The Ship of the Dead

Page 3

Annabeth smirked. “I guess so. I never heard the details about that.”

Percy’s ears turned as pink as Alex’s jeans. “Anyway, maybe we’ve been looking at this all wrong. I’ve been trying to teach you sea skills. But the most important thing is to use whatever you’ve got on hand—your team, your wits, the enemy’s own magical stuff.”

“And there’s no way to plan for that,” I said.

“Exactly!” Percy said. “My work here is done!”

Annabeth frowned. “Percy, you’re saying the best plan is no plan. As a child of Athena, I can’t really endorse that.”

“Yeah,” Alex said. “And, personally, I still like my plan of turning into a sea mammal.”

Percy raised his hands. “All I’m saying is the most powerful demigod of our generation is sitting right here, and it isn’t me.” He nodded to Annabeth. “Wise Girl can’t shape-shift or breathe underwater or talk to pegasi. She can’t fly, and she isn’t superstrong. But she’s crazy smart and good at improvising. That’s what makes her deadly. Doesn’t matter whether she’s on land, in water, in the air, or in Tartarus. Magnus, you were training with me all weekend. I think you should’ve been training with Annabeth instead.”

Annabeth’s stormy gray eyes were hard to read. At last she said, “Okay, that was sweet.” She kissed Percy on the cheek.

Alex nodded. “Not bad, Seaweed Brain.”

“Don’t you start with that nickname, too,” Percy muttered.

From the wharf came the deep rumbling sound of warehouse doors rolling open. Voices echoed off the sides of the buildings.

“That’s our cue to leave,” I said. “This ship just got back from dry dock. They’re reopening it to the public tonight in a big ceremony.”

“Yeah,” Alex said. “The glamour won’t obscure our presence once the whole crew is aboard.”

Percy arched an eyebrow. “Glamour? You mean like your outfit?”

Alex snorted. “No. Glamour as in illusion magic. It’s the force that clouds the vision of regular mortals.”

“Huh,” Percy said. “We call that the Mist.”

Annabeth rapped her knuckles on Percy’s head. “Whatever we call it, we’d better hurry. Help me clean up.”

We reached the bottom of the gangplank just as the first sailors were arriving. Jack floated along ahead of us, glowing different colors and singing “Walk Like a Man” in a terrible falsetto. Alex changed form from a cheetah to a wolf to a flamingo. (He does a great flamingo.)

The sailors gave us blank looks and a wide berth, but nobody challenged us.

Once we were clear of the docks, Jack turned into a runestone pendant. He dropped into my hand and I reattached him to the chain around my neck. It wasn’t like him to shut up so suddenly. I figured he was miffed about his date with Riptide being cut short.

As we strolled down Constitution Road, Percy turned to me. “What was that back there—the shape-shifting, the singing sword? Were you trying to get caught?”

“Nah,” I said. “If you flaunt the weird magical stuff, it confuses mortals even more.” It felt good to be able to teach him something. “It kind of short-circuits mortal brains, makes them avoid you.”

“Huh.” Annabeth shook her head. “All these years sneaking around, and we could’ve just been ourselves?”

“You should always do that.” Alex strolled alongside, back in human form, though he still had a few flamingo feathers stuck in his hair. “And you have to flaunt the weird, my friends.”

“I’m going to quote you on that,” Percy said.

“You’d better.”

We stopped at the corner, where Percy’s Toyota Prius was parked at a meter. I shook his hand and got a big hug from Annabeth.

My cousin gripped my shoulders. She studied my face, her gray eyes tight with concern. “Take care of yourself, Magnus. You will come back safely. That’s an order.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I promised. “We Chases have to stick together.”

“Speaking of that…” She lowered her voice. “Have you been over there yet?”

I felt like I was in free fall again, swan-diving toward a painful death.

“Not yet,” I admitted. “Today. I promise.”

The last I saw of Percy and Annabeth, their Prius was turning the corner on First Avenue, Percy singing along with Led Zeppelin on the radio, Annabeth laughing at his bad voice.

Alex crossed his arms. “If those two were any cuter together, they’d cause a nuclear explosion of cuteness and destroy the Eastern Seaboard.”

“Is that your idea of a compliment?” I asked.

“Probably as close as you’ll ever hear.” He glanced over. “Where did you promise Annabeth you would go?”

My mouth tasted like I’d been chewing foil. “My uncle’s house. There’s something I need to do.”

“Ohhh.” Alex nodded. “I hate that place.”

I’d been avoiding this task for weeks. I didn’t want to do it alone. I also didn’t want to ask any of my other friends—Samirah, Hearthstone, Blitzen, or the rest of the gang from floor nineteen of the Hotel Valhalla. It felt too personal, too painful. But Alex had been to the Chase mansion with me before. The idea of his company didn’t bother me. In fact, I realized with surprise, I wanted him along pretty badly.

