The Serpent's Shadow / Page 8

Page 8


The vision changed to Sphinx House in London, headquarters for the British nome. Sadie and I had visited there over the summer and managed to make peace with them after hours of negotiations. I saw Kwai storming through the library, smashing statues of the gods and raking books off the shelves. A dozen British magicians stood in chains before their conqueror, Sarah Jacobi, who held a gleaming black knife. The leader of the nome, a harmless old guy named Sir Leicester, was forced to his knees. Sarah Jacobi raised her knife. The blade fell, and the scene shifted.

Jacobi’s ghoulish face stared up at me from the surface of the oil. Her eyes were as dark as the sockets of a skull.

“The Kanes are a plague,” she said. “You must be destroyed. Surrender yourself and your family for execution. We will spare your other followers as long as they renounce the path of the gods. I do not seek the office of Chief Lector, but I must take it for the good of Egypt. When the Kanes are dead, we will be strong and united again. We will undo the damage you’ve caused and send the gods and Apophis back to the Duat. Justice comes swiftly, Carter Kane. This will be your only warning.”

Sarah Jacobi’s image dissolved in the oil, and I was alone again with Zia’s reflection.

“Yeah,” I said shakily. “For a mass murderer, she’s pretty convincing.”

Zia nodded. “Jacobi has already turned or defeated most of our allies in Europe and Asia. A lot of the recent attacks—against Paris, Tokyo, Madrid—those were Jacobi’s work, but she’s blaming them on Apophis—or Brooklyn House.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“You and I know that,” she agreed. “But the magicians are scared. Jacobi is telling them that if the Kanes are destroyed, Apophis will go back to the Duat and things will return to normal. They want to believe it. She’s telling them that following you is a death sentence. After the destruction of Dallas—”

“I get it,” I snapped.

It wasn’t fair for me to get mad at Zia, but I felt so helpless. Everything we did seemed to turn out wrong. I imagined Apophis laughing in the Underworld. Maybe that’s why he hadn’t attacked the House of Life in full force yet. He was having too much fun watching us tear each other apart.

“Why didn’t Jacobi direct her message at Amos?” I asked. “He’s the Chief Lector.”

Zia glanced away as if checking on something. I couldn’t see much of her surroundings, but she didn’t seem to be in her dorm room at the First Nome, or in the Hall of Ages. “Like Jacobi said, they consider Amos a servant of evil. They won’t talk to him.”

“Because he was possessed by Set,” I guessed. “That wasn’t his fault. He’s been healed. He’s fine.”

Zia winced.

“What?” I asked. “He is fine, isn’t he?”

“Carter, it’s—it’s complicated. Look, the main problem is Jacobi. She’s taken over Menshikov’s old base in St. Petersburg. It’s almost as much of a fortress as the First Nome. We don’t know what she’s up to or how many magicians she has. We don’t know when she’ll strike or where. But she’s going to attack soon.”

Justice comes swiftly. This will be your only warning.

Something told me Jacobi wouldn’t attack Brooklyn House again, not after she’d been humiliated last time. But if she wanted to take over the House of Life and destroy the Kanes, what else could her target be?

I locked eyes with Zia, and I realized what she was thinking.

“No,” I said. “They’d never attack the First Nome. That would be suicide. It’s survived for five thousand years.”

“Carter…we’re weaker than you realize. We were never fully staffed. Now many of our best magicians have disappeared, possibly gone over to the other side. We’ve got some old men and a few scared children left, plus Amos and me.” She spread her arms in exasperation. “And half the time I’m stuck here—”

“Wait,” I said. “Where are you?”

Somewhere to Zia’s left, a man’s voice warbled, “Hell-ooooo!”

Zia sighed. “Great. He’s up from his nap.”

An old man stuck his face in the scrying bowl. He grinned, showing exactly two teeth. His bald wrinkly head made him look like a geriatric baby. “Zebras are here!”

He opened his mouth and tried to suck the oil out of the bowl, making the whole scene ripple.

“My lord, no!” Zia pulled him back. “You can’t drink the enchanted oil. We’ve talked about this. Here, have a cookie.”

“Cookies!” he squealed. “Wheee!” The old man danced off with a tasty treat in his hands.

Zia’s senile grandfather? Nope. That was Ra, god of the sun, first divine pharaoh of Egypt and archenemy of Apophis. Last spring we’d gone on a quest to find him and revive him from his twilight sleep, trusting he would rise in all his glory and fight the Chaos snake for us.

Instead, Ra woke up senile and demented. He was excellent at gumming biscuits, drooling, and singing nonsense songs. Fighting Apophis? Not so much.

“You’re babysitting again?” I asked.

Zia shrugged. “It’s after sunrise here. Horus and Isis watch him most nights on the sun boat. But during the day…well, Ra gets upset if I don’t come to visit, and none of the other gods want to watch him. Honestly, Carter…” She lowered her voice. “I’m afraid of what they’d do if I left Ra alone with them. They’re getting tired of him.”

“Wheee!” Ra said in the background.

