The Egyptian night was silent, and among the many exhibits in the huge Cairo Museum’s antiquities wing, there was no one to hear or see the arrival of a furtive figure. This was entirely appropriate, since Fahroud Masai considered himself to truly live up to the nom du crime of the Master Thief. He smiled as moonlight illuminated a display beneath a skylight. Nature aids her favored son! he thought. Fahroud, surely Fate is a woman, for she loves you, as they all do!
The Master Thief paused to catch his breath, not being as agile as he once had been; the idea caused the vain thief a great deal of concern. First, I am short of air, then I find myself slower than the desert jackal. What is next? I will develop what the Americans call the beer belly? He sighed.
Turning to gracefully pry open a locked office door, he entered and nodded in approval. No alarm sounded. He had silenced it before ever entering the museum. He also knew the guards would change shifts, and someone would return this way in less than three minutes, so he had to move swiftly.
Hurrying across the office, he used his considerable skills to crack the safe, then carefully reached inside the open door and retrieved a delicately carved amulet. The rumors were true! he thought. The Orb is as pristine as if it had been created yesterday! My spies at the dig spoke the truth. They deserve a raise. Oh, well. Such is life!
Fahroud turned to depart with the precious ancient relic whose discovery had been reported to him. He knew he could interest a certain antiquities collector who cared little about the origins or right to sale the items he hoarded.
As the Master Thief made his way silently into the night, he failed to notice an eerie glow that crossed the Orb’s surface as starlight from above touched its silvery finish. He would sell the precious item and live happily off the money for quite a while. What he did not know was that exposing the ancient item to the light of those specific stars while they were in that specific alignment would unleash a horror beyond his imagination. Of course, he would not have cared had he known, since the terror and the violence would be centered on a heroic American half a world away from Egypt’s silent streets.
The Bridgeport Country Club’s elegantly decorated meeting room housed the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution on the second Tuesday of each month. All in all, the membership consisted of wealthy and self-satisfied women. One of the members assembled there was much younger in appearance than her peers. Shiera Sanders Hall was a woman who seemingly had it all. She was extremely wealthy and came from an important family whose lineage could be traced back centuries. She was also stunningly beautiful and looked much younger than her true age. Her friends had always believed that this was due to the work of a gifted plastic surgeon. In truth, Shiera still retained the figure and energy of a young woman, because she and her husband Carter had been exposed to certain energies that had greatly retarded the aging process. This had occurred years ago when the pair was active as Hawkman and Hawkgirl during the war years. She was also deeply and passionately in love with a man who was more than her husband. He was her soulmate.
Still, the auburn-haired beauty was not happy as she sat among a group of other wealthy society women. The conversation was tinged with acid-tongued sarcasm and catty barbs delivered with killing smiles. Shiera was, in fact, very much in her element, since she could charm or silence her critics with style and wit. However, she had finally come to the conclusion that after so many years posing as an idle socialite, she had either lost her desire to placate the elite social set in which she was such a shining example of the perfect woman, or she no longer cared about such façades.
Maybe it’s taken me over thirty years to grow up, but I simply don’t care about Gloria’s new husband or Midge’s old nose job, she thought. These women have been my friends or at least a part of my life since we were debutantes back in the late 1930s. Maybe I’m having a post-midlife crisis or something, but I find them all to be shallow and empty. I mean, I always played the role of the giddy socialite to perfection, but with Hector all grown up with a child of his own, and my secret identity no longer a secret, why should I keep up the old act?
“Shiera, darling, aren’t you listening?” asked a blue-haired matron named Edith Ellerige.
Shiera shook her head and said, “I’m sorry. I’m not myself today. I think I’ll leave you girls to your tea.”
She stood up and started to offer a final polite goodbye when a striking figure appeared in the air above them. The newcomer was female and wore a flowing robe with ornate hieroglyphics decorating the trim. The old symbols gleamed with a magical light of their own. The woman was tall and elegant, but what caught Shiera’s eye was the fact that the weird woman had the features of a cat.
