“Is a friend,” I said. “Bast’s friend. He’s also our driver.”
Carter looked equal parts confused, annoyed, and uneasy, which made a satisfying ending to my birthday party.
“Driver to where?” he asked.
“Russia, of course,” I said. “Hop in.”
9. We Get a Vertically Challenged Tour of Russia
AS USUAL, SADIE LEFT OUT some important details, like how Walt and I nearly killed ourselves trying to find her.
It wasn’t fun, flying to the Brooklyn Museum. We had to hang from a rope under the griffin’s belly like a couple of Tarzans, dodging policemen, emergency workers, city officials, and several old ladies who chased after us with umbrellas screaming, “There’s the hummingbird! Kill it!”
Once we managed to open a portal, I wanted to take Freak through with us, but the gate of swirling sand kind of…well, freaked him out, so we had to leave him behind.
When we got to London, television monitors in the storefronts were showing footage of Waterloo Station—something about a strange disturbance inside the terminal with escaped animals and windstorms. Gee, wonder who that could have been? We used Walt’s amulet for Shu the air god to summon a burst of wind and jump to Waterloo Bridge. Of course, we landed right in the middle of a heavily armed riot squad. Just luck that I remembered the sleep spell.
Then, finally, we were ready to charge in and save Sadie, and she rides up in a limousine driven by an ugly dwarf in a swimsuit, and she accuses us of being late.
So when she told us the dwarf was driving us to Russia, I was like, “Whatever.” And I got into the car.
The limousine drove through Westminster while Sadie, Walt, and I traded stories.
After hearing what Sadie had been through, I didn’t feel so bad about my day. A dream of Apophis and a three-headed snake in the training room didn’t seem nearly as scary as gods taking over our grandparents. I’d never liked Gran and Gramps that much, but still—yikes.
I also couldn’t believe our chauffeur was Bes. Dad and I used to laugh about his pictures in museums—his bulging eyes, wagging tongue, and general lack of clothing. Supposedly, he could scare away almost anything—spirits, demons, even other gods—which is why the Egyptian commoners had loved him. Bes looked out for the little guy…um, which wasn’t meant as a dwarf joke. In the flesh, he looked exactly like his pictures, only in full color, with full smell.
“We owe you,” I told him. “So you’re a friend of Bast’s?”
His ears turned red. “Yeah…sure. She asks me for a favor once in a while. I try to help out.”
I got the feeling there was some history there he didn’t want to go into.
“When Horus spoke to me,” I said, “he warned that some of the gods might try to stop us from waking Ra. Now I guess we know who.”
Sadie exhaled. “If they didn’t like our plan, an angry text message would’ve done. Nekhbet and Babi almost tore me apart!”
Her face was a little green. Her combat boots were splattered with shampoo and mud, and her favorite leather jacket had a stain on the shoulder that looked suspiciously like vulture poop. Still, I was impressed that she was conscious. Potions are hard to make and even harder to use. There’s always a price for channeling that much magic.
“You did great,” I told her.
Sadie looked resentfully at the black knife in her lap—the ceremonial blade Anubis had given her. “I’d be dead if not for Bes.”
“Nah,” Bes said. “Well, okay, you probably would be. But you would’ve gone down in style.”
Sadie turned the strange black knife as if she might find instructions written on it.
“It’s a netjeri,” I said. “A serpent blade. Priests used it for—”
“The opening-of-the-mouth ceremony,” she said. “But how does that help us?”
“Don’t know,” I admitted. “Bes?”
“Death rituals. I try to avoid them.”
I looked at Walt. Magic items were his specialty, but he didn’t seem to be paying attention. Ever since Sadie had told us about her talk with Anubis, Walt had been awfully quiet. He sat next to her, fidgeting with his rings.
“You okay?” I asked him.
“Yeah…just thinking.” He glanced at Sadie. “About netjeri blades, I mean.”
Sadie tugged at her hair, like she was trying to make a curtain between her and Walt. The tension between them was so thick, I doubted even a magic knife could cut through it.
“Bloody Anubis,” she muttered. “I could have died, for all he cared.”
We drove in silence for a while after that. Finally, Bes turned onto Westminster Bridge and doubled back over the Thames.
Sadie frowned. “Where are we going? We need a portal. All the best artifacts are at the British Museum.”
“Yeah,” Bes said. “And the other magicians know that.”
“Other magicians?” I asked.
“Kid, the House of Life has branches all over the world. London is the Ninth Nome. With that stunt at Waterloo, Miss Sadie just sent up a big flare telling Desjardins’ followers, Here I am! You can bet they’re going to be hunting you now. They’ll be covering the museum in case you make a run for it. Fortunately, I know a different place we can open a portal.”
Schooled by a dwarf. It should’ve occurred to me that London had other magicians. The House of Life was everywhere. Outside the security of Brooklyn House, there wasn’t a single continent where we’d be safe.
