The golem stood over Maliken and pulled his damned sword from its chest. Raised the blade above its head and brought it down, down.
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 known 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.