- The Throne of Fire
“How do we find you if we succeed?” Sadie asked.
“When you succeed,” Bes said. “Think positive, girl, or the world ends.”
“Right.” Sadie shivered in her new parka. “Positive.”
“I’ll meet you on the Nevsky Prospekt, the main street with all the shops, just south of the Hermitage. I’ll be at the Chocolate Museum.”
“The what now?” I asked.
“Well, it’s not really a museum. More of a shop—closed this time of night, but the owner always opens up for me. They’ve got chocolate everything—chess sets, lions, Vladimir Lenin heads—”
“The communist guy?” I asked.
“Yes, Professor Brilliant,” Bes said. “The communist guy, in chocolate.”
“So let me get this straight,” Sadie said. “We break into a heavily guarded Russian national museum, find the magicians’ secret headquarters, find a dangerous scroll, and escape. Meanwhile, you will be eating chocolate.”
Bes nodded solemnly. “It’s a good plan. It might work. If something happens and I can’t meet you at the Chocolate Museum, our exit point is the Egyptian Bridge, to the south at the Fontanka River. Just turn on the—”
“Enough,” Sadie said. “You will meet us at the chocolate shop. And you will provide me with a takeaway bag. That is final. Now, go!”
Bes gave her a lopsided smile. “You’re okay, girl.”
He trudged back toward the Mercedes.
I looked across the half-frozen river to the Winter Palace. Somehow, London didn’t seem as dreary or dangerous anymore.
“Are we in as much trouble as I think?” I asked Sadie.
“More,” she said. “Let’s go crash the tsar’s palace, shall we?”
10. An Old Red Friend Comes to Visit
GETTING INSIDE THE HERMITAGE wasn’t a problem.
State-of-the-art security doesn’t protect against magic. Sadie and I had to combine forces to get past the perimeter, but with a little concentration, ink and papyrus, and some tapped energy from our godly friends Isis and Horus, we managed to pull off a short stroll through the Duat.
One minute we were standing in the abandoned Palace Square. Then everything went gray and misty. My stomach tingled like I was in free fall. We slipped out of synch with the mortal world and passed through the iron gates and solid stone into the museum.
The Egyptian room was on the ground floor, just as Bes had said. We re-entered the mortal realm and found ourselves in the middle of the collection: sarcophagi in glass cases, hieroglyphic scrolls, statues of gods and pharaohs. It wasn’t much different from a hundred other Egyptian collections I’d seen, but the setting was pretty impressive. A vaulted ceiling soared overhead. The polished marble floor was done in a white-and-gray diamond pattern, which made walking on it kind of like walking on an optical illusion. I wondered how many rooms there were like this in the tsar’s palace, and if it really took eleven days to see them all. I hoped Bes was right about the secret entrance to the nome being somewhere in this room. We didn’t have eleven days to search. In less than seventy-two hours, Apophis would break free. I remembered that glowing red eye beneath the scarab shells—a force of chaos so powerful, it could melt human senses. Three days, and that thing would be unleashed on the world.
Sadie summoned her staff and pointed it at the nearest security camera. The lens cracked and made a sound like a bug zapper. Even in the best of situations, technology and magic don’t get along. One of the easiest spells in the world is to make electronics malfunction. I just have to look at a cell phone funny to make it blow up. And computers? Forget about it. I imagined Sadie had just sent a magical pulse through the security system that would fry every camera and sensor in the network.
Still, there were other kinds of surveillance—magical kinds. I pulled a piece of black linen and a pair of crude wax shabti out of my bag. I wrapped the shabti in the cloth and spoke a command word: “I’mun.”
The hieroglyph for Hide glowed briefly over the cloth. A mass of darkness bloomed from the package, like a squid’s ink cloud. It expanded until it covered both Sadie and me in a gauzy bubble of shadows. We could see through it, but hopefully nothing could see in. The cloud would be invisible to anyone outside.
“You got it right this time!” Sadie said. “When did you master the spell?”
I probably blushed. I’d been obsessed with figuring out the invisibility spell for months, ever since I’d seen Zia use it in the First Nome.
“Actually I’m still—” A gold spark shot out of the cloud like a miniature fireworks rocket. “I’m still working on it.”
Sadie sighed. “Well…better than last time. The cloud looked like a lava lamp. And the time before, when it smelled like rotten eggs—”
“Could we just get going?” I asked. “Where should we start?”
Her eyes locked on one of the displays. She drifted toward it in a trance.
“Sadie?” I followed her to a limestone grave marker—a stele—about two feet by three feet. The description next to it was in Russian and English.
“‘From the tomb of the scribe Ipi,’” I read aloud. “‘Worked in the court of King Tut.’ Why are you interested…oh.”
