Percy pulled a plain-looking ballpoint pen from his jeans. “You mean this?”
“BAM!” Jack said. “Who is this vision of loveliness?”
“Jack,” I said. “It’s a pen.”
“No, it’s not! Show me! Show me!”
“Uh…sure.” Percy uncapped the pen.
Immediately it transformed into a three-foot-long sword with a leaf-shaped blade of glowing bronze. Compared to Jack, the weapon looked delicate, almost petite, but from the way Percy wielded it, I had no doubt he’d be able to hold his own on the battlefields of Valhalla with that thing.
Jack turned his point toward me, his runes flashing burgundy. “See, Magnus? I told you it wasn’t stupid to carry a sword disguised as a pen!”
“Jack, I never said that!” I protested. “You did.”
Percy raised an eyebrow. “What are you two talking about?”
“Nothing,” I said hastily. “So I guess this is the famous Riptide? Annabeth told me about it.”
“Her,” Jack corrected.
Annabeth frowned. “Percy’s sword is a she?”
Jack laughed. “Well, duh.”
Percy studied Riptide, though I could’ve told him from experience it was almost impossible to tell a sword’s gender by looking at it.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Are you sure—?”
“Percy,” said Alex. “Respect the gender.”
“Okay, fine,” he said. “It’s just kinda strange that I never knew.”
“On the other hand,” Annabeth said, “you didn’t know the pen could write until last year.”
“That’s low, Wise Girl.”
“Anyway!” Jack interrupted. “The important thing is Riptide’s here now, she’s beautiful, and she’s met me! Maybe the two of us can…you know…have some private time to talk about, er, sword stuff?”
Alex smirked. “That sounds like a wonderful idea. How about we let the swords get to know each other while the rest of us have lunch? Magnus, do you think you can handle eating falafel without choking?”
WE ATE ON the aft spar deck. (Look at me with the nautical terms.)
After a hard morning of failing, I felt like I’d really earned my deep-fried chickpea patties and pita bread, my yogurt and chilled cucumber slices, and my side order of extra-spicy lamb kebabs. Annabeth had arranged our picnic lunch. She knew me too well.
My clothes dried quickly in the sunlight. The warm breeze felt good on my face. Sailboats traced their way across the harbor while airplanes cut across the blue sky, heading out from Logan Airport to New York or California or Europe. The whole city of Boston seemed charged with impatient energy, like a classroom at 2:59 P.M., waiting for the dismissal bell, everybody ready to get out of town for the summer and enjoy the good weather.
Me, all I wanted to do was stay put.
Riptide and Jack stood propped nearby in a coil of rope, their hilts leaning against the gunnery rail. Riptide acted like your typical inanimate object, but Jack kept inching closer, chatting her up, his blade glowing the same dark bronze as hers. Fortunately, Jack was used to holding one-sided conversations. He joked. He flattered. He name-dropped like a maniac. “You know, Thor and Odin and I were at this tavern one time…”
If Riptide was impressed, she didn’t show it.
Percy wadded up his falafel wrapper. Along with being a water-breather, the dude also had the ability to inhale food.
“So,” he said, “when do you guys sail out?”
Alex raised an eyebrow at me like Yeah, Magnus. When do we sail out?
I’d been trying to avoid this topic with Fierro for the past two weeks, without much luck.
“Soon,” I said. “We don’t exactly know where we’re headed, or how long it’ll take to get there—”
“Story of my life,” said Percy.
“—but we have to find Loki’s big nasty ship of death before it sails at Midsummer. It’s docked somewhere along the border between Niflheim and Jotunheim. We’re estimating it’ll take a couple of weeks to sail that distance.”
“Which means,” Alex said, “we really should’ve left already. We definitely have to sail by the end of the week, ready or not.”
In his dark lenses, I saw the reflection of my own worried face. We both knew we were as far from ready as we were from Niflheim.
Annabeth tucked her feet underneath her. Her long blond hair was tied back in a ponytail. Her dark blue T-shirt was emblazoned with the yellow words COLLEGE OF ENVIRONMENTAL DESIGN, UC BERKELEY.
“Heroes never get to be ready, do we?” she said. “We just do the best we can.”
Percy nodded. “Yep. Usually it works out. We haven’t died yet.”
“Though you keep trying.” Annabeth elbowed him. Percy put his arm around her. She nestled comfortably against his side. He kissed the blond curls on the top of her head.
This show of affection made my heart do a painful little twist.
I was glad to see my cousin so happy, but it reminded me how much was at stake if I failed to stop Loki.
Alex and I had already died. We would never age. We’d live in Valhalla until Doomsday came around (unless we got killed outside the hotel before that). The best life we could hope for was training for Ragnarok, postponing that inevitable battle as many centuries as possible, and then, one day, marching out of Valhalla with Odin’s army and dying a glorious death while the Nine Worlds burned around us. Fun.
