di Giacomo approached, carrying something and pointing toward one of the ruined outbuildings. “Capitano, I found this over there.” He presented the object to Cannon. It was still recognizable as a scimitar.
“That’s not Egyptian, is it?” said Cannon.
Masaracchia looked it over. “Mohammedan, I would say, of the seventh or eighth century.” Cannon stared, his unspoken question hanging in the air, and Masaracchia exasperatedly added, “Monasteries have always been centers of learning, captain.”
“That’s one explanation, sure,” Cannon said. He turned to size up the temple. “Alright, ladies and gentlemen. We have evidence that this place isn’t as dead as it looks, so caution’s the word of the day. Crannach, you’re up front with me. If anything looks even remotely suspicious, call a halt.”
“Burr, di Giacomo, you’re on rear guard. If someone tries to get the drop on us, shoot him.”
Masaracchia raised a hand. “And me?”
“You’re in the middle, brother monk,” said Cannon. “Keep your eyes peeled.”
They lined up and headed for the temple’s entrance, two stone doors, wide open. As they passed the threshold, the temperature immediately dropped. A cool breeze wafted past from further in, setting a layer of fine dust to snakelike motion. Cannon slipped his flashlight from its loop on his pack and switched it on.
The beam, soon joined by four others, stabbed into the shadows to reveal, bit by bit, a long gallery. Lengthy sequences of hieroglyphics were chiseled into the walls, surrounding the statues flanking the path down the center of the gallery.
Cannon trained his light on the nearest statue. It had been carved from black granite, and rather than facing the path, it faced the far end of the room. Playing the light on the ground before him, Cannon walked carefully over to it. It depicted a man with the head of a beast, a peculiar long-snouted creature with tall horns, kneeling, his palms on the pedestal.