The crown of ptolemy, p.5
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       The Crown of Ptolemy, p.5

         Part #3 of Percy Jackson & Kane Chronicles Crossover series by Rick Riordan
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  might try. The magician himself seemed dazed and deflated. Getting strangled at the bottom of New York Harbor will do that to you.

  ‘Let’s go, then,’ Carter said. ‘We have a nice reception planned.’

  Back at the burnt soccer fields, Sadie and Annabeth had sketched a magical bull’s-eye on the ground. At least that’s how it looked to me. The chalk circle was about five feet in diameter and elaborately bordered with words of power in Greek and hieroglyphics. In the Duat, I could see that the circle radiated white light. It was drawn over the rift that Setne had made, like a bandage over a wound.

  The girls stood on opposite sides of the circle. Sadie crossed her arms and planted her combat boots defiantly. Annabeth was still holding the Book of Thoth.

  When she saw me, she kept her battle face on, but from the gleam in her eyes I could tell she was relieved.

  I mean … we’d just passed our one-year dating anniversary. I figured I was a sort of long-term investment for her. She hoped I would pay dividends eventually; if I died now, she would’ve put up with all my annoying qualities for nothing.

  ‘You lived,’ she noted.

  ‘No thanks to Elvis.’ I lifted Setne by his neck. He weighed almost nothing. ‘He was pretty tough until I figured out his system.’

  I threw him into the centre of the circle. The four of us surrounded him. The hieroglyphs and Greek letters burned and swirled, rising in a funnel cloud to contain our prisoner.

  ‘Dude is a scavenger,’ I said. ‘Not too different from a vulture. He picks through our minds, finds whatever he can relate to, and he uses that to get through our defences. Annabeth’s love of wisdom. Carter’s desire to make his dad proud. Sadie’s –’

  ‘My incredible modesty,’ Sadie guessed. ‘And obvious good looks.’

  Carter snorted.

  ‘Anyway,’ I said, ‘Setne tried to offer me immortality. He tried to get a handle on my motives for turning it down once before, but –’

  ‘Pardon,’ Sadie interrupted. ‘Did you say you’ve turned down immortality before?’

  ‘You can still be a god!’ Setne croaked. ‘All of you! Together we can –’

  ‘I don’t want to be a god,’ I said. ‘You don’t get that, do you? You couldn’t find anything about me you could relate to, which I take as a big compliment.’

  Inside my mind, Nekhbet hissed: Kill him. Destroy him utterly.

  No, I said. Because that’s not me, either.

  I stepped to the edge of the circle. ‘Annabeth, Carter, Sadie … you ready to put this guy away?’

  ‘Any time.’ Carter hefted his rope.

  I crouched until I was face-to-face with Setne. His kohl-lined eyes were wide and unfocused. On his head, the crown of Ptolemy tilted sideways like an observatory telescope.

  ‘You were right about one thing,’ I told him. ‘There’s a lot of power in mixing Greek and Egyptian. I’m glad you introduced me to my new friends. We’re going to keep mixing it up.’

  ‘Percy Jackson, listen –’

  ‘But there’s a difference between sharing and stealing,’ I said. ‘You have something that belongs to me.’

  He started to speak. I shoved my hand right in his mouth.

  Sound gross? Wait, it gets worse.

  Something guided me – maybe Nekhbet’s intuition, maybe my own instincts. My fingers closed around a small pointy object in the back of Setne’s throat, and I yanked it free: my ballpoint pen, Riptide.

  It was like I’d pulled the plug out of a tyre. Magic spewed from Setne’s mouth: a multicoloured stream of hieroglyphic light.

  GET BACK! Nekhbet screamed in my mind as Annabeth yelled the same thing aloud.

  I stumbled away from the circle. Setne writhed and spun as all the magic he’d tried to absorb now came gushing out in a disgusting torrent. I’d heard about people ‘puking rainbows’, because they saw something that was just too cute.

  Let me tell you: if you actually see someone puking rainbows … there’s nothing cute about it.

  Annabeth and Sadie shouted magic commands in unison. The funnel cloud of magic intensified around the circle, hemming in Setne, who was shrivelling rapidly. The crown of Ptolemy rolled off his head. Carter stepped forward and threw his glowing rope.

  As soon as the rope touched Setne, a flash of light blinded me.

  When my vision returned, Setne and the rope were gone. No magic lights swirled. The vulture goddess had left my mind. My mouth no longer tasted like dead hyena.

