Friday, September 6, 2013

Sneak Peek: The Dominion Scepter

Here's a sneak peek of The Isis Stone's upcoming sequel, The Dominion Scepter:


Warwick, Rhode Island — March 11, 2011
Images of me as an infant, a toddler—all the progressions of my life up to my teen years—fill the faux-leather album in front of me. I examine a glossy photo showing me in a lacy white bassinet, another as a cherub-fisted two year-old seated under a Christmas tree. Mom carefully captured and saved the most important moments of my still young life until a drunk driver took her life away.
I pause at a photograph of us sitting together on our front porch swing, one of the last we took together. We’re laughing. We have the same dimples at the corners of our mouths, the same dark hair, and the same blue eyes. Through a protective plastic sheet, I carefully trace her face. Then I turn my finger over and stare at my already fading scar.
Mom was real. So is this scar. But the memories I associate with the injury can’t be as real as the ones in the photo album. And yet, every time I close my eyes, I see terrifying images of Egypt’s underworld.
I’m not talking about shady drug deals going down on back streets. I’m meaning the ancient Egyptian version of the realm of the dead. I still see animal-headed neteru crowding around me in the Hall of Judgment. I see the tearful farewell with Ant and Shenra right before I drew the tyet’s sharp edge across my finger.
I shake my head. The memories are so vivid, and yet they must be lies. Hallucinations brought on by the bump I received on my head when an empty tomb’s entrance collapsed beneath me.
Dad took me to a doctor the moment we got back from Egypt. I protested, but he insisted.
“You don’t take chances with head injuries, Brookie. We need to make sure you don’t have a concussion.”
No concussion. Nothing that will cause any permanent damage.
But I didn’t tell Dad or the doctor about my disturbing visions.
“Taking a stroll down memory lane, Sunshine?”
I slap the album’s cover shut and slide it across the coffee table away from me.
“I needed a break from that stupid essay I’m working on. I wish June would get here already so I could graduate.”
“Ah, graduation! And you know what that means, don’t you?”
“What? A nice relaxing break from academics?”
“Absolutely not! We need to get you started on Brown’s summer session anthropology courses.”
“What if I decide I’m going someplace other than Brown and going into some program besides archaeology?”

“My heart!” Dad gasps, staggering drunkenly into a wall. “Sharp…pains. Can’t…breathe.” He holds both hands over his chest.
He's taking this better than I thought he would.
“Funny, Dad. But I’m being serious. I don’t know if I want to be an archaeologist. That’s your thing. Not mine.”
“Whatever you decide on, Brookie, you need to make your decision soon. You’ll be turning eighteen this summer, and I’ll be able to legally kick you out of the house.”
“Thanks, Dad. I love you, too.”
“Don’t mention it. Anything for my Sunshine.”
Dad grins at me, ruffles my hair (which he knows I hate!), and gets the TV remote from the coffee table.
“You don’t mind if I watch a little news, do you? I want to see if anything new is happening with the situation in Egypt.”
“Go ahead. I’ll watch it with you.”
Since the protests at Tahrir Square and our own frightening experience there, Dad has become a cable news junkie. Part of it is because of his interest in these history changing events, but I think an even bigger part of it is his desire for things to calm down enough so he can finish his work at the dig site. He also misses working with his Egyptian friends. Especially Hossam.
We came home early because of me. I know he says it was because of the political situation, but I think my injuries and the fact he nearly lost me in that tomb were the real deciding factors.
Dad zips through channels until he finds a station without commercials, and he stops here and gawks at the screen. A reporter’s tense voice seizes my attention.
“…Initial reports indicate that a megathrust earthquake near Japan’s coast triggered the tremendous destruction we’re now viewing…”
 I see cars swirling out of parking lots, blazing buildings surfing on a vicious, roiling wave. A fishing boat smashes itself against a tilting concrete barrier and splinters itself into floating toothpicks.
Dad lets out a long, low whistle.
“We’re already receiving reports about bodies scattered along Sendai’s coastline and possible concerns at a nuclear power plant northeast of Tokyo. The destruction is horrific, the ultimate death toll still unknown.”
 A new image appears on the screen, and my stomach clenches. I turn to see if Dad sees what I’m seeing, but he’s reading the scrolling words along the bottom of the screen.
Another view of the tsunami, but this time a monolithic serpent’s long translucent body twists sidewinder-like through the frothing gray water.
The wave hits an oil refinery and scorching flames erupt. The serpent rises up in the flames, becoming a part of them, arching and hissing and spitting.
I look at Dad again. He’s watching the images now but obviously doesn’t see the giant snake.
 A familiar voice whispers the serpent’s name in my head.
I was supposed to return. I was supposed to return and stop him. But I didn’t, and now the incarnation of chaos has been unleashed.
Dad catches me as I fall forward off the couch.
“Brooke! Are you okay?”
I’m not okay. I forgot my friends and my mission. I’ve failed their world and my own.

