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The Throne of Fire

The Throne of Fire

The Throne of Fire 34


  Finally, Apophis spread his arms. “No matter. I’ll dig your body up later. First, I’ll deal with the old man.”

  For a second I thought he meant Desjardins, who was still crumpled lifelessly over the broken railing, but Apophis climbed into the boat, ignoring the Chief Lector, and approached the throne of fire.

  “Hello, Ra,” he said in a kindly voice. “It’s been a long time.”

  A feeble voice from behind the chair said, “Can’t play. Go away.”

  “Would you like a treat?” Apophis asked. “We used to play so nicely together. Every night, trying to kill each other. Don’t you remember?”

  Ra poked his bald head above the throne. “Treat?”

  “How about a stuffed date?” Apophis pulled one out of the air. “You used to love stuffed dates, didn’t you? All you have to do is come out and let me devour—I mean, entertain you.”

  “Want a cookie,” Ra said.

  “What kind?”

  “Weasel cookie.”

  I’m here to tell you, that comment about weasel cookies probably saved the known universe.

  Apophis stepped back, obviously confused by a comment that was even more chaotic than he was. And in that moment, Michel Desjardins struck.

  The Chief Lector must have been playing dead, or maybe he just recovered quickly. He rose up and launched himself at Apophis, slamming him against the burning throne.

  Menshikov screamed in his old raspy voice. Steam hissed like water on a barbecue. Desjardins’ robes caught fire. Ra scrambled to the back of the boat and poked his crook in the air like that would make the bad men go away.

  I struggled to my feet, but I still felt like I was carrying a few hundred extra pounds. Menshikov and Desjardins grappled with each other in front of the throne. This was the scene I’d witnessed in the Hall of Ages: the first moment in a new age.

  I knew I should help, but I scrambled along the beach, trying to gauge the spot where I’d last seen Sadie. I fell to my knees and started to dig.

  Desjardins and Menshikov struggled back and forth, shouting out words of power. I glanced over and saw a cloud of hieroglyphs and red light swirling around them as the Chief Lector summoned Ma’at, and Apophis just as quickly dissolved his spells with Chaos. As for Ra, the almighty sun god, he had scrambled to the stern of the boat and was cowering under the tiller.

  I kept digging.

  “Sadie,” I muttered. “Come on. Where are you?”

  Think, I told myself.

  I closed my eyes. I thought about Sadie—every memory we’d shared since Christmas. We’d lived apart for years, but over the last three months, I’d become closer to her than to anyone else in the world. If she could figure out my secret name while I was unconscious, surely I could find her in a pile of sand.

  I scrambled a few feet to the left and began to dig again. Immediately I scratched Sadie’s nose. She groaned, which at least meant she was alive. I brushed off her face and she coughed. Then she raised her arms, and I pulled her out of the sand. I was so relieved, I almost sobbed; but being a macho guy and all, I didn’t.

  [Shut up, Sadie. I’m telling this part.]

  Apophis and Desjardins were still fighting back and forth on the sun boat.

  Desjardins yelled, “Heh-sieh!” and a hieroglyph blazed between them:

  Apophis went flying off the boat like he’d been hooked by a moving train. He sailed right over us and landed in the sand about forty feet away.

  “Nice one,” Sadie muttered in a daze. “Glyph for ‘Turn back.’”

  Desjardins staggered off the sun boat. His robes were still smoldering, but from his sleeve he pulled a ceramic statuette —a red snake carved with hieroglyphs.

  Sadie gasped. “A shabti of Apophis? The penalty for making those is death!”

  I could understand why. Images had power. In the wrong hands, they could strengthen or even summon the being they represented, and a statue of Apophis was way too dangerous to play with. But it was also a necessary ingredient for certain spells….

  “An execration,” I said. “He’s trying to erase Apophis.”

  “That’s impossible!” Sadie said. “He’ll be destroyed!”

  Desjardins began to chant. Hieroglyphs glowed in the air around him, swirling into a cone of protective power. Sadie tried to get to her feet, but she wasn’t in much better shape than I was.

  Apophis sat up. His face was a nightmare of burns from the throne of fire. He looked like a half-cooked hamburger patty someone had dropped in the sand. [Sadie says that’s too gross. Well, I’m sorry. It’s accurate.]

