The Serpents Shadow eBook: Page2

Rick Riordan (2012)

  “Five minutes left,” Carter translated.

  “Give me a moment,” JD said. “This room has the heaviest protective spells. I’ll need to modify them to let you through.”

  “Uh,” I said nervously, “but the spells will still keep out enemies, like giant Chaos snakes, I hope?”

  JD gave me an exasperated look, which I tend to get a lot.

  “I do know a thing or two about protective magic,” he promised. “Trust me.” He raised his wand and began to chant.

  Carter pulled me aside. “You okay?”

  I must have looked shaken from my encounter with Uncle Vinnie. “I’m fine,” I said. “Saw something back there. Probably just one of Apophis’s tricks, but…”

  My eyes drifted to the other end of the corridor. Walt was staring at a golden throne in a glass case. He leaned forward with one hand on the glass as if he might be sick.

  “Hold that thought,” I told Carter.

  I moved to Walt’s side. Light from the exhibit bathed his face, turning his features reddish brown like the hills of Egypt.

  “What’s wrong?” I asked.

  “Tutankhamen died in that chair,” he said.

  I read the display card. It didn’t say anything about Tut dying in the chair, but Walt sounded very sure. Perhaps he could sense the family curse. King Tut was Walt’s great-times-a-billion granduncle, and the same genetic poison that killed Tut at nineteen was now coursing through Walt’s bloodstream, getting stronger the more he practiced magic. Yet Walt refused to slow down. Looking at the throne of his ancestor, he must have felt as if he were reading his own obituary.

  “We’ll find a cure,” I promised. “As soon as we deal with Apophis…”

  He looked at me, and my voice faltered. We both knew our chances of defeating Apophis were slim. Even if we succeeded, there was no guarantee Walt would live long enough to enjoy the victory. Today was one of Walt’s good days, and still I could see the pain in his eyes.

  “Guys,” Carter called. “We’re ready.”

  The room beyond the criosphinxes was a “greatest hits” collection from the Egyptian afterlife. A life-sized wooden Anubis stared down from his pedestal. Atop a replica of the scales of justice sat a golden baboon, which Khufu immediately started flirting with. There were masks of pharaohs, maps of the Underworld, and loads of canopic jars that had once been filled with mummy organs.

  Carter passed all that by. He gathered us around a long papyrus scroll in a glass case on the back wall.

  “This is what you’re after?” JD frowned. “The Book of Overcoming Apophis? You do realize that even the best spells against Apophis aren’t very effective.”

  Carter reached in his pocket and produced a bit of burned papyrus. “This is all we could salvage from Toronto. It was another copy of the same scroll.”

  JD took the papyrus scrap. It was no bigger than a postcard and too charred to let us make out more than a few hieroglyphs.

  “‘Overcoming Apophis…’” he read. “But this is one of the most common magic scrolls. Hundreds of copies have survived from ancient times.”

  “No.” I fought the urge to look over my shoulder, in case any giant serpents were listening in. “Apophis is after only one particular version, written by this chap.”

  I tapped the information plaque next to the display. “‘Attributed to Prince Khaemwaset,’” I read, “‘better known as Setne.’”

  JD scowled. “That’s an evil name…one of most villainous magicians who ever lived.”

  “So we’ve heard,” I said, “and Apophis is destroying only Setne’s version of the scroll. As far as we can tell, only six copies existed. Apophis has already burned five. This is the last one.”

  JD studied the burned papyrus scrap doubtfully. “If Apophis has truly risen from the Duat with all his power, why would he care about a few scrolls? No spell could possibly stop him. Why hasn’t he already destroyed the world?”

  We’d been asking ourselves the same question for months.

  “Apophis is afraid of this scroll,” I said, hoping I was right. “Something in it must hold the secret to defeating him. He wants to make sure all copies are destroyed before he invades the world.”

  “Sadie, we need to hurry,” Carter said. “The attack could come any minute.”

  I stepped closer to the scroll. It was roughly two meters long and a half-meter tall, with dense lines of hieroglyphs and colorful illustrations. I’d seen loads of scrolls like this describing ways to defeat Chaos, with chants designed to keep the serpent Apophis from devouring the sun god Ra on his nightly journey through the Duat. Ancient Egyptians had been quite obsessed with this subject. Cheery bunch, those Egyptians.

