The Sun and the Serpent - Part 4
Written by: Rahsaan Footman
Story concept by: Nicodemus and Rahsaan Footman
Illustrations by: Amber
Previously on Timedancer...
Goliath: "Time is like a river making corrections for any changes we might make."
~ Future Tense ~
* * * * *
"You have been chosen as Guardian of the Phoenix Gate. It is your duty to shepherd it, to care for it as it dies."
"Wait a minute," Brooklyn broke in. "Do you mean to tell me that the Gate is alive?"
The sisters nodded sadly. "It is a living prison housing an entity of great power. You must keep the gate safe, protect it and protect others who might inadvertently hasten its demise. Only when the gate has left this plane may you return to your own time."
~ The Devil's Deal ~
* * * * *
Khensu: "Of course, you know what happens to 'innocent bystanders', don't you?"
* * *
"Yes, my lord and master," the sorcerer said. "Everything went as it was supposed to. Brooklyn had the wrong piece of the disk with him, and through my manipulations, I managed to rectify that situation. He has been prepared for his place in the events of the timestream."
"Excellent," the voice said. "Now we can proceed apace. With the Timedancer's help, I shall take my rightful place in the world, and so will the Three Races."
* * *
Meryt looked into his eyes, her own becoming very sad, almost as if she were pitying him. "Try not to be so hard on yourself next time," she said simply. "It wasn't your fault, and I've never blamed you for what happened in the chamber."
* * *
~ For Old Times Sake ~
* * * * *
Xanatos: "None of us are practicing wizards and I heard mixing magics is dangerous anyway."
~ City of Stone - Part 3 ~
* * * * *
The Sun and the Serpent - Part 4
* * * * *
Brooklyn felt weightless, held up by a buoyant force. Brooklyn looked up and saw the sun shining in his eyes. He had to shield his eyes from the glare. Brooklyn couldn't figure out what, but something seemed off. He bobbed in the water as it carried him away.
Brooklyn splashed some water on his head to cool off. He couldn't remember the sun being this hot. A musical humming caught his attention. Brooklyn looked around. On the shore, he saw a familiar face, Maggie. She was on a flat rock, looking at the water. Brooklyn could see that while she was still in mutate form, her reflection was human. She looked as he had always imagined, lovely and full of life. Brooklyn swam closer, but his ripples caused the reflection to waver and distort, before disappearing altogether. Maggie looked up at Brooklyn accusingly.
"You want me to remain this way, to stay with you." Maggie shouted at him.
But Maggie had already vanished into the grove of trees lining the water. Brooklyn could see a shadowy figure waiting for Maggie. She ran into his arms and hugged him tightly. The figure, looking suspicious like Talon, glared at Brooklyn. The gargoyle sank back into the river. There wasn't anything he could do. Maggie made her choice. He let the water carry him away from the scene.
Brooklyn floated a little further when he spotted Angela. She was picking the white lilies among the reeds. Brooklyn swam quickly to her, waving and calling her name. Angela didn't seem to notice until he was right upon her. Angela's reception was chilly. She gave him an icy stare.
"You hate my mother. How can I love anyone with so much hate in their heart?" Angela accused.
Brooklyn was dumbfounded. Angela had never spoken so coldly to anyone. Angela picked up her flowers and left the shoreline with a huff. Further inland, the shadowy figure of Broadway waited for her. He gave Angela a kiss and pinned one of the white flowers in her hair. Brooklyn gave a heavy sigh. Angela had made her choice, and it wasn't him. The water pulled him away from another couple.
Brooklyn turned around in the water. The sun beating on his face was getting on his nerves. He tried thinking about something else other than his past two encounters when another sound wafted across the water. It was tinny, like a choir of electronic crickets.
"I know that sound," Brooklyn said to himself. It was the sound of a portable tape player. Brooklyn looked ahead to a tall rock outcropping. On top of the boulder sat a young woman wearing a tight red minidress.
"Corrine!" Brooklyn felt a smile creep up across his face. Corrine was bopping her head to whatever music she was listening to. Hands cupping the headphones to her ears, she mouthed the words to the song. Brooklyn grabbed the rock. He sank his claws in and began climbing. Corrine looked down and smiled.
"How are you doing, hot stuff?" She flashed that killer smile of hers.
Brooklyn smiled back and was about to reply, when he lost his grip and fell with a big splash into the water. Brooklyn came up sputtering several meters down river. On the rock, another man was with Corrine. He put his leather jacket around her and escorted her off the rock. Brooklyn didn't have time to pity himself over the loss of Corrine.
The water began sucking him below the surface. The red gargoyle fought against the suction, but it was too great. As he was pulled down, he heard a distinctive tick-tock sound. He couldn't put his finger on it, but he also heard something else. Behind the ticking, he heard someone laughing maliciously.
Brooklyn felt his lungs burn with the need for oxygen. He swam frantically for the surface. He broke through, taking a deep draught of air. He took a few more deep breaths, before looking around at his surroundings. He was in a reflecting pool. Tall, white columns ringed the circular pool and a marble dome capped the whole thing. Brooklyn found his feet on the stone cut steps and got out of the water. The cupola was empty except for a statue of a beautiful woman. Brooklyn went over to it and breathed a sigh of recognition.
"Pandora." Brooklyn reached out and caressed her stone face.
The surface of the statue began to crack. With an explosive roar, Pandora broke out of her stone shell, not as a woman, but as a gargoyle. Brooklyn stood back amazed at the transformation. Pandora stretched her wings then looked at Brooklyn with sad, pitying eyes.
"Why didn't you tell me, you loved me? Didn't you know I felt the same way?"
"You did?" Brooklyn stuttered. Pandora nodded. Brooklyn leaned in for a kiss when the pool erupted into a waterspout. Before either could react, the waterspout claimed Brooklyn, pulling him away from Pandora. The water swirled around him, pulling him down into the darkness. The tick-tock sound pounding in his ears.
Brooklyn came to the surface and gulped some air. "This is getting painful." And he didn't mean nearly drowning. Brooklyn looked around wondering where he was. Recognition was immediate. The palm trees, the green shoreline and the brown beyond; this was the Nile. He swam for shore and bolted out of the water. He didn't want to get pulled back in again. Brooklyn got his bearing, just ahead of him was a grove of date palms. Brooklyn smiled to himself. This was the right place. With a little luck... Brooklyn pushed aside a frond, and there was Meryt. The golden gargoyle looked up and smiled.
"Beloved," she sighed. The way she said it gave him a thrill all the way down to the tip of his tail.
Meryt ran to him and embraced him. Brooklyn returned the hug, wrapping his wings around her. She kissed him and led him to the edge of the grove where it met the water. Brooklyn was a little hesitant, but followed Meryt.
She pointed to the sky. "The Aten shines brightly doesn't it?"
Brooklyn shielded his eyes and looked at the sun. He was shocked to see that it wasn't the sun, but a huge glowing disk with hieroglyphic characters on the edge. The Aten shone down on them, fixed in the sky. Brooklyn looked at Meryt with a questioning glance.
"The Aten isn't the only light that chases away darkness," Meryt said.
Brooklyn heard the tick-tocking of the timestream again. He knew it was coming for him.
"Meryt, come with me?" Brooklyn asked.
"I can't. This is my home. Stay here with me?" She pleaded.
Brooklyn looked into her eyes, so warm and full of love, then at the river, so utterly indifferent. He had lost so many chances for love. He wouldn't give up this one. He nodded to Meryt. She took him deeper into the grove. The ticking grew louder and louder. Brooklyn peeked through the hedges and saw the river. It jumped its banks, becoming a living thing, searching for him. The river spotted Brooklyn and wrapped a watery tendril around him. Meryt grabbed Brooklyn, fighting to keep him. The river lashed out with another tendril, smacking Meryt across the grove.
"Meryt!" Brooklyn shouted. The gold gargoyle stood up, but looked at herself with horror. Her body was transmuting. She looked at Brooklyn with terror on her face. She gave a heart-wrenching cry as she was completely encased in gold metal. Her warm, loving eyes transformed into vacant orbs. Brooklyn squeezed his own eyes, to shut out such a terrible fate, but it was etched in his mind. The river dragged Brooklyn back and he was adrift again.
This time, Brooklyn felt numb. After what happened to Meryt he didn't want to feel anything again. The river entered into a dark, foggy region. A forest surrounded the river. Brooklyn didn't register the change. He didn't care, he just wanted to go home. The ticking had softened to a quiet whisper.
Brooklyn snapped to wakefulness when he saw a young green gargoyle dangle from a branch. His first thought was that she was about to fall in. Brooklyn swam to her, determined to deny the river another victim.
"Grab my hand!" she shouted. She wasn't in danger. She was trying to help.
Brooklyn reached for her. She pulled. She had him out up to his waist, before the water pulled him back down. It was so strong that it also pulled the green gargoyle into the river. Both gargoyles looked at each other. Brooklyn stared at Sata for a time, partly stunned by her beauty, but also by her willingness to help. They came to a shallow part of the river. The bottom was reachable and both could wade to shore.
Brooklyn let out a sigh. He couldn't leave the river. He didn't want what had happened to Meryt, or worse, to happen to Sata. He heaved a heavy sigh. Another woman out of his life. Sata was almost out, then turned around and waded back into the water.
"Do you love me?" she asked without preamble.
"Yes," Brooklyn answered just as quickly. There was a sound, singing. It came from his chest, his heart. Brooklyn was surprised by this, but more surprised that Sata's heart also sang. It was a high treble, but it matched his, note for note, in a wordless song.
"I must follow my heart." Sata placed his hand on her chest. "It sings for you, Brooklyn."
Before Brooklyn could protest, she joined him in the water and the river carried them onward. Brooklyn was still trying to take all this in. Someone was with him, he wasn't alone anymore and he loved her so much. He was so absorbed by her that he didn't notice the subtle roaring that drowned out the ticking sound, or the swift pace of the river, until the falls were upon them. Brooklyn grabbed Sata as they went over.
"Whatever we face, we face it together," Sata shouted in his ears as the roaring and the white spray engulfed them.
* * * * *
Alexandria, Egypt; July 25, 1952
Brooklyn awoke with a mighty roar. Next to him, Sata exploded from her stone sleep with a roar of her own. Brooklyn's first surprise was that he was still alive. His second was that Sata was with him.
"My love," Sata caressed his beak, "are you all right?"
"A bit sore, but I'll live. What happened?" Brooklyn looked around. "Where's Meryt?"
"I do not know." Sata examined Brooklyn as discreetly as possible, "She met up with another gargoyle. She learned from him where you are. We found you in terrible shape."
"You can thank Isfet for that." Brooklyn gingerly touched his wing. He tested it experimentally; it seemed in good condition. "Another gargoyle? Black with gold wingspars?"
"Yes," Sata answered.
Brooklyn's face was unreadable, finally he gave sigh.
"Another long story?" Sata tried unsuccessfully to keep the spite out of her voice.
Brooklyn looked down at his feet. "Meryt was with you? Where is she?"
"I do not know. When we arrived, the estate was empty."
Brooklyn stood up and help her mate. "With the complete Aten, Khensu will try to release Apep. He'll be heading back to Cairo and so will Meryt. We've got to get back there."
Brooklyn took off, but Sata was reluctant to follow. She tried to come up with some rational excuse for letting these strangers fight without them. That 'this wasn't their fight', sounded cowardly. Brooklyn was involved with Meryt and Khensu. That made it his fight, at least in his eyes. Sata tried half a dozen other reasons, but they only served to lay bare her true reason. She was afraid. She had nearly lost Brooklyn once this timedance. She didn't want to lose him again, but Brooklyn wouldn't abandon a friend. With a resigned sigh, she ran to join her mate.
* * * * *
Atop of the train to Cairo, Sata sat quietly. As the railcars clacked along, Brooklyn sat down next to his mate. He didn't look at her, but just watched the tracks roll by.
"I owe you an explanation," he began.
"No, you don't." Sata said quickly. She was still uncertain if she wanted to know about her mate and his former life.
"Yes, I do. You need to know... about what I did and why I did it. I want you to understand..."
"Your past is your business."
"My past is my life and you are a part of my life," Brooklyn said strongly. "It's a long story, but you deserve to know."
Sata looked up at a troubled Brooklyn. She could see the pain in his face. He looked extremely tired. She reached for his hand and gave it a squeeze. "Take your time."
"Time," Brooklyn said absently, "Sometimes it seems I have too much of it and other times too little. I thought I had all the time in the world back then. I never thought my days were numbered."
* * * * *
Unnu, Kemet, 6071 B.C.E
40 days after the death of Ra
Brooklyn awoke with a roar along with the other sphinxes down the Avenue of Thoth. The sphinxes wrapped their blankets tightly around them, got dressed and went about their duties like always, but Brooklyn noticed what was missing. The friendly banter, the easy camaraderie, the spring in their step and the bright smiles were absent from his fellow sphinxes. They had been absent since Ra's death.
The melancholy wasn't just here. Everyone in Unnu and throughout Kemet, felt the loss of their leader. Brooklyn knew Ra was important to the people, but he had no idea how deeply until he saw them mourn. The marketplace and every temple closed down for a whole week. All the festivals were canceled. Only now, more than a month later, did Unnu start to resume its daily functions.
Brooklyn left Thoth's empty temple to join a group of sphinxes flying westward to the construction site. Ra was to be honored with a special tomb. Isis, now titular ruler of Kemet, had assigned Thoth the task of constructing a tomb befitting their great leader. Brooklyn and Harthoth saw it differently.
Brooklyn and the sphinxes glided across the Nile and up the newly-made causeway from the river to the construction site. Blocks of white limestone were being hauled by barge, across the river valley and up the causeway. Wizards magically lifted the blocks off the barges to where they were needed. The white stones took on a bluish tint as they were levitated to their places. Brooklyn landed on the scaffolding around the towering pillar entrance. He scanned everywhere for the black and gold gargoyle, finally spotting him by the sloped incline into the hillside.
"Hey, Harthoth" Brooklyn waved to get the sphinx's attention.
Harthoth waved him over. He was conversing with a man. Judging from his dress and the jackal headed staff he carried, he was one of Anubis's embalmers. Harthoth finished up his conversation with the embalmer as Brooklyn joined him.
"Anubis is preparing for the final rite. He just wanted to know if we'll be finished by that time," Harthoth explained.