But Annabeth and Percy had a chance for a normal life. They’d already made it through high school, which Annabeth told me was the most dangerous time for Greek demigods. In the fall, they’d go off to college on the West Coast. If they made it through that, they had a decent chance of surviving adulthood. They could live in the mortal world without monsters attacking them every five minutes.
Unless my friends and I failed to stop Loki, in which case the world—all the worlds—would end in a few weeks. But, you know…no pressure.
I set down my pita sandwich. Even falafel could only do so much to lift my spirits.
“What about you guys?” I asked. “Straight back to New York today?”
“Yeah,” Percy said. “I gotta babysit tonight. I’m psyched!”
“That’s right,” I remembered. “Your new baby sister.”
Yet another important life hanging in the balance, I thought.
But I managed a smile. “Congratulations, man. What’s her name?”
“Estelle. It was my grandmother’s name. Um, on my mom’s side, obviously. Not Poseidon’s.”
“I approve,” Alex said. “Old-fashioned and elegant. Estelle Jackson.”
Blofis,” Percy corrected. “My stepdad is Paul Blofis. Not much I can do about that surname, but my little sis is awesome. Five fingers. Five toes. Two eyes. She drools a lot.”
“Just like her brother,” Annabeth said.
I could totally imagine Percy bouncing baby Estelle in his arms, singing “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid. That made me feel even more miserable.
Somehow I had to buy little Estelle enough decades to have a proper life. I had to find Loki’s demonic ship full of zombie warriors, stop it from sailing off into battle and triggering Ragnarok, then recapture Loki and put him back in chains so he couldn’t cause any more world-burning mischief. (Or at least not as much world-burning mischief.)
“Hey.” Alex threw a piece of pita at me. “Stop looking so glum.”
“Sorry.” I tried to appear more cheerful. It wasn’t as easy as mending my ankle by sheer force of will. “I’m looking forward to meeting Estelle someday, when we get back from our quest. And I appreciate you guys coming up to Boston. Really.”
Percy glanced over at Jack, who was still chatting up Riptide. “Sorry I couldn’t be more help. The sea is”—he shrugged—“kinda unpredictable.”
Alex stretched his legs. “At least Magnus fell a lot better the second time. If worse comes to worst, I can always turn into a dolphin and save his sorry butt.”
The corner of Percy’s mouth twitched. “You can turn into a dolphin?”
“I’m a child of Loki. Want to see?”
“No, I believe you.” Percy gazed into the distance. “I’ve got a friend named Frank who’s a shape-shifter. He does dolphins. Also giant goldfish.”
I shuddered, imagining Alex Fierro as a giant pink-and-green koi. “We’ll make do. We’ve got a good team.”
“That’s important,” Percy agreed. “Probably more important than having sea skills…” He straightened and furrowed his eyebrows.
Annabeth unfolded herself from his side. “Uh-oh. I know that look. You’ve got an idea.”
“Something my dad told me…” Percy rose. He walked over to his sword, interrupting Jack in the middle of a fascinating tale about the time he’d embroidered a giant’s bowling bag. Percy picked up Riptide and studied her blade.
“Hey, man,” Jack complained. “We were just starting to hit it off.”
“Sorry, Jack.” From his pocket, Percy pulled out his pen cap and touched it to the tip of his sword. With a faint shink, Riptide shrank back into a ballpoint. “Poseidon and I had this conversation about weapons one time. He told me that all sea gods have one thing in common: they’re really vain and possessive when it comes to their magic items.”
Annabeth rolled her eyes. “That sounds like every god we’ve met.”
“True,” Percy said. “But sea gods even more so. Triton sleeps with his conch-shell trumpet. Galatea spends most of her time polishing her magic sea-horse saddle. And my dad is super-paranoid about losing his trident.”
I thought about my one and only encounter with a Norse sea goddess. It hadn’t gone well. Ran had promised to destroy me if I ever sailed into her waters again. But she had been obsessed with her magical nets and the junk collection that swirled inside them. Because of that, I’d been able to trick her into giving me my sword.
“You’re saying I’ll have to use their own stuff against them,” I guessed.
“Right,” Percy confirmed. “Also, what you said about having a good team—sometimes being the son of a sea god hasn’t been enough to save me, even underwater. One time, my friend Jason and I got pulled to the bottom of the Mediterranean by this storm goddess, Kymopoleia? I was useless. Jason saved my butt by offering to make trading cards and action figures of her.”
Alex almost choked on his falafel. “What?”
“The point is,” Percy continued, “Jason knew nothing about the ocean. He saved me anyway. It was kind of embarrassing.”