The Crown of Ptolemy (Percy Jackson & Kane Chronicles Crossover #3) by Rick Riordan.Pdf
Submitted By jem25
THE CROWN of PTOLEMY
A Percy Jackson/Kane Chronicles Adventure
The Crown of Ptolemy
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rick Riordan is the creator of the award-winning, bestselling Percy Jackson series and the thrilling
Kane Chronicles and Heroes of Olympus series. Don’t miss his new series: Magnus Chase and the
Gods of Asgard.
According to Rick, the idea for the Percy Jackson stories was inspired by his son Haley. But rumour has it that Camp Half-Blood actually exists, and Rick spends his summers there recording the adventures of young demigods. Some believe that, to avoid a mass panic among the mortal population, he was forced to swear on the River Styx to present Percy Jackson’s story as fiction. Rick lives in Boston, Massachussetts, (apart from his summers on Half-Blood Hill) with his wife and two sons. To learn more about Rick and the Percy Jackson and Kane Chronicles series, visit: www.rickriordanmythmaster.co.uk The Crown of Ptolemy
‘CARTER!’ I SHOUTED.
Next to me, pressed against the wall of the old fort, Annabeth peered into the rain, waiting for magical teenagers to fall out of the sky.
‘Are you doing it right?’ she asked me.
‘Gee¸ I dunno. I’m pretty sure his name is pronounced Carter.’
‘Try tapping the hieroglyph multiple times.’
‘Just try it.’
I stared at my hand. There wasn’t even a trace of the hieroglyph that Carter Kane had drawn on my palm almost two months back. He’d assured me that the magic couldn’t be washed away, but, with my luck, I’d accidentally wiped it off on my jeans or something.
I tapped my palm. ‘Carter. Hello, Carter. Percy to Carter. Paging Carter Kane. Testing, one, two, three. Is this thing on?’
Usually I wouldn’t panic if the cavalry failed to show. Annabeth and I had been in a lot of bad situations without any backup. But usually we weren’t stranded on Governors Island in the middle of a hurricane, surrounded by fire-breathing death snakes.
(Actually, I have been surrounded by fire-breathing death snakes before, but not ones with wings.
Everything is worse when it has wings.)
‘All right.’ Annabeth wiped the rain out of her eyes, which didn’t help, since it was pouring buckets. ‘Sadie’s not answering her phone. Carter’s hieroglyph isn’t working. I guess we have to do this ourselves.’
‘Sure,’ I said. ‘But what do we do?’
I peeked around the corner. At the far end of an arched entryway, a grass courtyard stretched about a hundred yards square, surrounded by redbrick buildings. Annabeth had told me this place was a fort or something from the Revolutionary War, but I hadn’t listened to the details. Our main problem was the guy standing in the middle of the lawn doing a magic ritual.
He looked like a runty Elvis Presley, strutting back and forth in skinny black jeans, a powder-blue dress shirt and a black leather jacket. His greasy pompadour hairdo seemed impervious to the rain and the wind.
In his hands he held an old scroll, like a treasure map. As he paced, he read aloud from it, occasionally throwing back his head and laughing. Basically the dude was in full-on crazy mode.
If that wasn’t creepy enough, flying around him were half a dozen winged serpents, blowing flames
in the rain.
Overhead, lightning flashed. Thunder shook my molars.
Annabeth pulled me back.
‘That’s got to be Setne,’ she said. ‘The scroll he’s reading from is the Book of Thoth. Whatever spell he’s casting, we have to stop him.’
At this point I should probably back up and explain what the heck was going on.
Only problem: I wasn’t sure what the heck was going on.
A couple of months ago, I fought this giant crocodile on Long Island. A kid named Carter Kane showed up, said he was a magician and proceeded to help me by blowing up stuff with hieroglyphs and turning into a giant glowing chicken-headed warrior. Together we defeated the crocodile, which
Carter explained was a son of Sobek, the Egyptian crocodile god. Carter postulated that some strange
Egyptian–Greek hybrid stuff was happening. (Gee, I never would’ve guessed.) He wrote a magical hieroglyph on my hand and told me to call his name if I ever needed help.
Fast-forward to last month: Annabeth ran into Carter’s sister, Sadie Kane, on the A train to
Rockaway. They fought some godly dude named Serapis, who had a three-headed staff, and a cereal bowl for a hat. Afterwards, Sadie told Annabeth that an ancient magician named Setne might be behind all the weirdness. Apparently this Setne had come back from the dead, snagged an ultrapowerful sorcery cheat sheet called the Book of Thoth and was playing around with Egyptian and
Greek magic, hoping to find a way to become a god himself. Sadie and Annabeth had exchanged numbers and agreed to keep in touch.
Today, four weeks later, Annabeth showed up at my apartment at ten in the morning and announced that she’d had a bad dream – a vision from her mom.
(By the way: her mom is Athena, the goddess of wisdom. My dad is Poseidon. We’re Greek demigods. Just thought I should mention that, you know, in passing.)
Annabeth decided that, instead of going to the movies, we should spend our Saturday slogging down to the bottom of Manhattan and taking the ferry to Governors Island, where Athena had told her that trouble was brewing.
As soon as we got there, a freak hurricane slammed into New York Harbor. All the mortals evacuated Governors Island, leaving Annabeth and me stranded at an old fort with Crazy Elvis and the Flying Death Snakes.
Make sense to you?
‘Your invisibility cap,’ I said. ‘It’s working again, right? How about I distract Setne while you sneak up behind him? You can knock the book out of his hands.’
Annabeth knitted her eyebrows. Even with her blonde hair plastered to the side of her face, she looked cute. Her eyes were the same colour as the storm clouds.
‘Setne is supposedly the world’s greatest magician,’ she said. ‘He might be able to see through invisibility. Plus, if you run out there, he’ll probably zap you with a spell. Believe me, Egyptian magic is not something you want to get zapped with.’
‘I know. Carter walloped me with a glowing blue fist once. But unless you have a better idea …’
Unfortunately, she didn’t offer one. She pulled her New York Yankees cap from her backpack.
‘Give me a minute’s head start. Try to take out those flying snakes first. They should be softer targets.’ ‘Got it.’ I raised my ballpoint pen, which doesn’t sound like an impressive weapon, but it turns into a magic sword when I uncap it. No, seriously. ‘Will a Celestial bronze blade kill them?’
Annabeth frowned. ‘It should. At least … my bronze dagger worked on the staff of Serapis. Of course, that bronze dagger was made from an Egyptian wand, so …’
‘I’m getting a headache. Usually when I get a headache it’s time to stop talking and attack something.’ ‘Fine. Just remember: our main goal is to get that scroll. According to Sadie, Setne can use it to turn himself immortal.’
‘Understood. No bad guys turning immortal on my watch.’ I kissed her, because 1) when you’re a demigod going into battle, every kiss might be your last, and 2) I like kissing her. ‘Be careful.’
She put on her Yankees cap and vanished.
I’d love to tell you that I walked in and killed the snakes, Annabeth stabbed Elvis in the back and took his scroll, and we went home happy.
You’d figure once in a while things would work out the way we planned.
I gave Annabeth a few seconds to sneak into the courtyard.
Then I uncapped my pen, and Riptide sprang to full length – three feet of razor-sharp Celestial bronze. I strolled into the courtyard and sliced the nearest serpent out of the air.
Nothing says Hi, neighbour! like killing a guy’s flying reptile.
The snake didn’t disintegrate like most monsters I’d fought. Its two halves just landed in the wet grass. The half with wings flopped around aimlessly.
Crazy Elvis didn’t notice. He kept pacing back and forth, engrossed in his scroll, so I moved further into the courtyard and sliced another snake.
The storm made it hard to see. Normally I can stay dry when submersed in water, but rain is trickier. It needled my skin and got in my eyes.
Lightning flashed. By the time my vision cleared, two more snakes were dive-bombing me from either side. I jumped backwards just as they blew fire.
FYI, jumping backwards is hard when you’re holding a sword. It’s even harder when the ground is muddy. Long story short: I slipped and landed on my butt.
Flames shot over my head. The two snakes circled above me like they were too surprised to attack again. Probably they were wondering, Did that guy just fall on his butt on purpose? Should we laugh before we kill him? Would that be mean?
Before they could decide what to do, Crazy Elvis called out, ‘Leave him!’
The snakes darted off to join their brethren, who were orbiting ten feet above the magician.
I wanted to get up and face Setne, but my rear end had other ideas. It wanted to stay where it was and be in extreme pain. Butts are like that sometimes. They can be, well, butts.
Setne rolled up his scroll. He sauntered towards me, the rain parting around him like a bead curtain. His winged snakes followed, their flames making plumes of steam in the storm.
‘Hi, there!’ Setne sounded so casual and friendly I knew I was in trouble. ‘You’re a demigod, I suppose?’ I wondered how Setne knew that. Maybe he could ‘smell’ a demigod’s aura the way Greek monsters could. Or maybe my prankster friends the Stoll brothers had written I’M A DEMIGOD on my forehead in permanent marker and Annabeth had decided not to tell me. That happened occasionally. Setne’s smile made his face look even gaunter. Dark eyeliner rimmed his eyes, giving him a hungry, feral stare. Around his neck glittered a golden chain of interlocking ankhs, and from his left ear dangled an ornament that looked like a human finger bone.
‘You must be Setne.’ I managed to get to my feet without killing myself. ‘Did you get that outfit at the Halloween Store?’
Setne chuckled. ‘Look, nothing personal, but I’m a little busy at the moment. I’m going to ask you and your girlfriend to wait while I finish my incantation, okay? Once I’ve summoned the deshret, we can chat.’
I tried to look confused, which is one of my most convincing expressions. ‘What girlfriend? I’m alone. Also, why are you summoning a dishrag?’
‘It’s deshret.’ Setne patted his pompadour. ‘The red crown of Lower Egypt. As for your girlfriend
He wheeled and pointed behind him, shouting something like ‘Sun-AH!’
Red hieroglyphs burned in the air where Setne pointed:
Annabeth turned visible. I’d never actually seen her wearing her Yankees cap before, since she vanished every time she put it on, but there she was – wide-eyed with surprise, caught in the act of sneaking up on Setne.
Before she could react, the red glowing hieroglyphs turned into ropes like liquorice whips and lashed out, wrapping around her, pinning her arms and legs with such force that she toppled over.
‘Hey!’ I yelled. ‘Let her go!’
The magician grinned. ‘Invisibility magic. Please. I’ve been using invisibility spells since the pyramids were under warranty. Like I said, this is nothing personal, demigods. I just can’t spare the energy to kill you … at least not until the summons is over. I hope you understand.’
My heart hammered. I’d seen Egyptian magic before, when Carter helped me fight the giant crocodile on Long Island, but I had no idea how to stop it, and I couldn’t stand to see it used against
I charged at Setne. He just waved his hand and muttered, ‘Hu-Ai.’
More stupid hieroglyphs flashed in front of me.
I fell on my face.
