Newkirk shut his eyes again, trying to focus completely on his two friends. They were there, and they needed him. They were real. This balance was all in his imagination.
…But then why was there a gap between the platform on the supposedly-imagined scale and the ground?
The Egyptian man watched as the braces propping up the two platforms on the scale gave way. As he suspected, Newkirk's side of the scale began to descend.
The Englishman didn't understand what it meant, though his instinct told him it wasn't good. It was, perhaps, fortuitous that he didn't know that one who failed the Weighing of the Heart was fed to Ammit the Devourer the moment his side of the balance hit the ground; he would have been a bit more preoccupied with his fate in the event that he had known.
But even if he had known the legend, Newkirk likely would not have thought about it for very long; he turned back as LeBeau cursed again, the pain evident in the Frenchman's voice as his arm was twisted further.
"Louis, 'ang on!" he called to him. That's it. I'm not sitting about while these illusions stop me. Me mates need me, and, Cor blimey, I'm going to 'elp them.
But before he could move, his side of the balance paused in its descent, hovered for a moment, and began to rise.
"Are you quite finished?" Newkirk muttered, waiting for it to stop so that he could judge his jump.
Shadi stared as the scales balanced themselves. How could it be that a mere thief could pass the Weighing?
Once the scales had stopped moving, Newkirk paused for a moment, making sure that they would not move again. He didn't even bother to notice that the scales were balanced and that he had passed the test; the Englishman leaped from the platform, and the scales vanished behind him, though Shadi followed.
By passing the Weighing, he has one last vision of Duat to overcome, the Egyptian said to himself, pulling out of Newkirk's vision. He must evade Apophis himself. If he can do so, then he will have proven that he is not the mere scoundrel I thought him to be.
That was the least of Newkirk's worries, of course; he was now shutting his eyes again, focusing on where LeBeau was, who seemed to be in the most pain. The Frenchman called out to him, realizing what he was trying to do, and Newkirk struck, pulling one of LeBeau's assailants off of him and sent him tumbling across the chamber floor. The goon quickly whipped around to regain his ground, and Newkirk lunged, solely on the deductions of his opponent's movements, based on what the corporal could hear.
The Frenchman was now able to break free of his other captor, trying to also lend a hand to Newkirk, who was grappling with his baffled opponent. Clearly, the man was wondering how Newkirk fought with his sight intact when he was doing so well without it.
Davis cursed, now pressing his knee against Carter's chest, trying to force him to let go of the rifle. The strain on the American's face was noticeable; he was already nearing exhaustion by trying to keep the rifle pointed away from his friends.
"André!" LeBeau exclaimed. He tried to help him, but paid for his lapse in concentration by getting tackled to the ground by his opponent.
Shadi let out a "tsk" as Newkirk threw his opponent down, stunning him, and ran at Davis, trying to give some aid to Carter. The Egyptian placed his fingers on the downed smuggler's neck as he struggled to rise, pressing his pressure points until he slumped forward, unconscious. With that, the Egyptian exited the chamber, deciding that it would be best to alert the trio's commanding officer to their presence.
Davis growled in frustration as Newkirk came to Carter's aid, but he was not concerned; Carter was almost at his breaking point, and Newkirk couldn't even see, thanks to the visions from the medallion.
The gruff smuggler focused his attention on Carter first, pressing his knee against the American's chest with as much strength as he could summon. Carter shut his eyes and gritted his teeth, but his hands slipped from the rifle, causing him to fall.
LeBeau threw his assailant off as Newkirk seized the rifle again, moving to help Carter to his feet. Carter was still shaky; it had taken all of his strength to hold Davis off for this long. As LeBeau moved to help Newkirk try to take the rifle from Davis, Carter found himself unable to fight too well against the smuggler that LeBeau had just thrown off. One punch from the other smuggler sent Carter across the chamber, where he sat in a daze, trying to clear his head. The other smuggler was following up his attack, however.
"Go help André; I will handle him!" LeBeau ordered.
Newkirk didn't like the odds of the short and stocky LeBeau matching his strength with that of the tall and burly Davis. But as Newkirk realized that Carter needed more help than LeBeau did, he struggled to pinpoint the American's location and head towards him, but not before dealing Davis a punch in the jaw.
