Synopsis and other information
"Cower in fear, cry in despair, you wretched mortals, For that which giveth great power also takes it away. For lest the Benben be placed at sacred site on sacred ground, at sacred height, Within seven sunsets of the arrival of Ra's Prophet, At the high point of the seventh day, The fires of Ra's implacable Destroyer will devour us all."
Five millennia previously, a nine-foot golden capstone sat upon the Great Pyramid, either an alien technology, occult object or Ancient Egyptian scientific apparatus. Ra's Destroyer, a monstrous sunspot that occurs every 4,500 years, released an enormous amount of energy which was absorbed by crystal in the capstone. In 2006, seven days before the arrival of Ra's Destroyer, the pieces of the capstone are spread across the earth. Each of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World contains a piece of the capstone from the Great Pyramid that was divided in the time of Alexander the Great after he went to consult the oracle at Siwa. Each of the three forces tries to find the fragments of the capstone in order to complete one of two rituals, one for worldwide peace or one that ensures a single nation's worldwide domination for a millennia. Either ritual also protects the earth from cataclysmic destruction. In the case of the 11 Nation Alliance, the team races to protect the world from the other two groups and perform the ritual of peace.
The story opens with West's team racing the European Alliance into an abandoned mine in the Sudan. Hidden within is the Second Piece of the Capstone and the head of the Colossus of Rhodes. The mine is unique in its array of traps, ranging from a pool of Nile crocodiles to a false-floor chamber teeming with lethal bacteria, an enormous sliding-block in a slipway and pits of spikes. Emerging into the cavern, the team trigger the 'Master Snare', a cascading waterfall of oil which is ignited, making for an enormous shower of fire. West accompanies Lily, a ten year old girl, into the inner chamber at the very top of the cavern and retrieves the Second Piece before the team escape. Upon exiting, Noddy is killed by an American sniper before the team is forced to hand the Second Piece over to Marshall Judah, leader of CIEF, the Commander-in-Chief's In Extremis Force. They are saved by the arrival of a European helicopter that attacks, giving them enough time to escape. After a brief chase through the upper reaches of the Nile river, West radios in Sky Monster, the final member of the Nine. Sky Monster pilots their very own plane, a modified Boeing 747, landing on a narrow road and opening the rear hatch. West drives their boat up onto the road and reels them in before they escape.
The story then occasions a flashback, detailing a mission to a volcano in Uganda ten years previously. There, a younger Jack West and Max Epper encounter the Jesuit Father Francisco del Piero, later to lead the European Coalition, and a group of French Paratroopers standing over the wife of the Oracle of Siwa, about to give birth. Taking her child, they leave the chamber and the woman to die. West, too late to save the woman discovers that she was, in fact, pregnant with twins. Performing a grisly Caesarian, West and Epper are forced to run twenty meters over an inch-thick layer of lava to the exit, blocked by a shower of the molten rock. West sacrifices his left forearm to stop the trap, with Epper promising to build him a new arm and remarking that there had never before been two oracles of Siwa at the same time (both children are now oracles, and - on growing up - are the only people who can read the 'Word of Thoth', a type of hieroglyphics used at the hiding-places of the capstone pieces.) The story skips ahead several months and details the meeting in which the Eight (Benjamin "Stretch" Cohen was not a part of the meeting) were formed and their plan outlined: in ten years, the Tartarus Rotation would occur and the Americans and Europeans were putting together efforts to retrieve the seven Pieces of the Capstone and perform the ritual that would grant them one thousand years of unstoppable power. The story then proceeds to detail the early years of Lily's life at Victoria Station in Kenya, and her renaming of the team's members after characters from children's literature.
