She pointed to our right. In the corner of the room, twenty feet from the fireplace mantel, was an old-fashioned mahogany desk.
Sadie had told me about Anubis’s instructions: We were supposed to find Menshikov’s desk. The next section of the Book of Ra would be in the middle drawer. Could that really be the desk? It seemed too easy. As quietly as we could, Sadie and I climbed off the mantel and crept along the wall. I prayed the invisibility shroud wouldn’t send up any more fireworks.
We were about halfway to the desk when Vlad Menshikov finished his chant. He slammed his staff against the floor, and it stuck there straight up, the tip still burning at a million degrees. He turned his head slightly, and I caught the glint of his white sunglasses. He rummaged in his coat pockets while the big green vase glowed and the demon screamed in his chains.
“Don’t fuss, Death-to-Corks,” Menshikov chided. His voice was even rougher than Sadie had described—like a heavy smoker talking through the blades of a fan. “You know I need a sacrifice to summon such a major god. It’s nothing personal.”
Sadie frowned at me and mouthed, Major god?
I shook my head, baffled. The House of Life didn’t allow mortals to summon gods. It was the main reason Desjardins hated us. Menshikov was supposedly his best bud. So what was he doing, breaking the rules?
“Hurts!” the poor demon wailed. “Served you for fifty years, master. Please!”
“Now, now,” Menshikov said without a trace of sympathy. “I have to use execration. Only the most painful form of banishment will generate enough energy.”
From his suit coat pocket, Menshikov pulled a regular corkscrew and a shard of pottery covered with red hieroglyphics.
He held up both items and began to chant again: “I name you Death-to-Corks, Servant of Vladimir, He Who Turns in the Night.”
As the demon’s names were spoken, the magical chains steamed and tightened around his body. Menshikov held the corkscrew over the flame of his staff. The demon thrashed and wailed. As the smaller corkscrew turned red hot, the demon’s body began to smoke.
I watched in horror. I knew about sympathetic magic, of course. The idea was to make something small affect something large by binding them together. The more alike the items were—like the corkscrew and the demon—the easier they were to bind. Voodoo dolls worked on the same theory.
But execration was serious stuff. It meant destroying a creature utterly—erasing its physical form and even its name from existence. It took some serious magic to pull off that kind of spell. If done wrong, it could destroy the caster. But if done right, most victims didn’t stand a chance. Regular mortals, magicians, ghosts, even demons could be wiped off the face of the earth. Execration might not destroy major powers like gods, but it would still be like detonating a nuclear bomb in their face. They’d be blasted so deep into the Duat, they might never come back.
Vlad Menshikov worked the spell like he did it every day. He kept chanting as the corkscrew began to melt, and the demon melted with it. Menshikov dropped the pottery shard on the floor—the red hieroglyphs that spelled all the demon’s various names. With one final word of power, Menshikov stepped on the shard and crushed it to bits. Death-to-Corks dissolved, chains and all.
Usually I don’t feel sorry for creatures of the underworld, but I couldn’t help getting a lump in my throat. I couldn’t believe the casual way Menshikov had snuffed out his servant just to power a larger spell.
As soon as the demon was gone, the fire on Menshikov’s staff died. Hieroglyphs burned around the summoning circle. The big green jar trembled and a voice from deep inside boomed, “Hello, Vladimir. Long time.”
Sadie inhaled sharply. I had to cover her mouth to keep her from screaming. We both knew that voice. I remembered it all too well from the Red Pyramid.
“Set.” Menshikov didn’t even look tired from the summoning. He sounded awfully calm for someone addressing the god of evil. “We need to talk.”
Sadie pushed my hand away and whispered, “Is he mad?”
“Desk,” I said. “Scroll. Out of here. Now.”
For once, she gave me no argument. She began fishing supplies out of her bag.
Meanwhile the big green jar wobbled as if Set were trying to tip it over.
“A malachite vase?” The god sounded annoyed. “Really, Vladimir. I thought we were on friendlier terms than that.”
Menshikov’s laugh sounded like someone choking a cat. “Excellent at constraining evil spirits, isn’t it? And this room has more malachite than any other place on earth. Empress Alexandra was quite wise to have it built for her drawing room.”
The jar plinked. “But it smells like old pennies in here, and it’s much too cold. Have you ever been stuck in a malachite jar, Vlad? I’m not a genie. I’d be so much more talkative if we could sit face-to-face, perhaps over tea.”
“I’m afraid not,” said Menshikov. “Now, you’ll answer my questions.”
“Oh, very well,” Set said. “I like Brazil for the World Cup. I’d advise investing in platinum and small-cap funds. And your lucky numbers this week are 2, 13—”
“Not those questions!” Menshikov snapped.
Sadie pulled a lump of wax from her bag and worked furiously, fashioning some kind of animal shape. I knew she was going to test the desk for magic defenses. She was better at that kind of spell than I was, but I wasn’t sure how she’d do it. Egyptian magic is pretty open-ended. There are always a thousand different ways to accomplish a task. The trick is being creative with your supplies and picking a way that won’t get you killed.
