“I’ll strengthen the charms around the house,” he promised. “It’s high time I upgraded our security. I’ll make sure Apophis can’t send messengers through again.”
I nodded, but his promise didn’t make me feel much better. Tomorrow, if Sadie came back safely, we’d be off on a quest to find the other two scrolls for the Book of Ra.
Sure, we’d survived our last adventure fighting Set, but Apophis was in a totally different league. And we weren’t hosting gods anymore. We were just kids, facing evil magicians, demons, monsters, spirits, and the eternal Lord of Chaos. In the plus column, I had a cranky sister, a sword, a baboon, and a griffin with a personality disorder. I wasn’t liking those odds.
“Amos,” I said, “what if we’re wrong? What if awakening Ra doesn’t work?”
It had been a long time since I’d seen my uncle smile. He didn’t look much like my father, but when he smiled, he got the same crinkles around his eyes.
“My boy, look what you’ve accomplished. You and Sadie have rediscovered a way of magic that hasn’t been practiced in millennia. You’ve taken your trainees further in two months than most First Nome initiates would get in two years. You’ve battled gods. You’ve accomplished more than any living magician has—even me, even Michel Desjardins. Trust your instincts. If I were a betting man, my money would be on you and your sister every time.”
A lump formed in my throat. I hadn’t gotten a pep talk like that since my dad was still alive, and I guess I hadn’t realized how much I needed one.
Unfortunately, hearing Desjardins’ name reminded me that we had other problems besides Apophis. As soon as we started our quest, a magical Russian ice cream salesman named Vlad the Inhaler was going to try to assassinate us. And if Vlad was the third-most powerful magician in the world…
“Who’s second?” I asked.
Amos frowned. “What do you mean?”
“You said this Russian guy, Vlad Menshikov, is the third-most powerful magician alive. Desjardins is the most powerful. So who’s second? I want to know if we have another enemy to look out for.”
The idea seemed to amuse Amos. “Don’t worry about that. And despite your past dealings with Desjardins, I would not say he’s truly an enemy.”
“Tell him that,” I muttered.
“I did, Carter. We talked several times while I was at the First Nome. I think what you and Sadie accomplished at the Red Pyramid shook him deeply. He knows he could not have defeated Set without you. He still opposes you, but if we had more time, I might be able to convince him…”
That sounded about as likely as Apophis and Ra becoming Facebook buddies, but I decided not to say anything.
Amos passed his hand over the tabletop and spoke a spell. A red holograph of Ra appeared—a miniature replica of the statue in the practice room. The sun god looked like Horus: a falcon-headed man. But unlike Horus, Ra wore the sun disk as a crown and held a shepherd’s crook and a war flail—the two symbols of the pharaoh. He was dressed in robes rather than armor, sitting calmly and regally on his throne, as if he were happy to watch others do the fighting. The god’s image looked strange in red, glowing with the color of Chaos.
“Something else you must consider,” Amos warned. “I don’t say this to discourage you, but you asked why Ra might want to stop you from waking him. The Book of Ra was divided for a reason. It was made intentionally difficult to find, so only the worthy would succeed. You should expect challenges and obstacles on your quest. The other two scrolls will be at least as well protected as the first. And you should ask yourself: What happens if you wake a god who does not want to be awakened?”
The doors of the library banged open, and I almost jumped out of my chair. Cleo and three other girls came in, chatting and laughing with their arms full of scrolls.
“Here’s my research class.” Amos flicked his hand, and the holograph of Ra disappeared. “We’ll speak again, Carter, perhaps after lunch.”
I nodded, though even then I had a suspicion we’d never get to finish our conversation. When I looked back from the door of the library, Amos was greeting his students, casually wiping the ashes of the scarab shell off the table.
I got to my room and found Khufu crashed on the bed, surfing the sports channels. He was wearing his favorite Lakers jersey and had a bowl of Cheetos on his stomach. Ever since our trainees moved in, the Great Room had gotten too noisy for Khufu to watch TV in peace, so he’d decided to become my roommate.
I guess it was a compliment, but sharing space with a baboon wasn’t easy. You think dogs and cats shed? Try getting monkey hair off your clothes.
“What’s up?” I asked.
That’s pretty much what he always said.
“Great,” I told him. “I’ll be on the balcony.”
It was still cold and rainy outside. The wind off the East River would’ve made Felix’s penguins shiver, but I didn’t mind. For first time that day, I could finally be alone.
Since our trainees had come to Brooklyn House, I felt like I was always onstage. I had to act confident even when I had doubts. I couldn’t lose my temper with anybody (well, except Sadie once in a while), and when things went wrong, I couldn’t complain too loudly. The other kids had come long distances to train with us. Many of them had fought monsters or magicians on the way. I couldn’t admit I had no idea what I was doing, or wonder aloud whether this path-of-the-gods thing was going to get us all killed. I couldn’t say, Now that you’re here, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.
