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RICK RIORDAN
PUFFIN
Contents
About Rick Riordan
Books by Rick Riordan
Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief
Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters
Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse
Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth
Percy Jackson and the Last Olympian
Rick Riordan is the creator of the award-winning, bestselling Percy Jackson series and the thrilling
Kane Chronicles series. According to Rick, the idea for the Percy Jackson stories was inspired by his
son Haley. But rumour has it that Camp Half-Blood actually exists, and Rick spends his summers
there recording the adventures of young demigods. Some believe that, to avoid a mass panic among
the mortal population, he was forced to swear on the River Styx to present Percy Jackson’s story as
fiction. Rick lives in Boston (apart from his summers on Half-Blood Hill) with his wife and two
sons. To learn more about him and the Percy Jackson and Kane Chronicles series, visit:
www.rickriordanmythmaster.co.uk
Books by Rick Riordan
The Percy Jackson series:
PERCY JACKSON AND THE LIGHTNING THIEF
PERCY JACKSON AND THE SEA OF MONSTERS
PERCY JACKSON AND THE TITAN’S CURSE
PERCY JACKSON AND THE BATTLE OF THE LABYRINTH
PERCY JACKSON AND THE LAST OLYMPIAN
PERCY JACKSON: THE DEMIGOD FILES
For more about Percy Jackson try:
PERCY JACKSON: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE
The Heroes of Olympus series:
THE LOST HERO
THE SON OF NEPTUNE
THE MARK OF ATHENA
HEROES OF OLYMPUS: THE DEMIGOD DIARIES
Don’t miss:
THE HOUSE OF HADES
The Kane Chronicles series:
THE RED PYRAMID
THE THRONE OF FIRE
THE SERPENT’S SHADOW
A Carter Kane/Percy Jackson Adventure ebook:
THE SON OF SOBEK
www.rickriordanmythmaster.co.uk
Praise for the Percy Jackson series:
‘A fantastic blend of myth and modern. Rick Riordan takes the reader back to the stories we love, then shakes the cobwebs out of them’
– Eoin Colfer, author of Artemis Fowl
‘Funny . . . very exciting . . . but it’s the storytelling that will get readers hooked. After all, this is the stuff of legends’
– Guardian
‘Riordan delivers puns, jokes and subtle wit, alongside a gripping storyline’
– Sunday Telegraph
‘Witty and inspired. Gripping, touching and deliciously satirical’
– Amanda Craig, The Times
‘One of the books of the year … vastly entertaining’
– Independent
‘It’s Buffy meets Artemis Fowl. Thumbs up’
– Sunday Times
‘Sure to become a classic’
– Sunday Express
‘Funny, clever and exciting’
– The Times
‘Cool, mad and very funny!’
– Flipside
‘Unputdownable’
– Irish Times
RICK RIORDAN
PUFFIN
Contents
1 • I Accidentally Vaporize My Maths Teacher
2 • Three Old Ladies Knit the Socks of Death
3 • Grover Unexpectedly Loses His Trousers
4 • My Mother Teaches Me Bullfighting
5 • I Play Pinochle with a Horse
6 • I Become Supreme Lord of the Bathroom
7 • My Dinner Goes Up in Smoke
8 • We Capture a Flag
9 • I Am Offered a Quest
10 • I Ruin a Perfectly Good Bus
11 • We Visit the Garden Gnome Emporium
12 • We Get Advice from a Poodle
13 • I Plunge to My Death
14 • I Become a Known Fugitive
15 • A God Buys Us Cheeseburgers
16 • We Take a Zebra to Vegas
17 • We Shop for Waterbeds
18 • Annabeth Does Obedience School
19 • We Find Out the Truth, Sort Of
20 • I Battle My Jerk Relative
21 • I Settle My Tab
22 • The Prophecy Comes True
To Haley, who heard the story first
1 I Accidentally Vaporize My Maths Teacher
Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.
If you’re reading this because you think you might be one, my advice is: close this book right now.
Believe whatever lie your mom or dad told you about your birth, and try to lead a normal life.
Being a half-blood is dangerous. It’s scary. Most of the time, it gets you killed in painful, nasty
ways.
If you’re a normal kid, reading this because you think it’s fiction, great. Read on. I envy you for
being able to believe that none of this ever happened.
But if you recognize yourself in these pages – if you feel something stirring inside – stop reading
immediately. You might be one of us. And once you know that, it’s only a matter of time before they
sense it too, and they’ll come for you.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
My name is Percy Jackson.
I’m twelve years old. Until a few months ago, I was a boarding student at Yancy Academy, a
private school for troubled kids in upstate New York.
Am I a troubled kid?
Yeah. You could say that.
I could start at any point in my short miserable life to prove it, but things really started going bad
last May, when our sixth-grade class took a field trip to Manhattan – twenty-eight mental-case kids
and two teachers on a yellow school bus, heading to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to look at
ancient Greek and Roman stuff.
I know – it sounds like torture. Most Yancy field trips were.
But Mr Brunner, our Latin teacher, was leading this trip, so I had hopes.
Mr Brunner was this middle-aged guy in a motorized wheelchair. He had thinning hair and a
scruffy beard and a frayed tweed jacket, which always smelled like coffee. You wouldn’t think he’d
be cool, but he told stories and jokes and let us play games in class. He also had this awesome
collection of Roman armour and weapons, so he was the only teacher whose class didn’t put me to
sleep.
I hoped the trip would be okay. At least, I hoped that for once I wouldn’t get in trouble.
Boy, was I wrong.
See, bad things happen to me on field trips. Like at my fifth-grade school, when we went to the
Saratoga battlefield, I had this accident with a Revolutionary War cannon. I wasn’t aiming for the
school bus, but of course I got expelled anyway. And before that, at my fourth-grade school, when we
took a behind-the-scenes tour of the Marine World shark pool, I sort of hit the wrong lever on the
catwalk and our class took an unplanned swim. And the time before that… Well, you get the idea.
This trip, I was determined to be good.
All the way into the city, I put up with Nancy Bobofit, the freckly red-headed kleptomaniac girl,
hitting my best friend, Grover, in the back of the head with chunks of peanut butter-and-ketchup
sandwich.
Grover was an easy target. He was scrawny. He cried when he got frustrated. He must’ve been
held back several grades, because he was the only sixth grader with acne and the start of a wispy
beard on his chin. On top of all that, he was crippled. He had a note excusing him from PE for the rest
of his life because he had some kind of muscular disease in his legs. He walked funny, like every step
hurt him, but don’t let that fool you. You should’ve seen him run when it was enchilada day in the
cafeteria.
Anyway, Nancy Bobofit was throwing wads of sandwich that stuck in his curly brown hair, and she
knew I couldn’t do anything back to her because I was already on probation. The headmaster had
threatened me with death-by-in-school-suspension if anything bad, embarrassing, or even mildly
entertaining happened on this trip.
‘I’m going to kill her,’ I mumbled.
Grover tried to calm me down. ‘It’s okay. I like peanut butter.’
He dodged another piece of Nancy’s lunch.
‘That’s it.’ I started to get up, but Grover pulled me back to my seat.
‘You’re already on probation,’ he reminded me. ‘You know who’ll get blamed if anything
happens.’
Looking back on it, I wish I’d decked Nancy Bobofit right then and there. In-school suspension
would’ve been nothing compared to the mess I was about to get myself into.
Mr Brunner led the museum tour.
He rode up front in his wheelchair, guiding us through the big echoey galleries, past marble statues
and glass cases full of really old black-and-orange pottery.
It blew my mind that this stuff had survived for two thousand, three thousand years.
He gathered us around a four-metre-tall stone column with a big sphinx on the top, and started
telling us how it was a grave marker, a stele, for a girl about our age. He told us about the carvings on
the sides. I was trying to listen to what he had to say, because it was kind of interesting, but
everybody around me was talking, and every time I told them to shut up, the other teacher chaperone,
Mrs Dodds, would give me the evil eye.
Mrs Dodds was this little maths teacher from Georgia who always wore a black leather jacket,
even though she was fifty years old. She looked mean enough to ride a Harley right into your locker.
She had come to Yancy halfway through the year, when our last maths teacher had a nervous
breakdown.
From her first day, Mrs Dodds loved Nancy Bobofit and figured I was devil spawn. She would
point her crooked finger at me and say, ‘Now, honey,’ real sweet, and I knew I was going to get afterschool detention for a month.
One time, after she’d made me erase answers out of old maths workbooks until midnight, I told
Grover I didn’t think Mrs Dodds was human. He looked at me real serious and said, ‘You’re
absolutely right.’
Mr Brunner kept talking about Greek funeral art.
Finally, Nancy Bobofit snickered something about the naked guy on the stele, and I turned around
and said, ‘Will you shut up?’
It came out louder than I meant it to.
The whole group laughed. Mr Brunner stopped his story.
‘Mr Jackson,’ he said, ‘did you have a comment?’
My face was totally red. I said, ‘No, sir.’
Mr Brunner pointed to one of the pictures on the stele. ‘Perhaps you’ll tell us what this picture
represents?’
I looked at the carving, and felt a flush of relief, because I actually recognized it. ‘That’s Kronos
eating his kids, right?’
‘Yes,’ Mr Brunner said, obviously not satisfied. ‘And he did this because…’
‘Well…’ I racked my brain to remember. ‘Kronos was the king god, and –’
‘God?’ Mr Brunner asked.
‘Titan,’ I corrected myself. ‘And… he didn’t trust his kids, who were the gods. So, um, Kronos ate
them, right? But his wife hid baby Zeus, and gave Kronos a rock to eat instead. And later, when Zeus
grew up, he tricked his dad, Kronos, into barfing up his brothers and sisters –’
‘Eeew!’ said one of the girls behind me.
‘– and so there was this big fight between the gods and the Titans,’ I continued, ‘and the gods won.’
Some snickers from the group.
Behind me, Nancy Bobofit mumbled to a friend, ‘Like we’re going to use this in real life. Like it’s
going to say on our job applications, “Please explain why Kronos ate his kids”.’
‘And why, Mr Jackson,’ Brunner said, ‘to paraphrase Miss Bobofit’s excellent question, does this
matter in real life?’
‘Busted,’ Grover muttered.
‘Shut up,’ Nancy hissed, her face even brighter red than her hair.
At least Nancy got in trouble, too. Mr Brunner was the only one who ever caught her saying
anything wrong. He had radar ears.
I thought about his question, and shrugged. ‘I don’t know, sir.’
‘I see.’ Mr Brunner looked disappointed. ‘Well, half credit, Mr Jackson. Zeus did indeed feed
Kronos a mixture of mustard and wine, which made him disgorge his other five children, who, of
course, being immortal gods, had been living and growing up completely undigested in the Titan’s
stomach. The gods defeated their father, sliced him to pieces with his own scythe, and scattered his
remains in Tartarus, the darkest part of the Underworld. On that happy note, it’s time for lunch. Mrs
Dodds, would you lead us back outside?’
The class drifted off, the girls holding their stomachs, the guys pushing each other around and
acting like doofuses.
Grover and I were about to follow when Mr Brunner said, ‘Mr Jackson.’
I knew that was coming.
I told Grover to keep going. Then I turned towards Mr Brunner. ‘Sir?’
Mr Brunner had this look that wouldn’t let you go – intense brown eyes that could’ve been a
thousand years old and had seen everything.
‘You must learn the answer to my question,’ Mr Brunner told me.
‘About the Titans?’
‘About real life. And how your studies apply to it.’
‘Oh.’
‘What you learn from me,’ he said, ‘is vitally important. I expect you to treat it as such. I will
accept only the best from you, Percy Jackson.’
I wanted to get angry, this guy pushed me so hard.
I mean, sure, it was kind of cool on tournament days, when he dressed up in a suit of Roman armour
and shouted: ‘What ho!’ and challenged us, sword-point against chalk, to run to the board and name
every Greek and Roman person who had ever lived, and their mother, and what god they worshipped.
But Mr Brunner expected me to be as good as everybody else, despite the fact I have dyslexia and
attention deficit disorder and I had never made above a C- in my life. No – he didn’t expect me to be
as good; he expected me to be better. And I just couldn’t learn all those names and facts, much less
spell them correctly.
I mumbled something about trying harder, while Mr Brunner took one long sad look at the stele,
like he’d been at this girl’s funeral.
He told me to go outside and eat my lunch.
The class gathered on the front steps of the museum, where we could watch the foot traffic along Fifth
Avenue.
Overhead, a huge storm was brewing, with clouds blacker than I’d ever seen over the city. I
figured maybe it was global warming or something, because the weather all across New York state
had been weird since Christmas. We’d had massive snow storms, flooding, wildfires from lightning
strikes. I wouldn’t have been surprised if this was a hurricane blowing in.
Nobody else seemed to notice. Some of the guys were pelting pigeons with Lunchables crackers.
Nancy Bobofit was trying to pickpocket something from a lady’s bag, and, of course, Mrs Dodds
wasn’t seeing a thing.
Grover and I sat on the edge of the fountain, away from the others. We thought that maybe if we did
that, everybody wouldn’t know we were from that school – the school for loser freaks who couldn’t
make it elsewhere.
‘Detention?’ Grover asked.
‘Nah,’ I said. ‘Not from Brunner. I just wish he’d lay off me sometimes. I mean – I’m not a genius.’
Grover didn’t say anything for a while. Then, when I thought he was going to give me some deep
philosophical comment to make me feel better, he said, ‘Can I have your apple?’
I didn’t have much of an appetite, so I let him take it.
I watched the stream of cabs going down Fifth Avenue, and thought about my mom’s apartment,
only a little ways uptown from where we sat. I hadn’t seen her since Christmas. I wanted so bad to
jump in a taxi and head home. She’d hug me and be glad to see me, but she’d be disappointed, too.
She’d send me right back to Yancy, remind me that I had to try harder, even if this was my sixth
school in six years and I was probably going to be kicked out again. I wouldn’t be able to stand that
sad look she’d give me.
Mr Brunner parked his wheelchair at the base of the handicapped ramp. He ate celery while he
read a paperback novel. A red umbrella stuck up from the back of his chair, making it look like a
motorized café table.
I was about to unwrap my sandwich when Nancy Bobofit appeared in front of me with her ugly
friends – I guess she’d gotten tired of stealing from the tourists – and dumped her half-eaten lunch in
Grover’s lap.
‘Oops.’ She grinned at me with her crooked teeth. Her freckles were orange, as if somebody had
spray-painted her face with liquid Cheetos.
I tried to stay cool. The school counsellor had told me a million times, ‘Count to ten, get control of
your temper.’ But I was so mad my mind went blank. A wave roared in my ears.
I don’t remember touching her, but the next thing I knew, Nancy was sitting on her butt in the
fountain, screaming, ‘Percy pushed me!’
Mrs Dodds materialized next to us.
Some of the kids were whispering: ‘Did you see –’
‘– the water –’
‘– like it grabbed her –’
I didn’t know what they were talking about. All I knew was that I was in trouble again.
As soon as Mrs Dodds was sure poor little Nancy was okay, promising to get her a new shirt at the
museum gift shop, etc., etc., Mrs Dodds turned on me. There was a triumphant fire in her eyes, as if
I’d done something she’d been waiting for all semester. ‘Now, honey –’
‘I know,’ I grumbled. ‘A month erasing textbooks.’
That wasn’t the right thing to say.
‘Come with me,’ Mrs Dodds said.
‘Wait!’ Grover yelped. ‘It was me. I pushed her.’
I stared at him, stunned. I couldn’t believe he was trying to cover for me. Mrs Dodds scared
Grover to death.
She glared at him so hard his whiskery chin trembled.
‘I don’t think so, Mr Underwood,’ she said.
‘But –’
‘You – will– stay – here.’
Grover looked at me desperately.
‘It’s okay, man,’ I told him. ‘Thanks for trying.’
‘Honey,’ Mrs Dodds barked at me. ‘Now.’
Nancy Bobofit smirked.
I gave her my deluxe I’ll-kill-you-later stare. I then turned to face Mrs Dodds, but she wasn’t there.
She was standing at the museum entrance, way at the top of the steps, gesturing impatiently at me to
come on.
How’d she get there so fast?
I have moments like that a lot, when my brain falls asleep or something, and the next thing I know
I’ve missed something, as if a puzzle piece fell out of the universe and left me staring at the blank
place behind it. The school counsellor told me this was part of the ADHD, my brain misinterpreting
things.
I wasn’t so sure.
I went after Mrs Dodds.
Halfway up the steps, I glanced back at Grover. He was looking pale, cutting his eyes between me
and Mr Brunner, like he wanted Mr Brunner to notice what was going on, but Mr Brunner was
absorbed in his novel.
I looked back up. Mrs Dodds had disappeared again. She was now inside the building, at the end
of the entrance hall.
Okay, I thought. She’s going to make me buy a new shirt for Nancy at the gift shop.
But apparently that wasn’t the plan.
I followed her deeper into the museum. When I finally caught up to her, we were back in the Greek
and Roman section.
Except for us, the gallery was empty.
Mrs Dodds stood with her arms crossed in front of a big marble frieze of the Greek gods. She was
making this weird noise in her throat, like growling.
Even without the noise, I would’ve been nervous. It’s weird being alone with a teacher, especially
Mrs Dodds. Something about the way she looked at the frieze, as if she wanted to pulverize it…
‘You’ve been giving us problems, honey,’ she said.
I did the safe thing. I said, ‘Yes, ma’am.’
She tugged on the cuffs of her leather jacket. ‘Did you really think you would get away with it?’
The look in her eyes was beyond mad. It was evil.
She’s a teacher, I thought nervously. It’s not like she’s going to hurt me.
I said, ‘I’ll – I’ll try harder, ma’am.’
Thunder shook the building.
‘We are not fools, Percy Jackson,’ Mrs Dodds said. ‘It was only a matter of time before we found
you out. Confess, and you will suffer less pain.’
I didn’t know what she was talking about.
All I could think of was that the teachers must’ve found the illegal stash of candy I’d been selling
out of my dorm room. Or maybe they’d realized I got my essay on Tom Sawyer from the Internet
without ever reading the book and now they were going to take away my grade. Or worse, they were
going to make me read the book.
‘Well?’ she demanded.
‘Ma’am, I don’t…’
‘Your time is up,’ she hissed. Then the weirdest thing happened. Her eyes began to glow like
barbecue coals. Her fingers stretched, turning into talons. Her jacket melted into large, leathery
wings. She wasn’t human. She was a shrivelled hag with bat wings and claws and a mouth full of
yellow fangs, and she was about to slice me to ribbons.
Then things got even stranger.
Mr Brunner, who’d been out in front of the museum a minute before, wheeled his chair into the
doorway of the gallery, holding a pen in his hand.
‘What ho, Percy!’ he shouted, and tossed the pen through the air.
Mrs Dodds lunged at me.
With a yelp, I dodged and felt talons slash the air next to my ear. I snatched the ballpoint pen out of
the air, but when it hit my hand, it wasn’t a pen any more. It was a sword – Mr Brunner’s bronze
sword, which he always used on tournament day.
Mrs Dodds spun towards me with a murderous look in her eyes.
My knees were jelly. My hands were shaking so bad I almost dropped the sword.
She snarled, ‘Die, honey!’
And she flew straight at me.
Absolute terror ran through my body. I did the only thing that came naturally: I swung the sword.
The metal blade hit her shoulder and passed clean through her body as if she were made of water.
Hisss!
Mrs Dodds was a sand castle in a power fan. She exploded into yellow powder, vaporized on the
spot, leaving nothing but the smell of sulphur and a dying screech and a chill of evil in the air, as if
those two glowing red eyes were still watching me.
I was alone.
There was a ballpoint pen in my hand.
Mr Brunner wasn’t there. Nobody was there but me.
My hands were still trembling. My lunch must’ve been contaminated with magic mushrooms or
something.
Had I imagined the whole thing?
I went back outside.
It had started to rain.
Grover was sitting by the fountain, a museum map tented over his head. Nancy Bobofit was still
standing there, soaked from her swim in the fountain, grumbling to her ugly friends. When she saw me,
she said, ‘I hope Mrs Kerr whipped your butt.’
I said, ‘Who?’
‘Our teacher. Duh!’
I blinked. We had no teacher named Mrs Kerr. I asked Nancy what she was talking about.
She just rolled her eyes and turned away.
I asked Grover where Mrs Dodds was.
He said, ‘Who?’
But he paused first, and he wouldn’t look at me, so I thought he was messing with me.
‘Not funny, man,’ I told him. ‘This is serious.’
Thunder boomed overhead.
I saw Mr Brunner sitting under his red umbrella, reading his book, as if he’d never moved.
I went over to him.
He looked up, a little distracted. ‘Ah, that would be my pen. Please bring your own writing utensil
in the future, Mr Jackson.’
I handed it over. I hadn’t even realized I was still holding it.
‘Sir,’ I said, ‘where’s Mrs Dodds?’
He stared at me blankly. ‘Who?’
‘The other chaperone. Mrs Dodds. The maths teacher.’
He frowned and sat forward, looking mildly concerned. ‘Percy, there is no Mrs Dodds on this trip.
As far as I know, there has never been a Mrs Dodds at Yancy Academy. Are you feeling all right?’
2 Three Old Ladies Knit the Socks of Death
I was used to the occasional weird experience, but usually they were over quickly. This twentyfour/seven hallucination was more than I could handle. For the rest of the school year, the entire
campus seemed to be playing some kind of trick on me. The students acted as if they were completely
and totally convinced that Mrs Kerr – a perky blonde woman whom I’d never seen in my life until she
got on our bus at the end of the field trip – had been our maths teacher since Christmas.
Every so often I would spring a Mrs Dodds reference on somebody, just to see if I could trip them
up, but they would stare at me like I was psycho.
It got so I almost believed them – Mrs Dodds had never existed.
Almost.
But Grover couldn’t fool me. When I mentioned the name Dodds to him, he would hesitate, then
claim she didn’t exist. But I knew he was lying.
Something was going on. Something had happened at the museum.
I didn’t have much time to think about it during the days, but at night, visions of Mrs Dodds with
talons and leathery wings would wake me up in a cold sweat.
The freak weather continued, which didn’t help my mood. One night, a thunderstorm blew out the
windows in my dorm room. A few days later, the biggest tornado ever spotted in the Hudson Valley
touched down only fifty miles from Yancy Academy. One of the current events we studied in social
studies class was the unusual number of small planes that had gone down in sudden squalls in the
Atlantic that year.
I started feeling cranky and irritable most of the time. My grades slipped from Ds to Fs. I got into
more fights with Nancy Bobofit and her friends. I was sent out into the hallway in almost every class.
Finally, when our English teacher, Mr Nicoll, asked me for the millionth time why I was too lazy to
study for spelling tests, I snapped. I called him an old sot. I wasn’t even sure what it meant, but it
sounded good.
The headmaster sent my mom a letter the following week, making it official: I would not be invited
back next year to Yancy Academy.
Fine, I told myself. Just fine.
I was homesick.
I wanted to be with my mom in our little apartment on the Upper East Side, even if I had to go to
public school and put up with my obnoxious stepfather and his stupid poker parties.
And yet… there were things I’d miss at Yancy. The view of the woods out my dorm window, the
Hudson River in the distance, the smell of pine trees. I’d miss Grover, who’d been a good friend,
even if he was a little strange. I worried how he’d survive next year without me.
I’d miss Latin class, too – Mr Brunner’s crazy tournament days and his faith that I could do well.
As exam week got closer, Latin was the only test I studied for. I hadn’t forgotten what Mr Brunner
had told me about this subject being life-and-death for me. I wasn’t sure why, but I’d started to
believe him.
The evening before my final, I got so frustrated I threw the Cambridge Guide to Greek Mythology
across my dorm room. Words had started swimming off the page, circling my head, the letters doing
one-eighties as if they were riding skateboards. There was no way I was going to remember the
difference between Chiron and Charon, or Polydictes and Polydeuces. And conjugating those Latin
verbs? Forget it.
I paced the room, feeling like ants were crawling around inside my shirt.
I remembered Mr Brunner’s serious expression, his thousand-year-old eyes. I will accept only the
best from you, Percy Jackson.
I took a deep breath. I picked up the mythology book.
I’d never asked a teacher for help before. Maybe if I talked to Mr Brunner, he could give me some
pointers. At least I could apologize for the big fat ‘F’ I was about to score on his exam. I didn’t want
to leave Yancy Academy with him thinking I hadn’t tried.
I walked downstairs to the faculty offices. Most of them were dark and empty, but Mr Brunner’s
door was ajar, light from his window stretching across the hallway floor.
I was three steps from the door handle when I heard voices inside the office. Mr Brunner asked a
question. A voice that was definitely Grover’s said, ‘… worried about Percy, sir.’
I froze.
I’m not usually an eavesdropper, but I dare you to try not listening if you hear your best friend
talking about you to an adult.
I inched closer.
‘… alone this summer,’ Grover was saying. ‘I mean, a Kindly One in the school! Now that we
know for sure, and they know too –’
‘We would only make matters worse by rushing him,’ Mr Brunner said. ‘We need the boy to mature
more.’
‘But he may not have time. The summer solstice deadline –’
‘Will have to be resolved without him, Grover. Let him enjoy his ignorance while he still can.’
‘Sir, he saw her…’
‘His imagination,’ Mr Brunner insisted. ‘The Mist over the students and staff will be enough to
convince him of that.’
‘Sir, I… I can’t fail in my duties again.’ Grover’s voice was choked with emotion. ‘You know
what that would mean.’
‘You haven’t failed, Grover,’ Mr Brunner said kindly. ‘I should have seen her for what she was.
Now let’s just worry about keeping Percy alive until next autumn –’
The mythology book dropped out of my hand and hit the floor with a thud.
Mr Brunner went silent.
My heart hammering, I picked up the book and backed down the hall.
A shadow slid across the lighted glass of Brunner’s office door, the shadow of something much
taller than my wheelchair-bound teacher, holding something that looked suspiciously like an archer’s
bow.
I opened the nearest door and slipped inside.
A few seconds later I heard a slow clop-clop-clop, like muffled wood blocks, then a sound like an
animal snuffling right outside my door. A large dark shape paused in front of the glass, then moved on.
A bead of sweat trickled down my neck.
Somewhere in the hallway, Mr Brunner spoke. ‘Nothing,’ he murmured. ‘My nerves haven’t been
right since the winter solstice.’
‘Mine neither,’ Grover said. ‘But I could have sworn…’
‘Go back to the dorm,’ Mr Brunner told him. ‘You’ve got a long day of exams tomorrow.’
‘Don’t remind me.’
The lights went out in Mr Brunner’s office.
I waited in the dark for what seemed like forever.
Finally, I slipped out into the hallway and made my way back up to the dorm.
Grover was lying on his bed, studying his Latin exam notes like he’d been there all night.
‘Hey,’ he said, bleary-eyed. ‘You going to be ready for this test?’
I didn’t answer.
‘You look awful.’ He frowned. ‘Is everything okay?’
‘Just… tired.’
I turned so he couldn’t read my expression, and started getting ready for bed.
I didn’t understand what I’d heard downstairs. I wanted to believe I’d imagined the whole thing.
But one thing was clear: Grover and Mr Brunner were talking about me behind my back. They
thought I was in some kind of danger.
The next afternoon, as I was leaving the three-hour Latin exam, my eyes swimming with all the Greek
and Roman names I’d misspelled, Mr Brunner called me back inside.
For a moment, I was worried he’d found out about my eavesdropping the night before, but that
didn’t seem to be the problem.
‘Percy,’ he said. ‘Don’t be discouraged about leaving Yancy. It’s… it’s for the best.’
His tone was kind, but the words still embarrassed me. Even though he was speaking quietly, the
other kids finishing the test could hear. Nancy Bobofit smirked at me and made sarcastic little kissing
motions with her lips.
I mumbled, ‘Okay, sir.’
‘I mean…’ Mr Brunner wheeled his chair back and forth, like he wasn’t sure what to say. ‘This
isn’t the right place for you. It was only a matter of time.’
My eyes stung.
Here was my favourite teacher, in front of the class, telling me I couldn’t handle it. After saying he
believed in me all year, now he was telling me I was destined to get kicked out.
‘Right,’ I said, trembling.
‘No, no,’ Mr Brunner said. ‘Oh, confound it all. What I’m trying to say… you’re not normal, Percy.
That’s nothing to be –’
‘Thanks,’ I blurted. ‘Thanks a lot, sir, for reminding me.’
‘Percy –’
But I was already gone.
On the last day of the term, I shoved my clothes into my suitcase.
The other guys were joking around, talking about their vacation plans. One of them was going on a
hiking trip to Switzerland. Another was cruising the Caribbean for a month. They were juvenile
delinquents, like me, but they were rich juvenile delinquents. Their daddies were executives, or
ambassadors, or celebrities. I was a nobody, from a family of nobodies.
They asked me what I’d be doing this summer and I told them I was going back to the city.
What I didn’t tell them was that I’d have to get a summer job walking dogs or selling magazine
subscriptions, and spend my free time worrying about where I’d go to school in the autumn.
‘Oh,’ one of the guys said. ‘That’s cool.’
They went back to their conversation as if I’d never existed.
The only person I dreaded saying goodbye to was Grover but, as it turned out, I didn’t have to.
He’d booked a ticket to Manhattan on the same Greyhound as I had, so there we were, together again,
heading into the city.
During the whole bus ride, Grover kept glancing nervously down the aisle, watching the other
passengers. It occurred to me that he’d always acted nervous and fidgety when we left Yancy, as if he
expected something bad to happen. Before, I’d always assumed he was worried about getting teased.
But there was nobody to tease him on the Greyhound.
Finally I couldn’t stand it any more.
I said, ‘Looking for Kindly Ones?’
Grover nearly jumped out of his seat. ‘Wha – what do you mean?’
I confessed about eavesdropping on him and Mr Brunner the night before the exam.
Grover’s eye twitched. ‘How much did you hear?’
‘Oh… not much. What’s the summer-solstice deadline?’
He winced. ‘Look, Percy… I was just worried for you, see? I mean, hallucinating about demon
maths teachers…’
‘Grover –’
‘And I was telling Mr Brunner that maybe you were overstressed or something, because there was
no such person as Mrs Dodds, and…’
‘Grover, you’re a really, really bad liar.’
His ears turned pink.
From his shirt pocket, he fished out a grubby business card. ‘Just take this, okay? In case you need
me this summer.’
The card was in fancy script, which was murder on my dyslexic eyes, but I finally made out
something like:
Grover Underwood, Keeper
Half-Blood Hill
Long Island, New York
(800)009-0009
‘What’s Half –’
‘Don’t say it aloud!’ he yelped. ‘That’s my, um… summer address.’
My heart sank. Grover had a summer home. I’d never considered that his family might be as rich as
the others at Yancy.
‘Okay,’ I said glumly. ‘So, like, if I want to come visit your mansion.’
He nodded. ‘Or… or if you need me.’
‘Why would I need you?’
It came out harsher than I meant it too.
Grover blushed right down to his Adam’s apple. ‘Look, Percy, the truth is, I – I kind of have to
protect you.’
I stared at him.
All year long, I’d gotten in fights keeping bullies away from him. I’d lost sleep worrying that he’d
get beaten up next year without me. And here he was acting like he was the one who defended me.
‘Grover,’ I said, ‘what exactly are you protecting me from?’
There was a huge grinding noise under our feet. Black smoke poured from the dashboard and the
whole bus filled with a smell like rotten eggs. The driver cursed and limped the Greyhound over to
the side of the highway.
After a few minutes clanking around in the engine compartment, the driver announced that we’d all
have to get off. Grover and I filed outside with everybody else.
We were on a stretch of country road – no place you’d notice if you didn’t break down there. On
our side of the highway was nothing but maple trees and litter from passing cars. On the other side,
across four lanes of asphalt shimmering with afternoon heat, was an old-fashioned fruit stand.
The stuff on sale looked really good: heaping boxes of blood-red cherries and apples, walnuts and
apricots, jugs of cider in a claw-foot tub full of ice. There were no customers, just three old ladies
sitting in rocking chairs in the shade of a maple tree, knitting the biggest pair of socks I’d ever seen.
I mean these socks were the size of sweaters, but they were clearly socks. The lady on the right
knitted one of them. The lady on the left knitted the other. The lady in the middle held an enormous
basket of electric-blue yarn.
All three women looked ancient, with pale faces wrinkled like fruit leather, silver hair tied back in
white bandannas, bony arms sticking out of bleached cotton dresses.
The weirdest thing was, they seemed to be looking right at me.
I looked over at Grover to say something about this and saw that the blood had drained from his
face. His nose was twitching.
‘Grover?’ I said. ‘Hey, man –’
‘Tell me they’re not looking at you. They are. Aren’t they?’
‘Yeah. Weird, huh? You think those socks would fit me?’
‘Not funny, Percy. Not funny at all.’
The old lady in the middle took out a huge pair of scissors – gold and silver, long-bladed, like
shears. I heard Grover catch his breath.
‘We’re getting on the bus,’ he told me. ‘Come on.’
‘What?’ I said. ‘It’s a thousand degrees in there.’
‘Come on!’ He prised open the door and climbed inside, but I stayed back.
Across the road, the old ladies were still watching me. The middle one cut the yarn, and I swear I
could hear that snip across four lanes of traffic. Her two friends balled up the electric-blue socks,
leaving me wondering who they could possibly be for – Sasquatch or Godzilla.
At the rear of the bus, the driver wrenched a big chunk of smoking metal out of the engine
compartment. The bus shuddered, and the engine roared back to life.
The passengers cheered.
‘Darn right!’ yelled the driver. He slapped the bus with his hat. ‘Everybody back on board!’
Once we got going. I started feeling feverish, as if I’d caught the flu.
Grover didn’t look much better. He was shivering and his teeth were chattering.
‘Grover?’
‘Yeah?’
‘What are you not telling me?’
He dabbed his forehead with his shirt sleeve. ‘Percy, what did you see back at the fruit stand?’
‘You mean the old ladies? What is it about them, man? They’re not like… Mrs Dodds, are they?’
His expression was hard to read, but I got the feeling that the fruit-stand ladies were something
much, much worse than Mrs Dodds. He said, ‘Just tell me what you saw.’
‘The middle one took out her scissors, and she cut the yarn.’
He closed his eyes and made a gesture with his fingers that might’ve been crossing himself, but it
wasn’t. It was something else, something almost – older.
He said, ‘You saw her snip the cord.’
‘Yeah. So?’ But even as I said it, I knew it was a big deal.
‘This is not happening,’ Grover mumbled. He started chewing at his thumb. ‘I don’t want this to be
like the last time.’
‘What last time?’
‘Always sixth grade. They never get past sixth.’
‘Grover,’ I said, because he was really starting to scare me. ‘What are you talking about?’
‘Let me walk you home from the bus station. Promise me.’
This seemed like a strange request to me, but I promised he could.
‘Is this like a superstition or something?’ I asked.
No answer.
‘Grover – that snipping of the yarn. Does that mean somebody is going to die?’
He looked at me mournfully, like he was already picking the kind of flowers I’d like best on my
coffin.
3 Grover Unexpectedly Loses His Trousers
Confession time: I ditched Grover as soon as we got to the bus terminal.
I know, I know. It was rude. But Grover was freaking me out, looking at me like I was a dead man,
muttering, ‘Why does this always happen?’ and, ‘Why does it always have to be sixth grade?’
Whenever he got upset, Grover’s bladder acted up, so I wasn’t surprised when, as soon as we got
off the bus, he made me promise to wait for him, then made a beeline for the restroom. Instead of
waiting, I got my suitcase, slipped outside, and caught the first taxi uptown.
‘East One Hundred and Fourth and First Avenue,’ I told the driver.
A word about my mother, before you meet her.
Her name is Sally Jackson and she’s the best person in the world, which just proves my theory that
the best people have the rottenest luck. Her own parents died in a plane crash when she was five, and
she was raised by an uncle who didn’t care much about her. She wanted to be a novelist, so she spent
high school working to save enough money for a college with a good creative-writing programme.
Then her uncle got cancer, and she had to quit school in her senior year to take care of him. After he
died, she was left with no money, no family and no diploma.
The only good break she ever got was meeting my dad.
I don’t have any memories of him, just this sort of warm glow, maybe the barest trace of his smile.
My mom doesn’t like to talk about him because it makes her sad. She has no pictures.
See, they weren’t married. She told me he was rich and important, and their relationship was a
secret. Then one day, he set sail across the Atlantic on some important journey, and he never came
back.
Lost at sea, my mom told me. Not dead. Lost at sea.
She worked odd jobs, took night classes to get her high school diploma, and raised me on her own.
She never complained or got mad. Not even once. But I knew I wasn’t an easy kid.
Finally, she married Gabe Ugliano, who was nice the first thirty seconds we knew him, then
showed his true colours as a world-class jerk. When I was young, I nicknamed him Smelly Gabe. I’m
sorry, but it’s the truth. The guy reeked like mouldy garlic pizza wrapped in gym shorts.
Between the two of us, we made my mom’s life pretty hard. The way Smelly Gabe treated her, the
way he and I got along… well, when I came home is a good example.
I walked into our little apartment, hoping my mom would be home from work. Instead, Smelly Gabe
was in the living room, playing poker with his buddies. The television was blaring. Crisps and beer
cans were strewn all over the carpet.
Hardly looking up, he said around his cigar, ‘So, you’re home.’
‘Where’s my mom?’
‘Working,’ he said. ‘You got any cash?’
That was it. No Welcome back. Good to see you. How has your life been the last six months?
Gabe had put on weight. He looked like a tuskless walrus in thrift-store clothes. He had about three
hairs on his head, all combed over his bald scalp, as if that made him handsome or something.
He managed the Electronics Mega-Mart in Queens, but he stayed home most of the time. I don’t
know why he hadn’t been fired long before. He just kept on collecting pay cheques, spending the
money on cigars that made me nauseous, and on beer, of course. Always beer. Whenever I was home,
he expected me to provide his gambling funds. He called that our ‘guy secret’. Meaning, if I told my
mom, he would punch my lights out.
‘I don’t have any cash,’ I told him.
He raised a greasy eyebrow.
Gabe could sniff out money like a bloodhound, which was surprising, since his own smell
should’ve covered up everything else.
‘You took a taxi from the bus station,’ he said. ‘Probably paid with a twenty. Got six, seven bucks
in change. Somebody expects to live under this roof, he ought to carry his own weight. Am I right,
Eddie?’
Eddie, the superintendant of the apartment building, looked at me with a twinge of sympathy.
‘Come on, Gabe,’ he said. ‘The kid just got here.’
‘Am I right?’ Gabe repeated.
Eddie scowled into his bowl of pretzels. The other two guys passed gas in harmony.
‘Fine,’ I said. I dug a wad of dollars out of my pocket and threw the money on the table. ‘I hope
you lose.’
‘Your report card came, brain boy!’ he shouted after me. ‘I wouldn’t act so snooty!’
I slammed the door to my room, which really wasn’t my room. During school months, it was
Gabe’s ‘study’. He didn’t study anything in there except old car magazines, but he loved shoving my
stuff in the closet, leaving his muddy boots on my windowsill, and doing his best to make the place
smell like his nasty cologne and cigars and stale beer.
I dropped my suitcase on the bed. Home sweet home.
Gabe’s smell was almost worse than the nightmares about Mrs Dodds, or the sound of that old fruit
lady’s shears snipping the yarn.
But as soon as I thought that, my legs felt weak. I remembered Grover’s look of panic – how he’d
made me promise I wouldn’t go home without him. A sudden chill rolled through me. I felt like
someone – something – was looking for me right now, maybe pounding its way up the stairs, growing
long, horrible talons.
Then I heard my mom’s voice. ‘Percy?’
She opened the bedroom door, and my fears melted.
