My father looked stunned, then outraged. He raised his hand to tighten the Ribbons of Hathor, but Setne said, “Wait, my lord. Here’s the thing. I’m not out of tricks. Ask your children over there. Ask their friends. Those kids need my help.”
“No more lies,” my father growled. “Your heart shall be weighed, again, and Ammit will devour—”
“Dad!” I shrieked. “He’s right! We do need him.”
My father turned toward me. I could practically see the grief and rage roiling inside him. He’d lost his wife again. He was powerless to assist his brother. A battle for the end of the world was about to begin, and his children were on the front line. Dad needed to serve justice on this ghost magician. He needed to feel that he could do something right.
“Dad, please, listen,” I said. “I know it’s dangerous. I know you’ll hate this. But we came here because of Setne. What we told you earlier about our plan—Setne’s got the knowledge we need.”
“Sadie’s right,” Carter said. “Please, Dad. You asked how you could help. Give us custody of Setne. He’s the key to defeating Apophis.”
At the sound of that name, a cold wind blew through the courtroom. The braziers sputtered. Ammit whimpered and put his paws over his snout. Even the guillotine demons shuffled nervously.
“No,” Dad said. “Absolutely not. Setne is influencing you with his magic. He is a servant of Chaos.”
“My lord,” Setne said, his tone suddenly soft and respectful, “I’m a lot of things, but a servant of the snake? No. I don’t want the world destroyed. There’s nothing in that for me. Listen to the girl. Let her tell you her plan.”
The words worked their way into my mind. I realized Setne was using magic, commanding me to speak. I steeled myself against the urge. Sadly, Setne was ordering me to do something I loved—talk. It all came spilling out: How we’d tried to save the Book of Overcoming Apophis in Dallas, how Setne had spoken with me there, how we’d found the shadow box and struck on the idea of using the sheut. I explained my hopes to revive Bes and destroy Apophis.
“It’s impossible,” Dad said. “Even if it wasn’t, Setne can’t be trusted. I would never release him, especially not to my children. He’d kill you at the first opportunity!”
“Dad,” Carter said, “we’re not children anymore. We can do this.”
The agony in my father’s face was hard to bear. I forced back my tears and approached the throne.
“Dad, I know you love us.” I gripped his hand. “I know you want to protect us, but you risked everything to give us a chance at saving the world. Now it’s time we did that. This is the only way.”
“She’s right.” Setne managed to sound regretful, as if he were sorry he might get a reprieve. “Also, my lord, it’s the only way to save the spirits of the dead before the shadow of Apophis destroys them all—including your wife.”
My father’s face turned from sky blue to deep indigo. He gripped the throne like he wanted to tear off the armrests.
I thought Setne had gone too far.
Then my father’s hands relaxed. The anger in his eyes changed to desperation and hunger.
“Guards,” he said, “give the prisoner the Feather of Truth. He will hold it while he explains himself. If he lies, he will perish in flames.”
One of the guillotine demons plucked the feather from the scales of justice. Setne looked unconcerned as the glowing plume was placed in his hands.
“Right!” he began. “So your kids are correct. I did create a shadow execration spell. In theory, it could be used to destroy a god—or even Apophis. I never tried. Unfortunately, it can only be cast by a living magician. I died before I could test it. Not that I wanted to kill any gods, my lord. I was just thinking I’d use it to blackmail them into doing my bidding.”
“Blackmail…the gods,” Dad growled.
Setne smiled guiltily. “This was back in my misguided youth. Anyway, I recorded the formula in several copies of the Book of Overcoming Apophis.”
Walt grunted. “Which have all been destroyed.”
“Okay,” Setne said, “but my original notes would still be in the margins of the Book of Thoth that I…that I stole. See? Being honest. I guarantee you even Apophis hasn’t found that book. I hid it too well. I can show you where it is. The book will explain how to find the shadow of Apophis, how to capture it, and how to cast the execration.”
“Can’t you just tell us how?” Carter asked.
Setne pouted. “Young master, I’d love to. But I don’t have the whole book memorized. And it’s been millennia since I wrote that spell. If I told you one wrong word in the incantation, well…we wouldn’t want any mistakes. But I can lead you to the book. Once we get it—”
“We?” Zia asked. “Why can’t you just give us directions to the book? Why do you need to come along?”
The ghost grinned. “Because, doll, I’m the only one who can retrieve it. Traps, curses…you know. Besides, you’ll need my help deciphering the notes. The spell is complicated! But don’t worry. All you gotta do is keep these Ribbons of Hathor on me. It’s Zia, right? You’ve got experience using them.”
“How did you know—?”
“If I cause you any trouble,” Setne continued, “you can tie me up good like a Harvest Day present. But I won’t try to escape—at least not until I lead you to the Book of Thoth and then get you safely to the shadow of Apophis. Nobody knows the deepest levels of the Duat like I do. I’m your best hope for a guide.”
