Sample text for Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos / R.L. LaFevers ; illustrated by Yoko Tanaka.


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Counter
December 17, 1906

I don't trust Clive Fagenbush.

How can you trust a person who has eyebrows as
thick and black as hairbrushes and smells of
boiled cabbage and pickled onions? Besides, I'm
beginning to suspect he's up to something.
What's worse, I think he suspects I'm up to
something. Which I usually am.

Not that anyone would take the word of an eleven-
year-old girl against that of the Second Assistant
Curator--even if that girl just happens to be the
daughter of the Head Curator of the museum and
is rather cleverer than most (or so I've been told;
oddly, I don't think they meant it as a
compliment). As far as I can tell, it doesn't make
any difference to adults how clever children are.
They always stick together. Unless you are sick
or dying or mortally wounded, they will always
side with the other adult.

That's certainly the case here, anyway. My father
oversees the Museum of Legends and
Antiquities, the second largest museum in
London. As a result, I spend most of my time
clattering around this old place. I don't mind.
Really. Well, not much anyway. Though it would be
nice if Father remembered I was here once in a
while. . . However, I've got plenty to do. The
museum's got loads of secrets, and I've
discovered I'm very good at ferreting out secrets.
And curses. You'd be surprised at how many
things come into the museum loaded with curses
--bad ones. Ancient, dark, Egyptian-magic ones.

Take this morning, for example, when a crate
arrived from Mum.

At the sound of the buzzer, I hurried down to
Receiving. Dolge and Sweeny, the museum's two
hired hands, were just opening the doors to the
loading area. Yellow fog began oozing into the
room like a runny pudding. Outside, I could make
out the drayman, blowing on his fingers and
stamping his feet, trying to stay warm as he
waited next to his cart. His carriage lanterns were
lit and looked like two fuzzy halos in the thick fog.
Sweeny hopped off the dock and together they
lifted a crate from the back of the cart and carried
it inside. As they made their way past me, I
craned forward to read the label. It was from
Thebes! Which meant it had to be from Mum. Her
first shipment from the Valley of the Kings! The
first of many, most likely.

Once they'd placed the crate on an empty
worktable, the drayman tipped his cap and hurried
back to his cart, anxious to be on his way. Dolge
closed the door behind him with a resounding
clang.

By this time, the curators had arrived, and we all
gathered round to watch Father open the crate. As
I inched closer, I saw that, once again, he wasn't
wearing any gloves. My own gloved fingers
twitched in dismay.

"Um, Father?"

He paused, his hands hovering over the crate.
"Yes, Theodosia?"

"Aren't you afraid you'll get splinters?" Everyone
turned to stare at me oddly.

"Nonsense," he said.

Of course, I didn't give a fig about splinters. They
were the least of my worries. But I didn't dare tell
him that.

With everyone's attention once again focused on
the crate, I shuffled closer to Father's side, trying
to reach him before he actually touched whatever
it was that Mum had sent. I made it past Dolge
and Sweeny with no problem, but I had to hold my
breath as I sidled past Fagenbush. He glared at
me, and I glared back.

When I reached Father's side, I dipped my hand
into the pocket of my pinafore just as he plunged
his hands into the crate. As unobtrusively as
possible, I slipped a small amulet of protection
out of my pocket and into his. Unfortunately, my
action did not go unnoticed. He paused and
scowled at me. "What on earth are you doing?"

"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
she's sent us this time?"

"Well, that's what I'm 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, who'd been skulking under the
workmen's 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. "You're 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. I'm 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 statue's curse and how to remove it.

Quickly.

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 Father's way. They tend to get
annoyed when I'm underfoot, and then begin
talking of sending me off to school. This way, at
least I'd 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 didn't 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 wasn't 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 don't 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.

And I loathe the museum at night.


Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Magic -- Juvenile fiction.
Incantations, Egyptian -- Juvenile fiction.
Occultism -- Juvenile fiction.
Adventure and adventurers -- Fiction.
Museums -- Fiction.
Magic -- Fiction.
Blessing and cursing -- Fiction.
Family life -- England -- Fiction.
London (England) -- History -- 20th century -- Fiction.
Great Britain -- History -- Edward VII, 1901-1910 -- Fiction.
Egypt -- Antiquities -- Fiction.