Finally he shook his head. “I give up. Son of Ares? You’ve got to be a half-blood, but what happened to your sword? It’s all bent.”
“It’s a khopesh.” My shock was rapidly turning to anger. “It’s supposed to be curved.”
But I wasn’t thinking about the sword.
Camper Boy had just called me a half-blood? Maybe I hadn’t heard him right. Maybe he meant something else. But my dad was African American. My mom was white. Half-blood wasn’t a word I liked.
“Just get out of here,” I said, gritting my teeth. “I’ve got a crocodile to catch.”
“Dude, I have a crocodile to catch,” he insisted. “Last time you tried, it ate you. Remember?”
My fingers tightened around my sword hilt. “I had everything under control. I was about to summon a fist—”
For what happened next, I take full responsibility.
I didn’t mean it. Honestly. But I was angry. And as I may have mentioned, I’m not always good at channeling words of power. While I was in the crocodile’s belly, I’d been preparing to summon the Fist of Horus, a giant glowing blue hand that can pulverize doors, walls, and pretty much anything else that gets in your way. My plan had been to punch my way out of the monster. Gross, yes; but hopefully effective.
I guess that spell was still in my head, ready to be triggered like a loaded gun. Facing Camper Boy, I was furious, not to mention dazed and confused; so when I meant to say the English word fist, it came out in Ancient Egyptian instead: khefa.
Such a simple hieroglyph:
You wouldn’t think it could cause so much trouble.
As soon as I spoke the word, the symbol blazed in the air between us. A giant fist the size of a dishwasher shimmered into existence and slammed Camper Boy into the next county.
I mean I literally punched him out of his shoes. He rocketed from the river with a loud suck-plop! And the last thing I saw was his bare feet achieving escape velocity as he flew backward and disappeared from sight.
No, I didn’t feel good about it. Well…maybe a tiny bit good. But I also felt mortified. Even if this guy was a jerk, magicians weren’t supposed to go around sucker-punching kids into orbit with the Fist of Horus.
“Oh, great.” I hit myself on the forehead.
I started to wade across the marsh, worried that I’d actually killed the guy. “Man, I’m sorry!” I yelled, hoping he could hear me. “Are you—?”
The wave came out of nowhere.
A twenty-foot wall of water slammed into me and pushed me back into the river. I came up spluttering, a horrible taste like fish food in my mouth. I blinked the gunk out of my eyes just in the time to see Camper Boy leaping toward me ninja-style, his sword raised.
I lifted my khopesh to deflect the blow. I just managed to keep my head from being cleaved in half, but Camper Boy was strong and quick. As I reeled backward, he struck again and again. Each time, I was able to parry; but I could tell I was outmatched. His blade was lighter and quicker, and—yes, I’ll admit it—he was a better swordsman.
I wanted to explain that I’d made a mistake. I wasn’t really his enemy. But I needed all my concentration just to keep from getting sliced down the middle.
Camper Boy, however, had no trouble talking.
“Now I get it,” he said, swinging at my head. “You’re some kind of monster.”
CLANG! I intercepted the strike and staggered back.
“I’m not a monster,” I managed.
To beat this guy, I’d have to use more than just a sword. The problem was, I didn’t want to hurt him. Despite the fact that he was trying to chop me into a Kane-flavored barbecue sandwich, I still felt bad for starting the fight.
He swung again, and I had no choice. I used my wand this time, catching his blade in the crook of ivory and channeling a burst of magic straight up his arm. The air between us flashed and crackled. Camper Boy stumbled back. Blue sparks of sorcery popped around him, as if my spell didn’t know quite what to do with him. Who was this guy?
“You said the crocodile was yours.” Camper Boy scowled, anger blazing in his green eyes. “You lost your pet, I suppose. Maybe you’re a spirit from the Underworld, come back through the Doors of Death?”
Before I could even process that question, he thrust out his free hand. The river reversed course and swept me off my feet.
I managed to get up, but I was getting really tired of drinking swamp water. Meanwhile Camper Boy charged again, his sword raised for the kill. In desperation, I dropped my wand. I thrust my hand into my backpack, and my fingers closed around the piece of rope.
I threw it and yelled the command word “TAS!”—Bind!—just as Camper Boy’s bronze blade cut into my wrist.
My whole arm erupted in agony. My vision tunneled. Yellow spots danced before my eyes. I dropped my sword and clutched my wrist, gasping for breath, everything forgotten except the excruciating pain.
In the back of my mind, I knew Camper Boy could kill me easily. For some reason he didn’t. A wave of nausea made me double over.
I forced myself to look at the wound. There was a lot of blood, but I remembered something Jaz had told me once in the infirmary at Brooklyn House: cuts usually looked a lot worse than they were. I hoped that was true. I fished a piece of papyrus out of my pack and pressed it against the wound as a makeshift bandage.
The pain was still horrible, but the nausea became more manageable. My thoughts started to clear, and I wondered why I hadn’t been skewered yet.
