The Serpent's Shadow / Page 15

Page 15


“Those tokens stand for actual forces,” I guessed.

“Yes,” Amos said. “The map shows us our enemy’s movements, at least most of them. It also allows us to send our forces by magic to where they are needed.”

“And, uh, how are we doing?”

His expression told me all I needed to know.

“We are spread too thin,” Amos said. “Jacobi’s followers strike wherever we are weakest. Apophis sends his demons to terrorize our allies. The attacks seem coordinated.”

“Because they are,” Leonid said. “Kwai and Jacobi are under the serpent’s control.”

I shook my head in disbelief. “How could Kwai and Jacobi be so stupid? Don’t they understand Apophis is going to destroy the world?”

“Chaos is seductive,” Amos said. “No doubt Apophis has made them promises of power. He whispers in their ears, convincing them they are too important to be destroyed. They believe they can make a new world better than the old, and the change is worth any price—even mass annihilation.”

I couldn’t grasp how anyone could be so deluded, but Amos spoke as if he understood. Of course, Amos had been through this. He’d been possessed by Set, god of evil and Chaos. Compared to Apophis, Set was a minor nuisance, but he’d still been able to turn my uncle—one of the most powerful magicians in the world—into a helpless puppet. If Carter and I hadn’t defeated Set and forced him to return to the Duat…well, the consequences wouldn’t have been pretty.

Zia picked up a falcon figurine. She moved it toward Abu Simbel, but the little statue began to steam. She was forced to drop it.

“They’ve put up powerful wards,” she said. “We won’t be able to eavesdrop.”

“They will attack in three days,” Leonid said. “At the same time, Apophis will rise—at dawn on the autumn equinox.”

“Another equinox?” I grumbled. “Didn’t that last bit of nastiness happen on one of those? You Egyptians have an unhealthy obsession with equinoxes.”

Amos gave me a stern look. “Sadie, as I’m sure you’re aware, the equinox is a time of great magic significance, when day and night are equal. Besides, the autumn equinox marks the last day before darkness overtakes the light. It is the anniversary of Ra’s retreat into the heavens. I feared that Apophis might make his move at that time. It’s a most inauspicious day.”

“Inauspicious?” I frowned. “But inauspicious is bad. Why would they…oh.”

I realized for the forces of Chaos, our bad days must’ve been their good days. That meant they probably had a lot of good days.

Amos leaned on his staff. His hair seemed to be turning gray before my eyes. I remembered Michel Desjardins, the last Chief Lector, and how quickly he had aged. I couldn’t bear the idea of that happening to Amos.

“We don’t have the strength to defeat our enemies,” he said. “I will have to use other means.”

“Amos, no,” Zia said. “Please.”

I wasn’t sure what they were talking about. Zia sounded horrified, and anything that scared her, I didn’t want to know about.

“Actually,” I said, “Carter and I have a plan.”

I told them about our idea of using Apophis’s own shadow against him. Perhaps saying this in front of Leonid was reckless, but he had risked his life to warn us about Sarah Jacobi’s plans. He had trusted me. The least I could do was return the favor.

When I finished explaining, Amos gazed at his map. “I’ve never heard of such magic. Even if it’s possible—”

“It is,” I insisted. “Why else would Apophis delay his Doomsday attack so he could track down and destroy every scroll by this fellow Setne? Apophis is afraid we’ll figure out the spell and stop him.”

Zia crossed her arms. “But you can’t. You just said all copies were destroyed.”

“We’ll ask Thoth for help,” I said. “Carter’s on his way there now. And in the meantime…I have an errand to run. I may be able to test our theory about shadows.”

“How?” Amos asked.

I told him what I had in mind.

He looked as if he wanted to object, but he must’ve seen the defiance in my eyes. We’re related, after all. He knows how stubborn Kanes can be when they set their minds to something.

“Very well,” he said. “First you must eat and rest. You can leave at dawn. Zia, I want you to go with her.”

Zia looked startled. “Me? But I might…I mean, is it wise?”

Again I got the feeling I’d missed an important conversation. What had Amos and Zia been discussing?

“You’ll be fine,” Amos assured her. “Sadie will need your help. And I will arrange for someone else to watch Ra during the day.”

She looked quite nervous, which wasn’t like her. Zia and I had had our differences in the past, but she’d never been short of confidence. Now I almost felt worried for her.

“Cheer up,” I told her. “It’ll be a laugh. Quick trip to the Netherworld, fiery lake of doom. What could go wrong?”


7. I Get Strangled by an Old Friend


Sadie goes off on a side adventure with some guy, leaving me to do the boring work of figuring out how to save the world. Why does this sound familiar? Oh, right. That’s the way Sadie always is. If it’s time to move forward, you can count on her to veer sideways on some ADHD tangent of her own.

[Why are you thanking me, Sadie? That wasn’t a compliment.]

