“Gladly, my king. But I will need—”
“My secret name,” Ra said. “Yes, I know. Promise to heal me, and you will get all you desire…and more.”
I heard the warning in Ra’s voice, but either Isis didn’t notice, or she didn’t care.
“I swear to heal you,” she said.
“Then approach, goddess.”
Isis leaned forward. I thought Ra would whisper his name in her ear, but instead he grasped her hand and placed it against his withered brow. Her fingertips smoldered. She tried to pull away, but Ra held her wrist. The sun god’s entire form glowed with fiery images of his long life: the first dawn; his sun boat shining on the newly risen land of Egypt; the creation of the other gods and mortal men; Ra’s endless battles with Apophis as he passed through the Duat each night, keeping Chaos at bay. It was too much to take in—centuries passing with each heartbeat. His secret name was the sum of his experience, and even then, in those ancient times, Ra was unthinkably old. The fiery aura spread to Isis’s hand, traveling up her arm until her whole body was wreathed in flames. She screamed once. Then the fires died. Isis collapsed, smoke curling from her dress.
“So,” Ra said. “You survived.”
I couldn’t tell if he felt disappointment or grudging respect.
Isis rose unsteadily to her feet. She looked shell-shocked, as if she’d just strolled through a war zone, but she raised her hand. A fiery hieroglyph burned on her palm—Ra’s secret name, distilled into a single unbelievably powerful word.
She placed her hand on Ra’s poisoned leg and spoke a spell. The green venom retreated from his veins. The swelling subsided. The bandages fell away, and the two fang marks closed.
Ra reclined on his throne and sighed with relief. “At last. No pain.”
“My lord needs rest,” Isis suggested. “A long, long rest.”
The sun god opened his eyes. There was no fire in them now. They looked like the milky eyes of a mortal old man.
“Bast!” he called.
The cat goddess materialized at his side. She was dressed in Egyptian armor of leather and iron, and she seemed younger, though perhaps that was just because she hadn’t yet endured centuries in a prison abyss, fighting Apophis. I was tempted to shout to her and warn her about what was coming, but my voice wouldn’t work.
Bast gave Isis sideways look. “My lord, is this…woman bothering you?”
Ra shook his head. “Nothing will bother me much longer, my faithful cat. Come with me now. We have important matters to discuss before I depart.”
“My lord? Where are you going?”
“Into forced retirement.” Ra glared at Isis. “That is what you want, goddess of magic?”
“Never, my lord!” Bast drew her knives and stepped toward Isis, but Ra held out his arm.
“Enough, Bast,” he said. “I have another fight in mind for you—one last, crucial fight. As for you, Isis, you may think you have won because you mastered my secret name. Do you realize what you’ve started? Osiris may become pharaoh, but his reign will be short and bitter. His royal seat will be a pale reflection of my throne of fire. This boat will no longer ride the Duat. The balance between Ma’at and Chaos will slowly degrade. Egypt itself will fall. The names of her gods will fade to a distant memory. Then one day, the entire world will stand on the brink of destruction. You will cry out to Ra, and I will not be there. When that day comes, remember how your greed and ambition caused it to happen.”
“My lord.” Isis bowed respectfully, but I knew she wasn’t thinking about some distant future. She was drunk with her victory. She thought Osiris would rule Egypt forever, and that Ra was just an old fool. She did not know that in a short time, her victory would turn to tragedy. Osiris would be murdered by his brother, Set. And someday, Ra’s other predictions would come true as well.
“Let us go, Bast,” Ra said. “We are no longer wanted.”
The throne erupted in a column of flames, burning away the blue-and-gold canopy. A ball of fire ascended into the heavens until it was lost in the glare of the sun.
When the smoke cleared, Isis stood alone and laughed with delight.
“I did it!” she exclaimed. “Osiris, you will be king! I mastered the secret name of Ra!”
I wanted to tell her she had mastered nothing, but I could only watch as Isis danced across the boat. She was so pleased with her own success, she paid no attention to the magical servant lights disappearing. The lines dropped. The sail went slack. Oars trailed in the water, and the sun boat drifted down the river, unmanned.
My vision faded, and I sank into darkness.
I woke in a soft bed. For a blissful moment, I thought I was back in my room at Brooklyn House. I could get up and have a lovely breakfast with my friends, Amos, Philip of Macedonia, and Khufu, then spend the day teaching our initiates how to turn each other into reptiles. That sounded brilliant.
But of course I wasn’t home. I sat up, and my head began spinning. I was in a king-size bed with soft cotton sheets and a pile of feather pillows. The bedroom was quite posh, decorated in dazzling white, which did not help my dizziness. I felt as if I were back in the home of the sky goddess Nut. At any moment, the room might dissolve into clouds.
My legs felt stiff, but I managed to get out of bed. I was wearing one of those hotel robes so massive and plush, I looked like an albino Muppet. I staggered to the doorway and found a lovely living room, also bright white. Sliding glass doors led to a veranda that overlooked the sea from quite a height—possibly fifteen or twenty stories. The sky and the water were gorgeous blue.
