The Sugar Quill
Author: Madaline Fabray  Story: The Infinity Gate  Chapter: Chapter 1. The Abraxas Amulet
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Ch. 1. The Abraxas Amulet

 

“Don’t put that suitcase on top of those maps!” Percy said testily as Fred and George started to throw the numerous family suitcases into a borrowed Ministry vehicle. “We won’t be able to…now don’t do that…I say! Cut that out!”

 

“Oh, keep your shirt on,” Fred said, sniggering.

 

“Besides, I’m sure the pilot will know how to get to Egypt,” George said as he waved the maps in front of his older brother’s nose.

 

“But we need those to find our way around once we reach Egypt,” Percy snarled as he tried to snatch the maps back. But George tossed the maps to Fred, who tossed them to a startled Ron.

 

“What on earth…?” Ron muttered as he looked from the maps to his chortling twin brothers.

 

“I’ll take those for safekeeping,” Arthur Weasley said as he plucked the maps from his bewildered youngest son.

 

“Mummy,” Ginny called out, her red hair caught up in a green rubber band at the nape of her neck. “Have you seen my straw hat?”

 

“I packed it in with our other hats, in the round case there,” Molly Weasley said as she came out of the Burrow with two small satchels. “In the trunk. Don’t get it out, it’s overcast. You don’t need it now.”

 

“Molly, did I remember the suitcase with the extra robes?” Arthur said as he tried to refold the rumpled maps.

 

“No, you didn’t. I brought them down and put them in the trunk first thing.” With a sigh, Molly took the maps from her husband. In a few seconds, the maps were neatly folded.

 

Scabbers!” Ron remembered, and he started back for the house.

 

“Out here,” Molly said, and she indicated the smaller case she had been carrying.

 

“Oh! Thanks, Mum!” Ron said as he picked up the smaller case and peered in.

 

“What would you do without me?” Molly grumbled good naturedly.

 

“We’d be hatless, ratless and extra-robeless, no doubt,” Arthur replied as he gave his wife a peck on the cheek. “All right, I think that’s everything. Everyone in!” He stifled a yawn as the Weasley family clambered aboard the large car.

 

The whole morning was a bit surreal, and not just because of sleep deprivation, Arthur thought wryly as he got behind the steering wheel and headed to Heathrow. It seemed like only yesterday when he had received the official owl post declaring him the winner of the Daily Prophet Annual Galleon Draw. Suddenly, the Weasley family, who could barely keep 100 galleons in Gringotts at any one time, now had 700 galleons! What would they do with this sudden wealth?

 

The answer came that very day in the form of an unexpected owl from Bill, who worked as a curse breaker for Gringotts in Egypt. His oldest son told his family that all was going well, and that he had just led a team of curse-breakers into a previously unexplored mastaba. The curses around this one had been particularly challenging, but they finally succeeded and had found a wealth of new and fascinating items within.

 

“This is one of the most unusual tombs I have ever seen,” Bill had written. “For one, when we entered, we saw several statues and paintings of red donkeys, which is highly unusual. Whoever was buried here obviously was afraid of a spiritual attack, I suppose. Donkeys are bad luck in Egyptian lore, and the color red is supposed to be a bad omen. Red donkeys are bad news all around. We’re finding some of the usual things: statues of Osiris, golden goblets, urns, jars, statues of Bast and Ra. The hieroglyphics and murals indicate that the person entombed here was a high-ranking official, perhaps the advisor of a pharaoh. We’re still trying to find out which dynasty this mastaba was built by, but we believe it was constructed around the time of Menes, the first pharaoh. But one of the neatest finds is a strange medallion, with strange markings none of us have seen before. We’ve called a language expert in, who happened to be in the area. He was able to translate most of the writing, said he believed it was Jiroft – one of the oldest forms of writing in the world -- and said that this was supposed to be a powerful amulet. He called it an abraxas. According to the writing on the edges, it’s supposed to call on the power of some supernatural force, which he supposes is the equivalent of the Greek Fates. A bunch of superstitious nonsense, of course...”

