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The Throne of Fire

The Throne of Fire

The Throne of Fire 15


  I wanted to strangle Set, but we had bigger problems. As if encouraged by Set’s pep talk, the tjesu heru lunged at us. Sadie and I sprinted for the nearest door.

  We ran through the Winter Palace with Set’s laughter echoing behind us.

  S A D I E

  11. Carter Does Something Incredibly Stupid (and No One Is Surprised)

  I UNDERSTAND, CARTER. I do.

  Have me narrate the most painful part. Of course, I can’t blame you. What happened was awful enough for me, but for you—well, I wouldn’t want to talk about it either.

  There we were in the Winter Palace, racing down polished marble hallways that were not designed for running. Behind us, the two-headed tjesu heru skidded and slammed into walls as it tried to turn corners, much like Muffin used to do whenever Gran mopped the floor. That’s the only reason the monster didn’t catch us immediately.

  Since we’d teleported into the Malachite Room, I had no idea where the nearest exit was. I wasn’t even sure if we were actually in the Winter Palace, or if Menshikov’s office was some clever facsimile that existed only in the Duat. I was beginning to think we’d never get out when we rounded a corner, scrambled down a staircase, and spotted a set of glass- and-iron doors leading out to Palace Square.

  The tjesu heru was right behind us. It slipped and rolled down the staircase, demolishing a plaster statue of some unfortunate tsar.

  We were ten meters from the exit when I saw the chains across the doors.

  “Carter,” I gasped, waving helplessly at the padlock.

  I hate to admit just how weak I felt. I didn’t have the strength for another spell. Cracking Set’s vase in the Malachite Room had been my last hurrah, which is a good example of why you shouldn’t use magic to solve all your problems. Summoning a Divine Word to break the vase had taken so much energy, I felt as if I’d been digging holes in the hot sun. It would’ve been much easier just to throw a rock. If I lived through the night, I decided to add some rocks to my tool bag.

  We were three meters away when Carter thrust his fist toward the doors. The Eye of Horus burned against the padlock, and the doors burst open as if they’d been hit by giant fist. I hadn’t seen Carter do anything like that since our fight at the Red Pyramid, but I didn’t have time to be amazed. We bolted outside into the wintry night, the tjesu heru roaring behind us.

  You’ll think I was mad, but my first thought was: That was too easy.

  Despite the monster chasing us and the business with Set (whom I would strangle at the first opportunity—that backstabbing git!), I couldn’t help feeling we’d breached Menshikov’s inner sanctum and snatched the scroll without nearly enough trouble. Where were the traps? The alarms? The exploding-donkey curses? I was certain we’d stolen the authentic scroll.

  I’d felt the same tingle in my fingers as when I’d taken the one from the Brooklyn Museum (without the fire, thankfully). So why hadn’t the scroll been better protected?

  I was so tired, I fell a few steps behind Carter, which probably saved my life. I felt a crawling sensation across my scalp. I sensed darkness above me—a feeling that reminded me too much of the shadow of Nekhbet’s wings. I looked up and saw the tjesu heru sailing over our heads like a massive bullfrog, timing its pounce so it would land—

  “Carter, stop!” I yelled.

  Easier said than done on icy pavement. I skidded to a halt, but Carter was going too fast. He fell on his bum and slid, his sword skittering to one side.

  The tjesu heru landed right on top of him. If it hadn’t been U-shaped, Carter would’ve been crushed; but it curved around him like an enormous pair of headphones, one head glaring down at him from either side.

  How could something so large have leaped so far? Too late, I realized we should have stayed inside where it was harder for the monster to move. Out here, we had no chance of outrunning it.

  “Carter,” I said. “Stay perfectly still.”

  He froze in crab-walk position. The monster’s two heads dripped venom that hissed and steamed on the icy stones.

  “Oi!” I yelled. Not having any rocks, I picked up a chunk of broken ice and threw it at the tjesu heru. Naturally, I hit Carter in the back instead. Nevertheless, I got the tjesu heru’s attention.

  Both heads turned toward me, twin tongues flickering. First step done: distract the monster.

