moment, she nodded. "I'll do my best. Okay? No guarantees, but I'll try to give you until nine-thirty to get back here." Sher swallowed. "If you're not here, I'm pulling the damn trigger." Or begging Tara to.

"Got it." Glad he'd gotten at least that much of a compromise out of her, he stood, moving carefully around the table and hugging her. Then he grabbed the bag with his new shirt, his shower kit, and the rest of his clothes for his date.

"Hey, Steve?"


"Why are you suddenly a believer?"

He turned around and looked at her. "Is that what I am?" He thought about it for a moment. "You know, I don't know that there's some beast in you trying to get out. That sounds a little farfetched to me."


"But what I can't figure out is, how or why you would take a tool to that formica countertop and make it look like you had a visit from a werewolf. Nor can I figure out how the fuck you could take so many pills, over the counter or not, and still be mostly awake. I mean, how the fuck is that possible?" He looked around the room with a sigh, then let his gaze land on Tara for a long moment. "And why the fuck does she love you enough to let you beat on her when she could just walk away?" He shook his head. "No, I don't believe in your monster, your beast, Sher.  I just believe in her." Then with a shrug, he headed for the bathroom.

Which left Sher to stare at her girlfriend again, one hand resting on the goodbye note she'd already started.

Five o'clock came too soon. 

Steve left, after arguing for several minutes about whether or not to wake Tara. Sher finally pushed him out the door, reminding him about being punctual and telling him to have a good date.

Before she closed the door he reached in and grabbed her arm, not letting go even when she growled at him.

"Anything you could tell me that would help me find this thing? An inscription, a marking, anything?"

She thought about it. "Well, my mom always told me it looked exactly like it did in the movie, and that it was in the safest place in the world."

He raised an eyebrow, but after a moment said, "Don't forget. You gave me until nine-thirty. Don't you even give up on me till then, Sher."

Fighting her desire to rip his hand off, Sher made herself nod. He nodded back and withdrew his arm. The door closed and Sher stared at it for several minutes.

She could feel the heaviness in her soul as she whispered a quiet goodbye to him. Nine-thirty would be too late, and she knew it. Even now she could feel the beast stir, pacing inside of her soul.

But she had a little time left and they had large numbers of sleeping pills. Resigned to wait a couple more hours, Sher poured out half a handful of tablets. An already open bottle of water sat on the table, and she used it to down the medication with several swallows.

"Sher? What time is it? Did Steve get back yet?" Tara was sitting up and stretching. "What's going on?"

Sighing, Sher walked over to sit on the bedside. This wasn't a conversation she was looking forward to.


The Japanese restaurant chosen by Kathy was a Teppan steak house. Since it was early evening, there were few other guests, and those had already begun their dinner. Steve and Kathy were led to the smallest table in the restaurant, where they waited with cocktails to see if anyone else would be joining them at the six person table.

Seated side by side, they each chose beef and shrimp, pleasantly surprised when it seemed they'd be alone for dinner. Their conversation was simple, just two people getting to know each other, asking about families and friends and interests.

"I've always loved Egypt. There's always been an air of mystery about it, like a puzzle that I wanted to solve."

"Like a detective."

She nodded. "With a cold case a few thousand years old."

To Steve's surprise, she'd seen some of his grandfather's work.

"Well, only Sands of the Sphinx. It wasn't bad -- a little simplistic, but not bad."

"You know they didn't actually film it in Egypt."

"Yeah, I got that. But they did a good job, especially with the overhead shots."

"They used a model."

"Pretty sophisticated for the 1930's."

"I have it. I could show it to you some time."

She smiled at him and nodded. "I'd really like that."


Tara stared out the window, her arms crossed. It wasn't yet dark, though the shadows were lengthening as the sun dipped lower and lower on the western horizon. Watching the gold and red streaks shooting across the sky, she prayed that the sun would never set, that the shadows would not lengthen any farther, that time would stop, and that Sher would never leave her.

But even as she stood there she heard her lover pouring pills into her hand, closing the container, and unscrewing the water bottle. The silence in the room was so profound that she could even hear Sher's swallows as she downed the medicine that would hopefully keep Tara safe.

"So you're waiting for Steve? You told him you would."

Sher sighed. "I'll wait as long as I think it's safe. But I don't think he'll make it back in time."

Tara turned her body, bringing her girlfriend into her peripheral vision. "How will you know when it's not safe?"

Running a hand through her hair, Sher took a deep breath. "I'll know."

"So that's it? You're just going to choose a time and do it? End everything? Blow your brains out because you're tired of waiting? That's not fucking fair!"

"What d'you want me to do?" Her eyes were wide and pleading. "Wait until the last goddamn minute, when it's too late, and I can't think? I won't be able to pull the trigger, Tara! I have to do it while I'm still in control!"

"Fine." Nodding slowly, Tara crossed to the table. Carefully she reached down and picked up the weapon, checking the safety before putting in the waist band of her jeans. "You won't have to use it."

"Tara, no, I can't ask you --"

"You're not asking." Returning her gaze to the window's view, Tara spoke without looking at her girlfriend. "But you're giving him as much time as possible. You understand?"

Defeated, Sher nodded. "I will." Sher settled on the bed. "But you can't wait too long, Tara. You'll be in danger." The only reply was a snort. Sher sighed once more. "Tara . . ."

Making a decision, Tara turned away from the window, marching across to the bags still mostly packed. After digging for a moment she came up with a small black duffle bag. It was heavier than it looked and landed with authority on the bed, making an impressive indentation.

"Here. You're so worried about hurting me, we'll use these. As long as you're restrained I'll be fine, right? And we can wait longer."

Sher laid a hand on the bag, willing the tears in her eyes not to fall. After a shaky breath, she shook her head. "That's not what I'm talking about. Tara -- you have to watch, watch my eyes. If -- if they turn yellow, just . . . go. Pull the trigger and go."

That brought Tara back around to face her. "What? Why?"

Sher sighed. "As the change takes effect, my eyes will turn. From what my mom told me, from what she put in her diary, I'll go back and forth, between the beast and me -- right up to the point where my eyes change." She swallowed. "Once that happens -- I'll be the beast. The sphinx. No control, no changing back."

"They'll turn yellow?"

"First yellow, then they'll turn catlike, with the irises changing shapes." Wrapping her arms around herself, she stared down at the bed. "Please don't let it get that far, Tara."

Facing the window once more, Tara folded her arms, staring at the now darkening sky. "I won't. Now put the cuffs on."

Tears falling, Sher did as she was told. 


They were laughing now, dinner having been cooked on the grill in front of them, and they were enjoying trying the different dipping sauces offered with the meal.

"I like this one, adds a kind of horseradishy flavor to the meat."

Steve nodded. "I like it better on the shrimp, though."

"I had noticed you like the shrimp better than the steak." She winked at him, an impish glint in her eye. "Does that mean you like fish better than meat?"

"No, I like meat just fine, steak especially, I just --" His mind finally processed the hint behind her words, and he blushed, almost dropping his chopsticks. "Um. What -- I mean --"

Kathy laughed, her head thrown back, her face full of mischief. "Oh. Oh, my God. You should have seen your face. It looked like you bit into a sour apple and found a worm."

He shook his head. She'd been a little bit up on him most of the evening, it seemed. Steve supposed he should have been expecting that, as she'd had him off kilter since they met in the library.

