The Sun and the Serpent - Part 1
Written by: Rahsaan Footman
Story concept by: Nicodemus
Previously on TimedancerÖ
Meryt: "My name is Meryt-Isis. It means beloved of Isis."
~ For Old Timeís Sake ~
Goliath: "The sphinx. It was ancient long before I was hatched."
~ Grief ~
Brooklyn: "Ö Iíve been stuck on a pirate ship, suckered in Egypt, bounced from one end of time to the other."
~ Gros Bon Ange ~
* * * * *
The Sun and the Serpent - Part 1
* * * * *
Cairo, Egypt; July 23, 1952
Across the city of Cairo, riots blossomed like night jasmine as the sun vanished west into the Sahara. During the ensuing coup, people took to the streets, looting the abandoned mansions of the British aristocracy. In the middle of all this, a ball of phoenix fire erupted, deposited Brooklyn and Sata in an empty alleyway before flickering out.
The couple looked around, taking their bearings. Shattered glass littered the ground. The acrid smell of smoke filled their nostrils. Horns, sirens and the approaching tat-tat of guns reached their ears.
"I donít know where we are, but hanging around here seems like a bad idea," Brooklyn commented. His jade green companion agreed. The two climbed a nearby building gaining gliding height.
Something about this place tugged at Brooklynís memory. The alternating layers of brown and white stonework, the sandy texture of the stone, the straight-forward construction and the arabesque scrollwork of the wooden window shutters, even the laundry on the clotheslines, it all seemed like heíd been here before.
"No way! It canít be!" Brooklyn picked up his pace, climbing ahead of Sata.
"What, my love? What is it?" Sata asked increasing her pace to keep up.
They reached the rooftop. Brooklyn spun around to take in the city. Spindly minarets reached skyward, tiled domes capped numerous mosques, and the balconies and windows along the top stories of several buildings, gave a strong sense of familiarity, but not as strong as the surrounding land.
"By the Dragon, it is." Brooklyn sounded very excited.
"What?" Sata asked a little perplexed.
Brooklyn took wing. Sata followed. Higher up, Brooklyn got a better view around.
"Itís changed. The buildings are taller and the streets are wider, but thatís the Sphinx and the Pyramids and thatís the Nile!"
Brooklyn pointed to the stone monument in front of the three great pyramids and the river flowing eternally through the city. "This is Unnu!"
"Unnu?" Sata looked to her mate. "Youíve been here before?"
"Yes, This is Cairo!" Brooklyn said excitedly. Brooklyn twirled around as giddy as a hatchling.
"Electricity, cars, this is the twentieth century. I wonder what year?"
Sata was about to ask more, when shouting below caught her attention. A group of people below pointed excitedly at them. Distance and noise distorted the words, but the meaning was clear to Brooklyn: ĎMonster!í
Gunshots rang out. Brooklyn and Sata turned and wheeled to avoid gunfire.
"We must depart!" Sata shouted over the gunplay.
"No arguments, here." Brooklyn looked around. "This way!"
Brooklyn and his mate glided for the river. The tall buildings shielded them from that group, but other groups encountered them and opened fired.
"Whatís with all the gun-toting psychos?" Brooklyn said, more to himself than expecting an answer.
The skyscrapers here werenít as tall as those in New York, but Brooklyn quickly fell into the ease of city gliding after months of gliding in the open sky. Sata didnít fare quite as well. The unexpected updrafts and downdrafts in these concrete canyons buffeted her wings, slowing her progress. Brooklyn reached out and grasped Sataís hand. He helped her right herself in the unsteady air. He gave her hand a squeeze of reassurance. They came to a square, where a column of soldiers entered. Before they were spotted, Brooklyn pulled Sata and they glided down to a rooftop, where they stopped to catch their breath.
"If we can make it to the Nile, weíll be all right," Brooklyn said between gasps.
Brooklyn answered frankly, "Away from the guys with the guns is an improvement in my book."
Sata accepted the explanation with a nod. She stood up and went to the edge of the roof, to see if the troops had moved on. Brooklyn pulled the Phoenix Gate out of his pouch and glared at it.
"Well, hereís another fine mess youíve gotten us into," he growled at the magical artifact.
The talisman hummed in response. Surprised, Brooklyn dug into his pouch and pulled out a piece of carnelian, gilded with gold characters along one edge. It flashed a brilliant white.
Brooklyn let out a small sigh. "Oh, great."
"Did you say something my love?" Sata asked.
A gust of wind suddenly rose up. From a point, just above the rooftop, a disk of blue light opened up like the iris of a camera. Brooklyn jumped in between the portal and his mate.
"Get back!" He roared to her over the howling wind. Sata obeyed, taking a few steps back.
The portal opened and the silhouette of a figure emerged. Backlit, by the light from the portal, the strangerís features remained obscure until the portal shrunk and vanished.
"You look like you are in need of sanctuary, friend," the stranger greeted the two gargoyles.
Brooklyn stared at the stranger for a long hard moment. The person before him had dark skin and an older face with a couple of wrinkles. He wore flowing black robes, reminiscent of a Moorish prince. Gold thread highlighted the hems and cuffs. Three things made Brooklyn suspicious; the golden serpent shaped armbands adorning each arm, his striking blue eyes that seemed to glow in the night and his voice. Brooklyn could never mistake that voice and the easy familiarity he addressed him as Ďfriendí. For all the difference, it was the same pasty-faced wizard Brooklyn met in 1891. Brooklyn let out a low growl.
"And hello to you, Brooklyn," the wizard said casually. His eyes shifted to the green gargoyle. His eyebrows lifted with interest. "And who might your companion be?" He took full measure of Sata. "Japanese? Ishimuran? Konbanwa."
"Who are you?" Sata asked in an even tone.
"Khensu Haravash." The wizard gave a slight bow, "I have come to offer my assistance." The wizard spread out his hands, palms open in a non-threatening gesture. "I must say Brooklyn, you picked an interesting time to return to Kemet. This coup should be brief."
"I have nothing to do with where or when I show up. You know that."
"Yes, I do and I may be able to help you with that."
"You know how to control the Phoenix Gate?" Sata asked. Brooklyn immediately looked doubtful.
"Why donít you come to my home and find out? I promise no harm will befall you or your companion for the time you are my guests."
Brooklyn began shaking his head.
"Think with your heart, not with your head," the wizard said in mild rebuke. "You are in an unfamiliar time. From your heavy panting, youíve no doubt run into some trouble already. If you want to test your luck by turning to stone out here, you are more than welcome to do so. I, however, offer you food, rest and maybe some aid in your journey. Which shall it be?"
Brooklyn still glared at the wizard. Sata was at his side. Brooklyn looked to her.
"He sounds sincere in his offer," she pointed out.
"My word can be trusted." The wizard gave Brooklyn a stare that went through the red gargoyle. Khensuís tone seemed to add. ĎYou know that.í
Brooklyn hung his head. "I have your word. No harm will come to me or Sata."
"Absolutely, while you are my guests you have my protection," Khensu vowed. He turned around and with a snap of his fingers, the blue portal irised open again.
Khensu stepped through. Brooklyn let out another sigh, then went to the edge of the portal. Sata joined her mate.
"Brooklyn, who is this Khensu?" Sata asked staring at the magic portal.
"An old friend," Brooklyn answered noncommittally.
"You treat him like heís an enemy. Which one is it?"
Brooklyn stared at the Phoenix Gate still in his hand. "I wish I knew."
* * * * *
Unnu, Kemet; (Cairo, Ancient Egypt, 6074 BCE)
From a flashpoint, the phoenix flame grew into a large ball of fire, then flared out. The Gate dropped a lone Brooklyn out of the timestream and into the world. The gargoyle landed in the middle of a panicking crowd. He immediately lost his footing as the ground swayed under him, not ground, but wooden planking. He was on a boat of some sort. He didnít get any more of his bearings. The chaos of men surrounding him demanded his attention.
"Sphinxes! Call out the guards!" The dock workers shouted at the top of their lungs. Many dropped their heavy loads. Some jumped into the river.
Brooklyn hopped on the railing about to take flight. He didnít want to be here when those guards arrived. He opened his wings and crouched to jump, when he heard the familiar roar of gargoyles. Surprised, Brooklyn scanned the sky. To the shore, on his right, dozens of gargoyles emerged from a majestic stone structure.
Brooklyn was overjoyed. It had been ages since heíd seen another gargoyle. Brooklyn was so happy to see other gargoyles he failed to notice their glowing eyes or their weapons held at the ready.
"Uh, hello." Brooklyn waved at them.
The gargoyles tackled him back onto the barge. Instinctively, Brooklyn fought back, but the numerous gargoyles quickly overpowered him. Rough hands pinned his arms and jerked him to his feet. Another pair grabbed his pouch, ripping it from the belt.
"Hey!" Brooklyn protested.
As the gargoyles let Brooklyn up, he saw a man talking to the frightened dock workers. He recounted Brooklynís arrival with animated hand gestures. One of Brooklynís subduers went to this man, speaking to him with deference.
"Captain, we found this on the intruder." the spindly young gargoyle offered Brooklynís pouch to the interviewer.
The captain was a burly fellow, well-muscled and barrel-chested. His skin was the color of loamy earth. He wore a green skirt and a number of gold necklaces formed a collar around his neck. He looked at the contents in the pouch, his face registered surprise, then anger. He stormed up to Brooklyn.
"Where is the rest of the Aten, thief?" the captain demanded.
Brooklyn bit back a cry as a gargoyle pulled his arm back again. "Our captain asked you a question. You will answer."
"I donít know what youíre talking about," Brooklyn said through gritted teeth.
"The disk that you stole. Where is it?"
"I didnít steal anything!" Brooklyn replied.
"A thief and a liar." The captain reached for his sword. "Well, I know a way to end your thieving ways."
"Hold! Geb!" Another gargoyle floated down landing on the docks. This gargoyle was different from the others. He was jet black with a long topknot of white hair on a shaved head. His wings were midnight black with gold wingspars and wingfingers. Both the gargoyles and humans lowered their heads at this newcomer's arrival. He bore a strong presence that immediately commanded respect.
ĎHeís probably the clanís leader,í Brooklyn thought to himself.
"Master Harthoth," Captain Geb spoke as one addressed a superior, "We caught this thief. He appeared by sorcerous means in a great ball of fire, like a Bennuís pyre. We found him with this."