 

But was it? Arthur pulled into the parking lot of the airport, deep in thought. The idea of the amulet gripped his imagination and wouldn’t get go. What if this amulet really did have control over the fates? Part of him was uneasy at the thought. Too much power had a way of corrupting people. But for some reason, the thought of the abraxas would not leave his thoughts. He just had to see it, to see if such things could exist and really did work.

 

****

 

“Wait until you see this!” Bill said as he led his family across the hot sand to the newly opened mastaba. He was practically dancing with excitement.

 

“All right, Bill,” said Ron, who squinted dubiously at the small, mud-brick structure. Fred and George cast longing looks at the far more impressive-looking pyramids that dotted the horizon. “But after that, can we go to the Great Pyramid?”

 

“Have patience, Ron,” Arthur said. His hand shielded his eyes from the hot afternoon sun. Not a wisp of vapor broke the perfect azure sky. “What we are about to see hasn’t been seen by anyone else besides the excavators and curse-breakers.” His eyes were alight with anticipation. The thought of the abraxas still stirred his imagination. Indeed, his curiosity burned even more now that they were so close to the object he longed to see.

 

Bill ducked his head and walked through the dark, narrow entrance, his family following close behind. They entered a perfectly square room illuminated by torch light. Straight ahead, they saw the entryway to another part of the mastaba, and a set of stairs cut into the earth was to the left of the entryway. On each side of this opening were identical donkeys, painted a bright crimson, with white, staring eyes. Their ears stretched up from the tops of their heads and came within inches of the mud brick ceiling, which was about 15 feet from the ground. Their enormous mouths were wide open, and they looked ready to swallow anyone – living or dead – whom they didn’t like. Arthur was unnerved as they walked through the room. It seemed as if the eyes of the donkeys followed his every movement.

 

The room the Weasley family had just entered was buzzing with activity. Wizards with small brushes hovering before them were going along the walls brick by mud brick. Along the top of the walls was a series of brightly-colored hieroglyphs, many of them featuring crimson donkeys similar to the statues.

 

“What’s with the bright red donkeys?” Ginny asked, and she folded her arms and pursed her mouth in distaste.

 

“That’s what we are trying to figure out,” Bill said. “In ancient Egyptian culture, a red donkey was considered a threat to the souls of the dead. Very bad karma. I think they were supposed to keep the souls imprisoned, but I’m not sure. So to find these images in the tomb of a high-ranking official, especially in a culture that believed so much in a life after death in a spirit world, is bizarre to say the least.”

 

“So, where is this abraxas you were telling us about?” Arthur asked, trying to sound casual.

 

Bill’s eyebrows arched up and a grin nearly split his face. “I never took you to be interested in ancient history, Dad. I always thought modern Muggle technology was your all-consuming passion.”

 

Arthur laughed good-naturedly. “I have many talents and interests, my boy. So, let’s not stand here all day. Lead on, lead on. Fred! George! Stop that, now!”

 

“Boys!” Molly said more sharply. “Behave yourselves!”

 

Fred and George sheepishly pocketed their trick quills, and the blue and green polka dots on the two donkey statues disappeared. Ginny giggled, Ron snickered, and Charlie tried to hide a grin behind a large, callused hand. One of the workers muttered under his breath as he proceeded to try to magic away bright yellow mustaches that had appeared on three of the hieroglyphic figures.

 

Percy, meanwhile, was too busy chatting with a couple of the excavators about what he had learned on ancient Muggle history at Hogwarts to notice his brothers’ antics. Bill merely rolled his eyes and pulled Percy away from his engrossed, one way conversation, and the older Weasley brother did not miss how the workers rolled their eyes and shook their heads.

 

Bill led his family down the stairs.

 

“Watch your step and take your time,” he called over his shoulder. “Some of these steps are a bit uneven.”

