4. An Aura of Mystery

Houston, Texas – June 17th, 2004

“Magic?” Charles repeated, although he was not entirely surprised.  “Well.  I suppose that’s one explanation. And that is more your area of specialty than mine.”

“I wasn’t sure if you remembered my clan,” Copperfield said.  “But yes. House and Clan Tremere have rather cornered the market on that specialty—at least in the Camarilla.”

“Right,” Charles agreed. “But this jar—if it’s authentic, and I believe it very likely is—is thousands of years old.  Surely there weren’t Tremere in Egypt at that time. Were there?”

“No, we don’t go so far back.  Historically, though, we’re hardly the only clan to practice some form of blood sorcery.  The Setites and Assamites have much longer histories in the region than we, and they have their own occultists. But even so, that does not explain these letters.”

“Or why Diane and Thomas could see them—and my colleague in the department could not?”

“It’s possible anyone with some degree of talent could see the writing,” Copperfield mused. “But your young associates have been trained as scientists, not as seekers in the mystical traditions.”

“I would presume so,” Charles agreed. “Archaeology is a science, after all.  It relies on the careful examination of physical evidence. They study old religions and mythical traditions only in context of understanding more about the people who did believe them.”

He chuckled a little. “I dare say they don’t even believe in vampires.”

“Ah, so they don’t know the truth about you,” Copperfield said, frowning slightly.  “But—forgive my intrusion, but it is relevant to the mystery—have they tasted the blood?”

Charles looked distinctly uncomfortable.  “Yes, of course,” he said at last.  “Once, for their own protection, and to preserve the Masquerade.  But no more than once.  I have to be able to let them graduate, after all. To go on with their lives, their professional careers.”

“But the colleague you mentioned, the one who could not see the writing—she has not, I presume?”

“Of course not,” Charles exclaimed, shocked. “Our relationship is strictly professional!”

“Of course, Dr. Hewitt, of course—“  Copperfield raised his hands.  “I understand completely.  I do not mean to pry.  I was only gathering evidence, as it were—thaumaturgy does have some things in common with science. It has rules and conditions.”

Copperfield turned back to the table, gesturing at the jar.  “And it appears that the condition here… is the blood.  Kindred blood, in particular. Only Kindred—or those who have tasted Kindred blood—can see these letters.  Which implies this may well be a Kindred artifact—or at the very least, an example of very ancient thaumaturgy using Kindred blood as its medium.”

“A Kindred artifact.”  Charles came back to the table as well.  “From the New Kingdom, if the jar is as old as we think it is.”

Copperfield sat down and spread the photos out on the table, putting the best shots of the two jars side by side.  “I do not remember seeing this same unusual script on the jar I purchased, however,” he said.  “I think I would have noticed—if not the script itself, then the aura of magic itself, should have been obvious, as it is with this one.”

“But did you actually see the jar?” Charles asked.  “Or did you only look at the photographs?  You bid on the lot, as I recall—not any individual piece in it.”

“That’s a very good point,” Copperfield admitted.  “It was the entire lot. I knew my client was looking for Egyptian pieces—and it’s not really my field of historical expertise.  Thinking back… No, I don’t think I ever did see the jar.  Did you?”

“Yes.  Not a very good look, mind you—it was one artifact out of a dozen or more in the lot, and they were in a hurry to get the auctions started, so I only got a glimpse.  I did remember the lip around the bottom of the head—I don’t remember seeing anything inscribed on it. But the lighting was poor, and I was not very close.   That’s why I want to see it now.  And if you could provide the name of your client, or at least ask him if he’d be willing to meet with me and allow me to examine it, I’d be forever in your debt.”

“Forever, really?  Forever is a very long time, for one of us,” Copperfield pointed out, with a just the hint of a smile.  “But don’t worry, I won’t hold you to it.”

“Oh—I suppose it is, isn’t it.”  Charles  might have blushed, had he been able. “I never thought about it—just a figure of speech and all.  But I would be grateful if you could put me in contact.”

“And I would be happy to do so,” Copperfield replied, “but unfortunately, he is no longer with us—he passed on a few years ago.  Now, as far as I know, his haven here in Houston and its collection of artifacts  came into the possession of his childe. However, she doesn’t seem to regard me with the same fondness that her sire did—at least she has yet to return one of my calls.”

