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The Throne of Fire kc-2, Page 2

Rick Riordan

  Jaz snapped her fingers. “No, I remember this! Khnum made humans on a potter’s wheel. That’s what he’s doing here, I bet—forming a human out of clay.”

  She looked at me for confirmation. The truth was, I’d forgotten that story myself. Sadie and I were supposed to be the teachers, but Jaz often remembered more details than I did.

  “Yeah, good,” I said. “Man out of clay. Exactly.”

  Sadie frowned up at Khnum’s ram head. “Looks a bit like that old cartoon…Bullwinkle, is it? Could be the moose god.”

  “He’s not the moose god,” I said.

  “But if we’re looking for the Book of Ra,” she said, “and Ra’s the sun god, then why are we searching a moose?”

  Sadie can be annoying. Did I mention that?

  “Khnum was one aspect of the sun god,” I said. “Ra had three different personalities. He was Khepri the scarab god in the morning; Ra during the day; and Khnum, the ram-headed god, at sunset, when he went into the underworld.”

  “That’s confusing,” Jaz said.

  “Not really,” Sadie said. “Carter has different personalities.

  He goes from zombie in the morning to slug in the afternoon to—”

  “Sadie,” I said, “shut up.”

  Walt scratched his chin. “I think Sadie’s right. It’s a moose.”

  “Thank you,” Sadie said.

  Walt gave her a grudging smile, but he still looked preoccupied, like something was bothering him. I caught Jaz studying him with a worried expression, and I wondered what they’d been talking about earlier.

  “Enough with the moose,” I said. “We’ve got to get this statue back to Brooklyn House. It holds some sort of clue—”

  “But how do we find it?” Walt asked. “And you still haven’t told us why we need this Book of Ra so badly.”

  I hesitated. There were a lot of things we hadn’t told our trainees yet, not even Walt and Jaz—like how the world might end in five days. That kind of thing can distract you from your training.

  “I’ll explain when we get back,” I promised. “Right now, let’s figure out how to move the statue.”

  Jaz knitted her eyebrows. “I don’t think it’s going to fit in my bag.”

  “Oh, such worrying,” Sadie said. “Look, we cast a levitation spell on the statue. We create some big diversion to clear the ballroom—”

  “Hold up.” Walt leaned forward and examined the smaller human figure. The little dude was smiling, like being fashioned out of clay was awesome fun. “He’s wearing an amulet. A scarab.”

  “It’s a common symbol,” I said.

  “Yeah…” Walt fingered his own collection of amulets. “But the scarab is a symbol of Ra’s rebirth, right? And this statue shows Khnum creating a new life. Maybe we don’t need the entire statue. Maybe the clue is—”

  “Ah!” Sadie pulled out her wand. “Brilliant.”

  I was about to say, “Sadie, no!” but of course that would’ve been pointless. Sadie never listens to me.

  She tapped the little dude’s amulet. Khnum’s hands glowed. The smaller statue’s head peeled open in four sections like the top of a missile silo, and sticking out of its neck was a yellowed papyrus scroll.

  “Voilà,” Sadie said proudly.

  She slipped her wand into her bag and grabbed the scroll just as I shouted, “It might be trapped!”

  Like I said, she never listens.

  As soon as she plucked the scroll from the statue, the entire room rumbled. Cracks appeared in the glass display cases.

  Sadie yelped as the scroll in her hand burst into flames. They didn’t seem to consume the papyrus or hurt Sadie; but when she tried to shake out the fire, ghostly white flames leaped to the nearest display case and raced around the room as if following a trail of gasoline. The fire touched the windows and white hieroglyphs ignited on the glass, probably triggering a ton of protective wards and curses. Then the ghost fire rippled across the big frieze at the entrance of the room. The stone slab shook violently. I couldn’t see the carvings on the other side, but I heard a raspy scream—like a really large, really angry parrot.

  Walt slipped his staff off his back. Sadie waved the flaming scroll as if it were stuck to her hand. “Get this thing off me!

  This is so not my fault!”

  “Um…” Jaz pulled her wand. “What was that sound?”

  My heart sank.

  “I think,” I said, “Sadie just found her big diversion.”

  C A R T E R

  2. We Tame a Seven-Thousand-Pound Hummingbird

  A FEW MONTHS AGO, things would’ve been different. Sadie could’ve spoken a single word and caused a military-grade explosion. I could’ve encased myself in a magical combat avatar, and almost nothing would’ve been able to defeat me.

  But that was when we were fully merged with the gods—Horus for me, Isis for Sadie. We’d given up that power because it was simply too dangerous. Until we had better control of our own abilities, embodying Egyptian gods could make us go crazy or literally burn us up.

  Now all we had was our own limited magic. That made it harder to do important stuff—like survive when a monster came to life and wanted to kill us.