He handed the black gargoyle the piece of carnelian. The gargoyleís face brightened with recognition. Geb handed Harthoth the rest of the pouch. The gargoyle registered further surprise when he pulled out the Phoenix Gate and intrigue as he removed a scroll.
The gargoyle approached Brooklyn. His expression unreadable. The Egyptian gargoyle stared at Brooklyn, boring into him. The brick red gargoyle squirmed under the scrutiny, but his captors held him still.
"Did you steal these things?" He said in a long measuring tone.
"No!" Brooklyn replied quickly. The black gargoyle looked at him thoughtfully for a moment.
"Weíll take him to Lord Thoth. Bring him with me!" Harthoth commanded.
It was a rough walk. Brooklynís captors shoved and pushed him off the barge, across the docks and up a broad avenue to the massive stone structure. Between prods, Brooklyn recognized rows of hieroglyphs and massive statues. Heíd seen similar ones in the Egyptian wing of the Natural History Museum back in New York.
"Unless Iím in another whacked out holographic simulation, this is ancient Egypt," he muttered to himself. A bull-headed gargoyle guard behind him grunted and pushed him forward.
"No talk!" he said with a gravelly voice.
Brooklyn hushed up, quietly taking in his surroundings. Larger-than-life reliefs adorned the outer pylons, while rows of painted hieroglyphs filled the inner halls of the temple. Support columns, colored to resemble papyrus blossoms, reached high into the painted ceiling. Statues and figurines of creatures with human bodies and animals heads stood as silent witnesses to their passing. Most prominent among the statues was a man with the head of an ibis and a scroll in his hand.
Brooklyn assessed his situation. ĎOkay, Iím in ancient Egypt. They think Iíve stole something important and it doesnít look like they take theft lightly.í
"Iíve got to prove I didnít do it." Brooklyn said his conclusion aloud.
"Doubtful, theif," Geb responded, "You are lucky Thoth is the most merciful of our gods. He may offer you a quick death."
Brooklyn glowered at the guard, but said nothing. The black gargoyle led the way deeper into the temple coming to a vast chamber where a corridor that sloped upward. Harthoth gestured for the guards to halt, while he disappeared up the passageway.
Floating balls of light caught Brooklynís attention while they waited for the black gargoyleís return. The chambers were brightly lit by these glowing spheres. There was no electric wires he could see, so he assumed it was magic.
ĎIf they use magic, maybe they could figure out how to fix this crazy Phoenix Gate and get me home,í Brooklyn thought. ĎFirst, Iíve got prove Iím innocent of whatever theft they think Iíve done.í
The black gargoyle returned with tall, muscular man with the head of an ibis. He looked identical to the statues. He was definitely not a gargoyle or a man. That left Oberonís Children or something else.
The bird man held out the fragment of carnelian. "Where is the rest of the Aten? Who do you serve?" Thoth asked.
"I donít know. I donít serve anyone," Brooklyn answered.
"And this?" Thoth held up the Phoenix Gate, "I suppose you do not know where this came from either?"
"Look, I donít know what you talking about. I didnít steal anything. And as for that thing," Brooklyn glared at the Gate, "I wish I could get rid of it."
Thoth clicked his long curved beak thoughtfully. "Interesting. Could it possibly be? You? The Timedancer?"
"Why does everyone keep calling me that?" Brooklyn growled, his eyes glowed from frustration.
The ibis-headed man started to reply, when a group of humans and gargoyles entered the sanctum. In the lead was an exquisitely beautiful woman dressed in diaphanous purple silks.
"Supermodel supreme," Brooklyn breathed. She looked like she came fresh from the Paris runways.
"Thoth," the supermodel addressed the ibis god. She looked Brooklyn up and down. "This is the thief? Why isnít he dispatched?"
"We have found only a piece of the Aten, Isis. Killing him will not reveal its full location," Thoth replied.
"Then get the information from him and be done with it," she said callously.
"I am not convinced he stole the Aten." Thoth drew himself up crossing his arms.
Isis was about to argue, but others in the group spoke first.
"What are your reasons behind this belief?" another woman asked. She was an elderly woman, a face full of wrinkles from years out in the sun and hair of cloud silver. She leaned on a staff and looked at Thoth with half-lidded yellow eyes.
"The slaves said he appeared in a ball of fire, like a Bennuís pyre," Thoth answered, his eyes trained on Isis. When he mentioned, ĎBennuís pyreí, Isisís eyes widened in surprise.
Brooklyn saw the exchange. ĎThey know something,í he thought.
"The manner of his appearance only furthers his guilt," a man next to Isis commented. He was a young man barely midway through his teens.
"Sorcery was involved in the Atenís theft."
"If so, why does he have only a piece, Tem?" Harthoth argued. "And why return?"
"I donít understand why are you arguing so. Do you wish to continue living with the dishonor of your failure?" One of the gargoyles in the group asked. He was a towering gargoyle, not bulky but tall and lean, the gargoyle equivalent of a basketball player. This towering gargoyle had a ramís head with glossy black horns.
"I accept the blame for the Sun diskís disappearance, Khnemu," Harthoth took a step forward, "but I will not compound it, by punishing an innocent."
"My friends, there is a way to certainty," Thoth spoke. "A Shut will tell."
"Shoot what?" Brooklyn asked in bewilderment. The guard behind him wrenched his arm to silence him.
"Dawn is nearly upon us, let us try him first thing after sun down," the old woman advised.
Isis sneered, "Look at his dress, his manner, heís a barbarian. Why waste justice on someone so unsophisticated?"
"Hey, I may be new around here, but that doesnít mean I donít have any rights." Brooklyn snapped back.
Isis snorted, then raised her right hand. A haze of orange red light surrounded him, then lifted him up.
"A filthy barbarian like you has no rights." She pulled her left hand into a fist as a red glow surrounded it. "And soon youíll have no life."
Thoth brought his staff down with a thunderclap, the mist vanished and Brooklyn fell to the floor. Thoth stood between the Timedancer and Isis. Harthoth followed suit, a couple steps behind the god.
"He may be a barbarian, but we are not," Thoth said, his eyes staring hard at Isis. "Until the Shut gives us the truth, he will not be harmed."
"Youíd defend this Ďforeignerí?" Isis said aghast.
"He will not be harmed." Thoth said each word slowly to brook no argument.
"Until sundown," Tem said evenly carrying an undertone, ĎYouíd be right.í
The humans and gargoyles agreed. After a moment, staring at Thoth, Isis agreed as well.
"Iíll attach one of my guards to aid in watching the thief," Isis added.
"Do you not trust me, Isis?" Thoth asked with mild challenge.
"Of course I do, but an extra pair of hands are always a help," Isis replied diplomatically.
"And an extra pair of eyes and ears to spy," Geb muttered within Brooklynís hearing.
Isis turned to the end of the entrance and motioned for someone to come. A female gargoyle came quickly to Isisís side.
"Watch him," Isis said imperiously. "Ensure he doesnít escape."
"As you wish, my lady," the golden female gargoyle replied.
Brooklyn stared at a lithe female with a regal bearing. Her brown-bronze hair flowed easily over her shoulders and her brow came up in half-circle horned crest.
"Meryt?" Brooklyn couldnít help sounding elated. "Itís you."
Everyone looked at the female gargoyle.
"You are mated to this thief, young one?" an older eagle gargoyle asked,
"No!" Meryt said sharply, "I know not what he is talking about."
"He called you Ďbelovedí?" Isis cast her a questioning look.
"A ploy." The female glared at Brooklyn, "Iíve never seen him before in my life."
"Meryt! Itís me, Brooklyn." Brooklyn tried to reach her, even though a voice in the back of his mind said, "She doesnít recognize you Brooklyn, to her itís the first time youíve met."
"Silence, thief!" the female gargoyle ordered sharply.
Brooklyn reluctantly obeyed. The group filtered out of the temple. Just as Isis began to leave, Thoth called her over. They walked off in a different direction talking in low whispers. Brooklyn stared after them. Harthoth gestured to the two guards, they released Brooklyn then departed for other parts of the temple.
"I trust you can hold one sphinx?" Harthoth asked Meryt.
"A lot better than you could keep the Aten," Meryt answered sarcastically.
"Watch your tongue," Geb shot back.
"Itís all right Geb," Harthoth interceded. "Stay with the prisoner until sunrise. I must arrange things for his trial."
"Where do we put him?" Meryt said in an impatient tone.
"The storage rooms along the eastern gate," Harthoth answered, then turned and walked away.
Meryt grabbed Brooklyn roughly. "Come along, thief!" She half-dragged Brooklyn to the small chamber on the eastern side of the temple. Geb followed closely, making sure neither tried anything.
Finding an empty storage room, Meryt tossed him in. There were no bars or doors. Dawn would be enough to imprison a gargoyle.
"Meryt?" Brooklyn tried again,. "Look you donít know me yet, but you can trust me. I didnít steal any Aten. Youíve got to believe me?"
"I donít have to do anything of the sort." The young female didnít turn around. "And why do you call me Ďbelovedí. I would scarcely have anything to do with a barbarian, much less have him call me so intimate an endearment."
"Thatís your name," Brooklyn explained.
Meryt laughed mockingly, "I havenít yet to earn a name. Try a better set of lies, barbarian."
"We only have to put up with him for a little longer." Geb stared out of the temple at the graying sky.
Brooklyn tried again, but Meryt didnít respond. Finally, Brooklyn gave up. He leaned against the back wall, rubbing his sore arms.
"All in all, this has been one bummer night," Brooklyn muttered to himself.
When dawn spilled over the east horizon, it caught one beaked gargoyle leaning against a wall, wearing an expression of contemplation.
* * * * *
The sky brightened as true dawn threatened to spill over the land. A man dressed in red and black robes hurried through the near empty streets of Unnu. He hunched over so none would recognize his tall stature. He kept his arms in his sleeves so none could see his rings and bracelets. He kept his hood drawn so none could see his face. He kept his identity hidden at all cost.
As he turned into an alley, he looked behind to see if he had been followed. He turned around and nearly collided with a pair of glowing eyes.
"You are late!" the female voice said in a dangerous tone.
"A thousand apologies," the man said with a hint of sarcasm. "Warn me next time when you want to raid a House of Life."
"Do you have it?" the voice said urgently.
"Yes." the man reached into his billowing sleeves and pulled out a linen wrapped, plate-sized disk of carnelian.
The sapphire eyes glowed a bit brighter. "Exssellent. I want you to hide it where I told you, then acquire for me an ankh."
"Surely you have servants for such a menial task." The man straightened up with indignation.
