Outline by Jonathan "Entity" Cotleur, Rahsaan Footman, and Tony "Marlos" Teakles.
Written by Todd Jensen.
"Good evening, everyone," said Travis Marshall, sitting at his desk. "Tonight's top story in New York: the final go-ahead has been given for the opening of the new Egyptian artifacts exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The exhibition will open to the public one week from today, and will display the findings from the recent dig in Egypt under Dr. Marian Reynolds. Nicole St. John is at the museum, with this story."
"Thank you, Travis," said Nicole, as the screen switched to her. "I'm here at the Metropolitan Museum with Dr. Marian Reynolds, who will be telling us something about the exhibits that will be shown to the public beginning next week." She turned to the woman standing by her. "Dr. Reynolds, we should like to thank you for agreeing to this interview on the exhibit. It was very generous for you to give us some of your time to fill our viewers in on the objects on display."
"Thank you, Ms. St. John," Dr. Reynolds replied. "Well, for a start -"
"Now, I understand," Nicole continued eagerly, without even a pause, "that there is one particular artifact in this collection that has already put you and your colleagues into quite a commotion. Namely, a certain tablet with some remarkably controversial writing upon it."
Dr. Reynolds stared at the reporter in sudden surprise and annoyance, mingled together. "How do you know about that?" she asked. "That information has not even been released to the press as yet!"
"I learned about it from your colleague, Professor Bowen," Nicole replied, not appearing the least bit troubled by the Egyptologist's changed mood. "He was only too happy to provide me with an exclusive interview on the subject."
"I should have known," said Reynolds, with a sigh. "Professor Jeremiah Bowen was indeed the member of our faculty who expressed the strongest interest in this discovery, and unfortunately, he seems to have blown the findings entirely out of proportion. He always had a weakness for 'ancient astronaut' theories, and while it's never seriously impaired his judgement on these matters before, I must confess that he has interpreted the inscription upon the tablet to fit his beliefs."
Nicole St. John nodded. "Perhaps you could, for the sake of our viewers, inform us on precisely what you and Professor Bowen discovered engraved upon the tablet?"
Reynolds sighed again, resignedly. "Very well," she said. "The tablet that you're speaking of, Nicole - and which Professor Bowen really should not have gone off talking about - was one of the findings that we made on our most recent expedition to Egypt. It dates back to 6000 B.C., well before the beginning of the Dynastic period - three thousand years before Menes of Abydos unified Lower and Upper Egypt and began recorded history in this part of the world, in fact. Its writings were in an early form of hieroglyphic, and it took a while to translate them. They speak of a 'society of sphinxes' existing contemporaneously to the inscriber of the writings, and which the writer himself was apparently a member of."
"A society of sphinxes?" asked Nicole, with considerable interest. "And what exactly was this society like? I understand that Professor Bowen had some interesting speculations on this subject."
"Speculations, indeed," replied Marian Reynolds, shaking her head. "Bowen thinks that these sphinxes that the inscription described were aliens. He has an obsession with the notion that there were extra-terrestrials in ancient Egypt. Oh, he's never let it get so strong that it's seriously endangered his career or compromised his reports and articles - not yet, at least - but it's there all the same. He's always hoping that we'll finally uncover proof that the Pyramids were built using advanced technology from another planet or that the Sphinx was really built by Atlantean refugees long before the lifetime of Khafre, and will eagerly seize upon any peculiar discovery to support this dream of his. It's rather embarrassing, really. I should have seen it coming the moment that he read that line."
* * * * *
Brooklyn stared at the television screen in shock, his eyes widening. He glanced at the other gargoyles in the room concernedly, to see if they had responded to the interview in a similar way, and saw to his relief that they had not. Lexington was still helping Graeme and Ariana fix a small hand-held video game, tutoring them on how to perform the task as he went through the steps, while Hudson was contentedly watching the television in silence, Bronx and Nudnik both napping with equal contentment by his recliner.
He turned back to the screen, and continued to listen to the interview. "So, what is your theory on this 'society of sphinxes', Dr. Reynolds?" Nicole St. John continued.
"Nothing definite as yet," the Egyptologist replied. "But I most certainly do not consider its members to have been aliens. A more likely possibility is that these were learned men and sages who had formed such a society to share their knowledge with each other, and that they simply called themselves 'sphinxes' as a metaphor for themselves. The sphinx was one of the leading symbols of wisdom in ancient Egypt, and would thus appeal to such people. That is a much more probable reason than some group of alien colonists."
"I see," said Nicole, sounding a little disappointed. "Well, the tablet will be on display in the museum, won't it?"
"I am afraid not," replied Dr. Reynolds, shaking her head. "We are currently keeping it in one of our backrooms, for further study. However, we can reveal that the leading object in the display will be this." She indicated the workbench behind her, which the camera zoomed in on, focusing on an elaborately-crafted golden armband with many jewels set in it. "According to the hieroglyphics engraved upon it," she continued, "this piece of jewelry was supposedly a present of the ancient Egyptian smith-god, Ptah, to his wife Sekhmet, the lioness-headed goddess of warfare and destruction. Of course, it is hardly likely to have indeed had such a prestigious history as that." She glanced sharply at Nicole, as if half-expecting the blonde reporter to suggest otherwise, before proceeding. "Most likely it's merely a representation of a mythical object. But it nevertheless counts as a beautiful piece of Egyptian art, and will form the keystone of our exhibit."