“She doesn’t blame you for—for what happened to her sire, does she?”

Copperfield shrugged.  “No idea.  She apparently doesn’t share his interests in antiquities, but she hasn’t put the collection out on the market, either. ”

“What if I gave her a call?”  Charles asked.  “I mean, if you thought it might help?”

“It might,” Copperfield said.  “You at least… are not Tremere.”

“Well, that’s true,” Charles admitted. “You don’t suppose that makes a difference—”

Copperfield gave him such a look of incredulity that even Charles couldn’t miss it.

“Oh.  I—I suppose that could be…”  Charles looked away, embarrassed.  “Well, I’ll be happy to make a call. I really do want to see that jar, if at all possible.”

“So do I,” Copperfield agreed.  “I’m curious to see if it’s a match for yours, and if it has the same odd script.  There would have been four of them originally, correct?”

“Yes,” Charles nodded.  “Four jars and a chest, as part of the original grave goods. It’s a bit odd that they’d be broken up, really. Even the worst of the old tomb looters knew a full set was more valuable than selling them separately.”

Copperfield held up one of the photos, showing the original canopic chest the jar had been found in.  “You were saying this isn’t the original chest, then?”

“No, most likely not.  It’s not even a century old—and the hieroglyphs on the outside don’t even really mean anything.  Whoever carved the chest had no idea what the symbols meant.”

“Or they knew very well what it meant—but not in ancient Egyptian.  These symbols here—do you know them?”

Charles bent closer to see.  “Oh, those.  Those aren’t even hieroglyphs.  I’m not sure what they are, really.”

“They’re a variation on an old hermetic ritual script. An alphabet and secret language created  back during the Renaissance, used for magical and esoteric workings. Do you have photos showing all four sides of the box?”

“Oh.  Oh, yes, just a moment—”  Charles went back into the travel bag, and came up with another folder.  “Yes, here we are.  Why would anyone go to the trouble of making a replica of a New Kingdom chest and then put Renaissance-era characters on it? It would seem to defeat the purpose of making a replica at all.”

“I can’t say anything about the hieroglyphs,” Copperfield said, spreading the photos out on the table.  “But I’m pretty certain they did know what the hermetic symbols meant, because of how they were used—ah, wait, this is out of order, isn’t it?”   He shuffled two of the photos around.

“Yes—yes, now you’ve got it,” Charles said.  “That’s Neith, Nephthys,  Selkit and Isis—the funerary goddesses in order, by their cardinal directions—“

“Starting with north, correct?”

“—Yes, how did you know?”

“Because this—“ Copperfield pointed to the unusual characters at the base of the chest, “is the sigil for north—and the letters N-E-I-TH. I don’t suppose you brought the chest with you?”

“No, it’s much too heavy.  It cost me enough just to have it shipped from Chicago to Madison. Though you seem to have gotten quite a bit from just the photos already—have you ever considered a career in archaeology?”

Copperfield seemed taken off guard for a half-second, and his lips curved in a half-smile. “Well, I did run an antiques business for some decades,” he said.  “And I do have a particular fondness for history—particularly with regards to letters and writing.”

“So why would anyone combine these hermetic symbols with Egyptian? This is very odd.  I thought it was just a replica—they did quite a few of them, you know, back when artifacts from ancient Egypt were quite the rage. But there’s no good reason to go to this much trouble to carve such a beautiful piece and then deliberately put these odd letters on it.”

“Oh, I’m sure they had a reason,” Copperfield said. “One use for hermetic characters—if one is thinking in terms of rituals and arcane workings—is in the setting of wards, which are magical protections and barriers. It’s possible these were intended to function like that—but I can’t really tell that much from a mere photograph.  Like the script on your jar—some things are likely not visible to the camera’s eye.  I’d have to see the original box.”

“I wonder,” he added, studying the jar for a moment. “If there was a reason this jar was in this particular box—hiding it, perhaps?  And if so—why?  And from whom—or what?”

“Well, you’re welcome to have a look at the original chest, if you don’t mind a side-trip back to Wisconsin,” Charles said.  “In the meantime, I do hope we can have access to the Qebehsenuef jar, if its current owner can be persuaded to permit it.  This is quite the mystery, isn’t it?”

“Oh, yes,”  Copperfield agreed.  “It is indeed.”

To be Continued….


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