My eyes took a moment to adjust to the light. On a nearby table, Carter’s and my few possessions were carefully laid out —our old rumpled clothes, our magic bags, and the two scrolls from the Book of Ra, along with Bes’s bag from the Chocolate Museum.
Carter was wrapped in a white robe like mine. He lay on the couch with his eyes closed. His whole body shivered. Bes sat next to him, dabbing Carter’s forehead with a cool cloth.
“How—how is he?” I managed.
Bes glanced over. He looked like a miniature tourist in a loud Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts, and flip-flops. The ugly American—size extra-small.
“About time,” he said. “I was beginning to think you’d never wake up.”
I took a step forward, but the room tilted back and forth.
“Careful.” Bes rushed over and took my arm. “You got a nasty bump on the head.”
“Never mind that,” I muttered. “I have to help Carter.”
“He’s bad, Sadie. I don’t know if—”
“I can help. My wand, and the wax figurine—”
“Yeah. Yeah, okay. I’ll get them.”
With Bes’s assistance, I wobbled to Carter’s side. Bes fetched my things while I checked Carter’s forehead. His fever was worse than before. The veins in his neck had turned green from the poison, just like Ra’s had in my vision.
I frowned at Bes. “How long was I out?”
“It’s almost noon on Tuesday.” He spread my magic supplies at Carter’s feet. “So, roughly twelve hours.”
“Twelve hours? Bes, that’s the maximum time Set thought Carter could stay alive before the poison killed him! Why didn’t you wake me sooner?”
His face turned as red as his Hawaiian shirt. “I tried! I pulled you both out of the Mediterranean and got you to the hotel, didn’t I? I used all the wake-up spells I know! You just kept muttering in your sleep about Walt, Anubis, secret names—”
“Fine!” I said. “Just help me—”
The doorbell rang.
Bes gestured for me to stay calm. He called out in another language—possibly Arabic—and a hotel waiter opened the door. He bowed low to Bes, as if the dwarf were a sultan, then brought in a room service cart loaded with tropical fruit, fresh-baked breads, and bottled sodas.
“Excellent,” Bes told me. “Be right back.”
“You’re wasting time!” I snapped.
Naturally, Bes ignored me. He retrieved his bag from the dining table and brought out the chocolate head of Vladimir Lenin. The waiter’s eyes widened. Bes put the head in the middle of the cart and nodded as if it made the perfect centerpiece.
Bes gave the waiter a few more orders in Arabic, then handed him some gold coins. The waiter groveled and generally looked terrified. He exited backward, still bowing.
“Where are we exactly?” I asked. “And why are you a king here?”
“Alexandria, Egypt,” Bes said. “Sorry about the rough arrival. It’s a tricky place to teleport to. Cleopatra’s old capital, you know, where the Egyptian Empire fell apart, so magic tends to get twisted around. The only working portals are in the old city, which is off the coast, under thirty feet of water.”
“And this place? Obviously a luxury hotel, but how did you—”
“Penthouse Suite, Four Seasons Alexandria.” He sounded slightly embarrassed. “People in Egypt still remember the old gods, even if they won’t admit it. I was popular back in the day, so I can usually call in favors when I need them. Sorry I didn’t have more time. I could’ve gotten us a private villa.”
“How dare you,” I said. “Making us settle for a five-star hotel. Now, why don’t you make sure we’re not interrupted while I heal Carter?”
I grabbed the wax figurine Jaz had given me and knelt next to my brother. The statue was deformed from getting knocked around in my bag. Then again, Carter looked worse for wear, too. Hopefully the magic connection would still work.
“Carter,” I said. “I’m going to heal you. But I need your help.”
I put my hand on his feverish forehead. Now I knew why Jaz had appeared to me as a ren, the part of the soul that represented her name. I knew why she’d shown me the vision of Isis and Ra.
You’re so close to understanding, Sadie, she’d said.
I’d never thought about it before, but the ren was the same as one’s secret name. It was more than just special word. The secret name is your darkest thoughts, your most embarrassing moments, your biggest dreams, your worst fears, all wrapped together. It’s the sum of your experiences, even those you’d never want to share. Your secret name makes you who you are.
That’s why a secret name has power. It’s also why you couldn’t simply hear someone repeat a secret name and know how to use it. You had to know that person and understand their life. The more you understood the person, the more power their name could yield. You could only learn a secret name from the person himself—or from the person closest to his heart.
And heaven help me, for me Carter was that person.
Carter, I thought. What is your secret name?
Even in sickness, his mind resisted me. You don’t just hand over your secret name. Every human had one, just as each god did; but most humans spent their whole lives not knowing that, not ever putting in words their most private identity. Understandable, really. Try summing up your entire existence in five words or less. Not exactly easy, is it?