Amos’s voice boomed across the Great Room: “Sarah Jacobi! You of all people know that isn’t true. You’ve devoted your life to studying the ways of Chaos. You can sense the unleashing of Apophis, can’t you? And the return of Ra.”

Amos pointed out through the glass doors leading to the deck. I don’t know how he sensed it without looking, but the sun boat was just floating down, coming to rest in Philip’s swimming pool. It was quite an impressive landing. Zia and Walt stood on either side of the throne of fire. They’d managed to prop up Ra so that he looked a bit more regal with his crook and flail in his hands, though he still had a goofy grin on his face.

Bast, who’d been standing on the deck frozen in shock, fell to her knees. “My king!”

“Hel-llo-o-o-o-o,” Ra warbled. “Goood-bye!”

I wasn’t sure what he meant, but Bast shot to her feet, suddenly alarmed.

“He’s going to rise into the heavens!” she said. “Walt, Zia, jump off!”

They did, just in time. The sun boat began to glow. Bast turned to me and called, “I’ll escort him to the other gods! Don’t worry. Back soon!” She jumped on board, and the sun boat floated into the sky, turning into a ball of fire. Then it blended with the sunlight and was gone.

“There is your proof,” Amos announced. “The gods and the House of Life must work together. Sadie and Carter are right. The Serpent will not stay down for long, now that he has broken his chains. Who will join us?”

Several enemy magicians threw down their staffs and wands.

The woman in white, Sarah Jacobi, snarled, “The other nomes will never recognize your claim, Kane. You are tainted with the power of Set! We’ll spread the word. We’ll let them know you murdered Desjardins. They’ll never follow you!”

She leaped through the portal. The man in blue, Kwai, studied us with contempt, then followed Jacobi. Three others did as well, but we let them leave in peace.

Reverently, Amos took the leopard-skin cape from Carter’s hands. “Poor Michel.”

Everyone gathered around the statue of Thoth. For the first time, I realized how badly the Great Room had been damaged. Walls had been cracked, windows broken, relics smashed, and Amos’s musical instruments half melted. For the second time in three months, we’d almost destroyed Brooklyn House. That had to be a record. And yet I wanted to give everyone in the room a huge hug.

“You all were brilliant,” I said. “You destroyed the enemy in seconds! If you can fight so well, how were they able to keep you pinned down all night?”

“But we could barely keep them out!” Felix said. He looked mystified by his own success. “By dawn, I was, like, completely out of energy.”

The others nodded grimly.

“And I was in a coma,” said a familiar voice. Jaz pushed through the crowd and embraced Carter and me. It was so good to see her, I felt ridiculous that I’d ever been jealous of her and Walt.

“You’re all right now?” I held her shoulders and studied her face for any sign of sickness, but she looked her usual bubbly self.

“I’m fine!” she said. “Right at dawn, I woke up feeling great. I guess as soon as you arrived…I don’t know. Something happened.”

“The power of Ra,” Amos said. “When he rose, he brought new life, new energy to all of us. He revitalized our spirit. Without that, we would’ve failed.”

I turned to Walt, not daring to ask. Was it possible he’d been cured as well? But the look in his eyes told me that prayer had not been answered. I suppose he could feel the pain in his limbs after doing so much magic.

Weasels are sick, Ra had often repeated. I wasn’t sure why Ra was so interested in Walt’s condition, but apparently it was beyond even the sun god’s power to fix.

“Amos,” Carter said, interrupting my thoughts, “what did Jacobi mean about the other nomes not recognizing your claim?”

I couldn’t help it. I sighed and rolled my eyes at him. My brother can be quite thick sometimes.

“What?” he demanded.

“Carter,” I said, “do you remember our talking about the most powerful magicians in the world? Desjardins was the first. Menshikov was the third. And you were worried about who the second might be?”

“Yeah,” he admitted. “But—”

“And now that Desjardins is dead, the second-most powerful magician is the most powerful magician. And who do you think that is?”

Slowly, his brain cells must’ve fired, which is proof that miracles can happen. He turned to stare at Amos.

Our uncle nodded solemnly.

“I’m afraid so, children.” Amos draped the leopard-skin cape around his shoulders. “Like it or not, the responsibility of leadership falls to me. I am the new Chief Lector.”

24. I Make an Impossible Promise

I DON’T LIKE GOOD-BYES, and yet I have to tell you about so many of them.

[No, Carter. That wasn’t an invitation to take the microphone. Push off!]

By sunset, Brooklyn House was back in order. Alyssa took care of the masonry almost single-handedly with the power of the earth god. Our initiates knew the hi-nehm spell well enough to fix most of the other broken things. Khufu showed as much dexterity with rags and cleaning fluid as he did with a basketball, and it’s truly amazing how much polishing, dusting, and scrubbing one can accomplish by attaching large dusting cloths to the wings of a griffin.