My face did not appreciate that. I got mud in my nostrils and blood in my mouth from biting my tongue. When I blinked, the red hieroglyphs burned on the insides of my eyelids.
I groaned. ‘What was that spell?’
‘Fall,’ Setne said. ‘One of my favourites. Don’t get up. You’ll just hurt yourself more.’
‘Setne!’ Annabeth shouted through the storm. ‘Listen to me. You can’t make yourself into a god. It won’t work. You’ll just destroy –’
The coil of magical red ropes expanded, covering Annabeth’s mouth.
‘I appreciate your concern,’ said the magician. ‘Really, I do. But I’ve got this figured out. That business with Serapis … when you destroyed my hybrid god? I learned quite a bit from that. I took excellent notes.’
Annabeth struggled uselessly.
I wanted to run to her, but I had a feeling I’d just end up with my face in the mud again. I’d have to play this smart … which was not my usual style.
I tried to steady my breathing. I scooted sideways, just to see if I could.
‘So you were watching in Rockaway Beach?’ I asked Setne. ‘When Annabeth and Sadie took down
Serapis, that was all an experiment to you?’
‘Of course!’ Setne looked very pleased with himself. ‘I jotted down the incantations Serapis used while he tried to raise his new Alexandrian lighthouse. Then it was just a matter of cross-referencing those with the older magic in the Book of Thoth, and voilà! I found exactly the spell combo I need to make myself into a god. It’s going to be great. Watch and see!’
He opened his scroll and started chanting again. His winged serpents spiralled through the rain.
Lightning flashed. The ground rumbled.
On Setne’s left, about fifteen feet away from me, the grass split open. A geyser of flames spewed upward, and the winged serpents flew straight into it. Earth, fire, rain and serpents swirled into a tornado of elements, merging and solidifying into one huge shape: a coiled cobra with a female human head. Her reptilian hood was easily six feet across. Her eyes glittered like rubies. A forked tongue
flickered between her lips, and her dark hair was plaited with gold. Resting on her head was a sort of crown – a red pillbox-looking thing with a curlicue ornament on the front.
Now, personally, I’m not fond of huge snakes, especially ones with human heads and stupid hats. If
I’d summoned this thing, I would’ve cast a spell to send it back, super quick.
But Setne just rolled up his scroll, slipped it in his jacket pocket and grinned. ‘Awesome!’
The cobra lady hissed. ‘Who dares summon me? I am Wadjet, queen of cobras, protector of Lower
Egypt, eternal mistress of –’
‘I know!’ Setne clapped his hands. ‘I’m a huge fan!’
I crawled towards Annabeth. Not that I could help much with the fall spell keeping me off my feet, but I wanted to be close to her if something went down with this eternal cobra queen of whatever, blah, blah, blah. Maybe I could at least use Riptide to cut those red cords and give Annabeth a fighting chance.
‘Oh, this is so great,’ Setne continued. He fished something out of his jeans … a cell phone.
The goddess bared her fangs. She sprayed Setne with a cloud of green mist – poison, I guessed – but he repelled it like the nose cone of a rocket repelled heat.
I kept crawling towards Annabeth, who was struggling helplessly in her red-liquorice cocoon. Her eyes blazed with frustration. She hated being sidelined worse than just about anything.
‘Okay, where’s the camera icon?’ Setne fumbled with his phone. ‘We have to get a picture together before I destroy you.’
‘Destroy me?’ demanded the cobra goddess. She lashed out at Setne, but a sudden gust of rain and wind pushed her back.
I was ten feet away from Annabeth. Riptide’s blade glowed as I dragged it through the mud.
‘Let’s see.’ Setne tapped his phone. ‘Sorry, this is new to me. I’m from the Nineteenth Dynasty. Ah, okay. No. Darn it. Where did the screen go? Ah! Right! So what do modern folks call this … a snappie?’ He leaned in towards the cobra goddess, held out his phone at arm’s length and took a picture. ‘Got it!’
‘WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?’ Wadjet roared. ‘YOU DARE TAKE A SELFIE WITH
THE COBRA GODDESS?’
‘Selfie!’ said the magician. ‘That’s right! Thanks. And now I’ll take your crown and consume your essence. Hope you don’t mind.’
‘WHAT?’ The cobra goddess reared and bared her fangs again, but the rain and wind restrained her like a seat belt. Setne shouted something in a mixture of Egyptian and Ancient Greek. A few of the
Greek words I understood: soul and bind and possibly butter (though I could be wrong about the last one). The cobra goddess began to writhe.
I reached Annabeth just as Setne finished his spell.
The cobra goddess imploded, with a noise like the world’s largest straw finishing the world’s largest milkshake. Wadjet was sucked into her own red crown, along with Setne’s four winged serpents and a five-foot-wide circle of lawn where Wadjet had been coiled.
The crown dropped into the smoking, muddy crater.
Setne laughed in delight. ‘PERFECT!’
I had to agree, if by perfect he meant so horrifying I want to vomit and I have to get Annabeth out of here right now.
Setne clambered into the pit to retrieve the crown as I frantically started cutting Annabeth’s bonds.
I’d only managed to ungag her mouth before the bindings blared like an air horn.
My ears popped. My vision went black.
When the sound died and my vertigo faded, Setne was standing over us, the red crown now atop his pompadour. ‘The ropes scream if you cut them,’ he advised. ‘I guess I should’ve mentioned that.’
Annabeth wriggled, trying to free her hands. ‘What – what did you do to the cobra goddess?’
‘Hmm? Oh.’ Setne tapped the curlicue at the front of the crown. ‘I devoured her essence. Now I have the power of Lower Egypt.’
‘You … devoured a god,’ I said.
‘Yep!’ From his jacket, he pulled the Book of Thoth and wagged it at us. ‘Amazing what kind of knowledge is in here. Ptolemy the First had the right idea, making himself a god, but by the time he became king of Alexandria Egyptian magic was diluted and weak. He definitely didn’t have access to prime source material like the Book of Thoth. With this baby, I’m cooking with spice! Now that I’ve got the crown of Lower Egypt –’
‘Let me guess,’ Annabeth said. ‘You’ll go for the crown of Upper Egypt. Then you’ll put them together and rule the world.’
He grinned. ‘Smart girl. But first I have to destroy you two. Nothing personal. It’s just that when you’re doing hybrid Greek–Egyptian magic, I’ve found that a little demigod blood is a great catalyst.
Now, if you’ll just hold still –’
I lunged forward and jabbed him with my sword.
Amazingly, Riptide went straight into his gut.
I so rarely succeed that I just crouched there, stunned, my hand trembling on the hilt.
‘Wow.’ Setne looked down at the blood on his powder-blue shirt. ‘Nice job.’
‘Thanks.’ I tried to yank out Riptide, but it seemed to be stuck. ‘So … you can die now, if it’s not too much trouble.’
Setne smiled apologetically. ‘About that … I’m beyond dying now. At this point –’ He tapped the blade. ‘Get it? This point? I’m afraid all you can do is make me stronger!’
His red crown began to glow.
For once, my instincts saved my life. Despite the klutz spell Setne had hexed me with, I somehow managed to get to my feet, grab Annabeth and haul her as far from the magician as possible.
I dropped to the ground at the archway as a massive roar shook the courtyard. Trees were uprooted. Windows shattered. Bricks peeled off the wall, and everything in sight hurtled towards
Setne as if he’d become the new centre of gravity. Even Annabeth’s magical bonds were stripped away. It took all my strength to hold her with one arm while gripping the corner of the building with my other hand.
Clouds of debris spun around the magician. Wood, stone and glass vaporized as they were absorbed into Setne’s body.
Once gravity returned to normal, I realized I’d left something important behind.
Riptide was gone. The wound in Setne’s gut had closed.
‘HEY!’ I got up, my legs shaking. ‘You ate my sword!’
My voice sounded shrill – like a little kid who’s just had his lunch money stolen. The thing is,
Riptide was my most important possession. I’d had it a long time. It had seen me through a lot of scrapes. I’d lost my sword before on a few occasions, but it always reappeared in pen form back in my pocket. I had a feeling that wasn’t going to happen this time. Riptide had been consumed – sucked into Setne’s body along with the bricks, the broken glass and several cubic feet of sod.
Setne turned up his palms. ‘Sorry about that. I’m a growing deity. I need my nutrition …’ He tilted his head as if listening to something in the storm. ‘Percy Jackson. Interesting. And your friend,
Annabeth Chase. You two have had some interesting adventures. You’ll give me lots of nourishment!’
Annabeth struggled to her feet. ‘How do you know our names?’
‘Oh, you can learn a lot about someone from devouring their prized possession.’ Setne patted his stomach. ‘Now, if you don’t mind, I really need to consume you both. Not to worry, though! Your essence will live forever right here … next to my, uh, pancreas, I think.’
I slipped my hand into Annabeth’s. After all we’d been through, I was not going to let our lives end this way – devoured by a wannabe Elvis god with a pillbox hat.
I weighed my options: direct attack or strategic retreat. I wanted to punch Setne in his heavily mascaraed eyes, but if I could get Annabeth to the shore we could jump into the harbour. Being the son of Poseidon, I’d have the upper hand underwater. We could regroup, maybe come back with a few dozen demigod friends and some heavy artillery.
Before I could decide, something completely random changed the equation.
A full-sized camel dropped out of the sky and crushed Setne flat.
‘Sadie!’ Annabeth cried.
For a split second, I thought she was calling the camel Sadie. Then I realized Annabeth was looking up into the storm, where two falcons spiralled above the courtyard.
The camel bellowed and farted, which made me appreciate it even more.
Unfortunately we didn’t have time to become friends. The camel widened its eyes, bleated in alarm and dissolved into sand.
Setne rose from the dust pile. His crown was tilted. His black jacket was covered in camel fuzz, but he looked unhurt.
‘That was rude.’ He glanced up at the two falcons now diving towards him. ‘No time for this nonsense.’ Just as the birds were about to rip his face off, Setne vanished in a swirl of rain.
The falcons landed and morphed into two human teens. On the right stood my buddy Carter Kane, looking casual in his beige linen combat jammies, with a curved ivory wand in one hand and a crescent-bladed sword in the other. On the left stood a slightly younger blonde girl, who I assumed was his sister, Sadie. She had black linen jammies, orange highlights in her hair, a white wooden staff
and mud-spattered combat boots.
Physically, the two siblings looked nothing alike. Carter’s complexion was coppery, his hair black and curly. His thoughtful scowl radiated seriousness. By contrast, Sadie was fair-skinned with blue eyes and a lopsided smile so full of mischief I would’ve figured her for a Hermes kid back at Camp
Then again, I have Cyclopes and two-tailed mermen as siblings. I wasn’t about to comment on the
Kane kids’ lack of resemblance.
Annabeth exhaled with relief. ‘I am so glad to see you.’
She gave Sadie a big hug.
Carter and I looked at each other.
‘Hey, man,’ I said. ‘I’m not going to hug you.’
‘That’s okay,’ Carter said. ‘Sorry we’re late. This storm was messing up our locator magic.’
