Chapter 2 - Found and Lost
In a desert whose mountains are made of sand, whose sky is streaked with light and dark shades of green that roil like clouds in an unfelt storm, I make my way though the ruins of a temple, or a mansion that once belonged to a king. There are pillars on their sides, snapped in half or snapped off at the base -- only a handful still standing -- holding nothing up but the sky; portions of walls against which sand has been banked by the constant furnace wind; statuary whose faces have been scoured blind; shards of bowls and urns.
There is heat, but I can't feel it. I've been here before, and not just in my dreams.
A sudden gust punches my spine and I stumble forward, awkwardly catching myself against a crumbling, waist-high wall before I fall. On it, faded by the unseen sun, chipped by falling rock, are hieroglyphs. I don't look at them; don't need to. They comprise a fragment of a much longer tale; the story of another race and the battle that forced them out of the land of the Lower Nile.
Another gust forces me backward, half turning me around. A third makes me duck my head and move on, skirting a table tipped on its side, nearly tripping through an empty doorway with no walls on either side.
The wind blows more strongly.
The sand doesn't move.
I smell fire and burning tar.
I hear my own breathing, rough and shallow, as I try to keep my balance against the wind and the soft, shifting sands.
I stumble through rooms and courtyards until finally I see a pedestal as high as my chest, standing alone in a wasteland of rocks and rocky sand. Its top is flat and wide; its sides streaked with stains that could be rust, could be blood.
I walk around it slowly, frowning, reaching out to dust the pitted marble with my fingertips.
I have no idea what it is, or what it held, until my left foot kicks something buried at the base. I lean over and see a streak of black, carefully brush the sand away and blink once, slowly.
It takes both hands to lift the three-foot statue from the ground, and my face is streaked with perspiration as I place it on the pedestal.
Anubis... exquisitely fashioned in onyx, every detail clear despite the complete absence of color. The jackal-headed god stands with one foot slightly behind the other, teeth slightly bared, eyes slightly narrowed. Its left hand is raised waist-high, palm out. Its right arm is raised over its head, but it stops at the elbow. The rest is gone.
I back away from it slowly, scowling as I scan the ground for signs of the missing limb. I don't know what the god had been holding in its other hand, and I don't care. The fact that it's been mutilated is enough to make me nervous.
The green sky darkens. The wind begins to scream through holes in the rock. Something tells me to leave -- now.
And something else makes me watch as Anubis turns his head toward me and opens his jaws.
John Doggett jerked awake -- heart pounding like a jackhammer -- and stuffed a fist in his mouth to stifle the scream threatening to escape. He quickly scanned the plane's cabin, thankful the few passengers on board were either asleep or too far away to have noticed him. After taking a few moments to get his breathing under control, he rose and slowly made his way to the bathroom. He locked the door, filled the sink, then splashed cold water over his face, neck and short-cropped hair. When he lifted his head, the figure that stared back at him from the mirror wasn't one he recognized. Dark circles had taken up permanent residence under his blue eyes, their blackness a sharp contrast to his wan skin. Three days worth of stubble added to his macabre appearance.
He grabbed a paper towel from the wall dispenser and dried himself, then tossed the crumbled wad into the trash. He briefly rubbed a hand over his chest, remembering the incident which gave him a second chance at life, and smiled.
Doggett took a deep breath to calm himself, then unlocked the door and returned to his seat for the remainder of the flight.
He exited the plane, barely aware of doing so. Each step was a supreme effort of will, but he kept going. He had to keep going.
Then he saw them, or rather him. A large black man, thick from shoulders through the waist, limbs like tree trunks, head a wide slab with two glittering black eyes staring out over a pug nose and thick-lipped mouth. He wore a loose tunic and trousers with sandals and some kind of bandoleer slung across his chest. A trio of Egyptians, two men and a woman, tagged along behind the guy, midgets next to his tremendous size. The big man, obviously the leader, stepped forward with a big grin on his face and his thick arms spread wide in greeting.
