The staff of serapis, p.4
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       The Staff of Serapis, p.4
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         Part #2 of Percy Jackson & Kane Chronicles Crossover series by Rick Riordan
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  At the same moment, Sadie cast her spell. She threw her silver necklace and yelled, ‘Tyet!’

  The pendant exploded. A giant silvery hieroglyph enveloped the god like a see-through coffin:

  Serapis roared as his arms were pinned to his side.

  Sadie shouted, ‘I name you Serapis, god of Alexandria! God of … uh, funny hats and three-headed staffs! I bind you with the power of Isis!’

  Debris began falling out of the air, crashing around Annabeth. She dodged a brick wall and a fuse box. Then she noticed the wounded staff monster crawling towards Serapis.

  She lunged in that direction, only to get smacked in the head by a falling piece of timber. She hit the floor hard, her skull throbbing, and was immediately buried in more debris.

  She took a shaky breath. ‘Ow, ow, ow.’

  At least she hadn’t been buried in bricks. She kicked her way out of a pile of plywood and plucked a six-inch splinter out of her shirt.

  The monster had made it to Serapis’s feet. Annabeth knew she should have stabbed one of the monster’s heads, but she just couldn’t make herself do it. She was always a softie when it came to animals, even if they were part of a magical evil creature trying to kill her. Now it was too late.

  The god flexed his considerable muscles. The silvery prison shattered around him. The three-headed staff flew into his hand, and Serapis turned on Sadie Kane.

  Her protective circle evaporated in a cloud of red steam.

  ‘You would bind me?’ Serapis cried. ‘You would name me? You do not even have the proper language to name me, little magician!’

  Annabeth staggered forward, but her breathing was shallow. Now that Serapis held the staff, his aura felt ten times more powerful. Annabeth’s ears buzzed. Her ankles turned to mush. She could feel her life force being drained away – vacuumed into the red halo of the god.

  Somehow, Sadie stood her ground, her expression defiant. ‘Right, Lord Cereal Bowl. You want proper language? HA-DI!’

  A new hieroglyph blazed in Serapis’s face:

  But the god swiped it out of the air with his free hand. He closed his fist and smoke shot between his fingers, as if he’d just crushed a miniature steam engine.

  Sadie gulped. ‘That’s impossible. How –’

  ‘Expecting an explosion?’ Serapis laughed. ‘Sorry to disappoint you, child, but my power is both Greek and Egyptian. It combines both, consumes both, replaces both. You are favoured of Isis, I see? Excellent. She was once my wife.’

  ‘What?’ Sadie cried. ‘No. No, no, no.’

  ‘Oh, yes! When I deposed both Osiris and Zeus, Isis was forced to serve me. Now I will use you as a gateway to summon her here and bind her. Isis will once again be my queen!’

  Serapis thrust out his staff. From each of the three monstrous mouths, red tendrils of light shot forth, encircling Sadie like thorny branches.

  Sadie screamed, and Annabeth finally overcame her shock.

  She grabbed the nearest sheet of plywood – a wobbly square about the size of a shield – and tried to remember her Ultimate Frisbee lessons from Camp Half-Blood.

  ‘Hey, Grain Head!’ she yelled.

  She twisted from the waist, using the force of her entire body. The plywood sailed through the air just as Serapis turned to look at her, and the edge smacked him between the eyes.

  ‘GAH!’

  Annabeth dived to one side as Serapis blindly thrust his staff in her direction. The three monster heads blasted super-heated plumes of vapour, melting a hole in the concrete where Annabeth had just been standing.

  She kept moving, picking her way through mounds of debris that now littered the floor. She dived behind a pile of broken toilets as the god’s staff blasted another triple column of steam in her direction, coming so close that she felt blisters rise on the back of her neck.

  Annabeth spotted Sadie about thirty yards away, on her feet and staggering away from Serapis. At least she was still alive. But Annabeth knew she would need time to recover.

  ‘Hey, Serapis!’ Annabeth called from behind the mountain of commodes. ‘How did that plywood taste?’

  ‘Child of Athena!’ the god bellowed. ‘I will devour your life force! I will use you to destroy your wretched mother! You think you are wise? You are nothing compared to the one who awakened me, and even he does not understand the power he has unleashed. None of you shall gain the crown of immortality. I control the past, present and future. I alone will rule the gods!’

  And thank you for the long speech, Annabeth thought.

  By the time Serapis blasted her position, turning the toilets into a porcelain slag heap, Annabeth had crept halfway across the room.

  She was searching for Sadie when the magician popped up from her hiding place, only ten feet away, and shouted: ‘Suh-FAH!’

