At the window, Sadie, Bes, Walt, and Zia were sitting around a table, playing a board game like old friends. The scene was so bizarre, I thought I must still be dreaming.
Then Sadie noticed I was awake. “Well, well. Next time you take an extended ba trip, Carter, do let us know in advance. It’s not fun carrying you up three flights of stairs.”
I rubbed my throbbing head. “How long was I out?”
“Longer than me,” Zia said.
She looked amazing—calm and rested. Her freshly washed hair was swept behind her ears, and she wore a new white sleeveless dress that made her bronze skin glow.
I guess I was staring at her pretty hard, because she dropped her gaze. Her throat turned red.
“It’s three in the afternoon,” she said. “I’ve been up since ten this morning.”
“Better?” She raised her eyebrows, like she was challenging me to deny it. “You missed the excitement. I tried to fight. I tried to escape. This is our third hotel room.”
“The first one caught fire,” Bes said.
“The second one exploded,” Walt said.
“I said I was sorry.” Zia frowned. “At any rate, your sister finally calmed me down.”
“Which took several hours,” Sadie said, “and all my diplomatic skill.”
“You have diplomatic skill?” I asked.
Sadie rolled her eyes. “As if you’d notice, Carter!”
“Your sister is quite intelligent,” Zia said. “She convinced me to reserve judgment on your plans until you woke up and we could talk. She’s quite persuasive.”
“Thank you,” Sadie said smugly.
I stared at them both, and a feeling of terror set in. “You’re getting along? You can’t get along! You and Sadie can’t stand each other.”
“That was a shabti, Carter,” Zia said, though her neck was still bright red. “I find Sadie…admirable.”
“You see?” Sadie said. “I’m admirable!”
“This is a nightmare.” I sat up and the blankets fell away. I looked down and found I was wearing Pokémon pajamas.
“Sadie,” I said, “I’m going to kill you.”
She batted her eyes innocently. “But the street merchant gave us a very good deal on those. Walt said they would fit you.”
Walt raised his hands. “Don’t blame me, man. I tried to stick up for you.”
Bes snorted, then did a pretty good imitation of Walt’s voice: “‘At least get the extra-large ones with Pikachu.’ Carter, your stuff’s in the bathroom. Now, are we playing senet, or not?”
I stumbled into the bathroom and was relieved to find a set of normal clothes waiting for me—fresh underwear, jeans, and a T-shirt that did not feature Pikachu. The shower made a sound like a dying elephant when I tried to turn it on, but I managed to run some rusty-smelling water in the sink and wash up as best I could.
When I came out again, I didn’t exactly feel good as new, but at least I didn’t smell like dead fish and goat meat.
My four companions were still playing senet. I’d heard of the game—supposedly one of the oldest in the world—but I’d never seen it played. The board was a rectangle with blue-and-white-checkered squares, three rows of ten spaces each. The game pieces were white and blue circles. Instead of dice, you threw four strips of ivory like Popsicle sticks, blank on one side and marked with hieroglyphs on the other.
“I thought the rules of this game were lost,” I said.
Bes raised an eyebrow. “Maybe to you mortals. The gods never forgot.”
“It’s quite easy,” Sadie said. “You make an S around the board. First team to get all their pieces to the end wins.”
“Ha!” Bes said. “There’s much more to it than that. It takes years to master.”
“Is that so, dwarf god?” Zia tossed the four sticks, and all of them came up marked. “Master that!”
Sadie and Zia gave each other a high five. Apparently, they were a team. Sadie moved a blue piece and bumped a white piece back to start.
“Walt,” Bes grumbled, “I told you not to move that piece!”
“It isn’t my fault!”
Sadie smiled at me. “It’s girls versus boys. We’re playing for Vlad Menshikov’s sunglasses.”
She held up the broken white shades that Set had given her in St. Petersburg.
“The world is about to end,” I said, “and you’re gambling over sunglasses?”
“Hey, man,” Walt said. “We’re totally multitasking. We’ve been talking for like, six hours, but we had to wait for you to wake up to make any decisions, right?”
“Besides,” Sadie said, “Bes assures us that you cannot play senet without gambling. It would shake the foundations of Ma’at.”
“That’s true,” said the dwarf. “Walt, roll, already.”
Walt threw the sticks and three came up blank.
Bes cursed. “We need a two to move out of the House of Re-Atoum, kid. Did I not explain that?”
I wasn’t sure what else to do, so I pulled up a chair.
The view out the window was better than I’d realized. About a mile away, the Pyramids of Giza gleamed red in the afternoon light. We must’ve been in the southwest outskirts of the city—near El Mansoria. I’d been through this neighborhood a dozen times with my dad on our way to various dig sites, but it was still disorienting to see the pyramids so close.
