The Serpent's Shadow / Page 36

Page 36


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He slumped forward. I ran to his side. I cradled his head in my arms. His breathing was ragged.

“Worked,” he muttered. “Now…send the shadow to Bes. You’ll have to—”

“Walt, please,” I said. “We can get you to the First Nome. Their healers might be able to—”

“No, Sadie…” He pressed the figurine into my hands. “Hurry.”

I tried to concentrate. It was almost impossible, but I managed to reverse the wording of an execration. I channeled power into the figurine and imagined Bes as he once was. I urged the shadow to find its master, to reawaken his soul. Instead of erasing Bes from the world, I tried to draw him back into the picture, this time with permanent ink.

The wax statue turned to smoke and disappeared.

“Did—did it work?” I asked.

Walt didn’t answer. His eyes were closed. He lay perfectly still.

“Oh, please…no.” I hugged his forehead, which was rapidly cooling. “Anubis, do something!”

No answer. I turned, and Anubis was gone.

“Anubis!” I screamed so loudly it echoed off the distant cliffs. I set Walt down as gently as I could. I stood and turned in a full circle, my fists clenched. “That’s it?” I shouted at the empty air. “You take his soul and leave? I hate you!”

Suddenly Walt gasped and opened his eyes.

I sobbed with relief.

“Walt!” I knelt next to him.

“The gate,” he said urgently.

I didn’t know what he meant. Perhaps he’d had some sort of near-death vision? His voice sounded clearer, free of pain, but still weak. “Sadie, hurry. You know the spell now. It will work on…on the serpent’s shadow.”

“Walt, what happened?” I brushed the tears from my face. “What gate?”

He pointed feebly. A few meters away, a door of darkness hovered in the air. “The whole quest was a trap,” he said. “Setne…I see his plan now. Your brother needs your help.”

“But what about you? Come with me!”

He shook his head. “I’m still too weak. I will do my best to summon reinforcements for you in the Duat—you’ll need them—but I can barely move. I’ll meet you at sunrise, at the First Nome, if—if you’re sure you don’t hate me.”

“Hate you?” I was completely baffled. “Why on earth would I hate you?”

He smiled sadly—a smile that wasn’t quite like him.

“Look,” he said.

It took me a moment to understand his meaning. A cold feeling washed over me. How had Walt survived? Where was Anubis? And what had they been conspiring about?

Neith had called Walt a child of Set, but he wasn’t. Set’s only child was Anubis.

I tried to tell her, Walt had said.

He was born under the shadow of death, Anubis had told me. That’s why we understand each other.

I didn’t want to, but I lowered my vision into the Duat. Where Walt lay, I saw a different person, like a superimposed image…a young man lying weak and pale, in a gold neckband and black Egyptian kilt, with familiar brown eyes and a sad smile. Deeper still, I saw the glowing gray radiance of a god—the jackal-headed form of Anubis.

“Oh…no, no.” I got up and stumbled away from him. From them. Too many puzzle pieces fell together at once. My head was spinning. Walt’s ability to turn things to dust…it was the path of Anubis. He’d been channeling the god’s power for months. Their friendship, their discussions, the other way Anubis hinted at for saving Walt…

“What have you done?” I stared at him in horror. I wasn’t even sure what to call him.

“Sadie, it’s me,” Walt said. “Still me.”

In the Duat, Anubis spoke in unison: “Still me.”

“No!” My legs trembled. I felt betrayed and cheated. I felt as if the world was already crumbling into the Sea of Chaos.

“I can explain,” he said in two voices. “But Carter needs your help. Please, Sadie—”

“Stop it!” I’m not proud of how I acted, but I turned and fled, leaping straight through the doorway of darkness. At the moment I didn’t even care where it led, as long as it was away from that deathless creature I had thought I loved.

C A R T E R

15. I Become a Purple Chimpanzee

JELLY BABIES? SERIOUSLY?

I hadn’t heard that part. My sister never ceases to amaze me—[and no, Sadie, that’s not a compliment, either.]

Anyway, while Sadie was having her supernatural guy drama, I was confronting an ax-murdering riverboat captain who apparently wanted to change his name to Even-More-Bloodstained Blade.

“Back down,” I told the demon. “That’s an order.”

Bloodstained Blade made a humming sound that might’ve been laughter. He swung his head to the left—kind of an Elvis Presley dance move—and smashed a hole in the wall. Then he faced me again, splinters all over his shoulders.

“I have other orders,” he hummed. “Orders to kill!”

He charged like a bull. After the mess we’d just been through in the serapeum, a bull was the last thing I wanted to deal with.

I thrust out my fist. “Ha-wi!”

The hieroglyph for Strike glowed between us:

A blue fist of energy slammed into Bloodstained Blade, pushing him out the door and straight through the wall of the opposite stateroom. A hit like that would have knocked out a human, but I could hear BSB digging out from the rubble, humming angrily.

I tried to think. It would’ve been nice to keep smashing him with that hieroglyph over and over, but magic doesn’t work that way. Once spoken, a divine word can’t be used again for several minutes, sometimes even hours.

