The Staff of Serapis
UNTIL SHE SPOTTED the two-headed monster, Annabeth didn’t think her day could get any worse.
She’d spent all morning doing catch-up work for school. (Skipping classes on a regular basis to save the world from monsters and rogue Greek gods was seriously messing up her GPA.) Then she’d turned down a movie with her boyfriend, Percy, and some of their friends so she could try out for a summer internship at a local architecture firm. Unfortunately, her brain had been mush. She was pretty sure she’d flubbed the interview.
Finally, around four in the afternoon, she’d trudged through Washington Square Park on her way to the subway station and stepped in a fresh pile of cow manure.
She glared at the sky. ‘Hera!’
The other pedestrians gave her funny looks, but Annabeth didn’t care. She was tired of the goddess’s practical jokes. Annabeth had done so many quests for Hera, but still the Queen of Heaven left presents from her sacred animal right where Annabeth could step in them. The goddess must have had a herd of stealth cows patrolling Manhattan.
By the time Annabeth made it to the West Fourth Street station, she was cranky and exhausted and just wanted to catch the F train uptown to Percy’s place. It was too late for the movie, but maybe they could get dinner or something.
Then she spotted the monster.
Annabeth had seen some crazy stuff before, but this beastie definitely made her ‘What Were the Gods Thinking?’ list. It looked like a lion and a wolf lashed together, wedged butt-first into a hermit-crab shell.
The shell itself was a rough brown spiral, like a waffle cone – about six feet long with a jagged seam down the middle, as if it had been cracked in half, then glued back together. Sprouting from the top were the forelegs and head of a grey wolf on the left, a golden-maned lion on the right.
The two animals didn’t look happy about sharing a shell. They dragged it behind them down the platform, weaving left and right as they tried to pull in different directions. They snarled at one another in irritation. Then both of them froze and sniffed the air.
Commuters streamed past. Most manoeuvred round the monster and ignored it. Others just frowned or looked annoyed.
Annabeth had seen the Mist in action many times before, but she was always amazed by how the magical veil could distort mortal vision, making even the fiercest monster look like something explainable – a stray dog, or maybe a homeless person wrapped in a sleeping bag.
The monster’s nostrils flared. Before Annabeth could decide what to do, both heads turned and glared directly at her.
Annabeth’s hand went for her knife. Then she remembered she didn’t have one. At the moment, her most deadly weapon was her backpack, which was loaded with heavy architecture books from the public library.
She steadied her breathing. The monster stood about thirty feet away.
Taking on a lion-wolf-crab in the middle of a crowded subway station wasn’t her first choice, but, if she had to, she would. She was a child of Athena.
She stared down the beast, letting it know she meant business.
‘Bring it on, Crabby,’ she said. ‘I hope you’ve got a high tolerance for pain.’
The lion and wolf heads bared their fangs. Then the floor rumbled. Air rushed through the tunnel as a train arrived.
The monster snarled at Annabeth. She could’ve sworn it had a look of regret in its eyes, as if thinking, I would love to rip you to tiny pieces, but I have business elsewhere.
Then Crabby turned and bounded off, dragging its huge shell behind. It disappeared up the stairs, heading for the A train.
For a moment, Annabeth was too stunned to move. She’d rarely seen a monster leave a demigod alone like that. Given the chance, monsters almost always attacked.
If this two-headed hermit crab had something more important to do than kill her, Annabeth wanted to know what it was. She couldn’t just let the monster go, pursuing its nefarious plans and riding public transportation for free.
She glanced wistfully at the F train that would’ve taken her uptown to Percy’s place. Then she ran up the stairs after the monster.
Annabeth jumped on board just as the doors were closing. The train pulled away from the platform and plunged into darkness. Overhead lights flickered. Commuters rocked back and forth. Every seat was filled. A dozen more passengers stood, swaying as they clung to the handrails and poles.
Annabeth couldn’t see Crabby until somebody at the front yelled, ‘Watch it, freak!’
The wolf-lion-crab was pushing its way forward, snarling at the mortals, but the commuters just acted regular-New-York-subway annoyed. Maybe they saw the monster as a random drunk guy.
As Crabby prised open the doors to the next car and clambered through, Annabeth noticed its shell was glowing faintly.