Returning to the present, West wonders how the Americans knew where to look. Speculating that del Piero would have access to the Callimachus Text that detailed the locations of the Wonders, West considers a traitor among their ranks, but cannot bring himself to believe it. Lily translates the second passage of the Word of Thoth and the Nine realise they have a break: the location, known as Hamilcar's Refuge is only detailed in one of the Museion Scrolls, as salvaged by West and Epper in their previous travels. Using a carbon fiber glider, West surveys the coast of Tunisia and finds the markers that denote the entrance to the cavern. It is quickly discovered that the desert floor is false; the construction workers created a ceiling over the channel housing Halcimar's Refuge and built a false cliff, only to learn Marshall Judah is closing on them. Entering the Refuge, the Nine (save for the injured Fuzzy, Sky Monster and Noddy) discover a World War II U-boat in the shallows and proceed to climb up to a narrow ledge that leads deeper into the cavern. Judah arrives and gives chase along an identical ledge on the opposite side. It quickly becomes apparent the Americans are far more technologically adept, using liquid nitrogen to freeze superheated volcanic mud and a tunnel-boring machine to dig into the lower levels of the Refuge. West, Zoe and Lily manage to traverse over the waters of the cavern before they are cut off from the others, who provide cover-fire while the three run into the Refuge proper. There they find not one, but two Pieces, taken from the Lighthouse at Alexandria and the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. They also discover the bodies of a Nazi expedition party and a diary from one Heinrich Hessler, the leader of the expedition before being interrupted by Judah. The Americans take the Pieces, triggering a trap that spews volcanic mud throughout the room, separating West from Zoe and Lily. The women escape and meet the rest of the Nine, with West heading the opposite direction. Catching up with Judah's tunnel-borer, he sneaks aboard and manages to take photos of the two Pieces before jumping into a narrow channel and swimming back to the Refuge. Judah remarks West was easily the best he had ever taught.
Caught between a rock and a hard place, and with the possibility of a traitor among their ranks, the Nine consider their options. Ultimately, they concede that they are forced to employ the services of Mustahpa Zaheed, the world's foremost authority on the Capstone and a known terrorist. In a daring raid designed to look like a training exercise, the Nine perform a jailbreak at Guantanamo Bay, extracting Zaheed from his high-level cell and escaping to Jamaica. With his help, they trace the next two pieces: one hidden within the Louvre and the other in St. Peter's Basilica. Splitting up, West takes Stretch, Pooh Bear, Gunman and Lily to Paris, while Wizard with his priest's training takes Zoe and Fuzzy to the Vatican. The second team are apprehended, but not before Epper gets a chance to memorise the engravings on the Piece hidden in the altar of St. Peter's Basilica. The Paris team, meanwhile, raid the Louvre, taking one Piece from under the Winged Victory of Samothrace, formerly (and fictionally) resting upon the Statue of Zeus at Olympia. Stealing a double-decker bus, Stretch takes the to the Place de la Concorde and the Obelisk in the center of Paris. Using Hessler's notebook, West is able to take co-ordinated from the Obelisk that will come into use when searching for the final piece. The French Army arrive and a chase ensues, with Stetch and West driving erratically - and dangerously - through Parisian traffic. Escaping as they drive off the Charles de Gaulle bridge, West's sub-team escape to Dijon via the TGV. Full of elation at the prospect of having successfully take a piece, they return to Victoria Station where disaster strikes. Judah's CIEF forces stage an ambush when the plane lands, resulting in the death of Big Ears and the loss of the Piece. Judah also executes Doris Epper, wife of Wizard, for warning Lily of the impending trap. Frustrated and angry, the remainder of the team make for Iraq on the advice of Zaheed.
The sixth Piece to be collected is also the most difficult, the existence of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon being called into question. Using some of Zaheed's research, collected during a brief stop-over in Saudi Arabia, West locates the Gardens on the Iran/Iraq border. Pursued by Judah's biggest force yet, they find the Gardens hidden behind a series of tiered waterfalls. Again they encounter traps, including quicksand, before being apprehended by an Israeli strike team. It is here Stretch reveals that he was sent by Israel to secure one Piece to be used as a bargaining chip in world politics. West is forced to lead the Israelis to the Hanging Gardens themselves; an enormous stalactite handing over a ziggaraut. Climbing to the very top of the fifteen-story rock formation, West and Pooh Bear are forced to climb out on a set of hand rungs five hundred feet above the world. Securing the sixth Piece - the most difficult to reach - the Israelis leave them behind, destroying the only way out as the Americans arrive and destroy the wall that hid the gardens from the world. Seizing their chance, West and Pooh Bear release themselves from the roof, plummeting back towards earth before using a cable fired from a gun to swing under one of Judah's helicopters. As the Israelis escape, Lily becomes caught in a trap that quickly fills with quicksand. Strecth abandons his countrymen to save her, holding her above the level of quicksand and using the barrel of his sniper rifle as a snorkel. Outside, the Israelis are executed and the Piece taken. West and Pooh Bear flee into the ziggaraut as Judah fires on the Hanging gardens, bringing the stalactite down and crushing the ziggaraut. Trying to escape the collapsing tunnels, West and Pooh Bear become trapped in a pool of snake-filled quicksand. With Horus' help, they escape, and West realises the truth: he was betraying them all along. Involved in a series of war games hosted by Marshall Judah, west had been knocked unconscious during a helicopter crash and a locater chip implanted in his neck. He destroys the chip, Judah believing him to be dead.