"I can't decide if I like you or just want to strangle you." She pouted and he laughed. "Okay, fine, I'll postpone any strangling."

"Good." She swiped a piece of meat off his plate, but stopped before putting it in her mouth. "Hey, Steve?"


"I don't -- get to do this very often. The date thing, I mean. Last time I did, the guy I was dating tried to lecture me on some energy thing, and -- well, by the time we got around to desert, we wanted to kill each other with our spoons."

Steve took a moment to dunk another piece of shrimp in the sauce. "What did you do when he lectured you?"

"Turned it into a debate."

"Yeah? Who won?"

"I did. That's why he was annoyed with me."

"Ah." He chewed slowly, then turned to look at her. "Well, I don't think there's much I could lecture you on. Unless it's the movie industry, and then it would just be on how badly writers are treated. And if you want to lecture -- I'm not in a position to start a debate, unless we're talking about screenplays and whether or not using a voice-over is a cop-out or a legitimate strategy."

"Afraid I don't know much about screenplays."

"So, no debates." He grinned at her. "But, I've really enjoyed hearing a little about what you're studying, and would love to hear more. And you haven't told me my movie idea sucks, so it's already been a good night in my book."

"Really?" She gave him a suddenly shy look, and Steve started to realize that most of what he had thought was confidence was really bravado.

"So. Tell me what's so fascinating about ancient Egypt."

Kathy's grin was hesitant. "Are you sure you want to ask that? I could probably talk until midnight."

"Well, the restaurant closes at ten, I think, so we're safe. And yeah, I'd like to know. I mean, I know a little bit about it, most people do if they like films."

"Why do you say that?"

"Do you realize how many film classics there are that are either in or based on a legend about Egypt?"

"I can think of a few."

"Let me guess, you're thinking of The Mummy, The Mummy Returns, The Scorpion King, and The Ten Commandments."

She nodded. "Well, those and the original Mummy. Gotta love Boris Karloff."

"Okay, good. But there's also Raiders of the Lost Ark, Stargate, Alexander, and at least two films based on books by Agatha Christie, including Death on the Nile. Not to mention Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy , and numerous mummy movies and shorts from the early nineteen hundreds."

"And the story of Joseph and the coat of many colors which ended up on Broadway and on film. I get it. But you know what?" She tilted her head and smiled. "All of those fantastic stories? They're not even as interesting as the truth."


"No. I mean, how can you not be interested in a civilization where the gods were humans with animal heads, where sex was a part of the creation mythos, which is completely opposite of Christianity where the act of sex was banned and made into a sin? How can you not love a society where being a priest was a part time thing, and yet the entire populace believed so strongly in their religion, their rulers, and their country that they spent decades building monuments and temples out of stone while they lived in mudbrick houses? Egypt is just --"

She stopped, seeing a smile on Steve's face. "I'm sorry."

"For what? No, go on. It's really cool to hear someone talk about something they love like that. Besides, if you don't, I'll just regale you with tales from Hollywood."

Letting another shy smile slip out, Kathy took a bite of her meal, then glanced up at him. "I'd like to hear that."

"Later. Right now, tell me about Egypt." He grinned back at her before a thought crossed his mind and he glanced at his watch.

I have time.




"Good." Tara kissed the toop of Sher's head even as her girlfriend tightened her arms around her.

They had pushed their bed against the wall and taken all the pillows from Steve's to make a cozy nest for themselves. Cuddled together in only the barest of clothing, with drinks and snacks lined up next to the bed, Tara could push the inevitable away.

"Tara? Are you sure you want --"

"Stop talking, Sher."

When Sher was quiet, when there was only the soft rumble of their breathing and the tunes from the mp3 player, or the everyday noise from outside, it was easier for Tara. Easier to pretend that this was a romantic getaway for the two of them, that the world had gone away. Easier to forget that Sher was wearing leather wrist cuffs, that a set of hard chains were wrapped around the bed, waiting for those cuffs to be snapped into place.

Easier to ignore the temperature changes in Sher's body, the constant need for more sleeping pills, now mixed with aspirin to make them last longer. Easier to forget the gun on the table, just in case.

"Sher? When this is over, can we go to Egypt?" Tara wasn't sure where the question had come from, but with her lover tucked against her naked breast, she could feel Sher smile, and she was glad she'd asked.

"Yes. If Steve pulls off his miracle, if I live through this night, then yes. I'll take you to Egypt."

"Have you ever been there?"

"No." Sher rolled a little, pulling Tara's arm closer over top of her shoulder. "Mom asked me to go with her, but I decided to stay here. I was having too much fun then, and . . . well, I have to admit, I didn't think this day would come."

"Did this ever happen to your mom?" Tara ran her hands over Sher's bare stomach, enjoying the goose pimples that popped up on her lover's skin. "Did she have to find the jar?"

"Alas, no." Sher sighed. "If she had, she'd probably have had the jar and given it to me." She shrugged. "As it was, she just told me I'd need it someday and that it was hidden and ready for me."


"Yeah." Turning fully onto her stomach, Sher braced her chin on her hands, looking seriously at Tara. "Legend says that the jar was made before the murder of Sakhmet, one of several Isis saved from her ruined temple. Each jar was blessed, so that any water within the jar would then carry the blessing of the goddess."

"So, it was touched both by Sakhmet and Isis?"

"Yes. The magic, the blessing it carries, allows the sphinx and human to blend seamlessly, allows the human to control the anger of the sphinx, and stay awake when even to take the form of the beast."

"Because it was touched by the hand of the goddess; it carries her blessing, her magic. The magic to blend the sphinx and human seamlessly, to control the anger, to keep the human awake when the form of the beast is taken."

"You always told me you need to drink from the bottle. When Steve brings it, I just pour water in  and have you drink. What happens after that?"

Sher shrugged. "I only know what will happen from the letters my mother left me."

"Did she know when this would happen?"

When I fell in love. "No, she didn't." Sher shivered. "Can you hand me the next dose?"



As she reached down for the water and pills, Tara glanced at the clock.


They had left the restaurant and were headed for the library. Since they still had forty-five minutes to kill, Steve had suggested they walk down to the school. Kathy, used to walking everywhere, agreed.

"So, tell me why you really want to see the rest of the collection."

Raising an eyebrow, Steve looked at her. "I told you. I miss some of the pieces that I grew up with."

"Right. And I'm an Egyptian princess."

"You don't believe me?"

"No. You just don't sound like a sentimental sort to me."

"What sort do I sound like?"

"Well, from our conversation I'd say you're very matter of fact, not given to flights of fancy, even in your films. I think you write films with a basis in fact."

"I don't know about that--"

"Do you write fantasies?"



"No. I started in horror."

"Of course." Kathy rolled her eyes. "Horror is just an expression of frustration with today's world, where the hero has to outmaneuver the bad guy who represents the elements of society that hold us back. It's still based in reality, just a way of expressing anger at it."

Steve stopped and raised his eyebrows. "I thought you majored in history, not psychology."

She shrugged. "I took a couple of psychology courses."

"Passed, huh?"

"With straight 'B's." Kathy laughed and took his arm. "But I enjoyed it."

"I'll just bet you did." He chuckled and shifted to settle her arm more comfortably.

"So? Why are you so interested in the collection? Looking to make a movie about Egypt, like your grandfather?"

He glanced at her, then looked away. "No."

