Chapter 3 - Enemy at the Gates
As Alex surmised, Maxwell was indeed in Egypt. He'd traveled there safely hidden in the hold of a tanker. Now he was wandering about a half-mile from where the ship had docked, the Heart safe in his pocket. He'd moved it there from his shirt, unable to take its unnatural warmth and psychic pulses.
James Maxwell was maybe an inch or two over six feet, but his physical appearance was of someone much larger. He was lean, almost gaunt, and clean shaven with short dark hair and heavy brows. He looked to be in his early 40's, but he seemed much older. He wore a charcoal, double breasted pinstripe suit, a colorful tie, and patent leather wingtips. The ensemble was cut in a style reminiscent of the 30's yet with a modern sensibility. And except for his pale skin, Maxwell looked every bit a human being -- unless one took a real close look and noticed that he didn't do things like breathe. But Maxwell was anything but human. He was nothing more than an animated corpse -- a zombie -- who was too stubborn to stay dead. He'd been thrown back into the land of the living by the Dja-akh and decided he liked it here too much to ever go back. And now that he knew the mummies held the secret to immortality… well, why shouldn't he get in on that action too?
Maxwell had never been in a foreign country before (he didn't count liquor runs to Canada during Prohibition). He wandered along the docks for a while, out of place. While he didn't know where he was headed yet, it wasn't a good idea to hang around there in case the mummy he'd tangled with in Chicago had friends combing the area.
He lunged behind some crates as a pair of individuals approached. They walked with the cautious pace and alert movement of people searching for something. They'd seen him, but it looked like they hadn't identified who he was. The two crept toward his hiding place, whispering to one another and calling out it soft tones. Maxwell was startled to realize he recognized one of the words: "Amenti." Where had he heard that? Krycek. Just before he died, he said that's what he was. Maxwell was right; mummy fuckers did have people searching the area. Just his luck to stumble right on them.
He readied himself to attack, but paused when inspiration sprang forth in his mind. His deathsight showed these two were just a couple mortals. No danger of overpowering him. Even better, they worked for the mummies. They should know something about this whole ceremony business. Crossing their path was lucky indeed -- a couple hostages should take him where he had to go.
Maxwell dashed from his hiding place. He was upon them before they could process he wasn't the Amenti they were looking for. He grabbed the one on the right by the throat and lifted him a couple inches from the ground. He pointed his ruined left hand at the other one -- a stocky woman, he saw now that he was close enough -- and said, "Make a sound and I'll pop his head like a fucking grape."
Maxwell was on a roll. Looked like the woman spoke English. She nodded, eyes wide to watch her buddy struggle against Maxwell's iron grip. "You got transportation somewhere?"
The woman nodded.
"Great!" He shook the guy, well on his way to unconsciousness. "You do what I say and you'll live to tell your grandkids about it. You're going to take me to where you do your hocus-pocus. You know: 'Amenti,' right?"
Even in the dim light and with his atrophied eyesight, Maxwell say the woman grow pale. "No," she said, her voice but a squeak.
"Oh, yes," Maxwell replied. The straight razor appeared in his left hand as if by magic. Even missing his first two fingers, the weapon rested comfortably in his grip. The blade flicked out, an unnatural shimmer coursing along the metal as Maxwell pointed it at her. "You see this? Yea, you can feel it; I can tell. You know what it's like getting cut by this little beauty? You don't play nice, and you'll find out."
He tossed the man to the ground. The cultist collapsed, retching as he tried to suck down air. The woman crouched to help her friend.
"Now take me to your car and let's get the fuck out of here."
His directions to the cultists were simple enough: take him to their temple or ceremonial chamber or whatever they called it, and they had his word they'd live. Maxwell knew they had no reason to believe him, but he'd seen plenty of people who were quick to fool themselves. There was a chance he was telling the truth, or that they might have a chance to escape, or who really knew? Maxwell had a fair idea of what the future had in store for these two, but let them have their fantasies. Anything to make them easier to manage.
Even so, he figured his captives might try to get clever sooner or later. Maxwell considered forcing his will on the driver -- he'd already done so to confirm that they did, indeed, know of a ceremony that could bestow immortality. Maxwell was tempted to make him take them to wherever it was they need to go to perform it. Carpenter wasn't worried about inflicting brain damage on people. His concern was that they were harder to control afterwards. Unpredictable, like wires got crossed in their heads.
