The Serpent's Shadow / Page 51

Page 51


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“Probably,” she admitted. “But you know what to do. Keep teaching the path of the gods. Bring the House of Life back to its former glory. You and Carter and Amos will make Egyptian magic stronger than ever. And that’s good…because your challenges are not over.”

“Setne?” I guessed.

“Yes, him,” Mum said. “But there are other challenges as well. I haven’t completely lost the gift of prophecy, even in death. I see murky visions of other gods and rival magic.”

That really didn’t sound good.

“What do you mean?” I asked. “What other gods?”

“I don’t know, Sadie. But Egypt has always faced challenges from outside—magicians from elsewhere, even gods from elsewhere. Just be vigilant.”

“Lovely,” I muttered. “I preferred talking about boys.”

Mother laughed. “Once you return to the mortal world, there will be one more portal. Look for it tonight. Some old friends of yours would like a word.”

I had a feeling I knew whom she meant.

She touched a ghostly pendant around her neck—the tyet symbol of Isis.

“If you need me,” Mum said, “use your necklace. It will call to me, just as the shen necklace calls to Walt.”

“That would’ve been handy to know sooner.”

“Our connection wasn’t strong enough before. Now…I think it is.” She kissed my forehead, though it felt like only a faint cool breeze. “I’m proud of you, Sadie. You have your whole life ahead of you. Make the most of it!”

That night at Brooklyn House, a swirling sand portal opened on the terrace, just as my mother had promised.

“That’s for us,” I said, getting up from the dinner table. “Come on, brother, dear.”

On the other side of the portal, we found ourselves at the beach by the Lake of Fire. Bast was waiting, tossing a ball of yarn from hand to hand. Her pure black bodysuit matched her hair. Her feline eyes danced in the red light of the waves.

“They’re waiting for you.” She pointed up the steps to the House of Rest. “We’ll talk when you come back down.”

I didn’t need to ask why she wasn’t coming. I heard the melancholy in her voice. She and Tawaret had never got along because of Bes. Obviously, Bast wanted to give the hippo goddess some space. But also, I wondered if my old friend was starting to realize that she’d let a good man get away.

I kissed her on the cheek. Then Carter and I climbed the stairs.

Inside the nursing home, the atmosphere was festive. Fresh flowers decorated the nurses’ station. Heket the frog goddess walked upside down along the ceiling, hanging party streamers, while a group of elderly dog-headed gods danced and sang the hokey-pokey—a very slow version, but still impressive. You put your walker in / you put your IV out—and so forth. The ancient lion-headed goddess Mekhit was slow-dancing with a tall male god. She purred loudly with her head on his shoulder.

“Carter, look,” I said. “Is that—?”

“Onuris!” Tawaret answered, trotting over in her nurse’s outfit. “Mekhit’s husband! Isn’t it wonderful? We were sure he’d faded ages ago, but when Bes called the old gods to war, Onuris came tottering out of a supply closet. Many others appeared too. They were finally needed, you see! The war gave them a reason to exist.”

The hippo goddess crushed us in an enthusiastic hug. “Oh, my dears! Just look how happy everyone is! You’ve given them new life.”

“I don’t see as many as before,” Carter noticed.

“Some went back to the heavens,” Tawaret said. “Or off to their old temples and palaces. And, of course, your dear father, Osiris, took the judgment gods back to his throne room.”

Seeing the old gods so happy warmed my heart, but I still felt a twinge of worry. “Will they stay this way? I mean, they won’t fade again?”

Tawaret spread her stubby hands. “I suppose that depends on you mortals. If you remember them and make them feel important, they should be fine. But come, you’ll want to see Bes!”

He sat in his usual chair, staring blankly out the window at the Lake of Fire. The scene was so familiar, I feared he’d lost his ren again.

“Is he all right?” I cried, running up to him. “What’s wrong with him?”

Bes turned, looking startled. “Besides being ugly? Nothing, kid. I was just thinking—sorry.”

He rose (as much as a dwarf can rise) and hugged us both.

“Glad you kids could make it,” Bes said. “You know Tawaret and I are going to build a home on the lakeside. I’ve gotten used to this view. She’ll keep working at the House of Rest. I’ll be a house dwarf for a while. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get some little dwarf hippo babies to look after!”

“Oh, Bes!” Tawaret blushed fiercely and batted her hippo eyelids.

The dwarf god chuckled. “Yeah, life is good. But if you kids need me, just holler. I’ve always had more luck coming to the mortal world than most gods.”

Carter scowled fretfully. “Do you think we’ll need you a lot? I mean, of course we want to see you! I just wondered—”

Bes grunted. “Hey, I’m an ugly dwarf. I’ve got a sweet car, an excellent wardrobe, and amazing powers. Why wouldn’t you need me?”

“Good point,” Carter agreed.

“But, uh, don’t call too often,” Bes said. “After all, my honeycakes and I got a few millennia of quality time to catch up on.”