I nodded like I knew what locator magic was. ‘So this friend of yours, Setne … he’s kind of a dirt wipe.’ Sadie snorted. ‘You don’t know the half of it. Did he happen to give you a helpful villain monologue? Reveal his evil plans, say where he was going next, that sort of thing?’
‘Well, he used that scroll, the Book of Thoth,’ I said. ‘He summoned a cobra goddess, devoured her essence and stole her red hat.’
‘Oh dear.’ Sadie glanced at Carter. ‘The crown of Upper Egypt will be next.’
Carter nodded. ‘And if he manages to put the two crowns together –’
‘He’ll become immortal,’ Annabeth guessed. ‘A newly made god. Then he’ll start vacuuming up all the Greek and Egyptian magic in the world.’
‘Also he stole my sword,’ I said. ‘I want it back.’
The three of them stared at me.
‘What?’ I said. ‘I like my sword.’
Carter hooked his curvy-bladed khopesh and his wand to his belt. ‘Tell us everything that happened. Details.’
While we talked, Sadie muttered some sort of spell, and the rain bent around us like we were under a giant invisible umbrella. Neat trick.
Annabeth had the better memory, so she did most of the explaining about our fight with Setne … though calling it a fight was generous.
When she was done, Carter knelt and traced some hieroglyphs in the mud.
‘If Setne gets the hedjet, we’re finished,’ he said. ‘He’ll form the crown of Ptolemy and –’
‘Hold up,’ I said. ‘Low tolerance for confusing names. Can you explain what’s going on in, like, regular words?’
Carter frowned. ‘The pschent is the double crown of Egypt, okay? The bottom half is the red crown, the deshret. It represents the Lower Kingdom. The top half is the hedjet, the white crown of the Upper Kingdom.’
‘You wear them together,’ Annabeth added, ‘and that means you’re the pharaoh of all Egypt.’
‘Except in this case,’ Sadie said, ‘our ugly friend Setne is creating a very special pschent – the
crown of Ptolemy.’
‘Okay …’ I still didn’t get it, but felt like I should at least pretend to follow along. ‘But wasn’t
Ptolemy a Greek dude?’
‘Yes,’ Carter said. ‘Alexander the Great conquered Egypt. Then he died. His general Ptolemy took over and tried to mix Greek and Egyptian religion. He proclaimed himself a god-king, like the old pharaohs, but Ptolemy went a step further. He used a combination of Greek and Egypt magic to try making himself immortal. It didn’t work out, but –’
‘Setne has perfected the formula,’ I guessed. ‘That Book of Thoth gives him some primo magic.’
Sadie clapped for me. ‘I think you’ve got it. Setne will recreate the crown of Ptolemy, but this time he’ll do it properly, and he’ll become a god.’
‘Which is bad,’ I said.
Annabeth tugged thoughtfully at her ear. ‘So … who was that cobra goddess?’
‘Wadjet,’ Carter said. ‘The guardian of the red crown.’
‘And there’s a guardian of the white crown?’ she asked.
‘Nekhbet.’ Carter’s expression turned sour. ‘The vulture goddess. I don’t like her much, but I suppose we’ll have to stop her from getting devoured. Since Setne needs the Upper Kingdom crown, he’ll probably go south for the next ritual. It’s like a symbolic thing.’
‘Isn’t up usually north?’ I asked.
Sadie smirked. ‘Oh, that would be much too easy. In Egypt, up is south, because the Nile runs from the south to the north.’
‘Great,’ I said. ‘So how far south are we talking about – Brooklyn? Antarctica?’
‘I don’t think he’ll go that far.’ Carter rose to his feet and scanned the horizon. ‘Our headquarters are in Brooklyn. And I’m guessing Manhattan is like Greek god central? A long time ago, our Uncle
Amos hinted at that.’
‘Well, yeah,’ I said. ‘Mount Olympus hovers over the Empire State Building, so –’
‘Mount Olympus –’ Sadie blinked – ‘hovers over the … Of course it does. Why not? I think what my brother’s trying to say is that if Setne wants to establish a new seat of power, blending Greek and
‘He’d find a place in between Brooklyn and Manhattan,’ Annabeth said. ‘Like right here,
‘Exactly,’ Carter said. ‘He’ll need to conduct the ritual for the second crown south of this point, but it doesn’t have to be far south. If I were him –’
‘And we’re glad you’re not,’ I said.
‘– I would stay on Governors Island. We’re at the north end now, so …’
I gazed south. ‘Anyone know what’s at the other end?’
‘I’ve never been here,’ Annabeth said. ‘But I think there’s a picnic area.’
‘Lovely.’ Sadie raised her staff. The tip flared with white fire. ‘Anyone fancy a picnic in the rain?’
‘Setne’s dangerous,’ Annabeth said. ‘We can’t just go charging in. We need a plan.’
‘She’s right,’ Carter said.
‘I kind of like charging in,’ I said. ‘Speed is of the essence, right?’
‘Thank you,’ Sadie muttered.
‘Being smart is also of the essence,’ Annabeth said.
‘Exactly,’ Carter said. ‘We have to figure out how to attack.’
Sadie rolled her eyes at me. ‘Just as I feared. These two together … they’ll overthink us to death.’
I felt the same way, but Annabeth was getting that annoyed stormy look in her eyes and, since I date
Annabeth, I figured I’d better suggest a compromise.
‘How about we plan while we walk?’ I said. ‘We can charge south, like, really slowly.’
‘Deal,’ said Carter.
We headed down the road from the old fort, past some fancy brick buildings that might have been officers’ quarters back in the day. We made our way across a soggy expanse of soccer fields. The rain kept pouring down, but Sadie’s magic umbrella travelled with us, keeping the worst of the storm away. Annabeth and Carter compared notes from the research they’d done. They talked about Ptolemy and the mixing of Greek and Egyptian magic.
As for Sadie, she didn’t appear interested in strategy. She leaped from puddle to puddle in her combat boots. She hummed to herself, twirled like a little kid and occasionally pulled random things out of her backpack: wax animal figurines, some string, a piece of chalk, a bright yellow bag of candy. She reminded me of someone …
Then it occurred to me. She looked like a younger version of Annabeth, but her fidgeting and hyperness reminded me of … well, me. If Annabeth and I ever had a daughter, she might be a lot like
It’s not like I’d never dreamed about kids before. I mean, you date someone for over a year, the idea is going to be in the back of your mind somewhere, right? But still – I’m barely seventeen. I’m not ready to think too seriously about stuff like that. Also, I’m a demigod. On a day-to-day basis, I’m busy just trying to stay alive.
Yet, looking at Sadie, I could imagine that someday maybe I’d have a little girl who looked like
Annabeth and acted like me – a cute little hellion of a demigod, stomping through puddles and flattening monsters with magic camels.
I must have been staring, because Sadie frowned at me. ‘What?’
‘Nothing,’ I said quickly.
Carter nudged me. ‘Were you listening?’
‘Yes. No. What?’
Annabeth sighed. ‘Percy, explaining things to you is like lecturing a gerbil.’
‘Hey, Wise Girl, don’t start with me.’
‘Whatever, Seaweed Brain. We were just saying that we’ll have to combine our attacks.’
‘Combine our attacks …’ I patted my pocket, but Riptide had not reappeared in pen form. I didn’t want to admit how nervous that made me.
Sure, I had other skills. I could make waves (literally) and occasionally even whip up a nice frothy
hurricane. But my sword was a big part of who I was. Without it, I felt crippled.
‘How do we do combined attacks?’
Carter got a mischievous gleam in his eyes that made him look more like his sister. ‘We turn
Setne’s strategy against him. He’s using hybrid magic – Greek and Egyptian together, right? We do the same.’ Annabeth nodded. ‘Greek-style attacks won’t work. You saw what Setne did with your sword. And
Carter is pretty sure regular Egyptian spells won’t be enough, either. But if we can find a way to mix our powers –’
‘Do you know how to mix our powers?’ I asked.
Carter’s shoes squished in the mud. ‘Well … not exactly.’
‘Oh, please,’ Sadie said. ‘That’s easy. Carter, give your wand to Percy.’
‘Just do it, brother dear. Annabeth, do you remember when we fought Serapis?’
‘Right!’ Annabeth’s eyes lit up. ‘I grabbed Sadie’s wand and it turned into a Celestial bronze dagger, just like my old one. It was able to destroy Serapis’s staff. Maybe we can create another
Greek weapon from an Egyptian wand. Good idea, Sadie.’
‘Cheers. You see, I don’t need to spend hours planning and researching to be brilliant. Now,
Carter, if you please.’
As soon as I took the wand, my hand clenched like I’d grabbed an electrical cable. Spikes of pain shot up my arm. I tried to drop the wand, but I couldn’t. Tears filled my eyes.
‘By the way,’ Sadie said, ‘this may hurt a bit.’
‘Thanks.’ I gritted my teeth. ‘Little late on the warning.’
The ivory began to smoulder. When the smoke cleared and the agony subsided, instead of a wand I was holding a Celestial bronze sword that definitely wasn’t Riptide.
‘What is this?’ I asked. ‘It’s huge.’
Carter whistled under his breath. ‘I’ve seen those in museums. That’s a kopis.’
I hefted the sword. Like so many I’d tried, it didn’t feel right in my hands. The hilt was too heavy for my wrist. The single-edged blade was curved awkwardly, like a giant hook knife. I tried a jab and nearly lost my balance.
‘This one doesn’t look like yours,’ I told Carter. ‘Isn’t yours called a kopis?’
‘Mine is a khopesh,’ Carter said. ‘The original Egyptian version. What you’re holding is a kopis – a Greek design adapted from the Egyptian original. It’s the kind of sword Ptolemy’s warriors would’ve used.’
I looked at Sadie. ‘Is he trying to confuse me?’
‘No,’ she said brightly. ‘He’s confusing without trying.’
Carter smacked his palm against his forehead. ‘That wasn’t even confusing. How was that –?
Never mind. Percy, the main thing is, can you fight with that sword?’
I sliced the kopis through the air. ‘I feel like I’m fencing with a meat cleaver, but it’ll have to do.
What about weapons for you guys?’
Annabeth rubbed the clay beads on her necklace, the way she does when she’s thinking. She looked
beautiful. But I digress.
‘Sadie,’ she said, ‘those hieroglyphic spells you used on Rockaway Beach … which one made the explosion?’ ‘It’s called – well, I can’t actually say the word without making you blow up. Hold on.’ Sadie rummaged through her backpack. She brought out a sheet of yellow papyrus, a stylus and a bottle of ink – I guess because pen and paper would be un-Egyptian. She knelt, using her backpack as a makeshift writing desk, and scrawled in normal letters: HA-DI.
‘That’s a good spell,’ Carter agreed. ‘We could show you the hieroglyph for it, but unless you know how to speak words of power –’
‘No need,’ Annabeth said. ‘The phrase means explode?’
‘More or less,’ Sadie said.
‘And you can write the hieroglyph on a scroll without triggering the ka-boom?’
