Paper rustled as Emily closed the textbook and looked over her report. She had finished a lot earlier than expected but that suited her just fine. The freckled girl took off her glasses after looking through the pages scribbled with her essay and smiled,rather pleased with the results.
The young student packed up her report and got up to return the book to its proper place. When she rounded the corner she heard a book fall and a frustrated muttering and looked to see Ms. Hopkins up on the ladder, shaking her head at her clumsiness when the old librarian looked to Emily and smiled. Despite her grey hair and frail appearance, ms Hopkins had a fire in her hazel eyes and carried herself with confidence even in this old age. Though confident, she made no pretending about her age.
"Sorry about that. Not as fast as I used to be. Could you please reach for that book down there and give it to me?"
Emily nodded and reached for the book and handed it to Ms. Hopkins who put it back in its nook before coming down the step ladder and grabbing her walking stick. "Finished another report, Emily dear?" She asked with that cheerful smile of hers. Emily nodded. "Yeah I was just going to return this book back."
Ms. Hopkins inspected the book in her hands. "Insects of the world' I see?" Emily shrugged. "Yeah it's for my entomology report. I needed to cite several examples of how insects and humans form a symbiotic bond that benefit the other."
Ms. Hopkins nodded. "It is amazing that despite how we feel about insects and various others like then that they all have a role to fill." She smiled. "Are you familiar with the scarab beetle of Egypt?"
Emily raised a brow. "Those beetles in The Mummy films that eat flesh?"
Ms. Hopkins chuckled. "That was a fictionalized species in the movie." She opened the book and found a picture of one.
"The scarab, or Dung Beetle as it is commonly known, has a very important role in that as it's name implies, it feeds and carries dung away in round balls to cool off and house their larvae when they bury the dung . However it not only is beneficial to the beetle, it helps clean the dung up so that pests like flies and biting insects do not accumulate, and when they bury the dung it helps fertilize the soil, so it is good for agriculture."
She closed the book and adjusted the round rims of her glasses. "The humble dung beetle also found its place among Egyptian mythology, as it became a symbol for renewal and resurrection. They believed that their god Ra rolled the sun across the sky, so you can imagine what the dung beetle reminded them." She chuckled and began to go to her desk and Emily followed. Ms Hopkins reached for a very old sketchbook that Emily had seen before. Whenever Ms. Hopkins pulled out that book, a story from her explorer days wasn't to far away.
"The scarab even found itself among their treasures, as several artifacts based on their image were found in numerous tombs and pyramids. I remember because there was one that was highly sought after." She flipped through the pages and came across a page if a sort of jewel. "The heart of Khepri, also known as the jewel of the scarab."
Emily took a seat and looked at the sketch. It resembled a diamond cut like a scarab with gilded wings flared out in radiance, the outline of the scarab defined by lines of precious metal. "So, you found this jewel. Was it ever put in a museum or something?"
Ms. Hopkins looked to the side. "I was even younger back then.I do confess I was more than a tad reckless in my pursuit of it among the sands if Egypt, many suns ago..."
17 year old Helena Hopkins took a long drink out of her canteen and wiped the droplets on her hand, wiping them in her face as her dark braided hair whipped behind her. She looked at the map and looked up at the scorching desert ahead. Going alone might not have been the smartest thing, but waiting any longer wasn't suiting her. The young adventurer had left from the camp at the Nile with a camel when it was early dawn. Now with the sun up the only thing she wish for right now was that she had a hump to store water like her camel. Taiya didn't look much worse for wear despite the long trek.
Helena looked up at the high sun. There wasn't any cloud to offer solace from the heat. Well Gregor, guess you were right about me being a tad headstrong, surely I could have thought this through more better...
She recalled her grizzled yet warm bear of a friend, a cartographer who specializes in Egyptian ruins for archeology.He had taken over for his mentor Harold Freeman, who she remembers from her school days when she lived in Cairo for a few months. Once they snuck a view of one of the older scrolls when they were barely on the cusp of their teenage years. It told of some lost ruin known as the hill of resurrection, where the heart of Khepri was said to reside. Professor freeman gave them quite the scolding when he found out.
Helena chuckled at the memory and knew Gregor would most likely do the same when she returned. After professor freeman retired Gregor wasp laced responsible for the maps in his possession, and was happy to see Helena return to Cairo after some years away.