But there were plenty of times when that was how I felt. With Khufu occupying my room, the balcony was the only place I could be depressed in solitude.
I looked across the river to Manhattan. It was a great view. When Sadie and I had first arrived at Brooklyn House, Amos had told us that magicians tried to stay out of Manhattan. He said Manhattan had other problems—whatever that meant. And sometimes when I looked across the water, I could swear I was seeing things. Sadie laughed about it, but once I thought I saw a flying horse. Probably just the mansion’s magic barriers causing optical illusions, but still, it was weird.
I turned to the only piece of furniture on the balcony: my scrying bowl. It looked like a birdbath—just a bronze saucer on a stone pedestal—but it was my favorite magic item. Walt had made it for me right after he had arrived.
One day, I’d mentioned how nice it would be to know what was going on in the other nomes, and he’d made me this bowl.
I’d seen initiates use them in the First Nome, but they’d always seemed pretty difficult to master. Fortunately, Walt was an expert with enchantments. If my scrying bowl had been a car, it would have been a Cadillac, with power steering, automatic transmission, and a butt warmer. All I had to do was fill it with clean olive oil and speak the command word. The bowl would show me anything, as long as I could visualize it and it wasn’t shielded by magic. Places I’d never been to were hard to see. People or places that I’d seen personally or that meant a lot to me—those were usually easy.
I’d searched for Zia a hundred times with no luck. All I knew was that her old mentor, Iskandar, had put her into a magical sleep and hidden her somewhere, replacing her with a shabti to keep her safe; but I had no idea where the real Zia was sleeping.
I tried something new. I passed my hand over the saucer and imagined the Place of Red Sands. Nothing happened. I’d never been there, had no idea what it looked like apart from possibly being red and sandy. The oil showed me only my own reflection.
Okay, so I couldn’t see Zia. I did the next best thing. I concentrated on her secret room in the First Nome. I’d been there only once, but I remembered every detail. It was the first place where I’d felt close to Zia. The surface of the oil rippled and became a magical video feed.
Nothing had changed in the room. Magic candles still burned on the little table. The walls were covered with Zia’s photographs—pictures of her family village on the Nile, her mother and father, Zia as a small child.
Zia had told me the story of how her father had unearthed an Egyptian relic and accidentally unleashed a monster on their village. Magicians came to defeat the monster, but not before the entire town was destroyed. Only Zia, hidden by her parents, had survived. Iskandar, the old Chief Lector, had taken her to the First Nome and trained her. He’d been like a father to her.
Then, last Christmas, the gods had been unleashed at the British Museum. One of them—Nephthys—had chosen Zia as a host. Being a “godling” was punishable by death in the First Nome, whether you meant to host the god’s spirit or not, so Iskandar had hidden Zia away. He’d probably meant to bring her back after he sorted things out, but he had died before that could happen.
So the Zia I’d known was a replica, but I had to believe the shabti and the real Zia had shared thoughts. Wherever the real Zia was, she would remember me when she woke up. She’d know that we shared a connection—maybe the start of a great relationship. I couldn’t accept that I’d fallen in love with nothing but a piece of pottery. And I definitely couldn’t accept that Zia was beyond my power to rescue.
I concentrated on the image in the oil. I zoomed in on a photograph of Zia riding on her father’s shoulders. She was young in the photo, but you could tell she was going to be beautiful when she grew up. Her glossy black hair was cut in a short wedge, as it had been when I knew her. Her eyes were brilliant amber. The photographer had caught her mid-laugh, trying to cover her dad’s eyes with her hands. Her smile radiated playful mischief.
I will destroy the girl you seek, the three-headed snake had said, just as I destroyed her village.
I was sure he meant Zia’s village. But what did that attack six years ago have to do with Apophis’s rising now? If it hadn’t been just a random accident—if Apophis had meant to destroy Zia’s home—then why?
I had to find Zia. It wasn’t just personal anymore. She was connected somehow to the coming battle with Apophis. And if the snake’s warning was true—if I had to choose between finding the Book of Ra and saving Zia? Well, I’d already lost my mom, my dad, and my old life for the sake of stopping Apophis. I wasn’t going to lose Zia too.
I was contemplating how hard Sadie would kick me if she heard me say that, when somebody knocked on the balcony’s glass door.
“Hey.” Walt stood in the doorway, holding Khufu’s hand. “Um, hope you don’t mind. Khufu let me in.”
“Agh!” Khufu confirmed. He led Walt outside, then jumped on the railing, disregarding the hundred-foot drop to the river below.
“No problem,” I said. Not like I had a choice. Khufu loved Walt, probably because he played basketball better than I did.
Walt nodded at the scrying bowl. “How’s that working for you?”
The image of Zia’s room still shimmered in the oil. I waved my hand over the bowl and changed it to something else. Since I’d been thinking about Sadie, I picked Gran and Gramps’s living room.