Mathias burned inside. The need for vengeance was great, but there was no one on whom to vent his fury. His family was gone, stolen from him, but he had no killer to tear limb from limb, no assassin to gut on his sword after hours of torture. It had been three years since Cassandra and his son had died in the grips of a fever and still, there was no appeasement of his anger.

He had conquered much of the lands around him. He had driven Balthazar away to keep him safe long ago. He had sycophants and soldiers from whom to take his rough, fleeting pleasures. He cared not for any of them, using their bodies often to seek oblivion that lasted only moments. It was better than turning to drink and clouding his mind, though perhaps more detestable.

Caring not for the opinions of anyone, Mathias ruled his empire with an iron fist and expanded upon it as often as possible. It wasn’t until he ran into the Egyptians that he found trouble, encountering the first true resistance since he’d begun. It was in the desert that his army met its final end, beaten and scattered to the four winds under the sharp blades that pierced it.

Even half-dead and lashed by the stinging winds of a growing sandstorm, Mathias glared at the sky above and shouted, “You have no dominion over me! Cowards! You’re all craven bastards and I won’t be ruled by such as you! Not in life, nor in death!”

The storm’s fury increased, as if in answer, but Mathias was too far gone to care. He stabbed his sword into the ground and screamed over the noise, “I refuse your sway! I grant allegiance only to darkness! Only to the power that rules this mortal realm! You took mine from me, I will spend the rest of my existence taking down Your temples and sending Your followers back to Your bosom! Take me, oh God of Death and give me Your power! I will rule this earth for You!”

A stabbing pain in his foot seared through Mathias and he hissed. Looking down, he saw a scorpion stabbing through his boot, over and over again. Fire coursed through his blood, sizzling up his leg and into his gut, forcing him to bend over with the agony that wracked his body. Screaming his hate and pain to the storm and uncaring Gods, Mathias collapsed the rest of the way to the sand dune, then slid down its steep side. Rolling to a stop, he arched and twisted in a vain attempt to escape the poison coursing through his veins.

And then it changed…grew deeper…burned hotter…filled his very being…

…with power…

*  *  *  *

Beck shouted as he woke up, jumping from the bed and stamping his foot onto the wooden hotel floor. Panting harshly, he looked around the empty room, disoriented. It actually took a few seconds to figure out where he was and why the sandstorm wasn’t burying him alive.

Shaking off the nightmare, hating that particular one, he staggered back to the bed and collapsed upon it. Three days and absolutely no leads on Travis’ whereabouts had temporarily worn him down. There were so many reasons that Travis could have been taken, but Beck’s mind had immediately gone to the worst of the lot. The slave trade was alive and kicking, even in the modern world, and Travis was a good looking kid. Beck had spent the last three days doing his level best to get a foot in the door of that vicious world, with no luck.

Finally, exhausted, he’d crashed the night before at only six and, looking at the clock, saw that he’d gotten fourteen solid hours of sleep. His stomach rumbled angrily and he sighed, scrubbing fingers over his scalp in an effort to wake up.

A few seconds later his cell phone rang, startling him. He grabbed it from the bedside table where it had been tossed the night before and flipped it open. Seeing Billy’s name on the ID, he grimaced, but answered it anyhow. “What is it, Billy?”

“Where are you?”

“Why?”

“I need you to do a job for me.”

“Forget it, Billy, I’ve got something I’m in the middle of.”

“Beck, I need you to do this for me and you will never hear from me again.”

Beck snorted. “Where have I heard that before?”

“Travis has been kidnapped, Beck, and I need you to get him back for me,” Billy stated flatly.

It had crossed his mind in the beginning, that the kidnapping might have something to do with Billy, but not in any serious way. Not only were the two very, very estranged, but Billy didn’t have any ‘interests’ in this part of the world that Beck knew of.

“Travis was kidnapped because of you?” Beck questioned, voice just as toneless. “What did you do this time, Billy? Piss off the local hood?”

“Listen, Beck, I don’t need to hear any shit from you! Just get him back!”

Beck snapped, “What do you think I’ve been trying to do for three fucking days, Billy!?”

“What? How did you even know?”