She looked down and saw a little shape moving along the sand. It was a little beetle, a scarab rolling a little ball of dung among the sand. Helena stopped Taiya so that it could pass. The camel grunted and pulled a bit. Helena pulled back. "Yeah yeah I know this was foolish but like it or not you're stuck with me." The camel only grunted again.
The sun was even higher now and Helena slouched on the back of Taiya who was even starting to show signs of fatigue. She noticed something and began to move without Helena's direction. "Now what?" She asked against the pushy camel. The serene sound of splashing got her attention and she looked ahead to see a palm tree. It was an Oasis!
In a few more steps Taiya bower her head and Helena just rolled off her back and into the water, taking a scoopful in her mouth and drinking he cool water. The brim of her hat dripped refreshing drops on her skin as she reached down and took her canteen, scooping up water to fill it up. maybe someone is looking out for me after all
She heard more voices and equipment clattering about and turned to see a convoy, but it wasn't hers. Standing up she wiped water from her face as she recognized the narrow faced man on the mustang dressed with a red neckerchief and a white explorer's ensemble. He smiled. "Ms. Hopkins, the bookkeeper who plays like she's an explorer." He smirked.
She huffed and crossed her arms. "Victor Silas, that is quite the caravan you are traveling with. Out for a mid afternoon stroll?" She asked with a raised brow."
"I could ask you the same thing. We stopped to rest our steeds when we noticed your frolicking little dip. Though we are surprised to find you alone out here. Alone could lead to several problems in the unforgiving desert."
Helena squeezed her pony tail and whipped it back. "Of course, I am not a child that needs to be reminded of the danger." She got on the back of her camel. Victor nodded.
"Clearly you are. It's not like you have anything to prove if you were to retrieve some artifact lost in the sands." The smugness he dripped into each word made Helena boil internally.
QQqHelena shook her head. "That's what I'm here for. I figure you are just looking for another feather in your cap to put in the market."
"Why Ms Hopkins, how cruel of you to make such accusations." He shook his head. "Regardless of who finds it first, that is a piece of history that deserves to be known to the world." He leaned towards her. "I wish you all the luck."
She nudged the brim of her hat. "Keep it for yourself.Farewell, mr Silas"
She gently kicked Taiya westward away from the Oasis. Victor Silas got under her skin and his reputation as a slithery fellow was evident when he first came into the map room where she encountered him. Well I'll show him...
Was she trying to prove something though?
Helena and Taiya trudged along at a brisk pace as she looked at the pieces of map she scrawled on her sketchbook. The original map was in a far to delicate star to travel, so she out her sketching skills to good use and made her own map based off the original parchment. "Should be getting closer." She told herself , but all she could see was a dune sea. One of the dunes was above the rest, almost like a pyramid. It fed into the top of a plateau.
She smiled. That might be it.
She reached the base of the dune which was a lot higher this close. She saw a dried palm nearby and got down, tying Taiya up. "I'll be back in a bit." She patted the camel's neck. Taiya just gave her a disinterested eye.
Helena hoisted her bag and began to climb up the dune using a hiking pole for balance. Each step sank into the grainy dune but she managed to stay above it, her pants shielding her from the hot sand. good thing I didn't opt for shorts.
The sun had passed as Helena began to reach the summit which led to the plateau and at its base was a simple cave opening. There it is.
Taking a torch from her pack she lit it and felt a tinge of excitement. Going into a new ruin was like getting ready to unwrap a gift. Who knew what would be found?
She took a step into the cave and made a careful note of where she stepped. A wrong step could land on uneven ground and lead to a long fall. No one leaves an inviting front door.
The dark and dusty cavern was long and winding. With only a torchlight and her thoughts, Helena thought back to the first time she saw the scroll as a child.
"we could get in trouble for this."
"Oh Gregory don't be such a mouse, just one look." Helena told him.
There was a map and several hieroglyphs. "What's that say?"
The boy looked it over. "I don't know."
"The heart of Khepri lies atop the hill of life." They turned to see Professor Freeman. "One must roll one's soul up the hill to gaze upon eternity."
"What does it mean, professor?" Gregor asked. The professor furrowed his brow. "One could only guess, but more importantly. What did I tell you about prying into the scrolls without supervision?"
After being reprimanded the two were sent to bed. Helena stared at the ceiling.
"Wonder what that message meant." Gregor mused.
"You know these carvings, always cryptic." Helena replied.
"But what if it's a warning?" Gregor asked.
"Whatever it is, I'm going to be the one to find it."
