Nathaniel Cannon and the Secret of the Dutchman’s Cross No. 19

She laughed. “Only tha’ it was safer than the gallows, but we’re aye explorin’ new sorts of danger, aren’t we?”

Cannon couldn’t disagree. A few miles’ ride went by in relative silence, broken by the occasional snippet of conversation between them and, every now and then, a bellow from one of the camels. They came to the rocks. What had looked from several miles off to be merely a few boulders turned out to be a rocky hill, half-covered by the shifting dunes. Cannon dismounted, and the others joined him. He passed his reins to Masaracchia and took a few steps, hopping from rock to rock, up to the top of the hill, the temple complex laid out before him.

Time had wrought its ruin upon the scene. The walls which had once surrounded the temple were only memories, piles of rubble defining their rough outline. There had been several outbuildings along the periphery, now reduced to foundations. A newer wall, more complete but still sand-blasted and short enough to step over, circled the central temple. This, its roof abutting the clifflike face of the hill only a few yards below Cannon’s feet, was the most impressive element of the site. Standing almost directly above the temple, Cannon could nevertheless see some patches of paint left around the edges of the roof, breaking up the black and white of the granite and limestone blocks, themselves a sharp contrast to the brown bricks of the rest of the site and the dusting of sand on the temple’s roof.

Iseabail and Burr clambered up the rocks behind Cannon while he picked out a few more details. Four obelisks, all laying horizontally and broken in several pieces, had once stood by the gates in the walls, or at least the gaps where the gates had been, two at the outer wall and two at the inner. A glint of metal, half-buried, caught his eye.

“What is it?” said Burr.

“We’ll see when we get down there,” said Cannon. Returning to the camels, he took a long drink from his canteen and untied his pack from his camel’s saddle. He would need a few things before going in: an electric flashlight and batteries, which went into loops on his belt; two wooden torches and a box of matches, which he secured to the side of his pack. He slung a coil of rope over his shoulder and pocketed two spare magazines for his Mauser pistol, then hefted his pack up onto his shoulders. The others equipped themselves similarly, Iseabail taking a roll of tools besides, and Masaracchia tossing an empty sack over his shoulder.

“Ready?” said Cannon. Burr yanked the charging handle on her Thompson gun and nodded along with the others. “Alright. Let’s go.

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