The Throne of Fire

The Throne of Fire

The Throne of Fire 3

  “Not very calm,” Sadie noticed. She glanced up at the glass dome, forty feet above, where the tiny figure of Khufu was waving at us frantically. “We need to get Jaz out of here now,” she said.

  “I’m fine,” Jaz muttered.

  “No, you’re not,” Walt said. “Carter, she got that spirit out of me, but it almost killed her. It’s some kind of sickness demon—”

  “A bau,” I said. “An evil spirit. These seven are called—”

  “The Arrows of Sekhmet,” Jaz said, confirming my fears. “They’re plague spirits, born from the goddess. I can stop them.”

  “You can rest,” Sadie said.

  “Right,” I said. “Sadie, get this rope off the griffin and—”

  “There’s no time.” Jaz pointed. The bau were getting larger and brighter. More wedding guests were falling as the spirits whipped around the room unchallenged.

  “They’ll die if I don’t stop the bau,” Jaz said. “I can channel the power of Sekhmet and force them back to the Duat. It’s what I’ve been training for.”

  I hesitated. Jaz had never tried such a large spell. She was already weak from healing Walt. But she was trained for this. It might seem strange that healers studied the path of Sekhmet, but since Sekhmet was the goddess of destruction, plagues, and famine, it made sense that healers would learn how to control her forces—including bau.

  Besides, even if I freed the griffin, I wasn’t one hundred percent sure I could control it. There was a decent chance it would get excited and gobble us up rather than the spirits.

  Outside, police sirens were getting louder. We were running out of time.

  “We’ve got no choice,” Jaz insisted.

  She pulled her wand and then—much to my sister’s shock —gave Walt a kiss on the cheek. “It’ll be okay, Walt. Don’t give up.”

  Jaz took something else from her magician’s bag—a wax figurine—and pressed it into my sister’s free hand. “You’ll need this soon, Sadie. I’m sorry I can’t help you more. You’ll know what to do when the time comes.”

  I don’t think I’d ever seen Sadie at such a loss for words.

  Jaz ran to the center of the ballroom and touched her wand to the floor, drawing a circle of protection around her feet. From her bag she produced a small statue of Sekhmet, her patron goddess, and held it aloft.

  She began to chant. Red light glowed around her. Tendrils of energy spread out from the circle, filling the room like the branches of a tree. The tendrils began to swirl, slowly at first, then picking up speed until the magic current tugged at the bau, forcing them to fly in the same direction, drawing them toward the center. The spirits howled, trying to fight the spell. Jaz staggered, but she kept chanting, her face beaded with sweat.

  “Can’t we help her?” Walt asked.

  “RAWWWWK!” the griffin cried, which probably meant, Helloooo! I’m still here!

  The sirens sounded like they were right outside the building now. Down the hall near the elevators, someone was shouting into a megaphone, ordering the last wave of wedding guests to exit the building—like they needed encouragement. The police had arrived, and if we got arrested, this situation was going to be difficult to explain.

  “Sadie,” I said, “get ready to dispel the rope on the griffin. Walt, you still got your boat amulet?”

  “My—? Yeah. But there’s no water.”

  “Just summon the boat!” I dug through my pockets and found my own magic twine. I spoke a charm and was suddenly holding a rope about twenty feet long. I made a loose slipknot in the middle, like a huge necktie, and carefully approached the griffin.

  “I’m just going to put this around your neck,” I said. “Don’t freak.”

  “FREEEEK!” the griffin said.

  I stepped closer, conscious of how fast that beak could snap me up if it wanted to, but I managed to loop the rope around the griffin’s neck.

  Then something went wrong. Time slowed down. The red swirling tendrils of Jaz’s spell moved sluggishly, like the air had turned to syrup. The screams and sirens faded to a distant roar.

  You won’t succeed, a voice hissed.

  I turned and found myself face-to-face with a bau.

  It hovered in the air a few inches away, its fiery white features almost coming into focus. It seemed to smile, and I could swear I’d seen its face before.

  Chaos is too powerful, boy, it said. The world spins beyond your control. Give up your quest!

  “Shut up,” I murmured, but my heart was pounding.