We rode through South London. The scene along Camberwell Road was almost as depressing as my thoughts. Rows of grubby brick apartments and low-rent shops lined the street. An old woman scowled at us from a bus stop. In the doorway of an Asda grocery store, a couple of young tough guys eyed the Mercedes as if they wanted to steal it. I wondered if they were gods or magicians in disguise, because most people didn’t notice the car.
I couldn’t imagine where Bes was taking us. It didn’t seem like the kind of neighborhood where you’d find a lot of Egyptian artifacts.
Finally a big park opened up on our left: misty green fields, tree-lined paths, and a few ruined walls like aqueducts, covered in vines. The land sloped upward to a hilltop with a radio tower.
Bes jumped the curb and drove straight over the grass, knocking down a sign that said keep to the path. The evening was gray and rainy, so there weren’t many people around. A couple of joggers on the nearby path didn’t even look at us, as if they saw Mercedes limos four-wheeling across the park every day.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Watch and learn, kid,” Bes said.
Being called “kid” by a guy shorter than me was a little annoying, but I kept my mouth shut. Bes drove straight up the hill. Close to the top was stone staircase maybe thirty feet wide, built into the hillside. It seemed to lead nowhere. Bes slammed on the brakes and we swerved to a stop. The hill was higher than I’d realized. Spread out below us was the whole of London.
Then I looked more closely at the staircase. Two sphinxes made of weathered stone lay on either side of the stairs, watching over the city. Each was about ten feet long with the typical lion’s body and pharaoh’s head, but they seemed totally out of place in a London park.
“Those aren’t real,” I said.
Bes snorted. “Of course they’re real.”
“I mean they aren’t from Ancient Egypt. They’re not old enough.”
“Picky, picky,” Bes said. “These are the stairs to the Crystal Palace. Big glass-and-steel exhibit hall the size of a cathedral used to sit right here on this hill.”
Sadie frowned. “I read about that in school. Queen Victoria had a party there or something.”
“A party or something?” Bes grunted. “It was the Grand Exhibition in 1851. Showcase of British Imperial might, et cetera. They had good candied apples.”
“You were there?” I asked.
Bes shrugged. “The palace burned down in the 1930s, thanks to some stupid magicians—but that’s another story. All that’s left now are a few relics, like these stairs and the sphinxes.”
“A stairway to nowhere,” I said.
“Not nowhere,” Bes corrected. “Tonight it’ll take us to St. Petersburg.”
Walt sat forward. His interest in the statues had apparently shaken him out of his gloom.
“But if the sphinxes aren’t really Egyptian,” he said, “how can they open a portal?”
Bes gave him a toothy grin. “Depends on what you mean by really Egyptian, kid. Every great empire is a wannabe Egypt. Having Egyptian stuff around makes them feel important. That’s why you’ve got ‘new’ Egyptian artifacts in Rome, Paris,
London—you name it. That obelisk in Washington—”
“Don’t mention that one, please,” Sadie said.
“Anyway,” Bes continued, “these are still Egyptian sphinxes. They were built to play up the connection between the British Empire and the Egyptian Empire. So yeah, they can channel magic. Especially if I’m driving. And now…” He looked at Walt. “It’s probably time for you to get out.”
I was too surprised to say anything, but Walt stared at his lap as if he’d been expecting this.
“Hang on,” Sadie said. “Why can’t Walt come with us? He’s a magician. He can help.”
Bes’s expression turned serious. “Walt, you haven’t told them?”
“Told us what?” Sadie demanded.
Walt clutched his amulets, as if there might be one that would help him avoid this conversation. “It’s nothing. Really. It’s just…I should help out at Brooklyn House. And Jaz thought—”
He faltered, probably realizing that he shouldn’t have brought up her name.
“Yes?” Sadie’s tone was dangerously calm. “How’s Jaz doing?”
“She’s—she’s still in a coma,” Walt said. “Amos says she’ll probably make it, but that’s not what I—”
“Good,” Sadie said. “Glad she’ll get better. So you need to get back, then. That’s brilliant. Off you go. Anubis said we should hurry.”
Not very subtle, the way she threw his name out there. Walt looked like she’d kicked him in the chest.
I knew Sadie wasn’t being fair to him. From my conversation with Walt back at Brooklyn House, I knew he liked Sadie. Whatever was bothering him, it wasn’t any kind of romantic thing with Jaz. On the other hand, if I tried to take his side, Sadie would just tell me to butt out. I might even make things worse between Sadie and him.
“It’s not that I want to go back,” he managed.
“But you can’t go with us,” Bes said firmly. I thought I heard concern in his voice, even pity. “Go on, kid. It’s fine.”
Walt fished something out of his pocket. “Sadie, about your birthday…you, um, probably don’t want any more presents. It’s not a magic knife, but I made this for you.”