The man managed a nod before the blackness swallowed him.
When he awoke, it was to begin a new life; a life as John Doggett-Ankhotep.
Unfortunately the transition to one of the Undying was not an easy one for Doggett. His body was weak even before death, and was now even more so. He needed a place to safely rest and heal.
The cultists assured him they knew of such a place. After eating a small meal, Doggett dressed and followed the others from the temple.
The trip was made under cover of darkness; another safety precaution. They arrived at the safe house and were met by Faruq. He took Doggett's duffel, ushered him inside, then led him through the tunnels to the main chamber.
Alex was there, seated facing the door and sipping on tea. When Doggett saw him, he dropped to his knees praising Osiris, the Lord of Life, for not only granting him a second chance, but returning to him that which he thought lost forever.
Alex pulled Doggett into his arms and tightly embraced him. John felt Alex's sekhem -- his life force -- flowing around and through him, causing his skin to prickle. It was invigorating, exciting and arousing all at the same time.
All too quickly, Alex pulled away, then hauled them both into a standing position. John's legs were shaky, but Alex was patient as he lead him to his bedchamber.
Alex helped John remove his clothes, tucked him under the covers then kissed him softly on the forehead.
"Rest... we'll catch up on other things when you're well."
John nodded and closed his eyes, quickly drifting off to sleep.
The young man silently made his way across the darkened courtyard, past the two mighty towered pylons until he reached the wooden doors plated with electrum and flanked by pillars shaped and colored into the likeness of lotus flowers. He knocked softly.
Nefarka, chief physician to the pharaoh Amenhotep III, rose from his wooden truckle bed, the struts groaning at his movement. He was naked, the light from a clay oil lamp reflecting from his oiled body. The scent of jasmine hung heavy in the air.
Ankhotep studied the tall figure before him. Though not young, the body still bore the mark of many years of rigorous training. The chest was broad, smooth and muscular with dark nipples; hips narrow; legs long with only a slight dusting of hair. But Ankhotep was more interested in what was clustered in the fork of those long legs.
The younger man stepped forward, then quickly dropped to his knees. He gently massaged Nefarka's scrotum until it hung down, balls heavy with their weight of sperm, then caressed the penis with long supple strokes until it grew proud and tall under his ministrations.
"Enough, Ankhotep. Do you want the night to end so soon?"
Ankhotep chuckled softly, rose and moved next to the bed. He removed his clothes, carefully folded them, then placed them on a low stool.
Nefarka dipped a sponge into a pot of purified water and began washing his young lover's chest. Rivulets of water ran down his body and reflected the flickering oil flame with points of light. Then Nefarka washed the clefts and fissures, making sure any dirt was completely removed. As the sponge passed over the younger man's genitals, the scrotum contracted, forcing the testicles under, while Ankhotep's cock diminished from its former hardness. Nefarka was disappointed, but knew that later actions would reverse this. Washing completed, he dried his lover with a linen towel, then massaged him with the same fragrant oil covering his own body.
Ankhotep laid down on the bed and drew his legs up, allowing Nefarka access to his body. The older man poured more oil into his hand, then ran his fingers up and down his lover's crack, thoroughly coating it. He repeated the process, this time rubbing the opening to Ankhotep's ass in small circles. He continued this for a few moments, then pushed the finger inside his lover and wriggled it around.
"Please..." Ankhotep moaned in pleasure and thrust against the invading digit, wanting more.
"You must learn patience."
Nefarka pulled the finger in and out of his lover until Ankhotep's thrusts nearly knocked him from the small bed. He then coated his hand with more oil and repeated the process with two fingers. When he deemed the young man ready, Nefarka bent down, took Ankhotep's cock in his mouth and rubbed the small protrusion inside his lover's ass with his finger.
Ankhotep's scream reverberated off the walls as the orgasm tore through him. Before he could fully recover, Nefarka coated his cock with oil and thrust into Ankhotep's still quivering ass. The younger man gasped in pleasure, then wrapped his legs around Nefarka's waist, drawing him deeper inside. Nefarka's clutched his lover's hips, thrust hard, then withdrew until only the tip of his penis remained inside. He angled his thrusts so his cock rubbed against the protrusion inside his lover, causing Ankhotep's cock to harden after only a few moments.
