This idea came to me when I caught a bunch of old "Mighty Max" episodes on YouTube. I realized that mixing two particular boy-heroes might be a lot of fun, and so...this happened.
I don't own any of the characters that appear in this chapter - they are owned by several different entities, none of whom truly understand the value of "Mighty Max" or "Mummies Alive!" So don't sue me for trying to do justice to two awesome cartoons!
Max really never did get used to using the portals. It wasn't that the psychedelic colors were too bright, or that he wasn't really a big fan of going anywhere by falling head-first for what felt like forever and then landing on his face. True, he didn't like either of those very much. But the thing no one ever seemed to appreciate was that the stupid Cosmic Cap reacted the whole time he traveled through a portal. Now, head-first as always, Virgil to his left and Norman, shouting his war-cry, to Max's right, he could feel the Cap pulsating with the power of the passage itself. The energy that the portals were made of, not electricity but something like it, echoed through his whole being from the moment he opened one until it had closed behind him. Max had gotten accustomed to the experience, but he was never really comfortable with the sensation of so much raw power using his body as a conduit. It was an incredible feeling, though.
The end came with an abrupt bump, as usual. At least this time Norman, who had much faster reflexes than the Mighty One, managed not only to land on his feet, but to catch Max's shirt and set him upright before he landed unceremoniously on his face. The boy-turned-hero smiled at the enormous Guardian who had saved his life countless times.
"Thanks, big guy," he said, before turning back to see where they had landed. It was twilight, and he was on a hill of some kind overlooking a city. The wind was warm, and there was something vaguely familiar about the landscape.
"San Francisco, but a San Francisco unlike our own," intoned Virgil.
Max looked down at his other companion in confusion. Okay, so he hadn't really been listening to Virgil when the bird, affectionately known as a chicken although Max knew full well he preferred the term "fowl," had been telling him what the deal was this time. There was always some grave threat to the safety of the world and only the Mighty One could avert the impending disaster. Or something. Max had discovered that being the Mighty One was easier when he didn't give it too much thought and just went with the flow. His instincts, he reasoned, were a lot smarter than his brain. But this time he was confused. Maybe he should have been paying attention for once.
"Unlike our own? What do you mean?"
"It's another dimension, Mighty One," Norman said quietly behind them.
"Another dimension? You mean like the Astral Plane? Okay, Virg, what's going on here?"
"You never listen," Virgil admonished in his severe but kind voice. "We have been summoned here by a greater need than usual. You know about alternate realities, don't you, Mighty One?" At Max's blank look, Virgil sighed and continued. "Well, simply put, this is a world where a different kind of destiny has taken place, completely independent of our own. Instead of the history you know, where the Cap was formed by the gods and has been used to fight Skullmaster, in this world there is a different kind of chosen one who fights a similar evil. This one has need of us and so we have arrived."
"So you're saying that instead of what happened to us, there's a whole other world where some other kid is the Mighty One?"
"Not exactly. You are the only Cap-Bearer in the universe. But in this world is a different kind of hero, not a Mighty One, but something else altogether, with an entirely different nemesis. Unlike the Astral Plane, which is bound to our world, this one is as independent as two books next to each other on the shelf. The Astral Plane you know is the appendix of our own story, whereas this is another volume altogether. We have crossed that boundary into another dimension."
"Cool! Okay, so, why us?" Max asked. He liked the idea of going to visit another hero in another world, but the "why us" question always nagged at him. Being the Mighty One was all right, but there were times he really wished someone else had taken the job.
"The balance of good and evil in the universe is a very delicate thing. If it is too disrupted in any one dimension, it will have an effect on all other dimensions as well. Our world is quite stable, thanks to you, Mighty One, but this world is headed for a critical juncture. We have been summoned because you are a universal force for good. You are needed to help the other forces for good to stabilize this world. By preventing evil from gaining a foothold here, we are effectively thwarting evil in our own world as well. Therefore, we have come to give an extra advantage to the heroes here, and that should re-balance this dimension in our favor." Virgil crossed his arms and waited.
