Part 1: Anubis Awakens
The words echoed within the sarcophagus.
To speak something other than the name his Hellbourne brethren had given him—Pharaoh—felt like flexing muscles that hadn’t been used in ages. The heavy gold and dry wrappings adorning his body shifted as he inched the sarcophagus open.
A blue glow filled the cavernous room outside. Pharaoh stepped from the stone tomb and surveyed the piles of discarded treasures, weapons, artifacts.
Who left me here? I do not belong among these relics.
The blue glow came from a thick book that touched the sarcophagus, its pages bent and crooked. Pharaoh lifted it, smoothed the pages and closed the book. The glow brightened. The symbols carved into the book’s cover shifted, curled and slid into a single shape—a black ankh, the key of life.
The glow crept over the desiccated flesh of Pharaoh’s hands, up his arms.
It did not feel like life. It was cold, tainted. Chaotic.
He had felt it once before, crossing into the afterlife.
I was…I am…
The glow turned into twin asps, slithering onto his shoulders, around his throat and beneath his golden helm.
The Grimoire flooded its energy through the asps into Pharaoh. He stood frozen as they moved in a blur over him, shedding his ancient wrappings and reshaping his armor.
The black ankh rose from the book and became obsidian, its smooth surface swallowing the blue glow. The asps met on Pharaoh’s breastplate and merged, becoming a reflection of the ankh.
The Grimoire landed on the stone floor like a corpse as the room returned to darkness.
The storeroom door exploded in a cloud of splinters. A towering shape stepped into the dank corridor buried beneath the Ancient Cathedral. He carried a golden staff topped with a serpent’s head, its eyes aflame, and the obsidian ankh.
He remembered the power he once had. And who had taken it from him.
Most of all, he remembered who he was.
“Maliken! I am Anubis reborn! I am your destruction!”
Part 2: The Demonic Shaman
Anubis stalked the putrid alleys of Hell’s Keep, the burning eyes of his staff sending piglet-sized rats scurrying for cover. The thickening stench made his jackal’s snout twitch, but he would not be deterred.
He bore no foolishness—he could not challenge Maliken alone. Not yet.
The whispers he heard of Maliken defeating the Seven Sins and banishing the Four Horsemen did not trouble Anubis. He would not bring mere daemons to his fight. But he needed them for the time being.
He found the door next to a rancid pile of bones, the discarded remains of captured men and beasts scorched from ritual flame. Chanting emanated from within.
The dim space was cramped with decaying corpses lashed to the walls, withered plants strung from the ceiling and cisterns of brackish water on the floor. Something wet was burning.
The Demented Shaman stood behind an altar with his eyes closed behind his bone mask, chanting in a tongue Anubis did not recognize. He shook a leather pouch bulging with bones over an inverted Tempest skull.
Ragged books and scraps of parchment scribbled with rituals and spells were stacked under the altar, spilling onto the floor.
The Shaman opened his eyes and saw Anubis standing before him. He stopped chanting and gazed at the bag of bones with awe.
Anubis swatted the pouch across the room.
“Do you want to keep guessing at how to obtain real power, or are you ready to truly open your eyes? I am the god Anubis. I bring with me death, afterlife, and rebirth. And with rebirth, enlightenment. I have weighed your vile heart, Shaman, and found you worthy.”
The Shaman hesitated. “Worthy of what?”
Anubis pointed his staff at the Shaman’s pathetic library. “Unlimited knowledge. No more questions that remain unresolved. No more seeking answers that may not even exist. What there is to know, you will possess.”
The Shaman looked at the boiling blood on the altar. Most of it had evaporated, leaving a charred scab against the rim of the skull. “With unlimited knowledge…”
“Comes unlimited power,” Anubis said.
The Shaman knocked the steaming skull aside. “What must I do?”
Anubis held the black ankh by its loop and pointed it at the Shaman. The torchlight around the altar dimmed.
The two asps on his breastplate broke free of their golden armor and slithered along his arm. They coiled around the ankh, gathering a skin of glistening, liquid obsidian, and sprang onto the Shaman.
While they tore him down and remade him into something more useful, Anubis dipped the black ankh into what was left of the boiling blood. The skull, altar and piles of books and parchments below began to compress. Entire corpses were dragged off the walls into the grinding chaos.
When it was over, the altar and everything that had been near it was gone. In its place was a jade green ankh, connected to a massive gold chain. Anubis lifted the chain off the floor with his staff. The ankh swayed before the daemon taking his first reborn breath.