"Of course," the feminine voice said with mirth. "I have you."
The voice behind the sapphire eyes grew stern. "Now, do as I say."
The man stared hard at the eyes, but nodded. He turned to depart.
"Oh, there is one more thing. This coming night, weíre going to pay Thoth another visit, so be ready."
"What?" The man turned around. "This theft has raised every alarm. Going back is madness."
"JustÖ beÖ ready." The eyes faded until finally vanishing entirely.
The man peered at the shadows, but his associate was gone. He shifted his posture back to a hunchback and resumed a shambling gait upon leaving the alley. As he came out, he shielded his eyes from dawn's bright rays.
* * * * *
Sunrise signaled the start of the day in Unnu. Farmers went out to the fields, while wives and children separated the wheat already brought in and took the grain to the temple granaries. Laborers made the commute from the complex of homes surrounding each temple to their godís House of Life. Bakers passed out loaves to the laborers continuing their journey to the quarries to cut out stone or into the temple to build.
Unlike Isis, who satisfied her ego with an army of craftsmen carving cartouches and hieroglyphs on every wall and column in praise of her glory, or Anubis, who constantly toiled preparing Kemetís dead for the afterlife, Thoth carried on studies in his House of Life. Noble-born boys were trained to become scribes. Teenage initiates began a long day measuring new discoveries and inscribing the wisdom of ages onto papyrus scrolls. Older teens with stronger talent entered the mystery system, training to become sorcerers.
Geb barked out orders to his subordinates. Human guards took up posts held during the night by the now-petrified sphinxes. Geb and the night guards retired to the barracks as the rest of the temple came alive with activity. The students and faculty paid special consideration to the ibis-godís private chambers. Isis was with him and the affairs of gods werenít to be intruded on.
"You know what the Portal of the Bennu means," Thoth argued. "Why do you persist in denying it?"
"I find it hard to believe that the Timedancer would be this scrawny sphinx and a barbarian at that." Isis peered at the Phoenix Gate.
"You are assuming he came from this place and time." Thothís eye blinked in bird-like fashion.
"Where else?" Isis challenged.
Thoth picked up the scroll. "This is sealed with human magic and will not open, but look at the seal."
Isis peered at the imprinted wax. The symbols and scribbles were unintelligible. "I donít understand this language."
"Neither do I and every language known to man and sphinx is known to me. What if this is a tongue yet to be spoken." Thoth took the scroll back.
"I surmise that this and the Timedancer come from a time ahead of us. And if that is true, then this sphinx might have nothing to do with our current peril."
"Is that how you will explain it to the Council?" Isis challenged as she picked up the Gate.
"I intend to let the truth speak for itself," Thoth said with a hint of superiority. "You and I both understand the implications of the Portal of the Bennu."
Isis turned the Gate over, inspecting it at every angle.
"Yes. but thatís a danger for his time, not ours."
Isis put the Ďportalí on the table with the other items from the pouch. "Your people lost the Aten, therefore you bear the responsibility of its absence."
"I am aware of that."
"And youíd waste what little influence left to you on a foreigner?" Isis asked.
"Yes." Thoth answered.
Isis shed a half smile. The mirth in her eyes laughed at Thoth.
"So be it." Isis replied and walked away. Thoth watched her leave. He knew full well what he risked helping this stranger, but the Timedancer had a role to play.
"He must survive at all costs," Thoth whispered to Isisís departing back.
* * * * *
The sun painted the desert in reds and scarlets on its descent. The stonecutters returned from the quarries. The artisans returned from the temples and the farmers returned from the fields. Most of Kemetís human population returned to their homes as the last slice of sun slipped beneath the horizon and all of Unnu resounded with the roars of awakening gargoyles.
In the Temple of Thoth, Isisís emissary awoke from her stone sleep with a roar. Brooklyn emerged from his stone casing, brushing off errant flakes and stretching his wings. He came to the entrance of the storage room, just as Meryt slipped on a simple shift. She turned around and smiled.
Brooklyn smiled in return then felt the cold prick of a spearhead on his belly. Meryt held the spear with a quiet grin that said, ĎIíll skewer you if you take another step.í
"Step back," Brooklyn muttered understanding her unspoken command. "Gotcha."
"You are still clothed?" Meryt asked, with a surprised look.
Harthoth and Geb arrived, cutting short that conversation. Harthoth was dressed for some ceremony. He wore gold and kohl mascara around his eyes and face paint that made his cheeks glister like gold dust. His shaven head was covered with a braided hairpiece with beads jangling from each movement. The long thin false beard he wore was the most outrageous in Brooklynís opinion. He tried hard to stifle a laugh.
Geb only changed skirts, wearing a white one instead of green and more gold chains. He brought a change of clothes and a bowl of food. He offered the bowl to Meryt, who ate quickly, and the change of clothes to Brooklyn, but saw he was still dressed.
"How?" Geb looked to the other gargoyles, looking equally perplexed.
"Just one more barbarian mystery," Meryt said between bites.
"Hey, I wouldnít mind something to eat."
"On a condemned man? Why waste the food?" Geb said harshly.
"That is what we will find out." Harthoth gestured for the others to follow.
The black gargoyle led the others through the colonnade, past the portico, to the main audience chamber. The vast chamber was the same one Brooklyn was taken to last night. Now, he could see why they needed all the room. The chamber was filled with humans, gargoyles and gods. The gargoyles were easy to spot by their wings. Most had animal features like dog faces or bull horns, but some didnít. Some were beaked like Brooklyn, or webbed like Lex, some looked like they could even outweigh Broadway. The gargoyles mingled easily with the humans. The humans ranged from light coffee to dark ebony in complexion. There were a few like Isis, beautiful in an unreal sense, like a glamour. Brooklyn kept thinking about the Lady of the Lake when he saw her. Isis talked like an equal with the third group assembled, the gods. They had lean athletic bodies of men and woman, but also had heads of animals like falcons, hippos and crocodiles. A short squat bearded man came up to Brooklyn. "This is the thief. A bit reedy, but his execution should be fun nonetheless."
"Leave off Bes," Harthoth said sternly. "Weíve no time for your tricks."
Bes pouted a bit, but let them past. The crowds parted a path for them to the dais. Thoth was on the stage as well as two others, a jackal headed god and a dark haired woman. From Goliathís description, Brooklyn guessed the jackal headed god was Anubis, but he didnít know who the woman was. She was petite, attractive with sable black hair that came to her shoulders. She was dressed in similar finery as Harthoth, right down to thin false beard, possibly the same rank.
Geb gave him a slight yank of his arms, forcing him to pick up the pace. They mounted the stage. Brooklyn felt a knot settle in his stomach as he turned and stared out at the chamber. Looking out on this strange land with all these strange people, who thought his execution would be high entertainment, Brooklyn felt very much alone. At that moment, he would have traded anything to go home.
"I will not allow harm to come to you," a reassuring voice whispered into his ear.
Brooklyn turned around and saw the curved beak of Thoth. Before he regained the power of speech, the dark haired woman approached.
"Do not speak falsely." The woman gave him the ostrich plume.
Brooklyn stared at it, then waved it around. "What is this supposed to do?"
"Did you steal the Aten?" Thoth asked.
"For the umpteenth time, NO!" Brooklyn shouted.
The Shut suddenly jerked out of his hand. The feather stood on end, glowing with a white-gold brilliance. The crowd was awed. Isis and her ilk looked mollified. The feather continued floating tall and straight. Thoth took stage front.
"The Shut stands. This sphinx is innocent," he proclaimed.
"I donít believe it," the boy, Tem, protested.
"Your belief is illogical," Thoth argued back.
"The Shut can not bear false witness to his heart," Anubis finally spoke.
The crowd buzzed with conversation. Many grew a bit rowdy, expecting an execution, but seeing that denied. Harthoth and Geb took flanking positions beside Thoth.
"Thoth has proven this sphinx innocent. If any disagree with that decision, consult Ra for recourse," Harthoth said forcefully.
Geb said nothing. His scowl warned any not to try anything. Thoth brought down his staff with a thunderclap. The booming sound got everyoneís attention. Thoth stepped eloquently into the silence.
"The Aten has been stolen, but this sphinx is not the thief. Nothing will be gained by his death. Please go!"
The crowds reluctantly obeyed, slowly filtering out to Thothís temple. Thoth turned to the jackal god.
"My thanks to you, Lord Anubis." Then he turned to the lady. "And to you my dear lady Maíat."
The lady blushed and smiled warmly. Thoth took her hand and pecked it with his beak. Brooklyn looked on the exchange curiously. If he didnít know better, it looked like Thoth was sweet on her. Brooklyn expected an apology, but the ibis god simply went about his business, like this was a disruption to his routine.
Thoth stepped down from the dais and encountered Isis. Meryt took a step past Brooklyn towards her, but the lady gave a slight shake of her head. Meryt resumed her position behind the foreigner.
"Thoth, in spite of my disagreement with the Shutís decision, the facts remains. The Aten is missing."
Thoth nodded with a dip of his beak. Isis took another step forward.
"Together, perhaps we can divine its whereabouts. Will you accept my help?"
Thoth struck a thoughtful pose, then finally nodded in agreement. She and the ibis headed god departed for his private chambers.
Brooklyn stood, stunned by his change in fortune. One moment, he was moments from execution, now he was free. He was still minus one Phoenix Gate, so he wasnít out of the woods yet. Brooklyn spotted the black gargoyle leaving the platform. Brooklyn stroked the bottom his beak, maybe Harthoth could help.
"Ah, excuse me. Harthoth?" Brooklyn asked. He came upon the gargoyle talking to four human subordinates handing out assignments for the night.
"Yes?" the black gargoyle asked, finally turning to Brooklyn.
"I was wondering when Iíd get my stuff back?" Brooklyn asked.
Harthothís keen eyes spotted Isisís golden sphinx. She kept a few steps behind the red gargoyle, quietly spying on their conversation. His eyes narrowed, but returned to the brick red gargoyle.
"Until the Aten is found, your magical items must stay with my master Thoth."
Brooklyn said in measured tones trying to understand, "So if the Aten is found, I can get the Phoenix Gate back."
Harthoth nodded. Brooklyn frowned, then hit upon an idea.
"Maybe I can help."
"Help?" Harthoth seemed doubtful. "How? What kind of power do you possess?"
Brooklyn said with a wry grin, "Oh, I know a new magic. It is called Ďinvestigationí."