After the Brooklyn Academy dance, I was pretty miffed. Bad enough being forced to slow-dance with Sadie’s friend Lacy. But passing out on the dance floor, waking up with Lacy snoring in my armpit, and then finding out I’d missed visits from two gods—that was just embarrassing.

After Sadie and the Russian guy left, I got our crew back to Brooklyn House. Walt was confused to see us so soon. I pulled him and Bast aside for a quick conference on the terrace. I explained what Sadie had told me about Shu, Anubis, and the Russian dude Leonid.

“I’ll take Freak to Memphis,” I said. “Be back as soon as I talk to Thoth.”

“I’m going with you,” Walt said.

Sadie had told me to take him along, of course, but looking at him now, I had second thoughts. Walt’s cheeks were sunken. His eyes were glassy. I was alarmed by how much worse he looked since just yesterday. I know this is horrible, but I couldn’t help thinking about Egyptian burial practices—how they’d pack a body with embalming salts to slowly dry it up from the inside. Walt looked like he’d been started on that process.

“Look, man,” I said, “Sadie asked me to keep you safe. She’s worried about you. So am I.”

He clenched his jaw. “If you plan on using a shadow for your spell, you’ll have to capture it with that figurine. You’ll need a sau, and I’m the best you’ve got.”

Unfortunately, Walt was right. Neither Sadie nor I had the skill to capture a shadow, if that was even possible. Only Walt had that kind of charm-making talent.

“All right,” I muttered. “Just…keep your head down. I don’t want my sister going nuclear on me.”

Bast poked Walt’s arm, the way a cat might nudge a bug to see if it was still alive. She sniffed his hair.

“Your aura is weak,” Bast said, “but you should be all right to travel. Try not to exert yourself. No magic unless absolutely necessary.”

Walt rolled his eyes. “Yes, Mother.”

Bast seemed to like that.

“I’ll watch the other kittens,” she promised. “Er, I mean initiates. You two be careful. I don’t have much love for Thoth, but I don’t want you caught up in his problems.”

“What problems?” I asked.

“You’ll see. Just come back to me. All this guard duty is cutting into my nap schedule!”

She shooed us toward Freak’s stable and headed back downstairs, muttering something about catnip.

We hitched up the boat. Freak squawked and buzzed his wings, anxious to go. He looked like he’d gotten a good rest. Besides, he knew that a journey meant more frozen turkeys for him.

Soon we were flying over the East River.

Our ride through the Duat seemed bumpier than usual, like airplane turbulence, except with ghostly wailing and heavy fog. I was glad I’d had a light dinner. My stomach churned.

The boat shuddered as Freak brought us out of the Duat. Below us spread a different nighttime landscape—the lights of Memphis, Tennessee, curving along the banks of the Mississippi River.

On the shoreline rose a glassy black pyramid—an abandoned sports arena that Thoth had appropriated for his home. Bursts of multicolored light peppered the air, reflections rippling across the pyramid. At first I thought Thoth was hosting a fireworks exhibition. Then I realized his pyramid was under attack.

Clambering up the sides was a gruesome assortment of demons—humanoid figures with chicken feet or paws or insect legs. Some had fur. Some had scales or shells like tortoises. Instead of heads, many had weapons or tools sprouting from their necks—hammers, swords, axes, chain saws, even a few screwdrivers.

At least a hundred demons were climbing toward the top, digging their claws into the seams of the glass. Some tried to smash their way through, but wherever they struck, the pyramid flickered with blue light, repelling their attacks. Winged demons swirled through the air, screeching and diving at a small group of defenders.

Thoth stood at the peak. He looked like a scruffy college lab assistant in a white medical coat, jeans, and T-shirt, a day-old beard, and wild Einstein hair—which doesn’t sound very intimidating, but you should see him in combat. He threw glowing hieroglyphs like grenades, causing iridescent explosions all around him. Meanwhile his assistants, a troop of baboons and long-beaked birds called ibises, engaged the enemy. The baboons slammed basketballs into the demons, sending them toppling back down the pyramid. The ibises ran between the monsters’ legs, jabbing their beaks in the most sensitive places they could find.

As we flew closer, I lowered my vision into the Duat. The scene there was even scarier. The demons were connected by red coils of energy that formed one massive translucent serpent. The monster encircled the entire pyramid. At the top, Thoth shone in his ancient form—a giant, white-kilted man with the head of an ibis, hurling bolts of energy at his enemies.

Walt whistled. “How can the mortals not notice a battle like that?”

I wasn’t sure, but I remembered some of the recent disaster news. Huge storms had been causing floods all along the Mississippi River, including here in Memphis. Hundreds of people had been displaced. Magicians might be able to see what was really happening, but any regular mortals still in the city probably thought this was just a major thunderstorm.

“I’ll help Thoth,” I said. “You stay in the boat.”

“No,” Walt said. “Bast said I should use magic only in an emergency. This qualifies.”

I knew Sadie would kill me if I let Walt get hurt. On the other hand, Walt’s tone told me he wasn’t going to back down. He can be almost as stubborn as my sister when he wants to be.

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