‘Right. The scroll will store the magic for later. If you read the word from the papyrus … well, that’s even better. More ka-boom with less effort.’
‘Good,’ Annabeth said. ‘Do you have another piece of papyrus?’
‘Annabeth,’ I said, ‘what are you doing? ’Cause if you’re messing around with exploding words –’
‘Relax,’ she said. ‘I know what I’m doing. Sort of.’
She knelt next to Sadie, who gave her a fresh sheet of papyrus.
Annabeth took the stylus and wrote something in Ancient Greek:
Being dyslexic, I’m lucky if I can recognize English words, but, being a demigod, Ancient Greek is sort of hardwired into my brain.
‘Ke-rau-noh,’ I pronounced. ‘Blast?’
Annabeth gave me a wicked little smile. ‘Closest term I could think of. Literally it means strike with lightning bolts.’
‘Ooh,’ Sadie said. ‘I love striking things with lightning bolts.’
Carter stared at the papyrus. ‘You’re thinking we could invoke an Ancient Greek word the same way we do with hieroglyphs?’
‘It’s worth a try,’ Annabeth said. ‘Which of you is better with that kind of magic?’
‘Sadie,’ Carter said. ‘I’m more a combat magician.’
‘Giant-chicken mode,’ I remembered.
‘Dude, my avatar is a falcon-headed warrior.’
‘I still think you could get a sponsorship deal with KFC. Make some big bucks.’
‘Knock it off, you two.’ Annabeth handed her scroll to Sadie. ‘Carter, let’s trade. I’ll try your khopesh; you try my Yankees cap.’
She tossed him the hat.
‘I’m usually more of a basketball guy, but …’ Carter put on the cap and disappeared. ‘Wow, okay.
I’m invisible, aren’t I?’
Sadie applauded. ‘You’ve never looked better, brother dear.’
‘If you can sneak up on Setne,’ Annabeth suggested, ‘you might be able to take him by surprise, get the crown away from him.’
‘But you told us Setne saw right through your invisibility,’ Carter said.
‘That was me,’ Annabeth said, ‘a Greek using a Greek magic item. For you, maybe it’ll work better
– or differently, at least.’
‘Carter, give it a shot,’ I said. ‘The only thing better than a giant chicken man is a giant invisible chicken man.’
Suddenly the ground shook under our feet.
Across the soccer fields, towards the south end of the island, a white glow lit the horizon.
‘That can’t be good,’ Annabeth said.
‘No,’ Sadie agreed. ‘Perhaps we should charge in a little more quickly.’
The vultures were having a party.
Past a line of trees, a muddy field stretched to the edge of the island. At the base of a small lighthouse, a few picnic tables huddled as if for shelter. Across the harbour, the Statue of Liberty glowed white in the storm, rainclouds pushing around her like waves off the prow of a ship.
In the middle of the picnic grounds, six large black buzzards whirled in the rain, orbiting our buddy
The magician was rocking a new outfit. He’d changed into a red quilted smoking jacket – I guess to match his red crown. His silk trousers shimmered in red and black paisley. Just to make sure his look wasn’t too understated, his loafers were entirely covered in rhinestones.
He strutted around with the Book of Thoth, chanting some spell, the same way he’d done back at the fort.
‘He’s summoning Nekhbet,’ Sadie murmured. ‘I’d really rather not see her again.’
‘What kind of name is Neck Butt, anyway?’ I asked.
Sadie snickered. ‘That’s what I called her the first time I saw her. But, really, she’s not very nice.
Possessed my gran, chased me across London …’
‘So what’s the plan?’ Carter asked. ‘Maybe a flanking manoeuvre?’
‘Or,’ Annabeth said, ‘we could try a diversionary –’
‘Charge!’ Sadie barrelled into the clearing, her staff in one hand and her Greek scroll in the other.
I glanced at Annabeth. ‘Your new friend is awesome.’
Then I followed Sadie.
My plan was pretty simple: run at Setne and kill him. Even with my heavy new sword, I outpaced
Sadie. Two vultures dived at me. I sliced them out of the air.
I was five feet from Setne and imagining the satisfaction of slicing him in half when he turned and noticed me. The magician vanished. My blade cut through empty air.
I stumbled, off-balance and angry.
Ten feet to my left, Sadie smacked a vulture with her staff. The bird exploded into white sand.
Annabeth jogged towards us, giving me one of those annoyed expressions like, If you get yourself killed, I’m going to murder you. Carter, being invisible, was nowhere to be seen.
With a bolt of white fire, Sadie blasted another vulture out of the sky. The remaining birds scattered in the storm.
Sadie scanned the field for Setne. ‘Where is the skinny old git?’
The skinny old git appeared right behind her. He spoke a single word from his scroll of nasty surprises, and the ground exploded.
When I regained my senses, I was still standing, which was a minor miracle. The force of the spell had pushed me away from Setne, so my shoes had made trenches in the mud.
I looked up, but I couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing. Around Setne, the earth had ruptured in a ten-foot-diameter ring, splitting open like a seedpod. Plumes of dirt had sprayed outward and were frozen in midair. Tendrils of red sand coiled around my legs and brushed against my face as they snaked in all directions. It looked like somebody had stopped time while slinging red mud from a giant salad spinner.
Sadie lay flat on the ground to my left, her legs buried under a blanket of mud. She struggled but couldn’t seem to get free. Her staff was knocked out of reach. Her scroll was a muddy rag in her hand. I stepped towards her, but the coils of sand pushed me back.
Somewhere behind me, Annabeth yelled my name. I turned and saw her just outside the explosion zone. She was trying to charge in, but the earthen tendrils moved to block her, whipping around like octopus arms.
There was no sign of Carter. I could only hope he hadn’t got caught in this stupid web of floating dirt. ‘Setne!’ I yelled.
The magician brushed the lapels of his smoking jacket. ‘You really should stop interrupting me, demigod. The deshret crown was originally a gift to the pharaohs from the earth god Geb, you know.
It can defend itself with some cool earth magic!’
I gritted my teeth. Annabeth and I had recently done battle with Gaia the Earth Mother. More dirt sorcery was the last thing I needed.
Sadie struggled, her legs still encased in mud. ‘Clean up all this dirt right now, young man. Then give us that crown and go to your room.’
The magician’s eyes glittered. ‘Ah, Sadie. Delightful as always. Where’s your brother? Did I accidentally blow him up? You can thank me for that later. Right now, I must get on with business.’
He turned his back on us and resumed chanting.
The wind picked up. Rain whipped around him. The floating lines of sand began to stir and shift.
I managed to step forward, but it was like wading through wet cement. Behind me, Annabeth wasn’t having much more luck. Sadie managed to pull one of her legs free, minus her combat boot.
She cursed worse than my immortal horse friend Arion (which is pretty bad) as she retrieved the boot. Setne’s weird earth spell was loosening, but not fast enough. I’d only managed two more steps
when Setne finished his incantation.
In front of him, a wisp of darkness grew into the form of a queenly woman. Rubies embroidered the collar of her black dress. Gold bands circled her upper arms. Her face had an imperious, timeless quality that I’d learned to recognize. It meant I’m a goddess; deal with it. Perched atop her braided black hair was a white conical crown, and I couldn’t help wondering why a powerful immortal being would choose to wear a headpiece shaped like a bowling pin.
‘You!’ she snarled at Setne.
‘Me!’ he agreed. ‘Wonderful to see you again, Nekhbet. Sorry we don’t have longer to chat, but I can’t keep these mortals pinned down forever. We’ll have to make this brief. The hedjet, please.’
The vulture goddess spread her arms, which grew into huge black wings. Around her, the air turned dark as smoke. ‘I do not yield to upstarts like you. I am the protector of the crown, the shield of the pharaoh, the –’
‘Yes, yes,’ Setne said. ‘But you’ve yielded to upstarts plenty of times. The history of Egypt is basically a list of which upstarts you’ve yielded to. So let’s have the crown.’
I didn’t know vultures could hiss, but Nekhbet did. Smoke billowed from her wings.
All around the clearing, Setne’s earth magic shattered. The tendrils of red sand fell to the ground with a loud slosh, and suddenly I could move again. Sadie struggled to her feet. Annabeth ran to my side. Setne didn’t seem concerned about us.
He gave Nekhbet a mock bow. ‘Very impressive. But watch this!’
He didn’t need to read from the scroll this time. He shouted a combination of Greek and Egyptian – words I recognized from the spell he’d used back at the fort.
I locked eyes with Annabeth. I could tell we were thinking the same thing. We couldn’t let Setne consume the goddess.
Sadie raised her muddy piece of papyrus. ‘Annabeth, you and Percy get Nekhbet out of here. GO!’
No time to argue. Annabeth and I ploughed into the goddess like linebackers and pushed her across the field, away from Setne.
Behind us, Sadie yelled, ‘Ke-rau-noh!’
I didn’t see the explosion, but it must have been impressive.
Annabeth and I were thrown forward. We landed on top of Nekhbet, who let out an indignant squawk. (By the way, I would not recommend stuffing your pillow with vulture feathers. They’re not very comfy.)
I managed to get up. Where Setne had been standing was a smoking crater.
Sadie’s hair was singed at the tips. Her scroll was gone. Her eyes were wide with surprise. ‘That was brilliant. Did I get him?’
‘Nope!’ Setne appeared a few feet away, stumbling a little. His clothes were smouldering, but he looked more dazed than hurt.
He knelt and picked up something conical and white … Nekhbet’s crown, which must’ve rolled off when we tackled her.
‘Thanks for this.’ Setne spread his arms triumphantly – the white crown in one hand, the Book of
Thoth in the other. ‘Now, where was I? Oh, right! Consuming all of you!’
Across the field, Carter’s voice yelled: ‘STAHP!’
I guess stahp is actually a word in Ancient Egyptian. Who knew?
A bright blue hieroglyph scythed through the air, cutting off Setne’s right hand at the wrist.
Setne shrieked in pain. The Book of Thoth dropped into the grass.
Twenty feet away from me, Carter appeared out of thin air, holding Annabeth’s Yankees cap. He wasn’t in giant-chicken mode, but, since he’d just saved our lives, I wasn’t going to complain.
Setne glanced down at the Book of Thoth, still in his severed hand, but I lunged forward, thrusting the point of my new sword under his nose. ‘I don’t think so.’
The magician snarled. ‘Take the book, then! I don’t need it any more!’
He vanished in a whirl of darkness.
On the ground behind me, the vulture goddess Nekhbet thrashed and pushed Annabeth aside. ‘Get off me!’
‘Hey, lady –’ Annabeth rose – ‘I was trying to keep you from being devoured. You’re welcome.’
The vulture goddess got to her feet.
She didn’t look nearly as impressive without her crown. Her hairdo was a mud-and-grass salad.
Her black dress had turned into a smock of moulting feathers. She looked shrivelled and hunched over, with her neck sticking out like … well, a vulture. All she needed was a cardboard sign saying,
HOMELESS, ANYTHING HELPS, and I totally would have given her my spare change.
‘You miserable children,’ she grumbled. ‘I could have destroyed that magician!’
