The red pyramid, p.31
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       The Red Pyramid, p.31

         Part #1 of Kane Chronicles series by Rick Riordan
 

  Her voice trailed off. In the middle of the river, the water was boiling. Rising from it was a figure so horrible, I knew we were doomed.

  “Could mean that,” Bast said grimly.

  To start with, the guy was twenty feet tall—and I don’t mean with a glowing avatar. He was all flesh and blood. His chest and arms were human, but he had light green skin, and his waist was wrapped in a green armored kilt like reptile hide. He had the head of a crocodile, a massive mouth filled with white crooked teeth, and eyes that glistened with green mucus (yeah, I know—real attractive). His black hair hung in plaits down to his shoulders, and bull’s horns curved from his head. If that wasn’t weird enough, he appeared to be sweating at an unbelievable rate—oily water poured off him in torrents and pooled in the river.

  He raised his staff—a length of green wood as big as a telephone pole.

  Bast yelled, “Move!” and pulled me back as the crocodile man smashed a five-foot-deep trench in the riverbank where I’d been standing.

  He bellowed: “Horus!”

  The last thing I wanted to do was say, Here! But Horus spoke urgently in my mind: Face him down. Sobek only understands strength. Do not let him grasp you, or he will pull you down and drown you.

  I swallowed my fear and yelled, “Sobek! You, uh, weakling! How the heck are ya?”

  Sobek bared his teeth. Maybe it was his version of a friendly smile. Probably not.

  “That form does not serve you, falcon god,” he said. “I will snap you in half.”

  Next to me, Bast slipped her knives from her sleeves. “Don’t let him grasp you,” she warned.

  “Already got the memo,” I told her. I was conscious of Khufu off to my right, slowly lugging Sadie uphill. I had to keep this green guy distracted, at least until they were safe. “Sobek, god of...I’m guessing crocodiles! Leave us in peace or we’ll destroy you!”

  Good, Horus said. “Destroy” is good.

  Sobek roared with laughter. “Your sense of humor has improved, Horus. You and your kitty will destroy me?” He turned his mucus-filmed eyes on Bast. “What brings you to my realm, cat goddess? I thought you didn’t like the water!”

  On the last word, he aimed his staff and shot forth a torrent of green water. Bast was too quick. She jumped and came down behind Sobek with her avatar fully formed—a massive, glowing cat-headed warrior. “Traitor!” Bast yelled. “Why do you side with chaos? Your duty is to the king!”

  “What king?” Sobek roared. “Ra? Ra is gone. Osiris is dead again, the weakling! And this boy child cannot restore the empire. There was a time I supported Horus, yes. But he has no strength in this form. He has no followers. Set offers power. Set offers fresh meat. I think I will start with godling flesh!”

  He turned on me and swung his staff. I rolled away from his strike, but his free hand shot out and grabbed me around the waist. I just wasn’t quick enough. Bast tensed, preparing to launch herself at the enemy, but before she could, Sobek dropped his staff, grasped me with both massive hands, and dragged me into the water. The next thing I knew I was drowning in the cold green murk. I couldn’t see or breathe. I sank into the depths as Sobek’s hands crushed the air out of my lungs.

  Now or never! Horus said. Let me take control.

  No, I replied. I’ll die first.

  I found the thought strangely calming. If I was already dead, there was no point in being afraid. I might as well go down fighting.

  I focused my power and felt strength coursing through my body. I flexed my arms and felt Sobek’s grip weaken. I summoned the avatar of the hawk warrior and was instantly encased in a glowing golden form as large as Sobek. I could just see him in the dark water, his slimy eyes wide with surprise.

  I broke his grip and head-butted him, breaking off a few of his teeth. Then I shot out of the water and landed on the riverbank next to Bast, who was so startled, she almost slashed me.

  “Thank Ra!” she exclaimed.

  “Yeah, I’m alive.”

  “No, I almost jumped in after you. I hate the water!”

  Then Sobek exploded out of the river, roaring in rage. Green blood oozed from one of his nostrils.

  “You cannot defeat me!” He held out his arms, which were raining perspiration. “I am lord of the water! My sweat creates the rivers of the world!”