Brooklyn shuddered, thinking about the mummification process, especially how they removed the organs, but said nothing. He tried focusing on other things.
"How is it all coming along?" Brooklyn asked.
"The metalworkers placed the shabtis in the main chamber today. Please, come with me. I'm about to make the final inspection." Harthoth headed down the incline. Brooklyn followed.
Every relief and hieroglyph, nook and cranny had to meet his or Thoth's approval. With the combined workforce of every magician, temple member and farmer, out of the fields during the floods, they had accomplished much this past month. Harthoth gave encouragement and criticism to several artisans as they walked down the slope. After a hundred meters, the slope leveled out for a pace, just to slope down some more. Harthoth created a magic light when they proceeded beyond the moonlight.
Several galleries branched off from the main passage. Brooklyn caught a glimpse of each one. Most were filled with gifts or items from Ra's palace: golden chairs, beds, and chests. Ra loved to hunt, so there was one room with an assortment of weapons: swords, bows, quivers of arrows, spears, nets and statues of his favorite hunting hounds and falcons. Brooklyn spotted some of Neith's weavings and Hike's concoctions in another chamber. The largest chamber had a golden barge in it. From prow to golden, papyrus-reed stern, the barge gleamed from silver moonbeams from a hole high overhead.
In contrast to all the chambers filled with riches, Ra's burial chamber was quite plain, only a sarcophagus, some statues and a shelf with a series of papyrus scrolls, mapping the underworld and the proper spells and incantations needed for the journey. Unlit braziers awaited a torch's light. From Harthoth's magic light, the hieroglyphics and statues stood in stark relief on the freshly painted wall.
"I thought it would be grander," Brooklyn said to himself.
"Ra himself didn't want treasures in his chamber," Harthoth explained. "Just the Netherworld Guides, the Book of the Dead, his shabtis and his body. Everything seems in order."
Brooklyn followed Harthoth around as he checked every detail. Brooklyn looked into the empty coffin, then looked toward the entrance. He felt a cold wind grip his heart. Some of the shabtis were gargoyles. Entering the mastaba, Brooklyn only saw the human statues, but as he turned around and looked at the ones guarding the entrance he saw metal equivalents of a male and female gargoyle laying on pedestals sunken into the walls.
"Brooklyn, are you well?" Harthoth asked.
"What? Yeah, I'm peachy," Brooklyn said absently.
"You looked pale. Are you sure you are okay?"
"Yeah, it's just being down in here. I never was comfortable in closed spaces."
Harthoth nodded. "I know the feeling. It makes me feel like I'm back in the rookery. Everything is in order. Let's get some fresh air."
The two sphinxes emerged from the mastaba, taking the main corridor back to the surface. Brooklyn calmed racing heart, reasoning with himself, 'Yes, the gargoyle shabti looked like Meryt's condition in the future, but that's not going to happen. I'm staying here and I'll make sure she never meets that fate.'
As Brooklyn and Harthoth exited the burial chamber, they found Thoth overseeing the placing of the last column. The ibis headed god looked strained and tired. Harthoth gave the other wizards a helping hand magically lifting the large supports into place. Brooklyn went over to the god. Thoth hadn't said much since losing his position with the Council. Although Harthoth assured him he wasn't to blame, Brooklyn still felt guilty. He brought his suspicions about Uraeus to Thoth and Thoth brought them to the Council. From there, things went downhill. Isis wouldn't hear 'slander' against one of her followers. She gave Thoth the 'honor' of constructing the tomb to get him out of the way.
Thoth dutifully undertook the task, but it showed on his face how dearly it cost him.
"Looks like it is done?" Brooklyn tried to make conversation.
Thoth dipped his beak in agreement.
"Will you be joining the Council once this is over?"
Thoth paused a moment, his eye blinking in bird-like fashion. "I don't know. I think it might be time for me to return to my king."
"You mean Oberon?" Brooklyn asked, a bit surprised.
"You have heard of him?" Thoth looked down at the brick-red gargoyle.
"I've run into him," Brooklyn said a bit ruefully. "Why would you want to leave?"
"Isis. She doesn't share Ra's vision about Kemet. I don't want to be around to see her Kemet come into fruition."
"So you're just going to give up?" Brooklyn asked stunned. "Just let her win?"
"What would you have me do?" Thoth asked. "Fighting one another defeats the purpose of why we are here. Ra brought us here so we may all find peace. Isis won't relinquish her power and she will use it to diminish my standing and that of my followers."
"But to just give up?" Brooklyn asked uncertainly.
"Is it all that different from you abandoning the Phoenix Gate?"
Brooklyn looked stung. He was stammering for an answer when he heard his name called. Brooklyn looked around and saw his golden love. Meryt walked through the colonnade looking for him. The workers and artisans gave Meryt a cold stare, but she ignored them. Brooklyn hurried to her.
"Hey, beloved." Brooklyn came to her and lightly kissed her crescent shaped brow ridge.
Meryt stole a kiss on his neck, while he kissed her forehead. Brooklyn mockingly growled.
"You're such a tease." Brooklyn slipped his arm around her waist.
"Am I teasing or promising?" Meryt said with a sly smile.
"Now I know you're teasing." Brooklyn squeezed her to his hip.
"We shall see, beloved." Meryt stroked Brooklyn's beak, then turned to Harthoth who was returning to them.
"My lady wishes to know when the tomb will be done, so she can schedule the ceremony "
"It'll be done when it's done," Harthoth said gruffly.
Brooklyn sighed to himself. "Be nice, Harthoth," Brooklyn warned.
"I don't need your protection, beloved." Meryt glared at Harthoth, "If this hatchling doesn't take this honor seriously, I'm sure there are others who will."
"Honor say your lips, exile say your mistress's," Harthoth returned.
"Maybe exile would be suitable to such an insolent sphinx."
"Hey, people!" Brooklyn tried to get their attention.
"Stop it! Both of you!" Thoth joined Brooklyn. Both sphinxes heeded the god.
Thoth looked to Meryt. "You may tell Isis that the temple will be finished tonight. She can schedule the ceremony as she sees fit. Harthoth, I would like to speak to you alone."
The black gargoyle followed his lord to another end of the colonnade, leaving Brooklyn and Meryt alone.
"I wouldn't mind some company back to my lady's temple. Care to join me, Brooklyn?"
Brooklyn looked at her, then at the passageway into the tomb, then back at Meryt.
"Sure. Let's get out of here."
* * * * *
"I don't know why you two can't act nice." Brooklyn commented on the glide across the Nile.
"His Lord called my Lady a murderer," Meryt said sharply.
"No, he didn't. He just said that he had suspicious about Ra's death and that's no excuse for you and Harthoth fighting. You, two, have been friends too long to let this come between you."
"He's the one acting like a hatchling."
"And you've been the mature one?" Brooklyn asked. Meryt looked angrily at Brooklyn, but he returned it with a look of his own. The Egyptian gargoyle let out a sigh.
"I guess we've both been acting like hatchlings," Meryt admitted, "I'm sorry."
"Don't tell me that. Harthoth's the one who needs to hear it."
Meryt nodded as they came to Isis's temple, gliding down for a landing.
* * * * *
"Is anyone here?" Brooklyn asked Meryt. Isis's temple was as empty as Thoth's.
"Who is there?" Nuit rushed around the corner. She saw Meryt and Brooklyn and immediately lowered her bow. "Oh, it's you."
"Anything to report?" Meryt asked.
"No, all has been quiet," Nuit reported.
"Good. Beloved, I must speak with my lady, I'll be right back." Meryt gave Brooklyn an affectionate pat on the rear and departed, walking off towards Isis's chambers.
"So how is everything with you and Geb?" Brooklyn asked.
Nuit's face fell. "I wish I knew. Oh, Brooklyn, I haven't heard from him in so long."
"Really?" Brooklyn was perplexed, "I see him every night. Has something happened between you two?"
"I don't know." Nuit looked distressed.
Brooklyn led her to the edge of the water garden. She obviously needed someone to talk to.
* * * * *
Meryt entered Isis's chamber. Uraeus was already there. Meryt paid proper respects to both her goddess and her high priest.
"Lord Thoth says construction will be completed tonight."
"It's about time," Uraeus commented. Isis gave him a look.
"Thank you, Meryt-Isis." The goddess gave the sphinx leave to depart.
"Is there anything I may do for you?" Meryt asked.
"No," Isis said firmly. "Thank you."
After Meryt left the chambers, the two returned to their conversation.
"Three days," Isis commented. "One day for preparation, another for the burial and the next the Council meeting."
"You think your position will be challenged?" Uraeus asked.
"I am certain." Isis looked out over Nile valley. "I need to muster support and identify potential enemies. Once Ra is entombed, the real struggle for leadership will begin."
Uraeus pulled on his straggly beard. "If it is enemies you seek, you might want to look closer to home first. I don't think we can count on your captain of the guard. She seems more interested in that pet barbarian of Thoth's than serving your interests."
"Careful, Uraeus. Meryt's loyalty is above question. I don't begrudge her her pleasures, even if it's in the arms of an outsider."
"Not just any outsider, but Brooklyn. He helped defeat Apep, has foiled Sekhmet and served every god in some form or another. He has impressed god and mortal alike. Didn't Ra impress god and mortal with his valor, too?"
Isis looked at her high priest with surprise, then laughed. "The Council would not choose a sphinx to lead them."
"Why not?" Uraeus pressed. "They are protectors. Who better to lead Kemet than one who would die protecting it?"
"Brooklyn is a foreigner, a barbarian," Isis argued.
"So he has no allegiance, not even to Thoth, except for friendship. The more I think of it, the more I see Brooklyn as the real threat. We should deal with him now."
Isis conceded to Uraeus one point. Brooklyn had helped every god and goddess, including herself. He hadn't saved her life like he did for Thoth. Brooklyn saved her from a situation that could have cost her her marriage and position. No one knew about it except Brooklyn and herself. It was the kind of situation that enemies would have exploited, but he didn't.
Uraeus mistook Isis's silence for quiet approval. "I could arrange an accident to befall Brooklyn."
The casual way Uraeus talked about killing someone. Her memories of Brooklyn protecting her honor. The realization that she had profited from Ra's death, someone she once respected enough to leave Avalon for. Something in Isis snapped; it was her conscience. She looked at Uraeus with flaring violet eyes.
"NO!" She said in a booming voice.
Uraeus took a step back. "Mistress?"
"No, we are not going to kill Brooklyn or anyone else," Isis commanded.
"But my goddess, what happens if they choose him to be the next leader?"
"I'm not going to worry about things that might happen. Not any more!"
"But. . ."
"One more word and I might start to wonder why you are so eager to kill. What gains do you make by my actions?"
"My will is but to serve you," Uraeus said a bit nervously.
"As long as you gain by it. Go!" Isis ordered him out of her chambers. Uraeus gave a couple of bows in apology and left. When he was sure he was out of her sight, his servile demeanor changed to an angry scowl. He hurried down the dungeon. There were no guards tonight. All available staff went to help finish Ra's tomb. He stormed into the chamber. Isfet cracked her eyes open a bit, then more fully.
"You were right," Uraeus said without preamble. "Isis suspects. I'll release you if you can make me more powerful than she."
"I knew you would see things our way. Now, here is what you must do. . ."
* * * * *
"This is nuts." Brooklyn concluded after hearing Nuit's troubles, "I know there's a lot of bad blood between Thoth and Isis, but that's no excuse for you and Geb or Harthoth and Meryt."
"I want things to be better between me and Geb," Nuit stood up, her braids jangling together in the rapid move.
"I know." Brooklyn nodded, "And the same is true with Meryt and Harthoth. We're all good friends, we shouldn't let this split us up."
"So what do we do?" Nuit asked.
Brooklyn stroked his beak thoughfully. "We've got to get everyone talking." The New York gargoyle looked at the deep blue female. "Why don't you come back with me and Meryt? I would bet even money, just seeing you would lift his spirits. Geb's been an absolute grouch without you."
"He has?" Nuit asked with a questioning glance.
* * * * *
Geb dispatched his guards with an unusual amount of gruffness. Sphinx and human dutifully broke off in pairs making the sweeps of the temple. Geb stomped around the empty hallways, Ammut at his side. The gargoyle beast usually stayed at Anubis' temple, but with all the preparation going on there Ammut came to Thoth's temple to help guard it. In truth, Geb and Harthoth were the only ones outside Anubis's temple Ammut would listen to so it made sense. Ammut whined his concern for Geb. Even the beast knew Geb was in a sour mood. As they approached the pylon entrance, Ammut growled, alerting Geb to the intruder. He started raising his spear when Nuit stepped into the light.
"Nuit?" Geb blinked in surprise.
"Geb?" Nuit asked in an unsure voice.
"What are you doing her?" Geb asked.
"I wanted to see you. I thought we might talk." Nuit took a cautious step closer.
Geb lowered his spear and walked the rest of the way to her. "I'm glad that you did." He reached up and caressed her face, letting a braid of starry black hair slip through his thumb and forefinger.
"So am I." Nuit smiled.
Brooklyn and Meryt watched from behind a support column painted like a papryus. Meryt pressed close to Brooklyn's back as she watched over his shoulder. She kissed the nape of his neck just above his collars. Brooklyn smiled, the fragrance of myrrh that clung to Meryt was heady.
"What was that for?" Brooklyn whispered.
"Just because," Meryt answered, "Getting them to talk again, that was real nice beloved."
"My works only half done. You need to talk to Harthoth."
Meryt kissed him again on the neck. "Right you are. Be right back."
Meryt started for the pylon steps. They all knew Harthoth's habits. Harthoth spent the first part of the evening at the tomb, but returned for rest and something to eat. He should be returning soon. Brooklyn hoped they'd patch things up. He loved them both and hated to see them fight. Brooklyn looked around the column again, just as Nuit and Geb exited to the gardens. From Geb's goose like cackle and Nuit's musical laugh, things looked to be on the mend between them. Brooklyn smiled to himself, watching the happy couple. He made a mental note to plan a special night with Meryt when everything settled down. He had something important he wanted to ask her.
* * * * *
He found the black gargoyle and his golden love atop the western pylon. Meryt stood with her wings wrapped about her against the wind. Harthoth sat in a thinker pose reminiscent of Goliath's, looking out over Unnu and the Nile, his face in a grimace.
"I hope you two have made up?" Brooklyn said as he joined them.