The Feather of Truth didn’t react. Setne didn’t go up in flames, so I guessed he wasn’t lying.
“Four of us,” Carter said. “One of him.”
“Except he killed his guards last time,” Walt pointed out.
“So we’ll be more careful,” Carter said. “All of us together should be able to keep him under control.”
Setne winced. “Oh, except…see, Sadie’s got her little side task, doesn’t she? She’s gotta find the shadow of Bes. And actually, it’s a good idea.”
I blinked. “It is?”
“Absolutely, doll,” Setne said. “We don’t have much time. More specifically, your friend Walt there doesn’t have much time.”
I wanted to kill the ghost, except he was already dead. I suddenly hated that smug smile.
I gritted my teeth. “Go on.”
“Walt Stone—sorry, pal, but you won’t survive long enough to get the Book of Thoth, travel to the shadow of Apophis, and use the spell. There just isn’t time left on your clock. But getting Bes’s shadow—that won’t take as long. It’ll be a good test of the magic. If it works, great! If it doesn’t…well, we’ve only lost one dwarf god.”
I wanted to stomp his face, but he gestured for patience.
“What I’m thinking,” he said, “is we split up. Carter and Zia, you two go with me to get the Book of Thoth. Meanwhile, Sadie takes Walt to the ruins of Saïs to find the dwarf’s shadow. I’ll give you some notes on how to capture it, but the spell is just theory. In practice, you’ll need Walt’s charm-making skill to pull it off. He’ll have to improvise if anything goes wrong. If Walt succeeds, then Sadie will know how to capture a shadow. If Walt dies afterward—and I’m sorry, but casting a spell like that will probably do him in—then Sadie can rendezvous with us in the Duat, and we’ll hunt down the snake’s shadow. Everybody wins!”
I wasn’t sure whether to weep or scream. I only managed to keep my calm because I sensed that Setne would find any reaction extremely funny.
He faced my father. “What do you say, Lord Osiris? It’s a chance to get your wife back, defeat Apophis, restore Bes’s soul, save the world! All I ask is that when I come back, the court take my good deeds into consideration when you sentence me. How fair is that, huh?”
The chamber was silent except for the crackling fires in the braziers.
Finally Disturber seemed to shake himself out of a trance. “My lord…what is your ruling?”
Dad looked at me. I could tell he hated this plan. But Setne had tempted him with the one thing he couldn’t pass up: a chance to save our mum. The vile ghost had promised me one last day alone with Walt, which I wanted more than anything, and a chance to save Bes, which was a close second. He’d put Carter and Zia together and promised them a chance to save the world.
He’d put hooks in all of us and reeled us in like fish from a sacred lake. But despite the fact that I knew we were being played, I couldn’t find a reason to say no.
“We have to, Dad,” I said.
He lowered his head. “Yes, we do. May Ma’at protect us all.”
“Oh, we’ll have fun!” Setne said cheerfully. “Shall we get going? Doomsday isn’t gonna wait!”
C A R T E R
11. Don’t Worry, Be Hapi
Sadie and Walt go off looking for a friendly shadow, while Zia and I escort a psychotic murderous ghost to his heavily trapped stash of forbidden magic. Gee, who got the better end of that deal?
The Egyptian Queen burst out of the Underworld and into the Nile like a breaching whale. Its paddle wheel churned through the blue water. Its smokestacks billowed golden smoke into the desert air. After the gloom of the Duat, the sunlight was blinding. Once my eyes adjusted, I saw we were chugging downriver, heading north, so we must have surfaced somewhere to the south of Memphis.
On either side, marshy green riverbanks columned with palm trees stretched into the humid haze. A few houses dotted the landscape. A battered pickup truck rumbled down the riverfront road. A sailboat glided by on our port side. No one paid us any attention.
I wasn’t sure exactly where we were. It could’ve been anywhere along the Nile. But judging from the position of the sun, it was already late morning. We’d eaten and slept in my father’s realm, figuring we wouldn’t be able to close our eyes once we had custody of Setne. It hadn’t felt like much of a rest, but obviously we’d spent more time down under than I realized. The day was slipping by. Tomorrow at dawn, the rebels would attack the First Nome, and Apophis would rise.
Zia stood next to me at the bow. She’d showered and changed into a spare set of combat clothes—a camo tank top, olive cargo pants tucked into her boots. Maybe that doesn’t sound glamorous, but in the morning sunlight she was beautiful. Best of all, she was here in person—not a reflection in the scrying bowl, not a shabti. When the wind changed directions I caught the scent of her lemon shampoo. Our forearms touched as we leaned against the rail, but she didn’t seem to mind. Her skin was feverishly warm.
“What are you thinking?” I asked.
She had trouble focusing on me. Up close, the flecks of green and black in her amber eyes were sort of hypnotizing. “I was thinking about Ra,” she said. “Wondering who’s taking care of him today.”