My mother can make me feel good just by walking into the room. Her eyes sparkle and change
colour in the light. Her smile is as warm as a quilt. She’s got a few grey streaks mixed in with her
long brown hair, but I never think of her as old. When she looks at me, it’s like she’s seeing all the
good things about me, none of the bad. I’ve never heard her raise her voice or say an unkind word to
anyone, not even me or Gabe.
‘Oh, Percy.’ She hugged me tight. ‘I can’t believe it. You’ve grown since Christmas!’
Her red-white-and-blue Sweet on America uniform smelled like the best things in the world:
chocolate, licorice, and all the other stuff she sold at the candy shop in Grand Central. She’d brought
me a huge bag of ‘free samples’, the way she always did when I came home.
We sat together on the edge of the bed. While I attacked the blueberry sour strings, she ran her hand
through my hair and demanded to know everything I hadn’t put in my letters. She didn’t mention
anything about my getting expelled. She didn’t seem to care about that. But was I okay? Was her little
boy doing all right?
I told her she was smothering me, and to lay off and all that, but secretly, I was really, really glad
to see her.
From the other room, Gabe yelled, ‘Hey, Sally – how about some bean dip, huh?’
I gritted my teeth.
My mom is the nicest lady in the world. She should’ve been married to a millionaire, not to some
jerk like Gabe.
For her sake, I tried to sound upbeat about my last days at Yancy Academy. I told her I wasn’t too
down about the expulsion. I’d lasted almost the whole year this time. I’d made some new friends. I’d
done pretty well in Latin. And honestly, the fights hadn’t been as bad as the headmaster said. I liked
Yancy Academy. I really had. I put such a good spin on the year, I almost convinced myself. I started
choking up, thinking about Grover and Mr Brunner. Even Nancy Bobofitt suddenly didn’t seem so
bad.
Until that trip to the museum…
‘What?’ my mom asked. Her eyes tugged at my conscience, trying to pull out the secrets. ‘Did
something scare you?’
‘No, Mom.’
I felt bad lying. I wanted to tell her about Mrs Dodds and the three old ladies with the yarn, but I
thought it would sound stupid.
She pursed her lips. She knew I was holding back, but she didn’t push me.
‘I have a surprise for you,’ she said. ‘We’re going to the beach.’
My eyes widened. ‘Montauk?’
‘Three nights – same cabin.’
‘When?’
She smiled. ‘As soon as I get changed.’
I couldn’t believe it. My mom and I hadn’t been to Montauk the last two summers, because Gabe
said there wasn’t enough money.
Gabe appeared in the doorway and growled, ‘Bean dip, Sally? Didn’t you hear me?’
I wanted to punch him, but I met my mom’s eyes and I understood she was offering me a deal: be
nice to Gabe for a little while. Just until she was ready to leave for Montauk. Then we would get out
of here.
‘I was on my way, honey,’ she told Gabe. ‘We were just talking about the trip.’
Gabe’s eyes got small. ‘The trip? You mean you were serious about that?’
‘I knew it,’ I muttered. ‘He won’t let us go.’
‘Of course he will,’ my mom said evenly. ‘Your stepfather is just worried about money. That’s all.
Besides,’ she added, ‘Gabriel won’t have to settle for bean dip. I’ll make him enough seven-layer dip
for the whole weekend. Guacamole. Sour cream. The works.’
Gabe softened a bit. ‘So this money for your trip… it comes out of your clothes budget, right?’
‘Yes, honey,’ my mother said.
‘And you won’t take my car anywhere but there and back.’
‘We’ll be very careful.’
Gabe scratched his double chin. ‘Maybe if you hurry with that seven-layer dip… And maybe if the
kid apologizes for interrupting my poker game.’
Maybe if I kick you in your soft spot, I thought. And make you sing soprano for a week.
But my mom’s eyes warned me not to make him mad.
Why did she put up with this guy? I wanted to scream. Why did she care what he thought?
‘I’m sorry,’ I muttered. ‘I’m really sorry I interrupted your incredibly important poker game. Please
go back to it right now.’
Gabe’s eyes narrowed. His tiny brain was probably trying to detect sarcasm in my statement.
‘Yeah, whatever,’ he decided.
He went back to his game.
‘Thank you, Percy,’ my mom said. ‘Once we get to Montauk, we’ll talk more about… whatever
you’ve forgotten to tell me, okay?’
For a moment, I thought I saw anxiety in her eyes – the same fear I’d seen in Grover during the bus
ride – as if my mom too felt an odd chill in the air.
But then her smile returned, and I figured I must have been mistaken. She ruffled my hair and went
to make Gabe his seven-layer dip.
An hour later we were ready to leave.
Gabe took a break from his poker game long enough to watch me lug my mom’s bags to the car. He
kept griping and groaning about losing her cooking – and more important, his ‘78 Camaro – for the
whole weekend.
‘Not a scratch on this car, brain boy,’ he warned me as I loaded the last bag. ‘Not one little
scratch.’
Like I’d be the one driving. I was twelve. But that didn’t matter to Gabe. If a seagull so much as
pooped on his paint job, he’d find a way to blame me.
Watching him lumber back towards the apartment building, I got so mad I did something I can’t
explain. As Gabe reached the doorway, I made the hand gesture I’d seen Grover make on the bus, a
sort of warding-off-evil gesture, a clawed hand over my heart, then a shoving movement towards
Gabe. The screen door slammed shut so hard it whacked him in the butt and sent him flying up the
staircase as if he’d been shot from a cannon. Maybe it was just the wind, or some freak accident with
the hinges, but I didn’t stay long enough to find out.
I got in the Camaro and told my mom to step on it.
Our rental cabin was on the south shore, way out at the tip of Long Island. It was a little pastel box
with faded curtains, half sunken into the dunes. There was always sand in the sheets and spiders in the
cabinets, and most of the time the sea was too cold to swim in.
I loved the place.
We’d been going there since I was a baby. My mom had been going even longer. She never exactly
said, but I knew why the beach was special to her. It was the place where she’d met my dad.
As we got closer to Montauk, she seemed to grow younger, years of worry and work disappearing
from her face. Her eyes turned the colour of the sea.
We got there at sunset, opened all the cabin’s windows, and went through our usual cleaning
routine. We walked on the beach, fed blue corn chips to the seagulls, and munched on blue jelly
beans, blue saltwater taffy, and all the other free samples my mom had brought from work.
I guess I should explain the blue food.
See, Gabe had once told my mom there was no such thing. They had this fight, which seemed like a
really small thing at the time. But ever since, my mom went out of her way to eat blue. She baked blue
birthday cakes. She mixed blueberry smoothies. She bought blue-corn tortilla chips and brought home
blue candy from the shop. This – along with keeping her maiden name, Jackson, rather than calling
herself Mrs Ugliano – was proof that she wasn’t totally suckered by Gabe. She did have a rebellious
streak, like me.
When it got dark, we made a fire. We roasted hot dogs and marshmallows. Mom told me stories
about when she was a kid, back before her parents died in the plane crash. She told me about the
books she wanted to write someday, when she had enough money to quit the candy shop.
Eventually, I got up the nerve to ask about what was always on my mind whenever we came to
Montauk – my father. Mom’s eyes went all misty. I figured she would tell me the same things she
always did, but I never got tired of hearing them.
‘He was kind, Percy,’ she said. ‘Tall, handsome and powerful. But gentle, too. You have his black
hair, you know, and his green eyes.’
Mom fished a blue jelly bean out of her candy bag. ‘I wish he could see you, Percy. He would be
so proud.’
I wondered how she could say that. What was so great about me? A dyslexic, hyperactive boy with
a D+ report card, kicked out of school for the sixth time in six years.
‘How old was I?’ I asked. ‘I mean… when he left?’
She watched the flames. ‘He was only with me for one summer, Percy. Right here at this beach.
This cabin.’
‘But… he knew me as a baby.’
‘No, honey. He knew I was expecting a baby, but he never saw you. He had to leave before you
were born.’
I tried to square that with the fact that I seemed to remember… something about my father. A warm
glow. A smile.
I had always assumed he knew me as a baby. My mom had never said it outright, but still, I’d felt it
must be true. Now, to be told that he’d never even seen me…
I felt angry at my father. Maybe it was stupid, but I resented him for going on that ocean voyage, for
not having the guts to marry my mom. He’d left us, and now we were stuck with Smelly Gabe.
‘Are you going to send me away again?’ I asked her. ‘To another boarding school?’
She pulled a marshmallow from the fire.
‘I don’t know, honey.’ Her voice was heavy. ‘I think… I think we’ll have to do something.’
‘Because you don’t want me around?’ I regretted the words as soon as they were out.
My mom’s eyes welled with tears. She took my hand, squeezed it tight. ‘Oh, Percy, no. I – I have
to, honey. For your own good. I have to send you away.’
Her words reminded me of what Mr Brunner had said – that it was best for me to leave Yancy.
‘Because I’m not normal,’ I said.
‘You say that as if it’s a bad thing, Percy. But you don’t realize how important you are. I thought
Yancy Academy would be far enough away. I thought you’d finally be safe.’
‘Safe from what?’
She met my eyes, and a flood of memories came back to me – all the weird, scary things that had
ever happened to me, some of which I’d tried to forget.
During third grade, a man in a black trench coat had stalked me on the playground. When the
teachers threatened to call the police, he went away growling, but no one believed me when I told
them that under his broad-brimmed hat, the man only had one eye, right in the middle of his head.
Before that – a really early memory. I was in pre school, and a teacher accidentally put me down
for a nap in a cot that a snake had slithered into. My mom screamed when she came to pick me up and
found me playing with a limp, scaly rope I’d somehow managed to strangle to death with my meaty
toddler hands.
In every single school, something creepy had happened, something unsafe, and I was forced to
move.
I knew I should tell my mom about the old ladies at the fruit stand, and Mrs Dodds at the art
museum, about my weird hallucination that I had sliced my maths teacher into dust with a sword. But I
couldn’t make myself tell her. I had a strange feeling the news would end our trip to Montauk, and I
didn’t want that.
‘I’ve tried to keep you as close to me as I could,’ my mom said. ‘They told me that was a mistake.
But there’s only one other option, Percy – the place your father wanted to send you. And I just… I just
can’t stand to do it.’
‘My father wanted me to go to a special school?’
‘Not a school,’ she said softly. ‘A summer camp.’
My head was spinning. Why would my dad – who hadn’t even stayed around long enough to see me
born – talk to my mom about a summer camp? And if it was so important, why hadn’t she ever
mentioned it before?
‘I’m sorry, Percy,’ she said, seeing the look in my eyes. ‘But I can’t talk about it. I – I couldn’t send
you to that place. It might mean saying goodbye to you for good.’
‘For good? But if it’s only a summer camp…’
She turned towards the fire, and I knew from her expression that if I asked her any more questions
she would start to cry.
That night I had a vivid dream.
It was storming on the beach, and two beautiful animals, a white horse and a golden eagle, were
trying to kill each other at the edge of the surf. The eagle swooped down and slashed the horse’s
muzzle with its huge talons. The horse reared up and kicked at the eagle’s wings. As they fought, the
ground rumbled, and a monstrous voice chuckled somewhere beneath the earth, goading the animals to
fight harder.
I ran towards them, knowing I had to stop them from killing each other, but I was running in slow
motion. I knew I would be too late. I saw the eagle dive down, its beak aimed at the horse’s wide
eyes, and I screamed, No!
I woke with a start.
Outside, it really was storming, the kind of storm that cracks trees and blows down houses. There
was no horse or eagle on the beach, just lightning making false daylight, and five-metre-high waves
pounding the dunes like artillery.
With the next thunderclap, my mom woke. She sat up, eyes wide, and said, ‘Hurricane.’
I knew that was crazy. Long Island never saw hurricanes this early in the summer. But the ocean
seemed to have forgotten. Over the roar of the wind, I heard a distant bellow, an angry, tortured sound
that made my hair stand on end.
Then a much closer noise, like mallets in the sand. A desperate voice – someone yelling, pounding
on our cabin door.
My mother sprang out of bed in her nightgown and threw open the lock.
Grover stood framed in the doorway against a backdrop of pouring rain. But he wasn’t… he wasn’t
exactly Grover.
‘Searching all night,’ he gasped. ‘What were you thinking?’
My mother looked at me in terror – not scared of Grover, but of why he’d come.
‘Percy,’ she said, shouting to be heard over the rain. ‘What happened at school? What didn’t you
tell me?’
I was frozen, looking at Grover. I couldn’t understand what I was seeing.
‘O Zeu kai alloi theoi!’ he yelled. ‘It’s right behind me! Didn’t you tell her?’
I was too shocked to register that he’d just cursed in Ancient Greek, and I’d understood him
perfectly. I was too shocked to wonder how Grover had got here by himself in the middle of the night.
Because Grover didn’t have his trousers on – and where his legs should be… where his legs should
be…
My mom looked at me sternly and talked in a tone she’d never used before:’Percy. Tell me now!’
I stammered something about the old ladies at the fruit stand, and Mrs Dodds, and my mom stared
at me, her face deathly pale in the flashes of lightning.
She grabbed her purse, tossed me my rain jacket, and said, ‘Get to the car. Both of you. Go!’
Grover ran for the Camaro – but he wasn’t running, exactly. He was trotting, shaking his shaggy
hindquarters, and suddenly his story about a muscular disorder in his legs made sense to me. I
understood how he could run so fast and still limp when he walked.
Because where his feet should be, there were no feet. There were cloven hooves.
4 My Mother Teaches Me Bullfighting
We tore through the night along dark country roads. Wind slammed against the Camaro. Rain lashed
the windshield. I didn’t know how my mom could see anything, but she kept her foot on the gas.
Every time there was a flash of lightning, I looked at Grover sitting next to me in the backseat and I
wondered if I’d gone insane, or if he was wearing some kind of shag-carpet trousers. But, no, the
smell was one I remembered from kindergarten field trips to the petting zoo – lanolin, like from wool.
The smell of a wet barnyard animal.
All I could think to say was, ‘So, you and my mum… know each other?’
Grover’s eyes flitted to the rearview mirror, though there were no cars behind us. ‘Not exactly,’ he
said. ‘I mean, we’ve never met in person. But she knew I was watching you.’
‘Watching me?’
‘Keeping tabs on you. Making sure you were okay. But I wasn’t faking being your friend,’ he added
hastily. ‘I am your friend.’
‘Um… what are you, exactly?’
‘That doesn’t matter right now.’
‘It doesn’t matter? From the waist down, my best friend is a donkey –’
Grover let out a sharp, throaty ‘Blaa-ha-ha!’
I’d heard him make that sound before, but I’d always assumed it was a nervous laugh. Now I
realized it was more of an irritated bleat.
‘Goat!’ he cried.
‘What?’
‘I’m a goat from the waist down.’
‘You just said it didn’t matter.’
‘Blaa-ha-ha! There are satyrs who would trample you under hoof for such an insult!’
‘Whoa. Wait. Satyrs. You mean like… Mr Brunner’s myths?’
‘Were those old ladies at the fruit stand a myth, Percy? Was Mrs Dodds a myth?’
‘So you admit there was a Mrs Dodds!’
‘Of course.’
‘Then why –’
‘The less you knew, the fewer monsters you’d attract,’ Grover said, like that should be perfectly
obvious. ‘We put Mist over the humans’ eyes. We hoped you’d think the Kindly One was a
hallucination. But it was no good. You started to realize who you are.’
‘Who I – wait a minute, what do you mean?’
The weird bellowing noise rose up again somewhere behind us, closer than before. Whatever was
chasing us was still on our trail.
‘Percy,’ my mom said, ‘there’s too much to explain and not enough time. We have to get you to
safety.’
‘Safety from what? Who’s after me?’
‘Oh, nobody much,’ Grover said, obviously still miffed about the donkey comment. ‘Just the Lord
of the Dead and a few of his blood-thirstiest minions.’
‘Grover!’
‘Sorry, Mrs Jackson. Could you drive faster, please?’
I tried to wrap my mind around what was happening, but I couldn’t do it. I knew this wasn’t a
dream. I had no imagination. I could never dream up something this weird.
My mom made a hard left. We swerved onto a narrower road, racing past darkened farmhouses and
wooded hills and PICK YOUR OWN STRAWBERRIES signs on white picket fences.
‘Where are we going?’ I asked.
‘The summer camp I told you about.’ My mother’s voice was tight; she was trying for my sake not
to be scared. ‘The place your father wanted to send you.’
‘The place you didn’t want me to go.’
‘Please, dear,’ my mother begged. ‘This is hard enough. Try to understand. You’re in danger.’
‘Because some old ladies cut yarn.’
‘Those weren’t old ladies,’ Grover said. ‘Those were the Fates. Do you know what it means – the
fact they appeared in front of you? They only do that when you’re about to… when someone’s about
to die.’
‘Whoa. You said “you”.’
‘No I didn’t. I said “someone”.’
‘You meant “you”. As in me.’
‘I meant you, like “someone”. Not you, you.’
‘Boys!’ my mom said.
She pulled the wheel hard to the right, and I got a glimpse of a figure she’d swerved to avoid – a
dark fluttering shape now lost behind us in the storm.
‘What was that?’ I asked.
‘We’re almost there,’ my mother said, ignoring my question. ‘Another mile. Please. Please.
Please.’
I didn’t know where there was, but I found myself leaning forward in the car, anticipating, wanting
us to arrive.
Outside, nothing but rain and darkness – the kind of empty countryside you get way out on the tip of
Long Island. I thought about Mrs Dodds and the moment when she’d changed into the thing with
pointed teeth and leathery wings. My limbs went numb from delayed shock. She really hadn’t been
human. She’d meant to kill me.
Then I thought about Mr Brunner… and the sword he had thrown me. Before I could ask Grover
about that, the hair rose on the back of my neck. There was a blinding flash, a jaw-rattling boom!, and
our car exploded.
I remember feeling weightless, like I was being crushed, fried and hosed down all at the same time.
I peeled my forehead off the back of the driver’s seat and said, ‘Ow.’
‘Percy!’ my mom shouted.
‘I’m okay….’
I tried to shake off the daze. I wasn’t dead. The car hadn’t really exploded. We’d swerved into a
ditch. Our driver’s-side doors were wedged in the mud. The roof had cracked open like an eggshell
and rain was pouring in.
Lightning. That was the only explanation. We’d been blasted right off the road. Next to me in the
backseat was a big motionless lump. ‘Grover!’
He was slumped over, blood trickling from the side of his mouth. I shook his furry hip, thinking,
No! Even if you are half barnyard animal, you’re my best friend and I don’t want you to die!
Then he groaned, ‘Food,’ and I knew there was hope.
‘Percy,’ my mother said, ‘we have to…’ Her voice faltered.
I looked back. In a flash of lightning, through the mud-spattered rear windshield, I saw a figure
lumbering towards us on the shoulder of the road. The sight of it made my skin crawl. It was a dark
silhouette of a huge guy, like a football player. He seemed to be holding a blanket over his head. His
top half was bulky and fuzzy. His upraised hands made it look like he had horns.
I swallowed hard. ‘Who is –’
‘Percy,’ my mother said, deadly serious. ‘Get out of the car.’
My mother threw herself against the driver’s-side door. It was jammed shut in the mud. I tried
mine. Stuck too. I looked up desperately at the hole in the roof. It might’ve been an exit, but the edges
were sizzling and smoking.
‘Climb out the passenger’s side!’ my mother told me. ‘Percy – you have to run. Do you see that big
tree?’
‘What?’
Another flash of lightning, and through the smoking hole in the roof I saw the tree she meant: a huge,
White House Christmas-tree-sized pine at the crest of the nearest hill.
‘That’s the property line,’ my mom said. ‘Get over that hill and you’ll see a big farmhouse down in
the valley. Run and don’t look back. Yell for help. Don’t stop until you reach the door.’
‘Mom, you’re coming, too.’
Her face was pale, her eyes as sad as when she looked at the ocean.
‘No!’ I shouted. ‘You are coming with me. Help me carry Grover.’
‘Food!’ Grover moaned, a little louder.
The man with the blanket on his head kept coming towards us, making his grunting, snorting noises.
As he got closer, I realized he couldn’t be holding a blanket over his head, because his hands – huge
meaty hands – were swinging at his sides. There was no blanket. Meaning the bulky, fuzzy mass that
was too big to be his head… was his head. And the points that looked like horns…
‘He doesn’t want us,’ my mother told me. ‘He wants you. Besides, I can’t cross the property line.’
‘But…’
‘We don’t have time, Percy. Go. Please.’
I got mad, then – mad at my mother, at Grover the goat, at the thing with horns that was lumbering
towards us slowly and deliberately like, like a bull.
I climbed across Grover and pushed the door open into the rain. ‘We’re going together. Come on,
Mom.’
‘I told you –’
‘Mom! I am not leaving you. Help me with Grover.’
I didn’t wait for her answer. I scrambled outside, dragging Grover from the car. He was
surprisingly light, but I couldn’t have carried him very far if my mom hadn’t come to my aid.
Together, we draped Grover’s arms over our shoulders and started stumbling uphill through wet
waist-high grass.
Glancing back, I got my first clear look at the monster. He was seven feet tall, easy, his arms and
legs like something from the cover of Muscle Man magazine – bulging biceps and triceps and a bunch
of other ‘ceps, all stuffed like baseballs under vein-webbed skin. He wore no clothes except
underwear – I mean, bright white Fruit-of-the-Looms, which would’ve been funny except for the top
half of his body. Coarse brown hair started at about his bellybutton and got thicker as it reached his
shoulders.
His neck was a mass of muscle and fur leading up to his enormous head, which had a snout as long
as my arm, snotty nostrils with a gleaming brass ring, cruel black eyes, and horns – enormous blackand-white horns with points you just couldn’t get from an electric sharpener.
I recognized the monster, all right. He had been in one of the first stories Mr Brunner told us. But
he couldn’t be real.
I blinked the rain out of my eyes. ‘That’s –’
‘Pasiphae’s son,’ my mother said. ‘I wish I’d known how badly they want to kill you.’
‘But a he’s a min–’
‘Don’t say his name,’ she warned. ‘Names have power.’
The pine tree was still way too far – a hundred metres uphill at least.
I glanced behind me again.
The bull-man hunched over our car, looking in the windows – or not looking, exactly. More like
snuffling, nuzzling. I wasn’t sure why he bothered, since we were only about fifteen metres away.
‘Food?’ Grover moaned.
‘Shhh,’ I told him. ‘Mom, what’s he doing? Doesn’t he see us?’
‘His sight and hearing are terrible,’ she said. ‘He goes by smell. But he’ll figure out where we are
soon enough.’
As if on cue, the bull-man bellowed in rage. He picked up Gabe’s Camaro by the torn roof, the
chassis creaking and groaning. He raised the car over his head and threw it down the road. It
slammed into the wet asphalt and skidded in a shower of sparks for about half a mile before coming
to a stop. The gas tank exploded.
Not a scratch, I remembered Gabe saying.
Oops.
‘Percy,’ my mom said. ‘When he sees us, he’ll charge. Wait until the last second, then jump out of
the way – directly sideways. He can’t change direction very well once he’s charging. Do you
understand?’
‘How do you know all this?’
‘I’ve been worried about an attack for a long time. I should have expected this. I was selfish,
keeping you near me.’
‘Keeping me near you? But –’
Another bellow of rage, and the bull-man started tromping uphill.
He’d smelled us.
The pine tree was only a few more metres, but the hill was getting steeper and slicker, and Grover
wasn’t getting any lighter.
The bull-man closed in. Another few seconds and he’d be on top of us.
My mother must’ve been exhausted, but she shouldered Grover. ‘Go, Percy! Separate! Remember
what I said.’
I didn’t want to split up, but I had the feeling she was right – it was our only chance. I sprinted to
the left, turned, and saw the creature bearing down on me. His black eyes glowed with hate. He
reeked like rotten meat.
He lowered his head and charged, those razor-sharp horns aimed straight at my chest.
The fear in my stomach made me want to bolt, but that wouldn’t work. I could never outrun this
thing. So I held my ground, and at the last moment, I jumped to the side.
The bull-man stormed past like a freight train, then bellowed with frustration and turned, but not
towards me this time, towards my mother, who was setting Grover down in the grass.
We’d reached the crest of the hill. Down the other side I could see a valley, just as my mother had
said, and the lights of a farmhouse glowing yellow through the rain. But that was half a mile away.
We’d never make it.
The bull-man grunted, pawing the ground. He kept eyeing my mother, who was now retreating
slowly downhill, back towards the road, trying to lead the monster away from Grover.
‘Run, Percy!’ she told me. ‘I can’t go any further. Run!’
But I just stood there, frozen in fear, as the monster charged her. She tried to sidestep, as she’d told
me to do, but the monster had learned his lesson. His hand shot out and grabbed her by the neck as she
tried to get away. He lifted her as she struggled, kicking and pummelling the air.
‘Mom!’
She caught my eyes, managed to choke out one last word: ‘Go!’
Then, with an angry roar, the monster closed his fists around my mother’s neck, and she dissolved
before my eyes, melting into light, a shimmering golden form, as if she were a holographic projection.
A blinding flash, and she was simply… gone.
‘No!’
Anger replaced my fear. Newfound strength burned in my limbs – the same rush of energy I’d got
when Mrs Dodds grew talons.
The bull-man bore down on Grover, who lay helpless in the grass. The monster hunched over,
snuffling my best friend, as if he were about to lift Grover up and make him dissolve too.
I couldn’t allow that.
I stripped off my red rain jacket.
‘HEY!’ I screamed, waving the jacket, running to one side of the monster. ‘Hey, stupid! Ground
beef!’
‘Raaaarrrrr!’ The monster turned towards me, shaking his meaty fists.
I had an idea – a stupid idea, but better than no idea at all. I put my back to the big pine tree and
waved my red jacket in front of the bull-man, thinking I’d jump out of the way at the last moment.
But it didn’t happen like that.
The bull-man charged too fast, his arms out to grab me whichever way I tried to dodge.
Time slowed down.
My legs tensed. I couldn’t jump sideways, so I leaped straight up, kicking off from the creature’s
head, using it as a springboard, turning in midair and landing on his neck.
How did I do that? I didn’t have time to figure it out. A millisecond later, the monster’s head
slammed into the tree and the impact nearly knocked my teeth out.
The bull-man staggered around, trying to shake me. I locked my arms around his horns to keep from
being thrown. Thunder and lightning were still going strong. The rain was in my eyes. The smell of
rotten meat burned my nostrils.
The monster shook himself around and bucked like a rodeo bull. He should have just backed up
into the tree and smashed me flat, but I was starting to realize that this thing had only one gear:
forward.
Meanwhile, Grover started groaning in the grass. I wanted to yell at him to shut up, but the way I
was getting tossed around, if I opened my mouth I’d bite my own tongue off.
‘Food!’ Grover moaned.
The bull-man wheeled towards him, pawed the ground again, and got ready to charge. I thought
about how he had squeezed the life out of my mother, made her disappear in a flash of light, and rage
filled me like high-octane fuel. I got both hands around one horn and I pulled backwards with all my
might. The monster tensed, gave a surprised grunt, then – snap!
The bull-man screamed and flung me through the air. I landed flat on my back in the grass. My head
smacked against a rock. When I sat up, my vision was blurry, but I had a horn in my hands, a ragged
bone weapon the size of a knife.
The monster charged.
Without thinking, I rolled to one side and came up kneeling. As the monster barrelled past, I drove
the broken horn straight into his side, right up under his furry rib cage.
The bull-man roared in agony. He flailed, clawing at his chest, then began to disintegrate – not like
my mother, in a flash of golden light, but like crumbling sand, blown away in chunks by the wind, the
same way Mrs Dodds had burst apart.
The monster was gone.
The rain had stopped. The storm still rumbled, but only in the distance. I smelled like livestock and
my knees were shaking. My head felt like it was splitting open. I was weak and scared and trembling
with grief. I’d just seen my mother vanish. I wanted to lie down and cry, but there was Grover,
needing my help, so I managed to haul him up and stagger down into the valley, towards the lights of
the farmhouse. I was crying, calling for my mother, but I held on to Grover – I wasn’t going to let him
go.
The last thing I remember is collapsing on a wooden porch, looking up at a ceiling fan circling
above me, moths flying around a yellow light and the stern faces of a familiar-looking bearded man
and a pretty girl, her blonde hair curled like Cinderella’s. They both looked down at me, and the girl
said, ‘He’s the one. He must be.’
‘Silence, Annabeth,’ the man said. ‘He’s still conscious. Bring him inside.’
5 I Play Pinochle with a Horse
I had weird dreams full of barnyard animals. Most of them wanted to kill me. The rest wanted food.
I must’ve woken up several times, but what I heard and saw made no sense, so I just passed out
again. I remember lying in a soft bed, being spoon-fed something that tasted like buttered popcorn,
only it was pudding. The girl with curly blonde hair hovered over me, smirking as she scraped drips
off my chin with the spoon.
When she saw my eyes open, she asked, ‘What will happen at the summer solstice?’
I managed to croak, ‘What?’
She looked around, as if afraid someone would overhear. ‘What’s going on? What was stolen?
We’ve only got a few weeks!’
‘I’m sorry,’ I mumbled, ‘I don’t…’
Somebody knocked on the door, and the girl quickly filled my mouth with pudding.
The next time I woke up, the girl was gone.
A husky blond dude, like a surfer, stood in the corner of the bedroom keeping watch over me. He
had blue eyes – at least a dozen of them – on his cheeks, his forehead, the backs of his hands.
***
When I finally came around for good, there was nothing weird about my surroundings, except that they
were nicer than I was used to. I was sitting in a deck chair on a huge porch, gazing across a meadow
at green hills in the distance. The breeze smelled like strawberries. There was a blanket over my
legs, a pillow behind my neck. All that was great, but my mouth felt like a scorpion had been using it
for a nest. My tongue was dry and nasty and every one of my teeth hurt.
On the table next to me was a tall drink. It looked like iced apple juice, with a green straw and a
paper parasol stuck through a maraschino cherry.
My hand was so weak I almost dropped the glass once I got my fingers around it.
‘Careful,’ a familiar voice said.
Grover was leaning against the porch railing, looking like he hadn’t slept in a week. Under one
arm, he cradled a shoe box. He was wearing blue jeans, Converse hi-tops and a bright orange T-shirt
that said CAMP HALF-BLOOD. Just plain old Grover. Not the goat boy.
So maybe I’d had a nightmare. Maybe my mom was okay. We were still on vacation, and we’d
stopped here at this big house for some reason. And…
‘You saved my life,’ Grover said. ‘I… well, the least I could do… I went back to the hill. I thought
you might want this.’
Reverently, he placed the shoe box in my lap.
Inside was a black-and-white bulls horn, the base jagged from being broken off, the tip splattered
with dried blood. It hadn’t been a nightmare.
‘The Minotaur,’ said.
‘Um, Percy, it isn’t a good idea –’
‘That’s what they call it in the Greek myths, isn’t it?’ I demanded. ‘The Minotaur. Half man, half
bull.’
Grover shifted uncomfortably. ‘You’ve been out for two days. How much do you remember?’
‘My mom. Is she really…’
He looked down.
I stared across the meadow. There were groves of trees, a winding stream, acres of strawberries
spread out under the blue sky. The valley was surrounded by rolling hills, and the tallest one, directly
in front of us, was the one with the huge pine tree on top. Even that looked beautiful in the sunlight.
My mother was gone. The whole world should be black and cold. Nothing should look beautiful.
‘I’m sorry,’ Grover sniffled. ‘I’m a failure. I’m – I’m the worst satyr in the world.’
He moaned, stomping his foot so hard it came off. I mean, the Converse hi-top came off. The inside
was filled with Styrofoam, except for a hoof-shaped hole.
‘Oh, Styx!’ he mumbled.
Thunder rolled across the clear sky.
As he struggled to get his hoof back in the fake foot, I thought, Well, that settles it.
Grover was a satyr. I was ready to bet that if I shaved his curly brown hair, I’d find tiny horns on
his head. But I was too miserable to care that satyrs existed, or even Minotaurs. All that meant was
my mom really had been squeezed into nothingness, dissolved into yellow light.
I was alone. An orphan. I would have to live with… Smelly Gabe? No. That would never happen. I
would live on the streets first. I would pretend I was seventeen and join the army. I’d do something.
Grover was still sniffling. The poor kid – poor goat, satyr, whatever – looked as if he expected to
be hit.
I said, ‘It wasn’t your fault.’
‘Yes, it was. I was supposed to protect you.’
‘Did my mother ask you to protect me?’
‘No. But that’s my job. I’m a keeper. At least… I was.’
‘But why…’ I suddenly felt dizzy, my vision swimming.
‘Don’t strain yourself,’ Grover said. ‘Here.’
He helped me hold my glass and put the straw to my lips.
I recoiled at the taste, because I was expecting apple juice. It wasn’t that at all. It was chocolatechip cookies. Liquid cookies. And not just any cookies – my mom’s homemade blue chocolate-chip
cookies, buttery and hot, with the chips still melting. Drinking it, my whole body felt warm and good,
full of energy. My grief didn’t go away, but I felt as if my mom had just brushed her hand against my
cheek, given me a cookie the way she used to when I was small, and told me everything was going to
be okay.
Before I knew it, I’d drained the glass. I stared into it, sure I’d just had a warm drink, but the ice
cubes hadn’t even melted.
‘Was it good?’ Grover asked.
I nodded.
‘What did it taste like?’ He sounded so wistful, I felt guilty.
‘Sorry,’ I said. ‘I should’ve let you taste.’
His eyes got wide. ‘No! That’s not what I meant. I just… wondered.’
‘Chocolate-chip cookies,’ I said. ‘My mom’s. Homemade.’
He sighed. ‘And how do you feel?’
‘Like I could throw Nancy Bobofit a hundred metres.’
‘That’s good,’ he said. ‘That’s good. I don’t think you should risk drinking any more of that stuff.’
‘What do you mean?’
He took the empty glass from me gingerly, as if it were dynamite, and set it back on the table.
‘Come on. Chiron and Mr D are waiting.’
The porch wrapped all the way around the farmhouse.
My legs felt wobbly trying to walk that far. Grover offered to carry the Minotaur horn, but I held on
to it. I’d paid for that souvenir the hard way. I wasn’t going to let it go.
As we came around the opposite end of the house, I caught my breath.
We must’ve been on the north shore of Long Island, because on this side of the house, the valley
marched all the way up to Long Island Sound, which glittered about a mile in the distance. Between
here and there, I simply couldn’t process everything I was seeing. The landscape was dotted with
buildings that looked like ancient Greek architecture – an open-air pavilion, an amphitheatre, a
circular arena – except that they all looked brand new, their white marble columns sparkling in the
sun. In a nearby sandpit, a dozen high school-age kids and satyrs played volleyball. Canoes glided
across a small lake. Kids in bright orange T-shirts like Grover’s were chasing each other around a
cluster of cabins nestled in the woods. Some shot targets at an archery range. Others rode horses
down a wooded trail, and, unless I was hallucinating, some of their horses had wings.
Down at the end of the porch, two men sat across from each other at a card table. The blondehaired girl who’d spoon-fed me popcorn-flavoured pudding was leaning on the porch rail next to
them.
The man facing me was small, but porky. He had a red nose, big watery eyes and curly hair so
black it was almost purple. He looked like those paintings of baby angels – what do you call them,
hubbubs? No, cherubs. That’s it. He looked like a cherub who’d turned middle-aged in a trailer park.
He wore a tiger-pattern Hawaiian shirt, and he would’ve fitted right in at one of Gabe’s poker
parties, except I got the feeling this guy could’ve out-gambled even my stepfather.
‘That’s Mr D,’ Grover murmured to me. ‘He’s the camp director. Be polite. The girl, that’s
Annabeth Chase. She’s just a camper, but she’s been here longer than just about anybody. And you
already know Chiron…’
He pointed at the guy whose back was to me.
First, I realized he was sitting in the wheelchair. Then I recognized the tweed jacket, the thinning
brown hair, the scraggly beard.
‘Mr Brunner!’ I cried.
The Latin teacher turned and smiled at me. His eyes had that mischievous glint they sometimes got
in class when he pulled a pop quiz and made all the multiple choice answers B.
‘Ah, good, Percy,’ he said. ‘Now we have four for pinochle.’
He offered me a chair to the right of Mr D, who looked at me with bloodshot eyes and heaved a
great sigh. ‘Oh, I suppose I must say it. Welcome to Camp Half-Blood. There. Now don’t expect me
to be glad to see you.’
‘Uh, thanks.’ I scooted a little further away from him because, if there was one thing I had learned
from living with Gabe, it was how to tell when an adult has been hitting the happy juice. If Mr D was
a stranger to alcohol, I was a satyr.
‘Annabeth?’ Mr Brunner called to the blonde girl.
She came forward and Mr Brunner introduced us. ‘This young lady nursed you back to health,
Percy. Annabeth, my dear, why don’t you go check on Percy’s bunk? We’ll be putting him in cabin
eleven for now.’
Annabeth said, ‘Sure, Chiron.’
She was probably my age, maybe a couple of centimetres taller, and a whole lot more athleticlooking. With her deep tan and her curly blonde hair, she was almost exactly what I thought a
stereotypical California girl would look like, except her eyes ruined the image. They were a startling
grey, like storm clouds; pretty, but intimidating, too, as if she were analysing the best way to take me
down in a fight.
She glanced at the Minotaur horn in my hands, then back at me. I imagined she was going to say,
You killed a Minotaur! or Wow, you’re so awesome! or something like that.
Instead she said, ‘You drool when you sleep.’
Then she sprinted off down the lawn, her blonde hair flying behind her.
‘So,’ I said, anxious to change the subject. ‘You, uh, work here, Mr Brunner?’
‘Not Mr Brunner,’ the ex-Mr Brunner said. ‘I’m afraid that was a pseudonym. You may call me
Chiron.’
‘Okay.’ Totally confused, I looked at the director. ‘And Mr D… does that stand for something?’
Mr D stopped shuffling the cards. He looked at me like I’d just belched loudly. ‘Young man, names
are powerful things. You don’t just go around using them for no reason.’
‘Oh. Right. Sorry.’
‘I must say, Percy,’ Chiron-Brunner broke in, ‘I’m glad to see you alive. It’s been a long time since
I’ve made a house call to a potential camper. I’d hate to think I’ve wasted my time.’
‘House call?’
‘My year at Yancy Academy, to instruct you. We have satyrs at most schools, of course, keeping a
lookout. But Grover alerted me as soon as he met you. He sensed you were something special, so I
decided to come upstate. I convinced the other Latin teacher to… ah, take a leave of absence.’
I tried to remember the beginning of the school year. It seemed like so long ago, but I did have a
fuzzy memory of there being another Latin teacher my first week at Yancy. Then, without explanation,
he had disappeared and Mr Brunner had taken the class.
‘You came to Yancy just to teach me?’ I asked.
Chiron nodded. ‘Honestly, I wasn’t sure about you at first. We contacted your mother, let her know
we were keeping an eye on you in case you were ready for Camp Half-Blood. But you still had so
much to learn. Nevertheless, you made it here alive, and that’s always the first test.’
‘Grover,’ Mr D said impatiently, ‘are you playing or not?’
‘Yes, sir!’ Grover trembled as he took the fourth chair, though I didn’t know why he should be so
afraid of a pudgy little man in a tiger-print Hawaiian shirt.
‘You do know how to play pinochle?’ Mr D eyed me suspiciously.
‘I’m afraid not,’ I said.
‘I’m afraid not, sir,’ he said.
‘Sir,’ I repeated. I was liking the camp director less and less.
‘Well,’ he told me, ‘it is, along with gladiator fighting and Pac-Man, one of the greatest games ever
invented by humans. I would expect all civilized young men to know the rules.’
‘I’m sure the boy can learn,’ Chiron said.
‘Please,’ I said, ‘what is this place? What am I doing here? Mr Brun – Chiron – why would you go
to Yancy Academy just to teach me?’
Mr D snorted. ‘I asked the same question.’