Chapter One

 No one’s saying anything about massive sea serpents in any of the newspapers or on any TV stations. Apparently I’m the only crackpot in the universe who saw Apep surfing a destructive tsunami.
Maybe I was hallucinating.
I want to believe that. Oh, do I want to believe that! It’s far less terrifying than the alternative. But somewhere deep inside I know I was actually there. Isis’s tyet—a magical jasper amulet—transported me to the Egyptian underworld and then returned me. I still feel the Duat’s gritty sand stuck under my fingernails even though there’s nothing there when I obsessively examine them.
“Hey! Watch where you’re going, klutz!”
I take a moment to regain my balance before turning to stare into a pair of accusing green eyes.
Miranda Patterson. Cheerleader. Student officer. My arch nemesis since junior high school. I bite back the awkward apology I was about to mumble and match her piercing gaze with a fiery glare of my own.
“Maybe you should get your eyes checked before you injure someone.”
I’m chambering a few shells in my own verbal shotgun when he steps between us. I open my mouth, words momentarily failing me. I freeze and gape at him.
“What’s going on, hot stuff?”
Hot stuff?
I think he’s talking to me until Miranda wraps her long arms around his neck and plants a wet kiss on his lips.
“It’s nothing, Logan. Walk me to my class.”
Her arms slither off his neck, and she tugs on his arm, but he stands motionless and gazes at me.
“Don’t I know you from somewhere?”
Same brown eyes. Same broad shoulders. He’s wearing a faded Titan’s football jersey, and when I look down, I see a familiar pair of high-tops on his size 13 feet. He looks just like he did in that last crazy dream I had about Osiris.
“Maybe you’ve seen me in the cafeteria or in the hall.”
 “You don’t know her from anywhere,” Miranda says, teeth clenched. “Come on. She’s a waste of your time.”
“No. Really. I swear we know each other from somewhere. Have we had a class together? Do you perform on the dance team?”
Miranda snorts, and I resist the powerful urge to rip out a handful of her long blonde hair.
“Maybe I have one of those faces that looks familiar to everybody.”
“Yeah… Maybe that’s it.”
He looks uncertain and faintly disappointed. Miranda sees it and bristles.
“It was nice to meet you…um…”
“Brooke,” I say.
“Yeah. Nice to meet you, Brooke. I’m Logan. Logan Tanner.”
“It’s nice to meet you, too, Logan.”
Miranda, fuming now, pulls him away from me and forcefully tows him down the hall. He glances back at me twice before Miranda puts enough distance between us for the milling locker crowd to block me from sight.
“You had to give her your name? Why not your phone number and address with it?”
Even after I can no longer see them, her angry voice travels back to me.
I smile. He remembered me. Well, sort of. Wadjet told me I would need something called the ‘Dominion Scepter’ to awaken his Osiris memories.
Wadjet. Is she real? I’m still trying to figure out whether my memories of the Duat are from an actual experience or freakishly vivid dream.
Dorothy ended up in Oz again. I shiver. The Duat isn’t half as nice.
Wadjet said I would find him when I least expected it. Well, dream or not, that much has happened. But I would have appreciated a little advance warning about the evil-girlfriend situation.
What now? I know where to find him and who to find him with. Wadjet said Dad could point me in the direction of the Dominion Scepter. We’ll see how real all of this is when I bring that subject up at home tonight.
I’m going to be late for class if I stand here like a petrified tree worrying about it. I have Math with Mr. Parcell next, and he doesn’t tolerate tardiness.
There’s a line at the door when I get to his room. Homework! We have an assignment due today! I search quickly for my finished equations and tear them carefully out of my notebook. Mr. Parcell won’t accept my paper if it has what he calls “dangling chads” along its edge. He also doesn’t accept work after the second bell rings—whether you’re in line or not—and makes you turn it in after class for reduced credit. I’m still struggling with the make-up work left over from my trip to Egypt. I can’t afford a loss of points.
I never come late to class, but I’m cutting it close today. Seeing ‘Osiris’ right here at school has disconcerted me.
He recognized me. That has to mean something. Or maybe it means nothing at all.
I shake my head. I’m so confused. I hand my paper to Mr. Parcell exactly three quarters of a second before the bell rings.
Behind me I hear angry grumbles and annoyed moans as Mr. Parcell refuses to take any more papers. I hurry to my seat and slump into it. I wonder how difficult it will be to find Logan again now that I know we go to the same school.
And that’s not even the hard part. The worst of it is going to be telling him who he really is:
“Hey, Logan. You don’t remember this, but you’re really the ancient Egyptian god Osiris. And I’m not really Brooke Caldwell. I’m Isis, and I’ve just returned from a trip to the Egyptian underworld. And, by the way, you and I are supposed to be a couple and you need to go back with me. So what are you doing together with that vicious, evil little—”
I cut these thoughts short and shake my head. I’ll sound like a lunatic if I bring it up that way.
But this is assuming I decide to bring it up at all. Which I haven’t. Even if I wanted to return to the underworld, I don’t know how.
“Pop quiz!” Mr. Parcell announces, startling me out of my thoughts.
More grumbling. This time from the entire class. I put my elbows on the desktop and hold my throbbing head as the teacher walks around the room dropping quizzes on desks.
Maybe I do want to go back to the Duat. All I have to worry about there are scheming nedsu, flesh-eating scarabs, and one giant, rampaging chaos-serpent.
I look again at the scar on my index finger. In the Duat my blood was magic. Maybe if I start writing on my paper in blood, the equations and story problems will solve themselves.
It’s a tempting thought, but I have this thing against sharp objects and self-mutilation. When I drew blood in the Duat, it was always an act of desperation—an attempt to save my own life or the lives of others. I think I’ll save any magic that might linger inside me for similar emergencies.
