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The Throne of Fire

The Throne of Fire

The Throne of Fire 18


  “Bahariya…” He looked at Bes. “I know that name. Why do I know that name?”

  Bes scratched his beard. He’d been glum and silent since I’d recounted our conversation with Set. The name Bahariya seemed especially to bother him.

  “It’s an oasis,” he said, “way out in the desert. The mummies buried there were a secret until 1996. Then some fool donkey put its leg through a hole in the ground and broke open the top of a tomb.”

  “Right!” Carter beamed at me, that Gee, history is cool! light in his eyes, so I knew he must be feeling better. “It’s called the Valley of the Golden Mummies.”

  “I like gold,” I said. “Mummies—not so much.”

  “Oh, you just haven’t met enough mummies,” Bes said.

  I couldn’t tell if he was joking, and I decided not to ask. “So the last scroll is hidden there?”

  Bes shrugged. “It would make sense. The oasis is out of the way. Wasn’t found until recently. There are also powerful curses in place to prevent portal travel. The mortal archaeologists have excavated some of the tombs, but there’s still a huge network of tunnels and chambers no one’s opened in thousands of years. Lots of mummies.”

  I imagined horror film mummies with their arms out and their linen wraps coming undone, groaning as they chased screaming starlets and strangled archaeologists.

  “When you say lots of mummies,” I ventured, “how many is lots?”

  “They’ve uncovered a few hundred,” Bes said, “out of maybe ten thousand.”

  “Ten thousand?” I looked at Carter, who didn’t seem bothered by this at all.

  “Sadie,” he said, “it’s not like they’re going to come to life and kill you.”

  “No,” Bes agreed. “Probably not. Almost for sure not.”

  “Thanks,” I muttered. “I feel much better.”

  (Yes, I know what I said earlier about dead people and cemeteries not bothering me. But ten thousand mummies? That was pushing it.)

  “Anyway,” Bes said, “most of the mummies are from Roman times. They’re not even properly Egyptian. Bunch of Latin wannabes trying to get into our afterlife because it’s cooler. But some of the older tombs…well, we’ll just have to see. With two parts of the Book of Ra, you should be able to track down the third part once you get close enough.”

  “How, exactly?” I asked.

  Bes shrugged. “When magic items get broken up, the pieces are like magnets. The closer they get, the more they attract each other.”

  That didn’t necessarily make me feel better. I imagined myself running through a tunnel with flaming scrolls stuck to both hands.

  “Right,” I said. “So all we have to do is creep through a network of tombs past ten thousand golden mummies, who probably, almost for sure, won’t come to life and kill us.”

  “Yeah,” Bes said. “Well, they’re not really solid gold. Most of them are just painted with gold. But, yeah.”

  “That makes a huge difference.”

  “Then it’s decided.” Carter sounded positively thrilled. “We can leave in the morning. How far is it?”

  “A little over two hundred miles,” Bes said, “but the roads are iffy. And portals…well, like I said, the oasis is cursed against them. And even if it wasn’t, we’re back in the First Nome. It would be wise to use as little magic as possible. If you’re discovered in Desjardins’ home territory…”

  He didn’t need to finish that sentence.

  I gazed at the skyline of Alexandria curving along the shore of the glittering Mediterranean. I tried to picture it as it might’ve been in ancient times, before Cleopatra, Egypt’s final pharaoh, chose the wrong side in a Roman civil war and lost her life and her kingdom. This was the city where Ancient Egypt had died. It didn’t seem a very auspicious place to start a quest.

  Unfortunately, I had no choice. I’d have to travel two hundred miles through the desert to some isolated oasis and find one needle of a scroll in a haystack of mummies. I didn’t see how we could accomplish this in the time we had left.

  Worse, I hadn’t yet told Carter my last bit of information about Zia’s village. I could just keep my mouth shut. That would be the selfish thing. It might even be the right thing, as I needed his help, and I couldn’t afford to have him distracted.

  But I couldn’t keep it from him. I’d invaded his mind and learned his secret name. The least I could do was be honest with him.

  “Carter…there’s something else. Set wanted you to know. Zia’s village was named al-Hamrah Makan.”

