The staff of serapis, p.5
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       The Staff of Serapis, p.5

         Part #2 of Percy Jackson & Kane Chronicles Crossover series by Rick Riordan
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  in the god’s palm.

  Serapis tried to shake it off. It only glowed brighter. His fingers curled inward. His hand was consumed. His entire arm contracted and vaporized as it was drawn into the fiery sphere.

  ‘I cannot be destroyed!’ Serapis yelled. ‘I am the pinnacle of your worlds combined! Without my guidance, you will never attain the crown! You all shall perish! You shall –’

  The fireball flared and sucked the god into its vortex. Then it winked out as if it had never existed.

  ‘Ugh,’ Sadie said.

  They sat on the beach at sunset, watching the tide and listening to the wail of emergency vehicles behind them.

  Poor Rockaway. First a hurricane. Then a train wreck, a building collapse and a rampaging god all in one day. Some communities never catch a break.

  Annabeth sipped her Ribena – a British drink that Sadie had summoned from her ‘personal storage area’ in the Duat.

  ‘Don’t worry,’ Sadie assured her. ‘Summoning snacks isn’t hard magic.’

  As thirsty as Annabeth was, the Ribena tasted even better than nectar.

  Sadie seemed to be on the mend. The ambrosia had done its work. Now, rather than looking as if she was at death’s door, she merely looked as if she’d been run over by a pack of mules.

  The waves lapped at Annabeth’s feet, helping her relax, but still she felt a residual disquiet from her encounter with Serapis – a humming in her body, as if all her bones had become tuning forks.

  ‘You mentioned a name,’ she recalled. ‘Setne?’

  Sadie wrinkled her nose. ‘Long story. Evil magician, back from the dead.’

  ‘Oh, I hate it when evil people come back from the dead. You said … you allowed him to go free?’

  ‘Well, my brother and I needed his help. At the time, we didn’t have much choice. At any rate, Setne escaped with the Book of Thoth, the most dangerous collection of spells in the world.’

  ‘And Setne used that magic to awaken Serapis.’

  ‘Stands to reason.’ Sadie shrugged. ‘The crocodile monster my brother and your boyfriend fought a while ago, the Son of Sobek … I wouldn’t be surprised if that was another of Setne’s experiments. He’s trying to combine Greek and Egyptian magic.’

  After the day she’d just had, Annabeth wanted to put her invisibility cap back on, crawl into a hole and sleep forever. She’d saved the world enough times already. She didn’t want to think about another potential threat. Yet she couldn’t ignore it. She fingered the brim of her Yankees cap and thought about why her mother had given it back to her today – its magic restored.

  Athena seemed to be sending a message: There will always be threats too powerful to face head-on. You are not done with stealth. You must tread carefully here.

  ‘Setne wants to be a god,’ Annabeth said.

  The wind off the water suddenly turned cold. It smelled less like fresh sea air, more like burning ruins.

  ‘A god …’ Sadie shuddered. ‘That scrawny old codger with the loincloth and Elvis hair. What a horrible thought.’

  Annabeth tried to picture the guy Sadie was describing. Then she decided she didn’t want to.

  ‘If Setne’s goal is immortality,’ Annabeth said, ‘waking Serapis won’t be his last trick.’

  Sadie laughed without humour. ‘Oh, no. He’s only playing with us now. The Son of Sobek … Serapis. I’d wager that Setne planned both events just to see what would happen, how the demigods and magicians would react. He’s testing his new magic, and our capabilities, before he makes his real bid for power.’

  ‘He can’t succeed,’ Annabeth said hopefully. ‘No one can make themselves a god just by casting a spell.’

  Sadie’s expression wasn’t reassuring. ‘I hope you’re right. Because a god who knows both Greek and Egyptian magic, who can control both worlds … I can’t even imagine.’

  Annabeth’s stomach twisted as if it were learning a new yoga position. In any war, good planning was more important than sheer power. If this Setne had orchestrated Percy and Carter’s battle with that crocodile, if he’d engineered Serapis’s rise so Sadie and Annabeth would be drawn to confront him … An enemy who planned so well would be very hard to stop.