  When he saw the statue in the Chief Lector’s hands, he roared in outrage. “Are you insane, Michel? You can’t execrate me!”

  “Apophis,” Desjardins chanted, “I name you Lord of Chaos, Serpent in the Dark, Fear of the Twelve Houses, the Hated One—”

  “Stop it!” Apophis bellowed. “I cannot be contained!”

  He shot a blast of fire at Desjardins, but the energy simply joined the swirling cloud around the Chief Lector, turning into the hieroglyph for “heat.” Desjardins stumbled forward, aging before our eyes, becoming more stooped and frail, but his voice remained strong. “I speak for the gods. I speak for the House of Life. I am a servant of Ma’at. I cast you underfoot.”

  Desjardins threw down the red snake, and Apophis fell to his side.

  The Lord of Chaos hurled everything he had at Desjardins —ice, poison, lightning, boulders—but nothing connected. They all simply turned into hieroglyphs in the Chief Lector’s shield, Chaos forced into patterns of words—into the divine language of creation.

  Desjardins smashed the ceramic snake under his foot. Apophis writhed in agony. The thing that used to be Vladimir Menshikov crumbled like a wax shell, and a creature rose out of it—a red snake, covered in slime like a new hatchling. It began to grow, its red scales glistening and its eyes glowing.

  Its voice hissed in my mind: I cannot be contained!

  But it was having trouble rising. The sand churned around it. A portal was opening, anchored on Apophis himself.

  “I erase your name,” Desjardins said. “I remove you from the memory of Egypt.”

  Apophis screamed. The beach imploded around him, swallowing the serpent and sucking the red sand into the vortex.

  I grabbed Sadie and ran for the boat. Desjardins had collapsed to his knees in exhaustion, but somehow I managed to hook his arm and drag him to the shore. Together Sadie and I hauled him aboard the sun boat. Ra finally scrambled out from his hiding place under the tiller. The glowing servant lights manned the oars, and we pulled away as the entire beach sank into the dark waters, flashes of red lightning rippling under the surface.

  Desjardins was dying.

  The hieroglyphs had faded around him. His forehead was burning hot. His skin was as dry and thin as rice paper, and his voice was a ragged whisper.

  “Execration w-won’t last,” he warned. “Only bought you some time.”

  I gripped his hand like he was an old friend, not a former enemy. After playing senet with the moon god, buying time wasn’t something I took lightly. “Why did you do it?” I asked. “You used all your life force to banish him.”

  Desjardins smiled faintly. “Don’t like you much. But you were right. The old ways…our only chance. Tell Amos…tell Amos what happened.” He clawed feebly at his leopard-skin cape, and I realized he wanted to remove it. I helped him, and he pressed the cape into my hands. “Show this to…the others.…Tell Amos…”

  His eyes rolled into his head, and the Chief Lector passed. His body disintegrated into hieroglyphs—too many to read, the story of his entire life. Then the words floated away down the River of Night.

  “Bye-bye,” Ra muttered. “Weasels are sick.”

  I’d almost forgotten about the old god. He slumped in his throne again, resting his head on the loop of his crook and swatting his flail halfheartedly at the servant lights.

  Sadie took a shaky breath. “Desjardins saved us. I—I di
dn’t like him either, but—”

  “I know,” I said. “But we have to keep going. Do you still have the scarab?”

  Sadie pulled the wriggling golden scarab from her pocket. Together we approached Ra.

  “Take it,” I told him.

  Ra wrinkled his already wrinkled nose. “Don’t want a bug.”

  “It’s your soul!” Sadie snapped. “You’ll take it, and you’ll like it!”

  Ra looked cowed. He took the beetle, and to my horror, popped it in his mouth.

  “No!” Sadie yelped.

  Too late. Ra had swallowed.

  “Oh, god,” Sadie said. “Was he supposed to do that? Maybe he was supposed to do that.”

  “Don’t like bugs,” Ra muttered.

  We waited for him to change into a powerful youthful king. Instead, he burped. He stayed old, and weird, and disgusting.

