“A freak sewer accident,” Percy said. “That’s a first.”
“For you, maybe,” I grumbled. “I seem to cause them everywhere I go.”
“Cheer up,” he said. “Lunch is on me.”
He dug into the pockets of his jeans and pulled out a ballpoint pen. Nothing else.
“Oh…” His smile faded. “Uh, actually…can you conjure up money?”
So, naturally, lunch was on me. I could pull money out of thin air, since I kept some stored in the Duat along with my other emergency supplies; so in no time we had cheeseburgers and fries in front of us, and life was looking up.
“Cheeseburgers,” Percy said. “Food of the gods.”
“Agreed,” I said, but when I glanced over at him, I wondered if he was thinking the same thing I was: that we were referring to different gods.
Percy inhaled his burger. Seriously, this guy could eat. “So, the necklace,” he said between bites. “What’s the story?”
I hesitated. I still had no clue where Percy came from or what he was, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to ask. Now that we’d fought together, I couldn’t help but trust him. Still, I sensed we were treading on dangerous ground. Everything we said could have serious implications—not just for the two of us, but maybe for everyone we knew.
I felt sort of like I had two winters ago, when my uncle Amos explained the truth about the Kane family heritage—the House of Life, the Egyptian gods, the Duat, everything. In a single day, my world expanded tenfold and left me reeling.
Now I was standing at the edge of another moment like that. But if my world expanded tenfold again, I was afraid my brain might explode.
“The necklace is enchanted,” I said at last. “Any reptile that wears it turns into the next petsuchos, the Son of Sobek. Somehow that little crocodile got it around his neck.”
“Meaning someone put it around his neck,” Percy said.
I didn’t want to think about that, but I nodded reluctantly.
“So who?” he asked.
“Hard to narrow it down,” I said. “I’ve got lots of enemies.”
Percy snorted. “I can relate to that. Any idea why, then?”
I took another bite of my cheeseburger. It was good, but I had trouble concentrating on it.
“Someone wanted to cause trouble,” I speculated. “I think maybe…” I studied Percy, trying to judge how much I should say. “Maybe they wanted to cause trouble that would get our attention. Both of our attention.”
Percy frowned. He drew something in his ketchup with a french fry—not a hieroglyph. Some kind of non-English letter. Greek, I guessed.
“The monster had a Greek name,” he said. “It was eating pegasi in my…” He hesitated.
“In your home turf,” I finished. “Some kind of camp, judging from your shirt.”
He shifted on his bar stool. I still couldn’t believe he was talking about pegasi as if they were real, but I remembered one time at Brooklyn House, maybe a year back, when I was certain I saw a winged horse flying over the Manhattan skyline. At the time, Sadie had told me I was hallucinating. Now, I wasn’t so sure.
Finally Percy faced me. “Look, Carter. You’re not nearly as annoying as I thought. And we made a good team today, but—”
“You don’t want to share your secrets,” I said. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to ask about your camp. Or the powers you have. Or any of that.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You’re not curious?”
“I’m totally curious. But until we figure out what’s going on, I think it’s best we keep some distance. If someone—something—unleashed that monster here, knowing it would draw both of our attention—”
“Then maybe that someone wanted us to meet,” he finished. “Hoping bad things would happen.”
I nodded. I thought about the uneasy feeling I’d had in my gut earlier—the voice in my head warning me not to tell Percy anything. I’d come to respect the guy, but I still sensed that we weren’t meant to be friends. We weren’t meant to be anywhere close to each other.
A long time ago, when I was just a little kid, I’d watched my mom do a science experiment with some her college students.
Potassium and water, she’d told them. Separate, completely harmless. But together—
She dropped the potassium in a beaker of water, and Ka-blam! The students jumped back as a miniature explosion rattled all the vials in the lab.
Percy was water. I was potassium.
“But we’ve met now,” Percy said. “You know I’m out here on Long Island. I know you live in Brooklyn. If we went searching for each other—”
“I wouldn’t recommend it,” I said. “Not until we know more. I need to look into some things on, uh, my side—try to figure out who was behind this crocodile incident.”
“All right,” Percy agreed. “I’ll do the same on my side.”
He pointed at the petsuchos necklace, which was glinting just inside my backpack. “What do we do about that?”
“I can send it somewhere safe,” I promised. “It won’t cause trouble again. We deal with relics like this a lot.”
“We,” Percy said. “Meaning, there’s a lot of…you guys?”
I didn’t answer.
Percy put up his hands. “Fine. I didn’t ask. I have some friends back at Ca—uh, back on my side who would love tinkering with a magic necklace like that; but I’m going to trust you here. Take it.”
I didn’t realize I’d been holding my breath until I exhaled. “Thanks. Good.”
“And the baby crocodile?” he asked.
