The Serpent's Shadow / Page 7

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The ren was also the part of the soul that our friend Bes had given up for us in our gambling match six months ago with the moon god Khonsu. Now Bes was a hollow shell of a god, sitting in a wheelchair in the Underworld’s divine nursing home.

“Right,” I said. “But the fifth part…” I looked at Bast. “It’s the shadow, isn’t it?”

Sadie frowned. “The shadow? How can a shadow be part of your soul? It’s just a silhouette, isn’t it? A trick of the light.”

Bast held her hand over the table. Her fingers cast a vague shadow over the wood. “You can never be free of your shadow—your sheut. All living beings have them.”

“So do rocks, pencils, and shoes,” Sadie said. “Does that mean they have souls?”

“You know better,” Bast chided. “Living beings are different from rocks…well, most are, anyway. The sheut is not just a physical shadow. It’s a magical projection—the silhouette of the soul.”

“So this box…” I said. “When you say it holds King Tut’s shadow—”

“I mean it holds one fifth of his soul,” Bast confirmed. “It houses the pharaoh’s sheut so it will not be lost in the afterlife.”

My brain felt like it was about to explode. I knew this stuff about shadows must be important, but I didn’t see how. It was like I’d been handed a puzzle piece, but it was for the wrong puzzle.

We’d failed to save the right piece—an irreplaceable scroll that might’ve helped us beat Apophis—and we’d failed to save an entire nome full of friendly magicians. All we had to show from our trip was an empty cabinet decorated with pictures of ducks. I wanted to knock King Tut’s shadow box across the room.

“Lost shadows,” I muttered. “This sounds like that Peter Pan story.”

Bast’s eyes glowed like paper lanterns. “What do you think inspired the story of Peter Pan’s lost shadow? There have been folktales about shadows for centuries, Carter—all handed down since the days of Egypt.”

“But how does that help us?” I demanded. “The Book of Overcoming Apophis would’ve helped us. Now it’s gone!”

Okay, I sounded angry. I was angry.

Remembering my dad’s lectures made me want to be a kid again, traveling the world with him. We’d been through some weird stuff together, but I’d always felt safe and protected. He’d always known what to do. Now all I had left from those days was my suitcase, gathering dust in my closet upstairs.

It wasn’t fair. But I knew what my dad would say about that: Fair means everyone gets what they need. And the only way to get what you need is to make that happen yourself.

Great, Dad. I’m facing an impossible enemy, and what I need in order to defeat him just got destroyed.

Sadie must’ve read my expression. “Carter, we’ll figure it out,” she promised. “Bast, you were about to say something earlier about Apophis and shadows.”

“No, I wasn’t,” Bast murmured.

“Why are you so nervous about this?” I asked. “Do gods have shadows? Does Apophis? If so, how do they work?”

Bast gouged some hieroglyphs in the table with her fingernails. I was pretty sure the message read: DANGER.

“Honestly, children…this is a question for Thoth. Yes, gods have shadows. Of course we do. But—but it’s not something we’re supposed to talk about.”

I’d rarely seen Bast look so agitated. I wasn’t sure why. This was a goddess who’d fought Apophis face-to-face, claw to fang, in a magical prison for thousands of years. Why was she scared of shadows?

“Bast,” I said, “if we can’t figure out a better solution, we’ll have to go with Plan B.”

The goddess winced. Sadie stared dejectedly at the table. Plan B was something only Sadie, Bast, Walt, and I had discussed. Our other initiates didn’t know about it. We hadn’t even told our Uncle Amos. It was that scary.

“I—I would hate that,” Bast said. “But, Carter, I really don’t know the answers. And if you start asking about shadows, you’ll be delving into very dangerous—”

There was a knock on the library doors. Cleo and Khufu appeared at the top of the stairs.

“Sorry to disturb,” Cleo said. “Carter, Khufu just came down from your room. He seems anxious to talk with you.”

“Agh!” Khufu insisted.

Bast translated from baboon-speak. “He says there’s a call for you on the scrying bowl, Carter. A private call.”

As if I weren’t stressed enough already. Only one person would be sending me a scrying vision, and if she was contacting me so late at night, it had to be bad news.

“Meeting adjourned,” I told the others. “See you in the morning.”

C A R T E R

4. I Consult the Pigeon of War

I WAS IN LOVE WITH A BIRDBATH.

Most guys checked their phone for texts, or obsessed over what girls were saying about them online. Me, I couldn’t stay away from the scrying bowl.

It was just a bronze saucer on a stone pedestal, sitting on the balcony outside my bedroom. But whenever I was in my room, I found myself stealing glances at it, resisting the urge to rush outside and check for a glimpse of Zia.

The weird thing was—I couldn’t even call her my girlfriend. What do you call somebody when you fall in love with her replica shabti, then rescue the real person only to find she doesn’t share your feelings? And Sadie thinks her relationships are complicated.