  I could read the hieroglyphs—one of my many amazing talents—but the scroll was a lot to take in. At first glance, nothing struck me as particularly helpful. There were the usual descriptions of the River of Night, down which Ra’s sun boat traveled. Been there, thanks. There were tips on how to handle the various demons of the Duat. Met them. Killed them. Got the T-shirt.

  “Sadie?” Carter asked. “Anything?”

  “Don’t know yet,” I grumbled. “Give me a moment.”

  I found it annoying that my bookish brother was the combat magician, while I was expected to be the great reader of magic. I barely had the patience for magazines, much less musty scrolls.

  You’d never understand it, the face in the wall had warned. You need my help.

  “We’ll have to take it with us,” I decided. “I’m sure I can figure it out with a little more—”

  The building shook. Khufu shrieked and leaped into the arms of the golden baboon. Felix’s penguins waddled around frantically.

  “That sounded like—” JD Grissom blanched. “An explosion outside. The party!”

  “It’s a diversion,” Carter warned. “Apophis is trying to draw our defenses away from the scroll.”

  “They’re attacking my friends,” JD said in a strangled voice. “My wife.”

  “Go!” I said. I glared at my brother. “We can handle the scroll. JD’s wife is in danger!”

  JD clasped my hands. “Take the scroll. Good luck.”

  He ran from the room.

  I turned back to the display. “Walt, can you open the case? We need to get this out of here as fast—”

  Evil laughter filled the room. A dry, heavy voice, deep as a nuclear blast, echoed all around us: “I don’t think so, Sadie Kane.”

  My skin felt as if it were turning to brittle papyrus. I remembered that voice. I remembered how it felt being so close to Chaos, as if my blood were turning to fire, and the strands of my DNA were unraveling.

  “I think I’ll destroy you with the guardians of Ma’at,” Apophis said. “Yes, that will be amusing.”

  At the entrance to the room, the two obsidian criosphinxes turned. They blocked the exit, standing shoulder to shoulder. Flames curled from their nostrils.

  In the voice of Apophis, they spoke in unison: “No one leaves this place alive. Good-bye, Sadie Kane.”

  S A D I E

  2. I Have a Word with Chaos

  WOULD YOU BE SURPRISED TO LEARN that things went badly from there?

  I didn’t think so.

  Our first casualties were Felix’s penguins. The criosphinxes blew fire at the unfortunate birds, and they melted into puddles of water.

  “No!” Felix cried.

  The room rumbled, much stronger this time.

  Khufu screamed and jumped on Carter’s head, knocking him to the floor. Under different circumstances that would’ve been funny, but I realized Khufu had just saved my brother’s life.

  Where Carter had been standing, the floor dissolved, marble tiles crumbling as if broken apart by an invisible jackhammer. The area of disruption snaked across the room, destroying everything in its path, sucking artifacts into the ground and chewing them to bits. Yes…snaked was the right word. The destruction slithered exactly like a serpent, heading straight for the back wall and the Book
of Overcoming Apophis.

  “Scroll!” I shouted.

  No one seemed to hear. Carter was still on the floor, trying to pry Khufu off his head. Felix knelt in shock at the puddles of his penguins, while Walt and Alyssa tried to pull him away from the fiery criosphinxes.

  I slipped my wand from my belt and shouted the first word of power that came to mind: “Drowah!”

  Golden hieroglyphs—the command for Boundary—blazed in the air. A wall of light flashed between the display case and the advancing line of destruction:

  I’d often used this spell to separate quarreling initiates or to protect the snack cupboard from late-night nom-nom raids, but I’d never tried it for something so important.

  As soon as the invisible jackhammer reached my shield, the spell began to fall apart. The disturbance spread up the wall of light, shaking it to pieces. I tried to concentrate, but a much more powerful force—Chaos itself—was working against me, invading my mind and scattering my magic.

  In a panic, I realized I couldn’t let go. I was locked in a battle I couldn’t win. Apophis was shredding my thoughts as easily as he’d shredded the floor.

