Annabeth lunged for the monster. It was much too heavy for her to pick up, but she stuck her dagger in her belt and used both hands to grab the end of the creature’s conical shell, dragging it backwards, away from the god.
Meanwhile, Sadie had drawn a big circle about the size of a hula-hoop on the concrete. She was now decorating it with hieroglyphs, using several different colours of chalk.
By all means, Annabeth thought with frustration. Take your time and make it pretty!
She managed to smile at Serapis while holding back the staff monster that was still trying to claw its way forward.
‘Now, my lord,’ Annabeth said, ‘tell me your glorious plan! Something about souls and lives?’
The staff monster howled in protest, probably because it could see Sadie hiding behind the god, doing her top-secret pavement art. Serapis didn’t seem to notice.
‘Behold!’ He spread his muscular arms. ‘The new centre of my power!’
Red sparks blazed through the frozen whirlwind. A web of light connected the dots until Annabeth saw the glowing outline of the structure Serapis was building: a massive tower three hundred feet tall, designed in three tapering tiers – a square bottom, an octagonal middle and a circular top. At the zenith blazed a fire as bright as a Cyclops’s forge.
‘A lighthouse,’ Annabeth said. ‘The Lighthouse of Alexandria.’
‘Indeed, my young priestess.’ Serapis paced back and forth like a teacher giving a lecture, though his floral-print shorts were pretty distracting. His wicker-basket hat kept tilting to one side or the other, spilling grain. Somehow he still failed to notice Sadie squatting behind him, scribbling pretty pictures with her chalk.
‘Alexandria!’ the god cried. ‘Once the greatest city in the world, the ultimate fusion of Greek and Egyptian power! I was its supreme god, and now I have risen again. I will create my new capital here!’
‘Uh … in Rockaway Beach?’
Serapis stopped and scratched his beard. ‘You have a point. That name won’t do. We will call it … Rockandria? Serapaway? Well, we’ll figure that out later! Our first step is to complete my new lighthouse. It will be a beacon to the world – drawing the deities of Ancient Greece and Egypt here to me just as it did in the old days. I shall feed on their essence and become the most powerful god of all!’
Annabeth felt as if she’d swallowed a tablespoon of salt. ‘Feed on their essence. You mean, destroy them?’
Serapis waved dismissively. ‘Destroy is such an ugly word. I prefer incorporate. You know my history, I hope? When Alexander the Great conquered Egypt –’
‘He tried to merge the Greek and Egyptian religions,’ Annabeth said.
‘Tried and failed.’ Serapis chuckled. ‘Alexander chose an Egyptian sun god, Amun, to be his main deity. That didn’t work too well. The Greeks didn’t like Amun. Neither did the Egyptians of the Nile Delta. They saw Amun as an upriver god. But when Alexander died his general took over Egypt.’
‘Ptolemy the First,’ Annabeth said.
Serapis beamed, obviously pleased. ‘Yes … Ptolemy. Now, there was a mortal with vision!’
It took all of Annabeth’s will not to stare at Sadie, who had now completed her magic circle and was tapping the hieroglyphs with her finger, muttering something under her breath as if to activate them.
The three-headed staff monster snarled in disapproval. It tried to lunge forward, and Annabeth barely managed to hold him back. Her fingers were weakening. The creature’s aura was as nauseating as ever.
‘Ptolemy created a new god,’ she said, straining with effort. ‘He
Serapis shrugged. ‘Well, not from scratch. I was once a minor village god. Nobody had even heard of me! But Ptolemy discovered my statue and brought it to Alexandria. He had the Greek and Egyptian priests do auguries and incantations and whatnot. They all agreed that I was the great god Serapis, and I should be worshipped above all other gods. I was an instant hit!’
Sadie rose within her magic circle. She unlatched her silver necklace and began swinging it like a lasso.
The three-headed monster roared what was probably a warning to its master: Look out!
But Serapis was on a roll. As he spoke, the hieroglyphic and Greek tattoos on his skin glowed more brightly.
‘I became the most important god of the Greeks and Egyptians!’ he said. ‘As more people worshipped me, I drained the power of the older gods. Slowly but surely, I took their place. The Underworld? I became its master, replacing both Hades and Osiris. The guard dog Cerberus transformed into my staff, which you now hold. His three heads represent the past, present and future – all of which I will control when the staff is returned to my grasp.’
The god held out his hand. The monster strained to reach him. Annabeth’s arm muscles burned. Her fingers began to slip.
Sadie was still swinging her pendant, muttering an incantation.