Chapter 01 - Guardians of the Grave

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He hadn't ever really wanted to go back there. It was dark, in disturbingly familiar way. It was as if the shadows clung to his skin, and the flashlight in his hand had didn't seem to be having much effect. He shivered, and wished that he had long sleeves.

Keep it together, Malik. There's nothing left down here that can hurt you. It's all on the surface now. Nothing left down in the dark hole he had once called home, save a few old relics, of little value. But just a week ago, an earthquake had hit the area. It had been a mild one, and, to all appearances, the old crypt hadn't been damaged, but it had shown Malik what could happen, and it occurred to him that he wanted to go back.

"Just once," he had told his sister, Isis. "I need to go back there just once, to look at it. The Americans would say I want 'closure.'" He had snorted, and given a bit of a sneer. She had agreed with him, and so here he was, in the one place he had thought that he would never again set foot in. Rishid had wanted to go with him, but Malik insisted that he wait outside.

"I have to do this alone," he had said.

"I understand, lord Malik," Rishid had replied.

In the dark, Malik stumbled over a fallen piece of masonry, and swore. Apparently, there was enough damage to hamper him. He waved the flashlight over it, willing the shine to cut through the darkness. Naturally, it had no effect, but the light still showed enough to reveal that the passage he had been following was cut off by a cave-in. Malik swore again, and after a glare that would have struck terror in almost any who saw it, he turned to leave.

Maybe it was coincidence, or maybe not, but as he turned, his light passed over a hole in the wall that hadn't been there the last time he had been in the tunnel. It had obviously, upon examination, been opened up by the same earthquake that had caved in the passage. Curiously - but with some trepidation, who knew what could be in a sealed room in his old home? - he waved the flashlight about inside the room. What little he could see of it contained nothing, but almost as if in a trance, Malik found himself stepping over the fallen masonry, into the chamber.

            A sudden tremor in the ground shook him, knocking him almost to his knees. There was a sound ahead, in the room, like breaking glass, followed by a faint slithering. The next thing Malik knew, there was a sound like a squealing scream, and a dark shape impacted solidly on his neck. Not for the first time was Malik glad for his jewelry, but he didn't stop to think about it, because whatever it was was scrabbling about his neck. He dropped his flashlight, and grabbed for it, it slithered out of his grasp, like a snake, but the brief feel of it that he had was like no snake he had ever touched.

            "Ah!" he exclaimed, as it bit sharply into his shoulder. And then it was slithering into his mouth, plunging through the back of his throat. He let out a strangled scream. It squirmed though his mouth, and he felt it settle in his head, and around his spine. And then, to his abject horror, he felt something he thought he would never feel again, his greatest fear, the worst thing that could possibly happen to him. There was another presence in his mind, and it was attempting to force him back, back into the room of his soul.

"No!" he exclaimed, shouting the word with both his voice and his mind. At the same time, he pushed back at the presence, with all his trained will.

            "Submit!" a supremely arrogant voice said in his head. It sounded like a distorted version of his own. "Submit to your god, mortal!" It pushed back at him.

            "God?!" Malik sneered, in a tone just as arrogant. "I have more right to be called god than you ever will, you crawling worm!" He had little doubt that the voice he was currently speaking with belonged to the creature that had climbed into his body. In fact, giving it a moment’s thought, he knew that it was that creature, and he knew that, given time to examine it, all the knowledge of the creature was his for the taking. And his was just as open to the creature. Quickly, he shut his mind off, barricading the sanctity of his soul as best he knew how. Without a Sennen Item though, there was little he could do. Again, the creature tried to thrust him out of control. But Malik had more than a little experience in taking minds that didn't belong to him, and had only once ever been thrust out of control himself.

            With a breath and a thought, Malik inverted his consciousness, bringing himself into his soul corridor, and pulling the creature along with him. As he had expected there were two rooms there. His door was a pale colour, carved on its face to match the tattoos carved in his back. It was almost completely closed. Across from him, the creature's door was wide open, from what he could see of it, it was made of gold, and some silvery metal that he knew was not silver. Naquada, the word came to his mind. Standing in front of the door was a version of himself, garbed in the style of a god, or a pharaoh, with glowing golden eyes, and a look of utter affronted confusion. Malik smirked.

            "What is the meaning of this?!" the creature demanded.

