See warnings and disclaimers in part 1

Chapter 5 -- Confrontation

Maxwell found the spiritual dissonance increased as they made their way down a tunnel carved under the desert. The barrier separating the realms of the living and the dead was very thin here. Maxwell thought he could almost reach out and tear aside the fabric of reality and step through to the shadowlands. But he was here to do the opposite. He searched for immortality, so that he would never again face the chilling realm of the underworld.

The cultist shuffled along in front of him, half-carrying, half-dragging the mummy. The tunnel headed down at a steady angle for a couple hundred feet or so. Lights spaced evenly down the length provided adequate illumination. At last they turned a corner; the tunnel opened onto what looked like a long antechamber. Two men -- one white, one Arabic -- were brushing the dirt from a mural along one wall. Identical expressions of shock and dismay appeared on their faces as they took in Maxwell and his captives. "Hey there, you sorry sons of bitches," he said with a grin. "Feel up to a little hocus pocus?"

Some shouting and feeble efforts at resistance followed. Two more cultists rushed through the doorway in the wall opposite the mural, but numbers made no real difference. Maxwell had the physical advantage of power and the psychological edge of having just kicked the ass of their mummy friend. He herded the five cultists back through the doorway into what turned out to be some kind of burial chamber.

He understood that he was inside the pyramid of Sanakht Nebka, buried underneath a whole lot of sand. It looked like this chamber was the main room in the place. It was sizable, almost thirty feet long and fifteen feet wide, with a ceiling twelve feet high. It had a series of small alcoves running down each of the long sides, with statues in six of the alcoves. An alabaster sarcophagus dominated the chamber's center. The room had two entrances -- the doorway they'd just come through and a central shaft that went all the way to the top. From the look of the shaft, the pyramid wasn't completely buried. He could see a brilliant blue rectangle of sky three hundred feet up.

Seeing some toolboxes to one side, Maxwell laughed. He snatched up a roll of duct tape and directed a couple of cultists to wrap up the mummy. Even if she was as strong as Maxwell, she'd have a tough time getting free of the tape that wrapped her arms and legs. And with a strip of tape for a gag, she wouldn't be raising a ruckus with sudden commands.

She was just coming to when he dragged her to a corner just inside the burial chamber. He smiled and patted her on the head, then moved to stand behind the sarcophagus by the exit. The cultists were gathered at the opposite end of the burial chamber. Aside from staring at Maxwell or Lu Wen, all they did was stand there and tremble.

"How many of you speak English?" Maxwell asked. Sherin, of course; only the white guy raised his hand. From the blank stares the others gave him, Maxwell felt confident they weren't faking. To the man and woman he said, "Cooperate and I'll let you walk out of here. Got that?"

He was telling the truth; he didn't care about these people as long as they could give him what he wanted. From the looks on their faces, the cultists didn't believe a word he was saying. No problem; if he couldn't coerce the information, he'd just force it out of them. Try the easy way first, at least. He reached in his pocket and slapped a bound object on the center of the sarcophagus.

"You know what this is?" he asked, flipping away the cloth from around the bundle. Exposed to the halogen lights hung in the chamber, the Heart of Osiris was a roughly pear-shaped object with a red cast to it so dark it was almost black. Again, it had a different appearance from before. Maxwell suppressed a shudder and tapped the sarcophagus lid next to the Heart. "See this? Huh? Take a good look."

There was a collective intake of breath. Maxwell looked over at the mummy. Her eyes flickered between Maxwell and the artifact, a mix of emotions scampering across her face.

The white guy stepped forward, swearing at Maxwell as he grabbed for the artifact. Maxwell backhanded him, slamming him into one of the alcove walls. "Cut that shit out," Maxwell said. "Time to get down to business. So, you going to tell me how this thing can make me immortal?"

Sherin seemed to have forgotten she knew English. Sure, now that she was with friends she'd found her backbone again. She picked up where the white guy left off, firing Arabic swear words and getting her pals all riled up.

Maxwell slammed a hand on the sarcophagus lid with a hard crack that silenced everyone. Pointing a finger at the woman, he focused his will and demanded, "Can you tell me how to do a ceremony that can make people immortal?"

Sherin gurgled and spat, then said, "Yes."

Green light flared in Maxwell's eye. "Alright, then. What's the first step?"