Nefarka's thrusts came quicker, the sound of flesh slapping flesh filling the small room. He reached down and stroked Ankhotep's cock, triggering the younger man's second orgasm. As the muscles of Ankhotep's ass contracted against his cock, Nefarka reached his own orgasm and flooded his lover with his warm seed.
The older man carefully withdrew his cock and lowered Ankhotep's legs to the bed. He then retrieved the sponge, cleaned them both, then blew out the lamp and crawled in next to his lover.
"I love you," Ankhotep said softly, placing a gentle kiss on Nefarka's chest.
"And I you, beloved."
Nefarka reached down and pulled a linen sheet over them both, then drew Ankhotep closer so he was nestled against the older man's shoulder.
Their breathing evened out, and soon both men slept contentedly in each other's arms.
Alex rose quietly, not wanting to disturb John, and headed for the bathroom. After taking a quick shower, he toweled off, then dressed in a pair of tan cotton slacks and a blue short-sleeved cotton crewneck shirt.
Next he opened their protective case, removed a pair of carved dog figurines, placed them next to the bed and whispered a command in Egyptian. As he focused his will, the figurines began swelling. In a manner of seconds, they took on the form of two huge black mastiffs -- jokingly named Sherlock and Watson. Ebon eyes looked at him with an unnatural intelligence, awaiting his commands.
Alex's specialty was amulets, not effigies. He knew enough to get by, but nothing near the level of talent required to make magnificent beasts such as these. They were a gift from Lu Wen Khutenptah; the finely crafted pieces of ebon became creatures as swift and powerful as the most purebred mastiff, but possessing wits and cunning far beyond that of a natural animal. As he'd had to infuse them with a portion of his own life force, Alex used them only sparingly.
Still speaking Egyptian, Alex pointed at John and gave the beasts one command, "Protect him" before leaving the bedroom and closing the door behind him.
Alex strolled down a narrow corridor and entered the main chamber. Faruq was there while noises from a set of narrow stairs suggested Ibrahim was up in the tomb.
"Good morning Amenti Alex. How is Amenti John?"
"Morning, Faruq. John's still sleeping. He'll probably be doing a lot of that for the next couple of days. So don't expect to see much of him until he's fully healed."
"I understand. Are you ready for your breakfast?"
Alex nodded, then headed toward the stairs that led to the mausoleum courtyard. The stairway ascended behind a mural wall in the Mausoleum of al-Qalarayn, accessed by a false panel at one end. The old Mamluk interior murals had been redone in Egyptian decor, including four statues of Egyptian warriors placed in the corners and an ornate sarcophagus in the room's center. The face on the lid was a stylization of the tomb's new owner, Basel Nyambek-Senemut. Faruq had mentioned the Eset-a leader's body rested inside, awaiting a return to life. There was no timetable as to how long a resurrection took -- for some it took days, while others took months. Until Basel's soul gathered sufficient strength to return to its flesh, his body would rest within the sarcophagus. Alex paused on the way through the chamber and placed a hand on the sarcophagus in honor of his fallen comrade.
The next room was an antechamber, meant for offerings to the dead. Like the mausoleum's exterior, this had been left in the style popular among the Bahri Mamluks. It opened onto the mausoleum's courtyard, a tiled square that looked upon the vast expanse of sky above. Aside from the occasional sound of passersby on the surrounding streets and the distant murmur of street traffic a half mile away, Alex felt the calm of isolation.
A stone wall ten feet high surrounded the courtyard, with a dry fountain in the center, its trio of Mamluk soldiers carved to life size. A scattering of lights was strung around the wall, shedding soft illumination in the cool Egyptian nights. Alex took a seat on a padded chair Ibrahim had arranged around a low table on which sat a tea service and a tray of various fruits.