 

The Weasleys slowly descended the long, earthen staircase, leaning on the dusty mud walls for support. After what felt like an eternity, they finally reached the bottom. This room, like the one above, had about a dozen wizards cleaning artifacts, making precise notes on long scrolls of paper and measuring the walls and other, larger items.

 

“This way,” Bill called out cheerfully as he weaved his way through the throng of wizards and headed towards a middle-aged man sitting apart in a corner on a small wooden stool. This wizard was studying an object with a magnifying eye-piece.

 

Getterbrieg!” Bill said. “Do you have a moment?”

 

“Ah, young Mr. Weasley, of course,” said Getterbrieg. He removed the eyepiece and surveyed the Weasley family with somber brown eyes. He had a ring of thick white hair framing his head and a neatly trimmed white goatee. His plain brown and tan robes were dust covered.

 

“Allow me to introduce Heinrich Getterbrieg, one of the foremost German scholars in the world,” Bill said.

 

“You exaggerate,” Getterbrieg murmured with a modest bow of his head.

 

“Mr. Getterbrieg, this is my family. My dad, Arthur Weasley, my mum, Molly, my brothers Charlie, Percy, Fred, George…”

 

“I’m Fred, and he’s George,” said George as he pointed to his sibling.

 

Bill gave a small half grin. “Nice try. This is Ron, and my sister Ginny.”

 

“How do you all do?” Getterbrieg inquired politely.

 

“My dad is interested in your abraxas medallion,” Bill said.

 

Getterbrieg arched his bushy white eyebrows as he studied Arthur. “Are you then a linguistic expert as well?”

 

“No, no,” Arthur said hastily. “I just found the description fascinating. So what is it supposed to do?”

 

“I doubt it actually does anything,” Getterbrieg replied slowly as he held up the object he had been studying in his hand. “For one, it is broken. See?”

 

The amulet, which filled the German’s palm, was in the shape of a six-pointed star. It was gold in color and looked heavy. A thin, rope-like gold chain was woven through a small hole in one of the points. The chain itself was broken.

 

“It looks whole enough to me,” Arthur said as he stepped closer to get a better look.

 

Getterbrieg shook his head. “No. All abraxas have seven sides, the number of completeness. If you look here,” he said as he held up one of the edges to Arthur, “it appears one of the corners was deliberately removed to make six points. You can still see the sharper edges on this corner but this area is perfectly smooth. The dry, stable Egyptian air preserves the most intricate detail. Why this was done puzzles me, for I have never seen another instance of tampering in such a manner.”

 

Er, fascinating,” said Arthur, trying to puzzle out what Getterbrieg had just told him. “But what was it supposed to do? Was it a protection of some sort?”

 

“It was probably used as such,” Getterbrieg replied. “It was more of a guidance amulet, a prayer amulet, even. The wearer, according to some legends and myths, would not stray from his destiny, and the amulet would guard against those situations which would cause him to wander off the path preordained by the gods.”

 

“Sounds like a strange protection,” Ron commented. “What if you didn’t like the path you were on?”

 

“Hush, Ron,” Molly said absently as she shivered slightly in the cooler air below ground.

 

“And this ability to call on the power of some sort of supernatural power?” Arthur asked.

 

Getterbrieg shrugged. “Yes, I noticed the inscription on here. The wearer of this abraxas obviously believed in such things. If you look closely,” he said, and here he held up the flat part of the amulet again, which featured a strange figure of a man with a rooster’s head and a snake’s body for the lower portion. The two human arms were extended on either side and the hands were holding the sun and moon. Around the edges was a series of words Arthur could not make out. “This translates to Urth, Verthandi and Skuld. The Three Sisters who dictate the past, present and future respectively to even the gods themselves.”

 

“But you don’t believe it works anymore?” Arthur asked.

 

“I never believed it did anything except decorate the neck in the first place,” Getterbrieg replied with a chuckle. “We are talking of culture and superstitions that are thousands of years old. While there may be some grain of truth to these ancient legends, most of the old tales have been embellished through the years, making such stories little more than a pleasing myth with the occasional good moral.”