Helena blinked out of her reminiscing when she spotted a glint ahead. She rushed ahead to see a jackal headed statue guarding an altar. "Hello Anubis."she smiled.
The young explorer began to carefully approach the alter, noticing how clear the path was. It was rather harmless looking. She took another step, expecting a false floor to give way, but nothing happened.Every step took her closer to the glint. Each step brought the object within the view of the torch.
A glittering jewel in the shape of a scarab was displayed atop the altar, the golden outline catching the torch’s light, reflecting Helena’s awestruck face. It was really here, the jewel scarab, the heart of Khepri. Helena couldn’t contain the grin on her face. Wait until Gregor sees this.
Helena was slowly reaching out when she stopped. This was too easy. She began to look around the altar, any sunken stone, anything that would drop a rock on her. There was nothing.
So why was she worried all of a sudden?
The scarab seemed to glow brighter and she saw shadows. She tensed up and turned around to see the smiling visage of Victor Silas.
“We’ll take it from here, Ms. Hopkins.”
She turned around scowling. “I found it first, this will go to a museum where it belongs.” A couple of his hired help began to approach. “Now there is no need to make this difficult than it has to be.” Victor replied.
She held her torch out defensively. “Just stay back, something isn’t right.” She looked back at the gem. “It is too easy. No safeguards, not traps nothing.”
“Then there is nothing to worry about.” Victor shook his head. Helena looked back at it. “That’s why I’m worried.” She looked up to see the same hieroglyphs from the map.
One Must roll their soul to gaze upon eternity…
“I think we should turn back.” Helena said with certainty. Victor was about to protest when the jewel began to shine brightly, washing the cave in its luminous glow. Helena turned with her eyes widened. The light was coming from within the scarab.
The glow then spread out as everyone within the room felt the light wash over them, the scarab itself unfolding its wings as it began to rise above. Helena began to feel her hair whip as if wind was coming from the rising jewel.
What is this?
A sudden pulse of energy spread out from the scarab in a luminous wave. Helena flinched and covered her face as the wave passed through everyone. Helena stood on her toes for a moment as energy surged in every pore of her body, yelping in surprise.
Then as soon as it had begun, it stopped. The gilded beetle illuminated the cave in an ethereal glow, Helena wondering what just happened.
Her body then began to feel strange, as if her flesh were shifting sands being disturbed underneath. Helena winced and held her sides as if it would keep it from falling apart. She fell to her knees and looked, seeing the others showing signs of discomfort.
Helena felt her ribs seemingly push and slide under her arms as she felt two lumps grow from her sides, piling up under her shirt. Gasping in surprise she quickly began to pull it up to see thin appendages beginning to stretch her skin from underneath as it took on a spindly appearance, claw like appendages growing at the tips as they became segmented.
Helena could feel the limbs attached to her body, giving her six in total. Her arms began to shift underneath as her skin appeared to be amorphous on her arms as her fingers began to stiffen and bend opposite her body as they grew and thickened into thick edged spines that moved up her shifting arms and began to set and harden, her flesh starting to grow black and shiny. She looked at her new spade like inhuman arms with shock and disbelief, shaking her head. Startled shield and cries caught her attention and she could see everyone else undergoing their own changes as segmented limbs and shiny dark carapaces began to appear on ever one of them.
Helena tried to stand as she felt her clothing grow loose, the sleeves of her shirt starting to reach her new claws as her hat fell to the ground. Her legs began to spread wide as her thighs began to slim, sliding along the length of her trousers as they grew shorter, leaving behind empty boots. Her dwindling legs made it harder for her to stand up straight as she balanced herself with her new appendages, bending her back as her flesh squelched. What magic was this?
Looking ahead she saw one of the diggers looked inhuman with his extra limbs and shiny black shell, his face barely a face at all with beady eyes and six projects rising from his head as his neck shrunk under the shell his back formed. Helena realized where she had seen those features before. scarab...
Her hunched back began to fuse with her shoulders, forming a black shell with a brilliant sheen, forcing her to look ahead as two wings shot out from her spine and a black shell covered them and her rounding behind as well, making her hunch low to the ground as her shirt began to swallow her, her glasses falling off as her hair began to retreat back into her scalp. Little sensitive hairs began to poke out of her limbs.
She felt her head began to crunch inward and gave a shout of protest as five spiny projections grew out her cheeks around her nose as it grew to become the sixth ray, her head flattening above her jaw which became a set of mandibles, her ears growing out into stalks that held her new sensitive antennae. Her black eyes were settled atop of the chitinous shell that was her head, her limbs flared out wide to hold up her perfectly round body. Covered in darkness, she began to scurry out.
