But I couldn’t keep it from him. I’d invaded his mind and learned his secret name. The least I could do was be honest with him.
“Carter…there’s something else. Set wanted you to know. Zia’s village was named Makan al-Ramal al-Hamrah.”
Carter turned a bit green again. “You just forgot to mention this?”
“Remember, Set is a liar,” I said. “He wasn’t being helpful. He volunteered the information because he wanted to cause chaos between us.”
I could already tell I was losing him. His mind was caught in a strong current that had been pulling him along since January—the idea that he could save Zia. Now that I’d been in his mind, I knew he wouldn’t rest—he couldn’t rest—until he’d found her. It went far beyond liking the girl. He’d convinced himself she was part of his destiny.
One of his darker secrets? Deep down, Carter still resented our father for failing to save our mum, even though she had died for a noble cause, and even though it was her choice to sacrifice herself. Carter simply could not fail Zia in the same way, no matter what the stakes. He needed someone to believe in him, someone to save—and he was convinced Zia was that person. Sorry, a little sister just wouldn’t do.
It hurt me, especially since I didn’t agree with him, but I knew better than to argue. It would only push him farther away.
“Makan al-Ramal al-Hamrah…” he said. “My Arabic isn’t very good. But Hamrah is red.”
“Yes,” Bes agreed. “Al-Ramal means ‘the sands.’”
Carter’s eyes widened. “The Place of Red Sands! The voice at the Brooklyn Museum said Zia was asleep at the Place of Red Sands.” He looked at me pleadingly. “Sadie, it’s the ruins of her home village. That’s where Iskandar hid her. We have to find her.”
Just like that: the fate of the world goes out the window. We have to find Zia.
I could have pointed out several things: He was going on the word of an evil spirit that was probably speaking directly from Apophis. If Apophis knew where Zia was kept, why would he tell us, except to delay and distract us? And if he wanted Zia dead, why hadn’t he killed her already? Also, Set had given us the name al-Hamrah Makan. Set was never up to any good. He was clearly hoping to divide us. Finally, even if we had the name of the village, that didn’t mean we could find it. The place had been wiped out almost a decade ago.
But looking at Carter, I realized there was no reasoning with him. This wasn’t a reasonable choice. He saw a chance to save Zia, and he was going to take it.
I simply said, “It’s a bad idea.” And yes, it felt quite strange being forced to play the responsible sibling.
Carter turned to Bes. “Could you find this village?”
The dwarf god tugged at his Hawaiian shirt. “Maybe, but it would take time. You’ve got a little more than two days left. The equinox starts the day after tomorrow at sunset. Getting to the oasis of Bahariya is a full day of travel. Finding this ruined village—easily another day—and if it’s on the Nile, it’s in the opposite direction. Once you’ve got the Book of Ra, you’ll need to allow another day at least to figure out how to use it. I guarantee awakening Ra will mean a trip into the Duat, where time is always unpredictable. You’ll have to be back with Ra at dawn on the equinox—”
“We don’t have enough time,” I summed up. “It’s either the Book of Ra, or Zia.”
Why did I press Carter, when I knew what he was going to say?
“I can’t leave her.” He looked at the sun, now dipping toward in the horizon. “She’s got a part to play, Sadie. I don’t know what it is, but she’s important. We can’t lose her.”
I waited. It was obvious what had to happen, but Carter wasn’t going to say it.
I took a deep breath. “We’ll have to separate. You and Bes go after Zia. I’ll track down the scroll.”
Bes coughed. “Speaking of bad ideas…”
Carter couldn’t look me in the eyes. I knew he cared about me. He didn’t want to be rid of me, but I could sense his relief. He wanted to be released from his responsibilities so he could hunt down Zia. “You saved my life,” he said. “I can’t let you go alone into the desert.”
I unclasped my shen necklace. “I won’t go alone. Walt offered to help.”
“He can’t,” Bes said.
“But you won’t tell me why,” I said.
“I—” Bes faltered. “Look, I promised Bast I’d watch you, keep you safe.”
“And I expect you to watch Carter very well. He’ll need you to find this village. As for me, Walt and I can manage.”
“Whatever Walt’s bloody secret is, whatever you’re trying to protect him from, it’s making him miserable. He wants to help. And I’m going to let him.”
The dwarf glared at me, possibly wondering if he could yell BOO! and win the argument. I suppose he realized I was too stubborn.
He sighed in resignation. “Two young people traveling alone through Egypt…a boy and a girl. It’ll look strange.”
“I’ll just say Walt’s my brother.”
Carter winced. I hadn’t meant to be harsh, but I suppose the comment was a bit hurtful. Looking back, I’m sorry for that, but at the time I was terrified and angry. Carter was putting me in an impossible position.
“Go,” I said firmly. “Save Zia.”