So instead of forcing his will, Maxwell remained in the back seat, a pistol -- conveniently found in the glove compartment -- pointed through the seat at the driver's spine. The cultists took the Ford Expedition down a major highway, a straight shot south paralleling the Suez Canal. Maxwell knew this due to the sporadic signs that had Arabic squiggles and English subtitles. Well-traveled roads suited Carpenter just fine. He had no idea where he was; his knowledge of Egyptian geography amounted to picturing a huge desert with a couple pyramids stuck in the middle. As long as they were on a major thoroughfare, Maxwell felt comfortable that the guy wasn't trying to pull a fast one.
They stopped off in the city of Ismailia, about an hour south of Port Said, and fueled up the Expedition. Maxwell kept a close eye on his two captives -- Ahmir and Sherin, he discovered were their names -- but they were quite well behaved. After leaving the gas station, they wound through a series of meandering streets until Maxwell realized Ahmir was just trying to waste time. Maxwell was irritated with himself for not figuring it out sooner. A quick nudge of his will and Maxwell discovered that the driver was trying to give him the runaround.
"Where is this hideout of yours?" Maxwell demanded, eye flaring with an unclean green light.
"Desert... It is hidden -- ruins," the cultist replied, sweat pouring off him.
"Does this look like the fucking desert?" Maxwell asked, more conversationally this time.
Ahmir stammered and shook his head, casting a panicked look at the woman. They both looked scared enough to play it straight. Maxwell shouldn't have to waste energy trying to control them. He pointed the pistol at Sherin, who was marginally more calm than her friend. "You. How many miles is it to get there?"
"Many miles," she nodded.
"Fucking Christ. How many? Huh? How far?
"Miles? Do not know miles. Is many kilometers. Uh... hundreds! Yes?"
This was like pulling teeth. "Alright, fine. Get us back on the goddamn road before you really piss me off. And don't try to pull this shit again."
The driver took them to a smaller highway continuing south that brought them to the city of Suez a couple hours later. Maxwell had them drive to overlook the Gulf of Suez and the marvel of engineering that was the canal. He was feeling good about his progress; he could afford to take some time out for sightseeing. He chuckled, spirits high, and hopped back in the Ford.
"So how did you find me so fast, anyway?" he asked after a while, more to break the monotony of travel than any real curiosity.
Sherin answered "We did not look for you."
"Did not look... If you weren't expecting me... were you even looking for the Heart?" The two cultists looked at one another in mild confusion, but Maxwell didn't catch any dawning enlightenment. Taking out his handkerchief, Maxwell extracted the Heart from his pocket. Holding it, he was certain it was significantly heavier than it had been before. That was odd; it didn't seem to pull on the line of his jacket any more than before. He took a closer look. Its texture, previously porous and rough like stone, now appeared smooth, marble-like. In fact, the Heart didn't even seem to have the same shape it had before. It was hard to say for certain. But he felt pretty sure there were differences.
Physical appearances aside, the Heart's psychic pulses continued much as they did before. Reduced to a faint tingle when in his pocket, the beats attained a steady, thudding rhythm when the Heart was in his hand. Maxwell felt that the pulses didn't occur in response to his holding it. They were probably going all the time; he just didn't feel them unless he held the Heart close. The sensation was at once soothing and unnerving.
Forcing himself not to squirm, Maxwell learned forward so his traveling companions could get a look at the Heart. "You telling me you never heard of this? How about Alex Krycek? Him and a bunch of his friends were pretty excited about this thing."
Their confusion seemed to increase when they glanced at the Heart, but Krycek's name caused a reaction. The guy barked, "Amenti? Alex Krycek-Nefarka?"
"Right, yeah. Amenti. You've heard of him, then."
The woman jabbered something fast in Arabic at her friend, and they were soon spitting words at each other and getting more excited by the second. Seemed they had a fair idea of what Maxwell was talking about now. He didn't like being left out of the dialogue, though. He shoved the Heart back in his pocket and called out to get their attention. It took a couple tries, and he finally had to wave the pistol between them, but the two finally shut up.