* * * * *
The figure seated in the armchair stared closely at the armband displayed upon the television screen, her golden eyes scrutinizing its every detail. When the picture finally shifted back to the two humans, a finely-manicured hand reached for the television remote control, and switched the set off.
Sekhmet arose from her chair, and nodded to her servants Zuri and Amurath, who stood behind her in human form. They nodded back to her in silent obeisance.
* * * * *
"Jeremiah, this is getting out of hand!" said Dr. Reynolds. Nicole St. John had concluded her interview and left, giving the Egyptologist the opportunity to confront her colleague at last. "It's bad enough that you voice such opinions to the rest of the museum staff, but to a reporter?"
"She was willing to listen, Marian," Jeremiah Bowen replied. "And I had to tell somebody. This is a very important matter, and the public needs to be informed on this."
"The last thing that the public needs to be informed of is more half-baked speculations about extra-terrestrials settling in ancient Egypt!" Reynolds retorted. "It's bad enough when it's just ordinary people coming up with such theories, but when a supposedly responsible member of the scientific community starts voicing such things, it's close to disastrous! There are ways to explain these sphinxes that don't involve flying saucers!"
"Strange things go on in that part of the world, Marian," said Bowen. "Remember what happened around the Sphinx in late 1995? Much of the countryside was suddenly found devastated, with every living thing destroyed, and we still can't explain how it happened!"
"Well, there has to be a logical explanation for it, then," said Reynolds firmly. "And one that does not involve alien technology or magic."
"And it hasn't even been Egypt lately," Bowen continued. "How about the 'May Eve Madness'? There were a lot of things that happened then that even the 'Maddox Gang' story the federal government put out can't explain away. And what about those gargoyles, for that matter?"
Reynolds sighed. "You don't seriously think that they're aliens, Bowen, do you?"
"It's more than possible," said Bowen. "After all, they turn to stone in the daytime, don't they? That sounds more like alien biology than anything else. Maybe they are extra-terrestrials."
"And maybe you've been reading too many articles in the Daily Tattler lately," said Reynolds. "I don't give any credence with this UFO foolishness. And the only concern that I have about these gargoyles is that ever since they've shown up in this city, a good many ancient artifacts have gotten stolen from museums. The Eye of Odin, Titania's Mirror, that 10th century Mayan sun-amulet, all disappeared and never heard from again. I'm not going to let the same thing happen to this exhibit, Jeremiah. That's why I've demanded that the museum upgrade its security, and I mean really upgrade it. I don't know if the gargoyles have anything to do with these burglaries, but I do know that they're no laughing matter."
"And you're confident that the upgraded security will do the job?" Bowen asked. His colleague's concern over the welfare of the exhibition had managed to draw his thoughts away from his pet theory on ancient Egypt.
"I've already discussed it with the chief of security," she said. "They've installed new improved infrared beams, and a great many more of them. Not to mention additional security cameras, motion and heat sensors, and an all-around better automated response system. The Egyptian wing will be particularly well-fortified. So if anybody attempts to break in, this time they're certain to fail."
"I hope so, then," said Bowen, nodding sympathetically. "And my best wishes to you, Marian."
"And mine to you, Jeremiah," she said, before walking away.
* * * * *
A Week Later
The sun set and the eleven gargoyle statues perched on the battlements of Castle Wyvern burst from their stone shells with the usual roaring and stretching. Brooklyn clambered down from his perch, but he barely paid any heed to Sata his mate, or to any of the other members of the clan. He was too deep in thought.
"All right," he muttered to himself, too low for anybody else to overhear him. "That exhibit opened a couple of days ago, so things should have quieted down at the museum by now. Now's my opportunity."
He glanced back over his shoulder at the others. They were gathered around Goliath, listening as their leader instructed them on their patrols for the night. As the clan's Second-in-Command, Brooklyn knew that he should be with them, and a part of him felt the need to join them. But at the same time, the sense of urgency that had sprung up in him when he had first heard about the tablet in the news last week had grown so overwhelmingly strong that he could no longer resist it. At last, he clambered back up onto the merlon on which he had perched, and prepared to take off.
But Broadway had seen him, even though Brooklyn did not realize this. The portly aquamarine gargoyle frowned troubledly as he watched Brooklyn spread out his glider-like wings and soar off into the night, without even saying one word to the rest of the clan.
"Broadway?" Angela asked, as she stood beside him. "What's wrong?"
"Brooklyn's acting strange again," he replied. "Really strange. And I'm going to find out why."
He rushed to the battlements, leaped up onto a merlon as well, and leaped off, gliding off after Brooklyn. Angela was left alone, staring after her mate with a concerned expression upon her face.
Lexington turned in time to see both his rookery brothers' gliding away, and frowned as well. Only a moment afterwards, he too was riding the air currents of the night after them.
Goliath watched the trio fade away into the night. "They have not even been assigned their patrols as yet," he said in astonishment. "And yet they have all left the castle. What has prompted this action?"
