“No,” Dad said. “No, he can’t! These magicians who’ve abandoned him—inexcusable! The House of Life must rally to the Chief Lector.” He began to rise. “I should go to my brother—”
“My lord,” Disturber said, “you are not a magician anymore. You are Osiris.”
Dad grimaced, but he eased back into his throne. “Yes. Yes, of course. Please, children, continue.”
Some of our news Dad already knew. His shoulders slumped when we mentioned the spirits of the dead who were disappearing, and the vision of our mum lost somewhere in the deep Duat, fighting against the pull of a dark force that Carter and I were certain was the shadow of Apophis.
“I have searched for your mother everywhere,” Dad said despondently. “This force that is taking the spirits—whether it’s the serpent’s shadow or something else—I cannot stop it. I can’t even find it. Your mother…”
His expression turned brittle as ice. I understood what he was feeling. For years he had lived with guilt because he couldn’t prevent our mum’s death. Now she was in danger again, and even though he was the lord of the dead, he felt helpless to save her.
“We can find her,” I promised. “All of this is connected, Dad. We have a plan.”
Carter and I explained about the sheut, and how it might be used for a king-sized execration spell.
My father sat forward. His eyes narrowed. “Anubis told you this? He revealed the nature of the sheut to a mortal?”
His blue aura flickered dangerously. I’d never been scared of my dad, but I’ll admit I took a step back. “Well…it wasn’t just Anubis.”
“Thoth helped,” Carter said. “And some of it we guessed—”
“Thoth!” my father spat. “This is dangerous knowledge, children. Much too dangerous. I won’t have you—”
“Dad!” I shouted. I think I surprised him, but my patience had finally snapped. I’d had quite enough of gods telling me what I shouldn’t or couldn’t do. “Apophis’s shadow is what’s drawing the souls of the dead. It has to be! It’s feeding on them, getting stronger as Apophis prepares to rise.”
I hadn’t really processed that idea before, but as I spoke the words, they felt like the truth—horrifying, but the truth.
“We’ve got to find the shadow and capture it,” I insisted. “Then we can use it to banish the serpent. It’s our only chance—unless you want us to use a standard execration. We’ve got the statue ready to go for that, don’t we, Carter?”
Carter patted his backpack. “The spell will kill us,” he said. “And it probably won’t work. But if that’s our only option…”
Zia looked horrified. “Carter, you didn’t tell me! You made a statue of—of him? You’d sacrifice yourself to—”
“No,” our father said. The anger drained out of him. He slumped forward and put his face in his hands. “No, you’re right, Sadie. A small chance is better than none. I just couldn’t bear it if you…” He sat up and took a breath, trying to regain his composure. “How can I help? I assume you came here for a reason, but you’re asking for magic I don’t possess.”
“Yes, well,” I said, “that’s the tricky part.”
Before I could say more, the sound of a gong reverberated through the chamber. The main doors began to open.
“My lord,” Disturber said, “the next trial begins.”
“Not now!” my father snapped. “Can’t it be delayed?”
“No, my lord.” The blue god lowered his voice. “This is his trial. You know…”
“Oh, by the twelve gates of the night,” Dad cursed. “Children, this trial is very serious.”
“Yes,” I said. “Actually, that’s what—”
“We’ll talk afterward,” Dad cut me off. “And please, whatever you do, don’t speak to the accused or make eye contact with him. This spirit is particularly—”
The gong sounded again. A troop of demons marched in, surrounding the accused. I didn’t have to ask who he was.
Setne had arrived.
The guards were intimidating enough—six red-skinned warriors with guillotine blades for heads.
Even without them, I could tell Setne was dangerous from all the magical precautions. Glowing hieroglyphs spiraled around him like the rings of Saturn—a collection of anti-magic symbols like: Suppress, Dampen, Stay, Shut up, Powerless, and Don’t even think about it.
Setne’s wrists were bound together with pink strips of cloth. Two more pink bands were tied around his waist. One was fastened around his neck, and two more connected his ankles so he shuffled as he walked. To the casual observer, the pink ribbons might’ve looked like the Hello Kitty incarceration play set, but I knew from personal experience that they were some of the most powerful magic bonds in the world.
“The Seven Ribbons of Hathor,” Walt whispered. “I wish I could make some of those.”
“I’ve got some,” Zia murmured. “But the recharge time is really long. Mine won’t be ready until December.”
Walt looked at her in awe.
The guillotine demons fanned out on either side of the accused.
Setne himself didn’t look like trouble, certainly not someone worthy of so much security. He was quite small—not Bes small, mind you, but still a diminutive man. His arms and legs were scrawny. His chest was a xylophone of ribs. Yet he stuck out his chin and smiled confidently as if he owned the world—which isn’t easy when one is wearing only a loincloth and some pink ribbons.
