The car, for all its magic and boosted capabilities, still ran out of gas like any other car. Sure, it took much longer to run out of gas, but it still did. Eventually.
I pulled into a little gas station somewhere near Lancaster, Pennsylvania at about three in the morning. As I shut off the engine, Jason shook awake in the passenger seat, his blue eyes trained on the road. The sleepiness in his eyes was already fading.
"Go back to sleep, Jace," I waved him off. "Just getting gas. Get your rest. I'll need you at full force later today."
He looked like he wanted to protest, but the seat warmers and pillow were doing him in. He grudgingly went back to sleep.
In the back, Silena was still soundly asleep, with Malcolm curled up on her lap. They had a Hello Kitty blanket draped over them, and Gerald the Rhino was nestled between the bags and Malcolm.
The runes on him glowed urgently, almost as if he was trying to tell me something. I stared at the runes for a few moments. They didn't seem to have any particular message. I figured they were just glowing erratically because of all the latent power in the car, or something.
It's three in the morning. Cut me some slack if I don't feel like translating what a magical rhino plushie wants to tell me.
Ignoring the stuffed animal's final symphony of flashing runes, I got out of the car, pulling out a black credit card Hades had given me this year for Christmas. Being cool with the god of riches had its perks.
I walked up to the pump, clicked the button, and inserted my card. It pinged a moment later, and I removed the card and picked up the pump. The gas pump's ratty screen, which was playing TBS, flickered for a moment.
Hm. Gerald's warning, the flickering of lights. Something had to be going on. The world was being just wonky enough for me to be suspicious. As I grabbed the nozzle, I forced my body to wake up a bit, diverting some of my attention to the area around me.
It looked pretty standard. Suburbs, family houses with summer decorations. There was a school down the street. Meh.
I started pumping gas. Not even a moment later, I felt a shift in the air. Small, but noticeable. I caught a whiff of…lemon. Something tangy. And then, I heard some small clattering noises nearby. The bushes rustled.
Pennsylvania wasn't too well known for its insect population, but it was the summertime, so I figured it wasn't too far out of the ordinary for some buzzes here and there.
Even then, my battle senses were already buzzing. Despite the hour of the night, and my fatigue from driving, I was alert. Ready. I could go a couple of rounds with Ares, right here, right now.
The bushes whizzed with a new sound—like rain, except more slithery. I kept pumping gas into the car, but I removed Riptide from my pocket, still in pen form. It had been a while since I'd been mobbed by monsters in the wild, but that didn't mean I was any less ready for them.
The bushes exploded. A thousand brown creepy crawlies poured from the woods in a carpet of grossness—all pincers and stinging tails.
"Scorpions?" I wondered aloud. There weren't any Greek entities I could name off the top of my head related to scorpions except for, well, Scorpio himself. My half-brother, who was apparently the most handsome man alive at one point.
The scorpions kept coming—thousands upon thousands. Out of the woods, a woman appeared, walking fearlessly through the middle of the arachnids. She wore brown robes with gold jewelry glinting around her neck and arms. Her long black hair was cut Ancient Egyptian–style with a strange crown on top.
Then I realized it wasn't a crown—she had a live, supersize scorpion nesting on her head. Millions of the little nasties swirled around her like she was the center of their storm.
My grip tightened on the pump. Egyptian deities, all the way out here? That wasn't good. I looked a bit closer at the woman.
Serqet [THE VENEMOUS], [Duat Remnant]
LV- 50 [Duat Remnant significantly alters a god's power, adjusting it accordingly based on how much of their essence they're capable of tethering to the mortal plane]
Serqet (also known as Serket) is the Egyptian Goddess of scorpions, snakes, venom, protection, fertility, nature, animals, medicine, and magic.
Perks: Toxikinesis, Reformation Ranger, Duat Dweller, Seductress…
"Serqet," I said neutrally. Heket had drilled into my head that Egyptian gods were vastly different than Greek ones. They didn't have the same power, nor were they used to the same respect, so bending a knee to one would set a dangerous precedent.
"Perseus Jackson," Her voice was soft, yet gravelly. There was this tittering effect to it, almost like a random insect had been granted the ability to speak. It was cool, sure, but in a disturbing kind of way. "We meet at last."
"I'm surprised to see you out here, on the mortal plane," I continued, remembering my information-gathering tactics from last summer. "That must be horribly taxing."
"Well, I'm managing. One of my devotees has graciously offered to host me for this endeavor," Serqet commented, feeling herself up in an oddly erotic way. "Not bad, right?"
Okay, so this isn't the big, bad goddess herself. It's a mortal host. Her power's significantly stunted like this, which is good news for me.
I settled on, "Er, sure."
"Onto business," Serqet said a moment later. She was efficient. I appreciated that. Too many deities tried to tiptoe around the real objective, or speak in riddles. "You're aware of the boy in your backseat?"
"Malcolm?" The tank was full. I calmly placed the pump back and walked closer to Serqet. "What do you want from him?"