"Morning Ibrahim," Alex said as the other man poured him tea.
"Good morning, Alex. Where is Amenti John?"
Alex smiled. "You don't need to be so formal, Ibrahim. You may just call him John. And as I told Faruq, he'll be sleeping a great deal for the next few days while his body heals. After that, he'll need to be instructed in our ways. I'll expect you and Faruq to help with that."
Ibrahim nodded. "Of course, Alex. I would be honored to assist you."
"Good. Now," Alex popped a date in his mouth. "What else do you have for me besides this?"
John did spend most of the next two days sleeping. Alex somehow knew when he'd wakened and attended him, either helping John to the bathroom or giving him food and water. Then he'd sit with him until he knew John was asleep again. The few times Alex had left the safe house on business, either Faruq or Ibrahim looked after John. Alex had instructed Sherlock to inform either of them when he woke.
The safe house had a visitor the morning of the third day. Alex woke to find Faruq speaking with a slight Asian woman with short-cropped hair, and wearing a short-sleeved top with a shallow scooped neck, capri pants and sandals. She carried a battered satchel over one shoulder. Seeing Alex enter, she inclined her head and smiled warmly. "Alex Krycek-Nefarka."
"Lu Wen Khutenptah." Alex gave a shallow bow in greeting, then stepped forward and the two shared a brief hug.
"How are Sherlock and Watson working out?"
"They're great; thanks. Unfortunately I haven't gotten as much use out of them as I would've liked. How is Xian?"
Lu Wen's face flushed with pleasure. "He is very well; thank you for asking." Like others of the mummy caste know as Sakhmu, Lu Wen was a master of the art of effigy. She had fashioned a number of enchanted figurines and statues, including Alex's mastiffs. Perhaps her greatest creation was the small dragon, Xian. In its inert form, the creature was a breathtaking work of art, carved in detail from a ten-inch block of ebony. Lu Wen had but to command the change, infusing her creation with a portion of her own spiritual energy, and Xian transformed into a miniature version of a dragon from Chinese folklore. It was a lithe, two-foot length of solid muscle, with a dramatic pair of feathered wings that extended from its snake-like body. The scales of its body and feathers of its wings were black, with a lush rainbow sheen like oil on water. The creature was as intelligent and perceptive as Lu Wen and handled a variety of tasks for her, from reconnaissance to guard duty to delivering messages.
Although from different castes, Nicholas and Lu Wen shared a creative temperament, and could pass the hours discussing the finer points of their respective arts. But that wasn't why Lu Wen was here.
Pointing toward the narrow stairs that led to the mausoleum courtyard, Alex continued, "Shall we?"
"The fountain's new," Alex remarked as Ibrahim poured each of them tea.
Lu Wen nodded. "Yes, I installed it a few weeks ago."
"Your design, or...?"
"Yes, it is my own. It looks authentic, does it not?"
"It does indeed." Alex often marveled at Lu Wen's skills, not in the least because she didn't restrict herself to one style. Many of the Undying -- including Alex -- created amulets and effigies in the Egyptian tradition. But Lu Wen drew as much upon her modern Asian sensibilities. And, as the Mamluk fountain indicated, she was expanding even beyond this. "Does it work?"
Lu Wen favored him with a Mona Lisa smile. "When it needs to."
Alex took another sip of tea. "So... I suppose you want to know about Chicago?"
"Yes; I am most curious why you have returned to Egypt so suddenly. Two months ago, you reported success. Yet you return empty-handed. What happened? Where is the Heart of Osiris?"
The Heart of Osiris -- ab-Asar, as it was known in Egyptian. The mummies no longer spoke its ancient Egyptian name. Calling it simply "the Heart" was by no means a brilliant subterfuge, but its true name held too much power to be uttered. The same held for the other pieces of Osiris that were long ago scattered across the land. For the Heart was, in fact, a piece of their god. Osiris was eternal, but his jealous brother Set had sundered his body, thereby barring his return to the living world. Only a power equal to Osiris' own could have kept his body from reforming, and this Set had done with damnable effectiveness.
