This must’ve been a sore subject for Nekhbet. She lunged at me. I dove sideways, clambering over the couch and tipping it in the process. Nekhbet swept Gran’s china collection off the sideboard.
“You will die, Sadie Kane!” she said. “I will pick clean your bones. Then the other gods will see you were not worthy!”
I waited for another attack, but she just glared at me from the other side of the sofa. It occurred to me that vultures don’t usually kill. They wait for their prey to die.
Nekhbet’s wings filled the room. Her shadow fell over me, wrapping me in darkness. I began to feel trapped, helpless, like a small sickly animal.
If I hadn’t tested my will against gods before, I might not have recognized this as magic—this insistent nagging in the back of my mind, urging me to give up in despair. But I’d stood against any number of horrid gods from the underworld. I could handle a greasy old bird.
“Nice try,” I said. “But I’m not going to lie down and die.”
Nekhbet’s eyes glittered. “Perhaps it will take some time, my dear, but as I told you, I’m patient. If you won’t succumb, your mortal friends will be here soon. What are their names —Liz and Emma?”
“Leave them out of this!”
“Ah, they’ll make lovely appetizers. And you haven’t even said hello to dear old Gramps yet.”
Blood roared in my ears. “Where is he?” I demanded.
Nekhbet glanced at the ceiling. “Oh, he’ll be along shortly. We vultures like to follow a nice big predator around, you know, and wait for it to do the killing.”
From upstairs came a muffled crash—as if a large piece of furniture had been thrown out a window.
Gramps shouted, “No! No-o-o-o!” Then his voice changed into the roar of a mad animal. “NOOOOOOAHHH!”
The last of my courage melted into my combat boots. “Wh-what—”
“Yes,” Nekhbet said. “Babi is waking.”
“B-bobby? You’ve got a god named Bobby?”
“B-A-B-I,” the vulture goddess snarled. “You really are quite dense, aren’t you, dear?”
The ceiling plaster cracked under the weight of heavy footsteps. Something was tromping toward the stairwell.
“Babi will take good care of you,” Nehkbet promised. “And there will be plenty left over for me.”
“Good-bye,” I said, and I bolted for the door.
Nekhbet didn’t try to stop me. She shrieked behind me, “A hunt! Excellent!”
I made it across the street when our front door exploded. Glancing back, I saw something emerge from the ruins and dust—a dark hairy shape much too big to be my grandfather.
I didn’t wait for a better look.
I raced around the corner of South Colonnade and plowed straight into Liz and Emma.
“Sadie!” Liz yelped, dropping a birthday present. “What’s wrong?”
“No time!” I said. “Come on!”
“Nice to see you, too,” Emma grumbled. “Where are you rushing off—”
The creature behind me bellowed, quite close now.
“Explain later,” I said. “Unless you’d like to be ripped apart by a god named Bobby, follow me!”
Looking back, I can appreciate just what a miserable birthday I was having, but at the time I was too panicked to feel properly sorry for myself.
We ran down South Colonnade, the roaring behind us almost drowned out by Liz and Emma’s complaining.
“Sadie!” Emma said. “Is this one of your jokes?”
She’d gotten a bit taller but still looked much the same, with her oversize, glittery glasses and short spiky hair. She wore a black leather miniskirt, a fuzzy pink jumper, and ridiculous platform shoes that she could barely walk in, much less run. Who’s that flamboyant rock ’n’ roll chap from the ’70s—Elton John? If he had an Indian daughter, she might look like Emma.
“It’s no joke,” I promised. “And for god’s sake, lose those shoes!”
Emma looked appalled. “You know how much these cost?”
“Honestly, Sadie,” Liz put in. “Where are you dragging us to?”
She was dressed more sensibly in jeans and trainers, a white top and denim jacket, but she looked just as winded as Emma. Tucked under her arm, my birthday present was getting a bit squashed. Liz was a redhead with lots of freckles, and when she got embarrassed or overexerted herself, her pale face became so flushed, her freckles disappeared. Under normal circumstances Emma and I would’ve teased her about this, but not today.
Behind us, the creature roared again. I looked back, which was a mistake. I faltered to a stop, and my mates ran into me.
For a brief moment, I thought, My god, it’s Khufu.
But Khufu wasn’t the size of a grizzly bear. He didn’t have glittering silver fur, fangs like scimitars, or a look of bloodlust in his eyes. The baboon ravaging Canary Wharf looked like he would eat anything, not just foods ending with an -o, and would have no difficulty ripping me limb from limb.
The only good news: the activity on the street had momentarily distracted him. Cars swerved to avoid the beast. Pedestrians screamed and ran. The baboon began overturning taxis, smashing shop windows, and causing a general riot. As he got closer to us, I saw a bit of red cloth hanging from his left arm—the remains of Gramps’s favorite cardigan. Stuck on his forehead were Gramps’s glasses.
Until that moment, the shock hadn’t fully hit me. That thing was my grandfather, who had never used magic, never done anything to annoy the Egyptian gods.