"I don't want anything from him," Serqet amended, raising her arms. Two pincers shot out from behind her knuckles. "I want him. The boy. Or you. I'd be fine with either, honestly."
"That isn't going to happen, lady," I said, Riptide springing to life in my hands. I didn't mind being a little bit more aggressive with Egyptian deities. "He isn't going anywhere, and neither am I."
Serqet giggled, "So noble. I don't wish to fight you, Perseus. I know that isn't a battle I can win. Not right now. Let me explain, and you'll hand the boy over yourself."
"Fat chance. For your sake, I'd start talking, or get away from us," I said, pointing the tip of my sword at her.
"My, my," Serqet said in a low tone. "So uptight. His blood, his lineage- do you know truly nothing about him?"
"What I know is, you gods don't think of relationships the way we humans do," I pointed out. If she wanted to play mind games, I could play them too. I stared into her eyes, wondering if her host could hear me. "Your host, for example. Does she even know what she is to you? Your hosts are merely like changes of clothes."
"Don't say that. I love my host. My priestess! The strongest of my followers," Serqet frowned, "You seem to have opinions about us. What you need to understand, Perseus, is that this is the natural way of things. The greatest of the magicians and pharaohs all eventually became hosts for gods, usually Horus- that upstart. He gave them power and wisdom and let them build Egypt into a mighty empire."
"Right, and that's why so many of those hosts die young. Tut died at nineteen. Cleopatra VII was even worse. She tried to host the spirit of Isis without knowing what she was doing, and it shattered her mind," I spat, recalling all of the stories Heket had told me. "You're talking to the wrong guy about trusting you."
"I never said you could trust me. You drew that conclusion yourself," Serqet indicated, stepping closer. We were basically nose to nose by this point. "In truth, you're correct. Many hosts died young, and painfully, but that isn't entirely our fault! In those days, it was a badge of honor to summon a god. Everyone wanted to do so. Some adepts could call upon the gods, if only from time to time. Others attempted to host our spirits...with varying degrees of success. The ultimate goal, of course, was to become the 'eye' of the god—a perfect union of the two souls, mortal and immortal. Very few achieved this, even among the pharaohs, who were born to the task. Many destroyed themselves trying, yes, but it was the standard everyone reached for."
"Seems like a waste of time."
"Heh. I like you," Serqet leaned forward, her black eyes glittering in the light. I felt her hot breath on my face. "You're correct. After host after host burning up into nothingness, it became clear to us—to me—that mankind, your rulers, even the strongest magicians, no longer had the strength of will to master a god's power. The only ones who could...well, that's why I'm here. Both you and that boy possess the blood of the pharaohs."
"I'm a white boy from Queens, and he's an orphan," I said, looking at Serqet with an incredulous expression. Even then, I was remembering what Heket had said all that time ago: You're an eye. Or well, not an eye now but you have the makings of an eye in the future.
"You, well, you're an interesting case," Serqet smiled. "The blood of kings, the son of Poseidon…perhaps I'll keep your lineage to myself. As for the boy…does the name Menkauhor ring any bells?"
Serqet raised a finger, tracing burning hieroglyphs into the air in front of her. "Shame. Menkauhor was a pharaoh His solar temple, called Akhet-Re, was the last of the temples built in the fifth dynasty. Irrelevant, truly, when you consider the real reason he was so famous."
"Which I assume you're going to tell me about, now."
"Patience young one, patience," Serqet chided. "His name marked a departure from the norm- he was the first pharaoh in almost a century that did not honor Ra in his own name. For this, the king of gods punished him severely. His entire family line was cursed with the gift of foresight."
My blood ran cold for a moment, remembering Malcolm's vivid image that was slowly becoming a reality. I refused to show weakness in front of Serqet, though, "That's swell."
"He'll go insane," Serqet said matter-of-factly. "Whether it's in a few years, or a few decades, eventually…"
"This conversation is over," I felt anger blooming in my chest. "I'm not handing him to you. Either you can leave now, or I'll send you back to the Duat. The hard way."
Serqet frowned. "So wrathful. Careful, Perseus. You may be strong, but there are some battles even you can't win with strength alone."
She waved her hand, and a greenish card appeared between her fingertips. It floated toward me, and I snagged it out of the air.
"My card. If you decide you've gotten yourself in over your head, I'll gladly liberate you," Serqet said diplomatically. Her skin was starting to smoke a bit. "Drat. That's my cue. We'll meet again, I'm sure, φαραώ."
I frowned again as Serqet disappeared into the bush. Nuh-uh. I wasn't falling for this.
Her basic carrot-dangling approach wasn't going to work on me. I still had Heket on speed-dial, so if I ever did get curious, I could call her up. I wasn't going to trust this random goddess.
I lamented on my lack of context as I sat back in the car, though. I knew next to nothing about Egypt, or its history. I needed to get on that. Later, of course, but I had to get on it.
I settled back into the car and revved the engine. It was time to get back on the road.
By the time I was truly too tired and bored to drive, we'd entered Chicago.
