GETTING EATEN BY A GIANT CROCODILE was bad enough.
The kid with the glowing sword only made my day worse.
Maybe I should introduce myself.
I’m Carter Kane—part-time high school freshman, part-time magician, full-time worrier about all the Egyptian gods and monsters who are constantly trying to kill me.
Okay, that last part is an exaggeration. Not all the gods want me dead. Just a lot of them—but that kind of goes with the territory, since I’m a magician in the House of Life. We’re like the police for Ancient Egyptian supernatural forces, making sure they don’t cause too much havoc in the modern world.
Anyway, on this particular day I was tracking down a rogue monster on Long Island. Our scryers had been sensing magical disturbances in the area for several weeks. Then the local news started reporting that a large creature had been sighted in the ponds and marshes near the Montauk Highway—a creature that was eating the wildlife and scaring the locals. One reporter even called it the Long Island Swamp Monster. When mortals start raising the alarm, you know it’s time to check things out.
Normally my sister, Sadie, or some of our other initiates from Brooklyn House would’ve come with me. But they were all at the First Nome, in Egypt, for a weeklong training session on controlling cheese demons (yes, they’re a real thing; believe me, you don’t want to know), so I was on my own.
I hitched our flying reed boat to Freak, my pet griffin, and we spent the morning buzzing around the South Shore looking for signs of trouble. If you’re wondering why I didn’t just ride on Freak’s back, imagine two hummingbird-like wings beating faster and more powerfully than helicopter blades. Unless you want to get shredded, it’s really better to ride in the boat.
Freak had a good nose for magic. After a couple of hours on patrol, he shrieked, “FREEEAAAK!” and banked hard to the left, circling over a green marshy inlet between two subdivisions.
“Down there?” I asked.
Freak shivered and squawked, whipping his barbed tail nervously.
I couldn’t see much below us—just a brown river glittering in the hot summer air, winding through swamp grass and clumps of gnarled trees until it emptied into Moriches Bay. The area looked a bit like the Nile Delta back in Egypt, except here the wetlands were surrounded on both sides by residential neighborhoods with row after row of gray-roofed houses. Just to the north, a line of cars inched along the Montauk Highway—vacationers escaping the crowds in the city to enjoy the crowds in the Hamptons.
If there really was a carnivorous swamp monster below us, I wondered how long it would be before it developed a taste for humans. If that happened…well, it was surrounded by an all-you-can-eat buffet.
“Okay,” I told Freak. “Set me down by the riverbank. ”
As soon as I stepped out of the boat, Freak screeched and zoomed into the sky, the boat trailing behind him.
“Hey!” I yelled after him, but it was too late.
Freak is easily spooked. Flesh-eating monsters tend to scare him away. So do fireworks, clowns, and the smell of Sadie’s weird British Ribena drink. (Can’t blame him on that last one. Sadie grew up in London and developed some pretty strange tastes. )
I would have to take care of this monster problem, and then whistle for Freak to pick me up once I was done.
I opened my backpack and checked my supplies: some enchanted rope, my curved ivory wand, a lump of wax for making a magical shabti figurine, my calligraphy set, and a healing potion my friend Jaz had brewed for me a while back. (She knew that I got hurt a lot. )
There was just one more thing I needed.
I concentrated and reached into the Duat. Over the last few months, I’d gotten better at storing emergency provisions in the shadow realm—extra weapons, clean clothes, Fruit by the Foot, and chilled six-packs of root beer—but sticking my hand into a magical dimension still felt weird, like pushing through layers of cold, heavy curtains. I closed my fingers around the hilt of my sword and pulled it out—a heavy khopesh with a blade curved like a question mark. Armed with my sword and wand, I was all set for a stroll through the swamp to look for a hungry monster. Oh, joy!
I waded into the water and immediately sank to my knees. The river bottom felt like congealed stew. With every step, my shoes made such rude noises—suck-plop, suck-plop—that I was glad my sister Sadie wasn’t with me. She never would’ve stopped laughing.
Even worse, making this much noise, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sneak up on any monsters.
Mosquitoes swarmed me. Suddenly I felt nervous and alone.
Could be worse, I told myself. I could be studying cheese demons.
But I couldn’t quite convince myself. In the nearby subdivision, I heard kids shouting and laughing, probably playing some kind of game. I wondered what that would be like—being a normal kid, hanging out with my friends on a summer afternoon.
The idea was so nice, I got distracted. I didn’t notice the ripples in the water until fifty yards ahead of me something broke the surface—a line of leathery, blackish-green bumps. Instantly it submerged again, but I knew what I was dealing with now. I’d seen crocodiles before, and this was a freakishly big one.
I remembered El Paso, the winter before last, when my sister and I had been attacked by the crocodile god Sobek. That wasn’t a good memory.
Sweat trickled down my neck.
“Sobek,” I murmured, “if that’s you, messing with me again, I swear to Ra…”
The croc god had promised to leave us alone now that we were tight with his boss, the sun god. Still…crocodiles get hungry. Then they tend to forget their promises.