  Carter turned a bit green again. “You just forgot to mention this?”

  “Remember, Set is a liar,” I said. “He wasn’t being helpful. He volunteered the information because he wanted to cause chaos between us.”

  I could already tell I was losing him. His mind was caught in a strong current that had been pulling him along since January—the idea that he could save Zia. Now that I’d been in his mind, I knew he wouldn’t rest—he couldn’t rest—until he’d found her. It went far beyond liking the girl. He’d convinced himself she was part of his destiny.

  One of his darker secrets? Deep down, Carter still resented our father for failing to save our mum, even though she had died for a noble cause, and even though it was her choice to sacrifice herself. Carter simply could not fail Zia in the same way, no matter what the stakes. He needed someone to believe in him, someone to save—and he was convinced Zia was that person. Sorry, a little sister just wouldn’t do.

  It hurt me, especially since I didn’t agree with him, but I knew better than to argue. It would only push him farther away.

  “Al-Hamrah Makan…” he said. “My Arabic isn’t very good. But Makan is red.”

  “Yes,” Bes agreed. “Al-Hamrah means ‘the sands.’”

  Carter’s eyes widened. “The Place of Red Sands! The voice at the Brooklyn Museum said Zia was asleep at the Place of Red Sands.” He looked at me pleadingly. “Sadie, it’s the ruins of her home village. That’s where Iskandar hid her. We have to find her.”

  Just like that: the fate of the world goes out the window. We have to find Zia.

  I could have pointed out several things: He was going on the word of an evil spirit that was probably speaking directly from Apophis. If Apophis knew where Zia was kept, why would he tell us, except to delay and distract us? And if he wanted Zia dead, why hadn’t he killed her already? Also, Set had given us the name al-Hamrah Makan. Set was never up to any good. He was clearly hoping to divide us. Finally, even if we had the name of the village, that didn’t mean we could find it. The place had been wiped out almost a decade ago.

  But looking at Carter, I realized there was no reasoning with him. This wasn’t a reasonable choice. He saw a chance to save Zia, and he was going to take it.

  I simply said, “It’s a bad idea.” And yes, it felt quite strange being forced to play the responsible sibling.

  Carter turned to Bes. “Could you find this village?”

  The dwarf god tugged at his Hawaiian shirt. “Maybe, but it would take time. You’ve got a little more than two days left. The equinox starts the day after tomorrow at sunset. Getting to the oasis of Bahariya is a full day of travel. Finding this ruined village—easily another day—and if it’s on the Nile, it’s in the opposite direction. Once you’ve got the Book of Ra, you’ll need to allow another day at least to figure out how to use it. I guarantee awakening Ra will mean a trip into the Duat, where time is always unpredictable. You’ll have to be back with Ra at dawn on the equinox—”

  “We don’t have enough time,” I summed up. “It’s either the Book of Ra, or Zia.”

  Why did I press Carter, when I knew what he was going to say?

  “I can’t leave her.” He looked at the sun, now dipping toward in the horizon. “She’s got a part to play, Sadie. I don’t know what it is, but she’s important. We can’t lose her.”

  I waited. It was obvious what had to happen, but Carter wasn’t going to say it.

  I took a deep brea
th. “We’ll have to separate. You and Bes go after Zia. I’ll track down the scroll.”

  Bes coughed. “Speaking of bad ideas…”

  Carter couldn’t look me in the eyes. I knew he cared about me. He didn’t want to be rid of me, but I could sense his relief. He wanted to be released from his responsibilities so he could hunt down Zia. “You saved my life,” he said. “I can’t let you go alone into the desert.”

  I unclasped my shen necklace. “I won’t go alone. Walt offered to help.”

  “He can’t,” Bes said.

  “But you won’t tell me why,” I said.

  “I—” Bes faltered. “Look, I promised Bast I’d watch you, keep you safe.”

  “And I expect you to watch Carter very well. He’ll need you to find this village. As for me, Walt and I can manage.”

  “But—”

  “Whatever Walt’s bloody secret is, whatever you’re trying to protect him from, it’s making him miserable. He wants to help. And I’m going to let him.”

