Okay, this time, that was definitely moving, Tanith thought as the lid of the sarcophagus began to inch back bit by bit. Frantically, her eyes skimmed the room, looking for some way out. The room looked as if it had been sealed shut but...
There was a second room adjoined to the one she was in, with nary a corridor between them, but a rather large doorless entrance that her light did not shine through. Without a second thought, Tanith raced across the room and through the door, putting as much distance between herself and the sarcophagus as possible.
The second room seemed a disappointment at first, since it did not have any doors out of the place either. However... was it her imagination or did the air seem fresher? Some glimmers of old high school lessons on the pyramids stirred in the back of her mind. Almost reluctantly, she let the mage-light in her hand die down... And there it was - a thin, almost invisible, shaft of light raining down from the ceiling - a ventilation shaft through the bulk of the pyramid. She moved looked up into the shaft, and could barely see a hint of blue skies in the far distance.
The sound of a sarcophagus lid meeting the floor intruded into her reverie. Was that a footstep?
The vent was far too small for her to crawl through, even if she had been able to keep a grip on the smooth sides. She thought about transforming into a lizard or other crawling creature, then immediately discarded the notion. She'd have to make her way up the walls in the dark then, with limited vision of such creatures, and she was bound to get lost. That only left...
The sound of another, louder footstep decided her. Letting go of the mage-light, Tanith concentrated, and then let herself slip into her new form. Moments later, a ruby-crested hummingbird was zooming out of the pyramid shaft.
After making her way out of the pyramid's vent, Tanith changed into a falcon form that would fare better in the hot winds of the Egyptian desert. Circling not too high overhead, she slowly searched the land below her for any sign of familiar figures with both keen avian eyes and her mind. As far as she could tell, there were no other thinking creatures within or around the Great Pyramid or any of the smaller pyramids and other buildings around it. But there was something teasing just on the edge of her mind...
Swooping eastwards and avoiding a flock of ibis that were making their way south-east down the Nile, she noted the cat-like form of the Great Sphinx. Or, rather, she noted that the sphinx was facing downwards - a position it certainly should *not* be in, unless... Well, she'd just encountered a mummy (or whatever it was that lived in a sarcophagus), so she supposed that a animated Great Sphinx was within the realm of possibility. It would certainly explain the mind that she sensed... For a moment, she considered against flying toward the Sphinx, what with the whole cats and birds thing. But just as she was about to veer off, her enhanced vision spotted the tiny figure standing between the two large forearms of the Sphinx, which the great beast was looking down upon. It was a familiar figure.
Wondering if the half-elf was in need of rescue, or if he had merely met another friend as he had Ratatosk, Tanith hesitated for a few moments before deciding to approach. She just hoped the Sphinx wasn't hungry for bird.
Elrohir looked up as a falcon swooped down from the sky.
/Is it friendly?/ Asked the bird, in a very familiar "voice".
"Lady Tanith?" Elrohir asked in surprise. He held out an arm and the bird gingerly alighted on his forarm, taking care not to skewer him with her talons.
/Yes. We seem to be the only two of our party in the area. Is the Sphinx a danger? Or have you made another friend?/
"We have come to an... understanding..." said Elrohir cautiously. He looked back up at the Sphinx, who seemed to be lost in thought.
"HOOOMMMRRRR..." the Sphinx said at last, sounding very much like an Ent. "The answer to your riddle is Khert-Neter, in the underworld, which is of this realm and yet not, is distant from here and yet close, where the day shall pass and has yet to pass."
Elrohir bowed low to the Great Sphinx, careful not to upset the perch of the falcon. "Then I fear that is the road I seek," he said sadly. "I beg of thee, Honored One, if it would please thee, reveal to me how to set upon that road."
There followed another long silence as the Great Sphinx pondered the question. Tanith took the chance to pose another question.
/Why are you seeking the underworld?/
"My bond to my brother ends in a riddle. I have hope that the answer to that riddle lies there."
/How cryptic. Hm... Khert-Neter... sounds a mite familiar..."
"Lady? Do you know--"
"HHHRRRRRMMM..." said the Sphinx at last. "The path through Tuat is the path of the heaven's Sun and the earthly Sun. Did not the sign of Horus come to thee? Follow the signs of the Gods."
Before Elrohir could say another word, the Great Sphinx slowly raised its head, assuming its natural position. The glow of sentience faded from its eyes, leaving behind a simple, if grand, monument.
"He seems to say that you would know the way, my lady."
/Or at least can stumble onto it, the way it sounded to me. Wait a moment and let me change back into human form./
After changing back, Tanith began to review the files she had on the ancient Egyptian afterlife.
"Well, if this data is right, then the heaven's sun and earthly sun that the Sphinx refers to must be the sun-god Ra and the pharoah of Egypt, who are normally considered to be avatars of the god. And supposedly every night the sun-god passed through the underworld in a cycle of death and rebirth, and the journey of the dead pharoah's soul is supposed to mirror that journey."
"And you say that these dead lords of Egypt sleep in these pyramids before they rise from their graves to undertake the journey, Lady?"
"Something like that. There are differing accounts, but I think the common one is that a portion of the dead soul - the "ba" - leaves the tombs in the form of a bird and departs for the underworld."
"A bird... There!"
As Tanith looked up, but couldn't see where Elrohir was pointing to in the clear skies, until she exercised a Word to enhance her sight. There, flying west from near the Great Pyramid, was a bird that was reminiscent of many of the paintings on the tomb walls inside the pyramid.
"How did you know?" Tanith asked, referring to the bird.
"I... there was something about that bird..." Elrohir hesitated as he tried to bring his thoughts into words. "I only sensed that it was not what it seemed, as I did of your falcon form."
"I see," Tanith said as she filed the information away. "Well, I suppose we should follow that ba-spirit then. It should lead us where we want to go."
Elrohir shook his head dubiously. "Fast though I can run, and tireless. But I do not think I can keep up with a spirit-bird to over these sands."
"We... could fly..." Tanith suggested hesitantly. "I could give you falcon form, if you wish... but... to give you the actual skill in using the form, I would have to touch our minds." She looked at him apologetically.
For his part, Elrohir did not hesitate. "I have trust in your skills, Lady. Let this be done quickly, so that we do not lose the spirit-bird."
Tanith nodded and focused her will. Transformation isn't the most difficult among her powers, but learning how to use the transfigured form is, even if some of the skills can be transferred from mind to mind. Thanks to Elrohir's quick mind and learning curve, however, he was quickly flying with a fair proficiency. Soon, two falcons could be seen soaring off into the western skies, chasing after the ba of the pharoah and the descent of the evening sun.