"I think I know," replied Hudson, standing at his elbow. "A week ago, there was a news report on the television about some new exhibit in one of the humans' museums, of some things that the humans dug up in Egypt. Brooklyn seemed very interested in that, from what I could tell. Maybe he's gone to take a look at it." He added, as an afterthought, "And perhaps he was more than interested. He never did say much about his adventures with the Phoenix Gate, but he could have spent some of his time in Egypt."
"That is possible," said Goliath, nodding. "But whatever Brooklyn's reason is for leaving the castle on his own like this, I hope that he and his rookery brothers are careful. The city is still not quite safe for our kind. And I would have preferred it if they had asked me first."
He sighed. "But let them go," he added resignedly. "They may need this time together, to resolve whatever is left over between them from their earlier issues. The rest of us should not interfere."
* * * * *
It was not long before Brooklyn began to sense that somebody was following him. He could not turn his head back at the moment to see who it might be, not at the moment, but he already had the uneasy suspicion that it was one of the clan. He hurriedly swooped down and landed on the nearest rooftop, then turned around.
Broadway landed facing him, an accusing look in his eyes. "And where do you think you're off to?" he asked.
"It's personal," said Brooklyn. "I don't have to talk about it."
"Yeah, right," Broadway retorted. "You just take off on some private errand without telling the rest of us. I want to know what you're being so secretive about."
Brooklyn sighed. "Broadway," he began, "I understand that you want to know more. But this is something that I have to do myself -"
"Why?" Broadway asked. "What can be so important that you can't even tell the rest of us about? We're clan, Brooklyn. Family. We shouldn't have to hide things from each other."
"Yeah, I know," said Brooklyn. "It's just that - well, some things are rather complicated -"
Before he could proceed any further, Lexington swooped down and alighted between them. Brooklyn turned towards the little gargoyle and sighed. "Hi, Lex," he said.
Broadway nodded in response as well, but said nothing. Lexington stared up at the faces of both his rookery brothers, his huge eyes fastened on them, waiting for one of them to speak.
Brooklyn sighed as he watched the impasse. For a couple of minutes, he said nothing. He merely looked at the other two gargoyles, and thought in silence.
Only a few years before, from Broadway and Lexington's perspective, they had been the closest of friends, friends since their hatchling days in Castle Wyvern back when Prince Malcolm had ruled there. Their friendship had endured so many events in their clan's turbulent history: the sack of the castle by Hakon and his Vikings, their re-awakening in Manhattan, their flight to the clock tower, their battles with Xanatos and Demona and the Pack, Goliath and Elisa's disappearance, the coming of the Hunters and the Quarrymen. It had even survived Angela's arrival, when the three of them had engaged in their rivalry with one another over her affections before she chose Broadway to be her love. But through it all, they had remained close friends and rookery brothers.
But then the Phoenix Gate had appeared and changed everything. It had taken Brooklyn away from his clan and Manhattan, and had returned him only after forty years of adventuring. And when he had returned, he had changed, forever. He now had a mate and two children. He was now older than Lexington and Broadway; he was even older now than Goliath. Their days as the trio were forever ended, gone beyond recovery. Although they were still friends and clan-mates, they were less close to each other than they once had been. Broadway's own mating with Angela had only accelerated their drift in this direction. And as for Lexington - he had suffered the most. Left on his own through the changes in the lives of his rookery brothers, he had reached out to Nicholas Maddox for friendship, and been betrayed by him, just as he had been betrayed shortly after his awakening in New York by the Pack, but with even worse results. Brooklyn still found himself wondering how much he might have unwittingly helped send Lex down this road, the road that had led to his cybernetic implants. His more rational side knew that there was nothing that he could have done about it, thanks to the immutability of time, but even despite this voice, he still found it tugging at his conscience.
Brooklyn thought about the things that they had spoken of earlier in the year: Of his conversations with his brothers, of Lex's anger and bitterness, of Brooklyn's own decision to warn Demona.
He looked sadly at them both, and at last spoke.
"All right," he said. "Remember that tablet that they had on the news last week? The one from Egypt that went on about that 'society of sphinxes'?"
"I do," said Lexington, nodding.
"I read about it in the newspapers," said Broadway.
"Well, those sphinxes that that tablet was talking about were really gargoyles," said Brooklyn. "A whole bunch of them, living in Egypt. That tablet was talking all about them."
"How do you know?" Broadway asked.
"Because I was there," said Brooklyn. "And in fact, I was the one who wrote that inscription."
They both stared at him. "You did?" Lexington asked at last. "Why?"
"During my stay in ancient Egypt," said Brooklyn, "I thought that I might never leave it, might never return home to New York. And I thought that I had to find some way of getting some message to the rest of you, letting you know what had happened to me. I didn't know if that tablet would ever wind up in the Eyrie Building or not - although, knowing Xanatos, it probably would - but it was the only hope that I had to tell you all about where I was and why I wouldn't be likely to come home." He gave a bitter laugh. "And then I wound up getting home, and that tablet didn't show up until three years after I did. Which kind of defeated the whole purpose of that letter."
"But if it turned out that the letter was just a moot point," asked Lexington, "why do you need to go see the tablet in the museum?"
"Call it closure," said Brooklyn. "I spent a lot of time in Egypt, before I met Sata in Ishimura. I invested much of myself there, too. I guess that I need to go there and kind of - well, make peace with my past. And I'll need to do it alone, too. If that's all right with you," he added to them both.