LeBeau immediately used his grip on the rifle as leverage to allow himself to put more force behind a fouetté kick, striking Davis on the shoulder with enough force to cause him to loosen his grip on the rifle. Gravity pulled the Frenchman to the ground, the rifle in his hands.
LeBeau tried to scoot backwards to get away, but Davis was quicker; he grabbed the end of the rifle and swung the little Frenchman into the wall of the chamber. LeBeau hit his head against the wall, causing stars to explode into his vision. He still held onto his grip on the rifle, trying to strike with another fouetté kick. Davis was expecting it, however, and he braced himself for the blow.
Newkirk pulled the other smuggler away from Carter, dealing him a knockout punch as he realized that LeBeau was in trouble. Carter himself tried to get to his feet, but he was still too exhausted.
"Stay right there, Andrew; I'll 'elp 'im," he assured the American.
Carter sunk back to the floor, unable to do anything but follow Newkirk's instructions.
As the East Ender moved to aid his French friend, a sudden presence in front of him made him stop. He heard the hiss of a large serpent, and he could feel its putrid breath directly in front of him. Apophis's eyes glowed orange-red, like two pieces of live coal, as the demon snake homed in on the corporal. Newkirk glanced at his right arm—where metal bands had been all this time, coils from the snake now appeared, writhing and squeezing his arm even tighter than before to ensure that he could not get away.
Newkirk heard LeBeau cry out as Davis swung the rifle and slammed him against the wall again, followed by another failed attempt by Carter to get to his feet. A scowl crossed the East Ender's face, and he dashed forward, caring nothing about what happened to him. He knew that he had to ensure that his friends held out until Hogan arrived.
Apophis struck, his fangs only just missing him as Newkirk sped past; the snake's fangs stuck into the ground. Venom pooled from the serpent's mouth as he tried to free himself. Newkirk found himself bound, as well, as he found himself halted in his tracks by Apophis's coils around his arm.
Davis swung LeBeau against the wall a third time, and Newkirk knew that he could not wait any more as he heard the Frenchman's pained gasp. He strained against the snake's coils as the snake strained against the ground. Desperate, no longer thinking, Newkirk used his left hand to reach for his pencil sharpener and threw the knife at the snake; the knife landed in the snake's midsection.
Apophis hissed, loosening his grip on Newkirk's arm just slightly enough for the corporal to slip his arm through the coils. The darkness around him gave way to the dimly-lit tunnel chamber he was in, and the image of Apophis vanished. The medallion around his arm loosened; the metal bands retracted. The medallion fell to the floor, and, though metal, shattered as the dark heka within it dissipated.
Sight restored, Newkirk launched himself at Davis in full fury, striking with an uppercut to the burly smuggler's jaw before seizing the rifle. Carter now forced himself up, heading over to lend what little strength he had recovered.
Davis was still confident that he could gain the upper hand long enough to get Carter and LeBeau out of the way for good. Once again, he aimed to knee the trio, one at a time, but found himself staring down the barrel of another rifle.
"Let go of the rifle, Smuggler!" a familiar voice ordered; the voice, normally jolly, was now speaking with a cold seriousness that did not suit him.
"Is that our Schultzie?" Newkirk asked, having to look to make sure that it was really him.
Hogan entered the chamber next, surprised to see the sight, as well.
"Schultz, is your rifle actually loaded?" he asked.
"This time, it is," the sergeant replied, glaring at Davis.
Morrison now entered with a few more of his men, but Davis had already surrendered. The smugglers were rounded up as Hogan approached the exhausted trio.
"You three okay?" he asked, quietly.
"We'll live," Newkirk said, somewhat wryly, as LeBeau and Carter managed tired nods. The English corporal glanced down to see his pencil sharpener lying on the ground near the medallion. After making sure that none of the Germans were noticing, Newkirk retrieved his knife and concealed it once again.
Hogan now bent down to retrieve the pieces of the Medallion of Apophis, but Newkirk seized his wrist before he could do so.
"I wouldn't touch those if I were you, Sir," he advised. "I know it's broken and it 'opfully can't work anymore, but… take me word for it."
The colonel stared at the corporal blankly, trying to figure out how metal could shatter like that, but shrugged it off.
"How did you find us, Colonel?" LeBeau asked, shaking the last few stars from his vision.
"We followed Newkirk here, but when we arrived, people were running all over the place; 'Major Teppel' had his hands full. Then an Egyptian man pointed us in this direction before he pulled a disappearing act of his own."