* * * * *
Harthoth and Geb led Brooklyn to the scroll repository, the heart of Thothís House of Life. Brooklynís first impression was that they used comic strips for wallpaper. Columns of hieroglyphs filled every conceivable space on the first three walls and equally vibrant reliefs covered the fourth wall in the back.
"What preparations do you need for this Ďinvestigationí? Beeswax candles? Tanna leaves? Braziers?" Harthoth asked.
"Nope, all we need is a good eye." Brooklyn began looking around.
"Listening in on Broadwayís talks with Matt and Elisa are about to pay off," Brooklyn muttered to himself as he scanned the floor making his way toward the back of the repository. He saw cubbyholes in the wall used for storing countless scrolls. He saw patterns of lines and shapes on the floor. The largest was a two concentric circles with a triangle inscribed in the smallest circle.
Brooklyn recalled what Bluestone said about investigation, "Itís about patterns. Look for whatís out of place, what doesnít fit the pattern? Then see what pattern it does fit."
Brooklyn tried to follow that advice, but everything was so unfamiliar to him. He didnít know what looked in-place and what looked out-of-place. He came to the back of the wall. The reliefs portrayed a story of a young man fighting a snake with wings. On one side of the man was a long-ear, dog faced god, on the other was Thoth. The reliefs also had additions. Items in the relief charactersí hand; their staffs, ankhs and amulets were real, embedded in the stone. Above the young manís head, there was a round space marking the Atenís absence, much like a toolmanís pegboard revealed a missing tool.
"This is where the Aten was stolen?"
"That is correct," Harthoth answered.
Brooklyn looked for anything resembling a clue, but he saw nothing. Brooklyn let out a sigh, about to admit defeat.
"If you let a barbarian into your treasure trove, it is a wonder the Aten wasnít stolen sooner," Meryt spoke from the spandrel beneath the arch.
"I was wondering when you would reveal yourself. Skulking about does not suit you," Harthoth said in a casual tone.
"I serve my Lady, which is more than I can say of you," Meryt said hotly. "Why do you permit this barbarian into your masterís mysteries?"
"He possesses a magic which may aid us."
"Magic? Then he must examined by my Lady," Meryt argued.
"Magic is the purview of our lord," Geb interjected.
"The teaching of it, yes, but not its utilization. Isis is goddess of magic," Meryt argued.
Brooklyn tuned them out after Meryt called him a barbarian again. He was growing to hate that word with a passion. It was one thing for humans to revile him. From Wyvern, to New York and all the time periods he visited, humans rarely accepted gargoyles. It was something he almost expected, but never imagined heíd get the same reaction from other gargoyles, treated like a beast by his own people. Brooklyn shook his head as he stared at the cubbyholes when something glinted in the ambient glow of the magic lights. He lifted a half-pulled out scroll and found something. It was a length of hair braided up with a number of colored beads. This had Ďclueí written all over it.
Geb and Meryt were in a shouting match, when Brooklyn tapped Harthothís wing and presented the braid.
"Does this mean anything to you?" Brooklyn held up the braid.
Harthoth peered at the hair then gave a perplexed look at Brooklyn. "What does this mean?"
"It could have been left by the thief," Brooklyn added.
"How can you be certain?"
"Well, letís think about this for a moment. Who has been in here since the Aten was stolen?"
Geb stopped arguing with Meryt for a minute to answer, "Only Thoth, Harthoth and members of the Council. Everyone else has been forbidden."
"So this hair can belong to those members or the thief." Brooklyn cupped his beak.
"Who is on the Council?"
"Those who came last night," Harthoth answered. "Tem and Khepera speak for the people. Shu and Khnemu speak for us sphinxes, Lady Isis and Lord Osiris speak for the gods, and Ra rules us all. The last two you have not met."
Brooklyn fiddled with the braid as he recalled the group that demanded his death the night before. Khnemu was the tall, ram-headed gargoyle. Shu was the eagle-like one. Neither had long hair. Tem was the young hothead. His head was shaven, but had stubble from days of growth. It was unlikely he shaved it recently. Kheperaís gray hair ruled her out. That left Isis, Thoth, Harthoth, Osiris and Ra. The last two he never met.
Brooklyn ran the braid between his finger, he felt something sticky at the end.
"Eww, what is this?" Brooklyn rubbed the sticky substance between his fingers.
Harthoth examined the braid. "Beeswax, it is used to keep the braid in place."
"In place? You mean like on a wig?"
"Wig?" Harthoth pronounced the strange word with distaste. "I do not know what you mean by a wig. We have hairpieces worn by nobles and high priests."
"And have any of these nobles and high priests been in here since the Atenís theft?"
"No," Harthoth answered.
"Then I think we have our first clue," Brooklyn crowed.
"Clue?" Meryt asked.
"An indication of who the thief might be." Brooklyn explained, "My guess is that whoever stole the Aten, dropped this. Maybe it came off when he was pulling the Aten out of the wall."
"So who is this thief?" Geb asked.
"I donít know." Brooklyn took a deep breath. "You said only high priests and nobles wear wigs, I mean, hairpieces."
"Yes," Harthoth nodded.
"Then you could be our thief, High Priest Harthoth." Meryt took a step forward.
Gebís face grew grim. "This barbarian is accusing you of stealing from our Lord!"
"He has not said so." Harthoth looked at Brooklyn. "I, at least, hope not."
"I hope not too. HmmÖ" Brooklyn stared at the clue for a moment.
He didnít want to accuse Harthoth, but this did make him a suspect. Then he remembered what Elisa said, "Donít forget the small details. Something small can make a big impact."
"Something small," Brooklyn mumbled to himself. He looked over the braid with its collection of beads.
"Say, do these beads mean anything to you?" Brooklyn handed over the braid.
"The colors mark who you serve." Harthoth looked over the colored beads arranged in purple, gold, red, black, red, gold and purple.
"So yours would be different from say a priest who works for Isis?"
"That is correct."
"Then it looks like you arenít a suspect." Brooklyn held up the braid to compare with Harthothís own hairpiece. The braid contrasted with Harthothís beads arranged in black, gold, black, silver, black, gold and black.
Meryt looked extremely doubtful of all of this. Geb shared a similar expression. Harthoth was about to add something when a magic light floated into the repository. It hovered right in front of Harthoth and took the shape of a glowing ibis, before returning to a spherical shape.
"My master calls." Harthoth looked to Brooklyn. "I will take this information to him. The braid, please?"
Brooklyn gave him the lock of hair to the black gargoyle. Harthoth clapped Brooklynís shoulder.
"Thank you, friend. Your investigation magic may prove the salvation of Kemet."
Harthoth turned to Geb. "Treat him as a guest. See to his needs. I will return as soon as I may."
Geb didnít look too pleased with the edict, but obeyed. Meryt looked even less thrilled.
ĎWell one out of three isnít bad,í Brooklyn thought.
Harthoth left and an uncomfortable silence rose up between the three. Brooklyn started to break the ice, when his stomach growled savagely. It was so loud, Harthoth, clear on the other side of the repository, turned around.
"Was that your stomach or a cheetah?" he shouted laughingly. Brooklyn looked embarrassed.
"Sorry, I-" Brooklynís stomach growled again.
"Itís just that IÖ" Another gurgle.
"Hey, you mind letting me do the talking," Brooklyn shouted at his stomach. It gave a softer grumble, then stopped.
Harthoth called out from across the room, "Geb, please show our guess to supper, before he wakes half of Unnu."
Geb gave a wry smile. "As you say, master. Come along, letís get you fed."
* * * * *
Brooklyn walked between Geb and Meryt on their way to another part of the temple. Brooklyn stared all around taking in the rich color. The pictures were so vivid he thought theyíd spring to life. Brooklyn was following a hieroglyphic story across the ceilings, when he ran into a woman.
"Oh, Iím sorry." Brooklyn apologized helping her up.
"It isss alright," the woman replied.
Brooklyn looked the woman up and down. On the tall side of medium, she wore the same white linen shift he saw on other women and the female gargoyles like Meryt. She wore a brown cloak that covered her head, but she tilted it up to look at Brooklyn. She had icy blue eyes that stared right through him. They seemed out of place on her.
Meryt pushed Brooklyn onward. "Try to watch where youíre going, barbarian. I know it is asking a lot, but try."
Brooklyn cut Meryt a sharp glare. His stomach growled again. The sooner he ate, the happier heíd be. He quickly forgot about the woman, following the guardsman toward the savory smells of food.
* * * * *
Isfet looked at the departing gargoyle with an inquiring gleam in her eye. Her agent had told her that a red barbarian sphinx was going to be executed tonight. If that was the same one, why was he free? She shrugged, it didnít matter to her. The attraction of an execution brought more to Thothís temple than usual, making it incredibly easy to slip in unnoticed. Isfet neared the scroll repository, the guard had been doubled, two men and two sphinx. She smiled.
"No trouble at all."
* * * * *
Brooklyn and his two Ďguidesí ate in the templeís common room. Brooklyn sat back and gave a satisfying sigh as he patted his belly.
"Happy?" He asked his silent stomach. Geb sat next to him, finishing his second plate of roast meat and bread, washing it down with palm wine. Meryt chewed on some form of honey pastry.
Geb said proudly, "Our temple never turns away a hungry stomach."
"Well time-travel doesnít give you a lot of chances to eat," Brooklyn commented as Harthoth joined them taking a seat next to Meryt. She gave the black gargoyle an imperious glance, which he ignored.
"So how did it go with the boss?" Brooklyn asked.
"We used the braid in a divination spell, but all we saw was sand. That means either the thief is buried or the Aten is."
"A dead end," Brooklyn mumbled to himself, "Sorry, I wasnít much help."
"Not at all." Harthoth skewered some meat and vegetables with a stick. "You have provided a valuable first step in finding the Aten. Both my Lord and Isis expressed interest in your investigation magic."
Brooklyn felt a little uneasy. His sarcastic sense of humor had gone a bit too far. "Harthoth, you should knowÖ"
"Captain Geb! Captain Geb!" a man ran up to him. When he saw Harthoth he immediately knelt in a bow.
"Forgive me, High Priest!"
"What is it?" Harthoth gestured for him to stand up.
The guard tried catching his breath. "There is some magical attack on the western perimeter, some image in the Nile."
"That could be our thief." Harthoth looked to Geb. "Let us see."
Geb and Harthoth took off with the guard, leaving Brooklyn with Meryt. Neither noticed it right away but they were conspicuously alone. They looked up and made eye contact, then looked away. Meryt shook her head, then threw her shoulders back regaining her imperious stature.