Alex and John went through the main chamber, down a tunnel to a smaller room that looked like it was set aside for storage. The room contained unlabeled boxes and half-open wardrobes with clothing. Alex removed a shotgun, and an automatic pistol with one extra clip. He and John wouldn't need weapons; Ibrahim was another matter.

They all met up in the main chamber.

Alex handed out the guns, then said, "If everyone's ready, let's hit the road."

Maxwell felt the presence of the first zombie just as he began extracting the resurrection ceremony from Sherin. Turning to face the doorway, Maxwell saw an animated horror, its bony fingers scraping at the stone wall as it shuffled in.

Maxwell felt nausea in his atrophied stomach even as a smile drew across his face. The creature stopped a few feet away and did a sloppy job of clicking its heels together, one arm shooting out stiffly before it. Looking closer, Maxwell saw the zombie wore the remains of a German military uniform. Maxwell was dead when World War II started, and he ran across a few restless spirits in the underworld who'd died during the fighting. It took a minute, but he recalled that there was a whole theatre of battle in northern Africa. Maxwell wasn't sure he wanted some Nazi helping him out, dead or otherwise. Still, he didn't exactly have much else to work with.

The zombie was in surprisingly good condition, especially considering how long he'd been dead. Though not as whole as Maxwell, the soldier was merely gamey instead of full on decayed. Still, he could follow orders.

"Okay, Fritz. Why don't you wait out by the tunnel entrance and keep watch? Make sure nobody tries to jump us. Oh, and knock out all the lights in the tunnel when you go, too."

The soldier shuffled off after another salute. Maxwell was just continuing the arduous process of extracting information from Sherin when two more animated corpses showed up. Each of these was so far gone it was almost impossible to determine what they'd been in life. Didn't matter; they were more muscle and would help keep the cultists under wraps as Maxwell got deeper into things. As he had them move into position -- one to stand by Lu Wen and the other with the cultists -- Maxwell realized he didn't have to speak his orders; a focused thought did the trick. He still had no idea why the walking dead were drawn to him, and there was no telling how many more animated corpses would show up if he were to stay put. For now, three should be enough.

Alex clutched the door handle as Ibrahim drove the Audi with a recklessness remarkable even for Cairene drivers. Faruq stayed behind to contact any other groups he could reach. If Alex failed to recover the Heart, forces would be converging on Saqqara by nightfall. The Amenti would recover the Heart one way or another.

John sat in the backseat with a cooler stocked with bottled water. It smacked into him as it slid with each one of the car's sudden twists and turns. As far as Alex could tell from reading the replacement compass scarab, the Heart hadn't moved in some time. Whatever Maxwell was doing, he should still be in Saqqara by the time they arrived. The ruins were only fifteen miles south of the city, and the way Ibrahim was driving they should reach it in as many minutes... if the Audi didn't get wrecked on the way.

Despite the air conditioner's best efforts, the Audi was a sauna. Alex was glad he'd used henna that morning to paint symbols on his and John's left biceps that protected them from the oppressive heat. The charm was temporary, lasting no more than a week, but it should be enough to keep them from collapsing due to dehydration and sunstroke. Alex shot a look at Ibrahim, who drove with fevered intensity. The amulets he wore -- gifts from Alex -- caught the sun in brief flashes as the Audi caromed down the road. The charms would offer Ibrahim some protection against harm and bestow enhanced reflexes. Alex had also cautioned him repeatedly not to be a hero; he suspected such words fell on deaf ears. He had to hope that the amulets were enough to keep his mortal friend alive in any conflict to come.

The drive settled down somewhat when they broke free of the tangle of city traffic. The Audi roared onto a southbound road that took them past the Great Pyramids at Giza. Saqqara was only minutes away.

Maxwell knew things would go wrong sooner or later. The white guy mumbled something in Arabic to his buddies while Maxwell was pulling information from Sherin. A second later they'd all pulled knives and attacked. Maxwell realized almost immediately that the aggression was a feint. As three of the cultists came at Maxwell and his zombies, the fourth drew his blade across the woman cultist's, then tore the blade across his own neck.

By the time things were calm again only two cultists remained alive... and neither of them spoke English. "Zealous bunch of idiots," Maxwell said, his voice a mixture of disgust and respect. He wouldn't get anything out the cultists, and he couldn't make them do anything if they didn't understand him. But there was still the mummy.