I honestly felt like I could've kept driving, but that wasn't the best idea. I mean, yeah, I could theoretically just drive nonstop due to the nature of my powers, but I'd be dead on my feet by the time I got there.
And then, bam! If Titans or someone attacked, I'd be useless and we'd probably all get killed. I don't know about you, but that's something I consider to be a big no-no.
I pulled into the Hilton garage, nabbing a parking spot toward the back. "We can relax here for a day and leave sometime early next morning. I just need to recharge my batteries a bit, and we can keep going."
"Percy, you've been driving for hours," Silena said from the back seat. Her hair was floofy and disheveled from her nap. Malcolm was still asleep on her. "I'd be fine even if you wanted to rest for two days."
"I know, but still. Let's get a room for us, and then maybe go see the city a bit," I said, stretching in my seat. "You know, deep-dish pizza. Maybe a Cubs game."
Silena's grin widened. "That sounds great."
Jason stirred in the passenger seat. "Where are we?"
"Chicago?" Jason repeated as his jaw dropped slowly. I saw the cogs moving in his head. "How long did you drive? And how fast?"
"What're you asking so many questions for, Grace?" A grin forming on my face. I punched his shoulder. "Come on. Let's get the bags and put them down in a room."
We started grabbing our bags. I nudged Malcolm lightly. "Buddy? We're getting out of the car."
I glanced at Silena, whose shoulders were shaking with silent laughter. "But, Malcolm, we're—"
"No!" Ugh, for all his smarts and maturity, sometimes I forget Malcolm's still a little kid. I pulled my backpack on, and reached forward, and grabbed him, ignoring his yelp. He was light enough for me to hold with one hand.
"You can sleep if you want," I said, patting his head. I turned to Silena and Jason. "Let's get situated."
With Hades' credit card, we easily nabbed a suite on the tenth floor, which was pretty close to the penthouse. If anyone was weirded out by four kids hopping in an elevator, they didn't show it.
Well, that isn't entirely fair of me to say anymore, I guess. I'm starting to look more like a man than anything, and Jason's just as tall as me, and arguably even more shredded. Maybe they think we're adult enough to be renting out rooms.
The suite, a presidential one, was much more space than we needed.
It had two separate bedrooms and a bar stocked with candy, sodas, and chips. Of course, there was a hotline to room service, and, oddly enough, the local police department and EMS service.
The bathroom, which was easily the size of the first apartment my mom and I had, was decked out with fluffy towels and glass showerheads, hot tubs, soda machines- the whole shebang.
The beds themselves were memory foam, with feather pillows. There were multiple big-screen televisions with satellite and high-speed Internet, and an iPad mounted to each room which handled temperature control, alarms, food-ordering, and even the shades.
No, really. With the press of a button, you could raise or lower any of the shades. Pretty sick, right?
I gently placed the still-sleepy Malcolm on one of the beds and sat down on the couch, stretching out.
"Take a nap, Perce," Silena urged as she placed some of her bags down. "We'll be chilling here until you wake up, anyway."
"That's the plan!" I said cheerily, closing my eyes as Silena scoffed at my lame attempt at a joke.
Hey- they can't all be winners. Luckily for me, the moment I shut my eyes, sleep took me.
And, well, unluckily for me, I was instantly thrust into a dream. I felt like a disembodied spirit- the same way I'd felt when Oceanus had tried to take control of my body.
Seriously, gods? Whichever one of you is putting me up to this, I really don't appreciate it. Can't a guy get some well-deserved rest after driving the whole night?
The sound of a hawk broke me out of my reverie, effectively grounding my body in the dream. I flexed my fingers. While I still wasn't too happy about being forced into a dream, I was a bit more comfortable now that I had a physical body.
Floating around like that…I didn't like it. It made me feel powerless. In my own head! What kind of stupid feeling is that?
Straining my eyes, I saw sand dunes shifting in the wind, storm clouds brewing, crocodiles sliding down the Nile. I saw a vast hall full of revelers. The wind changed, blasting the dunes around me, and exploding the dream in a shower of golden sand.
As the sand faded, suddenly, I was in a palace.
Huge beings swirled around me, changing shape from human to animal to pure energy. On a throne in the center of the room sat a muscular African man in rich black robes. He had a handsome face and warm brown eyes. His hands looked strong enough to crush rocks.
The other partygoers celebrated around him. Music played—a sound so powerful that the air burned and hummed with energy. At the man's side stood a beautiful woman in white, her belly swollen as if she were a few months pregnant. Her form flickered; at times she seemed to have multicolored wings.
Then she turned in my direction and I gasped. She had my mother's face. What the actual fuck was I watching?
She didn't seem to notice me. In fact, none of the people did, until a voice behind me said, "Are you a ghost?"
I turned and saw a good-looking boy of about sixteen, dressed in black robes. His complexion was pale, but he had warm brown eyes like the man on the throne. His black hair was long and tousled. He looked like a baby version of Hades.
I tried to think of something to say. I recognized instantly that I wasn't in Greek territory, and my paranoia kicked in. I wasn't going to tell this random dude anything! I settled on, "A dreamer."