Brooklyn cleared his throat, trying not to look nervous. Meryt kept her aristocratic gaze on him.
"Last night before dawn, you said you havenít earned a name. What did you mean by that?"
Meryt spoke in a condescending tone, the way an elder would talk to a hatchling. "In the civilized lands, names have great power. If you prove yourself worthy, you may earn a name. My lady hasnít endowed me with one. Now answer my question, why did you call me Ďbelovedí?"
"You mean Meryt?" Brooklyn thought fast, "Uh, you reminded me of someone I met a while ago with that name,"
"Oh?" Meryt looked intrigued. For the first time, he saw something in her face other than contempt.
"Yeah, she was very beautiful, with your shade of gold. I meet her only a brief time, but it felt like I had known her a lifetime." Brooklyn spoke in wistful tones about the Meryt he had known back in Cairo.
"She was warm and open and good in a fight," Brooklyn went on.
"A good fighter?" Meryt commented, "Thatís at least one thing we have in common."
ĎThat and a lot more,í Brooklyn thought to himself. It was hard to believe that this ice queen was the same Meryt he met in Cairo. This Meryt looked at him with such distrustful eyes, so different from the caring Meryt in the 19th century. The one who saved him from thugs and crazed-psycho bola queens. Bola queensÖ
"No way! It canít be," Brooklyn whispered to himself, but his mind already made the connection. The sibilant voice, the intense blue eyes, it was exactly like that woman that tried torturing him in the 19th century. Why didnít he see it before. He looked at his stomach accusingly.
"Come on!" Brooklyn got up. "Weíve got trouble."
"What?" Meryt snapped out of her trance. She was staring at Brooklyn and hadnít even noticed.
"Come on! That lady I bumped into. I think sheís up to no good."
Meryt protested again, but Brooklyn was already up and heading out the room. Meryt muttered a curse under her breath and got up to follow.
* * * * *
Brooklyn and Meryt found four guards, two human, two gargoyle, laying unconscious on the floor in front of the scroll repository. The two shared a glance that was universal, ĎNot good!í
As they entered the repository, dozens of scrolls littered the floor, carelessly tossed aside. Brooklyn gestured for silence, as they made their way around the massive papyrus blossom columns. They came around one column and found a young woman pulling out a scroll, quickly scanning it, and then tossing it aside.
"Where is it?" she mumbled to herself. "Curse Thoth and his mystery system. It doesnít matter, Iíll find it."
Brooklyn slipped back behind the column. He whispered to Meryt, "Okay, hereís what we should do."
Meryt simply walked out in the open and stood in righteous indignation. "By Isisís will, I command you to surrender."
For a moment, the woman didnít respond. She continued to look through the scrolls. She looked over the scroll, her eyes scanned over it again.
"Ah, here it is." She smiled, then turned at the gargoyle. "Hmm, Oh youíre trying to stop me?"
"Release the scroll." Meryt took a step towards her.
Isfet grinned wickedly then tossed the scroll in a long, high arc. Meryt kept her eye on the scroll, she didnít see Isfet run up and land a quick kick in her midsection.
Meryt doubled over, but came up with glowing red eyes. Isfet caught the scroll, still wearing that wicked smile. She kicked Meryt again in the abdomen. This caused the gold gargoyle to go down flat on her face.
"Youíre even less of a challenge than those guards," Isfet shrugged. "Pity."
Brooklyn barreled into her from behind. He used surprise to its full advantage. Isfet landed on her stomach, air coming out of her in a whoosh. Brooklyn stood over her, when her foot whipped out and got him by the arched instep. Brooklyn stumbled back, giving Isfet time to spring to her feet and land a blow just under Brooklynís ear.
"Very clever, sphinx, but in the end futile." Isfet squared back her shoulder.
Meryt leaped on her from behind, grabbing her in a chokehold. Isfet chuckled.
"Still some fight in you? Iíll fix that."
Meryt, about a foot taller than the girl, lifted her bodily off the ground. Isfet swung her legs out, finding purchase in the wall. Isfet executed a flip that wrenched Merytís arms. She let go from pain. Isfet landed behind her and push-kicked Meryt in the spot above the tail.
"Fight me and die, sphinx!" Isfetís smiling demeanor turned nasty.
Meryt turned around, growling. She charged again. Isfet casually reached into her cloak and withdrew a pair of white bolas. Meryt let out a battle cry as Isfet quickly spun and threw the bolas. The wire wrapped around her arms and wings, when the white weights clacked against each other, fire blossomed in ropy strands around Meryt. Merytís battle cry turned to one of agony as the fire burned. Meryt was unconscious before she hit the floor.
Brooklyn bolted to her side. "Meryt!"
"Meryt? Come on girl, stay with me."
Meryt moaned weakly. Her eyes fluttered open for a second then fell closed.
"She didnít die?" Isfet stood over the two gargoyles with a disappointed expression. "I must redo my construction. She should have died instantly."
Brooklyn sprang at Isfet. He managed to tackle her, but couldnít get his hand around her throat. Isfet grunted at they hit the hard ground. The cinnamon brown woman was a lot stronger than she looked. She reached into her cloak again and pulled out a silver stick. The stick quickly grew. One end planting itself in the floor, the other end in Brooklynís chest. The staff pushed Brooklyn off its owner, throwing him across the room.
"I have little time for this." Isfet got up with the help of her staff. She looked around her. "Where is that scroll?"
Brooklyn groaned as his head cleared. Isfet was at the other end, rooting through the litter of papyrus scroll. Brooklyn looked to his right claw, scroll in hand. He didnít know how he'd wrestled it away from her, but heíd be burned twice if he was going to let her have it. He quickly dropped it and picked up another scroll.
"Looking for this?" Brooklyn held up the scroll. Isfet glared at him.
"Give me that, barbarian!"
"You know, Iíve had enough of people calling me that." Brooklyn lowered to a crouch. "You want it, come and get it!"
Brooklyn broke into a run on all fours, heading for the exit. He spared a glance to look behind, but Isfet was gone. He turned to the spandrel and saw the woman standing there waiting for him.
Brooklyn skidded to a halt, but Isfet landed a punch right on his beak. Brooklyn let out a roar, which quickly stuck in his throat when Isfet kneed his lower jaw, causing his beak to slam on his tongue. With a spin kick, Brooklyn lay on the ground unconscious. Isfet scooped the scroll out of his hand.
"If I had the time, Iíd make sure I got a proper scream out of you. Consider yourself fortunate." Isfet held her staff high in a two-handed grasp, the green metal tip morphed into a sharp point. "Youíll get a quick death."
Isfet brought the staff down and it was knocked from her hand. The staff went spinning, embedding itself point first in a hieroglyph on the wall. Isfet glared around the room to see who dared to stop her. She saw the interloper under the entranceway spandrel.
A human, a wizard by his dress, a black cloak with gold trim, numerous necklaces and collars around his neck. His skin was jet black like a Nubianís and his face was in a stern scowl.
"Be gone, thief!" He commanded.
"Others have made a similar demand of me." She gestured to all the unconscious bodies. "Do you want to be next?"
Brooklynís eyes came into focus, but his ears kept ringing. When he looked up, he saw Isfet staring at someone. His bleary eyes focused a bit more and he recognized the wizard from Cairo. He felt his spirits sink. "Oh no!" he sighed.
Brooklynís head cleared some more. They werenít talking. They were arguing. The wizard held up his hands and a bolt of lightning struck Isfet. She hissed at the wizard, but he hit her again. Another bolt and Brooklyn saw his plan. The wizard was pushing Isfet back towards him. Brooklyn got to his knees and scrambled behind her.
One more blast sent Isfet toppling over Brooklyn. She fell on her back into the triangle inscribed in the circles. The wizard took advantage of the moment. He began chanting and the room began to glow. The amulets and artifacts in the walls and the scrolls all around, began glowing with a brilliant radiance.
The light became a physical thing wrapping itself around Isfet. The woman struggled with the light bonds, and in a last desperate cry vanished from sight. Brooklyn looked to the wizard.
"Uh, thanks," Brooklyn spoke first. The wizard looked stunned.
"I didnít mean to send her away."
The wizard turned around and ran. Brooklyn got up to go after him, but he saw Meryt. He had to make sure she was all right. Soon other guards came to the Repository.
"Better late, than never," Brooklyn muttered to himself. Thoth and Isis appeared next in a flash of colorful light.
"What has happened?" Isis demanded. She saw Brooklyn standing over her sphinx and acted.
"Get away from her!" She shouted with an angry wave of her hand.
Brooklyn was jerked up into the air. He felt himself hurtling toward the wall. Thoth brought his staff down with a loud boom. Brooklyn just hung there for a second, then the magic disappeared. Isis glared at the ibis god, then Meryt groaned.
"I summon Bastet," Isis called out.
A shimmering image of a woman appeared, resolving quickly to a cat headed goddess.
"Yes, Isis," Bastet started, but took one look around and saw the emergency.
With a snap of her hands she summoned another woman. This one was human, curly black hair and dusty brown skin.
"Selqet, to me," Bastet urged and they went to help Meryt and the other injured guards.
* * * * *
Isfet howled in impotent rage. "I was so close! When I find that wizard, Iíll scatter his bones in the Great Green Sea and watch him fade from existence."
"Calm yourself," a loud, disembodied voice boomed.
Reluctantly, Isfet did as she was told. "I didnít acquire the scroll you wanted."
"Then weíll move without it. Theyíre so busy hunting for the Aten, theyíll never figure out the true danger. See that all is in readiness."
"Yes, father," Isfet replied obediently. When she felt he was gone, her face eased into a small smile.
* * * * *
Bastet quickly revived the injured guards. Isis and Brooklyn remained with Meryt while Selqet inspected her injuries. She gave the female gargoyle something to drink. The amber liquid flowed down her throat. Her eyes snapped opened and Meryt sat bolt upright. Selqet gently pushed her back down.
"It is all right. The effects of the potion are temporary, but will last until sunrise. Can you stand?"
Meryt nodded. She stood up shakily. Her knees wobbling like a foalís. Brooklyn got under her arm and helped her up. Meryt looked at him surprised. "You saved me?"
"Uh, yeah, I guess I did." Brooklyn steadied her as she stumbled.
"Youíre definitely more than a savage," Meryt said, what she thought was under her breath..
"Iíll take that as a compliment," Brooklyn responded. Meryt looked a little embarrassed that he heard.