The camp director dealt the cards. Grover flinched every time one landed in his pile.
Chiron smiled at me sympathetically, the way he used to in Latin class, as if to let me know that no
matter what my average was, I was his star student. He expected me to have the right answer.
‘Percy,’ he said. ‘Did your mother tell you nothing?’
‘She said…’ I remembered her sad eyes, looking out over the sea. ‘She told me she was afraid to
send me here, even though my father had wanted her to. She said that once I was here, I probably
couldn’t leave. She wanted to keep me close to her.’
‘Typical,’ Mr D said. ‘That’s how they usually get killed. Young man, are you bidding or not?’
‘What?’ I asked.
He explained, impatiently, how you bid in pinochle, and so I did.
‘I’m afraid there’s too much to tell,’ Chiron said. ‘I’m afraid our usual orientation film won’t be
sufficient.’
‘Orientation film?’ I asked.
‘No,’ Chiron decided. ‘Well, Percy. You know your friend Grover is a satyr. You know –’ he
pointed to the horn in the shoebox – ‘that you have killed a Minotaur. No small feat, either, lad. What
you may not know is that great powers are at work in your life. Gods – the forces you call the Greek
gods – are very much alive.’
I stared at the others around the table.
I waited for somebody to yell, Not! But all I got was Mr D yelling, ‘Oh, a royal marriage. Trick!
Trick!’ He cackled as he tallied up his points.
‘Mr D,’ Grover asked timidly, ‘if you’re not going to eat it, could I have your Diet Coke can?’
‘Eh? Oh, all right.’
Grover bit a huge shard out of the empty aluminium can and chewed it mournfully.
‘Wait,’ I told Chiron. ‘You’re telling me there’s such a thing as God.’
‘Well, now,’ Chiron said. ‘God – capital G, God. That’s a different matter altogether. We shan’t
deal with the metaphysical.’
‘Metaphysical? But you were just talking about –’
‘Ah, gods, plural, as in, great beings that control the forces of nature and human endeavours: the
immortal gods of Olympus. That’s a smaller matter.’
‘Smaller!’
‘Yes, quite. The gods we discussed in Latin class.’
‘Zeus,’ I said. ‘Hera. Apollo. You mean them.’
And there it was again – distant thunder on a cloudless day.
‘Young man,’ said Mr D. ‘I would really be less casual about throwing those names around, if I
were you.’
‘But they’re stories,’ I said. ‘They’re – myths, to explain lightning and the seasons and stuff.
They’re what people believed before there was science.’
‘Science!’ Mr D scoffed. ‘And tell me, Perseus Jackson –’
I flinched when he said my real name, which I never told anybody.
‘– what will people think of your “science” two thousand years from now?’ Mr D continued.
‘Hmm? They will call it primitive mumbo jumbo. That’s what. Oh, I love mortals – they have
absolutely no sense of perspective. They think they’ve come so˜o˜o far. And have they, Chiron? Look
at this boy and tell me.’
I wasn’t liking Mr D much, but there was something about the way he called me mortal, as if… he
wasn’t. It was enough to put a lump in my throat, to suggest why Grover was dutifully minding his
cards, chewing his soda can, and keeping his mouth shut.
‘Percy,’ Chiron said, ‘you may choose to believe or not, but the fact is that immortal means
immortal. Can you imagine that for a moment, never dying? Never fading? Existing, just as you are,
for all time?’
I was about to answer, off the top of my head, that it sounded like a pretty good deal, but the tone of
Chiron’s voice made me hesitate.
‘You mean, whether people believed in you or not,’ I said.
‘Exactly,’ Chiron agreed. ‘If you were a god, how would you like being called a myth, an old story
to explain lightning? What if I told you, Perseus Jackson, that someday people would call you a myth,
just created to explain how little boys can get over losing their mothers?’
My heart pounded. He was trying to make me angry for some reason, but I wasn’t going to let him. I
said, ‘I wouldn’t like it. But I don’t believe in gods.’
‘Oh, you’d better,’ Mr D murmured. ‘Before one of them incinerates you.’
Grover said, ‘P-please, sir. He’s just lost his mother. He’s in shock.’
‘A lucky thing, too,’ Mr D grumbled, playing a card. ‘Bad enough I’m confined to this miserable
job, working with boys who don’t even believe!’
He waved his hand and a goblet appeared on the table, as if the sunlight had bent, momentarily, and
woven the air into glass. The goblet filled itself with red wine.
My jaw dropped, but Chiron hardly looked up.
‘Mr D,’ he warned, ‘your restrictions.’
Mr D looked at the wine and feigned surprise.
‘Dear me.’ He looked at the sky and yelled, ‘Old habits! Sorry!’
More thunder.
Mr D waved his hand again, and the wineglass changed into a fresh can of Diet Coke. He sighed
unhappily, popped the top of the soda, and went back to his card game.
Chiron winked at me. ‘Mr D offended his father a while back, took a fancy to a wood nymph who
had been declared off-limits.’
‘A wood nymph,’ I repeated, still staring at the Diet Coke can like it was from outer space.
‘Yes,’ Mr D confessed. ‘Father loves to punish me. The first time, Prohibition. Ghastly! Absolutely
horrid ten years! The second time – well, she really was pretty, and I couldn’t stay away – the second
time, he sent me here. Half-Blood Hill. Summer camp for brats like you. “Be a better influence,” he
told me. “Work with youths rather than tearing them down.” Ha! Absolutely unfair.’
Mr D sounded about six years old, like a pouting little kid.
‘And…’ I stammered, ‘your father is…’
‘Di immortales, Chiron,’ Mr D said. ‘I thought you taught this boy the basics. My father is Zeus, of
course.’
I ran through D names from Greek mythology. Wine. The skin of a tiger. The satyrs that all seemed
to work here. The way Grover cringed, as if Mr D were his master.
‘You’re Dionysus,’ I said. ‘The god of wine.’
Mr D rolled his eyes. ‘What do they say, these days, Grover? Do the children say, “Well, duh!”?’
‘Y-yes, Mr D.’
‘Then, “Well, duh!” Percy Jackson. Did you think I was Aphrodite, perhaps?’
‘You’re a god.’
‘Yes, child.’
‘A god. You.’
He turned to look at me straight on, and I saw a kind of purplish fire in his eyes, a hint that this
whiny, plump little man was only showing me the tiniest bit of his true nature. I saw visions of grape
vines choking unbelievers to death, drunken warriors insane with battle lust, sailors screaming as
their hands turned to flippers, their faces elongating into dolphin snouts. I knew that if I pushed him,
Mr D would show me worse things. He would plant a disease in my brain that would leave me
wearing a straitjacket in a rubber room for the rest of my life.
‘Would you like to test me, child?’ he said quietly.
‘No. No, sir.’
The fire died a little. He turned back to his card game. ‘I believe I win.’
‘Not quite, Mr D,’ Chiron said. He set down a straight, tallied the points, and said, ‘The game goes
to me.’
I thought Mr D was going to vaporize Chiron right out of his wheelchair, but he just sighed through
his nose, as if he were used to being beaten by the Latin teacher. He got up, and Grover rose, too.
‘I’m tired,’ Mr D said. ‘I believe I’ll take a nap before the sing-along tonight. But first, Grover, we
need to talk, again, about your less-than-perfect performance on this assignment.’
Grover’s face beaded with sweat. ‘Y-yes, sir.’
Mr D turned to me. ‘Cabin eleven, Percy Jackson. And mind your manners.’
He swept into the farmhouse, Grover following miserably.
‘Will Grover be okay?’ I asked Chiron.
Chiron nodded, though he looked a bit troubled. ‘Old Dionysus isn’t really mad. He just hates his
job. He’s been… ah, grounded, I guess you would say, and he can’t stand waiting another century
before he’s allowed to go back to Olympus.’
‘Mount Olympus,’ I said. ‘You’re telling me there really is a palace there?’
‘Well now, there’s Mount Olympus in Greece. And then there’s the home of the gods, the
convergence point of their powers, which did indeed used to be on Mount Olympus. It’s still called
Mount Olympus, out of respect to the old ways, but the palace moves, Percy, just as the gods do.’
‘You mean the Greek gods are here? Like… in America?’
‘Well, certainly. The gods move with the heart of the West.’
‘The what?’
‘Come now, Percy. What you call “Western civilization”. Do you think it’s just an abstract
concept? No, it’s a living force. A collective consciousness that has burned bright for thousands of
years. The gods are part of it. You might even say they are the source of it, or at least, they are tied so
tightly to it that they couldn’t possibly fade, not unless all of Western civilization were obliterated.
The fire started in Greece. Then, as you well know – or as I hope you know, since you passed my
course – the heart of the fire moved to Rome, and so did the gods. Oh, different names, perhaps –
Jupiter for Zeus, Venus for Aphrodite, and so on – but the same forces, the same gods.’
‘And then they died.’
‘Died? No. Did the West die? The gods simply moved, to Germany, to France, to Spain, for a
while. Wherever the flame was brightest, the gods were there. They spent several centuries in
England. All you need to do is look at the architecture. People do not forget the gods. Every place
they’ve ruled, for the last three thousand years, you can see them in paintings, in statues, on the most
important buildings. And yes, Percy, of course they are now in your United States. Look at your
symbol, the eagle of Zeus. Look at the statue of Prometheus in Rockefeller Center, the Greek facades
of your government buildings in Washington. I defy you to find any American city where the
Olympians are not prominently displayed in multiple places. Like it or not – and believe me, plenty of
people weren’t very fond of Rome, either – America is now the heart of the flame. It is the great
power of the West. And so Olympus is here. And we are here.’
It was all too much, especially the fact that I seemed to be included in Chiron’s we, as if I were
part of some club.
‘Who are you, Chiron? Who… who am I?’
Chiron smiled. He shifted his weight as if he were going to get up out of his wheelchair, but I knew
that was impossible. He was paralysed from the waist down.
‘Who are you,’ he mused. ‘Well, that’s the question we all want answered, isn’t it? But for now,
we should get you a bunk in cabin eleven. There will be new friends to meet. And plenty of time for
lessons tomorrow. Besides, there will be toasted marshmallows at the campfire tonight, and I simply
adore them.’
And then he did rise from his wheelchair. But there was something odd about the way he did it. His
blanket fell away from his legs, but the legs didn’t move. His waist kept getting longer, rising above
his belt. At first, I thought he was wearing very long, white velvet underwear, but as he kept rising out
of the chair, taller than any man, I realized that the velvet underwear wasn’t underwear; it was the
front of an animal, muscle and sinew under coarse white fur. And the wheelchair wasn’t a chair. It
was some kind of container, an enormous box on wheels, and it must’ve been magic, because there’s
no way it could’ve held all of him. A leg came out, long and knobby-kneed, with a huge polished
hoof. Then another front leg, then hindquarters, and then the box was empty, nothing but a metal shell
with a couple of fake human legs attached.
I stared at the horse who had just sprung from the wheelchair: a huge white stallion. But where its
neck should be was the upper body of my Latin teacher, smoothly grafted to the horse’s trunk.
‘What a relief the centaur said. ‘I’d been cooped up in there so long, my fetlocks had fallen asleep.
Now, come, Percy Jackson. Let’s meet the other campers.’
6 I Become Supreme Lord of the Bathroom
Once I got over the fact that my Latin teacher was a horse, we had a nice tour, though I was careful
not to walk behind him. I’d done pooper-scooper patrol in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade a
few times, and, I’m sorry, I did not trust Chiron’s back end the way I trusted his front.
We passed the volleyball pit. Several of the campers nudged each other. One pointed to the
Minotaur horn I was carrying. Another said, ‘That’s him.’
Most of the campers were older than me. Their satyr friends were bigger than Grover, all of them
trotting around in orange CAMP HALF-BLOOD T-shirts, with nothing else to cover their bare shaggy
hindquarters. I wasn’t normally shy, but the way they stared at me made me uncomfortable. I felt like
they were expecting me to do a cartwheel or something.
I looked back at the farmhouse. It was a lot bigger than I’d realized – four storeys tall, sky blue
with white trim, like an upmarket seaside resort. I was checking out the brass eagle weather vane on
top when something caught my eye, a shadow in the uppermost window of the attic gable. Something
had moved the curtain, just for a second, and I got the distinct impression I was being watched.
‘What’s up there?’ I asked Chiron.
He looked where I was pointing, and his smile faded. ‘Just the attic.’
‘Somebody lives there?’
‘No,’ he said with finality. ‘Not a single living thing.’
I got the feeling he was being truthful. But I was also sure something had moved that curtain.
‘Come along, Percy,’ Chiron said, his lighthearted tone now a little forced. ‘Lots to see.’
We walked through the strawberry fields, where campers were picking bushels of berries while a
satyr played a tune on a reed pipe.
Chiron told me the camp grew a nice crop for export to New York restaurants and Mount Olympus.
‘It pays our expenses,’ he explained. ‘And the strawberries take almost no effort.’
He said Mr D had this effect on fruit-bearing plants: they just went crazy when he was around. It
worked best with wine grapes, but Mr D was restricted from growing those, so they grew
strawberries instead.
I watched the satyr playing his pipe. His music was causing lines of bugs to leave the strawberry
patch in every direction, like refugees fleeing a fire. I wondered if Grover could work that kind of
magic with music. I wondered if he was still inside the farmhouse, being lectured by Mr D.
‘Grover won’t get in too much trouble, will he?’ I asked Chiron. ‘I mean… he was a good
protector. Really.’
Chiron sighed. He shed his tweed jacket and draped it over his horse’s back like a saddle. ‘Grover
has big dreams, Percy. Perhaps bigger than are reasonable. To reach his goal, he must first
demonstrate great courage by succeeding as a keeper, finding a new camper and bringing him safely
to Half-Blood Hill.’
‘But he did that!’
‘I might agree with you,’ Chiron said. ‘But it is not my place to judge. Dionysus and the Council of
Cloven Elders must decide. I’m afraid they might not see this assignment as a success. After all,
Grover lost you in New York. Then there’s the unfortunate… ah… fate of your mother. And the fact
that Grover was unconscious when you dragged him over the property line. The council might
question whether this shows any courage on Grover’s part.’
I wanted to protest. None of what had happened was Grover’s fault. I also felt really, really guilty.
If I hadn’t given Grover the slip at the bus station, he might not have got in trouble.
‘He’ll get a second chance, won’t he?’
Chiron winced. ‘I’m afraid that was Grover’s second chance, Percy. The council was not anxious
to give him another, either, after what happened the first time, five years ago. Olympus knows, I
advised him to wait longer before trying again. He’s still so small for his age…’
‘How old is he?’
‘Oh, twenty-eight.’
‘What! And he’s in sixth grade?’
‘Satyrs mature half as fast as humans, Percy. Grover has been the equivalent of a middle school
student for the past six years.’
‘That’s horrible.’
‘Quite,’ Chiron agreed. ‘At any rate, Grover is a late bloomer, even by satyr standards, and not yet
very accomplished at woodland magic. Alas, he was anxious to pursue his dream. Perhaps now he
will find some other career…’
‘That’s not fair,’ I said. ‘What happened the first time? Was it really so bad?’
Chiron looked away quickly. ‘Let’s move along, shall we?’
But I wasn’t quite ready to let the subject drop. Something had occurred to me when Chiron talked
about my mother’s fate, as if he were intentionally avoiding the word death. The beginnings of an
idea – a tiny, hopeful fire – started forming in my mind.
‘Chiron,’ I said. ‘If the gods and Olympus and all that are real…’
‘Yes, child?’
‘Does that mean the Underworld is real, too?’
Chiron’s expression darkened.
‘Yes, child.’ He paused, as if choosing his words carefully. ‘There is a place where spirits go after
death. But for now… until we know more… I would urge you to put that out of your mind.’
‘What do you mean, “until we know more”?’
‘Come, Percy. Let’s see the woods.’
As we got closer, I realized how huge the forest was. It took up at least a quarter of the valley, with
trees so tall and thick, you could imagine nobody had been in there since the Native Americans.
Chiron said, ‘The woods are stocked, if you care to try your luck, but go armed.’
‘Stocked with what?’ I asked. ‘Armed with what?’
‘You’ll see. Capture the flag is Friday night. Do you have your own sword and shield?’
‘My own –’
‘No,’ Chiron said. ‘I don’t suppose you do. I think a size five will do. I’ll visit the armoury later.’
I wanted to ask what kind of summer camp had an armoury, but there was too much else to think
about, so the tour continued. We saw the archery range, the canoeing lake, the stables (which Chiron
didn’t seem to like very much), the javelin range, the sing-along amphitheatre, and the arena where
Chiron said they held sword and spear fights.
‘Sword and spear fights?’ I asked.
‘Cabin challenges and all that,’ he explained. ‘Not lethal. Usually. Oh, yes, and there’s the mess
hall.’
Chiron pointed to an outdoor pavilion framed in white Grecian columns on a hill overlooking the
sea. There were a dozen stone picnic tables. No roof. No walls.
‘What do you do when it rains?’ I asked.
Chiron looked at me as if I’d gone a little weird. ‘We still have to eat, don’t we?’ I decided to
drop the subject.
Finally, he showed me the cabins. There were twelve of them, nestled in the woods by the lake.
They were arranged in a U, with two at the base and five in a row on either side. And they were
without doubt the most bizarre collection of buildings I’d ever seen.
Except for the fact that each had a large brass number above the door (odds on the left side, evens
on the right), they looked absolutely nothing alike. Number nine had smokestacks like a tiny factory.
Number four had tomato vines on the walls and a roof made out of real grass. Seven seemed to be
made of solid gold, which gleamed so much in the sunlight it was almost impossible to look at. They
all faced a commons area about the size of a soccer field, dotted with Greek statues, fountains, flower
beds, and a couple of basketball hoops (which were more my speed).
In the centre of the field was a huge stone-lined firepit. Even though it was a warm afternoon, the
hearth smouldered. A girl about nine years old was tending the flames, poking the coals with a stick.
The pair of cabins at the head of the field, numbers one and two, looked like his-and-hers
mausoleums, big white marble boxes with heavy columns in front. Cabin one was the biggest and
bulkiest of the twelve. Its polished bronze doors shimmered like a holograph, so that from different
angles lightning bolts seemed to streak across them. Cabin two was more graceful somehow, with
slimmer columns garlanded with pomegranates and flowers. The walls were carved with images of
peacocks.
‘Zeus and Hera?’ I guessed.
‘Correct,’ Chiron said.
‘Their cabins look empty.’
‘Several of the cabins are. That’s true. No one ever stays in one or two.’
Okay. So each cabin had a different god, like a mascot. Twelve cabins for the twelve Olympians.
But why would some be empty?
I stopped in front of the first cabin on the left, cabin three.
It wasn’t high and mighty like cabin one, but long and low and solid. The outer walls were of rough
grey stone studded with pieces of seashell and coral, as if the slabs had been hewn straight from the
bottom of the ocean floor. I peeked inside the open doorway and Chiron said, ‘Oh, I wouldn’t do
that!’
Before he could pull me back, I caught the salty scent of the interior, like the wind on the shore at
Montauk. The interior walls glowed like abalone. There were six empty bunk beds with silk sheets
turned down. But there was no sign anyone had ever slept there. The place felt so sad and lonely, I
was glad when Chiron put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Come along, Percy.’
Most of the other cabins were crowded with campers.
Number five was bright red – a real nasty paint job, as if the colour had been splashed on with
buckets and fists. The roof was lined with barbed wire. A stuffed wild boar’s head hung over the
doorway, and its eyes seemed to follow me. Inside I could see a bunch of mean-looking kids, both
girls and boys, arm wrestling and arguing with each other while rock music blared. The loudest was a
girl maybe thirteen or fourteen. She wore a size XXXL Camp Half-Blood T-shirt under a camouflage
jacket. She zeroed in on me and gave me an evil sneer. She reminded me of Nancy Bobofit, though the
camper girl was much bigger and tougher looking, and her hair was long and stringy, and brown
instead of red.
I kept walking, trying to stay clear of Chiron’s hooves. ‘We haven’t seen any other centaurs,’ I
observed.
‘No,’ said Chiron sadly. ‘My kinsmen are a wild and barbaric folk, I’m afraid. You might
encounter them in the wilderness, or at major sporting events. But you won’t see any here.’
‘You said your name was Chiron. Are you really…’
He smiled down at me. ‘The Chiron from the stories? Trainer of Hercules and all that? Yes, Percy,
I am.’
‘But, shouldn’t you be dead?’
Chiron paused, as if the question intrigued him. ‘I honestly don’t know about should be. The truth
is, I can’t be dead. You see, aeons ago the gods granted my wish. I could continue the work I loved. I
could be a teacher of heroes as long as humanity needed me. I gained much from that wish… and I
gave up much. But I’m still here, so I can only assume I’m still needed.’
I thought about being a teacher for three thousand years. It wouldn’t have made my Top Ten Things
to Wish For list.
‘Doesn’t it ever get boring?’
‘No, no,’ he said. ‘Horribly depressing, at times, but never boring.’
‘Why depressing?’
Chiron seemed to turn hard of hearing again.
‘Oh, look,’ he said. ‘Annabeth is waiting for us.’
***
The blonde girl I’d met at the Big House was reading a book in front of the last cabin on the left,
number eleven.
When we reached her, she looked me over critically, like she was still thinking about how much I
drooled.
I tried to see what she was reading, but I couldn’t make out the title. I thought my dyslexia was
acting up. Then I realized the title wasn’t even English. The letters looked Greek to me. I mean,
literally Greek. There were pictures of temples and statues and different kinds of columns, like those
in an architecture book.
‘Annabeth,’ Chiron said, ‘I have masters’ archery class at noon. Would you take Percy from here?’
‘Yes, sir.’
‘Cabin eleven,’ Chiron told me, gesturing towards the doorway. ‘Make yourself at home.’
Out of all the cabins, eleven looked the most like a regular old summer camp cabin, with the
emphasis on old. The threshold was worn down, the brown paint peeling. Over the doorway was one
of those doctor’s symbols, a winged pole with two snakes wrapped around it. What did they call
it…? A caduceus.
Inside, it was packed with people, both boys and girls, way more than the number of bunk beds.
Sleeping bags were spread all over on the floor. It looked like a gym where the Red Cross had set up
an evacuation centre.
Chiron didn’t go in. The door was too low for him. But when the campers saw him they all stood
and bowed respectfully.
‘Well, then,’ Chiron said. ‘Good luck, Percy. I‘ll see you at dinner.’
He galloped away towards the archery range.
I stood in the doorway, looking at the kids. They weren’t bowing any more. They were staring at
me, sizing me up. I knew this routine. I’d gone through it at enough schools.
‘Well?’ Annabeth prompted. ‘Go on.’
So naturally I tripped coming in the door and made a total fool of myself. There were some
snickers from the campers, but none of them said anything.
Annabeth announced, ‘Percy Jackson, meet cabin eleven.’
‘Regular or undetermined?’ somebody asked.
I didn’t know what to say, but Annabeth said, ‘Undetermined.’
Everybody groaned.
A guy who was a little older than the rest came forward. ‘Now, now, campers. That’s what we’re
here for. Welcome, Percy. You can have that spot on the floor, right over there.’
The guy was about nineteen, and he looked pretty cool. He was tall and muscular, with shortcropped sandy hair and a friendly smile. He wore an orange tank top, cutoffs, sandals and a leather
necklace with five different-coloured clay beads. The only thing unsettling about his appearance was
a thick white scar that ran from just beneath his right eye to his jaw, like an old knife slash.
‘This is Luke,’ Annabeth said, and her voice sounded different somehow. I glanced over and
could’ve sworn she was blushing. She saw me looking, and her expression hardened again. ‘He’s
your counsellor for now.’
‘For now?’ I asked.
‘You’re undetermined,’ Luke explained patiently. ‘They don’t know what cabin to put you in, so
you’re here. Cabin eleven takes all newcomers, all visitors. Naturally, we would. Hermes, our
patron, is the god of travellers.’
I looked at the tiny section of floor they’d given me. I had nothing to put there to mark it as my own,
no luggage, no clothes, no sleeping bag. Just the Minotaur’s horn. I thought about setting that down,
but then I remembered that Hermes was also the god of thieves.
I looked around at the campers’ faces, some sullen and suspicious, some grinning stupidly, some
eyeing me as if they were waiting for a chance to pick my pockets.
‘How long will I be here?’ I asked.
‘Good question,’ Luke said. ‘Until you’re determined.’
‘How long will that take?’
The campers all laughed.
‘Come on,’ Annabeth told me. ‘I’ll show you the volleyball court.’
‘I’ve already seen it.’
‘Come on.’
She grabbed my wrist and dragged me outside. I could hear the kids of cabin eleven laughing
behind me.
When we were a few metres away, Annabeth said, ‘Jackson, you have to do better than that.’
‘What?’
She rolled her eyes and mumbled under her breath, ‘I can’t believe I thought you were the one.’
‘What’s your problem?’ I was getting angry now. ‘All I know is, I kill some bull guy –’
‘Don’t talk like that!’ Annabeth told me. ‘You know how many kids at this camp wish they’d had
your chance?’
‘To get killed?’
‘To fight the Minotaur! What do you think we train for?’
I shook my head. ‘Look, if the thing I fought really was the Minotaur, the same one in the stories…’
‘Yes.’
‘Then there’s only one.’
‘Yes.’
‘And he died, like, a gajillion years ago, right? Theseus killed him in the labyrinth. So…’
‘Monsters don’t die, Percy. They can be killed. But they don’t die.’
‘Oh, thanks. That clears it up.’
‘They don’t have souls, like you and me. You can dispel them for a while, maybe even for a whole
lifetime if you’re lucky. But they are primal forces. Chiron calls them archetypes. Eventually, they reform.’
I thought about Mrs Dodds. ‘You mean if I killed one, accidentally, with a sword –’
‘The Fu… I mean, your maths teacher. That’s right. She’s still out there. You just made her very,
very mad.’
‘How did you know about Mrs Dodds?’
‘You talk in your sleep.’
‘You almost called her something. A Fury? They’re Hades’ torturers, right?’
Annabeth glanced nervously at the ground, as if she expected it to open up and swallow her. ‘You
shouldn’t call them by name, even here. We call them the Kindly Ones, if we have to speak of them at
all.’
‘Look, is there anything we can say without it thundering?’ I sounded whiny, even to myself, but
right then I didn’t care. ‘Why do I have to stay in cabin eleven, anyway? Why is everybody so
crowded together? There are plenty of empty bunks right over there.’
I pointed to the first few cabins, and Annabeth turned pale. ‘You don’t just choose a cabin, Percy. It
depends on who your parents are. Or… your parent.’
She stared at me, waiting for me to get it.
‘My mom is Sally Jackson,’ I said. ‘She works at the candy store in Grand Central Station. At
least, she used to.’
‘I’m sorry about your mom, Percy. But that’s not what I mean. I’m talking about your other parent.
Your dad.’
‘He’s dead. I never knew him.’
Annabeth sighed. Clearly, she’d had this conversation before with other kids. ‘Your father’s not
dead, Percy.’
‘How can you say that? You know him?’
‘No, of course not.’
‘Then how can you say –’
‘Because I know you. You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t one of us.’
‘You don’t know anything about me.’
‘No?’ She raised an eyebrow. ‘I bet you moved around from school to school. I bet you were
kicked out of a lot of them.’
‘How –’
‘Diagnosed with dyslexia. Probably ADHD, too.’
I tried to swallow my embarrassment. ‘What does that have to do with anything?’
‘Taken together, it’s almost a sure sign. The letters float off the page when you read, right? That’s
because your mind is hardwired for ancient Greek. And the ADHD – you’re impulsive, can’t sit still
in the classroom. That’s your battlefield reflexes. In a real fight, they’d keep you alive. As for the
attention problems, that’s because you see too much, Percy, not too little. Your senses are better than
a regular mortal’s. Of course the teachers want you medicated. Most of them are monsters. They don’t
want you seeing them for what they are.’
‘You sound like… you went through the same thing?’
‘Most of the kids here did. If you weren’t like us, you couldn’t have survived the Minotaur, much
less the ambrosia and nectar.’
‘Ambrosia and nectar.’
‘The food and drink we were giving you to make you better. That stuff would’ve killed a normal
kid. It would’ve turned your blood to fire and your bones to sand and you’d be dead. Face it. You’re
a half-blood.’
A half-blood.
I was reeling with so many questions I didn’t know where to start.
Then a husky voice yelled, ‘Well! A newbie!’
I looked over. The big girl from the ugly red cabin was sauntering towards us. She had three other
girls behind her, all big and ugly and mean-looking like her, all wearing camo jackets.
‘Clarisse,’ Annabeth sighed. ‘Why don’t you go polish your spear or something?’
‘Sure, Miss Princess,’ the big girl said. ‘So I can run you through with it Friday night.’
‘Errete es korakas,’ Annabeth said, which I somehow understood was Greek for “Go to the
crows”, though I had a feeling it was a worse curse than it sounded. ‘You don’t stand a chance.’
‘We’ll pulverize you,’ Clarisse said, but her eye twitched. Perhaps she wasn’t sure she could
follow through on the threat. She turned towards me. ‘Who’s this little runt?’
‘Percy Jackson,’ Annabeth said, ‘meet Clarisse, Daughter of Ares.’
I blinked. ‘Like… the war god?’
Clarisse sneered. ‘You got a problem with that?’
‘No,’ I said, recovering my wits. ‘It explains the bad smell.’
Clarisse growled. ‘We got an initiation ceremony for newbies, Prissy.’
‘Percy.’
‘Whatever. Come on, I’ll show you.’
‘Clarisse –’ Annabeth tried to say.
‘Stay out of it, wise girl.’
Annabeth looked pained, but she did stay out of it, and I didn’t really want her help. I was the new
kid. I had to earn my own rep.
I handed Annabeth my Minotaur horn and got ready to fight, but before I knew it, Clarisse had me
by the neck and was dragging me towards a cinder-block building that I knew immediately was the
bathroom.
I was kicking and punching. I’d been in plenty of fights before, but this big girl Clarisse had hands
like iron. She dragged me into the girls’ bathroom. There was a line of toilets on one side and a line
of shower stalls down the other. It smelled just like any public bathroom, and I was thinking – as
much as I could think with Clarisse ripping my hair out – that if this place belonged to the gods, they
should’ve been able to afford classier toilets.
Clarisse’s friends were all laughing, and I was trying to find the strength I’d used to fight the
Minotaur, but it just wasn’t there.
‘Like he’s “Big Three” material,’ Clarisse said as she pushed me towards one of the toilets. ‘Yeah,
right. Minotaur probably fell over laughing, he was so stupid-looking.’
Her friends snickered.
Annabeth stood in the corner, watching through her fingers.
Clarisse bent me over on my knees and started pushing my head towards the toilet bowl. It reeked
like rusted pipes and, well, like what goes into toilets. I strained to keep my head up. I was looking at
the scummy water thinking, I will not go into that. I won’t.
Then something happened. I felt a tug in the pit of my stomach. I heard the plumbing rumble, the
pipes shudder. Clarisse’s grip on my hair loosened. Water shot out of the toilet, making an arc straight
over my head, and the next thing I knew, I was sprawled on the bathroom tiles with Clarisse
screaming behind me.
I turned just as water blasted out of the toilet again, hitting Clarisse straight in the face so hard it
pushed her down onto her butt. The water stayed on her like the spray from a fire hose, pushing her
backwards into a shower stall.
She struggled, gasping, and her friends started coming towards her. But then the other toilets
exploded, too, and six more streams of toilet water blasted them back. The showers acted up, too, and
together all the fixtures sprayed the camouflage girls right out of the bathroom, spinning them around
like pieces of garbage being washed away.
As soon as they were out the door, I felt the tug in my gut lessen, and the water shut off as quickly
as it had started.
The entire bathroom was flooded. Annabeth hadn’t been spared. She was dripping wet, but she
hadn’t been pushed out the door. She was standing in exactly the same place, staring at me in shock.
I looked down and realized I was sitting in the only dry spot in the whole room. There was a circle
of dry floor around me. I didn’t have one drop of water on my clothes. Nothing.
I stood up, my legs shaky.
Annabeth said, ‘How did you…’
‘I don’t know.’
We walked to the door. Outside, Clarisse and her friends were sprawled in the mud, and a bunch
of other campers had gathered around to gawk. Clarisse’s hair was flattened across her face. Her
camouflage jacket was sopping and she smelled like sewage. She gave me a look of absolute hatred.
‘You are dead, new boy. You are totally dead.’
I probably should have let it go, but I said, ‘You want to gargle with toilet water again, Clarisse?
Close your mouth.’
Her friends had to hold her back. They dragged her towards cabin five, while the other campers
made way to avoid her flailing feet.
Annabeth stared at me. I couldn’t tell whether she was just grossed out or angry at me for dousing
her.
‘What?’ I demanded. ‘What are you thinking?’
‘I’m thinking,’ she said, ‘that I want you on my team for capture the flag.’
7 My Dinner Goes Up in Smoke
Word of the bathroom incident spread immediately. Wherever I went, campers pointed at me and
murmured something about toilet water. Or maybe they were just staring at Annabeth, who was still
pretty much dripping wet.
She showed me a few more places: the metal shop (where kids were forging their own swords),
the arts-and-crafts room (where satyrs were sandblasting a giant marble statue of a goat-man), and the
climbing wall, which actually consisted of two facing walls that shook violently, dropped boulders,
sprayed lava and clashed together if you didn’t get to the top fast enough.
Finally we returned to the canoeing lake, where the trail led back to the cabins.
‘I’ve got training to do,’ Annabeth said flatly. ‘Dinner’s at seven thirty. Just follow your cabin to
the mess hall.’
‘Annabeth, I’m sorry about the toilets.’
‘Whatever.’
‘It wasn’t my fault.’
She looked at me sceptically, and I realized it was my fault. I’d made water shoot out of the
bathroom fixtures. I didn’t understand how. But the toilets had responded to me. I had become one
with the plumbing.
‘You need to talk to the Oracle,’ Annabeth said.
‘Who?’
‘Not who. What. The Oracle. I’ll ask Chiron.’
I stared into the lake, wishing somebody would give me a straight answer for once.
I wasn’t expecting anybody to be looking back at me from the bottom, so my heart skipped a beat
when I noticed two teenage girls sitting cross-legged at the base of the pier, about five metres below.
They wore blue jeans and shimmering green T-shirts, and their brown hair floated loose around their
shoulders as minnows darted in and out. They smiled and waved as if I were a long-lost friend.
I didn’t know what else to do. I waved back.
‘Don’t encourage them,’ Annabeth warned. ‘Naiads are terrible flirts.’
‘Naiads,’ I repeated, feeling completely overwhelmed. ‘That’s it. I want to go home now.’
Annabeth frowned. ‘Don’t you get it, Percy? You are home. This is the only safe place on earth for
kids like us.’
‘You mean, mentally disturbed kids?’
‘I mean not human. Not totally human, anyway. Half-human.’
‘Half-human and half-what?’
‘I think you know.’
I didn’t want to admit it, but I was afraid I did. I felt a tingling in my limbs, a sensation I sometimes
felt when my mom talked about my dad.
‘God,’ I said. ‘Half-god.’
Annabeth nodded. ‘Your father isn’t dead. Percy. He’s one of the Olympians.’
‘That’s… crazy.’
‘Is it? What’s the most common thing gods did in the old stories? They ran around falling in love
with humans and having kids with them. Do you think they’ve changed their habits in the last few
millennia?’
‘But those are just –’ I almost said myths again. Then I remembered Chiron’s warning that in two
thousand years, I might be considered a myth. ‘But if all the kids here are half-gods –’
‘Demigods,’ Annabeth said. ‘That’s the official term. Or half-bloods.’
‘Then who’s your dad?’
Her hands tightened around the pier railing. I got the feeling I’d just trespassed on a sensitive
subject.
‘My dad is a professor at West Point,’ she said. ‘I haven’t seen him since I was very small. He
teaches American history.’
‘He’s human.’
‘What? You assume it has to be a male god who finds a human female attractive? How sexist is
that?’
‘Who’s your mom, then?’
‘Cabin six.’
‘Meaning?’
Annabeth straightened. ‘Athena. Goddess of wisdom and battle.’
Okay, I thought. Why not?
‘And my dad?’
‘Undetermined,’ Annabeth said, ‘like I told you before. Nobody knows.’
‘Except my mother. She knew.’
‘Maybe not, Percy. Gods don’t always reveal their identities.’
‘My dad would have. He loved her.’
Annabeth gave me a cautious look. She didn’t want to burst my bubble. ‘Maybe you’re right.
Maybe he’ll send a sign. That’s the only way to know for sure: your father has to send you a sign
claiming you as his son. Sometimes it happens.’
‘You mean sometimes it doesn’t?’
Annabeth ran her palm along the rail. ‘The gods are busy. They have a lot of kids and they don’t
always… Well, sometimes they don’t care about us, Percy. They ignore us.’
I thought about some of the kids I’d seen in the Hermes cabin, teenagers who looked sullen and
depressed, as if they were waiting for a call that would never come. I’d known kids like that at Yancy
Academy, shuffled off to boarding school by rich parents who didn’t have the time to deal with them.
But gods should behave better.
‘So I’m stuck here,’ I said. ‘That’s it? For the rest of my life?’
‘It depends,’ Annabeth said. ‘Some campers only stay the summer. If you’re a child of Aphrodite or
Demeter, you’re probably not a real powerful force. The monsters might ignore you, so you can get by
with a few months of summer training and live in the mortal world the rest of the year. But for some
of us, it’s too dangerous to leave. We’re year-rounders. In the mortal world, we attract monsters.
They sense us. They come to challenge us. Most of the time, they’ll ignore us until we’re old enough
to cause trouble – about ten or eleven years old – but after that most demigods either make their way
here, or they get killed off. A few manage to survive in the outside world and become famous.
Believe me, if I told you the names, you’d know them. Some don’t even realize they’re demigods. But
very, very few are like that.’
‘So monsters can’t get in here?’
Annabeth shook her head. ‘Not unless they’re intentionally stocked in the woods or specially
summoned by somebody on the inside.’
‘Why would anybody want to summon a monster?’
‘Practice fights. Practical jokes.’
‘Practical jokes?’
‘The point is, the borders are sealed to keep mortals and monsters out. From the outside, mortals
look into the valley and see nothing unusual, just a strawberry farm.’
‘So… you’re a year-rounder?’
Annabeth nodded. From under the collar of her T-shirt she pulled a leather necklace with five clay
beads of different colours. It was just like Luke’s, except Annabeth’s also had a big gold ring strung
on it, like a college ring.
‘I’ve been here since I was seven,’ she said. ‘Every August, on the last day of summer session, you
get a bead for surviving another year. I’ve been here longer than most of the counsellors, and they’re
all in college.’
‘Why did you come so young?’
She twisted the ring on her necklace. ‘None of your business.’
‘Oh.’ I stood there for a minute in uncomfortable silence. ‘So… I could just walk out of here right
now if I wanted to?’
‘It would be suicide, but you could, with Mr D’s or Chiron’s permission. But they wouldn’t give
permission until the end of the summer session unless…’
‘Unless?’
‘You were granted a quest. But that hardly ever happens. The last time...’
Her voice trailed off. I could tell from her tone that the last time hadn’t gone well.
‘Back in the sick room,’ I said, ‘when you were feeding me that stuff –’
‘Ambrosia.’
‘Yeah. You asked me something about the summer solstice.’
Annabeth’s shoulders tensed. ‘So you do know something?’
‘Well… no. Back at my old school, I overheard Grover and Chiron talking about it. Grover
mentioned the summer solstice. He said something like we didn’t have much time, because of the
deadline. What did that mean?’
She clenched her fists. ‘I wish I knew. Chiron and the satyrs, they know, but they won’t tell me.
Something is wrong in Olympus, something pretty major. Last time I was there, everything seemed so
normal.’
‘You’ve been to Olympus?’