The asps had torn the Demented Shaman’s armor apart and draped him in finery befitting of one serving Anubis. His helm had been shattered and reforged. It covered the right half of his face and head, extending into a wicked axe-bladed horn. The other half was exposed so his festering brain could swell and pulse with gained knowledge. He carried a massive warhammer that roiled with conjured fury.
“Demonic Shaman,” Anubis said. “You are worthy.”
He draped the gold chain over the Demonic Shaman’s neck. When Anubis released it, the unbearable weight of the jade ankh dragged the Shaman toward the floor. The muscles in his neck and shoulders strained as he fought to keep his head upright.
“Perhaps I was wrong,” Anubis said.
“No! I want this. I, I feel it working already. I know it is working.”
Anubis showed his jackal’s teeth. The ankh was indeed sharing knowledge and power with this Demonic Shaman. It was the best way to distract him from the life it was simultaneously draining.
Anubis laid a hand on his stooped shoulder. “This is only the beginning. The next step awaits.”
Anubis returned to the alley, in search of his next servant. The Demonic Shaman struggled to keep pace, his jade ankh nearly touching the foul ground they covered.
Part 3: The Cenobite Torturer
The Torturer stopped when he saw the jackal-headed god watching from the entrance to the dungeon.
“Please, continue,” Anubis said. “It’s rare to see true art in Hell’s Keep.”
The Torturer dragged a cauldron of red coals beneath a Legion prisoner cramped within a dangling steel cage.
The base of the cage began to glow. The prisoner scrambled to climb the steel bars of the cage and discovered the tiny razors the Torturer had wound around them. The prisoner screamed.
The being of pure energy stood outside the cage and gathered the man’s agony between his hands, spun it, wove it, and forged it into a single chain link. His bladed chains materialized in a swirling storm around him. The Torturer caught one of the lengths and added the new link.
The prisoner continued to scream.
The Torturer held one of his impaling blades near the bars and let the suffering hone the edge, sparks flying.
The Demonic Shaman finally caught up to Anubis. He shambled through the door, panting from the effort of staying upright with the jade ankh around his neck.
The Torturer’s chains disappeared. “There is new suffering here.”
He looked at the Shaman. At the ankh weighing him down.
“You. You are dying.”
“Not I,” the Demonic Shaman rasped. “I am finally alive.”
Anubis felt a twinge of doubt. He needed the Torturer among his ranks to make his plan reality. If the Torturer knew what it meant to carry one of the ankhs—
“Give it to me,” the Torturer said. He knelt before Anubis.
Anubis was shocked, but wasted no time. He touched the black ankh to the Torturer’s hood. The asps broke free and slithered into the crackling energy. As the Torturer’s screams mingled with the prisoner’s and echoed through the dungeon, Anubis held the black ankh aloft by its post.
The combined anguish roared through the hoop and spiraled into a red glow that began to take shape.
The asps slithered over the Torturer, restoring him to grey, material flesh. The steel cage was torn to pieces, dumping the Legion prisoner into the coals to burn. The razor-sharp bars speared toward the Torturer and reformed into massive nails that drove into his skin, through his bones.
The asps finished by burrowing into his flesh to carve red, seeping ankhs over his body. They returned to Anubis and melded with his chestplate.
Anubis said, “Rise, Cenobite Torturer.”
His new servant stood, adorned in the blackened, tanned hides of his prey. Steel nails protruded from his skull and shoulders, twisting ever deeper. His fresh ankh wounds glistened with blood.
Anubis lowered the blood-red ankh made of pure agony. He set it before the Cenobite Torturer where it floated, rotating slowly and pulling the life from him.
The Cenobite Torturer smiled in the red glow. “The pain. It is…exquisite. I feel myself dying. What a gift I have given my victims throughout the ages. Now it is mine.”
The Demonic Shaman frowned. He strained from the weight of his jade ankh as he turned to Anubis. “What does he say?”
“He is mad from pain,” Anubis said. “Ignore him.”
The Cenobite Torturer shivered with pleasure. “God Anubis, how long will this last?”
“Long enough,” Anubis said.
He left the dungeon in search of his third and final servant.