            "Haven't you ever seen a soul room before?" Before the creature could answer, Malik pushed, thrusting the creature back into its soul room, and slamming the door behind it. The look of shock on its face before it vanished behind gold and naquada was extremely gratifying. He could feel as much as hear the roar of rage as the creature slammed into its door. It would do no good, however. It was weak, after millennia of imprisonment, and Malik had a very, very strong mind. Double-checking to make sure his own door was still closed, Malik then returned to the conscious world. He opened his eyes, to find himself on his knees, with a concerned, flashlight-wielding Rishid standing over him.

            "I heard you cry out, and had to make sure of your safety," he said. "I disobeyed you, lord Malik. I am sorry." Rishid closed his eyes, and bowed. As he stood up, Malik waved a hand, dismissing Rishid's apology.

"It's fine," he said. "I'm glad you came." Rishid looked up, slightly startled. Malik's smiled briefly at him, but his face quickly fell back into serious lines. "We have a problem. A big problem."

            "What do you mean?" Rishid asked.

            "There is a creature in my head," Malik said, tapping the back of his skull. "It was down here, in a canopic jar, over there." Malik waved the flashlight over the fragments. "It was imprisoned in there, by its own kind. But that's not important right now," he added, cutting off the expected question from Rishid. "What is important is that it tried to take over my mind." Rishid's eyes widened at the implications. "Don't worry. I have it locked inside its own soul room. It's safe for now." He paused, and Rishid said nothing. The silence stretched for a minute, and then two. Malik turned. "Let's get out of here. I have a phone call to make." Malik's voice was as hard as steel.

            It took half an hour for the to make it back to their hotel room in town, with Rishid riding with Malik on his motorcycle. Malik had originally had no intention of staying there, but Isis had booked it for them, 'just in case.' He was glad now that she had, because it gave him someplace to call from. He checked in, and tossed his backpack onto the bed.

            "Rishid, call Isis, and tell her I need her here, now," he said. Rishid started for the room phone, but Malik held up his hand in a commanding gesture. "No. Use the phone in the lobby. I have another call to make."

            "To who?" Rishid asked.

            "Who do you think?" Malik replied. "Now go. Hurry." He pointed out the door, and then turned his back, and went to the phone. He heard the sound of the door closing behind him. It took a minute to remember the complicated process of making an international call, but he was soon hearing the ringing of the phone on the other end. He counted the rings. Four. Five. Six. Was he going to answer the phone? Damn it. He was about to hang up the phone, and try the next number, when he heard the click of the receiver being picked up.

            "Moshi-moshi," said the sleepy voice on the other side.

            "Yuugi," Malik said.

            "Malik?" The surprise was evident in Yuugi's voice. He sounded much more alert. "Why are you calling? And at this hour?" A little guiltily, it occurred to Malik that it was very early in the morning in Japan, but he shook it off. What had happened to him was far more important than Yuugi's sleep.

            "We have a problem," Malik replied. Something happened. It wasn't like something he heard, or even felt, but he knew before he was replied that it was no longer exactly Yuugi on the other end of the phone.

            "What sort of problem?" The voice was deeper, more confident. There was a regal quality to it, something that spoke of a familiarity with command. The pharaoh might yet not have regained his memories, but it was unmistakably the voice of a king. Or a god, something inside of him whispered. He shuddered. It took him a moment to be sure that it was his own thought, but the creature was still firmly sealed within its own soul room. "Malik?" the other Yuugi said.

            "I'm here," Malik replied. He paused for a moment, and then related the story. "There is a lot more, but talking about it on the phone is a bad idea."

            "I agree," the pharaoh said. "Can you come here?"

            "I'd prefer not to," Malik said. "But I can if I have to." There was a pause. "If airfare is an issue, I can more than cover it."

            "I'd rather not," the other Yuugi replied. Malik couldn't help the smirk.

            "Did I sting your pride, pharaoh?" he laughed.

            "Enough, Malik." There was just a touch of stern anger in the other Yuugi's voice. It made Malik feel good that he could still rile the pharaoh. "We'll be there."

            "'We' meaning you and your little omote, or 'we' meaning you and your entire entourage?" Malik asked. Again, he could practically feel the other bristle at his words.

            "They aren't an entourage Malik, they're my friends. But no, I don't want to bring them. If that creature in your head is as dangerous as you think-"

            "I know," Malik interjected. "It's not a matter of 'think.'"