  In a daze, I walked with Sadie back to the front of the ship. We’d done everything we could, and yet I felt like we’d lost. As we sailed on, the magic pressure seemed to ease. The river appeared level, but I could sense we were rising rapidly through the Duat. Despite that, I still felt like my insides were melting. Sadie didn’t look any better.

  Menshikov’s words echoed in my head: Mortals can’t leave this cavern alive.

  “It’s Chaos sickness,” Sadie said. “We’re not going to make it, are we?”

  “We have to hold on,” I said. “At least until dawn.”

  “All that,” Sadie said, “and what happened? We retrieved a senile god. We lost Bes and the Chief Lector. And we’re dying.”

  I took Sadie’s hand. “Maybe not. Look.”

  Ahead of us, the tunnel was getting brighter. The cavern walls dissolved, and the river widened. Two pillars rose from the water—two giant golden scarab statues. Beyond them gleamed the morning skyline of Manhattan. The River of Night was emptying out into New York Harbor.

  “Each new dawn is a new world,” I remembered our dad saying. “Maybe we’ll be healed.”

  “Ra, too?” Sadie asked.

  I didn’t have an answer, but I was starting to feel better, stronger, like I’d had a good night’s sleep. As we passed between the golden scarab statues, I looked to our right. Across the water, smoke was rising from Brooklyn—flashes of multicolored light and streaks of fire as winged creatures engaged in aerial combat.

  “They’re still alive,” Sadie said. “They need help!”

  We turned the sun boat toward home—and sailed straight into battle.

  S A D I E

  23. We Throw a Wild House Party

  [FATAL MISTAKE, CARTER. Giving me the microphone at the most important part? You’ll never get it back now. The end of the story is mine. Ha-ha-ha!]

  Oh, that felt good. I’d be excellent at world domination.

  But I digress.

  You might’ve seen news reports about the strange double sunrise over Brooklyn on the morning of March twenty-first. There were many theories: haze in the air from pollution, a temperature drop in the lower atmosphere, aliens, or perhaps another sewer-gas leak causing mass hysteria. We love sewer gas in Brooklyn!

  I can confirm, however, that there briefly were two suns in the sky. I know this because I was in one of them. The normal sun rose as usual. But there was also the boat of Ra, blazing as it rose from the Duat, out of New York Harbor and into the sky of the mortal world.

  To observers below, the second sun appeared to merge with the light of the first. What actually happened? The sun boat dimmed as it descended toward Brooklyn House, where the mansion’s antimortal camouflage shielding enveloped it, and made it seem to disappear.

  The shielding was already working overtime, as a full-fledged war was in progress. Freak the Griffin was diving through the air, engaging the winged flaming snakes, the uraei, in aerial combat.

  [I know that’s a horrible word to pronounce, uraei, but Carter insists it’s the plural for uraeus, and there’s no arguing with him. Just say you’re right and leave off the t, and you’ve got it.]

  Freak yelled, “Freaaaak!” and gobbled up a uraeus, but he was sorely outnumbered. His fur was singed, and his buzzing wings must’ve been damaged, as he kept spinning in circles like a broken helicopter.

  His rooftop nest was on fire. Our portal sphinx was broken, and the chimney was stained with a massive black star-burst where something or someone had exploded. A squad of enemy magicians and demons had taken cover behind the air conditioning unit and were pinned in combat against Zia and Walt, who were guarding the stairwell. Both sides threw fire, shabti, and glowing hieroglyphic bombs across the no-man’sland of the roof.

  As we descended over the enemy, old Ra (yes, he was still just as senile and withered as ever) leaned over the side and waved at everyone with his crook. “Hel-lo-o-o-o! Zebras!”

  Both sides looked up in amazement. “Ra!” one demon screamed. Then everyone took up the cry: “Ra?” “Ra!” “Ra!”

  They sounded like the world’s most terrified pep squad.

  The uraei stopped spitting fire, much to Freak’s surprise, and immediately flew to the sun boat. They began circling us like an honor guard, and I remembered what Menshikov had said about them originally being creatures of Ra. Apparently they recognized their old master (emphasis on old.)

  Most of the enemies below us scattered as the boat came down, but the slowest of the demons said, “Ra?” and looked up just as our sun boat landed on top of him with a satisfying crunch.

