“No, carry on,” I said. “But the mummies—what will happen to their ba?”

Ptah laughed. “Don’t worry about them. Now that their remains are destroyed, I imagine their ba will go on to whatever Roman afterlife awaits them. As it should be.”

He put his hand over his mouth and burped. A cloud of white gas billowed out, coalesced into a glowing ba, and flew off down the corridor.

Walt pointed after the spirit bird. “Did you just—”

“Yes.” Ptah sighed. “I really try not to talk at all. That’s how I create, you see, with words. They can get me into trouble. Once just for fun I made up the word ‘platypus’ and—”

Instantly, a duckbilled, furry thing appeared on the floor, scrabbling around in a panic.

“Oh, dear,” Ptah said. “Yes, that’s exactly what happened. Slip of the tongue. Really the only way something like that could have been created.”

He waved his hand, and the platypus disappeared. “At any rate, I have to be careful, so I can’t talk long. I’m glad you found the Book of Ra! I always did like the old chap. I would have helped earlier, when you asked, but it took a while to get here from the Duat. Also, I can open only one door per customer. I thought you had that blocked corridor well in hand. But there’s a much more important door that you need.”

“Sorry?” I asked.

“Your brother,” Ptah said. “He’s in a great deal of trouble.”

As exhausted, bedraggled, and covered with rat scratches as I was, that news set my nerves tingling. Carter needed help. I had to save my brother’s ridiculous hide.

“Can you send us there?” I asked.

Ptah smiled. “Thought you’d never ask.”

He pointed to the nearest wall. The stones dissolved into a portal of swirling sand.

“And, my dear, some words of advice.” Ptah’s milky eyes studied me. “Courage. Hope. Sacrifice.”

I wasn’t sure whether he was reading those qualities within me, or giving me a pep talk, or perhaps creating the traits I needed, the way he’d created the ba and the platypus. Whatever the case, I suddenly felt warmer inside, filled with new energy.

“You’re beginning to understand,” he told me. “Words are the source of all power. And names are more than just a collection of letters. Well done, Sadie. You may succeed yet.”

I stared at the funnel of sand. “What will we face on the other side?”

“Enemies and friends,” Ptah said. “But which are which, I can’t say. If you survive, go to the top of the Great Pyramid. That should do nicely for an entry point into the Duat. When you read the Book of Ra—“

He choked, doubling over and dropping his rifle.

“I must go,” he said, straightening with a great deal of effort. “This host can’t stand any more. But, Walt…” He smiled sadly. “Thank you for the beef jerky and juice. There is an answer for you. It’s not one you’ll like, but it is the best way.”

“What do you mean?” Walt asked. “What answer?”

The farmer blinked. Suddenly his eyes were normal. He looked at us in surprise, then yelled something in Arabic and raised his gun.

I grabbed Walt’s hand, and together we jumped into the portal.

17. Menshikov Hires a Happy Death Squad

I GUESS WE’RE EVEN, SADIE. First, Walt and I rushed off to save you in London. Then, you and Walt rushed off to save me. The only one who got shafted on both deals was Walt. Poor guy gets hauled all over the world pulling us out of trouble. But I’ll admit I needed the help.

Bes was locked in a glowing fluorescent cage. Zia was convinced we were enemies. My sword and wand were gone. I was holding a crook and flail that were apparently stolen property, and two of the most powerful magicians in the world, Michel Desjardins and Vlad the Inhaler, were ready to arrest me, try me, and execute me—not necessarily in that order.

I backed up to the steps of Zia’s tomb, but there was no place to go. Red mud stretched in all directions, dotted with wreckage and dead fish. I couldn’t run or hide, which gave me two options: surrender, or fight.

Menshikov’s scarred eyes glittered. “Feel free to resist, Kane. Using deadly force would make my job so much easier.”

“Vladimir, stop,” Desjardins said wearily, leaning on his staff. “Carter, don’t be foolish. Surrender now.”

Three months ago, Desjardins would’ve been thrilled to blast me to bits. Now he looked sad and tired, like my execution was an unpleasant necessity. Zia stood next to him. She glanced warily at Menshikov, as if she could sense something evil about the man.

If I could use that, possibly buy some time…

“What’s your plan, Vlad?” I asked. “You let us get away from St. Petersburg too easily. Almost like you want us to awaken Ra.”

The Russian laughed. “Is that why I followed you halfway across the world to stop you?”

He did his best to look scornful, but a smile tugged at his lips, as if we were sharing a private joke.

“You didn’t come to stop me,” I guessed. “You’re counting on us to find the scrolls for you and put them together. Do you need Ra to wake up in order to free Apophis?”

“Enough, Carter.” Desjardins spoke in a monotone, like a surgery patient counting backward waiting for anesthesia to kick in. I didn’t understand why he seemed so apathetic, but Menshikov looked angry enough for both of them. From the hatred in the Russian’s eyes, I could tell I’d struck a nerve.