  Second step: find some clever way to draw it away from Carter. That part was giving me a bit more trouble.

  I’d used my only potion. Most of my magic supplies were gone. My staff and wand wouldn’t do me much good with my magical reserves drained. The knife from Anubis? Somehow I doubted this was the right situation to open someone’s mouth.

  The amulet from Walt? I had not the slightest idea how to use it.

  For the millionth time, I regretted having given up the spirit of Isis. I could really have used the full magic arsenal of a goddess. But, of course, that was exactly why I’d had to separate from her. That sort of power is intoxicating, dangerously addictive. It can quickly destroy your life.

  But what if I could form a limited bond? In the Malachite Room, I’d managed the ha-di spell for the first time in months. And while it had been difficult, it hadn’t been impossible.

  Right, Isis, I thought. Here’s what I need—

  Don’t think, Sadie, her voice whispered back almost immediately, which was quite a shock. Divine magic has to be involuntary, like breathing.

  You mean… I stopped myself. Don’t think. Well, that shouldn’t be too hard. I held up my staff, and a golden hieroglyph blazed in the air. A one-meter-tall tyet lit up the courtyard like a Christmas-tree star.

  The tjesu heru snarled, its yellow eyes fixed on the hieroglyph.

  “Don’t like that, eh?” I called. “Symbol of Isis, you big ugly mutt. Now, get away from my brother!”

  It was a complete bluff, of course. I doubted the glowing sign could do anything useful. But I hoped the snake creature wasn’t smart enough to know that.

  Slowly, Carter edged backward. He looked for his sword, but it was ten meters away—much too far to reach.

  I kept my eyes on the monster. I used the butt of my staff to trace a magic circle in the snow around me. It wouldn’t provide much protection, but it was better than nothing.

  “Carter,” I called, “When I say go, run back here.”

  “That thing’s too fast!” he said.

  “I’ll try to detonate the hieroglyph and blind it.”

  I still maintain that the plan would’ve worked, but I didn’t get the chance to try it. Somewhere off to my left, boots crunched on ice. The monster turned toward the sound.

  A young man ran into the light of the hieroglyph. He was dressed in a heavy wool coat and a policeman’s hat, with a rifle in his hands, but he couldn’t have been much older than me. He was fairly drowning in his uniform. When he saw the monster, his eyes widened. He stumbled backward, almost dropping his weapon.

  He yelled something at me in Russian, probably, “Why is there a two-headed snake monster with no bum?”

  The monster hissed at both of us—which it could do, having two heads.

  “That’s a monster,” I told the guard. I was fairly sure he couldn’t understand, but I tried to keep my tone steady. “Stay calm and don’t shoot. I’m trying to save my brother.”

  The guard swallowed. His large ears were the only things holding up his hat. He glanced from the monster to Carter to the tyet glowing above my head. Then he did something I wasn’t expecting.

  He said a word in Ancient Egyptian: “Heqat”—the command I always used to summon my staff. His rifle changed to a two-meter oaken rod with the carved head of a falcon.

  Wonderful, I thought. The security guards are secretly magicians.

  He addressed me in Russian—some sort of warning. I recognized the name Menshikov.

  “Let me guess,” I said. “You want to take me to your leader.”

  The tjesu heru snapped its jaws. It was rapidly losing its fear of my glowin
g tyet. Carter wasn’t far enough away to make a run for it.

  “Look,” I told the guard, “your boss Menshikov is a traitor. He summoned this thing to kill us so we wouldn’t blab about his plans to free Apophis. Savvy the word Apophis? Bad snake. Very bad snake! Now, either help me kill this monster or stay out of my way!”

  The magician-guard hesitated. He pointed at me nervously. “Kane.” It wasn’t a question.

  “Yes,” I agreed. “Kane.”

  His expression was a jumble of emotions—fear, disbelief, possibly even awe. I didn’t know what he’d heard about us, but before he could decide whether to help us or fight us, the situation spun out of control.

  The tjesu heru charged. My ridiculous brother—instead of rolling out of the way—tackled the monster.

  He locked his arms around the creature’s right neck and tried to climb its back, but the tjesu heru simply turned its other head to strike.