Over the past six months, since Zia had gone to help my uncle at the First Nome, the bowl had been our only contact. I’d spent so many hours staring into it, talking with Zia, I could hardly remember what she looked like without enchanted oil rippling across her face.

By the time I reached the balcony, I was out of breath. From the surface of the oil, Zia stared up at me. Her arms were crossed; her eyes so angry, they looked like they might ignite. (The first scrying bowl Walt had made actually did ignite, but that’s another story.)

“Carter,” she said, “I’m going to strangle you.”

She was beautiful when she threatened to kill me. Over the summer she’d let her hair grow out so that it swept over her shoulders in a glossy black wave. She wasn’t the shabti I’d first fallen for, but her face still had a sculpted beauty—delicate nose, full red lips, dazzling amber eyes. Her skin glowed like terracotta warm from the kiln.

“You heard about Dallas,” I guessed. “Zia, I’m sorry—”

“Carter, everyone has heard about Dallas. Other nomes have been sending Amos ba messengers for the past hour, demanding answers. Magicians as far away as Cuba felt ripples in the Duat. Some claimed you blew up half of Texas. Some said the entire Fifty-first Nome was destroyed. Some said—some said you were dead.”

The concern in her voice lifted my spirits a little, but it also made me feel guiltier.

“I wanted to tell you in advance,” I said. “But by the time we realized Apophis’s target was Dallas, we had to move immediately.”

I told her what had happened at the King Tut exhibit, including our mistakes and casualties.

I tried to read Zia’s expression. Even after so many months, it was hard to guess what she was thinking. Just seeing her tended to short-circuit my brain. Half the time I could barely remember how to speak in complete sentences.

Finally she muttered something in Arabic—probably a curse.

“I’m glad you survived—but the Fifty-first destroyed…?” She shook her head in disbelief. “I knew Anne Grissom. She taught me healing magic when I was young.”

I remembered the pretty blond lady who had played with the band, and the ruined fiddle at the edge of the explosion.

“They were good people,” I said.

“Some of our last allies,” Zia said. “The rebels are already blaming you for their deaths. If any more nomes desert Amos…”

She didn’t have to finish that thought. Last spring, the worst villains in the House of Life had formed a hit squad to destroy Brooklyn House. We’d defeated them. Amos had even given them amnesty when he became the new Chief Lector. But some refused to follow him. The rebels were still out there—gathering strength, turning other magicians against us. As if we needed more enemies.

“They’re blaming me?” I asked. “Did they contact you?”

“Worse. They broadcasted a message to you.”

The oil rippled. I saw a different face—Sarah Jacobi, leader of the rebels. She had milky skin, spiky black hair, and dark, permanently startled eyes lined with too much kohl. In her pure white robes she looked like a Halloween ghoul.

She stood in a room lined with marble columns. Behind her glowered half a dozen magicians—Jacobi’s elite killers. I recognized the blue robes and shaven head of Kwai, who’d been exiled from the North Korean nome for murdering a fellow magician. Next to him stood Petrovich, a scar-faced Ukrainian who’d once worked as an assassin for our old enemy Vlad Menshikov.

The others I couldn’t identify, but I doubted that any of them was as bad as Sarah Jacobi herself. Until Menshikov had released her, she’d been exiled in Antarctica for causing an Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than a quarter of a million people.

“Carter Kane!” she shouted.

Because this was a broadcast, I knew it was just a magical recording, but her voice made me jump.

“The House of Life demands your surrender,” she said. “Your crimes are unforgivable. You must pay with your life.”

My stomach barely had time to drop before a series of violent images flashed across the oil. I saw the Rosetta Stone exploding in the British Museum—the incident that had unleashed Set and killed my father last Christmas. How had Jacobi gotten a visual of that? I saw the fight at Brooklyn House last spring, when Sadie and I had arrived in Ra’s sun boat to drive out Jacobi’s hit squad. The images she showed made it look like we were the aggressors—a bunch of hooligans with godly powers beating up on poor Jacobi and her friends.

“You released Set and his brethren,” Jacobi narrated. “You broke the most sacred rule of magic and cooperated with the gods. In doing so, you unbalanced Ma’at, causing the rise of Apophis.”

“That’s a lie!” I said. “Apophis was rising anyway!”

Then I remembered I was yelling at a video.

The scenes kept shifting. I saw a high-rise building on fire in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, headquarters of the 234th Nome. A flying demon with the head of a samurai sword crashed through a window and carried off a screaming magician.

I saw the home of the old Chief Lector, Michel Desjardins—a beautiful Paris townhouse on the rue des Pyramides—now in ruins. The roof had collapsed. The windows were broken. Ripped scrolls and soggy books littered the dead garden, and the hieroglyph for Chaos smoldered on the front door like a cattle brand.

“All this you have caused,” Jacobi said. “You have given the Chief Lector’s mantle to a servant of evil. You have corrupted young magicians by teaching the path of the gods. You’ve weakened the House of Life and left us at the mercy of Apophis. We will not stand for this. Any who follow you will be punished.”


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