Kathy waited, but Steve didn't say anything else. "Hey? Are you okay? I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hit a sore spot."

They were passing a small coffee shop with outside tables, and Steve steered them towards a couple of chairs. Once Kathy was seated he looked at her seriously.

"Do you believe in magic?"

She raised her eyebrows. "Um. Well. The Egyptians certainly did; it was an everyday part of their religion. Thoth was the god of magic, as well as writing. But do I believe in it?" Biting her lip, she shrugged. "I can't say that I've ever seen it, so I have to say no. As much as I wish it existed, I don't think it does."

He nodded. "You said there were mysteries or questions about the pieces my grandfather returned. What did you mean?"

"Well -- what does this have to do with believing in magic?"

"Maybe nothing, maybe something. Tell me."

"Okay. Well, there are a couple of mysteries. The first is the whereabouts of a certain bottle, an alabaster jar. Your grandfather denied that it was even a part of the original inventory he'd been given, and it wasn't listed on the original manifest from Barnaby Lathrop, but one of his sons swore it was there. Also, he pointed out, it was in the movie, so it had to be from, and should be a part of the collection. But nobody knows anything about it."

Steve was biting his lip. If what Kathy was saying was true, then there was no jar for him to find.

"The second question is actually two questions for one item. There's a statue of a sphinx. It's not large, maybe only four and a half feet tall, but it's the largest item in the collection. It's also the most mysterious because no one knows where it came from." She shifted a little. "Some people even think it's fake. There's no way to date it, because there's no cartouche. It does, however, have hieroglyphics. In fact, there' s a long section of glyphs that tell a story about the curse of Sakhmet, and the rage of the Sphinx."

Steve swallowed hard. "Let me guess. It was something about how Seth murdered Sakhmet, but he was killed and fed to a Sphinx, thereby cursing the Sphinx forever with the rage of Sakhmet."

Kathy stared at him. She blinked several times, her mouth opening and closing. Finally, she nodded. "You seem to know the story."

"A friend told it to me."

"I'd be interested in meeting that friend, especially since the story, as carved into the statue, has never been fully translated. There's a part that's just too faint to make out and another where the stone is broken." She cleared her throat. "And that's another thing. Supposedly, when this object was loaned to your grandfather, it was in excellent condition. Weathered, but with no cracks. Now, there are cracks, there are little pieces broken out here and there. Yet your grandfather, in the transcripts from the court case, swore he had received it like that, and as the movie, 'Sands of the Sphinx', showed, the cracks were there as early as the film. So, no one knows what happened to damage the item."

"Well, since I wasn't alive at that time, I can't help you there."

"And your friend? Could I talk to her about the story? I've never heard it told so succinctly. Like I said, it's such a strange story, and the piece is just so unusual, most people think it's a nineteenth century creation."

"Gotcha." Steve nodded and sighed. "Well, I don't know about talking to my friend. At least for tonight, but --" He checked his watch. "Maybe you'd like to hear a story as well?"

"Love to."

"Okay. But, you have to keep your mind open, Kathy. I'm serious. Wide open."

She leaned back in her chair, her arms crossed. "I'm listening."


Sher blinked the sweat out of her eyes and tried to unclench muscles that had been tight for several minutes.


"I'm here." The voice was soft and Sher could hear the tears under the surface.

"Are you o-- did I hurt --"

"I'm fine." 

A wet cloth stroked her cheek, and with another blink, Sher could see her girlfriend. Other than the moisture in her eyes, she seemed okay. "How long?"

"Not long, just a minute. You pushed me, then growled, before you collapsed on the bed."

Sher nodded. "Good." Swallowing, she put a hand to her head. "Good." Then she noticed that the wrist cuff was attached to one end of a chain. She shifted her gaze to her girlfriend.

Tara was beside the bed, holding the other end in her shaking hands. "I was trying to get this one hooked when you woke up."

Nodding, Sher moved her body closer to the center of the bed, then spread her limbs out. "Make them tight; arms and legs, okay?"

"Right." Pulling the chain taut, she used the panic clip to secure Sher's left arm. 

"Take it in another link or two."

"Are you su--"

"Just do it, Tara." The words came out with a growl and Sher winced, feeling the beast pacing within her still. "I'm sorry, babe."

"Don't be sorry. It's not you." The words were like a mantra by now, and Tara heard them over and over again in her head as she worked to attach the ankle cuffs, stretching Sher's legs as she had her arms. "Tight enough? I think I can get another link, but . . ."

Sher pulled at her bonds and shook her head. "No, it's good. Not enough play. If the beast breaks that, one link won't have mattered." With a sigh she tried to relax her muscles. "What time is it?"

"After seven." Tara reached out for a glass of water and a dose of pills. "Here, take these."

"They're not helping much."

"They help enough. We only have a little over two hours."

Sher laughed. "It's two and a half and might as well be a year. I can't --"

"You can." Tara gently lifted her lover's head, giving her several pills followed by a mouthful of water, over and over until her hand was empty. "A little over two hours, Sher."

"And if he doesn't find it? Or doesn't show up?" She shook her head. "I don't think I should wait."

"You should. You promised."

"I lied."

Rising from her knees, Tara sat on the bed beside her lover. "Did you lie to me? You said you'd try. Were you lying?"

Was I? She wasn't sure. But she knew she'd never lied to Tara before. And she didn't want to start now. "No. I wasn't. But, Tara --"

"Shhh. Just try, Sher." Leaning close, ignoring the low growl coming from Sher's throat, she kissed her girlfriend's forehead. "Just try."

Swallowing and gritting her teeth, Sher nodded. "Why don't you read something to me? Keep my mind off things."

"Good idea."

Neither of them mentioned the fangs that protruded from Sher's mouth or the fine sheen of silky hairs that covered parts of her skin.


"What you're talking about is patently impossible."

"You think I don't know that? You think I haven't wondered if I'm crazy?" Steve kicked at a stone in the road. They'd resumed their trek partway through his story, and now Kathy was looking at him in a way that said she was wondering the same thing.

"Steve, do you realize what you're asking me to believe?" She stopped and looked at him. "This story implies that the gods of ancient Egypt were real, that one of the most mystical creatures ever is an actual breathing animal, that humans can turn into one of these creatures, and that an actress from the silent movie era really was a sphinx rather than a human, or at least partly human, and that she left a part sphinx daughter that is losing control to the sphinx side of her, which is coming out and if you don't find this jar, which might or might not be somewhere in Barnaby Lathrop's collection, the woman is going to die. Is that right?"

"Well, yeah, more or less." He looked uncomfortable with it being laid out in this manner, yet had to agree with the basics of the story."

"And you expect me to believe it?"

"No. I just expect you to keep an open mind. You said you would."

"I lied."

Steve sighed. "You know, there's a simple way to test if I'm telling the truth."

"Sorry, not in the mood for riddles right now."

"What?" He looked at her confused.

"Never mind. What's your simple test?"

"Take me to see the collection. If we don't find the jar, you can go on with your life and forget this ever happened. No problem. I'll completely leave you alone."

"And if we do? What does that prove?"

"Nothing. But if we find the jar, then you complete the reality test by joining me, and the jar, back at the hotel room."

"Oh, right!" She slapped her forehead and turned away, raising her arms to the sky. "So simple! If we find an alabaster jar, we simply STEAL it from the library! Yes! Why didn't I think of that?"

"How would it be stealing if it's not supposed to be there in the first place?"