“Travis wanted to check out some ancient Egyptian legend and I came with him.”

There was a silence then, as Billy took in his words. “This happened on your watch?”

Baring his teeth at the phone, Beck snarled, “Don’t start with me, Billy, this is your fault! Now do you have any information I can use, or not?”

“He was taken by Memnon, someone who wants to horn in on my imports business.”

Imports being the code for illegal smuggling of priceless artifacts. Travis came by his interest in history honest, after all.

“Location?” Beck questioned.

“I don’t have one.”

“So he’s a local heavy?”

“Definitely.”

Beck thought about it a second, then said, “I need your local address so I can get weapons.”

“I’ll email it to you. Take whatever you need, just get him back within the next two days, Beck.”

“That’s the deadline?”

“Yes.”

“And you’re not going to agree to whatever he’s asking, are you?”

The line disconnected, which was answer enough.

*  *  *  *

Dinner, was strange. It was in a room that was just as elegant and refined as the bedroom in which Travis was kept, but there were armed guards at the door and more bars on windows. His host, so to speak, was congenial and made small talk as though it were a perfectly ordinary dinner date. At first, Travis was too creeped out to do much more than give one-word answers. As the night wore on, though, he relaxed a little and decided that he might as well enjoy what little time was left to him, so he ignored the guards and bars and started talking.

“So why here? Why go beyond the borders of your father’s protection?” Memnon questioned over dessert.

Travis shrugged. “I don’t go by that.”

“What do you go by?”

“Whatever interests me.

“And what interests you here?”

“Well, you’re going to laugh, but there’s an ancient legend that I’m out to prove is real by finding an artifact from it.”

Memnon actually looked thoughtful as he asked, “Which legend?”

“The Scorpion King,” Travis replied. “See, it’s about…”

Abruptly harsh, Memnon interrupted, “I know what it’s about. For what do you search?”

Taken aback by the change, Travis swallowed nervously and explained, “The Sorceress’ headdress.”

Intense, Memnon’s pale gaze kept his as the other man demanded, “And you think you can find it?”

“Well, yeah. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t,” Travis confirmed.

Memnon stood and ordered a guard, “Return him to his room,” before striding away.

Hopping to his own feet before the guard could yank him upright, Travis muttered, “Was it something I said?”

*  *  *  *

Beck knew he was being followed, but he also knew it was that cop, Rinaldi, so he didn’t really care. If Billy’s ‘businesses’ wound up raided and wiped out, it was a bonus. He strapped down with plenty of concealed weapons, not just guns, and left the place to go to a dive that he’d dragged out of the camel dealer’s son. It was a bad place where bad men hung out, so Beck was sure he’d find something that would lead him to this Memnon character.

Entering the darkened bar, Beck took a second for his eyes to adjust before heading over to the counter. It was a westernized room, with American music playing from hidden speakers, but the men inside were all locals. Sitting on a stool, he waited for the bartender to come over or someone to approach him and tell him to get lost.

He didn’t have long to wait. Only a minute after he sat down, a mid-sized goon with no hair came over, doing his best to loom, now that Beck was seated.

“You are lost, yes?” the man demanded harshly.

Beck gave him a pleasant smile. “Nope. I think I’m exactly where I need to be.”

“And where is that?”

“Where someone can find me how to find a man named Memnon.”

Silence descended at Beck’s statement and he briefly scanned the room to make sure no one was making a move towards any weapons.

The man swallowed and then questioned, “Why you looking for him?”

Beck’s smile broadened, just a little. “That’s between me and him. Where can I find him?”

“No one here will tell you such a thing. You leave, now, and still keep your life.”

Without warning, Beck’s hand snapped out, grabbing the man’s throat to shove him hard onto the countertop. Putting a knife to the man’s ribs, Beck told him softly, “Tell me where he is, and you keep your life.”

“He’ll kill me!”

“So will I.”

Beck felt, more than heard, the second man come up from behind. His leg kicked backwards, catching his attacker in the gut and sending him flying across the room. Two more attacked in concert from either side. Beck shoved the man he held to the bar at one of them and slammed his fist into the second’s face. Numbers five and six came together as well. Beck ducked until the knife number Six had and drove an uppercut into number Five’s chin, sending him crashing into number Seven.