Part 4: The Archlich Gravekeeper
The Gravekeeper pulled another corpse off the meat wagon and dragged it toward the mass grave outside the walls of Hell’s Keep. The sides of the towering wagon still bristled with spent arrows and bolts from the battlefield. Blood and filth ran in a constant stream from the lowered rear gate, which acted as a ramp for the Gravekeeper.
He stomped on it and cursed. The ramp made his job easier, certainly, but it also gave easy access to other inhabitants of Hell’s Keep, like that fool Demented Shaman, who thought he could root through the bodies and take what he liked.
“Stealing my corpses,” he muttered. “My work. Food from my plate!”
He plucked a greasy shinbone dripping with maggots out of the pile and wedged it in his mouth. The decaying flesh sloughed off the bone and down his throat. He turned and sat on a dead Blood Hunter to rest his twisted spine and bent legs.
When he looked up, a giant dog-headed being draped in gold stood at the end of the cart holding a serpent staff and a key-like black tool that seemed to drink the light around it.
Gravekeeper spat the bone out and kicked it into the corpses. “I was told I could have one respite and meal today! I was told!”
The being stepped into the cart.
“Gravekeeper,” he said. “I am the god Anubis. I once weighed the hearts of the dead in judgement. Those who passed, I presented to Osiris, ruler of the dead, who is long vanished.”
A maggot wriggled from the corner of Gravekeeper’s mouth. He slurped it back in.
Anubis said, “I have weighed your withered heart and found you worthy to stand next to me in his place.”
“Me?” Gravekeeper said. The maggot squirmed between his teeth.
“No longer will you dwell among these lifeless carcasses. At your command, they will rise and do your bidding.”
Gravekeeper gazed at the stacked bodies looming above him. “They could walk themselves into the pit. Save my back from breaking again.”
Anubis ground his jackal’s teeth. “Yes. Or fight alongside you, against anyone you wish.”
A gleam entered Gravekeeper’s eye.
“Stand,” Anubis said. “Accept your gift.”
Gravekeeper struggled to his feet, pushing off the corpses with his scrawny arms. He stood before Anubis as the two golden snakes on his breastplate came to life.
Anubis aimed the black ankh at Gravekeeper’s sallow face. The asps slid over the obsidian and carried its extract onto Gravekeeper, who howled as the serpents found putrid holes in his flesh and dove in.
As Gravekeeper fell and convulsed into his new form, Anubis touched the ankh to the foetid muck from thousands of dead pooled in the bottom of the meat wagon. The blood, marrow and bits of rank flesh began to pulse. Purple bubbles rose to the surface and burst, releasing noxious fumes. The thick fluid folded into itself, again and again, condensing into a solid purple ankh that throbbed with false life.
Anubis lifted the ankh and held it at arm’s length.
“Welcome, Archlich Gravekeeper.”
His new servant rose from the heaps of dead. His once emaciated body was now thick with muscle. His soiled rags had been replaced with royal purple and gold robes, and he held a golden war staff topped with a glittering purple ankh.
The few dry wisps sprouting from his head had become long white hair streaming over his shoulders. Atop that sat a spiked golden crown with a serpent’s head jutting forward.
“I am remade,” Archlich Gravekeeper said.
“Almost,” Anubis said.
He pressed the purple ankh into Archlich’s powerful chest. Archlich shuddered as It shriveled the flesh it touched, drinking life force and desiccating muscles, drying bones. It sank deep into the chest cavity and pulled the spine and skin from Archlich’s back forward until it broke through and became visible.
It pulsed there, Archlich Gravekeeper’s purple, undead heart.
Anubis saw the decay creeping further away from the embedded ankh. Given time, it would sap everything from its host and leave him an empty shell.
“Something is wrong,” Archlich said.
Anubis nodded. “Yes. Your undead still slumber.”
Archlich seemed unsure, yet pointed his staff at a tangle of corpses. Two of them trembled, stirred, and staggered to their feet. Entrails sagged from their bellies. One lacked an arm. They shambled forward and awaited Archlich’s next command.
“Power over the dead,” Anubis said. “As I promised.”
The Demonic Shaman and Cenobite Torturer stepped into view at the base of the meat wagon’s ramp.
Anubis said, “And now, we begin the true work.”
Part 5: The Black Sacrifice
Anubis Pharaoh led the Demonic Shaman, Cenobite Torturer, and Archlich Gravekeeper past ranks of vigilant sentry towers, away from Hell’s Keep. Archlich’s two undead soldiers shuffled behind, lugging a heavy trunk between them.