‘Not so much,’ I said. ‘A few minutes ago, we watched Setne inhale a cobra goddess. She was a lot more impressive than you.’
Nekhbet’s eyes narrowed. ‘Wadjet? He inhaled Wadjet? Tell me everything.’
Carter and Sadie joined us as we briefed the goddess on what had happened so far.
When we were done, Nekhbet wailed in outrage. ‘This is unacceptable! Wadjet and I were the symbols of unity in Ancient Egypt. We were revered as the Two Ladies! That upstart Setne has stolen my other Lady!’
‘Well, he didn’t get you,’ Sadie said. ‘Which I suppose is a good thing.’
Nekhbet bared her teeth, which were pointy and red like a row of little vulture beaks. ‘You Kanes.
I should’ve known you’d be involved. Always mucking about in godly affairs.’
‘Oh, so now it’s our fault?’ Sadie hefted her staff. ‘Listen here, buzzard breath –’
‘Let’s stay focused,’ Carter said. ‘At least we got the Book of Thoth. We stopped Setne from
devouring Nekhbet. So what’s Setne’s next move, and how do we stop him?’
‘He has both parts of the pschent!’ said the vulture goddess. ‘Without my essence, the white crown is not as powerful as it would be, true, but it’s still enough for Setne’s purposes. He needs only to complete the deification ceremony while wearing the crown of Ptolemy. Then he will become a god. I hate it when mortals become gods! They always want thrones. They build garish McPalaces. They don’t respect the rules in the gods’ lounge.’
‘The gods’ lounge?’ I asked.
‘We must stop him!’ Nekhbet yelled.
Sadie, Carter, Annabeth and I exchanged uneasy looks. Normally when a god says, We must stop him, it means, You must stop him while I sit back and enjoy a cold beverage. But Nekhbet seemed serious about joining the gang.
That didn’t make me any less nervous. I try to avoid teaming up with goddesses who eat roadkill.
It’s one of my personal boundaries.
Carter knelt. He pulled the Book of Thoth from Setne’s severed hand. ‘Can we use the scroll? It has powerful magic.’
‘If that’s true,’ Annabeth said, ‘why would Setne leave it behind? I thought it was the key to his immortality.’ ‘He said he was done with it,’ I recalled. ‘I guess he, like, passed the test, so he threw away his notes.’ Annabeth looked horrified. ‘Are you crazy? You throw away your notes after a test?’
‘Doesn’t everybody, Miss Brainiac?’
‘Guys!’ Sadie interrupted. ‘It’s terribly cute watching you two snipe at each other, but we have business.’ She turned to Nekhbet. ‘Now, your Scavenging Highness, is there a way to stop Setne?’
Nekhbet curled her talon fingernails. ‘Possibly. He’s not a full god yet. But, without my crown, my own powers are greatly diminished.’
‘What about the Book of Thoth?’ Sadie asked. ‘It may be no further use to Setne, but it did help us defeat Apophis.’
At the mention of that name, Nekhbet’s face blanched. Three feathers fell from her dress. ‘Please don’t remind me of that battle. But you’re correct. The Book of Thoth contains a spell for imprisoning gods. It would take a great deal of concentration and preparation …’
Carter coughed. ‘I’m guessing Setne won’t stand around quietly while we get ready.’
‘No,’ Nekhbet agreed. ‘At least three of you would be required to set a proper trap. A circle must be drawn. A rope must be enchanted. The earth must be consecrated. Other parts of the spell would have to be improvised. I hate Ptolemaic magic. Mixing Greek and Egyptian power is an abomination.
‘It works,’ Annabeth said. ‘Carter was able to go invisible using my hat. Sadie’s explosion scroll at least dazed Setne.’
‘But we’ll need more,’ Sadie said.
‘Yes …’ The vulture goddess fixed her eyes on me like I was a tasty dead possum on the side of the highway. ‘One of you will have to fight Setne and keep him unbalanced while the others prepare
the trap. We need a very potent hybrid attack, an abomination even Ptolemy would approve of.’
‘Why are you looking at me?’ I asked. ‘I’m not abominable.’
‘You are a son of Poseidon,’ the goddess noted. ‘That would be a most unexpected combination.’
‘Combination? What –’
‘Oh, no, no, no.’ Sadie raised her hands. She looked horrified, and anything that could scare that girl I did not want to know about. ‘Nekhbet, you can’t be serious. You want a demigod to host you?
He’s not even a magician. He doesn’t have the blood of the pharaohs!’
Carter grimaced. ‘That’s her point, Sadie. Percy isn’t the usual kind of host. If the pairing worked, he could be very powerful.’
‘Or it could melt his brain!’ Sadie said.
‘Hold it,’ Annabeth said. ‘I prefer my boyfriend with an unmelted brain. What exactly are we talking about here?’
Carter wagged the Yankees cap at me. ‘Nekhbet wants Percy to be her host. That’s one way the
Egyptian gods maintain a presence in the mortal world. They can inhabit mortals’ bodies.’
My stomach jackknifed. ‘You want her –’ I pointed at the frazzled old vulture goddess – ‘to inhabit me? That sounds …’
I tried to think of a word that would convey my complete disgust without offending the goddess. I failed. ‘Nekhbet –’ Annabeth stepped forward – ‘join with me instead. I’m a child of Athena. I might be better –’
‘Ridiculous!’ The goddess sneered. ‘Your mind is too wily, girl – too stubborn and intelligent. I couldn’t steer you as easily.’
‘Steer me?’ I protested. ‘Hey, lady, I’m not a Toyota.’
‘My host needs a certain level of simplicity,’ the goddess continued. ‘Percy Jackson is perfect. He is powerful, yet his mind is not overly crowded with plans and ideas.’
‘Wow,’ I said. ‘Really feeling the love here.’
Nekhbet rounded on me. ‘There is no time to argue! Without a physical anchor, I cannot remain in the mortal world much longer. If you want to stop Setne from becoming immortal, you need the power of a god. We must act now. Together, we will triumph! We will feast upon that upstart magician’s carcass!’ I swallowed. ‘I’m actually trying to cut back on carcass feasting.’
Carter gave me a sympathetic look that only made me feel worse. ‘Unfortunately, Nekhbet is right.
Percy, you’re our best shot. Sadie and I couldn’t host Nekhbet even if she wanted us to. We already have patron gods.’
‘Who, conveniently, have gone silent,’ Sadie noted. ‘Scared of getting their essences sucked up, I suppose.’ Nekhbet fixed her glittery black eyes on me. ‘Do you consent to hosting me, demigod?’
I could think of a million ways to say no. The word yes simply wouldn’t pass my lips. I glanced at
Annabeth for support, but she looked as alarmed as I felt.
‘I – I don’t know, Percy,’ she confessed. ‘This is way beyond me.’
Suddenly the rainstorm fizzled out. In the eerie muggy quiet, a red glow lit the middle of the island, as if somebody had started a bonfire on the soccer fields.
‘That would be Setne,’ Nekhbet said. ‘He has begun his ascension to godhood. What is your answer, Percy Jackson? This will only work properly if you consent.’
I took a deep breath. I told myself that hosting a goddess couldn’t be worse than all the other weird horrible things I’d experienced in my demigod career … Besides, my friends needed my help. And I did not want that skinny Elvis impersonator to become a god and build a McPalace in my neighbourhood. ‘All right,’ I said. ‘Vulture me up.’
Nekhbet dissolved into black smoke. She swirled around me – filling my nostrils with a smell like boiling tar.
What was it like merging with a god?
If you want the full details, read my Yelp review. I don’t feel like going into it again. I gave the experience half a star.
For now, let’s just say that being possessed by a vulture goddess was even more disturbing than I’d imagined. Thousands of years of memories flooded my mind. I saw pyramids rising from the desert, the sun glittering on the River Nile. I heard priests chanting in the cool shadows of a temple and smelled myrrh incense on the air. I soared over the cities of Ancient Egypt, circling the palace of the pharaoh.
I was the vulture goddess Nekhbet – protector of the king, shield of the strong, scourge of the weak and dying.
I also had a burning desire to find a nice warm hyena carcass, stick my face right in there and –
Okay, basically I wasn’t myself.
I tried to focus on the present. I stared at my shoes … the same old pair of Brooks, yellow shoelace on the left, black shoelace on the right. I raised my sword arm to make sure I could still control my muscles. Relax, demigod. The voice of Nekhbet spoke in my mind. Let me take charge.
‘I don’t think so,’ I said aloud. I was relieved that my voice still sounded like my voice. ‘We do this together or not at all.’
‘Percy?’ Annabeth asked. ‘Are you okay?’
Looking at her was disorientating. The ‘Percy’ part of me saw my usual awesome girlfriend. The
‘Nekhbet’ part of me saw a young woman surrounded by a powerful ultraviolet aura – the mark of a
Greek demigod. The sight filled me with disdain and fear. (For the record: I have my own healthy fear of Annabeth. She has kicked my butt on more than one occasion. But disdain? Not so much. That was all Nekhbet.)
‘I’m fine,’ I said. ‘I was talking to the vulture in my head.’
Carter walked a circle around me, frowning like I was an abstract sculpture. ‘Percy, try to strike a balance. Don’t let her take over, but don’t fight her, either. It’s kind of like running a three-legged race. You have to get in a rhythm with your partner.’
‘But if you have to choose,’ Sadie said, ‘smack her down and stay in control.’
I snarled. ‘Stupid girl! Do not tell me –’ I forced my lips closed. The taste of rotting jackal filled my mouth. ‘Sorry, Sadie,’ I managed. ‘That was Nekhbet talking, not me.’
‘I know.’ Sadie’s expression tightened. ‘I wish we had more time for you to get used to hosting a goddess. However –’
Another red flash illuminated the treetops.
‘The sooner I get this goddess out of my head, the better,’ I said. ‘Let’s go smash Setne’s face.’
Setne really could not decide on his wardrobe.
He strutted around the soccer field in black bell-bottomed slacks, a frilly white shirt and a glittery purple trench coat – all of which clashed with his newly combined red and white crown. He looked like Prince from one of my mom’s old album covers, and, judging from the magic lights swirling around him, Setne was getting ready to party like it was 1999 B.C.E.
Having only one hand didn’t seem to bother him. He waved his stump conductor-style, chanting in
Greek and Egyptian while fog rose at his feet. Bursts of light danced and bobbed around him, as if a thousand kids were writing their names with sparklers.
I didn’t understand what I was looking at, but Nekhbet did. Having her sight, I recognized the Duat
– the magical dimension that existed beneath the mortal realm. I saw layers of reality, like strata of glowing multicoloured jelly, plunging down into infinity. On the surface, where the mortal and immortal worlds met, Setne was whipping the Duat into a storm – churning waves of colour and frothy white plumes of smoke.
After Annabeth’s adventure on Rockaway Beach, she’d told me how frightening it was to see the
Duat. She wondered whether the Egyptian Duat was somehow related to the Greek concept of Mist – the magical veil that kept mortals from recognizing gods and monsters.
