- The Throne of Fire
“There’s no time.” Jaz pointed. The bau were getting larger and brighter. More wedding guests were falling as the spirits whipped around the room unchallenged.
“They’ll die if I don’t stop the bau,” Jaz said. “I can channel the power of Sekhmet and force them back to the Duat. It’s what I’ve been training for.”
I hesitated. Jaz had never tried such a large spell. She was already weak from healing Walt. But she was trained for this. It might seem strange that healers studied the path of Sekhmet, but since Sekhmet was the goddess of destruction, plagues, and famine, it made sense that healers would learn how to control her forces—including bau.
Besides, even if I freed the griffin, I wasn’t one hundred percent sure I could control it. There was a decent chance it would get excited and gobble us up rather than the spirits.
Outside, police sirens were getting louder. We were running out of time.
“We’ve got no choice,” Jaz insisted.
She pulled her wand and then—much to my sister’s shock —gave Walt a kiss on the cheek. “It’ll be okay, Walt. Don’t give up.”
Jaz took something else from her magician’s bag—a wax figurine—and pressed it into my sister’s free hand. “You’ll need this soon, Sadie. I’m sorry I can’t help you more. You’ll know what to do when the time comes.”
I don’t think I’d ever seen Sadie at such a loss for words.
Jaz ran to the center of the ballroom and touched her wand to the floor, drawing a circle of protection around her feet. From her bag she produced a small statue of Sekhmet, her patron goddess, and held it aloft.
She began to chant. Red light glowed around her. Tendrils of energy spread out from the circle, filling the room like the branches of a tree. The tendrils began to swirl, slowly at first, then picking up speed until the magic current tugged at the bau, forcing them to fly in the same direction, drawing them toward the center. The spirits howled, trying to fight the spell. Jaz staggered, but she kept chanting, her face beaded with sweat.
“Can’t we help her?” Walt asked.
“RAWWWWK!” the griffin cried, which probably meant, Helloooo! I’m still here!
The sirens sounded like they were right outside the building now. Down the hall near the elevators, someone was shouting into a megaphone, ordering the last wave of wedding guests to exit the building—like they needed encouragement. The police had arrived, and if we got arrested, this situation was going to be difficult to explain.
“Sadie,” I said, “get ready to dispel the rope on the griffin. Walt, you still got your boat amulet?”
“My—? Yeah. But there’s no water.”
“Just summon the boat!” I dug through my pockets and found my own magic twine. I spoke a charm and was suddenly holding a rope about twenty feet long. I made a loose slipknot in the middle, like a huge necktie, and carefully approached the griffin.
“I’m just going to put this around your neck,” I said. “Don’t freak.”
“FREEEEK!” the griffin said.
I stepped closer, conscious of how fast that beak could snap me up if it wanted to, but I managed to loop the rope around the griffin’s neck.
Then something went wrong. Time slowed down. The red swirling tendrils of Jaz’s spell moved sluggishly, like the air had turned to syrup. The screams and sirens faded to a distant roar.
You won’t succeed, a voice hissed.
I turned and found myself face-to-face with a bau.
It hovered in the air a few inches away, its fiery white features almost coming into focus. It seemed to smile, and I could swear I’d seen its face before.
Chaos is too powerful, boy, it said. The world spins beyond your control. Give up your quest!
“Shut up,” I murmured, but my heart was pounding.
You’ll never find her, the spirit taunted. She sleeps in the Place of Red Sand, but she will die there if you follow your pointless quest.
I felt like a tarantula was crawling down my back. The spirit was talking about Zia Rashid—the real Zia, who I’d been searching for since Christmas.
“No,” I said. “You’re a demon, a deceiver.”
You know better, boy. We’ve met before.
“Shut up!” I summoned the Eye of Horus, and the spirit hissed. Time sped up again. The red tendrils of Jaz’s spell wrapped around the bau and pulled it screaming into the vortex.
No one else seemed to have noticed what just happened.
Sadie was playing defense, swatting at bau with her flaming scroll whenever they got close. Walt set his boat amulet on the ground and spoke the command word. In a matter of seconds, like one of those crazy expand-in-water sponge toys, the amulet grew into a full-size Egyptian reed boat, lying across the ruins of the buffet table.
With shaking hands, I took the two ends of the griffin’s new necktie and tied one end to the boat’s prow and one to the stern.
“Carter, look!” Sadie called.
I turned in time to see a flash of blinding red light. The entire vortex collapsed inward, sucking all six bau into Jaz’s circle. The light died. Jaz fainted, her wand and the Sekhmet statue both crumbling to dust in her hands.
We ran to her. Her clothes were steaming. I couldn’t tell if she was breathing.
“Get her into the boat,” I said. “We have to get out of here.”
I heard a tiny grunt from far above. Khufu had opened the dome. He gestured urgently as searchlights swept the sky above him. The museum was probably surrounded by emergency vehicles.
All around the ballroom, afflicted guests were starting to regain consciousness. Jaz had saved them, but at what cost? We carried her to the boat and climbed in.
