The Serpent's Shadow / Page 49

Page 49


Sadie scanned the crowd anxiously. I realized she was looking for Walt. I’d been so focused on Zia, I hadn’t thought about how worried Sadie must be. Walt had disappeared after the battle, along with the rest of the gods. He didn’t seem to be here now.

“I’m sure he’s fine,” I told her.

“Shh.” Sadie smiled at me, but her eyes said: If you embarrass me in front of all these people, I will strangle you.

Amos waited for us at the steps of the throne. He’d changed into a crimson suit that went surprisingly well with his leopard-skin cape. His hair was braided with garnets, and his glasses were tinted red. The color of Chaos? I got the feeling he was playing up his connection to Set—which all the other magicians had definitely heard about by now.

For the first time in history, our Chief Lector had the god of evil, strength, and Chaos on speed dial. That might make people trust him less, but magicians were like the gods—they respected strength. I doubted Amos would have much trouble enforcing his rule anymore.

He smiled as we approached. “Carter and Sadie, on behalf of the House of Life, I thank you. You have restored Ma’at! Apophis has been execrated, and Ra has once again risen into the heavens, but this time in triumph. Well done!”

The hall erupted in cheering and applause. Dozens of magicians raised their staffs and sent up miniature firework displays.

Amos embraced us. Then he stepped aside and gestured me toward the throne. I hoped that Horus might give me some words of encouragement, but I couldn’t feel his presence at all.

I tried to control my breathing. That chair had been empty for thousands of years. How could I be sure it would even hold my weight? If the throne of the pharaohs broke under my royal butt, that would be a great omen.

Sadie nudged me. “Go on, then. Don’t be stupid.”

I climbed the steps and eased myself onto the throne. The old chair creaked, but it held me.

I gazed out over the crowd of magicians.

Horus wasn’t there for me. But somehow, that was okay. I glanced over at the shimmering curtains of light—the New Age, glowing purple—and I had a feeling it was going to be an age of good things, after all.

My muscles began to relax. I felt like I’d stepped out of the war god’s shadow, just as I’d stepped out of my father’s. I found the words.

“I accept the throne.” I held up the crook and flail. “Ra has given me authority to lead the gods and magicians in times of crisis, and I’ll do my best. Apophis has been banished, but the Sea of Chaos is always there. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Its forces will always try to erode Ma’at. We can’t think that all our enemies are gone.”

The crowd stirred nervously.

“But for now,” I added, “we are at peace. We can rebuild and expand the House of Life. If war comes again, I’ll be here as the Eye of Horus and as pharaoh. But as Carter Kane…”

I rose and placed the crook and flail on the throne. I stepped down from the dais. “As Carter Kane, I’m a kid who has a lot of catching up to do. I’ve got my own nome to run at Brooklyn House. And I’ve got to graduate from high school. So I’m going to leave day-to-day operations where they should be—in the hands of the Chief Lector, steward of the pharaoh, Amos Kane.”

Amos bowed to me, which felt a little strange. The crowd applauded wildly. I wasn’t sure if they approved of me, or if they were just relieved that a kid wasn’t going to be giving them daily orders from the throne. Either way, I was okay with it.

Amos embraced Sadie and me again.

“I’m proud of you both,” he said. “We’ll speak soon, but right now, come…” He gestured to the side of the dais, where a door of darkness had opened in the air. “Your parents would like to see you.”

Sadie looked at me nervously. “Uh-oh.”

I nodded. Strange how I went instantly from the pharaoh of the universe to a kid worried about getting grounded. As much as I wanted to see my parents, I’d broken an important promise to my father…I’d lost track of a dangerous prisoner.

The Hall of Judgment had turned into Party Central. Ammit the Devourer ran around the scales of justice, yapping excitedly with a birthday hat on his crocodile head. The guillotine-headed demons lounged on their pole arms, holding glasses of what looked like champagne. I didn’t know how they could drink with those guillotine heads, but I didn’t want to find out. Even the blue judgment god Disturber seemed to be in a good mood. His Cleopatra wig was sideways on his head. His long scroll had unraveled halfway across the room, but he was laughing and talking with the other judgment gods who had been rescued from the House of Rest. Fire-embracer and Hot Foot kept dropping cinders on his papyrus, but Disturber didn’t seem to notice or care.

At the far end of the room, Dad sat on his throne, holding hands with our ghostly mom. To the left of the dais, spirits from the Underworld played in a jazz ensemble. I was pretty sure I recognized Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and a few of my dad’s other favorites. Being the god of the Underworld has its perks.

Dad beckoned us forward. He didn’t look mad, which was a good sign. We made our way through the crowd of happy demons and judgment gods. Ammit yapped at Sadie and purred as she scratched under his chin.

“Children.” Dad held out his arms.

It felt strange being called children. I didn’t feel like a child anymore. Children weren’t asked to fight Chaos serpents. They didn’t lead armies to stop the end of the world.