"I hope so too," Meryt replied as she looked down at Harthoth. The black and gold gargoyle didn't look like he heard until he spoke.
"I apologize for acting so gruff. My emotions were misplaced," Harthoth said vacantly.
"Yeah, sounds like everything's patched up." Brooklyn joined the gargoyle high priest, "What's wrong? Why are you in deep thought mode?"
"It's falling apart," Harthoth replied.
"What is?" Meryt asked.
"Unnu. . .Kemet. . .Our world," Harthoth elaborated.
"Come on." Brooklyn tried sounding optimistic, "It's not as bad as all that."
"With Ra gone, the heart of Kemet is gone. Already, the three races are starting to drift apart. Tensions between sphinxes and men have become frayed and I've heard Thoth talk with the other gods about returning to their cousins beyond. Our unity is coming apart."
"Harthoth. . ." Brooklyn started, but Meryt jumped.
"So what do you want to do about it? Sulk and brood, or stop it?"
Brooklyn looked up at Meryt sharply. He thought she was being combative.
"Stop it. But how?" Harthoth replied. Brooklyn turned to look at Harthoth, then thought for a moment.
"In New York, we were hunted down by people, but that didn't mean there weren't 'kindred spirits' like Elisa, Matt, Maggie and Talon. They helped us and we helped them. I don't think we would have survived our first three nights in New York without help. There are a lot of kindred spirits here. Maybe we can get them together and keep Kemet together."
Harthoth looked up at Brooklyn. The red gargoyle, folded his arms across his chest, looking hopeful. Harthoth cracked a smile.
"Your counsel is wise. It is worth an attempt." Harthoth got up.
Brooklyn stood up and drew close to Meryt. "Thanks for giving him a swift kick in the seat."
"I know, Harthoth, beloved," She whispered back, "He's not the brooding type, he's the solve a problem type. He just needed to be reminded of it."
"That's why I love you." Brooklyn kissed her cheek. Meryt smiled and kissed him back.
"What say you to a couple of nights together following our honoring Ra?"
"What say to all of our nights together?" Brooklyn asked.
Meryt's eyes became saucers. She jumped up and hugged him tightly. "Yes, Oh yes!"
"Meryt! Meryt!" Brooklyn croaked. "You're choking me."
The gold gargoyle released him. "I would love to be your mate Brooklyn." She regained her composure. "We should be senisble I suppose. Lets announce our intention after the Entombment."
Brooklyn nodded. They shared a kiss before heading down to catch up with Harthoth.
* * * * *
They found Geb and Nuit in the garden. Geb was singing to her as she lay in his lap. Geb had an excellent tenor. When Brooklyn was serenading Meryt, Geb's tenor and Harthoth's bass helped him win her over. Nuit sighed contentedly as he finished the song. Geb played with her dark braids, smiling down at her. Brooklyn and Harthoth shared a look that said, 'These two deserve each other.'
"See, Harthoth. Different races can come together." Brooklyn commented.
"Maybe we should ask them?" Harthoth entered the garden.
Geb heard his superior's voice and jumped to his feet. Harthoth gestured for him to relax. "Be at ease. There's something I'd like to talk to you two about."
* * * * *
"What is it that you are asking of us?" Nuit looked puzzled.
"I don't know just yet, but surely you've noticed the tense atmosphere since Ra's death?" Harthoth explained. Everyone nodded agreement.
"Right now, all we're doing is getting folks together. Maybe, we can come up with ways to keep Ra's vision of Kemet going." Brooklyn added, "Believe me, this is a wonderful set up: sphinx, man and god working together. It can be worse. Believe me, I know."
Nuit patted Geb's knee excitedly. "You know who might be a good person to talk to? Bastet."
Geb nodded. "And Selqet. She helped deliver more than half the people in Unnu and helped the laying of every rookery since she came to Bastet's temple."
"I can talk to Neith, Hike and the other magicians," Harthoth added.
"And Khensu." Meryt offered.
"No!" Brookyln reacted.
Everyone looked at the crimson gargoyle with surprise. Meryt gave her love a curious look.
Brooklyn answered their unspoken question, "Look, why don't we just see how many like the idea then we can bring in others like Khensu."
Everyone shrugged and continued, except for Harthoth. The black and gold gargoyle had a crestfallen look, but returned to the discussion at hand.
"We can talk to everyone after the burial. All of Unnu will be there," Nuit suggested. The five made plans as the temple's gargoyles returned. Dawn was coming. Brooklyn got up to go to his perch when Geb stopped him.
"Brooklyn, your idea is truly an inspired one."
"Thanks. I just didn't want to see Kemet fall apart. This is truly a wonderful place."
Geb smiled fondly. "When you first arrived here, I thought you were a barbarian wizard come to do us harm. But in the time I've known you, I've never met anyone who has defended and enriched Kemet as much as you."
Brooklyn smiled, a bit embarrassed. "Thanks."
"You're still a barbarian, but you're my kind of barbarian."
Geb and Brooklyn both shared a laugh. He clapped Brooklyn on the shoulder, sending him on his way. Brooklyn kept smiling as dawn froze the sphinx in stone sleep.
* * * * *
"We don't have much time." Isfet looked at Uraeus. "Release me."
"How can I trust you?" Uraeus looked at the woman with shrewd eyes.
"Trust?" Isfet laughed. "I think we're too deep in our schemes to believe in such a thing as trust. My goal is to release my father. I need the Aten to do that. That's your insurance. Just like my ability to get what you need is my insurance against you. Let's not both fool ourselves with trivialities like trust."
Uraeus nodded. He lifted his staff and aimed it at the sphere. He plunged the bent head into the blue-green sphere and tilted the forked foot of the staff into the ground. Energy flowed out of the sphere into the ground. The magical bubble faded, flickered for a moment, then vanished. While Isfet stretched with a groan, Uraeus used his staff to create an illusion of Isfet in her prison.
"We must move quickly. The workers are returning."
Isfet nodded and followed the high priest out of the dungeon. Crowds of people were returning from an exhausting night. Uraeus pulled Isfet back before she left.
"Meet here after sunset tomorrow." Uraeus voice had a warning undertone, one Isfet ignored.
"I'll keep my end of the bargain. Just be sure you keep yours."
With that, Isfet blended into the crowds passing the temple on their way to rest. Uraeus lost sight of her. His scowl deepened. He looked back to Isis's temple. "Soon," he whispered to himself, "Very soon."
* * * * *
Everyone rested through the day for tonight's ceremony. Uraeus moved quietly through the sleeping temple. He had to check on something first. He brought out the Aten fragment and used it to seek out the complete disk. Isis didn't hide things like that bird-brain Thoth. Isis was far cleverer. The fragment glowed brightly as he neared the water garden. It was still where Isis had hidden it, under the silt and mud of the water garden. It was a perfect hiding place for Uraeus, easily accessible and infrequently checked. Only Isis would miss it and by the time she did, it would be too late.
Uraeus reached down and uncovered the orange carnelian disk. It lay some and immaculate except for a gap on the smooth surface. It was a perfect match with his fragment. Uraeus smiled to himself. It was a small feat to get Isis to carve out a piece of the Aten as an additional safeguard and make sure the piece corresponded with the one he found. It was a precaution contingency that was about to pay off. The Aten's location firmly in his mind, Uraeus went to his chambers to rest. Tonight would be an eventful night.
* * * * *
The sun sank in the west. Across Unnu, the roars of awakening sphinxes greeted the night. There was a solemn silence that followed. The sphinxes hurriedly dressed and gathered at the pylons. Nuit gave Geb a gentle pat on the face, quickly promising to meet after the ceremony, before heading back to Isis's temple with Meryt. Brooklyn dressed and put on the braids Meryt gave him and joined the other sphinxes atop the pylons. They waited for Harthoth. As high priest, he needed to dress for the occasion. The black and gold gargoyle appeared, wearing his hairpiece, make-up, jewelry and ceremonial staff. With a gesture, Thoth's sphinxes took wing, joining flights from the other temples.
This was the first time Brooklyn saw the collected number of the Unnu clan. It was impressive. More than two thousand gargoyles glided in tight formation from Unnu, over the Nile to Ra's burial chamber. As they flew over the river, Brooklyn saw every barge, galley and dhow out on the water. They formed a narrow aisle for the tiny Semektet, carrying Ra, to glide past. Ra's larger boat, Madjet awaited him in his tomb. Ma'at, Thoth, and Seth manned the boat, while two river dolphins cleared the way for him.
The tiny barge sailed up the causeway. On either side of the canal, thousands of people watched as their leader made his final journey. Sia and Hike, two of Unnu's most skilled magicians, waited on the dock. They levitated the coffin and brought it to the entrance of the tomb. The entire Egyptian pantheon and the Council received the coffin under the spandrel to the tomb. With a nod from Isis, the first of the dedications began. The god Upuant started. His followers performed the rite, "The Opening of Ways."
* * * * *
Nephthys's dancer was performing her dedication to Ra when Uraeus arrived. Isis gave him a frown. The high priest looked appropriately chastised and oversaw the last details of their dedication. On the other side of the entrance, Thoth and his contingent including Harthoth, Brooklyn and Geb watched the performance. They would be one of the last gods to show their respects for Ra.
Nephthys finished with her dedication, there was a small intermission before Seth's dedication began. Brooklyn, Harthoth and Geb talked to various people they thought would be good kindred spirits. So far they got Khnemu, Ptah, Anubis, and Shu. Nuit gave a thumbs-up showing she had convinced Bastet and Selqet. Neith was excited pressuring the other magicians to stop by later to listen to the full proposal. Brooklyn smiled to himself. It looked like this plan was taking on a life of its own. He looked across the entrance to Meryt. She stood in regal stature, but occasionally she spared a glance toward Brooklyn. Her lips curling just slightly in a smile. Brooklyn returned it. They all returned to their spots as the bronze gong signaled the beginning of the next dedication.
The long eared god gave a nod and his followers began their dedication. About half way through the incantations, Brooklyn grew bored. At first, it was touching how everyone wanted to honor Ra in their own way. But with such a large number of gods, they'd be here well after dawn.
Brooklyn stifled a yawn and looked away. He was the first to notice Ammut limping up the avenue. Brooklyn looked to Harthoth, who just noticed the gargoyle beast. One look from Thoth and Brooklyn, Geb and Harthoth broke away from the entrance to see to the injured gargoyle beast.
"I thought you told him to stay at the temple?" Brooklyn asked Harthoth.
"I did. I set him to guard the Repository."
"I don't think he is disobeying." Geb pointed out, "Look at how badly he's limping."
The three converged on the beast. Ammut gave a plaintive whine. Geb checked the beast over.
"Scars?" Geb looked to the sphinxes, "I'd say he was in a fight."
"I'll check out the temple," Harthoth said quickly. "Geb, bring some of your guards by boat."
With a word and a flourish of gestures, a portal of blue light irised open. Harthoth stepped through and the portal dilated closed so quickly, only a few people noticed. Brooklyn looked at Geb and the injured Ammut, then across the Nile to the empty city of Unnu.
* * * * *
Isfet rifled through the scroll repository like she did three years previously. This time she went at a casual pace. She had taken care of all the guards in the temple. Not that there was a lot of them; everyone else was miles away honoring that withered tool, Ra.
She opened another scroll. "Oh this one should prove useful." She tucked that scroll away. A few minutes later, she added another scroll and another. Isfet smiled as she read the 'Overthrowing of Apep' scroll and tossed it into the brazier. She chuckled as it crackled and popped in the fire.
Isfet looked over the brazier and saw Thoth's table. A number of magical artifacts lay there.
"Well, lets see what treats old beak head left me." Isfet examined the table. One object caught her attention more than the others: the Phoenix Gate.
"I haven't see you before. I wonder what you do?"
"Intruder!" Khensu appeared at the entrance.
"Yes I am," Isfet replied not looking up from her examination of the Phoenix Gate.
"To me? Well, I'm glad you would want to save me the trouble, but I don't take prisoners." Isfet said as she tucked the Gate away in her outfit.
Khensu stood stunned at this woman's impertinence, only for a moment. His face tightened into a scowl. He started to cast a spell. Isfet pulled out her wand and spun it around, enlarging it to a staff, green ends glowing. Before Khensu could finish, Isfet hurled a glowing green ball from her staff. The energy struck him full in the chest, hurling him back several meters. Khensu staggered to his feet as Isfet sauntered over to him.
"I've picked up a few things since our last encounter wizard. Allow me to repay for your interference last time I was here." Isfet smiled coldly.
* * * * *
Brooklyn, Geb and a phalanx of guards sailed as fast as the magic boat could propel them. They came to the dock at Thoth's temple, when they smelled smoke. Looking up, he gasped as he saw black clouds belching out of the temple. Everyone jumped out of the still-moving boat, and ran into the smoke filled temple. Geb dispatched half his men to form a bucket line from the irrigation channels to the fire. Geb took the other half into the temple to search for people.
Brooklyn was paired off with a woman as they searched the temple. They found an unconscious guard. Brooklyn was helping her with the guard, when he saw the source of the fire, the scroll repository. He told her to tell Geb where the fire was and ran for the heart of the House of Life.
It was a nightmare. Papyrus scrolls, documenting the wisdom of ages, were ablaze. Brooklyn looked around frantically, when he heard a groaning. Off to the side, he saw the wizard Khensu struggling under a fallen column.
For one moment, he hesitated. "Don't help him." That small voice in the back of his head spoke, "If he dies the future will change. Meryt might yet be saved." Brooklyn couldn't go step by step through the temporal logic, but it sounded right. If he let Khensu die, he wouldn't be around in the future. It would change the future, possibly Meryt's fate.
Brooklyn's gargoyle instinct kicked in. As much as he disliked the guy, he couldn't let him die. Brooklyn leapt over the flames and pulled Khensu out from under the column. He put the wizard over his shoulders and carried him out, just as Geb's guards came with the water. He heard Khensu moan one more time, before going totally limp from unconsciousness. Brooklyn felt a tingle spread from his shoulder. He couldn't worry about the, he was almost clear of the fires. His breath came short as he shifted a suddenly heavy weight. Brooklyn didn't focus on that either, but then he was outside. It was only in the grain fields at the far side of the temple, that Brooklyn noticed the change. He nearly dropped his charge from the shock. Instead he laid him on the ground. Brooklyn's beak fell open in disbelief.