"So I'm, like, the extra weight that makes the scales go down, right? But why me? Why not some other hero from some other dimension?"
"Because," Virgil said patiently, "as I said, there is only one Mighty One. There is also only one Cosmic Cap. No other hero has the ability to transcend the boundaries of space and time as easily as you. I am certain there are other heroes in other dimensions who tend to set the balance of destiny towards the good side, but few if any of them could actually answer the call and enter another dimension. You are just such a hero. And while it is largely forbidden, in this case, the need was great, so the request was granted. Thankfully, you have been so successful in our world, you earned the right to transcend the dimensions. If you had not been the hero you are, we would have been forbidden from lending the aid this world so desperately needs."
Max wondered who made all these rules about the Cap and the portals and everything else. Who decided what was allowed and what wasn't, anyway? Who granted these "requests" as Virgil called it? And why didn't they schedule any fun time in the middle of all this hero stuff? He'd like to have a talk with whoever they were, maybe try and get a little more wiggle-room with what he could do and when he got vacation time. But whenever he asked Virgil about it, all Virgil would say was something vague about "the ancient ones." Max had learned that Virgil would only tell him things when he decided it was time for Max to know them, but sometimes he wondered if Virgil even knew all the answers for sure.
"Okay, so which way do we go?" Max asked, looking around. He was answered by some kind of explosion not far from them. Shrugging, he turned to face the sound, saw a rising plume of smoke further along what looked like a bike-path in the park they had landed in, and started to run towards it, Virgil and Norman just behind. "This way! Watch out you… whatever-you-are! Here comes the Mighty One!"
About ten minutes prior to the explosion, Presley Carnovan was thinking what a quiet month it had been. He couldn't remember his life being this normal since he had met the mummies. As he absent-mindedly tugged on the Eye of Ra, the amulet Rath had given him, he turned his bike to look over the Bay again. He had always enjoyed watching the sun set on clear evenings like this, but it had been a while since he'd had the chance to come up here. The nice thing about San Francisco was the number of parks with great views. But, as he looked over the water from the path near the ridge, he realized that the sun had actually set already and darkness was creeping in from the east. Presley had been standing there much longer than he'd thought.
"I better get home. If the guys knew I was out alone…" Presley muttered to himself, imagining the lecture he would get from Ja-Kal. But he had taken this rare opportunity to get out on his own, away from his excessively-diligent mentors, and do things his way. The mummies, his guardians from thousands of years before, were trying to rebuild the Hot-Ra after a recent encounter with Scarab. It was in bad shape, and the way Rath had been complaining, Presley was pretty sure the other three mummies were being pressed to assist with the repairs. He appreciated the security and friendship of the mummies, but he felt like they were just a little too protective of him. They almost never let him out of their sight, and often they insisted on being within an arm's reach of him, even if it meant embarrassing him in front of his friends or risking exposure to the rest of the world. It drove Presley nuts. He just wanted to live a normal life!
Turning back towards the path, he saw something move out of the corner of his eye. Presley instinctively reached into his familiar red backpack for the Boomer-Ra, which he could use in an emergency to protect himself. But another moment showed that it was Khati, his over-protective mummified cat, sneaking up behind him from the bushes. Swinging from the cat's neck was the Eye of Osiris, which allowed the mummies to see everything she could like some kind of live TV show. They used it to tag along after him when it was otherwise inconvenient for them to be as close nearby. Presley sighed and put his weapon away.
"You scared me, Khati," he admonished the once-dead feline. She meowed plaintively and ran up for a pet. Presley was never sure why she liked being pet so much, given that her fur was covered with the ancient wrappings from being mummified. He didn't think would feel very comfortable to her, but with cats, who knew? Before she reached him, however, Khati stopped, stood still, and began to hiss, eyes flashing. Presley had a very bad feeling suddenly. He had learned to trust his instincts and right then, he felt that there was definitely something wrong.