There was a moment's silence, and then both gargoyles nodded. "Yeah," said Broadway. "You go on ahead."
"We'll meet back at the castle later," agreed Lexington.
"All right, then," said Brooklyn. "See you guys later." And then, he turned and leaped off the rooftop, to glide off towards the museum.
* * * * *
Dr. Reynolds frowned as she looked over first the tablet, then the sheet of paper beside it upon which her translation of its inscription had been written. Although she had looked over it many times during the past week, there was still something nagging at her. She couldn't quite place a finger on it, but it continued to tug at the back of her mind. She shook her head troubledly.
"Maybe if I go over this one more time, I'll work out the answer," she said. She began to read it anew from the very beginning. "My friends, I have decided that it is time to tell you what has befallen me. For the last three years I have been trapped in the land of Kemet...."
* * * * *
Brooklyn breathed a silent sigh of relief as he rounded a corner in a corridor of the museum. It had been an easy matter, with the small gadgets that he had picked up in the 22nd century and brought back with him to the 20th, combined with some quick thinking, to get past the security and enter the museum without sounding a single alarm. The infrared alarms and motion sensors were easy to fool, and he hadn't even been spotted by one security guard. All in all, things were looking up.
"Now if I can just get to the Egyptian room and back, without being seen," he said to himself, in a low murmur.
* * * * *
The security guard in the control room turned to the monitor showing the room where the special Egyptian exhibit was on display, and his eyes widened. Something was moving in the shadows at the entrance to the room, something tall and on two legs. And it was clearly not another security guard, or Dr. Reynolds. It was something else.
The guard thought quickly. Dr. Reynolds was the only person in the building besides himself at the moment - to be more precise, the only person in the building besides himself who had any business there. Normally there would have been a second roving guard, but Charlie had come down with the flu and gone home. And his replacement wouldn't be on site for another hour. Before the guard did anything else, he needed to alert her. He picked up the phone and dialed her office extension number.
The phone rang a couple of times, and then Reynolds' voice answered it. "Dr. Marian Reynolds speaking. Who is this?"
"This is Bates, ma'am," said the guard. "There's an intruder in the Egyptian room. I thought that I'd better warn you."
"An intruder?" repeated Reynolds, sounding troubled. "How did he get in? Surely the new security system should have stopped him from getting this far!"
"I don't know, ma'am," said the guard. "But I'm going to investigate." And with that, he hung up the phone and walked out.
* * * * *
Three shadows approached the front doors of the Metropolitan Museum. The "Closed" sign was already clearly in place, but their leader did not seem disturbed by this at all. She merely raised one clawed hand, and extended it outwards towards the doors. "Open to she who was once the Eye of Ra!" she cried, in a commanding voice.
The locks undid themselves, and the doors swung open under the force of her spell. Sekhmet proudly strode into the museum, Zuri and Amarath following her in silence.
"The exhibit will be to our right," said the former Egyptian goddess, after entering the main hall and looking about in silence for a moment. "This way."
The two were-cheetahs followed their mistress in silence.
* * * * *
Dr. Reynolds knew that she ought to be concentrating on the tablet in front of her, continuing to work on its translation, but she seemed unable to focus her thoughts upon it. They kept on straying back to what Bates had reported seeing in the exhibit hall. Just what had he seen? How had this burglar gotten past so many high-tech security measures, defences on a level surely almost equal to those of the Eyrie Building, if those rumors about Xanatos and his headquarters were indeed true? How had he managed it?
Marian Reynolds found herself remembering the succession of unexplained museum robberies that had taken place in the past five years. First, David Xanatos's donation of the Eye of Odin to the Museum of Modern Art. The very night after the Eye had gone on display, it had been stolen by a gargoyle-like creature, and never seen again. The official police report had been that it was a robot, but just who had made the robot and been behind the theft had never been discovered. And although the robot parts had been found the following night at the Statue of Liberty, Dr. Reynolds found herself sometimes wondering, now that it had been proven that gargoyles really did exist in Manhattan, whether that had been the entire story.
As if that had not been enough, only a year after that, an antique mirror billed as "Titania's Mirror" had been stolen from the Metropolitan Museum itself, despite all the security measures installed there, stolen and never heard from again either. There had been rumors of gargoyle sightings in the vicinity that night, but these had never been confirmed. Then there had been the disappearance of that 10th century Mayan sun amulet from the American Museum of Natural History the following year, taken by persons unknown and never seen again. And then the disappearance of a 5th century dragon-shaped ring on loan from the Museum of Pre- and Early History in Berlin the winter before last, also never found. The pattern was one that Dr. Reynolds did not like, particularly the fact that none of these objects were ever returned to the museums. The disappearances or thefts had not been common enough to seriously jeopardize the future of New York's museums, but still, they did bother her. And what bothered her all the more was certain unusual traits that these thefts shared in common, indications that gargoyles or gargoyle-like creatures had been in the vicinity, and mysterious and unaccountable defiances of security measures.
And now the same thing was threatening to happen with this Egyptian exhibit. And Dr. Reynolds was not about to let it happen. That much she felt certain about. Perhaps it was not her place to get involved directly. But she knew that she couldn't simply sit here and continue reading, while these artifacts were in potential peril. Try though she might, she would never be able to concentrate on the mysterious words engraved upon the tablet. Not while her worrying continued.