"What?" She stared at him.

"You said yourself that it's not listed on the initial inventory that Lathrop made, and it's only been seen by one of his sons. So, even if we find it, it doesn't officially exist. So who says it's stealing?"

Her jaw dropped open at his audacious suggestion. She closed it, then turned around, only to turn back once more. "If it doesn't exist, why the hell would we look for it? Because, I'm telling you, Steve, I've been through ninety percent of that collection. There is no alabaster jar like you're describing."

He nodded, his expression one of worry. "I got that. But I still have to try, Kathy." He thought of Tara, and the love in her eyes when she looked at Sher. "I have to try."

Kathy shook her head. "Yeah? Well, I don't." Gathering her purse, she stood, looking down at him. "Goodnight, Steve," and she began to walk away from him. 

"Kathy, wait! Please!" Steve followed, jogging to get in front of her and face her, walking backwards. "Kathy, you said you'd show me the collection. Please? At least do that?"

"Why?" She stopped and glared at him. "And don't give me anymore of this damn story about a woman turning into a monster and you need to play the rescuing knight. Give me one goddamn good reason I should even consider letting you into that collection after you asked me to steal a priceless artifact."

"Because, even though you think I'm crazy, you don't know for sure. And you want to know. As a scientist, you need to know. " He stepped closer, looking down into her eyes. "And because there's a part of you that loves Egypt so much, that wants to touch the magic of that ancient culture so bad, that you can't walk away from this. The scientist may say it's not true, but the believer inside you wants it to be true, and one needs to prove the other wrong. That's why you shouldn't walk away."

Kathy stood still, staring at him for several minutes. She blinked, then blew out a breath and looked away. "And here I was thinking you took me to dinner because you liked me."

"I do." Gently, he put his hands on her shoulders. "I do. Kathy, I haven't had this much fun on a date in a long time, and if this . . . dilemma wasn't hanging over my head, I'd beg you to take a walk on the pier with me. But I can't. I need to try to help my friend." His voice lowered as his hands squeezed her shoulders. "Please. Help me?"

After another moment of agonized silence, she threw up her hands. "Fine. Let's go look for your non-existent bottle."


"Sure. Why not?" Kathy shook her head and began leading him down the street again.

"And when we find it? We take it to the hotel?"

She shrugged her shoulders, her voice aggravated. "If we can find a bottle that doesn't exist, we can certainly take it to a hotel to save a woman I don't know from a beast that I don't believe in. Absolutely."

He knew she was being sarcastic, but he didn't acknowledge that. "Thanks, Kathy."

"You're not welcome."

They walked the rest of the way in silence.


She was sweating profusely now, the pillow under her head already damp to the touch, and her breath came in heavy pants through her open mouth. The fine down that had covered her face and hands had crept across most of her body; the hairs were lighter on her hands, face and breasts, the body hair perceptively darker.

"Tara, please. Just give me the pills." Muscle cramps had begun, through her legs and across her shoulders and back. "Please."

"No. Sher, it's too early." The pleading in Tara's voice was half fear, half desperation. "It's just past eight, you have to hang on."

"I'm try--" Sher cried out as more cramps hit and her leg muscles spasmed.

As she watched, Tara could see muscle movement under the skin, movement that seemed to change the shape of the leg, making it bulge in places and shrink in others. She had to blink, realizing that this was happening, Sher was changing in front of her.

As Sher tried to speak, there was a low growl from her chest. "Tara . . . goddammit, give me the pills."

Swallowing hard, tears in her eyes, Tara reached for the bottle. "All of them?"


"I should go slowly, so you don't vomit."

Muscles still clenching, Sher nodded. "Do you still have the gun?"

"I won't need it. Steve will be here soon." Reaching carefully toward Sher's face she placed her fingers by her jaw. "Open your mouth, Sher."

The first dose went smoothly, and Tara waited five minutes before giving her the next. 

Another five, a third dose, and Sher's body started to relax. 

Tara looked at the clock. "Hang on, baby. Steve will be here." 


At that moment Steve was staring at several shelves, crowded with items. Most had tags of some kind, though a few just had cards leaning up against them. 

In front of the shelves were several crates, all crammed with items wrapped in bubble wrap. Steve half heartedly poked at one or two of the wrapped items before looking up at Kathy. 

"I thought you said there wasn't much back here."

The grad student shrugged. "Compared with what's already on display? There's not much. Besides, most of these are incomplete; they're broken or chipped, or simply statues with no markings to identify even a time period." She knelt, reaching into the box and pulling up a wrapped item. "Not all of these have been opened, but those that have are tagged on the wrappings. Most are simple statuettes." Looking up at him she raised an eyebrow. "A few jars, but none of them like you described. Mostly just figurines."

"Right." With a glance at the shelves, he sighed. Nothing up there that looked like the prop he'd held. "So, I guess the place to start is to move aside those already tagged? Then we can look at those that aren't."

Kathy sighed and shook her head. "Steve, there are maybe ten or fifteen things that haven't been checked, and I don't think any of them are jars."

"But you don't know for sure."

"Look, it's not here!"

"You don't know that!" With a glance at his watch, Steve sighed. "Look, I'm running out of time. Either help me or don't, but I need to start searching." Shrugging off his jacket, he knelt by one of the crates, pulling out an item and checking for a tag. He found one and set it aside, moving on to the next. 

Kathy watched him for several moments, arms still folded, face set. She didn't know what to think about this man she'd met. He seemed normal, if a little eccentric, but his story, and his belief in it was insane. Having been trained in logic, she couldn't believe him, but he was so sincere that she almost wanted to. The dichotomy of it bothered her. 

Either he was insane, or he was right. Kathy didn't like either choice. With a sigh, she went toward to the other side of the room, coming back with an empty crate. 

"Here, put the already tagged stuff in this. We'll sort them, and then look at what's left."

Steve looked up gratefully and nodded. 

They worked in silence.


The pills were gone. A few doses had been mixed with whiskey to increase the potency, and it seemed to help. The tension had slowly slipped away from Sher's body, her breathing slowing perceptibly, the muscle spasms easing, though the physical changes remained. 

Now, however, some of the tension was back. The final dose of pills had been mixed with a generic anti-nausea medicine from the first aid kit. Still, Sher could feel her stomach rolling, and she closed her eyes in an attempt to keep the pills down. They'd do no good if her body rebelled and rejected them.

"You falling asleep on me?"

She gave a weak chuckle. "I wish I could. It feels like I'll never sleep again."

"You will, Sher." Tara leaned over and kissed her, one hand stroking the softly furred cheek. "It won't be long. Steve will show up and this will be over."

She really wanted to believe. Even now, even as the changes had become more and more apparent, Tara still sounded confidant that their friend would come racing in to save them. Sher wanted so much to see it happen, to believe that it could. For a moment she saw herself holding Tara, the two of them on their couch, laughing at some ridiculous line in a romantic comedy. A half smile crossed her face.

But it was quickly gone when her stomach lurched, and she moaned. "No, nonono."

Her body wasn't listening. Spasms in her stomach and throat overtook her as her body began to expel the poison she'd taken. She choked, the mass of pills and liquor burning in her throat as she gagged, trying to vomit and swallow at the same time. 

Tara panicked. "Sher!" Reaching up, she hit one panic snap, releasing Sher's arm and pushing her body to the side. For several moments the retching continued as Tara rubbed her lover's back. When it stopped, there was a long pause, as Tara murmured softly and Sher gasped for breath.

