Ahead of us, the tunnel was getting brighter. The cavern walls dissolved, and the river widened. Two pillars rose from the water—two giant golden scarab statues. Beyond them gleamed the morning skyline of Manhattan. The River of Night was emptying out into New York Harbor.
“Each new dawn is a new world,” I remembered our dad saying. “Maybe we’ll be healed.”
“Ra, too?” Sadie asked.
I didn’t have an answer, but I was starting to feel better, stronger, like I’d had a good night’s sleep. As we passed between the golden scarab statues, I looked to our right. Across the water, smoke was rising from Brooklyn—flashes of multicolored light and streaks of fire as winged creatures engaged in aerial combat.
“They’re still alive,” Sadie said. “They need help!”
We turned the sun boat toward home—and sailed straight into battle.
23. We Throw a Wild House Party
[FATAL MISTAKE, CARTER. Giving me the microphone at the most important part? You’ll never get it back now. The end of the story is mine. Ha-ha-ha!]
Oh, that felt good. I’d be excellent at world domination.
But I digress.
You might’ve seen news reports about the strange double sunrise over Brooklyn on the morning of March twenty-first. There were many theories: haze in the air from pollution, a temperature drop in the lower atmosphere, aliens, or perhaps another sewer-gas leak causing mass hysteria. We love sewer gas in Brooklyn!
I can confirm, however, that there briefly were two suns in the sky. I know this because I was in one of them. The normal sun rose as usual. But there was also the boat of Ra, blazing as it rose from the Duat, out of New York Harbor and into the sky of the mortal world.
To observers below, the second sun appeared to merge with the light of the first. What actually happened? The sun boat dimmed as it descended toward Brooklyn House, where the mansion’s antimortal camouflage shielding enveloped it, and made it seem to disappear.
The shielding was already working overtime, as a full-fledged war was in progress. Freak the Griffin was diving through the air, engaging the winged flaming snakes, the uraei, in aerial combat.
[I know that’s a horrible word to pronounce, uraei, but Carter insists it’s the plural for uraeus, and there’s no arguing with him. Just say you’re right and leave off the t, and you’ve got it.]
Freak yelled, “Freaaaak!” and gobbled up a uraeus, but he was sorely outnumbered. His fur was singed, and his buzzing wings must’ve been damaged, as he kept spinning in circles like a broken helicopter.
His rooftop nest was on fire. Our portal sphinx was broken, and the chimney was stained with a massive black star-burst where something or someone had exploded. A squad of enemy magicians and demons had taken cover behind the air conditioning unit and were pinned in combat against Zia and Walt, who were guarding the stairwell. Both sides threw fire, shabti, and glowing hieroglyphic bombs across the no-man’s land of the roof.
As we descended over the enemy, old Ra (yes, he was still just as senile and withered as ever) leaned over the side and waved at everyone with his crook. “Hel-lo-o-o-o! Zebras!”
Both sides looked up in amazement. “Ra!” one demon screamed. Then everyone took up the cry: “Ra?” “Ra!” “Ra!”
They sounded like the world’s most terrified pep squad.
The uraei stopped spitting fire, much to Freak’s surprise, and immediately flew to the sun boat. They began circling us like an honor guard, and I remembered what Menshikov had said about them originally being creatures of Ra. Apparently they recognized their old master (emphasis on old.)
Most of the enemies below us scattered as the boat came down, but the slowest of the demons said, “Ra?” and looked up just as our sun boat landed on top of him with a satisfying crunch.
Carter and I jumped into battle. In spite of all we’d be through, I felt wonderful. The Chaos sickness had disappeared as soon as we’d risen from the Duat. My magic was strong. My spirits were high. If I’d just had a shower, some fresh clothes, and a proper cup of tea, I would’ve been in paradise. (Strike that; now that I’d seen Paradise, I didn’t much like it. I’d settle for my own room.)
I zapped one demon into a tiger and unleashed him on his brethren. Carter popped into avatar form—the glowing golden kind, thank goodness; the three-meter-tall birdman had been a bit too scary for me. He smashed his way through the terrified enemy magicians, and with a sweep of his hand sent them sailing into the East River. Zia and Walt came out from the stairwell and helped us mop up the stragglers. Then they ran to us with big grins on their faces. They looked battered and bruised but still very much alive.
“FREEEEK!” said the griffin. He swooped down and landed next to Carter, head-butting his combat avatar, which I hoped was a sign of affection.
“Hey, buddy.” Carter rubbed his head, careful to avoid the monster’s chain-saw wings. “What’s happening, guys?”
“Talking didn’t work,” Zia said drily.
“The enemy’s been trying to break in all night,” Walt said. “Amos and Bast have held them off, but—” He glanced at the sun boat, and his voice faltered. “Is that—that isn’t—”
“Zebra!” Ra called, tottering toward us with a big toothless grin.
He walked straight up to Zia and pulled something out of his mouth—the glowing gold scarab, now quite wet but undigested. He offered it to her. “I like zebras.”
Zia backed up. “This is—this is Ra, the Lord of the Sun? Why is he offering me a bug?”