Khensu wasn't the human wizard Brooklyn had saved. He was a black gargoyle with gold wingspars.
* * * * *
Thoth, Bastet and Selqet arrived when they saw the billowing smoke from Ra's tomb. Geb appraised Thoth of the situation. With a wave of his staff, Thoth lifted the river out of its banks, snaking through the air into the Repository. Large drops of water sprinkled down, quenching the fire, but further destroying the scrolls. In minutes, the fire was out and Thoth returned the river to its proper course. Geb directed the cat headed goddess and her high priest, Selqet, to the wounded, most of whom suffered from smoke inhalation and serious bumps on their heads. Selqet handled them aptly. It was Brooklyn who came in with the worst case. He carried Harthoth in his arms, looking very distressed.
Bastet gave Harthoth one look and scowled grimly. "Selqet!"
The young woman checked the last of the guards then rushed to Bastet's side. She examined Harthoth's wounds. She looked to Bastet.
"This does not look good," Selqet commented.
"We've got to save him!" Brooklyn said ardently.
"We will." Bastet tried to reassure him.
"Brooklyn? What's going on?" Meryt asked as she came in with Nuit.
"Someone broke into the temple." Geb said hotly, "They *destroyed* our House of Life!"
"What happened to Harthoth?" Nuit asked. She looked distress when she saw the injured sphinx.
"We don't know." Brooklyn looked to Bastet and Selqet, "You said you can save him."
"That'll depend on you," Selqet looked to Bastet, who nodded.
"What are you talking about?"
Bastet stepped forward to explain, while Selqet began talking with Thoth. "Harthoth's injuries are dire."
"What about sunrise? Can he make it until then?" Brooklyn asked.
Bastet shook his head, "But we can buy him that time. I can siphon the life energy from one to support him long enough for sunrise. Who will volunteer?"
"I will!" Brooklyn, Geb, Nuit, and Meryt said in unison. Thoth smiled quietly in approval.
Brooklyn looked at Meryt with concern. "This is a one-person deal? Right?"
"No. I can use the life force from many. We must not delay." Bastet took off the ankh she wore around her neck. Selqet nodded that they were as ready as they ever were going to be.
Bastet stood the four volunteers around Harthoth. Selqet placed the ankh on Harthoth's chest and cleared the circle. Bastet began the spell.
"Let life's light rekindle another,"
"Let strength from all restore their brother."
A thin tendril of light extended from the hearts of Geb, Brooklyn, Meryt and Nuit. The threads of light gathered at the ankh. The brass symbol glowed white, spreading an aura around the black and gold gargoyle. Brooklyn's gaze followed his beam to the ankh, then traveled up the opposite beam to Meryt. He was worried something might go wrong, that this was the moment he feared for a thousand nights.
Meryt looked all right though. Etched on her face was a look of awe as she saw a wonder being performed in front of her. Geb and Nuit wore similar looks as they saw Harthoth seemed to hover a couple of inches off the ground. The nimbus of light cocooned him. The deepest cuts began shrinking and the bruises started to fade. Suddenly, the world began to fade to black. Brooklyn felt light on his feet, like the ground was swaying out from under him.
"That's enough!" Bastet ordered. Selqet cut off the spell. "Take too much life and we risking killing four to save one."
Brooklyn shook off the drowsiness. He felt like he'd been up for nights. He saw the aura fade from Harthoth and the black and gold sphinx rest on the floor again.
"Was it enough? Did we save him?" Brooklyn asked leaning on Meryt. She leaned against him for similar support.
"Only time and sunrise will tell," Selqet answered, helping the two woozy gargoyles. Thoth and Bastet helped Geb and Nuit.
Thoth brought a restorative drink as Isis and the other gods materialized. Isis was initially displeased with the Thoth and Bastet for departing the ceremony so soon, but now stood aghast at the destruction done to the God of Wisdom's temple. Thoth explained everything to Isis as he aided the sphinxes.
"Do you know what the thieves were after?" Isis asked persistantly.
Thoth shook his head, "With my house in ruins it will be impossible to find out what was stolen or what was burned."
Isis nodded, "See to your wounded. When you fell it is safe to do so, come to my temple. The Council must know of this?"
Thoth nodded and looked to Bastet and Selqet. "We've got everything under control here. Better see to the rest of the temple." Bastet assured him. Thoth nodded his thanks. His high priest was in the best hands. The ibis headed god left to inspect the rest of the damage.
* * * * *
Sunrise came hours later. Brooklyn, Meryt, Nuit and Ammut insisted on staying with Harthoth through the day. Geb supervised crews to clean up and sent the scribes to find out the extent of the loss. Thoth and Bastet went to the Isis temple to report the night's raid, where more disturbing news awaited them.
"The dragon spawn is gone."
"What?" Thoth's beak was agape.
Isis explained, "The dragon woman was the last one to dare such an attack on your temple. I went to check on her confinement and she was gone. In her place was an illusion."
"For how long?"
"I do not know." Isis hung her head.
Thoth let out a frustrated breath. Isis started to say something in her defense, but Thoth cut her off.
"What about the Aten?"
"It's safe. She didn't take it. And I have a further safeguard against its use."
"She'll try to free Apep." Thoth stated the obvious. She nodded.
"Without Ra and possible without the scroll, we are vulnerable."
"I'll handle Apep," Isis said confidently, "I have Ra's power."
Thoth clicked his beak in doubt.
"Let's recapture Isfet, before that becomes a reality," Bastet spoke tactfully.
When Thoth and Bastet left, Uraeus emerged from the back room. Isis looked extremely distressed. He almost, felt sorry for her... almost.
"My mistress," Uraeus made his presence known.
"Yes," Isis said mildly irritated.
"The God of Wisdom is correct. Isfet will try to raise Apep. She'll need the Aten to do it. It is the only source of power great enough to achieve that goal."
Isis nodded in agreement. "But a fragment remains with me. The Aten is useless without it. That's one less worry at least."
"Yes, my lady. Your orders?"
"Find Isfet! I want her brought in before the Council deliberates on a new leader. I won't let one incident dishonor me like it did to Thoth."
"Yes, my lady." Uraeus bowed and left her chamber. Walking through the empty steps he reached into his robe and felt the Aten fragment. He smiled to himself.
* * * * *
The sun sank on Kemet and the sphinxes roared to wakefulness. Inside Thoth's temple, Brooklyn, Meryt and Nuit awoke first and looked at Harthoth. He was still stone. A breathless moment passed, before they saw cracks form over the sphinx's body. With a stifled moan, Harthoth emerged from his stone sleep. Everyone sighed or cheered their relief. Nuit grabbed Geb and kissed him deeply. Brooklyn and Meryt shared a hug. Thoth reached down and helped his high priest sit up.
"Harthoth? Are you all right?" He asked.
The black and gold sphinx blinked a bit. "I feel weak."
Thoth nodded, "That is to be expected. It will pass. Harthoth, what do you remember of last night?"
"I remember Ammut appearing at Ra's burial. I went to the temple to check on everything. I found Isfet there. We battled. I lost?"
"I failed." Harthoth hung his head.
"You mean, Khensu failed," Brooklyn glared at Harthoth.
"This isn't the time, beloved," Meryt whispered.
"You know?" Harthoth asked. Brooklyn nodded. Harthoth let out a sorrowing sigh and looked at the brick-red gargoyle with ashamed eyes.
"You mind explaining, mister?"
"It is a spell to exchange one form for another."
"I meant why?" Brooklyn asked.
"I first used the spell to help augment my powers. Human magic works best with humans. I thought it would aid in finding the Aten. That was the night Isfet infiltrated the Scroll Repository, the second night you arrived. I underestimated my powers, sending Isfet far away instead of away from you during the battle.
"Over time, my human identity was able to do much, I could not. My human persona wasn't restricted by the sun. And he did prove useful in many ways."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Brooklyn demanded.
Thoth stepped forward. "It was I who ordered him to keep his human identity a secret."
Brooklyn whirled on the god. The same question on his face.
"Isis and I are responsible for magic. I teach magic's mysteries, while Isis oversees its execution. Having an agent whose identity couldn't be tracked, allowed us to do much."
Brooklyn stared at the tall god for a moment. "I must apologize Thoth. I didn't give you enough credit. You're just as sneaky as the rest of Oberon's children."
"Please understand, Brooklyn." Harthoth slumped over. The others rushed to help him, but Harthoth held up his hand.
"I will survive. I just need some rest."
Brooklyn and friends gave him room. Thoth ushered them out. Brooklyn wandered down the halls, his face reflecting all his confusion. Harthoth, his best friend, was also Khensu, a powerful enemy. What Khensu said in the future made sense now. How they were good friends and all? He also thought about what he almost let happen. If he had let Khensu die, he would have really killed Harthoth. But did he save him only to doom him?
"Surprises abound?" Meryt commented. Her voice brought Brooklyn back from his reverie.
"What was that?"
"Certainly a surprise that Harthoth has saved us so many times."
"He lied to us." Brooklyn looked at her.
Meryt nodded, "Yes, but he's also saved us time and time again. Remember your battle with Isfet when you first came here, or fighting the Kush at the first cataract of the Nile or that plague Sekhmet sent?" Meryt added with a little smile, "Do remember the Festival of Hathor? Harthoth got you down out of that statue and stayed with you so you didn't do anything else stupid until sunrise. Yes, he lied, but he has also proved himself a loyal friend."
Brooklyn wanted to tell her, what their 'loyal friend' would do in the future, but stopped himself. He couldn't do that without risking telling what would happen to her as well. Brooklyn tried a different angle.
"Do you remember when I told you about Demona?"
Meryt nodded. She knew everything about Brooklyn's time in Manhattan.
"You know I used to hate her so much, because she lied to *me*, not to the clan, not to Goliath, but to me."
"So this must be, how would you call it, 'history repeating itself'."
Brooklyn looked a little haunted by her using the term, but nodded. "Betrayal isn't just about the lie. It's the lack of trust. Harthoth didn't even trust me, his best friend, to tell me the truth. That hurts."
"Are you so different?" Meryt asked. Brooklyn snapped his head up to look at the golden sphinx.
"What do you mean?"
"Surely you have secrets that you don't share with everyone, even me."
Brooklyn stuttered a bit, but she held up her hand.
"I don't know what they are, but that doesn't change the fact that I love you. It should not with you and Harthoth. Secrets are a burden the keeper must bear."
"So I just act like nothing's happened?" Brooklyn challenged.
"No... but did you see the hurt in Harthoth's eyes or were you too worried about your own bruised feelings to notice?" Meryt's voice gained a challenging tone of its own.
"What about his eyes?"
"He's sorry and ashamed. The look in his eyes said he didn't want to deceive you. He's going through enough grief. Why should you add to it?"
"Maybe he should have thought of that before he lied to me."
"I hope you remember that the next time you have to lie to me." Meryt stomped off.
Brooklyn looked up stunned, quickly running after her. Her caught up with her at the training grounds.
"What do you mean, lie to you? Brooklyn grabbed her arm.
"You know perfectly well what I mean." Meryt whirled on him, "Since the night of your arrival you've known things about me: called me by a name I had never known until I took it, knew things about me I had yet to discover. When I ask you about them, you change the subject or ignore the question outright. You know something and you won't tell me. A lie by omission is still a lie, but do I hold it against you? No, because I love you."
"It's not that simple."
"Why not?" Meryt asked, her eyes flashing with fire.
"Because, I don't want to hurt you!" Brooklyn shouted. He turned away, silence following him for a moment.
"Don't you feel the burden of that secret?" Meryt asked, "When we are alone, I can hear that world-weary sigh in your voice. Or when you look at me, one moment there's such love and adoration and the next such fear and sadness. Your secret puts you through so much grief. Can't you see the same pain Harthoth is going through?"
Brooklyn nodded, conceding Meryt's points. Harthoth needed understanding now and he needed to come clean with Meryt as well.
"Meryt, I should tell you everything. I just hope there is someone way to avoid it."
Meryt reached up and held his face close to hers, "Whatever it is, we'll face it together."
Brooklyn opened his beak to explain when a glowing light floated in. It flashed angry purple several times. Meryt grew troubled.
"It's my lady and terribly important. I must go, but when I return, tell me everything. Stay sweet, my beloved."
She kissed him quickly before running out on the training grounds and taking flight off the low wall. Brooklyn watched her and gave a relieved sigh. He never realized how stressful keeping a secret was until he no longer had to. Brooklyn turned back into the temple. He needed to see Harthoth.
* * * * *
"Where have you been?" Isis was nearly frantic when Meryt arrived.
The golden sphinx looked at her mistress. "Thoth's high priest was injured. Nuit and I were aiding in his recovery. You saw us there?"
"Yes, yes," Isis tapped her heart over the lapse of memory. "Much has happened and I need you here."
"My life is in your service." Meryt reaffirmed her devotion.
"This may be our darkest hour. The Aten is stolen and the dragon spawn, Isfet has escaped."
"Stolen? Escaped? How?" Meryt asked disbelieving.
"The Aten was stolen today. We don't know how. Uraeus has been searching for it since midday. Don't worry it has been disabled." Isis revealed the fragment of the Aten in an amulet, "Without this piece it is useless."
"What about Isfet?"
"She escaped some time ago. There was no telling when, but I suspect she had a hand in the raid on Thoth's temple." Isis paced her chambers. "Right now, I want you to mobilize your guards. Find Isfet! I want this done discreetly. Don't involve the other gods."
"You mean they don't know?"
"Only Thoth and he's too busy with this latest attack on his house. Please Meryt, time is short."
"Yes, my lady," Meryt bowed and left her lady's chambers.
* * * * *
Uraeus waited by the river. He felt grimly satisfied with his plans. Isis felt secure that the Aten was disabled. That security would serve him well. Isfet felt secure that Apep would break free. That security would serve him well too. Things were coming together.
"You've brought it?" Isfet materialized out of the shadows. She was in her draconian form. If she hoped to intimidate the high priest, she was disappointed. Gone was the sniveling, hunched over wizard who bargained with her years before. Tonight, Uraeus stood tall and confident, like someone who holding all the good cards.
"You're late?" Uraeus said conversationally.
"Had to avoid patroling sphinxes. You understand. Let's see the Aten."
Uraeus uncovered a linen cloth wrapped around the carnelian disk. The orange-red gemstone gleamed with a golden fire. Isfet looked at it hungrily, then grabbed it.