Suddenly a deep growl echoed. Tara's hand tightened on Sher's shoulder. "Sher? Baby?"

In a flash Sher rolled back, her face drawn into a snarl, her hand slashing toward Tara, claws out. 

Shocked, Tara grabbed at the arm, feeling the nails rake across her skin. It took all her strength to push the limb down to the bed, fumbling with the snap to once more secure Sher's thrashing figure. Sher lunged at her girlfriend, growling, jaws snapping, and Tara leaned too far backwards, falling off the bed, blood running down her arm from where Sher's deadly claws had caught her shoulder. 

As Sher continued to thrash and growl, yanking on her bonds, Tara cradled her right arm. Her eyes closed, but still the tears came. 



They'd gone through both crates. Anything not marked with a tag was now partially unwrapped, and Steve had to admit Kathy was right. There was no jar, made of alabaster or anything else. 

"I'm sorry, Steve. This is all there is."

"It has to be here. It has to."

Kathy sighed. "Well, it's not." She glanced up at the clock. Quarter to nine. "I know you're upset, but there's nothing else I can do."

He nodded, one hand combing through his hair. Steve was sitting against the wall, his knees in front of him, forearms braced on his legs. Speaking more to himself than Kathy, he muttered, "I'm missing something. What am I missing?"

"You're not missing anything. No jar, no bottle, not even a broken vase, Steve. We went through it all. Twice."

Steve didn't answer, his head now resting in his hands.

Kathy folded her arms. "Are you ready to answer some questions of mine, now?"

"About what?"

"That." She pointed to a large, plastic covered object at the back of the room. "To me, it's the most intriguing piece in the collection, though no one agrees with me." 

Raising his head, Steve blinked. "What is that?"

"The statue."

His mouth opened in a perfect 'O'. "Right. Statue."

Following Kathy's lead Steve helped pull the plastic, then the cloth, off the hidden statue. It looked mostly like he remembered, if a little more worn than it had when he was a kid. Carved out of what appeared to be solid red granite was a seated Sphinx. Its face was intact, and looked nothing like the Great Sphinx on the Giza plateau. In fact, it looked little like the face of any other sphinx he had ever seen, and seeing it as an adult he had to tilt his head in confusion. 

"You see? The face is unique, with more female characteristics. Now, in Greek lore, the sphinx was female, but it's always been portrayed in Egypt with more male features. This one has less of an angular structure, more like a woman's face."

Steve nodded. He stared at it, then blinked and shook his head. "I must be more tired than I thought." For just a moment the face had morphed into Sher's.

"But this is the fascinating part. Here." She beckoned him to look more closely at the front of the statue, under the head, where a tablet of stone with heiroglyphics rested against the front legs of the stone beast. "This is the tale of the Sphinx and the curse of Sakhmet's rage. Part of it is broken and chipped, making it unreadable, but the basic story is the one you seem to know. The goddess was killed by Set, who ate her to gain her power, but he was in turn destroyed and devoured by a sphinx."

His hand on his forehead, Steve tried to remember the story Sher had told them. "The Sphinx didn't kill him. Isis and . . . Bastet, I think? They killed him and cut him up and fed him to the sphinx." His eyes closed. "Sakhmet had been the goddess protector of the Sphinx and her rage would forever fill the line of the sphinx." Putting his hands on his hips, he frowned, looking at Kathy. "That's all I know. What does this have do with the statue?"

"I don't know. That's the irritating part. I can read the story, but then the stone fragments and I can only read bits and pieces. It speaks of the birth of a new line, and a joining, and tempering the rage, and something about a womb, but --"

"A womb?" Something clicked in Steve's head. He tried to mentally grab it, but it disappeared almost as fast as it came. "What about a womb?"

Kathy raised her arms and dropped them. "I'd tell you, if I could read it well enough."

"Well, tell me what it does say -- word for word." He shrugged. "I don't know if I can help, but -" Something in his head wanted to hear this, even if he didn't understand why. "Just read it to me."

Rolling her eyes, Kathy retrieved a flashlight and a magnifying glass, then knelt by the front of the statue. Carefully, she trained the flashlight on the broken words. 

"The last readable line is, 'A new sphinx shall arise, cursed, but holding the key.'" She paused. "Or, 'the sand holds the key'? Something like that. And then there are just words. 'Stone', 'person', 'rage', and again a key." Kathy looked up at him. "Do you think your friend would be able to decipher it?"

"I don't know." Steve was frowning in thought. "You said the inscription had to do with a womb? Or did you say tomb?"

"No, it's womb. Strange, I know, but it's attached to the word stone, like a womb in the stone."

"That's what it says? Womb in the stone?" That clicked echoed in Steve's mind again and this time he was able to grab hold of it. 

"No, not in those words, but it can be inferred."

"What are the exact words?"

"Steve!" Kathy threw up her hands. "Aren't you listening? This part is completely unreadable, a word or two in a line, that's all! I can't tell you the exact line!"

He nodded, then took a better look at the middle of the back of the statue. "Didn't you say something about it looking like this had been cut open and put back together?"

"Well, yeah, but it's not obviou--" Kathy stopped as Steve picked up a hammer and chisel. "Steve, what are you doing?"

Hammer in hand, Steve looked at her and grinned. "A womb in the stone. Sher told me that her mom always said the jar was in the safest place in the world. And I had a friend who got pregnant who told me the safest place in the world was a mother's womb." Finding the line down the back, obvious now that he was looking for it, he put the chisel against it. "What's safer than this?"

"Steve, no!" Grabbing the chisel from his hand, she pushed him slightly. "Are you crazy? You're going to destroy a priceless artifact!"

"If it can be opened and put back together once, it can be put back together a second time."

"Right, and I'm going to hide this, how?" She waved her arms around, motioning to the room. "Remember where we are? Library? Security? Ring a bell?"

"Turn on some music." Steve pulled the chisel out of her hand. "If it's not true, if there's no space, if all we find is stone, then you can call security and have me taken to jail. If it's there, you keep your part of the bargain."

"No! Steve, you can't do this!" Kathy grabbed for the hammer, but Steve kept it out of reach. "Please! You're going to get me thrown out of school!"

"I'm going to save a friend." And for the first time, Steve found himself utterly believing that statement. "I don't pretend to understand everything, but I know, I know that the jar is here, it's hidden inside that statue. It's why my grandfather fought so hard to keep it, cause he knew what was in it. And I know it can help Sher. I know it."

Whatever truth or emotion he was feeling, it must have shown in his eyes. Kathy stopped, staring at him, still angry, but not as wildly defiant as she had been moments earlier. 

"So you're just going to smash a priceless statue? Because you suddenly had an epiphany?"

Steve frowned. "I'm not sure what that means, but if it means I suddenly figured something out, then yeah. And no. I'm not just going to smash it. It's been opened once, as you pointed out. I'm just going to chisel in where the line is. Hopefully it'll open for me the same way."

Once again, Kathy could do nothing but throw up her hands. She stared down at the statue, letting out an angry breath. 

Logically, this was wrong. This whole tale was nonsense. A human-sphinx? A magic bottle? A hidden womb in the stone? She was a scientist! Believing in these things, this fanciful tale, meant suddenly believing in magic, believing in what could not be seen, nor replicated, nor measured. It went against everything she was, everything her world was about.