Anubis took them through murky swamps and dark, lifeless forests until they reached an abandoned sacrificial pit at the base of Krula, the seething volcano that fed endless ash and smoke into the skies.
Jagged obsidian pillars ringed the pit. A faceted altar made of the dark glass stood near the edge of the circle. Faded bones of ritual victims peeked from the black dust that had not stirred in ages. Anubis nodded to Archlich Gravekeeper, who dipped his war staff at them. They set the trunk down. A small cloud of ash kicked out from beneath it.
Anubis and his three servants stepped into the ring and faced each other.
Anubis said, “This was once the temple of Amun-Ra, when the corrupted disciples of Sol first summoned him. As you can see, Maliken has allowed him to neglect his duties. It has cost us countless battles and left thousands of Legion helots alive to fight again. Amun-Ra is a shadow of what he once was, what he could be.”
He surveyed the three before him. They were filled with magical energy by the ankhs he had bestowed upon them. The ankhs, in turn, brimmed with the life force stolen from their hosts.
Cenobite Torturer brought his revolving red ankh closer so it could drain him faster. He smiled at the intensity of the pain.
Anubis said, “Maliken has kept us all from becoming what we are truly meant to be. I was left in a forgotten storage room, inside a sealed sarcophagus to rot. Look upon me now. Look upon what Maliken dismissed. And yourselves—now you see your potential, and that of your Hellbourne comrades.”
Anubis stepped out of the ring of pillars.
“Look what you are capable of now.”
He lifted the black ankh.
The jade ankh pulling Demonic Shaman to the ground responded with a deep glow. The golden chain holding it stretched under new strain.
The Cenobite Torturer’s red ankh rotated faster, becoming a blur. He groaned from the agony.
The purple ankh embedded in Archlich Gravekeeper’s chest quickened. Its throbs blended into a continuous swelling. The flesh across his torso shriveled.
The black ash in the center of their triangle rose and began to swirl. The three watched, and did not notice the soot creeping over their feet as well.
The ash cyclone towered above them, nearly as tall as the pillars. A form took shape at its center as the ash was reheated, fused, and cooled into obsidian.
Thick legs, deep chest, wide shoulders, chiseled arms. The head and face were vague shapes, unidentifiable.
The remaining ash settled. The colored ankhs continued to glow, spin, and throb.
The Demonic Shaman fought to tilt his head enough to take in the massive figure.
He scoffed. “You brought our combined knowledge and power here to create a statue?”
“Not a shrine,” Anubis said. “A golem. An inanimate object we shall fill with life. Your life, Shaman. And yours, Torturer. As for you, Gravekeeper, your false life will do. As will theirs.”
He pointed the ankh at the two undead soldiers. They were flung against the golem. When they struck the obsidian, they burst into a spray of blood and bones that rained upon the sacrificial circle.
Archlich Gravekeeper tried to turn to face Anubis but his feet and legs were encased in obsidian, anchoring him to the ground. The Demonic Shaman and Cenobite Torturer realized they were rooted as well.
Anubis told them, “Your sacrifice will not be remembered.”
Part 6: The Dire Homecoming
Anubis Pharaoh pulled the jade ankh hanging from the Demonic Shaman’s neck until the thick gold chain snapped. The ankh was nearly too heavy to carry. It stirred with the Shaman’s life force.
Anubis carried it to the obsidian golem and pressed it against the right shoulder, where it sank half of its thickness into the black glass.
The Archlich Gravekeeper stood helpless as Anubis tore the purple ankh from his chest, taking with it the new power and false life he’d felt pouring through him. Anubis laid it against the golem’s left shoulder. It settled and stayed.
The Cenobite Torturer seemed hypnotized by the blood-red ankh spinning before him, spooling the life from his body. He shrieked when Anubis ripped it off its axis and touched it to the center of the golem’s wide back.
It melted into the obsidian and expanded forward, tunneling through the golem’s torso. A circle of black glass was nestled in the hoop of the red ankh. Anubis pushed it with a finger—it slid easily.
The three sacrifices withered in place as the golem drank their energy. If not for the obsidian anchoring their legs they would have toppled.
Anubis stepped around the golem.
The red ankh was glowing on its chest, as on its back. The obsidian cylinder protruded.
Anubis pulled it free and set it upright next to the golem, where it began to grow, stretching into a massive battle axe topped with an eagle’s head, the wicked blade hooking in a continuation of the raptor’s beak. A butt spike drove into the ground, holding the axe upright near the golem’s right arm.