  Annabeth, the Kanes and I stood in a loose ring, staring at the crown of Ptolemy, which lay sideways in the dirt. Next to it sat a plastic bauble the size of a goose egg.

  I picked it up.

  Inside the snow globe, a miniature model of Governors Island was permanently submerged. Alternately running and swimming around the landscape, trying to avoid flurries of fake snow, was a termite-size man in a purple trench coat.

  Setne had made Governors Island his eternal headquarters, after all.

  He’d been imprisoned in a cheap plastic souvenir.

  An hour later, we sat on the parapets of the old fort, watching the sun go down over the New Jersey coastline. I’d had a cheese sandwich and an ice-cold Ribena from Sadie’s extra-dimensional stash of junk food (along with two extra-strength painkillers), so I was feeling brave enough to hear explanations.

  ‘Would someone explain what happened back there?’ I asked.

  Annabeth slipped her hand into mine. ‘We won, Seaweed Brain.’

  ‘Yeah, but …’ I gestured at the snow globe, which Carter was now admiring. ‘How?’

  Carter shook the globe. Fake snow swirled inside. Maybe it was my imagination, but I swear I could hear Setne shrieking underwater as he was given the blender tour of his tiny prison.

  ‘I guess the snow-globe idea got stuck in my head,’ Carter said. ‘When I threw the rope and sprung the trap, the magic conformed to what I was thinking. Anyway, Setne will make a great paperweight.’

  Sadie snorted, almost nostril-spewing her Ribena. ‘Poor little Setne – stuck on Carter’s desk for eternity, forced to watch him do hours and hours of boring research. It would’ve been kinder to let Ammit devour his soul.’

  I didn’t know who Ammit was, but I didn’t need any more soul-devouring monsters in my life.

  ‘So the trap worked,’ I said, which I guess was kind of obvious. ‘I don’t need to understand all the details –’

  ‘That’s good,’ Annabeth said. ‘Since I don’t think any of us do.’

  ‘– but one thing I’ve gotta know.’ I pointed at Sadie. ‘What did you whisper to Annabeth that turned her into a magician?’

  The girls exchanged a smile.

  ‘I told Annabeth my secret name,’ Sadie said.

  ‘Your what, now?’ I asked.

  ‘It’s called the ren,’ Sadie explained. ‘Everyone has one, even if you don’t know it. The ren is … well, the definition of who you are. Once I shared it, Annabeth had access to my experiences, my abilities, all my general amazingness.’

  ‘That was risky.’ Carter gave me a grim look. ‘Anyone who knows your ren can control you. You never share that information unless you really have to, and only with people you absolutely trust. Sadie found out my secret name last year. My life has sucked ever since.’

  ‘Oh, please,’ Sadie said. ‘I only use my knowledge for good.’

  Carter suddenly slapped himself in the face.

  ‘Hey!’ he complained.

  ‘Oops, sorry,’ Sadie said. ‘At any rate, I do trust Annabeth. I knew it would take both of us to create that containment circle. Besides, a Greek demigod casting Egyptian magic – did you see the look on Setne’s face? Priceless.’

  My mouth went dry. I imagined Annabeth invoking hieroglyphs at Camp Half-Blood, blowing up chariots on the racetrack, hurling giant blue fists during capture the flag.

  ‘So my girlfriend is a magician now, like, permanently? Because she was scary enough before.’

laughed. ‘Don’t worry, Seaweed Brain. The effect of learning Sadie’s ren is already wearing off. I’ll never be able to do any magic on my own.’

  I breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Okay. So, um … last question.’

  I nodded to the crown of Ptolemy, which sat on the parapet next to Sadie. It looked like part of a Halloween costume, not the sort of headgear that could violently rip the world apart. ‘What do we do with that?’

  ‘Well,’ Sadie said, ‘I could put it on and see what happens.’

  ‘NO!’ Carter and Annabeth yelled.

  ‘Kidding,’ Sadie said. ‘Honestly, you two, calm down. I must admit, though, I don’t see why Wadjet and Nekhbet didn’t reclaim their crowns. The goddesses were freed, weren’t they?’

  ‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘I sensed that cobra lady Wadjet get expelled when Setne was puking rainbows. Then Nekhbet went back to … wherever goddesses go when they’re not annoying mortals.’

  Carter scratched his bandaged head. ‘So … they just forgot their crowns?’

  Traces of Nekhbet’s personality lingered in the corners of my mind – just enough to make me uncomfortably sure that the crown of Ptolemy had been left here on purpose.