  The dwarf glared at me, possibly wondering if he could yell BOO! and win the argument. I suppose he realized I was too stubborn.

  He sighed in resignation. “Two young people traveling alone through Egypt…a boy and a girl. It’ll look strange.”

  “I’ll just say Walt’s my brother.”

  Carter winced. I hadn’t meant to be harsh, but I suppose the comment was a bit hurtful. Looking back, I’m sorry for that, but at the time I was terrified and angry. Carter was putting me in an impossible position.

  “Go,” I said firmly. “Save Zia.”

  Carter tried to read my expression, but I avoided looking at him. This was not the time for us to have one of our silent conversations. He didn’t really want to know what I was thinking.

  “How will we find each other?” he asked.

  “Let’s meet back here,” I suggested. “We’ll leave at dawn. Allow ourselves twenty-four hours, no longer, for me to find the scroll, you to find Zia’s village, and both of us get back to Alexandria.”

  Bes grunted. “Not enough time. Even if everything goes perfectly, that’ll leave you about twelve hours to put together the Book of Ra and use it before the eve of the equinox.”

  He was right. It was impossible.

  Yet Carter nodded. “It’s our only chance. We have to try.”

  He looked at me hopefully, but I think I knew even then that we wouldn’t meet in Alexandria. We were the Kanes, which meant everything would go wrong.

  “Fine,” I muttered. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I should go pack.”

  I walked inside before I could start crying.

  C A R T E R

  13. I Get a Demon Up My Nose

  AT THIS POINT, I SHOULD CHANGE my secret name to Embarrassed to Death by Sister, because that pretty much sums up my existence.

  I’m going skip over our travel preparations, how Sadie summoned Walt and explained the situation, how Bes and I said our farewells at dawn and rented a car from one of Bes’s “reliable friends,” and how that car broke down halfway to Cairo.

  Basically, I’m going to skip to the part where Bes and I were rumbling along a dusty road in the back of a pickup truck driven by some Bedouins, looking for a village that no longer existed.

  By this point it was late afternoon, and I was starting to think Bes’s estimate of needing one day to find al-Hamrah Makan was way too optimistic. With each hour we wasted, my heart felt heavier. I’d risked everything to help Zia. I’d left Amos and our initiates alone at Brooklyn House to defend against the most evil magician in the world. I’d left my sister to continue the quest for the last scroll without me. If I failed to find Zia…well, I couldn’t fail.

  Traveling with professional nomads had some advantages. For one thing, the Bedouins knew every village, farm, and dusty crossroads in Egypt. They were happy to stop and ask the locals about the vanished village we were seeking.

  For another thing, the Bedouins revered Bes. They treated him as a living good-luck charm. When we stopped for lunch (which took two hours to make), the Bedouins even gave us the best part of the goat. As far as I could tell, the best part of the goat wasn’t too different from the worst part of the goat, but I suppose it was a big honor.

  The bad thing about traveling with Bedouins? They weren’t in a hurry. It took us all day to wind our way south along the Nile Valley. The journey was hot and boring. In the back of the truck, I couldn’t even talk to Bes without getting a mouthful of sand, so I had way too much time to think.

  Sadie described my obsession pretty well. The moment she’d given me the name of Zia’s village, I couldn’t focus on anything else. Of course, I figured it was some sort of trick. Apophis was trying to divide us and keep us from succeeding on our quest. But I also believed he was telling the truth, if only because the truth is what would rattle me the most. He had destroyed Zia’s village when she was a child—for what reason, I didn’t know. Now she was hidden there in a magic sleep. Unless I saved her, Apophis would kill her.

  Why hadn’t he killed her already if he knew where she was? I wasn’t sure—and that bothered me. Maybe he didn’t have the power yet. Maybe he didn’t want to. After all, if he was trying to lure me into a trap, she was the best bait. Whatever the case, Sadie was right: it wasn’t a rational choice for me. I had to save Zia.