            "Fine. You know. I wouldn't feel right exposing them to that kind of danger, but I don't know if I can leave them behind," the other Yuugi said. Malik sighed mentally.

            "Look, pharaoh," he said. "Jounouchi would probably be safe - he's surprisingly strong for someone who has never held a Sennen Item. But the others? The thing in my head is hideous. Do you want to take even the slightest chance that something like it could infest, say, the pretty Mazaki Anzu?" His voice had taken on a nasty tone at then end.

            "That's low Malik. But you're right; it would be wrong to bring them, no matter what my heart wants." The other Yuugi sighed. "Do you have a number? I'll call you back when I've made arrangements." Malik gave him the number of the hotel, and the room he was staying in. "I won't be long." There was a click on the other end, as the other Yuugi hung up. A moment later, Malik hung up himself. With a sigh, he laid down on the bed, to await Rishid's return. He didn't have long to wait for Rishid; he had been lying down for perhaps two minutes, when the door opened, and Rishid stepped in.

            "Well?" Malik said, as soon as the door was closed.

            "She'll be coming tomorrow morning. And your call to Yuugi?" Rishid asked.

            "They're coming," Malik replied shortly. "Exactly how many of them, I still don't know." He had little faith in the other Yuugi's ability to argue down his friends. "He'll be calling back as soon as he's made his arrangements. You get some sleep; I'll wait up."

            "But lord Malik-"

            "I don't want to sleep," Malik said cutting him off. "Not right now."

            "I understand," Rishid replied. Malik heard him climbing into the other bed, and continued to stare at the ceiling. An hour passed, and then two. Occasionally, he felt the creature in his mind test his defenses, but he never had to put out a great effort to suppress it. Its rage was a palpable thing though, burning in a corner of Malik's mind; it genuinely believed that it was the rightful owner of Malik's body and mind. Stray thoughts, and bits of knowledge belonging to the creature drifted through his mind. Some were fascinating; he got glimpses of a sarcophagus that restored life, energy weapons, like something out of a sci-fi film, and, most compelling of all, a great ring that enabled travel throughout the stars. A word accompanied that image - cha'appa'ai.

            But most of the images were hideous. Visions of atrocities the likes of which he had never imagined, accompanied by a cold, hard, alien arrogance. Many of them were so foul that his mind automatically shied away, but he forced himself to sift through them anyway, for any kind of advantage that he could glean. Finally, a name came to him, and it was so surprising, he sat straight up in bed. Meretseger. He knew that name. Meretseger, the cobra goddess, lover of silence, and guardian of tombs. Before he could think more upon the implications of that, the phone rang. A quick glance at the clock showed that it had been almost three hours since he had spoken with Yuugi and the pharaoh. He picked up the phone.

            "Yes?" he said into the receiver.

            "It's me," Yuugi's voice replied over the phone. "We'll be arriving in Cairo International..." he trailed off momentarily, and then continued, "Well, it'll be 1:45pm, the day after tomorrow, your time. Is that okay?"

            "It's fine," Malik replied. "Who's 'we?'"

            "Just me and the other me," Yuugi replied. "Jounouchi couldn't come, and we can't let the others come."

            "What about Bakura?" Malik asked. There was an uncomfortable silence.

            "I couldn't get a hold of Bakura," Yuugi replied. "He still has the Ring, so probably..." He trailed off, a slight bit of sadness creeping into his voice.

            "Yeah," Malik agreed. "I'll see you the day after tomorrow."

            "Bye," Yuugi said. Malik replied, and then Yuugi's phone clicked on the other end. Malik hung up his own phone. "You can go back to sleep, Rishid," he said. There was the sound of shifting cloth to his left, and Malik knew that his adopted brother had, as always, obeyed his command. Thank you for being here for me, Rishid, he thought. Thank you for always being here. I think that I'm going to need you as much as ever now. He sighed quietly, and shut his eyes, eventually falling into an uneasy sleep.

            His dreams were plagued with visions from the creature. Ancient visions, he somehow knew. It felt to him as if they were taking place many, many thousands of years in the past. Before the Items. Before the oldest dynasty of pharaohs. Battles, horrors, and decadence. Armoured warriors, with great helmets shaped like serpents, marching around Egypt, and great ships resting atop the pyramids, and vision after vision of the cha'appa'ai, the centre of it glowing with watery blue light, or alternately, as an empty ring, awaiting travellers.

