Her voice was tinged with sadness, and I realized my mates and I were growing apart. It was as if we stood on opposite sides of a widening chasm. And I knew with gloomy certainty the breach was already too wide for me to jump back across.
“Your boyfriend is amazing,” Liz added, probably to cheer me up.
“He’s not my…” I stopped. There was no winning that argument with Liz. Besides, I was so mixed up about that bloody jackal Anubis, I didn’t know where to begin.
The train slowed. I saw the signs for Waterloo Station.
“Oh, god,” I said. “I meant to get off at London Bridge. I need a bridge.”
“Can’t we backtrack?” Liz asked.
A roar from the tunnel behind us answered that question. Looking back, I saw a large shape with glittering silver fur loping along the tracks. Its foot touched the third rail, and sparks flew; but the baboon god lumbered on, unfazed. As the train braked, Babi started to gain on us.
“No going back,” I said. “We’ll have to make it to Waterloo Bridge.”
“That’s half a mile from the station!” Liz protested. “What if it catches us?”
I rummaged through my bag and pulled out my new staff. Instantly it expanded to full length, the lion-carved tip blazing with golden light. “Then I suppose we’ll have to fight.”
Should I describe Waterloo Station as it was before or after we destroyed it? The main concourse was massive. It had a polished marble floor, loads of shops and kiosks, and a glass-and-girder ceiling high enough so that a helicopter could fly about inside comfortably.
Rivers of people flowed in and out, mixing, separating, and occasionally colliding as they made their way to various escalators and platforms.
When I was small, the station building had rather frightened me. I worried that the giant Victorian clock hanging from the ceiling might fall and crush me. The announcers’ voices were much too loud. (I prefer to be the noisiest thing in my environment, thank you very much.) The masses of commuters standing mesmerized under the departure boards, watching for their trains, reminded me of a mob in a zombie movie—which, granted, I shouldn’t have watched as a young child, but I was always rather precocious.
At any rate, my mates and I were racing through the main station, pushing our way toward the nearest exit, when a stairwell behind us exploded.
Crowds scattered as Babi climbed from the rubble. Businessmen screamed, dropping their briefcases and sprinting for their lives. Liz, Emma, and I pressed against the side of the Paperchase kiosk to avoid getting trampled by a group of tourists yelling in Italian.
Babi howled. His fur was covered with grime and soot from his run through the tunnels. Gramps’s cardigan was ripped to shreds on his arm, but, miraculously, his glasses were still on his head.
He sniffed the air, probably trying to catch my scent. Then a dark shadow passed overhead.
“Where are you going, Sadie Kane?” Nekhbet shrieked. She soared through the terminal, swooping down on the already panicked crowds. “Would you fight by running away? You are not worthy!”
An announcer’s calm voice echoed through the terminal: “The 8:02 train for Basingstoke will arrive on platform three.”
“ROOOAR!” Babi swatted a bronze statue of some poor famous bloke and knocked his head clean off. A policeman ran forward, armed with a pistol. Before I could yell at him to stop, he fired a shot at Babi. Liz and Emma both screamed. The bullet deflected off Babi’s fur as if it were made of titanium, and shattered a nearby McDonald’s sign. The officer fainted dead away.
I’d never seen so many people clear out of a terminal so quickly. I considered following them, but decided it would be too dangerous. I couldn’t have these insane gods killing loads of innocent people just because I was in their midst; and if we tried to join the exodus, we’d only get stuck or crushed in a stampede.
“Sadie, look!” Liz pointed up, and Emma yelped.
Nekhbet sailed into the ceiling girders and perched there with the pigeons. She glared down at us and cried to Babi, “Here she is, my dear! Here!”
“I wish she’d shut up,” I muttered.
“Isis was foolish to choose you!” Nekhbet yelled. “I will feed on your entrails!”
“ROOOOAR!” said Babi, in hearty agreement.
“The 8:14 train for Brighton is delayed,” said the announcer. “We apologize for the inconvenience.”
Babi had seen us now. His eyes smoldered with primal rage, but I also saw something of Gramps in his expression. The way he furrowed his brow and jutted out his chin—just as Gramps did when he got angry at the telly and yelled at the rugby players. Seeing that expression on the baboon god almost made me lose my nerve.
I wasn’t going to die here. I wasn’t going to let these two repulsive gods hurt my friends or burn up my grandparents.
Babi lumbered toward us. Now that he’d found us, he didn’t seem in any hurry to kill us. He lifted his head and made a deep barking sound to the left and right, as if calling out, summoning friends for dinner. Emma’s fingers dug into my arm. Liz whimpered, “Sadie…?”
The crowds had mostly cleared out now. No other police were in sight. Perhaps they’d fled, or perhaps they were all on their way to Canary Wharf, not realizing the problem was now here.
“We’re not going to die,” I promised my mates. “Emma, hold my staff.”
“Your—Oh, right.” She took the staff gingerly as if I’d handed her a rocket launcher, which I suppose it could’ve been with the proper spell.
“Liz,” I ordered, “watch the baboon.”