The sound of pencils scratching on paper brings back a memory of Seshen sharpening her claws on a stone pillar in the House of Isis. It sounds so similar that I lift my eyes and search the room for the white sphinx.
I massage my temples again. This is no good. I’m too wound up to take this stupid math quiz. What I really need to do is go home, take a few ibuprofen, and nap for awhile. I need to get this crazy notion that I actually visited ancient Egypt’s underworld out of my head.
If Dad’s not teaching one of his university classes, I’m sure he’ll come and pick me up. He’s still worried about the head trauma at the dig site even though the family doctor said I’m okay.
I raise my hand, and Mr. Parcell, looking impatient, leaves his desk and paces over to me.
“Mr. Parcell… I’m not feeling well. May I go to the front office and call my dad?”
“You’re not feeling well, or you don’t want to take this quiz?”
What kind of stupid question is that? Of course I don’t want to take the quiz.
But you can’t say something that disrespectful to a teacher. Not if you want to make your father happy by getting accepted to an Ivy League school.
“I can try to finish it first if you want me to, but I feel like I’m going to throw up.”
He considers my request more carefully now. After a moment, he takes my paper and nods his head.
“You can come in before or after school to finish the quiz. It will be marked on your grade as a zero until you’ve made the necessary effort to complete it.”
“All right. Thank you.”
I gather my notebook and textbook into my arms and head for the door, but on the way out, I glance at the long mirror by the door and stop dead in my tracks.
Something large and feline with eyes like night stares back at my reflection. My breath catches in my throat. I spin toward my empty desk. But whatever was there—if there even was something there—has vanished into thin air.
I know my sphinx’s face. She was reclining in the aisle. But that’s not possible. I watched Am-heh kill her, watched him carry her to the bottom of the Lake of Fire in his pitchfork teeth.
I wipe my sweaty forehead with the back of my hand.
“Brooke? Are you all right?”
“What? Oh… Yes… I’m fine.”
Mr. Parcell watches me, concerned, as I stumble out the door.
Chaos serpents. The ghosts of dead sphinxes. They’ve followed me from the Duat. Wadjet warned me I wouldn’t be safe. But, yet again, a little more information would have been highly useful. Like when and where the first attempt on my life would take place. Yeah. I could have used that vital piece of information, Miss Wadjet.
It sounds like a hiss even though there are no hissing consonants in the word.
Miranda pulls me into the empty custodial closet, fingers clenched around my throat, and pins me against the wall.
There’s something wrong with her eyes. Her pupils have narrowed into reptilian slits, and my body goes limp as I stare into those slits, unable to look away.
In her free hand, Miranda holds a gray utility knife, and she extends its thin, razor-sharp blade with a metallic snick.
“You…,” she breathes again. “You should have never come back here. You should have realized I would be waiting.”
I would love to comment on this—maybe ask a few questions—but I can’t draw any air into my lungs. My esophagus is pinched closed.
We both turn our eyes to the open door. Logan Tanner stares in at us, eyes widening when he sees the knife in Miranda’s fist.
“Randa! What are you doing?”
“Stay out of this!” she hisses and strikes him a glancing blow with the back of her fisted knife hand.
He flies backward, hits the floor, and slides until his skull makes contact with the opposite wall.
I’d worry about head injuries, but he’s on the football team. I’m sure this isn’t the first time he’s suffered head trauma. In fact, I’d place money on it. It’s the only explanation for the fact that he’s Miranda’s boyfriend.
And, all resentment aside, I have a pressing problem of my own. Miranda’s inhumanly strong fingers are crushing my windpipe like an empty aluminum can. My vision is starting to turn black around the edges, and a few more moments of this is going to send me on a one-way trip into the afterlife.
My attacker is merciless. There’s no compassion on her face. It’s like looking into a cobra’s eyes.
A cobra…
I stiffen. I know those facial expressions. I know those hate-filled reptilian eyes. Struggling with renewed urgency, I claw at Miranda’s thin fingers.
She laughs. She doesn’t even feel the gouges left by my fingernails.
“Wadjet isn’t here to save you this time, O Great Queen of the Duat, Isis.”
She brings the utility knife closer to my face, and I grab at her wrist, knowing my effort to stop her will be futile in the end.
Issssfet is loosed,”she hisses. “Apep has risen. My new master beckons me to him. But before I go, you and I have unfinished business to settle.”
She parts her lips in a murderous smile, and a forked black tongue darts in and out between her fang-like teeth.
“What the…”
Logan is on his feet again, staring at his girlfriend with wide-eyed revulsion.
“Miranda… What is… What are…”
She turns her slit-eyes on him, and, for a moment, her expression softens.
“Stay out of this, my love,” she whispers.
I move quickly. I release her wrist and jab my index finger against the utility knife’s painfully sharp blade. Blood spurts. Before she can stop me, I swipe the bloody finger across her pale forehead.
Miranda turns on me and snarls. She moves her fangs toward my throat, but the bloody streak on her forehead has reshaped itself into a glowing ankh—the ancient Egyptians’ symbol of life.
“Ankh…,” I rasp through half-numbed lips. “Udja… Senb…”
The glowing symbol sinks into my enemy’s flesh. She releases me and staggers back, and a blinding white halo engulfs her body.
I cover my ears as a high-pitched scream rips through her lips. It’s a scream of pain and rage and hatred. The light fades, and the nebulous image of a cobra swirls around Miranda’s limp, suspended body. The misty serpent blows like tattered rags into the shadows, and Miranda falls lifelessly to the floor.
I slump against a shelf, holding my throat, gasping for breath. Someone brushes past me—Logan—and kneels next to Miranda.
“She’s still breathing,” he says. “I think she’s all right.”
Better than I’ll be. I probably have bruises around my neck.
“What was that?” Logan asks, looking at me. “What… What happened to her?”

