“It’ll be dangerous,” Bes said. “Reckless. Probably fatal.”
“So, an average day for us,” I summed up.
Walt frowned, still holding his phone. “Then what should I tell Amos? He’s on his own?”
“Not quite,” Zia said. “I’ll go to Brooklyn.”
I almost choked. “You?”
Zia gave me a cross look. “I am good at magic, Carter.”
“That’s not what I meant. It’s just—”
“I want to speak with Amos myself,” she said. “When the House of Life appears, perhaps I can intervene, stall for time. I have some influence with other magicians…at least I did when Iskandar was alive. Some of them might listen to reason, especially if Menshikov isn’t there egging them on.”
I thought about the angry mob I’d seen in my vision. Reasonable wasn’t the first word that came to mind.
Apparently Walt was thinking the same thing.
“If you teleport in at sunset,” he said, “you’ll arrive at the same time as the attackers. It’s going to be chaos, not much time for talking. What if you have to fight?”
“Let’s hope,” Zia said, “it doesn’t come to that.”
Not a very reassuring answer, but Walt nodded. “I’ll go with you.”
Sadie dropped her senet sticks on the floor. “What? Walt, no! In your condition—”
She clamped her mouth shut, too late.
“What condition?” I asked.
If Walt had had an Evil Eye spell, I think he would’ve used it on my sister just then.
“My family history,” he said. “Something I told Sadie…in confidence.”
He didn’t sound happy about it, but he explained the curse on his family, the bloodline of Akhenaton, and what it meant for him.
I just sat there, stunned. Walt’s secretive behavior, his talks with Jaz, his moodiness—all of it made sense now. My own problems suddenly seemed a lot less significant.
“Oh, man,” I mumbled. “Walt—”
“Look, Carter, whatever you’re going to say, I appreciate the sentiment. But I’m through with sympathy. I’ve been living with this disease for years. I don’t want people pitying me or treating me as though I’m special. I want to help you guys. I’ll take Zia back to Brooklyn. That way, Amos will know she comes in peace. We’ll try to stall the attack, hold them off until sunrise so you can come back with Ra. Besides…” He shrugged. “If you fail, and we don’t stop Apophis, we’re all going to die tomorrow anyway.”
“That’s looking on the bright side,” I said. Then something occurred to me: a thought so jarring it was like a tiny nuclear reaction in my head. “Hold up. Menshikov said he was descended from the priests of Amun-Ra.”
Bes snorted disdainfully. “Hated those guys. They were so full of themselves. But what does that have to do with anything?”
“Weren’t those the same priests that fought Akhenaton and cursed Walt’s ancestors?” I asked. “What if Menshikov has the secret of the curse? What if he could cure—”
“Stop.” The anger in Walt’s voice took me by surprise. His hands were shaking. “Carter, I’ve come to terms with my fate. I won’t get my hopes up for nothing. Menshikov is the enemy. Even if he could help, he wouldn’t. If you cross paths with him, don’t try to make any deals. Don’t try to reason with him. Do what you need to. Take him down.”
I glanced at Sadie. Her eyes were gleaming, like I’d finally done something right.
“Okay, Walt,” I said. “I won’t mention it again.”
But Sadie and I had a very different silent conversation. For once, we were in total agreement. We were going to visit the Duat. And while we were there, we’d turn the tables on Vlad Menshikov. We’d find him, beat the crud out of him, and force him to tell us how to cure Walt. Suddenly, I felt a whole lot better about this quest.
“So we’ll leave at sunset,” Zia said. “Walt and I for Brooklyn. You and Sadie for the Duat. It’s settled.”
“Except for one thing.” Bes glared at the senet sticks Sadie had dropped on the floor. “You did not roll that. It’s impossible!”
Sadie looked down. A grin spread across her face. She’d accidentally rolled a three, just what she needed to win.
She moved her last piece home, then picked up Menshikov’s white glasses and tried them on. They looked creepy on her. I couldn’t help thinking about Menshikov’s burned voice and his scarred eyes, and what might happen to my sister if she tried to read the Book of Ra.
“Impossible is my specialty,” she said. “Come on, brother, dear. Let’s get ready for the Great Pyramid.”
If you ever visit the pyramids, here’s a tip: the best place to see them is from far away, like the horizon. The closer you get, the more disappointed you’ll be.
That may sound harsh, but first of all, up close, the pyramids are going to seem smaller than you thought. Everybody who sees them says that. Sure, they were the tallest structures on the earth for thousands of years, but compared to modern buildings, they don’t seem so impressive. They’ve been stripped of the white casing stones and golden capstones that made them really cool in ancient times. They’re still beautiful, especially when they’re lit up at sunset, but you can appreciate them better from far away without getting caught in the tourist scene.
