Chapter 9 of Scions of the Sphinx gives us our first look at the inside of Mu’at’s organization. What’s with the industrial warehouse full of mining equipment? We also get a look at Mu’at’s private penthouse (pretty swanky) and a glimpse into his motivation. I loved researching Edgar Cayce (a.k.a. The Sleeping Prophet) and wrapping that material into the story. I feel like it lent an air of authenticity to the fictional tale I woven about a secret chamber under the Sphinx.
The drive back into town passed in relative silence. Bobby had nothing to say to his kidnapper, and apparently Jinx didn’t either. Mu’at watched them both with an intense stare that made Bobby’s skin crawl as they made their way into the city. Traffic slowed as they entered downtown Cairo.
Weaving their way through clogged roads and bustling backstreets, they pulled into a narrow alley, vacant except for a pair of black SUVs parked up against the side of a corrugated-steel warehouse. Through tinted windows, men in sunglasses nodded as the warehouse doors swung open and the limo drove through. Inside stood a vast space full of metal shipping containers and construction vehicles: earthmovers, bulldozers, and drilling rigs.
Omir parked the limo in the middle of the open warehouse floor and came around to the back. Pulling Jinx out by his collar, the giant manservant dragged Bobby’s cousin away to a ten-by-ten tin box near the rear wall.
“You try light that on fire,” said Omir, in his heavily-accented broken English. Then he shoved Jinx inside and locked the door.
Next, it was Bobby’s turn. As Mu’at disappeared out the side door of the warehouse, Omir took Bobby by the arm and led him to a shipping container. Removing the door’s heavy padlock, Omir unceremoniously thrust Bobby into the Spartan cell.
Bobby barely registered the shove. All his focus was on the occupants of the room. Nathaniel and Grace Ether appeared disheveled and exhausted but otherwise unharmed as they leaped up from a pair of cots placed along the side and ran over to embrace their son.
Pulling him into a fierce hug, Bobby’s mother sobbed into his hair. His father encircled them both with his arms. No one said a word. The three of them stood like that for some time, rejoicing in each other’s presence.
Finally, Nathan stepped back. “Are you hurt, Son?”
Bobby shook his head, wiping moisture from his eyes. “What about you? Are you guys OK?”
“We’re fine—apart from the madman that kidnapped us from our home and dragged us halfway around the world,” said Nathan.
Bobby tried to extract himself from his mother’s grip, but she refused to let go. Pulling him back into her embrace, she stroked the back of his head and whispered pet names into his ear, wet from her tears.
“Baby Bobby! My poor little schmoopy,” she cried.
Bobby let his mother cry on his shoulder for a while and then stepped back and walked over to the door. There was no knob or handle. The metal felt cold and lifeless, with no spark of energy. Still, perhaps he could find a way to get it open from within. Before he had a chance to try, the door swung outward on its own.
Bobby sprang back as Omir stepped into the tiny space, his heavily muscled frame backlit by the dim glow of the warehouse’s halogen lamps.
Grace Ether let loose an ear-piercing wail as Omir crossed the narrow space and grabbed Bobby’s wrist. She clutched Bobby’s other arm, pulling with all her strength while imploring Nate to help. Omir reached to his belt and pulled out a chrome-plated pistol. Grace instantly fell back, clutching Nate, who held his ground but made no move toward the large Egyptian.
“Say good-byes,” said Omir, with a laugh, and yanked Bobby across the threshold. Bobby’s parents yelled and screamed as Omir locked the door, leaving them alone once again. Then Omir dragged Bobby across the warehouse to the side door, where two goons carrying submachine guns stood guard at the head of a small corridor leading into an adjacent office building.
At the end of the corridor was a private elevator with two more men standing guard. Omir shoved Bobby into the lift and pressed a button. The elevator shot upward. Seconds later, the doors opened onto a posh foyer of Corinthian marble and dark mahogany, with a pair of alabaster doors on the far side. Yet another pair of guards opened these doors as Omir dragged Bobby across the antechamber.
Bobby stopped struggling as the space beyond opened up into an elegant penthouse suite, appointed with jade sculptures, oil paintings, and thick Persian rugs. In the middle of the expansive living room, Mu’at sat on a white leather couch, casually sipping a glass of cognac held lightly between two perfectly manicured fingers. Behind him, beyond a panel of floor-to-ceiling windows, lay the skyscape of Cairo’s bustling metropolis, turned orange and red by the setting sun.