"Now for your part." Uraeus held his hand out.
Isfet ignored him, running her hand across the smooth carnelian. Uraeus repeated himself a little more forcefully. Isfet looked at him like a predator playing with its prey. Then her eyes went wide and her hands came to a break in the Aten. Isfet looked down and saw the broken sun disk. She glared back at Uraeus.
"Your part?" he asked with his hand out.
Isfet's palm itched. She would have loved bending it back at the wrist and hearing him scream, but she had to release her father. With a grimace, she gave Uraeus a number of scrolls. In the process, the Phoenix Gate fell out.
"Well, well, what is this?"
"Just a trinket I found in Thoth's temple." Isfet said causally. Mentally, she kicked herself for being so careless.
Uraeus bent down and picked it up. "The Portal of Bennu? Why don't we just include this as payment for the Aten?" He tucked the Gate in his robes. He reviewed the scrolls, nodding his head.
"Now the rest of the Aten?" Isfet asked through gritted teeth.
"There is a slight alteration."
"I do not like alterations," Isfet growled with eyes glowing blue-white.
"Apep will be free. It is just that I'd like to do the releasing."
"Does it matter?"
Isfet gave a screech. In an instant, she lifted Uraeus several feet off the ground by his scrawny neck. "I could kill you now and make the Aten work."
His face flustered deep brown-red as he struggled to breathe. "Only I have the know-how to fix the Aten. Without it, he'll remain in the abyss."
Uraeus felt consciousness slipping away. Suddenly, Isfet dropped the high priest.
"Yes, father," she replied to no one. "You get to live, but betray us and I'll make sure the last thing you hear is your scream."
Uraeus rubbed his neck, "I'm only looking out for my interests. I'm perfectly willing to complete our transaction. Does it really matter who sets him free?"
Isfet nodded. "Okay, the next eclipse is not for another two years. We will meet then. . ."
"Why wait for an eclipse," Uraeus said confidently. "Behold."
Uraeus picked up his Wes staff, opened one of the purloined scrolls, aimed and chanted. The Nile grew calm as glass, with the full moon reflecting off its surface. Uraeus spoke a few words and darkness began creeping across the full moon's reflection like an eclipse. Isfet looked up, the full moon remained glowing, though she did see a grayish tint spread across the moon in accord with Uraeus's spell.
When the reflection was in total eclipse, Uraeus picked up the Aten. It glowed briefly as he brought his piece out of his cloak and fitted it into the disk. Isfet ground her teeth together.
He fit the piece into the disk and watched as it flashed bright. The crack still remained, but Uraeus paid no mind. He traced each hieroglyph and continued chanting. The disk changed from red-orange to blue-white. The space inside the eclipse circle grew darker becoming an abyss. Apep emerged, a dark sinuous mass with wings buffeted against the force field. His eyes glowed with subtle rage as he looked at Isfet and Uraeus.
Uraeus looked over his shoulder at Isfet. She kept her arms crossed over her chest. With a look that said, "As long as you do as you promise, I won't rip out your heart." Uraeus grabbed his staff and used it to pull the light from the prison into the Aten. The entire Aten glowed briefly, then went dark. Only the foreign fragment glowed with luminescence, as if all the energy concentrated in that one piece. Again, Uraeus didn't notice nor care. The prison was siphoned away and Apep was free. Apep gave an ear-splitting roar that made the very air vibrate.
Isfet ran into the water to hug her father. He stretched his wings before enveloping his daughter. Uraeus took advantage of the family reunion to get out of there. He opened a portal using the Aten and his staff. With a final looked back at father and child, he smiled wickedly and departed.
* * * * *
"I am glad you understand." Harthoth propped himself up in his cot. "I didn't think you would." It was awkward at first, but with their friendship on the line, they came to an understanding. Brooklyn forgave Harthoth, and Harthoth forgave Brooklyn.
"Well, Meryt convinced me otherwise." Brooklyn shrugged.
"She is an amazing woman," Harthoth commented. "You should make her your mate."
"Yeah, well that was something I wanted ask you before all this happened. What does one say to let that certain someone know, he wants to spend the rest of his life with her?"
"Well, there are three things. First speak for yourself, not in this 'one' and 'someone' abstraction. Second, your heart knows the words. Let it speak for you. And third invite your best friend to the dedication." Harthoth chuckled.
"Thanks," Brooklyn said with a smile.
"Harthoth! Brooklyn!" Geb came running in. He looked frantic.
"What is it?" Brooklyn stood up.
Harthoth was about to get up, but Brooklyn pushed him back into the cot. "Don't move!" Brooklyn ordered. Harthoth didn't seem in a condition to argue.
He followed Geb to the top of the pylons to see, but there was no need. Apep was already at the outskirts of Unnu, swimming up the Nile with powerful strokes of his tail.
Numerous shapes passed overhead as all the sphinxes of Unnu rose to meet this menace, including Meryt. Guards and soldiers took positions on the city walls. Brooklyn gave Geb one look before taking off trying to join the other gargoyles in the air. He saw Geb dash down the pylons to join his men.
Nuit and the other archers readied their bows. When Apep was in range, they filled the sky with arrows. Apep dipped below the water avoiding them. For a moment all was quiet, then the Nile suddenly surged, the wave crested over the walls and flushing the guards down the streets. Apep then sprang from the water and, at a whispered word, the sky filled with lightning, striking the gargoyles to the ground. By the time Brooklyn caught up with them, most of the sphinxes were down.
Several bright lights appeared as the gods and goddesses of Egypt arrived in defense of Unnu. Bastet and Nephthys saw to the wounded and injured pulling them out of the open. There were no fatalities thanks to the dragon's inability to kill with his magic. Apep reared up, towering over the city walls and the diminutive human-sized gods.
"With your weapon dead, you can't stop me." Apep spared a moment to gloat.
Isis began glowing with a brilliant green aura. "Back, Wyrm!"
She blasted Apep with magical energy. Apep shielded his body with his wing. The blast reflected off his feathered wing back at Isis. She dodged the blast, but several blocks of city crumbled under the blast. Isis continued firing, but blast after bolt bounced off the dragon. She inflicted more damage on the city than she did on the dragon.
Apep gave a small chuckle as Isis fired blast after blast. "Your magic has no effect on me. So soon you forget."
"Now!" Thoth cried, shooting an arrow with a rope attached. Other gods and goddesses fired similar rope arrows. The arrows arched high over Apep before falling to the ground. Brooklyn recognized the brightly colored ropes. They were Neith's enchanted ropes, designed to stretch, but never break. Seth sent a green rope to Bes. Anubis fired a blue rope over to Osiris. Apep looked at the ropes with wonder and a little contempt. One rope wasn't going to hold him. Soon, hundreds of ropes crossed his flanks, pulling him down. Working in concert, the gods were able to tie down Apep. Fae magic couldn't affect Apep, but Neith's ropes were enchanted by human hands.
The citizens of Unnu began to let out a cheer, seeing the menace defeated. The cheers drowned out the cry from one god, Hapi. Isfet quickly and ruthlessly trounced the god and loosed his rope. She knocked out Montu, Bes, and Osiris, before the other gods realized something was wrong. Anubis and Ptah tackled her and soon the other gods dogpiled her.
Out of nowhere, a bolt of light severed the magical ropes. It was not the dragon-made lightning, which Apep had used before. These bolts were like concentrated sunlight, burning through the ropes and freeing the serpent in the span of several heartbeats. Apep shook off the remaining ropes.
Now free, Apep turned the gods' own strategy against them. Magically, he lifted the ropes and slung them at the gods. The human magic bound them as much as it had the dragon. Soon all the gods were trussed up.
"I wish I could kill you," Apep said with strong hate behind his voice, "Instead, I will kill what you hold dear, starting with that monument to your living weapon."
Apep began destroying Ra's palace. The city dwellers watched helplessly as the dragon crushed the enormous building to rubble.
* * * * *
"Rather arrogant!" Brooklyn commented, helping the sphinxes that had fallen.
"Without Ra to stop him, I can see why," a dog-faced sphinx commented, helping another who was still smoldering from the lightning.
"Where is Lady Isis?" Meryt asked. "Why hasn't she saved us?"
* * * * *
Uraeus found Isis cowering in a corner of a shop.
"My mistress, what happened? Why isn't the serpent vanquished?"
"I don't know!" Isis was close to tears. "I have Ra's power, but it doesn't affect Apep!"
Uraeus stood up and looked at Apep destroying Ra's palace. He grinned once, then quickly hid it as he turned to the dismayed Isis.
"It must be you. Ra was of mixed blood, man and god. You are still a goddess."
"Ra's power is useless within me," Isis concluded. "It must come from a mortal."
Uraeus nodded. "If I had your powers, I could defeat him."
Uraeus produced a scroll.
"The Papyrus of Thoth!" Isis looked at scroll.
Uraeus nodded. "This spell will transfer your powers to me."
Isis looked at her priest with suspicion. The scroll seemed too convenient for her tastes, but the screams of the people and the crashing of buildings demanded her to act. She was the leader. She was responsible. With a regretful sigh, she nodded.
Uraeus unrolled the scroll and read, "By the powers of Osiris, Isis and Seth, let Isis-Ra and I now be one!"
Power streaked out of Isis and wandered and meandered into Uraeus. He felt an incredible surge as power coursed through every cell of his body. The combined might of Isis and Ra flowed into him. Isis collapsed, falling into a prostrating bow, then disappeared altogether.
Uraeus brought his staff down with firm resolve.
"Now, this is something I can get used to," Uraeus spoke with wicked delight.
Another crash caught their attention as Apep reduced Ra's palace to rubble. "I suppose something will have to be done about that." Uraeus started down the street toward the rubble that was once Ra's palace.
Isis felt disembodied. When she looked, it was out of Uraeus's eyes. She felt the staff in his hand, but it was distant, as if she were touching it a mile away. "Now, this is something I can get used to," pounded like a bronze gong. Uraeus turned to the palace and saw Apep destroy it. "I suppose something will have to be done about that," boomed all around her. Isis felt Uraeus's thoughts. Most of these swirled around taking care of Apep. She felt relief. He would take care of the serpent and her people would be safe. Then she felt other thoughts; things Uraeus had hid from her with a servile smile and a submissive demeanor. As she felt them, alarm washed over her. She knew she had made a terrible mistake.
* * * * *
Apep ground the rubble underneath his belly, grinding it to dust. The dragon nursed a terribly strong grudge against Ra. Apep flicked his tail at a still standing column. Out of the resulting cloud of dust came a single man, Uraeus. Uraeus looked at the titanic Apep with a grin.
"You have served my purpose well, but now its time to go," Uraeus said.
Apep looked at the wizard with hard eyes. "The last time I underestimated one of your kind, I was trapped in the Abyss for thousands of years. I won't make that mistake again."
Apep turned to slice him with his tail. Uraeus remained standing. With a thought, he became insubstantial, Apep's tail passing clear through him. Uraeus returned to solidity. He pulled out the Aten. The sun disk glowed as bright as the sun. Apep roared as he reared back.
"Serpent of Darkness, who fears the light,
I shall bind you with its might."
Apep let out a roar as tendrils of light wrapped around him. Suddenly, a pair of bolas wrapped around Uraeus. He looked down at them and then up at Isfet standing atop the rubble with a pair of white bolas dangling in her hand. With a feral grin, she hurled them at Uraeus. The bolas wrapped around the high priest. The weighted ends clacked together and exploded in a ball of fire.
Isfet smiled in satisfaction as the wizard became engulfed in flame. Her face changed from satisfaction to shock as Uraeus stepped out of the fire plume, brushing off errant ashes from his robes.
"Power of the gods, Isfet. Power of the gods." Uraeus answered Isfet's unspoken question. He laughed at the dragon-woman and with a flick of his hand sent her flying. Her shriek of outrage could be heard until she disappeared over the western horizon.
Uraeus turned around to deal with Apep, when a massive maw clamped down on him. Apep's mouth closed around Uraeus. He gave a couple vicious chews, then swallowed. The people looked on with horror.
Apep turned to see what to destroy next when his eyes bulged out with pain. He began writhing and thrashing. He went wild, rolling and tossing through the city, shrieking in pain. He was in the marketplace, when he let out one plaintive scream and vanished from the inside out, his body vanishing like shadow smoke. Apep vanished into shadows, but Uraeus remained. Silence followed for a few seconds, then a cheer went out as the people came out of hiding to cheer their hero, Uraeus.
* * * * *
Brooklyn, Meryt and Nuit climbed a nearby wall to avoid the mob of joyful citizens. They watched as people swarmed around the wizard giving him thanks and praising his bravery. Soon the crowds parted as Bastet came forward.
"You have done well," Bastet congratulated Uraeus, "Let me extend my thanks."
Uraeus's eyes glowed and a beam of magic shot out from his staff, hitting Isis square in the chest.
"No!" Isis shouted, but could only watch inside Uraeus.
"You can give thanks by assembling the gods to me." Uraeus straightened up and addressed the stunned crowd.
"I have defeated the serpent, a feat only accomplished by Ra. You will follow me." Uraeus said this with such finality, he must have expected the people to fall on their knees and begin worshiping him.
Instead, a woman laughed, then a man, then a whole group. Everyone thought this was a light-hearted joke. The only ones not laughing, where Uraeus and Brooklyn.
"Uh-oh," Brooklyn breathed.
"What?" Meryt asked.
"I've seen enough megalomaniacs to recognize one on sight. This could be trouble. Nuit, go get the others."
The blue gargoyle nodded. She let go of the wall and glided down the street.
"Meryt find Thoth. We'll need his help."
"And you?" she asked.
Brooklyn shrugged, "I don't know. I'm making this up as I go along."
* * * * *
Some people claped and gave a cheer at Uraeus's rescue, but he only heard the mocking laughter. Uraeus lifted the Aten and a beam of concentrated sunlight shot down. The beam carved a circle around him, cutting through the stone. The people weren't laughing or cheering anymore. Most fell back in stunned awe. Uraeus struck his Wes staff down and the circular slab of stone lifted off the ground.
"If you will not accept me as your savior, then you will fear me as your destroyer." Uraeus lifted the Aten and beams started destroying the nearby buildings. The people fled in a great herd. Guards helped direct them to safety, but panic destroyed any hope of order.