"Not a ghost, eh?" He mused. He gestured towards the throne, "Watch, but do not interfere."
With that, he disappeared into a fine black mist. Typical.
"Isis," said the man on the throne. "My beautiful wife."
The pregnant woman turned towards him and beamed. "My lord Osiris. Happy birthday."
Isis? Osiris? These were gods! Was I really being pulled away from a nice rest to watch a godly birthday party?
"Thank you, my love. And soon we shall mark the birth of our son—Horus, the great one! His new incarnation shall be his greatest yet. He shall bring peace and prosperity to the world."
Isis took her husband's hand. Music kept playing around them, gods celebrating, the very air swirling in a dance of creation.
Suddenly the palace doors blew open. A hot wind made the torches sputter. A man strode into the hall.
Oh boy. The newcomer looked like a stereotypical Disney villain.
He was tall and strong, almost a twin to Osiris, but with dark red skin, blood-colored robes, and a pointed beard.
He looked human, except when he smiled. Then his teeth turned to fangs. His face flickered—sometimes human, sometimes strangely wolflike.
The dancing stopped. The music died. Osiris rose from his throne, slowly and deliberately, with the grace of a king.
"Set," He said in a dangerous tone that sent chills down my back. "Why have you come?"
Set laughed, and the tension in the room broke. Despite his cruel eyes, he had a wonderful laugh. It was like a talk-show host's laugh- carefree and friendly, gaudy and indulgent, as if he couldn't possibly mean any harm.
I wasn't fooled by it for a second.
"I come to celebrate my brother's birthday, of course!" he exclaimed. "And I bring some entertainment! Nothing less than the best for my king."
He gestured behind him. Four huge men with the heads of wolves marched into the room, carrying a jewel-encrusted golden coffin.
But the assembled gods oohed and aahed, admiring the box, which was painted with gold and red hieroglyphs, trimmed with jade and opals. The wolf-men set down the box, and I saw it had no lid. The interior was lined with black linen.
"This sleeping casket," Set announced, "was made by my finest craftsmen, using the most expensive materials. Its value is beyond measure. The god who lies within, even for a night, will see his powers increase tenfold! His wisdom will never falter. His strength will never fail. It is a gift"—he smiled slyly at Osiris —"for the one and only god who fits within perfectly!"
I wouldn't have queued up first, but the gods surged forward. They pushed each other out of the way to get at the golden coffin. Some climbed in but were too short. Others were much too big. Even when they tried to change their shapes, the gods had no luck, as if the magic of the box was thwarting them.
No one fit into it exactly. Gods grumbled and complained as others, anxious to try, pushed them to the floor. I guess people really were bored back in the days before television. Bored enough to even try…this.
Set turned to Osiris with a good-natured laugh. "Well, brother, we have no winner yet. Will you try? Only the best of the gods can succeed."
Osiris's eyes gleamed. Apparently, he wasn't the god of brains, because he seemed completely taken in by the box's beauty. All the other gods looked at him expectantly, and I could see what he was thinking: if he fit in the box, what a brilliant birthday present!
Even Set, his wicked brother, would have to admit that he was the rightful king of the gods. Plus, he'd get a kickass sleeping casket. Wins all around!
I still thought it was dumb. A true king wouldn't have to take part in weird stuff like this just to make a point to the people he's ruling over. Plus, am I really the only one here who thinks this set guy is bad news?
For Zeus' sake, the man looks shiftier than a guy with a ski mask entering a bank!
Only Isis seemed to be thinking along the lines I was. She laid her hand on her husband's shoulder. "My lord, do not. Set does not bring presents."
"I am offended!" Set sounded genuinely hurt. Man, this guy was good. "Can I not celebrate my brother's birthday? Are we so estranged that I cannot even apologize to the king?"
Osiris smiled at Isis. "My dear, it is only a game. Fear nothing."
He rose from his throne. The gods applauded as he approached the box.
"All hail Osiris!" Set cried.
There's no way this dude's actually going to- oh my god, he's headed for the casket! Is this a joke?
The king of the gods lowered himself into the box, and when he glanced in my direction, I felt a wave of power.
No! I thought again. Don't do it!
But Osiris laid down. The coffin fit him exactly. A cheer went up from the gods, but before Osiris could rise, Set clapped his hands. A golden lid materialized above the box and slammed down on top of it.
Who could've seen that one coming?
Osiris shouted in rage, but his cries were muffled.
Golden latches fastened around the lid. The other gods surged forward to intervene—even the boy in black I'd seen earlier reappeared—but Set was faster. He stamped his foot so hard, the stone floor trembled. The gods toppled over each other like dominoes. The wolf-men drew their spears, and the gods scrambled away in terror.
Set said a magic word, and a boiling cauldron appeared out of thin air. It poured its contents over the coffin—molten lead, coating the box, sealing it shut, probably heating the interior to a thousand degrees.
"Villain!" Isis wailed. She advanced on Set and began to speak a spell, but Set held up his hand.
