The Sun and the Serpent - Part 2
Written by: Rahsaan Footman
Story Concept by: Nicodemus and Rahsaan Footman
Illustrations by: Amber
Previously on Timedancer...
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 ‘sister’ of yours interfered again," Isfet reported. "Next time, I’m going to melt her down for jewelry."
"You’ll 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 ‘good man trapped in a bad situation’," Isfet scoffed. "It’s getting old, has been old for the past three thousand years. You did not want to be in my father’s service, but you certainly excelled at it."
Khensu’s 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. Isfet’s 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?"
~ The Sun and the Serpent - Part 1 ~
* * * * *
The Sun and the Serpent - Part 2
* * * * *
Alexandria, Egypt; 1952 AD
The train sped on through the night. Meryt sat at the front of the last car, while Brooklyn and Sata sat towards the rear. The three had said little since leaving Cairo. Sata looked to her mate, but he stared straight ahead.
Sata took the initiative, "Tell me about this Aten? What is it?"
"Think of it like a magical battery. It absorbs magic energy," Brooklyn answered.
"What can Khensu do with it?"
"With the Aten and the right spell, he can do just about anything."
"And he will try to revive this Apep."
"He must," Brooklyn said darkly.
"Why?" Sata asked. Brooklyn said nothing for a moment. His face reflected the conflict within. Sata asked him again.
"Because of me!" Brooklyn stood up and walked over to the next car, passing Meryt on the way.
"Beloved?" she inquired.
Brooklyn kept walking. Meryt turned around and gave Sata a disapproving frown. Sata turned around and sat on trailing edge of the car, watching the tracks pass underneath her.
"I told him not to be so hard on himself," Meryt spoke softly,as she took a seat beside Sata.
Sata looked up at the gold gargoyle. For someone made of metal, she moved as quietly as a ninja.
"Hard on himself? For what?"
"The past, the present, possibly the future," Meryt said cryptically.
Sata snorted, "Does everyone in this land speak in riddles?"
Meryt chuckled. To Sata's ears it sounded condescending and made the Japanese gargoyle frown.
"I guess we've all lived so much, a great deal goes unsaid. It probably is frustrating for an 'outsider'."
The tracks sped along and the train clackety-clacked in a steady rhythm. Both females were quiet, then Meryt spoke.
"When we reach Alexandria, I'll take you two to a sanctuary. It might be best if you wait there, while Brooklyn and I retrieve the Aten."
"You mean steal it." Sata looked at Meryt sharply.
Meryt shrugged indifferently.
"Why don't you steal it yourself? Why do you need Brooklyn's help?"
"Khensu's treasure trove is specially guarded. Besides, Brooklyn would never see me do this alone."
"You were close to Brooklyn?"
Meryt nodded with a hint of a smile.
Sata frowned, "Brooklyn is my mate. Be sure to remember that."
Meryt's smile faded. "I forget nothing," she gave a sigh as she stared at the tracks, "not even after thousands of years."
* * * * *
Unnu, 6074 B.C.E
The sun sank beneath the sands and the sphinxes perched on their pedestals awoke with various roars, shrieks and cries. Brooklyn awoke and stretched sore muscles. Immediately, he noticed he was covered with a blanket. Looking around, he noticed all the gargoyles similarly covered up. Brooklyn started to wonder about this, as the gargoyles approached the entrance portal between the two stone pylons. On either side were reed baskets full of clothes, one for males, and another for females. Brooklyn remembered Primus and the fact that gargoyles didn't always awake fully clothed.
Brooklyn heard a moaning and looked to his side to see Meryt. He tried to help her up, but she brushed his hand away.
"I'm fine!" she said a bit grumpily.
"Do you need Bastet's attention? Or Selqet's?" Harthoth asked.
"No," Meryt said evenly. "I feel restored and I must return to my lady."
"At least take something to wear." Harthoth offered a basket with female clothing to Meryt.
She gave the selection a derisive snort before picking a white linen shift and slipping it on under her blanket. Fully dressed, she folded the blanket and handed it to Harthoth. Despite Meryt's attitude, Harthoth continued being a gracious host.
Meryt started climbing the pylon steps when Harthoth called out. "Convey my thanks to Lady Isis for sending a capable sphinx to defend our house. You have my thanks."
Meryt nodded and gave Brooklyn a small smile as she took wing and glided away. Brooklyn watched her athletic form vanish into the approaching night.
"Sleep well?" Harthoth joined him, watching the disappearing female.
"You could say that," Brooklyn said sarcastically as he stretched his sore legs. Sleeping like an Egyptian would take some getting used to.
"Good. Come, it is time to eat." Harthoth continued walking, unaware of Brooklyn's humor.
Brooklyn followed the black gargoyle along with dozens of others to the common room. Bowls of food were hot and steaming as young servants brought each gargoyle their supper. Brooklyn sat down on some fluffed cushion at a low table at the head of the room. Harthoth remained standing and addressed the room.
"Eat well, so we may serve Thoth and that he may serve us."
The sphinxes broke bread and began eating. Brooklyn shrugged, speared a few slices of meat with his talon, then placed them in a broken loaf of bread. He ate the sandwich and sipped some wine as he looked around. There were a lot of gargoyles, close to the number that were in Wyvern. Brooklyn noticed that they were all adolescents or adults. Where were the children? Brooklyn made a mental note to ask later.
"This is delicious." Brooklyn took a slice of meat straight from the bowl. "Where does all this come from?"
"The temple fills all our needs," Harthoth answered simply. "Ra and the nobles tithe generously to each god. They tithe more to Thoth because he is favored above all."
"Harthoth!" Geb walked up to the table. He bowed respectfully to the gargoyle high priest, but remained standing. "You begin the search for the Aten tonight?"
"Yes," Harthoth nodded.
"I request your permission to join you."
Harthoth looked doubtful.
"The Aten was stolen under my watch. Please, give me the chance to regain my honor."
"Honor demands nothing," Harthoth replied. "You dispatched your duty. There was no telling the disturbance was a ruse. You performed your best. There is no dishonor in that."
Brooklyn peered up at Geb. He recognized the look on the man's face. He saw it on his own after Demona had tempted him to betray Goliath. It was a look of someone trying to make up for something. He felt empathy for the man.
"Uh, Harthoth," Brooklyn interrupted. "Geb might be a valuable asset on this search."
The black gargoyle turned to Brooklyn, "How so?"
"Well, he is human. He can move around during the day. That may be useful. He is also low-key. I don't know if you've looked in the mirror, but you do sort of stick out."
Harthoth looked at his apparel. It was more elegant than the other gargoyles. He wore jewelry and earrings and his shaved head would mark him as a priest whether he was man or gargoyle.
Harthoth nodded. "Insightful counsel, Brooklyn. Very well, Geb, you may join us."
Geb sat down on the cushions, flashing a grateful smile to Brooklyn. Brooklyn returned the smile. Harthoth continued in business-like fashion.
"You're just in time to help us. Who is the best tracker in the land?"
"Ah, that question has lead to many brawls in the barracks." Geb smiled wistfully. "It is between Nuit serving Isis and Ammut serving at the Temple of Anubis."
"It will be best to seek them both out. We shall have an additional advantage along with your magic of investigation."
"Uh, Harthoth, that's another thing I have to talk to you about." Brooklyn took a deep breath before continuing, "Investigation isn't a really a magic."
"Of course it isn't," Harthoth said unblinking.
"What?" Brooklyn looked a little stunned. "But I thought..."
"I am high priest under Thoth," Harthoth explained, "I know all sorts of magic. Your investigation is not like the magic used to create these lights or move giant stone blocks in the air. It is just a way of seeing connections."
"If you knew, why didn't you say something?"
"I wanted to see what type of sphinx you are. Whether you'd keep up the façade or speak truthfully. I am glad I guessed right about you. Shall we go?"
Harthoth stood up. Geb did as well. Brooklyn stood up after a second staring at Harthoth. This was some gargoyle. He hurried to catch up with the two as they exited the temple and climbed the steps to the top of the pylon.
From atop the stone structure flanking Thoth's temple, Brooklyn saw all of ancient Cairo spread out before him. Geb climbed on Harthoth's back and the black gargoyle spread his wings and took flight. Brooklyn followed as they banked on the air currents and wheeled past the two and three-story structures that housed the temple's staff and workers.
Their flight path covered the length of the temple grounds with its stonecut canals, specially tilled lands and reservoir lakes. Following the wide boulevard from the temple, they flew into the heart of Unnu.
Brooklyn felt the same tingle of excitement go down his tail as when he, Broadway and Lex explored New York for the first time. Back then, it was part wonder and part an attempt to forget. One moment he was fighting Vikings, avenging his lost clan, the next he was staring out on an alien city. He didn't forget his clan, but exploring offered a way to escape the hurt. Now he used it to avoid his situation with the Phoenix Gate. Thoth said it was inactive, but didn't know how long. He could spend the next century here. That prospect didn't please him in the slightest. Brooklyn refocused his attention on Harthoth.
The black gargoyle headed west, towards a temple on the other side of the Nile. They landed on a wharf leading up to the temple. Brooklyn and Geb followed behind Harthoth as they made their way past the empty pedestals, through the pylons, and into the colorful walls of the Temple of Anubis.
Certain things distinguished Anubis's temple from Thoth's. For one, the columns were a shade of blood red with colorful blossoms painted on the capitals and bases. Life-size reliefs adorned the walls, depicting the mummification process and the spirit's journey through the afterlife. Like the hieroglyphs in Thoth's temple, these looked like they might jump off the wall and come to life.
Brooklyn gazed at the glyphs, mesmerized. He felt a little queasy at how detailed some of the reliefs were, but Geb tapped him on the shoulder, breaking him out of the reverie. Brooklyn tore his eyes from the walls to the figure coming down the hallway. It was Ma'at.
"My lord sends his best regards to you and your lord Anubis." Harthoth gave a deep bow. Ma'at smiled, then bid him rise.
"Anubis anticipated your actions. You wish Ammut to assist in your search for the Aten?"
"That is correct, my lady," Harthoth replied.
Ma'at turned around into the dark recesses of the temple. In a clear voice she called, "Ammut!"
Growling preceded what to Brooklyn's eyes was the ugliest gargoyle beast he had ever seen. The beast had the muzzle of a crocodile, with rows of teeth, a golden mane flowing down a body like a lion's, and hindquarters that were rounded like a hippo's. It looked like he was made of three animals, and not the best parts of any of them.
Ammut ambled over to the woman. She fearlessly knelt down to the beast and hugged him by the ruff of his neck. The beast panted happily, his hippo-like tail swishing back and forth with excitement.
"Remember Harthoth?" she asked the beast. It barked an affirmative.
"Good. You must follow Harthoth. Understand?"
Ammut barked again then walked over to the black gargoyle. Harthoth knelt to let the beast lick his hand. He looked at Ma'at as he stood up.
"Thank Anubis for his service."
"Returning the Aten as soon as possible is all the thanks he'll need," Ma'at replied, "I must depart. Anubis requires my help in a weighing."
The dark-haired woman left them. Harthoth and Ammut left, followed by Geb and Brooklyn. When Geb mentioned Ammut, Brooklyn assumed it was a gargoyle or some great hunter. He was a bit surprised that it was a gargoyle beast, but shrugged it off. Bronx was the best tracker in his clan. Why not the same here?