  Walt knocked the wand out of my hands.

  Darkness washed over me. I slumped into Walt’s arms. When my vision cleared, my hands were burned and steaming. I was too shocked to feel the pain. The Book of Overcoming Apophis was gone. Nothing remained except a pile of rubble and a massive hole in the wall, as if a tank had smashed through.

  Despair threatened to close up my throat, but my friends gathered around me. Walt held me steady. Carter drew his sword. Khufu showed his fangs and barked at the criosphinxes. Alyssa wrapped her arms around Felix, who was sobbing into her sleeve. He had quickly lost his courage when his penguins were taken away.

  “So that’s it?” I shouted at the criosphinxes. “Burn up the scroll and run away as usual? Are you so afraid to show yourself in person?”

  More laughter rolled through the room. The criosphinxes stood unmoving in the doorway, but figurines and jewelry rattled in the display cases. With a painful creaking sound, the golden baboon statue that Khufu had been chatting up suddenly turned its head.

  “But I am everywhere.” The serpent spoke through the statue’s mouth. “I can destroy anything you value…and anyone you value.”

  Khufu wailed in outrage. He launched himself at the baboon and knocked it over. It melted into a steaming pool of gold.

  A different statue came to life—a gilded wooden pharaoh with a hunting spear. Its eyes turned the color of blood. Its carved mouth twisted into a smile. “Your magic is weak, Sadie Kane. Human civilization has grown as old and rotten. I will swallow the sun god and plunge your world into darkness. The Sea of Chaos will consume you all.”

  As if the energy were too much for it to contain, the pharaoh statue burst. Its pedestal disintegrated, and another line of evil jackhammer magic snaked across the room, churning up the floor tiles. It headed for a display against the east wall—a small golden cabinet.

  Save it, said a voice inside me—possibly my subconscious, or possibly the voice of Isis, my patron goddess. We’d shared thoughts so many times, it was hard to be sure.

  I remembered what the face in the wall had told me…Go for the golden box. That’ll give you a clue about what you need.

  “The box!” I yelped. “Stop him!”

  My friends stared at me. From somewhere outside, another explosion shook the building. Chunks of plaster rained from the ceiling.

  “Are these children the best you could send against me?” Apophis spoke from an ivory shabti in the nearest case—a miniature sailor on a toy boat. “Walt Stone…you are the luckiest. Even if you survive tonight, your sickness will kill you before my great victory. You won’t have to watch your world destroyed.”

  Walt staggered. Suddenly I was supporting him. My burned hands hurt so badly, I had to fight down a surge of nausea.

  The line of destruction trundled across the floor, still heading for the golden cabinet. Alyssa thrust out her staff and barked a command.

  For a moment, the floor stabilized, smoothing into a solid sheet of gray stone. Then new cracks appeared, and the force of Chaos blasted its way through.

  “Brave Alyssa,” the serpent said, “the earth you love will dissolve into Chaos. You will have no place to stand!”

  Alyssa’s staff burst into flames. She screamed and threw it aside.

  “Stop it!” Felix yelled. He smashed the glass case with his staff and demolished the miniature sailor along with a dozen other shabti.

  Apophis’s voice simply moved to a jade amulet of Isis on a nearby manikin. “Ah, little Felix, I find you amusing. Perhaps I’ll keep you as a pet, like those ridiculous birds you love. I wonder how long you’ll last before your sanity crumbles.”

  Felix threw his wand and knocked over the manikin.

  The crumbling trail of Chaos was now halfway to the golden cabinet.

  “He’s after that box!” I managed to say. “Save the box!”

  Granted, it wasn’t the most inspiring call to battle, but Carter seemed to understand. He jumped in front of the advancing Chaos, stabbing his sword into the floor. His blade cut through the marble tile like ice cream. A blue line of magic extended to either side—Carter’s own version of a force field. The line of disruption slammed against the barrier and stalled.

  “Poor Carter Kane.” The serpent’s voice was all around us now—jumping from artifact to artifact, each one bursting from the power of Chaos. “Your leadership is doomed. Everything you tried to build will crumble. You will lose the ones you love the most.”

