Oliver swerved the wheel to the right and gunned the accelerator to dodge around a boulder jutting out of the sands in front of the jeep. The sun had risen high enough that it no longer burned bright in his rearview mirror, but it would still be several hours before the desert air whipping through his hair grew unbearably hot. He rested one hand on the wheel and used the other to pull the guide stone out of his pocket and hold it up to one eye as he drove. The flickering pillar of fire continued to burn at the center of the mica fleck.
Duha and her husband had returned to the house, along with the guard Zaid, soon after Layla gave the guide stone and key to Oliver. He had quickly packed his bag, tossing in several parcels of food that Hadiya had wrapped up for him, filled the bladder of his water pack, then tossed all of his supplies into the jeep. Zaid had returned Oliver’s gun and wished him luck. The whole family gathered in front of the house to wave him goodbye as Oliver turned the jeep around and sped up the dusty gravel road leading out of the village and the fertile oasis in which it rested.
The jeep was an old ragtop model with zip windows that had long since been lost. The top was a patchwork of the original canvas and dozens of repair patches of differing ages, which served well enough since its primary purpose in this climate was to provide shade from the sun.
He drove west, skirting the edges of canyons, picking his way though fields of boulders, and keeping clear of deep sand dunes. Every ten minutes or so he pulled out the guide stone and checked that he was still driving in the right direction.
Diana had estimated that the temple was within one hundred fifty miles of Sephor’s estate, possibly closer, but couldn’t be any more specific acting solely on the information provided in the inscription. They had marked out seventeen possible locations to search and Oliver had no idea which, if any, of these might be the actual location of the temple. For all he knew, the mercenaries might have arrived at the temple within half an hour of leaving him to die in the canyon yesterday. Or, just as likely, the might still be searching.
Unlike the mercenaries and Diana, Oliver now knew the exact direction to travel and had a key that would help him find the entrance, but he still had no way of knowing how far he had to go. He also had to contend with the obstacles of traveling over the surface of the desert.
As he drove, Oliver tried to formulate a plan for what he would do when he arrived. Any plans he made were contingent upon what he found when he reached the temple. If the mercenaries had already reached the temple, he would have to go with his gut and try to rescue Diana before they realized that he had arrived. On the other hand, if they hadn’t reached the temple yet, his goals would probably be best served by hiding the jeep under the camouflage netting that Zaid had provided him and attempting to enter the temple himself. Then he might be able to set up an ambush and rescue Diana as the mercenaries worked their way through whatever defenses the temple might possess.