            There were others in the dream, men and women who he knew, somehow, were possessed as he was, by a serpentine parasite. Unlike him, however, in all of those cases, the parasite was in control, wielding godlike power over the Egyptian peasants. Life and death was in the hands of the gods, and all was as it should be. The men and women who played host to the gods were honoured, and rightly so. No. This isn't right.

            With that thought, Malik snapped awake, and realized what had been happening. The parasite in his head had somehow wormed its thoughts past the barriers he had around it. It had been attempting to seduce him with its visions.

            "That's not going to work, worm," Malik sneered into his mind. "Now you just stay in your soul room until I can get rid of you." The creature snarled in his mind.

"Submit, mortal! You cannot stand against a god!" it said.

            "Oh, I beg to differ," Malik replied. On the heels of those words, Malik slammed an image of one of the Battle City finals matches into the mind of the creature. It screamed with the force, and afterwards fell silent. Malik looked at the clock. 6:37am. He groaned. It was too early to be up, but too late to go back to sleep.

            "By all the gods," he swore, and then snorted at the irony of the statement. He reached over to the phone, and dialed room service.

            "Room service," a blandly cheerful voice said. "How can we help you?" <>            "Breakfast," Malik replied. "Bring me something without any meat." He paused. "And coffee. I want real, Turkish coffee. The strong stuff, not the dreck you give to tourists. Make it all enough for two. And fast. Thank you." He set the receiver back on the set with a click. "Rishid, wake up," he called. It was petty, but Malik felt that if he had to be awake at this atrocious hour, then he wouldn't do it alone. Rishid yawned, and sat up.

            "What can I do for you, lord Malik?" Rishid asked.

            "Just be awake with me," Malik replied. He flipped on the light, and for the first time since leaving his old home the previous evening, got a look at himself in decent lighting. He was covered with dust, his hair thick and dull with it, and his skin ashen. "Ugh. Isis will kill me if I'm still a mess when she gets here." He turned to Rishid. "I'm expecting room service. It should be here before I get out of the shower." Rishid nodded.

            "I'll get it, lord Malik," he said.

            "Thanks." Malik dug into his backpack, and pulled out the emergency change of clothes he had stowed in it, just in case, and went into the bathroom. It was a relief to get out of his dusty clothes, and a pleasure to wash himself free of the dust, even if he had to shampoo his hair three times to get his hair satisfactorily clean. When he had finished cleaning himself, he wrapped a towel around his hair, and then quickly cleaned his jewelry, before dressing in his clean clothes.

            The outfit was just another variation on his "standard" gear - a deep purple tank top, this one made of silk, accompanied by slightly faded black cargo pants. His jewelry went on after that, and then he pulled the towel off his head, and tossed it on the counter with the one he had used to dry his body. When he opened the door into the main room, he was greeted by the divine aroma of strong Turkish coffee. Rishid was sitting at the table, nursing a half-empty cup. A second cup was waiting on the tray, along with a small glass pot. Also on the tray were an empty plate, and one still full, with still-steaming flatbread and a pile of fruit.

            "Ahh," Malik sighed happily, after his first sip of the rich, dark coffee. "There's nothing else in the world that is quite like Turkish coffee. Has Isis called?" he asked, as he dug into his breakfast.

            "Yes," Rishid replied. "She called just a minute ago. She'll be here around nine, she said." Malik nodded.

            "Good. Now all we have to do is wait."

            Isis was good to her word, arriving just before nine in the morning. They exchanged greetings and pleasantries over another pot of Turkish coffee, before Isis asked what was going on.

            "Rishid said only that it was urgent, and he couldn't speak of it over the phone," she said. Malik told her what had happened, and added the visions he had had in his dreams, and the things he thought he had learned from them.

            "The strangest thing, sister, is that the visions all looked so... old," Malik said finally. "They were definitely of Egypt, but the only structures I recognized, even from our oldest archives, were the pyramids. Isis?" She had a strange look on her face. "Sister, what's wrong?"