Isis watched him with a critical eye. Brooklyn tried not to notice. All noise in the room quieted. Murmurs of ĎRaí passed from everyoneís lips. Brooklyn and Meryt looked up. A trio entered the repository. An old man aided by two on either side. The humans and gargoyle immediate postrated themselves on the floor. Brooklyn was surprised that even the gods knelt before this old man. Thoth, Bastet and Isis knelt on one knee as the old man entered. Meryt slipped away from his grasp. He tried holding her up, but she shot him a glance.
"We must bow before Ra!" she hissed at him. Brooklyn didnít understand, but let her go so she could bow.
Brooklyn fell back on memory. He bent at the waist and bowed courtly, like he saw Goliath do before Princess Katharine dozens of time back at Wyvern. Ra waved his hand, giving all permission to stand.
"Thoth, tell me what has transpired."
"A thief tried to rob the House of Life. If not for the valiant actions of these sphinxes, she would have succeeded. They dispatched their duty with great honor."
"Honor in need of rewarding." Ra nodded to himself. "Bring me the ones who served."
Harthoth beckoned for Brooklyn and Meryt. They stepped forward and presented themselves.
"Brave sphinxes, you have done well this night. You have proven worthy of a name. What do you choose to be called?"
Meryt looked at Isis then at Brooklyn. She walked stiffly, but by her own power to stand and then kneel before Ra.
"Your greatness. I have no name, I always look to serve my Lady Isis. I have heard of one name I would like to have, one spoken with warmth and compassion. I would like to be called Meryt." She gave Brooklyn a smile, then looked to her mistress, before adding, "Isis."
Ra put both hands on Merytís shoulders. They glowed with a radiance that enveloped Meryt. Brooklyn shielded his eyes as the glow grew stronger. In a flash, the light receded into Meryt. The gargoyle remained bowed as if she felt nothing.
Ra beckoned for him to come forward. Now it was Brooklynís turn and he suddenly came down with a case of the nerves.
"Ah, thanks, but no thanks. I already got a name, Brooklyn."
"But you fought against the intruder," Geb added.
Ra looked from Geb to Brooklyn. "Tem tells me you are a stranger here. Is there another way to reward your heroism?"
"Well, Iíd like my stuff back." Brooklyn looked to Thoth.
"It will be returned to you," Thoth said with a click of his beak.
Ra turned to Thoth, businesslike. "Do you know what was almost stolen?"
Thoth shook his head, gesturing to the number of scrolls scattered throughout the room. "The intruder didnít succeed. We may never know which scroll she wanted."
"Whatever it is, she wouldnít have succeeded anyway," Brooklyn added. "I switched scrolls, just in case I lost."
"Brave and clever," Ra commented with a weak smile. Thoth nodded in agreement. Isis stood in the background, her critical eye never wavering.
"Here are your items." Thoth gestured to the table. "Add my thanks to those of Ra. Your actions speak of a valorous ka."
Brooklyn put everything back into his leather pouch, then placed it on his belt. "I seem to be missing a Phoenix Gate."
"The Portal of Bennu." Thoth removed it from a hidden chamber. "It appears to be inactive."
"Inactive? For how long?" Brooklyn asked.
"I do not know. It can be weeks or years. My knowledge of the amulet isnít that vast. All I see is that its aura is very dim. Consider yourself a recipient of my hospitality. Harthoth tells me you are a wizard of some new magic. This vast repository is at your disposal if you want to do research and perhaps if you would like to impart your mysteries with us."
Thoth handed Brooklyn the Phoenix Gate. It passed over the fragment of the Aten. Immediately, the fragment began to glow and the Gate started humming. Thoth and the others stared in amazement. Brooklyn began putting the Gate back in his pouch.
"Brooklyn, hold." Harthoth commanded, "Bring it back here."
Brooklyn complied, holding the Phoenix Gate over the Aten. The gold hieroglyphs glowed with an intense light and light leaked from the jagged edges of carnelian.
"The two respond to each other." Harthoth reasoned, "Hmm, perhaps we can use this to some advantage."
"What do you have in mind?" Brooklyn asked.
"Perhaps. If this talisman responds to a fragment of the sun disk, perhaps it will reveal the whole Aten as well."
"This discussion will have to wait." Geb pointed to the eastern opening. "Dawn approaches."
The gargoyles went to the front of the temple. A number of pedestals flanked the entranceway to the temple. Many gargoyles already laid down on the pedestals, including Meryt who looked at Brooklyn, then shyly looked away. Brooklyn flashed a questioning look at Harthoth.
"You donít stand to face the dawn?"
Some of the gargoyles laughed. "Who wants to sleep standing up?" Harthoth asked before taking a pedestal closest to the pylon. Seeing Brooklynís embarrassed look Harthoth softened.
"You can stand by me," Harthoth offered.
"No itís okay." Brooklyn looked around and saw a vacant pedestal by Meryt. She gestured with her eyes that it was open.
"When in RomeÖ" Brooklyn said to himself as he tried getting comfortable on the pedestal.
Dawn arose. The entranceway to Thothís temple was lined with stone sphinxes including Brooklyn with an uncomfortable look as he lay on his pedestal.
* * * * *
Brooklyn and Sata felt cold tingles go down their spines as they passed through the portal. It took only a moment to go from rooftops to the middle of some garden. The portal closed leaving the three in this new environment. The garden layout was a long rectangle with column walkways on the perimeter. Paths crisscrossed the garden like twisting spokes in a wheel, with a fountain for a hub. The flowerbeds showcased various night bloomers; jasmine, lotus, and orchids. Their pleasant fragrance greeted them on their arrival.
The sorcerer clapped his hands and three attendants came out from the shadows. They carried warm towels, bowls of water and chilled drinks.
"A little refreshment before dinner?" Khensu asked.
Brooklyn waved off the servants, but Sata toweled off her face and accepted a cup of cool water. She took advantage of the courtesy, but still looked on the wizard with a suspicious eye.
A fourth servant, a butler, entered the courtyard. He was a big beefy man with scars on his face telling of a harsher life than that of a simple butler.
"Master, your dinner has been prepared," the man said in a soft voice.
"Thank you." Khensu turned to the two gargoyles. "If youíd join me for dinner."
Sata looked to Brooklyn, he shrugged then followed the wizard inside. The butler gave them a hard glance that seemed to say, ĎDonít make trouble.í Brooklyn tried to ignore the bodyguard, but felt those eyes on his back as they entered.
Khensuís home was a townhouse. The openness of the gardens continued in the vast dimensions of the parlors and sitting rooms. Victorian style lamps adorned every table in the hallway, but the ceiling and alcoves were lost in shadows. Khensu led them with long confident strides through the hallways to the dining room.
"I must apologize. I didnít have time to prepare a proper feast. I hope this simple repast will do."
Khensuís idea of a Ďsimple repastí would have given Broadway a bellyache. On a long wooden trellis table sat a dozen of plates and bowls full of food. The fragrance of baked chicken and roast quail wafted to Brooklyn and Sataís nostrils. It was mixed with various sauces, numerous side dishes from potatoes to dates. It was overwhelming to the two time travelers who hadnít eaten a meal this size, since Mardi Gras in New Orleans years ago.
"Please, sit and eat. I donít stand on ceremony here." Khensu offered chairs at the side of the table. These chairs were unlike the normal straight back chair. They had a special thin back that accommodated a tail and wings. Brooklyn pulled out a chair for his mate, before seating himself. They began serving themselves, much as Khensu was doing.
ĎShouldnít you worry about drugged food?í A small voice in the back of Brooklynís head warned him, but the growling of his stomach overruled him. Besides, Khensu was eating from the same dishes and drinking from the same pitchers. He wouldnít drug himself.
For a few minutes, the sounds of silverware on plates were the only noise. Brooklyn and Sata ate with such gusto it made Khensu smile.
"I remember you complaining often about how time travel doesnít offer many chances to enjoy a big meal."
"True, you do know a lot about us," Sata commented after she finished some chestnut stuffing.
"Brooklyn loved to talk about his life, from Wyvern to New York to Kemet to all his timedances between. He and I have quite a history together," Khensu said with an ironic grin as he poured himself a glass of honey colored liquid. "Mead?"
Brooklyn made a face. Khensu chuckled before taking a sip. "Right, you swore off this stuff after the Festival of Hathor. I wish we had photography back then. That picture would have been priceless."
Brooklyn shifted in his chair uncomfortably, turned a brighter shade of red.
"I wouldnít mind hearing this history, especially where it concerns my mate," Sata said casually. Her eyes held an intense curiosity though.
"Mate?" Khensu looked to Brooklyn with pleasant surprise. Brooklynís expression was unreadable, somewhere between embarrassment and pride.
"Itís a long story," he dodged, shifting some more in his chair. He took a sip of wine to avoid saying more.
"What isnít?" Khensu smiled.
"Look," Brooklyn tried to change the subject, "The first time I was here, you tried to kill me and destroy the city."
"I never tried to kill you," Khensu corrected, "And it was the third time, chronologically."
"Whatever! The point is why should I trust you now? A hot meal doesnít erase all that."
"Iím not asking you to trust me." Khensu ate a slice of meat. "Iím asking you to enjoy a meal with me. Canít you be content with that?"
"I felt you deserved it after so many adventures."
"Does this mean youíve changed?" Brooklyn asked a little hopeful.
"Not in the way you expect," Khensu answered. "Please, let us enjoy this meal and each otherís company before we find ourselves on opposing sides."
"Opposing sides of what?" Sata asked.
"Brooklyn! You havenít told her? I can understand why, but she should know." Khensu looked from the squirming red gargoyle to the green one.
"Itís best you hear it from him, first, but ask me again some time. For now, letís leave those concerns outside. Let us eat, drink and be merry."
"For tomorrow we die," Brooklyn muttered under his breath.
"If only I could," Khensu said sadly, staring into his glass. That comment caught Sataís attention, but Khensu covered it well, raising his glass.
"A toast! To old friends?"
Brooklyn raised his glass. "To old friends."
Khensu had a point. For now, he wasnít an enemy and there was still a hint of who he used to be. No sense refusing his hospitality. Brooklyn looked to Sata. She regarded him with a cool gaze. He knew heíd have to do a lot of fast talking to get out of trouble with her later.
Khensu took a sip, smiling wide. "So tell me, where, or should I say when, did you two meet?"
"Sixteenth century Japan," Brooklyn answered.
"You must tell me about it." Khensu smiled.