Anubis pressed the black ankh to the golem’s forehead. The ankh sank until it was flush with the surface, then returned to the hand of Anubis, leaving a perfect impression in the obsidian.
Anubis stepped outside the pillars and surveyed his work.
It was ready.
He opened the trunk that had been carried by the Archlich Gravekeeper’s undead.
Five items were inside.
Two were wrapped in stained, cloth sacks. Anubis selected these and carried them to the golem. Set them in the ashes and removed the sacking.
The corrupted Homecoming Stone swirled with red light. Next to it lay a Riftshard large enough to kill a Keeper. Anubis activated the Stone and stabbed it with the Riftshard.
A fissure opened in the air before him. It showed Amun-Ra in full battle dress, wreaking havoc on Legion forces somewhere in the Forests of Caldavar.
Anubis reached through the rift, caught Amun-Ra by the arm and dragged him through as he was preparing to Ignite.
The rift collapsed on the stunned faces of the Legion warriors.
Amun-Ra whirled in confusion. He saw the dying Demonic Shaman, Cenobite Torturer, and Archlich Gravekeeper fused to the ground with black glass.
He turned, gaped at the obsidian golem with its vacant face and fearsome battle axe, colored ankhs glowing on its shoulders and chest, a round tunnel bored where the heart would be.
He found Anubis standing next to him.
“What have you done?” Amun-Ra roared.
Anubis thrust the black ankh against Amun-Ra’s chest.
Amun-Ra screamed, and the golem stirred.
Part 7: The Golem’s Mission
Amun-Ra stood helpless inside the sacrificial ring, his body paralyzed by the ancient magic burned into him by Anubis Pharaoh and the black ankh.
Amun-Ra’s life began to flow from the smoldering wound on his chest to the ankh impression on the golem’s forehead. The jade, purple, and red ankhs glowed brighter and the golem raised its arms, stretched. Flakes of obsidian shed from its joints. It lifted one foot and set it down, shaking the ground. The other.
Anubis held the black ankh aloft.
The golem’s vacant face turned to Anubis, its glass neck grinding.
“You are not yet alive. It is the lives of the Demonic Shaman, the Cenobite Torturer, the Archlich Gravekeeper, and Amun-Ra that allow you to hear, move, and obey. You possess their magic and power.”
The golem turned its face to the jade ankh on its right shoulder, the purple on its left. Down at the red ankh spanning its chest and the tunnel that allowed the soot-filled wind through.
Anubis said, “I have a task for you. Complete it and return to me, and I shall empty their lives into you completely. You shall have true consciousness. I will adorn you with these three items, and you shall rise from their ashes as Golden Ra in his true form. This fragile obsidian battle axe will reforge as a weapon of pure destruction.”
Anubis lifted a horned battle helmet from the trunk. “The Helm of the Black Legion. Your enemies will find you untouchable when you wear this into battle.”
He set it on the obsidian altar near the golem and lifted a feathered shroud from the trunk.
“The Shaman’s Headdress. Wear this, and your golden armor becomes nearly impenetrable. What wounds you do suffer shall be healed.”
Anubis placed the headdress next to the Helm. He carried the last item from the trunk as if it could shatter in his hands.
“A Behemoth’s Heart. When this beats within your chest, your strength and vigor will soar.”
Anubis eased the heart onto the altar.
The golem’s face turned from the three items to Anubis.
“To earn these, to embody the true form of Ra, go from here and find Maliken. Kill him. Bring me his damned sword with his soul locked within so I may destroy it forever.”
The golem’s footsteps shook black dust from the pillars as it left the sacrificial ring and entered the shadowed forest on its way to Hell’s Keep.
Part 8: The Golem Finds Maliken
Maliken stood alone over the expansive battle map of Newerth and frowned at the placement of his structures and troops. When the pieces jumped and his towers tipped over, the frown turned into a scowl.
The map room walls shook again.
Maliken turned to the wide doors just as they tore from their hinges in a shower of wooden splinters. A colossal man-shaped form with no face strode through the opening. It was made of shadowed glass, and Maliken thought the Legion had found a way to bring the walls of Hell’s Keep to life.
Then he saw the colored, glowing ankhs adorning its body and felt the tormented souls screaming within—Shaman, Torturer, Gravekeeper, and…Amun-Ra?
