“Underneath the Pyramids?” Renata asked.
“Or at least the Giza Plateau,” Kurt said.
“Impossible to tell, but we seemed to have been descending for part of our journey and Giza is at least two hundred feet above the river level. We could be five hundred feet down or more.”
“Not really going to see the Pyramids, then, are we?”
Kurt looked around the room. Aside from the tunnel with the rails and the pipeline, the only way in or out of the room was the path guarded by the two statues of Anubis. “Not unless we catch up with the rest of the tour.”
“I’m surprised there aren’t any guards,” Renata said.
Kurt replied, “Guards stand on the tower and watch outward. We’re already in the heart of their stronghold.”
The tunnel was poorly lit, illuminated by bare low-wattage bulbs every seventy feet. In some places the passageway seemed like a natural fissure, in others it had clearly been hewn out of the rock by primitive tools and in certain sections farther on it had been shored up by modern methods.
After a downward section, the tunnel leveled off and ran straight. Along the walls were carved-out recesses reminiscent of the catacombs in Rome. Instead of holding human bodies, they contained mummified animals. Crocodiles, cats, birds and toads. Hundreds and hundreds of toads.
“The Egyptians mummified all kinds of things,” Joe said. “Crocodiles are a big one. Found in many tombs because of their connection with Sobek, one of their gods. Cats, because they could ward off evil spirits. Birds too. There’s a huge crypt in a dark cave beside the Pyramids—perhaps right above us—called the Bird Tomb. Hundreds of mummified birds. No humans.”
“What about frogs,” Kurt said, examining a half-unwrapped bullfrog or toad. “Was there a frog god or something?”
Joe shrugged. “Not that I’m aware of.”
They kept on moving and soon arrived at the entrance to a brightly lit room. Kurt eased toward the opening. He had the sense of being on the balcony at the opera, about halfway up and to the side of the stage. Spread out in the open cavern below was enough floor space to mount a small convention. Modern lighting illuminated the room, but everything else was of ancient origin.
The walls were smooth and covered with hieroglyphics and paintings. One wall depicted a pharaoh being tended to by Anubis, another showed a green-skinned Egyptian god raising up a dead pharaoh. A third panel displayed men with crocodile heads, swimming in the river, retrieving frogs or turtles.
“You’re the resident Egyptologist,” Kurt said to Joe. “What’s this all about?”
“The green-skinned guy is the same one we saw on the tablets in the museum. He’s Osiris, god of the underworld. He decides who stays dead and who goes back to life. He also has something to do with bringing the crops to life and then making them go dormant at the end of the season.”
“Osiris bringing the dead back to life,” Kurt said. “How appropriate.”
“Those crocodile men are representatives of Sobek,” Joe said. “Sobek also has something to do with death and resurrection, having saved Osiris once when he was betrayed and cut into little pieces.”
Kurt nodded and took in the rest of the scene. In the center there was a long row of sarcophaguses. At the far end was a small version of the Sphinx covered in gold leaf and iridescent blue lapis lazuli. At the other end, almost directly beneath them, lay a pit filled with a couple feet of water and four large crocodiles.
One of them roared and swished violently as an interloper got too close.
“Somehow, I liked the mummified ones better,” Kurt said.
“They were certainly smaller,” Joe said.
It looked as if the pit below them was recessed several feet, apparently deep enough to keep the crocodiles contained as two men walked past them unconcerned and went into a tunnel at the far end of the room.
“Are you sure we’re not inside one of the Pyramids?” Renata asked.
Joe shook his head. “I’ve been to Giza three times,” Joe added. “I don’t remember this being on the tour.”
“It’s incredible,” Kurt said. “I’ve heard rumors of caves and chambers under the Pyramids, but usually on those TV shows that insist aliens built everything and then left it all behind.”
“How would anyone build something like this?” Renata asked. “How could they work down here in the dark?”
Joe crouched down and touched the floor, plucking some pumice from the ground. Much of the cave seemed to be covered in it. “This is sodium carbonate,” he said. “The Egyptians called it natron. It’s a drying agent designed to help the mummification process, but, combined with certain types of oil, it makes a smoke-free fire. That’s how they made enough light to work in the tombs and in the mines. This place might be both.”