With Nekhbet in my mind, I knew the answer. Of course the Mist was related. The Mist was simply a Greek name for the uppermost layer between the worlds – the layer that Setne was now shredding.
I should have been terrified. Seeing the world in all its infinite levels was enough to give anybody vertigo. But I’d been dropped into oceans before. I was used to floating in the depths with endless thermal layers around me.
Also, Nekhbet wasn’t easily impressed. She’d seen just about everything over the millennia. Her mind was as cold and dry as the desert night wind. To her, the mortal world was a constantly changing wasteland, dotted with the carcasses of men and their civilizations. Nothing lasted. It was all roadkill waiting to happen. As for the Duat, it was always churning, sending up plumes of magic like sun flares into the mortal world.
Still, we were both disturbed by the way Setne’s spell tore through the Mist. He wasn’t just manipulating it. Magicians did that all the time. Setne was strip-mining the Duat. Wherever he stepped, fractures radiated outward, cleaving through the layers of the magic realm. His body sucked in energy from every direction, destroying the boundaries between the Duat and the mortal world, between Greek magic and Egyptian magic – slowly transforming him into an immortal. In the process,
he was ripping a hole in the cosmic order that might never close.
His magic pulled at us – Nekhbet and me – urging us to give up and be absorbed into his new glorious form.
I didn’t want to be absorbed. Neither did the vulture goddess. Our common purpose helped us work together.
I marched across the field. Sadie and Annabeth fanned out on my right. I assumed Carter was somewhere on my left, but he’d gone invisible again, so I couldn’t be sure. The fact that I couldn’t detect him, even with Nekhbet’s super vulture senses, gave me hope that Setne wouldn’t see him, either. Maybe if I kept Setne busy, Carter would be able to cut off Setne’s other hand. Or his legs. Bonus points for his head.
Setne stopped chanting when he saw me.
‘Awesome!’ He grinned. ‘You brought the vulture with you. Thanks!’
Not the reaction I’d been hoping for. I keep waiting for the day when the bad guy sees me and screams, I give up! But it hasn’t happened yet.
‘Setne, drop the crown.’ I raised my kopis, which didn’t feel heavy with Nekhbet’s power flowing through me. ‘Surrender, and you might get out of this alive. Otherwise –’
‘Oh, very good! Very threatening! And your friends here … Let me guess. You keep me occupied while they set some amazing trap to contain the newly made god?’
‘You’re not a god yet.’
He waved off the comment. ‘I suppose Carter is lurking around here too, all stealthy and invisible?
If Carter was nearby, he didn’t respond. Smart guy.
Setne raised his stump of a wrist. ‘Wherever you are, Carter, I was impressed with the handcutting-off spell. Your father would be proud. That’s what matters to you, isn’t it? Making your father proud? But think what would be possible if you joined me. I intend to change the rules of the game.
We could bring your father back to life – I mean real life, not that horrible half life he’s got in the
Underworld. Anything is possible once I’m a god!’
Around Setne’s wrist, the Mist curled, solidifying into a new hand. ‘What do you say, Carter?’
Above the magician, the air shimmered. A giant blue fist the size of a refrigerator appeared over
Setne’s head and pounded him into the ground like a nail into soft wood.
‘I say no.’ Carter appeared across the field, Annabeth’s Yankees cap in his hand.
I stared at the crown of Ptolemy – the only part of Setne still visible above ground.
‘You were supposed to wait,’ I told Carter. ‘Set the trap. Let me deal with Setne.’
Carter shrugged. ‘He shouldn’t have brought up my father.’
‘Never mind that!’ Annabeth said. ‘Get the crown!’
I realized she was right. I would’ve sprung into action, except Nekhbet and I had a moment of paralysis. The goddess wanted her hat back. But I took one look at the crown’s eerie glow, remembered the way the cobra goddess had been devoured and decided I was not touching that crown without latex gloves and maybe a hazmat suit.
Before Nekhbet and I could resolve our differences, the earth rumbled.
Setne rose from the ground as if on an elevator platform and glared at Carter. ‘I make you a perfectly fair offer, and you hit me with a giant fist? Perhaps your father wouldn’t be proud, after all.’
Carter’s face contorted. His whole body glowed with blue light. He levitated off the ground as the avatar of Horus took shape around him.
Setne didn’t look worried. He curled his newly regrown fingers in a come here gesture, and
Carter’s avatar shattered. The blue light swirled towards Setne and was engulfed in his growing aura.
Carter collapsed, motionless, on the wet ground.
‘SETNE!’ Sadie shouted, raising her staff. ‘Over here, you little weasel!’
She blasted the magician with a jet of white fire. Setne caught it on his chest and absorbed the energy. ‘Sadie, hon,’ he chided. ‘Don’t be mad. Carter has always been the boring one. I didn’t really want to grant him eternal life. But you – why don’t you work with me, eh? We can have tons of fun! Tearing up the universe, destroying things as we see fit!’
‘That’s – that’s not fair,’ Sadie said, her voice trembling. ‘Tempting me with destruction.’
She tried for her usual sassy tone, but her eyes stayed fixed on Carter, who still wasn’t moving.
I knew I should do something. We’d had a plan … But I couldn’t remember it. The vulture goddess in my head was flying circles on autopilot. Even Annabeth looked like she was struggling to concentrate. Being so close to Setne was like standing next to a waterfall. His white noise drowned out everything.
‘You know,’ Setne continued, as if we were planning a party together, ‘I think this island will be perfect. My palace will go right here, in the new centre of the universe!’
‘A muddy soccer field,’ Annabeth noted.
‘Oh, come now, child of Athena! You can see the possibilities. That old fool Serapis had the right idea: gather all the wisdom of Greece and Egypt together in one place and use that power to rule the world! Except Serapis didn’t have my vision. I’ll consume the old pantheons – Zeus, Osiris, all those dusty deities. Who needs them? I’ll just take the bits and pieces I can use from all of them. I’ll become the head of a new race of gods. Humans will come here from all over the world to make offerings and buy souvenirs.’
‘Souvenirs?’ I said. ‘You want immortality so you can sell T-shirts?’
‘And snow globes!’ Setne got a dreamy look in his eyes. ‘I love snow globes. Anyway, there’s room for more than one new god. Sadie Kane – you’d be perfect. I know you love breaking rules.
Let’s break all of them! Your friends can come along too!’
Behind the magician, Carter groaned and began to stir.
Setne glanced back with distaste. ‘Not dead yet? Tough kid. Well … I suppose we can include him in our plans. Although, if you’d prefer, Sadie, I can certainly finish him off.’
Sadie let loose a guttural cry. She advanced, but Annabeth caught her arm.
‘Fight smart,’ Annabeth said. ‘Not angry.’
‘Point taken,’ Sadie said, though her arms still trembled with rage. ‘But I’ll do both.’
She unfurled the Book of Thoth.
Setne just laughed. ‘Sadie dear, I know how to defeat every spell in that book.’
‘You won’t win,’ Sadie insisted. ‘You won’t take anything else from anyone!’
She began to chant. Annabeth raised her borrowed khopesh, ready to defend her.
‘Ah, well.’ Setne sighed. ‘I suppose you’ll want this back, then.’
Setne’s body began to glow. Thanks to Nekhbet, I realized what was going to happen a split second before it did, which saved our lives.
Carter was just struggling to his feet when I shouted, ‘GET DOWN!’
He dropped like a sack of rocks.
A ring of fire exploded outward from Setne.
I discarded my sword and lunged in front of the girls, spreading my arms goalie-style. A shell of purple light surrounded me, and the flames rolled harmlessly over translucent wings that now extended on either side of me. With my new accessories I was able to shield Sadie and Annabeth from the worst of the blast.
I lowered my arms. The giant wings retracted. My feet, floating just off the ground, were now encased in large ghostly legs with three long toes and the talons of a bird.
When I realized I was hovering at the centre of a giant glowing purple vulture, my first thought was: Carter will never stop teasing me about this.
My second thought was: Oh, gods. Carter.
Sadie must have seen him at the same time I did. She screamed.
The fire had blackened the entire field, instantly turning wet mud into cracked clay. The Mist and magic lights had burned away. My new sword was a steaming line of bronze slag on the ground.
Carter lay right where he’d dropped, wreathed in smoke, his hair charred, his face red with blisters.
I feared the worst. Then his fingers twitched. He croaked out a sound, like ‘Gug’, and I could breathe again.
‘Thank the gods,’ Annabeth said.
Setne brushed some ash off his purple trench coat. ‘Well, you can thank the gods if you want, but they won’t be around much longer. Another few minutes and the magic I’ve started will be irreversible. Now, Percy, please drop that silly avatar before I take it away from you. And, Sadie, I suggest you give me the Book of Thoth before you hurt yourself. There’s no spell you could read that would harm me.’
Sadie stepped forward. Her orange-highlighted hair whipped around her face. Her eyes turned steely, making her look even more like a young Annabeth.
‘No spell I could read,’ Sadie agreed. ‘But I have friends.’
She handed the Book of Thoth to Annabeth, who blinked in surprise. ‘Um … Sadie?’
Setne chuckled. ‘What’s she going to do? She may be smart, but she can’t read Old Egyptian.’
Sadie gripped Annabeth’s forearm. ‘Miss Chase,’ she said formally, ‘I have one word for you.’
She leaned in and whispered something in Annabeth’s ear.
Annabeth’s face transformed. Only once before had I seen her with such an expression of pure wonder: when she beheld the gods’ palaces on Mount Olympus.
Sadie turned to me. ‘Percy … Annabeth has work to do. I need to tend to my brother. Why don’t
you keep our friend Setne entertained?’
Annabeth opened the scroll. She began to read aloud in Ancient Egyptian. Glowing hieroglyphs floated off the papyrus. They swirled in the air around her, mixing with Greek words as if Annabeth was adding her own commentary to the spell.
Setne looked even more surprised than I was. He made a strangled noise in the back of his throat.
‘That’s not … Hold on now. No!’
He raised his arms to cast some counter spell. His crown began to glow.
I needed to move, but Nekhbet wasn’t helping. She was a little too focused on Carter, who smelled chargrilled and yummy.
That one is weak, she murmured in my mind. Dead soon. The weak must die.
Anger gave me the upper hand. Carter Kane was my friend. I would not sit around while my friend died. Move, I told Nekhbet. And I took control of the vulture avatar.
Before Setne could finish casting his spell, I grabbed him in my spectral claws and carried him into the sky.
Now … I live and breathe weirdness. It goes with the territory when you’re a demigod. But there are still moments when I do a mental double take: like when I’m flying upward inside a giant glowing vulture, flapping my arms to control make-believe wings, holding an almost-immortal magician in my talons … all so I can steal his hat.
That hat was not coming off, either.
I spiralled into the storm, shaking Setne, trying to knock the crown off his head, but the dude must have fastened it to his pompadour with superglue.
He blasted me with fire and flashes of light. My bird exoskeleton deflected the attacks, but, each time, the purple avatar dimmed, and my wings felt heavier.
