The Serpent's Shadow / Page 29

Page 29


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He said this with a smile, as if he’d suggested bringing the mortals some home-baked cookies.

I did some quick thinking. It’s not often a god offers to do you favors—even if that god is psychotically over-caffeinated. “Actually, yes,” I said. “See, Setne suggested I summon you to deal with the hippo, but—”

“Oh, Setne!” Hapi chuckled and pushed the ghost playfully. “I hate this guy. Absolutely despise him! He’s the only magician who ever learned my secret name. Ha!”

Setne shrugged. “It was nothing, really. And I gotta say, you came in handy many times back in the old days.”

“Ha, ha!” Hapi’s smile became painfully wide. “I’d love to rip off your arms and legs, Setne. That would be amazing!”

Setne’s expression remained calm, but he drifted a little farther away from the smiling god.

“Um, anyway,” I said. “We’re on a quest. We need to find this magic book to defeat Apophis. Setne was leading us to the ruins of Memphis, but now our boat is busted. Do you think—?”

“Oh!” Hapi clapped excitedly. “The world is going to end tomorrow. I forgot!”

Zia and I exchanged looks.

“Right…” I said. “So, if Setne told you exactly where we were going, could you take us there? And, um, if he won’t tell you, then you could rip his limbs off. That would be fine.”

“Yay!” Hapi cried.

Setne gave me a murderous look. “Yeah, sure. We’re going to the serapeum—the temple of the Apis Bull.”

Hapi smacked his knee. “I should have figured! Brilliant place to hide something. That’s pretty far inland, but sure, I can send you there if you want. And just so you know, Apophis has demons scouring the riverbanks. You’d never get to Memphis without my help. You’d get torn into a million pieces!”

He seemed genuinely pleased to share that news.

Zia cleared her throat. “Okay, then. We’d love your help.”

I turned toward the Egyptian Queen, where Bloodstained Blade stood at the railing, awaiting further orders. “Captain,” I called, “wait here and continue repairing the ship. We’ll—”

“Oh, the ship can go too!” Hapi interrupted. “That’s no problem.”

I frowned. I wasn’t sure how the river god was going to move the ship, especially since he’d told us Memphis was inland, but I decided not to ask.

“Belay that order,” I called to the captain. “The ship is coming with us. Once we reach Memphis, you’ll continue repairs and await further orders.”

The captain hesitated. Then he bowed his ax-blade head. “I obey, my lord.”

“Great!” Hapi said.

He held out his palm, which contained two slimy black orbs like fish eggs. “Swallow these. One each.”

Zia wrinkled her nose. “What are they?”

“They’ll take you where you want to go!” the god promised. “They’re Hapi pills.”

I blinked. “What now?”

The ghost Setne cleared his throat. He looked like he was trying not to laugh. “Yeah, you know. Hapi invented them. So that’s what they’re called.”

“Just eat them!” Hapi said. “You’ll see.”

Reluctantly, Zia and I took the pills. They tasted even worse than they looked. Instantly, I felt dizzy. The world shimmered like water.

“It was nice to meet you!” Hapi cried, his voice turning murky and distant. “You do realize you’re walking into a trap, don’t you? Okay! Good luck!”

With that, my vision went blue, and my body melted into liquid.

C A R T E R

12. Bulls with Freaking Laser Beams

BEING LIQUIDATED IS NOT FUN. I will never be able to walk by another LIQUIDATION SALE sign without getting seasick and feeling like my bones are turning to tapioca.

I know I’m going to sound like a public service announcement here, but for all you kids at home: if somebody offers you Hapi pills, just say, “No!”

I felt myself seeping inland through the mud, traveling at incredible speed. When I hit the hot sand, I evaporated, rising above the ground as a cloud of moisture, pushed west by the winds into the desert. I couldn’t exactly see, but I could feel the movement and the heat. My molecules agitated as the sun dispersed me.

Suddenly the temperature dropped again. I sensed cool stone around me—a cave or an underground room, maybe. I coalesced into moisture, splashed to the floor as a puddle, then rose and solidified into Carter Kane once more.

For my next trick, I buckled to my knees and lost my breakfast.

Zia stood near me, hugging her stomach. We seemed to be in the entry tunnel of a tomb. Below us, stone steps led into the darkness. A few feet above, desert sunlight blazed.

“That was horrible,” Zia gasped.

I could only nod. Now I understood the science lesson my dad had once taught me in homeschooling—matter has three forms: solid, liquid, and gas. In the last few minutes I’d been all three. And I didn’t like it.

Setne materialized just outside the doorway, smiling down at us. “So, did I come through again, or what?”

I didn’t remember loosening his bonds, but his arms were now free. That would’ve worried me more if I hadn’t felt so sick.

Zia and I were still wet and muddy from our swim in the Nile, but Setne looked immaculate—jeans and T-shirt freshly pressed, Elvis hair perfect, not even a spot on his white running shoes. That disgusted me so much, I staggered into the sunlight and threw up on him. Unfortunately, my stomach was mostly empty and he was a ghost, so nothing much happened.