She sighed, then stood up and picked up her flashlight, then walked towards the door. She'd just check on Bates, and see how he was doing. Then, when she had reassured herself, she'd return to her work. It was as simple as that.
* * * * *
Bates was almost at the entrance to the series of room in which the Egyptian art of the museum was stored, when he heard approaching footsteps from the main hallway, behind him. He turned around, his flashlight at the ready. "Who's there?" he called out, sharply. He advanced towards the sound of the approaching footsteps. "Don't come any closer!" he repeated. "Who are you and what are you doing -"
He never finished the sentence. For two cheetahs leaped out at him from the shadows, so suddenly that he dropped his flashlight in shock. He had only a split-second to wonder how the two great cats had gotten into the building before they knocked him onto his back. His head hit the floor, and he knew nothing more.
Sekhmet glanced briefly at the guard's motionless form as she walked past it, and then nodded; he had been knocked out for a couple of hours by her servants. For a moment, she stood over him, and half raised her hand to deliver the final blow. Then she shook her head. "No, there's no need for that," she said to herself. "There'd be no challenge in slaying him, anyway. Only a petty mortal, and unconscious at that. And I have more important matters now."
She led Amurath and Zuri on, without giving the man another thought.
* * * * *
Brooklyn frowned as he walked through the darkened exhibit hall, still searching. The lights were off, but gargoyles have excellent night-vision, enough for him to discern the details of his surroundings easily enough. By now, he should have found the tablet; it must surely be in one of the cases. But it wasn't.
"Maybe I've taken a wrong turn somewhere," he muttered to himself. "Or maybe it's in another hall. I don't know – I wish that I hadn't gotten so bowled over by that report that I didn't pay closer attention to the details about this exhibit."
He was examining the case closest to him, when he heard the footsteps approaching the room softly. He turned around quickly, looking for a place to hide. However, so far, he could find nothing large enough to conceal a gargoyle. "Never a sarcophagus around when you need one," he grumbled.
And then the light from a flashlight fell upon him, and he realized that it was too late to hide. There was nothing to do but turn around and see just who had come upon him, then figure out where to go from here next.
It was a dark-haired middle-aged woman standing in the doorway and shining the light at him. He tensed for a moment, ready to let his eyes glow white and roar at her in the hopes of scaring her off. But then he recognized her, and stepped back. He recognized this woman. It was Dr. Reynolds from the news report on Nightwatch the week before.
To be perfectly fair, she seemed as astonished to see him as he was to see her, perhaps even more so. She gasped in astonishment as she took in his wings, beak, and horns; obviously she had not been expecting a gargoyle. Brooklyn stood still, wondering what to do now. Make a run for it, or try explaining?
It was the woman who broke the silence first, and spoke. "You - you're a gargoyle," she said.
"Guilty as charged, ma'am," said Brooklyn. She was willing to talk, it seemed, and that did make things a bit easier. At the same time, it also removed flight as an option. Goliath had recently made it clear that if any member of the clan was accosted by a human - provided that it was an ordinary human and not a criminal or an obviously over-the-edge gargoyle-hater of the sort that Castaway and many of the Quarrymen had been - he or she was to talk to that human, and explain. After all, much of the reason for the uneasiness that so many New Yorkers still showed towards gargoyles stemmed from the fact that they knew all too little about them, and the only way to solve this problem was to make it clear through their words that they weren't dangerous monsters. The best way to make peace with the humans was to start telling their side of the story, and do so more often now than they had in the past.
Dr. Reynolds clearly seemed more than a little astonished to hear him actually speaking, but was clearly not so astonished as to be unable to make a reply. "And what else are you guilty of?" she asked him sharply, fixing him with a cold stare from her eyes.
"I beg your pardon, ma'am?" Brooklyn asked.
"Don't play the innocent with me!" snapped the Egyptologist. "You were skulking about in our new exhibit after hours, lurking about the cases. A security guard saw you on the monitor. And furthermore, you and your kind have a history of being sighted around museums whenever some artifact on display vanishes from them. You steal these objects, don't you?"
"Steal them?" Brooklyn began. "Lady, you've got it all wrong. We're not thieves. In fact, we stop thieves whenever we can."
"Well, you certainly didn't stop the ones who stole Titania's Mirror," she said. "Or that golden dragon-ring from Germany. You obviously never found them again, either."
Brooklyn swallowed hard as he realized suddenly what ring she must be talking about. "Well, technically, we haven't managed to return all the stolen goods. You see, that ring, for example - it wasn't quite what you folks thought it was. And so we had to destroy it."
"Destroy it?" asked Dr. Reynolds. Her eyes stared harder at him, and her frown increased.
Brooklyn nodded, a guilty look upon his face. "Well, you're probably going to have a little bit of trouble believing this, but it was a magic ring," he said. "And very dangerous. If we just brought it back to the museum, somebody else might decide to steal it, and cause even more trouble with it than before."
"A magic ring?" the Egyptologist asked. It was clear enough from the expression on her face that she was not buying this at all. "That is the best that you can provide for a defence? You might be able to convince Bowen with that one, but not me." Her face grew even sterner. "And what - magical object - were you going to try stealing tonight?"