Isis rose from the floor, clawing at her mouth, her lips pressed as if an invisible force were suffocating her.
"Not today, lovely Isis," Set purred. "Today, I am the king. And your child shall never be born!"
Suddenly, another goddess—a slender woman in a blue dress—charged out of the crowd. "Husband, no!"
She tackled Set, who momentarily lost his concentration.
Isis fell to the floor, gasping. The other goddess yelled, "Flee!"
Isis turned and ran.
Set rose. I thought he would hit the goddess in blue, but he only snarled."Foolish wife! Whose side are you on?"
He stamped his foot again, and the golden coffin sank into the floor.
Set raced after Isis. At the edge of the palace, Isis turned into a small bird of prey and soared into the air. Set sprouted demon's wings and launched himself in pursuit.
Then suddenly I was the bird. I was Isis, flying desperately over the Nile. I could sense Set behind me—closing. Closing.
You must escape, the voice of Isis said in my mind. Avenge Osiris. Crown Horus king.
Before I could even reply, I was brought back into my body, again.
"Okay, I'm getting really fucking sick of this!" I snapped, kicking some sand. "Who's there? Why are you doing this?"
A woman appeared before me. She looked like the lady who had tackled Set, but I don't know, modernized.
Unlike the tan skin she'd had in the flashback, she now had fair skin. Honestly, she was a bit pale. Her eyes were wide, curious, with long, thick eyelashes that gave her this perpetually seductive look. Her irises were a royal blue.
It looked like someone had taken the very essence of a river and infused it into her hair. It was somewhere between periwinkle and aqua blue, twisting around itself at her waist and curving inwards around her legs.
She was wearing a tight, black crop top, which somehow fit around her, well, large chest, we'll say, and high-waisted shorts. I, uh, won't comment too much on her physical appearance aside from purely objective stuff, because of, well, MJ, but….damn.
She did the title goddess some justice.
"Set's wife," I said, staring into her eyes. Hot or not, I was still royally pissed off. "The woman who saved Isis."
"Nephthys," She answered, her eyes narrowing slightly. "And who are you, boy?"
"I don't think I'll answer," I crossed my arms. I was feeling a bit childish, "Were you the one that dragged me in here?"
"Was it that weird kid with the brown eyes?" I wondered aloud, tapping my chin. "Man, I owe him a punch in the face for that."
"You will do no such thing!" Nephthys said incredulously, as if the very idea of me slugging that kid was the worst thing in the world. Her eyes blazed, "How dare you?"
"How dare I? How dare you, lady!" I said, irritated. "I've been driving all night! All. Night. I just wanted to lay down for, like, four hours, and no! I have to go watch Osiris get killed by Set."
"Don't throw those names around, boy!" Nephthys seethed. "They're powerful, immortal entities—"
"That are dumb enough to get tricked into stepping into coffins."
"—precisely. Wait!" Nephthys groaned, throwing her hands up in the air. "You are so insufferable."
"I get that a lot."
I stared at Nephthys, wondering why she'd even be in a dream of mine. Once again, I cursed my lack of knowledge on the pantheon. I didn't even know what she was the goddess of!
Nephthys seemed to share my confusion, even if she tried to hide it. We were both stuck in a random memory- a remnant of ancient times, and we were both forced to inhabit the same plane of existence, even if it was just for the moment.
I sighed, plopping myself down into the sand. It felt hot to the touch, I decided, as I picked some of it up. "So…why do you look so modern?"
Nephthys glanced at me, her eyes almost hidden by her curtain of long hair. "I don't know what you mean."
"I met Serqet earlier today," I commented. "She seemed very, I don't know, antique. You've got that teenage look about you. I wouldn't be too surprised if I saw you at my school."
"Well, Serqet is antique. We all are. The difference is, she's much less accepting of the eventual change we must all face. She still thinks poison is as big as it was back in the old days," Nephthys huffed, crossing her arms in a very distracting way. "I'm a bit more open to change. Even if it means wearing…this."
I titled my head, "I like it. It's a good look on you. Very…casual."
"I didn't ask for your opinion," Nephthys flushed. "Nor do I need it. You're just a silly boy whose ba is looking in the remnants of the past."
"Okay, um, one part of that at a time," I said, massaging my temples. "Ba? What's a ba?"
"The ba is one of the five aspects of the soul alongside the ka, ib, sheut, and ren. A ba is the part of one's soul that represents an individual's personality and continues to live on after one's body has died. They can be summoned, made to see things through sleep," Nephthys explained, not that patiently at all. "And not, ba. Ba. Say it with more emphasis, boy. You sound like a foreigner."
"Right, of course," I muttered sarcastically, leaning back into the sand, and closing my eyes. The burning sun beat down on my face. It felt rather nice, actually. "Ba. Ren. All parts of my soul. Sure. Say, what are you the goddess of?"
"That's very rude of you to ask," Nephthys said austerely. "You should never ask a goddess their domains. Or their age."