 

“Not to mention the occasional bawdy, scintillating scandals involving some god or other,” Bill said with a snicker.

 

“Bill Weasley!” Molly reprimanded as the twins chortled and Ron and Ginny exchanged puzzled looks.

 

“How much would something like that be worth?” Arthur asked, trying to make his voice sound as casual as possible.

 

“Actually, not much,” Getterbrieg said with a shrug. “Despite its age, it has obviously been broken,” he explained, pointing to the missing seventh star tip. “The abraxas itself is quite old, but whether it was buried with the mastaba is doubtful. It must have been removed at some point.”

 

“Hang on,” Bill said. “Are you saying we aren’t the first to have entered this place?”

 

“That is precisely what I’m saying,” the German wizard replied. “Either someone entered to take this and later returned it, or placed it in here later. This hole you see for the chain, it is most precise. I would guess the hole was made around the same time as this gold rope chain, in the 1800s. The style of the chain is most strikingly French, I’m guessing the Napoleonic era. But then, I am guessing here.”

 

Bill’s face fell. “That’s disappointing. But why wouldn’t it have been mapped out already? I would have thought that whoever came here would have said something, for the glory of a discovery.”

 

“The paints and brushstrokes used for this image,” Getterbrieg said as he turned the amulet upside down to reveal a crude painting of a red donkey. “Means that someone from the ninteenth century handled this piece. Now I do believe the abraxas itself was made in more ancient times.” He turned the amulet back over to show the strange humanoid creature carved on the front. “This image of the rooster-headed man and the manner in which it is engraved shows this is from the ancient Egyptians. The gold painting over the clay core reflects this as well.” Getterbrieg handed the amulet to Arthur.

 

Arthur stared in fascination at the abraxas, marveling at the weight of it, and the sudden feeling of power it gave to him. I must have this, he thought. Such a feeling startled him, even made him uneasy. But the desire to possess the amulet only grew, the longer he held it.

 

“I don’t think I’ve seen Dad this excited over an object since we chipped in and bought him the Muggle telly,” Charlie said sardonically, and he grinned at Bill.

 

Arthur barely noted his sons’ amusement. “Would something like this ever be sold?”

 

“Arthur! You don’t mean to … you can’t be serious!” Molly scolded. Bill laughed and shook his head and the other Weasley children grinned.

 

“Well, we were going to get souvenirs, right?” Arthur gave his wife a pleading look.

 

Getterbrieg laughed, a light, pleasant sound. “I wouldn’t think of selling this, not in good conscience. While there are some unusual traits with this piece, it is damaged, defaced. It is also far from unique. I am done studying it, and I give it to you. As a, how did you say? A souvenir.”

 

Arthur looked at Getterbrieg, stunned. “Wow, thanks. I mean, this is … gosh, thanks!” Bill frowned and the others exchanged surprised looks.

 

Bill finally shrugged.

 

“Well, you are the expert. If it truly has no value.”

 

 

“It is of no value to us,” Getterbrieg said with a small smile.

 

Charlie laughed. “Well, Dad’s day has been made.”

 

“It’s great, Dad,” Ron said with obviously feigned interest. “Now can we go to the Great Pyramid? And the others? I wanted to see that one where all the Muggles grew extra heads and…”

 

Ginny squealed in disgust, and Molly glared at her youngest son. Ron’s ears turned bright red and he clamped his mouth shut.

 

“All right, all right,” Bill said with a chuckle. “I think we’ve seen the high points here. Mr. Getterbrieg, thank you very much for your time.”

 

Getterbrieg nodded his head in acknowledgment as the Weasley family waved goodbye and ascended the staircase.

 

****

 

Later that evening, Heinrich Getterbrieg was carefully packing his tools and books into his satchel when he heard a soft, rustling noise behind him.

 

“I was wondering if you would visit tonight,” Getterbrieg said calmly, without turning around.

 

“Yes,” replied a voice from the shadows, which was barely above a whisper. “It all went very well. Just as planned.”