There were times I didn’t like my grandparents, especially when they’d said bad things about my dad, or ignored Carter, or when they’d let Amos take me away last Christmas without a fight. But still, they’d raised me for six years. Gramps had put me on his lap and read me his dusty old Enid Blyton stories when I was small. He’d watched after me at the park and taken me to the zoo countless times. He’d bought me sweets even though Gran disapproved. He may have had a temper, but he was a reasonably harmless old pensioner. He certainly didn’t deserve to have his body taken over like this.
The baboon ripped the door off a pub and sniffed inside. Panicked patrons smashed through a window and ran off down the street, still holding their pints. A policeman ran toward the commotion, saw the baboon, then turned and ran the other way, yelling into his radio for reinforcements.
When faced with magical events, mortal eyes tended to short-circuit, sending the brain only images it could understand. I had no idea what these people thought they were seeing —possibly an escaped zoo animal or an enraged gunman—but they knew enough to flee. I wondered what the London security cameras would make of the scene later.
“Sadie,” Liz said in a very small voice, “what is that?”
“Babi,” I said. “The bloody god of baboons. He’s taken over my granddad. And he wants to kill us.”
“Excuse me,” Emma said. “Did you just say a baboon god wants to kill us?”
The baboon roared, blinking and squinting as if he had forgotten what he was doing. Maybe he’d inherited Gramps’s absentmindedness and bad eyesight. Maybe he didn’t realize his glasses were on his head. He sniffed the ground, then bellowed in frustration and smashed the window of a bakery.
I almost believed we’d gotten a bit of good luck. Perhaps we could sneak away. Then a dark shape glided overhead, spreading its black wings and crying, “Here! Here!”
Wonderful. The baboon had air support.
“Two gods, actually,” I told my friends. “Now, unless there are any more questions—run!”
This time Liz and Emma needed no encouragement. Emma kicked off her shoes, Liz tossed aside my present—pity, that —and we raced one another down the street.
We zigzagged through alleyways, hugging walls for cover whenever the vulture goddess swooped overhead. I heard Babi roaring along behind us, ruining people’s evenings and smashing up the neighborhood; but he seemed to have lost our scent for the moment.
We paused at a T in the road while I considered which way to run. In front of us stood a little church, the sort of ancient building you often find in London—a somber bit of medieval stone wedged between a Caffè Nero and a chemist’s shop with neon signs offering selected hair products 3 for ￡1. The church had a tiny graveyard enclosed with a rusty fence, but I wouldn’t have paid it much attention if a voice inside the yard hadn’t whispered, “Sadie.”
It’s a miracle my heart didn’t jump out of my throat. I turned and found myself face-to-face with Anubis. He was in his mortal form as a teen boy with dark, windblown hair and warm brown eyes. He wore a black Dead Weather T-shirt and black jeans that fit him extremely well.
Liz and Emma are not known for being smooth around good-looking boys. In fact, their brains more or less cease to function.
Liz gasped in single syllables that sounded like Lamaze breathing, “Oh—ah—hi—who—what—?”
Emma lost control of her legs and stumbled into me.
I shot both of them a harsh look, then turned to Anubis.
“It’s about time someone friendly showed up,” I complained. “There’s a baboon and a vulture trying to kill us. Would you please sort them out?”
Anubis pursed his lips, and I got the feeling that he wasn’t there to bring me good news. “Come into my territory,” he said, opening the graveyard gate. “We need to talk, and there isn’t much time.”
Emma stumbled into me again. “Your, um, territory?”
Liz gulped. “Who—ah—?”
“Shhh,” I told them, trying to stay composed, as if I met hot guys in graveyards every day. I glanced down the street and saw no sign of Babi or Nekhbet, but I could still hear them —the baboon god roaring, the vulture goddess shrieking in my Gran’s voice (if Gran had been eating gravel and taking steroids) “This way! This way!”
“Wait here,” I told my friends, and I stepped inside the gate.
Immediately, the air turned colder. Mist rose from the soggy ground. The gravestones shimmered, and everything outside the fence went slightly out of focus. Anubis made me feel unbalanced in many ways, of course, but I recognized this effect. We were slipping into the Duat—experiencing the graveyard on two levels at once: Anubis’s world and mine.
He led me to a crumbling stone sarcophagus and bowed to it respectfully. “Beatrice, do you mind if we sit?”
Nothing happened. The inscription on the sarcophagus had worn away centuries ago, but I supposed this was Beatrice’s final resting place.
“Thank you.” Anubis gestured for me to sit. “She doesn’t mind.”
“What happens if she does mind?” I sat down a bit apprehensively.
“The Eighteenth Nome,” Anubis said.
“That’s where you must go. Vlad Menshikov has the second section of the Book of Ra in the top drawer of his desk, in his headquarters in St. Petersburg. It’s a trap, of course. He’s hoping to bait you. But if want the scroll, you’ve got no choice. You should go tonight, before he has time to strengthen his defenses even further. And Sadie, if the other gods found out I was telling you this, I would be in big trouble.”