"What was that all about, huh? Looks like I struck a nerve. Oh, and now you're not talking?" He looked from one to the other. They stared out the front, watching the road with grim resolution. They might put on a brave face, but Maxwell could feel the outrage and fear radiating from them. Drinking in the emotions with relish, Maxwell decided to let it go for the time being. 'Just wait till I'm one of these Amenti, too. That will give them something to talk about.'
Every so often the road curved to the coast and gave them a glimpse of the Gulf of Suez, but otherwise desert stretched to infinity around them. Maxwell supposed you could hide a lot in such a huge expanse of nothing. He decided it'd be a good idea to have them point out the hideout's location on a map, just in case they tried something sneaky again or he had to dump them. Of course there was no map in the four wheel drive. It was mid-afternoon by the time they reached the next town.
It was some tourist kind of place near the beach. The gas station they pulled into wouldn't be out of place in America. Although Maxwell couldn't read anything except "GAS," he saw it had a small convenience shop that should have maps and the like. He got Ahmir and Sherin some water as he paid for the gas and the map.
The map had all of Egypt on one side and the Nile valley on the other. Maxwell laid it on the Expedition's hood, opened to the Egypt side. It was easy enough to find where they were, just as the start of where the Gulf of Suez curved in a final arc before the canal. There was a whole lot of country left, all of it colored a bland light gray except for the thin green ribbon down the center that was the Nile River. Plenty of places to hide a temple in all that desert, that was certain. Feeling a sudden delicious rush of fear, Maxwell cast a glance into the Expedition, where Ahmir and Sherin were looking at him -- no, at the map, and the man was speaking rapidly. Much as Maxwell enjoyed drinking in their renewed panic, he didn't like what he saw. They had the look of people caught in the act.
Maxwell crumpled the map in one hand and stalked over to yank open the driver's side door. He shoved the printed paper in Ahmir's face and growled, "Show me where your fucking temple is."
The guy was worked up, looking everywhere but at Maxwell and jabbering away. Maxwell had enough. He grabbed the cultist by the jaw and wrenched his head around. Looking him full in the face, Maxwell slammed him with his will and ordered him to calm down. Ahmir slumped in the seat like he'd been injected with a hefty dose of morphine.
"That's better," Maxwell said, maintaining eye contact. "Now, show me where your temple is on this map."
Ahmir groaned, but his hand flattened the map against the steering wheel and dragged in fits and jerks across it. Maxwell's anger before was nothing to the cold fury that possessed him when he saw where the finger stopped. The cultist was pointing to a place on the map about a hundred miles from their current location... a distinctive spot to the northeast, away from where they were currently headed.
"What; Cairo?" Cairo was a big city. But this guy had replied to the compulsion before that their temple was hidden in the desert. So somewhere around Cairo then. "Where exactly? What is the name of the place?"
The cultist shook his head, but couldn't resist the command. "Saqqara. Pyramid... Sanakht Nebka."
Maxwell saw, then. A red star on the map, indicating ruins. Saqqara, alright. No names of any pyramids, but how hard could it be find a pyramid? So then... "Where were you taking me instead? Huh? Tell me!"
Straining muscles relaxed, Ahmir had no trouble revealing this. "To the Imkhu. Horus, the elders... they shatter your bones to powder. Scatter remains to the four corners of the earth."
"Already been through that, buddy. Didn't take." Maxwell didn't need the editorializing; he got the point. He fought to stay calm. He still needed these people, needed whatever they knew about the Spell of Life. But he was done being nice. "Alright. You had your chance and you blew it. You will take me to the pyramid of Sanakht Nebka now."
Maxwell pushed the command with every ounce of his will. It hit the cultist like a physical blow, rock him back so his skull slammed against the headrest. All expression vanished from his face, his mouth hanging slack and eyes filming over. Maxwell climbed in the back, then handed the car keys forward. The cultist, moving in a determined yet clumsy motion, started up the car and pulled out onto the road.
Darkness came fast upon them as they drove, the sun dropping below the horizon despite their best efforts to catch it. Some gusts of wind poked at the Ford a couple times, then the sandstorm was upon them. A mountain of blackness that Maxwell had assumed was nothing more dangerous than nightfall swept in like the end of the world had come. Visibility was gone in a heartbeat. The SUV rocked on its heavy-duty suspension as blasts of wind savaged it left and right. Tons of sand dropped on them out of nowhere only to be swept away in the next instant.