"Uh, guys," he said, touching the Eye he wore and activating its ability to speak directly to his guardians through their own amulets of power, "I think I'm in trouble here…"
"Indeed you are!" came a shout from the nearby trees. Scarab, fully transformed and accompanied by more Shabties than Presley could count, flew forward towards the boy. Presley jumped to his bike and tried to out-pedal the sorcerer, racing down the bike-path towards the city. But the ground was uneven and before he knew it, the boy-prince was on his face in the dirt, bike spiraling away down the path. Khati was suddenly beside him, grown much larger in size and growling possessively.
"Guys!" Presley shouted into his amulet, which was glowing red. No response.
"They'll never make it, young prince," said Scarab with a very self-satisfied grin. Presley started to run again, this time towards a nearby parking lot, hoping he could draw some attention or else find a place to hide. Before he could get there, however, Scarab aimed Heka, his companion snake and scepter, who spit a huge blast of fire across their path. Presley and Khati ducked, and the fire hit a parked car instead. The car exploded. The force of it knocked Scarab back for a moment. Khati threw herself over the boy to protect him.
"Get him!" he shouted to the Shabties who had finally advanced onto their position. Presley figured Scarab would avoid using fire if possible except to scare him or drive him somewhere; it wouldn't do him any good to kill the soul he wanted all over again!
Heart pounding, he grabbed his amulet in one last-ditch attempt. "Can anybody hear me? I need help out here! Please, hurry up!" His hope was fading with the last remnants of twilight and he feared that this time, like centuries ago, his guardians would be too late to protect him from Scarab. "If I'm going down, then I'm going down fighting," he thought to himself and he eased himself out from under Khati and rolled to his knees.
Then, like the pharaoh who had been reborn within him, he stood up bravely, pulled out the Boomer-Ra again, and prepared himself to fight the Shabties and their master on his own.
Max reached the top of the rise in the path in time to see a bunch of funny-looking stone guys gathering around a lone boy about his age, restraining him amidst his rebellious and angry shouts. There was also a gross beetle dude flying nearby and doing a lot of shouting, too. It only took a moment for Max to figure out who the good guy was, and it wasn't just because the scene below was pretty self-evident. The Mighty One felt, just as instinctively as he knew he was the Cap-Bearer, that the boy below was a chosen one as well. He wasted no time.
"Norman! Let's go! We've gotta help that kid!" he shouted, running towards the melee.
"I love it when he says that," Norman said as he drew his sword and followed Max. His long legs allowed him to out-distance the Mighty One, and with a great battle-cry he launched into the fight. His face melted into sheer, barbaric delight as he discovered that the horde facing him fell apart when hit with his sword or fist . "All right! Bring it on!" Norman roared.
Presley thought for sure the mummies had arrived. Who else could hit the Shabties with the force of a truck and keep going? But as he looked up, hanging helplessly in the arms of the Shabties, he saw not Armon, but an unknown person taller than even his largest mummy-guardian. The huge, dark-haired warrior cut a clean path through the Shabties and, swinging a huge sword, cut him loose from the Shabties that held him in one swipe. Or, rather, cut the pieces of the Shabties that held him and then demolished the rest of their bodies. Then a kid he'd never seen before burst through the warrior's wake and grabbed his now-liberated arm.
"Come on! Let's get out of here and let Norman do his thing!" Max shouted, latching onto the boy in front of him. Somehow, having seen how easily the kid had been overwhelmed by these vaguely-Egyptian guys, Max wanted to put some good distance between himself and them. Ducking a grab, he practically pulled the kid out of the crowd, relying on his famous luck to help them avoid the mass. Max had never been lucky like this until he became a hero, a gift of being the Mighty One he knew. It came in handy now and again. Norman, retreating along with the Mighty One, strategically put himself between the fleeing boys and everyone else and continued to hack at the lot of them.
"Who are you?" Presley asked the kid who seemed to know the big guy making gravel out of the Shabties. He wished he could go back for the Boomer-Ra, which had been pulled out of his hands when he was overwhelmed. But, he reasoned, going back into the crowd of Shabties to hunt around their feet for his weapon didn't seem like that good of an idea, so instead he redoubled his efforts to follow the boy. Then he almost stopped in his tracks when he saw that they were heading for some kind of bird wearing a red toga and scratching math in the dirt, standing a bit uphill from the melee.