            "It's strange, what you say. It reminds me of something I overheard a couple of archaeologists talking about once." She paused, and Malik and Rishid waited for her to continue. "They were talking, rather mockingly, about a colleague of theirs, a man who apparently theorized that the pyramids were far older than anyone thought. That they were not, in fact built by our ancestors, but by an unknown factor. It seemed ridiculous, but then again, if you don't know any better, so does the truth about these." Isis flipped up a Magic & Wizards card as she finished her sentence. "I don't know if we should believe it, but in light of this-" she nodded toward Malik "-maybe we should give his theories some thought." Malik nodded consideringly.

            "Do you think he might know something? Maybe we should question him," he said. "Do you know his name?" Isis shook her head.

            "No, but I could find it out." She smiled slightly. "There can't be too many disgraced archaeologists with wild theories about the pyramids out there."

            "I'll help you," Rishid volunteered. "I can start searching through university archives." Isis smiled.

            "Your help would be greatly appreciated, Rishid," she said. "Can you start now? I feel that the quicker we do this, the better off Malik will be."

            "Of course. There's actually an Internet café in town; I can go there," Rishid said. Malik nodded, and Rishid took his leave. After he had left, she said,

            "I assume that you have already contacted Yuugi and the pharaoh?"

            "Yes. They'll be arriving at Cairo International tomorrow afternoon," Malik replied.

            "So quickly?" Isis raised an eyebrow. "I suppose it's not difficult to understand, all things considered though. Who else is coming with him?"

            "Surprisingly, no one," Malik said. "Yuugi and the pharaoh didn't want to risk their friends to something like this." He tapped his head.

            "I don't blame him," Isis replied. "If what you say is true, theirs minds would be overwhelmed." She paused for a moment, a thoughtful look on her face. "Although perhaps Jounouchi would be all right. After all, he has proven capable of casting off mental control in the past." Malik ignored her needling; although he wasn't exactly proud of the things he had done in the past, he wasn't ashamed of them either.

            "The same thought occurred to me, but according to Yuugi, Jounouchi couldn't come," Malik said, and then shrugged. "It's back to waiting again, then. We should join Rishid."

            The rest of the day was spent rooting through university directories, and Isis's archaeological contacts, trying to track down a man who they didn't even have a name for. Finally, Isis got in touch with someone who knew of him.

            "Crackpot theories about the pyramids?" the cultured British voice said. "You would be looking for Dr. Jackson then. Dr. Daniel Jackson. He's an American. Good luck finding him though. He vanished from academia several years ago. I heard he was dead, although other rumour has him working with the United States military, but you can't trust rumour. Goodbye now." The person hung up. Isis relayed the information to Malik and Rishid.

            "Hmm," Malik said, speculatively. "Well, at least we have a name now. Dr. Daniel Jackson, possibly dead, possibly connected to the U.S. military."

            "It's not very much to go on," Rishid said.

            "Oh, it's plenty," Malik replied with a grin. "I have a call to make. I'll be right back." He got up to leave.

            "Why don't you just use my cell phone?" Isis asked. Malik turned and gave her a look.

            "You really don't want to know," he replied, and left the room. Malik left the hotel, and went to the nearest public payphone, several blocks away. He took the phone off the hook, deposited several coins, and dialed the number. The phone rang twice, and then someone picked it up.

            "Hello?" the familiar voice on the other end said.

            "Hakim," Malik said. On the other end, he heard Hakim's breath catch.

            "How can I serve, lord Malik?" he asked.

            "I want you to track down a person, and find out how to contact him. I want all the information you can get on this man," Malik replied. "His name is Dr. Daniel Jackson. He may be connected with the U.S. military." Or dead.

            "Why do you want to know about an American military man?" Hakim asked.

            "Are you questioning me?" Malik said, allowing an edge of threat to creep into his voice.

            "No, lord Malik. How can I contact you if - when - I find out what you want to know?" Hakim said.

            "I'll call you. You have two days." Malik hung up the phone, and headed back to the hotel. Although he no longer had the personal level of control over the Ghouls that he had once had, there were many who he still had a very tight hold upon, for other reasons entirely. Like Hakim. The man was a marvellous informant, with fingers in every pie in the world, it seemed. And Malik had more dirt on Hakim than Hakim had on any dozen people. And so Hakim remained "loyal," although Malik suspected that there was more than one reason the man still served him willingly.

            "Well?" Isis asked when he returned.

            "I may have some information in a couple of days. In the meantime, we wait for our guests to arrive. With any luck, the pharaoh will be able to solve my little problem, and that'll be the end of it." Malik flopped down on his bed. "With luck."