  Eww. I decided not to swim in rivers anymore. I glanced back, looking for Khufu and Sadie, but they were nowhere in sight. Hopefully Khufu had gotten Sadie to safety, or at least found a good place to hide.

  Sobek charged, and he brought the river with him. A massive wave smashed into me, toppling me to the ground, but Bast jumped and came down on Sobek’s back in full avatar form. The weight hardly seemed to bother him. He tried to grab her without any luck. She slashed repeatedly at his arms, back and neck, but his green skin seemed to heal as quickly as she could cut him.

  I struggled to my feet, which in avatar form is like trying to get up with a mattress strapped to your chest. Sobek finally managed to grab Bast and throw her off. She tumbled to a stop without getting hurt, but her blue aura was flickering. She was losing power.

  We played tag team with the crocodile god—stabbing and slashing—but the more we wounded him, the more enraged and powerful he seemed to get.

  “More minions!” he shouted. “Come to me!”

  That couldn’t be good. Another round of giant crocs and we’d be dead.

  Why don’t we get minions? I complained to Horus, but he didn’t answer. I could feel him struggling to channel his power through me, trying to keep up our combat magic.

  Sobek’s fist smashed into Bast, and she went flying again. This time when she hit the ground, her avatar flickered off completely.

  I charged, trying to draw Sobek’s attention. Unfortunately, it worked. Sobek turned and blasted me with water. While I was blind, he slapped me so hard I flew across the riverbank, tumbling through the reeds.

  My avatar collapsed. I sat up groggily and found Khufu and Sadie right next to me, Sadie still passed out and bleeding, Khufu desperately murmuring in Baboon and stroking her forehead.

  Sobek stepped out of the water and grinned at me. Far downstream in the dim evening light, about a quarter of a mile away, I could see two wake lines in the river, coming toward us fast—Sobek’s reinforcements.

  From the river, Bast yelled, “Carter, hurry! Get Sadie out of here!”

  Her face went pale with strain, and her cat warrior avatar appeared around her one more time. It was weak, though—barely substantial.

  “Don’t!” I called. “You’ll die!”

  I tried to summon the falcon warrior, but the effort made my insides burn with pain. I was out of power, and Horus’s spirit was slumbering, completely spent.

  “Go!” Bast yelled. “And tell your father I kept my promise.”

  “NO!”

  She leaped at Sobek. The two grappled—Bast slashing furiously across his face while Sobek howled in pain. The two gods toppled into the water, and down they went.

  I ran to the riverbank. The river bubbled and frothed. Then a green explosion lit the entire length of the Rio Grande, and a small black-and-gold creature shot out of the river as if it had been tossed. It landed on the grass at my feet—a wet, unconscious, half-dead cat.

  “Bast?” I picked up the cat gingerly. It wore Bast’s collar, but as I watched, the talisman of the goddess crumbled to dust. It wasn’t Bast anymore. Only Muffin.

  Tears stung my eyes. Sobek had been defeated, forced back to the Duat or something, but there were still two wake lines coming toward us in the river, close enough now that I could see the monsters’ green backs and beady eyes.

  I cradled the cat against my chest and turned toward Khufu. “Come on, we have to—”

  I froze, because standing right behind Khufu and my sister, glaring at me, was a different crocodile—one that was pure white.

  We’re dead, I thought. And then, Wait...a white crocodile?

  It opened its mouth and lunged—straig
ht over me. I turned and saw it slam into the two other crocodiles—the giant green ones that had been about to kill me.

  “Philip?” I said in amazement, as the crocodiles thrashed and fought.

  “Yes,” said a man’s voice.

  I turned again and saw the impossible. Uncle Amos was kneeling next to Sadie, frowning as he examined her head wound. He looked up at me urgently. “Philip will keep Sobek’s minions busy, but not for long. Follow me now, and we have a slim chance of surviving!”

  S A D I E

  31. I Deliver a Love Note

  I’M GLAD CARTER TOLD THAT LAST BIT—partly because I was unconscious when it happened, partly because I can’t talk about what Bast did without going to pieces.

  Ah, but more on that later.

  I woke feeling as if someone had overinflated my head. My eyes weren’t seeing the same things. Out my left, I saw a baboon bum, out my right, my long-lost uncle Amos. Naturally, I decided to focus on the right.