The trio exchanged glances, unsure of what to make of the man.
"Herr Major," Schultz said, saluting Morrison. "With these, we have captured all but three—the Egyptian, the young man, and the ringleader."
"Michael never came back?" Newkirk asked. "Even with the 'eadstart?"
"Guess he didn't want to come back without Nefertiti," Carter said.
"Nefertiti…" Hogan murmured, realizing that Newkirk was empty-handed. "Where's the statue head?"
Newkirk slipped into his usual nervous eye shift.
"Gone, Sir; Alistair took 'er and scarpered after 'e set that medallion on me. Well, 'e was actually trying to get Louis with the ruddy thing, and I sort of took the 'it meself, as it were."
"I am so sorry, Pierre," the Frenchman said, quietly.
"Don't be," Newkirk said. "You and Andrew risked your lives to 'elp me; it was the very least I could do—especially since I started this mess."
"And that reminds me," Hogan said, quietly, as he glared at LeBeau and Carter. "What on Earth possessed you to run after those kidnappers?"
The corporal and the sergeant could only respond with sheepish looks.
"Sir, I probably wouldn't 'ave survived if not for them," Newkirk said. "I would've refused when Alistair ordered me to get Nefertiti, and 'e would've killed me on the spot."
"We just couldn't abandon him, Sir," Carter added. "You know, there's an old Sioux tale about a tribe who abandoned two kids, and a crow and a spider later revealed to the them that the rest of the tribe was cursed with famine because they—"
"I get it, Carter," Hogan said, having to hide his amusement.
"I guess you could call us the Three Musketeers of Stalag 13," LeBeau offered, with a shrug. "Tous pour un…"
"And one for all!" Carter finished, prompting Newkirk to snark as LeBeau gave the American an unreadable glance.
A sudden, quiet noise down the passageway caught the trio's attention; it sounded like shouting, and Newkirk recognized the unmistakable sound of a Cockney accent.
"It couldn't be…" he murmured, running down the passage as LeBeau, Carter, and Hogan followed, with Schultz at their heels.
Newkirk froze as he beheld the sight in front of him. Alistair had been trying to make his escape from an emergency tunnel not unlike one that the Heroes had for themselves. But Michael had been lying in wait for him and now held him at gunpoint.
"Out of the way," Alistair said, quietly. He was unarmed, having lost his own weapon in the confrontation with the trio. He stared calmly at Michael and the drawn weapon as he stood, holding a bag of gold and money in one hand and carrying Nefertiti with the other.
"No!" Michael yelled, his features twisted in rage. "I 'eard what you said to them! I 'eard you say we were all expendable—after everything you promised me and the others! You're not leaving 'ere alive!"
"Don't blame me because you were desperate enough to believe me," Alistair replied, unremorseful. "You had your life of luxury for five years; you should have known that there would be a clause attached to it."
It was the wrong thing to say; Michael's finger moved to squeeze the trigger.
"I'll 'ave your guts for garters!" the young man vowed.
"Alright, that's enough!" Newkirk said, taking a step forward.
"Newkirk—!" Hogan began.
"Sir, I can 'andle this," the corporal replied, and he turned to Michael. "Look; I know this smarmy snake deserves to die, but you don't deserve to 'ave it on your conscience that you killed a man in cold blood."
"What do you know about it?" the young man cried back. "You were right about your best China; I saw that, too! I saw them leadin' you through the tunnels when you couldn't see! You don't know what it's like to…" He trailed off, glaring at Alistair in hatred.
"No, I don't," Newkirk admitted. "But I can imagine."
"No, you can't!" Michael retorted. "You joined the RAF; you got yourself off the ruddy streets! You've got your mates! I've got no one and nothing to lose!"
"You've got yourself!" Newkirk countered. "If you're willing to lose yourself, then, by all means, go ahead and kill 'im. I certainly won't mourn Alistair, but I will always remember that it was a terrible shame to lose you."
Newkirk could feel the eyes of his friends upon him as he took another couple of steps towards Michael.
"I know it seems 'opeless now," the corporal went on. "But I'm telling you that there is a chance for you if you let 'im live. You might not see it, but I do; I 'ave a little bit more knowledge of the current situation than you do." He held out his hand for the gun. "I know Alistair is full of lies, but there was one thing 'e said that 'ad some truth to it. You know 'ow 'e said that you and I were very similar? I see a lot of what I used to be in you; I've survived the streets of the East End just like you 'ave. And if I know you based on 'ow I knew meself, I'm willing to wager that you really don't want to kill this scum in cold blood, even though it's what 'e deserves."