 

“Just as planned, <I>ja</I>,” Getterbrieg said as he put the last of his papers in his satchel. “The amulet is now his.” He looked up towards the sound of the voice, but could only see a vague outline in the shadows. “But I still say you are wasting your time.”

 

The voice in the shadows laughed softly. “For all your age and wisdom, you underestimate the mortal’s hunger for power. Their hunger for revenge, when provoked, is even more powerful yet.”

 

“Ah, but you have forgotten, my young one, the most powerful force of all – love,” Getterbrieg said.  “As long as true love for one’s self and humanity is not forgotten, all is well.”

 

“Love?” The figure in the shadows laughed. “Love? You fool! I don’t believe what I am hearing! You have grown maudlin in your old…”

 

Something funny happened to the German wizard just then. A silvery cloud seemed to envelope him, and his form seemed to radiate with a strange, misty light. His eyes narrowed and the room seemed to darken as he stared coldly at the figure. Silence permeated the chamber.

 

The figure in the shadows recoiled and seemed to diminish. “Humans, even wizards, are fallible,” the shadowy form said, a note of apology in its voice. “They are charitable only if it suits their ends. His desire for power will overcome his love for mankind, and through his human folly, we will be free once more.”

 

 

The room lightened again and the misty light evaporated as Getterbrieg’s face once again softened into a more neutral expression.

 

 “Perhaps,” Getterbrieg responded as he Summoned his tweed cloak and matching hat. “But you forget one important thing. They are very capricious.” He lifted his satchel and placed the worn, leather strap over his shoulder. “Will they even answer his call, if he calls? They may. They may not. You cannot control that.”

 

The figure in the shadows seemed to darken and hunch over in frustration.

 

“Even if they do respond,” Getterbrieg added as he Summoned a plain, bamboo walking stick, “will Mr. Weasley be willing to pay the price for their assistance? You cannot control that, either.”

 

Without another word, the German wizard turned and made his way up the stairs, his footfalls and cane making a strange, muffled thumping on the old, dusty brick.

 

****

 

Arthur Weasley sat on the edge of the hotel bed, holding the abraxas in the palm of his hand. Outside, the usually bustling city of Cairo was more subdued, although not entirely still. Neon signs advertising various products and specials blinked alternately in Arabic and English, casting a seemingly eternal glow over the city. Cairo, with its population of more than 15 million people, was – like most of Egypt – a mix of ancient structures and relics of millennia ago and modern skyscrapers, roads and stores. On Cairo’s city streets, small donkey-pulled carts competed for space on the roads with modern luxury vehicles.

 

But very little of this activity was apparent now. All was quiet. Even the active, rambunctious Weasley family was quiet at one in the morning. Only his wife’s quiet, occasional snores and the soft ticking of the clock made any sound in the small room.

 

Arthur’s thumb stroked the surface of the large medallion. His wife was asleep only a few feet from him, and Ginny rested on a cot to the left of the double bed. Bill was at his own flat, only a few miles away. Charlie shared a room with Percy, and the twins and Ron shared a third hotel room.

 

 

Does this thing work? Arthur was asking himself as his thumb ran over the surface of the amulet. Can it really call upon some unknown powers? And how, by Merlin’s Beard, would I use it?

 

The red-haired wizard scowled down at the abraxas. The rooster-headed man stared placidly back from its one profile eye, dumb to the internal conflict within the wizard.

 

Urth, Verthandi and Skuld,” Arthur whispered, remembering the three names Getterbrieg had mentioned earlier. “Do you still exist? Did you ever exist?”

 

Arthur’s eyes widened as he saw the sun and moon the rooster-headed man was holding start to rotate and glow. They slowly started to move in opposite directions, with the sun going clockwise and the moon going counter-clockwise.

 

“Merlin,” Arthur whispered. He looked hastily over his shoulder, but his wife and daughter slumbered on. He turned back to look at the amulet. The sun and moon were orbiting around the edges of the abraxas now, and the rooster-headed figure started to rotate in place, looking like a statue set on a moving pedestal.