  The griffin stepped into full view. It was twice the size of a regular lion, its reddish-gold fur coated with limestone dust. Its tail was studded with spiky feathers that looked as hard and sharp as daggers. With a single flick, it pulverized the stone slab it had come from. Its bristly wings were now straight up on its back. When the griffin moved, they fluttered so fast, they blurred and buzzed like the wings of the world’s largest, most vicious hummingbird.

  The griffin fixed its hungry eyes on Sadie. White flames still engulfed her hand and the scroll, and the griffin seemed to take that as some kind of challenge. I’d heard a lot of falcon cries—hey, I’d been a falcon once or twice—but when this thing opened its beak, it let loose a screech that rattled the windows and set my hair on end.

  “Sadie,” I said, “drop the scroll.”

  “Hello? It’s stuck to my hand!” she protested. “And I’m on fire! Did I mention that?”

  Patches of ghost fire were burning across all the windows and artifacts now. The scroll seemed to have triggered every reservoir of Egyptian magic in the room, and I was pretty sure that was bad. Walt and Jaz stood frozen in shock. I suppose I couldn’t blame them. This was their first real monster.

  The griffin took a step toward my sister.

  I stood shoulder to shoulder with her and did the one magic trick I still had down. I reached into the Duat and pulled my sword out of thin air—an Egyptian khopesh with a wickedly sharp, hook-shaped blade.

  Sadie looked pretty silly with her hand and scroll on fire, like an overenthusiastic Statue of Liberty, but with her free hand she managed to summon her main offensive weapon—a five-foot-long staff carved with hieroglyphs.

  Sadie asked, “Any hints on fighting griffins?”

  “Avoid the sharp parts?” I guessed.

  “Brilliant. Thanks for that.”

  “Walt,” I called. “Check those windows. See if you can open them.”

  “B-but they’re cursed.”

  “Yes,” I said. “And if we try to exit through the ballroom, the griffin will eat us before we get there.”

  “I’ll check the windows.”

  “Jaz,” I said, “help Walt.”

  “Those markings on the glass,” Jaz muttered. “I—I’ve seen them before—”

  “Just do it!” I said.

  The griffin lunged, its wings buzzing like chain saws. Sadie threw her staff, and it morphed into a tiger in midair, slamming into the griffin with its claws unsheathed.

  The griffin was not impressed. It knocked the tiger aside, then lashed out with unnatural speed, opening its beak impossibly wide. SNAP. The griffin gulped and burped, and the tiger was gone.

  “That was my favorite staff!” Sadie cried.

  The griffin turned its eyes on me.

  I gripped my sword
tight. The blade began to glow. I wished I still had Horus’s voice inside my head, egging me on. Having a personal war god makes it easier to do stupidly brave things.

  “Walt!” I called. “How’s it coming with that window?”

  “Trying it now,” he said.

  “H-hold on,” Jaz said nervously. “Those are symbols of Sekhmet. Walt, stop!”

  Then a lot of things happened at once. Walt opened the window, and a wave of white fire roared over him, knocking him to the floor.

  Jaz ran to his side. The griffin immediately lost interest in me. Like any good predator, it focused on the moving target —Jaz—and lunged at her.

  I charged after it. But instead of snapping up our friends, the griffin soared straight over Walt and Jaz and slammed into the window. Jaz pulled Walt out of the way while the griffin went crazy, thrashing and biting at the white flames.

  It was trying to attack the fire. The griffin snapped at the air. It spun, knocking over a display case of shabti. Its tail smashed a sarcophagus to pieces.

  I’m not sure what possessed me, but I yelled, “Stop it!”

  The griffin froze. It turned toward me, cawing in irritation. A curtain of white fire raced away and burned in the corner of the room, almost like it was regrouping. Then I noticed other fires coming together, forming burning shapes that were vaguely human. One looked right at me, and I sensed an unmistakable aura of malice.

  “Carter, keep its attention.” Sadie apparently hadn’t noticed the fiery shapes. Her eyes were still fixed on the griffin as she pulled a length of magic twine from her pocket. “If I can just get close enough—”

  “Sadie, wait.” I tried to process what was going on. Walt was flat on his back, shivering. His eyes were glowing white, as if the fire had gotten inside him. Jaz knelt over him, muttering a healing spell.

  “RAAAWK!” The griffin croaked plaintively as if asking permission—as if it was obeying my order to stop, but didn’t like it.

  The fiery shapes were getting brighter, more solid. I counted seven blazing figures, slowly forming legs and arms.

  Seven figures…Jaz had said something about the symbols of Sekhmet. Dread settled over me as I realized what kind of curse was really protecting the museum. The griffin’s release had just been accidental. It wasn’t the real problem.

  Sadie threw her twine.

  “Wait!” I yelled, but it was too late. The magic twine whipped through the air, elongating into a rope as it raced toward the griffin.

  The griffin squawked indignantly and leaped after the fiery shapes. The fire creatures scattered, and a game of total annihilation tag was on.