As the sandstorm moaned and howled around them, Maxwell felt the thrill of unease. He recalled from his living days the tornado season in the Midwest, the savagery that could descend out of nowhere and go just as fast, leaving utter destruction in its wake. And during the interminable decades in the underworld, spirit-storms that arose out of nothing. Winds of chaos and oblivion that could shred a ghost to pieces in an instant. Undead he may be, but if they got in a wreck and he ended up with these two dead, he'd have a rough time getting resurrected as an immortal.
"It is early for khamsin," the woman said suddenly.
"Khamsin -- sandstorm, yes?" Fear of the storm made her unusually forthcoming. "Winds... they come up in desert and go for many hours. Sometimes days. But not always so big so soon. So early in year."
Hours, maybe days, like this? Fuck. Only the insane or suicidal would keep going under such conditions. He tried to get Ahmir to stop, but the cultist was lost in the grip of compulsion. Maxwell could try another command, but that would probably burn out whatever was left of the fucker's mind.
Ahmir and storm took the decision out of his hands. The road took a curve, but with about six inches of visibility they didn't even know it until the Ford was thundering down a slope. The cultist remained aware enough beyond the scope of his orders that he'd shifted the vehicle into four-wheel drive when the sandstorm first hit. The Ford handled as well as it could over the shifting surface and went quite a ways before it hit a dune too steep to climb. As none of them wore seatbelts, the impact threw them forward. Maxwell bounced off the driver's seat and fell sideways onto the floor. Ahmir slammed into the steering wheel then ricocheted back into the seat, while the woman, Sherin, cracked her forehead against the dashboard.
Maxwell was embarrassed, but uninjured. His captives were dazed, and while the woman shook it off after a minute, the driver slumped into unconsciousness. Maxwell figured that was all for the best. He reached forward, put the car in park, shut off the engine and flicked off the lights to save the battery. Darkness engulfed them, gray swirls of sand moving around them in the night, the only sounds the moaning wind. After she got her bearings, the woman checked on her friend and then shot a look at Maxwell. He couldn't see her face clearly enough to read her expression, and simply said, "We wait."
Maxwell wondered if the sandstorm was a sign. Halfway to this Saqqara place and they get a whole desert dumped on their heads? Thinking about it, he'd suffered one setback after another ever since he took possession of the Heart. Not all on the same scale, of course. But if Maxwell was the superstitious sort, he might have thought there was something more at work here than mere coincidence.
Whatever the case, the sandstorm did nothing more than cause a delay. It continued blowing for a number of hours. After securing his captives with belts and scarves, Maxwell took advantage of the time by dropping into a slumber. When he roused himself six hours later, the night was clear and still. Ahmir and Sherin were asleep -- though the man looked like he hadn't come to since ramming the dune.
Maxwell saw the Ford was about half-buried in sand. He got out On the passenger side and scrambled up to the top of the dune they'd run into. It rose over ten feet above the vehicle, and from atop it he had a decent view of the area. Stars shone down with brilliant clarity over the desert. There wasn't a hint of wind; aside from the dark shape of the Expedition poking out of the sand dune, Maxwell wouldn't have believed there ever was a sandstorm. He didn't see the road, but it couldn't be far. After sliding back down, he looked the Ford over carefully. It was pretty well stuck, but he was unwilling to just leave it there. The alternative was hitchhiking, and he didn't think that would work too well.
He took one more look at the SUV. Sand had swept up on the driver's side and the front was buried about a third of the way up the hood in the sand dune. He could get it out, but he'd have to do some digging first. That was alright. Maxwell was used to doing things for himself.
He stripped down to his undershirt and slacks and spent a few hours shoveling sand. It was still dark, dawn maybe an hour or so away, when he felt ready to get going. He started toward the car door when he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. Reaction took over. Maxwell had the pistol out and was firing before he fully registered what the target was. He trudged over, his deathsight having as much trouble making out what it was as his normal vision did. Once he saw the victim, he couldn't help but laugh. He'd blown away a baby zombie.
It was, indeed, the corpse of a child, maybe ten years old. The little zombie must have been drawn to Maxwell just like the walking dead he'd run into back in Chicago. He thought about the corpses he'd collected to aid him in the States. He'd taken advantage of coincidence then, the happy accident that these creatures gathered near him when he had need of some extra muscle.