  Carter and I jumped into battle. In spite of all we’d be through, I felt wonderful. The Chaos sickness had disappeared as soon as we’d risen from the Duat. My magic was strong. My spirits were high. If I’d just had a shower, some fresh clothes, and a proper cup of tea, I would’ve been in paradise. (Strike that; now that I’d seen Paradise, I didn’t much like it. I’d settle for my own room.)

  I zapped one demon into a tiger and unleashed him on his brethren. Carter popped into avatar form—the glowing golden kind, thank goodness; the three-meter-tall birdman had been a bit too scary for me. He smashed his way through the terrified enemy magicians, and with a sweep of his hand sent them sailing into the East River. Zia and Walt came out from the stairwell and helped us mop up the stragglers. Then they ran to us with big grins on their faces. They looked battered and bruised but still very much alive.

  “FREEEEK!” said the griffin. He swooped down and landed next to Carter, head-butting his combat avatar, which I hoped was a sign of affection.

  “Hey, buddy.” Carter rubbed his head, careful to avoid the monster’s chain-saw wings. “What’s happening, guys?”

  “Talking didn’t work,” Zia said drily.

  “The enemy’s been trying to break in all night,” Walt said. “Amos and Bast have held them off, but—” He glanced at the sun boat, and his voice faltered. “Is that—that isn’t—”

  “Zebra!” Ra called, tottering toward us with a big toothless grin.

  He walked straight up to Zia and pulled something out of his mouth—the glowing gold scarab, now quite wet but undigested. He offered it to her. “I like zebras.”

  Zia backed up. “This is—this is Ra, the Lord of the Sun? Why is he offering me a bug?”

  “And what does he mean about zebras?” Walt asked.

  Ra looked at Walt and clucked disapprovingly. “Weasels are sick.”

  Suddenly a chill went through me. My head spun as if the Chaos sickness was returning. In the back of mind, an idea started to form—something very important.

  Zebras…Zia. Weasels…Walt.

  Before I could think about this further, a large BOOM! shook the building. Chunks of limestone flew from the side of the mansion and rained down on the warehouse yard.

  “They’ve breached the walls again!” Walt said. “Hurry!”

  I consider myself fairly scattered and hyper, but the rest of the battle happened too fast even for me to keep track of. Ra absolutely refused to be parted from Zebra and Weasel (sorry, Zia and Walt), so we left him in their car
e at the sun boat while Freak lowered Carter and me to the deck below. We dropped from his claws onto the buffet table and found Bast whirling around with her knives in hand, slicing demons to sand and kicking magicians into the swimming pool, where our albino crocodile, Philip of Macedonia, was only too happy to entertain them.

  “Sadie!” she cried with relief. [Yes, Carter, she called my name instead of yours, but she’s known me longer, after all.] She seemed to be having a great deal of fun, but her tone was urgent. “They’ve breached the east wall. Get inside!”

  We ran through the doorway, dodging a random wombat that went flying over our heads—possibly someone’s spell gone awry—and stepped into complete pandemonium.

  “Holy Horus,” Carter said.

  In fact, Horus was about the only thing not doing battle in the Great Room. Khufu, our intrepid baboon, was riding an old magician around the room, choking him with his own wand and steering him into walls as the mage turned blue. Felix had unleashed a squad of penguins on another magician, who cowered in a magic circle with some sort of posttraumatic stress, screaming, “Not Antarctica again! Anything but that!” Alyssa was summoning the powers of Geb to repair a massive hole the enemy had blasted in the far wall. Julian had summoned a combat avatar for the first time, and was slicing demons with his glowing sword. Even bookish Cleo was dashing about the room, pulling scrolls from her pouch and reading random words of power like “Blind!” “Horizontal!” and “Gassy!” (which, by the way, work wonders to incapacitate an enemy). Everywhere I looked, our initiates were ruling the day. They fought as if they’d been waiting all night for the chance to strike, which I suppose was exactly the case. And there was Jaz—Jaz! Up and looking quite healthy!—knocking an enemy shabti straight into the fireplace, where it broke into a thousand pieces.

  I felt an overwhelming sense of pride, and not a small amount of amazement. I’d been so worried about our young trainees’ surviving, yet they were quite simply dominating a much more seasoned group of magicians.