That’s the second thing: the mobs of tourists and vendors. I don’t care where you go on vacation: Times Square, Piccadilly Circus, or the Roman Coliseum. It’s always the same, with vendors selling cheap T-shirts and trinkets, and hordes of sweating tourists complaining and shuffling around trying to take pictures. The pyramids are no different, except the crowds are bigger and the vendors are really, really pushy. They know a lot of English words, but “no” isn’t one of them.
As we pressed through the crowds, the vendors tried to sell us three camel rides, a dozen T-shirts, more amulets than Walt was wearing (Special price! Good magic!), and eleven genuine mummy fingers, which I figured were probably made in China.
I asked Bes if he could scare away the mob, but he just laughed. “Not worth it, kid. Tourists have been here almost as long as the pyramids. I’ll make sure they don’t notice us. Let’s just get to the top.”
Security guards patrolled the base of the Great Pyramid, but no one tried to stop us. Maybe Bes made us invisible somehow, or maybe the guards just chose to ignore us because we were with the dwarf god. Either way, I soon found out why climbing the pyramids wasn’t allowed: it’s hard and dangerous. The Great Pyramid is about four hundred and fifty feet tall. The stone sides were never meant for climbing. As we ascended, I almost fell twice. Walt twisted his ankle. Some of the blocks were loose and crumbling. Some of the “steps” were five feet tall, and we had to hoist one another up. Finally, after twenty minutes of sweaty, difficult work, we reached the top. The smog over Cairo made everything to the east a big fuzzy smudge, but to the west we had a good view of the sun going down on the horizon, turning the desert crimson.
I tried to imagine what the view would’ve looked like from here roughly five thousand years ago, when the pyramid was newly built. Had the pharaoh Khufu stood up here at the top of his own tomb and admired his empire? Probably not. He’d probably been too smart to make that climb.
“Right.” Sadie plopped her bag on the nearest block of limestone. “Bes, keep an eye out. Walt, help me with the portal, will you?”
Zia touched my arm, which made me jump.
“Can we talk?” she asked.
She climbed a little way down the pyramid. My pulse was racing, but I managed to follow without tripping and looking like an idiot.
Zia stared out over the desert. Her face was flushed in the light of the sunset. “Carter, don’t misunderstand. I appreciate your waking me. I know your heart was in the right place.”
My heart didn’t feel in the right place. It felt like it was stuck in my esophagus. “But…?” I asked.
She hugged her arms. “I need time. This is very strange for me. Maybe we can be…closer some day, but for now—”
“You need time,” I said, my voice ragged. “Assuming we don’t all die tonight.”
Her eyes were luminous gold. I wondered if that was the last color a bug saw when it was trapped in amber—and if the bug thought, Wow, that’s beautiful, right before it was frozen forever.
“I’ll do my best to protect your home,” she said. “Promise me, if it comes to a choice, that you’ll listen to your own heart, not the will of the gods.”
“I promise,” I said, though I doubted myself. I still heard Horus in my head, urging me to claim the weapons of the pharaoh. I wanted to say more, to tell her how I felt, but all I could get out was “Um …yeah.”
Zia managed a dry smile. “Sadie’s right. You are…how did she put it? Endearingly clumsy.”
A light flashed above us, and a portal opened at the tip of the pyramid. Unlike most portals, this wasn’t swirling sand. It glowed with purple light—a doorway straight into the Duat.
Sadie turned toward me. “This one’s for us. Coming?”
“Be careful,” Zia said.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m not so good at that, but—yeah.”
As I trudged to the top, Sadie pulled Walt close and whispered something in his ear.
He nodded grimly. “I will.”
Before I could ask what that was about, Sadie looked at Bes. “Ready?”
“I’ll follow you,” Bes promised. “As soon as I get Walt and Zia through their portal. I’ll meet you on the River of Night, in the Fourth House.”
“The fourth what?” I asked.
“You’ll see,” he promised. “Now, go!”
I took one more look at Zia, wondering if this would be the last time I saw her. Then Sadie and I jumped into the churning purple doorway.
The Duat is a strange place.
[Sadie just called me Captain Obvious—but, hey, it’s worth saying.]
The currents of the spirit world interact with your thoughts, pulling you here and there, shaping what you see to fit with what you know. So even though we had stepped into another level of reality, it looked like the quayside of the River Thames below Gran and Gramps’s flat.
“This is rude,” Sadie said.
I understood what she meant. It was hard for her to be back in London after her disastrous birthday trip. Also, last Christmas, we’d started our first journey to Brooklyn here. We’d walked down these steps to the docks with Amos and boarded his magic boat. At the time, I was grieving the loss of my dad, in shock that Gran and Gramps would give us up to an uncle I didn’t even remember, and terrified of sailing into the unknown. Now, all those feelings welled up inside me, as sharp and painful as ever.
The river was shrouded with mist. There were no city lights, just an eerie glow in the sky. The skyline of London seemed fluid—buildings shifting around, rising and melting as if they couldn’t find a comfortable place to settle.