Menshikov stared right at me. “My, my…how kind of you to deliver yourselves. Well done, Set.”

“Hmm?” Set asked innocently. “Do we have visitors?”

“Set!” Sadie growled. “I’ll kick you in the ba for that, so help me!”

The voice in the jar gasped. “Sadie Kane? How exciting! Too bad I’m stuck in this jar and no one will let me out.”

The hint wasn’t too subtle, but surely he couldn’t believe we’d free him after he’d blown our cover.

Sadie faced Menshikov, her wand and staff ready. “You’re working with Apophis. You’re on the wrong side.”

Menshikov removed his glasses. His eyes were ruined pits of scar tissue, burned skin, and glistening corneas. Believe me, that’s the least gross way I can describe them.

“The wrong side?” Menshikov asked. “Girl, you have no idea the powers that are in play. Five thousand years ago, Egyptian priests prophesied how the world would end. Ra would grow old and tired, and Apophis would swallow him and plunge the world into darkness. Chaos would rule forever. Now the time is here! You can’t stop it. You can only choose whether you’ll be destroyed, or whether you’ll bow to the power of Chaos and survive.”

“Right,” Set chimed in. “It’s too bad I’m stuck in this jar. Otherwise I might have to take sides and help someone.”

“Shut up, Set,” Menshikov snapped. “No one is crazy enough to trust you. And as for you, children, you are clearly not the threat I imagined.”

“Great,” I said. “So we can go?”

Menshikov laughed. “Would you run to Desjardins and tell him what you’ve heard? He wouldn’t believe you. He’d put you on trial, then execute you. But I’ll spare you that embarrassment. I’ll kill you right now.”

“How fun!” Set said. “Wish I could see it, but I’m stuck in this jar.”

I tried to think. Menshikov was still inside a protective circle, which meant he had a big defensive advantage. I wasn’t sure I could bust through it, even if I could summon a combat avatar. Meanwhile, Menshikov could take his time trying out different ways to destroy us. Would he blast us with elemental magic? Change us into bugs?

He threw his staff to the ground, and I cursed.

Throwing down your staff may sound like a sign of surrender, but in Egyptian magic, it’s bad news. It usually means Hey, I’m going to summon a big nasty thing to kill you while I stand safely inside my circle and laugh!

Sure enough, Menshikov’s staff began to writhe and grow.

Great, I thought. Another serpent.

But something was wrong with this one. Instead of a tail, it had a head on both ends. At first I thought we’d caught some luck, and Menshikov had summoned a monster with a rare genetic birth defect. Then the thing sprouted four dragon legs. Its body grew until it was the size of a draft horse, curved like a U, with mottled red and green scales and a rattlesnake head on either side. It reminded me of that two-headed animal from Doctor Dolittle. You know—the pushmi-pullyu? Except Doctor Dolittle would never have wanted to talk to this thing, and if he had, it would probably have said just Hello, I’m going to eat you.

Both heads turned toward us and hissed.

“I’ve really had enough snakes for one week,” I muttered.

Menshikov smiled. “Ah, but serpents are my specialty, Carter Kane!” He touched a silver pendant hanging over his necktie—an amulet shaped like a snake. “And this particular creature is my favorite: the tjesu heru. Two hungry mouths to feed. Two troublesome children. Perfect!”

Sadie and I looked at each other. We had one of those moments where we could read each other’s expressions perfectly.

We both knew we couldn’t defeat Menshikov. He’d let the pushmi-pullyu snake wear us down, and if we survived that, he’d just blast us with something else. The guy was a pro. We would either die or get captured, and Bes had warned us about not getting taken alive. After seeing what had happened to that demon Death-to-Corks, I took Bes’s warning seriously.

To survive, we’d have to do something crazy—something so suicidal Menshikov would never expect it. We had to get help immediately.

“Should I?” Sadie asked.

“Do it,” I agreed.

The tjesu heru bared its dripping fangs. You wouldn’t think a creature with no back end could move so fast, but it bent both heads toward us like a giant horseshoe and charged.

I pulled my sword. Sadie was faster.

She pointed her staff at Set’s malachite jar and yelled her favorite command word: “Ha-di!”

I was afraid it wouldn’t work. She hadn’t tried the destruction spell since she separated herself from Isis. But just before the monster reached me, the green jar shattered.

Menshikov screamed, “Nyet!”

A sandstorm exploded through the room. Hot winds pushed Sadie and me against the fireplace. A wall of red sand slammed into the tjesu heru and sent it flying sideways into a malachite column. Vlad Menshikov was blasted right out of his protective circle and banged his head on a table. He crumpled to the ground, red sand swirling over him until he was completely buried.

When the storm cleared, a man in a red silk suit stood in front of us. He had skin the color of cherry Kool-Aid, a shaved head, a dark goatee, and glittering black eyes lined with kohl. He looked like an Egyptian devil ready for a night on the town.

He grinned and spread his hands in a ta-da gesture. “That’s better! Thank you, Sadie Kane!”

To our left, the tjesu heru hissed and flailed, trying to get back on its feet. The pile of red sand covering Vlad Menshikov started to move.