Atop the pylons, Geb went with Harthoth, leaving Brooklyn with Ammut. Brooklyn tried to pick up the beast, but Ammut growled warningly. Brooklyn tried again, and Ammut growled even deeper and snapped his crocodile teeth at Brooklyn.
"Hey look, we have to keep up with Harthoth. Unless you'd rather run?"
The beast's head lifted up. He barked happily, then bolted down the stairs, down the docks, and jumped gleefully into the water. Brooklyn looked to Harthoth, hovering a few feet away. The brick red gargoyle gave a shrug and stepped off the temple.
"He'll keep up," Harthoth said confidently. "Ammut has a brilliant sense of tracking."
Harthoth turned on his right pinion and flew eastward. Brooklyn grabbed an updraft and followed. Anubis's temple was on the outskirts of Unnu. Brooklyn got a good look at the surrounding area before they returned to the city. The most striking thing to his eyes was the lack of the Pyramids. The Sphinx was still there, but the familiar three monuments that greeted him for more than a month when he was in Cairo weren't there.
"I must really be far back if the Pyramids haven't been built yet," Brooklyn said to himself. He remembered back in Wyvern, a wandering gargoyle once told them about the pyramids and how they were thousands of years old even then. What did dominate the landscape was a large structure to the north. It looked like a temple, only much larger.
A gargoyle with a ruffled crest swooped across their path. Brooklyn rolled, avoiding the errant flyer.
"Hey! I'm gliding here!" Brooklyn called out after the young male in his best Brooklyn accent. The gargoyle didn't pay him any heed as he joined a knot of other males, both human and gargoyle, in planning some mischief. That brought back memories.
Brooklyn looked around and noticed, to his pleasant surprise, that they weren't the only gargoyles aloft. Scores of gargoyles glided back and forth on errands and personal business. Below, they passed an outdoor restaurant full of gargoyle patrons. In the bazaar, another group of males played games against a team of boys. On a balcony, he spied a quartet of females talking excitedly about something. They spotted Brooklyn and the gossip went up another octave, accompanied with a lot of pointing. Brooklyn felt his cheeks flush hot red. He banked closer to Harthoth.
"How many gargoyles live here?" Brooklyn asked.
"Gargoyles?" Harthoth asked, bewildered by the word.
"You know, folks like us." Brooklyn pointed to himself and Harthoth.
"I think he means sphinxes," Geb supplied
"Our race is known as the sphinxes," Harthoth explained. "And our numbers are great. At least seven by ten serve Thoth. I'm not sure how many serve the other Gods since last choosing."
"Choosing?" Brooklyn inquired.
"When each sphinx chooses which god he or she will serve. I choose to serve Thoth."
"And what about the hatchlings?"
"The young don't serve. The elders take care of them. But when they reach the age of Becoming, they are taken to each temple, to be trained and asked to choose."
Harthoth angled downward toward an opulent temple that rose up on the east side of the Nile. Brooklyn dove for a landing, opening his wings at the last minute. He landed softly next to the black gargoyle and his Egyptian guard as they walked down the pylon steps into the temple of Isis.
* * * * *
Isis stalked her private chambers like a cat. Meryt stood in silent attendance. Her mistress was in a foul mood and Meryt wasn't going to make herself a target of her lady's ire.
"Where is Uraeus?" Isis shouted to the walls.
"I am here, my lady goddess," Uraeus answered in a soothing, oily voice. He stood in the entranceway to the chamber, all confidence and cheek.
"How may I be of service?" He bowed low.
"Come when I bid you, to start. Next, you can find the Disk of the Sun."
Uraeus entered the chamber, sauntering past Meryt with a swirl of his priestly red and black robes. His gaunt frame and lean face gave the impression of a skeleton with a hungry look. Meryt grimaced at the ridiculous image of this man. How could she accord any respect to this bony, sneaky man? His head was bald. That caught Meryt's notice. Where was his hairpiece? Uraeus came up to Isis and made another bow.
"I heard of the Aten's theft the other night, but I thought the thief was apprehended and dealt with?"
"We almost had the thief, but Thoth proved his innocence. A double cursing since, this barbarian seems to be a wizard of some sort. He's helping Thoth search for the Aten."
"Have you divined its location?" Uraeus asked a bit anxiously.
"No, the clever thief hid it in the desert." Isis dropped into a chair.
Uraeus' posture relaxed a bit. "You know Thoth has proven unworthy of holding such an artifact. If he lost it before, he'll lose it again."
"That is true, but first we need to find it before we discuss who will possess it."
"My lady?" Meryt spoke up, "Thoth has started a search for the Aten. I heard his captain of the guard say as much while we watched Brooklyn. Perhaps if we aid them we can find the Aten before it is put to use?"
Isis thought about this. "Yes. Your counsel is wise, Meryt-Isis. Who is our best tracker?"
"Nuit," Meryt answered.
"Take her and join Thoth's search party."
"Yes, my lady."
"You must do two things. One, take steps to make sure the Aten comes to me, not to Thoth or Ra."
"And the other?"
"See if you can learn this barbarian's power and steal it."
Meryt hesitated, but at last nodded. "Yes my lady."
* * * * *
When Brooklyn entered Isis's House of Life, his eyes popped out of his head.
"I have died and gone to heaven," he said to himself.
In every corridor, chamber, and courtyard, there were females, both women and gargoyles- a bevy of beauties. They carried on various duties. Most of the gargoyle females were dressed like Geb, in guard's dress. Some were conducting lessons in mixed classes, practicing rites and rituals. Brooklyn couldn't help looking in every room.
"There are so many!" Brooklyn whispered in awe. Back home, his prospects for a girlfriend were slim to none. There was the possibility of finding a mate from the other clans Goliath found, Guatemala, London, Avalon, or Ishimura, but that didn't seem likely anytime soon. Now, he went from famine to feast.
Brooklyn passed an open portico, where he spotted a quartet of females. One looked up, then quickly got the attention of her companions, pointing at the brick red gargoyle. They giggled and whispered conspiratorially.
"Brooklyn," Harthoth called from down the hall. The New York gargoyle snapped to and hurried down the hallway to catch up with Harthoth and Geb.
Brooklyn joined Geb, who was standing before a young girl.
"Lady Isis will be with you shortly. I am to take you to the center courtyard," the girl recited from memory.
Harthoth nodded and followed the girl. Geb and Brooklyn were two steps behind. Brooklyn tried playing it cool, like he did at the mall with Corinne and her friends, but two gargoyle females, one light brown with dark hair and another in a light shade of amethyst, smiled and waved at him. Coolness went right out the window.
"See something that you like?" a warm voice said from behind.
"Hmmm," Brooklyn turned around to face Meryt. Brooklyn jumped. "Oh, I, uh... hi."
Meryt gave a stifled giggle. A dark, blue female gargoyle next to her looked the red gargoyle up and down.
"You're right. He is rather handsome," the blue female leaned over and whispered to Meryt.
Harthoth and Geb turned around to face them. Brooklyn tried to play off his stuttering fit, but Meryt and her companion already moved on to other business.
"You have come for Nuit's services?" Meryt guessed.
Harthoth nodded. The blue female stepped forward. "I shall help."
Nuit was an eye-catching, midnight blue with stars patterned over her body. Her dark hair had white streaks, braided in corn rolls, such that the streaks also resembled stars. Her eyes were a vivid shade of green. She wore a simple linen shift and skirt, with a leather strap going from her left shoulder to a quiver on her right hip.
"Beautiful," Geb breathed. Brooklyn looked at Geb. The guard looked abashed when he realized he said that aloud. Nuit blushed.
"My apologies. I didn't mean offense." Geb stumbled over his words.
"That will do, Geb," Harthoth interjected. "Why don't you help Nuit gather her things."
Nuit turned and gestured for him to come. Geb looked once to Harthoth, then followed the indigo gargoyle. Meryt snorted.
"Your guards need some lessons in manners," Meryt commented after the two left.
Meryt continued talking, not giving Harthoth a chance to reply, "My lady wishes to speak to you. The little one will take you to her."
The little girl stood tall and walked in a practiced march towards the inner chambers. Harthoth followed, leaving Brooklyn and Meryt conspicuously alone. Meryt tilted her head as she peered at the gargoyle.
"While we wait, will you permit me to show you around?"
Brooklyn looked a bit anxious, but said, "Uh, yeah, sure."
* * * * *
Meryt led Brooklyn to the heart of the Temple of Isis, a beautiful water garden. Fountains splashed into pools filled with lotus and lilies. Scarlet ibis and white cranes sifted through the mud, their bright colors pleasing the eye.
Brooklyn spoke up as they walked along the rim of the pool crowded with water lilies.
"Why do you think it's poor manners to comment on someone's beauty?" Brooklyn asked, defending his new friend. He didn't think Geb was out of line.
"Serving Isis is a serious commitment. Males and their attentions are a distraction."
"You think that's what we are? A distraction?" Brooklyn asked.
"Not all, but nothing should get in the way of our service to our Lady. That is hard to do when your heart has gone foolish for someone."
"So if I were to say you are as beautiful as the morning star, with skin as golden as the sun, that would be improper?" Brooklyn asked, narrowing the distance between them.
Meryt snorted, "How would you know what the sun looks like?"
Brooklyn saw her blush and noticed how she ducked the question. "I was human for a day once."
Meryt looked at him surprised, "How? By what sorcery?"
"Oh, it was a long time ago. An infant transformed us, me and my rookery siblings, and we spent the day as humans."
"What a magical place you come from. If even infants possess such power."
"I wouldn't say that. Alex comes from a very unique bloodline. Not all kids are like that."
"But you possess magic as well. What about this 'investigation' power?"
Brooklyn sighed, "Me and my big mouth. Meryt, investigation isn't a magic power. It's just a way of looking at things."
"Isn't that what all magic is?" Meryt asked.
Brooklyn shook his head, "Meryt, Meryt, Meryt."
"I like it when you call me by my name." The gold gargoyle smiled up at him.
"Meryt?" Brooklyn asked.
She nodded and sauntered up to him. "Your voice caresses it. It sounds beautiful."
"Am I imagining things or is she coming on to me?" Brooklyn wondered. "Can't be, not after her, 'men are a pain' speech."
Meryt sighed inwardly. She really didn't want to do this, but her Lady commanded it.
"Brooklyn, do you find me desirable?" Meryt suddenly fixed Brooklyn with an intense stare.
"What do you mean?"
"When you first saw me, you called me this name, 'beloved'." She stalked up to him, "You must have meant something by it."
Meryt was very near him now. The smell of myrrh filled his nostrils.
"Well, um... we met before, actually now. I mean..." Brooklyn fumbled.
Meryt chuckled. It was a laugh that made his heart beat faster. Brooklyn was having a hard time focusing on anything else.
Casanova Brooklyn kicked in. "It is a beautiful name for someone equally beautiful."
Brooklyn closed his eyes and leaned down to pucker. Meryt hesitated. A heavy, playful growl preceded Ammut's entrance. He bounded into the garden and jumped on Brooklyn with a sloppy kiss.
"Yeeaahhha!" Brooklyn shouted, his eyes snapping open. The rough tongue slobbered over him. It wasn't the kissed he'd been hoping for. Meryt looked relieved.
"Should have known I was imagining things. Smooth one, Casanova."
"Brooklyn?" Harthoth's voice came from beyond the water garden.