  What was my brother thinking? Perhaps he thought he could ride the beast. Perhaps he was trying to buy me a few seconds to cast a spell. If you ask him about it now, he’ll claim he doesn’t remember the incident at all. But if you ask me, the thickheaded fool was trying to save me, even if it meant sacrificing himself. The nerve!

  [Oh, yes, now you try to explain yourself, Carter. I thought you didn’t remember this bit! Just be quiet and let me tell the story.]

  As I was saying, the tjesu heru struck at Carter, and everything seemed to slow down. I remember screaming, lowering my staff at the monster. The soldier-magician yelled something in Russian. The creature sank its fangs into Carter’s left shoulder, and he dropped to the ground.

  I forgot about my makeshift circle. I ran toward him, and my staff glowed. I don’t know how I managed the power. As Isis said, I didn’t think. I simply channeled all my rage and shock into my staff.

  Seeing Carter hurt was the final insult. My grandparents had been possessed. My friends had been attacked, and my birthday ruined. But my brother was off-limits. No one was allowed to hurt my brother.

  I unleashed a beam of golden light that hit the monster with the force of a sandblaster. The tjesu heru crumbled to bits, until there was nothing left but a streak of sand steaming in the snow and a few splinters of Menshikov’s shattered staff.

  I ran to Carter’s side. He was shivering, his eyes rolled back in his head. Two puncture wounds in his coat were smoking.

  “Kane,” the young Russian said with a tone of awe.

  I snatched up a splinter of wood and held it for him to see. “Your boss Menshikov did this. He’s working for Apophis. Menshikov: Apophis. Now, GET OUT!”

  The magician may not have understood my words, but he got the message. He turned and ran.

  I cradled Carter’s head. I couldn’t carry him by myself, but I had to get him out of here. We were in enemy territory. I needed to find Bes.

  I struggled to get him to his feet. Then someone took Carter’s other arm and helped us up. I found Set grinning at me, still in his ridiculous red disco suit, dusted with malachite rubble. Menshikov’s broken white sunglasses were propped on his head.

  “You,” I said, too filled with loathing to issue a proper death threat.

  “Me,” Set agreed cheerily. “Let’s get your brother out of here, shall we? Vladimir is not in a good mood.”

  The Nevsky Prospekt would’ve been a lovely place to shop if it hadn’t been the wee hours of the morning during a snowstorm, and if I hadn’t been carrying my poisoned, comatose brother. The street had wide pavements, perfect for strolling, lined with a dazzling assortment of high-end boutiques, cafés, churches, and mansions. With all the signs in Russian, I didn’t see how I was going to find the chocolate shop. I couldn’t spot Bes’s black Mercedes anywhere.

  Set volunteered to carry Carter, but I wasn’t about to let the god of chaos take full charge of my brother, so we dragged him between us. Set chatted amiably about tjesu heru poison: “Completely incurable! Fatal in about twelve hours. It’s amazing stuff!” And his tussle with Menshikov: “Six vases broken over his head, and he still survives! I envy his thick skull.” And my prospects of living long enough to find Bes: “Oh, you’re toast, my dear! A dozen senior magicians were rallying to Menshikov when I made my, er, strategic retreat. They’ll be after you shortly. I could’ve destroyed them all, of course, but I couldn’t risk Vladimir using my secret name again. Maybe he’ll get amnesia and forget it. Then if you die—that would be both problems solved. Oh, I’m sorry, I suppose that sounded insensitive. Come along!”

  Carter’s head lolled. His breathing sounded almost as bad as Vlad the Inhaler’s.

  Now, please don’t think I was dense. Of course I remembered the wax mini-Carter figurine Jaz had given me. I recognized that this was just the sort of emergency where it might come in handy. How Jaz had predicted Carter would need healing, I had no idea. But it was possible the figurine could draw the poison out of him, despite what Set said about it being incurable. What does a god of evil know about healing, anyway?

