Walt and Claude both stared at me. I hadn’t realized it before, but as soon as I spoke, I knew it was the truth.
“Sorry,” I said. “But the knife is used for the Opening of the Mouth ceremony, to free a soul. I’ll need it to awaken Ra. That’s why Anubis gave it to me.”
“You know Anubis!” Claude clapped with delight. “He can free us all! And you—” He pointed at Walt. “You’re one of Anubis’s chosen, aren’t you? You can get us more knives if you need them! I sensed the presence of the god around you as soon as we met. Did you take his service when he realized you were dying?”
“Wait…what?” I asked.
Walt wouldn’t meet my eyes. “I’m not a priest of Anubis.”
“But dying?” I choked up. “How are you dying?”
Mad Claude looked incredulous. “You mean you don’t know? He’s got the old pharaoh’s curse. We didn’t see it much in my day, but I recognize it, all right. Occasionally a person from one of the old Egyptian royal lines—”
“Claude, shut up,” I said. “Walt, speak. How does this curse work?”
In the dim light, he looked thinner and older. On the wall behind him, his shadow loomed like a deformed monster.
“Akhenaton’s curse runs in my family,” he said. “Kind of a genetic disease. Not every generation, not every person, but when it strikes, it’s bad. Tut died at nineteen. Most of the others…twelve, thirteen. I’m sixteen now. My dad…my dad was eighteen. I never knew him.”
“Eighteen?” That alone brought up a host of new questions, but I tried to stay focused. “Can’t it be cured…?” Guilt washed over me, and I felt like a total imbecile. “Oh, god. That’s why you were talking to Jaz. She’s a healer.”
Walt nodded grimly. “I thought she might know spells that I hadn’t been able to find. My dad’s family—they spent years searching. My mom has been looking for a cure since I was born. The doctors in Seattle couldn’t do anything.”
“Doctors,” Mad Claude said with disgust. “I had one in the legion, loved to put leeches on my legs. Only made me worse. Now, about this connection to Anubis, and using that knife…”
Walt shook his head. “Claude, we’ll try to help you, but not with the knife. I know magic items. I’m pretty sure it can be used only once, and we can’t just make another. If Sadie needs it for Ra, she can’t risk using it before that.”
“Excuses!” Claude roared.
“If you don’t shut up,” I warned, “I’m going to find your mummy and draw a mustache on your portrait!”
Claude turned as white as…well, a ghost. “You wouldn’t dare!”
“Walt,” I said, trying to ignore the Roman, “was Jaz able to help?”
“She tried her best. But this curse has been defying healers for three thousand years. Modern doctors think it’s related to sickle cell anemia, but they don’t know. They’ve been trying for decades to figure out how King Tut died, and they can’t agree. Some say poison. Some say a genetic disease. It’s the curse, but of course they can’t say that.”
“Isn’t there any way? I mean we know gods. Perhaps I could cure you like Isis did Ra. If I knew your secret name—”
“Sadie, I’ve thought of that,” he said. “I’ve thought of everything. The curse can’t be cured. It can only be slowed down if…if I avoid magic. That’s why I got into talismans and amulets. They store magic in advance, so they don’t require as much from the user. But it’s only helped a little bit. I was born to do magic, so the curse progresses in me no matter what I do. Some days it’s not so bad. Some days my whole body is in pain. When I do magic, it gets worse.”
“And the more you do—”
“The faster I die.”
I punched him in the chest. I couldn’t help it. All my grief and guilt flipped right to anger. “You idiot! Why are you here, then? You should’ve told me to shove off! Bes warned you to stay in Brooklyn. Why didn’t you listen?”
What I told you earlier about Walt’s eyes not melting me? I take it back. When he looked at me in that dusty tomb, his eyes were every bit as dark, tender, and sad as Anubis’s. “I’m going to die anyway, Sadie. I want my life to mean something. And…I want to spend as much time as I can with you.”
That hurt me worse than a punch in the chest. Much worse.
I think I might’ve kissed him. Or possibly slapped him.
Mad Claude, however, was not a sympathetic audience. “Very sweet, I’m sure, but you promised me payment! Come back to the Roman tombs. Release my spirit from my mummy. Then release the others. After that, you can do as you like.”
“The others?” I asked. “Are you mad?”
He stared at me.
“Silly question,” I conceded. “But there are thousands of mummies. We have one knife.”
“We did not,” I said. “You said we’d discuss a fee after we found the scroll. We’ve found nothing but a dead end here.”
The ghost growled, more like a wolf than a human. “If you won’t come to us,” he said, “we’ll come to you.”
His spirit glowed, then disappeared in a flash.