Shiera slowly backed away from the table and her shocked and rattled friends. She began to unzip her skirt slightly to give her added mobility. She was not wearing her Hawkgirl costume beneath her designer outfit, but she had an instinctive sense that she was going to have a fight on her hands.
Above the chaos of the frightened DAR ladies, Shiera heard the almost purring tones of the floating figure.
“I am Bast, and you are the one we seek! I sense that you are of our culture! You are the handmaiden of Horus! I doubted my brethren when they told me that he had defied our eons-old oath by creating a champion to rule this forgotten domain again! Still, you do not look like you will offer much sport, even to one who has had her own skills dulled by the dusts of time!” She gestured, and white light filled the room. As it faded away, a black panther growled menacingly and crouched in readiness to spring.
Shiera ripped off her jacket and held it in front of her as the animal pounced at her. She managed to shield herself from its claws and lift it slightly up and to one side as it bounded past her darting form.
Thank goodness I wore my Nth-metal belt beneath my clothing, she thought. I can’t steer my flight with any great accuracy without the wings I left at home, but the belt still gives me basic flight ability and enough added lift to push the panther away.
The panther whirled around and swiped at her with one paw. As she shouted to her friends to prod them into running away, she felt the claws slice across one hip. She groaned and dodged by rising skyward. “What do you want? It takes more than a fancy mask to frighten me, sister!” she said.
Bast laughed and said, “Stripling! Your master may not have branded you with his crest, but my touch will leave you raw and fleshless!” She touched Shiera, and the slightest tap of her slender hand left a gash across Shiera’s chest.
Shiera kicked her with stunning force, but the alien creature merely reeled backward before slapping Shiera to the ground. “Super-strength! She’s stronger than me! Stronger than Atom used to be!” she whispered as she wiped blood away from her lips.
Crawling across the room, she noticed that it had emptied at last. She nodded grimly and rose to her feet. “You called me the handmaiden of Horus? Well, this maid has a mate. Hawkman will be here any second!” she said in a bluffing tone.
“I think not,” said Bast. “The male who embodies Horus on this plane is being dealt with by one of my brethren. In fact, you are not worthy of my time. Handmaidens were never considered to be part of the real game, even when we all played it. I merely thought to amuse myself with you as a bored adult might humor a pretty infant for a moment’s pleasure.”
She brought her hands together, and the force-waves shattered the walls around them.
Shiera gasped and hurled herself through the nearest window. She ignored the cuts and bruises as she plunged out of the second-story window and saw the building begin to collapse.
Struggling for a moment in midair, thanks to her antigravity belt, she managed to kick away from the falling structure. She reclined on the roof of a nearby building and watched the smoke and dust fill the air as fire and rubble marked the ruins of the once-stately establishment.
Shiera wiped one hand across her bloody and smudged face as she saw the figure of Bast rise up and float away in a burst of white light. “She destroyed the whole building!” she said. “She could have killed dozens of people, and it was all part of some cosmic game! I don’t know what the thing was or why it hunted me down, but the Egyptian connection makes it all too personal. I’ve got to get to Carter!”
Hawkman himself was busy in his own study at the stately Hall Manor that had been home to his noble family for generations. He looked up at the paintings of his ancestors and sighed. A Hall had been on the Mayflower, and the family’s credentials as shapers of political and economic affairs were impeccable. Carter himself had been seen as something of a disappointment to the family. He knew his late parents had devoted time and attention to him, and he never doubted their love or their pride in him. Still, as the only son, he had been expected to take over the family business interests. However, he had always preferred to dabble in archeology. He had made a name for himself in that field and was now a respected scholar, but his interests had led him away from the traditional pursuits of the family, and he had done little to restore any of the broken bonds between himself and his cousins.
Most of his cousins were dead now. He had never met most of their children, nor did he care to do so. He had forged a world of his own that was steeped within the lore and romance of the past and was secured by a courage and determination that had carried him through time and space itself.
He knew that his own son Hector had grown up with a simmering resentment for the way Carter had neglected him for his other loves. Carter had provided for him and guided him to the best schools, but he had also been a distant and often absentee father. Being Hawkman had been a greater priority to him than being a father. He knew this, and he hoped to have time to fix the problems. He was physically young, thanks to the energies that had slowed his aging process, and he hoped to get to know Hector as a peer as well as a parent. Now he was a grandfather, and he wanted to try to find the time to correct old mistakes.
