The world had changed. The sun god had returned. Apophis was free from his cage, and although he’d been banished to some deep part of the abyss, he’d be working his way back very quickly. War was coming. We had so much work to do. Yet I was sitting here, listening to the same songs as before, staring at my poster of Anubis and feeling helplessly conflicted about something as trivial and infuriating as…yes, you guessed it. Boys.
There was a knock at the door.
“Come in,” I said without much enthusiasm. I assumed it was Carter. We often chatted at the end of the day, just to debrief. Instead, it was Walt, and suddenly I was very aware that I was wearing a ratty old T-shirt and pajama bottoms. My hair no doubt looked as horrible as Nekhbet’s. Carter’s seeing me this way wouldn’t be a problem. But Walt? Bad.
“What are you doing here?” I yelped, a bit too loudly.
He blinked, obviously surprised by my lack of hospitality. “Sorry, I’ll go.”
“No! I mean…that’s all right. You just surprised me. And —you know…we have rules about boys’ being in the girls’ rooms without, um, supervision.”
I realize that sounded terribly stodgy of me, almost Carteresque. But I was nervous.
Walt folded his arms. They were very nice arms. He was wearing his basketball jersey and running shorts, his usual collection of amulets around his neck. He looked so healthy, so athletic, it was difficult to believe he was dying of an ancient curse.
“Well, you’re the instructor,” he said. “Can you supervise me?”
No doubt I was blushing horribly. “Right. I suppose if you leave the door ajar…Er, what brings you here?”
He leaned against the closet door. With some horror, I realized it was still open, revealing my poster of Anubis.
“There’s so much going on,” Walt said. “You’ve got enough to worry about. I don’t want you worrying about me as well.”
“Too late,” I admitted.
He nodded, as if he shared my frustration. “That day in the desert, at Bahariya…would you think I’m crazy if I tell you that was the best day of my life?”
My heart fluttered, but I tried to stay calm. “Well, Egyptian public transportation, roadside bandits, smelly camels, psychotic Roman mummies, and possessed date farmers… Gosh, it was quite a day.”
“And you,” he said.
“Yes, well…I suppose I belong in that list of catastrophes.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
I was feeling like quite a bad supervisor—nervous and confused, and having very un-supervisory thoughts. My eyes strayed to the closet door. Walt noticed.
“Oh.” He pointed to Anubis. “You want me to close this?”
“Yes,” I said. “No. Possibly. I mean, it doesn’t matter. Well, not that it doesn’t matter, but—”
Walt laughed as if my discomfort didn’t bother him at all. “Sadie, look. I just wanted to say, whatever happens, I’m glad I met you. I’m glad I came to Brooklyn. Jaz is working on a cure for me. Maybe she’ll find something, but either way…it’s okay.”
“It’s not okay!” I think my anger surprised me more than it did him. “Walt, you’re dying of a bloody curse. And—and I had Menshikov right there, ready to tell me the cure, and…I failed you. Like I failed Bes. I didn’t even bring back Ra properly.”
I was furious with myself for crying, but I couldn’t help it. Walt came over and sat next to me. He didn’t try to put his arm around me, which was just as well. I was already confused enough.
“You didn’t fail me,” he said. “You didn’t fail anybody. You did what was right, and that takes sacrifice.”
“Not you,” I said. “I don’t want you to die.”
His smile made me feel as if the world had been reduced to just two people.
“Ra’s return may not have cured me,” he said, “but it still gave me new hope. You’re amazing, Sadie. One way or another, we’re going to make this work. I’m not leaving you.”
That sounded so good, so excellent, and so impossible. “How can you promise that?”
He eyes drifted to the picture of Anubis, then back to me. “Just try not to worry about me. We have to concentrate on defeating Apophis.”
“Any idea how?”
He gestured toward my bedside table, where my beaten-up old tape recorder sat—a gift from my grandparents ages ago.
“Tell people what really happened,” he said. “Don’t let Jacobi and the others spread lies about your family. I came to Brooklyn because I got your first message—the recording about the Red Pyramid, the djed amulet. You asked for help, and we answered. It’s time to ask for help again.”
“But how many magicians did we really reach the first time —twenty?”
“Hey, we did pretty well last night.” Walt held my eyes. I thought he might kiss me, but something made us both hesitate—a sense that it would only make things more uncertain, more fragile. “Send out another tape, Sadie. Just tell the truth. When you talk…” He shrugged, and then stood to leave. “Well, you’re pretty hard to ignore.”
A few moments after he left, Carter came in, a book tucked under his arm. He found me listening to my sad music, staring at the tape recorder on the dresser.
“Was that Walt coming out of your room?” he asked. A little brotherly protectiveness crept into his voice. “What’s up?”
“Oh, just…” My eyes fixed on the book he was carrying. It was a tattered old textbook, and I wondered if he meant to assign me some sort of homework. But the cover looked so familiar: the diamond design, the multicolored foil letters. “What is that?”
Carter sat next to me. Nervously, he offered me the book. “It’s, um…not a gold necklace. Or even a magic knife. But I told you I had a birthday present for you. This—this is it.”
I ran my fingers over the title: Blackley’s Survey of the Sciences for First-Year College, Twelfth Edition. Then I opened the book. On the inside cover, a name was written in lovely cursive: Ruby Kane.
It was Mum’s college textbook—the same one she used to read to us from at bedtime. The very same copy.
I blinked back tears. “How did you—”
“The retrieval shabti in the library,” Carter said. “They can find any book. I know it’s…kind of a lame present. It didn’t cost me anything, and I didn’t make it, but—”
“Shut up, you idiot!” I flung my arms around him. “It’s an amazing birthday present. And you’re an amazing brother!”
[Fine, Carter. There it is, recorded for all time. Just don’t get a big head. I spoke in a moment of weakness.]
We turned the pages, smiling at the crayon mustache Carter had drawn on Isaac Newton and the outdated diagrams of the solar system. We found an old food stain that was probably my applesauce. I loved applesauce. We ran our hands over the margin notes done in Mum’s beautiful cursive.
I felt closer to my mother just holding the book, and amazed by Carter’s thoughtfulness. Even though I’d learned his secret name and supposed I knew everything about him, the boy had still managed to surprise me.
“So, what were you saying about Walt?” he asked. “What’s going on?”
Reluctantly, I closed Blackley’s Survey of the Sciences. And yes, that’s probably the only time in my life I’d ever closed a textbook with reluctance. I rose and set the book on my dresser. Then I picked up my old cassette recorder.
“We have work to do,” I told Carter. I tossed him the microphone.
So now you know what really happened on the equinox, how the old Chief Lector died, and how Amos took his place. Desjardins sacrificed his life to buy us time, but Apophis is quickly working his way out of the abyss. We may have weeks, if we’re lucky. Days, if we’re not.
Amos is trying to assert himself as the leader of the House of Life, but it’s not going to be easy. Some nomes are in rebellion. Many believe the Kanes have taken over by force.
We’re sending out this tape to set the record straight.
We don’t have all the answers yet. We don’t know when or where Apophis will strike. We don’t know how to heal Ra, or Bes, or even Walt. We don’t know what role Zia will play, or if the gods can be trusted to help us. Most important, I am completely torn between two amazing guys—one who’s dying and another who’s the god of death. What sort of choice is that, I ask you?
[Right, sorry…getting off track again.]
The point is, wherever you are, whatever type of magic you practice, we need your help. Unless we unite and learn the path of the gods quickly, we don’t stand a chance.
I hope Walt is right and you’ll find me hard to ignore, because the clock is ticking. We’ll keep a room ready for you at Brooklyn House.