The Temple of the Staff
Long ago, before the lake dried up and left the island temple standing atop a high plateau, the exterior walls of the temple had extended down into the waters of the lake. Now, those tightly cut blocks of stone bore the same red stains as the rocks upon which they stood, as if the lapping waters had turned red with algae, or blood.
The plaza on which Oliver stood jutted out from the face of the island out to the shattered edge of the collapsed bridge. The gates, so recently shattered by the blast of shaped explosive charges, were flanked by monumental statues of Osiris. At the feet of each statue, its head only reaching the knees of the god behind it, stood a life sized statue of man holding a brass trumpet to his lips. Remarkably, neither the deities nor their heralds appeared to have been weathered by the ages. Over the gap where the gates had stood, a series of hieroglyphs were etched deep into the stone lintel. Oliver could not read them, but he assumed they said something about mighty powers of the gods that guarded the temple.
The remnants of the gate, which appeared to have been made from bronze-clad wood, which had somehow remained intact through the centuries, lay shattered and charred across the paved floor just inside the temple. Between the charred fragments still hanging from the bronze hinges, Oliver saw a courtyard with statues of Egyptian gods arrayed in twin rows. Their various heads, snouts, beaks, and muzzles gazed at one another across the court, which was open to the sky. At the end of the courtyard a low wall of brick surrounded a sunken area where smaller statues, which did not appear to depict gods, stood on pedestals flanking the steps down.
Oliver pulled out his gun and ran to the corner of the gateway, intending to peer around the edge and see if he could spot the mercenaries, but his plans were thrown out the window when a mighty blast sounded from heralds on either side of the gate.
Oliver dove to the side and crouched behind one of the statues of Osiris, cursing his fortune. No such welcoming burst had sounded when the mercenaries and Diana had entered the temple, so it must have had something to do with the brass pyramid, which the elder Layla had called the “key,” that he carried in his pocket.
As he waited for the mercenaries to investigate the trumpet blasts, Oliver heard the harsh squeal of bent metal twisting and rasping against itself. He risked a glance around the statue and saw the shattered remnants of the gates twisting outwards as the ancient hinges rotated.
The echoes of tortured metal died away and Oliver heard the crunch of footsteps approaching over the brick pavement. He ducked low behind the statue of Osiris, keeping one eye around the base to watch the gateway, and waited for the mercenary to appear.