“Hold on tight,” I warned. “This thing is not balanced. If it flips—”
“Hey!” a deep male voice yelled behind us. “What are you—Hey! Stop!”
“Sadie, rope, now!” I said.
She snapped her fingers, and the rope entangling the griffin dissolved.
“GO!” I shouted. “UP!”
“FREEEEK!” The griffin revved its wings. We lurched into the air, the boat rocking crazily, and shot straight for the open dome. The griffin barely seemed to notice our extra weight. It ascended so fast, Khufu had to make a flying leap to get on board. I pulled him into the boat, and we held on desperately, trying not to capsize.
“Agh!” Khufu complained.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “So much for an easy job.”
Then again, we were the Kane family. This was the easiest day we were going to have for quite a while.
Somehow, our griffin knew the right way to go. He screamed in triumph and soared into the cold rainy night. As we flew toward home, Sadie’s scroll burned brighter. When I looked down, ghostly white fires were blazing across every rooftop in Brooklyn.
I began to wonder exactly what we’d stolen—if it was even the right object, or if it would make our problems worse. Either way, I had a feeling we’d finally pushed our luck too far.
3. The Ice Cream Man Plots Our Death
ODD HOW EASILY YOU CAN FORGET your hand is on fire.
Oh, sorry. Sadie, here. You didn’t think I’d let my brother prattle on forever, did you? Please, no one deserves a curse that horrible.
We arrived back at Brooklyn House, and everyone swarmed me because my hand was stuck to a flaming scroll.
“I’m fine!” I insisted. “Take care of Jaz!”
Honestly, I appreciate a bit of attention now and then, but I was hardly the most interesting thing happening. We’d landed on the roof of the mansion, which itself is an odd attraction—a five-story limestone-and-steel cube, like a cross between an Egyptian temple and an art museum, perched atop an abandoned warehouse on the Brooklyn waterfront. Not to mention that the mansion shimmers with magic and is invisible to regular mortals.
Below us, the whole of Brooklyn was on fire. My annoying magic scroll had painted a wide swath of ghostly flames over the borough as we’d flown from the museum. Nothing was actually burning, and the flames weren’t hot; but we’d still caused quite a panic. Sirens wailed. People clogged the streets, gawking up at the blazing rooftops. Helicopters circled with searchlights.
If that wasn’t exciting enough, my brother was wrangling a griffin, trying to untie a fishing boat from around its neck and keep the beast from eating our trainees.
Then there was Jaz, our real cause for concern. We’d determined she was still breathing, but she seemed to be in some sort of coma. When we opened her eyes, they were glowing white—typically not a good sign.
During the boat ride, Khufu had attempted some of his famous baboon magic on her—patting her forehead, making rude noises, and trying to insert jelly beans into her mouth. I’m sure he thought he was being helpful, but it hadn’t done much to improve her condition.
Now Walt was taking care of her. He picked her up gently and put her on a stretcher, covering her with blankets and stroking her hair as our other trainees gathered round. And that was fine. Completely fine.
I wasn’t at all interested in how handsome his face looked in the moonlight, or his muscular arms in that sleeveless tee, or the fact that he’d been holding hands with Jaz, or…
Sorry. Lost my train of thought.
I plopped down at the far corner of the roof, feeling absolutely knackered. My right hand itched from holding the papyrus scroll so long. The magic flames tickled my fingers.
I felt around in my left pocket and brought out the little wax figure Jaz had given me. It was one of her healing statues, used to expel sickness or curses. Generally speaking, wax figures don’t look like anyone in particular, but Jaz had taken her time with this one. It was clearly meant to heal one specific person, which meant it would have more power and would most likely be saved for a life-and-death situation. I recognized the figurine’s curly hair, its facial features, the sword pressed into its hands. Jaz had even written its name in hieroglyphs on its chest: CARTER.
You’ll need this soon, she’d told me.
As far as I knew, Jaz was not a diviner. She couldn’t tell the future. So what had she meant? How was I supposed to I know when to use the figurine? Staring at the mini-Carter, I had a horrible feeling that my brother’s life had been quite literally placed in my hands.
“Are you all right?” asked a woman’s voice.
I quickly put away the figurine.
My old friend Bast stood over me. With her slight smile and glinting yellow eyes, she might’ve been concerned or amused. It’s hard to tell with a cat goddess. Her black hair was pulled back in a ponytail. She wore her usual leopard-skin leotard, as if she were about to perform a backflip. For all I knew, she might. As I said, you never can tell with cats.
“I’m fine,” I lied. “Just…” I waved my flaming hand about helplessly.
“Mmm.” The scroll seemed to make Bast uncomfortable. “Let me see what I can do.”
She knelt next to me and began to chant.
I pondered how odd it was having my former pet cast a spell on me. For years, Bast had posed as my cat, Muffin. I hadn’t even realized I had a goddess sleeping on my pillow at night. Then, after our dad unleashed a slew of gods at the British Museum, Bast had made herself known.