We had several meetings during the day. Philip of Macedonia kept guard in the pool, and our shabti army patrolled the grounds, but no one tried to attack—neither the forces of Apophis nor our fellow magicians. I could almost feel the collective shock spreading throughout the three hundred and sixty nomes as they learned the news: Desjardins was dead, Apophis had risen, Ra was back, and Amos Kane was the new Chief Lector. Which fact was most alarming to them, I didn’t know, but I thought we’d have at least a little breathing space while the other nomes processed the turn of events and decided what to do.

Just before sunset, Carter and I were back on the roof as Zia opened a portal to Cairo for herself and Amos.

With her black hair freshly cut and a new set of beige robes, Zia looked like she hadn’t changed a bit since we first spoke with her at the Metropolitan Museum, even though so much had happened since then. And I suppose, technically speaking, that hadn’t been her at the museum at all, since it was her shabti.

[Yes, I know. Horribly confusing to keep track of all that. You should learn the spell for summoning headache medicine. It works wonders.]

The swirling gate appeared, and Zia turned to say her good-byes.

“I’ll accompany Amos—I mean the Chief Lector—to the First Nome,” she promised. “I’ll make sure he is recognized as the leader of the House.”

“They’ll oppose you,” I said. “Be careful.”

Amos smiled. “We’ll be fine. Don’t worry.”

He was dressed in his usual dapper style: a gold silk suit that matched his new leopard-skin cape, a porkpie hat, and gold beads in his braided hair. At his side sat a leather duffel bag and a saxophone case. I imagined him sitting on the steps of the pharaoh’s throne, playing tenor sax—John Coltrane, perhaps—as a new age unfolded in purple light and glowing hieroglyphs popped out of his horn.

“I’ll keep in touch,” he promised. “Besides, you have things well in hand here at Brooklyn House. You don’t need a mentor anymore.”

I tried to look brave, though I hated his leaving. Just because I was thirteen didn’t mean I wanted adult responsibilities. Certainly I didn’t want to run the Twenty-first Nome or lead armies into war. But I suppose no one who’s put in such a position ever feels ready.

Zia put her hand on Carter’s arm. He jumped as if she’d touched him with a defibrillator paddle.

“We’ll talk soon,” she said, “after…after things have settled. But, thank you.”

Carter nodded, though he looked crestfallen. We all knew things wouldn’t settle anytime soon. There was no guarantee we’d even live long enough to see Zia again.

“Take care of yourself,” Carter said. “You’ve got an important role to play.”

Zia glanced at me. A strange sort of understanding passed between us. I think she’d begun to have a suspicion, a deep-seated dread, about what her role might be. I can’t say I understood it yet myself, but I shared her disquiet. Zebras, Ra had said. He’d woken up talking about zebras.

“If you need us,” I said, “don’t hesitate. I’ll pop over and give those First Nome magicians a proper thrashing.”

Amos kissed my forehead. He patted Carter on the shoulder. “You’ve both made me proud. You’ve given me hope for the first time in years.”

I wanted them to stay longer. I wanted to talk with them a bit more. But my experience with Khonsu had taught me not to be greedy about time. It was best to appreciate what you had and not yearn for more.

Amos and Zia stepped through the portal and disappeared.

Just as the sun was setting, an exhausted-looking Bast appeared in the Great Room. Instead of her usual bodysuit, she wore a formal Egyptian dress and heavy jewelry that looked quite uncomfortable.

“I’d forgotten how hard it is riding the sun boat through the sky,” she said, wiping her brow. “And hot. Next time, I’ll bring a saucer and a cooler full of milk.”

“Is Ra okay?” I asked.

The cat goddess pursed her lips. “Well…he’s the same. I steered the boat to the throne room of the gods. They’re getting a fresh crew ready for tonight’s journey. But you should come see him before he leaves.”

“Tonight’s journey?” Carter asked. “Through the Duat? We just brought him back!”

Bast spread her hands. “What did you expect? You’ve restarted the ancient cycle. Ra will spend the days in the heavens and the nights on the river. The gods will have to guard him as they used to. Come on; we only have a few minutes.”

I was about to ask how she planned on getting us to the gods’ throne room. Bast had repeatedly told us she’s no good at summoning portals. Then a door of pure shadow opened in the middle of the air. Anubis stepped through, looking annoyingly gorgeous as usual in his black jeans and leather jacket, with a white cotton shirt that hugged his chest so well I wondered if he was showing off on purpose. I suspected not. He probably rolled out of bed in the morning looking that perfect.

Right…that image did not help improve my concentration.

“Hello, Sadie,” he said. [Yes, Carter. He addressed me first, too. What can I say? I’m just that important.]

I tried to look cross with him. “So it’s you. Missed you in the underworld while we were gambling our souls away.”

“Yes, I’m glad you survived,” he said. “Your eulogy would’ve been hard to write.”

“Oh, ha-ha. Where were you?”

Extra sadness crept into his brown eyes. “A side project,” he said. “But right now, we should hurry.”