At least there weren’t any whips this time.

As he fought with numbers Eight, Nine, and Ten, he spotted Rinaldi lounging against the wall, watching with a grin. Staggering under a blow to his cheek, Beck shook it off and called out, “You could help a little, you know!”

Then he was busy ducking three rapidly delivered assaults, catching a couple of hits to his kidneys that hurt like a bitch. Slamming his elbow into the one behind him, Beck heard the crunch of bone and muffled cry of agony as the man fell. By then, number Two was back to take his place. Grabbing one of the chairs, he brought it up to drive into Two and Eight, then took Nine down with a kick to the crotch. When he was done, sore and panting for breath, he, Rinaldi, and the bartender were the only ones standing.

The bartender looked at him and stated, “You’re going to pay for all this. Stupid American.”

Rinaldi walked over then, grinning as he approved, “Not bad.”

“Thanks for the help,” Beck repeated, making a face. “What do you want?”

“Same as you. To get Travis Walker back,” Rinaldi told him.

Beck hauled number One back to his feet and shook him a little before demanding, “Where’s Memnon? Where is he, damn it?”

The man’s eyes rolled, but he didn’t speak.

“They’ll never tell you, but that’s okay.”

Giving Rinaldi a suspicious look, Beck demanded, “Why’s that?”

“Because I know where he is. I just wanted to see how bad you wanted to know.”

Beck dropped his captive with a disgusted noise, glaring at the grinning man beside him.

*  *  *  *

When they got to the compound, and it could be called nothing less, Rinaldi paused and frowned, alerting Beck to a problem. “What is it?”

Instead of answering, Rinaldi climbed out of the car and walked to another car some distance away. Following, Beck listened in on the conversation with the plain-clothed detective in the car.

“Where is he?”

“Took off about an hour ago with all of his men. Looked like he was going to be gone for a while, too. Had all kinds of equipment with him. I called it in, Inspector, didn’t they tell you?”

Beck broke in with, “Did they have an American kid with them? Sandy brown hair, yay big, kinda scraggly?”

The cop looked at him, then at Rinaldi, who nodded. Shrugging, the man told them, “Yeah. Seemed to be going along without any problems though. It didn’t look like he was under duress or injured.”

Which only meant that Travis had been sufficiently cowed to not put up a fight. The kid was brave, but he was also pragmatic. He knew when to fight and when not to. Well, usually.

Rinaldi looked at Beck and asked thoughtfully, “How certain was Walker of finding this headdress?”

“Travis never goes on an expedition unless he’s sure he can find what he’s after,” Beck told him. Thinking of the Gato, he added, “It’s a talent he’s got, finding things no one else believes in. You think he told Memnon and now they’re going to find it?”

Rinaldi nodded. “For whatever reason, Memnon is obsessed with ancient history. Rumor has it that he believes he’s the reincarnated soul of some ancient king. Wouldn’t put it passed him, he’s that arrogant.”

Beck thought a second and said, “I’ve got all of Travis’ maps. I know exactly where he’s heading.”

“Then we get there ahead of them,” Rinaldo replied decisively.

Not the most bullet-proof of plans, but Beck would take whatever help he could get. And with Rinaldi’s contacts, they were sure to get the best equipment possible.

*  *  *  *

Riding a camel sucked. Travis didn’t care what Beck might say about the animals. He’d learned firsthand they were evil, evil-tempered things that bit. And spit. He’d already been spit on twice and almost lost a finger to the evil things. Evil. That’s what they were.

“You’re very quiet,” observed Memnon, as he nudged his camel over to walk beside Travis.’

Travis glanced at the other man and informed him, “I can walk this fast, you know. I don’t need to ride this thing.”

A smile graced Memnon’s lips, clearly visible in the moonlight, and he answered, “I’m sure you could, but I don’t want to waste your energy on walking. I gather you and your ride have not become better acquainted?”

“Oh we’ve become better acquainted, all right. He nearly took off one of my fingers about half an hour ago,” Travis snapped, glaring at the back of his camel’s head.