Without a doubt, his face was the same one I’d seen in the wall at the Dallas Museum, and again in the Hall of Ages. He’d been the priest who sacrificed that bull in the shimmering vision from the New Kingdom.
He had the same hawkish nose, heavy-lidded eyes, and thin cruel lips. Most priests from ancient times were bald, but Setne’s hair was dark and thick, slicked back with oil like a 1950s tough boy. If I’d seen him in Piccadilly Circus (with more clothes on, hopefully) I would’ve steered clear, assuming he was handing out advertisements or trying to sell scalped tickets to a West End show. Sleazy and annoying? Yes. Dangerous? Not really.
The guillotine demons pushed him to his knees. Setne seemed to find that amusing. His eyes flickered over the room, registering each one of us. I tried not to make eye contact, but it was difficult. Setne recognized me and winked. Somehow I knew that he could read my jumbled emotions quite well, and that he found them funny.
He inclined his head toward the throne. “Lord Osiris, all this fuss for me? You shouldn’t have.”
My father didn’t answer. With a grim expression, he gestured at Disturber, who shuffled through his scroll until he found the proper spot.
“Setne, also known as Prince Khaemwaset—”
“Oh, wow…” Setne grinned at me, and I fought the urge to smile back. “Haven’t heard that name in a while. That’s ancient history, right there!”
Disturber huffed. “You stand accused of heinous crimes! You have blasphemed against the gods four thousand and ninety-two times.”
“Ninety-one,” Setne corrected. “That crack about Lord Horus—that was just a misunderstanding.” He winked at Carter. “Am I right, pal?”
How in the world did he know about Carter and Horus?
Disturber shuffled his scroll. “You have used magic for evil purposes, including twenty-three murders—”
“Self-defense!” Setne tried to spread his hands, but the ribbons restrained him.
“—including one incident where you were paid to kill with magic,” Disturber said.
Setne shrugged. “That was self-defense for my employer.”
“You plotted against three separate pharaohs,” Disturber continued. “You tried to overthrow the House of Life on six occasions. Most grievous of all, you robbed the tombs of the dead to steal books of magic.”
Setne laughed easily. He glanced at me as if to say, Can you believe this guy?
“Look, Disturber,” he said, “that is your name, right? A handsome, intelligent judgment god like you—you’ve got to be overworked and underappreciated. I feel for you, I really do. You’ve got better things to do than dig up my old history. Besides, all these charges—I answered them already in my previous trials.”
“Oh.” Disturber looked confused. He adjusted his wig self-consciously and turned to my dad. “Should we let him go, then, my lord?”
“No, Disturber.” Dad sat forward. “The prisoner is using divine words to influence your mind, warping the most sacred magic of Ma’at. Even in his bindings, he is dangerous.”
Setne examined his fingernails. “Lord Osiris, I’m flattered, but honestly, these charges—”
“Silence!” Dad thrust his hand toward the prisoner. The swirling hieroglyphs glowed brighter around him. The Ribbons of Hathor tightened.
Setne began to choke. His smug expression melted, replaced by absolute hatred. I could feel his anger. He wanted to kill my father, kill us all.
“Dad!” I said. “Please, don’t!”
My father frowned at me, clearly unhappy with the interruption. He snapped his fingers, and Setne’s bonds eased. The ghost magician coughed and retched.
“Khaemwaset, son of Ramses,” my father said calmly, “you have been sentenced to oblivion more than once. The first time you managed to plead for a reduced sentence, volunteering to serve the pharaoh with your magic—”
“Yes,” Setne croaked. He tried to recover his poise, but his smile was twisted with pain. “I’m skilled labor, my lord. It would be a crime to destroy me.”
“Yet you escaped en route,” my father said. “You killed your guards and spent the next three hundred years sowing Chaos across Egypt.”
Setne shrugged. “It wasn’t that bad. Just a bit of fun.”
“You were captured and sentenced again,” my father continued, “three more times. In each instance, you connived your way to freedom. And since the gods have been absent from the world, you’ve run amok, doing as you pleased, committing crimes and terrorizing mortals.”
“My lord, that’s unfair,” Setne protested. “First of all, I missed you gods. Honestly, it was a dull few millennia without you. As for these so-called crimes, well, some people might say the French Revolution was a first-class party! I know I enjoyed myself. And Archduke Ferdinand? A total bore. If you knew him, you would’ve assassinated him too.”
“Enough!” Dad said. “You are done. I am the host of Osiris now. I will not tolerate the existence of a villain like you, even as a spirit. This time you are out of tricks.”
Ammit yipped excitedly. The guillotine guards chopped their blades up and down as if they were clapping. Disturber cried, “Hear, hear!”
As for Setne…he threw back his head and laughed.