The red gargoyle pushed the beast off. Meryt resumed a discreet distance as they walked back to the entrance. Brooklyn's head hung low as they joined Harthoth and the others.
* * * * *
Meryt mentally chided herself. Her lady gave her a task. She should execute it, but a part of her rebelled. "This sphinx saved your life. He doesn't deserve treachery in return." That part warred with her sense of duty. "He's a barbarian. What does it matter?" The conflict raged in her as they joined Thoth's high priest, resolution nowhere in sight.
* * * * *
The gargoyles, Geb, and Ammut climbed the pylon steps to the top. As captain of the guard for Isis, Meryt had the right to accompany any of her troops. That and a few words from Isis ensured that Meryt joined the search party. Nuit gave a sharp whistle. It was echoed by a falcon, which swooped down. The bird landed on Nuit's outstretched arm. Her tough gargoyle skin withstood the raptor's sharp talons.
"Ready for a hunt, Ba?" Nuit spoke plainly to the golden bird.
The falcon chirped once, then twice.
"This is a little different," Nuit conversed with the falcon, "We're looking for a stone, not meat."
Ba chirped quizzically. Nuit tossed the bird aloft, then took wing herself. The other gargoyles followed, Harthoth carrying Geb. Meryt carried a protesting Ammut. They flew towards the center of the city when a glowing globe appeared before them. The faerie fire shifted to the shape of a falcon head with a tiny sphere above it. The sphinxes slowed to a hover.
"Our search must be put on hold. The Council summons our presence at Ra's Palace," Harthoth declared.
Harthoth, Meryt and Nuit turned away from the marketplace and flew northward along the Nile. Brooklyn looked perplexed, but followed them to the large building.
The troupe of gargoyles landed in front of a massive structure, larger than Thoth's, Anubis's and Isis's put together. Ra's palace was built on a man-made mountain. A slope of steps led down into the city. Brooklyn felt small among the towering pillars and mammoth statues. He looked around in awe at the exquisite craftsmanship all around him. Hieroglyphs stood precisely chiseled and vibrantly painted on every wall. He was still gawking, when Ammut barked from the end of an open-air colonnade. The others were far ahead of him. The crimson gargoyle ran to catch up.
Brooklyn found the others inside an audience chamber. His panting drew attention from Harthoth, Meryt, Geb, and Nuit, as well as the group sitting at a table on a dais. Thoth stood a couple steps behind those at a table, writing diligently on a scroll of papyrus. Isis sat next to a green skinned man, draped in white, on the left side of the table. The eagle-like gargoyle Shu and the ram gargoyle Khnemu sat on the right side of the table. The three humans he also recognized. Young Tem and aged Khepera attended the third: Ra, who sat at the center of the table. Protests began as soon as Brooklyn entered the audience chamber.
Isis stood up. "This barbarian has no place here!"
"I agree." Tem sided with Isis.
"Have you forgotten his service to us only last night?" the older woman argued.
"He may be an outsider, but his ka is as strong as any sphinx," Khnemu followed up.
"Hold your tongues, all of you!" Ra spoke in a loud, but controlled voice.
"Whatever your opinions may be," Ra looked at all the Council members, "We have weightier matters to consider. Time is not a luxury we can spend on pointless bickering."
The others remained silent and Isis sat down.
"This guy must be hot stuff to keep Isis in check," Brooklyn thought to himself.
"Servant of Thoth." Ra gestured to Harthoth. "You have begun your search for the Aten?"
"Yes, Great One." Harthoth stepped forward. "I have employed Nuit and Ammut to aid in the search, as well as the outsider known as Brooklyn."
Isis made a disapproving sound. The green skinned man patted her hand in a wordless, "Give him a chance, my dear."
"Would you trust our lives to a barbarian, Osiris, my love?" Isis's hard features softened when she talked to her husband.
"Brooklyn gives us the best chance of finding the Aten, goddess Isis," Harthoth spoke despite the dark look he got in return.
"Tem reported the Disk of the Sun was stolen by sorcerous means." Ra nodded to the youth on his left. "How does this sphinx ensure your success?"
"Brooklyn carries a fragment of the Aten. It shall serve as a beacon in seeking out the whole disk."
"If this sphinx has a fragment might he not have the entire disk?" Tem persisted.
Harthoth turned to Tem. "You were present when the Shut proved Brooklyn's innocence. He does not have the whole disk and he proved himself again by fighting valiantly in defense of our House," Harthoth interjected. "I will vouch for his behavior, if that's necessary."
"How can you promise so much?" Shu, the eagle gargoyles asked, "When the Aten was stolen from your temple?"
Thoth stopped writing for a second. Harthoth paused. Shu's question was barbed and Brooklyn could see the hurt on Harthoth's face, but he continued. "This theft is done. I can not change that, but give me leave and I shall return it."
Ra lifted a hand, halting any further questions.
"I give you leave, Servant of Thoth. May fortune be with you in quickly finding the Disk of the Sun," Ra decreed.
Harthoth turned and walked straight out the chamber. Meryt, Geb, Nuit, Ammut, and finally Brooklyn, followed.
When they neared the end of the colonnade, Brooklyn sped up to Harthoth. "What was that all about?"
Harthoth said nothing. He walked straight and tall to the palace entrance. Brooklyn looked to Meryt.
"This is the way of things here, Brooklyn," Meryt answered.
"Well, that's clear as mud." Brooklyn felt his frustration grow. "Look, I admit I don't know beans about what's going on. But how am I supposed to learn if I get the 'you're-a-barbarian-you-wouldn't-understand' treatment?"
Meryt deliberated for a moment, then asked, "What would you like to know?"
Nuit gave Meryt a surprised look, but the gold gargoyle merely shrugged. Brooklyn smiled. Finally, he was getting somewhere. He thought about asking about Harthoth, but that might be embarrassing for the black gargoyle. Brooklyn went for the first thing that came to mind.
"What's the deal with the old man? He acts like he created the world."
"He did," Meryt answered, matter-of-factly
Nuit joined in to explain, "Before there were days, there was a mighty war between the gods, and the serpents ruled by Apep. He was defeated by Ra. Ra's power was unlike the other gods, a mixture of god and man. Their foe defeated, the gods fell to war among themselves. A terrible violent war that all suffered from. Ra and some of the gods, tired of battle, left to build a place of peace. Osiris, Isis, Seth, Anubis, Thoth and many others followed Ra here to Kemet. Here, they made a safe and prosperous land."
"And that inquisition board we just faced?"
Nuit looked at him oddly, trying to catch his meaning. Meryt nodded, finally catching on.
"You mean the Council. For the past 700 years, Ra has been in declining health. The Council is made up of our three races; two gods, two men, and two sphinxes. Ra stands as arbitrator, in case a decision needs to be rendered."
"Past 700 years?" Brooklyn asked.
They came to the entrance of Ra's palace. Nuit held out her arm and gave a high pitched whistle, calling her falcon. Harthoth turned to face Brooklyn.
"We must find the Aten."
"Agreed," Brooklyn nodded his head, "but where do we start?"
"Whoever stole the disk plans to use it or stole it for someone who will," Harthoth spoke with grim determination, "They will need supplies to cast a spell using the Aten. We shall search the marketplace, first."
The black gargoyle took flight and the others followed. This time Nuit carried Geb. The guard tried to keep a disciplined countenance, but once his arms were around Nuit's neck, he flushed dark red. The blue gargoyle didn't seem to notice as she picked him up and carried him out of the threshold. Meryt took off, leaving Brooklyn with Ammut.
"You know, if I didn't know better, I'd think they were sticking me with you."
Ammut barked and ran down the steps after Harthoth.
"I guess not," Brooklyn spoke to no one, taking wing.
* * * * *
Hours passed as they searched the marketplace. Brooklyn was footsore and tired, unlike his host. Harthoth seemed to have boundless energy. Even this late at night, people and gargoyles were conducting business. Bartering and haggling went on among the innumerable carts and stalls. Brooklyn was impressed with Harthoth's skill at navigating through the labyrinthine marketplace. Harthoth led his group to a number of magic purveyors; a man with a pushcart sold magic herbs, another with a modest stand sold amulets like ankhs. Magic items were sold as commonly as any other staple in the marketplace. It didn't help their search much. The sellers were too busy to remember more than the last person they bartered with.
Finally, they came to a shop on the far side of the marketplace. The sign on the doorway read 'Neith's Weavings'.
Harthoth spoke to himself, more than the others, "This is the last place. I hope our luck changes here."
The shop reminded Brooklyn of the Archmage's lab. Racks and shelves were filled with clay jars. Larger jars were filled with water, oils and colorful, pungent liquids. A number of tables were covered with metal scrying bowls, scepters, and various magical apparatus.
From the room in the back, an elderly woman emerged, her hair a cloud of gray and white. Her dark face had wrinkles around her eyes and mouth, where a smile deepened upon seeing the sphinxes.
"Harthoth! It makes my heart glad you are here." She came across the room. She placed her brown hands in Harthoth's huge talons.
"Mine is glad to see you. I wish my purpose here were equally glad." Harthoth's smile dropped to a frown. "Have you traded a number of items in the past day or so?"
Neith put her hand to her forehead. "Let me recall. I traded an ankh for a bag of cotton and a love amulet for a few choice joints of beef."
While Neith gave Harthoth a full account of her business transactions, Brooklyn looked around with his fragment, just in case it was hidden. He made his way around a low table of silver knives, when he tripped over a coil of rope. The rope immediately sprang to life. The head bent down, looked at Brooklyn, then soared into the air, finding a high shelf to coil into.
Brooklyn thought he hit his head too hard. That rope couldn't really have just come to life. Then he heard the girls laugh. Geb reached down and lifted him up.
"What is the matter?" Geb's chuckle sounded like a goose. "Don't they have magical weavers in your land?"
Brooklyn shook his head to clear it. "Magical weavers?"
"You know, enchanted ropes, magic carpets, sorcerous robes."
"I sell the best linens in all the world," Neith boosted proudly. She held up her arms to the shelf. The magic rope leaped from its perch, coiling loosely around them.
"Though they can be a bit sensitive, like this carpet I'm working on. Oh, now talk about sensitive..."
"Thank you Neith for your help," Harthoth interceded before she began rambling.
"Oh, anytime friend." Neith waved the gargoyles and human good-bye.
"Another dead end?" Brooklyn asked.
"You do have the strangest sayings," Harthoth commented, "But that exhausts those who sell magic items. I am at a lack of ideas."
"Too bad this isn't New York. When in doubt, we always looked up the nearest bad guy."
Harthoth stroked his jaw between his forefinger and thumb, "There may be wisdom in your words."
* * * * *
Brooklyn didn't know where they were going. They glided west, leaving Unnu, heading deep into the plains. Another difference between Cairo and this ancient time, the desert was a sea of grass. Wherever they were going, the others didn't seem to like it. Nuit and Meryt both wore an uneasy look.
"So where are we going?" Brooklyn asked. The other gargoyles hushed him up.
"Keep quiet!" Meryt said in a harsh whisper.
"Don't have to bite my head off," Brooklyn mumbled.
Harthoth pointed down to the ground below to a small body of water. By the lakeside, date and palm trees rose up around the ruins of a temple. The sphinxes dove to land. Geb dropped from Nuit and held his spear at the ready. Nuit, also, had an arrow notched in her bow.
"I don't get it," Brooklyn whispered to Meryt. "What's going on? Where are we?"