But what if it wasn't coincidence? Perhaps his subconscious was tapping into some new way of using his mental compulsion, but focused on his fellow walking dead. Maxwell shrugged. What would it hurt to try?
As he walked back to the Ford, Maxwell focused his thoughts, calling out with his mind as hard as he could. He'd been able to boss around the animated dead with nothing more than strong mental commands. Perhaps he could also draw them to him in force doing the same thing. He didn't expect them to pop out of the ground, but perhaps some would show up in time to do him some good.
Maxwell was in better spirits as he stepped up to the car. After securing his captives in the back seat, and much grinding of gears and swearing, he finally got the Ford moving. He stayed in reverse all the way up the slope, then turned on a fairly level patch and headed northeast. Maxwell wasn't sure which way the road had curved during the storm, but if they didn't hit it going cross-country they should still run into the Nile sooner or later. His luck was up and running again, for they crossed the sand covered asphalt only a few minutes later. Within another hour, the desert turned to green. Coming over a rise, Maxwell saw the Nile stretched before him. He referred to the torn map as he drove, and saw that Saqqara should be just to the other side of the river and north a few miles. Almost there, he thought.
Saqqara was on a plateau that rose above the surrounding desert. Maxwell pulled the Expedition off the main road toward a ticket booth situated at the bottom of the plateau. He thought it was silly to pay for a tour when you could just walk in off the desert, but hey. He continued up and shortly reached the ruins. He was surprised at how expansive they were. A large blocky step pyramid was the focal point, with an enormous walled enclosure running around it, complete with a number of unearthed buildings. There were squat blocky shapes to either side of the central complex, more substantial than the buildings but not approaching the step pyramid in scale. Numerous low structures excavated to varying degrees wandered to the north. The Step Pyramid of Djoser easily dominated the site. Huge and weathered, its once crisp six steps had been eroded by time, giving it the appearance of a melted layer cake. Even so, the sight was impressive, especially when Maxwell spied the Great Pyramids of Giza off to the north. He wasn't sure he could trust his weak eyes, but Sherin gave grudging confirmation that the ancient wonder was, indeed, but ten miles away.
Maxwell put the Ford in gear and steered around the first tour bus of the morning, currently disgorging a small group of old men and women. Some pointed questions to Sherin had informed Maxwell that the temple, the so-called Pyramid of Sanakht Nebka, was actually west of the Djoser complex. It was part of a new excavation site. Driving around with a plume of dust in their wake, Maxwell saw an adjoining plateau with some marker boundaries denoting an archaeological dig. He didn't see any pyramid, just a lot of sand and a couple half-buried buildings. Drawing closer, Maxwell realized his deathsight was picking up a ghostly shimmer through the area, a spiritual vibration that was starting to interfere with his vision.
An armed guard stood near the trail and waved them down. Maxwell rolled down the window and smiled as the man approached. He was too close to success to bother with this idiot. As the guard opened his mouth, Maxwell said, "Forget we were ever here," and pushed hard. The man blinked hard a few times, mouth opening and closing like a fish gasping for breath. As Maxwell drove on, he noted in the rearview mirror that the guard was still standing there, looking around in mild confusion. Feeling a brief wave of dizziness, Maxwell realized abusing his ability in this fashion was taking its toll.
The track dipped through a depression that separated the Djoser complex from the new excavation site and came around to an ad hoc parking lot. The spot was nearest a few low buildings, apparently unearthed only recently. The plateau continued to slope upward from that point. Two other vehicles were already there; Maxwell pulled up next to a twenty year old BMW and cut the engine. He glanced in back; the woman had the broken look of someone who's committed the ultimate betrayal and now waits for judgment to be passed upon her. Maxwell couldn't see the man, but assumed he was still comatose. He had some more questions for Sherin about this place, but wanted to wait until he gave it a once over himself.
That opportunity didn't come. He was still looking around from the comfort of the Expedition when he spotted movement in the rearview mirror. A slight Asian woman had emerged from one of the partially excavated buildings and was headed his way. He wasn't concerned; this was the cultists' car to begin with, so they belonged, as far as anyone knew. Looking back through the window, Maxwell's deathsight showed the vibrant spirit of a mummy. "Son of a bitch."