As he took the straight razor from his pocket, a smile blossomed on Maxwell's face. Hefting the Heart, he turned to Lu Wen, still bound and gagged in the corner. "I know you understand me," he said, readying his will. "Looks like I'm not going to get the blow-by-blow on this Spell of Life thing. Can just two of these guys do it?"

Forced by the compulsion, Lu Wen gave a grudging nod.

"Alright then, since I can't order these guys to do it, let's try some old fashioned persuasion instead."

Maxwell placed the Heart on the sarcophagus. After flicking the razor open, he dragged the glittering blade across the artifact. Smoke curled up as the unnatural metal scored the Heart's surface, and few thick drops of some golden fluid welled up in the cut. At the same time, a tremor shook the room, a faint shower of grit falling from the ceiling. The cultists cried out in dismay and clutched one another while the mummy Lu Wen screamed through her gag and strained against the duct tape binding her. Maxwell looked over at her. "That was just a scratch. Unless you want to see what happens if I really slice into it, I suggest you order these guys to deal straight with me."

Palpable hatred burned in Lu Wen's eyes, then her gaze dropped to the wounded Heart. She nodded, her head moving the barest fraction.

Alex turned around to face John. "We have to figure out an approach. You see around there, past the Djoser ruins? Couple of cars and some fresh excavations. That's the tunnel entrance to Nebka's tomb. I can confirm the Heart's about two or three hundred feet to the north, which should put it right inside the lost pyramid."

"Is there any other way in?" John asked.

"A ventilation shaft that goes straight down to the burial chamber."

"How far is that?"

"About three hundred feet."

"Okay, so only one way in or out, practically speaking."

"Unless we need to get in there fast," Alex confirmed. "I can go down the shaft, but I'll knock down a bunch of dirt and sand as I go. Big giveaway."

"So..." John broke off what he was going to say as they pulled up next to a guard watching the approach to the excavation site. "Looks like he's havin some kind of fit."

Alex leaned over to the driver's side to get a decent look. The guard was looking right at them, but it was obvious he didn't actually see anything. His eyes were wide open with a washed out, filmy look. Salty tracks of dried tears coursed down his cheeks, and his mouth fluttered like he couldn't think of what to say.

Realizing they could do nothing for the guard, the three men continued on.

Maxwell looked down at Lu Wen. "You care to repeat that?"

The mummy sat as straight as she could, bound as she was. Maxwell had removed the duct tape from her mouth so she could instruct the two remaining cultists. Instead, she'd started in on some crazed attempt to talk Maxwell into surrendering.

"Stop this now," Lu Wen said. "You cannot hope to succeed. Even if you somehow learn the Spell of Life, your soul will not survive judgment. Your spirit will be destroyed by the Judges of Ma'at, your existence ended. We care only about the Heart. Leave it whole and depart immediately, and you may yet survive for some time, even if only in the awful parody of life you now suffer."

"You know what I've been through to get here, honey? I can't begin to tell you all the shit I've had to deal with. But I'm supposed to drop everything and walk away on your say so? You got some nerve, I'll grant you that. But if you don't cut the shit and get these guys to work, I'll have Fritz start slicing your precious Heart into lunch meat." Maxwell had brought the Nazi corpse down since it was the most self-aware of his charges.

"You would do nothing more than assure your own destruction," Lu Wen countered.

Maxwell felt the heat of anger steal over him. "Yeah? Maybe I should have Fritz practice on you a bit first, then."

"Perhaps you don't truly grasp what it means to be immortal. Threats such as yours mean nothing to someone for whom death has no meaning."

"I got a million ideas on how to kill someone. Love to try 'em out on you." Maxwell's lip curled at barely contained anger. "You don't think death has meaning? Spend some time with me."

"What can you do? You are nothing more than a corpse that is too stubborn to lie still." Lu Wen gave Maxwell a cold look. "You have no chance of succeeding in this. Even now our forces are converging. My brethren will take the Heart of Osiris back to the realm where you belong. Every second you stand here, you come that much closer to destruction."

"You better be sure you do the job right, lady. Cause if you don't, you can damn well bet I will never rest until I track your ass down."