“That’s it, isn’t it?” I said. “Ma’at and Chaos are connected. To free Apophis, you have to wake Ra, but you want to control the summoning, make sure Ra comes back old and weak.”

Menshikov’s new oaken staff burst into green flames. “Boy, you have no idea what you are saying.”

“Set teased you about a past mistake,” I remembered. “You tried to awaken Ra once before, didn’t you? Using what—only the one scroll you had? Is that how you burned your face?”

“Carter!” Desjardins interrupted. “Vlad Menshikov is a hero of the House of Life. He tried to destroy that scroll to keep anyone else from using it. That’s how he was injured.”

For a moment I was too stunned to speak. “That…can’t be true.”

“You should do your homework, boy.” Menshikov fixed his ruined eyes on me. “The Menshikovs are descended from the priests of Amun-Ra. You’ve heard of that temple?”

I tried to recall the stories my dad had told me. I knew Amun-Ra was another name for Ra, the sun god. And his temple…

“They pretty much controlled Egypt for centuries,” I remembered. “They opposed Akhenaton when he outlawed the old gods, maybe even assassinated him.”

“Indeed,” Menshikov said. “My ancestors were champions of the gods! They are the ones who created the Book of Ra and hid its three sections, hoping that someday, a worthy magician would reawaken their sun god.”

I tried to wrap my mind around that. I could totally see Vlad Menshikov as an ancient bloodthirsty priest. “But if you’re descended from priests of Ra—”

“Why do I oppose the gods?” Menshikov glanced at the Chief Lector as if I’d asked a predictably stupid question. “Because the gods destroyed our civilization! By the time Egypt fell and Lord Iskandar banned the path of the gods, even my family had come to realize the truth. The old ways must be forbidden. Yes, I tried to destroy the scroll, to make up for the sins of my ancestors. Those who summon the gods must be wiped out.”

I shook my head. “I saw you summon Set. I heard you talk about freeing Apophis. Desjardins, Zia—this guy is lying. He’s going to kill you both.”

Desjardins looked at me in a kind of daze. Amos had insisted the Chief Lector was smart, so how could he not understand the threat?

“No more,” Desjardins said. “Come peacefully, Carter Kane, or be destroyed.”

I gave Zia one more pleading look. I could see the doubt in her eyes, but she wasn’t in any shape to help me. She’d just woken up from a three-month-long nightmare. She wanted to believe the House of Life was still her home and Desjardins and Menshikov were the good guys. She didn’t want to hear any more about Apophis.

I raised the crook and flail. “I’m not going peacefully.”

Menshikov nodded. “Then, destruction it is.”

He pointed his staff at me, and my instincts took over. I lashed out with the crook.

I was much too far away to reach him, but some invisible force ripped the staff out of Menshikov’s hand and sent it flying into the Nile. He held out his wand, but I slashed the air again, and Menshikov went flying. He landed on his back so hard, he made a mud angel.

“Carter!” Desjardins pushed Zia behind him. His own staff lit with purple fire. “You dare to use the weapons of Ra?”

I looked at my hands in amazement. I’d never felt so much power come to me so easily—as if I were meant to be a king. In the back of my mind, I heard Horus’s voice, urging me on: This is your path. This is your birthright.

“You’re going to kill me anyway,” I told Desjardins.

My body began to glow. I rose off the ground. For the first time since New Year’s, I was encased in the avatar of the hawk god—a falcon-headed warrior three times my normal size. In its hands were massive holographic replicas of the crook and flail. I hadn’t paid much attention to the flail, but it was a wicked pain-bringer—a wooden handle with three barbed chains, each topped by a spiky metal asterisk—like a combination whip and meat tenderizer. I took a swipe at the ground, and the falcon warrior mirrored my action. The glowing flail pulverized the stone steps of Zia’s tomb, sending blocks of limestone flying through the air.

Desjardins raised a shield to deflect the shards. Zia’s eyes widened. I knew I was probably freaking her out and convincing her I was the bad guy, but I had to protect her. I couldn’t let Menshikov take her away.

“Combat magic,” Desjardins said with disdain. “This is what the House of Life was like when we followed the path of the gods, Carter Kane: magician fighting magician, backstabbing and duels between the different temples. Do you want those times to return?”

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” I said. “I don’t want to fight you, Desjardins, but Menshikov is a traitor. Get out of here. Let me deal with him.”

Menshikov rose from the mud, smiling like he enjoyed getting thrown around. “Deal with me? How confident! By all means, Chief Lector, let the boy try. I’ll be sure to pick up the pieces when I’m done.”

Desjardins started to say, “Vladimir, no. It’s not your place—”

But Menshikov didn’t wait. He stomped the ground with his foot, and the mud turned dry and white all around him. Twin lines of hardening earth snaked toward me, crossing like a DNA helix. I wasn’t sure what they would do, but I knew I didn’t want them touching me. I smashed at them with my flail, taking out a section of mud large enough for a hot tub. The white lines just kept coming, bleaching their way down the pit and climbing the other side, racing toward me. I tried to move out of their way, but the warrior avatar wasn’t exactly speedy.