  There were problems, however. First, I knew very little about healing magic. I needed time to figure out the proper casting, and since I had only one wax statue, I couldn’t afford to get it wrong. Second, I couldn’t very well do that while being chased by Menshikov and his squad of magical Russian goons, nor did I want to let my guard down with Set anywhere near me. I didn’t know why he’d decided to be helpful all of a sudden, but the sooner I could lose him, the better. I needed to find Bes and retreat to somewhere safe—if there was such a place.

  Set kept chatting about all the exciting ways the magicians might kill me once they caught up. Finally I spotted a bridge up ahead over a frozen canal. Parked in the middle was the black Mercedes. Bes leaned against the hood, eating pieces off a chocolate chessboard. Next to him sat a large plastic bag—hopefully with more chocolate for me.

  I yelled to him, but he was so engrossed in eating chocolate (which I suppose I could understand) that he didn’t notice us until we were a few meters away. Then he looked up and saw Set.

  I started to say, “Bes, don’t—”

  Too late. Like a skunk, the dwarf god activated his default defense. His eyes bulged out. His mouth opened impossibly wide. He yelled “BOO!” so loudly, my hair parted, and icicles rained down from the bridge’s streetlamps.

  Set didn’t look the least bit fazed.

  “Hello, Bes,” he said. “Really, you’re not so scary with chocolate smeared on your face.”

  Bes glared at me. “What’s he doing here?”

  “Not my idea!” I promised. I gave him the abbreviated story of our encounter with Menshikov.

  “And so Carter’s been hurt,” I summed up, which seemed rather obvious. “We have to get him out of here.”

  “But first,” Set interrupted, pointing at the Chocolate Museum bag next to Bes, “I can’t stand surprises. What’s in there? A gift for me?”

  Bes frowned. “Sadie wanted a souvenir. I brought her Lenin’s head.”

  Set slapped his thigh with delight. “Bes, how evil! There’s hope for you yet.”

  “Not his real head,” Bes said. “It’s chocolate.”

  “Oh…shame. Can I have part of your chessboard, then? I simply love eating pawns.”

  “Get out of here, Set!” Bes said.

  “Well, I could do that, but since our friends are on their way, I thought perhaps we should make a deal.”

  Set snapped his fingers, and a globe of red light appeared in front of him. In it, the holographic images of six men in security uniforms piled into two white sports cars. Their headlights blazed to life. The cars swerved across a parking lot, then passed straight through a stone wall as if it were made of smoke.

  “I’d say you have about two minutes.” Set smiled, and the globe of light faded. “You remember Menshikov’s minions, Bes. Are you sure you want to meet them again?”

  The dwarf god’s face darkened. He crushed a white chocolate chess piece in his hand. “You lying, scheming, murdering??
?”

  “Stop!” I said.

  Carter groaned in his poisoned daze. Either he was getting heavier, or I was getting tired of holding him up.

  “We don’t have time to argue,” I said. “Set, are you offering to stop the magicians?”

  He laughed. “No, no. I’m still hoping they’ll kill you, you see. But I was going to offer you the location of the last scroll in the Book of Ra. That is what you’re after, isn’t it?”

  I assumed he was lying. He usually was—but if he was serious…

  I looked at Bes. “Is it possible he knows the location?”

  Bes grunted. “More than possible. The priests of Ra gave him the scroll for safekeeping.”

  “Why on earth would they do that?”

  Set tried to look modest. “Come now, Sadie. I was a loyal lieutenant of Ra. If you were Ra, and you didn’t want to be bothered by any old magician trying to wake you, wouldn’t you trust the key to your location with your most fearsome servant?”

  He had a point. “Where’s the scroll, then?”

  “Not so fast. I’ll give you the location if you give me back my secret name.”

  “Not likely!”

  “It’s quite simple. Just say ‘I give you back your name.’ You’ll forget the proper way to say it—”

  “And then I’ll have no power over you! You’ll kill me!”

  “You’d have my word that I won’t.”

  “Right. That’s worth a lot. What if I used your secret name to force you to tell me?”

  Set shrugged. “With a few days to research the correct spell, you might manage that. Unfortunately…” He cupped his ear to his hand. In the distance, tires squealed—two cars, traveling fast, getting closer. “You don’t have a few days.”

  Bes cursed in Egyptian. “Don’t do it, girl. He can’t be trusted.”