  She dug her toes into the sand. ‘Serapis said something else before he disappeared – you will never attain the crown. I thought he meant it like a metaphor. Then I remembered what he said about Ptolemy I, the king who tried to become a god –’

  ‘The crown of immortality,’ Sadie recalled. ‘Maybe a pschent.’

  Annabeth frowned. ‘I don’t know that word. A shent?’

  Sadie spelled it. ‘An Egyptian crown, looks rather like a bowling pin. Not a lovely fashion statement, but the pschent invested the pharaoh with his divine power. If Setne is trying to re-create the old king’s god-making magic, I bet five quid and a plate of Gran’s burnt scones that he’s trying to find the crown of Ptolemy.’

  Annabeth decided not to take that bet. ‘We have to stop him.’

  ‘Right.’ Sadie sipped her Ribena. ‘I’ll go back to Brooklyn House. After I smack my brother for not confiding in me about you demigod types, I’ll put our researchers to work and see what we can learn about Ptolemy. Perhaps his crown is sitting in a museum somewhere.’ Sadie curled her lip. ‘Though I do hate museums.’

  Annabeth traced her finger through the sand. Without really thinking about it, she drew the hieroglyphic symbol for Isis: the tyet. ‘I’ll do some research, too. My friends in the Hecate cabin may know something about Ptolemy’s magic. Maybe I can get my mom to advise me.’

  Thinking about her mother made her uneasy.

  Today, Serapis had been on the verge of destroying both Annabeth and Sadie. He’d threatened to use them as gateways to draw Athena and Isis to their doom.

  Sadie’s eyes were stormy, as if she were thinking the same thoughts. ‘We can’t let Setne keep experimenting. He’ll rip our worlds apart. We have to find this crown, or –’

  She glanced into the sky and her voice faltered. ‘Ah, my ride is here.’

  Annabeth turned. For a moment she thought the Argo II was descending from the clouds, but this was a different kind of flying boat – a smaller Egyptian reed barque with painted eyes on the prow and a single white sail emblazoned with the tyet symbol.

  It settled gently at the edge of the surf.

  Sadie rose and brushed the sand off her trousers. ‘Give you a lift home?’

  Annabeth tried to imagine a boat like this sailing into Camp Half-Blood. ‘Um, it’s okay. I can make it back.’

  ‘Suit yourself.’ Sadie shouldered her pack, then helped Annabeth up. ‘You say Carter drew a hieroglyph on your boyfriend’s hand. All well and good, but I’d rather stay in touch with you directly.’

  Annabeth smirked. ‘You’re right. Can’t trust boys to communicate.’

  They exchanged cell-phone numbers.

  ‘Just don’t call unless it’s urgent,’ Annabeth warned. ‘Cell-phone activity attracts monsters.’

  Sadie looked surprised. ‘Really? Never noticed. I suppose I shouldn’t send you any funny-face selfies on Instagram, then.’

  ‘Probably not.’

  ‘Well, until next time.’ Sadie threw her arms round Annabeth.

  Annabeth was a little shocked to be getting a hug from a girl she’d just met – a girl who could just as easily have seen Annabeth as an enemy. But the gesture made her feel good. In life-and-death situations, Annabeth had learned, you could make friends pretty quickly.

  She patted Sadie’s shoulder. ‘Stay safe.’

  ‘Hardly ever.’ Sadie climbed in her boat, and it pushed out to sea. Fog rose out of nowhere, thickening around the vessel. When the mist cleared, the ship and Sadie Kane were gone.

  Annabeth stared at the empty ocean. She thought about the Mist and the Duat and how they were connected.

  Mostly she thought about the staff of Serapis, and the howl the black dog had made when she’d stabbed it with her dagger.

wasn’t my future I destroyed,’ she assured herself. ‘I make my own future.’

  But somewhere out there a magician named Setne had other ideas. If Annabeth was going to stop him, she had planning to do.

  She turned and set out across the beach, heading east on the long journey back to Camp Half-Blood.

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