  You’ll never find her, the spirit taunted. She sleeps in the Place of Red Sand, but she will die there if you follow your pointless quest.

  I felt like a tarantula was crawling down my back. The spirit was talking about Zia Rashid—the real Zia, who I’d been searching for since Christmas.

  “No,” I said. “You’re a demon, a deceiver.”

  You know better, boy. We’ve met before.

  “Shut up!” I summoned the Eye of Horus, and the spirit hissed. Time sped up again. The red tendrils of Jaz’s spell wrapped around the bau and pulled it screaming into the vortex.

  No one else seemed to have noticed what just happened.

  Sadie was playing defense, swatting at bau with her flaming scroll whenever they got close. Walt set his boat amulet on the ground and spoke the command word. In a matter of seconds, like one of those crazy expand-in-water sponge toys, the amulet grew into a full-size Egyptian reed boat, lying across the ruins of the buffet table.

  With shaking hands, I took the two ends of the griffin’s new necktie and tied one end to the boat’s prow and one to the stern.

  “Carter, look!” Sadie called.

  I turned in time to see a flash of blinding red light. The entire vortex collapsed inward, sucking all six bau into Jaz’s circle. The light died. Jaz fainted, her wand and the Sekhmet statue both crumbling to dust in her hands.

  We ran to her. Her clothes were steaming. I couldn’t tell if she was breathing.

  “Get her into the boat,” I said. “We have to get out of here.”

  I heard a tiny grunt from far above. Khufu had opened the dome. He gestured urgently as searchlights swept the sky above him. The museum was probably surrounded by emergency vehicles.

  All around the ballroom, afflicted guests were starting to regain consciousness. Jaz had saved them, but at what cost? We carried her to the boat and climbed in.

  “Hold on tight,” I warned. “This thing is not balanced. If it flips—”

  “Hey!” a deep male voice yelled behind us. “What are you—Hey! Stop!”

  “Sadie, rope, now!” I said.

  She snapped her fingers, and the rope entangling the griffin dissolved.

  “GO!” I shouted. “UP!”

  “FREEEEK!” The griffin revved its wings. We lurched into the air, the boat rocking crazily, and shot straight for the open dome. The griffin barely seemed to notice our extra weight. It ascended so fast, Khufu had to make a flying leap to get on board. I pulled him into the boat, and we held on desperately, trying not to capsize.

  “Agh!” Khufu complained.

  “Yeah,” I agreed. “So much for an easy job.”

  Then again, we were the Kane family. This was the easiest day we were going to have for quite a while.

  Somehow, our griffin knew the right way to go. He screamed in triumph and soared into the cold rainy night. As we flew toward home, Sadie’s scroll burned brighter. When I looked down, ghostly white fires were blazing across every rooftop in Brooklyn.

  I began to wonder exactly what we’d stolen—if it was even the right object, or if it would make our problems worse. Either way, I had a feeling we’d finally pushed our luck too far.

  S A D I E

  3. The Ice Cream Man Plots Our Death

  ODD HOW EASILY YOU CAN FORGET your hand is on fire.

  Oh, sorry. Sadie, here. You didn’t think I’d let my brother prattle on forever, did you? Please, no one deserves a curse that horrible.

p; We arrived back at Brooklyn House, and everyone swarmed me because my hand was stuck to a flaming scroll.

  “I’m fine!” I insisted. “Take care of Jaz!”

  Honestly, I appreciate a bit of attention now and then, but I was hardly the most interesting thing happening. We’d landed on the roof of the mansion, which itself is an odd attraction—a five-story limestone-and-steel cube, like a cross between an Egyptian temple and an art museum, perched atop an abandoned warehouse on the Brooklyn waterfront. Not to mention that the mansion shimmers with magic and is invisible to regular mortals.

  Below us, the whole of Brooklyn was on fire. My annoying magic scroll had painted a wide swath of ghostly flames over the borough as we’d flown from the museum. Nothing was actually burning, and the flames weren’t hot; but we’d still caused quite a panic. Sirens wailed. People clogged the streets, gawking up at the blazing rooftops. Helicopters circled with searchlights.

  If that wasn’t exciting enough, my brother was wrangling a griffin, trying to untie a fishing boat from around its neck and keep the beast from eating our trainees.