"It's complicated. Look out!" Max shouted, seeing the bug-guy swoop down and use his staff, which appeared to be moving, to spit fire, not at them, but in front of them, as if to force them to turn back towards the recently-escaped mass. They evaded the fire, but Max knew he needed a plan and he needed it fast. They were definitely out-numbered and out-gunned, well, out-fired, as well. Luck would only take them so far, especially if the flying thing decided to aim at them for real. As the purple bug came around for a second pass, he turned to Virgil.
"Virg, do the portals work in this world?"
"Well, yes, they do, but they are not located in precisely the same locations, nor do they lead to the places we are accustomed to…" Virgil began.
"Just find me the closest one!" After ducking another fire blast from the flying bug, Max added, "Fast!"
Presley watched in fascination as the bird, consulted a scroll as old as one of Rath's, mumbling something that sounded like "vectors" and "possibilities" all the while. Scarab was getting close, and the boy-prince wasn't entirely sure how they had avoided him this long. Somehow, the sorcerer had been unable to either lay his hands on Presley or drive them along with his fire. Something must have been putting him off balance, Presley reasoned, even though he had no idea what it could be. "Must be my lucky day," he thought to himself, but he knew it couldn't last forever.
"With the strength of Ra!" echoed across the clearing. Presley broke into a smile of relief.
Max looked up in time to witness an awesome light-show where four, well, they looked like mummies, went from being old and bandaged but surprisingly mobile to being armored and glowing. One, the blue one who had wings, took off into the air and started firing flaming arrows at the flying purple bug, staring an aerial fire-fight that took the bug's attention from the boys. The other three mummies jumped into the mass with Norman and the rock-guys, of whom there were still plenty milling around. The battle was a pretty impressive sight, but the sheer numbers of the rock-guys appeared to be taking its toll on the mummies and Norman. The whole crowd was still heading towards them, and Norman was having trouble keeping them from getting by him and having a free run at the boys.
"Mighty One, there is a portal about thirty paces due, uh, that way!" Virgil said, pointing where the park dropped off on a steep incline to a ravine and the Bay below. Max looked at it and the whole scenario reminded him of something… Of course! He turned to the darker boy.
"They're after you, aren't they?" he asked quickly.
"Y-yes" Presley answered, confused.
"Come on! Let's get rid of them!" Max shouted, grabbing the boy's arm and pulling him towards the fighting. The mindlessness of the rock-guys, along with the undead appearance of the mummies had reminded him of the soulless minions that Skullmaster had used to hunt him when the Crystal of Souls was still in one piece. And now, as then, there was a perfectly-placed portal to get rid of the rock-guys before Norman was overwhelmed. Max felt the rush that usually happened when it was time to be a hero, like a light suddenly burned inside him. He couldn't explain it, but he figured that when Virgil was talking about destiny, what he really meant was this feeling of being able to take on the world, no matter the odds, and win.
"Norman, I need your sword!" Max yelled as he reached his Guardian's side. Norman, not one to question the Mighty One most of the time, handed it off and punched one of the bad guys who was getting a little too close. He could brawl with them as easily as he could fight with the sword. Norman opened his mouth to say something, but ended up under a pile of the rock-dudes. Max evaded the pile, but just barely. Then he ran in the direction of the portal, pulling a very confused kid along, trying to put some distance between them and everyone, and everything, else.
"What are you doing?" Presley asked, desperate for some kind of answers. Why he was being pulled back towards the Shabties he had so narrowly escaped, and then, after disarming the warrior and running away again was beyond Presley. Come to think of it, running away from his guardians didn't seem like the best idea either, even though there was a pile of Shabties between them. But something about this kid, with wide blue eyes shining with something Presley couldn't quite identify, woke an odd sense of understanding in him. Somehow, the boy-prince instinctively felt that this kid was on his side, was very much like himself, in fact, and that he, like the mummies, could handle anything.