"Nothing, actually," said Brooklyn. "I wasn't going to remove anything, honest. I just came to look at something that I remembered. I thought that it was going to be on display here. But I couldn't find it."
"Indeed?" asked Dr. Reynolds. "And just what was this so-called object that you were searching for?"
"Remember that tablet that you were talking about on the news with Nicole St. John?" Brooklyn asked her. "The one about those sphinxes?"
"I should certainly remember it, given that I've been studying it so often for the past week," she said, not softening at all. "But what does this have to do with anything?"
"Well, those sphinxes that it was talking about weren't actually sphinxes," said Brooklyn. "They were really gargoyles. And I was one of them."
"Indeed?" asked Reynolds. She clearly didn't seem to believe this remark either. "And how can you prove this?"
"Because I was the one who wrote that inscription on it," Brooklyn began. "Look, ma'am, I know that you don't believe me, but just listen to me for a moment." He made a cautious step forward, cleared his throat, and began to speak.
"'Dear Goliath, Hudson, Lexington, Broadway, Angela, and Bronx,'" he recited. "'I don't know if this letter will ever reach you, unless some archaeologist is going to be obliging enough to bring this to Manhattan. But I have to tell you guys about this somehow, and this is the only way that I can manage this at the moment. I -'"
Marian Reynolds stared at him in utter astonishment for a couple of minutes, then broke in on him at last. "But," she said, "that's the actual opening of the inscription on the tablet! Well, your phrasing is a little different, but the sense is the same! How did you know it, anyway? We haven't even released the full translation to the press as yet! Only I and three other people have read it! How did you know about it?"
"Like I said, I wrote it," said Brooklyn. "Now -"
But he never finished his sentence. For it was at that moment that three figures appeared in the entrance to the room opposite the one that Marian Reynolds was standing in. Two were cheetahs, tensing and ready to spring, while the third, who stood between them, was a tall, regal-looking woman clad in ancient Egyptian attire, with tawny blonde hair and leonine facial features. She stared at the gargoyle and the human before her, looking momentarily surprised. Brooklyn returned her gaze, without blinking.
"Sekhmet," he growled, his eyes flaring white.
"Sekhmet?" repeated Dr. Reynolds, sounding astonished. She stood where she was, blinking at the newcomers as her eyes took in every detail about them.
"Greetings, Timedancer," said the Egyptian war-goddess, who had recovered by now from her surprise at finding Brooklyn before her. "It has been a long time, has it not?"
"Not long enough for me," he replied. "So you survived the defeat of the Unseelie Court. And what brings you here?"
"That is not your concern, gargoyle," said Sekhmet. "I have not come here to destroy you, but if you interfere with me, that will change. Now stand aside!"
Brooklyn tensed, preparing to spring at her, but then he looked back and remembered Dr. Reynolds. He leaped at her instead, ignoring her startled cry at seeing a white-maned crimson-skinned gargoyle lunging at her, and seized hold of her.
"Here, what do you think you're do-" Marian Reynolds began.
"Don't argue with me, lady," said Brooklyn. He pushed her half-next to, half-underneath, the nearest display case. "You stay here for now. It'll be safer. I can't let anything happen to you."
"But -" said Dr. Reynolds.
"Do as I say!" he ordered her. "This is my battle, not yours!" And he turned and rushed at Sekhmet and her werecheetahs.
Sekhmet motioned to her felines, and spoke in a voice of command. "Take him down!" she ordered.
The werecheetahs sprang at Brooklyn, who leaped back and scrambled up on top of the nearest display-case. They reared up at him, slashing at him with their front paws and growling, but he managed to dodge their lunges, all except for a couple which, happily for him, struck his breastplate but did not penetrate it. Brooklyn lashed back at him with his tail and claws, crying out as he did so, "Bad kitties! Sit! Heel!" But the werecheetahs were too agile for him, and dodged his blows in turn.
Sekhmet strode past the battle, straight towards Marian. The Egyptologist climbed out from underneath the display case, and stood up to confront the Unseelie intruder. "Who are you?" she asked.
"Do you not know already, daughter of dust?" asked Sekhmet proudly. "I am Sekhmet, the Destroyer of Worlds. If you are as versed in the lore of Kemet as you claim, that should be answer sufficient for you."
As she spoke, her head slowly changed from a human head to that of a lioness. Marian gasped, and grabbed hold of the display case to support herself. "What do you want?" she asked.
"Something that you are holding from me," said Sekhmet. She gazed intently at the golden armband in the center of the exhibit. "That piece of jewelry. Yield it up to me, now!"
"No!" said Dr. Reynolds, her voice becoming bolder. "That is a very important Egyptian artifact! It belongs in this museum! I am not going to surrender it to anyone, not even you, Sekhmet!"
"Do you realize what you are saying, frailing?" asked Sekhmet. "I could destroy you if you interfere, and well you know it, if you know my history. Do you value that object more than you do your life?"
"Run, lady!" yelled Brooklyn frantically, still desperately evading the werecheetahs, which were continuing to snarl and claw at him, with utter persistence. "Run! I'll deal with Sekhmet! Just get out of here, and fast!"
But Marian Reynolds did not run. Instead, she strode forward towards the lioness-headed woman. "I don't know how you're doing what you are, or if you really are Sekhmet," she said. "But I do know that you're planning on robbing a very important artifact, and I'm not about to let you do so. There've been too many thefts here, too many losses. I'm not going to let this happen again."