‘Some of us year-rounders – Luke and Clarisse and I and a few others – we took a field trip during
winter solstice. That’s when the gods have their big annual council.’
‘But… how did you get there?’
‘The Long Island Railroad, of course. You get off at Penn Station. Empire State Building, special
elevator to the six-hundredth floor.’ She looked at me like she was sure I must know this already.
‘You are a New Yorker, right?’
‘Oh, sure.’ As far as I knew, there were only a hundred and two floors in the Empire State
Building, but I decided not to point that out.
‘Right after we visited,’ Annabeth continued, ‘the weather got weird, as if the gods had started
fighting. A couple of times since, I’ve overheard satyrs talking. The best I can figure out is that
something important was stolen. And if it isn’t returned by summer solstice, there’s going to be
trouble. When you came, I was hoping… I mean – Athena can get along with just about anybody,
except for Ares. And of course she’s got the rivalry with Poseidon. But, I mean, aside from that, I
thought we could work together. I thought you might know something.’
I shook my head. I wished I could help her, but I felt too hungry and tired and mentally overloaded
to ask any more questions.
‘I’ve got to get a quest,’ Annabeth muttered to herself. ‘I’m not too young. If they would just tell me
the problem…’
I could smell barbecue smoke coming from somewhere nearby. Annabeth must’ve heard my
stomach growl. She told me to go on, she’d catch me later. I left her on the pier, tracing her finger
across the rail as if drawing a battle plan.
Back at cabin eleven, everybody was talking and horsing around, waiting for dinner. For the first
time, I noticed that a lot of the campers had similar features: sharp noses, upturned eyebrows,
mischievous smiles. They were the kind of kids that teachers would peg as troublemakers. Thankfully,
nobody paid much attention to me as I walked over to my spot on the floor and plopped down with my
Minotaur horn.
The counsellor, Luke, came over. He had the Hermes family resemblance, too. It was marred by
that scar on his right cheek, but his smile was intact.
‘Found you a sleeping bag,’ he said. ‘And here, I stole you some toiletries from the camp store.’
I couldn’t tell if he was kidding about the stealing part.
I said, ‘Thanks.’
‘No prob.’ Luke sat next to me, pushed his back against the wall. ‘Tough first day?’
‘I don’t belong here,’ I said. ‘I don’t even believe in gods.’
‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘That’s how we all started. Once you start believing in them? It doesn’t get any
easier.’
The bitterness in his voice surprised me, because Luke seemed like a pretty easygoing guy. He
looked like he could handle just about anything.
‘So your dad is Hermes?’ I asked.
He pulled a switchblade out of his back pocket, and for a second I thought he was going to gut me,
but he just scraped the mud off the sole of his sandal. ‘Yeah. Hermes.’
‘The wing-footed messenger guy.’
‘That’s him. Messengers. Medicine. Travellers, merchants, thieves. Anybody who uses the roads.
That’s why you’re here, enjoying cabin eleven’s hospitality. Hermes isn’t picky about who he
sponsors.’
I figured Luke didn’t mean to call me a nobody. He just had a lot on his mind.
‘You ever meet your dad?’ I asked.
‘Once.’
I waited, thinking that if he wanted to tell me, he’d tell me. Apparently, he didn’t. I wondered if the
story had anything to do with how he got his scar.
Luke looked up and managed a smile. ‘Don’t worry about it, Percy. The campers here, they’re
mostly good people. After all, we’re extended family, right? We take care of each other.’
He seemed to understand how lost I felt, and I was grateful for that, because an older guy like him –
even if he was a counsellor – should’ve steered clear of an uncool middle-schooler like me. But Luke
had welcomed me into the cabin. He’d even stolen me some toiletries, which was the nicest thing
anybody had done for me all day.
I decided to ask him my last big question, the one that had been bothering me all afternoon.
‘Clarisse, from Ares, was joking about me being “Big Three” material. Then Annabeth… twice, she
said I might be “the one”. She said I should talk to the Oracle. What was that all about?’
Luke folded his knife. ‘I hate prophecies.’
‘What do you mean?’
His face twitched around the scar. ‘Let’s just say I messed things up for everybody else. The last
two years, ever since my trip to the Garden of the Hesperides went sour, Chiron hasn’t allowed any
more quests. Annabeth’s been dying to get out into the world. She pestered Chiron so much he finally
told her he already knew her fate. He’d had a prophecy from the Oracle. He wouldn’t tell her the
whole thing, but he said Annabeth wasn’t destined to go on a quest yet. She had to wait until…
somebody special came to the camp.’
‘Somebody special.’
‘Don’t worry about it, kid,’ Luke said. ‘Annabeth wants to think every new camper who comes
through here is the omen she’s been waiting for. Now, come on, it’s dinnertime.’
The moment he said it, a horn blew in the distance. Somehow, I knew it was a conch shell, even
though I’d never heard one before.
Luke yelled, ‘Eleven, fall in!’
The whole cabin, about twenty of us, filed into the commons yard. We lined up in order of
seniority, so of course I was dead last. Campers came from the other cabins, too, except for the three
empty cabins at the end, and cabin eight, which had looked normal in the daytime, but was now
starting to glow silver as the sun went down.
We marched up the hill to the mess hall pavilion. Satyrs joined us from the meadow. Naiads
emerged from the canoeing lake. A few other girls came out of the woods – and when I say out of the
woods, I mean straight out of the woods. I saw one girl, about nine or ten years old, melt from the
side of a maple tree and come skipping up the hill.
In all, there were maybe a hundred campers, a few dozen satyrs, and a dozen assorted wood
nymphs and naiads.
At the pavilion, torches blazed around the marble columns. A central fire burned in a bronze
brazier the size of a bathtub. Each cabin had its own table, covered in white cloth trimmed in purple.
Four of the tables were empty, but cabin eleven’s was way overcrowded. I had to squeeze on to the
edge of a bench with half my butt hanging off.
I saw Grover sitting at table twelve with Mr D, a few satyrs and a couple of plump blond boys
who looked just like Mr D. Chiron stood to one side, the picnic table being way too small for a
centaur.
Annabeth sat at table six with a bunch of serious-looking athletic kids, all with her grey eyes and
honey-blonde hair.
Clarisse sat behind me at Ares’s table. She’d apparently gotten over being hosed down, because
she was laughing and belching right alongside her friends.
Finally, Chiron pounded his hoof against the marble floor of the pavilion, and everybody fell silent.
He raised a glass. ‘To the gods!’
Everybody else raised their glasses. ‘To the gods!’
Wood nymphs came forward with platters of food: grapes, apples, strawberries, cheese, fresh
bread and yes, barbecue! My glass was empty, but Luke said, ‘Speak to it. Whatever you want – nonalcoholic, of course.’
I said, ‘Cherry Coke.’
The glass filled with sparkling caramel liquid.
Then I had an idea. ‘Blue Cherry Coke.’
The soda turned a violent shade of cobalt.
I took a cautious sip. Perfect.
I drank a toast to my mother.
She’s not gone, I told myself. Not permanently, anyway. She’s in the Underworld. And if that’s a
real place, then some day…
‘Here you go, Percy,’ Luke said, handing me a platter of smoked brisket.
I loaded my plate and was about to take a big bite when I noticed everybody getting up, carrying
their plates towards the fire in the centre of the pavilion. I wondered if they were going for dessert or
something.
‘Come on,’ Luke told me.
As I got closer, I saw that everyone was taking a portion of their meal and dropping it into the fire,
the ripest strawberry, the juiciest slice of beef, the warmest, most buttery roll.
Luke murmured in my ear, ‘Burnt offerings for the gods. They like the smell.’
‘You’re kidding.’
His look warned me not to take this lightly, but I couldn’t help wondering why an immortal, allpowerful being would like the smell of burning food.
Luke approached the fire, bowed his head, and tossed in a cluster of fat red grapes. ‘Hermes.’
I was next.
I wished I knew what god’s name to say.
Finally, I made a silent plea. Whoever you are, tell me. Please.
I scraped a big slice of brisket into the flames.
When I caught a whiff of the smoke, I didn’t gag.
It smelled nothing like burning food. It smelled of hot chocolate and fresh-baked brownies,
hamburgers on the grill and wildflowers, and a hundred other good things that shouldn’t have gone
well together, but did. I could almost believe the gods could live off that smoke.
When everybody had returned to their seats and finished eating their meals, Chiron pounded his
hoof again for our attention.
Mr D got up with a huge sigh. ‘Yes, I suppose I’d better say hello to all you brats. Well, hello. Our
activities director, Chiron, says the next capture the flag is Friday. Cabin five presently holds the
laurels.’
A bunch of ugly cheering rose from the Ares table.
‘Personally,’ Mr D continued, ‘I couldn’t care less, but congratulations. Also, I should tell you that
we have a new camper today. Peter Johnson.’
Chiron murmured something.
‘Er, Percy Jackson,’ Mr D corrected. ‘That’s right. Hurrah, and all that. Now run along to your
silly campfire. Go on.’
Everybody cheered. We all headed down towards the amphitheatre, where Apollo’s cabin led a
sing-along. We sang camp songs about the gods and ate toasted marshmallows and joked around, and
the funny thing was, I didn’t feel that anyone was staring at me any more. I felt that I was home.
Later in the evening, when the sparks from the campfire were curling into a starry sky, the conch
horn blew again, and we all filed back to our cabins. I didn’t realize how exhausted I was until I
collapsed on my borrowed sleeping bag.
My fingers curled around the Minotaur horn. I thought about my mom, but I had good thoughts: her
smile, the bedtime stories she would read me when I was a kid, the way she would tell me not to let
the bedbugs bite.
When I closed my eyes, I fell asleep instantly.
That was my first day at Camp Half-Blood.
I wish I’d known how briefly I would get to enjoy my new home.
8 We Capture a Flag
The next few days I settled into a routine that felt almost normal, if you don’t count the fact that I was
getting lessons from satyrs, nymphs and a centaur.
Each morning I took Ancient Greek from Annabeth, and we talked about the gods and goddesses in
the present tense, which was kind of weird. I discovered Annabeth was right about my dyslexia:
Ancient Greek wasn’t that hard for me to read. At least, no harder than English. After a couple of
mornings, I could stumble through a few lines of Homer without too much headache.
The rest of the day, I’d rotate through outdoor activities, looking for something I was good at.
Chiron tried to teach me archery, but we found out pretty quick I wasn’t any good with a bow and
arrow. He didn’t complain, even when he had to desnag a stray arrow out of his tail.
Foot racing? No good either. The wood-nymph instructors left me in the dust. They told me not to
worry about it. They’d had centuries of practice running away from lovesick gods. But still, it was a
little humiliating to be slower than a tree.
And wrestling? Forget it. Every time I got on the mat, Clarisse would pulverize me.
‘There’s more where that came from, punk,’ she’d mumble in my ear.
The only thing I really excelled at was canoeing, and that wasn’t the kind of heroic skill people
expected to see from the kid who had beaten the Minotaur.
I knew the senior campers and counsellors were watching me, trying to decide who my dad was,
but they weren’t having an easy time of it. I wasn’t as strong as the Ares kids, or as good at archery as
the Apollo kids. I didn’t have Hephaestus’s skill with metalwork or – gods forbid – Dionysus’s way
with vine plants. Luke told me I might be a child of Hermes, a kind of jack-of-all-trades, master of
none. But I got the feeling he was just trying to make me feel better. He really didn’t know what to
make of me either.
Despite all that, I liked camp. I got used to the morning fog over the beach, the smell of hot
strawberry fields in the afternoon, even the weird noises of monsters in the woods at night. I would
eat dinner with cabin eleven, scrape part of my meal into the fire, and try to feel some connection to
my real dad. Nothing came. Just that warm feeling I’d always had, like the memory of his smile. I
tried not to think too much about my mom, but I kept wondering: if gods and monsters were real, if all
this magical stuff was possible, surely there was some way to save her, to bring her back…
I started to understand Luke’s bitterness and how he seemed to resent his father, Hermes. So okay,
maybe gods had important things to do. But couldn’t they call once in a while, or thunder, or
something? Dionysus could make Diet Coke appear out of thin air. Why couldn’t my dad, whoever he
was, make a phone appear?
Thursday afternoon, three days after I’d arrived at Camp Half-Blood, I had my first sword-fighting
lesson. Everybody from cabin eleven gathered in the big circular arena, where Luke would be our
instructor.
We started with basic stabbing and slashing, using some straw-stuffed dummies in Greek armour. I
guess I did okay. At least, I understood what I was supposed to do and my reflexes were good.
The problem was, I couldn’t find a blade that felt right in my hands. Either they were too heavy, or
too light, or too long. Luke tried his best to fix me up, but he agreed that none of the practice blades
seemed to work for me.
We moved on to duelling in pairs. Luke announced he would be my partner, since this was my first
time.
‘Good luck,’ one of the campers told me. ‘Luke’s the best swordsman in the last three hundred
years.’
‘Maybe he’ll go easy on me,’ I said.
The camper snorted.
Luke showed me thrusts and parries and shield blocks the hard way. With every swipe, I got a little
more battered and bruised. ‘Keep your guard up, Percy,’ he’d say, then whap me in the ribs with the
flat of his blade. ‘No, not that far up!’ Whap! ‘Lunge!’ Whap!‘Now, back!’ Whap!
By the time he called a break, I was soaked in sweat. Everybody swarmed the drinks cooler. Luke
poured ice water on his head, which looked like such a good idea, I did the same.
Instantly, I felt better. Strength surged back into my arms. The sword didn’t feel so awkward.
‘Okay, everybody circle up!’ Luke ordered. ‘If Percy doesn’t mind, I want to give you a little
demo.’
Great, I thought. Let’s all watch Percy get pounded.
The Hermes guys gathered around. They were suppressing smiles. I figured they’d been in my
shoes before and couldn’t wait to see how Luke used me for a punching bag. He told everybody he
was going to demonstrate a disarming technique: how to twist the enemy’s blade with the flat of your
own sword so that he had no choice but to drop his weapon.
‘This is difficult,’ he stressed. ‘I’ve had it used against me. No laughing at Percy, now. Most
swordsmen have to work years to master this technique.’
He demonstrated the move on me in slow motion. Sure enough, the sword clattered out of my hand.
‘Now in real time,’ he said, after I’d retrieved my weapon. ‘We keep sparring until one of us pulls
it off. Ready, Percy?’
I nodded, and Luke came after me. Somehow, I kept him from getting a shot at the hilt of my sword.
My senses opened up. I saw his attacks coming. I countered. I stepped forward and tried a thrust of
my own. Luke deflected it easily, but I saw a change in his face. His eyes narrowed, and he started to
press me with more force.
The sword grew heavy in my hand. The balance wasn’t right. I knew it was only a matter of
seconds before Luke took me down, so I figured, What the heck?
I tried the disarming manoeuvre.
My blade hit the base of Luke’s and I twisted, putting my whole weight into a downward thrust.
Clang.
Luke’s sword rattled against the stones. The tip of my blade was a couple of centimetres from his
undefended chest.
The other campers were silent.
I lowered my sword. ‘Um, sorry.’
For a moment, Luke was too stunned to speak.
‘Sorry?’ His scarred face broke into a grin. ‘By the gods, Percy, why are you sorry? Show me that
again!’
I didn’t want to. The short burst of manic energy had completely abandoned me. But Luke insisted.
This time, there was no contest. The moment our swords connected, Luke hit my hilt and sent my
weapon skidding across the floor.
After a long pause, somebody in the audience said, ‘Beginner’s luck?’
Luke wiped the sweat off his brow. He appraised me with an entirely new interest. ‘Maybe,’ he
said. ‘But I wonder what Percy could do with a balanced sword….’
Friday afternoon, I was sitting with Grover at the lake, resting from a near-death experience on the
climbing wall. Grover had scampered to the top like a mountain goat, but the lava had almost got me.
My shirt had smoking holes in it. The hairs had been singed off my forearms.
We sat on the pier, watching the naiads do underwater basket weaving, until I got up the nerve to
ask Grover how his conversation had gone with Mr D.
His face turned a sickly shade of yellow.
‘Fine,’ he said. ‘Just great.’
‘So your career’s still on track?’
He glanced at me nervously. ‘Chiron t-told you I want a searcher’s licence?’
‘Well… no.’ I had no idea what a searcher’s licence was, but it didn’t seem like the right time to
ask. ‘He just said you had big plans, you know… and that you needed credit for completing a
keeper’s assignment. So did you get it?’
Grover looked down at the naiads. ‘Mr D suspended judgement. He said I hadn’t failed or
succeeded with you yet, so our fates were still tied together. If you got a quest and I went along to
protect you, and we both came back alive, then maybe he’d consider the job complete.’
My spirits lifted. ‘Well, that’s not so bad, right?’
‘Blaa-ha-ha! He might as well have transferred me to stable-cleaning duty. The chances of you
getting a quest… and even if you did, why would you want me along?’
‘Of course I’d want you along!’
Grover stared glumly into the water. ‘Basket weaving… Must be nice to have a useful skill.’
I tried to reassure him that he had lots of talents, but that just made him look more miserable. We
talked about canoeing and swordplay for a while, then debated the pros and cons of the different
gods. Finally, I asked him about the four empty cabins.
‘Number eight, the silver one, belongs to Artemis,’ he said. ‘She vowed to be a maiden forever. So
of course, no kids. The cabin is, you know, honorary. If she didn’t have one, she’d be mad.’
‘Yeah, okay. But the other three, the ones at the end. Are those the Big Three?’
Grover tensed. We were getting close to a touchy subject. ‘No. One of them, number two, is
Hera’s,’ he said. ‘That’s another honorary thing. She’s the goddess of marriage, so of course she
wouldn’t go around having affairs with mortals. That’s her husband’s job. When we say the Big
Three, we mean the three powerful brothers, the sons of Kronos.’
‘Zeus, Poseidon, Hades.’
‘Right. You know. After the great battle with the Titans, they took over the world from their dad
and drew lots to decide who got what.’
‘Zeus got the sky,’ I remembered. ‘Poseidon the sea, Hades the Underworld.’
‘Uh-huh.’
‘But Hades doesn’t have a cabin here.’
‘No. He doesn’t have a throne on Olympus, either. He sort of does his own thing down in the
Underworld. If he did have a cabin here…’ Grover shuddered. ‘Well, it wouldn’t be pleasant. Let’s
leave it at that.’
‘But Zeus and Poseidon – they both had, like, a bazillion kids in the myths. Why are their cabins
empty?’
Grover shifted his hooves uncomfortably. ‘About sixty years ago, after World War II, the Big
Three agreed they wouldn’t sire any more heroes. Their children were just too powerful. They were
affecting the course of human events too much, causing too much carnage. World War II, you know,
that was basically a fight between the sons of Zeus and Poseidon on one side, and the sons of Hades
on the other. The winning side, Zeus and Poseidon, made Hades swear an oath with them: no more
affairs with mortal women. They all swore on the River Styx.’
Thunder boomed.
I said, ‘That’s the most serious oath you can make.’
Grover nodded.
‘And the brothers kept their word – no kids?’
Grover’s face darkened. ‘Seventeen years ago, Zeus fell off the wagon. There was this TV starlet
with a big fluffy eighties hairdo – he just couldn’t help himself. When their child was born, a little
girl named Thalia… well, the River Styx is serious about promises. Zeus himself got off easy because
he’s immortal, but he brought a terrible fate on his daughter.’
‘But that isn’t fair! It wasn’t the little girl’s fault.’
Grover hesitated. ‘Percy, children of the Big Three have powers greater than other half-bloods.
They have a strong aura, a scent that attracts monsters. When Hades found out about the girl, he
wasn’t too happy about Zeus breaking his oath. Hades let the worst monsters out of Tartarus to
torment Thalia. A satyr was assigned to be her keeper when she was twelve, but there was nothing he
could do. He tried to escort her here with a couple of other half-bloods she’d befriended. They
almost made it. They got all the way to the top of that hill.’
He pointed across the valley, to the pine tree where I’d fought the Minotaur. ‘All three Kindly Ones
were after them, along with a hoard of hellhounds. They were about to be overrun when Thalia told
her satyr to take the other two half-bloods to safety while she held off the monsters. She was wounded
and tired, and she didn’t want to live like a hunted animal. The satyr didn’t want to leave her, but he
couldn’t change her mind, and he had to protect the others. So Thalia made her final stand alone, at
the top of that hill. As she died, Zeus took pity on her. He turned her into that pine tree. Her spirit still
helps protect the borders of the valley. That’s why the hill is called Half-Blood Hill.’
I stared at the pine in the distance.
The story made me feel hollow, and guilty, too. A girl my age had sacrificed herself to save her
friends. She had faced a whole army of monsters. Next to that, my victory over the Minotaur didn’t
seem like much. I wondered, if I’d acted differently, could I have saved my mother?
‘Grover,’ I said, ‘have heroes really gone on quests to the Underworld?’
‘Sometimes,’ he said. ‘Orpheus. Hercules. Houdini.’
‘And have they ever returned somebody from the dead?’
‘No. Never. Orpheus came close…. Percy, you’re not seriously thinking –’
‘No,’ I lied. ‘I was just wondering. So… a satyr is always assigned to guard a demigod?’
Grover studied me warily. I hadn’t persuaded him that I’d really dropped the Underworld idea.
‘Not always. We go undercover to a lot of schools. We try to sniff out the half-bloods who have the
makings of great heroes. If we find one with a very strong aura, like a child of the Big Three, we alert
Chiron. He tries to keep an eye on them, since they could cause really huge problems.’
‘And you found me. Chiron said you thought I might be something special.’
Grover looked as if I’d just led him into a trap. ‘I didn’t… Oh, listen, don’t think like that. If you
were – you know – you’d never ever be allowed a quest, and I’d never get my licence. You’re
probably a child of Hermes. Or maybe even one of the minor gods, like Nemesis, the god of revenge.
Don’t worry, okay?’
I got the idea he was reassuring himself more than me.
That night after dinner, there was a lot more excitement than usual.
At last, it was time for capture the flag.
When the plates were cleared away, the conch horn sounded and we all stood at our tables.
Campers yelled and cheered as Annabeth and two of her siblings ran into the pavilion carrying a
silk banner. It was about three metres long, glistening grey, with a painting of a barn owl above an
olive tree. From the opposite side of the pavilion, Clarisse and her buddies ran in with another
banner, of identical size, but gaudy red, painted with a bloody spear and a boar’s head.
I turned to Luke and yelled over the noise, ‘Those are the flags?’
‘Yeah.’
‘Ares and Athena always lead the teams?’
‘Not always,’ he said. ‘But often.’
‘So, if another cabin captures one, what do you do – repaint the flag?’
He grinned. ‘You’ll see. First we have to get one.’
‘Whose side are we on?’
He gave me a sly look, as if he knew something I didn’t. The scar on his face made him look almost
evil in the torchlight. ‘We’ve made a temporary alliance with Athena. Tonight, we get the flag from
Ares. And you are going to help.’
The teams were announced. Athena had made an alliance with Apollo and Hermes, the two biggest
cabins. Apparently, privileges had been traded – shower times, chore schedules, the best slots for
activities – in order to win support.
Ares had allied themselves with everybody else: Dionysus, Demeter, Aphrodite and Hephaestus.
From what I’d seen, Dionysus’s kids were actually good athletes, but there were only two of them.
Demeter’s kids had the edge with nature skills and outdoor stuff, but they weren’t very aggressive.
Aphrodite’s sons and daughters I wasn’t too worried about. They mostly sat out every activity and
checked their reflections in the lake and did their hair and gossiped. Hephaestus’s kids weren’t pretty,
and there were only four of them, but they were big and burly from working in the metal shop all day.
They might be a problem. That, of course, left Ares’s cabin: a dozen of the biggest, ugliest, meanest
kids on Long Island, or anywhere else on the planet.
Chiron hammered his hoof on the marble.
‘Heroes!’ he announced. ‘You know the rules. The creek is the boundary line. The entire forest is
fair game. All magic items are allowed. The banner must be prominently displayed, and have no more
than two guards. Prisoners may be disarmed, but may not be bound or gagged. No killing or maiming
is allowed. I will serve as referee and battlefield medic. Arm yourselves!’
He spread his hands, and the tables were suddenly covered with equipment: helmets, bronze
swords, spears, oxhide shields coated in metal.
‘Whoa,’ I said. ‘We’re really supposed to use these?’
Luke looked at me as if I were crazy. ‘Unless you want to get skewered by your friends in cabin
five. Here – Chiron thought these would fit. You’ll be on border patrol.’
My shield was the size of an NBA backboard, with a big caduceus in the middle. It weighed about
a million pounds. I could have snowboarded on it fine, but I hoped nobody seriously expected me to
run fast. My helmet, like all the helmets on Athena’s side, had a blue horsehair plume on top. Ares
and their allies had red plumes.
Annabeth yelled, ‘Blue team, forward!’
We cheered and shook our swords and followed her down the path to the south woods. The red
team yelled taunts at us as they headed off towards the north.
I managed to catch up with Annabeth without tripping over my equipment. ‘Hey.’
She kept marching.
‘So what’s the plan?’ I asked. ‘Got any magic items you can loan me?’
Her hand drifted towards her pocket, as if she were afraid I’d stolen something.
‘Just watch Clarisse’s spear,’ she said. ‘You don’t want that thing touching you. Otherwise, don’t
worry. We’ll take the banner from Ares. Has Luke given you your job?’
‘Border patrol, whatever that means.’
‘It’s easy. Stand by the creek, keep the reds away. Leave the rest to me. Athena always has a plan.’
She pushed ahead, leaving me in the dust.
‘Okay,’ I mumbled. ‘Glad you wanted me on your team.’
It was a warm, sticky night. The woods were dark, with fireflies popping in and out of view.
Annabeth stationed me next to a little creek that gurgled over some rocks, then she and the rest of the
team scattered into the trees.
Standing there alone, with my big blue-feathered helmet and my huge shield, I felt like an idiot. The
bronze sword, like all the swords I’d tried so far, seemed balanced wrong. The leather grip pulled on
my hand like a bowling ball.
There was no way anybody would actually attack me, would they? I mean, Olympus had to have
liability issues, right?
Far away, the conch horn blew. I heard whoops and yells in the woods, the clanking of metal, kids
fighting. A blue-plumed ally from Apollo raced past me like a deer, leaped through the creek and
disappeared into enemy territory.
Great, I thought. I’ll miss all the fun, as usual.
Then I heard a sound that sent a chill up my spine, a low canine growl, somewhere close by.
I raised my shield instinctively; I had the feeling something was stalking me.
Then the growling stopped. I felt the presence retreating.
On the other side of the creek, the underbrush exploded. Five Ares warriors came yelling and
screaming out of the dark.
‘Cream the punk!’ Clarisse screamed.
Her ugly pig eyes glared through the slits of her helmet. She brandished a two-metre spear, its
barbed metal tip flickering with red light. Her siblings had only the standard-issue bronze swords –
not that that made me feel any better.
They charged across the stream. There was no help in sight. I could run. Or I could defend myself
against half the Ares cabin.
I managed to sidestep the first kid’s swing, but these guys were not as stupid as Minotaurs. They
surrounded me, and Clarisse thrust at me with her spear. My shield deflected the point, but I felt a
painful tingling all over my body. My hair stood on end. My shield arm went numb, and the air
burned.
Electricity. Her stupid spear was electric. I fell back.
Another Ares guy slammed me in the chest with the butt of his sword and I hit the dirt.
They could’ve kicked me into jelly, but they were too busy laughing.
‘Give him a haircut,’ Clarisse said. ‘Grab his hair.’
I managed to get to my feet. I raised my sword, but Clarisse slammed it aside with her spear as
sparks flew. Now both my arms felt numb.
‘Oh, wow,’ Clarisse said. ‘I’m scared of this guy. Really scared.’
‘The flag is that way,’ I told her. I wanted to sound angry, but I was afraid it didn’t come out that
way.
‘Yeah,’ one of her siblings said. ‘But see, we don’t care about the flag. We care about a guy who
made our cabin look stupid.’
‘You do that without my help,’ I told them. It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to say.
Two of them came at me. I backed up towards the creek, tried to raise my shield, but Clarisse was
too fast. Her spear stuck me straight in the ribs. If I hadn’t been wearing an armoured breast plate, I
would’ve been shish-kebabbed. As it was, the electric point just about shocked my teeth out of my
mouth. One of her cabinmates slashed his sword across my arm, leaving a good-size cut.
Seeing my own blood made me dizzy, warm and cold at the same time.
‘No maiming,’ I managed to say.
‘Oops,’ the guy said. ‘Guess I lost my dessert privilege.’
He pushed me into the creek and I landed with a splash. They all laughed. I figured as soon as they
were through being amused, I would die. But then something happened. The water seemed to wake up
my senses, as if I’d just had a bag of my mom’s double-espresso jelly beans.
Clarisse and her cabinmates came into the creek to get me, but I stood to meet them. I knew what to
do. I swung the flat of my sword against the first guy’s head and knocked his helmet clean off. I hit
him so hard I could see his eyes vibrating as he crumpled into the water.
Ugly Number Two and Ugly Number Three came at me. I slammed one in the face with my shield
and used my sword to shear off the other guy’s horsehair plume. Both of them backed up quick. Ugly
Number Four didn’t look really anxious to attack, but Clarisse kept coming, the point of her spear
crackling with energy. As soon as she thrust, I caught the shaft between the edge of my shield and my
sword, and I snapped it like a twig.
‘Ah!’ she screamed. ‘You idiot! You corpse-breath worm!’
She probably would’ve said worse, but I smacked her between the eyes with my sword-butt and
sent her stumbling backwards out of the creek.
Then I heard yelling, elated screams, and I saw Luke racing towards the boundary line with the red
team’s banner lifted high. He was flanked by a couple of Hermes guys covering his retreat and a few
Apollos behind them, fighting off the Hephaestus kids. The Ares folks got up, and Clarisse muttered a
dazed curse.
‘A trick!’ she shouted. ‘It was a trick.’
They staggered after Luke, but it was too late. Everybody converged on the creek as Luke ran
across into friendly territory. Our side exploded into cheers. The red banner shimmered and turned to
silver. The boar and spear were replaced with a huge caduceus, the symbol of cabin eleven.
Everybody on the blue team picked up Luke and started carrying him around on their shoulders.
Chiron cantered out from the woods and blew the conch horn.
The game was over. We’d won.
I was about to join the celebration when Annabeth’s voice, right next to me in the creek, said, ‘Not
bad, hero.’
I looked, but she wasn’t there.
‘Where the heck did you learn to fight like that?’ she asked. The air shimmered, and she
materialized, holding a Yankees baseball cap as if she’d just taken it off her head.
I felt myself getting angry. I wasn’t even fazed by the fact that she’d just been invisible. ‘You set
me up,’ I said. ‘You put me here because you knew Clarisse would come after me, while you sent
Luke around the flank. You had it all figured out.’
Annabeth shrugged. ‘I told you. Athena always, always has a plan.’
‘A plan to get me pulverized.’
‘I came as fast as I could. I was about to jump in, but…’ She shrugged. ‘You didn’t need help.’
Then she noticed my wounded arm. ‘How did you do that?’
‘Sword cut,’ I said. ‘What do you think?’
‘No. It was a sword cut. Look at it.’
The blood was gone. Where the huge cut had been, there was a long white scratch, and even that
was fading. As I watched, it turned into a small scar, and disappeared.
‘I – I don’t get it,’ I said.
Annabeth was thinking hard. I could almost see the gears turning. She looked down at my feet, then
at Clarisse’s broken spear, and said, ‘Step out of the water, Percy.’
‘What –’
‘Just do it.’
I came out of the creek and immediately felt bone tired. My arms started to go numb again. My
adrenalin rush left me. I almost fell over, but Annabeth steadied me.
‘Oh, Styx,’ she cursed. ‘This is not good. I didn’t want… I assumed it would be Zeus.…’
Before I could ask what she meant, I heard that canine growl again, but much closer than before. A
howl ripped through the forest.
The campers’ cheering died instantly. Chiron shouted something in Ancient Greek, which I would
realize, only later, I had understood perfectly: ‘Stand ready! My bow!’
Annabeth drew her sword.
There on the rocks just above us was a black hound the size of a rhino, with lava-red eyes and
fangs like daggers.
It was looking straight at me.
Nobody moved except Annabeth, who yelled, ‘Percy, run!’
She tried to step in front of me, but the hound was too fast. It leaped over her – an enormous
shadow with teeth – and just as it hit me, as I stumbled backwards and felt its razor-sharp claws
ripping through my armour, there was a cascade of thwacking sounds, like forty pieces of paper being
ripped one after the other. From the hound’s neck sprouted a cluster of arrows. The monster fell dead
at my feet.
By some miracle, I was still alive. I didn’t want to look underneath the ruins of my shredded
armour. My chest felt warm and wet, and I knew I was badly cut. Another second, and the monster
would’ve turned me into fifty kilograms of delicatessen meat.
Chiron trotted up next to us, a bow in his hand, his face grim.
‘Di immortales,’ Annabeth said. ‘That’s a hellhound from the Fields of Punishment. They don’t…
they’re not supposed to…’
‘Someone summoned it,’ Chiron said. ‘Someone inside the camp.’
Luke came over, the banner in his hand forgotten, his moment of glory gone.
Clarisse yelled, ‘It’s all Percy’s fault! Percy summoned it!’
‘Be quiet, child,’ Chiron told her.
We watched the body of the hellhound melt into shadow, soaking into the ground until it
disappeared.
‘You’re wounded,’ Annabeth told me. ‘Quick, Percy, get in the water.’
‘I’m okay.’
‘No, you’re not,’ she said. ‘Chiron, watch this.’
I was too tired to argue. I stepped back into the creek, the whole camp gathering around me.
Instantly, I felt better. I could feel the cuts on my chest closing up. Some of the campers gasped.
‘Look, I – I don’t know why,’ I said, trying to apologize. ‘I’m sorry…’
But they weren’t watching my wounds heal. They were staring at something above my head.
‘Percy,’ Annabeth said, pointing. ‘Um…’
By the time I looked up, the sign was already fading, but I could still make out the hologram of
green light, spinning and gleaming. A three-tipped spear: a trident.
‘Your father,’ Annabeth murmured. ‘This is really not good.’
‘It is determined,’ Chiron announced.
All around me, campers started kneeling, even the Ares cabin, though they didn’t look happy about
it.
‘My father?’ I asked, completely bewildered.
‘Poseidon,’ said Chiron. ‘Earthshaker, Stormbringer, Father of Horses. Hail, Perseus Jackson, Son
of the Sea God.’
9 I Am Offered a Quest
The next morning, Chiron moved me to cabin three.
I didn’t have to share with anybody. I had plenty of room for all my stuff: the Minotaur horn, one
set of spare clothes and a toiletry bag. I got to sit at my own dinner table, pick all my own activities,
call ‘lights out’ whenever I felt like it and not listen to anybody else.
And I was absolutely miserable.
Just when I’d started to feel accepted, to feel I had a home in cabin eleven and I might be a normal
kid – or as normal as you can be when you’re a half-blood – I’d been separated out as if I had some
rare disease.
Nobody mentioned the hellhound, but I got the feeling they were all talking about it behind my back.
The attack had scared everybody. It sent two messages: one, that I was the son of the Sea God; and
two, monsters would stop at nothing to kill me. They could even invade a camp that had always been
considered safe.
The other campers steered clear of me as much as possible. Cabin eleven was too nervous to have
sword class with me after what I’d done to the Ares folks in the woods, so my lessons with Luke
became one-on-one. He pushed me harder than ever, and wasn’t afraid to bruise me up in the process.
‘You’re going to need all the training you can get,’ he promised, as we were working with swords
and flaming torches. ‘Now let’s try that viper-beheading strike again. Fifty more repetitions.’
Annabeth still taught me Greek in the mornings, but she seemed distracted. Every time I said
something, she scowled at me, as if I’d just poked her between the eyes.
After lessons, she would walk away muttering to herself: ‘Quest… Poseidon?… Dirty rotten… Got
to make a plan…’
Even Clarisse kept her distance, though her venomous looks made it clear she wanted to kill me for
breaking her magic spear. I wished she would just yell or punch me or something. I’d rather get into
fights every day than be ignored.
I knew somebody at camp resented me, because one night I came into my cabin and found a mortal
newspaper dropped inside the doorway, a New York Daily News , opened to the Metro page. The
article took me almost an hour to read, because the angrier I got, the more the words floated around
on the page.
BOY AND MOTHER STILL MISSING AFTER FREAK CAR ACCIDENT
BY EILEEN SMYTHE
Sally Jackson and son Percy are still missing one week after their mysterious disappearance. The family’s badly burned ‘78
Camaro was discovered last Saturday on a north Long Island road with the roof ripped off and the front axle broken. The
car had flipped and skidded for several hundred metres before exploding.
Mother and son had gone for a weekend vacation to Montauk, but left hastily, under mysterious circumstances. Small
traces of blood were found in the car and near the scene of the wreck, but there were no other signs of the missing
Jacksons. Residents in the rural area reported seeing nothing unusual around the time of the accident.
Ms Jackson’s husband, Gabe Ugliano, claims that his stepson, Percy Jackson, is a troubled child who has been kicked
out of numerous boarding schools and has expressed violent tendencies in the past.
Police would not say whether son Percy is a suspect in his mother’s disappearance, but they have not ruled out foul
play. Below are recent pictures of Sally Jackson and Percy. Police urge anyone with information to call the following tollfree crime-stoppers hotline.
The phone number was circled in black marker.
I wadded up the paper and threw it away, then flopped down in my bunk bed in the middle of my
empty cabin.
‘Lights out,’ I told myself miserably.
That night, I had my worst dream yet.
I was running along the beach in a storm. This time, there was a city behind me. Not New York.
The sprawl was different: buildings spread farther apart, palm trees and low hills in the distance.
About a hundred metres down the surf, two men were fighting. They looked like TV wrestlers,
muscular, with beards and long hair. Both wore flowing Greek tunics, one trimmed in blue, the other
in green. They grappled with each other, wrestled, kicked and head-butted, and every time they
connected, lightning flashed, the sky grew darker, and the wind rose.
I had to stop them. I didn’t know why. But the harder I ran, the more the wind blew me back, until I
was running on the spot, my heels digging uselessly in the sand.
Over the roar of the storm, I could hear the blue-robed one yelling at the green-robed one, Give it
back! Give it back! Like a kindergartner fighting over a toy.
The waves got bigger, crashing into the beach, spraying me with salt.
I yelled, Stop it! Stop fighting!
The ground shook. Laughter came from somewhere under the earth, and a voice so deep and evil it
turned my blood to ice.
‘Come down, little hero,’ the voice crooned. ‘Come down!’
The sand split beneath me, opening up a crevice straight down to the centre of the earth. My feet
slipped, and darkness swallowed me.
I woke up, sure I was falling.
I was still in bed in cabin three. My body told me it was morning, but it was dark outside, and
thunder rolled across the hills. A storm was brewing. I hadn’t dreamed that.
I heard a clopping sound at the door, a hoof knocking on the threshold.
‘Come in.’
Grover trotted inside, looking worried. ‘Mr D wants to see you.’
‘Why?’
‘He wants to kill… I mean, I’d better let him tell you.’
Nervously, I got dressed and followed, sure that I was in huge trouble.
For days, I’d been half expecting a summons to the Big House. Now that I was declared a son of
Poseidon, one of the Big Three gods who weren’t supposed to have kids, I figured it was a crime for
me just to be alive. The other gods had probably been debating the best way to punish me for existing,
and now Mr D was ready to deliver their verdict.
Over Long Island Sound, the sky looked like ink soup coming to a boil. A hazy curtain of rain was
coming in our direction. I asked Grover if we needed an umbrella.
‘No,’ he said. ‘It never rains here unless we want it to.’
I pointed at the storm. ‘What the heck is that, then?’