"Where you sent us," Meryt said in a low voice.
Ammut pawed around for a bit, then gave a low growl. Suddenly, from behind every tree and beneath every bush, man-sized, catlike creatures loped into view, surrounding the six. In the moonlight, Brooklyn got a good look at these things. They looked like Maggie and Talon, only lacking the wings. Their features were distinctively cheetah, spotted coats, cat-like muzzles, tails and claws. Brooklyn couldn't decide if it was modesty or mockery in the way some wore clothes and walked upright like humans.
From the center of the temple ruin, a lioness-headed woman appeared out of nowhere and sauntered out to greet them. At either side, a cheetah moved in step with their mistress. Meryt, Nuit and Geb took positions to cover their flanks and rear. The werecheetahs had cut off all avenues of escape.
"Well, this is a pleasant surprise," the woman purred. "That Ra would think enough of me to send six sacrifices. My pets have not dined on sphinx flesh before. I hope it does not upset their stomachs."
"We aren't sacrifices, Sekhmet!" Meryt shouted back.
"Oh really." The woman flicked her hand, giving the command to attack, "You look like it to them."
The werecheetahs pounced on them with lightning speed. Brooklyn and his companions responded equally fast. A werecheetah sprang on Harthoth. He rolled back with the catwoman then tossed her over him using the cat's own momentum. Three cheetahs charged Nuit. The blue gargoyle shot off a couple arrows in rapid succession and each one imbedded itself in a werecheetah's haunch. The third sprang for her throat, but got a face full of angry bird. Ba flapped and clawed at the werecheetah's face, scratching her muzzle and her nose. The cheetah gave a painful yelp, covering her sensitive nose, before turning away.
Geb was engaged with one of the more human-looking werecheetahs. The Egyptian tucked and rolled over a staff sweep. He kicked out his leg, getting his opponent right behind the knees. Geb grabbed the staff from his adversary and cuffed him behind the ear for good measure.
Brooklyn had his claws full with two cheetahs. A third climbed a palm tree and pounced on the red gargoyle. Brooklyn barely registered a furry/scaly body as it slammed into the cheetah. Ammut's momentum carried the two of them into a bush. Growling, screaming and spitting came from the bush, before Ammut emerged the victor. The gargoyle beast turned and growled. A pair of glowing eyes meekly remained in the shrubbery.
Brooklyn slammed one of the werecheetahs into its fellow. He looked around for the next fight.
"Meryt!" he shouted just as a male took a swipe at her right side with his claws. Meryt let out a shriek herself. She kneed the cheetah-man in the stomach, causing him to double over. In a fluid motion, she swung underhand, sending the cheetah flying. Meryt clutched her side in pain.
Sensing a weakened prey, other werecheetahs converged on Meryt. A gargoyle roar made them think twice. Brooklyn leaped to Meryt's side. His tail slapped one cheetah along the way. His glowing eyes and vicious growl kept the cheetahs at bay for the moment.
"Nuit!" Harthoth roared. The blue female nodded. She searched her quiver for a specific arrow and notched it. Geb was by her side in a moment to watch her back.
"Enough!" Harthoth bellowed. "Sekhmet, call off your 'creations' or die!
Sekhmet, who looked at the battle with such amusement, now frowned as she saw an iron-tipped arrow aimed at her heart.
She raised two fingers to her lips and gave a whistle. Her servants obediently stopped. Some eyed Nuit with a mind to rip out her throat, but burly Geb made sure that didn't happen.
Brooklyn checked on Meryt. "Let me see."
"I will be fine," she hissed through the pain.
"Put on the brave-warrior front when you don't have three gashes in your side." Brooklyn tore a strip from a linen shift one of the werecheetahs shed transforming into a cat. He wrapped up her side as best he could, then got under her left shoulder to help her up. Both looked up to see Harthoth and the goddess exchange words.
"Goddess Sekhmet," Harthoth said with thin courtesy. "We came to ask you some questions, not to be attacked by your abominations."
"Why fault me for taking care of my pets?" She grinned. "What can I do for the lackeys of those foolish 'gods'?"
"We have come for the Disk."
"The Aten!" Meryt spat at the goddess.
"Hmmm," Sekhmet tilted her head, "It's missing."
Harthoth let out a low growl. Brooklyn gave a shake of his head. He'd been here before. The black and gold gargoyle looked to him for any ideas.
"If you don't have it, why did you attack us then?" Brooklyn asked. "And please, don't say it was to have a good time."
"And who might you be?" Sekhmet sauntered up to the crimson gargoyle. Nuit kept close aim on her.
"Brooklyn," he replied, not the least bit unnerved by the lioness goddess.
"Well you certainly are looser than these other sphinxes. They are as stiff as dried papyrus."
"I'm sorry was there an answer in there?" Brooklyn replied. Meryt, still hanging from Brooklyn's shoulder, gave a weak smile at his bravado. Few dared talk to a god like this, fewer still to Sekhmet.
"I was just taking care of my followers," Sekhmet smiled sweetly. "It's been so long since they've hunted those who could fight back. Ra would understand."
"He would do no such thing," Harthoth growled.
"Then maybe you don't know him as well as I do," Sekhmet turned back to them. "Ra has given me his protection. Are you going to honor it?"
Harthoth scowled at the goddess. Brooklyn recognized that face. That frustrated look Elisa got when she had to let a scumbag go. Harthoth cast a glance to Nuit. She shook her head and reluctantly lowered her still-drawn bow.
"That's better. Why don't you tell me about this theft? I am sure I can help you."
"And why don't I just let this arrow fly and end your miserable life?" Nuit asked.
"Because you respect Ra too much to break his word," Sekhmet laughed the secure laugh of someone that couldn't be touched and knew it.
"Do not waste your arrow," Harthoth said. "We shall take our leave."
Harthoth began climbing the tallest palm tree. The others followed.
"Just remember Sekhmet, the protection is part of Ra's bargain. We'll keep our part so long as you keep yours."
Sekhmet's tone turned nasty, "Go back to your silly gods!" The werecheetahs snapped at the heels of the departing gargoyles. Harthoth took Ammut. Nuit covered their departure while Brooklyn helped Meryt get airborne. Finally, Nuit ran up a slanted palm tree and took off with Geb.
Brooklyn looked to the black and gold gargoyle, "What did she mean by having Ra's protection? What's that all about?"
"Well, that was fruitful," Meryt seethed. Harthoth lowered his head.
"Hey, lay off," Brooklyn interceded. "It wasn't his fault."
"No, it's yours," Meryt spat back. She clutched her side.
"That is enough!" Harthoth commanded. "This is not about fault. This is about finding the Aten."
"I mean no disrespect." Nuit glided close. "But where do we go from here? I can't track what there is no trace of."
"I don't know." Harthoth gazed at the predawn sky, "I just don't know."
* * * * *
"All is in preparation, father. Soon we shall be together and those who did this to you shall pay." Isfet smiled.
"Is that vengeance in your voice?" A resonating voice echoed through the chamber.
"Of course," Isfet stood up proudly, "The gods slew our kin, imprisoned you, destroyed the world, and hunted those of us who remained."
"Vengeance is a luxury. When we obtain your goal, then you can gloat about it. Remember, daughter, first the release, then the revenge." The voice boomed.
"Yes, father," Isfet said with deference.
* * * * *
Brooklyn's group got back to Unnu just before dawn. Meryt was extremely irritable. The scratches would heal with sunrise, but she kept chiding herself on getting hit in the first place. The others were similarly bruised and wing-weary. Dawn couldn't come soon enough. The temple sphinxes were already taking their places on their pedestals.
"You are all welcome to spend the day here," Harthoth said in a tired voice. Meryt shrugged and nodded acceptance.
"Geb, may I speak with you?" Nuit asked. The guard nodded and went with her off to the side.
Meryt came up to Brooklyn. The red gargoyle expected another harangue.
"Uh, Brooklyn. I apologize for being so sore with you. It has been a long night."
"Yes, it has," Brooklyn took her hands, "but we survived it. So lets get some rest."
On cosmic cue, the sun peaked over the horizon. It caught Geb in midsentence with Nuit, Harthoth staring at the horizon with grim determination, and Brooklyn and Meryt looking into each other's eyes.
* * * * *
Alexandria, Egypt; 1952 AD
A blanket of fog greeted the late night train as it pulled into the station. The three gargoyles climbed down from the train and sprinted down the empty streets of Alexandria. Meryt took the lead. She kept a slower pace because of the fog. Sata followed, with Brooklyn close behind. From the broken glass and the occasional scorched window, Brooklyn figured there had been some rioting here too, but the hour for that had long passed.
Meryt took them to the shoreline drive rimming Alexandria Bay. They followed that road before ducking back into a labyrinth of streets, alleys and boulevards. Finally, Meryt came to a halt.
The three stood before a cathedral sandwiched between other buildings on the street. Meryt climbed the pillar. Sata and Brooklyn did the same, climbing into a belltower absent the bells.
Sata looked around at the sparsely decorated tower, "Where are we?"
"A Coptic Church. Khensu won't bother us here. This is also a library. His sense of honor respects those who keep the 'old ways'. Funny, how outsiders have now become the preservers of those 'ways'."
"I know the feeling." Brooklyn smiled wistfully.
Sata wore a slight frown. "You said this Aten is in one of the wizard's strongholds?"
"Yes, the Great Libraries. They once sprawled across this city, but before they were burned to the ground, Khensu preserved a few storage rooms underneath the bay. The Aten will be there."
"If it's underwater, how do we get to it?" Sata folded her arms across her chest.
"I know of a passageway."
"Extremely convenient," Sata said in a low undertone.
"Meaning what?" Meryt's tail swished in irritation.
"Meaning, I am unconvinced of your loyalties. How do we know you aren't on the same side as this Khensu?"
"I'm not," Meryt said angrily.
"And we should trust you?"
"I do," Brooklyn spoke up.
"And why is that?" Sata turned on her mate, "What haven't you told me? About her? And you?"
"It's complicated..." Brooklyn began.
"Then make it simple," Sata shot back, her eyes picking up a glow. "So this Apep is an evil spirit. How is it any different than the one in the Gate?"
"You don't know! It's a lot different!" Brooklyn snapped back.
"Brooklyn speaks the truth. Apep is not like anything from the Third Race." Meryt intervened.
Sata turned to look out over the railing. She let out an angry sigh, "I should polish my swords." She climbed the railing, heading out the window.
"Sata!" Brooklyn reached over the railing but the green gargoyle was already winging her way around the corner.
"Give her time to cool down," Meryt said.
"Yeah, you're right." Brooklyn shook his head.
"You should tell her the truth," Meryt suggested.
Brooklyn snapped at her, "And how much truth should I tell her? The part about you and me? The part about what we were to each other? What could have been?" His voice dropped to a sad register, "The part about what I did to you?"
"Brooklyn," Meryt came over to him, but kept a respectful distance, "I told you not to be so hard on yourself. It happened, nothing is going to change that."
Brooklyn closed his eyes to fight back the tears. "How can you say that? I so wanted to... It was my carelessness that put everyone into that situation and got you killed. The worst of it is I survived."
Brooklyn turned away and said in a harsh whisper, "I always survive."
"Yes and you always do what is right, what is in your heart." Meryt came up behind him, "Remember what you said that first blissful night? 'Always follow your heart. It will never steer you wrong.' Did it steer you wrong with us or when you met your mate?"