 

“Listen.”

 

Arthur gasped and nearly dropped the amulet at the sound of this strange voice, which seemed to come from the abraxas itself. It was the voice of the skeletal remains of autumn leaves blowing through the wind, or grains of sand striking ancient brick. The voice filled him with a strange dread.

 

More sounds could be heard from the abraxas, but it was in a language – no, several different languages – that Arthur could not place. He frowned as he listened closely for something that sounded the least bit familiar. Finally, the voice – or voices, Arthur really couldn’t tell which – spoke in English again. But the English was often overlapped by other tongues, and Arthur had to concentrate to decipher anything.

 

“Do you wish to walk the path of the immortals? Do you seek the wisdom of the ancients? Do you desire to converse with the Sisters?”

 

Arthur said nothing, afraid he wasn’t hearing correctly. The voice/voices repeated its question:

 

“Do you wish to walk the path of the immortals? Do you seek the wisdom of the ancients? Do you desire to converse with the Sisters?”

 

“Y…yes, I do,” Arthur finally managed to croak out. There was a part of him that wanted to shout “no,” to throw the amulet down. Part of him even wanted to return the object to his son Bill to give back to Getterbrieg, and concoct some lame excuse about the Customs officials. But his curiosity got the better of him, and he listened intently to what the voices said next.

 

Again, the voices seemed to speak many different languages at once. But it didn’t take Arthur as long to finally hear phrases he could understand.

 

“To walk the path, to see the Sisters, call our names and your heart’s desire,” the voices whispered disjointedly. “Call on us…call our names.”

 

Arthur closed his eyes as he clenched the abraxas.

 

Urth, Verthandi and Skuld,” he whispered. “I call your names. I wish to walk the path of the immortals. I seek the wisdom of the ancients. I desire to converse with the Sisters.”

 

The hotel room around him faded away, and soon Arthur found himself standing in a strange, misty void.

 

“Why do you call upon us?” The voices echoed all around him.

 

Arthur turned around, frantically trying to pinpoint where the voices were coming from. “I wish to see the Sisters,” he repeated, a little less certain now.

 

“Why?” the voices asked. “Why does a mortal call on the three Sisters?”

 

“I…” Arthur spoke tentatively, then fell silent. Why did he call them? Was it mere curiosity?

 

The mist several feet in front of him swirled and took form. Before his astonished eyes, Arthur saw three women materialize. All three were heavily veiled and had long, white hair. One was spinning some sort of silvery thread on a spinning wheel. A second took the thread and measured out varying lengths. The third had a great pair of golden scissors, and occasionally she would snip at a section of the thread. Arthur shivered, for each time the scissors severed the thread, a strange sigh, or moan, or sometimes a scream echoed through the area. The thread would then vanish. The three women sat before an enormous crystalline gate, which glowed a faint blue color.

 

“Where is your abraxas?” the woman at the spindle called out.

 

With trembling hands, Arthur held up the medallion before him, and the three strange women sighed.

 

“It is an amulet of power, now,” observed the woman measuring the thread.

 

“It was before, as well,” said the third as her scissors efficiently severed another silver thread. Arthur had to restrain himself from covering his ears from the howl that sounded after the thread disappeared.

 

“As it will be, until...” the woman at the spinning wheel began.

 

“Until?” Arthur croaked out. “Until what?”

 

The three women chanted in unison:

 

“Seven for protection.

 

“Six, for power dark and bright and gray.

 

“Five for defense.

 

“Four for calamity.

 

“Three for security.

 

“Two for stability.

 

“One and half of one and less and less to complete the cycle and seal the bridge forever.”

 

“I don’t understand,” Arthur whispered.

 

The first woman stretched out her hand towards the amulet. The reverse side, showing the painted red donkey, faced her and seemed to glow menacingly. The woman merely gave a dry cackle. The amulet flared in Arthur’s hand, and the red paint flaked away and drifted softly through the air.

 

“That has no effect against us,” the second woman said.