Looking back at Steve she saw something in his eyes that she'd never had. She'd never had faith. One didn't have faith in science; you simply trusted empirical date to tell you the truth of the world. Faith was something she'd never had, never believed in. Faith led you from history to legend, from fact to myth. From science to . . . magic. 

Who didn't want to believe in magic? Faced with his faith, her empirical data lost its strength. 

"Fine. I'll let you try to crack the statue down the obvious line. But I have two demands."


"If it starts to crack the actual stone, if it even looks like it's going to, you stop. Period."

Steve looked away and rolled his eyes, but then nodded. "And your second demand?"

"If I'm right and there's nothing there, you tie me up and tell the police I was tied up the entire time."

He grinned. "Hedging your bets, huh? Good plan. Now move. Time's wasting."

With chisel and hammer they began, slowly chipping away at the obvious joint, which became more obvious as they worked. Pieces of material flaked away, only to reveal a whitened plaster beneath, as if the top layer had been painted over in red to hide the damage.

"It has to be here, it has to."

"Shut up, Steve."

Now fully invested in the project, Kathy gently used a brush to clean the line, pointing out spots for Steve's chisel, even positioning the tool every so often. 

Finally, with Steve carefully reaching further and further into the revealed gap, there was a tink of falling rock against something glass like. He looked up with a smile on his face. 

Kathy was beyond listening to an I-told-you-so, and well past any question of belief or disbelief. The scientist was back, for the moment at least, and she raised a hand.

"No more in that section. Whatever's in there sounds breakable, and that's the last thing we need to do."


Working carefully it took them another fifteen minutes to open the statue. When they finally, slowly, pulled the two halves apart, it revealed an inner hiding place, and two items. 

The first, in shining gold, was a statuette of a woman with the head of a lion. Her mouth open in awed amazement, Kathy gently removed it, noting the heaviness of the statue, the fine workmanship and detail, and the tiny gemstones worked into the collar of the statue.

"Sakhmet. Protector of the pharaoh."

"And of the sphinx." Steve reached in and picked up the second item, a jar almost exactly like the prop he'd seen just days earlier, but much heavier, and with a more yellowed look to it. "And here's the prize."

For a moment they both merely stared at the items in their hands. Then Steve glanced at the clock. 

"Shit. Ten after nine, I'm late. Come on, I gotta go."

"What? You can't just leave."

"What are you talking about? We had a deal!"

"And I'll honor it." Carefully, Kathy replaced the statuette where she'd found it. "But first help me push these back together. I'll need to sweep the dust a little. Then we can go."

"But --"

"Steve! Just do it!"

Several tense minutes later, the room was presentable by Kathy's standards, and she reached for her backpack. "Okay, I'll leave a few books here to make room and we'll take it out with my pack. Gerard's on tonight; he'll flirt, but he never searches me."

"He flirts with you?"

Kathy looked at him with wide eyes. "We're about to steal a priceless artifact and the guard flirting with me is the one thing you pick up on." She shook her head and shouldered the bag. "Come on."


Tara had wrapped a towel around her shoulder, keeping the blood from leaking any further. It wasn't  a very effective bandage, but she couldn't maneuver with one hand to bandage herself, and Sher . . . wasn't exactly able to help. 

"Tara? Did I -- oh, fuck, I can smell the blood; are you okay?" Sher's voice was low, gravelly, and breathless. 

"I'm fine. It's just a nick." Tara didn't think lying at a time like this was a bad idea. "Are you back? For the moment at least?"

"Moment. Hard to think." Sher shook her head and drops of sweat and saliva flew. The fine down was a now an almost full pelt on her body, and her teeth had changed from human with fangs to a full set of canine teeth. Her voice was deep, the words less and less clear. "Tara . . . time. No more waiting."

Taking a deep breath, Tara shook her head. "No." Leaning over carefully, knowing it was dangerous, she kissed Sher's brow. 

"Tara! No time! Please!"

"No, Sher. We're waiting until the last possible moment."

"No! Tara, ple--" The words were cut off with a fierce growl and a hard lunge against the restraints. Her eyes opened and sharp teeth snapped shut on the air where Tara's head had been just moments earlier. 

Sher's eyes were blue puddles in a sea of yellow. Frightened, Tara pulled away, backing up against the wall. Her hand reached for the gun, the butt of it smooth in her hand.  


"I don't like you very much right now."

Steve looked over at his passenger. "Why not?"

"Because I thought -- was hoping, really -- that this was going to be just a regular date. That maybe there was something here, you know?" Kathy watched the city speed past. "And now I feel like I've been plunged into some adventure movie. I expect Indiana Jones to jump out and be holding a crystal skull or something."

For a moment, Steve was quiet. Another glance at Kathy brought a frown to his face. He liked her. He really did. 

I want you to enjoy yourself, Steve. You deserve it. 

Well, so did Kathy. "Tell you what. No matter what happens tonight, we'll do this again tomorrow. But it'll just be the two of us -- no one else. I'll take you somewhere really nice -- maybe out on the pier? And we'll have dinner, and ask all the questions about family and dreams and --" He was about to say friends, but didn't think that would go over very well. "And just everything." Another glance found her looking back at him, her expression unreadable. "I like you, Kathy, and I'm sorry that we met now, when things are so crazy. I'd like a chance to, just, I don't know, hang out with you. See how things go." He waited, trying not to look over at her again. 

She didn't answer for at least a mile. 

"Will you buy me a rose?"

"A rose?" He flicked his gaze over before putting on his blinker and slowing down. "I'll buy you a dozen if you want."

"Just one." Kathy folded her arms. "Just one for now."

They took the exit ramp in silence.


Sher had seemed to settle for the moment and Tara took the opportunity to wash the blood from her arm. She'd told Sher it was just a nick, but it was actually much worse. Three harsh and deep claw marks ran from just behind the top of her shoulder half way down her upper arm, one down the side and the other two in the front. It ached, and when she tried to move it, sharp pain moved through her. With her left hand she opened the first aid kit, hoping she had enough gauze to cover the wound.

After several fumbling attempts to use an actual wrap, she gave up, using two large pads and securing them with medical tape. Slipping into her shorts and t-shirt, she thought about using a sling, but that would make it difficult to move in an emergency, so she chose not to. 

As she was packing up the first aid kit she heard angry growling from outside the bathroom, accompanied by a tearing sound. Looking at herself in the mirror, Tara took a deep breath, and stepped outside to check. 

"Hey, Sher, you okay? What was that -- Sher, no!"

The figure on the bed, now looking more and more like a lion with a human face, continued yanking on one upper limb, and as Tara watched the leather tore completely through, giving the beast the freedom to roll her upper body, growling and yanking, clawing and biting at the second cuff. 

"Sher, no, stop! You need to keep those on!" Tara started for the bed, her intention to grab the arm and force it back into position. 

The beast turned, jaws hanging open, fury on the still human, still Sher-like face. A cross between a growl and a roar echoed in the cabin, and Tara choked, taking a step back. 

Sher's eyes were like those of a cat's, yellow surrounding a slitted pupil. The face was human, the eyes no longer were, and Tara realized her time was up. Her own eyes beginning to tear up, she reached into her waist band for the gun -- only to realize she'd left it on the counter in the bathroom. With a curse, she turned and raced back, hearing the second cuff give way. 