"No," Brooklyn answered.
"Then trust in your heart now. Tell her what happened," Meryt urged.
Brooklyn let out a long shuddering sigh, "Okay."
He turned around and saw the gold gargoyle staring back at him. "About Sata. I..." Brooklyn fumbled for the words.
"There's nothing to say. You found a mate. I'm happy for her and for you." Brooklyn could hear the hurt in her voice. Even after all these years, he knew her too well to believe it was 100% OK with her.
"Please, Brooklyn. Our time together has been millennia past for me. I'm beyond it."
Her voice cracked on 'beyond'. Brooklyn sat-leaned on the railing.
"Surely, you found someone else," Brooklyn asked a little too hopeful.
"Our clan didn't last long after Ra's passing. It scattered, spread. It came together again during the reign of Ramses II, but they all crumbled to dust eventually."
"What about the other clans around the world?"
"The magic that keeps me in this body binds me to the borders of Egypt. I can't leave or I'll face oblivion." Meryt chuckled sadly, "Funny isn't it. All the time we argued about me leaving Kemet. Now, I'm trapped here for eternity."
"It's not funny at all." Brooklyn's sad tone matched Meryt's.
"It's not as bad as I make it sound," Meryt tried sounding chipper, "The only drawbacks are the dreams."
"Sometimes, I dream. I'm flesh again. I can feel things. The cool night breeze blowing across my skin, or the heady smell of dinner at the temple or..."
Brooklyn looked at Meryt, urging her to continue.
"Or feeling your arms around me. Then I awake and remember where I am and what I am. Mercifully, the dreams are infrequent. I haven't dreamed in more than thirty years."
Brooklyn got up and wrapped his arms around her. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," he said between sobs.
"Shhh. It's okay Brooklyn." She held him for the little while it took for Brooklyn to regain his composure.
"Is there anything I can do for you? Anything at all?" Brooklyn wiped his eyes.
A sudden smile spread across her face. "There is one thing. It might lift both our spirits."
Meryt leaned forward to whisper in his ear. His eyes snapped open and his face turned a shade darker from blushing.
"Of course." Meryt's smile widened a bit more.
"I don't know. Sata should be back soon."
Meryt kissed her index and middle finger together. "Pleeeaaassee." She waved the fingers in front of his beak. She employed this tactic whenever she wanted something from him in the past. Brooklyn smiled in spite of himself. He could never refuse that playful plea.
Meryt landed the fingers on his beak, then whirled around to a small cubbyhole. She withdrew a battered old guitar.
"I've gotten quite skilled with the guitar. They sound a lot better than the stringed instruments back in Kemet." Meryt tested each note, then fingered a few chords.
Brooklyn cleared his throat, looking around nervously. "What should we sing?"
"How about the Number song?"
"Oh no, not that one. I hate it. It's so lame."
"I loved it. And you know what they say, 'You never forget your first'." Meryt settled in to play.
"I don't think they were referring to serenades," Brooklyn said ruefully.
Meryt began strumming a languid beat. Brooklyn sang in a rich baritone.
* * * * *
Sata didn't go too far, just around the corner of the belltower. Her warrior instinct reminded her this was unfamiliar territory and she should stay close, in case of ambush. Her feminine instincts told her this was an unfamiliar female who couldn't be trusted, and she should stay close for the same reason.
"Brooklyn seems to trust her," her rational mind observed.
Sata rubbed a tad more vigorously as her thoughts wandered toward her mate. In the years they'd been timedancing, he never kept things from her. Now, they arrived in this place and he acted like another gargoyle. Sata lost herself in polishing her swords, pondering what Meryt meant to Brooklyn and why he acted so. She was a bit surprised when she heard music. At this late hour?
The jade green gargoyle looked below and saw no one. Her ears picked out its direction, from the loft in the belltower. Sata walked the narrow ledge back around the corner. She heard her mate's voice. He was singing?
"One night, the stars were showing"
"Two hearts were overflowing"
"Three words . . ."
"Hit like a bolt from above"
Meryt chimed in with the second verse. She had a good singing voice.
"Four arms were holding tightly"
"Five times, you kissed lightly."
"So I . . ."
"Count off the numbers of love"
They both sang the chorus,
"One, two, three, four-ever"
"You'll always be in my heart."
"One thousand nights I'll hold you."
"Until the stars fade away."
Sata was stunned silent. She didn't know what to feel; love, anger, hurt or fear. Love because this was a tender side to her mate. Anger because he never told her he could do this. Hurt because he shared this gift so readily with someone else. Or fear because no matter how remote or how irrational, she was afraid she might lose him. She was in such a maelstrom of emotions, she barely registered the second chorus,
"Seven, eight, nine, ten-derly..."
* * * * *
Brooklyn and Meryt finished their song after the third chorus. Brooklyn couldn't keep a straight face after that. Both shared a laugh.
"I can't believe I wrote that."
"It won me over," Meryt sat back and sighed, "It is good to see you again Brooklyn."
"Same here." Brooklyn smiled back. A swoop of wings caught his attention. Sata glided in, her face a bit drawn.
"Sata, are you all right?" Brooklyn reached for her. Sata pulled away.
"I'm fine," she said forcefully.
"Look, I'm sorry I didn't tell you what's going on. It's not a time in my life I like to remember."
He spared a glance at Meryt.
"You seem to remember it just fine," Sata said sharply.
He was silent for a moment. He started to speak again, but Sata cut him off.
"Dawn nears. Are there perches or should we sleep in here?" Sata asked the Egyptian gargoyle.
"Here is best. Khensu might scry your location, but without any visual clues, he'll think you're holed up somewhere in Cairo."
"Good," Sata said curtly. She knelt facing inward in the tower room.
"Hey," Brooklyn knelt beside her, "What's wrong?"
"Nothing, I just wish to sleep. It's been a long night."
Brooklyn knew he wasn't going to get anymore out of her. So he crouched in front of her as the sun's rays to turned them to stone. Meryt waited a moment before walking over to study their features in stone. Brooklyn's face reflected confusion and worry. Sata's face was still tightly drawn. Meryt spent several minutes studying the female gargoyle.
Over the centuries, she wondered what Brooklyn's mate looked like. She'd be lying, if a part of her didn't envy Sata, mated to Brooklyn and so much in love with him. Even now, beneath her angry visage she could see much love for him. It made her wonder what life would have been if only...
"I've wondered for eight thousand years, all the 'if-only's and 'what-might-have-been's." Meryt shook her head. Their time together was over a long time ago, both the joy and the sorrow.
"I won't let it be for nothing," she said with savage conviction.
* * * * *
Unnu, Kemet, 6074 B.C.E
The sphinxes awoke with a deafening roar. The gargoyles wrapped the blankets around themselves as they got dressed. Meryt checked her side, relieved that the scratches had healed. Nuit looked around for Geb, surprised he was gone. Geb came out of the temple to join them.
"Thoth wishes to see you, Harthoth." The captain of the guard delivered the message.
Harthoth let out a sigh. "I must confer with my lord. Please, take the time to rest and relax from last night's ordeal."
Harthoth entered the temple, leaving the four behind. Geb shook his head sadly, then lead the others to the common room to eat. They all ate heartily. After flying all over Unnu and fighting were-cheetahs, Geb, Nuit, Brooklyn and Meryt were ravenous. Even Ammut hungrily tore into a joint of meat.
"So how long will Harthoth be with Thoth?" Nuit asked Geb.
"Our lord must consider new directions for our search."
"May I return to my Lady's temple?" Nuit asked, "A lunar eclipse will occur tonight and I would like to return for it."
"I suppose it will be okay." Geb gave her leave. Nuit got up and patted his shoulder as she left.
Meryt turned to Brooklyn, "While we wait for Harthoth to return, there is something I'd like to show you. Will you come?"
Brooklyn looked to Geb. The captain nodded and both gargoyles got up and left. Geb turned and looked at Ammut, the last of their group.
"I suppose you want to go somewhere as well?"
Ammut barked and bounded out of the common room. Geb looked around the empty table and shrugged.
* * * * *
Brooklyn followed Meryt out of Unnu. She led him along the Nile until they landed at a small grove of palm trees and bushes. It overlooked the river and soft grass carpeted the clearing. Brooklyn let out a breath of wonder.
"This is a place I go to when I need to be alone with my thoughts." Meryt entered the clearing.
"So why did you bring me here?" Brooklyn asked mildly.
"Because lately my thoughts have been about you." Meryt turned to face him.
Brooklyn took a step forward, but Meryt held up her arm.
"My Lady wanted me to seduce you," Meryt said candidly. "She wanted your magic."
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Because you've saved my life twice already, because you've asked for nothing in return and . . . because I have feelings for you."
Brooklyn blinked, at a lost for words. "Meryt, I . . ."
Meryt looked up, her face reflecting all her confusion. "I can not betray my Lady, but I can not betray you either. I don't know..."
Brooklyn held her arms. A little breeze blew through her hair.
"Meryt, always follow your heart. It will never steer you wrong."
Meryt looked up into his eyes. She leaned up and kissed him. Brooklyn looked surprised, but soon closed his eyes and leaned into the kiss. They remained liplocked for an eternity before Brooklyn pulled away. Meryt smiled at him.
"I guess your heart has decided?"
Meryt's smile grew into a sly one. "I think it could use a little more convincing."
Brooklyn leaned in for another kiss, when Meryt pulled back.
"Did you hear that?" she asked.
"What?" Brooklyn started listening.
It was a faint rhythmic sound like singing. Brooklyn and Meryt pushed aside some bushes and saw someone chanting across the river. The two gargoyles watched as the cloaked figure uncovered a linen wrapped item. Brooklyn and Meryt both gasped as they saw the hooded man unwrap a plate-size disk of carnelian with gold characters on the rim.
"The Aten!" Brooklyn and Meryt said in unison.
* * * * *
The water was a perfect mirror to the heavens above. The cloaked man chanted the rite of summoning, the Aten glowing with power. Isfet watched in the shadows of a few rocks. Her eyes glowed with anticipation. As the moon entered eclipse, a bright, diminishing arc of light was reflected in the water. Pebbles began to dance on the ground, but the water remained glass smooth. The rumbling grew louder, taking on a distinct rising and falling, like thunder breathing.
The cloaked figure paused before beginning the second part of the rite, his head sinking deeper in his billowing robes and hood. Two loud cries caused him to look up. Two sphinxes, one of them Lady Isis's favorite, glided toward him. He pulled the hood further over his head and began to retreat. He ran into Isfet.
"Going somewhere, Uraeus?" she asked with a disapproving frown.
The cloaked man pointed to the sky and the approaching gargoyles.
Isfet saw them and nodded. "Complete the ritual. I'll handle them."
"I can't be caught," Uraeus whined.
Isfet turned around, her eyes glowing fiercely white. Uraeus shivered in his robes, but continued chanting. Isfet looked at the approaching gargoyles and smiled. She threw off her cloak and held her arms out almost in greeting to the two interlopers.
Brooklyn and Meryt glided towards the man with the Aten. They saw Isfet on the shore, but she was just standing there. Then they saw the transformation. Isfet's coloring went from cinnamon brown to dark blue black. Her posture changed, accommodating a tail and talons. Her back sprouted two wings and her hands became claws. The most dramatic change was in her face, from a comely maiden to a pointed scaly muzzle resembling a dragon.