‘Percy Jackson!’ Setne writhed in my claws. ‘This is a waste of time!’
I didn’t bother responding. The strain of combat was quickly taking its toll.
During our first encounter, Carter had warned me that magic could literally burn up a magician if he used too much at once. I guessed that applied to demigods, too. Every time Setne blasted me or tried to wriggle out of my grip with his near-godly strength, my head throbbed. My eyesight dimmed.
Soon I was drenched in sweat.
I hoped Sadie was helping Carter. I hoped Annabeth was finishing whatever super-weird spell she’d been chanting so we could trap Setne, because I couldn’t stay airborne much longer.
We broke through the top of the cloud layer. Setne stopped fighting, which surprised me so much I almost dropped him. Then coldness began to seep through my vulture avatar, chilling my wet clothes, soaking into my bones. It was a subtler kind of attack – probing for weakness – and I knew I couldn’t allow it. I curled my vulture feet tighter around Setne’s chest, hoping to crush him.
‘Percy, Percy.’ His tone made it sound like we were a couple of bros on a night out. ‘Don’t you see what an incredible opportunity this is? A perfect do-over. You of all people should appreciate that.
The Olympians once offered you their most valuable gift. They offered to make you a god, didn’t
they? And you – you lovable idiot – you turned them down! This is your chance to correct that mistake.’ My avatar flickered and blinked like a bad fluorescent tube. Nekhbet, my brain buddy, turned her attention inward.
You turned down immortality? Her voice was incredulous, offended.
She scanned my memories. I saw my own past from her dry, cynical point of view: I stood in the throne room of Mount Olympus after the war against the Titans. Zeus offered me a reward: godhood. I turned him down flat. I wanted justice for other demigods instead. I wanted the gods to stop being jerks and to pay attention to their kids.
A stupid request. A naive thing to wish for. I gave up power. You never give up power.
I struggled to keep my grip on Setne. ‘Nekhbet, those are your thoughts, not mine. I made the right choice.’ Then you are a fool, the vulture goddess hissed.
‘Yeah, pal,’ Setne said, who apparently could hear her. ‘I gotta agree with Nekhbet on this one.
You did the noble thing. How did that work out? Did the gods honour their promises?’
I couldn’t separate Nekhbet’s bitterness from my own feelings. Sure, I grumbled about the gods all the time, but I’d never regretted my decision to stay mortal. I had a girlfriend. I had a family. I had my whole life ahead of me – assuming I could stay alive.
Now … maybe it was just Nekhbet in my mind, or Setne toying with me, but I started to wonder if
I’d made a huge blunder.
‘I get it, kid.’ Setne’s voice was full of pity. ‘The gods are your family. You want to think they’re good. You want to make them proud. I wanted that with my family. My dad was Ramses the Great, you know.’
I was gliding in a lazy circle now, my left wing carving the tops of the storm clouds. Setne’s crown glowed more brightly. His aura grew colder, numbing my limbs and turning my thoughts sluggish. I knew I was in trouble, but I couldn’t think of what to do about it.
‘It’s hard having a powerful dad,’ Setne continued. ‘Ramses was the pharaoh, of course, so most of the time he was hosting the god Horus. That made him distant, to say the least. I kept thinking, If I just make the right choices and prove I’m a good kid, he’ll eventually notice me. He’ll treat me right.
But, the thing is, the gods don’t care about mortals, even their children. Look into the vulture’s mind if you don’t believe me. Behave like a good little boy, act all noble – that just makes it easier for the gods to ignore you. The only way to get their respect is to act up, be bad and take what you want!’
Nekhbet didn’t try to convince me otherwise. She was the protector goddess of the pharaohs, but she didn’t care about them as individual humans. She cared about maintaining the power of Egypt, which in turn kept the worship of the gods alive. She certainly didn’t care about noble acts or fairness. Only the weak demanded fairness. The weak were carcasses waiting to die – appetizers in the long dinner of Nekhbet’s eternal life.
‘You’re a good kid,’ Setne told me. ‘A lot nicer than the goddess you’re trying to host. But you’ve got to see the truth. You should’ve taken Zeus’s offer. You would be a god now. You’d be strong enough to make those changes you asked for!’
Strength is good, Nekhbet agreed. Immortality is good.
‘I’m giving you a second chance,’ Setne said. ‘Help me out, Percy. Become a god.’
We turned in the air as Nekhbet’s consciousness separated from mine. She’d forgotten which of us was the enemy. Nekhbet favoured the strong. Setne was strong. I was weak.
I remembered the way Setne had been strip-mining the Duat – cutting fissures in reality, destroying the entire cosmic order to make himself immortal.
I’ll just take the bits and pieces I can use, he’d told Sadie.
My thoughts finally cleared. I understood how Setne operated, how he’d beaten us so badly up till now. ‘You’re looking for a way into my mind,’ I said. ‘Something you can relate to and use against me.
But I’m not like you. I don’t want immortality, especially not if it rips the world apart.’
Setne smiled. ‘Well, it was worth a try. Especially since I made you lose control of your vulture!’
An explosion of cold shattered my avatar. Suddenly I was falling.
My one advantage: I’d been holding Setne in my claws, which meant he was directly below me. I slammed right into him and locked my arms around his chest. We plummeted together through the clouds. I shivered so badly that I was surprised I could stay conscious. Frost caked my clothes. Wind and ice stung my eyes. I felt like I was downhill skiing without a mask.
I’m not sure why Setne didn’t just magic himself away. I suppose even a powerful magician can succumb to panic. When you’re free-falling, you forget to think rationally: Gee, I have spells and stuff. Instead your animal brain takes over and you think: OH MY GOD THIS KID IS HOLDING ON
TO ME AND I’M TRAPPED AND FALLING AND I’M GOING TO DIE!
Even though I was seconds away from becoming vulture hors d’oeuvres, Setne’s squawking and flapping brought me some satisfaction.
If we’d fallen straight down, I would’ve hit solid ground and died. No question.
Fortunately, the winds were strong and Governors Island was a small target in a very big harbour.
We hit the water with a wonderfully familiar KA-FLOOM!
My pain disappeared. Warmth surged back into my limbs. Salt water swirled around me, filling me with new energy. Seawater always did good things for me, but normally not this fast. Maybe the presence of Nekhbet ramped up my healing. Maybe my dad Poseidon was trying to do me a favour.
Whatever the case, I felt great. I grabbed Setne by the throat with one hand and began to squeeze.
He fought like a demon. (Believe me, I know. I’ve fought a few.) The crown of Ptolemy glowed in the water, steaming like a volcanic vent. Setne clawed at my arm and exhaled streams of bubbles – maybe trying to cast spells, or maybe trying to sweet talk me out of strangling him. I couldn’t hear him, and I didn’t want to. Underwater, I was in charge.
Bring him to shore, said Nekhbet’s voice.
Are you crazy? I thought back. This is my home court.
He cannot be defeated here. Your friends are waiting.
I didn’t want to, but I understood. I might be able to keep Setne occupied underwater for a while, but he was too far down the path to immortality for me to destroy. I needed to undo his magic, which
meant I needed help.
I kept my grip on his throat and let the currents push me to Governors Island.
Carter waited for me on the island’s ring road. His head was wrapped in bandages like a turban.
The blisters on his face had been treated with some kind of purple goo. His linen ninja jammies looked like they’d been laundered in a burning wood chipper. But he was alive, and angry. In one hand he held a glowing white rope like a cowboy’s lasso.
‘Welcome back, Percy.’ He glared at Setne. ‘This guy give you any trouble?’
Setne flailed and shot fire in Carter’s direction. Carter lashed the flames aside with his rope.
‘I’ve got him under control for now,’ I said.
I felt confident that was true. The seawater had brought me back to full strength. Nekhbet was cooperating again, ready to shield me from anything Setne might try. The magician himself seemed dazed and deflated. Getting strangled at the bottom of New York Harbor will do that to you.
‘Let’s go, then,’ Carter said. ‘We have a nice reception planned.’
Back at the burnt soccer fields, Sadie and Annabeth had sketched a magical bull’s-eye on the ground. At least that’s how it looked to me. The chalk circle was about five feet in diameter and elaborately bordered with words of power in Greek and hieroglyphics. In the Duat, I could see that the circle radiated white light. It was drawn over the rift that Setne had made, like a bandage over a wound. The girls stood on opposite sides of the circle. Sadie crossed her arms and planted her combat boots defiantly. Annabeth was still holding the Book of Thoth.
When she saw me, she kept her battle face on, but from the gleam in her eyes I could tell she was relieved. I mean … we’d just passed our one-year dating anniversary. I figured I was a sort of long-term investment for her. She hoped I would pay dividends eventually; if I died now, she would’ve put up with all my annoying qualities for nothing.
‘You lived,’ she noted.
‘No thanks to Elvis.’ I lifted Setne by his neck. He weighed almost nothing. ‘He was pretty tough until I figured out his system.’
I threw him into the centre of the circle. The four of us surrounded him. The hieroglyphs and Greek letters burned and swirled, rising in a funnel cloud to contain our prisoner.
‘Dude is a scavenger,’ I said. ‘Not too different from a vulture. He picks through our minds, finds whatever he can relate to, and he uses that to get through our defences. Annabeth’s love of wisdom.
Carter’s desire to make his dad proud. Sadie’s –’
‘My incredible modesty,’ Sadie guessed. ‘And obvious good looks.’
‘Anyway,’ I said, ‘Setne tried to offer me immortality. He tried to get a handle on my motives for turning it down once before, but –’
‘Pardon,’ Sadie interrupted. ‘Did you say you’ve turned down immortality before?’
‘You can still be a god!’ Setne croaked. ‘All of you! Together we can –’
‘I don’t want to be a god,’ I said. ‘You don’t get that, do you? You couldn’t find anything about me
you could relate to, which I take as a big compliment.’
Inside my mind, Nekhbet hissed: Kill him. Destroy him utterly.
No, I said. Because that’s not me, either.
I stepped to the edge of the circle. ‘Annabeth, Carter, Sadie … you ready to put this guy away?’
‘Any time.’ Carter hefted his rope.
I crouched until I was face-to-face with Setne. His kohl-lined eyes were wide and unfocused. On his head, the crown of Ptolemy tilted sideways like an observatory telescope.
‘You were right about one thing,’ I told him. ‘There’s a lot of power in mixing Greek and Egyptian.
I’m glad you introduced me to my new friends. We’re going to keep mixing it up.’
‘Percy Jackson, listen –’
‘But there’s a difference between sharing and stealing,’ I said. ‘You have something that belongs to me.’ He started to speak. I shoved my hand right in his mouth.
Sound gross? Wait, it gets worse.
Something guided me – maybe Nekhbet’s intuition, maybe my own instincts. My fingers closed around a small pointy object in the back of Setne’s throat, and I yanked it free: my ballpoint pen,
It was like I’d pulled the plug out of a tyre. Magic spewed from Setne’s mouth: a multicoloured stream of hieroglyphic light.
GET BACK! Nekhbet screamed in my mind as Annabeth yelled the same thing aloud.