Crawling out from the explorer's shirt was a black little scarab beetle.
With her sensitive antennae she could sense more like her and knew the others had been changed as well. Panic began to set it as the large temple seemed even more threatening to her tiny body, scurrying about moving her six legs rapidly, producing a scuttling sound.
There was a fierce howling wind that swept up the beetles and Helena found herself looking at the Egyptian night sky as her world spun and she felt her shell strike grainy sand with her six legs in the air, flailing about.
When she righted herself, the little beetle looked up and saw that the temple that was atop the sand hill, easily climbable in her human form, was now higher than the peak of a mountain. How is this even possible? Is this reversible?Am I this way forever?
Helena scurried about when her sensitive rays picked up a strong scent. She began to scurry across the sand, the scent growing stronger. She could detect a few other beetles scrawling towards the scent, a mound coming into view. Helena remembered what she was and stopped, quickly realizing what it was.
Dung. the little beetle took a few steps back, repelled. This was no time to feed on waste, she had to find a way to return to normal!
She clattered her mandibles in frustration when her antennae picked up a whiff of something. She began to crawl forward, the large mound visible as a shadowy hill in her vision but the smell affirmed what it was. It was strong and rank,but at once...appealing.
She began to crawl, noticing the other beetles starting to scurry atop of it, and stomached her revulsion as she gained footing on the mound and began to crawl up, looking for the small scent hidden among the pile that she discovered. Her antennae tapped the surface and she picked it up again, scuttling when the scent became recognizable. It was an earthy smell ,like soil after the rain,and there was a hint of lilac, her favorite flower.
She followed the smell and would occasionally lose it, stumbling across an odious scent before moving past it and finding the earthen smell and finding a concentrated spot. She thought she could sense an ethereal glow buried inside the dung, like a gem suing through the murkiness. What is that?
"One must roll one's soul up the hill to gaze upon eternity."
It hit her. It was her soul! And maybe, just maybe, if she could get it up to the hill...
She clicked her mandibles and readied her shovel-like front legs and began to dig them into the surface, telling herself it's like excavating mud from a dig site. With her shell in two parts she found she could curl well to sculpt what she needed.
After much digging and sculpting Helena soon produced a perfectly round sphere, sensing her humanity dwelling with in. She looked up at the massive dune she must traverse. It was going to be difficult. Of course, she could just bury her ball in a safe location and use it for feeding...no. She shook her beetle head. This has to be done.
Leaning on her shirt front legs, she reached out with her longer hind legs and had a grip on the ball, and began to walk backwards, rolling it away from the pile some of the other beetles were feasting on. Walking backwards, she wondered how she would know where she was going, but then she noticed she had a good view of the sky. Use the stars.
Getting her bearings, the beetle began to make her way towards the dune' rolling the ball along, guiding it with her long back legs as her front legs pushed her back. She began to reach the hill and started to roll upwards. Each light step began to roll it up inch by inch, some sand grains shifting and making her skip at times but she clawed a good grip, trying not to let it fall. come on Helena, you could do it...
She heard a buzzing and saw a shape swoop overhead and bump her, making her tumble. She griped her ball and began to chatter as she began to roll down the dune. When she reached the bottom she fell back down and the ball rolled off her where she saw a few other beetles try to crawl over each other to the ball. They were trying to steal it!
She flapped her shell outwards to plop herself upright and crawled like mad to bump a beetle away from the ball. Another began to push against her,pushing his shovel head under her and flipping her over. She was airborne for awhile when she plopped in the sand. She could see another beetle fly into the one that threw her and those two began to quarrel as another beetle began to roll the mound away from the dune. No!
A large scarab flew overhead and swept the swift thief away and dropped it, a portion of its front leg missing. The large beetle landed on the ball as if asserting his dominance. Helena was shocked at the brutality but realized who the beetle was. Silas?
The ball began to roll again as the larger scarab began to roll with furious fervor. The other two were scurrying to catch up.
Helena began to crawl in pursuit but they were far ahead. She can't let them get away! Her shell clattered in frustration. wait! she realized something and unfolded her back shell, letting her wings spread and began to flap her translucent wings as they fluttered and began to hum as she felt her legs reach off the ground. She was flying! The beetle began to buzz in the star sky, the sand streaking below as the other beetles came closer. Helena zeroed in on her target, aiming for the ball and the scarab that was Victor Silas.