  “Amos?”

  He laid a cool cloth on my forehead. “Rest, child. You had quite a concussion.”

  That at least I could believe.

  As my eyes began to focus, I saw we were outside under a starry night sky. I was lying on a blanket on what felt like soft sand. Khufu stood next to me, his colorful side a bit too close to my face. He was stirring a pot over a small fire, and whatever he was cooking smelled like burning tar. Carter sat nearby at the top of a sand dune, looking despondent and holding...was that Muffin in his lap?

  Amos appeared much as he had when we last saw him, ages ago. He wore his blue suit with matching coat and fedora. His long hair was neatly braided, and his round glasses glinted in the sun. He appeared fresh and rested—not like someone who’d been the prisoner of Set.

  “How did you—”

  “Get away from Set?” His expression darkened. “I was a fool to go looking for him, Sadie. I had no idea how powerful he’d become. His spirit is tied to the red pyramid.”

  “So...he doesn’t have a human host?”

  Amos shook his head. “He doesn’t need one as long as he has the pyramid. As it gets closer to completion, he gets stronger and stronger. I sneaked into his lair under the mountain and walked right into a trap. I’m ashamed to say he took me without a fight.”

  He gestured at his suit, showing off how perfectly fine he was. “Not a scratch. Just—bam. I was frozen like a statue. Set stood me outside his pyramid like a trophy and let his demons laugh and mock me as they passed by.”

  “Did you see Dad?” I asked.

  His shoulders slumped. “I heard the demons talking. The coffin is inside the pyramid. They’re planning to use Osiris’s power to augment the storm. When Set unleashes it at sunrise—and it will be quite an explosion—Osiris and your father will be obliterated. Osiris will be exiled so deep into the Duat he may never rise again.”

  My head began to throb. I couldn’t believe we had so little time, and if Amos couldn’t save Dad, how could Carter and I?

  “But you got away,” I said, grasping for any good news. “So there must be weaknesses in his defenses or—”

  “The magic that froze me eventually began to weaken. I concentrated my energy and worked my way out of the binding. It took many hours, but finally I broke free. I sneaked out at midday, when the demons were sleeping. It was much too easy.”

  “It doesn’t sound easy,” I said.

  Amos shook his head, obviously troubled. “Set allowed me to escape. I don’t know why, but I shouldn’t be alive. It’s a trick of some sort. I’m afraid...” Whatever he was going to say, he changed his mind. “At any rate, my first thought was to find you, so I summoned my boat.”

  He gestured behind him. I managed to lift my head and saw we were in a strange desert of white dunes that stretched as far as I could see in the starlight. The sand under my fingers was so fine and white, it might’ve been sugar. Amos’s boat, the same one that had carried us from the Thames to Brooklyn, was beached at the top of a nearby dune, canted at a precarious angle as if it had been thrown there.

  “There’s a supply locker aboard,” Amos offered, “if you’d like fresh clothes.”

  “But where are we?”

  “White Sands,” Carter told me. “In New Mexico. It’s a government range for testing missiles. Amos said no one would look for us here, so we gave you some time to heal. It’s about seven in the evening, still the twenty-eighth. Twelve hours or so until Set...you know.”

  “But...” Too many questions swam round in my mind. The last thing I remembered, I’d been at the river talking to Nephthys. Her voice had seemed to come from the other side of the world. She’d spoken faintly through the current—so hard to understand, yet quite insistent. She’d told me she was sheltered far away in a sleeping host, which I couldn’t make sense of. She’d said she could not appear in person, but that she would send a message. Then the water had started to boil.

  “We were attacked.” Carter stroked Muffin’s head, and I finally noticed that the amulet—Bast’s amulet—was missing. “Sadie, I’ve got some bad news.”

  He told me what had happened, and I closed my eyes. I started to weep. Embarrassing, yes, but I couldn’t help it. Over the last few days, I’d lost everything—my home, my ordinary life, my father. I’d been almost killed half a dozen times. My mother’s death, which I’d never gotten over to begin with, hurt like a reopened wound. And now Bast was gone too?

  When Anubis had questioned me in the Underworld, he’d wanted to know what I would sacrifice to save the world.

