“Ready?” I asked.

Walt nodded and pulled out his wand.

“Oh, no, cursed boy,” I said. “You just watch my back. If the ceiling starts to fall and we need a shield, that’s your job. But you’ll do no magic unless absolutely necessary. I’ll clear the doorway.”

“Sadie, I’m not fragile,” he complained. “I don’t need a protector.”

“Rubbish,” I said. “That’s macho bluster, and all boys like to be mothered.”

“What? God, you’re annoying!”

I smiled sweetly. “You did want to spend time with me.”

Before he could protest, I raised my wand and began the spell.

I imagined a bond between our small pile of rubble and the debris in the doorway. I imagined that in the Duat, they were one and the same. I spoke the command for join:

“Hi-nehm.”

The symbol burned faintly over our miniature rubble pile.

Slowly and carefully, I brushed a few pebbles away from the pile. The debris in the corridor rumbled.

“It’s working,” Walt said.

I didn’t dare look. I stayed focused on my task—moving the pebbles a little at a time, dispersing the pile into smaller mounds. It was almost as hard as moving real boulders. I went into a daze. When Walt put his hand on my shoulder, I had no idea how much time had passed. I was so exhausted I couldn’t see straight.

“It’s done,” he said. “You did great.”

The doorway was clear. The rubble had been pushed into the corners of our room, where it lay in smaller piles.

“Nice job, Sadie.” Walt leaned down and kissed me. He was probably just expressing appreciation or happiness, but the kiss didn’t make me feel any less fuzzyheaded.

“Um,” I said—again with the incredible verbal skills.

Walt helped me to my feet. We headed down the corridor into the next room. For all the work we’d done to get there, the room wasn’t very exciting, just a five-meter-square chamber with nothing inside except a red lacquered box on a sandstone pedestal. On top of the box was a carved wooden handle shaped like a demonic greyhound with tall ears—the Set animal.

“Oh, that can’t be good,” Walt said.

But I walked straight up to the box, opened the lid, and grabbed the scroll inside.

“Sadie!” Walt yelled.

“What?” I turned. “It’s Set’s box. If he’d wanted to kill me, he could’ve done so in St. Petersburg. He wants me to have this scroll. Probably thinks it’ll be fun watching me kill myself trying to awaken Ra.” I looked up at the ceiling and shouted, “Isn’t that right, Set?”

My voice echoed through the catacombs. I no longer had the power to invoke Set’s secret name, but I still felt as if I’d gotten his attention. The air turned sharper. The ground trembled as if something underneath it, something very large, was laughing.

Walt exhaled. “I wish you wouldn’t take chances like that.”

“This from a boy who’s willing to die to spend time with me?”

Walt made an exaggerated bow. “I take it back, Miss Kane. Please, go right ahead trying to kill yourself.”

“Thank you.”

I looked at the three scrolls in my hands—the entire Book of Ra, together for probably the first time since Mad Claude wore little Roman diapers. I had collected the scrolls, done the impossible, triumphed beyond all expectations. Yet it still wouldn’t be enough unless we could find Ra and wake him before Apophis rose. “No time to waste,” I said. “Let’s get—”

Deep moaning echoed through the corridors, as if something—or a whole host of somethings—had woken up in a very bad mood.

“Out of here,” Walt said. “Great idea.”

As we ran through the previous chamber, I glanced at the statue of Ptah. I was tempted to take back the jerky and juice, just to be mean, but I decided against it.

I suppose it isn’t your fault, I thought. Can’t be easy to have a name like Ptah. Enjoy the snack, but I do wish you’d helped us.

We ran on. It wasn’t easy to remember our path. Twice we had to double back before finding the room with the family of mummies where we’d met Mad Claude.

I was about to bolt blindly across the chamber and into the last tunnel, but Walt held me back and saved my life. He shined his light on the far exit, then on the corridors to either side.

“No,” I said. “No, no, no.”

All three doorways were clogged with human figures wrapped in linen. They pressed together as far as I could see down each corridor. Some were still completely bound. They hopped and shuffled and waddled forward as if they were giant cocoons engaged in a sack race. Other mummies had partially broken free. They limped along on emaciated legs, hands like dried branches clawing at their wrappings. Most still wore their painted-face portraits, and the effect was gruesome—lifelike masks smiling serenely at the top of undead scarecrows of bones and painted linen.

“I hate mummies,” I whimpered.

“Maybe a fire spell,” Walt said. “They’ve got to burn easily.”

“We’ll burn ourselves, too! It’s too close in here.”

“You have a better idea?”

I wanted to cry. Freedom so near—and just as I’d feared, we were trapped by a crowd of mummies. But these were worse than movie mummies. They were silent and slow, pathetic ruined things that once were human.

One of the mummies on the floor grabbed my leg. Before I could even scream, Walt reached out and tapped the thing on the wrist. The mummy instantly turned to dust.