Is he the sire of this thing?
It stormed toward Maliken with its hands outstretched.
Maliken drew his sword and prepared to shatter this creature.
Vines of crackling obsidian flew from its black hands. The vines twisted into massive chains tipped with razor-sharp blades that sliced into Maliken’s armor and drove him backward onto the map table. The chains and vines bound him to its surface.
Maliken struggled as the thunderous footsteps closed in. The fetters reeked of death—Maliken examined the link closest to his face and saw bits of flesh and bone embedded in the black glass.
He recognized the Shaman’s work in the vines, and the Torturer’s bladed chains. If this faceless brute used the Gravekeeper’s magic on the corpses within…
At the sacrificial pit, Anubis Pharaoh placed the blank ankh against the forehead of the Helm of the Black Legion. When he pulled it away, half of it remained fused to the dented steel.
The Demonic Shaman, Cenobite Torturer, and Archlich Gravekeeper sagged and twitched in their obsidian prisons, whatever form of life they possessed nearly depleted. Amun-Ra remained paralyzed by the ankh’s brand on his chest. His life essence continued to flow from it, a streaming tether that spanned leagues to power the golem.
When the golem returned with Maliken’s sword, Anubis would adorn the creature with the the powerful items waiting on the altar. The black ankh on the helm would ensure control over his new ultimate weapon—the golden god Ra in his pure form.
The first duty Anubis would give him: destroy Maliken’s sword.
After that, complete conquest of Newerth would come easily.
His jackal’s teeth grinned.
The god Anubis would soon weigh the hearts of all men and beasts.
And he would find them lacking.
He did not notice the ankh brand on Amun-Ra’s chest was slowly healing, the edges of it flaking into ash.
The black corpse shackles exploded around Maliken’s body in a burst of flame and obsidian shards. He felt the heat and fragments tearing him apart.
He welcomed it.
With Hellbourne Zeal he surged from the shattered map table, through the smoke and drove his sword forward, felt its crossguard impact solid mass. He laughed—not even volcanic stone could stand before his blade.
The smoke cleared and Maliken stopped laughing.
His sword had found the hole in the center of the creature’s chest. The brute clamped a giant hand over the crossguard, pinning it there, and used the other hand to smash Maliken in the face.
Maliken tumbled over the wreckage of the map table. He scrambled for anything to use as a weapon.
The obsidian monster closed in.
Anubis Pharaoh watched the three sacrifices enter their final spasms. The golem was sapping them dry, summoning everything it could for the final strike against Maliken. Anubis wished he could see it.
Behind him, the ankh brand on Amun-Ra’s chest was nearly half healed. The torrent of life flowing through it began to dwindle.
His hand twitched, clenched.
Reached toward the altar and the Shaman’s Headdress upon it…
Anubis reveled in witnessing the three sacrifices crossing into the afterlife. Perhaps he could find them there, when his power was secure, and question them about this experience. The Cenobite Torturer in particular would have much to say about the agony. Anubis leaned close to the grey head bristling with nails, watching for the moment of complete death.
The Torturer’’s eyes flew open. He gasped air into his lungs, as if emerging from deep, cold water. The Demonic Shaman and Archlich Gravekeeper did the same.
They were returning to life! But—
Amun-Ra was no longer paralyzed.
In fact, he was no longer Amun-Ra.
Part 9: Risen Ra
The creature froze. The edge of Maliken’s own sword stopped inches from his face.
The colored ankhs on its shoulders and chest flickered, dimmed.
Maliken realized a hazy stream of energy ran into the sunken ankh symbol on its forehead. The current slowed, stopped.
The stream dragged the massive black brute toward the shattered doors. It was still frozen mid-strike with Maliken’s sword in hand.
Maliken stood as it disappeared around the corner, its glass feet scraping faster over the stone floor.
Anubis Pharaoh stared at the being before him.
Amun-Ra glowed with a golden light. He had somehow gained the strength to clothe himself in the Shaman’s Headdress. There was no sign of the ankh symbol burned into his chest—it had healed completely.
Anubis could see the life force flowing back into his body, restoring him to full power.
No—greater than full.
A terrible whistling sound grew louder.
Amun-Ra continued to grow as he reeled his energy in. He lifted the Behemoth’s Heart from the altar.
The whistling became a shriek.