  ‘It’s a test,’ I said. ‘The Two Ladies want to see what we’ll do with it. When Nekhbet learned that I’d turned down immortality once before, she was kind of offended. I think she’s curious to find out if any of us will go for it.’

  Annabeth blinked. ‘Nekhbet would do that out of curiosity? Even if it caused a world-destroying event?’

  ‘Sounds like Nekhbet,’ Sadie said. ‘She’s a malicious old bird. Loves to watch us mortals squabble and kill each other.’

  Carter stared at the crown. ‘But … we know better than to use that thing. Don’t we?’ His voice sounded a little wistful.

  ‘For once you’re right, brother dear,’ Sadie said. ‘As much as I’d love to be a literal goddess, I suppose I’ll have to remain a figurative one.’

  ‘I’m going to puke rainbows now,’ Carter said.

  ‘So what do we do with the crown?’ Annabeth asked. ‘It’s not the kind of thing we should leave at the Governors Island Lost and Found.’

  ‘Hey, Carter,’ I said, ‘after we defeated that crocodile monster on Long Island, you said you had a safe place to keep its necklace. Could you store the crown, too?’

  The Kanes had a silent conversation with each other.

  ‘I suppose we could bring the crown to the First Nome in Egypt,’ Carter said. ‘Our Uncle Amos is in charge there. He has the most secure magic vaults in the world. But nothing is one hundred percent safe. Setne’s experiments with Greek and Egyptian magic sent tremors through the Duat. Gods and magicians felt them. I’m sure demigods felt them, too. That kind of power is tempting. Even if we lock the crown of Ptolemy away –’

  ‘Others might try hybrid magic,’ Annabeth said.

  ‘And the more it’s tried,’ Sadie said, ‘the more damage could be done to the Duat, and the mortal world, and our sanity.’

  We sat in silence as that idea sank in. I imagined what would happen if the kids in the Hecate cabin back at camp heard about Egyptian magicians in Brooklyn, or if Clarisse from the Ares cabin learned how to summon a giant wild-boar combat avatar.

  I shuddered. ‘We’ll have to keep our worlds separate as much as possible. The info is too dangerous.’

  Annabeth nodded. ‘You’re right. I don’t like keeping secrets, but we’ll have to be careful who we talk to. Maybe we can tell Chiron, but –’

  ‘I bet Chiron already knows about the Egyptians,’ I said. ‘He’s a wily old centaur. But, yeah. We’ll have to keep our little task force here on the down-low.’

  ‘“Our little task force”.’ Carter grinned. ‘I like the sound of that. The four of us can keep in touch. We’ll have to stand ready in case something like this happens again.’

  ‘Annabeth has my number,’ Sadie said. ‘Which, honestly, brother, is a much easier solution than writing invisible hieroglyphs on your friend’s hand. What were you thinking?’

  ‘It made sense at the time,’ Carter protested.

  We cleaned up our picnic stuff and got ready to go our separate ways.

  Carter carefully wrapped the crown of Ptolemy in linen cloth. Sadie gave the Governors Island snow globe a good shake, then stuffed it in her pack.

  The girls hugged. I shook Carter’s hand.

  With a twinge of pain, I realized how much I was going to miss these kids. I was getting tired of making new friends only to tell them goodbye, especially since some of them never came back.

  ‘Take care of yourself, Carter,’ I said. ‘No more getting roasted in explosions.’

  He smirked. ‘I can’t promise. But call us if you need us, okay? And, uh, thanks.’

  ‘Hey, it was a team effort.’

  ‘I guess. But, Percy … it came down to you being a good person. Setne couldn’t get a handle on you. Honestly, if I’d been tempted with godhood the way you were tempted –’

  ‘You would’ve done the same thing,’ I said.

  ‘Maybe.’ He smiled, but he didn’t look convinced. ‘Okay, Sadie. Time to fly. The initiates at Brooklyn House are going to be worried.’

  ‘And Khufu is making jelly fruit salad for dinner,’ she said. ‘Should be delicious. Toodle-oo, demigods!’

  The Kanes turned into birds of prey and launched themselves into the sunset.

  ‘This has been a weird day,’ I told Annabeth.

  She slipped her hand into mine. ‘I’m thinking cheeseburgers for dinner at P. J. Clarke’s.’

  ‘With bacon,’ I said. ‘We’ve earned it.’

  ‘I love the way you think,’ she said. ‘And I’m glad you’re not a god.’

  She kissed me, and I decided that I was glad too. A kiss in the sunset and the promise of a good bacon cheeseburger – with that kind of payoff, who needs immortality?

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