The Serpent's Shadow / Page 10

Page 10


I wanted to argue, but the others were looking at me expectantly.

I cleared my throat. “Okay. I know there’s a dance, but—”

“At seven,” Jaz said. “You are coming, right?”

She smiled at me. Was she…flirting?

(Sadie just called me dense. Hey, I had other things on my mind.)

“Uh…so anyway,” I stammered. “We need to talk about what happened in Dallas, and what happens next.”

That killed the mood. The smiles faded. My friends listened as I reviewed our mission to the Fifty-first Nome, the destruction of the Book of Overcoming Apophis, and the retrieval of the shadow box. I told them about Sarah Jacobi’s demand for my surrender, and the turmoil among the gods that Horus had mentioned.

Sadie stepped in. She explained her weird encounter with the face in the wall, two gods, and our ghost mother. She shared her gut feeling that our best chance to defeat Apophis had something to do with shadows.

Cleo raised her hand. “So…the rebel magicians have a death warrant out for you. The gods can’t help us. Apophis could arise at any time, and the last scroll that might’ve helped us to defeat him has been destroyed. But we shouldn’t worry, because we have an empty box and a vague hunch about shadows.”

“Why, Cleo,” Bast said with admiration. “You have a catty side!”

I pressed my hands against the surface of the table. It would’ve taken very little effort to summon the strength of Horus and smash it to kindling. But I doubted that would help my reputation as a calm, collected leader.

“This is more than a vague hunch,” I said. “Look, you’ve all learned about execration spells, right?”

Our crocodile, Philip, grunted. He slapped the pool with his tail and made it rain on our dinner. Magical creatures are a little sensitive about the word execration.

Julian dabbed the water off his grilled cheese sandwich. “Dude, you can’t execrate Apophis. He’s massive. Desjardins tried it and got killed.”

“I know,” I said. “With a standard execration, you destroy a statue that represents the enemy. But what if you could crank up the spell by destroying a more powerful representation—something more connected to Apophis?”

Walt sat forward, suddenly interested. “His shadow?”

Felix was so startled he dropped his spoon, crushing one of his mashed-potato penguins. “Wait, what?”

“I got the idea from Horus,” I said. “He told me statues were called shadows in ancient times.”

“But that was just, like, symbolic,” Alyssa said. “Wasn’t it?”

Bast set down her empty Fancy Feast can. She still looked nervous about the whole topic of shadows, but when I’d explained to her that it was either this or Sadie and me dying, she’d agreed to support us.

“Maybe not,” the cat goddess said. “I’m no expert on execration, mind you. Nasty business. But it’s possible that a statue used for execration was originally meant to represent the target’s shadow, which is an important part of the soul.”

“So,” Sadie said, “we could cast an execration spell on Apophis, but instead of destroying a statue, we could destroy his actual shadow. Brilliant, eh?”

“That’s nuts,” Julian said. “How do you destroy a shadow?”

Walt shooed a mashed-potato penguin away from his Jell-O. “It’s not nuts. Sympathetic magic is all about using a small copy to manipulate the actual target. It’s possible the whole tradition of making little statues to represent people and gods—maybe at one time those statues actually contained the target’s sheut. There are lots of stories about the souls of the gods inhabiting statues. If a shadow was trapped in a statue, you might be able to destroy it.”

“Could you make a statue like that?” Alyssa asked. “Something that could bind the shadow of…of Apophis himself?”

“Maybe.” Walt glanced at me. Most of the folks at the table didn’t know we’d already made a statue of Apophis that might work for that purpose. “Even if I could, we’d need to find the shadow. Then we’d need some pretty advanced magic to capture it and destroy it.”

“Find a shadow?” Felix smiled nervously, like he hoped we were joking. “Wouldn’t it be right under him? And how do you capture it? Step on it? Shine a light on it?”

“It’ll be more complicated than that,” I said. “This ancient magician Setne, the guy who wrote his own version of the Book of Overcoming Apophis, I think he must have created a spell to catch and destroy shadows. That’s why Apophis was so anxious to burn the evidence. That’s his secret weakness.”

“But the scroll is gone,” Cleo said.

“There’s still someone we can ask,” Walt said. “Thoth. If anyone knows the answers, he will.”

The tension around the table seemed to ease. At least we’d given our initiates something to hope for, even if it was a long shot. I was grateful we had Walt on our side. His charm-making ability might be our only hope of binding a shadow to the statue, and his vote of confidence carried weight with the other kids.

“We need to visit Thoth right away,” I said. “Tonight.”

“Yes,” Sadie agreed. “Right after the dance.”

I glared at her. “You aren’t serious.”

“Oh, yes, brother dear.” She smiled mischievously, and for a second I was afraid she might invoke my secret name and force me to obey. “We’re attending the dance tonight. And you’re coming with us.”

5. A Dance with Death

CHEERS, CARTER. At least you have the sense to hand me the microphone for important things.