Sadie and I both hugged our dad. I couldn’t hug Mom, of course, since she was a ghost, but I was happy enough to see her safe. Except for the glowing aura around her, she looked just like she did when she was alive—dressed in jeans and her ankh T-shirt, her blond hair gathered back in a bandana. If I didn’t look directly at her, I could have almost mistaken her for Sadie.

“Mom, you survived,” I said. “How—?”

“All thanks to you two.” Mom’s eyes sparkled. “I held on as long as I could, but the shadow was too powerful. I was consumed, along with so many other spirits. If you hadn’t destroyed the sheut when you did and released us, I would’ve been…well, it doesn’t matter now. You’ve done the impossible. We are so proud.”

“Yes,” Dad agreed, squeezing my shoulder. “Everything we’ve worked for, everything we’ve hoped for—you have accomplished. You’ve exceeded my highest expectations.”

I hesitated. Was it possible he didn’t know about Setne?

“Dad,” I said, “um…we didn’t succeed at everything. We lost your prisoner. I still don’t understand how he escaped. He was tied up and—”

Dad raised his hand to stop me. “I heard. We may never know how Setne escaped exactly, but you can’t blame yourselves.”

“We can’t?” Sadie asked.

“Setne has evaded capture for eons,” Dad said. “He’s outwitted gods, magicians, mortals, and demons. When I let you take him, I suspected he would find a way to escape. I just hoped you could control him long enough to get his help. And you did.”

“He got us to the shadow,” I admitted. “But he also stole the Book of Thoth.”

Sadie bit her lip. “Dangerous stuff, that book. Setne may not be able to cast all the spells himself, being a ghost, but he could still cause all sorts of mischief.”

“We will find him again,” Dad promised. “But for now, let’s celebrate your victory.”

Our mom reached out and brushed her ghostly hand through Sadie’s hair. “May I borrow you a moment, my dear? I have something I’d like to discuss with you.”

I wasn’t sure what that was about, but Sadie followed our mom toward the jazz band. I hadn’t noticed before, but two of the ghostly musicians looked very familiar, and rather out of place. A big redheaded man in Western clothes sat at a steel guitar, grinning and tapping his boots as he traded solos with Miles Davis. Next to him, a pretty blond woman played the fiddle, leaning down from time to time to kiss the redheaded man on the forehead. JD Grissom and his wife, Anne, from the Dallas Museum, had finally found a party that didn’t have to end. I’d never heard steel guitar and fiddle with a jazz band before, but somehow they made it work. I suppose Amos was right: music and magic both needed a little chaos within the order.

As Mom and Sadie talked, Sadie’s eyes widened. Her expression turned serious. Then she smiled shyly and blushed, which wasn’t like Sadie at all.

“Carter,” my dad said, “you did well in the Hall of Ages. You will make a good leader. A wise leader.”

I wasn’t sure how he knew about my speech, but a lump formed in my throat. My dad doesn’t hand out compliments lightly. Being with him again, I remembered how much easier life had been, traveling with him. He’d always known what to do. I could always count on his calming presence. Until that Christmas Eve in London when he had disappeared, I hadn’t appreciated just how much I had relied on him.

“I know it’s been hard,” Dad said, “but you will lead the Kane family into the future. You have truly stepped out of my shadow.”

“Not completely,” I said. “I wouldn’t want that. As dads go, you’re pretty, um, shadowy.”

He laughed. “I’ll be here if you need me. Never doubt that. But, as Ra said, the gods will have a harder time contacting the mortal world, now that Apophis has been execrated. As Chaos retreats, so must Ma’at. Nevertheless, I don’t think you’ll need much help. You’ve succeeded on your own strength. Now you are the one casting the long shadow. The House of Life will remember you for ages to come.”

He hugged me once more, and it was easy to forget that he was the god of the dead. He just seemed like my dad—warm and alive and strong.

Sadie came over, looking a little shaken.

“What?” I asked.

She giggled for no apparent reason, then got serious again. “Nothing.”

Mom drifted next to her. “Off you go, you two. Brooklyn House is waiting.”

Another door of darkness appeared by the throne. Sadie and I stepped through. For once I wasn’t worried about what waited on the other side. I knew we were going home.

Life got back to normal with surprising speed.

I’ll let Sadie tell you about the events at Brooklyn House and her own drama. I’ll fast-forward to the interesting stuff.

[Ouch! I thought we agreed: no pinching!]

Two weeks after the battle with Apophis, Zia and I were sitting in the food court at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Why there? I’d heard the Mall of America was the biggest in the country, and I figured we’d start big. It was an easy trip through the Duat. Freak was happy to sit on the roof and eat frozen turkeys while Zia and I explored the mall.

[That’s right, Sadie. For our first real date, I picked up Zia in a boat pulled by a deranged griffin. So what? Like your dates aren’t weird?]

Anyway, when we got to the food court, Zia’s jaw dropped. “Gods of Egypt…”

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