Memnon chuckled. “I’m sorry to hear that. They can sense when their rider’s are uncomfortable or unsure of themselves, even more so than horses.”

Travis was only slightly horrified at the whine in his voice as he demanded, “Why couldn’t we just have flown? You’ve gotta have helicopters or something.”

Shrugging, Memnon replied, “We could have, but I wanted to get to know you better. I thought we could use this time together to…start over.”

Travis’ eyebrows rose in disbelief. “Are you kidding? So I’m just supposed to forget that you’re going to kill me when Billy doesn’t give in to your demands?”

Memnon waved the words off impatiently and ordered, “Forget Billy. I could care less about him now.”

“Ah, okay,” Travis said slowly. “How come?”

Meeting his gaze, Memnon told him, “Because you are worth far more to me than what Bill Walker might have to offer.”

Travis knew that look. He’d seen it in a lot of eyes over the years and seeing it now was definitely freaking him out. “Yeah, ah, look. I think maybe you’ve got me confused with someone else.”

But Memnon just smiled again and answered, “I think not. We’ll be stopping for the night soon. If you need anything, let me know.”

Swallowing nervously, Travis just nodded and watched him leave, kicking his heels into the camel’s sides in order to catch up to the guards in front. Rubbing a hand over his stomach, which was about ready to make a visit outside his body, Travis closed his eyes and prayed really hard that Beck would be able to find him in time. There was something about Memnon that scared the crap out of him, and it wasn’t being a ruthless, violent criminal. Travis had been around those types most of his life. No, there was something different about this man, something darker, and having his sole focus was stirring up serious fear.

“C’mon, Beck, hurry up and save my ass, would you?” Travis muttered.

*  *  *  *

Any equipment Rinaldi might have been able to secure was supposedly being used in a raid. That left Beck with exactly what he’d had before hooking up with the cop; not a lot. It didn’t matter how much the man argued with his Captain, the older man was adamant about not giving them any help. If Rinaldi wanted to get himself killed, he would do it without the Captain’s help.

From there, they went back to his hotel to retrieve Travis’ maps and such. He paid off the old lady who didn’t like him, thanking her for the hospitality with only a little irony. They drove to the camel seller’s place outside the city to get their animals and supplies. It was full dark by the time that happened and, when the man saw Rinaldi instead of Travis, he paled and hurried to get whatever they needed.

Eyeing the cop, Beck questioned, “Popular, aren’t you?”

Rinaldi snorted. “Like I care.”

They headed out of the city that night, neither wanting to lose any more time. It wasn’t as though they had a difficult road to travel, given they were heading straight west for the first couple of days, and then south. They would either overtake Travis and Co. on the way, or not. If they didn’t, they were sure to meet up at the site that Travis had marked on his map. That was what Beck hoped for. According to Travis’ notes, the site was mostly underground, but there were plenty of places for Travis to get loose and hide while Beck took this Memnon character apart, piece by piece. If they were in the open desert, there would be a standoff and Beck would lose.

“You and Walker lovers?”

The question cut through Beck’s thoughts and he glanced sideways at the other man, arching an eyebrow at him.

Rinaldi shrugged and continued, “No skin off my nose. I just need to know what to expect when we catch up to these guys.”

Beck thought a moment, then answered, “Lots of violence. I’ll give them a chance to surrender Travis, which I don’t expect them to take, and then I’ll kill them to get him back. But no, we aren’t lovers.”

Lips pursed, Rinaldi replied, “Remind me not to piss you off.”

“Don’t piss me off,” Beck told him, completely serious.

Rinaldi nodded, thoughtful.

They traveled the entire night through and into the morning, going slow but steady, letting the camels set the pace. It wasn’t until about ten the following morning that Beck called a stop. They would sleep through the rest of the day and start up again just after sunset.

“At least it’s not summer,” Rinaldi pointed out, sitting.

Beck finished setting up the tent as he agreed, “That would’ve sucked.”