  Annabeth turned as a new hieroglyph, twenty feet tall, blazed on the wall behind Serapis:

  Mortar disintegrated. The side of the building groaned, and as Serapis screamed, ‘NO!’ the entire wall collapsed on top of him in a brick tidal wave, burying him under a thousand tons of wreckage.

  Annabeth choked on a cloud of dust. Her eyes stung. She felt as if she’d been parboiled in a rice cooker, but she stumbled to Sadie’s side.

  The young magician was covered in lime powder as if she’d been rolled in sugar. She stared at the gaping hole she’d made in the side of the building.

  ‘That worked,’ she muttered.

  ‘It was genius.’ Annabeth squeezed her shoulders. ‘What spell was that?’

  ‘Loosen,’ Sadie said. ‘I reckoned … well, making things fall apart is usually easier than putting them together.’

  As if in agreement, the remaining shell of the building creaked and rumbled.

  ‘Come on.’ Annabeth took Sadie’s hand. ‘We need to get out of here. These walls –’

  The foundations shook. From beneath the rubble came a muffled roar. Shafts of red light shot from gaps in the debris.

  ‘Oh, please!’ Sadie protested. ‘He’s still alive?’

  Annabeth’s heart sank, but she wasn’t surprised. ‘He’s a god. He’s immortal.’

  ‘Well, then how –?’

  Serapis’s hand, still clutching his staff, thrust through the bricks and boards. The monster’s three heads blasted shafts of steam in all directions. Annabeth’s knife remained hilt-deep in the monster’s shell, the scar round it venting red-hot hieroglyphs, Greek letters and English curse words – thousands of years of bad language spilling free.

  Like a time line, Annabeth thought.

  Suddenly an idea clicked in her mind. ‘Past, present and future. He controls them all.’

  ‘What?’ Sadie asked.

  ‘The staff is the key,’ Annabeth said. ‘We have to destroy it.’

  ‘Yes, but –’

  Annabeth sprinted towards the pile of rubble. Her eyes were fixed on the hilt of her dagger, but she was too late.

  Serapis’s other arm broke free, then his head, his flower-basket hat crushed and leaking grain. Annabeth’s plywood Frisbee had broken his nose and blackened his eyes, leaving a mask like a raccoon’s.

  ‘Kill you!’ he bellowed, just as Sadie yelled an encore: ‘Suh-FAH!’

  Annabeth beat a hasty retreat, and Serapis screamed, ‘NO!’ as another thirty-storey section of wall collapsed on top of him.

  The magic must have been too much for Sadie. She crumpled like a rag doll, and Annabeth caught her just before her head hit the ground. As the remaining sections of wall shuddered and leaned inward, Annabeth scooped up the younger girl and carried her outside.

  Somehow she cleared the building before the rest of it collapsed. Annabeth heard the tremendous roar, but she wasn’t sure if it was the devastation behind her or the sound of her own skull splitting from pain and exhaustion.

  She staggered on until she reached the subway tracks. She set Sadie down gently in the weeds.

  Sadie’s eyes rolled back in her head. She muttered incoherently. Her skin felt so f
everish that Annabeth had to fight down a sense of panic. Steam rose from the magician’s sleeves.

  Over by the train wreck, the mortals had noticed the new disaster. Emergency vehicles were peeling away, heading for the collapsed apartment building. A news helicopter circled overhead.

  Annabeth was tempted to yell for medical help, but, before she could, Sadie inhaled sharply. Her eyelids fluttered.

  She spat a chip of concrete out of her mouth, sat up weakly and stared at the column of dust churning into the sky from their little adventure.

  ‘Right,’ Sadie muttered. ‘What should we destroy next?’

  Annabeth sobbed with relief. ‘Thank the gods you’re okay. You were literally steaming.’

  ‘Hazard of the trade.’ Sadie brushed some dust off her face. ‘Too much magic and I can literally burn up. That’s about as close to self-immolation as I’d like to come today.’

  Annabeth nodded. She’d been jealous of all those cool spells Sadie could cast, but now she was glad to be just a demigod. ‘No more magic for you.’

  ‘Not for a while.’ Sadie grimaced. ‘I don’t suppose Serapis is defeated?’

  Annabeth gazed towards the site of the would-be lighthouse. She wanted to think the god was gone, but she knew better. She could still feel his aura disrupting the world, pulling at her soul and draining her energy.

  ‘We’ve got a few minutes at best,’ she guessed. ‘He’ll work his way free. Then he’ll come after us.’