An explosion that shook the room interrupted his thoughts. He jumped to his feet and tossed his robe aside. He was wearing his Hawkman costume, since he was due to take a turn at monitor duty at the JSA Brownstone that evening. He concentrated, and the almost-unseen wings he possessed grew larger and sprouted from his broad back. He flew down the long hallways of his home to find a weird figure standing amidst the smoke and fire.
“Greetings, scion of Horus!” said the figure. “You confirm what our sensors detected from among the cosmos. Horus has defied us by placing a champion here! That breach of honor is unlike him, but we will settle the issue by killing you now!” Although his body was that of a man, he had the head of a strange creature with an elongated snout that made him look a bit like an aardvark. He wore a robe with colorful symbols that gleamed on the lining.
“Great Scott! You look like Set himself!” gasped Hawkman as he thought of the ancient Egyptian deity.
“Set is my name!” said the being. “I am pleased that Horus taught his pawns about the brethren! Perhaps, though he was remiss in keeping the oath we all took, he was more practical about lesser matters!”
“I wear the garb of a servant of Horus,” said Hawkman. “I do stand for justice as he did, but I do not literally serve him. You speak madness!” He stood ready to dodge as the creature raised a long staff and orange energy blasted out to melt the bookcase behind him.
“Those were first editions! You must not have a love for literature!” he quipped as he charged at the creature. But Set merely spun the staff around and brought one end down on Hawkman’s back.
Hawkman crashed to the carpet and felt old wounds reopen. “The burns I received from Doctor Phosphorus have returned!” he gasped. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “War Zone,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #9 (December, 1985).]
Struggling to his feet, he ignored the pain. “I don’t know if you’re a nut or some space god, but you won’t get away with this! No one intrudes into my home!” Hawkman reached out and found a crossbow on the wall. He slipped a bolt in place and fired with expert aim.
The shaft knocked the staff out of Set’s hand, and as it fell to the floor, Hawkman gripped it with both hands.
“I control my staff as I control all things that serve me!” said Set.
Hawkman gasped as the staff glowed red-hot and burned his hands. He slammed it into Set and began to pummel him with his fists, ignoring the pain and fighting furiously.
Set staggered backward, and Hawkman continued to attack. Something about this being brought out an unseen anger within him. He had to stop the creature. He felt that as a certainty.
Finally, Set fell beneath his blows, but then, with one gesture, he sent Hawkman crashing into the wall. “You fight well. Horus picked you with his usual discernment. I would have been honored to have one such as you play the game for me. Too bad I must end your life now!”
Set started to approach Hawkman, who was struggling to retain his awareness. The room was swimming before his eyes, and he felt unsteady on his feet. He started to fall when a colorful figure raced into the room.
“Atom!” he whispered as he recognized the costumed form of Al Pratt.
“Hawk! I was driving up when I saw the smoke,” he said. “I smothered the fires and heard the sound up here.” The Atom wore a solid blue mask that hid his face, but there was no hiding the small but powerful man’s concern for his friend.
Turning to Set, the Atom said, “Look here, horse-face, nobody hurts my friends without losing teeth!”
“This one is not a part of the game,” said Set. “Thus do I remove him!”
Hawkman cried out and lunged forward as the Atom vanished in a flash of energy. “You fiend! What have you done?!” he gasped.
“No one who is not a part of the game may participate,” said Set. “Thus, I have wiped the one called the Atom from this moment. He now drives away, as if he had never entered this home. To his memory, he never did. None may take your part. That is how the game must be played. You will not enlist those unworthy! I will take my leave of you now. This has been rewarding. We will meet again when the brethren decide to slay you and your woman!”
Set flickered away, and Hawkman stared in disbelief at his damaged home. The fire was out, but the ruined rooms and the injuries he carried on his body were evidence enough of what had occurred. It was not a dream, and he would know that when he revived.
He fell to the floor and knew no more.