He glanced uneasily at the sky. ‘It’ll pass around us. Bad weather always does.’
I realized he was right. In the week I’d been here, it had never even been overcast. The few rain
clouds I’d seen had skirted right around the edges of the valley.
But this storm… this one was huge.
At the volleyball pit, the kids from Apollo’s cabin were playing a morning game against the satyrs.
Dionysus’s twins were walking around in the strawberry fields, making the plants grow. Everybody
was going about their normal business, but they looked tense. They kept their eyes on the storm.
Grover and I walked up to the front porch of the Big House. Dionysus sat at the pinochle table in
his tiger-striped Hawaiian shirt with his Diet Coke, just as he had on my first day. Chiron sat across
the table in his fake wheelchair. They were playing against invisible opponents – two sets of cards
hovering in the air.
‘Well, well,’ Mr D said without looking up. ‘Our little celebrity.’
I waited.
‘Come closer,’ Mr D said. ‘And don’t expect me to kowtow to you, mortal, just because old
Barnacle-Beard is your father.’
A net of lightning flashed across the clouds. Thunder shook the windows of the house.
‘Blah, blah, blah,’ Dionysus said.
Chiron feigned interest in his pinochle cards. Grover cowered by the railing, his hooves clopping
back and forth.
‘If I had my way,’ Dionysus said, ‘I would cause your molecules to erupt in flames. We’d sweep
up the ashes and be done with a lot of trouble. But Chiron seems to feel this would be against my
mission at this cursed camp: to keep you little brats safe from harm.’
‘Spontaneous combustion is a form of harm, Mr D,’ Chiron put in.
‘Nonsense,’ Dionysus said. ‘Boy wouldn’t feel a thing. Nevertheless, I’ve agreed to restrain
myself. I’m thinking of turning you into a dolphin instead, sending you back to your father.’
‘Mr D –’ Chiron warned.
‘Oh, all right,’ Dionysus relented. ‘There’s one more option. But it’s deadly foolishness.’ Dionysus
rose, and the invisible players’ cards dropped to the table. ‘I’m off to Olympus for the emergency
meeting. If the boy is still here when I get back, I’ll turn him into an Atlantic bottlenose. Do you
understand? And Perseus Jackson, if you’re at all smart, you’ll see that’s a much more sensible
choice than what Chiron feels you must do.’
Dionysus picked up a playing card, twisted it, and it became a plastic rectangle. A credit card? No.
A security pass.
He snapped his fingers.
The air seemed to fold and bend around him. He became a holograph, then a wind, then he was
gone, leaving only the smell of fresh-pressed grapes lingering behind.
Chiron smiled at me, but he looked tired and strained. ‘Sit, Percy, please. And Grover.’
We did.
Chiron laid his cards on the table, a winning hand he hadn’t got to use.
‘Tell me, Percy,’ he said. ‘What did you make of the hellhound?’
Just hearing the name made me shudder.
Chiron probably wanted me to say, Heck, it was nothing. I eat hellhounds for breakfast. But I
didn’t feel like lying.
‘It scared me,’ I said. ‘If you hadn’t shot it, I’d be dead.’
‘You’ll meet worse, Percy. Far worse, before you’re done.’
‘Done… with what?’
‘Your quest, of course. Will you accept it?’
I glanced at Grover, who was crossing his fingers.
‘Um, sir,’ I said, ‘you haven’t told me what it is yet.’
Chiron grimaced. ‘Well, that’s the hard part, the details.’
Thunder rumbled across the valley. The storm clouds had now reached the edge of the beach. As
far as I could see, the sky and the sea were boiling together.
‘Poseidon and Zeus,’ I said. ‘They’re fighting over something valuable… something that was
stolen, aren’t they?’
Chiron and Grover exchanged looks.
Chiron sat forward in his wheelchair. ‘How did you know that?’
My face felt hot. I wished I hadn’t opened my big mouth. ‘The weather since Christmas has been
weird, like the sea and the sky are fighting. Then I talked to Annabeth, and she’d overheard something
about a theft. And… I’ve also been having these dreams.’
‘I knew it,’ Grover said.
‘Hush, satyr,’ Chiron ordered.
‘But it is his quest!’ Grover’s eyes were bright with excitement. ‘It must be!’
‘Only the Oracle can determine.’ Chiron stroked his bristly beard. ‘Nevertheless, Percy, you are
correct. Your father and Zeus are having their worst quarrel in centuries. They are fighting over
something valuable that was stolen. To be precise: a lightning bolt.’
I laughed nervously. ‘A what?’
‘Do not take this lightly,’ Chiron warned. ‘I’m not talking about some tinfoil-covered zigzag you’d
see in a second-grade play. I’m talking about a two-foot-long cylinder of high-grade celestial bronze,
capped on both ends with god-level explosives.’
‘Oh.’
‘Zeus’s master bolt,’ Chiron said, getting worked up now. ‘The symbol of his power, from which
all other lightning bolts are patterned. The first weapon made by the Cyclopes for the war against the
Titans, the bolt that sheered the top off Mount Etna and hurled Kronos from his throne; the master bolt,
which packs enough power to make mortal hydrogen bombs look like firecrackers.’
‘And it’s missing?’
‘Stolen,’ Chiron said.
‘By who?’
‘By whom’ Chiron corrected. Once a teacher, always a teacher. ‘By you.’
My mouth fell open.
‘At least’ – Chiron held up a hand – ‘that’s what Zeus thinks. During the winter solstice, at the last
council of the gods, Zeus and Poseidon had an argument. The usual nonsense: “Mother Rhea always
liked you best,” “Air disasters are more spectacular than sea disasters,” et cetera. Afterwards, Zeus
realized his master bolt was missing, taken from the throne room under his very nose. He immediately
blamed Poseidon. Now a god cannot usurp another god‘s symbol of power directly – that is forbidden
by the most ancient of divine laws. But Zeus believes your father convinced a human hero to take it.’
‘But I didn’t –’
‘Patience and listen, child,’ Chiron said. ‘Zeus has good reason to be suspicious. The forges of the
Cyclopes are under the ocean, which gives Poseidon some influence over the makers of his brother’s
lightning. Zeus believes Poseidon has taken the master bolt, and is now secretly having the Cyclopes
build an arsenal of illegal copies, which might be used to topple Zeus from his throne. The only thing
Zeus wasn’t sure about was which hero Poseidon used to steal the bolt. Now Poseidon has openly
claimed you as his son. You were in New York over the winter holidays. You could easily have
snuck into Olympus. Zeus believes he has found his thief.’
‘But I’ve never even been to Olympus! Zeus is crazy!’
Chiron and Grover glanced nervously at the sky. The clouds didn’t seem to be parting around us, as
Grover had promised. They were rolling straight over our valley, sealing us in like a coffin lid.
‘Er, Percy…?’ Grover said. ‘We don’t use the c-word to describe the Lord of the Sky.’
‘Perhaps paranoid,’ Chiron suggested. ‘Then again, Poseidon has tried to unseat Zeus before. I
believe that was question thirty-eight on your final exam…’ He looked at me as if he actually
expected me to remember question thirty-eight.
How could anyone accuse me of stealing a god’s weapon? I couldn’t even steal a slice of pizza
from Gabe’s poker party without getting busted. Chiron was waiting for an answer.
‘Something about a golden net?’ I guessed. ‘Poseidon and Hera and a few other gods… they, like,
trapped Zeus and wouldn’t let him out until he promised to be a better ruler, right?’
‘Correct,’ Chiron said. ‘And Zeus has never trusted Poseidon since. Of course, Poseidon denies
stealing the master bolt. He took great offence at the accusation. The two have been arguing back and
forth for months, threatening war. And now, you’ve come along – the proverbial last straw.’
‘But I’m just a kid!’
‘Percy,’ Grover cut in, ‘if you were Zeus, and you already thought your brother was plotting to
overthrow you, then your brother suddenly admitted he had broken the sacred oath he took after
World War II, that he’s fathered a new mortal hero who might be used as a weapon against you…
Wouldn’t that put a twist in your toga?’
‘But I didn’t do anything. Poseidon – my dad – he didn’t really have this master bolt stolen, did
he?’
Chiron sighed. ‘Most thinking observers would agree that thievery is not Poseidon’s style. But the
sea god is too proud to try convincing Zeus of that. Zeus has demanded that Poseidon return the bolt
by the summer solstice. That’s June twenty-first, ten days from now. Poseidon wants an apology for
being called a thief by the same date. I hoped that diplomacy might prevail, that Hera or Demeter or
Hestia would make the two brothers see sense. But your arrival has inflamed Zeus’s temper. Now
neither god will back down. Unless someone intervenes, unless the master bolt is found and returned
to Zeus before the solstice, there will be war. And do you know what a full-fledged war would look
like, Percy?’
‘Bad?’ I guessed.
‘Imagine the world in chaos. Nature at war with itself. Olympians forced to choose sides between
Zeus and Poseidon. Destruction. Carnage. Millions dead. Western civilization turned into a
battleground so big it will make the Trojan War look like a water-balloon fight.’
‘Bad,’ I repeated.
‘And you, Percy Jackson, would be the first to feel Zeus’s wrath.’
It started to rain. Volleyball players stopped their game and stared in stunned silence at the sky.
I had brought this storm to Half-Blood Hill. Zeus was punishing the whole camp because of me. I
was furious.
‘So I have to find the stupid bolt,’ I said. ‘And return it to Zeus.’
‘What better peace offering,’ Chiron said, ‘than to have the son of Poseidon return Zeus’s
property?’
‘If Poseidon doesn’t have it, where is the thing?’
‘I believe I know.’ Chiron’s expression was grim. ‘Part of a prophecy I had years ago… well,
some of the lines make sense to me, now. But before I can say more, you must officially take up the
quest. You must seek the counsel of the Oracle.’
‘Why can’t you tell me where the bolt is beforehand?’
‘Because if I did, you would be too afraid to accept the challenge.’
I swallowed. ‘Good reason.’
‘You agree then?’
I looked at Grover, who nodded encouragingly.
Easy for him. I was the one Zeus wanted to kill.
‘All right,’ I said. ‘It’s better than being turned into a dolphin.’
‘Then it’s time you consulted the Oracle,’ Chiron said. ‘Go upstairs, Percy Jackson, to the attic.
When you come back down, assuming you’re still sane, we will talk more.’
Four flights up, the stairs ended under a green trapdoor.
I pulled the cord. The door swung down, and a wooden ladder clattered into place.
The warm air from above smelled like mildew and rotten wood and something else… a smell I
remembered from biology class. Reptiles. The smell of snakes.
I held my breath and climbed.
The attic was filled with Greek hero junk: armour stands covered in cobwebs; once-bright shields
pitted with rust; old leather steamer trunks plastered with stickers saying ITHAKA, CIRCE’S ISLE
and LAND OF THE AMAZONS. One long table was stacked with glass jars filled with pickled
things– severed hairy claws, huge yellow eyes, various other parts of monsters. A dusty mounted
trophy on the wall looked like a giant snake’s head, but with horns and a full set of shark’s teeth. The
plaque read: HYDRA HEAD NO. I, WOODSTOCK, NY, 1969.
By the window, sitting on a wooden tripod stool, was the most gruesome memento of all: a
mummy. Not the wrapped-in-cloth kind, but a human female body shrivelled to a husk. She wore a
tie-dyed sundress, lots of beaded necklaces, and a headband over long black hair. The skin of her
face was thin and leathery over her skull, and her eyes were glassy white slits, as if the real eyes had
been replaced by marbles; she’d been dead a long, long time.
Looking at her sent chills up my back. And that was before she sat up on her stool and opened her
mouth. A green mist poured from the mummy’s mouth, coiling over the floor in thick tendrils, hissing
like twenty-thousand snakes. I stumbled over myself trying to get to the trapdoor, but it slammed shut.
Inside my head, I heard a voice, slithering into one ear and coiling around my brain: I am the spirit of
Delphi, speaker of the prophecies of Phoebus Apollo, slayer of the mighty Python. Approach,
seeker, and ask.
I wanted to say, No thanks, wrong door, just looking for the bathroom. But I forced myself to take
a deep breath.
The mummy wasn’t alive. She was some kind of gruesome receptacle for something else, the
power that was now swirling around me in the green mist. But its presence didn’t feel evil, like my
demonic maths teacher Mrs Dodds or the Minotaur. It felt more like the Three Fates I’d seen knitting
the yarn outside the highway fruit stand: ancient, powerful and definitely not human. But not
particularly interested in killing me, either.
I got up the courage to ask, ‘What is my destiny?’
The mist swirled more thickly, collecting right in front of me and around the table with the pickled
monster-part jars. Suddenly there were four men sitting around the table, playing cards. Their faces
became clearer. It was Smelly Gabe and his buddies.
My fists clenched, though I knew this poker party couldn’t be real. It was an illusion, made out of
mist.
Gabe turned towards me and spoke in the rasping voice of the Oracle: You shall go west, and face
the god who has turned.
His buddy on the right looked up and said in the same voice: You shall find what was stolen, and see
it safely returned.
The guy on the left threw in two poker chips, then said: You shall be betrayed by one who calls you a
friend.
Finally, Eddie, our building super, delivered the worst line of all: And you shall fail to save what
matters most, in the end.
The figures began to dissolve. At first I was too stunned to say anything, but as the mist retreated,
coiling into a huge green serpent and slithering back into the mouth of the mummy, I cried, ‘Wait!
What do you mean? What friend? What will I fail to save?’
The tail of the mist snake disappeared into the mummy’s mouth. She reclined back against the wall.
Her mouth closed tight, as if it hadn’t been open in a hundred years. The attic was silent again,
abandoned, nothing but a room full of mementos.
I got the feeling that I could stand here until I had cobwebs, too, and I wouldn’t learn anything else.
My audience with the Oracle was over.
‘Well?’ Chiron asked me.
I slumped into a chair at the pinochle table. ‘She said I would retrieve what was stolen.’
Grover sat forward, chewing excitedly on the remains of a Diet Coke can. ‘That’s great!’
‘What did the Oracle say exactly?’ Chiron pressed. ‘This is important.’
My ears were still tingling from the reptilian voice. ‘She… she said I would go west and face a
god who had turned. I would retrieve what was stolen and see it safely returned.’
‘I knew it,’ Grover said.
Chiron didn’t look satisfied. ‘Anything else?’
I didn’t want to tell him.
What friend would betray me? I didn’t have that many.
And the last line – I would fail to save what mattered most. What kind of Oracle would send me on
a quest and tell me, Oh, by the way, you’ll fail.
How could I confess that?
‘No,’ I said. ‘That’s about it.’
He studied my face. ‘Very well, Percy. But know this: the Oracle’s words often have double
meanings. Don’t dwell on them too much. The truth is not always clear until events come to pass.’
I got the feeling he knew I was holding back something bad, and he was trying to make me feel
better.
‘Okay,’ I said, anxious to change topics. ‘So where do I go? Who’s this god in the west?’
‘Ah, think, Percy’ Chiron said. ‘If Zeus and Poseidon weaken each other in a war, who stands to
gain?’
‘Somebody else who wants to take over?’ I guessed.
‘Yes, quite. Someone who harbours a grudge, who has been unhappy with his lot since the world
was divided aeons ago, whose kingdom would grow powerful with the deaths of millions. Someone
who hates his brothers for forcing him into an oath to have no more children, an oath that both of them
have now broken.’
I thought about my dreams, the evil voice that had spoken from under the ground. ‘Hades.’
Chiron nodded. ‘The Lord of the Dead is the only possibility.’
A scrap of aluminium dribbled out of Grover’s mouth. ‘Whoa, wait. Wh-what?’
‘A Fury came after Percy,’ Chiron reminded him. ‘She watched the young man until she was sure of
his identity, then tried to kill him. Furies obey only one lord: Hades.’
‘Yes, but – but Hades hates all heroes,’ Grover protested. ‘Especially if he has found out Percy is
a son of Poseidon…’
‘A hellhound got into the forest,’ Chiron continued. ‘Those can only be summoned from the Fields
of Punishment, and it had to be summoned by someone within the camp. Hades must have a spy here.
He must suspect Poseidon will try to use Percy to clear his name. Hades would very much like to kill
this young half-blood before he can take on the quest.’
‘Great,’ I muttered. ‘That’s two major gods who want to kill me.’
‘But a quest to…’ Grover swallowed. ‘I mean, couldn’t the master bolt be in some place like
Maine? Maine’s very nice this time of year.’
‘Hades sent a minion to steal the master bolt,’ Chiron insisted. ‘He hid it in the Underworld,
knowing full well that Zeus would blame Poseidon. I don’t pretend to understand the Lord of the
Dead’s motives perfectly, or why he chose this time to start a war, but one thing is certain. Percy must
go to the Underworld, find the master bolt, and reveal the truth.’
A strange fire burned in my stomach. The weirdest thing was: it wasn’t fear. It was anticipation.
The desire for revenge. Hades had tried to kill me three times so far, with the Fury, the Minotaur and
the hellhound. It was his fault my mother had disappeared in a flash of light. Now he was trying to
frame me and my dad for a theft we hadn’t committed.
I was ready to take him on.
Besides, if my mother was in the Underworld…
Whoa, boy, said the small part of my brain that was still sane. You’re a kid. Hades is a god.
Grover was trembling. He’d started eating pinochle cards like potato crisps.
The poor guy needed to complete a quest with me so he could get his searcher’s licence, whatever
that was, but how could I ask him to do this quest, especially when the Oracle said I was destined to
fail? This was suicide.
‘Look, if we know it’s Hades,’ I told Chiron, ‘why can’t we just tell the other gods? Zeus or
Poseidon could go down to the Underworld and bust some heads.’
‘Suspecting and knowing are not the same,’ Chiron said. ‘Besides, even if the other gods suspect
Hades – and I imagine Poseidon does – they couldn’t retrieve the bolt themselves. Gods cannot cross
each other’s territories except by invitation. That is another ancient rule. Heroes, on the other hand,
have certain privileges. They can go anywhere, challenge anyone, as long as they’re bold enough and
strong enough to do it. No god can be held responsible for a hero’s actions. Why do you think the
gods always operate through humans?’
‘You’re saying I’m being used.’
‘I’m saying it’s no accident Poseidon has claimed you now. It’s a very risky gamble, but he’s in a
desperate situation. He needs you.’
My dad needs me.
Emotions rolled around inside me like bits of glass in a kaleidoscope. I didn’t know whether to
feel resentful or grateful or happy or angry. Poseidon had ignored me for twelve years. Now suddenly
he needed me.
I looked at Chiron. ‘You’ve known I was Poseidon’s son all along, haven’t you?’
‘I had my suspicions. As I said… I’ve spoken to the Oracle, too.’
I got the feeling there was a lot he wasn’t telling me about his prophecy, but I decided I couldn’t
worry about that right now. After all, I was holding back information too.
‘So let me get this straight,’ I said. ‘I’m supposed go to the Underworld and confront the Lord of
the Dead.’
‘Check,’ Chiron said.
‘Find the most powerful weapon in the universe.’
‘Check.’
‘And get it back to Olympus before the summer solstice, in ten days.’
‘That’s about right.’
I looked at Grover, who gulped down the ace of hearts.
‘Did I mention that Maine is very nice this time of year?’ he asked weakly.
‘You don’t have to go,’ I told him. ‘I can’t ask that of you.’
‘Oh…’ He shifted his hooves. ‘No… it’s just that satyrs and underground places… well…’
He took a deep breath, then stood, brushing the shredded cards and aluminium bits off his T-shirt.
‘You saved my life, Percy. If… if you’re serious about wanting me along, I won’t let you down.’
I felt so relieved I wanted to cry, though I didn’t think that would be very heroic. Grover was the
only friend I’d ever had for longer than a few months. I wasn’t sure what good a satyr could do
against the forces of the dead, but I felt better knowing he’d be with me.
‘All the way, G-man.’ I turned to Chiron. ‘So where do we go? The Oracle just said to go west.’
‘The entrance to the Underworld is always in the west. It moves from age to age, just like Olympus.
Right now, of course, it’s in America.’
‘Where?’
Chiron looked surprised. ‘I thought that would be obvious enough. The entrance to the Underworld
is in Los Angeles.’
‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Naturally. So we just get on a plane –’
‘No!’ Grover shrieked. ‘Percy, what are you thinking? Have you ever been on a plane in your life?’
I shook my head, feeling embarrassed. My mom had never taken me anywhere by plane. She’d
always said we didn’t have the money. Besides, her parents had died in a plane crash.
‘Percy, think,’ Chiron said. ‘You are the son of the Sea God. Your father’s bitterest rival is Zeus,
Lord of the Sky. Your mother knew better than to trust you in an aeroplane. You would be in Zeus’s
domain. You would never come down again alive.’
Overhead, lightning crackled. Thunder boomed.
‘Okay,’ I said, determined not to look at the storm. ‘So, I’ll travel overland.’
‘That’s right,’ Chiron said. ‘Two companions may accompany you. Grover is one. The other has
already volunteered, if you will accept her help.’
‘Gee,’ I said, feigning surprise. ‘Who else would be stupid enough to volunteer for a quest like
this?’
The air shimmered behind Chiron.
Annabeth became visible, stuffing her Yankees cap into her back pocket.
‘I’ve been waiting a long time for a quest, Seaweed Brain,’ she said. ‘Athena is no fan of
Poseidon, but if you’re going to save the world, I’m the best person to keep you from messing up.’
‘If you do say so yourself,’ I said. ‘I suppose you have a plan, Wise Girl?’
Her cheeks coloured. ‘Do you want my help or not?’
The truth was, I did. I needed all the help I could get.
‘A trio,’ I said. ‘That’ll work.’
‘Excellent,’ Chiron said. ‘This afternoon, we can take you as far as the bus terminal in Manhattan.
After that, you are on your own.’
Lightning flashed. Rain poured down on the meadows that were never supposed to have violent
weather.
‘No time to waste,’ Chiron said. ‘I think you should all get packing.’
10 I Ruin a Perfectly Good Bus
It didn’t take me long to pack. I decided to leave the Minotaur horn in my cabin, which left me only an
extra change of clothes and a toothbrush to stuff in a backpack Grover had found for me.
The camp store loaned me one hundred dollars in mortal money and twenty golden drachmas.
These coins were as big as Girl Scout cookies and had images of various Greek gods stamped on one
side and the Empire State Building on the other. The ancient mortal drachmas had been silver, Chiron
told us, but Olympians never used less than pure gold. Chiron said the coins might come in handy for
nonmortal transactions – whatever that meant. He gave Annabeth and me each a flask of nectar and an
airtight bag full of ambrosia squares, to be used only in emergencies, if we were seriously hurt. It was
god food, Chiron reminded us. It would cure us of almost any injury, but it was lethal to mortals. Too
much of it would make a half-blood very, very feverish. An overdose would burn us up, literally.
Annabeth was bringing her magic Yankees cap, which she told me had been a twelfth-birthday
present from her mom. She carried a book on famous classical architecture, written in Ancient Greek,
to read when she got bored, and a long bronze knife, hidden in her shirt sleeve. I was sure the knife
would get us busted the first time we went through a metal detector.
Grover wore his fake feet and his trousers to pass as human. He wore a green rasta-style cap,
because when it rained his curly hair flattened and you could just see the tips of his horns. His bright
orange backpack was full of scrap metal and apples to snack on. In his pocket was a set of reed pipes
his daddy goat had carved for him, even though he only knew two songs: Mozart’s Piano Concerto no.
12 and Hilary Duff’s ‘So Yesterday’, both of which sounded pretty bad on reed pipes.
We waved goodbye to the other campers, took one last look at the strawberry fields, the ocean and
the Big House, then hiked up Half-Blood Hill to the tall pine tree that used to be Thalia, daughter of
Zeus.
Chiron was waiting for us in his wheelchair. Next to him stood the surfer dude I’d seen when I was
recovering in the sick room. According to Grover, the guy was the camp’s head of security. He
supposedly had eyes all over his body so he could never be surprised. Today, though, he was wearing
a chauffeur’s uniform, so I could only see extra peepers on his hands, face and neck.
‘This is Argus,’ Chiron told me. ‘He will drive you into the city, and, er, well, keep an eye on
things.’
I heard footsteps behind us.
Luke came running up the hill, carrying a pair of basketball shoes.
‘Hey!’ he panted. ‘Glad I caught you.’
Annabeth blushed, the way she always did when Luke was around.
‘Just wanted to say good luck,’ Luke told me. ‘And I thought… um, maybe you could use these.’
He handed me the sneakers, which looked pretty normal. They even smelled kind of normal.
Luke said, ‘Maia!’
White bird’s wings sprouted out of the heels, startling me so much, I dropped them. The shoes
flapped around on the ground until the wings folded up and disappeared.
‘Awesome!’ Grover said.
Luke smiled. ‘Those served me well when I was on my quest. Gift from Dad. Of course, I don’t use
them much these days…’ His expression turned sad.
I didn’t know what to say. It was cool enough that Luke had come to say goodbye. I’d been afraid
he might resent me for getting so much attention the last few days. But here he was giving me a magic
gift… It made me blush almost as much as Annabeth.
‘Hey, man,’ I said. ‘Thanks.’
‘Listen, Percy…’ Luke looked uncomfortable. ‘A lot of hopes are riding on you. So just… kill
some monsters for me, okay?’
We shook hands. Luke patted Grover’s head between his horns, then gave a goodbye hug to
Annabeth, who looked like she might pass out.
After Luke was gone, I told her, ‘You’re hyperventilating.’
‘Am not.’
‘You let him capture the flag instead of you, didn’t you?’
‘Oh… why do I want to go anywhere with you, Percy?’
She stomped down the other side of the hill, where a white SUV waited on the shoulder of the
road. Argus followed, jingling his car keys.
I picked up the flying shoes and had a sudden bad feeling. I looked at Chiron. ‘I won’t be able to
use these, will I?’
He shook his head. ‘Luke meant well, Percy. But taking to the air… that would not be wise for
you.’
I nodded, disappointed, but then I got an idea. ‘Hey, Grover. You want a magic item?’
His eyes lit up. ‘Me?’
Pretty soon we’d laced the sneakers over his fake feet, and the world’s first flying goat boy was
ready for launch.
‘Maia!’ he shouted.
He got off the ground okay, but then fell over sideways so his backpack dragged through the grass.
The winged shoes kept bucking up and down like tiny broncos.
‘Practice,’ Chiron called after him. ‘You just need practice!’
‘Aaaaa!’ Grover went flying sideways down the hill like a possessed lawn mower, heading
towards the van.
Before I could follow, Chiron caught my arm. ‘I should have trained you better, Percy,’ he said. ‘If
only I had more time. Hercules, Jason – they all got more training.’
‘That’s okay. I just wish –’
I stopped myself because I was about to sound like a brat. I was wishing my dad had given me a
cool magic item to help on the quest, something as good as Luke’s flying shoes, or Annabeth’s
invisible cap.
‘What am I thinking?’ Chiron cried. ‘I can’t let you get away without this.’
He pulled a pen from his coat pocket and handed it to me. It was an ordinary disposable ballpoint,
black ink, removable cap. Probably cost thirty cents.
‘Gee,’ I said. ‘Thanks.’
‘Percy, that’s a gift from your father. I’ve kept it for years, not knowing you were who I was
waiting for. But the prophecy is clear to me now. You are the one.’
I remembered the field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, when I’d vaporized Mrs Dodds.
Chiron had thrown me a pen that turned into a sword. Could this be…?
I took off the cap, and the pen grew longer and heavier in my hand. In half a second, I held a
shimmering bronze sword with a double-edged blade, a leather-wrapped grip and a flat hilt riveted
with gold studs. It was the first weapon that actually felt balanced in my hand.
‘The sword has a long and tragic history that we need not go into,’ Chiron told me. ‘Its name is
Anaklusmos.’
‘“Riptide”,’ I translated, surprised the Ancient Greek came so easily.
‘Use it only for emergencies,’ Chiron said, ‘and only against monsters. No hero should harm
mortals unless absolutely necessary, of course, but this sword wouldn’t harm them in any case.’
I looked at the wickedly sharp blade. ‘What do you mean it wouldn’t harm mortals? How could it
not?’
‘The sword is celestial bronze. Forged by the Cyclopes, tempered in the heart of Mount Etna,
cooled in the River Lethe. It’s deadly to monsters, to any creature from the Underworld, provided
they don’t kill you first. But the blade will pass through mortals like an illusion. They simply are not
important enough for the blade to kill. And I should warn you: as a demigod, you can be killed by
either celestial or normal weapons. You are twice as vulnerable.’
‘Good to know.’
‘Now recap the pen.’
I touched the pen cap to the sword tip and instantly Riptide shrank to a ballpoint pen again. I tucked
it in my pocket, a little nervous, because I was famous for losing pens at school.
‘You can’t,’ Chiron said.
‘Can’t what?’
‘Lose the pen,’ he said. ‘It is enchanted. It will always reappear in your pocket. Try it.’
I was wary, but I threw the pen as far as I could down the hill and watched it disappear in the
grass.
‘It may take a few moments,’ Chiron told me. ‘Now check your pocket.’
Sure enough, the pen was there.
‘Okay, that’s extremely cool,’ I admitted. ‘But what if a mortal sees me pulling out a sword?’
Chiron smiled. ‘Mist is a powerful thing, Percy.’
‘Mist?’
‘Yes. Read The Iliad. It’s full of references to the stuff. Whenever divine or monstrous elements
mix with the mortal world, they generate Mist, which obscures the vision of humans. You will see
things just as they are, being a half-blood, but humans will interpret things quite differently.
Remarkable, really, the lengths to which humans will go to fit things into their version of reality.’
I put Riptide back in my pocket.
For the first time, the quest felt real. I was actually leaving Half-Blood Hill. I was heading west
with no adult supervision, no backup plan, not even a cell phone. (Chiron said cell phones were
traceable by monsters; if we used one, it would be worse than sending up a flare.) I had no weapon
stronger than a sword to fight off monsters and reach the Land of the Dead.
‘Chiron…’ I said. ‘When you say the gods are immortal… I mean, there was a time before them,
right?’
‘Four ages before them, actually. The Time of the Titans was the Fourth Age, sometimes called the
Golden Age, which is definitely a misnomer. This, the time of Western civilization and the rule of
Zeus, is the Fifth Age’.
‘So what was it like… before the gods?’
Chiron pursed his lips. ‘Even I am not old enough to remember that, child, but I know it was a time
of darkness and savagery for mortals. Kronos, the lord of the Titans, called his reign the Golden Age
because men lived innocent and free of all knowledge. But that was mere propaganda. The Titan king
cared nothing for your kind except as appetizers or a source of cheap entertainment. It was only in the
early reign of Lord Zeus, when Prometheus the good Titan brought fire to mankind, that your species
began to progress, and even then Prometheus was branded a radical thinker. Zeus punished him
severely, as you may recall. Of course, eventually the gods warmed to humans, and Western
civilization was born.’
‘But the gods can’t die now, right? I mean, as long as Western civilization is alive, they’re alive.
So… even if I failed, nothing could happen so bad it would mess up everything, right?’
Chiron gave me a melancholy smile. ‘No one knows how long the Age of the West will last, Percy.
The gods are immortal, yes. But then, so were the Titans. They still exist, locked away in their
various prisons, forced to endure endless pain and punishment, reduced in power, but still very much
alive. May the Fates forbid that the gods should ever suffer such a doom, or that we should ever
return to the darkness and chaos of the past. All we can do, child, is follow our destiny.’
‘Our destiny… assuming we know what that is.’
‘Relax,’ Chiron told me. ‘Keep a clear head. And remember, you may be about to prevent the
biggest war in human history.’
‘Relax,’ I said. ‘I’m very relaxed.’
When I got to the bottom of the hill, I looked back. Under the pine tree that used to be Thalia,
daughter of Zeus, Chiron was now standing in full horse-man form, holding his bow high in salute.
Just your typical summer-camp send-off by your typical centaur.
***
Argus drove us out of the countryside and into western Long Island. It felt weird to be on a highway
again, Annabeth and Grover sitting next to me as if we were normal carpoolers. After two weeks at
Half-Blood Hill, the real world seemed like a fantasy. I found myself staring at every McDonald’s,
every kid in the back of his parents’ car, every billboard and shopping mall.
‘So far so good,’ I told Annabeth. ‘Ten miles and not a single monster.’
She gave me an irritated look. ‘It’s bad luck to talk that way, seaweed brain.’
‘Remind me again – why do you hate me so much?’
‘I don’t hate you.’
‘Could’ve fooled me.’
She folded her cap of invisibility. ‘Look… we’re just not supposed to get along, okay? Our parents
are rivals.’
‘Why?’
She sighed. ‘How many reasons do you want? One time my mom caught Poseidon with his
girlfriend in Athena’s temple, which is hugely disrespectful. Another time, Athena and Poseidon
competed to be the patron god for the city of Athens. Your dad created some stupid saltwater spring
for his gift. My mom created the olive tree. The people saw that her gift was better, so they named the
city after her.’
‘They must really like olives.’
‘Oh, forget it.’
‘Now, if she’d invented pizza – that I could understand.’
‘I said, forget it!’
In the front seat, Argus smiled. He didn’t say anything, but one blue eye on the back of his neck
winked at me.
Traffic slowed us down in Queens. By the time we got into Manhattan it was sunset and starting to
rain.
Argus dropped us at the Greyhound Station on the Upper East Side, not far from my mom and
Gabe’s apartment. Taped to a mailbox was a soggy flyer with my picture on it: HAVE YOU SEEN
THIS BOY?
I ripped it down before Annabeth and Grover could notice.
Argus unloaded our bags, made sure we got our bus tickets, then drove away, the eye on the back of
his hand opening to watch us as he pulled out of the parking lot.
I thought about how close I was to my old apartment. On a normal day, my mom would be home
from the candy store by now. Smelly Gabe was probably up there right now, playing poker, not even
missing her.
Grover shouldered his backpack. He gazed down the street in the direction I was looking. ‘You
want to know why she married him, Percy?’
I stared at him. ‘Were you reading my mind or something?’
‘Just your emotions.’ He shrugged. ‘Guess I forgot to tell you satyrs can do that. You were thinking
about your mom and your stepdad, right?’
I nodded, wondering what else Grover might’ve forgotten to tell me.
‘Your mom married Gabe for you,’ Grover told me. ‘You call him “Smelly”, but you’ve got no
idea. The guy has this aura… Yuck. I can smell him from here. I can smell traces of him on you, and
you haven’t been near him for a fortnight.’
‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘Where’s the nearest shower?’
‘You should be grateful, Percy. Your stepfather smells so repulsively human he could mask the
presence of any demigod. As soon as I took a whiff inside his Camaro, I knew: Gabe has been
covering your scent for years. If you hadn’t lived with him every summer, you probably would’ve
been found by monsters a long time ago. Your mom stayed with him to protect you. She was a smart
lady. She must’ve loved you a lot to put up with that guy – if that makes you feel any better.’
It didn’t, but I forced myself not to show it. I’ll see her again, I thought. She isn’t gone.
I wondered if Grover could still read my emotions, mixed up as they were. I was glad he and
Annabeth were with me, but I felt guilty that I hadn’t been straight with them. I hadn’t told them the
real reason I’d said yes to this crazy quest.
The truth was, I didn’t care about retrieving Zeus’s lightning bolt, or saving the world, or even
helping my father out of trouble. The more I thought about it, I resented Poseidon for never visiting
me, never helping my mom, never even sending a lousy child-support cheque. He’d only claimed me
because he needed a job done.
All I cared about was my mom. Hades had taken her unfairly, and Hades was going to give her
back.
You will be betrayed by one who calls you a friend, the Oracle whispered in my mind. You will
fail to save what matters most in the end.
Shut up, I told it.
The rain kept coming down.
We got restless waiting for the bus and decided to play some Hacky Sack with one of Grover’s
apples. Annabeth was unbelievable. She could bounce the apple off her knee, her elbow, her
shoulder, whatever. I wasn’t too bad myself.
The game ended when I tossed the apple towards Grover and it got too close to his mouth. In one
mega goat bite, our Hacky Sack disappeared – core, stem and all.
Grover blushed. He tried to apologize, but Annabeth and I were too busy cracking up.
Finally the bus came. As we stood in line to board, Grover started looking around, sniffing the air
like he smelled his favourite school cafeteria delicacy – enchiladas.
‘What is it?’ I asked.
‘I don’t know,’ he said tensely. ‘Maybe it’s nothing.’
But I could tell it wasn’t nothing. I started looking over my shoulder, too.
I was relieved when we finally got on board and found seats together in the back of the bus. We
stowed our backpacks. Annabeth kept slapping her Yankees cap nervously against her thigh.
As the last passengers got on, Annabeth clamped her hand onto my knee. ‘Percy.’
An old lady had just boarded the bus. She wore a crumpled velvet dress, lace gloves and a
shapeless orange-knit hat that shadowed her face, and she carried a big paisley purse. When she tilted
her head up, her black eyes glittered, and my heart skipped a beat.
It was Mrs Dodds. Older, more withered, but definitely the same evil face.
I scrunched down in my seat.
Behind her came two more old ladies: one in a green hat, one in a purple hat. Otherwise they
looked exactly like Mrs Dodds – same gnarled hands, paisley handbags, wrinkled velvet dresses.
Triplet demon grandmothers.
They sat in the front row, right behind the driver. The two on the aisle crossed their legs over the
walkway, making an X. It was casual enough, but it sent a clear message: nobody leaves.
The bus pulled out of the station, and we headed through the slick streets of Manhattan. ‘She didn’t
stay dead long,’ I said, trying to keep my voice from quivering. ‘I thought you said they could be
dispelled for a lifetime.’
‘I said if you’re lucky,’ Annabeth said. ‘You’re obviously not.’
‘All three of them,’ Grover whimpered. ‘Di immortales!’
‘It’s okay,’ Annabeth said, obviously thinking hard. ‘The Furies. The three worst monsters from the
Underworld. No problem. No problem. We’ll just slip out the windows.’
‘They don’t open,’ Grover moaned.
‘A back exit?’ she suggested.
There wasn’t one. Even if there had been, it wouldn’t have helped. By that time, we were on Ninth
Avenue, heading for the Lincoln Tunnel.
‘They won’t attack us with witnesses around,’ I said. ‘Will they?’
‘Mortals don’t have good eyes,’ Annabeth reminded me. ‘Their brains can only process what they
see through the Mist.’
‘They’ll see three old ladies killing us, won’t they?’
She thought about it. ‘Hard to say. But we can’t count on mortals for help. Maybe an emergency
exit in the roof…?’
We hit the Lincoln Tunnel, and the bus went dark except for the running lights down the aisle. It
was eerily quiet without the sound of the rain.
Mrs Dodds got up. In a flat voice, as if she’d rehearsed it, she announced to the whole bus: ‘I need
to use the restroom.’
‘So do I,’ said the second sister.
‘So do I,’ said the third sister.
They all started coming down the aisle.
‘I’ve got it,’ Annabeth said. ‘Percy, take my hat.’
‘What?’
‘You’re the one they want. Turn invisible and go up the aisle. Let them pass you. Maybe you can
get to the front and get away.’
‘But you guys –’
‘There’s an outside chance they might not notice us,’ Annabeth said. ‘You’re a son of one of the
Big Three. Your smell might be overpowering.’
‘I can’t just leave you.’
‘Don’t worry about us,’ Grover said. ‘Go!’
My hands trembled. I felt like a coward, but I took the Yankees cap and put it on.
When I looked down, my body wasn’t there any more.
I started creeping up the aisle. I managed to get up ten rows, then duck into an empty seat just as the
Furies walked past.
Mrs Dodds stopped, sniffing, and looked straight at me. My heart was pounding.
Apparently she didn’t see anything. She and her sisters kept going.
I was free. I made it to the front of the bus. We were almost through the Lincoln Tunnel now. I was
about to press the emergency stop button when I heard hideous wailing from the back row.