“And what does he mean about zebras?” Walt asked.
Ra looked at Walt and clucked disapprovingly. “Weasels are sick.”
Suddenly a chill went through me. My head spun as if the Chaos sickness was returning. In the back of mind, an idea started to form—something very important.
Zebras…Zia. Weasels… Walt.
Before I could think about this further, a large BOOM! shook the building. Chunks of limestone flew from the side of the mansion and rained down on the warehouse yard.
“They’ve breached the walls again!” Walt said. “Hurry!”
I consider myself fairly scattered and hyper, but the rest of the battle happened too fast even for me to keep track of. Ra absolutely refused to be parted from Zebra and Weasel (sorry, Zia and Walt), so we left him in their care at the sun boat while Freak lowered Carter and me to the deck below. We dropped from his claws onto the buffet table and found Bast whirling around with her knives in hand, slicing demons to sand and kicking magicians into the swimming pool, where our albino crocodile, Philip of Macedonia, was only too happy to entertain them.
“Sadie!” she cried with relief. [Yes, Carter, she called my name instead of yours, but she’s known me longer, after all.] She seemed to be having a great deal of fun, but her tone was urgent. “They’ve breached the east wall. Get inside!”
We ran through the doorway, dodging a random wombat that went flying over our heads—possibly someone’s spell gone awry—and stepped into complete pandemonium.
“Holy Horus,” Carter said.
In fact, Horus was about the only thing not doing battle in the Great Room. Khufu, our intrepid baboon, was riding an old magician around the room, choking him with his own wand and steering him into walls as the mage turned blue. Felix had unleashed a squad of penguins on another magician, who cowered in a magic circle with some sort of posttraumatic stress, screaming, “Not Antarctica again! Anything but that!” Alyssa was summoning the powers of Geb to repair a massive hole the enemy had blasted in the far wall. Julian had summoned a combat avatar for the first time, and was slicing demons with his glowing sword. Even bookish Cleo was dashing about the room, pulling scrolls from her pouch and reading random words of power like “Blind!” “Horizontal!” and “Gassy!” (which, by the way, work wonders to incapacitate an enemy). Everywhere I looked, our initiates were ruling the day. They fought as if they’d been waiting all night for the chance to strike, which I suppose was exactly the case. And there was Jaz—Jaz! Up and looking quite healthy!—knocking an enemy shabti straight into the fireplace, where it broke into a thousand pieces.
I felt an overwhelming sense of pride, and not a small amount of amazement. I’d been so worried about our young trainees’ surviving, yet they were quite simply dominating a much more seasoned group of magicians.
Most impressive, though, was Amos. I’d seen him do magic, but never like this. He stood at the base of Thoth’s statue, swirling his staff and summoning lightning and thunder, blasting enemy magicians, and flinging them away in miniature storm clouds. A woman magician charged at him, her staff glowing with red flames, but Amos simply tapped the floor. The marble tiles turned to sand at her feet, and the woman sank up to her neck.
Carter and I looked at each other, grinned, and joined the fight.
It was a complete rout. Soon the demons had been reduced to sand piles, and the enemy magicians began scattering in panic. No doubt they’d been expecting to fight a band of untrained children. They hadn’t counted on the full Kane treatment.
One of the women managed to open a portal in the far wall.
Stop them, the voice of Isis spoke in my mind, which was quite a shock after such a long silence. They must hear the truth.
I don’t know where I got the idea, but I raised my arms and shimmering rainbow wings appeared on either side of me—the wings of Isis.
I swept my arms. A blast of wind and multicolored light knocked our enemies off their feet, leaving our friends perfectly unharmed.
“Listen!” I bellowed.
Everyone fell silent. My voice normally sounds bossy, but now it seemed magnified by a factor of ten. The wings probably commanded attention as well.
“We’re not your enemies!” I said. “I don’t care if you like us, but the world has changed. You need to hear what’s happened.”
My magic wings faded as I told everyone about our trip through the Duat, Ra’s rebirth, Menshikov’s betrayal, the rising of Apophis, and Desjardins’ sacrifice to banish the Serpent.
“Lies!” An Asian man in charred blue robes stepped forward. From the vision Carter had described, I supposed that he was Kwai.
“It’s true,” Carter said. His avatar no longer surrounded him. His clothes had reverted to the normal mortal ones we’d bought him in Cairo, but somehow he still looked quite imposing, quite confident. He held up the leopard-skin cape of the Chief Lector, and I could feel a ripple of shock spread through the room.
“Desjardins fought at our side,” Carter said. “He defeated Menshikov and execrated Apophis. He sacrificed his life to buy us a little time. But Apophis will be back. Desjardins wanted you to know. With his last words, he told me to show you this cape and explain the truth. Especially you, Amos. He wanted you to know—the path of gods has to be restored.”
The enemy’s escape portal was still swirling. No one had stepped through yet.
The woman who’d summoned it spit on our floor. She had white robes and spiky black hair. She shouted to her comrades, “What are you waiting for? They bring us the Chief Lector’s cape and tell us this crazy story. They’re Kanes! Traitors! They probably killed Desjardins and Menshikov themselves.”