With delicious food, good drink and Khensuís charm, the time travelersí cold demeanor thawed. Sata narrated how they met and when they wed. Khensu began relating his own visits to Japan, once in the 4th century and again in the late 15th.
"If I had waited a few decades, I might have run into you, Brooklyn," Khensu quipped.
"How is it that possible?" Sata asked, "Did you make a pact with the Third Race for immortality?"
"By the Dragon, no!" Khensu answered quickly, "Iím afraid it is part of the business left at the door, but itís not like Demona and Macbeth, poor souls."
"Not poorer than some," Brooklyn mumbled. Brooklyn covered it by taking a sip from his glass, but Khensu gave Brooklyn a strange look.
Dinner was surprisingly enjoyable and the conversation became more fluid as the meal progressed. Brooklyn even made a joke or two. Sata had grown accustomed to her mateís wry sense of humor but she was surprised that this human understood Brooklynís jokes, too. Khensu was about to say more, when a clock tolled eleven. Khensu stood up from the table and in a clipped British accent offered, "Coffee in the parlor?"
"When did you become so well-to-do? I thought you despised the British," Brooklyn asked.
"I donít hate the British any more than the rest of the world," Khensu answered. Brooklyn looked at him doubtfully as the man in black continued to the parlor. "And, concluding a meal with coffee and conversation, is a pleasant way to end the evening."
Sata followed Khensu with Brooklyn bringing up the rear. Brooklyn frowned a bit. He didnít doubt his mateís heart, but his Ďoldí friend had always had a way with any female. He called it an overabundance of charm.
They went to the sitting parlor. A silver serving set awaited them along with a couple of those special gargoyle chairs. Khensu served his guests. They drank their first cup in silence. Sata frowned tasting the brew.
"A lot thicker than green tea, Iíd imagine," Khensu chuckled at Sataís grimace.
Khensu put his cup down. "Brooklyn, now that the meal is finished, I must move onto business."
Brooklyn looked horrified at his cup. Khensu held up his hand.
"I did not drug your drink. That is more Raís speed, not mine. Please, hear what I ask of you. Do you still have the Aten fragment?"
"And if I do?" Brooklyn said suspiciously.
"You have it." Khensu nodded with certainty. "You never had a good poker face, Brooklyn. Will you give it to me?"
"So you can destroy Cairo, again?"
"Oh, that bit of melodrama," Khensu chuckled. "That was just to insure that history followed its proper course."
"Proper for whom?"
"Well, you for one," Khensu answered. "Or have you forgotten what that little gem did for you in ancient Kemet?"
"No," Brooklyn said with a distant tone, "I havenít."
"Will you give me the fragment? It is not necessary for your travels and I have need of it."
"For what?" Sata asked.
"I cannot say," Khensu shook his head, "but I can offer you a fair exchange. The fragment for information. I have records of your timedances, some you perhaps have not done yet. They could prove invaluable to you."
"Records? How? From where?" Brooklyn asked.
"Lets just say some Ďenlightenedí associates of mine have taken an interest in your journeys. Imagine its value to you, arriving in a time and place, knowing what is going to happen and what to do. That kind of information saves lives. It could have back then."
Brooklyn shot Khensu a hard stare and growled, "Donít start!"
"I wonít," Khensu replied evenly, "but, the offer is made invaluable information for a worthless gem."
Brooklyn paused to consider before answering, "Sorry, not interested."
"What if I included knowledge of the being within the Gate?"
That struck a chord in both gargoyles. They looked at the sorcerer surprised. "You can learn what he is capable of or why you are stuck with warden detail? Give me a couple of days, I might even find a way to send you home."
"You could just tell us," Brooklyn replied evenly. He hoped his voice didnít betray his feelings, hope that this wasnít a trick.
"Quid pro quo," Khensu responded. "You give me something, Iíll give you something. Please take your time considering it."
Khensu got up and left the room, so Brooklyn and Sata could discuss this in private. Sata watched the door close all the way, then looked to her mate.
"Is what he says true? Does he possess this knowledge?"
"It isnít beyond him." Brooklyn paced the length of the room once. "It is an attractive offer."
"But you do not trust him?" Sata guessed her mateís thoughts.
"No." Brooklyn hesitated for a second, "Not now anyway."
Sata looked at him puzzled. "Not now?"
"Itís a bit complicated. The first time I met him, he wanted the Aten to destroy Cairo. The first time he met me, he wanted the Aten to save it."
"Complicated like when I asked you whether he was friend or foe?"
"His hospitality seems genuine. Maybe he has changed," Sata offered, holding his hands.
"Part of me wants to believe that, but the Aten is a powerful artifact. To give him full control over it?"
"You fear he would misuse it. Then do not give it to him."
"Thereís more to it than that." Brooklyn turned away from his mate. He opened the French doors leading to the garden. "Weíve had a couple of close calls in our travels. There are more times than I care to remember, where we survived by the skin of our teeth. If thereís a chance to cut out of this line of work maybe we should take it. Itís the past, it wonít effect us."
"That is being selfish."
"Then letís be." Brooklyn whirled around. "Donít you think we deserve a break?"
Sata looked at Brooklyn with shrewd eyes. "It sounds like you are trying to convince yourself of something you truly do not believe. My love, we have survived this long by the Ďseat of our pantsí. Our duty, yours and mine, is to do what is right. We can not betray it because it is hard to bear. We must endure them. I, too, would love to see your, our, home in Manhattan, but not at the expense of others. Would you?"
"No," Brooklyn answered grudgingly. "I wouldnít."
Brooklyn held Sataís face in his hands. "I love you."
"I know." She turned her head to kiss one of his palms. "I love you, too."
Khensu returned. He coughed discreetly to get their attention.
"Have you made a decision?" he asked.
"Yes." Brooklyn looked to Sata. "The answer is Ďnoí."
Khensu lowered his head. "That is unfortunate."
"Unfortunate, that I donít give you what you want!" Brooklyn accused.
"NO! Unfortunate that we will be on opposing sides. Unfortunate that I canít offer my protection this time. Unfortunate that you chose to be stoneheaded about this, just like Ďbeforeí!"
Brooklyn opened his mouth, hot words on his tongue, but Khensu lifted his hand, cutting him off.
"That is in the past. I apologize, I shouldnít have brought it up." Khensu lowered his hand. "If you wonít give me what I want, then thereís no reason for you to stay."
The doors opened at a wave of his hands. Brooklyn looked back to Khensu, but the wizard had his back to them. He stared out the windows over the gardens, giving them ample time to leave. Sata and Brooklyn looked to each other. The two gargoyles started to leave. Just before Brooklyn left the parlor, he turned around.
"For what happenedÖ to all of us, Iím sorry." Brooklyn spoke in a regretful tone.
"I am sorry, too." Khensu looked over his shoulder. "Now, we must be enemies. Go!"
Khensu waited until he heard the doors close before he left the parlor. He turned left heading straight for a darkened alcove. A pair of glowing sapphire eyes awaited him.
"So much for doing things Ďyourí way," the feminine voice said with much mirth.
"You can gloat later. Retrieve the Aten fragment!" Khensu said in a cold calculating tone.
"And what about the Timedansser?"
"Heís served his purpose for my masterís plans, alive or dead makes no difference," Khensu answered.
"Finally, some fun." The sapphire eyes winked out.
* * * * *
Brooklyn and Sata took off from a balcony of Khensuís townhouse. When Brooklyn looked behind him, he found it small and indistinguishable from the other townhouses crowded on the deserted street. This part of Cairo was considerably quieter.
"With any luck, we wonít run into any trouble and dance out of here as soon as possible," Brooklyn said more to himself than his mate.
"Time enough to tell me more of you and this wizard?" Sata asked pointedly.
Brooklyn didnít hear her. He had a vacant look on his face as he strained to hear something. It was hard to pick out, at first, but the high pitched whistling sound soon drowned out the wind in their ears. Brooklynís eyes snapped wide with recognition.
"Sata! Get down!" Brooklyn shouted. He tucked his wings and dropped. Sata followed. A pair of bolas whisked over her back.
Two more bolas flew up from the shadowy streets below. The time travelers avoided them. A downdraft caught Sata unawares, allowing a fourth pair of bolas to wrap around Sataís ankles. It shouldnít have stopped the Japanese gargoyles, but when the two weights smashed together and zapped Sata with an electric shock. She let out one cry before falling to the ground. Brooklyn dove to catch her, but another pair of bolas caught him by the chest, delivering the same shock. Both gargoyles landed hard. Brooklyn hit harder, because he was already speeding down when he got hit. It took a few moments for him to recover. When he did, it was to a most unpleasant sight.
"Isfet!" he growled, eyes glowing white-hot.
"Itís good to see you too, Brooklyn." The woman cracked a leering smile at the gargoyle. Her blood-red cloak was swept back revealing a tight black outfit that showed ample leg and cleavage.
Brooklyn crouched to jump on her, but Isfet swung her leg around, kicking him across the beak. Brooklyn went sprawling, hitting the wall of the building. A battle scream came from Sata as she struggled to free her bonds and avenge her mate. She ripped the metal wire from her ankles and charged the woman with both swords drawn. Isfet produced a metal stick that enlarged from the size of her palm to the length of a quarterstaff. Isfet blocked Sataís two-sword attack, before landing a rapid triple blow to her chest, gut and a sweep to the back of her knee. Sata was down on her back.
Isfet lifted her staff above Sata, the lower end, sharpened to a point. "Now this brings back memories."
"Donít worry dearie," she said over her shoulder. "Youíre next."
She brought the staff down, but Brooklyn grabbed her from behind, pulling her away from his mate.
"I donít think so!" Brooklyn said through gritted teeth.
"Not very original, Timedancer," Isfet laughed at the chokehold. She swung her staff behind her, catching him in the ribs. She hit the left side, then the right, two times, three times, then Brooklyn let go out of blinding pain. He crumbling to the ground, clutching his sides.
Isfet turned around and lift his beak with her finger. She brought her right hand back, the glove's leather creaking and stretching as it tightened for a smashing blow.
"I guess Iíll have to take the fragment back from a corpse," she said with a smile.
A pair of golden hands grabbed Isfetís arm. She looked back, just as the newcomer jerked her off balance. Sata scrambled to Brooklynís side, helping him up. Both turned to watch their rescuer take on Isfet.
"Trying to save your boyfriend again?" Isfet sneered.