I stumbled away from the circle. Setne writhed and spun as all the magic he’d tried to absorb now came gushing out in a disgusting torrent. I’d heard about people ‘puking rainbows’, because they saw something that was just too cute.
Let me tell you: if you actually see someone puking rainbows … there’s nothing cute about it.
Annabeth and Sadie shouted magic commands in unison. The funnel cloud of magic intensified around the circle, hemming in Setne, who was shrivelling rapidly. The crown of Ptolemy rolled off his head. Carter stepped forward and threw his glowing rope.
As soon as the rope touched Setne, a flash of light blinded me.
When my vision returned, Setne and the rope were gone. No magic lights swirled. The vulture goddess had left my mind. My mouth no longer tasted like dead hyena.
Annabeth, the Kanes and I stood in a loose ring, staring at the crown of Ptolemy, which lay sideways in the dirt. Next to it sat a plastic bauble the size of a goose egg.
I picked it up.
Inside the snow globe, a miniature model of Governors Island was permanently submerged.
Alternately running and swimming around the landscape, trying to avoid flurries of fake snow, was a termite-size man in a purple trench coat.
Setne had made Governors Island his eternal headquarters, after all.
He’d been imprisoned in a cheap plastic souvenir.
An hour later, we sat on the parapets of the old fort, watching the sun go down over the New Jersey
coastline. I’d had a cheese sandwich and an ice-cold Ribena from Sadie’s extra-dimensional stash of junk food (along with two extra-strength painkillers), so I was feeling brave enough to hear explanations. ‘Would someone explain what happened back there?’ I asked.
Annabeth slipped her hand into mine. ‘We won, Seaweed Brain.’
‘Yeah, but …’ I gestured at the snow globe, which Carter was now admiring. ‘How?’
Carter shook the globe. Fake snow swirled inside. Maybe it was my imagination, but I swear I could hear Setne shrieking underwater as he was given the blender tour of his tiny prison.
‘I guess the snow-globe idea got stuck in my head,’ Carter said. ‘When I threw the rope and sprung the trap, the magic conformed to what I was thinking. Anyway, Setne will make a great paperweight.’
Sadie snorted, almost nostril-spewing her Ribena. ‘Poor little Setne – stuck on Carter’s desk for eternity, forced to watch him do hours and hours of boring research. It would’ve been kinder to let
Ammit devour his soul.’
I didn’t know who Ammit was, but I didn’t need any more soul-devouring monsters in my life.
‘So the trap worked,’ I said, which I guess was kind of obvious. ‘I don’t need to understand all the details –’
‘That’s good,’ Annabeth said. ‘Since I don’t think any of us do.’
‘– but one thing I’ve gotta know.’ I pointed at Sadie. ‘What did you whisper to Annabeth that turned her into a magician?’
The girls exchanged a smile.
‘I told Annabeth my secret name,’ Sadie said.
‘Your what, now?’ I asked.
‘It’s called the ren,’ Sadie explained. ‘Everyone has one, even if you don’t know it. The ren is … well, the definition of who you are. Once I shared it, Annabeth had access to my experiences, my abilities, all my general amazingness.’
‘That was risky.’ Carter gave me a grim look. ‘Anyone who knows your ren can control you. You never share that information unless you really have to, and only with people you absolutely trust.
Sadie found out my secret name last year. My life has sucked ever since.’
‘Oh, please,’ Sadie said. ‘I only use my knowledge for good.’
Carter suddenly slapped himself in the face.
‘Hey!’ he complained.
‘Oops, sorry,’ Sadie said. ‘At any rate, I do trust Annabeth. I knew it would take both of us to create that containment circle. Besides, a Greek demigod casting Egyptian magic – did you see the look on Setne’s face? Priceless.’
My mouth went dry. I imagined Annabeth invoking hieroglyphs at Camp Half-Blood, blowing up chariots on the racetrack, hurling giant blue fists during capture the flag.
‘So my girlfriend is a magician now, like, permanently? Because she was scary enough before.’
Annabeth laughed. ‘Don’t worry, Seaweed Brain. The effect of learning Sadie’s ren is already wearing off. I’ll never be able to do any magic on my own.’
I breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Okay. So, um … last question.’
I nodded to the crown of Ptolemy, which sat on the parapet next to Sadie. It looked like part of a
Halloween costume, not the sort of headgear that could violently rip the world apart. ‘What do we do with that?’
‘Well,’ Sadie said, ‘I could put it on and see what happens.’
‘NO!’ Carter and Annabeth yelled.
‘Kidding,’ Sadie said. ‘Honestly, you two, calm down. I must admit, though, I don’t see why
Wadjet and Nekhbet didn’t reclaim their crowns. The goddesses were freed, weren’t they?’
‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘I sensed that cobra lady Wadjet get expelled when Setne was puking rainbows.
Then Nekhbet went back to … wherever goddesses go when they’re not annoying mortals.’
Carter scratched his bandaged head. ‘So … they just forgot their crowns?’
Traces of Nekhbet’s personality lingered in the corners of my mind – just enough to make me uncomfortably sure that the crown of Ptolemy had been left here on purpose.
‘It’s a test,’ I said. ‘The Two Ladies want to see what we’ll do with it. When Nekhbet learned that
I’d turned down immortality once before, she was kind of offended. I think she’s curious to find out if any of us will go for it.’
Annabeth blinked. ‘Nekhbet would do that out of curiosity? Even if it caused a world-destroying event?’ ‘Sounds like Nekhbet,’ Sadie said. ‘She’s a malicious old bird. Loves to watch us mortals squabble and kill each other.’
Carter stared at the crown. ‘But … we know better than to use that thing. Don’t we?’ His voice sounded a little wistful.
‘For once you’re right, brother dear,’ Sadie said. ‘As much as I’d love to be a literal goddess, I suppose I’ll have to remain a figurative one.’
‘I’m going to puke rainbows now,’ Carter said.
‘So what do we do with the crown?’ Annabeth asked. ‘It’s not the kind of thing we should leave at the Governors Island Lost and Found.’
‘Hey, Carter,’ I said, ‘after we defeated that crocodile monster on Long Island, you said you had a safe place to keep its necklace. Could you store the crown, too?’
The Kanes had a silent conversation with each other.
‘I suppose we could bring the crown to the First Nome in Egypt,’ Carter said. ‘Our Uncle Amos is in charge there. He has the most secure magic vaults in the world. But nothing is one hundred percent safe. Setne’s experiments with Greek and Egyptian magic sent tremors through the Duat. Gods and magicians felt them. I’m sure demigods felt them, too. That kind of power is tempting. Even if we lock the crown of Ptolemy away –’
‘Others might try hybrid magic,’ Annabeth said.
‘And the more it’s tried,’ Sadie said, ‘the more damage could be done to the Duat, and the mortal world, and our sanity.’
We sat in silence as that idea sank in. I imagined what would happen if the kids in the Hecate cabin back at camp heard about Egyptian magicians in Brooklyn, or if Clarisse from the Ares cabin learned how to summon a giant wild-boar combat avatar.
I shuddered. ‘We’ll have to keep our worlds separate as much as possible. The info is too dangerous.’ Annabeth nodded. ‘You’re right. I don’t like keeping secrets, but we’ll have to be careful who we talk to. Maybe we can tell Chiron, but –’
‘I bet Chiron already knows about the Egyptians,’ I said. ‘He’s a wily old centaur. But, yeah. We’ll have to keep our little task force here on the down-low.’
‘“Our little task force”.’ Carter grinned. ‘I like the sound of that. The four of us can keep in touch.
We’ll have to stand ready in case something like this happens again.’
‘Annabeth has my number,’ Sadie said. ‘Which, honestly, brother, is a much easier solution than writing invisible hieroglyphs on your friend’s hand. What were you thinking?’
‘It made sense at the time,’ Carter protested.
We cleaned up our picnic stuff and got ready to go our separate ways.
Carter carefully wrapped the crown of Ptolemy in linen cloth. Sadie gave the Governors Island snow globe a good shake, then stuffed it in her pack.
The girls hugged. I shook Carter’s hand.
With a twinge of pain, I realized how much I was going to miss these kids. I was getting tired of making new friends only to tell them goodbye, especially since some of them never came back.
‘Take care of yourself, Carter,’ I said. ‘No more getting roasted in explosions.’
He smirked. ‘I can’t promise. But call us if you need us, okay? And, uh, thanks.’
‘Hey, it was a team effort.’
‘I guess. But, Percy … it came down to you being a good person. Setne couldn’t get a handle on you. Honestly, if I’d been tempted with godhood the way you were tempted –’
‘You would’ve done the same thing,’ I said.
‘Maybe.’ He smiled, but he didn’t look convinced. ‘Okay, Sadie. Time to fly. The initiates at
Brooklyn House are going to be worried.’
‘And Khufu is making jelly fruit salad for dinner,’ she said. ‘Should be delicious. Toodle-oo, demigods!’ The Kanes turned into birds of prey and launched themselves into the sunset.
‘This has been a weird day,’ I told Annabeth.
She slipped her hand into mine. ‘I’m thinking cheeseburgers for dinner at P. J. Clarke’s.’
‘With bacon,’ I said. ‘We’ve earned it.’
‘I love the way you think,’ she said. ‘And I’m glad you’re not a god.’
She kissed me, and I decided that I was glad too. A kiss in the sunset and the promise of a good bacon cheeseburger – with that kind of payoff, who needs immortality?
Books by Rick Riordan
A Carter Kane/Percy Jackson Adventure ebook:
THE SON OF SOBEK
An Annabeth Chase/Sadie Kane Adventure ebook:
THE STAFF OF SERAPIS
The Percy Jackson series:
PERCY JACKSON AND THE LIGHTNING THIEF*
PERCY JACKSON AND THE SEA OF MONSTERS*
PERCY JACKSON AND THE TITAN’S CURSE*
PERCY JACKSON AND THE BATTLE OF THE LABYRINTH
PERCY JACKSON AND THE LAST OLYMPIAN
THE DEMIGOD FILES
PERCY JACKSON AND THE GREEK GODS
For more about Percy Jackson, try:
PERCY JACKSON: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE
The Heroes of Olympus series:
THE LOST HERO*
THE SON OF NEPTUNE
THE MARK OF ATHENA
THE HOUSE OF HADES
THE BLOOD OF OLYMPUS
THE DEMIGOD DIARIES
The Kane Chronicles series:
THE RED PYRAMID*
THE THRONE OF FIRE
THE SERPENT’S SHADOW
For more about the Kane Chronicles, try:
THE KANE CHRONICLES: SURVIVAL GUIDE
* Also available as a graphic novel www.rickriordanmythmaster.co.uk puffin.co.uk
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First published in the USA by Disney Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group, 2015
This digital edition published in Great Britain by Puffin Books 2015
Text copyright © Rick Riordan, 2015
Hieroglyph art by Michelle Gengaro-Kokmen
All rights reserved
The moral right of the author and illustrator has been asserted
This digital edition created by Jouve India (UK)