The cultist in the back seat turned as well and started shouting as soon as she saw the Asian lady. Maxwell tried to shut her up, but she wasn't facing him, so his force of will was useless. The mummy heard the yelling and slowed to a stop, reaching into a satchel she carried slung over her shoulder.
Maxwell popped the door open and sprinted toward the mummy. Her head snapped around at the sound and her eyes grew wide. She cried out something in Chinese that sounded suspiciously like it ended in his name. "Stop!" he yelled, slamming his will toward her and hoping she understood him. The command held only for a second, but that was all Maxwell needed. He caught her with a right hook that cracked her jaw and sent her sprawling in a heap. Maxwell checked to make sure she was out before taking off her satchel and throwing it as hard as he could. Then he untied Sherin and dragged her over. "Help her up," he directed, hustling them both in the building the Asian lady had just come through.
Straight razor in one hand and Sig-Sauer in the other, the Heart of Osiris pulsing quietly in his pocket, James Maxwell entered the lost pyramid of Sanakht Nebka.
Chapter 4 - Forging Plans
After Ibrahim revealed he'd brought the ruined compass scarab to Egypt, Alex's mind was afire with possibility. He headed for the workshop Basel Nyambek-Senemut had set up in the Mausoleum of al-Qalarayn and began work on a new tracking amulet.
Alex felt the pressure of time like a physical weight. The longer the Heart of Osiris was loose in the world, the greater the possibility of disaster. There was no danger Maxwell could somehow harness the artifact's power to be resurrected as a mummy. The Heart had nothing to do with that closely guarded treasure, the Spell of Life. And just as he couldn't use the Heart to become immortal, there was no way that James Maxwell would find anyone willing to perform the resurrection ceremony.
No, Alex's greatest fear was that the Heart might fall into the hands of a threat far greater than a single zombie. The Followers of Set and the Bane mummies alike could perform the most terrible acts should they gain possession of the ab-Asar. As a conduit to Osiris, the Heart offered inestimable power to those who could discover the means to tap into it properly. That power could be twisted to any number of depraved ends. Beyond that, some among the Amenti believed it might be possible to use the Heart -- or any of Osiris' scattered body parts -- to harm the god himself. Eternal Osiris could not be destroyed, but it was possible the enemy could inflict upon him incalculable agony should they capture the Heart.
Yet the limitations that made the deity vulnerable to the dread Apepnu offered Alex the key to recover the Heart. The energy that flowed from the ab-Asar found its source in the Lord of Life. If Alex could only get a new compass scarab working, he could trace that energy back to the Heart itself.
He spent a solid week working on a new compass scarab, pausing only to eat hasty meals and nap a few hours at a stretch. Ibrahim, Faruq and John took turns bringing him food and drink and shoving him onto a cot when he'd been at the workbench for too long. As Alex was busy in Basel's workshop, the two cultists put feelers out for anything unusual that could be linked to Maxwell or the Heart of Osiris. Alex also kept in touch with other mummy groups through Lu Wen Khutenptah, an associate of the Cult of Isis, the group most closely involved with performing the resurrection ceremony that created new mummies. It wasn't a perfect arrangement, but until Alex got a new compass scarab working, it was the best they had to work with.
Alex pushed away from the workbench, cursing in frustration. He'd done some of his best work in the art of meket -- amulet creation -- in the past week. But despite his efforts, he met with failure. He'd already created one new compass scarab, but it had proven ineffective. This second attempt was almost complete; within a day or so he should have it. Unvoiced was his fear that there wouldn't be sufficient residue after the first two attempts for a third to have a chance. He had no choice but to make this second one work.
He glanced over at the first replacement, discarded next to the ruined original on a table of scrap metal and other oddments. The workshop was one of the largest chambers in the complex carved under Cairo's southern cemetery. Equipment both modern and arcane was scattered across the various tables and poked from half-open drawers. The table Alex worked at had a lighted magnifier lens on a swivel arm attached to one corner, with a full set of jeweler's tools in an open metal case within convenient reach. Bits of copper, silver wire and other precious metal odds and ends were swept to one side for later cleanup. Sitting on a rubberized mat before him was a sleek curved bracelet, a stylized gold and jade scarab attached to the top of the curve. It looked nice, but still wasn't functional. Alex sighed and leaned forward on his elbows, putting his eye to the magnifier lens and taking another look at the compass scarab.