My heart sank. Yet another thing to feel guilty about: I’d saddled Zia with nanny duty for a sun god. Stuck in the throne room of the gods every day, helping Amos run the First Nome every night, Zia barely had time to sleep, much less go on a date—even if I could get up the courage to ask her.

Of course, that wouldn’t matter if Apophis destroyed the world, or if Sarah Jacobi and her magical killers got to me. For a moment I wondered if Jacobi was right—if the world had gone sideways because of the Kane family, and if it would be better off without us.

I felt so helpless, I briefly considered calling on the power of Horus. I could’ve used some of the war god’s courage and confidence. But I suspected that joining my thoughts with Horus’s wouldn’t be a good idea. My emotions were jumbled enough without another voice in my head, egging me on.

“I know that expression,” Zia chided. “You can’t blame yourself, Carter. If it weren’t for you and Sadie, Apophis would have already destroyed the world. There’s still hope.”

Plan B, I thought. Unless we could figure out this mystery about shadows and how they could be used to fight Apophis, we’d be stuck with Plan B, which meant certain death for Sadie and me even if it worked. But I wasn’t going to tell Zia that. She didn’t need any more depressing news.

“You’re right,” I said. “We’ll figure out something.”

“I’ll be back at the First Nome tonight. Call me then, okay? We should talk about—”

Something rumbled behind her, like a stone slab grinding across the floor.

“Sobek’s here,” she whispered. “I hate that guy. Talk later.”

“Wait, Zia,” I said. “Talk about what?”

But the oil turned dark, and Zia was gone.

I needed to sleep. Instead, I paced my room.

The dorm rooms at Brooklyn House were amazing—comfortable beds, HD TVs, high-speed wireless Internet, and magically restocking mini-fridges. An army of enchanted brooms, mops, and dusters kept everything tidy. The closets were always full of clean, perfectly fitting clothes.

Still, my room felt like a cage. Maybe that’s because I had a baboon for a roommate. Khufu wasn’t here much (usually downstairs with Cleo or letting the ankle-biters groom his fur), but there was a baboon-shaped depression on his bed, a box of Cheerios on the nightstand, and a tire swing installed in the corner of the room. Sadie had done that last part as a joke, but Khufu loved it so much, I couldn’t take it down. The thing was, I’d gotten used to his being around. Now that he spent most of his time with the kindergartners, I missed him. He’d grown on me in an endearing, annoying way, kind of like my sister.

[Yeah, Sadie. You saw that one coming.]

Screensaver pictures floated across my laptop monitor. There was my dad at a dig site in Egypt, looking relaxed and in charge in his khaki fatigues, his sleeves rolled up on his dark muscular arms as he showed off the broken stone head of some pharaoh’s statue. Dad’s bald scalp and goatee made him look slightly devilish when he smiled.

Another picture showed Uncle Amos onstage at a jazz club, playing his saxophone. He wore round dark glasses, a blue porkpie hat, and a matching silk suit, impeccably tailored as always. His cornrows were braided with sapphires. I’d never actually seen Amos play onstage, but I liked this photo because he looked so energetic and happy—not like he did these days, with the weight of leadership on his shoulders. Unfortunately the photo also reminded me of Anne Grissom, the Texas magician with her fiddle, having so much fun earlier this evening just before she died.

The screensaver changed. I saw my mom bouncing me on her knee when I was a baby. I had this ridiculous ’fro back then, which Sadie always teases me about. In the photo, I’m wearing a blue Onesie stained with pureed yams. I’m holding my mom’s thumbs, looking startled as she bounces me up and down, like I’m thinking, Get me off of this ride! My mom is as beautiful as always, even in an old T-shirt and jeans, her hair tied back in a bandana. She smiles down at me like I’m the most wonderful thing in her life.

That photo hurt to look at, but I kept looking at it.

I remembered what Sadie had told me—that something was affecting the spirits of the dead, and we might not see our mom again unless we figured it out.

I took a deep breath. My dad, my uncle, my mom—all of them powerful magicians. All had sacrificed so much to restore the House of Life.

They were older, wiser, and stronger than me. They’d had decades to practice magic. Sadie and I had had nine months. Yet we needed to do something no magician had ever managed—defeat Apophis himself.

I went to my closet and took down my old traveling case. It was just a black leather carry-on bag, like a million others you might see in an airport. For years I’d lugged it around the world as I traveled with my dad. He’d trained me to live with only the possessions I could carry.

I opened the suitcase. It was empty now except for one thing: a statuette of a coiled serpent carved in red granite, engraved with hieroglyphs. The name—Apophis—was crossed out and overwritten with powerful binding spells, but still this statuette was the most dangerous object in the whole house—a representation of the enemy.

Sadie, Walt, and I had made this thing in secret (over Bast’s strong objections). We’d only trusted Walt because we needed his charm-making skills. Not even Amos would have approved such a dangerous experiment. One mistake, one miscast spell, and this statue could turn from a weapon against Apophis into a gateway allowing him free access to Brooklyn House. But we’d had to take the risk. Unless we found some other means of defeating the serpent, Sadie and I would have to use this statue for Plan B.

Prev Next