"I have given you fair warning," she said. Then, after taking a deep breath, Lu Wen barked something in an ancient tongue. Another tremor went through the chamber, this one not as strong as when Maxwell wounded the Heart. Maxwell's weak eyes almost didn't catch the sudden motion in time to dodge as one of the statues leapt from the alcove and swung its staff at him. He saw all six of the statues were moving, in fact. What the hell are these things? No time to worry about it. He commanded Fritz and the other zombie to attack while he went for the mummy.

But she was already getting free, another of the statues cutting away the tape that bound her. Maxwell reached for the pistol to drop her fast when something whipped past him. It was his other zombie's head. Two of the statues had chopped it to pieces in a few seconds. Maxwell glanced around and saw that Fritz was accounting for himself well enough, thanks to the razor. Then he saw the last statue was moving for the Heart as his compatriot beat Fritz back toward one of the alcoves.

Everything's going to shit again! His clever plans dashed, just when he'd been so close. Lightning quick, Maxwell grabbed the Heart and ran for the doorway.

Alex looked at the tunnel entrance with a frown of frustration. They'd parked the Audi as close to the tunnel as they felt comfortable, then sat inside with the windows rolled down. "I agree that it'd be a bad idea to just go charging in Ibrahim, but do you have any reason why? If it's just Maxwell, I'd assume he's with the Heart. By my reckoning, it's still in the burial chamber."

"Remember when we met the devil Maxwell in Chicago," Ibrahim asked. "By that building?"

"The Sears Tower? Shit, that's right." He looked back at John. "That's where Maxwell jumped us and stole the Heart. He had four or five animated corpses in a truck with him."

"So he might have some here, too," John said.

"For all I know the prick has a dozen walking corpses hidden around here just waiting for us to show up."

Just then something black streaked through the passenger side window. Xian ran around Alex and Ibrahim's laps, making odd croaking noises and fluttering its wings.

"Where's he been?" John wondered.

"I think he's been keeping an eye on Lu Wen from the ventilation shaft." From Xian's loud squawk, it appeared Alex was correct. "Considering how he's acting, I'm guessing something bad is going down. That means end of planning. Let's go."

They piled out of the Audi and headed for the tunnel, Xian shooting into the air in a fast arc as they went. Alex dug something out of his pocket and tossed it ahead of them. Channeling the vibrant energy of his spirit, he muttered a command. The carving swelled and gained substance, and Sherlock crouched before them. Alex sprinted for the capstone, calling over his shoulder to John and Ibrahim, "Take Sherlock with you. Just make sure you stay out of his way!"

Maxwell felt the Heart throbbing in his grasp and oozing that same odd, bright substance. Lu Wen stood in the doorway, murmuring something as she grabbed a charm from her necklace.

Fury rose in Maxwell. He summoned forth all the power at his disposal. Dark forces coursed through his soul, bloating him like a tick. His spirit shrieked for retribution -- on the creature before him, on anyone that would stand in his way. He would not be denied success when he was so close! He cast the energy outward, searching for anyone, anything that would help him achieve his victory.

The charm in Lu Wen's hand had grown into a glittering katana. "Your time here is done," she said, swinging the blade in a few deadly practice cuts. He sensed four of the statues moving in position to attack him as well.

"Not quite yet," Maxwell said just before the alcove walls exploded inward and a sea of undead surged forth.

John and Ibrahim charged into the tunnel at full speed, Sherlock loping beside them. A zombie popped out of the darkness, lunging for the attack. John planted himself in a defensive stance, but suddenly there was no target. Sherlock had leaped forward and clamped its jaws around the zombie's upper thigh. Still running forward, the mastiff shook his head from side to side and smashed the animated corpse repeatedly into the tunnel wall. The zombie came apart after a few good hits and lay twitching for a moment before the dog dropped it.

The two men were staring at the remains when the ground shook and dozens of skeletal figures started erupting from the desert sand.

Alex reached the capstone, pulled free and set to one side to reveal the rectangular gap of the ventilation shaft. An inhuman chorus of shrieks echoed up from below.

Xian flew down the shaft and came back out a few seconds later, cawing wildly. Alex took that to mean things weren't going well down there. Drawing upon the amulet of Selket, Alex had the agility of a scorpion. He took a deep breath and leaped into the shaft, bracing his arms and legs on the sides and skittering down at breakneck speed.