  Sadie groaned. ‘We need reinforcements. Sadly, I don’t have enough energy to open a portal, even if I could find one. Isis isn’t responding to me, either. She knows better than to show up and have her essence absorbed by Lord Cereal Bowl.’ She sighed. ‘I don’t suppose you have any other demigods on speed dial?’

  ‘If only …’ Annabeth faltered.

  She realized her own backpack was still on her shoulder. How had it not slipped off during the fight? And why did it feel so light?

  She unslung the pack and opened the top. The architecture books were gone. Instead, nestled at the bottom was a brownie-sized square of ambrosia wrapped in cellophane, and under that …

  Annabeth’s lower lip trembled. She pulled out something she hadn’t carried with her in a long time: her battered blue New York Yankees cap.

  She glanced up at the darkening sky. ‘Mom?’

  No reply, but Annabeth couldn’t think of any other explanation. Her mother had sent her help. The realization both encouraged and terrified her. If Athena was taking a personal interest in this situation, Serapis truly was a monumental threat – not just to Annabeth but to the gods.

  ‘It’s a baseball cap,’ Sadie noted. ‘Is that good?’

  ‘I – I think so,’ Annabeth said. ‘The last time I wore it, the magic didn’t work. But if it does … I might have a plan. It’ll be your turn to keep Serapis distracted.’

  Sadie frowned. ‘Did I mention I’m out of magic?’

  ‘That’s okay,’ Annabeth said. ‘How are you at bluffing, lying and trash-talking?’

  Sadie raised an eyebrow. ‘I’ve been told those are my most attractive qualities.’

  ‘Excellent,’ Annabeth said. ‘Then it’s time I taught you some Greek.’

  They didn’t have long.

  Annabeth had barely finished coaching Sadie when the ruined building shook, debris exploded outward, and Serapis emerged, roaring and cursing.

  Startled emergency workers scattered from the scene, but they didn’t seem to notice the fifteen-foot-tall god marching away from the wreckage, his three-headed staff spewing steam and red beams of magic into the sky.

  Serapis headed straight in Sadie and Annabeth’s direction.

  ‘Ready?’ Annabeth asked.

  Sadie exhaled. ‘Do I have a choice?’

  ‘Here.’ Annabeth gave her the square of ambrosia. ‘Demigod food. It might restore your strength.’

  ‘Might, eh?’

  ‘If I can use your healing potion, you should be able to eat ambrosia.’

  ‘Cheers, then.’ Sadie took a bite. Colour returned to her cheeks. Her eyes brightened. ‘Tastes like my gran’s scones.’

  Annabeth smiled. ‘Ambrosia always tastes like your favourite comfort food.’

  ‘That’s a shame.’ Sadie took another bite and swallowed. ‘Gran’s scones are always burnt and rather horrid. Ah – here comes our friend.’

  Serapis kicked a fire engine out of his way and lumbered towards the train tracks. He didn’t seem to have spotted Sadie and Annabeth yet, but Annabeth guessed he could sense them. He scanned the horizon, his expression full of murderous rage.

  ‘Here we go.’ Annabeth donned her Yankees cap.

  Sadie’s eyes widened. ‘Well done. You’re quite invisible. You won’t start shooting sparks, will you?’

  ‘Why would I do that?’

  ‘Oh … my brother cast an invisibility spell once. Didn’t work out so well. Anyway, good luck.’

  ‘You, too.’

  Annabeth dashed to one side as Sadie waved her arms and yelled, ‘Oi, Serapis!’

  ‘DEATH TO YOU!’ the god bellowed.

  He barrelled forward, his massive feet making craters in the tarmac.

  As they’d planned, Sadie backed towards the beach. Annabeth crouched behind an abandoned car and waited for Serapis to pass. Invisible or not, she wasn’t going to take any chances.

  ‘Come on!’ Sadie taunted the god. ‘Is that the fastest you can run, you overgrown village idiot?’

  ‘RAR!’ The god charged past Annabeth’s position.

  She ran after Serapis, who caught up with Sadie at the edge of the surf.

  The god raised his glowing staff, all three monstrous heads belching steam. ‘Any last words, magician?’

  ‘For you? Yes!’ Sadie whirled her arms in movements that could’ve been magic – or possibly kung fu.

  ‘Meana aedei thea!’ She chanted the lines Annabeth had taught her. ‘En … ponte pathen algae!’

  Annabeth winced. Sadie’s pronunciation was pretty bad. She’d got the first line right, more or less: Sing of rage, O goddess. But the second line should’ve been: In the sea, suffer misery. Instead, Sadie had said something like: In the sea, suffer moss!