"Listen, we're both stuck here for the time being, it looks like," I pointed out. "It'd be a lot less boring if we could have a conversation."
Nephthys looked pensive at that. Ultimately, she said, "Mourning, Lamentation, Sleep, Rivers, the Night and I double as the Protector of The Dead."
"That's a lot of domains," I said, legitimately impressed by the bluenette. "So, what? Serqet's still living in the days where people would slice open other people's throats to water the stones of temples and all that?"
"You got that from a movie."
"I definitely got that from a movie," I cracked a grin, and even Nephthys smiled a little. Talking to her was…refreshing. "But you get my point."
"Well, you're not wrong," She relented, sitting down crisscross applesauce in front of me. "Poison is a bit outdated, snakes and scorpions don't plague humanity much anymore, and medicine has evolved past what she used to represent. It's no surprise she chooses to remain in the form she felt most powerful in."
"She said she had followers."
"Most of us still do," Nephthys said with a small smile. "Surprisingly. I don't need many followers, if any, of course. Mourning, lamentation, sleep- humans will never evolve past these concepts."
I hummed in response, as a bird flew overhead. "So, that memory…"
"Set betrayed Osiris?" I tried to put what I saw into words. "Osiris, the king of all gods, had a birthday party, and Set came to usurp the throne. You, his wife, let Isis escape because she was pregnant with Horus. Is that the gist of it?"
"Lack of respect for names aside, yes," Nephthys replied. "That is indeed the gist of it. My husband is…was always jealous of Osiris. Wo-Seer. So powerful, so true. Set was the opposite."
I sensed a trepidation behind her words, almost like she was trying to hide something. It took me a second to place that kind of hesitation. "Something happened. Between you and Osiris, I mean."
Nephthys looked down. "My husband was…not well. He couldn't have children, and I really wanted a child."
"Oh, damn," I said, surprised at her honesty and willingness to confide in a stranger. "So, you had sex with his brother?"
"Ra, must you make everything so crass?" Nephthys growled, throwing her hands up. "I was young. Stupid. I disguised myself as my sister, Isis, and—"
"You're all siblings?" I coughed out. I mean, I don't know if I can really talk too much, half of my aunts and uncles are married too, but damn! "So, you dressed up as your sister…to have sex with your brother…because your other brother, your husband, couldn't have kids."
"I'm done speaking to you," Nephthys said, standing up and brushing some of the sand off her thighs. "You're immature and obtuse, and I don't even know why you're here!"
"I literally just summarized what you were saying," I deadpanned, clambering to my feet as well. "It's not my fault you're embarrassed—urk!"
The dunes underneath me exploded in a pillar of boiling hot water. I flipped off the top of it, throwing my hands forward. The pillar churned around itself, blasting Nephthys with enough strength to send her sprawling across the desert.
The water swirled around my feet, rising to my fingers. I shook my head at the spluttering goddess, "You should really be careful where you point that thing. You could hurt someone."
"You can control the water?" Nephthys' voice changed. It was soft, unsure. "How can you control the water?"
"My father," I revealed, letting the liquid travel up my arms and lock around my body in a watery armor. "I'm a godling."
"A godling?" Nephthys repeated, the wind blasting around her. Her light blue eyes darkened to an almost black state. Water began pooling at her feet, slipping through her fingertips. "You're not one of ours!"
"I don't want to do this," I said, sighing. "But I'd be lying if I said I won't cherish it."
My control over the water was refined by this point. All of my own training, my lessons with Delta, my dad, Triton- I had far more control than she did. All the water around her hardened to ice. The water between her fingers steamed into the air, disappearing through the arid heat.
"How…" Nephthys was flabbergasted. "How did you…"
"Because I'm better than you," I said honestly. "Your domains include rivers. My birthright is every body of water, every liquid."
Nephthys frowned, "I understand now. Your ba isn't being tossed back in time, to view these memories for educational reasons. You're being skipped through because you think you're better than us. Above us. You Greeks…you all think the same. It's a shame, too, given your ancestor."
Every molecule of sand exploded. I felt my body yank toward the sky, and the last thing I saw before waking up was Nephthys' melancholy smile.
"Holy," I gasped as I woke up, my heart hammering. "Hades, that was intense."
"What was intense?" Jason called from the foot of the bed, where he was relaxing. And by relaxing, I mean Jason's version of relaxing, which is sharpening his weapons. He looked at me with a concerned expression that was ultimately spoiled by the wicked-looking knife he was holding up. "Are you okay, cousin?"
"Peachy," I pushed myself off the sofa, pulling off my shirt. I'd been sweating up a storm in my sleep- the damn thing was sticking to my chest. "What time is it?"
"Three, I think," Jason checked his watch. "Yep. You were out like a light."
"I drove a lot last night," I defended, pulling on a short-sleeve Nets jersey. "Where are Malcolm and Silena?"
"Watching television," Jason nodded his head toward the living room. He looked back at me, his eyes narrowing. "Are you sure about keeping him with us?"