  Carter’s blue defensive line began to flicker. If I didn’t help him quickly…

  “Apophis!” I yelled. “Why wait to destroy me? Do it now, you overgrown rat snake!”

  A hiss echoed through the room. Perhaps I should mention that one of my many talents is making people angry. Apparently it worked on snakes, too.

  The floor settled. Carter released his shielding spell and almost collapsed. Khufu, bless his baboon wits, leaped to the golden cabinet, picked it up, and bounded off with it.

  When Apophis spoke again, his voice hardened with anger. “Very well, Sadie Kane. It’s time to die.”

  The two ram-headed sphinxes stirred, their mouths glowing with flames. Then they lunged straight at me.

  Fortunately one of them slipped in a puddle of penguin water and skidded off to the left. The other would’ve ripped my throat out had it not been tackled by a timely camel.

  Yes, an actual full-sized camel. If you find that confusing, just think how the criosphinx must have felt.

  Where did the camel come from, you ask? I may have mentioned Walt’s collection of amulets. Two of them summoned disgusting camels. I’d met them before, so I was less than excited when a ton of dromedary flesh flew across my line of sight, plowed into the sphinx, and collapsed on top of it. The sphinx growled in outrage as it tried to free itself. The camel grunted and farted.

  “Hindenburg,” I said. Only one camel could possibly fart that badly. “Walt, why in the world—?”

  “Sorry!” he yelled. “Wrong amulet!”

  The technique worked, at any rate. The camel wasn’t much of a fighter, but it was quite heavy and clumsy. The criosphinx snarled and clawed at the floor, trying unsuccessfully to push the camel off; but Hindenburg just splayed his legs, made alarmed honking sounds, and let loose gas.

  I moved to Walt’s side and tried to get my bearings.

  The room was quite literally in chaos. Tendrils of red lightning arced between exhibits. The floor was crumbling. The walls cracked. Artifacts were coming to life and attacking my friends.

  Carter fended off the other criosphinx, stabbing it with his khopesh, but the monster parried his strikes with its horns and breathed fire.

  Felix was surrounded by a tornado of canopic jars that pummeled him from every direction as he swatted them with his staff. An army of tiny shabti had surrounded Alyssa, who was chanting desp
erately, using her earth magic to keep the room in one piece. The statue of Anubis chased Khufu around the room, smashing things with its fists as our brave baboon cradled the golden cabinet.

  All around us, the power of Chaos grew. I felt it in my ears like a coming storm. The presence of Apophis was shaking apart the entire museum.

  How could I help all my friends at once, protect that gold cabinet, and keep the museum from collapsing on top of us?

  “Sadie,” Walt prompted. “What’s the plan?”

  The first criosphinx finally pushed Hindenburg off its back. It turned and blew fire at the camel, which let loose one final fart and shrank back into a harmless gold amulet. Then the criosphinx turned toward me. It did not look pleased.

  “Walt,” I said, “guard me.”

  “Sure.” He eyed the criosphinx uncertainly. “While you do what?”

  Good question, I thought.

  “We have to protect that cabinet,” I said. “It’s some sort of clue. We have to restore Ma’at, or this building will implode and we’ll all die.”

  “How do we restore Ma’at?”

  Instead of answering, I concentrated. I lowered my vision into the Duat.

  It’s hard to describe what it’s like to experience the world on many levels at once—it’s a bit like looking through 3D glasses and seeing hazy colorful auras around things, except the auras don’t always match the objects, and the images are constantly shifting. Magicians have to be careful when they look into the Duat. Best-case scenario, you’ll get mildly nauseous. Worst-case scenario, your brain will explode.

  In the Duat, the room was filled with the writhing coils of a giant red snake—the magic of Apophis slowly expanding and encircling my friends. I almost lost my concentration along with my dinner.

  Isis, I called. A little help?

  The goddess’s strength surged through me. I stretched out my senses and saw my brother battling the criosphinx. Standing in Carter’s place was the warrior god Horus, his sword blazing with light.

  Swirling around Felix, the canopic jars were the hearts of evil spirits—shadowy figures that clawed and snapped at our young friend, though Felix had a surprisingly powerful aura in the Duat. His vivid purple glow seemed to keep the spirits at bay.