I had a million questions. I needed to tell my friends about my ba vision. But before I could get up the nerve, Sadie launched into a long explanation of what they’d been up to while I was unconscious. Mostly she concentrated on how funny I looked when I slept, and the various whimpering noises I’d made as they pulled me out of the first two burning hotel rooms. She described the excellent fresh-baked flat bread, falafel, and spiced beef they’d had for lunch (“Oh, sorry, we didn’t save you any.”) and the great deals they’d gotten shopping in the souk, the local open-air market.
“You went shopping?” I said.
“Well, of course,” she said. “We can’t do anything until sunset, anyway. Bes said so.”
“What do you mean?”
Bes tossed the sticks and moved one of his pieces to the home space. “The equinox, kid. We’re close enough now—all the portals in the world will shut down except for two times: sunset and sunrise, when night and day are perfectly balanced.”
“At any rate,” Sadie said, “if we want to find Ra, we’ll have to follow his journey, which means going into the Duat at sunset and coming back out at sunrise.”
“How do you know that?” I asked.
She pulled a scroll from her bag—a cylinder of papyrus much thicker than the ones we’d collected. The edges glowed like fire.
“The Book of Ra,” she said. “I put it together. You may thank me now.”
My head started to spin. I remembered what Horus had said in my vision about the scroll burning Menshikov’s face. “You mean you read it without…without any trouble?”
She shrugged. “Just the introduction: warnings, instructions, that sort of thing. I won’t read the actual spell until we find Ra, but I know where we’re going.”
“If we decide to go,” I said.
That got everyone’s attention.
“If?” Zia asked. She was so close it was painful, but I could feel the distance she was putting between us: leaning away from me, tensing her shoulders, warning me to respect her space. “Sadie told me you were quite determined.”
“I was,” I said, “until I learned what Menshikov is planning.”
I told them what I’d seen in my vision—about Menshikov’s strike force heading to Brooklyn at sunset, and his plans to track us personally through the Duat. I explained what Horus said about the dangers of waking Ra, and how I could use the crook and flail instead to fight Apophis.
“But those symbols are sacred to Ra,” Zia said.
“They belong to any pharaoh who is strong enough to wield them,” I said. “If we don’t help Amos in Brooklyn—”
“Your uncle and all your friends will be destroyed,” Bes said. “From what you’ve described, Menshikov has put together a nasty little army. Uraei—the flaming snakes—they’re very bad news. Even if Bast gets back in time to help—”
“We need to let Amos know,” Walt said. “At least warn him.”
“You have a scrying bowl?” I asked.
“Better.” He pulled out a cell phone. “What do I tell him? Are we going back?”
I wavered. How could I leave Amos and my friends alone against an evil army? Part of me was itching to take up the pharaoh’s weapons and smash our enemies. Horus’s voice was still inside me, urging me to take charge.
“Carter, you can’t go to Brooklyn.” Zia meet my eyes, and I realized the fear and panic hadn’t left her. She was holding those feelings back, but they were still bubbling under the surface. “What I saw at Red Sands…that disturbed me too much.”
I felt like she’d just stomped on my heart. “Look, I’m sorry about the avatar thing, the crook and flail. I didn’t mean to freak you out, but—”
“Carter, you didn’t disturb me. Vlad Menshikov did.”
She took a shaky breath. “I never trusted that man. When I graduated from initiate training, Menshikov requested I be assigned to his nome. Thankfully, Iskandar declined.”
“So…why can’t I go to Brooklyn?”
Zia examined the senet board as if it were a war map. “I believe you’re telling the truth. Menshikov is a traitor. What you described in your vision…I think Desjardins is being affected by evil magic. It’s not Ma’at’s failing that’s draining his life force.”
“It’s Menshikov,” Sadie guessed.
“I believe so….” Zia’s voice became hoarse. “And I believe my old mentor, Iskandar, was trying to protect me when he put me into that tomb. It was not a mistake that he let me hear the voice of Apophis in my dreams. It was some sort of warning—one last lesson. He hid the crook and flail with me for a reason. Perhaps he knew you would find me. At any rate, Menshikov must be stopped.”
“But you just said I couldn’t go to Brooklyn,” I protested.
“I meant that you can’t abandon your quest. I think Iskandar foresaw this path. He believed the gods must unite with the House of Life, and I trust his judgment. You have to awaken Ra.”
Hearing Zia say it, I felt for the first time like our quest was real. And crucial. And very, very crazy. But I also felt a little spark of hope. Maybe she didn’t hate me completely.
Sadie picked up the senet sticks. “Well, that’s sorted, then. At sunset, we’ll open a portal at the top of the Great Pyramid. We’ll follow the sun boat’s old course down the River of Night, find Ra, wake him, and bring him out again at dawn. And possibly find someplace for dinner along the way, because I’m hungry again.”
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