Camper Boy was sitting nearby in waist-deep water, looking dejected. My magic rope had wrapped around his sword arm, then lashed his hand to the side of his head. Unable to let go of his sword, he looked like he had a single reindeer antler sprouting next to his ear. He tugged at the rope with his free hand, but of course he couldn’t make any progress.
Finally he just sighed and glared at me. “I’m really starting to hate you.”
“Hate me?” I protested. “I’m gushing blood here! And you started all this by calling me a half-blood!”
“Oh, please.” Camper Boy rose unsteadily, his sword antenna making him top-heavy. “You can’t be mortal. If you were, my sword would’ve passed right through you. If you’re not a spirit or a monster, you’ve got to be a half-blood. A rogue demigod from Kronos’s army, I’d guess.”
Most of what this guy said, I didn’t understand. But one thing sank in.
“So when you said ‘half-blood’…”
He stared at me like I was an idiot. “I meant demigod. Yeah. What did you think I meant?”
I tried to process that. I’d heard the term demigod before, but it wasn’t an Egyptian concept. Maybe this guy was sensing that I was bound to Horus, that I could channel the god’s power…but why did he describe everything so strangely?
“What are you?” I demanded. “Part combat magician, part water elementalist? What nome are you with?”
The kid laughed bitterly. “Dude, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t hang out with gnomes. Satyrs, sometimes. Even Cyclopes. But not gnomes.”
The blood loss must have been making me dizzy. His words bounced around in my head like lottery balls: Cyclopes, satyrs, demigods, Kronos. Earlier he’d mentioned Ares. That was a Greek god, not Egyptian.
I felt like the Duat was opening underneath me, threatening to pull me into the depths. Greek…not Egyptian.
An idea started forming in my mind. I didn’t like it. In fact, it scared the holy Horus out of me.
Despite all the swamp water I’d swallowed, my throat felt dry. “Look,” I said, “I’m sorry about hitting you with that fist spell. It was an accident. But the thing I don’t understand…it should have killed you. It didn’t. That doesn’t make sense.”
“Don’t sound so disappointed,” he muttered. “But while we’re on the subject, you should be dead too. Not many people can fight me that well. And my sword should have vaporized your crocodile.”
“For the last time, it’s not my crocodile.”
“Okay, whatever.” Camper Boy looked dubious. “The point is, I stuck that crocodile pretty good, but I just made it angry. Celestial bronze should’ve turned it to dust.”
Our conversation was cut short by a scream from the nearby subdivision—the terrified voice of a kid.
My heart did a slow roll. I really was an idiot. I’d forgotten why we were here.
I locked eyes with Camper Boy. “We’ve got to stop the crocodile.”
“Truce,” he suggested.
“Yeah,” I said. “We can continue killing each other after the crocodile is taken care of.”
“Deal. Now, could you please untie my sword hand from my head? I feel like a freaking unicorn.”
I won’t say we trusted each other, but at least now we had a common cause. He summoned his shoes out of the river—I had no idea how—and put them on. Then he helped me bind my hand with a strip of linen and waited while I swigged down half of my healing potion.
After that, I felt good enough to race after him toward the sound of the screaming.
I thought I was in pretty good shape—what with combat magic practice, hauling heavy artifacts, and playing basketball with Khufu and his baboon friends (baboons don’t mess around when it comes to hoops). Nevertheless, I had to struggle to keep up with Camper Boy.
Which reminded me, I was getting tired of calling him that.
“What’s your name?” I asked, wheezing as I ran behind him.
He gave me a cautious glance. “I’m not sure I should tell you. Names can be dangerous.”
He was right, of course. Names held power. A while back, my sister Sadie had learned my ren, my secret name, and it still caused me all sorts of anxiety. Even with someone’s common name, a skilled magician could work all kinds of mischief.
“Fair enough,” I said. “I’ll go first. I’m Carter.”
I guess he believed me. The lines around his eyes relaxed a bit.
“Percy,” he offered.
That struck me as an unusual name—British, maybe, though the kid spoke and acted very much like an American.
We jumped a rotten log and finally made it out of the marsh. We’d started climbing a grassy slope toward the nearest houses when I realized more than one voice was screaming up there now. Not a good sign.
“Just to warn you,” I told Percy, “you can’t kill the monster.”
“Watch me,” Percy grumbled.
“No, I mean it’s immortal.”
“I’ve heard that before. I’ve vaporized plenty of immortals and sent them back to Tartarus.”
Tartarus? I thought.
Talking to Percy was giving me a serious headache. It reminded me of the time my dad took me to Scotland for one of his Egyptology lectures. I’d tried to talk with some of the locals and I knew they were speaking English, but every other sentence seemed to slip into an alternate language—different words, different pronunciations—and I’d wonder what the heck they were saying. Percy was like that. He and I almost spoke the same language—magic, monsters, et cetera. But his vocabulary was completely wrong.