“Watching the baboon,” she said. “Rather hard to miss the baboon.”
I rummaged through my magic bag, desperately taking inventory. Wand…good for defense, but against two gods at once, I needed more. Sons of Horus, magic chalk—this wasn’t the place to draw a protective circle. I had to get to the bridge. I needed to buy time to get out of this terminal.
“Sadie…” Liz warned.
Babi had jumped onto the roof of the Body Shop. He roared, and smaller baboons began to appear from every direction—climbing over the heads of fleeing commuters, swinging down from the girders, popping out of the stairwells and shops. There were dozens of them, all wearing black-and-silver basketball jerseys. Was basketball some sort of international baboon sport?
Until today, I’d been rather fond of baboons. The ones I’d met before, like Khufu and his sociable friends, were the sacred animals of Thoth, god of knowledge. They were generally wise and helpful. I suspected, however, that Babi’s troop of baboons was a different sort altogether. They had bloodred fur, wild eyes, and fangs that would’ve made a saber-toothed tiger feel inadequate.
They began to close in, snarling as they prepared to pounce.
I pulled a block of wax from my bag—no time to fashion a shabti. Two tyet amulets, the sacred mark of Isis—ah, those might be helpful. Then I found a corked glass vial I’d quite forgotten about. Inside was some murky sludge: my first attempt at a potion. It had been sitting at the bottom of my bag for ages because I’d never been desperate enough to test it.
I shook the potion. The liquid glowed with a sickly green light. Bits of gunk swirled inside. I uncorked it. The stuff smelled worse than Nekhbet.
“What is that?” Liz asked.
“Disgusting,” I said. “Animation scroll blended with oil, water, and a few secret ingredients. Came out a bit chunky, I’m afraid.”
“Animation?” Emma asked. “You’re going to summon cartoons?”
“That would be brilliant,” I admitted. “But this is more dangerous. If I do it right, I can ingest a great deal of magic without burning myself up.”
“And if you do it wrong?” Liz asked.
I handed them each an amulet of Isis. “Hold on to these. When I say Go, run for the taxi stands. Don’t stop.”
“Sadie,” Emma protested, “what on earth—”
Before I could lose my nerve, I gagged down the potion.
Above us, Nekhbet cackled. “Give up! You cannot oppose us!” The shadow of her wings seemed to spread over the entire concourse, making the last of the commuters flee in panic and weighing me down with fear. I knew it was only a spell, but still, the temptation to accept a quick death was almost overwhelming.
A few of the baboons got distracted by the smell of food and raided the McDonald’s. Several others were chasing a train conductor, beating him with rolled-up fashion magazines.
Sadly, most of the baboons were still focused on us. They made a loose ring around the Paperchase kiosk. From his command station atop the Body Shop, Babi howled—a clear command to attack.
Then the potion hit my gut. Magic coursed through my body. My mouth tasted like I’d swallowed a dead toad, but now I understood why potions were so popular with ancient magicians.
The animation spell, which had taken me days to write and would normally take at least an hour to cast, was now tingling in my bloodstream. Power surged into my fingertips. My only problem was channeling the magic, making sure it didn’t burn me to a crisp.
I called on Isis as best I could, tapping her power to help me shape the enchantment. I envisioned what I wanted, and the right word of power popped into my head: Protect. N’dah. I released the magic. A gold hieroglyph burned in front of me:
A wave of golden light rippled through the concourse. The troop of baboons hesitated. Babi stumbled on the Body Shop roof. Even Nekhbet squawked and faltered on the ceiling girders.
All around the station, inanimate objects began to move. Backpacks and briefcases suddenly learned to fly. Magazine racks, gum, sweets, and assorted cold drinks exploded out of the shops and attacked the baboon troop. The decapitated bronze head from the statue shot out of nowhere and slammed into Babi’s chest, knocking him backward through the roof of the Body Shop. A tornado of pink Financial Times newspapers swirled toward the ceiling. They engulfed Nekhbet, who stumbled blindly and fell shrieking from her perch in a flurry of pink and black.
“Go!” I told my friends. We ran for the exit, weaving around baboons who were much too busy to stop us. One was being pummeled by a half-dozen bottles of sparkling water. Another was fending off a briefcase and several kamikaze BlackBerrys.
Babi tried to rise, but a maelstrom of Body Shop products surged around him—lotions, loofa sponges, and shampoos all battering him, squirting in his eyes, and trying to give him an extreme makeover. He bellowed in irritation, slipped, and fell back into the ruined shop. I doubted my spell would do the gods any permanent damage, but with luck it would keep them occupied for a few minutes.
Liz, Emma, and I made it out of the terminal. With the entire station evacuated, I didn’t really expect any cabs to be in the taxi queue, and indeed the curb was empty. I resigned myself to running all the way to Waterloo Bridge, though Emma had no shoes, and the potion had made me queasy.
“Look!” Liz said.
“Oh, well done, Sadie,” Emma said.
“What?” I asked. “What did I do?”
Then I noticed the chauffeur—an extremely short, scruffy man standing at the end of the drive in a black suit, holding a placard that read KANE.