He took Tawaret’s hand, and for once I didn’t find the name of this place—Sunny Acres—quite so depressing.

“Thank you for everything, Bes,” I said.

“Are you kidding?” he said. “You gave me my life back, and I don’t just mean my shadow.”

I got the distinct feeling the two gods wanted some time by themselves, so we said our good-byes and headed down the steps to the lake.

The white sand portal was still swirling. Bast stood next to it, engrossed in her ball of yarn. She laced it between her fingers to make a rectangle like a cat’s cradle. (No, I didn’t mean that as a pun, but it did seem appropriate.)

“Having fun?” I asked.

“Thought you’d want to see this.” She held up the cat’s cradle. A video image flickered across its surface like on a computer screen.

I saw the Hall of the Gods with its soaring columns and polished floors, its braziers burning with a hundred multicolored fires. On the central dais, the sun boat had been replaced with a golden throne. Horus sat there in his human form—a bald muscular teen in full battle armor. He held a crook and flail across his lap, and his eyes gleamed—one silver, one gold. At his right stood Isis, smiling proudly, her rainbow wings shimmering. On his left stood Set, the red-skinned Chaos god with his iron staff. He looked quite amused, as if he had all sorts of wicked things planned for later. The other gods knelt as Horus addressed them. I scanned the crowd for Anubis—with or without Walt—but again, I didn’t see him.

I couldn’t hear the words, but I reckoned it was a similar speech to the one Carter had delivered to the House of Life.

“He’s doing the same thing I did,” Carter protested. “I bet he even stole my speech. That copycat!”

Bast clucked disapprovingly. “No need to call names, Carter. Cats are not copiers. We are all unique. But, yes, what you do as pharaoh in the mortal world will often be mirrored in the world of the gods. Horus and you, after all, rule the forces of Egypt.”

“That,” I said, “is a truly scary thought.”

Carter swatted me lightly on the arm. “I just can’t believe that Horus left without even a good-bye. It’s as if he tossed me aside as soon as he was done using me, and then forgot about me.”

“Oh, no,” Bast said. “Gods wouldn’t do that. He simply had to leave.”

But I wondered. Gods were rather selfish creatures, even those who weren’t cats. Isis hadn’t given me a proper good-bye or thank-you either.

“Bast, you’re coming with us, aren’t you?” I pleaded. “I mean, this silly exile can’t apply to you! We need our nap instructor at Brooklyn House.”

Bast wadded up her ball of yarn and tossed it down the steps. Her expression was quite sad for a feline. “Oh, my kittens. If I could, I would pick you up by the scruffs of your necks and carry you forever. But you’ve grown. Your claws are sharp, your eyesight is keen, and cats must make their own way in the world. I must say farewell for now, though I’m sure we’ll meet again.”

I wanted to protest that I hadn’t grown up and I didn’t even have claws.

(Carter disagrees, but what does he know?)

But part of me knew Bast was right. We’d been lucky to have her with us for so long. Now we had to be adult cats—er, humans.

“Oh, Muffin…” I hugged her fiercely, and could feel her purring.

She ruffled my hair. Then she rubbed Carter’s ears, which was quite funny.

“Go on, now,” she said. “Before I start to mewl. Besides…” She fixed her eyes on the ball of yarn, which had rolled to the bottom of the steps. She crouched and tensed her shoulders. “I have some hunting to do.”

“We’ll miss you, Bast,” I said, trying not to cry. “Good hunting.”

“Yarn,” she said absently, creeping down the steps. “Dangerous prey, yarn…”

Carter and I stepped through the portal. This time it deposited us onto the roof of Brooklyn House.

We had one more surprise. Standing by Freak’s roost, Walt was waiting. He smiled when he saw me, and my legs felt wobbly.

“I’ll, um, be inside,” Carter said.

Walt walked over, and I tried to remember how to breathe.

22. The Last Waltz (for Now)

HE’D CHANGED HIS LOOK AGAIN.

His amulets were gone except for one—the shen that matched mine. He wore a black muscle shirt, black jeans, a black leather duster, and black combat boots—a sort of mix of Anubis’s and Walt’s styles, but it made him look like someone entirely different and new. Yet his eyes were quite familiar—warm, dark brown, and lovely. When he smiled, my heart fluttered as it always had.

“So,” I said, “is this another good-bye? I’ve had quite enough good-byes today.”

“Actually,” Walt said, “it’s more of a hello. My name’s Walt Stone, from Seattle. I’d like to join the party.”

He held out his hand, still smiling slyly. He was repeating exactly what he’d said the first time we met, when he arrived at Brooklyn House last spring.

Instead of taking his hand, I punched him in the chest.

“Ow,” he complained. But I doubt that I’d hurt him. He had quite a solid chest.

“You think you can just merge with a god and surprise me like that?” I demanded. “Oh, by the way, I’m actually two minds in one body. I don’t appreciate being taken off guard.”

“I did try to tell you,” he said. “Several times. Anubis did too. We kept getting interrupted. Mostly by you talking a lot.”


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