“Hetepes-Sekhus,” I answer.
“Hepatitis what?”
Logan’s eyes widen. He drops Miranda’s hand and scoots away.
“Isn’t that…like…something infectious?”
“Why? Have you two been doing things you ought to be worried about?”
My question comes out sharper than I intended
“N-no,” Logan stammers. “Of course not. We haven’t even kissed. Much.  I’ve only known her since…”
He stops. He looks confused.
“I…I don’t remember how long. It’s all kind of foggy now.”
“She doesn’t have hepatitis,” I say, closing my eyes. “Or any other infectious disease. She was possessed by Hetepes-Sekhus’s akh.”
 “Hetep-It-Who’s what?”

“It’s a long story. And you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
Logan stares at me until I shift my eyes away.
“I just watched you cast some kind of snake-shaped mist creature out of my girlfriend’s body. I might believe more than you think.”
I almost consider spilling everything, including the bizarre details about me being the Egyptian goddess Isis—minus most of her memories—in a mortal body. But the sound of swift, authoritative footsteps interrupts our conversation.
Someone heard Miranda’s screams. Now there’s going to be another kind of explaining to do.
“That stuff about the bright light and the snake…,” Logan whispers. “I shouldn’t say anything about that, should I?”
“Not unless you want to end up in the hospital’s psychiatric ward.”
“Right. That stays between you and me.”
He gives me a nervous grin. My heart responds with an annoying flutter.
And then a principal, a guidance counselor, and two concerned teachers arrive at the closet door. I can already sense this is going to be a very long day.