With Osiris barred from restoring his flesh, the task fell to the mummies, his progeny, to recover his long lost pieces. Once reassembled, the God of Life would walk the earth as he had millennia before. Osiris would rise and beat back the corruption of Apophis with the light of justice. Yet it was not a task the mummies could easily accomplish. Their enemies were legion and had an active hand in making sure Osiris' body remained lost. Even the venerable Imkhu, the Revered Ones who were the first to be resurrected in the days of ancient Egypt, had yet to collect more than a handful of the artifacts. Most often, rumors of one of the pieces turned out to be nothing more than a mistake, a hoax or a trap.
Alex's fellow mummies had assumed the same in this case. Lu Wen represented another group within the Amenti, just as Alex allied himself with the Eset-a. Lu Wen was loyal to the Cult of Isis, those mummies most skilled in the ancient mystic arts, or hekau. They were all disciples of Osiris, but each group had its own view of how best to fulfill the god's wishes. Though united in the battle against Apophis and its minions, each faction operated on its own as much as it worked with the others. But the groups did at least keep one another abreast of their efforts... most of the time, anyway. Even the Undying weren't immune to the machinations of internal politics.
Alex's mission was not secret within mummy circles, and he was expected to forward reports of his progress if he encountered anything of note. None anticipated he would confirm he'd actually found the Heart. Alex made quite a coup with his announcement. The other groups were understandably interested in such a significant find. Then he returned to Egypt, weeks earlier than planned. His contemporaries expected him to head straight for Saqqara, Abydos, Edfu, or some other mummy stronghold, the Heart protectively against his breast. In coming to the Cities of the Dead, and without the Heart in his possession, it was evident something had gone grievously wrong.
"Your call announcing your return revealed little," Lu Wen added when Alex didn't speak immediately. "You understand that I am curious."
Alex leaned back in the chair and sighed. "First, let me apologize for being so brief over the phone. Seemed best to wait until I could speak to someone face-to-face."
Lu Wen waved one hand, rings flashing in the light. "I understand the need for caution. I am here now, so you may speak without reservation."
Before Alex could begin, however, the two Amenti were joined by a third -- Doggett, flanked by Sherlock and Watson. Dressed in tight blue jeans and a gray t-shirt that clung to his chest like a second skin, Alex felt a surge of heat shoot straight to his groin. He rose and extended his hand to the other man.
"I hope I'm not interruptin anything."
"Not at all. John, let me introduce Lu Wen Khutenptah. Lu Wen, this is John Doggett-Ankhotep. John has just recently become one of the Undying."
Doggett nodded in acknowledgement, then extended his hand. "Pleased to meet you."
Lu Wen returned the gesture. "Welcome John Doggett-Ankhotep. Please join us."
Ibrahim appeared with a cup and poured tea for the new arrival, then placed a bowl containing a mixture of fruits on the table between the three Amenti.
"I feel a bit lost here," Doggett said running a hand through his short-cropped hair.
Alex placed a comforting hand on John's arm. "We all feel that way at first. It's alright; I'll help you get through this."
John covered Alex's hand with his. The two men continued to gaze at one another, seemingly oblivious to Lu Wen's presence.
"Ahem..." Lu Wen cleared her throat tactfully. "Please continue with your report, Alex."
Alex felt his cheek's flush. Still facing John he explained, "I was just telling Lu Wen about my recent trip to Chicago in search of the Heart."
Doggett nodded. The older, wiser portion of himself understood the reference.
"When I left for the States I thought I was just following the rumors that one of the Osiris fragments was in Chicago." He paused, recalling what a long shot it was that one of the greatest artifacts of the ancient Egyptians would be secreted in northern Illinois. Alex had gone to the States with little fanfare. "Six of us at first, myself and five of the Eset-a. No other immortals to spare chasing after hearsay, right? I understood the skepticism. I wasn't positive the Heart was in the area myself. But we had everything to gain by investigating. And I learned the rumors were true -- it was stashed in the Temple of Akhenaton."