  Despite that, I felt like a creep for leaving Sadie on her own yet again. First I’d let her go off to London even though I knew it was a bad idea. Now I’d sent her to track down a scroll in a catacomb full of mummies. Sure, Walt would help her, and she could usually take care of herself. But a good brother would have stayed with her. Sadie had just saved my life, and I was like, “Great. See you later. Have fun with the mummies.”

  I’ll just say Walt is my brother.

  Ouch.

  If I’m honest with myself, Zia wasn’t the only reason I was anxious to go off on my own. I was in shock that Sadie had discovered my secret name. Suddenly she knew me better than anyone in the world. I felt like she’d opened me up on the surgery table, examined me, and sewn me back together. My first instinct was to run away, to put as much distance between us as possible.

  I wondered if Ra had felt the same way when Isis learned his name—if that was the real reason he went into exile: complete humiliation.

  Also, I needed time to process what Sadie had accomplished. For months we’d been trying to relearn the path of the gods. We’d struggled to figure out how the ancient magicians tapped the gods’ powers without getting possessed or overwhelmed. Now I suspected Sadie had found the answer. It had something to do with a god’s ren.

  A secret name wasn’t just a name, like a magic word. It was the sum of the god’s experiences. The more you understood the god, the closer you got to knowing their secret name, and the more you could channel their power.

  If that was true, then the path of the gods was basically sympathetic magic—finding a similarity between two things, like a regular corkscrew and a corkscrew-headed demon, and using that similarity to form a magic bond. Only here, the bond was between the magician and a god. If you could find a common trait or experience, you could tap the god’s power.

  That might explain how I’d blasted open the doors at the Hermitage with the Fist of Horus—a spell I’d never been able to do on my own. Without thinking about it, without needing to combine souls with Horus, I’d tapped into his emotions. We both hated feeling confined. I’d used that simple connection to invoke a spell and break the chains. Now, if I could just figure out how to do stuff like that more reliably, it might save us in the coming battles….

  We traveled for miles in the Bedouins’ truck. The Nile snaked through green and brown fields to our left. We had nothing to drink but water from an old plastic jug that tasted like Vaseline. The goat meat wasn’t sitting well in my stomach. Every once in a while I’d remember the poison that had coursed through my body, and my shoulder would start to ache where the tjesu heru had bitten me.

  Around six in the e
vening we got our first lead. An old fellahin, a peasant farmer selling dates on the roadside, said he knew the village we were seeking. When he heard the name al-Hamrah Makan he made a protective sign against the Evil Eye, but since Bes was the one asking, the old man told us what he knew.

  He said Red Sands was an evil place, very badly cursed. No one ever visited nowadays. But the old man remembered the village from before it had been destroyed. We would find it ten kilometers south, at a bend in the river where the sand turned bright red.

  Well, duh, I thought, but I couldn’t help being excited.

  The Bedouins decided to make camp for the night. They wouldn’t be going with us the rest of the way, but they said they’d be honored if Bes and I borrowed their truck.

  A few minutes later, Bes and I were cruising along in the pickup. Bes wore a floppy hat almost as ugly as his Hawaiian shirt. It was pulled so low, I wasn’t sure he could see anything, especially since he was barely eye-level with the dashboard.

  Every time we hit a bump, Bedouin trinkets jangled on the rearview mirror—a metal disk etched with Arabic calligraphy, a Christmas-tree–shaped pine air freshener, some animal teeth on a leather strap, and a little icon of Elvis Presley for reasons I didn’t understand. The truck had no suspension and hardly any padding on the seats. I felt like I was riding a mechanical bull. Even without the jostling, my stomach would’ve been upset. After months of searching and hoping, I couldn’t believe I was so close to finding Zia.

  “You look terrible,” Bes said.

  “Thanks.”

  “I mean magically speaking. You don’t look ready for a fight. Whatever’s waiting for us, you understand it isn’t going to be friendly?”

  Under the brim of his hat, his jaw jutted out like he was bracing for an argument.

  “You think this is a mistake,” I said. “You think I should’ve stayed with Sadie.”

  He shrugged. “I think if you were looking at it straight, you’d see this has TRAP written all over it. The old Chief Lector—Iskandar—he wouldn’t have hidden your girlfriend—”