"We can't help it now, can we?" I said, patting down my jeans to make sure everything important was still there. "It's either we drive him back and lose another day of time, or we keep him with us and push on."
"That's a good point," Jason replied, scratching the side of his head. He flipped the knife and sheathed it on his waist. "Are we going?"
"Yeah. I figure we can spend the day in Chicago before leaving sometime either in the night or early in the morning. I don't want to drive straight there and be fatigued beyond belief," I told him. "To put it in perspective, I drove for, like, ten hours last night. With the car's boosted capabilities, we cut four hours out of the journey. Assuming we keep up that pace, we'll make it to the garden in two days."
Jason nodded as if my breakdown appeased him. "Alright. That makes sense."
We both walked out to the living room, and I was wrapped in a hug by the sandy-haired missile. "Percy!"
"Malcolm!" I hugged the boy. After he pulled away, I dropped to a knee and held him at an arm's length. I got serious for a second, "Malcolm. What you did was wrong. This is a really dangerous quest, okay? I didn't want you to come and get hurt."
"I know," Malcolm said, his bottom lip trembling. "I just didn't wanna be alone with the mean man!"
"Yeah! He said he'd eat me if I was out of line!"
His expression diffused my anger and got rid of any shot in hell of me lecturing him.
"Okay, fine. Just don't sneak onto any of these quests in the future, okay?" I sighed, and he nodded enthusiastically.
"Silena," I called out to the brunette, who was eating marshmallows and watching a fashion show. "How are you doing?"
"Great, Perce. I'm living better than I do normally!" Silena said, a smile on her face. "Your quests are better than most vacations."
"Yeah, well," I rubbed the back of my head. "The combined presence between Jason and I is enough to keep most monsters away. That does mean, though, that when we get attacked, it'll be by something big."
"Don't be such a downer," Silena waved off my concerns. She angled the bag toward me. "Marshmallow?"
"I'm good. I was, uh, telling Jace, that I think we should leave either late at night or early in the morning. To beat traffic, and stuff," Silena and Malcolm nodded. "Cool, cool. Well, that does mean we have the whole day to spend in Chicago. I was thinking we could all choose one thing we want to do in the city, and then the four of us can spend the whole day doing that."
Everyone in the room seemed to perk up at that- even Jason, who previously looked more like he wanted to gut something.
"Museum!" Malcolm's pick was in.
"Oh! Can we go to the Lakefront Trail? I haven't gone on a pretty walk in ages!" Takes after her mother, then.
"Prometheus and I used to get deep dish pizza when we were in town," Jason added, quietly.
"That's my pick."
"Okay, nice. We can do all of those things!" I said, clapping my hands. "I kind of want to get pizza, too. Hm. How about we start off at the museum, right, that'll take a few hours. We can get lunch there, too. Then, we'll go take a nice walk and top it off with pizza."
The room muttered their assent. Well, only Jason really muttered. Silena whooped and Malcolm screamed loudly, excited at the prospect of seeing a museum.
I took Malcolm down to the hotel lobby, and marched him straight to the tourist board, pointing out every museum there. I kid you not- I'd never seen Malcolm look more excited for anything.
He hadn't even looked this excited on his birthday! Or my birthday! Or that time I got his stuffed animal a little tuxedo. Heh, yeah, I just felt like mentioning that I walked into a Build A Bear.
After he calmed down and stopped hyperventilating, he decided he wanted to take us to the Museum of Natural History. Silena and Jason agreed, not that I think they had particularly strong opinions on it either way.
The museum itself was impressive, to say the least. It felt like I was looking at a cathedral of nature—the structure of the building was reminiscent of Greek temples I'd seen in the past, but it was accentuated by the fact that there was overgrown moss peeking through most of the columns and a river in the back.
We passed by a school field trip as we walked inside.
My thoughts from earlier were only exacerbated by the large dinosaur cast that dominated the vaulted central hall, followed by the skeleton of a blue whale hanging from the ceiling. I didn't normally pay too much attention to these things, but the museum seemed to balance nature and technology well. It almost felt like the museum itself was a relic of the past.
He tugged my hand as I bought our tickets. "Percy! Percy! Did you know that the Field Museum first opened in 1894, displaying a collection of artifacts originally assembled for the 1983 World's Fair in Chicago? And that dino— Máximo the Titanosaur—is the largest dinosaur to ever walk the earth!"
"Your brother is quite a little history buff," The lady behind the desk smiled pleasantly at Malcolm. She reached down for a moment and presented us with a sash. "Here you go, little historian! If you show this sash to workers at all the stations, they'll give you badges to put on it!"
Malcolm clutched the sash as if it was made of pure gold. I patted him on the head and flashed a smile at the woman, "Thank you. We'll make sure we get that sash all filled, won't we, Colm?"
"Yeah!" He pumped his fist in the air, and for a moment, I wondered if I made a mistake.
Well, two hours later, I was proved correct.
Malcolm dragged us everywhere, spouting random facts as we chugged along. And believe me, he had all of us beat in both the energy and excitement departments.