Even now, millennia after the followers of Akhenaton had ceased being a threat to the mummies, anger stirred within Alex. His wiser self, Nefarka, had lived in that dark time of the 18th Dynasty, when the Cult of the Sun-Disk arose to become a bitter enemy of the Undying. He was a mortal, a physician dedicated to serving the divine pharaoh in the court of Amenhotep III. His service continued when the son took the throne, but he soon saw Amenhotep IV was nothing like his father. The new pharaoh changed his name to Akhenaton, spurning Osiris and the other gods in favor of the hopeful usurper Aton (or Aten, depending on how you chose to translate from the ancient Egyptian.) A deity without gender, embodied in the rays of the sun, Aton was declared the only true god, the creator of all life and rule of all... with Akhenaton as his divine counterpart.
It was a revolutionary idea on many levels. Aside from sending shockwaves through Egyptian society that shattered generations of religious and cultural traditions, Akhenaton's new faith dared to defy the eternal power of Osiris. Immortal defenders of Egypt, the mummies were appalled to hear that anyone, especially Pharaoh himself, would attempt such a thing. Egyptian priests may have labeled Amun-Re the king of gods, but that was little more than political maneuvering among the temples. Even they dared not dispute the unrivaled might of Osiris, Lord of Life.
The physician Nefarka was one of many shocked by the strife that arose in the wake of the pharaoh's bizarre behavior. Generations of peace and enlightenment seemed in danger of being buried under the brewing disharmony. The conflict was most fierce between Pharaoh Akhenaton and the mummies. The Undying tried to reach a reconciliation. Was devotion to Aton so different that it could not reconcile with the greater pantheon? Akhenaton's rebuffs seemed to indicate so. The mummies were baffled, some suspecting Akhenaton might be an agent of Apophis -- despite the Corrupter being a creature of darkness, not the light that Akhenaton revered. Their peaceful efforts went for naught, and scuffles broke out with increasing frequency. Nefarka bandaged the wounds of pharaoh's guard, becoming ever more ill at ease with the events unfolding around him.
Then came the day that the pharaoh challenged the Undying outright. Akhenaton claimed they served false gods, and so were heretics to Aton and its followers. These claims were matched with powerful magic Akhenaton and his priests directed at the mummies -- some altered form of the very hekau the Undying used.
Egypt was on the verge of religious civil war, with Akhenaton and his bride Nefertiti on one side and the Undying on the other. Rather than trigger outright warfare, the Undying faded into the background, leaving the pharaoh the seeming victor. They didn't want to see the great empire ravaged by internal strife, but neither could they allow Akhenaton to defy the will of Osiris. They finally decided they had no choice but to engineer Akhenaton's death and destroy the cult.
It was not a course undertaken lightly, and the sentence was carried out only against Akhenaton himself and his most loyal followers. His wife, Nefertiti, recanted her claims of loyalty to the Sun-Disk, Aton, and was spared her husband's fate. The Undying placed her on the throne to rule Egypt... only to learn a few years later that Nefertiti secretly continued her heretical worship. She vanished soon after, along with the remaining followers of Aton. The child-king Tutankhamen received the crown next. Nefarka was one of a handful of retainers who nurtured the young pharaoh as best they could. Strife on the throne of Egypt continued with Tut, though, as he fell to Set's agents a short time later.
Like most citizens of the day, Nefarka was conflicted about the rise of the Aton-u, the sun-disk cult. He was disturbed by the thought that any force could supplant Osiris and his deified brethren; yet how could Aton's supremacy be contested if even the powerful mummies bowed to his might? Only later, after Nefarka died trying successfully to protect the young pharaoh Tutankhamen from assassination, did he learn all that the mummies had done. Nefarka's spirit lived on in Duat, the underworld kingdom of Osiris. There he heard the full tale from Sahura, one of the first mummies, during one of that venerable one's death cycles.