  The griffin buzzed around the room, its wings humming. Display cases shattered. Mortal alarms blared. I yelled at the griffin to stop, but this time it did no good.

  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jaz collapse, maybe from the strain of her healing spell.

  “Sadie!” I yelled. “Help her!”

  Sadie ran to Jaz’s side. I chased the griffin. I probably looked like a total fool in my black pajamas with my glowing sword, tripping over broken artifacts and screaming orders at a giant hummingbird-cat.

  Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, half a dozen party guests came around the corner to see what the noise was about. Their mouths fell open. A lady in a peach-colored dress screamed.

  The seven white fire creatures shot straight through the wedding guests, who instantly collapsed. The fires kept going, whipping around the corner toward the ballroom. The griffin flew after them.

  I glanced back at Sadie, who was kneeling over Jaz and Walt. “How are they?”

  “Walt is coming around,” she said, “but Jaz is out cold.”

  “Follow me when you can. I think I can control the griffin.”

  “Carter, are you mad? Our friends are hurt and I’ve got a flaming scroll stuck to my hand. The window’s open. Help me get Jaz and Walt out of here!”

  She had a point. This might be our only chance to get our friends out alive. But I also knew what those seven fires were now, and I knew that if I didn’t go after them, a lot of innocent people were going to get hurt.

  I muttered an Egyptian curse—the cussing kind, not the magic kind—and ran to join the wedding party.

  The main ballroom was in chaos. Guests were running everywhere, screaming and knocking over tables. A guy in a tuxedo had fallen into the wedding cake and was crawling around with a plastic bride-and-groom decoration stuck to his rear. A musician was trying to run away with a snare drum on his foot.

  The white fires had solidified enough so that I could make out their forms—somewhere between canine and human, with elongated arms and crooked legs. They glowed like superheated gas as they raced through the ballroom, circling the pillars that surrounded the dance floor. One passed straight through a bridesmaid. The lady’s eyes turned milky white, and she crumpled to the floor, shivering and coughing.

  I felt like curling into a ball myself. I didn’t know any spells that could fight these things, and if one of them touched me…

  Suddenly the griffin swooped down out of nowhere, followed closely by Sadie’s magic rope, which was still trying to bind it. The griffin snapped up one of the fire creatures in a single gulp and kept flying. Wisps of smoke came out of its nostrils, but otherwise, eating the white fire didn’t seem to bother it.

  “Hey!” I yelled.

  Too late, I realized my mistake.

  The griffin turned toward me, which slowed it down just enough for Sadie’s magic rope to wrap around its back legs.

  “SQUAWWWWK!” The griffin crashed into a buffet table. The rope grew longer, winding around the monster’s body while its high-speed wings shredded the table, the floor, and plates of sandwiches like an out-of-control wood chipper.

  Wedding guests began clearing the ballroom. Most ran for the elevators, but dozens were unconscious or shaking in fits, their eyes glowing white. Others were stuck under piles of debris. Alarms were blaring, and the white fires—six of them now—were still completely out of control.

  I ran toward the griffin, which was rolling around, trying in vain to bite at the rope. “Calm down!” I yelled. “Let me help you, stupid!”

  “FREEEEK!” The griffin’s tail swept over my head and just missed decapitating me.

  I took a deep breath. I was mostly a combat magician. I’d never been good at hieroglyph spells, but I pointed my sword at the monster and said: “Ha-tep.”

  A green hieroglyph—the symbol for Be at peace—burned in the air, right at the tip of my blade:

  The griffin stopped thrashing. The buzzing of its wings slowed. Chaos and screaming still filled the ballroom, but I tried to stay calm as I approached the monster.

  “You recognize me, don’t you?” I held out my hand, and another symbol blazed above my palm—a symbol I could always summon, the Eye of Horus:

  “You’re a sacred animal of Horus, aren’t you? That’s why you obey me.”

  The griffin blinked at the war god’s mark. It ruffled its neck feathers and squawked in complaint, squirming under the rope that was slowly wrapping around its body.

  “Yeah, I know,” I said. “My sister’s a loser. Just hang on. I’ll untie you.”

  Somewhere behind me, Sadie yelled, “Carter!”

  I turned and saw her and Walt stumbling toward me, half-carrying Jaz between them. Sadie was still doing her Statue of Liberty impression, holding the flaming scroll in one hand. Walt was on his feet and his eyes weren’t glowing anymore, but Jaz was slumped over like all the bones in her body had turned to jelly.

  They dodged a fiery spirit and a few crazy wedding guests and somehow made it across the ballroom.

  Walt stared the griffin. “How did you calm it down?”

  “Griffins are servants of Horus,” I said. “They pulled his chariot in battle. I think it recognized my connection to him.”

  The griffin shrieked impatiently and thrashed its tail, knocking over a stone column.

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.