Banking down Helena dived and slammed head first into the larger scarab and flipped, knocking him away from the ball. Folding her wings she reared up her legs and began to roll it a fast as she could before he could catch up.
Rolling over the two beetles, she tried to think of a way she could keep them distracted. She began to steer the ball and thought of a quick detour, hoping the beetles would follow and sure enough they did. She then kicked the ball over the dung heap where they started and began to work hard sculpting a new one, working fervently. The other two beetles began to scurry over and not long after she made hers they began to crawl towards her. She pushed it between them and let it roll away, and like metal to a magnet, the beetles began to follow.
Got them. she smiled to herself. She then found her original ball with the lilac scent and began to roll it towards the dune.
Helena began to push the ball uphill once more, each step inching upwards as she pushed herself to heave the large ball upwards. She strained as she felt times when it was going to slip and grabbed stable footing with her legs, keeping her grip solid.
She was halfway up the dune noticing the color of the sky resembling early dawn. The morning star was visible and she know she still had much more to go, pushing her beetle body to the limit. She slipped again! She dug her front legs into the sand so she could keep the ball up. just a little bit more.."
The ball finally crested and rolled to the top of the hill and Helena got atop it for just a second to see how high she was, feeling as if she climbed Everest. I did it.
The ball began to shake and the little light emerged from it and floated over her. Helena looked up in awe before the light began to shoot into the temple. Unfolding her wings Helena began to buzz after it into the temple.
She landed and looked up to see the light in front of the jewel, swirls of lights caressing her insect form as she suddenly felt reenergized, the light seeming to lift her like gentle arms, turns her upright as she felt her body beginning to change.
Her hind legs began to lengthen until her feet could touch the ground, her middle pair of legs sinking into her shifting torso as her shell began to sink into her back, her hard flesh softening as her spade like front legs began to thin out the barbs slinking down to the end to become her delicate fingers.
Her head began to shift as her antennae sunk back into her ears and long dark locks began to sprout from her scalp and cover her hazel eyes as her face softened into the familiar form she always knew.
Helena finally exhaled and looked to her human hands then back at the gem. The jewel glittered brilliantly as if it contained all the stars of creation in one sparkling heart, gazing into eternity and beyond. She couldn't help but smile and appreciate its beauty in a new light. so that's what it meant..
Finding her gear right where it had fallen, Helena got dressed in an almost trance like state and walked out the temple, catching the sky awash with the colors of sunrise. Taking a breath of morning air Helena stepped out and began to descend the hill, tumbling down in the cool grains and rested at the bottom, glad to dig her fingers within the sand. A shadow fell overhead and she couldn't be more happier to see the face of her camel, sniffing over her.
"Oh Tai Tai, I couldn't be more happier to see you!" She exclaimed as she reached out and hugged Taiya's neck. The camel only grunted but Helena smiled anyway.
Getting atop her camel, Helena looked at the temple one last time before ushering Taiya back to the rest of the world.
"After a long rest at home I drew the sketch of the scarab by memory, though others weren't so quick to believe my dubious claims to find the explorer and when I told Gregor about the extraordinary parts I didn't tell the public, he thought I had imagined the whole thing."
Ms Hopkins closed her eyes as she shut the sketchbook. ""But imagined or not, it is an experience I will never forget."
Emily nodded. "Did anyone else ever go looking for it?"
Ms Hopkins nodded in response. "Of course, though I was one of the few who actually returned from a quest for the jewel of the scarab. Those who weren't found were believed to have been buried among the sands along with the temple. The desert reclaims everything they say." She stood up. "It wasn't the last time I saw Victor Silas either. I'm not sure if he remembered it the way I did, but he hadn't changed a bit when I had the displeasure of crossing paths with me again." She looked to the clock. "But that is a tale for another time." She smiled.
Emily looked to her watch. "Well it's time for me to go." She looked to ms Hopkins and waved. "Take care Helena."
Ms Hopkins nodded. "You too, Emily."
As the girl exited the library, ms Hopkins went back to her little office and sat down, her old hat among the piles of books, notes and maps. Putting her sketchbook down, she took the hat and felt its brim thoughtfully before reaching out and smelling a small lilac flower. Breathing the scent, she smiled in fond remembrance and put the hat down and exited the room, turning off the light, leaving the fond memories of the past to rest.