"The more fool you," said Sekhmet. "I did not come here to deal in bloodshed, but if you are going to be so stubborn -" She raised one hand, its fingers becoming increasingly clawlike, and a fiery glow began to form in it.
"Sekhmet, stop!" cried Brooklyn. He made a desperate jump for her, but even as he did so, one of the werecheetahs leaped up at him and snatched him by the tail in her jaws. Brooklyn cried out in pain as he fell to the floor, landing upon his chest. He shook at the werecheetah desperately and managed to dislodge his tail from her mouth, but the other now had rounded the display case that he had been treed upon moments before, and crouched before him, ready to spring. Brooklyn began to grope to his feet, but a glance at his surroundings was enough to tell him that this did not look good. The werecheetahs flanked him on both sides, blocking any possible escape. If he attacked one, the other would surely take him down from behind. He was trapped.
The werecheetahs snarled eagerly at him, and prepared to pounce.
But before they could do so, two shapes barrelled into them, knocking them off their feet. Broadway and Lexington pinned down the two great cats, although Lexington was struggling much more visibly with his adversary.
"Whoa!" cried Brooklyn, staring at his two rookery brothers. "What are you guys doing here - not that I mind the cavalry entrance, mind."
"No time for talk," shouted Lexington, grunting as he did all that he could to keep his were-cheetah flat upon her back. "Stop Sekhmet, quickly!"
Brooklyn nodded, and rushed towards her, roaring. Sekhmet turned around in time to see his charge, and raised one hand, almost boredly. Brooklyn collided with an invisible wall, and staggered backwards.
"I've wasted enough time," said the Unseelie. She strode towards the display case containing the armband and prepared to smash it open. But before she could reach it, another form swooped from the entrance and landed before her. Sata blocked Sekhmet's path, her eyes glowing red and her katana held out before her.
"You will have to overcome me first, kami," she said. "And that will not be easy."
Sekhmet snarled at her, but looked at the keen edge of the katana, beholding the iron in its blade. She turned back to see the werecheetahs, still struggling against Broadway and Lexington but still unable to break free. Brooklyn had recovered from her spell, and was advancing towards her. And Dr. Reynolds had her radio communicator out and was speaking over it urgently.
Sekhmet snarled in frustrated anger at Sata, then turned to the werecheetahs. "Zuri! Amarath! To me!" she cried.
The werecheetahs broke free from Broadway and Lexington's grip at last, at the voice of their mistress, and rushed towards her. They flanked her as she slowly retreated to the doorway by which she had entered, snarling at the gargoyles as they did so to encourage them to keep their distance. And then, all three were gone.
Brooklyn looked at the other gargoyles. "Well, I've got to thank you all for showing up," he said. "But how did you know to come?"
"We talked it over with Sata when we got back to the castle," said Broadway. "And we thought that maybe we should come by and check up on you. Good thing that we did, too. So how did you know that Sekhmet was going to try a robbery tonight?"
"Actually, I didn't," said Brooklyn. "In fact, I was just as surprised about her being here as you were."
"But in that case," asked Sata, "why were you here, Brooklyn?"
Before Brooklyn could reply, Lexington spoke up. "Um, guys?" he said. "I think that we've got other things to worry about at the moment." He hurriedly turned their attention to Dr. Reynolds who was still standing there, radio in hand, gazing at them in continued shock and confusion, clearly uncertain as to what to do.
All four gargoyles stared at her in silence for a few minutes. At last, Marian put the radio down.
"Was that really Sekhmet?" she asked Brooklyn.
"Um, yeah," he replied, after a moment's hesitation. "Listen, are you okay?"
"Oh... just fine," she replied. But the troubled expression on her face indicated that she was not quite satisfied with what she had just seen and heard.
Brooklyn turned back to the others. "Um - I hope that you don't mind, but I think that I'm going to need a few moments with her, to explain things to her. If you could -"
Broadway, Lexington, and Sata nodded and withdrew. Soon, Brooklyn was left alone in the room with Dr. Reynolds.
"Okay, where do I begin?" he asked.
"If you want to know the truth, there are so many possible places that I can hardly choose myself," she said. "Was that woman really Sekhmet? The Egyptian war-goddess whom Ra unleashed upon humanity when it angered him? And how did she know you? She clearly recognized you from somewhere. And called you - 'Timedancer'."
Brooklyn nodded. "Yeah, it's a long story," he said. "But I'll just give you the abridged version. A few years ago, I wound up on a wild time travel ride, and spent some time in ancient Egypt, among other places. And I ran into her there, as well as the other Egyptian gods. I know that you're going to have a hard time swallowing this, even after what you've already seen, but they do exist, and Sekhmet's not the only one still around, either. A couple of other members of my clan ran into Anubis in Egypt a few years ago."
"Anubis as well?" said Dr. Reynolds, clearly intrigued now. She seemed about to pursue this question further, but then checked herself. "That can wait. So, you actually spent time in ancient Egypt?"