“Do something, Evil Day!” Sadie commanded. “Get rid of them!”

Set winced. “No need to get personal with the names.”

“Maybe you’d prefer Rockin’ Red Reaper?” I asked.

Set made a picture frame with his fingers, as if imagining that name on his driver’s license. “Yes…that is nice, isn’t it?”

The tjesu heru staggered to its feet. It shook both heads and glared at us, but it seemed to ignore Set, even though he was the one who’d slammed it against the wall.

“It has beautiful coloration, doesn’t it?” Set asked. “A gorgeous specimen.”

“Just kill it!” I yelled.

Set looked shocked. “Oh, I couldn’t do that! I’m much too fond of snakes. Besides, GETM would have my hide.”

“Get ’em?” I asked.

“Gods for the Ethical Treatment of Monsters.”

“You’re making that up!” I yelled.

Set grinned. “Still…I’m afraid you’ll have to deal with the tjesu heru on your own.”

The monster hissed at us, which probably meant, Sweet! I raised my sword to keep it at bay.

The pile of red sand shifted. Menshikov’s dazed face rose from the top. Set snapped his fingers, and a large ceramic pot appeared in the air, shattering on the magician’s head. Menshikov slipped back into the sand.

“I’ll stay here and entertain Vladimir,” Set said.

“Can’t you execrate him, or something?” Sadie demanded.

“Oh, I wish! Unfortunately, I’m rather limited when someone holds my secret name, especially when they’ve given me specific orders not to kill them.” He stared accusingly at Sadie. “At any rate, I may be able to buy you a few minutes, but Vlad is going to be quite mad when he comes around, so I’d hurry, if I were you. Good luck surviving! And good luck eating them, tjesu heru!”

I wanted to strangle Set, but we had bigger problems. As if encouraged by Set’s pep talk, the tjesu heru lunged at us. Sadie and I sprinted for the nearest door.

We ran through the Winter Palace with Set’s laughter echoing behind us.

11. Carter Does Something Incredibly Stupid (and No One Is Surprised)

I UNDERSTAND, CARTER. I do.

Have me narrate the most painful part. Of course, I can’t blame you. What happened was awful enough for me, but for you—well, I wouldn’t want to talk about it either.

There we were in the Winter Palace, racing down polished marble hallways that were not designed for running. Behind us, the two-headed tjesu heru skidded and slammed into walls as it tried to turn corners, much like Muffin used to do whenever Gran mopped the floor. That’s the only reason the monster didn’t catch us immediately.

Since we’d teleported into the Malachite Room, I had no idea where the nearest exit was. I wasn’t even sure if we were actually in the Winter Palace, or if Menshikov’s office was some clever facsimile that existed only in the Duat. I was beginning to think we’d never get out when we rounded a corner, scrambled down a staircase, and spotted a set of glass- and-iron doors leading out to Palace Square.

The tjesu heru was right behind us. It slipped and rolled down the staircase, demolishing a plaster statue of some unfortunate tsar.

We were ten meters from the exit when I saw the chains across the doors.

“Carter,” I gasped, waving helplessly at the padlock.

I hate to admit just how weak I felt. I didn’t have the strength for another spell. Cracking Set’s vase in the Malachite Room had been my last hurrah, which is a good example of why you shouldn’t use magic to solve all your problems. Summoning a Divine Word to break the vase had taken so much energy, I felt as if I’d been digging holes in the hot sun. It would’ve been much easier just to throw a rock. If I lived through the night, I decided to add some rocks to my tool bag.

We were three meters away when Carter thrust his fist toward the doors. The Eye of Horus burned against the padlock, and the doors burst open as if they’d been hit by a giant fist. I hadn’t seen Carter do anything like that since our fight at the Red Pyramid, but I didn’t have time to be amazed. We bolted outside into the wintry night, the tjesu heru roaring behind us.

You’ll think I was mad, but my first thought was: That was too easy.

Despite the monster chasing us and the business with Set (whom I would strangle at the first opportunity—that backstabbing git!), I couldn’t help feeling we’d breached Menshikov’s inner sanctum and snatched the scroll without nearly enough trouble. Where were the traps? The alarms? The exploding-donkey curses? I was certain we’d stolen the authentic scroll. I’d felt the same tingle in my fingers as when I’d taken the one from the Brooklyn Museum (without the fire, thankfully). So why hadn’t the scroll been better protected?

I was so tired, I fell a few steps behind Carter, which probably saved my life. I felt a crawling sensation across my scalp. I sensed darkness above me—a feeling that reminded me too much of the shadow of Nekhbet’s wings. I looked up and saw the tjesu heru sailing over our heads like a massive bullfrog, timing its pounce so it would land—

“Carter, stop!” I yelled.

Easier said than done on icy pavement. I skidded to a halt, but Carter was going too fast. He fell on his bum and slid, his sword skittering to one side.

The tjesu heru landed right on top of him. If it hadn’t been U-shaped, Carter would’ve been crushed; but it curved around him like an enormous pair of headphones, one head glaring down at him from either side.

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