She’d been watching over me for six years, she’d told us, ever since our parents released her from a cell in the Duat, where she’d been sent to fight the chaos snake Apophis forever.
Long story, but my mum had foreseen that Apophis would eventually escape his prison, which would basically amount to Doomsday. If Bast continued to fight him alone, she’d be destroyed. However, if Bast were freed, my mum believed she could play an important role in the coming battle with Chaos. So my parents freed her before Apophis could overwhelm her. My mother had died opening, then quickly closing, Apophis’s prison; so naturally Bast felt indebted to our parents. Bast had become my guardian.
Now she was also Carter and my chaperone, travel companion, and sometime personal chef (Hint: if she offers you the Friskies du Jour, say no).
But I still missed Muffin. At times I had to resist the urge to scratch Bast behind the ears and feed her crunchy treats, although I was glad she no longer tried to sleep on my pillow at night. That would’ve been a bit strange.
She finished her chant, and the scroll’s flames sputtered out. My hand unclenched. The papyrus dropped into my lap.
“God, thank you,” I said.
“Goddess,” Bast corrected. “You’re quite welcome. We can’t have the power of Ra lighting up the city, can we?”
I looked out across the borough. The fires were gone. The Brooklyn night skyline was back to normal, except for the emergency lights and crowds of screaming mortals in the streets. Come to think of it, I suppose that was fairly normal.
“The power of Ra?” I asked. “I thought the scroll was a clue. Is this the actual Book of Ra?”
Bast’s ponytail puffed up as it does when she’s nervous. I’d come to realize she kept her hair in a ponytail so that her entire head wouldn’t explode into a sea urchin shape each time she got startled.
“The scroll is…part of the book,” she said. “And I did warn you. Ra’s power is almost impossible to control. If you insist on trying to wake him, the next fires you set off might not be so harmless.”
“But isn’t he your pharaoh?” I asked. “Don’t you want him awakened?”
She dropped her gaze. I realized how foolish my comment was. Ra was Bast’s lord and master. Eons ago, he’d chosen her to be his champion. But he was also the one who’d sent her into that prison to keep his archenemy Apophis occupied for eternity, so Ra could retire with a clear conscience. Quite selfish, if you ask me.
Thanks to my parents, Bast had escaped her imprisonment; but that also meant she’d abandoned her post fighting Apophis. No wonder she had mixed feelings about seeing her old boss again.
“It’s best we talk in the morning,” Bast said. “You need rest, and that scroll should only be opened in the daylight, when the power of Ra is easier to control.”
I stared at my lap. The papyrus was still steaming. “Easier to control…as in, it won’t set me on fire?”
“It’s safe to touch now,” Bast assured me. “After being trapped in darkness for a few millennia, it was just very sensitive, reacting to any sort of energy—magical, electrical, emotional. I’ve, ah, dialed down the sensitivity so it won’t burst into flames again.”
I took the scroll. Thankfully, Bast was right. It didn’t stick to my hand or light the city on fire.
Bast helped me to my feet. “Get some sleep. I’ll let Carter know you’re all right. Besides…” She managed a smile. “You’ve got a big day tomorrow.”
Right, I thought miserably. One person remembers, and it’s my cat.
I looked over at my brother, who was still trying to control the griffin. It had Carter’s shoelaces in its beak and didn’t seem inclined to let go.
Most of our twenty trainees were surrounding Jaz, trying to wake her up. Walt hadn’t left her side. He glanced up at me briefly, uneasily, then turned his attention back to Jaz.
“Maybe you’re right,” I grumbled to Bast. “I’m not needed up here.”
My room was a lovely place to sulk. The last six years I’d lived in an attic in Gran and Gramps’s flat in London, and although I missed my old life, my mates Liz and Emma, and most everything about England, I couldn’t deny that my room in Brooklyn was much more posh.
My private balcony overlooked the East River. I had an enormous comfy bed, my own bathroom, and a walk-in closet with endless new outfits that magically appeared and cleaned themselves as needed. The chest of drawers featured a built-in refrigerator with my favorite Ribena drinks, imported from the UK, and chilled chocolates (well, a girl does have to treat herself). The sound system was absolutely bleeding edge, and the walls were magically soundproofed so I could play my music as loud as I wanted without worrying about my stick-in-the-mud brother next door. Sitting on the dresser was one of the only things I’d brought from my room in London: a beat-up cassette recorder my grandparents had given me ages ago. It was hopelessly old-fashioned, yes, but I kept it around for sentimental reasons. Carter and I had recorded our adventures at the Red Pyramid on it, after all.
I docked my iPod and scrolled through my playlists. I chose an older mix labeled sad, as that’s how I felt.
Adele’s 19 began playing. God, I hadn’t heard that album since…
Quite unexpectedly I began to tear up. I’d been listening to this mix on Christmas Eve when Dad and Carter picked me up for our trip to the British Museum—the night our lives changed forever.
Adele sang as if someone were ripping her heart out. She went on about the boy she fancied, wondering what she must do to make him want her properly. I could relate to that. But last Christmas, the song had made me think of my family as well: my mum, who’d died when I was quite small, and my father and Carter, who traveled the world together, left me in London with my grandparents, and didn’t seem to need me in their lives.
