Aswan

Manhattan; November 1, 1996

"A gargoyle with a taste for the finer things in life," Shari chuckled, picking up a jar of Beluga caviar. She smiled, popping the lid open and scooping out the fish eggs with her finger and then sucking on it. "Mmm."

Shari could see that Thailog was observing her with wariness. It was to be expected; she was Illuminati, and level Nine at that. She could be trouble, or she could be his greatest asset, and only time would tell.

"It's such nice change of pace," she said. "I've known of gargoyles that've had the world at their fingertips…" she paused and thought for a moment. "…or, rather, talon tips, but they didn't want it or sought out 'nobler' sentiments. There was even a gargoyle who gained what some men spend their whole lives trying to find, but would give it up in a heartbeat."

"And what was that?" he inquired, as he began removing his armor, retrieving customized robes from a hanger. He still watched her carefully out of the corner of his eye.

"Immortality," Shari said softly.

"Really," Thailog asked, his interest now clear, a sign of how Xanatos' programming had influenced him. "Do tell."

"If you insist." Shari smiled, knowing that she'd hooked him. "The story is told, though who can say if it be true, that in 1902 the Aswan Low Dam was completed, and the ancient places of Egypt were in danger of being lost forever…"

**

Egypt; the Temple of Isis; Philae: Friday January 7, 1927

Luxor swooped down from his perch on Philae, swiftly gliding through the darkness to a lower part of the island temple. From his vantage point, he could see the sacred island of Bigeh. He knew that his goal was close at hand.

He had light blue skin and feathered wings, he wore an elaborate linen loincloth, and his belt held an Egyptian long sword, like the ones used by the Medjai scouts in bygone days. A leather satchel hung loosely over one shoulder.

His face was lion-like, with chiseled features that seldom revealed his more playful side. Indeed, he looked very much like the "Horus on the Horizon", that which the Greeks had called a sphinx.

Luxor was no sphinx, however. The sphinxes had fled the black lands millennia ago--off with the Olympians, who had not been seen since that time. It had been assumed that they had not survived their attempted utopia. No, Luxor was a gargoyle, hatched in 1878 and bred to be a leader for the last surviving clan in Egypt.

Luxor was on a mission. Bigeh was the resting place of Wsir, or Osiris. And in his tomb was the one item that could change the seemingly inevitable fate of Luxor's clan.

Luxor unfurled his wings and glided toward Bigeh. He noted immediately that, like Philae, much of the island was underwater due to the Aswan Dam. There was talk of making the edifice bigger or even building a new one, in which case islands like Philae and Bigeh would be wiped out by the oncoming flood waters. What then would happen to the secrets and treasures that lay beyond the dam? Abu Simbel, which had survived countless wars and invasions, would be destroyed by the waters of the mighty Nile herself.

He glided past the ruins, ignoring them completely. They were for show anyway. The entrance to the tomb was elsewhere. Luxor pondered the damage caused by the dam as he landed with a splash on the far end of the island.

He immediately began examining the rock face. He noted with minor agitation that the water level was slowly rising. At last he saw what he was seeking! A crook and flail, crossed and carved into a rock that was already partially under water.

Millennia ago the crook and flail had been placed there as the only marker of the tomb of Egypt's most beloved god. Time had done its part to erase the mark, but the desert air had a tendency to preserve everything. Only in the last few years had the waters, now held back, begun to wipe away the symbol that indicated the entrance to the Sacred Mound.

Luxor examined the emblem, then, heaved the rock up and tossed it aside. He bent down and began feeling around in the water. Pushing aside a thin layer of mud and silt he could feel the smooth cover stone underneath. He dug in with his talons, and with his full gargoyle strength, cracked it apart. He pulled the halves up and tossed them each aside.

He tore at the newly formed hole, making it just large enough for a gargoyle to fit in. Cloaking his wings he leapt into the tomb, a small waterfall cascading into the crypt along with him.

Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon had discovered the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen but four years before. They had been astounded by the amount of gold and treasures within the tomb. Tutankhamen's tomb was only special because it had never been raided. The boy king was only a minor pharaoh who was still reeling from the bad press of his predecessor Akhenaton.