The change caught them off guard. Isfet took advantage of it, flying straight for them. Brooklyn and Meryt rolled in different directions, but Isfet went after Meryt. With three strokes of her powerful wings, Isfet closed the distance between her and Meryt and grabbed the Egyptian gargoyle by the tail. Meryt gave out a yelp of surprise as she was pulled back.
Isfet started spinning her around, laughing. Brooklyn let out a roar and dove into the dragon lady. Isfet released Meryt as she and Brooklyn went down in a tangle of wings and limbs. Isfet lost some altitude, but recovered and chased after Brooklyn. He couldn't outrun her. She pounced on him, grabbing his shoulders.
"I remember you," Isfet whispered into his ears, "Now, I can repay you for all the trouble you gave me."
Her talons dug into his shoulders. Brooklyn grunted as he tried to shake her off. Isfet chuckled and dug her talons deeper. A golden blur plowed into Isfet, knocking her off. Brooklyn smiled gratefully to Meryt. She offered him her hand. Isfet hissed at the couple, then looked down and smiled.
In the sky, the eclipse reached totality. On the Nile, a bright ring of light gleamed back in reflection. The darkness inside grew darker, becoming an abyss. From within the circle, two eyes opened. They grew larger as something, a very large something, approached.
A serpentine body emerged from the abyss. He rose above the surface and kept rising. Two enormous wings opened, revealing a dragon's head. His scales were the color of darkest midnight. His eyes glowed brightly and his maw opened wide, revealing rows of large teeth.
"Apep," Meryt breathed in awe.
Brooklyn spotted the dragon from above. He swung over to Meryt. "Looks like trouble."
"You certainly have a talent for understatement," Meryt added.
"You'll have to go for help." Brooklyn pointed back to the city.
"I won't leave you!" Meryt protested.
"We don't have time to argue this." Brooklyn faced Meryt. "You want to help, bring back an army or something."
* * * * *
Isfet landed next to Uraeus. "Now it is my turn. Give me the Aten."
Uraeus nodded and gave Isfet the disk. She reached into her sash belt and pulled out an ankh. Apep looked down at the two. He stretched his wings but encountered some opposing force. The ring of moonlight acted like a cylindrical force field, containing the dragon.
"Daughter?" Apep looked at Isfet.
"Yes, father," Isfet held the Aten in her left hand and the ankh in her right. With an incantation, the Aten and the ankh both flashed. The light surrounding the serpent began draining away, flowing through the ankh into the Aten. In a few moments, the ring on the river was gone. Apep shifted and swam out of the Nile.
Isfet ran past Uraeus. "Father?"
"Yes, my daughter." Apep lowered to nuzzle Isfet. "You have done very well. I am very proud of you."
Brooklyn dropped out of the sky, landing on the dragon's back, digging his claws into Apep's hide. The serpent reared back and looked at the gargoyle. Brooklyn saw himself mirrored in one of Apep's enormous slit eyes. He felt like a very small insect.
"Uh-oh," Brooklyn breathed.
Apep gave a snort and blew Brooklyn off his back. Brooklyn back-peddled as he was sent flying.
Apep moved to finish the gargoyle, but Isfet got in the way.
"No, no, no. Let me, father." Isfet looked over at the airborne Brooklyn. "It's time for revenge."
The dragon nodded his head. Isfet took wing after Brooklyn.
The brick red gargoyle got his flight under control, turning it into a glide.
"Well, that was a smooth move Brooklyn," he chided himself.
He was turning around to get his bearings, when Isfet slammed her fist into his jaw. Brooklyn pitched back from the uppercut. He recovered enough to flick out his tail whip-like as he completed the roll. His tail caught Isfet just above the eye, enraging her further. Brooklyn folded up his wings and dove for his life.
He tried the ol' classic, dive for the ground and pull up at the last moment. The first part was going well, Isfet followed. At the last moment, he snapped his wings open and pulled up, but Isfet already guessed his maneuver and pulled up a moment before he did. She hung above waiting for him to pull up, then swooped down on him. She took a swipe across his back, leaving nasty slashes across his shoulders. Brooklyn cried out, but remained airborne. Isfet was still on top of him. He could hear her lusty laugh as he banked left, then right to catch sight of her.
Apep loomed in his vision. Brooklyn banked left, into Isfet's waiting claws. She raked his wing membrane. Brooklyn let out a piercing shriek followed by a groan. He flapped his useless wing, the wind whistling through the rips. Brooklyn crashed on the beach with a dull thud. He lifted his head, coughing out sand, trying to see through the red tinted haze that seemed to cover his vision.
A heavy weight landed on him. Strong hands jerked him up by his long white hair, then slammed him down again.
"Not a bad scream," Isfet said like a connoisseur tasting wine. "Visceral and primal."
She lifted up Brooklyn's other wing. "Let's hear it again."
Ammut bounded out of nowhere, knocking Isfet off of Brooklyn. The gargoyle beast pinned her down by her wings. Isfet wore a disgusted look, turning away from the beast's hot fetid breath. She got her tail around Ammut's middle and flung him away. A big splash followed as he crashed into the Nile.
Isfet got up, shaking herself off. She saw Brooklyn struggling to get to his feet.
"Enough games, daughter!" Apep said annoyed, "Finish him!"
"Yes, father," Isfet pulled out her stick, which enlarged to a spear.
Brooklyn staggered on his feet. Pain screamed at him from a dozen different directions. The loudest pain came from his wings. Blood pounded in his ears. The pounding seemed to form words, saying something.
"Brooklyn! Get down!"
Brooklyn collapsed from pain. A spear whizzed over his head, grazing Isfet's arm. Geb stood at the other end of the beach, still in the follow-through position. Now weaponless, he clenched his hands into fists.
"Eager to die, are we?" Isfet sneered.
Instead of the horrified visage of someone seeing his doom coming, Geb smiled. Isfet looked puzzled just before Meryt and Nuit grabbed her. The two gargoyle females swooped down and each grabbed an arm. The dragon lady hissed and spat as she struggled in their grip. Geb ran to Brooklyn.
Apep gave a snort and stretched open his feathery wings. The sky grew thick with clouds and lightning shot out from the mist. A bolt struck Nuit, then Meryt, releasing Isfet. Another struck Geb and Ammut, and then one final bolt struck Brooklyn. Blue electricity arced over the red gargoyle, before focusing on a spot underneath him. Isfet landed next to her father.
"This is how you deal with nuisances," Apep said in an instructive tone.
Isfet nudged Ammut. The beast still twitched from electric shock.
"They still live?" Isfet looked up to Apep.
"My powers can not take life," Apep explained. "Besides, that would take away from the thrill of the kill."
Isfet smiled. She stepped over the beast, in the middle of the unconscious bodies. She seemed at a loss.
"Which one to chose?" Isfet looked from body to body.
"Her." She pointed to Meryt. "She looks like she can scream for hours."
She walked over to Meryt, her spear morphing into a wickedly serrated blade. The green metal at each end glowed brightly. Isfet lightly dragged the tip of the blade in a circle about Meryt's abdomen.
"Time to wake up," Isfet said, preparing to pierce the golden sphinx.
Brooklyn yanked Isfet's hair back. She reached back in surprise. Brooklyn turned her around and gave her a right cross. It sent Isfet back a few feet, but Brooklyn was left feeling light-headed and woozy. Apep dropped another lightning bolt on the red gargoyle. The concussive force sent him flying, but the electricity did not damage. Instead, it seemed to glide over his body into his pouch.
Brooklyn barely grasped the fact that he was alive, let alone spare a moment to consider why. Apep seemed puzzled, but not daunted. He dove down to bite Brooklyn in two. Brooklyn felt the dragon's hot breath and jumped more from instinct than from thought. Brooklyn scrambled, reaching for anything that could be used as a weapon. There was nothing but sand. He threw the sand at Apep's face. The dragon blinked once and washed the grit out. Brooklyn crawled along the beach, the world fading black around his vision.
He couldn't give up, but the oblivion of unconsciousness tugged at him. He felt himself slip away, the last thing he saw was Apep's approaching maw and a blue-green light.
Brooklyn's body moved from under Apep's mouth to the safety of the grove further up the beach. The unconscious bodies of Geb, Nuit, Ammut and Meryt soon joined Brooklyn.
Apep looked up at the approaching barge. "I was wondering when you cowards would show up."
The galley Madjet skimmed the water at high speed. Aboard was the entire Egyptian pantheon, from Osiris and Isis down to Bes. Grim determination etched on many faces, distress on others.
Seth and Thoth took positions at the prow of the ship. They bent on one knee as they drew their bows. A glowing blue-green arrow of light appeared in each bow. Thoth and Seth let their elfshot fly. Apep stretched a wing to protect Isfet, but did nothing to protect himself. The elfshot glanced off the dragon, hitting the beach with explosive force. Isis and Bastet both shot at Apep with beams of magic. They deflected off Apep.
"Has it been so long that you've forgotten? Your powers don't affect my kind." Apep spoke to the river and then to the sky, in a mysterious language. A volley of lightning bolts rained down on the barge. The gods were unharmed.
"The same holds true for your powers," Thoth replied in a loud voice.
"That's why I wasn't aiming at you."
The barge creaked before ripping asunder. The gods quickly teleported or levitated off the disintegrating craft, scattering. Apep smiled. He vanished in tendrils of shadowy smoke.
The Egyptian fay looked all around them. Suddenly Hathor gave a cry. Everyone turned towards the scream, but she was gone. Ptah was the next to vanish, then Sobek with a crocodile growl.
Apep materialized next to Anubis. He knocked the jackal god into the water. Anubis came up sputtering as other gods and goddess joined him. He tried floating out of the water, but couldn't. Then he felt the burning and the other gods screamed, "Iron! There's iron in the water!"
Impossible to see in the dark, the Nile ran red with iron. Apep enchanted the water with iron, rendering the fay powerless. Apep continued dunking the gods in the river. Next, Nephthys, Osiris, and Bes. Soon Thoth, Isis, Bastet and Montu joined their fellow deities. When all the Egyptian fay were in the Nile, Apep fully materialized. He flung his tail in a tight circle around the waterlogged fay.
"I can't kill you immortals," Apep tightened his coils around the gods, "But I can share the torture you gave me."
Apep barked out the words to the rite of casting out. The first half was completed in a few phrases. A ring of light surrounded the fay. Isis and Sobek pounded on the air, trapped. Apep took a moment to gloat, before continuing the rest of the chant.
Brooklyn awoke to the most unpleasant sound. It sounded like marbles being mashed in the back of someone's mouth. He staggered to his feet. Memories flooded back; Meryt, Isfet, one gigantic snake and a 'blue light' special?
It was quiet. He was alive. They must have defeated that monster. The gravelly chanting continued. Brooklyn stumbled through the brush. He saw the serpent hang over the Egyptian gods in the middle of the water. They hadn't won.
Why didn't they get up? Take this overgrown garter snake down? They looked trapped somehow. Apep continued chanting. The expression on the trapped gods grew more panicked.
"APEP!" A voice like a clarion call, boomed from all around. It stopped the dragon in mid-syllable. His eyes widened in surprise.
"Ra!" Apep said in low, lethal growl, "You are still alive? Where are you, 'weapon of cowards'?"
Brooklyn looked all around. He saw it down river. The largest force he'd seen since his days at Castle Wyvern. To the north, the sky was filled with gargoyles. On the Nile, boats, barges and galleys plied their way upriver and on either bank, foot soldiers marched toward Apep.