  Then there was Jaz, our real cause for concern. We’d determined she was still breathing, but she seemed to be in some sort of coma. When we opened her eyes, they were glowing white—typically not a good sign.

  During the boat ride, Khufu had attempted some of his famous baboon magic on her—patting her forehead, making rude noises, and trying to insert jelly beans into her mouth. I’m sure he thought he was being helpful, but it hadn’t done much to improve her condition.

  Now Walt was taking care of her. He picked her up gently and put her on a stretcher, covering her with blankets and stroking her hair as our other trainees gathered round. And that was fine. Completely fine.

  I wasn’t at all interested in how handsome his face looked in the moonlight, or his muscular arms in that sleeveless tee, or the fact that he’d been holding hands with Jaz, or…

  Sorry. Lost my train of thought.

  I plopped down at the far corner of the roof, feeling absolutely knackered. My right hand itched from holding the papyrus scroll so long. The magic flames tickled my fingers.

  I felt around in my left pocket and brought out the little wax figure Jaz had given me. It was one of her healing statues, used to expel sickness or curses. Generally speaking, wax figures don’t look like anyone in particular, but Jaz had taken her time with this one. It was clearly meant to heal one specific person, which meant it would have more power and would most likely be saved for a life-and-death situation. I recognized the figurine’s curly hair, its facial features, the sword pressed into its hands. Jaz had even written its name in hieroglyphs on its chest: CARTER.

  You’ll need this soon, she’d told me.

  As far as I knew, Jaz was not a diviner. She couldn’t tell the future. So what had she meant? How was I supposed to I know when to use the figurine? Staring at the mini-Carter, I had a horrible feeling that my brother’s life had been quite literally placed in my hands.

  “Are you all right?” asked a woman’s voice.

  I quickly put away the figurine.

  My old friend Bast stood over me. With her slight smile and glinting yellow eyes, she might’ve been concerned or amused. It’s hard to tell with a cat goddess. Her black hair was pulled back in a ponytail. She wore her usual leopard-skin leotard, as if she were about to perform a backflip. For all I knew, she might. As I said, you never can tell with cats.

  “I’m fine,” I lied. “Just…” I waved my flaming hand about helplessly.

  “Mmm.” The scroll seemed to make Bast uncomfortable. “Let me see what I can do.”

  She knelt next to me and began to chant.

  I pondered how odd it was having my former pet cast a spell on me. For years, Bast had posed as my cat, Muffin. I hadn’t even realized I had a goddess sleeping on my pillow at night. Then, after our dad unleashed a slew of gods at the British Museum, Bast had made herself known.

  She’d been watching over me for six years, she’d told us, ever since our parents released her from a cell in the Duat, where she’d been sent to fight the chaos snake Apophis forever.

  Long story, but my mum had foreseen that Apophis would eventually escape his prison, which would basically amount to Doomsday. If Bast continued to fight him alone, she’d be destroyed. However, if Bast were freed, my mum believed she could play an important role in the coming battle with Chaos. So my parents freed her before Apophis could overwhelm her. My mother had died opening, then quickly closing, Apophis’s prison; so naturally Bast felt indebted to our parents. Bast had become my guardian.

  Now she was also Carter and my chaperone, travel companion, and sometime personal chef (Hint: if she offers you the Friskies du Jour, say no).

  But I still missed Muffin. At times I had to resist the urge to scratch Bast behind the ears and feed her crunchy treats, although I was glad she no longer tried to sleep on my pillow at night. That would’ve been a bit strange.

  She finished her chant, and the scroll’s flames sputtered out. My hand unclenched. The papyrus dropped into my lap.

  “God, thank you,” I said.

  “Goddess,” Bast corrected. “You’re quite welcome. We can’t have the power of Ra lighting up the city, can we?”

  I looked out across the borough. The fires were gone. The Brooklyn night skyline was back to normal, except for the emergency lights and crowds of screaming mortals in the streets. Come to think of it, I suppose that was fairly normal.

  “The power of Ra?” I asked. “I thought the scroll was a clue. Is this the actual Book of Ra?”

