The Crown of Ptolemy Read online
‘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 ultra-powerful 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 bu