Isfet searched the shore and found what she was looking for, the Aten and the ankh. With a malicious smile she aimed the ankh at the river and spoke a couple words. Great waves churned the river, capsizing the boats. Ra's galley, the Semektet, was the only one spared. The magicians on board worked frantically, creating a protective bubble around the craft. Next, Isfet turned her sights on the armies approaching by land. She chanted a couple more words and fissures opened up on either side of the river. The cracks raced towards the armies. The soldiers leapt for the river or dropped to the ground, which was rapidly sliding out from under them. Isfet gave a mild chuckle before turning her sights to the sky. Another set of words and a typhoon came out of nowhere. The gargoyles were knocked out of the sky by the strong winds.
"That's it!" Brooklyn shouted to himself. He had to get the disk away from her. Brooklyn kept hidden in the vegetation as he moved upstream toward Isfet.
"Thank you, daughter." Apep smiled to Isfet, then back down river. "It's only you and me, Ra."
Apep chanted a few more words, continuing the spell. The water inside the circle turned black, blacker, and blackest. Now Brooklyn could hear the wails of the fay, their panic rising ten notches as imprisonment in the abyss became more and more a reality.
Brooklyn jumped behind a boulder, when his pouch began glowing brightly. It was the Gate and his piece of the future Aten. At first, he thought it was proximity to the complete disk, but the rock he hid behind started glowing too. It was sandy yellow limestone glowing a faint blue. Suddenly an arc of blue lightning shot out of his pouch into the stone. Brooklyn didn't know what to make of it, then a flash of inspiration struck. He yanked off his pouch.
"Hey Isfet!" Brooklyn stood up, "Where's the satisfaction in hitting someone from afar?"
Isfet aimed the ankh, but reconsidered, "You're right. I'd much rather strike up close."
Isfet tucked the Aten under her arm and leapt into air, crossing the width of the Nile in two wingbeats. She landed in front of Brooklyn. He scrambled up and over the rock, then began to cower.
"No glib remarks?" Isfet smiled maliciously.
"Just one," Brooklyn said as she took that crucial last step, "Fire in the hole!"
The limestone and the Aten both glowed. Magical energy arced from the limestone into the Aten, exploding with a concussive force just like in Cairo with those limestone blocks. Isfet gave a scream as she sailed through the air into the river. The Aten spun end over end into the river.
Apep, who was only one syllable from casting the gods away, turned around. He saw his daughter face down in the water and rushed to her side. He lifted her out of the water and gently nudged her to wakefulness. He only got a groan from her. He came up enraged.
"WHO DID THIS?" Apep bellowed.
"That would be me," Brooklyn said in a loud voice. Brooklyn's bravado surprised the serpent, but Apep's eyes glowed brightly on the sphinx.
"Want a piece of me? Come on," Brooklyn goaded the serpent.
Apep dove for the upstart gargoyle with lightning speed. Brooklyn jumped, throwing his fragment at the limestone. The fragment and stone exploded in Apep's mouth, the force lifting Brooklyn further from the dragon's mouth. Apep shrieked. His concentration broken, the spell broke down. The gods were still trapped, but the water returned to an azure hue, moving away from abyssal black.
Brooklyn looked up, hoping Apep suffered the same affect as his daughter. The explosion only knocked a few teeth out of Apep's mouth. He was frightfully mad.
Brooklyn didn't have time to duck. Apep struck him with lightning bolts, one after another. Apep's rage was the only thing that saved him from a direct lightning strike. Apep was so angry he couldn't shoot straight. But the explosive booms from the bolts battered Brooklyn.
Apep poised to bite the gargoyle in two, when a magical bind muzzled him. The magicians on the Semektet took up positions and tried to capture the dragon. Ra, on board the boat, pulled out a papyrus scroll.
"The Overthrowing of Apep," Ra read in a clear voice, a bright white aura surrounding him.
"Not this time!" Apep roared and flapped his wings hard, causing an instant sandstorm. The Semektet lifted up out of the water, spinning end over end. The magicians and sorceresses struggled to remain standing on deck. Khensu and another wizard quickly started chanting. The boat gained a soft reddish glow and floated to the ground, like a feather. Ra read the first part of the scroll when a burst of energy struck him and his two protectors from behind. Isfet, barely standing, held the ankh in hand.
"Always watch your back," Isfet warned teasingly. A heavy stone knocked her from behind.
"Sound advice," Brooklyn growled. He looked up with alarm. Apep lunged down on the deck.
One wizard barely came to as he saw Apep bear down on them.
"Ice!" he shouted and a block of ice filled the dragon's maw. The spell drained what consciousness was left in him.
Apep struggled with the ice block, while Khensu got Ra off the boat. Apep gave a mighty roar and crunched the ice into tiny cubes. Khensu and Ra ducked for cover, but there was nowhere to hide from the dragon. Khensu cast spell after spell to waylay the dragon. Ra looked frantically for the scroll. He saw it and tears of despair glistened in his eyes.
Isfet picked it up, with a wicked gleam in her eye she grabbed both ends, preparing to rip it apart. An arrow embedded itself in Isfet's wrist. Isfet let out a yowl, her eyes glowing bright blue in the direction of the shooter. Nuit notched another arrow. She and the others were slowly reviving. Isfet reached for her belt with her good hand, pulled out a pair of bolas, and flung them at the gargoyle.
"Look out!" Geb tackled the blue gargoyle, carrying them both out of harm's way.
The white bolas wrapped around a palm tree before exploding in a growling fire. The tree toppled onto Meryt. Brooklyn rushed to save her but knew he'd never make it. Suddenly, the flaming trunk gained a greenish glow and hung in midair, like 'Thank you but I'm going to ignore the laws of gravity right now.' Brooklyn didn't waste time wondering about it. He grabbed Meryt and pulled her out of there, just as the tree crashed down on the grove.
Meryt opened her eyes, looking up at the New York gargoyle. Brooklyn caressed her cheek tenderly.
"I won't let anything happen to you," he promised.
"Apep!" Ra's voice rang out strong and clear. He looked furious and his whole body glowed with a white-green aura.
"The scroll!" Seth shouted to Brooklyn from the river.
The red gargoyle looked down at the scroll. He pitched it to Khensu, who handed it to Ra, just as he let go of all of his power. It was a magical outburst like Fox's, but the scroll channeled much of it at the dragon.
This was the first telling blow against Apep. He smoked and smoldered and looked distressed. Ra let out another burst; this one pushed Apep back into the water. Khensu rallied the other wizards. They managed to free the gods, breaking the circle of light that held them and recreating it around Apep.
Apep thrashed against the glowing confines of his prison. Ra read all the chapters on the scrolls, binding and banishing the dragon. The water turned a dark, abyssal black and Apep sank into it. Brooklyn and the others watched him sink back into the abyss. Apep glared at those outside his prison.
"Your powers can't hold me forever," he said almost laughingly. "I will be free." Apep vanished beneath the water.
All was silence for a few moments, and then the moon glowed full and bright as it moved out of totality of the eclipse. The silence lasted a few more moments as the defenders realized they had survived.
An ear-piercing shriek broke the peace as Isfet saw her father disappear. "I'll destroy you all!"
Bands of light snapped around Isfet, trapping her. Khensu stepped forward, sweat beading on his brow. "No, you won't!"
Isfet screamed in rage. It was silenced by another band around her mouth. The other wizards strengthened the bindings, making sure she wouldn't cause any more trouble.
A moan got their attention. It was Ra. He looked extremely pale, collapsing on his feet. Thoth gathered up Ra and looked to Bastet. She shrugged helplessly. Until they dried off, she and the other gods were powerless.
"We must him return to the city," Geb spoke up.
The others worked with wordless efficiency. Gods, sphinxes and soldiers pushed the Semektet back into the water. Ra was carried aboard along with the other gods and a fuming Isfet.
"Wait!" Isis demanded, "The Aten!"
"Ra needs our immediate attention," Bastet argued.
"Some will stay and search." Thoth took command. He turned to Khensu.
"Find the Aten and return to Ra's palace."
"Yes!" The wizard nodded an affirmative. Khensu looked to Brooklyn, Meryt, Nuit and Geb. "Help me search."
Brooklyn saw the boat sail off for Unnu, wishing he was on it. His wing was next to useless, he had scratches all over his back, and he'd just gone ten rounds with Isfet *and* Apep. Even gargoyle fortitude has its limits. Meryt got under his shoulder. Now it was Meryt's turn to support him.
Brooklyn started to say something, but Meryt cut him off.
"Tell me you're fine when you don't have a rip through your wing and gouges everywhere else."
Brooklyn smiled weakly. Ammut gave a bark. The beast sounded adamant, so Brooklyn and Meryt followed.
"What is this?" Meryt bent down and picked up a gleaming white object. It was a tooth, Apep's tooth.
Brooklyn took the tooth and examined it. His eyes flickered with recognition. "Over here!" he said weakly. Meryt relayed the message, bringing the others.
Brooklyn pointed to the limestone, then to the river. "The Aten is there!"
"In the river?" Nuit asked. Brooklyn nodded.
"How do we get it from there?" Meryt asked.
"Leave that to me and Ammut," Khensu answered. He chanted a small incantation and a spot in the Nile glowed bright orange. Khensu patted the beast's flank. Ammut panted happily.
"Fetch!" Khensu ordered. The beast dove into the water, swimming out to the spot. Ammut's head dove below the waves, disappearing for a few moments. He resurfaced with the Disk of the Sun in his mouth. He swam back to the group, shaking himself off. Meryt reached for the Aten, but Khensu picked it up first.
"Great," Brooklyn said with a tired voice. "Can we go home now?"
Khensu ran his fingers over the golden characters on the rim. He smiled and, with a phrase, teleported all of them back to Unnu.
* * * * *
Uraeus emerged from behind a rock outcropping. He looked around to make sure no one was around. He saw everything, from the battle with Apep to the recovery of the Aten. Now he looked north to the long walk back to Unnu, with nothing to show for it. A gleam of soft orange gold caught his eye. It was a piece of the Aten, but how could that be?
"The barbarian!" Uraeus breathed, "This was the piece that the barbarian possessed."
A hungry smile spread across Uraeus's face as he examined the fragment. "Now what can I do with you?"
* * * * *
"Ra, please reconsider?" Thoth appealed.
Cat-headed Bastet was caring for Ra. She gave a stern look to Thoth. Excitement was the last thing Ra needed.
"This night's disaster demonstrates why the Aten needs utmost protection. If it weren't for the valiant effort of the sphinxes, you and the other gods would be in the abyss and Unnu would be rubble."
Thoth tried to get a word in, but Ra cut him off with a glare. "Until I say differently, Isis will keep the Aten and watch the prisoner. That is all."
Thoth dipped his beak as he bowed his head. "Yes, Lord Ra."
"I don't know why in Bastet's wisdom, I bother healing you," Selqet grumbled to herself, "You don't seem all that concerned about staying that way."
"Considering we faced the serpent of darkness and lived to tell the tale," Geb grimaced as she tightened a bandage, "Be glad all you have to heal are these injuries. It could have been all of Unnu."
"Shouldn't your attentions be with Ra?" Isis asked testily. She didn't like Thoth talking to Ra alone.
"Bastet's seeing to him, but the cure for him is the same as always, time," Selqet answered. "Using his powers drains him greatly. He must rest if he is to recover."