Maxwell wasn't sure what he'd done, but was nonetheless pleased with the results. The things that boiled from the earth were animated corpses, and he knew he'd somehow called them forth. He could see the weak life force flickering within them, barely enough to animate their long dead bodies. There was something familiar about that energy, though...

He looked down at the thing pulsing in his hand, a film of golden fluid covering his fingers. He could feel the vast depths of power at his command. He sensed the secret of its control was just on the tip of his tongue. Maxwell could taste it, so close...

The blow shattered his left arm and broke most of his ribs as he slammed into a wall. Even as he drew on the Heart to heal his injuries, further blows, powerful enough to pulverize stone, rained on him. Maxwell found he couldn't react, his senses were too diffuse, his attention being sucked back to the Heart. Crying out in frustration and agony, he flung away the artifact. In an instant his perceptions snapped back into himself. Alex Krycek stood above him, just turning to see the Heart of Osiris vanish amid the horde of animated corpses. Maxwell took advantage of the moment's distraction and flung himself through the doorway.

Although he broke the connection with the Heart, Maxwell still sensed the energy flowing into the creatures he'd summoned. The things piled on Krycek, the other mummy and her statues, and fought with furious intensity. The power was waning fast, but if he hurried he might take advantage of the distraction to reach freedom. He sprinted up the tunnel, shoving his way through dozens more zombies, then burst out into the desert. Hundreds more undead rioted on the plateau around him. He had to go, had to run now. But then someone was before him, a man dressed in jeans with blood trickling down his face. The energy surrounding him told Maxwell he was a mummy.

"Goin somewhere, you son of a bitch?" John Doggett asked.

Alex lost it when he saw James Maxwell standing with the Heart of Osiris in his hand while dozens upon dozens of corpses tore at Lu Wen, a pair of hapless cultists and some guardian statues. Seized by the red haze of vengeance, his ka spirit wrapped around him like a protective cloak, Alex dropped from the ventilation shaft and charged Maxwell. Calling upon the full strength of his amulets, Alex smashed the zombie to the ground. Animated corpses grabbed at him, but he tossed them aside. Dead hands clutched at his arms and legs, ripping and pulling at him. His ka twisted the threads of fate just enough so that he slipped through their grasp and fell upon Maxwell.

A twinge on his arm shook Alex. A dim part of his consciousness realized the compass scarab registered sudden movement by the Heart.

Following the amulet's tremors, Alex plowed into a mass of corpses. One of the creatures, more substantial than the others and wearing some kind of soldier's uniform, snatched up the Heart. Alex was on it before it could move a step. He battered the thing into the wall, fists striking so hard they punched through flesh and bone and cracked against the tomb. A dozen more corpses jumped him then, their determination and numbers overwhelming his spirit's subtle protective aura. Alex clutched the Heart close to his chest as he struggled against the undead. Adrenaline slammed through him as he labored to tear the creatures off. As he cast aside the last of the corpses, Alex was surprised to see a semblance of peace had returned to the rest of the chamber. Lu Wen was covered in blood on the other side of the tomb, looking around in dazed wonder at the piles of bodies.

Alex stripped off his torn, bloody shirt and found a relatively clean spot with which to wrap the Heart of Osiris. He stepped under the ventilation shaft, the noonday sun spearing down and illuminating the Heart. Alex looked down upon the ab-Asar, a smile growing on his face. At last, he thought. Home and safe at last.

Maxwell stood before John, outlined in sharp relief. He could see every wound he'd suffered like it was some kind of diagram; he understood the severity of each, and how much he might injure him by striking each one in a certain way. Yet even as he looked, the options decreased steadily -- the prick was healing himself. He had to move before he could become whole again.

"Don't make this hard, Maxwell. You've caused too much pain, ruined too many lives, for this to end any other way than it's goin to," Doggett said, circling left, away from the razor he held.

Doggett could hear the staccato clatter of Ibrahim's assault rifle, as well as the occasional growl of Sherlock. The zombies were swarming all over, but for some reason they left John and Maxwell alone. That was good. Maxwell required his complete attention. John watched him like a hawk, all the variables laid out before him.