Brooklyn jumped on Uraeus's floating rock. He sunk his claws in and pulled herself up.
"Uraeus stop this. You serve the people." Brooklyn began. He hoped he sounded Goliath enough to pull this off.
"I serve myself." Uraeus replied.
"That's the one lesson I learned from Isis. Always serve your own interests first." Isis heard the undercurrent of Uraeus's thoughts.
She shouted "NO!", but Uraeus didn't appear to acknowledge it."
Uraeus lifted his staff and blasted Brooklyn off his rock. Isis instinctively called on her powers to levitate him, but realized with a shock she was powerless. Brooklyn crashed into a fruit stand spilling dates and figs all about,
"Well, that was a smart move Brooklyn," the crimson gargoyle scolded himself.
He looked with dismay as Uraeus continued his destructive designs. Shadows loomed over her. She looked up and saw Meryt and Thoth.
Thoth helped him up. "What happened?"
"Uraeus is large and in charge."
"In Kemetic, beloved," Meryt admonished him.
"Uraeus took out Apep using a whole lot of power and now, it looks like he's going in to 'rule-the-world' mode."
"I think I preferred the serpent we lost to the snake we have now." Meryt commented. "Where is my lady?"
"We have to stop him," Thoth looked up as Nuit and Harthoth brought Geb and Ammut. Brooklyn frowned, Harthoth was in no condition to do anything.
"With the power he's packing, good luck," Brooklyn quipped. Another structure came crashing down. Screams of frightened people followed.
"We must act before the rest of Unnu is destroyed." Harthoth added.
Brooklyn lit up. He looked to Thoth. "Untie the other gods. Let's try teaming up on him. Meryt, Harthoth, help him and bring the ropes back to Neith's shop. The rest of you come with me. I think I've got a plan. There's one constant with megalomaniacs: the more power they get, the more petty they become."
* * * * *
"Uraeus you can't do this." Isis shrieked in Uraeus's thoughts.
"So long I had to gain power piecemeal, like a dog begging for scraps." Uraeus thoughts continued to flow, unaware of Isis's presence.
"No more. I will rebuild Kemet bigger and better after I destroy the old."
He destroyed another building with just a glance. Isis cried watching such destruction and being unable to stop it.
"Ra! Such a weak-minded fool! He had power over all three races and he squandered it on Council meetings. Poisoning him was too good. He deserved to suffer."
Isis screamed again. Her high priest was responsible for Ra's death. He betrayed them all. White-hot anger burned in Isis. She promised herself repay Uraeus for his treachery.
Uraeus turned a corner and saw one of the sphinxes' rookeries. He scowled. He had never liked the sphinxes, especially Meryt. Uraeus aimed his staff at the rookery. An arrow embedded itself in his arm, just below the wrist. He looked up at who would dare and saw Nuit hovering over him, notching another arrow. Uraeus pulled the arrow free with a grunt.
"I was just eaten by a serpent. Do you think an arrow would stop me?"
Uraeus aimed at the blue sphinx, when Geb jumped from a balcony, landing on the floating rock. He kicked the staff out of Uraeus's hand and swung a punch at the high priest. Uraeus caught the punch and crushed Geb's hand. Uraeus smiled as his whole body glowed with an aura that exploded and hurled Geb through the air. Nuit dropped low and caught the Egyptian guard before he slammed into a wall.
Uraeus looked at the departing couple with a grimace. He fired beams from the Aten, deliberately missing them. He toyed with the couple, gliding desperately to escape. The former high priest followed the fleeing couple down the narrow streets of Unnu, coming to the far side of the marketplace.
Geb looked up at Nuit's straining face. He saw one of her wings badly scored. Nuit looked regretfully back at him. Geb nodded understanding, she couldn't carry him any further. She dipped low to the street and let him go. Geb went on running as Nuit glided on ahead. He only got a few paces, before a bolt of light struck Nuit. She fell.
"Nuit!" Geb shouted. He ran with all his might, leaping into the air and catching her. He held her tight, straining to hear her breath.
Uraeus loomed over them, the head of his staff glowing bright. A shriek came from above as Ba descended on him. The falcon clawed at Uraeus's face, protecting Nuit and Geb. Uraeus batted at the bird before his eyes started glowing and his aura exploded. Ba fell to the ground, a gold statue. Uraeus turned his ire on the couple.
"Take comfort in knowing you'll journey to the other side together."
"I wouldn't bet on that!" Brooklyn's voice echoed off the walls.
Uraeus didn't spare the look up. These two would die first. A light weight fell on his shoulders, then another on his arms. Twine, ropes, and carpets rained down on Uraeus. On the rooftops, Brooklyn, Meryt, and Neith tossed every stitch of magic thread on the wizard.
"Fly, my pretties, fly!" Neith cackled as she emptied a barrel of bright colored ropes on the unsuspecting wizard. Brooklyn spared a look at the magic weaver, but shook his head.
The magic ropes and carpets wrapped and twisted around Uraeus. Soon the high priest was cocooned in fabric. Geb looked to Brooklyn.
"Nuit! She's not breathing!"
"Get her to Selqet," Brooklyn replied.
Neith shouted over the side of the roof, "Carpet, help him!" The blue and red carpet on the top of Uraeus unwrapped itself and landed in front of Geb. The guard carried Nuit, and the magic carpet carried both away.
Brooklyn and Meryt jumped off the roof, landing in front of the pile of ropes and carpets.
"You think that stopped him?" Meryt asked.
"If I were a betting man? No." Brooklyn shook his head. "Stay back!"
Brooklyn placed a hand on the ropes about to search for the Aten in the tangled mass. A hand grabbed Brooklyn's arm. The magic fabric turned to gold and exploded off of Uraeus. Meryt brought up her wings to shield her from the shrapnel. Brooklyn wasn't as lucky. Uraeus lifted the dangling red gargoyle, his face inches from the lacerated Brooklyn.
"I was going to get to you soon enough, barbarian." Uraeus shook off the last of the strands of gold rope. He squeezed Brooklyn's arm, causing Brooklyn to cry out.
"You cowardly snake!" Meryt shouted as she threw pieces of shrapnel at Uraeus. "You betrayed our Lady!"
"*Your* Lady," Uraeus turned to Meryt, "Isis wasn't worth my devotion."
"She was just a means to power." He thought. Isis felt her anger grow hotter.
Brooklyn took advantage of the distraction. He grabbed hold of Uraeus's wrist and swung in to kick his midsection. The priest dropped him. Brooklyn sprinted to Meryt. Uraeus aimed his staff at them. Suddenly, Ammut sprang from the roof, clamping his jaw on Uraeus's arm. The gargoyle beast gave Brooklyn and Meryt the time they needed to escape. Brooklyn turned the corner when he heard Ammut yelp and saw a flash of light. He stopped to look back, but Meryt pulled him along. Uraeus was right behind them, strafing them with beams of light.
"And I thought I left the lasers back in New York." Brooklyn leaped over a crater left by a beam.
"What?" Meryt asked.
"Nothing." Brooklyn looked up and saw a glowing message sphere. "They're ready!"
Brooklyn and Meryt went down a twisting alleyway and turned once more. Uraeus was flying hot on their tails. Suddenly beams of magical energy struck the priest. Gods and goddesses emerged from every balcony and rooftop. Thoth, Osiris and the other gods pinned Uraeus with magical beams. The rock melted under the intense heat of all the magic. The magic force slammed Uraeus down. Brooklyn and Meryt climbed up to join Harthoth, Shu, the eagle sphinx, young Tem, and Thoth on one of the roofs.
"Glad you guys decided to join the party," Brooklyn commented, his face growing sad. "We lost Ammut."
Harthoth nodded sadly. "I saw. He died protecting you and Meryt. The way any sphinx wants to end their life."
"We have him contained?" Meryt asked Thoth.
Thoth shook his head. "He... is... too powerful."
Thoth's strain was mirrored on the other gods. There was no telling how long they could last.
"Whatever we do, we better do it fast." Brooklyn added.
Uraeus shifted under the force beams. Brooklyn saw him fiddle with the Aten. Suddenly the magical energy was diverted; instead of pinning Uraeus down, it went directly into the sun disk.
"This looks bad," Brooklyn shouted.
Uraeus stood up, smiling. The gods and goddesses tried breaking off their attack, but they were locked in, the Aten sucking the magic out of them. The gods struggled to free themselves, but it was no use. Uraeus smiled broadly. With a gesture, he trapped Osiris in a bubble of red-black energy, similar to the spell Isis used to imprison Isfet. Osiris couldn't break free from his prison. Uraeus continued to trap Anqet, Anubis, Seth, and Horus. They pounded helplessly against their spheriod cells. Harthoth grabbed Thoth to pull him away before he was imprisoned, but got electrocuted instead. Meryt and Brooklyn helped him up, just as Thoth was trapped in a red and black bubble.
"We must stop Uraeus," Tem said, a little shakily.
"No argument there. Got any idea how?" Brooklyn asked.
"I don't understand." Meryt commented, "My lady said the Aten was disabled. How is Uraeus using it?"
"I don't know, but Uraeus is stealing the gods' power!" Shu alerted the others. They rushed to the side and watched Uraeus levitate a bubble over. The Aten drew the magic away from the god until the bubble darkened completely. There seemed no stopping Uraeus.
"I wish we could steal the power back from Uraeus," Meryt offered.
"Steal the energy back? Meryt! You are a genius!" Brooklyn kissed her crescent browridge.
"What did I say?" She looked puzzled.
"Harthoth, the stone you used for Ra's tomb: where did it come from?"
"From the quarries across the valleys." Harthoth pointed in an easterly direction.
"Did you notice any magical properties about it?"
"Of course, that's why we chose it. The magic inherent in the stone made it easy for the sorcerers to manipulate it. That was the only way to get the construction done in time. Brooklyn, where are you going with this?"
"Something your altar-ego told me in the future. We need to get to Ra's tomb."
"You have a plan?" Harthoth asked.
"A desperate one." Brooklyn looked to Meryt. "Give us a good head start, then get Uraeus to follow you to Ra's tomb. Let him get a good look at you, then fly like crazy. I don't want you getting blasted."
Brooklyn looked to Harthoth. "Let's go." He hopped off the rooftop. Harthoth followed, heading west across the Nile.
"He's sacrificing us." Tem looked at the fleeing gargoyle, then down at the bubbles Uraeus was draining one by one.
Meryt nodded grimly, watching another sphere darken.
"You trust that barbarian?" Shu asked.
"I have to trust him," Meryt said simply, "because I love him."
* * * * *
"Brooklyn? What are you planning?"
"I'm hoping to drain his battery," Brooklyn responded. "Your alter-ego told me that structures made out of this stone were once used to charge magical items. Can we do the reverse?"
"I don't remember saying that."
"In the future." Brooklyn waved it off. "Can it be done?"
"Yes, but I don't know how. You're talking about magic not yet created and knowledge unstudied before."
They were flying and talking when another winged figure appeared in the distance. Harthoth's eyes glowed bright white when the figure, Isfet, came into view. Isfet looked dirty and bedraggled, her face contorted in barely held rage.
"Out of my way, sphinxes! I'm going to teach that snake Uraeus a thing or two about pain."
Harthoth grinned maliciously, "You want to take him on? Be my guest."
"Hold on!" Brooklyn glided in front of Isfet, "If you really want to make Uraeus suffer, come with us."
Brooklyn glided on, not looking to see if Isfet followed. Harthoth followed. The black and gold gargoyle looked over his shoulder, but Isfet was gone. Her voice came up from under them.
"I had better hear a scream from him. Otherwise, I rip it from you, two." Isfet warned.
* * * * *
Uraeus drained the last sphere containing Thoth. He brought the spheres together as he examined the weakened gods.
"So the trappers are themselves trapped," Uraeus gloated. "I could kill you now, but why be so wasteful? Parading you as trophies, will warn others not to oppose me. Besides, I can siphon the energy from each and every one of you for eternity."
Uraeus squeezed his hand and the spheres collapsed further. The gods screamed and shouted as they shrank to fit their smaller prisons.
"My personal amulets." Uraeus mused.
"It's a shame I don't have Isis." Uraeus thought. Isis railed at Uraeus, but her rage made no impact on her captor's actions.
A shadow swooped over his head.
He looked up and saw Meryt. She flew overhead taunting him. Uraeus floated up to give chase.
"Fly, Meryt! Fly!" Isis shouted. She hoped Meryt heard her command as the sphinx flew for all her worth
* * * * *
Isfet, Harthoth, and Brooklyn landed at the pillared entrance to Ra's tomb.
"We're here. Now what?" Isfet demanded.
"That's up to Harthoth." Brooklyn looked to his friend.
Harthoth wore a pondering expression. "There might be something I can do, but I'll need time."
Brooklyn looked to Isfet. "Think you can buy that time for him?"
Isfet snorted again, "That won't be necessary. After I'm through with Uraeus, there won't be enough left to fill a canopic jar."
"Brooklyn?" Harthoth pulled the red gargoyle aside. "This woman attacked me and left me for dead! How can you trust her?"
"I trust her hate. Right now, she hates Uraeus more than us. And we need every hand we can get."
"Look, the sooner we stop Uraeus, the soon we can deal with Isfet. You said you had an idea."
Harthoth frowned a bit, but nodded. Without a word, he vanished into the tomb. Brooklyn shook his head. Desperate times called for desperate measures. He'd explain it to him later.
Brooklyn heard thunder crack. He stared at the sky. Two figures were fast approaching. From the streaks of light the second one was firing, it was Uraeus.
"Looks like we have about half a minute to get ready. . ." Brooklyn turned around to an empty entrance. Isfet was gone.
"Great!" Brooklyn growled to himself.
Brooklyn remained at the entrance, waiting for Meryt. He fervently hoped she'd make it. Brooklyn looked around for anything that might be of use. Off in a concealed corner of the entrance ramp, there was a midden heap. It contained the refuse of construction: chips, flakes, and rubble from carving stone. He found a scrap of cloth in the heap and gathered the stone flakes into it. He was at the entrance as Meryt came barreling in, an airborne Uraeus not far behind.
Brooklyn slung the flakes at Uraeus. The flakes exploded with sizzling electricity as they contacted the Aten. Disoriented, Uraeus crashed on the sandstone steps to the tomb. Brooklyn grabbed a panting Meryt.
"You all right, sweetheart?" He hugged her. Meryt kissed the back of his neck.