I managed a nervous laugh. “You want it?”
“I can take it, give it a good home.” I thought about our big pool at Brooklyn House. I wondered how our giant magic crocodile, Philip of Macedonia, would feel about having a little friend. “Yeah, it’ll fit right in.”
Percy didn’t seem to know what to think of that. “Okay, well…” He held out his hand. “Good working with you, Carter.”
We shook. No sparks flew. No thunder boomed. But I still couldn’t escape the feeling that we’d opened a door, meeting like this—a door that we might not be able to close.
“You too, Percy.”
He stood to go. “One more thing,” he said. “If this somebody, whoever threw us together…if he’s an enemy to both of us—what if we need each other to fight him? How do I contact you?”
I considered that. Then I made a snap decision. “Can I write something on your hand?”
He frowned. “Like your phone number?”
“Uh…well, not exactly.” I took out my stylus and a vial of magic ink. Percy held out his palm. I drew a hieroglyph there—the Eye of Horus. As soon as the symbol was complete it flared blue, then vanished.
“Just say my name,” I told him, “and I’ll hear you. I’ll know where you are, and I’ll come meet you. But it will only work once, so make it count.”
Percy considered his empty palm. “So I’m trusting you that this isn’t some type of magical tracking device.”
“Yeah,” I said. “And I’m trusting that when you call me, you won’t be luring me into some kind of ambush.”
He stared at me. Those stormy green eyes really were kind of scary. Then he smiled, and he looked like a regular teenager, without a care in the world.
“Fair enough,” he said. “See you when I see you, C—”
“Don’t say my name!”
“Just teasing.” He pointed at me and winked. “Stay strange, my friend.”
And then he was gone.
An hour later, I was back aboard my airborne boat with the baby crocodile and the magic necklace as Freak flew me home to Brooklyn House.
Now, looking back on it, the whole thing with Percy seems so unreal, I can hardly believe it actually happened.
I wonder how Percy summoned that whirlpool, and what the heck Celestial bronze is. Most of all, I keep rolling one word around in my mind: demigod.
I have a feeling that I could find some answers if I looked hard enough, but I’m afraid of what I might discover.
For the time being, I think I’ll tell Sadie about this and no one else. At first she’ll think I’m kidding. And, of course, she’ll give me grief; but she also knows when I’m telling the truth. As annoying as she is, I trust her (though I would never say that to her face).
Maybe she’ll have some ideas about what we should do.
Whoever brought Percy and me together, whoever orchestrated our crossing paths…it smacks of Chaos. I can’t help thinking this was an experiment to see what kind of havoc would result. Potassium and water. Matter and antimatter.
Fortunately, things turned out okay. The petsuchos necklace is safely locked away. Our new baby crocodile is splashing around happily in our pool.
But next time… Well, I’m afraid we might not be so lucky.
Somewhere there’s a kid named Percy with a secret hieroglyph on his hand. And I have a feeling that sooner or later I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and hear one word, spoken urgently in my mind:
DURING THE THIRD ATTACK, Hazel almost ate a boulder. She was peering into the fog, wondering how it could be so difficult to fly across one stupid mountain range, when the ship’s alarm bells sounded.
“Hard to port!” Nico yelled from the foremast of the flying ship.
Back at the helm, Leo yanked the wheel. The Argo II veered left, its aerial oars slashing through the clouds like rows of knives.
Hazel made the mistake of looking over the rail. A dark, spherical shape hurtled toward her. She thought: Why is the moon coming at us? Then she yelped and hit the deck. The huge rock passed so close overhead, it blew her hair out of her face.
The foremast collapsed—sail, spars, and Nico all crashing to the deck. The boulder, roughly the size of a pickup truck, tumbled off into the fog like it had important business elsewhere.
“Nico!” Hazel scrambled over to him as Leo brought the ship level.
“I’m fine,” Nico muttered, kicking folds of canvas off his legs.
She helped him up, and they stumbled to the bow. Hazel peeked over more carefully this time. The clouds parted just long enough to reveal the top of the mountain below them: a spearhead of black rock jutting from mossy green slopes. Standing at the summit was a mountain god—one of the numina montanum, Jason had called them. Or ourae, in Greek. Whatever you called them, they were nasty.
Like the others they had faced, this one wore a simple white tunic over skin as rough and dark as basalt. He was about twenty feet tall and extremely muscular, with a flowing white beard, scraggly hair, and a wild look in his eyes, like a crazy hermit. He bellowed something Hazel didn’t understand, but it obviously wasn’t welcoming. With his bare hands, he pried another chunk of rock from his mountain and began shaping it into a ball.
The scene disappeared in the fog, but when the mountain god bellowed again, other numina answered in the distance, their voices echoing through the valleys.