Harthoth entered with a basket of bandages. He went to Nuit, Meryt and Brooklyn. Nuit was none the worse for wear; a day's sleep would do the trick. Harthoth wrapped her wing claw and her leg, all under Geb's scrutinizing gaze. Meryt took the rest of the linen and some wine, and tended Brooklyn's injuries.
Brooklyn lay on a flat bench, while Meryt dipped a bandage in wine and carefully cleaned the gouges on his back.
"So..." Brooklyn winced a bit, "Some first date, huh?"
Meryt gave a slight chuckle. "I guess it was at that. Too bad we don't have anything to commemorate the event."
"Will this do?" Brooklyn reached into his pouch and pulled out the dragon's tooth. Meryt looked at the tooth and then at Brooklyn's dopey grin.
"Yes, it will do nicely. Why are you smiling so?"
"Once you said I acquired this after a memorable first date. Boy, did I ever, and you say I have a talent for understatement."
Meryt didn't quite understand, but she giggled anyway. It was the first time Brooklyn ever heard her laugh so freely.
"I could get used to that." Brooklyn sat up to look at the gold gargoyle.
"Used to what?"
"Seeing you smile," Brooklyn scooted closer, "You should do it more often."
"You are certainly welcome to try," Meryt leaned the rest of the way and kissed him. Brooklyn returned it.
Harthoth cleared his throat, reminding the couple that they had an audience.
The sphinxes made their way to the avenue in front of the temple. Brooklyn looked to the black gargoyle.
"Where did Khensu go?" Brooklyn asked.
"Hmm? Oh, he was called away," Harthoth mumbled. Brooklyn gave him a puzzled look, but shrugged it off. They all stepped out of the temple's two massive pylons. Harthoth oversaw all his sphinxes to their places. Geb helped Nuit to a pedestal. Her words expressed thanks, but her green eyes expressed much more. Meryt laid on a pedestal and let out a sigh. She looked around and saw Brooklyn still standing.
"Aren't you going to lay down?"
Brooklyn grimaced, not wanting to add another pain to his already aching body.
Meryt nodded acceptance.
"You don't find it barbaric?" Harthoth asked expectantly.
Meryt looked at Harthoth and then at Brooklyn, "No, I don't." Then she surprised everyone by taking a similar standing position.
The sun froze them, with stunned expressions on Nuit's and Harthoth's faces. Meryt wore a warm, open expression on her face, while Brooklyn had a hopeful, elated expression. Despite his injuries and the pain, he looked truly happy.
* * * * *
Sunset sank below the horizon and two gargoyles awoke with a roar, greeting the night. Meryt awaited them on the other side of the bell tower. Sata looked at her oddly.
"You don't sleep?" the Japanese gargoyle asked.
"With this body, I can't turn to turn stone," Meryt explained, rapping her metal arm for emphasis.
"We should get going," Brooklyn changed the subject.
"So you plan on continuing this theft?" Sata crossed her arms in disapproval. Brooklyn held her by her upper arms and rubbed them gently, "It can't be helped. Khensu needs the fragment to complete the Aten. If we take it from him, the threat is gone."
Sata remained unconvinced. Brooklyn sighed. "Okay, just hang tight here. Meryt and I will slip in, steal the disk, and slip out."
"No!" Sata said more forcefully than required. The thought of her mate alone with Meryt was highly unpleasant.
"We stay together." Sata cast a look at Meryt, the 'we' not including the Egyptian gargoyle.
Meryt didn't reply. She just turned around and stared out over Alexandria.
* * * * *
The ringing of a bell buoy punctuated the rhythmic pounding surf. The salt spray chilled two of the three gargoyles as they made their way along Alexandria Bay. Gold led red and green as Meryt moved past the docks and shipyards. Underneath a lighthouse, Meryt pointed out to the middle of the water.
"His treasure trove is underneath the bay."
"Okay, so how do we get there?" Brooklyn asked.
"The entrance is not far from here."
Meryt dropped to all fours and scampered over the wet boulders of the breakwater. Brooklyn and Meryt followed. The three gargoyles followed the crumbling breakwater all the way out to the small island. There were several structures but Meryt went right to a fortress-like one.
"This is Pharos Island where the Great Lighthouse once stood." Meryt pushed on a stone and a section of the wall swung open. Inside there were torches and tinder to light them.
"No smoke," Sata commented on the clean burning torch.
"One of Thoth's secrets, it keeps the scrolls and walls safe," Meryt explained, then led the way down.
The gargoyles descended into the tunnel. Soon the curved side of the tunnel squared off. The gray granite from the island gave way to white limestone. Brooklyn heard a humming from his pouch. He reached in and pulled out the Aten fragment. It glowed brightly and the walls, ceiling, and floor took on a bluish cast.
"What does this mean?" Sata asked pointing to the glowing stone.
"It means I shouldn't touch them unless I want to become gargoyle flambeaux," Brooklyn answered.
"The magic inherent in the stones protects against time and dampness," Meryt said casually.
That's when Sata felt it, a twitch in her tail. Something urgent that put her at unease. She touched Brooklyn's arm, letting him know she was close.
"I don't trust her," Sata whispered into his ear. Brooklyn took in a deep breath.
"Let me finish," Sata whispered before he could respond, "If Khensu is such an enemy, how does she know so much about this place? Her convenient rescue, the timely knowledge about the Aten being here. I think it's a trap."
"Sata, I know I haven't been up front with you about everything, but this I do know: I trust Meryt. She won't betray us."
Sata paused, feeling frustrated and a little uneasy. Who was this gargoyle to earn Brooklyn's implicit trust? The mystery continued to loom over her and Sata began to wonder if she really wanted to know.
The gargoyles came to a set of doors and a brazier. Brooklyn tapped on the door, then got ready to push.
"You won't open it that way," Meryt said. She dipped her torch in the brazier. The charcoals lit up. It took several moments, but soon the doors began to slide apart, like the doors on an elevator.
"How?" Brooklyn asked.
"Khensu was close friends with a Greek thinker named Hero. You should have seen some of the stuff they invented."
"And how do you know about all this?" Sata demanded accusingly.
"I helped him save the last of the Great Library before the barbarians burned it to the ground."
"You helped him?" Sata asked incredulous.
"We've been around for eight thousand years. Do you think we stay in these roles waiting for you to show up? He wasn't always evil. I wasn't always good. I've had my dark days."
"But not today?" Sata added.
"No, beloved, she has a right to ask." The gold gargoyle stood before the jade green female. "You don't trust me. That is your choice. I have neither the time nor the inclination to indulge in your barbarian paranoia."
"Barbarian?" Sata's eyes glowed red, her voice in a low, dangerous register.
Meryt continued, ignoring her, "Am I working with Khensu? No. Am I setting you and Brooklyn up? No. Now let's get the Aten and not waste any more time about it."
She swept past Sata with an imperious gait. Sata glared at the gargoyle, but said nothing. She looked to Brooklyn. He carefully looked elsewhere and walked through the portal.
She was about to say something, but that thought was lost as they looked in the chamber. Both time travelers stared open-mouthed at the room. Sata turned around and gasped in awe.
Wonders upon wonders filled the chamber: gold, gems and jewelry filled every corner. Silk brocades, tapestries, pottery and scores of items from every civilization on earth, Mayan amulets, Haida totem poles, Zuni petroglyphs, Ming vases, Grecian urns, Malaysian daggers and so much more.
"Where did all this come from?" Sata asked with wonder.
"Our 'friend' reveres knowledge," Meryt explained. "He has collected these items over the millennia."
"I've been in museums before," Brooklyn looked at the tapestries, then the brocades, "but this would put the best of them to shame."
Sata stopped by a rack of swords. She looked at the inscriptions on a katana, her eyes went wide.
"These were lost in battle! Brooklyn, these swords belonged to the greatest warrior of our clan."
Brooklyn was lost in thought at the other end of the room. He found a curious artifact, a set of ground glass lens in a leather device. It enabled one to see long distances and belonged to a very clever gargoyle. His eyes teared up as he remembered her. He could see the device perched on her head, where she frequently forgot it. Sata's hand on his shoulder brought Brooklyn back from the memory. He gave a heart-heavy sigh, putting the far-seer back.
Meryt stood before two slabs of stone, a big one and a little one. The large slab held hieroglyphics telling the story of her clan, so long gone. The smaller one was like a small photo. It showed her and Brooklyn, Harthoth, Geb, Nuit, Ba and Ammut.
"So long ago, yet sometimes it seems like last night." Meryt shook herself from her reverie. She looked around and found Brooklyn and Sata.
Sata pointed to the far end of the chamber. They joined up and went to the next room. They passed through a hall of mannequins. Most were human shaped wearing togas, robes, and assorted dress from every time period. Some had wings and tails to demonstrate gargoyle fashion. Brooklyn started to laugh.
"Now that brings back memories." Brooklyn looked at a mannequin wearing glass beads hung by a crisscross set of strings.
"The Festival of Hathor." Meryt smiled too.
Sata frowned slightly. The dress was completely see-through and she could well imagine this 'female' giggling in it, enticing her Brooklyn.
"You looked incredible in it," Meryt spoke to Brooklyn.
The Ishimura gargoyle sputtered and looked at her mate and then at Meryt. She didn't know whether to feel surprise that Brooklyn would wear such a thing or respect towards Meryt for getting him out of his simple loincloth. The only time he ever changed clothes for her was for their wedding.
"Well, you can thank all that mead I drank." Brooklyn smiled.
Meryt led the way out of the chamber. They came to a room with a glowing portal. The giant disk of blue light shimmered with energy. In front of it was an altar with a papyrus scroll on it. Brooklyn stepped forward, followed by the others. Sata looked over his shoulder as he opened it. The scroll had marks and scratches inked across it. The style seemed similar to the hieroglyphics found all over, but it definitely wasn't that pictographic medium.
"It's hieratic." Brooklyn read on. "It says if we want the disk, to come and get it."
"Now, this is a trap," Meryt looked at Sata. "I'll go first and spring whatever trap. Count to five, and then come in. Find the Aten and get out. Don't worry about me."
Brooklyn shook his head, "Leave you to 'him'? No way."
"This isn't the time to be heroic. The goal is to get the Aten."
Meryt approached the portal. She gave one last look to Brooklyn, then stepped in. She let out a mighty roar as the portal flared red around her. She writhed in pain as ropy tendrils of light wrapped around her arms, legs and tail.
"Meryt!" Brooklyn shouted. He and Sata both pulled on the Egyptian gargoyle, trying to pry her free from the magical whirlpool.
Meryt was still in pain, her shrieks were heart wrenching. Brooklyn and Sata were pulling her out of the portal. She was almost free when a tendril wrapped itself around Brooklyn's waist. Before Brooklyn could roar in defiance, the tentacle lifted Brooklyn and pulled him into the portal. The blue light flashed once, before irising out. Sata leapt at the portal only to fall on the ground behind. The green gargoyle roared her frustration.
* * * * *
Brooklyn was aware of the eyes on him. One pair was cold and dispassionate as Khensu came forward. He knelt by the brick-red gargoyle with a cold calculating menace.
"The problem with heroes is that you're so predictable," the wizard said without mirth, without glee, seemingly without life.
"I'll just have to do better next time," Brooklyn said wryly.
"There'll be no next time for you," Isfet's voice came from the background, followed by a maniacal chuckle.
To be continued...