Moments later the weapon was in hand and she did what Sher had taught her; flip the safety off, check the cylinder, hold the gun with both hands. Her right one shook slightly, and she swallowed, looking in the mirror once more before nodding and turning away, ready to face the beast. 

She stepped out of the bathroom and screamed as the beast lunged, the very tips of its claws leaving red trails across Tara's stomach even as it was dragged back. It had made short work of the third cuff, which had let it leave the bed, but it hadn't bothered with the last one, which was the only thing that saved Tara, who had dropped to the floor in fear and shock as much as pain.

Scrambling backwards and not even daring to rise, Tara found herself against the wall, feeling blood running down her arm to mix with the new wounds on her abdomen. Pain made the tearing in her eyes worse and she blinked several times to clear them, trying to focus on the figure stalking her from across the room. 

The beast was up, chewing on the cuff still attached to its leg. As Tara raised the gun, the creature turned its head, growling, and gave the leg a final jerk. The cuff separated and fell apart, the chain clanking against the floor. 

In fear, Tara pulled the trigger. 

The beast jerked its head to the side, whimpering for a moment, then growled and shook its head as if to free it from an irritating fly. Blood flew, droplets raining on Tara's outstretched legs, but with a snarl, the great beast gathered itself, then leaped. 

Focusing, Tara whispered her love under her breath, and pulled the trigger. 


"You're staying all the way out at the lodge? Why?"

"Cabins." Steve shrugged as he negotiated the driveway entrance. "Sher was worried about noise and ... other things."

"Right." Kathy resisted the urge to roll her eyes, merely shooting Steve a disbelieving look. "Let me guess; easier to bury the body in the dead of night if you had to kill her?"

Steve said nothing but raised an eyebrow; such a thing hadn't been discussed, yet it had been obvious to him that it had been on Sher's mind when she asked for the last cabin, the one furthest from the lodge, closest to the edge of the small forest on park land. 

He took the fork to the left, driving past the cabins of C block and slowing in the curve before D section. There was only one other vehicle in this parking area; November wasn't a popular time for people to visit the lodge and most wanted to be closer to the main building. 

Pulling up and yanking on the parking brake, Steve looked at his passenger with a deep breath. "Ready?"

"To meet a crazy woman? Sure." With that, Kathy did roll her eyes and open the car door. She stepped out, stretching for a moment, but carefully cradling the wrapped jar in her arms. 

"Look, you don't have to believe, Kathy," Steve said as he shut his car door and hit the alarm button, "but please try to be nice to Tara and Sh--"

The sound of a gun shot cut through the night and they both froze for a moment. 

Steve took off towards the cabin at a run, his voice starting soft and ending in a yell. "Oh, no, God no, not now! Tara, Sher, stop!"  

Kathy was on his heels, just a step back, eyes wide. 

His keycard had already been in his hand, and it was a moment's time to swipe it and push the door. As he did, another shot rang out, and a figure fell to the floor halfway across the room.

Steve stopped short just inside the door, his breath stopping in his chest. Kathy squeezed in behind him and stared. 

As she saw it, a strange woman, blood flowing down her arm and streaked across her stomach, was lying against the far wall, a gun still held in her hand. 

Just a foot from where she lay, possibly in shock, was a figure with the body of a lion. The golden coat was bloodied, though she couldn't see the bullet hole. What was odd about the whole scenario, what immediately grabbed Kathy's attention, was the lack of a mane about the neck of the lion, and the dark hair that flowed from the head, human like hair, that seamlessly blended into the tawny fur at the neck line. 

No one moved until the gun dropped to the floor with a thump. 

Tara looked up at Steve, tears rolling down her face, every breath a gasp and a wheeze. 

"Did I kill her?"

The beast's leg twitched and they all jumped. The small movement, along with Tara's question, pushed Steve into action, and he quickly knelt beside the prone form. Carefully he rolled the figure onto its side, wincing at the bloody hole on the right side of the golden chest. Feeling a puff of air against his fingers, he let out a hopeful breath. "No, you didn't. She's breathing. Kathy, unwrap that and fill it with water; bathroom's here next to Tara. Oh, and," he tried a light chuckle, "Kathy, Tara. Tara, this is Kathy."

Eyes wide, Kathy nodded. "Hi."

Tara nodded back.

"Kathy, the jar, come on."

"Oh, right. Sure." She began to unwrap it, keeping one eye on the lion body next to Steve, trying not to see the human face attached to it. 

Tara sniffed, one bloody hand swiping at her face and leaving a red slash across her skin. "Steve, I don't know if it will help now. She -- she said -- her eyes --"

"It'll help." Wanting to speed the process in case Sher began to wake, Steve reached out to take the now unwrapped jar from Kathy. "We didn't come all this way just to lose her." Moving into the bathroom to fill the jar at the sink, he continued his monologue, his voice echoing into the other room. "I didn't become a believer and bring you all the way up here, and screw up one of the best dates I've had in a long time, just for her to fucking die on me," he came back out of the bathroom, jar two-thirds full, a couple of bath towels in his hand, "and I'm not gonna let her die." He knelt beside her. "Kathy, hold her head, will you?"

Nodding, she lowered herself to the floor awkwardly. Steeling her nerves she took the still human head in her hands, lifting it slightly as Steve maneuvered the lip of the jar between the jaws of the beast. 

"She just needs to drink it, right? That's what she said? Come on, Sher, fuckin' drink." Some water sloshed out onto the carpet, but he got enough of it into her mouth to trigger her reflexes and she swallowed, once, then twice, and once again before he stopped pouring.

Setting the jar aside, Steve let out a deep breath and patted the dark head. "That should do it. You want to wait with her?" Kathy's eyes were still wide and she slowly shook her head. Chuckling, Steve nodded. "Will you look at Tara? I think I saw the first aid kit in the bathroom." He pressed one of the towels to the wound in the beast's chest, then put the other against the bleeding gash across her cheek.

"Ri--" She cleared her throat. "Right." Standing, she carefully skirted around the beast and stepped into the bathroom. Taking a moment to stare into the mirror and gather herself, she turned around feeling much more determined and capable. Kit in hand, she kicked off her heels and knelt smoothly beside Tara. "Hi. Awful way to meet, but -- I'm Kathy." She eased Tara's t-shirt up over the wound in her stomach. 

"Hi. Guess you guys found it, huh?" Tara gave a chuckle of her own. "I only wish you'd been sooner." Her sad gaze rested on the still form. "Her eyes changed."

Pausing in the act of wiping away the blood , Kathy looked up at her. "What do you mean? What about her eyes?"

"They turned yellow, and then they turned into a cat's eyes." Her shoulders drooped a little further. "Sher told me if they changed, it would be too late. She would be the sphinx."

"Cat's eyes, huh?" Something about that ticked over in Kathy's brain. She frowned while putting gauze over the wounds. "Her eyes changed. But a sphinx would have human eyes, or at least has always been shown with human face, human eyes. Why would her eyes change?"

"That's just what she told me -- ow."

Kathy looked up apologetically. "Sorry. They don't teach bedside manner for archeology students."

It made Tara smile just a little. "It's okay."  

"There's blood on your arm; are you hurt there as well?"

"She -- Sher got me on the shoulder earlier. I was bandaging it when I heard her break the chains."

"The chains?" Steve crawled across the floor to look at them. "She tore through the leather. Should have found a metal cuff."