Besides, divine words are top-of-the-line magic. Some magicians spend years mastering a single hieroglyph. I’d learned the hard way that saying too many will burn through your energy really fast, and I didn’t have much to spare.

First problem: keep the demon away from Zia. She was still half-conscious and totally defenseless. I summoned as much magic as I could and said: “N’dah!”—Protect.

Blue light shimmered around her. I had a horrible flashback to when I found Zia in her watery tomb last spring. If she woke up encased in blue energy and thought she was imprisoned again…

“Oh, Zia,” I said, “I didn’t mean—”

“KILL!” Bloodstained Blade rose from the wreckage of the opposite room. A feather pillow was impaled on his head, raining goose fluff all over his uniform.

I dashed into the hall and headed for the stairs, glancing back to be sure the captain was following me and not going after Zia. Lucky me—he was right on my tail.

I reached the deck and yelled, “Setne!”

The ghost was nowhere to be seen. The crew lights were going crazy, buzzing around frantically, bonking into walls, looping around the smokestacks, lowering and raising the gangplank for no apparent reason. I guess without Bloodstained Blade to give them directions, they were lost.

The riverboat careened down the River of Night, weaving drunkenly in the current. We slipped between two jagged rocks that would have pulverized the hull, then dropped over a cataract with a jaw-rattling thunk. I glanced up at the wheelhouse and saw no one steering. It was a miracle that we hadn’t crashed already. I had to get the boat under control.

I ran for the stairs.

When I was halfway there, Bloodstained Blade appeared out of nowhere. He sliced his head across my gut, ripping open my shirt. If I’d had a larger belly—no, I don’t want to think about it. I stumbled backward, pressing my hand against my navel. He’d only grazed the skin, but the sight of blood on my fingers made me feel faint.

Some warrior, I scolded myself.

Fortunately, Bloodstained Blade had embedded his ax head in the wall. He was still trying to tug it free, grumbling, “New orders: Kill Carter Kane. Take him to the Land of Demons. Make sure it’s a one-way trip.”

The Land of Demons?

I bolted up the stairs and into the wheelhouse.

All around the boat, the river churned into whitewater rapids. A pillar of stone loomed out of the fog and scraped against our starboard side, ripping off part of the railing. We twisted sideways and picked up speed. Somewhere ahead of us, I heard the roar of millions of tons of water cascading into oblivion. We were rushing toward a waterfall.

I looked around desperately for the shore. It was hard to see through the thick fog and gloomy gray light of the Duat, but a hundred yards or so off the bow, I thought I saw fires burning, and a dark line that might’ve been a beach.

The Land of Demons sounded bad, but not as bad as dropping off a waterfall and getting smashed to pieces. I ripped the cord off the alarm bell and lashed the pilot’s wheel in place, pointing us toward the shore.

“Kill Kane!”

The captain’s well-polished boot slammed me in the ribs and sent me straight through the port window. Glass shattered, raking my back and legs. I bounced off a hot smokestack and landed hard on the deck.

My vision blurred. The cut across my stomach stung. My legs felt like they’d been used for a tiger’s chew toy, and judging from the hot pain in my side, I may have broken some ribs in the fall.

All in all, not my best combat experience.

Hello? Horus spoke in my mind. Any intention of calling for help, or are you happy to die on your own?

Yeah, I snapped back at him. The sarcasm is real helpful.

Truthfully, I didn’t think I had enough energy left to summon my avatar, even with Horus’s help. My fight with the Apis Bull had nearly tapped me out, and that was before I got chased by an ax demon and kicked out a window.

I could hear Bloodstained Blade stomping his way back down the stairs. I tried to rise, and almost blacked out from the pain.

A weapon, I told Horus. I need a weapon.

I reached into the Duat and pulled out an ostrich feather.

“Really?” I yelled.

Horus didn’t answer.

Meanwhile the crew lights zipped around in a panic as the boat barreled toward the shore. The beach was easier to see now—black sand littered with bones and plumes of volcanic gas shooting from fiery crevices. Oh, good. Just the sort of place I wanted to crash land.

I dropped the ostrich feather and reached into the Duat again.

This time I pulled out a pair of familiar weapons—the crook and flail, symbols of the pharaoh. The crook was a gold-and-red shepherd’s rod with a curved end. The flail was a pole arm with three wicked-looking spiked chains. I’d seen lots of similar weapons. Every pharaoh had a set. But these looked disturbingly like the original pair—the weapons of the sun god that I’d found last spring buried in Zia’s tomb.

“What are these doing here?” I demanded. “These should be with Ra.”

Horus remained silent. I got the feeling he was as surprised as I was.

Bloodstained Blade stormed around the side of the wheelhouse. His uniform was ripped and covered in feathers. His blades had some new nicks, and he’d gotten the emergency bell wrapped around his left boot so it clanged as he walked. But he still looked better than me.

“Enough,” he hummed. “I have served the Kanes too long!”


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