We stopped at Cyrus Tang's Hall of China, passing between a pair of stone lions. We walked by the Qing Dynasty silk robe- adorned by a two-horned, five-clawed dragon, which, according to Malcolm, was traditionally used only by the emperor to acknowledge his special status as a link between human and supernatural worlds.
The little tyke impressed me once again, giving out at least two minutes' worth of exposition at every stop. When I say every stop, I want you all to know, I mean it. Every. Single. Stop.
He jumped up and down when we saw the animated map of dynastic China's shifting political borders.
He told me, while basically foaming at the mouth, how the artists in the olden days had drafted and painstakingly painted every inch of the Qingming scroll, a 27-foot-long painting of Chinese life along a prosperous river city and its outskirts.
He bowed at the shrine of a deity, Sun Wukong, and said something under his breath to the statue of Hou Yi.
He squealed happily at the shadow puppet performance of the epic tale Journey to the West.
Needless to say, after just that one exhibit, Jason and Silena looked like they wanted to be anywhere else but here. I gave them both an understanding look, and they shuffled off together while I stuck with Malcolm.
I know what you're thinking- but Percy, didn't you say you were annoyed? But Percy, wasn't Malcolm running you ragged? But Percy- yes, yes, and yes! To whatever you were going to ask!
I was a little annoyed, and he was running me all over the place, but I knew this meant a lot to him.
I've been thinking about this for a while, actually. Especially after last semester, and my class with Jason in Child and Adolescent psychology. I've been wanting to do something nice for Malcolm.
You see, childhood memories are very important. That part, I'm sure, is common sense, but it goes a little deeper than that. They make us remember the best times of our lives. They shape our thinking and future. When someone has good childhood memories, they can grow up to be happy individuals no matter what happens to them- within reason, of course.
Look at me! I've been through some shit, yeah, but I can still look back on all those times my mom and I did fun things! Fun things that last to this day, like our blue food streak!
I don't know if I've ever mentioned the story, but years and years ago, now, Smelly Gabe had once told my mom, that there was no such thing as blue food or drink. From that point on, she went out of her way to make blue foods to prove the bastard wrong. That sort of connection between my mom and I, well, it means a lot.
It's significant. It keeps us bound together.
I guess what I'm getting at is the fact that childhood memories shape our future. They don't necessarily define us but they play an important role. Specifically, memories with an older parent-like figure.
A secure attachment with parents helps promote a child's cognitive, emotional, and social development. It also helps kids exhibit positive social behaviors. Children who have a secure and positive relationship with their parents or other role models learn essential skills and values that set them on the path for future success.
My point, and the reason I even bothered saying all that, is that Malcolm doesn't have that.
Besides not knowing any aspect of his mortal family, he also doesn't have many mortal experiences because he lives at camp year-round. How normal is waking up and playing with flying horses? You tell me.
And in terms of strong familial influences, he's got older siblings, sure, but half of them aren't even around all the time! He's in an important stage of his life, and I want to be there for him, because, well, I love him. He's family. That's all.
That's why, despite my inward complaints, I didn't outwardly complain once. I even tried to be excited with the tyke!
The Evolving Planet exhibit was interesting enough. I took a picture of Malcolm next to Sue, the most complete T-rex fossil in recorded history.
Ancient America and Underground Adventure kind of blended together for me. Malcolm pushed on, leading me through the diagrams and pictures and wax recreations. Of course, he made sure to find all the workers and get his hard-earned badges.
In total, we walked through five more exhibits after those ones. Grainger Hall of Gems, 3D Theater, Abbot Hall of Conservation's Restoring Earth, Crown Family PlayLab, and Inside Ancient Egypt.
That last one…well. I knew I should've been on edge after my dream with Nephthys.
Honestly, though, the encounter started off innocently enough.
We passed through a doorway, into a three-story replica of a mastaba, a specific type of ancient Egyptian tomb. The helpful infographic at the entrance explained that a typical mastaba housed chamber rooms from burial sites.
This particular one was made to resemble two authentic sites from the 5th Dynasty Egyptian Pharaoh Unis's son Unis-Ankh's burial.
The burial chamber, which dated back to 2400 BC, housed one of the largest collections of mummies in the United States: 23 human mummies and more than 30 animal mummies. Fun right? Cool, interesting, historic findings that couldn't possibly be used in any negative way.
We walked past the mummies for now, headlong into a recreation of an ancient marketplace reconstructed from market scenes depicted on tomb walls. Filled with goods and people, the marketplace allowed us to look into what everyday activities could've occurred if we lived back in those days.
"Percy, Percy!" Malcolm tugged my hand as we reached the end, pointing to a signboard toward the end that read: Julius Kane: Archeologist and Theorist recounts his recent trip to Cairo! "Can we go?"
If I could go back in time and tell myself one thing, it would be to leave that museum. To grab Malcolm, and sprint out of there and pretend I never saw a thing.
That isn't how the world works, unfortunately. It was Malcolm's special day, and I wanted to do anything to make him happy, so I nodded, propping him on my shoulders and walking into the conference room.