"Iíd save anyone from the likes of you," the newly arrived gargoyle replied. She was a lithe, athletic golden gargoyle with bronze hair and half-circle brow crest.
Isfet twirled her staff, the ends glowing bright green. She slammed the end of the staff into the street, causing the ground to erupt in a beeline toward the gold gargoyle.
"Meryt!" Brooklyn shouted in warning, but the gold gargoyle had already leapt out of the line of fire.
Meryt landed in a somersault tuck and roll and springing to her feet in one fluid movement. The gold gargoyle pulled two small maces from her sash belt. They werenít like spike-covered medieval maces. Merytís maces were gray shafts with a white fist-sized knob at the end.
Meryt made eye contact with Brooklyn. She gave him a wink. Brooklyn nodded back. Meryt gave a battle scream and sprang at Isfet. Isfet held her staff in a two hand grip, ready for the metal gargoyle. Sata picked up her swords about to join the battle. Brooklyn held her back, with a stiff shake of his head.
To Sataís surprise, he was climbing a wall. He was fleeing! Sata climbed after him. Sheíd never known her mate to be a coward. What was he doing?
"We have to help her." Sata looked back at the battling females. The gold gargoyle, Meryt, stood head and shoulders above Isfet, but the woman was extremely skilled in combat. Metal upon metal rang out as mace met staff in a blur of blows.
"Sheís giving us a chance to escape," Brooklyn whispered down to his mate.
Sata didnít like running from a battle, but she followed Brooklynís lead reluctantly. She climbed the side of the building then took to the air. The sounds of battle fell away behind her.
* * * * *
"When Iím finished with you, Iím going to melt you down and cast you as a bird feeder."
"Another time," Meryt smiled. She pointed behind Isfet. The woman turned quickly. Her quarry had disappeared. When she turned around, so had Meryt. A howl of rage bubbled up from the woman's throat, ringing into the night.
* * * * *
Brooklyn and Sata kept to the cover of rooftops, half-jumping, half-gliding southward on the East Side of Cairo. Brooklyn clutched his sides with every landing. Hiding his discomfort, he led the way until they came at a fortress-like complex, the Citadel, facing the Great Pyramids. The gargoyle that aided them waited on the roof. Brooklyn landed with a wince, but greeted their savior cordially.
"Meryt!" Brooklyn held both of her golden arms. "Thanks for the save."
"Itís good to see you, beloved," Meryt returned the greeting with a wide smile.
"Beloved? Husband, who is this?" Sata made herself known.
"Husband?" Meryt released Brooklyn. She looked deep into his eyes.
"Oh, I see!" Meryt said with sad resignation. Brooklyn reached out to comfort her, but she pulled away. Brooklyn gave a sigh and looked to Sata.
"Sata, this is Meryt. Meryt, this is Sata."
"Thank you for saving us," Sata said politely. Meryt nodded in acceptance.
"Brooklyn? Does Ďheí know you are here?"
Brooklyn nodded. "He calls himself Khensu now."
Meryt muttered a mild curse, then she asked, "Do you have the fragment? That is what they are after."
"Yeah." Brooklyn pulled out the piece of orange carnelian. A bleak look crossed his face. "I remember what happened last time."
Merytís face fell. "I am sorry, beloved. I wish I could have told you more, several times."
"Itís all right." Brooklyn put a hand on her shoulder. Meryt didnít flinch away this time.
Sata cleared her throat. Brooklyn and Meryt both jumped apart.
"Am I to understand that that woman is working for Khensu?" Sata asked.
Meryt nodded. "Isfet is under his employ. She would have the right motivation for getting the fragment."
"He promised us safety." Sata eyes glowed slightly red as she glared north in the direction of the townhouse.
"While we were his guest," Brooklyn pointed out. "The moment we stepped out that door we were targets."
"Why does Khensu want this fragment so badly?" Sata asked, looking straight at Brooklyn.
"Apep," Meryt answered.
"What is an Apep?" Sata turned her gaze to this strange gargoyle that kept calling her mate, beloved.
"Itís not a what, heís a who," Brooklyn said quietly. His sad face deepened.
"Brooklyn-san, dear," she said in that cloying, sweet tone Brooklyn knew from experience meant trouble, "if you donít tell me whatís going on, I will cheerfully strangle you."
Brooklyn looked abashed. Meryt stepped between Brooklyn and the jade gargoyle who had an annoyed look on her face. She turned to Brooklyn.
"This is your mate, beloved?"
Sataís eyes narrowed on Meryt, but the gold gargoyle ignored her gaze.
"You must give the fragment to me." Meryt held out her hand.
"Hold!" Sata stepped forward.
"Itís all rightÖ" Brooklyn started.
"No it is not," Sata cut in. "You said that this Aten is a powerful artifact. It is too powerful to give to a stranger."
"I am not a stranger," Meryt said tartly. "Beloved, your mate doesnít understandÖ"
"Talk to me!" Sata stood in front of Meryt so sheíd have to deal with her. "Make me understand!"
Meryt gained an imperious attitude and looked down at the Japanese gargoyle. "This is a matter between Brooklyn and I. Do not concern yourself with it."
"Where it concerns Ďmyí mate, it concerns me," Sata replied.
Both females glared at the other hard, testing each otherís will, seeing who would back down first.
"Ladies, ladies," Brooklyn interceded. He couldnít help but smirk. In another time and place this would be a dream come true, but this wasnít that time or that place.
"Remember, Khensu, and Isfet, crazed woman with the bolas. I doubt sheís given up looking for us. Letís try and deal with those problems first before you two go at it." Brooklyn drew hot glares from both women, he had to talk fast, "We canít play hide and seek in Cairo forever."
"It doesnít have to be forever, just until the Gate dances us away," Sata added.
Meryt snorted again, "The first time Brooklyn came here, he stayed for nearly three years. The gate is unreliable."
"True." Brooklyn thought for a moment. "What about the Aten? I thought it was destroyed?"
"You must be mistaken. The Sun Disk is nearly whole, resting in Alexandria."
"Alexandria?" Brooklyn asked urgently, "He doesnít have it with him?"
"No, Khensu keeps all his most valued treasures in Alexandria," Meryt answered.
"Then we may have a chance," Brooklyn said hopefully.
"You have a plan, beloved?" Meryt asked. Sata grimaced every time she called him that.
"Nothing solid, but if we can steal the Aten, we just might end all of this before it starts again."
"Steal?" Sata asked in a warning voice. "Theft is unthinkable to a samurai, especially to a gargoyle."
"Itís necessary, hon," Brooklyn said hastily. "If Khensu raises Apep all is lost."
"But stealing?" Sata wore a disapproving frown.
"Think of it this way. Khensu knows we are here in Cairo. The best thing for us is to be somewhere else. Alexandria is the logical choice."
Sata looked doubtful, but after a few moments deliberation nodded acceptance. "I agree only with leaving the city. Hopefully, stealing will not become an option."
Sata gave Meryt an accusatory glare.
Brooklyn looked to Meryt. "How can we get to Alexandria?"
* * * * *
The three gargoyles raced northward through the streets of Cairo. Meryt knew all the backways, avoiding any patrols or rioters. It was one long push from the Citadel to downtown Cairo, but they finally arrived at Ramses Station. Brooklyn and Sata were both out of breath from the run. Meryt wasnít winded.
"Catch your breath, Iíll check ahead," Meryt said before slipping into the large halls of the train station.
Sata looked around, then turned toward Brooklyn. "Why does she call you Ďbelovedí? Were you two close?"
Brooklyn nodded, he caught his breath to speak, but didnít have the words to answer.
"How close?" Sata asked. Her tone unreadable.
"Very," Brooklyn answered.
"Why didnít you mention this before?" Sata asked.
Brooklyn shrugged, "It was a long time ago. I didnít think it matteredÖ and itís not a period of my life Iím proud of."
Sata looked in his eyes, she started to ask more, but Meryt returned.
"We are in luck, the train is still on the platform. We must hurry."
Brooklyn followed and then Sata. The green gargoyle stared at Meryt before following her through the station.
Even this late at night, the station was fairly busy. Many aristocrats were fleeing Cairo for the coast. With the British gone and the corrupt royal government collapsing, many decided it was time for an Ďextendedí vacation.
Porters loaded everything from gilded bird cages to antique furniture. All the Ďnecessitiesí the well-to-do couldnít do without. The passenger cars were nearly full when the conductor shouted, "All aboard!"
The three gargoyles spied all this activity from the girders and rafters. When they heard the ĎAll aboardí call, Brooklyn and females shared a look. Brooklyn grabbed Merytís right arm, he gestured for Sata to do the same.
They jumped from the rafters, carrying Meryt between them. Sata had no idea how heavy the female was. They dropped like a stone, even with both gargoyles holding her up. Meryt stretched her feet out beneath her, landing on ground, absorbing the impact for all three. Quickly, the gargoyles climbed on the roof just as the train jerked forward and started to pull out.
* * * * *
From the last minaret on the outskirts of Cairo, Khensu watched the train roll away.
"A clever move," Khensu spoke to himself. "Predictable, but clever nonetheless."
"I think you care too much," Isfet added, stepping out of the shadows.
Khensu turned around to the woman in red. "You were unsuccessful."
"That Ďsisterí of yours interfered again," Isfet reported. "Next time, Iím going to melt her down for jewelry."
"Youíll do no such thing. She is not to be touched." Khensu turned back to the departing train. He stood in silent watch.
"Still playing the Ďgood man trapped in a bad situationí," Isfet scoffed. "Itís getting old, has been old for the past three thousand years. You did not want to be in my fatherís service, but you certainly excelled at it."
Khensuís face tightened and his posture stiffened. Isfet smiled. She scored a hit.
"When did failure grant you the right to speak out of turn?" Khensu flicked his hand back at her. An invisible force knocked her on her back. She tried getting up, but Khensu had a booted foot on her chest.
"My orders and their motivations are not to be questioned, especially by you. Do I have to make my point?"
Isfet felt the boot press harder on her chest.
"No." she gasped.
Khensu hung over Isfet menacingly for a moment longer, then let up. "Go to the site and see that everything is in readiness."
"And what about Brooklyn and Meryt?"
Khensu eyes glowed fiery white. Isfetís face twitched, the most fear she ever showed.
"As you wish, oh great one," Isfet bowed mockingly. With a gesture, she disappeared into the shadows.
Khensu stared at the now empty tracks and the train disappearing on the horizon. "Why do you always have to play the stoneheaded fool, Brooklyn?"
* * * * *
To be continuedÖ