John entered the workroom quietly, slipped behind Alex and wrapped his arms around him.
"Time for a break."
Alex turned and embraced John, just enjoying the feel of the other man's body. "You have something particular in mind?"
A low chuckle was his answer. "Not really. But I do want to talk to you about somethin."
Alex pulled away. "This sounds serious. Is everything okay?"
John nodded. "Yea; I've... I've just been havin these dreams -- about us -- but not us. Oh, hell..." He strode over to the cot and sat down, cradling his head in his hands.
Alex joined him. "You were dreaming about our first lives, right?"
"I guess so. We were in some kind of temple."
"John..." Alex reached over and raised John's chin so he was facing him. "We've always been together. Our souls are joined, and no matter what, we always end up finding each other again. I believe Lord Osiris has done this for a purpose only he understands. I don't have any other explanation for it."
"That makes as much sense as anything. Not that I'm complaining, you know."
Alex smiled, then leaned forward to kiss John soundly. "I know," he said breathlessly. "And as much as I'd like to continue this, I have to keep working on that damned compass scarab."
John looked at the amulet. "It still doesn't work?"
"I've been at it night and day and pffft! Nothing," Alex griped. "Structurally, it's sound. I can feel the enchantment, but it just sits there. No indication that it's picking up anything."
"Just like your first attempt," John noted.
Alex shot a dirty look at the first replacement. Like the one on the table in front of him, that bracelet was a marvel of simple elegance that tracked the Heart's mystic resonance from the residue infused to its design. Or so it went in theory. Neither one showed the slightest inclination to work. Alex blinked, something striking him as odd. "I'll be damned."
"Look." Alex pointed at the side table.
The complex underneath the Mausoleum of al-Qalarayn was as well ventilated as Basel had been able to make. Even so, by nature of the desert climate and stone construction, dust and sand were impossible to keep out. Alex kept his work space brushed clean, but didn't wipe down the whole room. The nearby scrap table had a thin film of grit... which showed a pair of needle thin lines that ran about three inches to the edge of the first replacement compass scarab. The amulet was fashioned as a U-shaped bracelet; the open end slipped over the wrist with the sleek scarab on top rotating like a compass to track the Heart's position. The two ends of the U matched up with the pair of lines in the yellow dust on the table.
Alex snatched up the replacement and slipped it onto his wrist and laughed. "It's responding, John! It's weak, but I can sense a connection." He scrutinized the amulet further and determined that the replacement compass scarab functioned at a greatly reduced range from the original. He hadn't expected it to operated with the same strength as the original, but it seemed it was even weaker than his calculations suggested. "The first one I made could track the Heart up to half a world away. It's hard to tell distances with this one... at a guess, I'd say maybe five hundred miles?"
"Can you tell where the Heart is?
"Damn, it's here, not far at all. Somewhere in Lower Egypt." He looked at the marks on the table. "Look, you can see from the marks in the dust, right? Must've come in... let's see, north is that way... north-northeast. And see how it dragged in a slight curve to the east? From how the amulet feels, it's somewhere to the east now. Still can't say how far away, though."
"Now, we wake Ibrahim and Faruq and prepare to get the Heart back."
The four men were seated in the open-air courtyard sipping tea and going over plans when they were joined by an unexpected visitor. Xian -- Lu Wen Khutenptah's dragon -- swooped down and lighted on Alex's arm.
"Where's Lu Wen?" he asked.
Xian minced along Alex's arm, its needle sharp talons digging into his skin. Alex ignored the discomfort as best he could. The dragon was agitated, which meant something was wrong with his creator. Smart as the enchanted creature was, it couldn't speak, so Alex interrogated it with simple "yes/no" questions.
"Is Lu Wen alright?" This got the creature even more worked up; Alex took that to mean she was in trouble, but Xian didn't know how much. "Is she at the lost pyramid?" This got a decisive nod. Alex didn't need to frame another question. Realization hit him head on. He checked the compass scarab. He couldn't tell how far the Heart was, but there was no mistaking the direction the compass pointed -- almost due south -- the direction of Saqqara, and of the pyramid of Sanakht Nebka.