Tutankhamen's sepulcher was a pauper's grave compared to the vast treasure within the tomb of Wsir. The waterfall splashed down on top of a golden sphinx and began to hit the floor as the tomb filled with the muddy roiling waters of the Nile.

Even the gargoyle looked upon the treasures with awe: golden chairs, statues, at least seventeen different golden Senet boards. Several golden boxes which contained treasures Luxor could only guess at. If only Carter, or Sir William Mathew Flinders Petrie could see this tomb. They would have cut off their right arms for a chance at a mere five minutes within this crypt. The items within this room alone would make Luxor wealthier than several large European nations.

But the treasure that Luxor sought was not made of gold. He knew it would not be in the entrance room. Moving swiftly, he left the chamber and headed down an underground passageway. The obscuring darkness was deep enough that even his eyes had to strain to see. Eventually he had to stop and light one of the torches placed along the wall. The walls reflected a strange orange light that confused him until he investigated more closely. Even the walls were covered in a thin gold foil.

He passed through several chambers, each more extravagant than the last. Luxor wondered if the tomb encompassed the whole island. At last he came to the sacred burial chamber.

Osiris was not mummified, at least not in the standard sense. As god of vegetation and life, his body did not decompose. It simply lay on a gold and marble table, almost as though he were asleep. It looked as though he'd died but an hour ago, though Luxor knew better. Osiris was a member of the Third Race; his corpse had been prepared by his sisters Isis and Nephthys, as well as Thoth, the god of wisdom and learning. Anubis the God of embalming and gatekeeper to the doors of death, had overseen the entire process.

Luxor smiled at the thought. It was Anubis, or Yinepu, that he sought. Osiris's body was missing its left hand. This, and one other body part, had been eaten by the greedy Sobek, who refused to return them.

Osiris was of little consequence to Luxor however. The corpse seemed like it would awaken at any moment, as though life was not yet gone. Luxor could not help staring at it, as though Osiris knew what Luxor was planning.

The crypt room was full of items that the Oberati would need in the afterlife. There was an astounding assortment of foodstuffs, which had not decayed, presumably due to their close proximity to Osiris. Shabtis, or statues carved to act as servants, stood on richly carved golden tables. Large piles of gold and jewels, carved into the forms of gods and goddesses, most notably Isis, Thoth, Anubis, Horus, Nephthys, Set and of course Osiris himself, littered the tomb.

There was also a small library of scrolls. Upon seeing, this Luxor let out an exclamation: "Ah!" He immediately began picking through them, tossing aside an original copy of the Book of The Dead and several papyrus scrolls recording Osiris's reign in Egypt. At last he found what he'd been looking for.

"The Papyrus of Thoth," he murmured aloud. Quickly slipping the scroll into the leather satchel, he turned back towards the corridor where he had entered.

He moved back through the chambers. He was almost through the hallway when he noticed the floor was now wet. The waters of the Nile had reached further into the tomb than he'd expected. By sunrise tomorrow, the tomb of Osiris would be underwater.

**

"Luxor, this does not seem wise," Sutekh said.

Luxor glanced over at the clan elder but said nothing, instead examining the scroll closely to determine the items he would require to cast the spell.

Sutekh, who had been leader prior to Luxor, looked very much like him, though he had more human-like facial features, and was from a prior generation. He may have been Luxor's father or his older brother; more likely the former, though neither knew nor cared about this relationship.

The two of them remained silent for a moment; only the sounds of the Copts preparing for worship in the church below them broke the quiet. The remnants of the Egyptian clan had some years ago taken refuge in the bell tower of a Coptic church. They protected the Coptic community from the persecution of their Arab neighbors. The Copts' connection to the original ancient Egyptians was a strong motivation for this action.

"You are attempting to meddle in things you ought not be meddling with." Sutekh told him. "You place the clan in danger."

"Saqqara is the only female left in the clan," Luxor said shaking his head. "She chose me as her mate, leaving Sebek with none."

"That was her choice," Sutekh said bristling.

"Yes it was," Luxor said. "But we shall provide the clan with but one egg. The clan is already in danger, mentor. There are but four of us."

Ammut whined in the corner of the bell tower.