Mu’at waved at the deep-backed divan across from the couch. “Please, have a seat.”
Bobby remained standing. “Let my parents go.”
Omir gave Bobby a shove toward the couch, but Mu’at raised a finger, forestalling further action by his servant.
“I promise, I mean them no harm,” said Mu’at, gesturing to the loveseat once again. “Just listen to what I have to say, and you can all go free.”
Bobby approached the divan with measured steps. After a long hesitation, he sat down and folded his arms across his chest. “Get on with it.”
Mu’at leaned back into the couch. “Before I tell you what it is I want you to do, I must first explain why I want you to do it. In 1924, a man named Edgar Cayce, also known as ‘the Sleeping Prophet,’ predicted the stock-market crash of 1929. He also predicted the Great Depression, the rise and fall of Adolf Hitler, the death of two US presidents, and the collapse of the Soviet Union.”
“So the guy was clairvoyant.” Bobby threw up his arms. “Big deal. What does that have to do with me?”
Mu’at held up a hand, gesturing for patience. “During one of his psychic readings, Cayce declared that his current ‘entity,’ or person, was the third appearance on this plane. According to him, he was a monk before that.”
The bravado in Bobby’s tone faltered ever so slightly. “A monk? You mean like at the Academy?”
Mu’at nodded. “Cayce spoke frequently of reincarnation while entranced. I have no doubt that he lived at the Academy in a prior life. That, however, is not what’s important here.”
“Then what is?” snapped Bobby. “Please don’t tell me this guy, Cayce, is a long-lost relative or something. ’Cause, seriously, I couldn’t care less.”
Mu’at waved dismissively. “I would never have gone to such lengths to bring you here simply to tell you about a psychic relative who could only read the future while asleep. After all, your grandfather is far more reliable in his predictions, as you well know.”
Bobby threw out his arms. “I get it now. This is about my grandfather.”
Mu’at frowned. “Your provincial logic disappoints me. Of course Jeremiah’s abilities are impressive, as are your grandmother’s, but I have plenty of talented psychics and empaths at my disposal.”
Bobby’s voice rose in frustration as he glared at Mu’at. “Then what the heck do you want? Get to the point already.”
Mu’at kept his voice low. “Of the twenty thousand plus readings Cayce performed, most pertained to mundane matters: the health and financial affairs of his clients mostly. Toward the end of his career, however, Cayce gave more and more readings about occult phenomenon. In one of these trances, Cayce predicted the existence of a secret underground cavity, or chamber, located under the left front paw of the Great Sphinx.”
“You’re joking, right?” said Bobby, his voice pitched with anger. “You’re after some stupid secret room? I hate to break it to you, but if all the scientists who’ve been studying that thing for centuries haven’t found it, then you can be darn sure it doesn’t exist.”
Lifting his cognac, Mu’at swirled the honey-brown liquid around in a circle before taking a long sip. Setting the crystal glass down, he sat back and crossed his legs. “Scientists may not have found it—but I have.”
Bobby paused for a moment then threw back his head and laughed. “Yeah right! You discovered a secret chamber under the Sphinx that no one else has ever found, despite centuries of research and renovation. Get real.”
The right corner of Mu’at’s mouth twitched ever so slightly at Bobby’s insolence. “Let’s just say that locating the passage requires a particular skill—one which most people do not possess.”
Leaning forward, Bobby studied Mu’at afresh. “You’re talking about meta abilities. You have to use power to find the passage?”
Mu’at nodded almost imperceptibly. “Unfortunately, such abilities only provide access to the outer tunnel, not the room itself. I would excavate, but I cannot risk harming the contents within the chamber.”
Bobby sat up straight, now fully engaged. “So I open this inner chamber, get whatever’s inside, and you let me and my family go?”
Mu’at stood up, cognac glass still held gingerly in his right hand. Walking without sound across the creamy shag rug, he made his way to an alcove in the far corner, where the windows curved into a 180-degree view of Cairo from thirty floors up. Turning his back to Bobby, Mu’at gazed out over the auburn dusk, the lights of the city just beginning to flick on like twinkling stars plucked from the sky and scattered across the ground.
“Of course, this entire conversation is strictly academic until I know that you can perform the required task,” said Mu’at. “You must be tested first.”
With those words, massive hands reached over the couch and grasped Bobby by the shoulders. Lifting him up until his feet dangled inches off the ground, Omir carried Bobby across the room to the alcove. Bobby struggled and even reached for his power, but nothing happened. He tried again. Something was blocking him from drawing the ambient energy in the room.