After Pharaoh Akhenaton's death, the mummies did what they could to eradicate all memory of his cult, but Nefertiti and other disciples continued to worship of the Sun-Disk. The Undying soon had more important matters to attend to, as Apophis and Set continued growing in power. It was only centuries later that mystics in the Cult of Isis found compelling evidence that Nefertiti had taken a treasured artifact of Egypt and the Undying: the Heart of Osiris.
Learning that the heretical Aton-u possessed this most holy of items incensed the immortals. But the Undying were few in number. With only scattered loyalists for assistance, the immortals did their best to track down the Heart as well as the other lost artifacts.
When Osiris awoke, Nefarka was among those commanded to join with a modern soul to form a new age of immortals. As he was born into his third life, Alex Krycek-Nefarka vowed that he would let nothing stand in the way of restoring Osiris to his place of supremacy.
"And did the Cult of the Sun-Disk give you trouble?" Lu Wen asked, trying to guess what went wrong.
"They didn't even know what they had. The temple was impressive, though; designed by someone with mystic talent. The Heart was kept inside a sealed sarcophagus, the entire place designed with mystic wards that shielded it from detection."
Alex sipped tepid tea. "After I realized the Temple of Akhenaton really did hold the Heart, I revised the plan. The thing radiates unmistakable power. Once we removed it from its protective sarcophagus, every supernatural in the area with the slightest bit of sensitivity would've picked up on it. No way could I have gotten it back here safely with only five mortals as backup. But since everyone here was gathering up for the assault on the Dead Sea... well."
"I was not aware that you had need of such aid at that time," Lu Wen said.
"I told Basel, but he said there was no one available. He sent me ten more Eset-a instead. Still, fifteen cultists don't compare to one mummy -- no offense to Ibrahim and Faruq." He nodded to the two cultists, who nodded their understanding. "And, I admit, I didn't think it was a big deal; the Heart was secure where it was. And once our group gained control of the temple with more advance security measures in place, we were fine to wait until a few Amenti could reach us and help bring the heart back. Despite that, I started feeling a... an urgency that I should get it to Egypt as soon as possible. And I was right. We picked up someone casing the temple; even got some decent images of him. I routed the guy's face through some government databases -- FBI and Interpol, that kind of thing -- hoping to get a match from a mug shot or government employee ID or something. But we got nothing. To make a long story short, it turns out the 'man' isn't a man at all; he's a zombie."
Lu Wen looked at him, then cast her eyes over at Ibrahim.
"It is true, Amenti," Ibrahim asserted. "A bloodless devil killed many and fled with Alex as his hostage."
"He calls himself James Maxwell," Alex explained. "He was a small time hood from the thirties. I wasn't too worried about him. We were secure in the temple and I created a prison to store him in if he was dumb enough to come after me.
"But what I didn't count on was someone else attacking the temple. The men recovered quickly and converged to protect the Heart, and it would have been fine except this Maxwell chose that moment to make his own move."
Lu Wen frowned. "So you fought this zombie. And the Heart...?"
"The people who attacked the temple took it. The Eset-a left alive tracked them down and tried to recover it. But you know the Heart gives off a unique energy signature. Some undead in the area sensed it and took the Heart for themselves."
"Wait." Lu Wen was confused. "Why were you not there to recover it yourself?"
"Because Maxwell..." Alex's face flushed. "He kidnapped me. A series of bad luck, overconfidence, and underestimating the enemy. Believe me, I won't make the same mistake again."
"And how did you get free?"
"He ended up accidentally killing me. After I was resurrected, I got away. But he followed me and I was caught off-guard. Focused on getting the Heart back from the vampires, Maxwell surprised us. He captured the Heart and fled with it."
The silence that followed was profound. Finally Lu Wen asked "Do you know where this creature has gone? Do you know where the Heart is now?"
Alex shook his head. "The compass scarab I created to locate the Heart was destroyed in the fight. But I have a good idea where to find it."
"Well?" Lu Wen demanded. "Where?"
"Here. He's coming here to Egypt."