The old ladies were not old ladies any more. Their faces were still the same – I guess those
couldn’t get any uglier – but their bodies had shrivelled into leathery brown hag bodies with bat’s
wings and hands and feet like gargoyle claws. Their handbags had turned into fiery whips.
The Furies surrounded Grover and Annabeth, lashing their whips, hissing: ‘Where is it? Where?’
The other people on the bus were screaming, cowering in their seats. They saw something, all
right.
‘He’s not here!’ Annabeth yelled. ‘He’s gone!’
The Furies raised their whips.
Annabeth drew her bronze knife. Grover grabbed a tin can from his snack bag and prepared to
throw it.
What I did next was so impulsive and dangerous I should’ve been named ADHD poster child of the
year.
The bus driver was distracted, trying to see what was going on in his rearview mirror.
Still invisible, I grabbed the wheel from him and jerked it to the left. Everybody howled as they
were thrown to the right, and I heard what I hoped was the sound of three Furies smashing against the
windows.
‘Hey!’ the driver yelled. ‘Hey – whoa!’
We wrestled for the wheel. The bus slammed against the side of the tunnel, grinding metal,
throwing sparks a mile behind us.
We careened out of the Lincoln Tunnel and back into the rainstorm, people and monsters tossed
around the bus, cars ploughed aside like bowling pins.
Somehow the driver found an exit. We shot off the highway, through half a dozen traffic lights, and
ended up barrelling down one of those New Jersey rural roads where you can’t believe there’s so
much nothing right across the river from New York. There were woods to our left, the Hudson River
to our right and the driver seemed to be veering towards the river.
Another great idea: I hit the emergency brake.
The bus wailed, spun a full circle on the wet tar and crashed into the trees. The emergency lights
came on. The door flew open. The bus driver was the first one out, the passengers yelling as they
stampeded after him. I stepped into the driver’s seat and let them pass.
The Furies regained their balance. They lashed their whips at Annabeth while she waved her knife
and yelled in Ancient Greek, telling them to back off. Grover threw tin cans.
I looked at the open doorway. I was free to go, but I couldn’t leave my friends. I took off the
invisible cap. ‘Hey!’
The Furies turned, baring their yellow fangs at me, and the exit suddenly sounded like an excellent
idea. Mrs Dodds stalked up the aisle, just as she used to do in class, about to deliver my F- maths
test. Every time she flicked her whip, red flames danced along the barbed leather.
Her two ugly sisters hopped on top of the seats on either side of her and crawled towards me like
huge nasty lizards.
‘Perseus Jackson,’ Mrs Dodds said, in an accent that was definitely from somewhere further south
than Georgia. ‘You have offended the gods. You shall die.’
‘I liked you better as a maths teacher,’ I told her.
She growled.
Annabeth and Grover moved up behind the Furies cautiously, looking for an opening.
I took the ballpoint pen out of my pocket and uncapped it. Riptide elongated into a shimmering
double-edged sword.
The Furies hesitated.
Mrs Dodds had felt Riptide’s blade before. She obviously didn’t like seeing it again.
‘Submit now,’ she hissed. ‘And you will not suffer eternal torment.’
‘Nice try,’ I told her.
‘Percy, look out!’ Annabeth cried.
Mrs Dodds lashed her whip around my sword hand while the Furies on the either side lunged at
me.
My hand felt like it was wrapped in molten lead, but I managed not to drop Riptide. I struck the
Fury on the left with its hilt, sending her toppling backwards into a seat. I turned and sliced the Fury
on the right. As soon as the blade connected with her neck, she screamed and exploded into dust.
Annabeth got Mrs Dodds in a wrestler’s hold and yanked her backwards while Grover ripped the
whip out of her hands.
‘Ow!’ he yelled. ‘Ow! Hot! Hot!’
The Fury I’d hilt-slammed came at me again, talons ready, but I swung Riptide and she broke open
like a piñata.
Mrs Dodds was trying to get Annabeth off her back. She kicked, clawed, hissed and bit, but
Annabeth held on while Grover got Mrs Dodds’s legs tied up in her own whip. Finally they both
shoved her backwards into the aisle. Mrs Dodds tried to get up, but she didn’t have room to flap her
bat wings, so she kept falling down.
‘Zeus will destroy you!’ she promised. ‘Hades will have your soul!’
‘Braccas meas vescimini!’ I yelled.
I wasn’t sure where the Latin came from. I think it meant ‘Eat my pants!’
Thunder shook the bus. The hair rose on the back of my neck.
‘Get out!’ Annabeth yelled at me. ‘Now!’ I didn’t need any encouragement.
We rushed outside and found the other passengers wandering around in a daze, arguing with the
driver, or running around in circles yelling, ‘We’re going to die!’ A Hawaiian-shirted tourist with a
camera snapped my photograph before I could recap my sword.
‘Our bags!’ Grover realized. ‘We left our –’
BOOOOOM!
The windows of the bus exploded as the passengers ran for cover. Lightning shredded a huge crater
in the roof, but an angry wail from inside told me Mrs Dodds was not yet dead.
‘Run!’ Annabeth said. ‘She’s calling for reinforcements! We have to get out of here!’
We plunged into the woods as the rain poured down, the bus in flames behind us and nothing but
darkness ahead.
11 We Visit the Garden Gnome Emporium
In a way, it’s nice to know there are Greek gods out there, because you have somebody to blame
when things go wrong. For instance, when you’re walking away from a bus that’s just been attacked
by monster hags and blown up by lightning, and it’s raining on top of everything else, most people
might think that’s just really bad luck; when you’re a half-blood, you understand that some divine
force really is trying to mess up your day.
So there we were, Annabeth and Grover and I, walking through the woods on the New Jersey
riverbank, the glow of New York City making the night sky yellow behind us and the smell of the
Hudson reeking in our noses.
Grover was shivering and braying, his big goat eyes turned slit-pupilled and full of terror. ‘Three
Kindly Ones. All three at once.’
I was pretty much in shock myself. The explosion of bus windows still rang in my ears. But
Annabeth kept pulling us along, saying: ‘Come on! The further away we get, the better.’
‘All our money was back there,’ I reminded her. ‘Our food and clothes. Everything.’
‘Well, maybe if you hadn’t decided to jump into the fight –’
‘What did you want me to do? Let you get killed?’
‘You didn’t need to protect me, Percy. I would’ve been fine.’
‘Sliced like sandwich bread,’ Grover put in, ‘but fine.’
‘Shut up, goat boy,’ said Annabeth.
Grover brayed mournfully. ‘Tin cans… a perfectly good bag of tin cans.’
We sloshed across mushy ground, through nasty twisted trees that smelled like sour laundry.
After a few minutes, Annabeth fell into line next to me. ‘Look, I…’ Her voice faltered. ‘I
appreciate your coming back for us, okay? That was really brave.’
‘We’re a team, right?’
She was silent for a few more steps. ‘It’s just that if you died… aside from the fact that it would
really suck for you, it would mean the quest was over. This may be my only chance to see the real
world.’
The thunderstorm had finally let up. The city glow faded behind us, leaving us in almost total
darkness. I couldn’t see anything of Annabeth except a glint of her blonde hair.
‘You haven’t left Camp Half-Blood since you were seven?’ I asked her.
‘No… only short field trips. My dad –’
‘The history professor.’
‘Yeah. It didn’t work out for me living at home. I mean, Camp Half-Blood is my home.’ She was
rushing her words out now, as if she were afraid somebody might try to stop her. ‘At camp you train
and train. And that’s all cool and everything, but the real world is where the monsters are. That’s
where you learn whether you’re any good or not.’
If I didn’t know better, I could’ve sworn I heard doubt in her voice.
‘You’re pretty good with that knife,’ I said.
‘You think so?’
‘Anybody who can piggyback-ride a Fury is okay by me.’
I couldn’t really see, but I thought she might’ve smiled.
‘You know,’ she said, ‘maybe I should tell you… Something funny back on the bus…’
Whatever she wanted to say was interrupted by a shrill toot˜toot˜toot, like the sound of an owl
being tortured.
‘Hey, my reed pipes still work!’ Grover cried. ‘If I could just remember a “find path” song, we
could get out of these woods!’
He puffed out a few notes, but the tune still sounded suspiciously like Hilary Duff.
Instead of finding a path, I immediately slammed into a tree and got a nice-size knot on my head.
Add to the list of superpowers I did not have: infrared vision.
After tripping and cursing and generally feeling miserable for another mile or so, I started to see
light up ahead: the colours of a neon sign. I could smell food. Fried, greasy, excellent food. I realized
I hadn’t eaten anything unhealthy since I’d arrived at Half-Blood Hill, where we lived on grapes,
bread, cheese and extra-lean-cut nymph-prepared barbecue. This boy needed a double cheeseburger.
We kept walking until I saw a deserted two-lane road through the trees. On the other side was a
closed-down gas station, a tattered billboard for a 1990s movie and one open business, which was
the source of the neon light and the good smell.
It wasn’t a fast-food restaurant like I’d hoped. It was one of those weird roadside curio shops that
sell lawn flamingos and wooden Indians and cement grizzly bears and stuff like that. The main
building was a long, low warehouse, surrounded by acres of statuary. The neon sign above the gate
was impossible for me to read, because if there’s anything worse for my dyslexia than regular
English, it’s red cursive neon English.
To me, it looked like: ATNYU MES GDERAN GOMEN MEPROIUM.
‘What the heck does that say?’ I asked.
‘I don’t know,’ Annabeth said.
She loved reading so much, I’d forgotten she was dyslexic, too.
Grover translated: ‘Aunty Em’s Garden Gnome Emporium.’
Flanking the entrance, as advertised, were two cement garden gnomes, ugly bearded little runts,
smiling and waving, as if they were about to get their picture taken.
I crossed the street, following the smell of the hamburgers.
‘Hey…’ Grover warned.
‘The lights are on inside,’ Annabeth said. ‘Maybe it’s open.’
‘Snack bar,’ I said wistfully.
‘Snack bar,’ she agreed.
‘Are you two crazy?’ Grover said. ‘This place is weird.’
We ignored him.
The front garden was a forest of statues: cement animals, cement children, even a cement satyr
playing the pipes, which gave Grover the creeps.
‘Bla-ha-ha!’ he bleated. ‘Looks like my Uncle Ferdinand!’
We stopped at the warehouse door.
‘Don’t knock,’ Grover pleaded. ‘I smell monsters.’
‘Your nose is clogged up from the Furies,’ Annabeth told him. ‘All I smell is burgers. Aren’t you
hungry?’
‘Meat!’ he said scornfully. ‘I’m a vegetarian.’
‘You eat cheese enchiladas and aluminium cans,’ I reminded him.
‘Those are vegetables. Come on. Let’s leave. These statues are… looking at me.’
Then the door creaked open, and standing in front of us was a tall Middle Eastern woman – at
least, I assumed she was Middle Eastern, because she wore a long black gown that covered
everything but her hands, and her head was completely veiled. Her eyes glinted behind a curtain of
black gauze, but that was about all I could make out. Her coffee-coloured hands looked old, but wellmanicured and elegant, so I imagined she was a grandmother who had once been a beautiful lady.
Her accent sounded vaguely Middle Eastern, too. She said, ‘Children, it is too late to be out all
alone. Where are your parents?’
‘They’re… um…’ Annabeth started to say.
‘We’re orphans,’ I said.
‘Orphans?’ the woman said. The word sounded alien in her mouth. ‘But, my dears! Surely not!’
‘We got separated from our caravan,’ I said. ‘Our circus caravan. The ringmaster told us to meet
him at the gas station if we got lost, but he may have forgotten, or maybe he meant a different gas
station. Anyway, we’re lost. Is that food I smell?’
‘Oh, my dears,’ the woman said. ‘You must come in, poor children. I am Aunty Em. Go straight
through to the back of the warehouse, please. There is a dining area.’
We thanked her and went inside.
Annabeth muttered to me, ‘Circus caravan?’
‘Always have a strategy, right?’
‘Your head is full of kelp.’
The warehouse was filled with more statues – people in all different poses, wearing all different
outfits and with different expressions on their faces. I was thinking you’d have to have a pretty huge
garden to fit even one of these statues, because they were all life-size. But mostly I was thinking about
food.
Go ahead, call me an idiot for walking into a strange lady’s shop like that just because I was
hungry, but I do impulsive stuff sometimes. Plus, you’ve never smelled Aunty Em’s burgers. The
aroma was like laughing gas in the dentist’s chair – it made everything else go away. I barely noticed
Grover’s nervous whimpers, or the way the statues’ eyes seemed to follow me, or the fact that Aunty
Em had locked the door behind us.
All I cared about was finding the dining area. And, sure enough, there it was at the back of the
warehouse, a fast-food counter with a grill, a soda fountain, a pretzel heater and a nacho cheese
dispenser. Everything you could want, plus a few steel picnic tables out front.
‘Please, sit down,’ Aunty Em said.
‘Awesome,’ I said.
‘Um,’ Grover said reluctantly, ‘we don’t have any money, ma’am.’
Before I could jab him in the ribs, Aunty Em said, ‘No, no, children. No money. This is a special
case, yes? It is my treat, for such nice orphans.’
‘Thank you, ma’am,’ Annabeth said.
Aunty Em stiffened, as if Annabeth had done something wrong, but then the old woman relaxed just
as quickly, so I figured it must’ve been my imagination.
‘Quite all right, Annabeth,’ she said. ‘You have such beautiful grey eyes, child.’ Only later did I
wonder how she knew Annabeth’s name, even though we had never introduced ourselves.
Our hostess disappeared behind the snack counter and started cooking. Before we knew it, she’d
brought us plastic trays heaped with double cheeseburgers, vanilla shakes and XXL servings of
French fries.
I was halfway through my burger before I remembered to breathe.
Annabeth slurped her shake.
Grover picked at the fries, and eyed the tray’s waxed paper liner as if he might go for that, but he
still looked too nervous to eat.
‘What’s that hissing noise?’ he asked.
I listened, but didn’t hear anything. Annabeth shook her head.
‘Hissing?’ Aunty Em asked. ‘Perhaps you hear the deep-fryer oil. You have keen ears, Grover.’
‘I take vitamins. For my ears.’
‘That’s admirable,’ she said. ‘But please, relax.’
Aunty Em ate nothing. She hadn’t taken off her headdress, even to cook, and now she sat forward
and interlaced her fingers and watched us eat. It was a little unsettling, having someone stare at me
when I couldn’t see her face, but I was feeling satisfied after the burger, and a little sleepy, and I
figured the least I could do was try to make small talk with our hostess.
‘So, you sell gnomes,’ I said, trying to sound interested.
‘Oh, yes,’ ‘Aunty Em said. And animals. And people. Anything for the garden. Custom orders.
Statuary is very popular, you know.’
‘A lot of business on this road?’
‘Not so much, no. Since the highway was built… most cars, they do not go this way now. I must
cherish every customer I get.’
My neck tingled, as if somebody else was looking at me. I turned, but it was just a statue of a young
girl holding an Easter basket. The detail was incredible, much better than you see in most garden
statues. But something was wrong with her face. It looked as if she were startled, or even terrified.
‘Ah,’ Aunty Em said sadly. ‘You notice some of my creations do not turn out well. They are
marred. They do not sell. The face is the hardest to get right. Always the face.’
‘You make these statues yourself?’ I asked.
‘Oh, yes. Once upon a time, I had two sisters to help me in the business, but they have passed on,
and Aunty Em is alone. I have only my statues. This is why I make them, you see. They are my
company.’ The sadness in her voice sounded so deep and so real that I couldn’t help feeling sorry for
her.
Annabeth had stopped eating. She sat forward and said, ‘Two sisters?’
‘It’s a terrible story,’ Aunty Em said. ‘Not one for children, really. You see, Annabeth, a bad
woman was jealous of me, long ago, when I was young. I had a… a boyfriend, you know, and this bad
woman was determined to break us apart. She caused a terrible accident. My sisters stayed by me.
They shared my bad fortune as long as they could, but eventually they passed on. They faded away. I
alone have survived, but at a price. Such a price.’
I wasn’t sure what she meant, but I felt bad for her. My eyelids kept getting heavier, my full
stomach making me sleepy. Poor old lady. Who would want to hurt somebody so nice?
‘Percy?’ Annabeth was shaking me to get my attention. ‘Maybe we should go. I mean, the
ringmaster will be waiting.’
She sounded tense. I wasn’t sure why. Grover was eating the waxed paper off the tray now, but if
Aunty Em found that strange, she didn’t say anything.
‘Such beautiful grey eyes,’ Aunty Em told Annabeth again. ‘My, yes, it has been a long time since
I’ve seen grey eyes like those.’
She reached out as if to stroke Annabeth’s cheek, but Annabeth stood up abruptly.
‘We really should go.’
‘Yes!’ Grover swallowed his waxed paper and stood up. ‘The ringmaster is waiting! Right!’
I didn’t want to leave. I felt full and content. Aunty Em was so nice. I wanted to stay with her a
while.
‘Please, dears,’ Aunty Em pleaded. ‘I so rarely get to be with children. Before you go, won’t you at
least sit for a pose?’
‘A pose?’ Annabeth asked warily.
‘A photograph. I will use it to model a new statue set. Children are so popular, you see. Everyone
loves children.’
Annabeth shifted her weight from foot to foot. ‘I don’t think we can, ma’am. Come on, Percy –’
‘Sure we can,’ I said. I was irritated with Annabeth for being so bossy, so rude to an old lady
who’d just fed us for free. ‘It’s just a photo, Annabeth. What’s the harm?’
‘Yes, Annabeth,’ the woman purred. ‘No harm.’
I could tell Annabeth didn’t like it, but she allowed Aunty Em to lead us back out the front door,
into the garden of statues.
Aunty Em directed us to a park bench next to the stone satyr. ‘Now,’ she said, ‘I’ll just position you
correctly. The young girl in the middle, I think, and the two young gentlemen on either side.’
‘Not much light for a photo,’ I remarked.
‘Oh, enough,’ Aunty Em said. ‘Enough for us to see each other, yes?’
‘Where’s your camera?’ Grover asked.
Aunty Em stepped back, as if to admire the shot. ‘Now, the face is the most difficult. Can you smile
for me please, everyone? A large smile?’
Grover glanced at the cement satyr next to him, and mumbled, ‘That sure does look like Uncle
Ferdinand.’
‘Grover,’ Aunty Em chastised, ‘look this way, dear.’
She still had no camera in her hands.
‘Percy –’ Annabeth said.
Some instinct warned me to listen to Annabeth, but I was fighting the sleepy feeling, the
comfortable lull that came from the food and the old lady’s voice.
‘I will just be a moment,’ Aunty Em said. ‘You know, I can’t see you very well in this cursed
veil…’
‘Percy, something’s wrong,’ Annabeth insisted.
‘Wrong?’ Aunty Em said, reaching up to undo the wrap around her head. ‘Not at all, dear. I have
such noble company tonight. What could be wrong?’
‘That is Uncle Ferdinand!’ Grover gasped.
‘Look away from her!’ Annabeth shouted. She whipped her Yankees cap on to her head and
vanished. Her invisible hands pushed Grover and me both off the bench.
I was on the ground, looking at Aunt Em’s sandalled feet.
I could hear Grover scrambling off in one direction, Annabeth in another. But I was too dazed to
move.
Then I heard a strange, rasping sound above me. My eyes rose to Aunty Em’s hands, which had
turned gnarled and warty, with sharp bronze talons for fingernails.
I almost looked higher, but somewhere off to my left Annabeth screamed, ‘No! Don’t!’
More rasping – the sound of tiny snakes, right above me, from… from about where Aunty Em’s
head would be.
‘Run!’ Grover bleated. I heard him racing across the gravel, yelling, ‘Maia!’ to kick-start his flying
sneakers.
I couldn’t move. I stared at Aunty Em’s gnarled claws, and tried to fight the groggy trance the old
woman had put me in.
‘Such a pity to destroy a handsome young face,’ she told me soothingly. ‘Stay with me, Percy. All
you have to do is look up.’
I fought the urge to obey. Instead I looked to one side and saw one of those glass spheres people
put in gardens – a gazing ball. I could see Aunty Em’s dark reflection in the orange glass; her
headdress was gone, revealing her face as a shimmering pale circle. Her hair was moving, writhing
like serpents.
Aunty Em.
Aunty ‘M’.
How could I have been so stupid?
Think, I told myself. How did Medusa die in the myth?
But I couldn’t think. Something told me that in the myth Medusa had been asleep when she was
attacked by my namesake, Perseus. She wasn’t anywhere near asleep now. If she wanted, she could
take those talons right now and rake open my face.
‘The Grey-Eyed One did this to me, Percy,’ Medusa said, and she didn’t sound anything like a
monster. Her voice invited me to look up, to sympathize with a poor old grandmother. ‘Annabeth’s
mother, the cursed Athena, turned me from a beautiful woman into this.’
‘Don’t listen to her!’ Annabeth’s voice shouted, somewhere in the statuary. ‘Run, Percy!’
‘Silence!’ Medusa snarled. Then her voice modulated back to a comforting purr. ‘You see why I
must destroy the girl, Percy. She is my enemy’s daughter. I shall crush her statue to dust. But you, dear
Percy, you need not suffer.’
‘No,’ I muttered. I tried to make my legs move.
‘Do you really want to help the gods?’ Medusa asked. ‘Do you understand what awaits you on this
foolish quest, Percy? What will happen if you reach the Underworld? Do not be a pawn of the
Olympians, my dear. You would be better off as a statue. Less pain. Less pain.’
‘Percy!’ Behind me, I heard a buzzing sound, like a ninety-kilogram hummingbird in a nosedive.
Grover yelled, ‘Duck!’
I turned, and there he was in the night sky, flying in from twelve o’clock with his winged shoes
fluttering – Grover, holding a tree branch the size of a baseball bat. His eyes were shut tight, his head
twitched from side to side. He was navigating by ears and nose alone.
‘Duck!’ he yelled again. ‘I’ll get her!’
That finally jolted me into action. Knowing Grover, I was sure he’d miss Medusa and nail me. I
dove to one side.
Thwack!
At first I figured it was the sound of Grover hitting a tree. Then Medusa roared with rage.
‘You miserable satyr,’ she snarled. ‘I’ll add you to my collection!’
‘That was for Uncle Ferdinand!’ Grover yelled back.
I scrambled away and hid in the statuary while Grover swooped down for another pass.
Ker-whack!
‘Arrgh!’ Medusa yelled, her snake-hair hissing and spitting.
Right next to me, Annabeth’s voice said, ‘Percy!’
I jumped so high my feet nearly cleared a garden gnome. ‘Jeez! Don’t do that!’
Annabeth took off her Yankees cap and became visible. ‘You have to cut her head off’
‘What? Are you crazy? Let’s get out of here.’
‘Medusa is a menace. She’s evil. I’d kill her myself, but…’ Annabeth swallowed, as if she were
about to make a difficult admission. ‘But you’ve got the better weapon. Besides, I’d never get close to
her. She’d slice me to bits because of my mother. You – you’ve got a chance.’
‘What? I can’t –’
‘Look, do you want her turning more innocent people into statues?’
She pointed to a pair of statue lovers, a man and a woman with their arms around each other, turned
to stone by the monster.
Annabeth grabbed a green gazing ball from a nearby pedestal. ‘A polished shield would be better.’
She studied the sphere critically. ‘The convexity will cause some distortion. The reflection’s size
should be off by a factor of –’
‘Would you speak English?’
‘I am!’ She tossed me the glass ball. ‘Just look at her in the glass. Never look at her directly.’
‘Hey, guys!’ Grover yelled somewhere above us. ‘I think she’s unconscious!’
‘Roooaaarrr!’
‘Maybe not,’ Grover corrected. He went in for another pass with the tree branch.
‘Hurry,’ Annabeth told me. ‘Grover’s got a great nose, but he’ll eventually crash.’
I took out my pen and uncapped it. The bronze blade of Riptide elongated in my hand.
I followed the hissing and spitting sounds of Medusa’s hair.
I kept my eyes locked on the gazing ball so I would only glimpse Medusa’s reflection, not the real
thing. Then, in the green tinted glass, I saw her.
Grover was coming in for another turn at bat, but this time he flew a little too low. Medusa grabbed
the stick and pulled him off course. He tumbled through the air and crashed into the arms of a stone
grizzly bear with a painful ‘Ummphh!’
Medusa was about to lunge at him when I yelled, ‘Hey!’
I advanced on her, which wasn’t easy, holding a sword and a glass ball. If she charged, I’d have a
hard time defending myself.
But she let me approach – ten metres, five metres.
I could see the reflection of her face now. Surely it wasn’t really that ugly. The green swirls of the
gazing ball must be distorting it, making it look worse.
‘You wouldn’t harm an old woman, Percy,’ she crooned. ‘I know you wouldn’t.’
I hesitated, fascinated by the face I saw reflected in the glass – the eyes that seemed to burn straight
through the green tint, making my arms go weak.
From the cement grizzly, Grover moaned, ‘Percy, don’t listen to her!’
Medusa cackled. ‘Too late.’
She lunged at me with her talons.
I slashed up with my sword, heard a sickening shlock!, then a hiss like wind rushing out of a cavern
– the sound of a monster disintegrating.
Something fell to the ground next to my foot. It took all my willpower not to look. I could feel
warm ooze soaking into my sock, little dying snake heads tugging at my shoelaces.
‘Oh, yuck,’ Grover said. His eyes were still tightly closed, but I guess he could hear the thing
gurgling and steaming. ‘Mega-yuck.’
Annabeth came up next to me, her eyes fixed on the sky. She was holding Medusa’s black veil. She
said, ‘Don’t move.’
Very, very carefully, without looking down, she knelt and draped the monster’s head in black cloth,
then picked it up. It was still dripping green juice.
‘Are you okay?’ she asked me, her voice trembling.
‘Yeah,’ I decided, though I felt like throwing up my double cheeseburger. ‘Why didn’t… why
didn’t the head evaporate?’
‘Once you sever it, it becomes a spoil of war,’ she said. ‘Same as your Minotaur horn. But don’t
unwrap the head. It can still petrify you.’
Grover moaned as he climbed down from the grizzly statue. He had a big welt on his forehead. His
green rasta cap hung from one of his little goat horns, and his fake feet had been knocked off his
hooves. The magic sneakers were flying aimlessly around his head.
‘The Red Baron,’ I said. ‘Good job, man.’
He managed a bashful grin. ‘That really was not fun, though. Well, the hitting-her-with-a-stick part,
that was fun. But crashing into a concrete bear? Not fun.’
He snatched his shoes out of the air. I recapped my sword. Together, the three of us stumbled back
to the warehouse.
We found some old plastic grocery bags behind the snack counter and double-wrapped Medusa’s
head. We plopped it on the table where we’d eaten dinner and sat around it, too exhausted to speak.
Finally I said, ‘So we have Athena to thank for this monster?’
Annabeth flashed me an irritated look. ‘Your dad, actually. Don’t you remember? Medusa was
Poseidon’s girlfriend. They decided to meet in my mother’s temple. That’s why Athena turned her
into a monster. Medusa and her two sisters who had helped her get into the temple, they became the
three gorgons. That’s why Medusa wanted to slice me up, but she wanted to preserve you as a nice
statue. She’s still sweet on your dad. You probably reminded her of him.’
My face was burning. ‘Oh, so now it’s my fault we met Medusa.’
Annabeth straightened. In a bad imitation of my voice, she said: ‘ “It’s just a photo, Annabeth.
What’s the harm?” ’
‘Forget it,’ I said. ‘You’re impossible.’
‘You’re insufferable.’
‘You’re –’
‘Hey!’ Grover interrupted. ‘You two are giving me a migraine, and satyrs don’t even get
migraines. What are we going to do with the head?’
I stared at the thing. One little snake was hanging out of a hole in the plastic. The words printed on
the side of the bag said: WE APPRECIATE YOUR BUSINESS!
I was angry, not just with Annabeth or her mom, but with all the gods for this whole quest, for
getting us blown off the road and in two major fights the very first day out from camp. At this rate,
we’d never make it to L.A. alive, much less before the summer solstice.
What had Medusa said?
Do not be a pawn of the Olympians, my dear. You would be better off as a statue.
I got up. ‘I’ll be back.’
‘Percy,’ Annabeth called after me. ‘What are you –’
I searched the back of the warehouse until I found Medusa’s office. Her account book showed her
six most recent sales, all shipments to the Underworld to decorate Hades and Persephone’s garden.
According to one freight bill, the Underworld’s billing address was DOA Recording Studios, West
Hollywood, California. I folded up the bill and stuffed it in my pocket.
In the cash register I found twenty dollars, a few golden drachmas and some packing slips for
Hermes Overnight Express, each with a little leather bag attached for coins. I rummaged around the
rest of the office until I found the right-size box.
I went back to the picnic table, packed up Medusa’s head, and filled out a delivery slip:
The Gods
Mount Olympus
600th Floor,
Empire State Building
New York, NY
With best wishes,
PERCY JACKSON
‘They’re not going to like that,’ Grover warned. ‘They’ll think you’re impertinent.’
I poured some golden drachmas in the pouch. As soon as I closed it, there was a sound like a cash
register. The package floated off the table and disappeared with a pop!
‘I am impertinent,’ I said.
I looked at Annabeth, daring her to criticize.
She didn’t. She seemed resigned to the fact that I had a major talent for ticking off the gods. ‘Come
on,’ she muttered. ‘We need a new plan.’
12 We Get Advice from a Poodle
We were pretty miserable that night.
We camped out in the woods, a hundred metres from the main road, in a marshy clearing that local
kids had obviously been using for parties. The ground was littered with flattened soda cans and fastfood wrappers.
We’d taken some food and blankets from Aunty Em’s, but we didn’t dare light a fire to dry our
damp clothes. The Furies and Medusa had provided enough excitement for one day. We didn’t want
to attract anything else.
We decided to sleep in shifts. I volunteered to take first watch.
Annabeth curled up on the blankets and was snoring as soon as her head hit the ground. Grover
fluttered with his flying shoes to the lowest bough of a tree, put his back to the trunk, and stared at the
night sky.
‘Go ahead and sleep,’ I told him. ‘I’ll wake you if there’s trouble.’
He nodded, but still didn’t close his eyes. ‘It makes me sad, Percy.’
‘What does? The fact that you signed up for this stupid quest?’
‘No. This makes me sad.’ He pointed at all the garbage on the ground. ‘And the sky. You can’t even
see the stars. They’ve polluted the sky. This is a terrible time to be a satyr.’
‘Oh, yeah. I guess you’d be an environmentalist.’
He glared at me. ‘Only a human wouldn’t be. Your species is clogging up the world so fast… ah,
never mind. It’s useless to lecture a human. At the rate things are going, I’ll never find Pan.’
‘Pam? Like the cooking spray?’
‘Pan!’ he cried indignantly. ‘P-A-N. The great god Pan! What do you think I want a searcher’s
licence for?’
A strange breeze rustled through the clearing, temporarily overpowering the stink of trash and
muck. It brought the smell of berries and wildflowers and clean rainwater, things that might’ve once
been in these woods. Suddenly I was nostalgic for something I’d never known.
‘Tell me about the search,’ I said.
Grover looked at me cautiously, as if he were afraid I was just making fun.
‘The God of Wild Places disappeared two thousand years ago,’ he told me. ‘A sailor off the coast
of Ephesos heard a mysterious voice crying out from the shore, “Tell them that the great god Pan has
died!” When humans heard the news, they believed it. They’ve been pillaging Pan’s kingdom ever
since. But for the satyrs, Pan was our lord and master. He protected us and the wild places of the
earth. We refuse to believe that he died. In every generation, the bravest satyrs pledge their lives to
finding Pan. They search the earth, exploring all the wildest places, hoping to find where he is hidden
and wake him from his sleep.’
‘And you want to be a searcher.’
‘It’s my life’s dream,’ he said. ‘My father was a searcher. And my Uncle Ferdinand… the statue
you saw back there –’
‘Oh, right, sorry.’
Grover shook his head. ‘Uncle Ferdinand knew the risks. So did my dad. But I’ll succeed. I’ll be
the first searcher to return alive.’
‘Hang on – the first?’
Grover took his reed pipes out of his pocket. ‘No searcher has ever come back. Once they set out,
they disappear. They’re never seen alive again.’
‘Not once in two thousand years?’
‘No.’
‘And your dad? You have no idea what happened to him?’
‘None.’
‘But you still want to go,’ I said, amazed. ‘I mean, you really think you’ll be the one to find Pan?’
‘I have to believe that, Percy. Every searcher does. It’s the only thing that keeps us from despair
when we look at what humans have done to the world. I have to believe Pan can still be awakened.’
I stared at the orange haze of the sky and tried to understand how Grover could pursue a dream that
seemed so hopeless. Then again, was I any better?
‘How are we going to get into the Underworld?’ I asked him. ‘I mean, what chance do we have
against a god?’
‘I don’t know,’ he admitted. ‘But back at Medusa’s, when you were searching her office? Annabeth
was telling me –’
‘Oh, I forgot. Annabeth will have a plan all figured out.’
‘Don’t be so hard on her, Percy. She’s had a tough life, but she’s a good person. After all, she
forgave me…’ His voice faltered.
‘What do you mean?’ I asked. ‘Forgave you for what?’
Suddenly, Grover seemed very interested in playing notes on his pipes.
‘Wait a minute,’ I said. ‘Your first keeper job was five years ago. Annabeth has been at camp five
years. She wasn’t… I mean, your first assignment that went wrong –’
‘I can’t talk about it,’ Grover said, and his quivering lower lip suggested he’d start crying if I
pressed him. ‘But as I was saying, back at Medusas, Annabeth and I agreed there’s something strange
going on with this quest. Something isn’t what it seems.’
‘Well, duh. I’m getting blamed for stealing a thunderbolt that Hades took.’
‘That’s not what I mean,’ Grover said. ‘The Fu – The Kindly Ones were sort of holding back. Like
Mrs Dodds at Yancy Academy… why did she wait so long to try to kill you? Then on the bus, they
just weren’t as aggressive as they could’ve been.’
‘They seemed plenty aggressive to me.’
Grover shook his head. ‘They were screeching at us: “Where is it? Where?”’
‘Asking about me,’ I said.
‘Maybe… but Annabeth and I, we both got the feeling they weren’t asking about a person. They
said “Where is it?” They seemed to be asking about an object.’
‘That doesn’t make sense.’
‘I know. But if we’ve misunderstood something about this quest, and we only have nine days to
find the master bolt…’ He looked at me like he was hoping for answers, but I didn’t have any.
I thought about what Medusa had said: I was being used by the gods. What lay ahead of me was
worse than petrification. ‘I haven’t been straight with you,’ I told Grover. ‘I don’t care about the
master bolt. I agreed to go to the Underworld so I could bring back my mother.’
Grover blew a soft note on his pipes. ‘I know that, Percy. But are you sure that’s the only reason?’
‘I’m not doing it to help my father. He doesn’t care about me. I don’t care about him.’
Grover gazed down from his tree branch. ‘Look, Percy, I’m not as smart as Annabeth. I’m not as
brave as you. But I’m pretty good at reading emotions. You’re glad your dad is alive. You feel good
that he’s claimed you, and part of you wants to make him proud. That’s why you mailed Medusa’s
head to Olympus. You wanted him to notice what you’d done.’
‘Yeah? Well maybe satyr emotions work differently than human emotions. Because you’re wrong. I
don’t care what he thinks.’
Grover pulled his feet up onto the branch. ‘Okay, Percy. Whatever.’
‘Besides, I haven’t done anything worth bragging about. We barely got out of New York and we’re
stuck here with no money and no way west.’
Grover looked at the night sky, like he was thinking about that problem. ‘How about I take first
watch, huh? You get some sleep.’
I wanted to protest, but he started to play Mozart, soft and sweet, and I turned away, my eyes
stinging. After a few bars of Piano Concerto no. 12, I was asleep.
In my dreams, I stood in a dark cavern before a gaping pit. Grey mist creatures churned all around me,
whispering rags of smoke that I somehow knew were the spirits of the dead.
They tugged at my clothes, trying to pull me back, but I felt compelled to walk forward to the very
edge of the chasm.
Looking down made me dizzy.
The pit yawned so wide and was so completely black, I knew it must be bottomless. Yet I had a
feeling that something was trying to rise from the abyss, something huge and evil.
The little hero, an amused voice echoed far down in the darkness. Too weak, too young, but
perhaps you will do.
The voice felt ancient – cold and heavy. It wrapped around me like sheets of lead.
They have misled you, boy, it said. Barter with me. I will give you what you want.
A shimmering image hovered over the void: my mother, frozen at the moment she’d dissolved in a
shower of gold. Her face was distorted with pain, as if the Minotaur were still squeezing her neck.
Her eyes looked directly at me, pleading: Go!
I tried to cry out, but my voice wouldn’t work.
Cold laughter echoed from the chasm.
An invisible force pulled me forward. It would drag me into the pit unless I stood firm.
Help me rise, boy. The voice became hungrier. Bring me the bolt. Strike a blow against the
treacherous gods!
The spirits of the dead whispered around me, No! Wake!
The image of my mother began to fade. The thing in the pit tightened its unseen grip around me.
I realized it wasn’t interested in pulling me in. It was using me to pull itself out
Good, it murmured. Good.
Wake! the dead whispered. Wake!
Someone was shaking me.
My eyes opened, and it was daylight.
‘Well,’ Annabeth said, ‘the zombie lives.’
I was trembling from the dream. I could still feel the grip of the chasm monster around my chest.
‘How long was I asleep?’
‘Long enough for me to cook breakfast.’ Annabeth tossed me a bag of nacho-flavoured corn chips
from Aunty Em’s snack bar. ‘And Grover went exploring. Look, he found a friend.’
My eyes had trouble focusing.
Grover was sitting cross-legged on a blanket with something fuzzy in his lap, a dirty, unnaturally
pink stuffed animal.
No. It wasn’t a stuffed animal. It was a pink poodle.
The poodle yapped at me suspiciously. Grover said, ‘No, he’s not.’
I blinked. ‘Are you… talking to that thing?’
The poodle growled.
‘This thing,’ Grover warned, ‘is our ticket west. Be nice to him.’
‘You can talk to animals?’
Grover ignored the question. ‘Percy, meet Gladiola. Gladiola, Percy.’
I stared at Annabeth, figuring she’d crack up at this practical joke they were playing on me, but she
looked deadly serious.
‘I’m not saying hello to a pink poodle,’ I said. ‘Forget it.’
‘Percy,’ Annabeth said. ‘I said hello to the poodle. You say hello to the poodle.’
The poodle growled.
I said hello to the poodle.
Grover explained that he’d come across Gladiola in the woods and they’d struck up a
conversation. The poodle had run away from a rich local family, who’d posted a $200 reward for his
return. Gladiola didn’t really want to go back to his family, but he was willing to if it meant helping
Grover.
‘How does Gladiola know about the reward?’ I asked.
‘He read the signs,’ Grover said. ‘Duh.’
‘Of course,’ I said. ‘Silly me.’
‘So we turn in Gladiola,’ Annabeth explained in her best strategy voice, ‘we get money and we buy
tickets to Los Angeles. Simple.’
I thought about my dream – the whispering voices of the dead, the thing in the chasm and my
mother’s face, shimmering as it dissolved into gold. All that might be waiting for me in the West.
‘Not another bus,’ I said warily.
‘No,’ Annabeth agreed.
She pointed downhill, towards train tracks I hadn’t been able to see last night in the dark. ‘There’s
an Amtrack station half a mile that way. According to Gladiola, the westbound train leaves at noon.’
13 I Plunge to My Death
We spent two days on the Amtrak train, heading west through hills, over rivers, past amber waves of
grain.
We weren’t attacked once, but I didn’t relax. I felt that we were travelling around in a display case,
being watched from above and maybe from below, that something was waiting for the right
opportunity.