"Look, just call those guys after you, okay? I know what I'm doing." Max stopped just above the cliff and looked the darker boy in the eye, the warm buzz of heroism resonating in him. He wondered if it looked crazy to just run back and forth all the time, but often it worked. The boy was hesitant, but Max gave him a look and said, "I'm helping you. I'm on your side. Just trust me."
Presley shrugged, feeling like things couldn't get any worse, and shouted, "Hey, Scarab, come and get me!" He waved his arms and made a face. The kid next to him smiled and nodded. It felt silly, but it worked. Scarab, as well as the whole batch of Shabties, turned and abandoned their fights to pursue, the stone minions running at their top speed, periodically tripping over parts of defeated Shabties. The mummies, all shouting something, hurried after. Ja-Kal, fight abandoned in the air, followed, hot on Scarab's tail.
"Now, we're going to jump, and you're going to grab onto me, okay? Don't let go," Max warned, readying Norman's sword. He could feel the portal somewhere below him although it hadn't opened yet, and he was sure the plan would work as long as this kid didn't accidentally go over with the rest of them. The boy gave him wide eyes, but prepared to jump. "One, two three!" Max shouted, jumping over the edge of the cliff with the boy at his side.
Presley jumped on three and grabbed onto the kid's legs as they fell, not really even sure why he was going along with this. To his surprise, two things happened at once. The first was that the blond boy used the enormous sword like a climber's pick, sticking it into the dirt of the cliff as they fell and holding on, keeping them suspended high above the Bay. The second thing that happened captured Presley's full attention. The kid's innocuous red cap began to glow, and with a sound like thunder, spit a stream of what looked like lightning to a spot just below them in mid-air. The point of light grew to a great spinning wheel of color and some kind of electricity and brilliance like nothing he had ever seen before. It was somehow reminiscent of the Western Gate when open, but altogether more powerful, seemingly more wild and fantastic. Presley could feel himself being drawn into it like a magnet and he redoubled his grip on the knees of the boy. Then the Shabties, in their infinite wisdom, followed the boys' leap over the cliff, but without a sword to hold them, missed the dangling pair and fell into the light and energy. The whole group of them went spiraling away into that energy. Presley wondered if it destroyed them or just put them someplace else, like the Western Gate. He breathed a sigh of relief as the last of them disappeared.
It had worked perfectly. Max smiled, the hero-glow starting to fade. Just like the soul-less minions of Skullmaster, the rock-guys followed their quarry over the cliff and fell into the portal which took them somewhere else, and Max didn't really care where. The only problem was the big purple bug. He flew over the cliff, took one look at the portal, and seemed to think better of it. He didn't swoop down for them, but rather skirted far to one side with an odd look on his face, and flew away, shouting something like, "This isn't over!" Max sighed. It was never over with bad guys, he thought. Then he yelled in surprise.
"Hey!" the kid exclaimed as Ja-Kal lifted them both in his strong arms. Presley's attention had been on his mentor, not his enemy, and so he was not surprised when Ja-Kal came right behind Scarab and lifted them from the cliff and away from the light below. The same could not be said for his companion, who was apparently caught off-guard. At least the kid held onto the long sword as he was pulled into the air. He had good reflexes, Presley noticed. Ja-Kal flew with them back up to the ground where piles of what had once been Shabties littered the area. He set Presley down, but lifted the kid by his shirt and stared into his blue eyes.
"Who are you and what magic is this? How dare you endanger the pharaoh?" the blue mummy said with a very cold voice. Max felt himself smile nervously and accidentally let Norman's sword fall.
"Come on, it wasn't like that! I saved him, that's all!" But then he saw the other three gathering around. The red one, the one like a cat, lifted a glove with very sharp claws.
"What were you doing with the prince?" she asked, menacing him with her paws.
"Mighty One!" Norman shouted, and he started to charge the mummies holding his friend. Norman hated it when anyone threatened the Cap-Bearer, and this time he had not been expecting a confrontation. He roared with fury as he closed the distance, waving a leg he had picked up from the ruble like a club.