Of course I knew it was more complicated than that. There’d been a nasty custody battle involving lawyers and spatula attacks, and Dad had wanted to keep Carter and me apart so we didn’t agitate each other’s magic before we could handle the power. And yes, we’d all grown closer since then. My father was back in my life a bit more, even if he was the god of the underworld now. As for my mother…well, I’d met her ghost. I suppose that counted for something.
Still, the music brought back all the pain and anger I’d felt at Christmas. I suppose I hadn’t gotten rid of it as completely as I’d thought.
My finger hovered over the fast-forward icon, but I decided to let the song play. I tossed my stuff on the dresser—the papyrus scroll, the wax mini-Carter, my magic bag, my wand. I reached for my staff, then remembered I didn’t have it anymore. The griffin had eaten it.
“Manky birdbrain,” I muttered.
I started changing for bed. I’d plastered the inside of my closet door with photos, mostly of my mates and me from school last year. There was one of Liz, Emma, and me making faces in a photo booth in Piccadilly. We looked so young and ridiculous.
I couldn’t believe I might be seeing them tomorrow for the first time in months. Gran and Gramps had invited me to visit, and I had plans to go out with just my mates—at least, that had been the plan before Carter dropped his “five-days-to-save-the-world” bombshell. Now, who knew what would happen?
Only two non–Liz-and-Emma pictures decorated my closet door. One showed Carter and me with Uncle Amos the day Amos left for Egypt on his…hmm, what do you call it when someone goes for healing after being possessed by an evil god? Not a holiday, I suppose.
The last picture was a painting of Anubis. Perhaps you’ve seen him: the fellow with the jackal’s head, god of funerals, death, and so on. He’s everywhere in Egyptian art—leading deceased souls into the Hall of Judgment, kneeling at the cosmic scales, weighing a heart against the feather of truth.
Why did I have his picture?
[Fine, Carter. I’ll admit it, if only to shut you up.]
I had a bit of a crush on Anubis. I know how ridiculous that sounds, a modern girl getting moony-eyed over a five-thousand-year-old dog-headed boy, but that’s not what I saw when I looked at his picture. I remembered Anubis as he’d appeared in New Orleans when we’d met face-to-face—a boy of about sixteen, in black leather and denim, with tousled dark hair and gorgeous sad, melted-chocolate eyes. Very much not a dog-headed boy.
Still ridiculous, I know. He was a god. We had absolutely nothing in common. I hadn’t heard from him once since our adventure with the Red Pyramid, and that shouldn’t have surprised me. Even though he’d seemed interested in me at the time and possibly even dropped some hints…. No, surely I’d been imagining it.
The past seven weeks, since Walt Stone had arrived at Brooklyn House, I’d thought I might be able to get over Anubis. Of course, Walt was my trainee, and I wasn’t supposed to think of him as a possible boyfriend, but I was fairly sure there’d been a spark between us the first time we saw each other. Now, though, Walt seemed to be pulling away. He was acting so secretive, always looking so guilty and talking to Jaz.
My life was rubbish.
I pulled on my nightclothes while Adele kept singing. Were all her songs about not being noticed by boys? Suddenly I found that quite annoying.
I turned off the music and flopped into bed.
Sadly, once I fell asleep my night only got worse.
At Brooklyn House, we sleep with all sorts of magic charms to protect us against malicious dreams, invading spirits, and the occasional urge our souls might get to wander off. I even have a magic pillow to make sure my soul—or ba, if you want to get Egyptian about it—stays anchored to my body.
It isn’t a perfect system, though. Every so often I can sense some outside force tugging on my mind, trying to get my attention. Or my soul will let me know it has some other place to go, some important scene it needs to show me.
I got one of those sensations immediately when I fell asleep. Think of it as an incoming call, with my brain giving me the option to accept or decline. Most of the time, it’s best to decline, especially when my brain is reporting an unknown number.
But sometimes those calls are important. And my birthday was tomorrow. Perhaps Dad and Mum were trying to reach me from the underworld. I imagined them in the Hall of Judgment, my father sitting on his throne as the blue-skinned god Osiris, my mum in her ghostly white robes. They might be wearing paper party hats and singing “Happy Birthday” while Ammit the Devourer, their extremely tiny pet monster, jumped up and down, yapping.
Or it could be, just maybe, Anubis calling. Hi, um, thought you might want to go to a funeral or something?
Well…it was possible.
So I accepted the call. I let my spirit go where it wanted to take me, and my ba floated above my body.
If you’ve never tried ba travel, I wouldn’t recommend it—unless of course you fancy turning into a phantom chicken and rafting uncontrollably through the currents of the Duat.
The ba is usually invisible to others, which is good, as it takes the form of a giant bird with your normal head attached. Once upon a time, I’d been able to manipulate my ba’s form into something less embarrassing, but since Isis vacated my head, I didn’t have that ability. Now when I lifted off, I was stuck in default poultry mode.