I stared at him in amazement. “Is that the power you were worried about? That was brilliant! Do it again!”

Immediately I felt awful suggesting it. Walt’s face was tight with pain.

“I can’t do it a thousand more times,” he said sadly. “Maybe if…”

Then, on the central dais, the mummy family began to stir.

I will not lie. When the child-size mummy of little Purpens sat up, I almost had an accident that would’ve ruined my new jeans. If my ba could’ve shed my skin and flown away, it would have.

I gripped Walt’s arm.

At the far end of the room, the ghost of Mad Claude flickered into view. As he walked toward us, the rest of the mummies began to stir.

“You should be honored, my friends.” He gave us a crazy grin. “It takes a lot of excitement for ba to return to their withered old bodies. But we simply can’t let you leave until you’ve freed us for the afterlife. Use the knife, do your spells, and you can go.”

“We can’t free you all!” I shouted.

“A shame,” Claude said. “Then we’ll take the knife and free ourselves. I suppose two more bodies in the catacombs won’t make any difference.”

He said something in Latin, and all the mummies surged toward us, shuffling and tripping, falling and rolling. Some crumbled to pieces as they tried to walk. Others fell down and were trampled by their fellows. But more came forward.

We backed into the corridor. I had my staff in one hand. With my other, I held tight to Walt’s hand. I’d never been good at summoning fire, but I managed to set the end of my staff ablaze.

“We’ll try it your way,” I told Walt. “Light them up and run.”

I knew it was a bad idea. In close quarters, a blaze would hurt us as much as the mummies. We’d die of smoke inhalation or suffocation or heat. Even if we managed to retreat back into the catacombs, we’d just get lost and run into more mummies.

Walt lit his own staff.

“On three,” I suggested. I stared in horror at the child’s mummy coming toward us, the portrait of a seven-year-old boy smiling at me from beyond the grave. “One, two—”

I faltered. The mummies were only a meter away, but from behind me came a new sound—like water running. No—like skittering. A mass of living things charging toward us, thousands and thousands of tiny claws on stone, possibly insects or…

“Three comes next,” Walt said nervously. “Are we torching them or not?”

“Hug the walls!” I shrieked. I didn’t know exactly what was coming, but I knew I didn’t want to be in their way. I pushed Walt against the stone and flattened myself next to him, our faces pressed against the wall, as a wave of claws and fur slammed into us and rolled over our backs: an army of rodents scuttling five-deep along the floor and racing horizontally across the walls, defying gravity.

Rats. Thousands of rats.

They ran straight over us, doing no damage except for the odd claw scratch. Not so bad, you might think, but have you ever been upright and trampled by an army of filthy rats? Do not pay money for the experience.

The rats flooded the burial chamber. They tore into the mummies, clawing and chewing and squealing their tiny battle cries. The mummies writhed under the assault, but they didn’t stand a chance. The room was a hurricane of fur, teeth, and shredded linen. It was like the old cartoons of termites swarming over wood and dissolving it to nothing.

“No!” yelled Mad Claude. “No!”

But he was the only one screaming. The mummies withered silently under the fury of the rats.

“I’ll get you!” Claude snarled as his spirit began to flicker. “I’ll have my revenge!”

And with one final evil glare, his image faded and was gone.

The rats divided their forces and scurried off down all three corridors, chewing through mummies as they went, until the room was silent and empty, the floor littered with dust, shreds of linen, and a few bones.

Walt looked shaken. I fell against him and hugged him. I probably cried with relief. I was so glad to hold a warm living human being.

“It’s okay.” He stroked my hair, which felt awfully good. “That—that was the story about rats.”

“What?” I managed.

“They…they saved Memphis. An enemy army besieged the city, and the people prayed for help. Their patron god sent a horde of rats. They ate the enemy’s bowstrings, their sandals, everything they could chew. The attackers had to withdraw.”

“The patron god—you mean—”

“Me.” From the exit corridor across the room, an Egyptian farmer stepped into view. He wore grubby robes, a head wrap, and sandals. He held a rifle at his side. He grinned at us, and as he got closer, I saw his eyes were blank white. His skin had a slightly bluish tint, as if he were suffocating and really enjoying the experience.

“Sorry I didn’t answer sooner,” said the farmer. “I am Ptah. And no, Sadie Kane, I am not the god of spit.”

“Please, have a seat,” the god said. “Sorry about the mess, but what do expect from Romans? They never did clean up after themselves.”

Neither Walt nor I sat. A grinning god with a rifle was a bit off-putting.

“Ah, quite right.” Ptah blinked his blank white eyes. “You’re in a hurry.”

“Sorry,” I said. “Are you a date farmer?”

Ptah looked down at his grubby robes. “I’m just borrowing this poor fellow for a minute, you understand. I thought you wouldn’t mind, as he was coming down here to shoot you for destroying his water tower.”

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