"Norman! Cease your attack this instant! And you! Unhand the Cap-Bearer! We are your rescuers!" shouted Virgil. Somehow, in spite of all the times that Norman and the Mighty One ignored Virgil, every now again the ancient fowl could make himself be heard and obeyed. This was one of those times. Norman stopped his charge abruptly and the blue mummy even let Max fall to the ground in surprise at being addressed by a bird in a bathrobe. Max quickly righted himself, grabbed Norman's sword, and ran back to his friends before he turned to face them again. He stood proudly, but he was just as glad having Norman so close behind and re-armed with his long-sword. His Guardian put a large hand protectively on his shoulder.
"I believe there has been a misunderstanding," Virgil intoned, stepping forward.
"I agree," said Rath, placing a hand on Presley's shoulder in a similar gesture. "It appears you actually helped defend our young prince before we could arrive," he glared quickly back at Armon and Ja-Kal and Presley wondered what had happened this time, "for which we are thankful." Presley stepped away from the others, seeing the smoldering look on Ja-Kal's face. The boy knew his guardian didn't like it that they had almost been too late, and he had a sneaking suspicion that his temper was likely to take it out on the strangers. He drew nearer the falcon-avatar and put a hand on his arm. "I'm okay. He saved me," he said quietly. Some of the flint melted from Ja-Kal's eyes, but he still shifted his weight to be slightly in front of his prince and he did not extinguish the flaming arrow in his hands.
"Who are you?" asked Armon, staring at the huge warrior standing next to the bird and the kid. They had all seen him in action. It wasn't often they encountered someone taller and possibly equal to Armon in a fight. This man was such a warrior.
"Ahem. Allow me," Virgil said, placing a hand on Max's arm before the boy's usual banter spoiled what could be a very dignified moment in history. "I hereby present the Bearer of the last Cosmic Cap, destined hero of mankind, and champion of the forces of good, the Mighty One." If he noticed Max squirming, he chose to ignore it. "This," gesturing to Norman, "is the fate-appointed Guardian to the Mighty One, Norman. It is his job to protect the Mighty One from any and all threats." Norman made no move. "And I," bowing, "am Virgil, last of the ancient Lemurians and instructor to the Mighty One. We have come to help you."
"Virgil," Max sighed, turning to his friend, "I'm sure you could have made that more embarrassing. I'm just not sure how."
"And this," Ja-Kal said, drawing Presley forward with a hand on his shoulder, "is the Pharaoh of ancient and timeless Egypt, prince and heir to the Upper and Lower kingdoms, the reincarnation of Prince Rapses." Presley squirmed too. "I am Ja-Kal, and these are Rath, Nefertina, and Armon. Together, we too are guardians to our prince. Our lives and our deaths are solely dedicated to his well-being and protection."
"Uh, thanks Ja-Kal" Presley said. He stepped forward, towards the Mighty One, hand outstretched. He could see Norman glaring at the mummies, but the Cap-Bearer moved to meet him in the middle, blue eyes smiling warily. They both felt like they had a feud on their hands and wanted it to end, fast.
"Be careful, Mighty One," Norman warned, sword out.
"Beware, my prince," Rath said, also drawing his sword.
Max looked at Presley and Presley looked back at Max. Then they both burst out laughing and their own apprehension was washed away.
"What's so funny?" asked Armon. Nefertina shook her head and shrugged.
Max recovered first. "Do they ever call you by your real name?"
"No, not really. How about you?" Presley asked, still laughing.
"Nope. I'm Max," he said, holding out a hand.
"Presley." They clasped hands.
"I see nothing humorous in your title, Mighty One! It is a mark of distinction and honor," Virgil began at the same time as Nefertina said defensively, "We do so call you by your name, my prince. Just not often." The boys looked at their respective peanut galleries, rolled their eyes, and laughed even harder.
"Well, I suppose no harm has been done. Let them laugh," Ja-Kal said in his gentle voice. The flint was gone from his eyes, replaced by the softer look of a mentor with his student. He returned his bow to its resting place on his back. It was rare the prince looked so relaxed. The falcon was glad his young ward had made a friend.