“You will tell me what I need to know,” Menshikov demanded, “or that jar will become even more uncomfortable.”
“My dear Vladimir.” Set’s voice was full of evil amusement. “What you need to know may be very different from what you want to know. Didn’t your unfortunate accident teach you that?”
Menshikov touched his sunglasses, as if making sure they hadn’t fallen off.
“You will tell me the binding for Apophis,” he said in a steely tone. “Then you will tell me how to neutralize the enchantments on Brooklyn House. You know Kane’s defenses better than anyone. Once I destroy him, I will have no opposition.”
As the meaning of Menshikov’s words sank in, a wave of rage nearly knocked me off my feet. This time, Sadie had to clamp my mouth shut.
“Calm!” she whispered. “You’re going to start the invisibility shield popping again!”
I pushed her hand away and hissed, “But he wants to free Apophis!”
“And attack Amos—”
“I know! So help me get the bloody scroll and let’s get out of here!” She put her wax animal on the desk—a dog, I thought —and began writing hieroglyphs on its back with a stylus.
I took a shaky breath. Sadie was right, but still—Menshikov was talking about freeing Apophis and killing our uncle. What kind of magician makes deals with Set? Except for Sadie and me. That was different.
Set’s laugh echoed inside the green vase. “So: the binding for Apophis and the secrets of Brooklyn House. Is that all, Vladimir? I wonder what your master Desjardins would think if he found out your real plan, and the sort of friends you keep.”
Menshikov snatched up his staff. The carved-serpent tip flared again. “Be careful with your threats, Evil Day.”
The jar trembled. Throughout the room, glass cases shivered. The chandelier jangled like a three-ton wind chime.
I gave Sadie a panicked look. “Did he just—”
“Set’s secret name,” she confirmed, still writing on her wax dog.
“I don’t know, Carter. Now, shh!”
A god’s secret name had all kinds of power. It was supposed to be almost impossible to get. To truly learn it, you couldn’t just hear it repeated by some random person. You had to hear it straight from the god himself, or from the person closest to his heart. Once you had it, it gave you serious magical leverage over that god. Sadie had learned Set’s secret name during our quest last Christmas, but how had Menshikov gotten it?
Inside the jar, Set growled with annoyance. “I really hate that name. Why couldn’t it have been Glorious Day? Or the Rockin’ Red Reaper? That’s rather nice. Bad enough when you were the only one who knew it, Vlad. Now I’ve got the Kane girl to worry about—”
“Serve us,” Menshikov said, “and the Kanes will be destroyed. You will be the honored lieutenant of Apophis. You can raise another temple, even grander than the Red Pyramid.”
“Uh-huh,” Set said. “Maybe you haven’t noticed, but I don’t do well with the whole second-in-command concept. As for Apophis, he’s not one to suffer other gods getting attention.”
“We will free Apophis with or without your help,” Menshikov warned. “By the equinox, he will rise. But if you help us make that happen sooner, you will be rewarded. Your other option is execration. Oh, I know it won’t destroy you completely, but with your secret name I can send you into the abyss for eons, and it will be very, very painful. I’ll give you thirty seconds to decide?”
I nudged Sadie. “Hurry.”
She tapped the wax dog, and it came to life. It started sniffing around the desk, looking for magic traps.
Inside the jar, Set sighed. “Well, Vladimir, you do know how to make an appealing offer. The binding for Apophis, you say? Yes, I was there when Ra cast the Serpent into that prison of scarabs. I suppose I could remember the ingredients he used for the binding. Quite a day that was! I was wearing red, I think. At the victory feast they served the most delicious honey-baked locusts—”
“You have ten seconds,” Menshikov said.
“Oh, I’ll cooperate! I hope you have a pen and paper handy. It’s a rather long list of ingredients. Let’s see…what did Ra use for a base? Bat dung? Then there were the dried toads, of course. And then…”
Set began rattling off ingredients, while Sadie’s wax dog sniffed around the desk. Finally it lay down on the blotter and went to sleep.
Sadie frowned at me. “No traps.”
“That’s too easy,” I whispered back.
She opened the top drawer. There was the papyrus scroll, just like the one we’d found in Brooklyn. She slipped it into her bag.
We were halfway back to the fireplace when Set caught us by surprise.
He was going on with his list of ridiculous ingredients: “And snakeskins. Yes, three large ones, with a sprinkling of hot sauce—” Then he stopped abruptly, like he’d had a revelation. He spoke in a much louder voice, calling across the room. “And a sacrificial victim would be good! Maybe a young idiot magician who can’t do a proper invisibility spell, like CARTER KANE over there!”
I froze. Vladimir Menshikov turned, and my panic became too much for the invisibility shroud.
Half a dozen golden sparks shot up with a loud happy WHEEEEE! The cloud of darkness dissolved.