I tried to keep a low profile because my name and picture were splattered over the front pages of
several East Coast newspapers. The Trenton Register-News showed a photo taken by a tourist as I
got off the Greyhound bus. I had a wild look in my eyes. My sword was a metallic blur in my hands. It
might’ve been a baseball bat or a lacrosse stick.
The picture’s caption read:
Twelve-year-old Percy Jackson, wanted for questioning in the Long Island disappearance of his mother two weeks
ago, is shown here fleeing from the bus where he accosted several elderly female passengers. The bus exploded on
an east New Jersey roadside shortly after Jackson fled the scene. Based on eyewitness accounts, police believe the
boy may be travelling with two teenage accomplices. His stepfather, Gabe Ugliano, has offered a cash reward for
information leading to his capture.
‘Don’t worry,’ Annabeth told me. ‘Mortal police could never find us.’ But she didn’t sound so sure.
The rest of the day I spent alternately pacing the length of the train (because I had a really hard time
sitting still), or looking out the windows.
Once, I spotted a family of centaurs galloping across a wheat field, bows at the ready, as they
hunted lunch. The little boy centaur, who was the size of a second-grader on a pony, caught my eye
and waved. I looked around the passenger car, but nobody else had noticed. The adult riders all had
their faces buried in laptop computers or magazines.
Another time, towards evening, I saw something huge moving through the woods. I could’ve sworn
it was a lion, except that lions don’t live wild in America, and this thing was the size of a tank. Its fur
glinted gold in the evening light. Then it leaped through the trees and was gone.
Our reward money for returning Gladiola the poodle had only been enough to purchase tickets as far
as Denver. We couldn’t get berths in the sleeper car, so we dozed in our seats. My neck got stiff. I
tried not to drool in my sleep, since Annabeth was sitting right next to me.
Grover kept snoring and bleating and waking me up. Once, he shuffled around and his fake foot fell
off. Annabeth and I had to stick it back on before any of the other passengers noticed.
‘So,’ Annabeth asked me, once we’d got Grover’s trainer readjusted. ‘Who wants your help?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘When you were asleep just now, you mumbled, “I won’t help you.” Who were you dreaming
about?’
I was reluctant to say anything. It was the second time I’d dreamed about the evil voice from the
pit. But it bothered me so much I finally told her.
Annabeth was quiet for a long time. ‘That doesn’t sound like Hades. He always appears on a black
throne, and he never laughs.’
‘He offered my mother in trade. Who else could do that?’
‘I guess… if he meant, “Help me rise from the Underworld.” If he wants war with the Olympians.
But why ask you to bring him the master bolt if he already has it?’
I shook my head, wishing I knew the answer. I thought about what Grover had told me, that the
Furies on the bus seemed to have been looking for something.
Where is it? Where?
Maybe Grover sensed my emotions. He snorted in his sleep, muttered something about vegetables
and turned his head.
Annabeth readjusted his cap so it covered his horns. ‘Percy, you can’t barter with Hades. You
know that, right? He’s deceitful, heartless and greedy. I don’t care if his Kindly Ones weren’t as
aggressive this time –’
‘This time?’ I asked. ‘You mean you’ve run into them before?’
Her hand crept up to her necklace. She fingered a glazed white bead painted with the image of a
pine tree, one of her clay end-of-summer tokens. ‘Let’s just say I’ve got no love for the Lord of the
Dead. You can’t be tempted to make a deal for your mom’
‘What would you do if it was your dad?’
‘That’s easy,’ she said. ‘I’d leave him to rot.’
‘You’re not serious?’
Annabeth’s grey eyes fixed on me. She wore the same expression she’d worn in the woods at
camp, the moment she drew her sword against the hellhound. ‘My dad’s resented me since the day I
was born, Percy,’ she said. ‘He never wanted a baby. When he got me, he asked Athena to take me
back and raise me on Olympus because he was too busy with his work. She wasn’t happy about that.
She told him heroes had to be raised by their mortal parent.’
‘But how… I mean, I guess you weren’t born in a hospital…’
‘I appeared on my father’s doorstep, in a golden cradle, carried down from Olympus by Zephyr the
West Wind. You’d think my dad would remember that as a miracle, right? Like, maybe he’d take
some digital photos or something. But he always talked about my arrival as if it were the most
inconvenient thing that had ever happened to him. When I was five he got married and totally forgot
about Athena. He got a “regular” mortal wife, and had two “regular” mortal kids, and tried to pretend
I didn’t exist.’
I stared out the train window. The lights of a sleeping town were drifting by. I wanted to make
Annabeth feel better, but I didn’t know how.
‘My mom married a really awful guy,’ I told her. ‘Grover said she did it to protect me, to hide me
in the scent of a human family. Maybe that’s what your dad was thinking.’
Annabeth kept worrying at her necklace. She was pinching the gold college ring that hung with the
beads. It occurred to me that the ring must be her father’s. I wondered why she wore it if she hated
him so much.
‘He doesn’t care about me,’ she said. ‘His wife – my stepmom – treated me like a freak. She
wouldn’t let me play with her children. My dad went along with her. Whenever something dangerous
happened – you know, something with monsters – they would both look at me resentfully, like, “How
dare you put our family at risk!” Finally, I took the hint. I wasn’t wanted. I ran away.’
‘How old were you?’
‘Same age as when I started camp. Seven.’
‘But… you couldn’t have got all the way to Half-Blood Hill by yourself’
‘Not alone, no. Athena watched over me, guided me towards help. I made a couple of unexpected
friends who took care of me, for a short time, anyway.’
I wanted to ask what happened, but Annabeth seemed lost in sad memories. So I listened to the
sound of Grover snoring and gazed out the train windows as the dark fields of Ohio raced by.
Towards the end of our second day on the train, June 13, eight days before the summer solstice, we
passed through some golden hills and over the Mississippi River into St Louis.
Annabeth craned her neck to see the Gateway Arch, which looked to me like a huge shopping-bag
handle stuck on the city.
‘I want to do that,’ she sighed.
‘What?’ I asked.
‘Build something like that. You ever see the Parthenon, Percy?’
‘Only in pictures.’
‘Someday, I’m going to see it in person. I’m going to build the greatest monument to the gods ever.
Something that’ll last a thousand years.’
I laughed. ‘You? An architect?’
I don’t know why, but I found it funny. Just the idea of Annabeth trying to sit quietly and draw all
day.
Her cheeks flushed. ‘Yes, an architect. Athena expects her children to create things, not just tear
them down, like a certain god of earthquakes I could mention.’
I watched the churning brown water of the Mississippi below.
‘Sorry,’ Annabeth said. ‘That was mean.’
‘Can’t we work together a little?’ I pleaded. ‘I mean, didn’t Athena and Poseidon ever cooperate?’
Annabeth had to think about it. ‘I guess… the chariot,’ she said tentatively. ‘My mom invented it,
but Poseidon created horses out of the crests of waves. So they had to work together to make it
complete.’
‘Then we can cooperate, too. Right?’
We rode into the city, Annabeth watching as the Arch disappeared behind a hotel.
‘I suppose,’ she said at last.
We pulled into the Amtrak station downtown. The intercom told us we’d have a three-hour
stopover before departing for Denver.
Grover stretched. Before he was even fully awake, he said, ‘Food.’
‘Come on, goat boy,’ Annabeth said. ‘Sightseeing.’
‘Sightseeing?’
‘The Gateway Arch,’ she said. ‘This may be my only chance to ride to the top. Are you coming or
not?’
Grover and I exchanged looks.
I wanted to say no, but I figured that if Annabeth was going, we couldn’t very well let her go alone.
Grover shrugged. ‘As long as there’s a snack bar without monsters.’
The Arch was about a mile from the train station. Late in the day the lines to get in weren’t that long.
We threaded our way through the underground museum, looking at covered wagons and other junk
from the 1800s. It wasn’t all that thrilling, but Annabeth kept telling us interesting facts about how the
Arch was built, and Grover kept passing me jelly beans, so I was okay.
I kept looking around, though, at the other people in line. ‘You smell anything?’ I murmured to
Grover.
He took his nose out of the jelly-bean bag long enough to sniff. ‘Underground,’ he said
distastefully. ‘Underground air always smells like monsters. Probably doesn’t mean anything.’
But something felt wrong to me. I had a feeling we shouldn’t be here.
‘Guys,’ I said. ‘You know the gods’ symbols of power?’
Annabeth had been in the middle of reading about the construction equipment used to build the
Arch, but she looked over. ‘Yeah?’
‘Well, Hade –’
Grover cleared his throat. ‘We’re in a public place… You mean, our friend downstairs?’
‘Um, right,’ I said. ‘Our friend way downstairs. Doesn’t he have a hat like Annabeth’s?’
‘You mean the Helm of Darkness,’ Annabeth said. ‘Yeah, that’s his symbol of power. I saw it next
to his seat during the winter solstice council meeting.’
‘He was there?’ I asked.
She nodded. ‘It’s the only time he’s allowed to visit Olympus – the darkest day of the year. But his
helmet is a lot more powerful than my invisibility hat, if what I’ve heard is true…’
‘It allows him to become darkness,’ Grover confirmed. ‘He can melt into shadow or pass through
walls. He can’t be touched, or seen, or heard. And he can radiate fear so intense it can drive you
insane or stop your heart. Why do you think all rational creatures fear the dark?’
‘But then… how do we know he’s not here right now, watching us?’ I asked.
Annabeth and Grover exchanged looks.
‘We don’t,’ Grover said.
‘Thanks, that makes me feel a lot better,’ said. ‘Got any blue jelly beans left?’
I’d almost mastered my jumpy nerves when I saw the tiny little elevator car we were going to ride
to the top of the Arch, and I knew I was in trouble. I hate confined places. They make me nuts.
We got shoehorned into the car with this big fat lady and her dog, a Chihuahua with a rhinestone
collar. I figured maybe the dog was a seeing-eye Chihuahua, because none of the guards said a word
about it.
We started going up, inside the Arch. I’d never been in an elevator that went in a curve, and my
stomach wasn’t too happy about it.
‘No parents?’ the fat lady asked us.
She had beady eyes; pointy, coffee-stained teeth; a floppy denim hat, and a denim dress that bulged
so much she looked like a blue-jean blimp.
‘They’re below,’ Annabeth told her. ‘Scared of heights.’
‘Oh, the poor darlings.’
The Chihuahua growled. The woman said, ‘Now, now, sonny. Behave.’ The dog had beady eyes
like its owner, intelligent and vicious.
I said, ‘Sonny. Is that his name?’
‘No,’ the lady told me.
She smiled, as if that cleared everything up.
At the top of the Arch, the observation deck reminded me of a tin can with carpeting. Rows of tiny
windows looked out over the city on one side and the river on the other. The view was okay, but if
there’s anything I like less than a confined space, its a confined space two hundred metres in the air. I
was ready to go pretty quick.
Annabeth kept talking about structural supports, and how she would’ve made the windows bigger,
and designed a see-through floor. She probably could’ve stayed up there for hours, but luckily for me
the park ranger announced that the observation deck would be closing in a few minutes.
I steered Grover and Annabeth towards the exit, loaded them into the elevator and I was about to
get in myself when I realized there were already two other tourists inside. No room for me.
The park ranger said, ‘Next car, sir.’
‘We’ll get out,’ Annabeth said. ‘Well wait with you.’
But that was going to mess everybody up and take even more time, so I said, ‘Naw, it’s okay. I’ll
see you guys at the bottom.’
Grover and Annabeth both looked nervous, but they let the elevator door slide shut. Their car
disappeared down the ramp.
Now the only people left on the observation deck were me, a little boy with his parents, the park
ranger and the fat lady with her Chihuahua.
I smiled uneasily at the fat lady. She smiled back, her forked tongue flickering between her teeth.
Wait a minute.
Forked tongue?
Before I could decide if I’d really seen that, her Chihuahua jumped down and started yapping at
me.
‘Now, now, sonny,’ the lady said. ‘Does this look like a good time? We have all these nice people
here.’
‘Doggie!’ said the little boy. ‘Look, a doggie!’
His parents pulled him back.
The Chihuahua bared his teeth at me, foam dripping from his black lips.
‘Well, son,’ the fat lady sighed. ‘If you insist.’
Ice started forming in my stomach. ‘Um, did you just call that Chihuahua your son?’
‘Chimera, dear,’ the fat lady corrected. ‘Not a Chihuahua. It’s an easy mistake to make.’
She rolled up her denim sleeves, revealing that the skin of her arms was scaly and green. When she
smiled, I saw that her teeth were fangs. The pupils of her eyes were sideways slits, like a reptile’s.
The Chihuahua barked louder, and with each bark, it grew. First to the size of a Dobermann, then to
a lion. The bark became a roar.
The little boy screamed. His parents pulled him back towards the exit, straight into the park ranger,
who stood, paralysed, gaping at the monster.
The Chimera was now so tall its back rubbed against the roof. It had the head of a lion with a
blood-caked mane, the body and hooves of a giant goat, and a serpent for a tail, a three-metre-long
diamondback growing right out of its shaggy behind. The rhinestone dog collar still hung around its
neck, and the plate-sized dog tag was now easy to read: CHIMERA – RABID, FIRE-BREATHING,
POISONOUS - IF FOUND, PLEASE CALL TARTARUS - EXT. 954.
I realized I hadn’t even uncapped my sword. My hands were numb. I was three metres away from
the Chimeras bloody maw, and I knew that as soon as I moved, the creature would lunge.
The snake lady made a hissing noise that might’ve been laughter. ‘Be honoured, Percy Jackson.
Lord Zeus rarely allows me to test a hero with one of my brood. For I am the Mother of Monsters, the
terrible Echidna!’
I stared at her. All I could think to say was: ‘Isn’t that a kind of anteater?’
She howled, her reptilian face turning brown and green with rage. ‘I hate it when people say that! I
hate Australia! Naming that ridiculous animal after me. For that, Percy Jackson, my son shall destroy
you!’
The Chimera charged, its lion teeth gnashing. I managed to leap aside and dodge the bite.
I ended up next to the family and the park ranger, who were all screaming now, trying to pry open
the emergency exit doors.
I couldn’t let them get hurt. I uncapped my sword, ran to the other side of the deck, and yelled,
‘Hey, Chihuahua!’
The Chimera turned faster than I would’ve thought possible.
Before I could swing my sword, it opened its mouth, emitting a stench like the world’s largest
barbecue pit, and shot a column of flame straight at me.
I dived through the explosion. The carpet burst into flames; the heat was so intense, it seared off my
eyebrows.
Where I had been standing a moment before was a ragged hole in the side of the Arch, with melted
metal steaming around the edges.
Great, I thought. We just blowtorched a national monument.
Riptide was now a shining bronze blade in my hands, and as the Chimera turned, I slashed at its
neck.
That was my fatal mistake. The blade sparked harmlessly off the dog collar. I tried to regain my
balance, but I was so worried about defending myself against the fiery lion’s mouth, I completely
forgot about the serpent tail until it whipped around and sank its fangs into my calf.
My whole leg was on fire. I tried to jab Riptide into the Chimera’s mouth, but the serpent tail
wrapped around my ankles and pulled me off balance, and my blade flew out of my hand, spinning out
of the hole in the Arch and down towards the Mississippi River.
I managed to get to my feet, but I knew I had lost. I was weaponless. I could feel deadly poison
racing up to my chest. I remembered Chiron saying that Anaklusmos would always return to me, but
there was no pen in my pocket. Maybe it had fallen too far away. Maybe it only returned when it was
in pen form. I didn’t know, and I wasn’t going to live long enough to figure it out.
I backed into the hole in the wall. The Chimera advanced, growling, smoke curling from its lips.
The snake lady, Echidna, cackled. ‘They don’t make heroes like they used to, eh, son?’
The monster growled. It seemed in no hurry to finish me off now that I was beaten.
I glanced at the park ranger and the family. The little boy was hiding behind his father’s legs. I had
to protect these people. I couldn’t just… die. I tried to think, but my whole body was on fire. My head
felt dizzy. I had no sword. I was facing a massive, fire-breathing monster and its mother. And I was
scared.
There was no place else to go, so I stepped to the edge of the hole. Far, far below, the river
glittered.
If I died, would the monsters go away? Would they leave the humans alone?
‘If you are the son of Poseidon,’ Echidna hissed, ‘you would not fear water. Jump, Percy Jackson.
Show me that water will not harm you. Jump and retrieve your sword. Prove your bloodline.’
Yeah, right, I thought. I’d read somewhere that jumping into water from a couple of stories up was
like jumping onto solid tar. From here, I’d splatter on impact.
The Chimera’s mouth glowed red, heating up for another blast.
‘You have no faith,’ Echidna told me. ‘You do not trust the gods. I cannot blame you, little coward.
Better you die now. The gods are faithless. The poison is in your heart.’
She was right: I was dying. I could feel my breath slowing down. Nobody could save me, not even
the gods.
I backed up and looked down at the water. I remembered the warm glow of my father’s smile when
I was a baby. He must have seen me. He must have visited me when I was in my cradle.
I remembered the swirling green trident that had appeared above my head the night of capture the
flag, when Poseidon had claimed me as his son.
But this wasn’t the sea. This was the Mississippi, dead centre of the USA. There was no sea god
here.
‘Die, faithless one,’ Echidna rasped, and the Chimera sent a column of flame towards my face.
‘Father, help me,’ I prayed.
I turned and jumped. My clothes on fire, poison coursing through my veins, I plummeted towards
the river.
14 I Become a Known Fugitive
I’d love to tell you I had some deep revelation on my way down, that I came to terms with my own
mortality, laughed in the face of death, et cetera.
The truth? My only thought was: Aaaaggghhhhh!
The river raced towards me at the speed of a truck. Wind ripped the breath from my lungs. Steeples
and skyscrapers and bridges tumbled in and out of my vision.
And then: Flaaa-boooom!
A whiteout of bubbles. I sank through the murk, sure that I was about to end up embedded in fifty
metres of mud and lost forever.
But my impact with the water hadn’t hurt. I was falling slowly now, bubbles trickling up through
my fingers. I settled on the river bottom soundlessly. A catfish the size of my stepfather lurched away
into the gloom. Clouds of silt and disgusting garbage – beer bottles, old shoes, plastic bags – swirled
up all around me.
At that point, I realized a few things: first, I had not been flattened into a pancake. I had not been
barbecued. I couldn’t even feel the Chimera poison boiling in my veins any more. I was alive, which
was good.
Second realization: I wasn’t wet. I mean, I could feel the coolness of the water. I could see where
the fire on my clothes had been quenched. But when I touched my own shirt, it felt perfectly dry.
I looked at the garbage floating by and snatched an old cigarette lighter.
No way, I thought.
I flicked the lighter. It sparked. A tiny flame appeared, right there at the bottom of the Mississippi.
I grabbed a soggy hamburger wrapper out of the current and immediately the paper turned dry. I lit
it with no problem. As soon as I let it go, the flames sputtered out. The wrapper turned back into a
slimy rag. Weird.
But the strangest thought occurred to me only last: I was breathing. I was underwater, and I was
breathing normally.
I stood up, thigh-deep in mud. My legs felt shaky. My hands trembled. I should’ve been dead. The
fact that I wasn’t seemed like… well, a miracle. I imagined a woman’s voice, a voice that sounded a
bit like my mother: Percy, what do you say?
Um… thanks. Underwater, I sounded like I did on recordings, like a much older kid. Thank you…
Father.
No response. Just the dark drift of garbage downriver, the enormous catfish gliding by, the flash of
sunset on the water’s surface far above, turning everything the colour of butterscotch.
Why had Poseidon saved me? The more I thought about it, the more ashamed I felt. So I’d got lucky
a few times before. Against a thing like the Chimera, I had never stood a chance. Those poor people
in the Arch were probably toast. I couldn’t protect them. I was no hero. Maybe I should just stay
down here with the catfish, join the bottom feeders.
Fump-fump-fump. A riverboat’s paddlewheel churned above me, swirling the silt around.
There, not two metres in front of me, was my sword, its gleaming bronze hilt sticking up in the mud.
I heard that woman’s voice again: Percy, take the sword. Your father believes in you . This time, I
knew the voice wasn’t in my head. I wasn’t imagining it. Her words seemed to come from
everywhere, rippling through the water like dolphin sonar.
‘Where are you?’ I called aloud.
Then, through the gloom, I saw her – a woman the colour of the water, a ghost in the current,
floating just above the sword. She had long billowing hair, and her eyes, barely visible, were green
like mine.
A lump formed in my throat. I said, ‘Mom?’
No, child, only a messenger, though your mother’s fate is not as hopeless as you believe. Go to
the beach in Santa Monica.
‘What?’
It is your father’s will. Before you descend into the Underworld, you must go to Santa Monica.
Please, Percy, I cannot stay long. The river here is too foul for my presence.
‘But…’ I was sure this woman was my mother, or a vision of her, anyway. ‘Who – how did you –’
There was so much I wanted to ask, the words jammed up in my throat.
I cannot stay, brave one, the woman said. She reached out, and I felt the current brush my face like
a caress. You must go to Santa Monica! And, Percy, do not trust the gifts…
Her voice faded.
‘Gifts?’ I asked. ‘What gifts? Wait!’
She made one more attempt to speak, but the sound was gone. Her image melted away. If it was my
mother, I had lost her again.
I felt like drowning myself. The only problem: I was immune to drowning.
Your father believes in you, she had said.
She’d also called me brave… unless she was talking to the catfish.
I waded towards Riptide and grabbed it by the hilt. The Chimera might still be up there with its
snaky fat mother, waiting to finish me off. At the very least, the mortal police would be arriving,
trying to figure out who had blown a hole in the Arch. If they found me, they’d have some questions.
I capped my sword, stuck the ballpoint pen in my pocket. ‘Thank you, Father,’ I said again to the
dark water.
Then I kicked up through the muck and swam for the surface.
I came ashore next to a floating McDonald’s.
A block away, every emergency vehicle in St Louis was surrounding the Arch. Police helicopters
circled overhead. The crowd of onlookers reminded me of Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
A little girl said, ‘Mama! That boy walked out of the river.’
‘That’s nice, dear,’ her mother said, craning her neck to watch the ambulances.
‘But he’s dry!’
‘That’s nice, dear.’
A news lady was talking for the camera: ‘Probably not a terrorist attack, we’re told, but it’s still
very early in the investigation. The damage, as you can see, is very serious. We’re trying to get to
some of the survivors, to question them about eyewitness reports of someone falling from the Arch.’
Survivors. I felt a surge of relief. Maybe the park ranger and that family made it out safely. I hoped
Annabeth and Grover were okay.
I tried to push through the crowd to see what was going on inside the police line.
‘… an adolescent boy,’ another reporter was saying. ‘Channel Five has learned that surveillance
cameras show an adolescent boy going wild on the observation deck, somehow setting off this freak
explosion. Hard to believe, John, but that’s what we’re hearing. Again, no confirmed fatalities…’
I backed away, trying to keep my head down. I had to go a long way around the police perimeter.
Uniformed officers and news reporters were everywhere.
I’d almost lost hope of ever finding Annabeth and Grover when a familiar voice bleated, ‘Perrrcy!’
I turned and got tackled by Grover’s bear hug – or goat hug. He said, ‘We thought you’d gone to
Hades the hard way!’
Annabeth stood behind him, trying to look angry, but even she seemed relieved to see me. ‘We
can’t leave you alone for five minutes! What happened?’
‘I sort of fell.’
‘Percy! Two hundred metres?’
Behind us, a cop shouted, ‘Gangway!’ The crowd parted, and a couple of paramedics hustled out,
rolling a woman on a stretcher. I recognized her immediately as the mother of the little boy who’d
been on the observation deck. She was saying, ‘And then this huge dog, this huge fire-breathing
Chihuahua –’
‘Okay, ma’am,’ the paramedic said. ‘Just calm down. Your family is fine. The medication is
starting to kick in.’
‘I’m not crazy! This boy jumped out of the hole and the monster disappeared.’ Then she saw me.
‘There he is! That’s the boy!’
I turned quickly and pulled Annabeth and Grover after me. We disappeared into the crowd.
‘What’s going on?’ Annabeth demanded. ‘Was she talking about the Chihuahua on the elevator?’
I told them the whole story of the Chimera, Echidna, my high-dive act, the underwater lady’s
message.
‘Whoa,’ said Grover. ‘We’ve got to get you to Santa Monica! You can’t ignore a summons from
your dad.’
Before Annabeth could respond, we passed another reporter doing a news break, and I almost
froze in my tracks when he said, ‘Percy Jackson. That’s right, Dan. Channel Twelve has learned that
the boy who may have caused this explosion fits the description of a young man wanted by the
authorities for a serious New Jersey bus accident three days ago. And the boy is believed to be
travelling west. For our viewers at home, here is a photo of Percy Jackson.’
We ducked around the news van and slipped into an alley.
‘First things first,’ I told Grover. ‘We’ve got to get out of town!’
Somehow, we made it back to the Amtrak station without getting spotted. We got on board the train
just before it pulled out for Denver. The train trundled west as darkness fell, police lights still pulsing
against the St Louis skyline behind us.
15 A God Buys Us Cheeseburgers
The next afternoon, June 14, seven days before the solstice, our train rolled into Denver. We hadn’t
eaten since the night before in the dining car, somewhere in Kansas. We hadn’t taken a shower since
Half-Blood Hill, and I was sure that was obvious.
‘Let’s try to contact Chiron,’ Annabeth said. ‘I want to tell him about your talk with the river
spirit.’
‘We cant use phones, right?’
‘I’m not talking about phones.’
We wandered through downtown for about half an hour, though I wasn’t sure what Annabeth was
looking for. The air was dry and hot, which felt weird after the humidity of St Louis. Everywhere we
turned, the Rocky Mountains seemed to be staring at me, like a tidal wave about to crash into the city.
Finally we found an empty do-it-yourself car wash. We veered towards the stall furthest from the
street, keeping our eyes open for patrol cars. We were three adolescents hanging out at a car wash
without a car; any cop worth his doughnuts would figure we were up to no good.
‘What exactly are we doing?’ I asked, as Grover took out the spray gun.
‘It’s seventy-five cents,’ he grumbled. ‘I’ve only got two quarters left. Annabeth?’
‘Don’t look at me,’ she said. ‘The dining car wiped me out.’
I fished out my last bit of change and passed Grover a quarter, which left me two nickels and one
drachma from Medusa’s place.
‘Excellent,’ Grover said. ‘We could do it with a spray bottle, of course, but the connection isn’t as
good, and my arm gets tired of pumping.’
‘What are you talking about?’
He fed in the quarters and set the knob to fine mist ‘I-M’ing.’
‘Instant messaging?’
‘Iris-messaging,’ Annabeth corrected. ‘The rainbow goddess Iris carries messages for the gods. If
you know how to ask, and she’s not too busy, she’ll do the same for half-bloods.’
‘You summon the goddess with a spray gun?’
Grover pointed the nozzle in the air and water hissed out in a thick white mist. ‘Unless you know
an easier way to make a rainbow.’
Sure enough, late afternoon light filtered through the vapour and broke into colours.
Annabeth held her palm out to me. ‘Drachma, please.’
I handed it over.
She raised the coin over her head. ‘O goddess, accept our offering.’
She threw the drachma into the rainbow. It disappeared in a golden shimmer.
‘Half-Blood Hill,’ Annabeth requested.
For a moment, nothing happened.
Then I was looking through the mist at strawberry fields, and the Long Island Sound in the distance.
We seemed to be on the porch of the Big House. Standing with his back to us at the railing was a
sandy-haired guy in shorts and an orange tank top. He was holding a bronze sword and seemed to be
staring intently at something down in the meadow.
‘Luke!’ I called.
He turned, eyes wide. I could swear he was standing a metre in front of me through a screen of
mist, except I could only see the part of him that appeared in the rainbow.
‘Percy!’ His scarred face broke into a grin. ‘Is that Annabeth, too? Thank the gods! Are you guys
okay?’
‘We’re… uh… fine,’ Annabeth stammered. She was madly straightening her dirty T-shirt, trying to
comb the loose hair out of her face. ‘We thought – Chiron – I mean –’
‘He’s down at the cabins.’ Luke’s smile faded. ‘We’re having some issues with the campers.
Listen, is everything cool with you? Is Grover all right?’
‘I’m right here,’ Grover called. He held the nozzle out to one side and stepped into Luke’s line of
vision. ‘What kind of issues?’
Just then a big Lincoln Continental pulled into the car wash with its stereo turned to maximum hiphop. As the car slid into the next stall, the bass from the subwoofers vibrated so much, it shook the
pavement.
‘Chiron had to – what’s that noise?’ Luke yelled.
‘I’ll take care of it!’ Annabeth yelled back, looking very relieved to have an excuse to get out of
sight. ‘Grover, come on!’
‘What?’ Grover said. ‘But –’
‘Give Percy the nozzle and come on!’ she ordered.
Grover muttered something about girls being harder to understand than the Oracle at Delphi, then
he handed me the spray gun and followed Annabeth.
I readjusted the hose so I could keep the rainbow going and still see Luke.
‘Chiron had to break up a fight,’ Luke shouted to me over the music. ‘Things are pretty tense here,
Percy. Word leaked out about the Zeus–Poseidon stand-off. We’re still not sure how – probably the
same scumbag who summoned the hellhound. Now the campers are starting to take sides. It’s shaping
up like the Trojan War all over again. Aphrodite, Ares and Apollo are backing Poseidon, more or
less. Athena is backing Zeus.’
I shuddered to think that Clarisse’s cabin would ever be on my dad’s side for anything. In the next
stall, I heard Annabeth and some guy arguing with each other, then the music’s volume decreased
drastically.
‘So what’s your status?’ Luke asked me. ‘Chiron will be sorry he missed you.’
I told him pretty much everything, including my dreams. It felt so good to see him, to feel like I was
back at camp even for a few minutes, that I didn’t realize how long I had talked until the beeper went
off on the spray machine, and I realized I only had one more minute before the water shut off.
‘I wish I could be there,’ Luke told me. ‘We can’t help from here, I’m afraid, but listen… it had to
be Hades who took the master bolt. He was there at Olympus at the winter solstice. I was
chaperoning a field trip and we saw him.’
‘But Chiron said the gods can’t take each other’s magic items directly.’
‘That’s true,’ Luke said, looking troubled. ‘Still… Hades has the helmet of darkness. How could
anybody else sneak into the throne room and steal the master bolt? You’d have to be invisible.’
We were both silent, until Luke seemed to realize what he’d said.
‘Oh, hey,’ he protested. ‘I didn’t mean Annabeth. She and I have known each other forever. She
would never… I mean, she’s like a little sister to me.’
I wondered if Annabeth would like that description. In the stall next to us, the music stopped
completely. A man screamed in terror, car doors slammed and the Lincoln peeled out of the car wash.
‘You’d better go see what that was,’ Luke said. ‘Listen, are you wearing the flying shoes? I’ll feel
better if I know they’ve done you some good.’
‘Oh… uh, yeah!’ I tried not to sound like a guilty liar. ‘Yeah, they’ve come in handy.’
‘Really?’ He grinned. ‘They fit and everything?’
The water shut off. The mist started to evaporate.
‘Well, take care of yourself out there in Denver,’ Luke called, his voice getting fainter. ‘And tell
Grover it’ll be better this time! Nobody will get turned into a pine tree if he just –’
But the mist was gone, and Luke’s image faded to nothing. I was alone in a wet, empty car-wash
stall.
Annabeth and Grover came around the corner, laughing, but stopped when they saw my face.
Annabeth’s smile faded. ‘What happened, Percy? What did Luke say?’
‘Not much,’ I lied, my stomach feeling as empty as a Big Three cabin. ‘Come on, let’s find some
dinner.’
A few minutes later, we were sitting at a booth in a gleaming chrome diner. All around us, families
were eating burgers and drinking milkshakes and sodas.
Finally the waitress came over. She raised her eyebrow sceptically. ‘Well?’
I said, ‘We, um, want to order dinner.’
‘You kids have money to pay for it?’
Grover’s lower lip quivered. I was afraid he would start bleating, or worse, start eating the
linoleum. Annabeth looked ready to pass out from hunger.
I was trying to think up a sob story for the waitress when a rumble shook the whole building; a
motorcycle the size of a baby elephant had pulled up to the kerb.
All conversation in the diner stopped. The motorcycle’s headlight glared red. Its gas tank had
flames painted on it, and a shotgun holster riveted to either side, complete with shotguns. The seat
was leather – but leather that looked like… well, Caucasian human skin.
The guy on the bike would’ve made pro wrestlers run for Mama. He was dressed in a red muscle
shirt and black jeans and a black leather duster, with a hunting knife strapped to his thigh. He wore
red wraparound shades, and he had the cruellest, most brutal face I’d ever seen – handsome, I guess,
but wicked – with an oily black crew cut and cheeks that were scarred from many, many fights. The
weird thing was, I felt like I’d seen his face somewhere before.
As he walked into the diner, a hot, dry wind blew through the place. All the people rose, as if they
were hypnotized, but the biker waved his hand dismissively and they all sat down again. Everybody
went back to their conversations. The waitress blinked, as if somebody had just pressed the rewind
button on her brain. She asked us again, ‘You kids have money to pay for it?’
The biker said, ‘It’s on me.’ He slid into our booth, which was way too small for him, and
crowded Annabeth against the window.
He looked up at the waitress, who was gaping at him, and said, ‘Are you still here?’
He pointed at her, and she stiffened. She turned as if she’d been spun around, then marched back
towards the kitchen.
The biker looked at me. I couldn’t see his eyes behind the red shades, but bad feelings started
boiling in my stomach. Anger, resentment, bitterness. I wanted to hit a wall. I wanted to pick a fight
with somebody. Who did this guy think he was?
He gave me a wicked grin. ‘So you’re old Seaweed’s kid, huh?’
I should’ve been surprised, or scared, but instead I felt like I was looking at my stepdad, Gabe. I
wanted to rip this guy’s head off. ‘What’s it to you?’
Annabeth’s eyes flashed me a warning. ‘Percy, this is –’
The biker raised his hand.
‘S’okay,’ he said. ‘I don’t mind a little attitude. Long as you remember who’s the boss. You know
who I am, little cousin?’
Then it struck me why this guy looked familiar. He had the same vicious sneer as some of the kids
at Camp Half-Blood, the ones from cabin five.
‘You’re Clarisse’s dad,’ I said. ‘Ares, god of war.’
Ares grinned and took off his shades. Where his eyes should’ve been, there was only fire, empty
sockets glowing with miniature nuclear explosions. ‘That’s right, punk. I heard you broke Clarisse’s
spear.’
‘She was asking for it.’
‘Probably. That’s cool. I don’t fight my kids’ fights, you know? What I’m here for – I heard you
were in town. I got a little proposition for you.’
The waitress came back with heaping trays of food – cheeseburgers, fries, onion rings and
chocolate shakes.
Ares handed her a few gold drachmas.
She looked nervously at the coins. ‘But, these aren’t…’
Ares pulled out his huge knife and started cleaning his fingernails. ‘Problem, sweetheart?’
The waitress swallowed, then left with the gold.
‘You can’t do that,’ I told Ares. ‘You can’t just threaten people with a knife.’
Ares laughed. Are you kidding? I love this country. Best place since Sparta. Don’t you carry a
weapon, punk? You should. Dangerous world out there. Which brings me to my proposition. I need
you to do me a favour.’
‘What favour could I do for a god?’
‘Something a god doesn’t have time to do himself. It’s nothing much. I left my shield at an
abandoned water park here in town. I was going on a little… date with my girlfriend. We were
interrupted. I left my shield behind. I want you to fetch it for me.’
‘Why don’t you go back and get it yourself?’
The fire in his eye sockets glowed a little hotter.
‘Why don’t I turn you into prairie dog and run you over with my Harley? Because I don’t feel like
it. A god is giving you an opportunity to prove yourself, Percy Jackson. Will you prove yourself a
coward?’ He leaned forward. ‘Or maybe you only fight when there’s a river to dive into, so your
daddy can protect you.’
I wanted to punch this guy, but somehow, I knew he was waiting for that. Ares’s power was
causing my anger. He’d love it if I attacked. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction.
‘We’re not interested,’ I said. ‘We’ve already got a quest.’
Ares’s fiery eyes made me see things I didn’t want to see – blood and smoke and corpses on the
battlefield. ‘I know all about your quest, punk. When that item was first stolen, Zeus sent his best out
looking for it: Apollo, Athena, Artemis and me, naturally. If I couldn’t sniff out a weapon that
powerful…’ He licked his lips, as if the very thought of the master bolt made him hungry. ‘Well… if I
couldn’t find it, you got no hope. Nevertheless, I’m trying to give you the benefit of a doubt. Your dad
and I go way back. After all, I’m the one who told him my suspicions about old Corpse Breath.’
‘You told him Hades stole the bolt?’
‘Sure. Framing somebody to start a war. Oldest trick in the book. I recognized it immediately. In a
way, you got me to thank for your little quest.’
‘Thanks,’ I grumbled.
‘Hey, I’m a generous guy. Just do my little job, and I’ll help you on your way. I’ll arrange a ride
west for you and your friends.’
‘We’re doing fine on our own.’
‘Yeah, right. No money. No wheels. No clue what you’re up against. Help me out, and maybe I’ll
tell you something you need to know. Something about your mom.’
‘My mom?’
He grinned. ‘That got your attention. The water park is a mile west on Delancy. You can’t miss it.
Look for the Tunnel of Love ride.’
‘What interrupted your date?’ I asked. ‘Something scare you off?’
Ares bared his teeth, but I’d seen his threatening look before on Clarisse. There was something
false about it, almost like he was nervous.
‘You’re lucky you met me, punk, and not one of the other Olympians. They’re not as forgiving of
rudeness as I am. I’ll meet you back here when you’re done. Don’t disappoint me.’
After that I must have fainted, or fallen into a trance, because when I opened my eyes again Ares
was gone. I might’ve thought the conversation had been a dream, but Annabeth and Grover’s
expressions told me otherwise.
‘Not good,’ Grover said. ‘Ares sought you out, Percy. This is not good.’
I stared out the window. The motorcycle had disappeared.
Did Ares really know something about my mom, or was he just playing with me? Now that he was
gone, all the anger had drained out of me. I realized Ares must love to mess with people’s emotions.
That was his power – cranking up the passions so badly, they clouded your ability to think.
‘It’s probably some kind of trick,’ I said. ‘Forget Ares. Let’s just go.’
‘We can’t,’ Annabeth said. ‘Look, I hate Ares as much as anybody, but you don’t ignore the gods
unless you want serious bad fortune. He wasn’t kidding about turning you into a rodent.’
I looked down at my cheeseburger, which suddenly didn’t seem so appetizing. ‘Why does he need
us?’
‘Maybe it’s a problem that requires brains,’ Annabeth said. ‘Ares has strength. That’s all he has.
Even strength has to bow to wisdom sometimes.’
‘But this water park… he acted almost scared. What would make a war god run away like that?’
Annabeth and Grover glanced nervously at each other.
Annabeth said, ‘I’m afraid well have to find out.’
The sun was sinking behind the mountains by the time we found the water park. Judging from the sign,
it once had been called WATERLAND, but now some of the letters were smashed out, so it read
WAT R A D.
The main gate was padlocked and topped with barbed wire. Inside, huge dry waterslides and tubes
and pipes curled everywhere, leading to empty pools. Old tickets and advertisements fluttered around
the tarmac. With night coming on, the place looked sad and creepy.
‘If Ares brings his girlfriend here for a date,’ I said, staring up at the barbed wire, ‘I’d hate to see
what she looks like.’
‘Percy,’ Annabeth warned. ‘Be more respectful.’
‘Why? I thought you hated Ares.’
‘He’s still a god. And his girlfriend is very temperamental’
‘You don’t want to insult her looks,’ Grover added.
‘Who is she? Echidna?’