Stupid me. The picture on the gravestone showed the deceased scribe honoring Anubis. After talking with Anubis in person, Sadie must’ve found it strange to see him in a three-thousand-year-old tomb painting, especially when he was pictured with the head of a jackal, wearing a skirt.
“Walt likes you.”
I have no idea why I blurted that out. This wasn’t the time or the place. I knew I wasn’t doing Walt any favors by taking his side. But I’d started to feel bad for him after Bes kicked him out of the limo. The guy had come all the way to London to help me save Sadie, and we’d dumped him in Crystal Palace Park like an unwanted hitchhiker.
I was kind of angry at Sadie for giving him the cold shoulder and crushing so hard on Anubis, who was five thousand years too old for her and not even human. Plus, the way she snubbed Walt reminded me too much of the way Zia had treated me at first. And maybe, if I was honest with myself, I was also irritated with Sadie because she’d solved her own problems in London without needing our help.
Wow. That sounded really selfish. But I suppose it was true. Amazing how many different ways a younger sister can annoy you at once.
Sadie didn’t take her eyes off the stele. “Carter, you have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“You’re not giving the guy a chance,” I insisted. “Whatever’s going on with him, it’s got nothing to do with you.”
“Very reassuring, but that’s not—”
“Besides, Anubis is a god. You don’t honestly think—”
“Carter!” she snapped. My cloaking spell must’ve been sensitive to emotion, because another gold spark whistled and popped from our not-so-invisible cloud. “I wasn’t looking at this stone because of Anubis.”
“No. And I’m certainly not having an argument with you about Walt. Contrary to what you might think, I don’t spend every waking hour thinking about boys.”
“Just most waking hours?”
She rolled her eyes. “Look at the gravestone, birdbrain. It’s got a border around it, like a window frame or—”
“A door,” I said. “It’s a false door. Lots of tombs had those. It was like a symbolic gateway for the dead person’s ba, so it could go back and forth from the Duat.”
Sadie pulled her wand and traced the edges of the stele. “This bloke Ipi was a scribe, which was another word for magician. He could’ve been one of us.”
“So maybe that’s why the stone is glowing, Carter. What if this false door’s not false?”
I looked at the stele more closely, but I didn’t see any glow. I thought maybe Sadie was hallucinating from exhaustion or too much potion in her system. Then she touched her wand to the center of the stele and spoke the first command word we’d ever learned: “W’peh.”
Open. A golden hieroglyph burned on the stone:
The grave marker shot out a beam of light like a movie projector. Suddenly, a full-size doorway shimmered in front of us—a rectangular portal showing the hazy image of another room.
I looked at Sadie in amazement. “How did you do that?” I asked. “You’ve never been able to do that before.”
She shrugged as if it were no big deal. “I wasn’t thirteen before. Maybe that’s it.”
“But I’m fourteen!” I protested. “And I still can’t do that.”
“Girls mature earlier.”
I gritted my teeth. I hated the spring months—March, April, May—because until my birthday rolled around in June, Sadie could claim to be only a year younger than me. She always got an attitude after her birthday, as if she’d catch up to me somehow and become my big sister. Talk about a nightmare.
She gestured at the glowing doorway. “After you, brother, dear. You’re the one with the sparkly invisibility cloud.”
Before I could lose my cool, I stepped through the portal.
I almost fell and broke my face. The other side of the portal was a mirror hanging five feet off the floor. I’d stepped onto a fireplace mantel. I caught Sadie as she came through, just in time to keep her from toppling off the ledge.
“Ta,” she whispered. “Someone’s been reading too much Alice Through the Looking Glass.”
I’d thought the Egyptian room was impressive, but it was nothing compared to this ballroom. Coppery geometric designs glittered on the ceiling. The walls were lined with dark green columns and gilded doors. White and gold inlaid marble made a huge octagonal pattern on the floor. With a blazing chandelier above, the golden filigree and green and white polished stone gleamed so brightly, they hurt my eyes.
Then I realized most of the light wasn’t coming from the chandelier. It was coming from the magician casting a spell at the other end of the room. His back was turned, but I could tell it was Vlad Menshikov. Just as Sadie had described, he was a pudgy little man with curly gray hair and a white suit. He stood in a protective circle that pulsed with emerald light. He raised his staff, and the tip burned like a welding torch. To his right, just outside the circle, stood a green vase the size of a grown man. To his left, writhing in glowing chains, was a creature I recognized as a demon. It had a hairy humanoid body with purplish skin, but instead of a head, a giant corkscrew sprouted between its shoulders.
“Mercy!” it screamed in a watery, metallic voice. Don’t ask me how a demon could scream with a corkscrew head—but the sound resonated up the screw like it was a massive tuning fork.
Vlad Menshikov kept chanting. The green vase throbbed with light.
Sadie nudged me and whispered, “Look.”
“Yeah,” I whispered back. “Some kind of summoning ritual.”
“No,” she hissed. “Look there.”