I just wanted to get a good look, Father. I am the shortest one in the room, you know. To turn his attention from me back to the crate, I leaned forward and peered in. What do you think shes sent us this time?
Well, thats what Im trying to find out. His voice was tinged with exasperation. Then luckily he forgot all about me as, with great ceremony, he reached into the crate and lifted out an absolutely fetching black statue of a cat: Bastet, the Egyptian fertility goddess.
The moment I laid eyes on it, I felt as if a parade of icy-footed beetles were marching down my spine. My cat, Isis, whod been skulking under the workmens bench, took one look at the statue, meowed loudly, then streaked off for parts unknown. I shuddered. Once again Mother had sent us an artifact positively dripping with ancient, evil curses.
Are you all right, Theo? Nigel Bollingsworth, the First Assistant Curator, asked. Youre not taking a chill, are you?
He studied me in concern. Next to him, Fagenbush stared at me as if I were something nasty that Isis had dragged in. No, Mr. Bollingsworth. Im fine.
Well, except for the black magic rolling off the new cursed object.
Of course, Mother never realized it was cursed. Nor did Father. Neither one of them ever seemed able to tell.
None of the assistant curators seemed to notice anything, either. Except for that rat Fagenbush. He eyed the statue with his face aglow and his long, bony fingers twitching. The problem was, he looked like that half the time, so it was hard to know if it was his reaction to the artifact or he was just being his own horrid self.
As far as I knew, I was the only one able to detect the black magic still clinging to the ancient objects. Therefore, it was up to me to discover the nature of this statues curse and how to remove it.
When Mother arrived tomorrow, she was sure to have loads of new artifacts with her. Even more crates would trickle in over the next few weeks. Who knew how many of those items would be cursed? I could be busy for months! The only good thing was that it would keep me out of Mother and Fathers way. They tend to get annoyed when Im underfoot, and then begin talking of sending me off to school. This way, at least Id be able to spend some time with Mum.
Still, while hunches and gut instinct were all well and good for a First Level Test, I had to be logical and scientific about this. I needed to conduct a Level Two Test as soon as possible.
My chance came when everyone had cleared out of the receiving bay and returned to their duties. Since I didnt have any duties to return to, I was able to hang back unnoticed.
I went over to one of the shelves that lined the receiving area and took down a small, battered Canopic jar. It had come in badly damaged, and since it wasnt particularly valuable, no one had taken the time to restore it. I had begun using it for collecting wax (old candle stubs, sealing wax, that kind of thing), which I used extensively in my Second Level Test. Wax is very good at absorbing heka, or evil magic.
I removed some of the wax bits from the jar and carefully set them in a circle around the base of the statue.
By dinnertime, the entire circle of wax bits was a foul greeny-black color. Drat! I dont think the wax has ever turned dark that quickly before. Now I had to come back and conduct a Third Level Test. Unfortunately, in order to do that, I needed moonlight. Moonlight is the only way to make the inscribed curses visible to the human eye.
Of course, the only way to view something in moonlight is at night.
Excerpted from Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R.L.LaFevres, Copyright © 2007 by R.L.LaFevres. Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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