"Now that I'm with you, beloved."
"Gotta move." Brooklyn took her hand and they dashed into the tomb.
Uraeus shook off the dust. Tiny wisps of smoke rose up out of his clothes. He glared at the two fleeing sphinxes. "I am definitely going to make your ends painful." Uraeus walked at a casual pace into the tomb.
Uraeus relished the imagined terror of his quarry. There was only one way out of the tomb. The former high priest put a magic barrier at the entrance. Death was their only escape now. Soon, the main corridor branched off into antechambers. Uraeus began to search each gallery and subchamber. It would take time, but then he remembered the Phoenix Gate. He smiled again. The phoenix flame engulfed him and he disappeared.
Brooklyn and Meryt sprinted through the armory. They hurried toward the opposite end when a ball of flame burst in front of them. Both gargoyles skidded to a halt. Brooklyn looked up stunned, seeing Uraeus with the Phoenix Gate.
"Time to die," Uraeus said in a sinister voice, when a hand reached out of the shadows and grabbed him by the neck.
"You didn't think you could double-cross a dragon and then walk away," Isfet hissed into Uraeus's ear.
Uraeus placed his hand over the one on his throat, then gasped out a phrase. He grinned as Isfet pulled her hand back in pain. Her whole right hand had been transformed to gold. Brooklyn and Meryt took advantage of the distraction, making good their escape.
Isfet pounced on him. Uraeus held up the Phoenix Gate and power coursed through his arm into the talisman. There was a flash and everything stopped. Tiny points of light twinkled and sparkled like stars suspended in the room. Isfet was frozen in midair. Uraeus picked up a golden spear from the rack. He landed blow upon blow on the suspended body. When the time magic expired, Isfet fell to the ground in pain.
"Now let's hear you scream." Uraeus's grin grew broader.
* * * * *
Brooklyn and Meryt heard Isfet and Uraeus fighting behind them. They kept running until they found Harthoth in Ra's burial chamber, scanning through the scrolls of the Book of the Dead.
Brooklyn entered looking over his shoulder. "We could really use some good news."
They all heard Isfet's screams change from battlecries to ones of pain.
"I hope so, too." Harthoth traced out a section of hieroglyphics with his talon. "The ka is the source of one's magic. Uraeus stole that when he stole the magic from the gods. This spell reunites the ka with the rightful owner. I'm hoping it will do the same for the gods if they are still alive."
"You mean reunite the gods with their ka?" Meryt asked.
"Better get started," Brooklyn urged.
Harthoth began chanting, just as Isfet came flying into the room. She slammed into the coffin and rolled to the ground in a tangle of wings, arms and legs. Uraeus stood in the entranceway, his aura illuminating the entire tomb. All three gargoyles were crouched behind Ra's sarcophagus.
"Oh, please, don't you think we're all a bit old to be playing hide and seek?" Uraeus called out.
They were trapped. Brooklyn looked to Harthoth and Meryt. He gestured them to stay put. Harthoth continued whispering the incantation including each god's name with each recitation. Brooklyn took a deep breath and stood up.
Uraeus had to admit, this sphinx was foolish.
"Hoping to beg for mercy?" Uraeus smiled.
"Yeah, like that's going to happen."
Uraeus frowned, but nodded. "You've given me only grief since your arrival. Why should it be different now?"
Meryt saw Brooklyn's plan: stall for time. Harthoth was chanting over and over again, nothing was happening, they needed more time. Meryt sprang to her feet, surprising both Uraeus and Brooklyn.
"Meryt! No!" Isis shouted from within Uraeus.
"There you are, troublesome beast. Are you ready for the death you've earned? First, your barbarian lover." Uraeus turned to the chamber behind him. It was filled with everything the spirit would need to survive: racks of food and jars of drink. Uraeus lifted one of the libation jars with a gesture and hurled it at Brooklyn.
"Beloved!" Meryt knocked Brooklyn out of the way. The heavy jar connected with her head. The jar shattered. Meryt fell with a heavy thud. Brooklyn didn't feel the red beer splashing his feet. Gazing down, it looked like blood. His ears echoed with the loud shattering of the jar. Meryt lay on the ground. Her eyes looked up to him, then fluttered shut. Brooklyn collapsed to his knees, crawling to her.
"Meryt! Meryt!" Brooklyn's voice broke as he crouched over her. She wasn't breathing. He couldn't stop the tears from coming. "Don't die, beloved. Don't die!"
"Now this is pain worth savoring," Uraeus gloated.
Brooklyn was on him in a blind rage. He backhanded Uraeus with all his might, causing him to drop his staff. Brooklyn reached for Uraeus's neck, murder in his eyes. With magic enhanced strength, Uraeus broke Brooklyn's grip and turned him around. Uraeus used the Phoenix Gate and time froze again.
"I want you to see this. Your love dying, knowing there is nothing you can do to stop it." Uraeus laughed as Brooklyn struggled helplessly.
He was still laughing when a wisp of light passed over him, then another. The third wisp caused him to choke on a laugh. The time freeze wore off. Harthoth's spell was taking affect. Uraeus dropped Brooklyn as his limbs became cloaked with light wisps. The high priest clutched his chest in pain. He screamed in pain as the light wisps collected over his heart and shot out, taking the form of a Bennu, a firebird. The Bennu flew around the chamber before diving into the sarcophagus joining Ra. The stones in the chamber lit up with a bluish light, enhancing the spell.
Uraeus rolled over in pain as light continued to slough off him like luminous cobwebs. In his spasms, Uraeus dropped his staff and the Phoenix Gate. The Aten glowed white hot, burning Uraeus's robes. The priest threw the Aten away. It hit the wall, dislodging the fragment. Immediately, the Aten went dark.
Uraeus was still in pain. Without the Aten or his staff, he couldn't control all the power he had accumulated. Light streaked out with destructive force. Brooklyn ducked to avoid a blast. A howling wind sprang up in the room.
"The Aten!" Harthoth shouted over the wind.
Brooklyn reached the Aten and hurled it frisbee-like to Harthoth. He tried wielding it, but the disk was dark. A piece was missing. Brooklyn frantically searched for that ever troublesome fragment. Uraeus arched his back in pain as a violet light shot out of him, materializing into Isis. She looked down at the convulsing Uraeus. Magic power still shot out, making him dangerous. Isis created a bubble around Uraeus letting the power reflect back to strike him. Uraeus continued to scream as the magic power struck him over and over again. Finally, the bubble flashed and burst, Uraeus was gone. The power returned to the gods.
Brooklyn found the fragment and grabbed it, but seeing Uraeus contained, he went to Meryt.
"Harthoth! Help!" Brooklyn cried. Meryt was cradled in his arms. "I can't wake her. She's dying!"
Meryt shivered uncontrollably.
"Easy, love," Brooklyn blanketed her with his own wing. "I won't let you die." Meryt let out a final sigh.
Brooklyn looked up at Harthoth with frantic eyes. The black gargoyle had a sad expression as he shook his head. Brooklyn looked to Isis. "Save her!"
Isis stood silently.
"Save her!" Brooklyn demanded. He sprang to his feet and grabbed her by her gown.
"She can't" Isfet said as she came to. "Her kind can't give life, just as mine can't take it."
Isfet paused for a second, then nodded to some unspoken command, "We can save her."
Isis looked up with alarm. She was about to imprison the dragon woman, but Brooklyn grabbed her arm.
"If you can save her, do it!"
"This is my father's deal. I'll help save a life for a life. Do you agree?" Isfet asked.
"No." Brooklyn said vehemently. He leaned over Meryt and started to perform CPR. He had to save her. He went through the cycle four times, and kept going refusing to give up, but Meryt wasn't responding. Isis placed a hand on Brooklyn's shoulder, getting him to stop.
"The offer stands, but not eternally. What is your decision?"
Brooklyn didn't look at Isfet. "Can you save her?"
"Brooklyn, think of what you do!" Harthoth warned.
"I'd give my all to save her!" Brooklyn said passionately.
Harthoth grew sad. "I know, but you can't. The Timedancer must be free." Harthoth was silent for a moment, then in a strained but clear voice said, "Apep, serpent of darkness, I, Harthoth, pledge my life to you if you save the life of Meryt-Isis."
"Harthoth, no, this is my call." Brooklyn protested. Harthoth waved the Wes staff and Brooklyn was frozen where he stood.
"Done!" Isfet's voice was like an iron gate swinging shut.
Isfet morphed her green and silver staff to small blade. She sliced her own palm.
"Don't do this Harthoth. Let me get Anubis."
"Can he bring back life that is extinguished?" Harthoth asked harshly. Isis lowered her head. Harthoth looked to Isfet.
"Your hand?" Isfet demanded. Harthoth opened his palm. She sliced it open, with a small smile at his discomfort.
"Take my hand."
Harthoth did as he was instructed. As he slipped his hand in Isfet's, he felt a surge go through him. In the back of his mind, he could hear a voice- a loud resonating voice that felt ancient beyond knowing.
"Hold the staff aloft. Let my power flow through it."
Harthoth did as he was told, holding the Wes staff above his head. It glowed then shot a beam of shadow at Meryt. Immediately, she began to breathe. Her injuries disappeared. Brooklyn struggled to move. Harthoth's hold began to loosen. He looked with awe as Meryt recovered. His heart began to soar, seeing her live.
"Beloved," she sighed looking at him with so much love. Meryt began glowing with a white light. Meryt winced in pain as the light fought with the shadow..
"She has the taint of Ra about her," Apep roared in Harthoth's head.
"It's her name." Harthoth struggled with the Wes staff. "Ra named her."
The light battled shadow with Meryt as the battlefield. Her body twisted and jerked as the energies fought over her.
"Harthoth, do something!" Brooklyn shouted.
Meryt keeled over, rolling around as the powers battled on. She rolled on top of the Phoenix Gate. Meryt arched her back in the pain and let out a soul-piercing scream, then rolled across the floor colliding with the sarcophagus. The Gate continued sparking as Meryt moved away. Before Harthoth or Brooklyn could do anything, Meryt's ka shot out of her body and flew into a metal shabti by the door.
The metal statue gained a subtle glow, its features shifting to resemble Meryt's. Hair became strands of bronze, copper and silver. Skin transformed to gold. A crescent shaped brow ridge morphing out of the pliable metal. The only hint of life remained in eyes crafted to look life-like.
The strain proved too much. Harthoth dropped the staff and fell to his knees. The paralysis spell on Brooklyn broke. He ran to Meryt's body, but it was already growing cold. He wept.
"Beloved." Meryt's voice sounded a bit hollow. Brooklyn stood up, trying to keep her from seeing what had happened. He didn't notice he was practically on top of the sputtering Phoenix Gate. He was trying to hide the raw hurt in his eyes, but Meryt saw saw her body on the floor beyond Brooklyn. She looked at her arms, then at her body. She let out a wail that echoed in Brooklyn's ears as the Phoenix Gate carried him away.
* * * * *
Brooklyn materialized on a beach. He pounded the sand in agony. "NOOOO! It's my fault! It's all my fault!" he cried as he pounded the sand. He almost didn't see the tiny fragment of carnelian. But when he did, he focused all his anger and hatred on it. He grabbed it in a fist full of sand and made ready to hurl it into the sea, when sunrise peeked over the water, freezing him in stone.
* * * * *
Meryt lay statuesque on her pedestal in front of Isis's temple. Geb supported Nuit as she ambled to the pedestal. She touched Meryt's arm, hoping to get some response. Meryt didn't move. Finally, she moved away. Geb did his best to comfort her. Nuit's sobs were heard at the entrance to the temple where Isis, Thoth and Bastet looked down on the altered sphinx.
"Is there nothing we can do?" Isis asked Thoth. The ibis headed god shook his head.
"Our powers have no effect on dragon magic and from your account, this is a mix of Ra's powers and Apep's. There's no telling what the effects will be."
"What of Brooklyn and Harthoth?" Bastet asked.
Isis's face dropped. "Brooklyn is on his journey once more. The Portal of Bennu took him. Harthoth? Harthoth and the dragon-woman Isfet disappeared by magic. I'm sorry Thoth... for many things."
Thoth said nothing. Isis took this as a sign he wanted to be alone. She led Bastet away to meet Nuit and Geb by Ba's perch. Thoth looked down at Meryt, who was staring into the starry night.
"I'm sorry too." Thoth breathed as he looked down on Meryt
* * * * *
"Remember our bargain." Apep's voice sounded.
"This wasn't part of the bargain!" Harthoth shouted back.
"Meryt's life was saved."
"As a shabti! Death would have been preferable."
"She's not dead. She is alive, per our agreement. Are you going to renege?"
Harthoth felt his blood burn with fire. It was a searing pain. He managed to grunt out a 'No'. The pain ceased.
Harthoth brushed away a tear. "I'm sorry I failed you my friends."
The black and gold gargoyle bowed his head waiting for the end. He only hoped Isfet would be mercifully quick.
"No, sphinx. I said a life for a life, not a death. Until I regain mine, I shall have yours in service."
Harthoth's face remained blank, but in his eyes there was a deep sorrow. A sorrow that comes from knowing everything in your life is gone.
* * * * *
Brooklyn concluded with closed throat, "That's how my time in ancient Egypt ended, destroying the lives of the people I loved: Meryt and Harthoth. They paid for my arrogance. I thought I could control fate, change destiny, and all I did was help it along."
Sata placed an arm around Brooklyn, drawing him closer. Brooklyn still looked troubled. She wished there was something she could do. She fell back on her warrior's training.
"That is in the past," she said forcefully, "It is the threat ahead of us we must deal with."
Brooklyn shook off some of the blues. She was right. Cairo was coming into view, the flat empty land filling up with houses and taller buildings. If they were to defeat Apep, he needed to be focused on the present.
"What do you know about this serpent?"
"He's big, bad, and if Harthoth frees him, he'll be in a terrible mood," Brooklyn began.
"Why should Harthoth come back here to release the serpent?" Sata asked. "Why didn't he do it in Alexandria?"
"Something about magic places and such. Cairo has been a special place magic-wise. He'll want to do it where the magic is strongest."
"Are there any weaknesses about Harthoth or the serpent we can exploit?"
Brooklyn let out a sigh, "Harthoth is shrewd. That's an understatement. He could teach Xanatos a lesson or two in cleverness. Expect the unexpected with him."