As Kathy re-taped the gauze on her shoulder, Tara bit her lip, watching her lover worriedly. "There's been no change, has there, Steve?" Her voice was hopeful and desperate at the same time.

He shook his head. "No, not yet. She's gotta change back soon, though, right? I mean, we got the jar, she drank from it. The story says it'll help her, right?"

"Right." Kathy pulled the sling out of the kit, helping Tara to slip it over her head and under her arm, taking the pressure off her shoulder. "You know, it would have helped if any of you could read hieroglyphics."

Tara's head came up. "Why?"

"Did you notice there's a line of them around the bottom of the jar?"

Steve looked up, meeting Tara's gaze. "What do they say, Kathy?"

Standing, Kathy smiled at Tara before taking a deep breath and moving back to Steve's side. "They're a prayer to both Bastet and Isis. You hold her head this time, Steve. We need to get more water in her."

For a moment he gaped at her, then quickly moved to hand her the jar, taking hold of the beast's head. "Go on."

As she carefully poured the jar's contents into the fanged mouth, Kathy slowly recited the syllables she'd read over and over during the car ride. She kept pouring, reciting the prayer a second time, then a third, before pulling the jar back and setting it aside. 

All three of them watched expectantly, fear and hope thick in the atmosphere of the small cabin. 

Ten minutes, nothing. Tara's head had dropped, and Steve had turned away with a loud sigh. This left only Kathy who saw the change begin. She gasped out loud, eyes going wide again. 

Steve's head whipped around. "What?"

"The wound is disappearing."

"What?" Tara struggled up from her seat against the wall, moving slowly to join them. 

"It's disappearing." She pointed out the now almost healed spot on Sher's face where Tara's first shot had marked her. "Look, it's almost gone."

Carefully, Steve moved the bloody towel from Sher's chest and inhaled deeply. "This one's healing as well."

But it wasn't a bullet wound that Tara was interested in. Reaching out with shaking fingers she touched the soft pelt that had covered Sher's body, then slowly began to cry again. 

Sher's body slowly began to change back, her legs lengthening, straightening, her hands turning back to normal, the fur slowly sliding away, as if it was pulling back under her skin. As her claws disappeared, Tara took her hand, holding it against her cheek. 

When Sher's eyes opened, they were normal, her very own deep brown, and she blinked several times before taking in Steve's worried eyes, Tara's tear stained cheeks, and the continued look of surprise on Kathy's face. 

"T--" She coughed several times, and Tara put a hand to her cheek. 

"Don't try to talk, Sher. You just came back. Rest now. I'll watch over you."

As tired as she was, Sher didn't argue, simply smiling at Tara and letting her eyes close again. 

Carefully, Steve slid his arms underneath the now naked and sleeping woman. "Kathy, can you pull up one of the quilts?"

"Quilt, right." 

They placed her on the bed that didn't have gouges from claw marks and settled Tara next to her. Within minutes Tara was sleeping as deeply as her girlfriend, both cuddled together in a heap. 

Steve sighed, slipping an arm around Kathy. "Do you believe me, yet?"

After a moment, she shook her head. "No." Then she sat on the side of the other bed, her fingers tracing a particularly deep slash in the mattress. "But you owe me dinner and a rose tomorrow."

Sitting beside her, he chuckled, bumping her shoulder with his. "Right. One rose."

She nodded, her eyes on the still figures in the other bed. "Just one."

They stayed like that for a long time. 

Six Months Later

Cursing at himself, Steve pulled his car to a stop in front of the apartment building and jumped out. He was halfway up the sidewalk, moving at a brisk jog, when a whistle cut through the air, stopping him in his tracks.

"You're late."

Rolling his eyes, Steve came back down the walk. "I know, I'm sorry. Meeting ran long last night and I overslept." He leaned over to grab the suitcase before she could. "Then there was traffic, and I had to stop for gas -- but I made it!" He tilted his head and grinned, trying to look contrite and adorable at the same time. "I'm not that late, and I didn't get a speeding ticket. Don't I deserve a kiss?"

Kathy regarded him from behind her sunglasses. "Maybe."

"Only maybe?"

With a smile she relented, unfolding her arms and hugging him before giving him a solid kiss. 

"Happy now?"


"Good. Now come on, we're going to be late."

He opened the door. "I doubt it. Wouldn't be surprised if we beat them out there." 

"I don't know. Last night when I called Tara she said she was really excited about this."

"I know." Steve closed the door after Kathy got in, and headed for the driver's side. Sliding behind the wheel, he started the car and continued the conversation. "We're all excited about this, but I think Sher's most excited, and that means they probably had even a later night than I did, and got up later than I did, so they'll be late, and we can pretend we were on time. Good plan?"

Kathy laughed. "Great plan. Let's see if you're right. Personally, I think you're wrong and Sher's going to roll her eyes at you."

"Never gonna happen."

"We'll see."

They drove east, out of Los Angeles, before turning northeast and heading up towards Barstow, and the road to Vegas. Just past Barstow, near the town of Baker, they turned north again, taking state road 127 toward the small town of Shoshone, on the edge of Death Valley National Park.

Just before reaching the town, they took a seldom used utility road into the park. Eventually it turned from pavement to dirt, and Steve grimaced as they hit pot hole after pot hole. 

"She told you to rent a car for this."

"Yeah, yeah." He slowed down, trying to avoid the worst of the ruts. 

Near a small ramshackle hut they pulled over, parking in an abandoned parking lot that was more a collection of broken rocks and deep ruts than anything else. 

Turning off the engine, Steve shook his head and sighed. Kathy patted him on the back, grinning. "Told you."

"Do you enjoy always being right?" 

She seemed to think about it, then grinned. "Yes." With a chuckle she leaned over and kissed him. "Because it means you're always wrong." With a laugh, she evaded his hands, jumping out of the car and heading for the woman sitting in the open back of an SUV. 

"Hi! Did you guys have a nice drive?" Tara hopped out and hugged Kathy.

"We did, once he got to the house." Glancing back at Steve, who was ambling over, she whispered, "Don't tease him too much, okay? He had a late meeting, and you know Sher intimidates him."

Tara nodded. "I already told Sher not to say anything." Giving her friend a smile she stepped toward Steve, holding out her arms for a hug. "How'd the sports car hold up?"

He gave her a mock glare. "She had to choose a place with lousy roads? Hell, probably did it just to screw with my suspension." But he hugged Tara close, squeezing tightly for a moment. "How're you doing, Tar?"

"I'm good, Steve." She kissed his cheek, then pulled back, taking his hand. "Come on. Sher should be getting back soon."

"She already took off?"

"Yep. It's . . . a heck of a sight."

"I believe it."

Leading Steve and Kathy to the edge of a sandy embankment, Tara shaded her eyes, looking out across the dunes. For a moment there was only sand and sky, but then a blur caught her gaze and she pointed, grinning. "Right there. See?"

Kathy squinted, but nodded. "Hard to see against the sand. Wow, she's fast."

"Where? I don't see anything." Steve slipped his sunglasses on, then followed where Kathy was pointing. "Oh. Right." He inhaled, then let the air out slowly. "She really is beautiful."

Tara's voice was soft, and Steve could hear the smile in her words. "I know."

Across the valley, racing through the sand in giant leaps, was a golden figure, brunette hair streaming behind it in the wind. Born of the desert, the great sphinx had returned. 

Somewhere, a goddess smiled. 

The End

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