His left hand smashed into the side of Maxwell's head. He saw his feint and counterstrike, knew he could spin around and catch him from the side. But as he turned, John saw the oil slick flash and knew he hadn't moved fast enough. Cold fire burned down the side of his face, a pain more horrible than anything he could encompass. The razor blade tore down next to his left eye, through his cheek and out the side of his jaw. Incredible as the pain was, more terrible was the damage to the core of his soul.

He saw Maxwell's cold grin, misshapen where his strike had smashed in the side of his head. Falling, blood coursing warm down his front, John saw the shimmering black rainbow of the blade he flicked up for another strike.

Anger as blazing hot as the cold pain within him surged to life. Defying the inevitable, denying the agony he felt, John lunged as the razor swept down. His right hand grabbed Maxwell's wrist and twisted around. Crying out in equal parts torment and triumph, John jerked the hand across. The blade cut deep and clean, slashing Maxwell's head from his body.

"See you in hell," John whispered as he collapsed beside him.


Alex Krycek-Nefarka stood on the rise at the edge of the cluster of Mastabas and watched the workers puzzling over the Pyramid of Sanakht Nebka. The lost pyramid was no longer lost, as far as the world was concerned. The hundreds of Egyptian corpses scattered around the area were already almost forgotten, unable to compare in surprise and wonder to such a find. The explanation most in vogue claimed that a localized earthquake had shaken the bodies free of substandard Mastabas and revealed the entrance to Nebka's tomb.

The Amenti would maintain control of the site for the time being, but it was too high profile to serve as a resurrection site any longer. Unfortunate, but by no means catastrophic. There were other sites, and there would be more mummies. The enemy was still out there, and the Amenti would not rest until balance was restored.

Hearing the crunch of tires in the sand, Alex turned to see the battered, dust covered Audi pull up. "Ibrahim."

"Amenti," the cultist replied as he walked up followed closely by John. He carried himself with a confidence gained from a victory against overwhelming odds. He almost didn't survive the overpowering number of undead that swarmed over him. If the things hadn't fallen, the energy that infused them finally wasted...

Alex shook off the thought. He should be filled with pride and optimism, not pessimism. The Heart of Osiris was safely ensconced in Horus' complex at Edfu. The Eset-a had proven worthy of respect from the other Amenti, even if they still didn't approve of the cult's tactics. Vengeance was realized against James Maxwell for the atrocities he inflicted on Alex and far too many others. The cursed razor blade he used was stored away in the Eset-a safe house, where Alex and Lu Wen would study it to find the best means to destroy it without any unfortunate side effects.

John slipped his arm around Alex's waist, then rested his head against the other man's shoulder. He bore the marks of his battle against Maxwell -- a pale scar ran the length of his face -- but he was still alive, thanks to the healing bandages Alex had wrapped him in.

"What happens now?" Doggett asked.

Alex pulled John closer. "We stand here and watch the find of the decade. We enjoy life without being crushed by fear. We live, instead of merely existing." Alex burst out laughing at Ibrahim's expression. "Are you blushing?"

The Egyptian had, indeed, gone red in the face. After some prodding, he finally admitted, "It will take some time for me to get used to..." He gestured toward the two mummies.

"We belong together, Ibrahim. I won't deny my feelings or hide them away. But we'll try to be discreet so not to embarrass you."

A brief silence followed before the cultist spoke again. "Amenti?"

"Yes, Ibrahim?"

"How do you say 'fuck you' in the language of the ancients?"

Chaos reigned in this place. Storms of nothingness pounded at remnants of dream, raging across a landscape of insanity and torment. Amidst those winds of madness a spirit was buffeted. The soul was but a speck of distracted thought to the scouring nothing of oblivion, yet it clung to identity with a tenacity that the ghost storm's strongest gale couldn't shake.

In the midst of the ravages of hell, in the depths of the underworld, a lonely soul rallied against the limitless expanse of the beyond. Maxwell tore at the barrier dividing soul from flesh, nightmare from reality. His fingers, curled like claws, found little purchase, what few gouges he made in the wall of the real healing even as they were cut. But Maxwell didn't stop, didn't slow for an instant. His spirit felt no fatigue, for he was fueled with a passion that burned with blinding fury, with the driving need to escape damnation. He wouldn't rest until life, until the physical realm, was his once again.

He would never stop, even if it took an eternity.

The end.

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