"And one beast," Luxor amended glancing at the gargoyle beast. "If I do nothing then the next generation will be the last."

"As you wish," Sutekh said, sighing. "But I shall have no part in this."

Saqqara and Sebek glided into the bell tower. Sebek had green skin and a long crocodile-like snout. Unlike the other members of his clan, his wings were not feathered, but bat-like. Saqqara was turquoise, with feathered wings attached to her arms.

The two gargoyles looked at each other in surprise, knowing that they had arrived in the middle of an argument. Then Saqqara rushed forward with delight to wrap her arms around her mate.

"My love," she said. "You've returned early."

"Indeed," Luxor said, stroking her hair, and folded his wings around her. "Tomorrow we make for Cairo. I was successful in retrieving the papyrus from Osiris' tomb."

As Saqqara looked up at him, worry clouded her features. This expression became set on her face as the dawn broke and all five gargoyles became frozen in stone.

**

Egypt; the Sphinx; Cairo: Sunday January 9, 1927

"Is everything ready?" Luxor asked, placing the sacred Tana leaves in the braziers.

"Everything is in place, Leader," Sebek replied.

"Nothing can be out of place," Luxor said, checking over the room with care. "Or we won't be able to hold him."

"The altar is ready, my love." Saqqara shook her head. "Although it feels wrong to do this without our mentor; he also is part of our clan."

"It feels wrong to do this in general," Sebek muttered, bending down and scratching Ammut behind the ears. The beast whimpered.

"He made his choice," Luxor said, ignoring Sebek's comment. "I am glad that you three came, however."

"We're clan," Sebek said, smiling with his long, toothy mouth. "Whether or not I agree, I will still be here for you, brother."

Luxor acknowledged this with a slight nod then he turned towards the altar and unrolled the scroll.

"Light the braziers," he said.

Saqqara and Sebek struck a pair of matches and dropped them into the Tana leaves. They burned quickly and filled the room with a pungent smell of incense.

Luxor began chanting in ancient Egyptian--or rather Coptic--the language that was descended from Egyptian. "By the scroll of Djehuty," he said. A miniature storm began to form over the altar. Small bolts of lightning flashed. "By the sacred Tana leaves, by the power of Amun-Ra: I adjure and compel you, come forth from your dark domain, Jackal god, Keeper of the Dead, Come forth and do our bidding!"

A vortex shot down from the center of the storm, spinning rapidly. A pair of glowing red eyes appeared within the vortex, followed a moment later by the judge of the dead. Something-smoke, or shadow, or something in between- swirled around the god, keeping him imprisoned.

His eyes narrowed as he observed the trio of gargoyles and their beast.

"It worked," Luxor said, taking a deep breath. "My love! look! We have imprisoned death itself! Anubis!"

The Netjer continued to watch them. "For what purpose have you brought me here?"

"He speaks," Saqqara gasped.

"Of course he does," Luxor said. "Guardian of the Gates of Tuat, I would ask a favor."

"I grant but one boon, gargoyle," Anubis said. "And it shall be given to you as it is given to everyone, when your time comes."

"Anubis," Luxor said. "Look at us! Our kind is dying! We are the last! Surely you do not wish for the gargoyle race to cease to be!"

"Death is inevitable," Anubis said. "All things must die, Child of the First Race; it is the way of this world, for even the Third Race cannot live forever. We must all shuffle off this mortal coil one day. Is that your wish, for me to suspend death for the four of you?"

"Nay, Lord Anubis," Luxor said, shaking his head. "Immortality would save us from extinction, it is true, but it would not help our kind. What I ask is much greater. Bring back the gargoyles of Egypt's past! With them, our kind can flourish once more!"

The Jackal god's glowing red eyes widened in shock. "What you ask is UNTHINKABLE! You would ask the Jackal god to play favorites, to bring back what is dead and gone? Only once has death worked backwards, and it cannot be done again. Least of all for you."

"But you just said that it has been done!" Luxor exclaimed. "If it can be done once, then why not again? Anubis, you can save our race! Save our people! Would you stand by so idly if it were the Third Race that was dying?"

"I would," Anubis said. "As I said, all things must die. It is a part of our lives. If your race is dying then I feel pity, nothing more. The rules of death exist for a reason. Even I cannot break them."