No answer from the water. The ripples subsided.
When it came to sensing monsters, my magic instincts weren’t very sharp; but the water in front of me seemed much darker. That meant either it was deep, or something large was lurking under the surface.
I almost hoped it was Sobek. At least then I stood a chance of talking to him before he killed me. Sobek loved to boast.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t him.
The next microsecond, as the water erupted around me, I realized too late that I should’ve brought the entire Twenty-first Nome to help me. I registered glowing yellow eyes as big as my head, the glint of gold jewelry around a massive neck. Then monstrous jaws opened—ridges of crooked teeth, and an expanse of pink maw wide enough to gulp down a garbage truck.
And the creature swallowed me whole.
Imagine being shrink-wrapped upside down inside a gigantic slimy garbage bag with no air. Being in the monster’s belly was like that, only hotter and smellier.
For a moment I was too stunned to do anything. I couldn’t believe I was still alive. If the crocodile’s mouth had been smaller, he might have snapped me in half. As it was, he had gulped me down in a single Carter-size serving, so I could look forward to being slowly digested.
The monster started thrashing around, which made it hard to think. I held my breath, knowing that it might be my last. I still had my sword and wand, but I couldn’t use them with my arms pinned to my side. I couldn’t reach any of the stuff in my bag.
Which left only one answer: a word of power. If I could think of the right hieroglyphic symbol and speak it aloud, I could summon some industrial strength, wrath-of-the-gods-type magic to bust my way out of this reptile.
In theory: a great solution.
In practice: I’m not so good at words of power even in the best of situations. Suffocating inside a dark, smelly reptile gullet wasn’t helping me focus.
You can do this, I told myself.
After all the dangerous adventures I’d had, I couldn’t die like this. Sadie would be devastated. Then, once she got over her grief, she’d track down my soul in the Egyptian afterlife and tease me mercilessly for how stupid I’d been.
My lungs burned. I was blacking out. I picked a word of power, summoned all my concentration, and prepared to speak.
Suddenly the monster lurched upward. He roared, which sounded really weird from the inside, and its throat contracted around me like I was being squeezed from a toothpaste tube. I shot out of the creature’s mouth and tumbled into the marsh grass.
Somehow I got to my feet. I staggered around, half blind, gasping, and covered with crocodile goo, which smelled like a scummy fish tank.
The surface of the river churned with bubbles. The crocodile was gone, but standing in the marsh about twenty feet away was a teenage guy in jeans and a faded orange T-shirt that said CAMP something. I couldn’t read the rest. He looked a little older than me—maybe seventeen—with tousled black hair and sea-green eyes. What really caught my attention was his sword—a straight double-edged blade glowing with faint bronze light.
I’m not sure which of us was more surprised.
For a second, Camper Boy just stared at me. He noted my khopesh and wand, and I got the feeling he actually saw these things as they were. Normal mortals have trouble seeing magic. Their brains can’t interpret it, so they might look at my sword, for instance, and see a baseball bat or a walking stick.
But this kid…he was different. I figured he must be a magician. The only problem was, I’d met most of the magicians in the North American nomes, and I’d never seen this guy before. I’d also never seen a sword like that. Everything about him seemed…un-Egyptian.
“The crocodile,” I said, trying to keep my voice calm and even. “Where did it go?”
Camper Boy frowned. “You’re welcome. ”
“I stuck that croc in the rump. ” He mimicked the action with his sword. “That’s why it vomited you up. So, you’re welcome. What were you doing in there?”
I’ll admit I wasn’t in the best mood. I smelled. I hurt. And, yeah, I was a little embarrassed: the mighty Carter Kane, head of Brooklyn House, had been disgorged from a croc’s mouth like a giant hairball.
“I was resting,” I snapped. “What do you think I was doing? Now, who are you, and why are you fighting my monster?”
“Your monster?” The guy trudged toward me through the water. He didn’t seem to have any trouble with the mud. “Look, man, I don’t know who you are, but that crocodile has been terrorizing Long Island for weeks. I take that kind of personal, as this is my home turf. A few days ago, it ate one of our pegasi. ”
A jolt went up my spine like I’d backed into an electric fence. “Did you say pegasi?”
He waved the question aside. “Is it your monster or not?”
“I don’t own it!” I growled. “I’m trying to stop it! Now, where—”
“The croc headed that way. ” He pointed his sword toward the south. “I would already be chasing it, but you surprised me. ”
He sized me up, which was disconcerting since he was half a foot taller. I still couldn’t read his T-shirt except for the word CAMP. Around his neck hung a leather strap with some colorful clay beads, like a kid’s arts and crafts project. He wasn’t carrying a magician’s pack or a wand. Maybe he kept them in the Duat? Or maybe he was just a delusional mortal who’d accidentally found a magic sword and thought he was a superhero. Ancient relics can really mess with your mind.