Francisco del Piero escorts his hostages to Cairo with his lone Piece - taken from St. Peter's Basilica - ambushing Judah's men as they unload their five Pieces. Judah, however, gets the upper hand in a counter-ambush of his own and taking Zoe, Wizard and Fuzzy hostage again. It is here Lily meets her twin brother, Alexander, raised by del Piero to rule the world and named after Alexander the Great. Alexander accuses Lily of being soft, claiming that it was their birthright to rule the world. Judah proceeds to take them to Hatshepsut's Mortuary, and with the aid of Heinrich Hessler, former Nazi war criminal now working for America, they recreate the measurements taken from the Paris Obelisk to find the tomb of Alexander the Great and the final piece of the Capstone before going to Giza on the day of the Tartarus Rotation. With the aid of the Egyptian Government (not know what is truly happening), the Americans are given clearance to use the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Capstone is finally put back together after 4500 years. As noon - the designated time for the ritual - approaches, Judah forces Alexander into a chamber under the Capstone with 100 grams of American soil. It is then that Jack West returns, using the carbon fiber glider to attack from one side at the Halicarnassus attacks from the other. It is here that Sky Monster engages the 747's most notable feature: a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) system. In the following fight, Zoe, Stretch, Wizard and Fuzzy break free of their captors and join in the attack. They are unsuccessful, with Judah triumphantly completing the ritual. However, nothing happens, as Alexander is seen crawling away. It is then that Mustapha Zaheed jumps from the 747, seizing Alexander, who believes he will die if he enters the crawlspace. Lily tells him to take her instead, having worked out the meaning of a cryptic message in the chamber she was born in.
As West is busy fighting Judah's second-in-command, Zaheed recites the incantation, culminating as both Judah and West come to stare at each other down the barrel of the other's gun. Both stop in horror as the incantation truly works, the rays of the sun redoubling in intensity. Believing himself invincible, Zaheed dares West to try to kill him. West shoots Zaheed, explaining to the terrorist that he knew Zaheed would never miss the opportunity to attempt to use the Capstone and allowed him to stow away on-board the Halicarnassus, but not before switching Zaheed's soil - collected during the stopover in Saudi Arabia - for West's, thus giving a millennia of invincibility to Australia. Disbelieving, Zaheed dies. Judah rounds on West, levelling an M-16 at his former student and attempts to kill him, only to have the gun explode in his hands, the effects of the incantation protecting West. The Australian un-clips Judah's safety line, explaining to him that while he could forgive Judah for using him to find the Pieces and for killing his soldiers, West would never forgive him for the cold-blooded execution of Doris Epper. Judah watches on in horror as West throws the cable into one of the engines of the Halicarnassus, sucking him in along with it. It is then that West realises the price of their success: Lily is unmoving in the crawlspace. Believing her to be dead, he breaks down, before Lily regains consciousness and explains to him what she had learned. If she had gone into the crawlspace against her will, she would have died, but if she had have gone in voluntarily, she would survive. Climbing back aboard the Halicarnassus, the Nine gather the Capstone and fly away, leaving the Egyptian government to clean up after them.
The epilogue takes place three weeks later, with Wizard and Zoe accompanying Lily across Central Australia. Following a riddle left by West, the three set out to find him beyond the remote town of Death Valley. Upon arrival, they find West intends to bury the Capstone in the abandoned mines and will make future expeditions to recover the pieces of the Mausoleum, Lighthouse and Colossus from their hiding places. They also agree to lie about the events at Giza, describing how they had successfully managed to perform an alternative ritual that would save the world from Tartarus without making any single country invincible.