Honestly, he drones on and on about his plans for the Apocalypse, but he makes no plans at all for the school dance. My brother’s priorities are severely skewed.

I don’t think I was being selfish wanting to go to the dance. Of course we had serious business to deal with. That’s exactly why I insisted on partying first. Our initiates needed a morale boost. They needed a chance to be normal kids, to have friends and lives outside Brooklyn House—something worth fighting for. Even armies in the field fight better when they take breaks for entertainment. I’m sure some general somewhere has said that.

By sunset, I was ready to lead my troops into battle. I’d picked out quite a nice black strapless dress and put black lowlights in my blond hair, with just a touch of dark makeup for that risen-from-the-grave look. I wore simple flats for dancing (despite what Carter says, I do not wear combat boots all the time; just ninety percent of the time), the silver tyet amulet from my mother’s jewelry box, and the pendant Walt had given me for my last birthday with the Egyptian symbol of eternity, shen.

Walt had an identical amulet among his own collection of talismans, which provided us a magic line of communication, and even the ability to summon the other person to our side in emergencies.

Unfortunately, the shen amulets didn’t mean we were dating exclusively. Or even dating at all. If Walt had asked me, I think I would’ve been fine with it. Walt was so kind and gorgeous—perfect, really, in his own way. Perhaps if he’d asserted himself a bit more, I would’ve fallen for him and been able to let go of that other boy, the godly one.

But Walt was dying. He had this silly idea that it would be unfair to me if we started a relationship under those circumstances. As if that would stop me. So we were stuck in this maddening limbo—flirting, talking for hours, a few times even sharing a kiss when we let our guard down—but eventually Walt would always pull away and shut me out.

Why couldn’t things be simple?

I bring this up because I literally ran into Walt as I was coming down the stairs.

“Oh!” I said. Then I noticed he was still wearing his old muscle shirt, jeans, and no shoes. “You’re not ready yet?”

“I’m not going,” he announced.

My mouth fell open. “What? Why?”

“Sadie…you and Carter will need me when you visit Thoth. If I’m going to make it, I have to rest.”

“But…” I forced myself to stop. It wasn’t right for me to pressure him. I didn’t need magic to see that he really was in great pain.

Centuries of magical healing knowledge at our disposal, yet nothing we tried seemed to help Walt. I ask you: What’s the point of being a magician if you can’t wave your wand and make the people you care about feel better?

“Right,” I said. “I—I was just hoping…”

Anything I said would’ve sounded bratty. I wanted to dance with him. Gods of Egypt, I’d dressed up for him. The mortal boys at school were all right, I suppose, but they seemed quite shallow compared to Walt (or, yes, fine—compared to Anubis). As for the other boys of Brooklyn House—dancing with them would have made me feel a bit odd, like I was dancing with my cousins.

“I could stay,” I offered, but I suppose I didn’t sound very convincing.

Walt managed a faint smile. “No, go, Sadie. Really. I’m sure I’ll be feeling better when you get back. Have a good time.”

He brushed past me and climbed the steps.

I took several deep breaths. Part of me did want to stay and look after him. Going without him didn’t seem right.

Then I glanced down into the Great Room. The older kids were joking and talking, ready to leave. If I didn’t go, they might feel obliged to stay too.

Something like wet cement settled in my stomach. All the joy and excitement suddenly went out of the evening for me. For months I’d been struggling to adjust to life in New York after so many years in London. I’d been forced to balance life as a young magician with the challenges of being an ordinary schoolgirl. Now, just when this dance had seemed to offer me a chance to combine both worlds and have a lovely night out, my hopes were dashed. I’d still have to go and pretend to have fun. But I’d only be doing it out of duty, to make the others feel better.

I wondered if this was what being a grown-up felt like. Horrible.

The only thing that cheered me up was Carter. He emerged from his room dressed like a junior professor, in a coat and tie, button-down shirt, and trousers. Poor boy—of course he’d never been to a dance any more than he’d been to school. He had no clue whatsoever.

“You look…wonderful.” I tried to keep a straight face. “You do realize it’s not a funeral?”

“Shut up,” he grumbled. “Let’s get this over with.”

The school the kids and I attended was Brooklyn Academy for the Gifted. Everyone called it BAG. We had no end of jokes about this. The students were Baggies. The glamour girls with nose jobs and Botox lips were Plastic Bags. Our alumni were Old Bags. And, naturally, our headmistress, Mrs. Laird, was the Bag Lady.

Despite the name, the school was quite nice. All the students were gifted in some sort of art, music, or drama. Our schedules were flexible, with lots of independent study time, which worked perfectly for us magicians. We could pop off to battle monsters as needed; and, as magicians, it wasn’t difficult for us to pass ourselves off as gifted. Alyssa used her earth magic to make sculptures. Walt specialized in jewelry. Cleo was an amazing writer, since she could retell stories that had been forgot since the days of Ancient Egypt. As for me, I needed no magic. I was a natural at drama.

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