Michael stared at Newkirk for a long time, still holding the gun pointed at Alistair's chest, who remained stoically still. As the minutes ticked by, Michael's resolve seemed to crumble. His shoulders slumped as he handed the gun to Newkirk.
"Well done, Newkirk," Hogan said, quietly.
LeBeau murmured something in his own tongue, echoing the colonel's sentiments.
Morrison arrived with a few more men in tow, and he immediately gave the order to have Alistair and Michael arrested.
"Believe me, there's a chance you'll make it back to London," Newkirk said quietly, to ensure that only Michael could hear him. "We can try arranging it so that the RAF might take you back—if we're lucky."
The younger East Ender gave a nod, not sure what Newkirk meant, but deciding that he was more trustworthy than Alistair.
Morrison's men led Michael and Alistair away with the others, as Morrison himself approached Newkirk to take the gun from him.
"Corporal," he said. "I will require you and your two companions to give your account of these happenings to me when we get back to my headquarters."
"And as their commanding officer, I demand to be present when you're questioning them," Hogan added.
"Granted," Morrison said. "Schultz, you will wait outside the door…"
Newkirk tuned out the rest of Morrison's words as Carter suddenly clapped him on the back.
"You were great!" Carter exclaimed. "How did you know he'd hand the gun over?"
"Call it a feeling, Andrew," he replied.
"Perhaps you should get into psychiatry after the war," LeBeau teased.
Hogan listened to them banter as they headed back to Morrison's headquarters.
Well, he sighed to himself. They got through another one.
Try as they might, Morrison's men were unable to find the mysterious Egyptian. It would have been fruitless; the man had changed his features yet again and had entered Morrison's building (disguised as one of his men), pausing to look at the retrieved loot and the pieces of the broken Medallion of Apophis. He knew that the medallion would have broken once its spell had been overcome; it was a loss of an antiquity, but one cursed with dark heka. The pieces would be harmless in a museum now, and murmurs from Morrison's other men assured him that the other stolen loot would be returned to Egypt, save for Nefertiti, who would be returned to the flak tower.
It was enough, he decided. And as Morrison held his "interrogation" in his office upstairs, Shadi strode out the front door of the building and vanished into the night, still humbled by the encounter with the selfless and paradoxically pure-hearted thief who overcame the medallion's dark heka not to save his own skin, but to stop his greatest fear from coming true.
The "selfless and paradoxically pure-hearted thief," in the meantime, had spent most of the fake interrogation pleading with Morrison to go easy on Michael and, if at all possible, find a way to send him back to England.
"I know there's good in 'im, Sir," Newkirk had said. "If we get in touch with London and explain everything, I'm sure they'll understand."
"I'll do my best, Corporal," Morrison had promised.
Realizing that it was all he could hope for, Newkirk had agreed.
Once the "interrogation" had finished, the men were released into Schultz's custody, who proceeded to drive them back to Stalag 13, much more cheerful now that they were all safe.
"Please, Colonel Hogan, tell them not to get in trouble with smugglers again," he said. "A man of my age, with a wife and five children, should not be chasing after smugglers."
"And yet, you did," Hogan said. "And believe me, we respect you for it. But the man is right, you three."
The trio nodded in agreement.
"I 'ereby promise that I'll never pick up a stray book again," Newkirk vowed, quietly.
The trio lapsed into silence as the journey back to Stalag 13 continued as they decided to catch up on lost sleep. Hogan listened politely to Schultz as he went on about how the trio would make him into an old man with all the worrying he did, but both the naps and the conversations were brought to a halt as they drove into Stalag 13 to hear the familiar angry rants of Major Hochstetter.
Schultz ushered everyone inside to Klink's office to see the German colonel cowering under Hochstetter's glare.
"Herr Kommandant, I am pleased to report that the kidnapped prisoners have been recovered!" Schultz began, but then also began to cower as Hochstetter turned to him.
"Kidnapped!" the major snarled, derisively. "So they are still holding on to that story?"