Anubis turned. The golem was tearing across the burnt landscape toward them, pulled by Amun-Ra’s life force. Trees in its path were shattered and uprooted. Stones flew as if from a trebuchet.
The golem reached Amun-Ra’s side and halted. It held Maliken’s sword in one hand.
Anubis had a glimmer of hope—maybe this was working after all. Maliken was dead!
Then Amun-Ra tore the black ankh from the Helm and slammed the symbol into the golem’s forehead, filling the imprint Anubis had left.
Anubis felt his control over the golem sever. The golem pulled the obsidian battle axe from the earth and turned its shapeless face toward him.
Was there fury in that blank visage?
Amun-Ra placed the Helm of the Black Legion on the golem’s head.
“No!” Anubis said.
Amun-Ra slid the Behemoth’s Heart into the cavity in the golem’s chest.
“This is my destiny!” Anubis said.
“Yes,” Amun-Ra said. “It is.”
He clutched the golem in both arms and burst into a Pyroclasmic Rebirth.
Maliken’s sword landed in the black dust.
Anubis dropped to his knees nearby and gazed at the Risen Ra standing over him.
His golden armor was dazzling even in the dim ruins of the sacrificial pit. His face was that of a fierce raptor, the beak long and hooked.
The battle axe had turned to sharpened steel topped with a fiery golden eagle’s head. Ra’s headdress and helm flowed over his neck in purple and gold. A golden sun rose above his head, bound within an asp.
The discarded Helm of the Black Legion fell into the dust, glowing red and smoking.
The jade, purple, and red ankhs were on Ra’s shoulders and chest, as was the Behemoth’s Heart, but they pulsed with Ra’s overflowing power.
He had no need for the sacrifices.
With a swing of the axe he shattered the obsidian confining the Demonic Shaman, Cenobite Torturer, and Archlich Gravekeeper. They spilled onto the ground, barely clinging to this realm.
Ra looked down at Anubis Pharaoh as if he were something scraped from a bootheel. He touched a finger to the false god’s forehead.
The jackal’s snout wilted and collapsed into a withered face. The golden asps on his chest shriveled and fell to the black dust, dead. Anubis Pharaoh’s golden armor faded until it was dull and scuffed.
When Ra removed his finger, only Pharaoh remained.
“Being you,” Ra said, “may be punishment enough.”
Ra surveyed the three sacrifices and considered reverting them as well. They still bore the scars of the ankhs—his ankhs. They were his children. He let them be, knowing they would ultimately serve him well.
Pharaoh struggled for words. “With Maliken dead, what will you do with the Hellbourne? Surely you have no interest in ruling us.”
“I do not,” Ra said. “There is much and more for me to do.”
Pharaoh felt another flicker of hope. He reached for Maliken’s sword. Simply wielding it would gain instant respect among the cursed horde.
A pair of armored boots appeared next to the blade.
Pharaoh looked up into the face of Maliken, who was not dead, and had teleported to his damned sword.
Maliken took stock of the Risen Ra, head to toe, and lunged for his sword.
Ra produced a burst of golden light that sent Maliken, Pharaoh, and the recovering sacrifices tumbling across the sacrificial pit.
Ra said, “When the true Gods see what you have done to our realm, they will not be pleased. And that day will be your end.”
He vanished into a portal that closed immediately.
Maliken stood and brushed the ash from his armor.
“Pharaoh. Would you like to try to kill me now?”
“Lord Maliken,” Pharaoh said, his eyes downcast. “All I wanted was to be what I once was. What you didn’t know I could be.”
Maliken pulled Pharaoh up by his throat, held him close.
“I’ve always know what you are,” he said. “Mine. Now tell me—what magic did you use to wreak this havoc?”
Pharaoh sputtered, “It was a book! Some tattered book that found me in the storeroom you had left me in.”
Maliken tossed him aside. “The damned Grimoire. Perhaps it has something to offer after all.”
He activated a Portal Key. Before he stepped through, he studied the Demonic Shaman, Cenobite Torturer, and Archlich Gravekeeper struggling to their feet.
“Impressive,” he said. “And Pharaoh is yours.”
Maliken ransacked the storage room.
“Damned book! Where are you hiding?”
He kicked over an empty sandstone sarcophagus. It shattered against the wall.
He lifted a huge bone mask and peered underneath.
Maliken threw items aside, burrowing further into the dusty piles.
He did not see the bushy tail of the chiprel as it slipped out of the storage room, the Grimoire lashed to its back.