Still sipping his cognac, Mu’at turned from the window to face them. “You know, I’ve never really gotten use to all of this,” he said, lifting the glass while simultaneously waving around the room. “A long time ago, I was surrounded by great wealth, but then it was taken from me. For many years, I was forced to live an ascetic lifestyle, serving others while watching them indulge in life’s finest pleasures. Naturally, I was filled with anger and jealousy by this cruel twist of fate.”
Mu’at let out a humorless chuckle. “And then I got clarity,” he said, gesturing with a knuckle toward his eye patch. Omir laughed along with his boss. Bobby wriggled to no avail in the big Egyptian’s grasp. “It turns out that possessions, like lessons, are never really yours unless you own them completely,” said Mu’at.
Mu’at paused again, studying the cognac. “Of course, the real irony is that now that I have such possessions, material wealth means nothing to me. Take this Louis VIII for example,” Mu’at said, lifting the brandy once again. “This costs thousands of dollars per bottle, yet provides a mere moment’s enjoyment, nothing more. All that matters is the path. As long as you stay on the path, nothing else is important.”
“What path are you talking about, the road to becoming a full-fledged psychopath?” asked Bobby. “I’d say you’re doing a bang-up job.”
“Shh,” said Mu’at, raising a finger to his lips. “Be silent, and you can hear it—that inner self buried deep inside you, that quiet voice that knows what you truly need, the one with instructions on how to live your life.”
“So your inner voice told you to go digging in the sand, looking for a hidden chamber full of ancient garbage? Did it also tell you to kidnap my parents?”
The backhanded slap Mu’at gave him surprised Bobby more than it hurt. Still, his cheek stung enough for him to raise a hand and rub it.
“Do not blasphemy the holy path. I have seen the cause. I know the course, and the road is just. I will rid humanity of its impurities, cleanse it of those who have strayed so far from the path of enlightenment that they will never find their way back.”
Bobby felt his hands slowly twist into fists. “And what about all the people who will be affected by your plan? You want to replace everyone with your own personal breed of meta, right? What about all the harm you cause, all the innocent people in your way?”
“No one is innocent. We are all responsible for the course of our lives. Those who are willing and able to achieve enlightenment will remain. Those who do not will be swept away.”
“But what about—”
“Enough!” Raising his arm, Mu’at smashed the glass on the ground, where it shattered, spraying dark amber liquor and razor-sharp shards all over the cream rug. “You do not see my vision, but soon you will. Humanity is lost, no longer capable of achieving its true purpose. I will set it back on the right path. And you will help me, whether you like it or not.”
Bobby tried to shout his protest, something defiant and courageous, but Omir wrapped an arm around his chest and squeezed, forcing the air from his lungs. With his free hand, Omir cupped Bobby’s chin and tilted his head back.
“Try not to resist,” said Mu’at, raising a hand to his temple. “Fighting only makes it worse.” Then he slowly raised his eye patch.
The air in Bobby’s lungs caught in place as Mu’at revealed his entire face. Expecting a sunken hole or hideous scar, Bobby gazed instead upon an eye the likes of which he’d never imagined. It looked like a miniature universe, a pitch-black iris swirling with millions of tiny pinpricks of light that danced in such a dizzying array that Bobby’s head swam in confusion.
Seconds passed. The air trapped in Bobby’s lungs began to burn, begging to resume its journey. Bobby just stood there, staring at the universe in Mu’at’s eye.
Finally, Bobby regained his senses, gasping as he attempted to step back. But Omir held him tight. Bobby tried to look away, but the mad eye held his gaze, preventing him from closing his eyes or even blinking. The image was maddening, reflecting off the ten-foot-high windows, mixing with the city lights and stars outside to form a cosmic kaleidoscope that boggled the senses. Lines blurred, and images ran together until Mu’at looked like an insane giant bug with a thousand glowing eyes.
“Edgar Cayce is not the only one to have memories of past lives. Tell me what you know about the Sanctum of the Pure Ones.”
Bobby heard himself say, “What are you talking about?” At least he thought he was the one who’d said it. The room was spinning now. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The kaleidoscope zoomed in, sucking in the whole room until it was all Bobby could do not to scream. “You will see beyond, to your other self. Look now, and remember.”
The hand under his chin released, as did the arm around his chest. Bobby’s knees buckled, and he fell to the floor. A moment later, he fell unconscious.