"He's a serpent of darkness." Brooklyn brightened up. "The Aten isn't the only light that can chase away darkness. There's gives me an idea."
"I'll tell you on the way. I just hope we aren't too late."
Brooklyn stood up and helped Sata to her feet. They were now within the city limits. Brooklyn opened his wings and let the wind lift him off the train. Sata did the same, both flying south through Cairo night sky.
* * * * *
Within the Great Sphinx, Harthoth was completing the Rite of Revelation. The spell required strict concentration. Both he and Isfet dropped their human guises. In a corner of the chamber, Meryt struggled helplessly against magic bonds.
The spell revealed Apep bound not in a circle of light, but in a sphere. The dragon within was a swirling mass of shadow. Only his white-hot eyes showed through the roiling clouds of shadow smoke. Harthoth examined the prison with a critical eye, checking a scroll periodically. Isfet stood in wonder, a little misty eyed.
"Father," she whispered in disbelief.
Meryt was chained to a papyrus column. Her capture had come early in the evening. Like Harthoth said, "Heroes are so predictable."
Harthoth looked up from his scroll and muttered, "Uraeus...you always were a slipshod sorcerer."
"Well, can you do it? Can you release father?" Isfet asked impatiently.
Harthoth carefully rolled up the scroll. "Thanks to Brooklyn's timedancing, the Aten is charged from its missing fragment. We have the necessary power for what needs to be done."
Harthoth took an ankh and placed it on the sphere. Magic held it in place. Next, he took the Aten and traced each hieroglyph. The Aten hummed, then glowed, as it powered up. With a short phrase in Old Kemetic, a beam of light struck the ankh, then split into several beams encircling the sphere. Isfet shielded her eyes. Meryt looked away. Harthoth stood unflinching. He continued chanting as the sphere changed, going from transparent, to translucent to opaque. Apep disappeared as the sphere became milk white in color.
A crack began to form, then another. Like hatching from an egg, Apep emerged from white shell. A shadowy form with undefined edges, the dragon seeped through his prison and slithered out. He swished his tail at the prison, but it passed through.
Meryt looked with widening eyes. She saw right through him. He was still smoke-like, insubstantial. Isfet ran up to hug him, but passed right through. She looked accusingly at Harthoth.
"Fix this, sorcerer!" She commanded imperiously.
"Lord Apep, do you hear me?"
The smoky dragon looked at Harthoth and nodded.
"Our bargain was a life for a life. I restore yours and you will end mine. Agreed?"
"A dragon's word is his law." Apep replied, "I can not go against my own word."
"There is one more thing." Harthoth added.
Apep looked at him with narrowed eyes.
"This bargain was struck to save her life." Harthoth pointed to Meryt. "It did not go as planned. Will you correct this?"
Apep paused to consider this, then nodded. "Flesh will be restored to her as soon as flesh is restored to me."
Meryt looked at Harthoth sharply. "What do you think you're doing?"
"Paying back a debt. One way or another."
Harthoth picked up the Aten and went to an altar with another scroll. He began chanting just as Brooklyn stepped through the entrance.
"Stop this!" Brooklyn said with all the bravado he could muster.
"Predictable as ever, Brooklyn." Harthoth didn't bother looking up from his scroll. "You always were stone-headed. Isfet!"
The dragon woman pounced on Brooklyn, her staff glowing green at both ends. Brooklyn was ready for her this time. He produced a flashlight and shot it right in her eye. Isfet gave a shriek as she covered her eyes. Brooklyn used the distraction to get behind her and snatched one of her bolas.
Isfet was rubbing the spots from her eyes. "I'll finish what I started last night," she spat.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Brooklyn said in a bored tone. "Heard it all before. Why not try backing it up with action?"
Isfet gave a warcry and lunged at Brooklyn, but Sata jumped on her back. The extra weight caused Isfet to stumble to a crash. Isfet reached behind her, scratching and grabbing at the irritating green gargoyle. Sata was getting scratched up, but she wouldn't release the dragon woman. Harthoth began chanting. He wasn't going to let Brooklyn stop him. Brooklyn went to the side to help free Meryt.
"Forget me!" Meryt shook her head. "Stop Harthoth."
"No can do," Brooklyn grunted as he pulled on the chains. "I've got a plan. A good one, this time."
He succeeded in pulling them free from the column. Brooklyn jerked his head to Sata. "Help her." Meryt nodded.
Isfet finally got a hold of Sata. She pulled the jade gargoyle over her head, staring at her upside down face.
"I'm sure your mate has told you about my deep and abiding passion about pain. Rest assured, I *will* make you scream."
A gold body slammed into Isfet. All three women went down in a heap. Meryt and Sata tried pinning Isfet down, but Isfet used wing and tail expertly. It took both gargoyles to keep her from getting up.
Brooklyn hurled his purloined bolas at Harthoth. The black and gold gargoyle simply lifted his tail. The bolas wrapped around the tip of his tail harmlessly and he flung them away before the weights came together. Harthoth stopped his chanting and turned around.
"You can't stop me."
"Can you blame a guy for trying?" Brooklyn said smartly.
"Yes, I can." Harthoth picked up the Aten and shot a blast of magic at him.
He continued to shoot, as Brooklyn dodged behind column and support. "I spared your life, but if you choose to waste that second chance on this folly. So be it."
Brooklyn whispered to himself behind a column. "Keep wasting energy."
The blasts stopped. "Nice try, Brooklyn," Harthoth shouted, "but the Aten is needed for this purpose, not frying you."
Harthoth redirected the Aten, its power going to restore the dragon. The effects became evident as Apep's head and body grew more defined. The smoke edges of his wing resolved into wings and hints of feathers started to show. Brooklyn cursed as Apep became solid.
"You want to stop this, you'll have to come through me," Harthoth challenged Brooklyn. Brooklyn stepped out from the column. Harthoth wouldn't blast him; this was to be a physical challenge.
"Sata! Get out of here! Now!" Brooklyn shouted over to her.
The girls had stopped fighting momentarily, staring at Apep as he became solid. Sata shook off her awe and dashed out of the chamber. Isfet punched Meryt with her gold hand as the fight turned in the dragon woman's favor.
Brooklyn and Harthoth strode up to each other, eye contact never wavering.
"You don't need to do this Brooklyn. Just walk away and let this happen."
"You know I won't." Brooklyn grabbed his forearms in the traditional armlock before wrestling.
"Yes. That's why you will ultimately fail. You don't know which fights to leave alone." Harthoth held Brooklyn hard.
They circled in this warrior's embrace. When Brooklyn had his back to Apep, he broke the armlock and tried to make a run for it, but Harthoth was on him in a second. Harthoth tackled him from behind and dragged him by his ankles.
Brooklyn snapped his tail whip-like on Harthoth's shoulder. The black gargoyle dropped Brooklyn as a welt appeared on his shoulder. Brooklyn swung his leg around in an attempt to sweep Harthoth off his feet. Harthoth kicked his shin. Brooklyn let out a cry before jumping to his feet and grabbing Harthoth in another hold.
* * * * *
Sata rushed through the chambers. Brooklyn didn't give the best directions, but she found what he needed. In the mastaba, she saw one of the stone statues set to guard the deceased. She took his shield. She gave it a quick polish as she searched for others.
* * * * *
Brooklyn had Harthoth pinned from behind. He had the black gargoyle in a bear hug hold, he'd seen Geb execute a dozen times as his final move. Harthoth struggled ineffectively. "You think you've won. Look! Apep is almost free."
Meryt wasn't in a position to help either. She and Isfet were rolling across the chamber, both trying to strangle the other, neither succeeding. Brooklyn had to deal with Harthoth, but how. Hastily, he rammed the black and gold gargoyle into a stone pillar, knocking him unconscious. He ran to the altar and grabbed the Aten, but it was too late.
* * * * *
Sata quickly ran out of the Sphinx to the awaiting vehicle. She followed Brooklyn's instructions perfectly, turning the key in the ignition and flipping the light switch. The headlights beamed right into the secret entrance of the sphinx.
* * * * *
Apep loomed over him, his large eyes taking in everything. He looked down at Brooklyn. Brooklyn gulped once and clutched the Aten even tighter.
"You... I never forget a face. You have both helped and hindered me, sphinx." Apep looked at him curiously.
"Glad to be of service." Brooklyn took a step back.
Isfet looked up and smiled. She pushed off from Meryt and ran to her father. Apep embraced her, covering her with his wing. Meryt ran to Brooklyn.
"What do we do now?" she asked.
Brooklyn patted her arm. "This is my century, I have the home town advantage."
"Not so fast!" He shouted at the dragon.
Apep wore an amused look. "What now?"
"Welcome to the 20th century!" Brooklyn said.
Suddenly the chamber filled with light. The light from the jeep reflected off the polished shields, making its way into the chamber. Apep reared back from the light, roaring
"That's not going to hold them." Meryt shouted.
"Can you work the Aten?" he asked. Meryt shook her head. Suddenly, light flashed in their eyes, temporarily blinding them. Before Brooklyn could act, the Aten was out of his hands. Brooklyn was rubbing the light spots out of his eyes and trying to track down the Aten.
Apep's roaring changed pitch, to one of pain, then faded out. When Brooklyn and Meryt regained sight, Apep was gone. Isfet stood in an empty chamber. She looked stunned for a second, then let out a shriek. Her eyes flashed brightly at Brooklyn, Meryt and Sata, who was just joining them. They readied themselves for everything except what she did. She bolted down the passageway at the opposite end.
"Should we give chase?" Sata asked.
Brooklyn looked at her scratched face and bruised features and shook his head. "No, let her go. I don't think any of us are in any shape to take her."
Harthoth came to, just as Meryt put the chains around his wrist. Meryt looked into his clear blue eyes with mild understanding.
"So your plan worked. The light defeated the serpent," Sata spoke to Brooklyn.
"Sort of. Lucky for us the spell wasn't complete or something." Brooklyn rubbed his eyes to get the last of the stars out.
"Yes, wasn't it lucky," Harthoth muttered. "Good match."
Brooklyn looked sharply at Harthoth. "Wait a minute, I've wrestled you dozens of times and wasn't able to beat you. Why didn't you use the tail maneuver?"
"Forgot, I guess." Harthoth shifted in his bonds. "It was equally fortunate you would think that 'the Aten isn't the only light that can chase away darkness.'"
"What?" Brooklyn looked stunned.
Harthoth stood up and shook off the magical chains. "First rule of magic, never do something you can't undo."
"Does that apply to summoning dragons as well breaking chains?" Meryt asked shrewdly.
"You saved us?" Brooklyn meant it more as a statement.
Harthoth gave a sad wistful grin. "Hey, it's only an eternity of servitude."
"But why?" Sata asked.
"To repay a debt, samurai. I'm sure you can understand. I saved Brooklyn's life twice. Once to repay the debt I owed him. Do you acknowledge the second as repayment to you, Meryt?"
Harthoth started down the passageway Isfet had fled down. Sata started to go after him, but Brooklyn stopped her, a bewildered look on his face.
Harthoth stopped just before he retreated into the darkness.
"Oh, and Brooklyn: No good deed goes unpunished. Remember that! You've won the night, but we still bear the cost."
With that the black and gold gargoyle disappeared into the shadows. Meryt picked up the Aten. She handed it to Brooklyn. He shook his head and waved it away.
"I've had enough of that thing. What did he mean by that?" Brooklyn looked again at the shadowy passageway.
"It does not matter." Meryt sighed, "Not any more."
"Why did he leave the Aten behind?" Sata asked.
"Probably doesn't need it anymore," Meryt replied, "I'll make sure no one ever uses it again."
Brooklyn nodded and then felt the Phoenix Gate begin to stir. Sata recognized that look and drew close to him.
"You have to go. I know." Meryt nodded, her face growing sad.
Sata put a companionable hand on Meryt's shoulder. She looked the golden gargoyle in the eye. "Thank you for all you've done."
Meryt smiled weakly at the jade gargoyle. "Take care of him, for both of us."
Brooklyn looked to Meryt. He was about to say something, but Meryt put a finger on his lips.
"I never got to say this before." Meryt kissed her talon tips and placed them on Brooklyn's beak. "Good-bye, my beloved."
She took a step back as the Phoenix flame engulfed Brooklyn and Sata. Silence closed in as Meryt stood alone in the vast chamber. In an instant, she was gone as well.
* * * * *
"Explain," Apep spoke. His eyes glowed from a shadowy form of the dragon.
Harthoth lowered his head. "The spell worked. You were solid, but it was reversed."
"Repaying your debt?"
Silence filled the room. Harthoth spoke, feeling he needed to offer more.
"Uraeus's part of your binding was undone. You are in this world, but lack substance."
"Can you give me substance?" Apep asked.
"I must study the problem my master. It may take several years."
"Then do so. Until I am whole again, you are still in my employ."
"Yes, my master." Harthoth bowed. "Will there be punishment?"
"No," Apep said candidly. "Your plan did work. We used the Timedancer to affect my escape. I can be patient for the rest. Now let me talk to my daughter."
Harthoth left the room and nodded for Isfet to join her father.
He stepped out on the balcony, looking out over Cairo and the starry night sky fading to dawn.
"No good deed goes unpunished," he said with a sad shake of his head.
Santiago, Chile; November 1992
The park in the heart of Santiago had much the same charm as Central Park in New York. As dusk settled into evening, couples left benches and hideouts where they had their private trysts. From their private hideout, Brooklyn and Sata emerged hand in hand as they walked down the pathways. They walked in silence for a little while.
"I should have told you sooner," Brooklyn blurted out.
Sata squeezed his hand, "I now understand why you didn't. I'm only sorry you've carried that burden with you for so long."
They walked in silence a little longer. Sata had to ask the question that was burning within her.
"Brooklyn? If things were different, would you and Meryt be mates?"
Brooklyn gave a sigh and nodded. "Yes."
"I see," Sata looked to the ground. 'Well,' she thought, 'I asked for it.'
"No, you don't." Brooklyn turned her around to face him. "When I lost Meryt, I thought I'd lost everything. You don't know how long I just danced from place to place, feeling empty. Then I met you and that emptiness disappeared. When I saw you smile for the first time, it felt like I had come home. I loved Meryt. I won't deny that, but you are the one that completes me. You are the best part of me."
Sata kissed Brooklyn, with tears in her eyes.
* * * * *