"It is as I told you, Major Hochstetter," Klink said, feeling helpless against him. "I received a call from Major Teppel earlier explaining what had happened. They have the smugglers in custody, and…" He suddenly received a shot of confidence. "He believes that your allowing those two smugglers in here was what convinced them that they could run off with my prisoners!"
"You are blaming me for this?" Hochstetter snarled.
"Not in so many words…" Klink said, backing down almost immediately.
"I am telling you, Klink, something is going on here," the major said, glaring at Hogan. "Smugglers, three missing prisoners, and a phone call summoning me to Düsseldorf for no reason at all? I assure you, I will launch a thorough investigation into this matter!"
"You really think that's such a good idea, considering how it was you who let those smugglers into the camp in the first place?" Hogan asked. "It's lucky that Sergeant Schultz and Major Teppel were able to rescue my men; who knows what would have happened to them?"
"They were torturing us, Sir!" Newkirk said to Klink. "They tried to get us to join them!"
"Ah, oui; we would have only held out for so long!" LeBeau added.
"Yeah!" Carter agreed. "Another hour or two, and who knows what would've—"
"Bah!" the major snarled, and he turned on his heel and left. One thing was true—Hochstetter did not need his superiors to find out about how he had caused a breach in security by bringing those smugglers into the camp. This time, he would stand aside and let things resolve themselves. But it would not be the end of his investigations at Stalag 13. Somehow, some way, he would prove that Hogan and his men were involved with the Underground.
Klink sighed with relief as soon as the major left.
"Herr Kommandant, here is the report by Major Teppel," Schultz said, handing it to him. "It explains everything that happened in Berlin."
"Yes, I'll look over it later," Klink replied. "Now, as for you three…"
"Kommandant, seeing as though my men were taken against their will, it stands to reason that they shouldn't be forced to spend any time in solitary," Hogan said.
Klink shot a "Why me?" look to the heavens.
"You 'ave no idea 'ow much of a relief it is to be back 'ere, Sir," said Newkirk. "Without smugglers forcing you to steal enchanted artifacts…"
"…A chance to cook and eat a filling meal once again…" LeBeau added.
"…And the nice, cold bunks with the extra blankets," Carter finished.
"Fine, fine," said Klink, burying his face in his hands. "You are dismissed—for now; I still have questions about all of this!"
The trio saluted and left, followed by Schultz. Hogan couldn't resist staying behind for one more minute.
"You know, Sir, I bet General Burkhalter would like to hear about how you retrieved three kidnapped prisoners and sent your best man to help round up an entire smuggling ring."
Klink looked up now, clearly mulling over the idea.
"And it would also be a good chance to discredit Major Hochstetter," Hogan added. "After all, who was the one who demanded bringing those smugglers in?"
"You know something, Hogan? You're quite right," the German colonel mused. He smirked to himself, knowing that Burkhalter was one of the few people whom Hochstetter would listen to. "It might keep Hochstetter too occupied to keep coming back for some time."
And that's time we could use for more missions, Hogan said to himself, as he took his leave. Klink, we'd never be able to do it without you.
He exited the Kommandantur and crossed across the compound to Barracks Two. Schultz was on guard outside the door.
"Schultz?" the colonel asked.
"We captured all but one," the sergeant explained. "What if that Egyptian man comes back for them? I must be ready."
Hogan had his doubts that they would see the mysterious Egyptian again, but he didn't want to disappoint Schultz by telling him this.
"Keep at it, Soldier," Hogan said, entering the barracks.
The colonel paused as he gazed upon the scene inside the barracks. Newkirk, LeBeau, and Carter were recounting their odd misadventure to their intrigued barracks-mates. LeBeau was standing on the table, demonstrating his savate moves to the onlookers as Newkirk attempted to describe the visions that the medallion had given them. Carter was punctuating the discussion with how impressed he was that Newkirk had fought so well without being able to see at all.
Hogan folded his arms and leaned against the door as he listened to the trio, amused.
They really were the Three Musketeers of Stalag 13.
Author's Note: And, it's done! There aren't as many loose ends in this one, but I'll still address the ones that remain. First of all, Shadi was supposed to make a dramatic fade into the night; he never was truly on any "side," other than his own. His position was meant to be Chaotic Neutral, and he starts off in his own fandom that way until a few more humbling experiences change him into Chaotic Good. The other loose end is what happened to Michael, but I have plans for him; my readers can expect to see him again in a future fic.
Many thanks to my readers; I hope they all enjoyed it!