  What haven’t I sacrificed already? I wanted to scream. What have I got left?

  Carter came over and gave me Muffin, who purred in my arms, but it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t Bast.

  “She’ll come back, won’t she?” I looked at Amos imploringly. “I mean she’s immortal, isn’t she?”

  Amos tugged at the rim of his hat. “Sadie...I just don’t know. It seems she sacrificed herself to defeat Sobek. Bast forced him back to the Duat at the expense of her own life force. She even spared Muffin, her host, probably with the last shred of her power. If that’s true, it would be very difficult for Bast to come back. Perhaps some day, in a few hundred years—”

  “No, not a few hundred years! I can’t—” My voice broke.

  Carter put his hand on my shoulder, and I knew he understood. We couldn’t lose anyone else. We just couldn’t.

  “Rest now,” Amos said. “We can spare another hour, but then we’ll have to get moving.”

  Khufu offered me a bowl of his concoction. The chunky liquid looked like soup that had died long ago. I glanced at Amos, hoping he’d give me a pass, but he nodded encouragingly.

  Just my luck, on top of everything else I had to take baboon medicine.

  I sipped the brew, which tasted almost as bad as it smelled, and immediately my eyelids felt heavy. I closed my eyes and slept.

  And just when I thought I had this soul-leaving-the-body business sorted, my soul decided to break the rules. Well, it is my soul after all, so I suppose that makes sense.

  As my ba left my body, it kept its human form, which was better than the winged poultry look, but it kept growing and growing until I towered above White Sands. I’d been told many times that I have a lot of spirit (usually not as a compliment), but this was absurd. My ba was as tall as the Washington Monument.

  To the south, past miles and miles of desert, steam rose from the Rio Grande—the battle site where Bast and Sobek had perished. Even as tall as I was, I shouldn’t have been able to see all the way to Texas, especially at night, but somehow I could. To the north, even farther away, I saw a distant red glow and I knew it was the aura of Set. His power was growing as his pyramid neared completion.

  I looked down. Next to my foot was a tiny cluster of specks—our camp. Miniature Carter, Amos, and Khufu sat talking round the cooking fire. Amos’s boat was no larger than my little toe. My own sleeping form lay curled in a blanket, so small I could’ve crushed myself with o
ne misstep.

  I was enormous, and the world was small.

  “That’s how gods see things,” a voice told me.

  I looked around but saw nothing, just the vast expanse of rolling white dunes. Then, in front of me, the dunes shifted. I thought it was the wind, until an entire dune rolled sideways like a wave. Another moved, and another. I realized I was looking at a human form—an enormous man lying in the fetal position. He got up, shaking white sand everywhere. I knelt down and cupped my hands over my companions to keep them from getting buried. Oddly, they didn’t seem to notice, as if the disruption were no more than a sprinkle of rain.

  The man rose to his full height—at least a head taller than my own giant form. His body was made of sand that curtained off his arms and chest like waterfalls of sugar. The sand shifted across his face until he formed a vague smile.

  “Sadie Kane,” he said. “I have been waiting for you.”

  “Geb.” Don’t ask me how, but I knew instantly that this was the god of the earth. Maybe the sand body was a giveaway. “I have something for you.”

  It didn’t make sense that my ba would have the envelope, but I reached into my shimmering ghostly pocket and pulled out the note from Nut.

  “Your wife misses you,” I said.

  Geb took the note gingerly. He held it to his face and seemed to sniff it. Then he opened the envelope. Instead of a letter, fireworks burst out. A new constellation blazed in the night sky above us—the face of Nut, formed by a thousand stars. The wind rose quickly and ripped the image apart, but Geb sighed contentedly. He closed the envelope and tucked it inside his sandy chest as if there were a pocket right where his heart should be.

  “I owe you thanks, Sadie Kane,” Geb said. “It has been many millennia since I saw the face of my beloved. Ask me a favor that the earth can grant, and it shall be yours.”

  “Save my father,” I said immediately.

  Geb’s face rippled with surprise. “Hmm, what a loyal daughter! Isis could learn a thing from you. Alas, I cannot. Your father’s path is twined with that of Osiris, and matters between the gods cannot be solved by the earth.”

 
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