“Hey, pal!” Setne adjusted his golden ankh necklace and straightened his jacket. “Some respect, all right? I did you a favor.”

“A favor?” I gulped back the horrible taste in my mouth. “Don’t—ever—”

“Never Hapi again,” Zia finished for me. “Never.”

“Aw, c’mon!” Setne spread his hands. “That was a smooth trip! Look, even your ship made it.”

I squinted. Mostly we were surrounded by flat, rocky desert, like the surface of Mars; but beached on a nearby sand dune was a slightly broken riverboat—the Egyptian Queen. The stern wasn’t on fire anymore, but the ship looked like it had taken more damage in transit. A section of railing was broken. One of the smokestacks was leaning dangerously. For some reason, a huge slimy tarp of fish scales was hanging off the pilot’s house like a snagged parachute.

Zia muttered, “Oh, gods of Egypt—please don’t let that be Hapi’s loincloth.”

Bloodstained Blade stood at the bow, facing our direction. He had no expression, being an ax head, but from the way his arms were crossed, I could tell he was not a Hapi camper.

“Can you fix the ship?” I called to him.

“Yes, my lord,” he hummed. “Given a few hours. Sadly, we seem to be stuck in the middle of a desert.”

“We’ll worry about that later,” I said. “Get the ship repaired. Wait here for us to return. You’ll receive more instructions at that time.”

“As you say.” Bloodstained Blade turned and started humming at the glowing orbs in a language I didn’t understand. The crew stirred into a flurry of activity.

Setne smiled. “See? Everything’s good!”

“Except we’re running out of time.” I looked at the sun. I figured it was one or two in the afternoon, and we still had a lot to do before Doomsday tomorrow morning. “Where does that tunnel go? What’s a serapeum? And why did Hapi say it was a trap?”

“So many questions,” Setne said. “Come on, you’ll see. You’re gonna love this place!”

I did not love this place.

The steps down led to a wide hall chiseled from golden bedrock. The barreled ceiling was so low, I could touch it without stretching my arms. I could tell that archaeologists had been here, from the bare electric bulbs that cast shadows across the arches. Metal beams braced the walls, but the cracks in the ceiling didn’t help me feel safe. I’d never been comfortable in enclosed spaces.

Every thirty feet or so, square alcoves opened up on either side of the main hall. Each niche held a massive freestanding stone sarcophagus.

After passing the fourth such coffin, I stopped. “Those things are way too big for humans. What’s in there?”

“Bull,” Setne said.

“Excuse me?”

Setne’s laugh echoed through the hall. I figured that if there were any sleeping monsters in this place, they were awake now.

“These are the burial chambers for the Apis Bull.” Setne gestured around him proudly. “I built all this, you know, back when I was Prince Khaemwaset.”

Zia ran her hand along the white stone lid of the sarcophagus. “The Apis Bull. My ancestors thought it was an incarnation of Osiris in the mortal world.”

“Thought?” Setne snorted. “It was his incarnation, doll. At least some of the time—like on festival days and whatnot. We took our Apis Bull seriously back then.”

He patted the coffin like he was showing off a used car. “This bad boy here? He had the perfect life. All the food he could eat. Got a harem of cows, burnt offerings, a special gold cloth for his back—all the perks. Only had to show himself in public a few times a year for big festivals. When he turned twenty-five, he got slaughtered in a big ceremony, mummified like a king, and put down here. Then a new bull took his place. Nice gig, huh?”

“Killed at twenty-five,” I said. “Sounds awesome.”

I wondered how many mummified bulls were down that hallway. I didn’t want to find out. I liked being right here, where I could still see the exit and the sunlight outside. “So why is this place called a—what was it?”

“Serapeum,” Zia answered. Her face was illuminated with golden light—probably just the electrical bulbs reflecting off the stone, but it seemed like she was glowing. “Iskandar, my old teacher—he told me about this place. The Apis Bull was a vessel for Osiris. In later times, the names were merged: Osiris-Apis. Then the Greeks shorted it to Serapis.”

Setne sneered. “Stupid Greeks. Moving in on our territory. Taking over our gods. I’m telling you, I got no love for those guys. But yeah, that’s how it happened. This place became known as a serapeum—a house for dead bull gods. Me, I wanted to call it the Khaemwaset Memorial of Pure Awesomeness, but my dad wouldn’t go for it.”

“Your dad?” I asked.

Setne waved aside the question. “Anyway, I hid the Book of Thoth down here before I died because I knew no one would ever disturb it. You’d have to be frothing-at-the-mouth crazy to mess with the sacred tomb of the Apis Bull.”

“Great.” I felt like I was turning back into liquid.

Zia frowned at the ghost. “Don’t tell me—you hid the book in one of these sarcophagi with a mummified bull, and the bull will come to life if we disturb it?”

Setne winked at her. “Oh, I did better than that, doll. Archaeologists have discovered this part of the complex.” He gestured at the electric lights and metal support beams. “But I’m gonna take you on a behind-the-scenes tour.”


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