"If I cannot appeal to your sense of justice," Luxor snarled, his eyes flaring white, "then I shall force you to do as I ask. The Papyrus of Thoth contains more then just a spell to summon you. It also contains the spell to make the reader an Avatar!"

"You cannot comprehend the forces you unleash," Anubis said.

"Indeed, this does not seem wise," Sebek, said looking at his rookery brother. "The plan was to imprison Anubis and make him do as we asked, not to become him."

"I will do what I must to save our clan!" Luxor unfurled the scroll. "In the names of Wsir, Astet, and Set; Let Yinepu and I now be one!"

Raw electricity surrounded Anubis, but instead of transforming him as it was supposed to, the dark energy from the cage flared up, and shot from the storm above the jackal god to strike Luxor, lancing directly through his heart.

The gargoyle jerked and collapsed to the ground, clutching his chest, heaving for breath and coughing up blood.

"My love!" Saqqara cried.

As she and Sebek rushed to Luxor's side, Anubis stepped down from the altar and approached them.

"You!" Saqqara's eyes blazed red. "You did this!"

"I assure you I did not," Anubis said, bending down over Luxor. "Coptic is not Egyptian, despite the similarities. The spell was not spoken correctly, and so the energy that would have merged us reversed itself upon him instead."

"And so now you've come to claim him," Sebek said.

"Indeed," Anubis responded. "The wound is fatal."

"NO!" Saqqara shrieked. "No, no, no. Please don't take him. Please, no. It's not his fault. He won't try to merge with you, just please don't take him."

"Death does not play favorites, child," Anubis said. "I bear neither him nor you any ill will for what you have done, but death has come to him all the same."

"Is there nothing we can do?" Sebek asked.

"Please take me instead," Saqqara begged, tears flowing from her eyes.

The jackal's head turned and he looked at Saqqara almost quizzically. "If that is your wish, then yes, I may take you in his place. Such are the rules of death."

"No!" Sebek said. "You cannot! You two are meant to be together. I have always known this. Let him take me!'

"No," Anubis said. "The female offered first, and so only she may go. If she reconsiders then the offer is void."

"Then I go!" Saqqara said.

Anubis said nothing more. He placed his right hand on Luxor's chest and his left on the same spot on Saqqara. The three of them glowed for a moment; then Anubis vanished.

The wound that was on Luxor's chest was gone, and Saqqara collapsed to the ground.

Luxor jerked awake. "Wha-what happened?"

Sebek looked away.

"Brother what happened?" Luxor demanded, grabbing Sebek and giving him a violent shake.

Sebek turned and glared at his clan leader, his eyes flashed. "Death has taken your mate in your place."

"My love?" Luxor twitched as he saw his mate lying on the floor. "No! Beloved! My love!" He clutched her, cradling her head and crying, holding her lifeless form. "No…what have I done? What have I done?"

Sebek and Ammut left the room in silence, as Luxor continued to weep for his fallen mate.

**

Manhattan; November 1, 1996

"Then what happened?" Thailog asked, sitting back in his throne with a toga draped around him. His armor lay in a pile nearby.

"Luxor lived on," Shari said. "By the laws of death, Anubis had claimed Luxor's soul when Saqqara died in his place. Luxor couldn't die. He left Egypt shortly afterwards, rumor has it he went to Greece, he hasn't been seen since. Sebek, Sutekh, and Ammut died eventually, and there are no gargoyles left in that country."

"What about the treasures in the tomb of Osiris?" Thailog asked, cocking an eyebrow ridge.

Shari smiled. "They lie at the bottom of Lake Nasser…if the story be true."

"And is the story true?" Thailog asked. "The treasures in that tomb could easily place me on equal footing with Xanatos."

Shari shrugged and leaned against a nearby column. "The Aswan High Dam was completed in 1970. The Egyptian government had a number of historical sites excavated and moved, including the temple of Isis on Philae, but they didn't know about the tomb, so if it exists, it wasn't moved and consequently it's completely submerged."

Thailog smiled. "Then my first task for you is to arrange for an expedition to go to Egypt." He smiled. "And tell them to pack scuba gear."

**