  Bast’s ponytail puffed up as it does when she’s nervous. I’d come to realize she kept her hair in a ponytail so that her entire head wouldn’t explode into a sea urchin shape each time she got startled.

  “The scroll is…part of the book,” she said. “And I did warn you. Ra’s power is almost impossible to control. If you insist on trying to wake him, the next fires you set off might not be so harmless.”

  “But isn’t he your pharaoh?” I asked. “Don’t you want him awakened?”

  She dropped her gaze. I realized how foolish my comment was. Ra was Bast’s lord and master. Eons ago, he’d chosen her to be his champion. But he was also the one who’d sent her into that prison to keep his archenemy Apophis occupied for eternity, so Ra could retire with a clear conscience. Quite selfish, if you ask me.

  Thanks to my parents, Bast had escaped her imprisonment; but that also meant she’d abandoned her post fighting Apophis. No wonder she had mixed feelings about seeing her old boss again.

  “It’s best we talk in the morning,” Bast said. “You need rest, and that scroll should only be opened in the daylight, when the power of Ra is easier to control.”

  I stared at my lap. The papyrus was still steaming. “Easier to control…as in, it won’t set me on fire?”

  “It’s safe to touch now,” Bast assured me. “After being trapped in darkness for a few millennia, it was just very sensitive, reacting to any sort of energy—magical, electrical, emotional. I’ve, ah, dialed down the sensitivity so it won’t burst into flames again.”

  I took the scroll. Thankfully, Bast was right. It didn’t stick to my hand or light the city on fire.

  Bast helped me to my feet. “Get some sleep. I’ll let Carter know you’re all right. Besides…” She managed a smile. “You’ve got a big day tomorrow.”

  Right, I thought miserably. One person remembers, and it’s my cat.

  I looked over at my brother, who was still trying to control the griffin. It had Carter’s shoelaces in its beak and didn’t seem inclined to let go.

  Most of our twenty trainees were surrounding Jaz, trying to wake her up. Walt hadn’t left her side. He glanced up at me briefly, uneasily, then turned his attention back to Jaz.

  “Maybe you’re right,” I grumbled to Bast. “I’m not needed up here.”

  My room was a lovely place to sulk. The last six years I’d lived in an attic in Gran a
nd Gramps’s flat in London, and although I missed my old life, my mates Liz and Emma, and most everything about England, I couldn’t deny that my room in Brooklyn was much more posh.

  My private balcony overlooked the East River. I had an enormous comfy bed, my own bathroom, and a walk-in closet with endless new outfits that magically appeared and cleaned themselves as needed. The chest of drawers featured a built-in refrigerator with my favorite Ribena drinks, imported from the UK, and chilled chocolates (well, a girl does have to treat herself). The sound system was absolutely bleeding edge, and the walls were magically soundproofed so I could play my music as loud as I wanted without worrying about my stick-in-the-mud brother next door. Sitting on the dresser was one of the only things I’d brought from my room in London: a beat-up cassette recorder my grandparents had given me ages ago. It was hopelessly old-fashioned, yes, but I kept it around for sentimental reasons. Carter and I had recorded our adventures at the Red Pyramid on it, after all.

  I docked my iPod and scrolled through my playlists. I chose an older mix labeled sad, as that’s how I felt.

  Adele’s 19 began playing. God, I hadn’t heard that album since…

  Quite unexpectedly I began to tear up. I’d been listening to this mix on Christmas Eve when Dad and Carter picked me up for our trip to the British Museum—the night our lives changed forever.

  Adele sang as if someone were ripping her heart out. She went on about the boy she fancied, wondering what she must do to make him want her properly. I could relate to that. But last Christmas, the song had made me think of my family as well: my mum, who’d died when I was quite small, and my father and Carter, who traveled the world together, left me in London with my grandparents, and didn’t seem to need me in their lives.

  Of course I knew it was more complicated than that. There’d been a nasty custody battle involving lawyers and spatula attacks, and Dad had wanted to keep Carter and me apart so we didn’t agitate each other’s magic before we could handle the power. And yes, we’d all grown closer since then. My father was back in my life a bit more, even if he was the god of the underworld now. As for my mother…well, I’d met her ghost. I suppose that counted for something.