Neither spoke as they ate and drank, each wrapped in their own thoughts. Beck couldn’t remember being as tired as he was, not for a long time. It didn’t help that his mind kept going around and around about Travis. He didn’t even taste the food as he remembered the panic in Travis’ voice as he’d called for Beck. It had been a stupid argument and because he’d hurt Travis by being impatient and unthinking, Travis had been taken. Billy was right. It was his fault, and not just because it had happened on his watch.

You know how sensitive the kid is, he thought. You know that he’s going to get upset when you say shit like that!

It didn’t seem to matter that he constantly promised himself that he wasn’t going to rag Travis that way, because somehow, the words always found a way to escape. Beck had been around rough, uncaring men most of his life and forgot too often that Travis wasn’t like that.

“I’m going to turn in. Try not to kick your own ass too much before we get him back.”

Rinaldi’s dry words broke through his thoughts, but Beck didn’t smile. He just nodded to the other man and returned to the downward spiral of broken promises and hurtful words.

*  *  *  *

She was easily the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Bewitching. Enthralling. Memnon knew the moment that he set eyes on her, that Cassandra would be his forever. Even before, when he’d known only her powers by reputation, Memnon had sought her own for his own use. He wasn’t afraid of her, like the idiots in her village. He’d wiped them out for daring to even think of harming her. If he hadn’t arrived right when he had, they would have burned her alive. From that moment, when he’d released her and pulled her onto his horse, wrapping his arms around her narrow waist, he’d known that she would be his.

Now, cleaned and dressed in the finest silks, sleeping soundly in a soft bed, Cassandra further bewitched him. The moonlight cast an ethereal glow upon her. He wanted to make them one in the most visceral of ways, but needed her power of Sight more. One day, when he ruled the world, then she would be his Queen and he would have her in every way.

In this life and any others that followed.

*  *  *  *

Unlike most, Memnon knew exactly what his fate would be: to recover the woman denied him in a past life and to resume the path to greatness that had been stolen from him. When he’d been just a boy in the slums of Cairo, he’d only vaguely known his life would be much, much more than what he’d been into. It had been a visit to a witch that had shown him his dreams were more than those of a boy wanting adventure. His dreams showed him a life that had happened long, long ago, but one of great importance.

As he’d gotten older, the dreams had become clearer. Images of the man he’d been, who’d taken the world and reshaped it into something better. Memories of betrayal by a beautiful woman and a warrior who had destroyed everything.

The moment that he’d heard that Billy Walker’s son was in Cairo, Memnon had known a moment of destiny had come. He’d thought, at the time, it was simply a way to further his ambitions and made arrangements to have the boy kidnapped for ransom. The surveillance photos had shown him it was far more than that, though. Pictures of a large man, a protector, accompanied Travis Walker like a shadow. The same man who had thwarted him in another life and that could mean only one thing…Cassandra was also nearby, in her new life.

Taking Walker from his protector had proven surprisingly easy, the two men fighting and the younger one stalking off, as young men often did. It hadn’t been until he’d seen the young man unconscious on the floor that recognition had hit. Cassandra wasn’t simply nearby, she was there, right before him. It had taken a few minutes to reconcile the beauty from before to the scruffiness of now, but he’d done it.

Even unconscious, there’d been something reminiscent of the Sorceress who’d come to mean so much to him. Awake and talking, those eyes big so filled with fear and uncertainty, Memnon’s desire for the other had slammed into him unexpectedly. The innocence was exactly the same. The unselfconscious manner of nobility very much present, despite the rough clothes and scraggly beard. Never one to let the matter of someone’s gender get in the way of his desire, Memnon had had all he could do not to take the boy then and there. He’d restrained himself, though, toying with the young man and leaving him to stew for a while in confusion and fear.

Once Travis had calmed sufficiently to talk, he’d proven a surprisingly adept dinner companion. And when asked of his purpose in Egypt, Memnon’s heart had nearly stopped to find out the answer. It had been a simple matter to get the travel plans in order and to scare the location from Travis. He suspected the other waited for a rescue, but made sure with a single phone call that the local police would keep Beck occupied long enough for him to get the headdress and restore Travis’ memories of his previous life. Then their lives would resume, as they should have so long ago…together.

Watching Travis sleep, Memnon’s fingers ghosted over the young man’s cheek and he smiled.