The Serpent's Shadow / Page 45

Page 45


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She thrust out her staff. “Ha-di.”

I raised my wand, but Isis wasn’t helping me this time. I was just Sadie Kane, and my defenses were slow. The explosion ripped through my weak shields and threw me backward into a curtain of light. Images from the Age of the Gods crackled around me—the founding of the world, the crowning of Osiris, the battle between Set and Horus—like having sixty different movies downloaded into my brain while being electrocuted. The light shattered, and I lay on the floor, dazed and drained.

“Sadie!” Carter charged toward me, but Kwai blasted him with a bolt of red lightning. Carter fell to his knees. I didn’t even have the strength to cry out.

Jaz ran toward him. Little Shelby yelled, “Stop it! Stop it!” Our other initiates seemed stunned, unable to move.

“Give up,” Jacobi said. I realized she was speaking with words of power, just like the ghost Setne had done. She was using magic to paralyze my friends. “The Kanes have brought you nothing but trouble. It’s time this ended.”

She lifted her netjeri blade from Amos’s throat. Quick as light, she threw it at me. As the blade flew, my mind seemed to speed up. In that millisecond, I understood that Sarah Jacobi wouldn’t miss. My end would be as painful as poor Leonid’s, who was bleeding to death alone in the outer tunnel. Yet I could do nothing to defend myself.

A shadow crossed in front of me. A bare hand snatched the blade out of the air. The meteoric iron turned gray and crumbled.

Jacobi’s eyes widened. She hastily drew her second knife.

“Who are you?” she demanded.

“Walt Stone,” he said, “blood of the pharaohs. And Anubis, god of the dead.”

He stepped in front of me, shielding me from my enemies. Maybe my vision was double because I’d cracked my head, but I saw the two of them with equal clarity—both handsome and powerful, both quite angry.

“We speak with one voice,” Walt said. “Especially on this matter. No one harms Sadie Kane.”

He thrust out his hand. The floor split open at Sarah Jacobi’s feet, and souls of the dead sprang up like weeds—skeletal hands, glowing faces, fanged shadows, and winged ba with their claws extended. They swarmed Sarah Jacobi, wrapping her in ghostly linen, and dragged her screaming into the chasm. The floor closed behind her, leaving no trace that she had ever existed.

The black noose slackened around Amos’s neck, and the voice of Set laughed with delight. “That’s my boy!”

“Shut up, Father,” Anubis said.

In the Duat, Anubis looked as he always had, with his tousled dark hair and lovely brown eyes, but I’d never seen him filled with such rage. I realized that anyone who dared to hurt me would suffer his full wrath, and Walt wasn’t going to hold him back.

Jaz helped Carter to his feet. His shirt was burned, but he looked all right. I suppose a blast of lightning wasn’t the worst thing that had happened to him lately.

“Magicians!” Carter managed to stand tall and confident, addressing both our initiates and the rebels. “We’re wasting time. Apophis is above, about to destroy the world. A few brave gods are holding him back for our sakes, for the sake of Egypt and the world of mortals, but they can’t do it alone. Jacobi and Kwai led you astray. Unbind the Chief Lector. We have to work together.”

Kwai snarled. Red electricity arced between his fingers. “Never. We do not bow to gods.”

I managed to rise.

“Listen to my brother,” I said. “You don’t trust the gods? They are already helping us. Meanwhile, Apophis wants us to fight one another. Why do you think your attack was timed for this morning, at the same moment Apophis is rising? Kwai and Jacobi have sold you out. The enemy is right in front of you!”

Even the rebel magicians now turned to stare at Kwai. The remaining ropes fell away from Amos.

Kwai sneered. “You’re too late.”

His voice hummed with power. His robes turned from blue to bloodred. His eyes glowed, his pupils turning to reptilian slits. “Even now, my master destroys the old gods, sweeping away the foundations of your world. He will swallow the sun. All of you will die.”

Amos got to his feet. Red sand swirled around him, but I had no doubt who was in charge now. His white robes shimmered with power. The leopard-skin cape of the Chief Lector gleamed on his shoulders. He held out his staff, and multicolored hieroglyphs filled the air.

“House of Life,” he said. “To war!”

Kwai did not give up easily.

I suppose that’s what happens when the Serpent of Chaos is invading your thoughts and filling you with unlimited rage and magic.

Kwai sent a chain of red lightning across the room, knocking over most of the other magicians, including his own followers. Isis must have protected me, because the electricity rippled over me with no effect. Amos didn’t seem bothered in his swirling red tornado. Walt stumbled, but only briefly. Even Carter in his weakened state managed to turn aside the lightning with his pharaoh’s crook.

The others weren’t as lucky. Jaz collapsed. Then Julian. Then Felix and his squad of penguins. All our initiates and the rebels they’d been fighting crumpled unconscious to the floor. So much for a massive offensive.

I summoned the power of Isis. I began to cast a binding charm; but Kwai wasn’t done with his tricks. He raised his hands and created his own sandstorm. Dozens of whirlwinds spun through the hall, thickening and forming into creatures of sand—sphinxes, crocodiles, wolves, and lions. They attacked in every direction, even pouncing on our defenseless friends.