Carter tried to read my expression, but I avoided looking at him. This was not the time for us to have one of our silent conversations. He didn’t really want to know what I was thinking.
“How will we find each other?” he asked.
“Let’s meet back here,” I suggested. “We’ll leave at dawn. Allow ourselves twenty-four hours, no longer, for me to find the scroll, you to find Zia’s village, and both of us get back to Alexandria.”
Bes grunted. “Not enough time. Even if everything goes perfectly, that’ll leave you about twelve hours to put together the Book of Ra and use it before the eve of the equinox.”
He was right. It was impossible.
Yet Carter nodded. “It’s our only chance. We have to try.”
He looked at me hopefully, but I think I knew even then that we wouldn’t meet in Alexandria. We were the Kanes, which meant everything would go wrong.
“Fine,” I muttered. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I should go pack.”
I walked inside before I could start crying.
13. I Get a Demon Up My Nose
AT THIS POINT, I SHOULD CHANGE my secret name to Embarrassed to Death by Sister, because that pretty much sums up my existence.
I’m going skip over our travel preparations, how Sadie summoned Walt and explained the situation, how Bes and I said our farewells at dawn and rented a car from one of Bes’s “reliable friends,” and how that car broke down halfway to Cairo.
Basically, I’m going to skip to the part where Bes and I were rumbling along a dusty road in the back of a pickup truck driven by some Bedouins, looking for a village that no longer existed.
By this point it was late afternoon, and I was starting to think Bes’s estimate of needing one day to find al-Hamrah Makan was way too optimistic. With each hour we wasted, my heart felt heavier. I’d risked everything to help Zia. I’d left Amos and our initiates alone at Brooklyn House to defend against the most evil magician in the world. I’d left my sister to continue the quest for the last scroll without me. If I failed to find Zia…well, I couldn’t fail.
Traveling with professional nomads had some advantages. For one thing, the Bedouins knew every village, farm, and dusty crossroads in Egypt. They were happy to stop and ask the locals about the vanished village we were seeking.
For another thing, the Bedouins revered Bes. They treated him as a living good-luck charm. When we stopped for lunch (which took two hours to make), the Bedouins even gave us the best part of the goat. As far as I could tell, the best part of the goat wasn’t too different from the worst part of the goat, but I suppose it was a big honor.
The bad thing about traveling with Bedouins? They weren’t in a hurry. It took us all day to wind our way south along the Nile Valley. The journey was hot and boring. In the back of the truck, I couldn’t even talk to Bes without getting a mouthful of sand, so I had way too much time to think.
Sadie described my obsession pretty well. The moment she’d given me the name of Zia’s village, I couldn’t focus on anything else. Of course, I figured it was some sort of trick. Apophis was trying to divide us and keep us from succeeding on our quest. But I also believed he was telling the truth, if only because the truth is what would rattle me the most. He had destroyed Zia’s village when she was a child—for what reason, I didn’t know. Now she was hidden there in a magic sleep. Unless I saved her, Apophis would kill her.
Why hadn’t he killed her already if he knew where she was? I wasn’t sure—and that bothered me. Maybe he didn’t have the power yet. Maybe he didn’t want to. After all, if he was trying to lure me into a trap, she was the best bait. Whatever the case, Sadie was right: it wasn’t a rational choice for me. I had to save Zia.
Despite that, I felt like a creep for leaving Sadie on her own yet again. First I’d let her go off to London even though I knew it was a bad idea. Now I’d sent her to track down a scroll in a catacomb full of mummies. Sure, Walt would help her, and she could usually take care of herself. But a good brother would have stayed with her. Sadie had just saved my life, and I was like, “Great. See you later. Have fun with the mummies.”
I’ll just say Walt is my brother.
If I’m honest with myself, Zia wasn’t the only reason I was anxious to go off on my own. I was in shock that Sadie had discovered my secret name. Suddenly she knew me better than anyone in the world. I felt like she’d opened me up on the surgery table, examined me, and sewn me back together. My first instinct was to run away, to put as much distance between us as possible.
I wondered if Ra had felt the same way when Isis learned his name—if that was the real reason he went into exile: complete humiliation.
Also, I needed time to process what Sadie had accomplished. For months we’d been trying to relearn the path of the gods. We’d struggled to figure out how the ancient magicians tapped the gods’ powers without getting possessed or overwhelmed. Now I suspected Sadie had found the answer. It had something to do with a god’s ren.
A secret name wasn’t just a name, like a magic word. It was the sum of the god’s experiences. The more you understood the god, the closer you got to knowing their secret name, and the more you could channel their power.
If that was true, then the path of the gods was basically sympathetic magic—finding a similarity between two things, like a regular corkscrew and a corkscrew-headed demon, and using that similarity to form a magic bond. Only here, the bond was between the magician and a god. If you could find a common trait or experience, you could tap the god’s power.
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