 

"It will be of no assistance to you, either," the first woman added.

 

“I didn’t put it there,” Arthur said. The three women stared back at him, and he looked away, suddenly feeling very foolish.

 

 

“What do you want?” asked the woman with the scissors. She made another snip, and the piercing wail made Arthur stagger.

 

“What are those sounds?” Arthur asked. “Is someone in trouble?”

 

The three women laughed, a sound like a hot, dry breeze rattling parched, withered cornstalks.

 

“It is the sound of rebirth,” said the woman at the spinning wheel.

 

“The sound of a soul, leaving one world,” said the second woman as she slowly ran the silver thread through her long, thin fingers.

 

“The sound of a soul coming through the gates into the next world,” said the third woman. Snip. A groaning sound floated through the air, grew stronger, than faded away.

 

“I’m not sure I understand,” Arthur said, but he shivered all the same and suddenly wondered if there was a way back to the hotel room, a way back to the relative order, warmth, and familiarity he knew.

 

The three women cackled again.

 

“You understand,” the woman at the spinning wheel said, a note of cold amusement in her dry voice.

 

“You comprehend more than you think,” the second woman said.

 

“More than you care to admit, perhaps,” the third woman said. Snip. An agonized cry, followed by a wailing, nearly made Arthur fall to his knees.

 

“Who are you?” he shouted as the cry faded away.

 

Again, the dry, brittle laughter.

 

“You know us,” said the first woman.

 

“You called our names,” said the second.

 

Urth.” Verthandi.”  Skuld.” Clotho.” Lachesis.” Atropos.”

 

“We are called many names,” the third woman said.

 

“The Weaver.”

 

“The Measurer.”

 

“The Inevitable.”

 

“The three Fates.”

 

“The Norn.”

 

“The Moerae.”

 

Their voices blended together and echoed all around until Arthur felt light-headed. Then, all was still.

 

“What do you want?” the third woman asked again.

 

“I…I don’t know,” Arthur said. “What should I ask for? What could I ask for?”

 

More laughter, quieter this time.

 

“Mortal,” said the second woman. “You ask what you wish.”

 

“We may answer,” the third woman said.

 

“We may not answer,” the first one said. “We may grant, we may deny. Only through us can you command the gate.”

 

Arthur stared at the gate. It was immense and seemed to be carved of crystal. It shimmered and glowed with a strange ethereal light. The gate was so vast that Arthur could see neither the top nor the bottom. He could not even see where to open the gate.

 

“What is beyond there?” Arthur asked.

 

“That is not for you to know,” said the first woman, a bit sharply.

 

“That is the gate of immortals.”

 

“The gate of ancients.”

 

“The gate of time.”

 

“The Infinity Gate.”

 

“There is only one way in,” said the third woman. Snip. A soft cry which tore at Arthur’s heart seemed to come from the thread as it slowly disappeared. The third woman laughed.  “That one knows now what is beyond, but it is not for you to know. Not yet.”

 

“But,” said the second woman. “What is inside may be called out.”

 

Arthur shuddered. He wasn’t sure he liked that idea at all!

 

The third woman looked up at Arthur. “Do you wish to see?” she asked. “Do you wish to open the gate?”

 

Arthur caught a glimpse of the women’s eyes through the veil. They were dark, bottomless pools that held no light. Arthur gasped and took several steps backwards, dropping the abraxas as he did so…

 

…And he found himself once again seated on the edge of his bed, sweating profusely  and badly shaken, but otherwise all right.

 

Arthur heaved a sigh of relief and scowled down at the abraxas lying on the ground between his feet. He picked it up as one would a spent tissue and tossed it in a tote bag. Tomorrow, he promised himself firmly, it goes back to Bill. It goes back to Getterbrieg for him to study. I want nothing more to do with it.

 

Nodding in satisfaction, Arthur flopped back on the pillows and tried to go to sleep. But his dreams were filled with vague, troubling shadows which had faded almost completely by the time he rose the next morning.

 

End of Chapter 1

//
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