I looked nervously at Walt. “What did he mean by that?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “But we should figure out how to get through that rubble and get out of here—quickly.”
Despite our best efforts, nothing happened quickly. We couldn’t move the debris. There were too many large boulders. We couldn’t dig around, over, or under it. I didn’t dare risk a ha-di spell or use the black knife’s magic. Walt had no amulets that would help. I was frankly stumped. The statue of Ptah smiled at us but didn’t offer any helpful suggestions, nor did he seem interested in the beef jerky and juice.
Finally, covered with dust, drenched with sweat, I plopped down on a stone sarcophagus and examined my blistered fingers.
Walt sat next to me. “Don’t give up. There has to be a way.”
“Does there?” I asked, feeling especially resentful. “Like there has to be a cure for you? What if there isn’t? What if…”
My voice broke. Walt turned his face so it was hidden in shadow.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “That was terrible. But I just couldn’t stand it if…”
I was so confused, I didn’t know what to say, or how I felt. All I knew was that I didn’t want to lose Walt.
“Did you mean it?” I asked. “When you said you wanted to spend time…you know.”
Walt shrugged. “Isn’t it obvious?”
I didn’t answer, but, please—nothing is obvious with boys. For such simple creatures, they are quite baffling.
I imagined I was blushing fiercely, so I decided to change the subject.
“Claude said he sensed the spirit of Anubis about you. You’ve been talking to Anubis a lot?”
Walt turned his rings. “I thought maybe he could help me. Maybe grant me a little extra time before…before the end. I wanted to be around long enough to help you defeat Apophis. Then I’d feel like I did something with my life. And…there were other reasons I wanted to talk to him. About some—some powers I’ve been developing.”
“What sort of powers?”
It was Walt’s turn to change the subject. He looked at his hands like they’d become dangerous weapons. “The thing is, I almost didn’t come to Brooklyn. When I got the djed amulet —that calling card you guys sent—my mom didn’t want me to leave. She knew that learning magic would make the curse accelerate. Part of me was afraid to go. Part of me was angry. It seemed like a cruel joke. You guys offered to train me for magic when I knew I wouldn’t survive longer than a year or two.”
“A year or two?” I could hardly breathe. I’d always thought of a year as an incredibly long time. I’d waited forever to turn thirteen. And each school term seemed like an eternity. But suddenly two years seemed much too short. I’d only be fifteen, not even driving yet. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to know that I would die in two years—possibly sooner, if I continued doing what I was born to do, practicing magic. “Why did you come to Brooklyn, then?”
“I had to,” Walt said. “I’ve lived my whole life under the threat of death. My mom made everything so serious, so huge. But when I got to Brooklyn, I felt like I had a destiny, a purpose. Even if it made the curse more painful, it was worth it.”
“But it’s so bloody unfair.”
Walt looked at me, and I realized he was smiling. “That’s my line. I’ve been saying that for years. Sadie, I want to be here. The past two months I’ve felt like I’m actually living for the first time. And getting to know you…” He cleared his throat. He was quite attractive when he got nervous. “I started worrying about small things. My hair. My clothes. Whether I brushed my teeth. I mean, I’m dying, and I’m worrying about my teeth.”
“You have lovely teeth.”
He laughed. “That’s what I mean. A little comment like that, and I feel better. All these small things suddenly seem important. I don’t feel like I’m dying. I feel happy.”
Personally, I felt miserable. For months I’d dreamed about Walt admitting he liked me, but not like this—not like, I can be honest with you, because I’m dying anyway.
Something he’d said was nagging at me, too. It reminded me of a lesson I’d taught at Brooklyn House, and an idea began to form in my mind.
“‘Small things suddenly seem important,’” I repeated. I looked down at a little mound of rubble we’d cleared from the blocked doorway. “Oh, it couldn’t be that easy.”
“What?” asked Walt.
“I just bared my soul, and you’re thinking about rocks?”
“The doorway,” I said. “Sympathetic magic. Do you think…”
He blinked. “Sadie Kane, you’re a genius.”
“Well I know that. But can we make it work?”
Walt and I began gathering up more pebbles. We chipped some pieces from the larger boulders and added them to our pile. We tried our best to make a miniature replica of the rubble collection blocking the doorway.
My hope, of course, was to create a sympathetic bond, as I’d done with Carter and the wax figurine in Alexandria. The rocks in our replica pile came from the collapsed tunnel, so our pile and the original were already connected in substance, which should have made it easy to establish a link. But moving something very large with something very small is always tricky. If we didn’t do it carefully, we could collapse the whole room. I didn’t know how deep underground we were, but I imagined there was quite enough rock and dirt over our heads to bury us forever.
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