“Sadie!” Amos warned. “Protect them!”

I quickly changed spells—casting hasty shields over our unconscious initiates. Amos blasted the monsters one after the other, but they just kept re-forming.

Carter summoned his avatar. He charged at Kwai, but the red magician blasted him backward with a new surge of lightning. My poor brother slammed into a stone column, which collapsed on top of him. I could only hope his avatar had taken the brunt of the impact.

Walt released a dozen magical creatures at once—his sphinx, his camels, his ibis, even Philip of Macedonia. They charged at the sand creatures, trying to keep them away from the fallen magicians.

Then Walt turned to face Kwai.

“Anubis,” Kwai hissed. “You should have stayed in your funeral parlor, boy god. You are outmatched.”

By way of answer, Walt spread his hands. On either side of him, the floor cracked open. Two massive jackals leaped from the crevices, their fangs bared. Walt’s form shimmered. Suddenly he was dressed in Egyptian battle armor, a was staff twirling in his hands like a deadly fan blade.

Kwai roared. He blasted the jackals with waves of sand. He hurled lightning and words of power at Walt, but Walt deflected them with his staff, reducing Kwai’s attacks to gray ashes.

The jackals harried Kwai from either side, sinking their teeth into his legs, while Walt stepped in and swung his staff like a golf club. He hit Kwai so hard, I imagined it echoed all the way through the Duat. The magician fell. His sand creatures vanished.

Walt called off his jackals. Amos lowered his staff. Carter rose from the rubble, looking dizzy but unharmed. We gathered around the fallen magician.

Kwai should have been dead. A line of blood trickled from his mouth. His eyes were glassy. But as I studied his face, he took a sharp breath and laughed weakly.

“Idiots,” he rasped. “Sahei.”

A bloodred hieroglyph burned against his chest:

His robes erupted in flames. Before our eyes, he dissolved into sand and a wave of cold—the power of Chaos—rippled through the Hall of Ages. Columns shook. Chunks of stone fell from the ceiling. A slab the size of an oven crashed into the steps of the dais, almost crushing the pharaoh’s throne.

“Bring down,” I said, realizing what the hieroglyph meant. Even Isis seemed terrified by the invocation. “Sahei is Bring down.”

Amos swore in Ancient Egyptian—something about donkeys trampling Kwai’s ghost. “He used up his life force to cast this curse. The hall is already weakened. We’ll have to leave before we’re buried alive.”

I glanced around us at the fallen magicians. Some of our initiates were starting to stir, but there was no way we could get them all to safety in time.

“We have to stop it!” I insisted. “We have four gods present! Can’t we save the hall?”

Amos furrowed his brow. “The power of Set will not help me in this. He can only destroy, not restore.”

Another column toppled. It broke across the floor, barely missing one of the unconscious rebels.

Walt—who looked quite good in armor, by the way—shook his head. “This is beyond Anubis. I’m sorry.”

The floor rumbled. We had only seconds to live. Then we would be just another bunch of entombed Egyptians.

“Carter?” I asked.

He regarded me helplessly. He was still weak, and I realized his battle magic wouldn’t be much good in this situation.

I sighed. “So it comes down to me, as always. Fine. You three shield the others as best you can. If this doesn’t work, get out quickly.”

“If what doesn’t work?” Amos said, as more chunks of ceiling rained down around us. “Sadie, what are you planning?”

“Just a word, dear uncle.” I raised my staff and called on the power of Isis.

She immediately understood what I needed. Together, we tried to find calm in the Chaos. I focused on the most peaceful, well-ordered moments of my life—and there weren’t many. I remembered my sixth birthday party in Los Angeles with Carter, my dad and mum—the last clear memory I had of all of us together as a family. I imagined listening to music in my room at Brooklyn House while Khufu ate Cheerios on my dresser. I imagined sitting on the terrace with my friends, having a restful breakfast as Philip of Macedonia splashed in his pool. I remembered Sunday afternoons at Gran and Gramps’s flat—Muffin on my lap, Gramps’s rugby game on the telly, and Gran’s horrible biscuits and weak tea on the table. Good times, those were.

Most important, I faced down my own chaos. I accepted my jumbled emotions about whether I belonged in London or New York, whether I was a magician or a schoolgirl. I was Sadie Kane, and if I survived today, I could bloody well balance it all. And, yes, I accepted Walt and Anubis…I gave up my anger and dismay. I imagined both of them with me, and if that was peculiar, well then, it fit right in with the rest of my life. I made peace with the idea. Walt was alive. Anubis was flesh and blood. I stilled my restlessness and let go of my doubts.

“Ma’at,” I said.

I felt as if I’d struck a tuning fork against the foundation of the earth. Deep harmony resonated outward through every level of the Duat.

The Hall of Ages stilled. Columns rose and repaired themselves. The cracks in the ceiling and floor sealed. Holographic curtains of light blazed once again along either side of the hall, and hieroglyphs once more filled the air.

I collapsed into Walt’s arms. Through my fuzzy vision, I saw him smiling down at me. Anubis, too. I could see them both, and I realized I didn’t have to pick.


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