  Fortunately, the sound of Ancient Greek was enough to shock Serapis. The god wavered, his three-headed staff still raised. ‘What are you –’

  ‘Isis, hear me!’ Sadie continued. ‘Athena, to my aid!’ She rattled off some more phrases – some Greek, some Ancient Egyptian.

  Meanwhile, Annabeth sneaked up behind the god, her eyes on the dagger still impaled in the monster’s shell. If Serapis would just lower his staff …

  ‘Alpha, beta, gamma!’ Sadie cried. ‘Gyros, spanakopita. Presto!’ She beamed in triumph. ‘There. You’re done for!’

  Serapis stared at her, clearly baffled. The red tattoos on his skin dimmed. A few of the symbols turned into question marks and sad faces. Annabeth crept closer … twenty feet from him now.

  ‘Done for?’ Serapis asked. ‘What on earth are you talking about, girl? I’m about to destroy you.’

  ‘And if you do,’ Sadie warned, ‘you will activate the death link that sends you to oblivion!’

  ‘Death link? There is no such thing!’ Serapis lowered his staff. The three animal heads were level with Annabeth’s eyes.

  Her heart pounded. Ten feet to go. Then, if she jumped, she might be able to reach the dagger. She’d only have one chance to pull it out.

  The heads of the staff didn’t seem to notice her. They snarled and snapped, spitting steam in random directions. Wolf, lion, dog – past, present and future.

  To do maximum damage, she knew which head she had to strike.

  But why did the future have to be a dog? That black Labrador was the least threatening of the monster heads. With its big gold eyes and floppy ears, it reminded Annabeth of too many friendly pets she’d known.

  It’s not a real animal, she told herself. It’s part of a magical staff.

  But,
as she got within striking distance, her arms grew heavy. She couldn’t look at the dog without feeling guilty.

  The future is a good thing, the dog seemed to say. It’s cute and fuzzy!

  If Annabeth struck at the Labrador’s head, what if she killed her own future – the plans she had for college, the plans she’d made with Percy … ?

  Sadie was still talking. Her tone had taken on a harder edge.

  ‘My mother, Ruby Kane,’ Sadie told Serapis, ‘she gave her life to seal Apophis in the Duat. Apophis, mind you – who is thousands of years older than you and much more powerful. So if you think I’m going to let a second-rate god take over the world, think again!’

  The anger in her voice was no mere bluff, and suddenly Annabeth was glad she’d given Sadie the job of facing down Serapis. The magician was surprisingly terrifying when she wanted to be.

  Serapis shifted his weight uneasily. ‘I will destroy you!’

  ‘Good luck,’ Sadie said. ‘I’ve bound you with Greek and Egyptian spells so powerful they will scatter your atoms to the stars.’

  ‘You lie!’ Serapis yelled. ‘I feel no spell upon me. Even the one who summoned me had no such magic.’

  Annabeth was face to face with the black dog. The dagger was just overhead, but every molecule in her body rebelled at the idea of killing the animal … killing the future.

  Meanwhile, Sadie managed a brave laugh. ‘The one who summoned you? You mean that old con artist Setne?’

  Annabeth didn’t know the name, but Serapis obviously did. The air around him rippled with heat. The lion snarled. The wolf bared its teeth.

  ‘Oh, yes,’ Sadie continued. ‘I’m very familiar with Setne. I suppose he didn’t tell you who let him back into the world. He’s only alive because I spared him. You think his magic is powerful? Try me. Do it NOW.’

  Annabeth stirred. She realized Sadie was talking to her, not the god. The bluff was getting old. She was out of time.

  Serapis sneered. ‘Nice try, magician.’

  As he raised his staff to strike, Annabeth jumped. Her hand closed round the hilt of the dagger, and she pulled it free.

  ‘What?’ Serapis cried.

  Annabeth let loose a guttural sob and plunged her dagger into the dog’s neck.

  She expected an explosion.

  Instead, the dagger was sucked into the dog’s neck like a paper clip into a vacuum cleaner. Annabeth barely had time to let go.

  She rolled free as the dog howled, shrinking and shrivelling until it imploded into the monster’s shell. Serapis roared. He shook his sceptre but he couldn’t seem to let go of it.

  ‘What have you done?’ he cried.

  ‘Taken your future,’ Annabeth said. ‘Without that, you’re nothing.’

  The staff cracked open. It grew so hot that Annabeth felt the hairs on her arms start to burn. She crawled backwards through the sand as the lion and wolf heads were sucked into the shell. The entire staff collapsed into a red fireball
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