“Uh…” I cleared the last falafel and seawater out of my throat. “You want to come with me to a creepy mansion and look through a dead guy’s stuff?”

Alex beamed. “I thought you’d never ask.”

“THAT’S NEW,” said Alex.

The brownstone’s front door had been forced open, the dead bolt busted out of the frame. In the foyer, sprawled across the Oriental rug, lay the carcass of a wolf.

I shuddered.

You couldn’t swing a battle-ax in the Nine Worlds without hitting some kind of wolf: Fenris Wolf, Odin’s wolves, Loki’s wolves, werewolves, big bad wolfs, and independently contracted small business wolves that would kill anybody for the right price.

The dead wolf in Uncle Randolph’s foyer looked very much like the beasts that had attacked my mom two years ago, the night she died.

Wisps of blue luminescence clung to its shaggy black coat. Its mouth was contorted in a permanent snarl. On the top of its head, seared into the skin, was a Viking rune, though the fur around it was so badly burned I couldn’t tell which symbol it was. My friend Hearthstone might have been able to identify it.

Alex circled its pony-size carcass. He kicked it in the ribs. The creature remained obligingly dead.

“Its body hasn’t started to dissolve,” he noted. “Usually monsters disintegrate pretty soon after you kill them. You can still smell the burning fur on this one. Must’ve happened recently.”

“You think the rune was some kind of trap?”

Alex smirked. “I think your uncle knew a thing or two about magic. The wolf hit the carpet, triggering that rune, and BAM!”

I remembered all the times when, as a homeless kid, I’d broken into Uncle Randolph’s house when he wasn’t there to steal food, rifle through his office, or just be annoying. I’d never been bammed. I’d always considered Randolph a failure at home security. Now I felt a little nauseous, wondering if I could’ve ended up dead on the welcome mat with a rune burned into my forehead.

Was this trap the reason Randolph’s will had been so specific about Annabeth and me visiting the property before we took possession? Had Randolph been trying to get some postmortem revenge?

“You think the rest of the house is safe to explore?” I asked.

“Nope,” Alex said cheerfully. “So let’s do it.”

On the first floor, we found no more dead wolves. No runes exploded in our faces. The most gruesome thing we discovered was in Uncle Randolph’s refrigerator, where expired yogurt, sour milk, and moldy carrots were evolving into a preindustrial society. Randolph hadn’t even left me any chocolate in the pantry, the old villain.

On the second floor, nothing had changed. In Randolph’s

study, the sun streamed through the stained-glass window, slanting red and orange light across the bookshelves and the displays of Viking artifacts. In one corner sat a big runestone carved with the sneering red face of (naturally) a wolf. Tattered maps and faded yellow parchments covered Randolph’s desk. I scanned the documents, looking for something new, something important, but I saw nothing I hadn’t seen the last time I’d been here.

I remembered the wording of Randolph’s will, which Annabeth had sent me.

It is critical, Randolph had stated, that my beloved nephew Magnus examine my worldly belongings as soon as possible. He should pay special attention to my papers.

I didn’t know why Randolph had put those lines in his will. In his desk drawers, I found no letter addressed to me, no heartfelt apology like Dear Magnus, I’m sorry I got you killed, then betrayed you by siding with Loki, then stabbed your friend Blitzen, then almost got you killed again.

He hadn’t even left me the mansion’s Wi-Fi password.

I gazed out the office window. Across the street in the Commonwealth Mall, folks were walking their dogs, playing Frisbee, enjoying the nice weather. The statue of Leif Erikson stood on his pedestal, proudly flaunting his metal bra, surveying the traffic on Charlesgate, and probably wondering why he wasn’t in Scandinavia.

“So.” Alex came up next to me. “You inherit all of this, huh?”

During our walk over, I’d told him the basics about Uncle Randolph’s will, but Alex still looked incredulous, almost offended.

“Randolph left the house to Annabeth and me,” I said. “Technically, I’m dead. That means it’s all Annabeth’s. Randolph’s lawyers contacted Annabeth’s dad, who told her, who told me. Annabeth asked me to check it out and”—I shrugged—“decide what to do with this place.”

From the nearest bookshelf, Alex picked up a framed photo of Uncle Randolph with his wife and daughters. I’d never met Caroline, Emma, or Aubrey. They’d died in a storm at sea many years ago. But I’d seen them in my nightmares. I knew they were the leverage Loki had used to warp my uncle, promising Randolph that he could see his family again if he helped Loki escape his bonds….And in a way, Loki had told the truth. The last time I’d seen Uncle Randolph, he was tumbling into a chasm straight to Helheim, the land of the dishonorable dead.

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