Brooklyn nodded. "That was when I wrote down that inscription on the tablet," he said. "Well, I had a scribe do it for me, but it came to the same thing. I didn't think at the time that I'd ever get back home, and this was the only way that I could get a message across to the others. So it was a letter to them. I was hoping that someday, that tablet might get dug up by somebody like you, and be made public. And then the others would know. But it's a moot point now, since I got back home anyway. I never even needed to write it after all." He gave a brief, rueful laugh. "Odd how these things work out."
"So why did you want to see it?" asked Reynolds.
"For a sense of closure, I suppose," said Brooklyn.
"I must confess that I'm not quite certain that I can believe your story," said the Egyptologist. "Even after what I've seen tonight, I still think that time travel's more than a little far-fetched. But, I don't know how else to explain your knowledge of it. I certainly can't come up with any other theory to account for it." She stared at him in silence for a moment, and then spoke again.
"You're not going to try to steal it, are you?" she asked.
Brooklyn shook his head. "No, that was never my plan," he said. "I don't want or need it back. I just wanted to see it again. I mean, really see it, not just its image on a television screen. But now I don't think that I even need to do that. Just talking about it with somebody face to face may have been all that I really needed." He looked uncertainly at the gold armband that Sekhmet had attempted to take. "But I'm not so sure about this thing. Sekhmet was after it, and from my experience, nine times out of ten, whenever somebody like her wants something like this, it means that it's some dangerous magical object. I know that you're not too keen on us gargoyles taking things from the museums, but if this thing falls into the wrong hands -"
"No," said Marian Reynolds firmly. "Now, you may have good intentions on this one, but you are not going to remove this object from the museum. I know that you're worried about it, but stop and think about it for a moment. If we had to remove every ancient artifact in this museum that was even suspected of being a magical talisman, we'd have little left other than empty display cases. There has to be another way."
"Maybe you're right," said Brooklyn uncertainly. "But what?"
"You clearly know something about this Sekhmet," said Dr. Reynolds. "You've had more than one run-in with her, I take it?"
Brooklyn nodded. "Yes, with her and others like her," he said.
"Then you may know something about their strengths and weaknesses," she said. "If you could share them with me, I might be able to see if the security system in this museum could be adjusted accordingly, to keep out Egyptian deities as well as human thieves. That is, provided it's not too much of a tall order."
"I think that something can be arranged," said Brooklyn. "I'd better consult some friends about it, but once that's done, I can come back and fill you in on it."
"And when you do," said Dr. Reynolds, "perhaps you can tell me more about ancient Egypt. If you really have been there, I wouldn't mind hearing a first-hand account from you. I can't publish it, of course, or even tell my scientific colleagues about it," she went on, "but it would be enjoyable to actually learn something about it from someone who's actually been there. If that's all right with you?"
Brooklyn thought it over, and then nodded. "Yes, it is," he said.
"I'll look forward to your next visit, then," she said. "The night after tomorrow, perhaps? I'll be here in my office then, and we can speak about it together. I've got an outside window, so that you won't have to worry about the alarm systems again – although I am curious as to how you got past most of them."
"Speaking of which, " she looked thoughtful for a moment, "one of us, or your other friends, has probably managed to trip the silent alarms. The police and the security company will probably be here in minutes. You should go. I'll have enough trouble as it is, finding an explanation as to what happened here. Luckily we were out of range of most of the cameras."
"It's a deal," said Brooklyn. "Good night." And with that, he left the room.
* * * * *
Broadway, Lexington, and Sata were waiting for Brooklyn on the roof of the museum. "Well?" asked Broadway. "How did it go?"
"I've promised Dr. Reynolds that we'll give her some information on how to keep out any Unseelie thieves so that she won't have to worry about Sekhmet making another break-in attempt," answered Brooklyn. "It's probably a better idea than the old 'take the magical object back home' idea that we've used before. Because she did make a good point: we can't just keep on going for that, not unless we want the humans' museums to wind up empty."
Lexington nodded. "That sounds like a good idea to me," he said. "Maybe I can find some way of using cold iron in a security system. If I can just figure out how to integrate it properly...."
Brooklyn nodded. "You go with it, then, Lex," he said. "Let's head back to the castle."
As they leaped off the roof and glided away into the night, Sata spoke. "So, Brooklyn, do you have any idea why Sekhmet desired that armband?"
"Probably the usual same ol' story," said Brooklyn. "Super-villain sees magical gizmo, super-villain wants magical gizmo to do a lot of damage, we step in and stop her. As simple as that. What else could it be?"
* * * * *
Sekhmet sat before the fireplace in her armchair, staring solemnly into the embers upon the hearth. Amurath and Zuri had withdrawn themselves from the room, aware of their mistress's moods, leaving her to herself.
The Egyptian warrior-goddess raised one hand, and for a moment, the image of the armband shimmered in the air before her. Then it changed to another image, that of a tall and stately figure in Egyptian garb presenting the piece of jewelry to a younger Sekhmet, less harsh and grim. "Accept this token of my love from me, my Lady Sekhmet," he said.
"I accept your gift, my Lord Ptah," said the younger version of Sekhmet, innocent of the passions that would later on consume her, innocent of the rift that would come between her and her husband when Lord Madoc founded the Unseelie Court and she joined it. "My love."
Sekhmet lowered her hand and the vision dispersed. Then she sank back in her chair, a look of grief and despair passing over her lioness's face. Tears began to fall from her eyes, tears in silence.