‘No, Aphrodite,’ Grover said, a little dreamily. ‘Goddess of love.’
‘I thought she was married to somebody,’ I said. ‘Hephaestus.’
‘What’s your point?’ he asked.
‘Oh.’ I suddenly felt the need to change the subject. ‘So how do we get in?’
‘Maia!’ Grover’s shoes sprouted wings.
He flew over the fence, did an unintended somersault in midair, then stumbled to a landing on the
opposite side. He dusted off his jeans, as if he’d planned the whole thing. ‘You guys coming?’
Annabeth and I had to climb the old-fashioned way, holding down the barbed wire for each other
as we crawled over the top.
The shadows grew long as we walked through the park, checking out the attractions. There was
Ankle Biter Island, Head Over Wedgie and Dude, Where’s My Swimsuit?
No monsters came to get us. Nothing made the slightest noise.
We found a souvenir shop that had been left open. Merchandise still lined the shelves: snow
globes, pencils, postcards and racks of –
‘Clothes,’ Annabeth said. ‘Fresh clothes.’
‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘But you can’t just –’
‘Watch me.’
She snatched an entire row of stuff of the racks and disappeared into the changing room. A few
minutes later she came out in Waterland flower-print shorts, a big red Waterland T-shirt and
commemorative Waterland surf shoes. A Waterland backpack was slung over her shoulder, obviously
stuffed with more goodies.
‘What the heck.’ Grover shrugged. Soon, all three of us were decked out like walking
advertisements for the defunct theme park.
We continued searching for the Tunnel of Love. I got the feeling that the whole park was holding its
breath. ‘So Ares and Aphrodite,’ I said, to keep my mind off the growing dark, ‘they have a thing
going?’
‘That’s old gossip, Percy,’ Annabeth told me. ‘Three-thousand-year-old gossip.’
‘What about Aphrodite’s husband?’
‘Well, you know,’ she said. ‘Hephaestus. The blacksmith. He was crippled when he was a baby,
thrown off Mount Olympus by Zeus. So he isn’t exactly handsome. Clever with his hands and all, but
Aphrodite isn’t into brains and talent, you know?’
‘She likes bikers.’
‘Whatever.’
‘Hephaestus knows?’
‘Oh sure,’ Annabeth said. ‘He caught them together once. I mean, literally caught them, in a golden
net, and invited all the gods to come and laugh at them. Hephaestus is always trying to embarrass
them. That’s why they meet in out-of-the-way places, like…’
She stopped, looking straight ahead. ‘Like that.’
In front of us was an empty pool that would’ve been awesome for skateboarding. It was at least
fifty metres across and shaped like a bowl.
Around the rim, a dozen bronze statues of Cupid stood guard with wings spread and bows ready to
fire. On the opposite side from us, a tunnel opened up, probably where the water flowed into when
the pool was full. The sign above it read: THRILL RIDE O’ LOVE: THIS IS NOT YOUR
PARENTS’ TUNNEL OF LOVE!
Grover crept towards the edge. ‘Guys, look.’
Marooned at the bottom of the pool was a pink-and-white two-seater boat with a canopy over the
top and little hearts painted all over it. In the left seat, glinting in the fading light, was Ares’s shield, a
polished circle of bronze.
‘This is too easy,’ I said. ‘So we just walk down there and get it?’
Annabeth ran her fingers along the base of the nearest Cupid statue.
‘There’s a Greek letter carved here,’ she said. ‘Eta. I wonder…’
‘Grover,’ I said, ‘you smell any monsters?’
He sniffed the wind. ‘Nothing.’
‘Nothing – like, in-the-Arch-and-you-didn’t-smell-Echidna nothing, or really nothing?’
Grover looked hurt. ‘I told you, that was underground.’
‘Okay, I’m sorry.’ I took a deep breath. ‘I’m going down there.’
‘I’ll go with you.’ Grover didn’t sound too enthusiastic, but I got the feeling he was trying to make
up for what had happened in St Louis.
‘No,’ I told him. ‘I want you to stay up top with the flying shoes. You’re the Red Baron, remember?
I’ll be counting on you for backup, in case something goes wrong.’
Grover puffed up his chest a little. ‘Sure. But what could go wrong?’
‘I don’t know. Just a feeling. Annabeth, come with me –’
‘Are you kidding?’ She looked at me as if I’d just dropped from the moon. Her cheeks were bright
red.
‘What’s the problem now?’ I demanded.
‘Me, go with you to the… the “Thrill Ride of Love”? How embarrassing is that? What if somebody
saw me?’
‘Who’s going to see you?’ But my face was burning now, too. Leave it to a girl to make everything
complicated. ‘Fine,’ I told her. ‘I’ll do it myself.’ But when I started down the side of the pool, she
followed me, muttering about how boys always messed things up.
We reached the boat. The shield was propped on one seat, and next to it was a lady’s silk scarf. I
tried to imagine Ares and Aphrodite here, a couple of gods meeting in a junked-out amusement-park
ride. Why? Then I noticed something I hadn’t seen from up top: mirrors all the way around the rim of
the pool, facing this spot. We could see ourselves no matter which direction we looked. That must be
it. While Ares and Aphrodite were smooching with each other they could look at their favourite
people: themselves.
I picked up the scarf. It shimmered pink, and the perfume was indescribable – rose, or mountain
laurel. Something good. I smiled, a little dreamy, and was about to rub the scarf against my cheek
when Annabeth ripped it out of my hand and stuffed it in her pocket. ‘Oh, no you don’t. Stay away
from that love magic.’
‘What?’
‘Just get the shield, Seaweed Brain, and let’s get out of here.’
The moment I touched the shield, I knew we were in trouble. My hand broke through something that
had been connecting it to the dashboard. A cobweb, I thought, but then I looked at a strand of it on my
palm and saw it was some kind of metal filament, so fine it was almost invisible. A tripwire.
‘Wait,’ Annabeth said.
‘Too late.’
‘There’s another Greek letter on the side of the boat, another Eta. This is a trap.’
Noise erupted all around us, of a million gears grinding, as if the whole pool were turning into one
giant machine.
Grover yelled, ‘Guys!’
Up on the rim, the Cupid statues were drawing their bows into firing position. Before I could
suggest taking cover, they shot, but not at us. They fired at each other, across the rim of the pool. Silky
cables trailed from the arrows, arcing over the pool and anchoring where they landed to form a huge
golden asterisk. Then smaller metallic threads started weaving together magically between the main
strands, making a net.
‘We have to get out,’ I said.
‘Duh!’ Annabeth said.
I grabbed the shield and we ran, but going up the slope of the pool was not as easy as going down.
‘Come on!’ Grover shouted.
He was trying to hold open a section of the net for us, but wherever he touched it, the golden
threads started to wrap around his hands.
The Cupids’ heads popped open. Out came video cameras. Spotlights rose up all around the pool,
blinding us with illumination, and a loudspeaker voice boomed: ‘Live to Olympus in one minute…
Fifty-nine seconds, fifty-eight…’
‘Hephaestus!’ Annabeth screamed. ‘I’m so stupid! Eta is “H”. He made this trap to catch his wife
with Ares. Now we’re going to be broadcast live to Olympus and look like absolute fools!’
We’d almost made it to the rim when the row of mirrors opened like hatches and thousands of tiny
metallic… things poured out.
Annabeth screamed.
It was an army of wind-up creepy-crawlies: bronze-gear bodies, spindly legs, little pincer mouths,
all scuttling towards us in a wave of clacking, whirring metal.
‘Spiders!’ Annabeth said. ‘Sp – sp – aaaah!’
I’d never seen her like this before. She fell backwards in terror and almost got overwhelmed by the
spider robots before I pulled her up and dragged her back towards the boat.
The things were coming out from all around the rim now, millions of them, flooding towards the
centre of the pool, completely surrounding us. I told myself they probably weren’t programmed to
kill, just corral us and bite us and make us look stupid. Then again, this was a trap meant for gods.
And we weren’t gods.
Annabeth and I climbed into the boat. I started kicking away the spiders as they swarmed aboard. I
yelled at Annabeth to help me, but she was too paralysed to do much more than scream.
‘Thirty, twenty-nine,’ called the loudspeaker.
The spiders started spitting out strands of metal thread, trying to tie us down. The strands were
easy enough to break at first, but there were so many of them, and the spiders just kept coming. I
kicked one away from Annabeth’s leg and its pincers took a chunk out of my new surf shoe.
Grover hovered above the pool in his flying trainers, trying to pull the net loose, but it wouldn’t
budge.
Think, I told myself. Think.
The tunnel of love entrance was under the net. We could use it as an exit, except that it was blocked
by a million robot spiders.
‘Fifteen, fourteen,’ the loudspeaker called.
Water, I thought. Where does the ride’s water come from?
Then I saw them: huge water pipes behind the mirrors, where the spiders had come from. And up
above the net, next to one of the Cupids, a glass-windowed booth that must be the controller’s station.
‘Grover!’ I yelled. ‘Get into that booth! Find the “on” switch!’
‘But –’
‘Do it!’ It was a crazy hope, but it was our only chance. The spiders were all over the prow of the
boat now. Annabeth was screaming her head off. I had to get us out of here.
Grover was in the controller’s booth now, slamming away at the buttons.
‘Five, four –’
Grover looked up at me hopelessly, raising his hands. He was letting me know that he’d pushed
every button, but still nothing was happening.
I closed my eyes and thought about waves, rushing water, the Mississippi River. I felt a familiar
tug in my gut. I tried to imagine that I was dragging the ocean all the way to Denver.
‘Two, one, zero!’
Water exploded out of the pipes. It roared into the pool, sweeping away the spiders. I pulled
Annabeth into the seat next to me and fastened her seatbelt just as the tidal wave slammed into our
boat, over the top, whisking the spiders away and dousing us completely, but not capsizing us. The
boat turned, lifted in the flood, and spun in circles around the whirlpool.
The water was full of short-circuiting spiders, some of them smashing against the pool’s concrete
wall with such force they burst.
Spotlights glared down at us. The Cupid-cams were rolling, live to Olympus.
But I could only concentrate on controlling the boat. I willed it to ride the current, to keep away
from the wall. Maybe it was my imagination, but the boat seemed to respond. At least, it didn’t break
into a million pieces. We spun around one last time, the water level now almost high enough to shred
us against the metal net. Then the boat’s nose turned towards the tunnel and we rocketed through into
the darkness.
Annabeth and I held tight, both of us screaming as the boat shot curls and hugged corners and took
forty-five degree plunges past pictures of Romeo and Juliet and a bunch of other Valentine’s Day
stuff.
Then we were out of the tunnel, the night air whistling through our hair as the boat barrelled
straight towards the exit.
If the ride had been in working order, we would’ve sailed off a ramp between the golden Gates of
Love and splashed down safely in the exit pool. But there was a problem. The Gates of Love were
chained. Two boats that had been washed out of the tunnel before us were now piled against the
barricade – one submerged, the other cracked in half.
‘Unfasten your seat belt,’ I yelled to Annabeth.
‘Are you crazy?’
‘Unless you want to get smashed to death.’ I strapped Ares’s shield to my arm. ‘We’re going to
have to jump for it.’ My idea was simple and insane. As the boat struck, we would use its force like a
springboard to jump the gate. I’d heard of people surviving car crashes that way, getting thrown ten or
fifteen metres away from an accident. With luck, we would land in the pool.
Annabeth seemed to understand. She gripped my hand as the gates got closer.
‘When I say go,’ I said.
‘No! When I say go!’
‘What?’
‘Simple physics!’ she yelled. ‘Force times the trajectory angle –’
‘Fine!’ I shouted. ‘When you say go!’
She hesitated… hesitated… then yelled, ‘Now!’
Crack!
Annabeth was right. If we’d jumped when I thought we should’ve, we would’ve crashed into the
gates. She got us maximum lift.
Unfortunately, that was a little more than we needed. Our boat smashed into the pileup and we
were thrown into the air, straight over the gates, over the pool, and down towards solid tarmac.
Something grabbed me from behind.
Annabeth yelled, ‘Ouch!’
Grover!
In midair, he had grabbed me by the shirt, and Annabeth by the arm, and was trying to pull us out of
a crash landing, but Annabeth and I had all the momentum.
‘You’re too heavy!’ Grover said. ‘We’re going down!’
We spiralled towards the ground, Grover doing his best to slow the fall.
We smashed into a photo-board, Grover’s head going straight into the hole where tourists would
put their faces, pretending to be Noo-Noo the Friendly Whale. Annabeth and I tumbled to the ground,
banged up but alive. Ares’s shield was still on my arm.
Once we caught our breath, Annabeth and I got Grover out of the photo-board and thanked him for
saving our lives. I looked back at the Thrill Ride of Love. The water was subsiding. Our boat had
been smashed to pieces against the gates.
A hundred metres away, at the entrance pool, the Cupids were still filming. The statues had
swivelled so that their cameras were trained straight on us, the spotlights in our faces.
‘Show’s over!’ I yelled. ‘Thank you! Goodnight!’
The Cupids turned back to their original positions. The lights shut off. The park went quiet and dark
again, except for the gentle trickle of water into the Thrill Ride of Love’s exit pool. I wondered if
Olympus had gone to a commercial break, or if our ratings had been any good.
I hated being teased. I hated being tricked. And I had plenty of experience handling bullies who
liked to do that stuff to me. I hefted the shield on my arm and turned to my friends. ‘We need to have a
little talk with Ares.’
16 We Take a Zebra to Vegas
The war god was waiting for us in the diner parking lot.
‘Well, well,’ he said. ‘You didn’t get yourself killed.’
‘You knew it was a trap,’ I said.
Ares gave me a wicked grin. ‘Bet that crippled blacksmith was surprised when he netted a couple
of stupid kids. You looked good on TV.’
I shoved his shield at him. ‘You’re a jerk.’
Annabeth and Grover caught their breath.
Ares grabbed the shield and spun it in the air like pizza dough. It changed form, melting into a
bulletproof vest. He slung it across his back.
‘See that truck over there?’ He pointed to an eighteen-wheeler parked across the street from the
diner. ‘That’s your ride. Take you straight to L.A., with one stop in Vegas.’
The eighteen-wheeler had a sign on the back, which I could read only because it was reverseprinted white on black, a good combination for dyslexia: KINDNESS INTERNATIONAL:
HUMANE ZOO TRANSPORT. WARNING: LIVE WILD ANIMALS.
I said, ‘You’re kidding.’
Ares snapped his fingers. The back door of the truck unlatched. ‘Free ride west, punk. Stop
complaining. And here’s a little something for doing the job.’
He slung a blue nylon backpack off his handlebars and tossed it to me.
Inside were fresh clothes for all of us, twenty bucks in cash, a pouch full of golden drachmas and a
bag of Double Stuf Oreos.
I said, ‘I don’t want your lousy –’
‘Thank you, Lord Ares,’ Grover interrupted, giving me his best red-alert warning look. ‘Thanks a
lot.’
I gritted my teeth. It was probably a deadly insult to refuse something from a god, but I didn’t want
anything that Ares had touched. Reluctantly, I slung the backpack over my shoulder. I knew my anger
was being caused by the war god’s presence, but I was still itching to punch him in the nose. He
reminded me of every bully I’d ever faced: Nancy Bobofit, Clarisse, Smelly Gabe, sarcastic teachers
– every jerk who’d called me stupid in school or laughed at me when I’d got expelled.
I looked back at the diner, which had only a couple of customers now. The waitress who’d served
us dinner was watching nervously out the window, like she was afraid Ares might hurt us. She
dragged the cook out from the kitchen to see. She said something to him. He nodded, held up a little
disposable camera and snapped a picture of us.
Great, I thought. We’ll make the papers again tomorrow.
I imagined the headline: TWELVE-YEAR-OLD OUTLAW BEATS UP DEFENCELESS BIKER.
‘You owe me one more thing,’ I told Ares, trying to keep my voice level. ‘You promised me
information about my mother.’
‘You sure you can handle the news?’ He kick-started his motorcycle. ‘She’s not dead.’
The ground seemed to spin beneath me. ‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean she was taken away from the Minotaur before she could die. She was turned into a shower
of gold, right? That’s metamorphosis. Not death. She’s being kept.’
‘Kept. Why?’
‘You need to study war, punk. Hostages. You take somebody to control somebody else.’
‘Nobody’s controlling me.’
He laughed. ‘Oh yeah? See you around, kid.’
I balled up my fists. ‘You’re pretty smug, Lord Ares, for a guy who runs from Cupid statues.’
Behind his sunglasses, fire glowed. I felt a hot wind in my hair. ‘We’ll meet again, Percy Jackson.
Next time you’re in a fight, watch your back.’
He revved his Harley, then roared off down Delancy Street.
Annabeth said, ‘That was not smart, Percy.’
‘I don’t care.’
‘You don’t want a god as your enemy. Especially not that god.’
‘Hey, guys,’ Grover said. ‘I hate to interrupt, but…’
He pointed towards the diner. At the cash register, the last two customers were paying their bill,
two men in identical black coveralls, with a white logo on their backs that matched the one on the
KINDNESS INTERNATIONAL truck.
‘If we’re taking the zoo express,’ Grover said, ‘we need to hurry.’
I didn’t like it, but we had no better option. Besides, I’d seen enough of Denver.
We ran across the street and climbed in the back of the big lorry, closing the doors behind us.
The first thing that hit me was the smell. It was like the world’s biggest pan of kitty litter.
The trailer was dark inside until I uncapped Anaklusmos. The blade cast a faint bronze light over a
very sad scene. Sitting in a row of filthy metal cages were three of the most pathetic zoo animals I’d
ever beheld: a zebra, a male albino lion and some weird antelope thing I didn’t know the name for.
Someone had thrown the lion a sack of turnips, which he obviously didn’t want to eat. The zebra
and the antelope had each got a polystyrene tray of hamburger meat. The zebra’s mane was matted
with chewing gum, like somebody had been spitting on it in their spare time. The antelope had a
stupid silver birthday balloon tied to one of his horns that read OVER THE HILL!
Apparently, nobody had wanted to get close enough to the lion to mess with him, but the poor thing
was pacing around on soiled blankets, in a space way too small for him, panting from the stuffy heat
of the trailer. He had flies buzzing around his pink eyes and his ribs showed through his white fur.
‘This is kindness?’ Grover yelled. ‘Humane zoo transport?’
He probably would’ve gone right back outside to beat up the truckers with his reed pipes, and I
would’ve helped him, but just then the truck’s engine roared to life, the trailer started shaking, and we
were forced to sit down or fall down.
We huddled in the corner on some mildewed feed sacks, trying to ignore the smell and the heat and
the flies. Grover talked to the animals in a series of goat bleats, but they just stared at him sadly.
Annabeth was in favour of breaking the cages and freeing them on the spot, but I pointed out it
wouldn’t do much good until the truck stopped moving. Besides, I had a feeling we might look a lot
better to the lion than those turnips.
I found a water jug and refilled their bowls, then used Anaklusmos to drag the mismatched food out
of their cages. I gave the meat to the lion and the turnips to the zebra and the antelope.
Grover calmed the antelope down, while Annabeth used her knife to cut the balloon off his horn.
She wanted to cut the gum out of the zebra’s mane, too, but we decided that would be too risky with
the truck bumping around. We told Grover to promise the animals we’d help them more in the
morning, then we settled in for the night.
Grover curled up on a turnip sack; Annabeth opened our bag of Double Stuf Oreos and nibbled on
one half-heartedly; I tried to cheer myself up by concentrating on the fact that we were halfway to Los
Angeles. Halfway to our destination. It was only June fourteenth. The solstice wasn’t until the twentyfirst. We could make it in plenty of time.
On the other hand, I had no idea what to expect next. The gods kept toying with me. At least
Hephaestus had the decency to be honest about it – he’d put up cameras and advertised me as
entertainment. But even when the cameras weren’t rolling, I had a feeling my quest was being
watched. I was a source of amusement for the gods.
‘Hey,’ Annabeth said, ‘I’m sorry for freaking out back at the water park, Percy.’
‘That’s okay.’
‘It’s just…’ She shuddered. ‘Spiders.’
‘Because of the Arachne story,’ I guessed. ‘She got turned into a spider for challenging your mom
to a weaving contest, right?’
Annabeth nodded. ‘Arachne’s children have been taking revenge on the children of Athena ever
since. If there’s a spider within a mile of me, it’ll find me. I hate the creepy little things. Anyway, I
owe you.’
‘We’re a team, remember?’ I said. ‘Besides, Grover did the fancy flying.’
I thought he was asleep, but he mumbled from the corner, ‘I was pretty amazing, wasn’t I?’
Annabeth and I laughed.
She pulled apart an Oreo, handed me half. ‘In the Iris message… did Luke really say nothing?’
I munched my cookie and thought about how to answer. The conversation via rainbow had bothered
me all evening. ‘Luke said you and he go way back. He also said Grover wouldn’t fail this time.
Nobody would turn into a pine tree.’
In the dim bronze light of the sword blade, it was hard to read their expressions.
Grover let out a mournful bray.
‘I should’ve told you the truth from the beginning.’ His voice trembled. ‘I thought if you knew what
a failure I was, you wouldn’t want me along.’
‘You were the satyr who tried to rescue Thalia, the daughter of Zeus.’
He nodded glumly.
And the other two half-bloods Thalia befriended, the ones who got safely to camp…’ I looked at
Annabeth. ‘That was you and Luke, wasn’t it?’
She put down her Oreo, uneaten. ‘Like you said, Percy, a seven-year-old half-blood wouldn’t have
made it very far alone. Athena guided me towards help. Thalia was twelve. Luke was fourteen.
They’d both run away from home, like me. They were happy to take me with them. They were…
amazing monster-fighters, even without training. We travelled north from Virginia without any real
plans, fending off monsters for about two weeks before Grover found us.’
‘I was supposed to escort Thalia to camp,’ he said, sniffling. ‘Only Thalia. I had strict orders from
Chiron: don’t do anything that would slow down the rescue. We knew Hades was after her, see, but I
couldn’t just leave Luke and Annabeth by themselves. I thought… I thought I could lead all three of
them to safety. It was my fault the Kindly Ones caught up with us. I froze. I got scared on the way back
to camp and took some wrong turns. If I’d just been a little quicker…’
‘Stop it,’ Annabeth said. ‘No one blames you. Thalia didn’t blame you either.’
‘She sacrificed herself to save us,’ he said miserably. ‘Her death was my fault. The Council of
Cloven Elders said so.’
‘Because you wouldn’t leave two other half-bloods behind?’ I said. ‘That’s not fair.’
‘Percy’s right,’ Annabeth said. ‘I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for you, Grover. Neither
would Luke. We don’t care what the council says.’
Grover kept sniffling in the dark. ‘It’s just my luck. I’m the lamest satyr ever, and I find the two
most powerful half-bloods of the century, Thalia and Percy.’
‘You’re not lame,’ Annabeth insisted. ‘You’ve got more courage than any satyr I’ve ever met.
Name one other who would dare go to the Underworld. I bet Percy is really glad you’re here right
now.’
She kicked me in the shin.
‘Yeah,’ I said, which I would’ve done even without the kick. ‘It’s not luck that you found Thalia
and me, Grover. You’ve got the biggest heart of any satyr ever. You’re a natural searcher. That’s why
you’ll be the one who finds Pan.’
I heard a deep, satisfied sigh. I waited for Grover to say something, but his breathing only got
heavier. When the sound turned to snoring, I realized he’d fallen sleep.
‘How does he do that?’ I marvelled.
‘I don’t know,’ Annabeth said. ‘But that was really a nice thing you told him.’
‘I meant it.’
We rode in silence for a few miles, bumping around on the feed sacks. The zebra munched a turnip.
The lion licked the last of the hamburger meat off his lips and looked at me hopefully.
Annabeth rubbed her necklace like she was thinking deep, strategic thoughts.
‘That pine-tree bead,’ I said. ‘Is that from your first year?’
She looked. She hadn’t realized what she was doing.
‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘Every August, the counsellors pick the most important event of the summer, and
they paint it on that year’s beads. I’ve got Thalia’s pine tree, a Greek trireme on fire, a centaur in a
prom dress – now that was a weird summer…’
‘And the college ring is your father’s?’
‘That’s none of your –’ She stopped herself. ‘Yeah. Yeah, it is.’
‘You don’t have to tell me.’
‘No… it’s okay.’ She took a shaky breath. ‘My dad sent it to me folded up in a letter, two summers
ago. The ring was, like, his main keepsake from Athena. He wouldn’t have got through his doctoral
programme at Harvard without her… That’s a long story. Anyway, he said he wanted me to have it.
He apologized for being a jerk, said he loved me and missed me. He wanted me to come home and
live with him.’
‘That doesn’t sound so bad.’
‘Yeah, well… the problem was, I believed him. I tried to go home for that school year, but my
stepmom was the same as ever. She didn’t want her kids put in danger by living with a freak.
Monsters attacked. We argued. Monsters attacked. We argued. I didn’t even make it through winter
break. I called Chiron and came right back to Camp Half-Blood.’
‘You think you’ll ever try living with your dad again?’
She wouldn’t meet my eyes. ‘Please. I’m not into self-inflicted pain.’
‘You shouldn’t give up,’ I told her. ‘You should write him a letter or something.’
‘Thanks for the advice,’ she said coldly, ‘but my father’s made his choice about who he wants to
live with.’
We passed another few miles of silence.
‘So if the gods fight,’ I said, ‘will things line up the way they did with the Trojan War? Will it be
Athena versus Poseidon?’
She put her head against the backpack Ares had given us, and closed her eyes. ‘I don’t know what
my mom will do. I just know I’ll fight next to you.’
‘Why?’
‘Because you’re my friend, Seaweed Brain. Any more stupid questions?’
I couldn’t think of an answer for that. Fortunately I didn’t have to. Annabeth was asleep.
I had trouble following her example, with Grover snoring and an albino lion staring hungrily at me,
but eventually I closed my eyes.
***
My nightmare started out as something I’d dreamed a million times before: I was being forced to take
a standardized test while wearing a straitjacket. All the other kids were going out to recess, and the
teacher kept saying, Come on, Percy. You’re not stupid are you? Pick up your pencil.
Then the dream strayed from the usual.
I looked over at the next desk and saw a girl sitting there, also wearing a strait jacket. She was my
age, with unruly black, punk-style hair, dark eyeliner around her stormy green eyes, and freckles
across her nose. Somehow, I knew who she was. She was Thalia, daughter of Zeus.
She struggled against the straitjacket, glared at me in frustration and snapped, Well, Seaweed
Brain? One of us has to get out of here.
She’s right, my dream-self thought. I’m going back to that cavern. I’m going to give Hades a piece
of my mind.
The straitjacket melted off me. I fell through the classroom floor. The teacher’s voice changed until
it was cold and evil, echoing from the depths of a great chasm.
Percy Jackson, it said. Yes, the exchange went well, I see.
I was back in the dark cavern, spirits of the dead drifting around me. Unseen in the pit, the
monstrous thing was speaking, but this time it wasn’t addressing me. The numbing power of its voice
seemed directed somewhere else.
And he suspects nothing? it asked.
Another voice, one I almost recognized, answered at my shoulder. Nothing, my lord. He is as
ignorant as the rest.
I looked over, but no one was there. The speaker was invisible.
Deception upon deception, the thing in the pit mused aloud. Excellent.
Truly, my lord, said the voice next to me, you are well-named the Crooked One. But was it really
necessary? I could have brought you what I stole directly –
You? the monster said in scorn. You have already shown your limits. You would have failed me
completely had I not intervened.
But, my lord –
Peace, little servant. Our six months have bought us much. Zeus’s anger has grown. Poseidon
has played his most desperate card. Now we shall use it against him. Shortly you shall have the
reward you wish, and your revenge. As soon as both items are delivered into my hands… but wait.
He is here.
What? The invisible servant suddenly sounded tense. You summoned him, my lord?
No. The full force of the monster’s attention was now pouring over me, freezing me in place. Blast
his father’s blood – he is too changeable, too unpredictable. The boy brought himself hither.
Impossible! the servant cried.
For a weakling such as you, perhaps, the voice snarled. Then its cold power turned back on me.
So… you wish to dream of your quest, young half-blood? Then I will oblige.
The scene changed.
I was standing in a vast throne room with black marble walls and bronze floors. The empty, horrid
throne was made from human bones fused together. Standing at the foot of the dais was my mother,
frozen in shimmering golden light, her arms outstretched.
I tried to step towards her, but my legs wouldn’t move. I reached for her, only to realize that my
hands were withering to bones. Grinning skeletons in Greek armour crowded around me, draping me
with silk robes, wreathing my head with laurels that smoked with Chimera poison, burning into my
scalp.
The evil voice began to laugh. Hail, the conquering hero!
I woke with a start.
Grover was shaking my shoulder. ‘The truck’s stopped,’ he said. ‘We think they’re coming to
check on the animals.’
‘Hide!’ Annabeth hissed.
She had it easy. She just put on her magic cap and disappeared. Grover and I had to dive behind
feed sacks and hope we looked like turnips.
The trailer doors creaked open. Sunlight and heat poured in.
‘Man!’ one of the truckers said, waving his hand in front of his ugly nose. ‘I wish I hauled
appliances.’ He climbed inside and poured some water from a jug into the animals’ dishes.
‘You hot, big boy?’ he asked the lion, then splashed the rest of the bucket right in the lion’s face.
The lion roared in indignation.
‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ the man said.
Next to me, under the turnip sacks, Grover tensed. For a peace-loving herbivore, he looked
downright murderous.
The trucker threw the antelope a squashed-looking Happy Meal bag. He smirked at the zebra.
‘How ya doin’, Stripes? Least we’ll be getting rid of you this stop. You like magic shows? You’re
gonna love this one. They’re gonna saw you in half!’
The zebra, wild-eyed with fear, looked straight at me.
There was no sound, but as clear as day, I heard it say: Free me, lord. Please.
I was too stunned to react.
There was a loud knock, knock, knock on the side of the trailer.
The trucker inside with us yelled, ‘What do you want, Eddie?’
A voice outside – it must’ve been Eddie’s – shouted back, ‘Maurice? What’d ya say?’
‘What are you banging for?’
Knock, knock, knock.
Outside, Eddie yelled, ‘What banging?’
Our guy Maurice rolled his eyes and went back outside, cursing at Eddie for being an idiot.
A second later, Annabeth appeared next to me. She must’ve done the banging to get Maurice out of
the trailer. She said, ‘This transport business can’t be legal.’
‘No kidding,’ Grover said. He paused, as if listening. ‘The lion says these guys are animal
smugglers!’
That’s right, the zebra’s voice said in my mind.
‘We’ve got to free them!’ Grover said. He and Annabeth both looked at me, waiting for my lead.
I’d heard the zebra talk, but not the lion. Why? Maybe it was another learning disability… I could
only understand zebras? Then I thought: horses. What had Annabeth said about Poseidon creating
horses? Was a zebra close enough to a horse? Was that why I could understand it?
The zebra said, Open my cage, lord. Please. I’ll be fine after that.
Outside, Eddie and Maurice were still yelling at each other, but I knew they’d be coming inside to
torment the animals again any minute. I grabbed Riptide and slashed the lock off the zebra’s cage.
The zebra burst out. It turned to me and bowed. Thank you, lord.
Grover held up his hands and said something to the zebra in goat talk, like a blessing.
Just as Maurice was poking his head back inside to check out the noise, the zebra leaped over him
and into the street. There was yelling and screaming and cars honking. We rushed to the doors of the
trailer in time to see the zebra galloping down a wide boulevard lined with hotels and casinos and
neon signs. We’d just released a zebra in Las Vegas.
Maurice and Eddie ran after it, with a few policemen running after them, shouting, ‘Hey! You need
a permit for that!’
‘Now would be a good time to leave,’ Annabeth said.
‘The other animals first,’ Grover said.
I cut the locks with my sword. Grover raised his hands and spoke the same goat-blessing he’d used
for the zebra.
‘Good luck,’ I told the animals. The antelope and the lion burst out of their cages and went off
together into the streets.
Some tourists screamed. Most just backed off and took pictures, probably thinking it was some
kind of stunt by one of the casinos.
‘Will the animals be okay?’ I asked Grover. ‘I mean, the desert and all –’
‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘I placed a satyr’s sanctuary on them.’
‘Meaning?’
‘Meaning they’ll reach the wild safely,’ he said. ‘They’ll find water, food, shade, whatever they
need until they find a safe place to live.’
‘Why can’t you place a blessing like that on us?’ I asked.
‘It only works on wild animals.’
‘So it would only affect Percy,’ Annabeth reasoned.
‘Hey!’ I protested.
‘Kidding,’ she said. ‘Come on. Let’s get out of this filthy truck.’
We stumbled out into the desert afternoon. It was forty degrees, easy, and we must’ve looked like
deep-fried vagrants, but everybody was too interested in the wild animals to pay us much attention.
We passed the Monte Carlo and the MGM. We passed pyramids, a pirate ship and the Statue of
Liberty, which was a pretty small replica, but still made me homesick.
I wasn’t sure what we were looking for. Maybe just a place to get out of the heat for a few minutes,
find a sandwich and a glass of lemonade, make a new plan for getting west.
We must have taken a wrong turn, because we found ourselves at a dead end, standing in front of
the Lotus Hotel and Casino. The entrance was a huge neon flower, the petals lighting up and blinking.
No one was going in or out, but the glittering chrome doors were open, spilling out air conditioning
that smelled like flowers – lotus blossom, maybe. I’d never smelled one, so I wasn’t sure.
The doorman smiled at us. ‘Hey, kids. You look tired. You want to come in and sit down?’
I’d learned to be suspicious, the last week or so. I figured anybody might be a monster or a god.
You just couldn’t tell. But this guy was normal. One look at him, and I could see. Besides, I was so
relieved to hear somebody who sounded sympathetic that I nodded and said we’d love to come in.
Inside, we took one look around, and Grover said, ‘Whoa.’
The whole lobby was a giant game room. And I’m not talking about cheesy old Pac-Man games or
slot machines. There was an indoor water slide snaking around the glass elevator, which went
straight up at least forty floors. There was a climbing wall on the side of one building, and an indoor
bungee-jumping bridge. There were virtual-reality suits with working laser guns. And hundreds of
video games, each one the size of a widescreen TV. Basically, you name it, this place had it. There
were a few other kids playing, but not that many. No waiting for any of the games. There were
waitresses and snack bars all around, serving every kind of food you can imagine.
‘Hey!’ a bellhop said. At least I guessed he was a bellhop. He wore a white-and-yellow Hawaiian
shirt with lotus designs, shorts and flip-flops. ‘Welcome to the Lotus Casino. Here’s your room key.’
I stammered, ‘Um, but…’
‘No, no,’ he said, laughing. ‘The bill’s taken care of. No extra charges, no tips. Just go on up to the
top floor, room 4001. If you need anything, like extra bubbles for the hot tub, or skeet targets for the
shooting range, or whatever, just call the front desk. Here are your LotusCash cards. They work in the
restaurants and on all the games and rides.’
He handed us each a green plastic credit card.
I knew there must be some mistake. Obviously he thought we were some millionaire’s kids. But I
took the card and said, ‘How much is on here?’
His eyebrows knit together. ‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean, when does it run out of cash?’
He laughed. ‘Oh, you’re making a joke. Hey, that’s cool. Enjoy your stay.’
We took the elevator upstairs and checked out our room. It was a suite with three separate
bedrooms and a bar stocked with candy, sodas and crisps. A hotline to room service. Fluffy towels
and waterbeds with feather pillows. A big-screen television with satellite and high-speed Internet.
The balcony had its own hot tub and, sure enough, there was a skeet-shooting machine and a shotgun,
so you could launch clay pigeons right out over the Las Vegas skyline and plug them with your gun. I
didn’t see how that could be legal, but I thought it was pretty cool. The view over the Strip and the
desert was amazing, though I doubted we’d ever have time to look at the view with a room like this.
‘Oh, goodness,’ Annabeth said. ‘This place is…’
‘Sweet,’ Grover said. ‘Absolutely sweet.’
There were clothes in the closet, and they fitted me. I frowned, thinking that this was a little
strange.
I threw Ares’s backpack in the trash can. Wouldn’t need that any more. When we left, I could just
charge a new one at the hotel store.
I took a shower, which felt awesome after a week of grimy travel. I changed clothes, ate a bag of
crisps, drank three Cokes and came out feeling better than I had in a long time. In the back of my mind,
some small problem kept nagging me. I’d had a dream or something… I needed to talk to my friends.
But I was sure it could wait.
I came out of the bedroom and found that Annabeth and Grover had also showered and changed
clothes. Grover was eating crisps to his heart’s content, while Annabeth cranked up the National
Geographic Channel.
‘All those stations,’ I told her, ‘and you turn on National Geographic. Are you insane?’
‘It’s interesting.’
‘I feel good,’ Grover said. ‘I love this place.’
Without his even realizing it, the wings sprouted out of his shoes and lifted him a foot off the
ground, then back down again.
‘So what now?’ Annabeth asked. ‘Sleep?’
Grover and I looked at each other and grinned. We both held up our green plastic LotusCash cards.
‘Play time,’ I said.
I couldn’t remember the last time I had so much fun. I came from a relatively poor family. Our idea
of a splurge was eating out at Burger King and renting a video. A five-star Vegas hotel? Forget it.
I bungee-jumped the lobby five or six times, did the waterslide, snowboarded the artificial ski
slope and played virtual-reality laser tag and FBI sharpshooter. I saw Grover a few times, going from
game to game. He really liked the reverse hunter thing – where the deer go out and shoot the rednecks.
I saw Annabeth playing trivia games and other brainiac stuff. They had this huge 3-D sim game where
you build your own city, and you could actually see the holographic buildings rise on the display
board. I didn’t think much of it, but Annabeth loved it.
I’m not sure when I first realized something was wrong.
Probably, it was when I noticed the guy standing next to me at VR sharpshooters. He was about
thirteen, I guess, but his clothes were weird. I thought he was some Elvis impersonator’s son. He
wore bell-bottoms and a red T-shirt with black piping, and his hair was permed and gelled like a
New Jersey girl’s on homecoming night.
We played a game of sharpshooters together and he said, ‘Groovy, man. Been here two weeks, and
the games keep getting better and better.’
Groovy?
Later, while we were talking, I said something “rocked”, and he looked at me kind of puzzled, as if
he’d never heard the word used that way before.
He said his name was Darrin, but as soon as I started asking him questions he got bored with me
and started to go back to the computer screen.
I said, ‘Hey, Darrin?’
‘What?’
‘What year is it?’
He frowned at me. ‘In the game?’
‘No. In real life.’
He had to think about it. ‘1977.’
‘No,’ I said, getting a little scared. ‘Really.’
‘Hey, man. Bad vibes. I got a game happening.’
After that he totally ignored me.
I started talking to people, and I found it wasn’t easy. They were glued to the TV screen, or the
video game, or their food, or whatever. I found a guy who told me it was 1985. Another guy told me it
was 1993. They all claimed they hadn’t been in here very long, a few days, a few weeks at most.
They didn’t really know and they didn’t care.
Then it occurred to me: how long had I been here? It seemed like only a couple of hours, but was
it?
I tried to remember why we were here. We were going to Los Angeles. We were supposed to find
the entrance to the Underworld. My mother… for a scary second, I had trouble remembering her
name. Sally. Sally Jackson. I had to find her. I had to stop Hades from causing World War III.
I found Annabeth still building her city.
‘Come on,’ I told her. ‘We’ve got to get out of here.’
No response.
I shook her. ‘Annabeth?’
She looked up, annoyed. ‘What?’
‘We need to leave.’
‘Leave? What are you talking about? I’ve just got the towers –’
‘This place is a trap.’
She didn’t respond until I shook her again. ‘What?’
‘Listen. The Underworld. Our quest!’
‘Oh, come on, Percy. Just a few more minutes.’
‘Annabeth, there are people here from 1977. Kids who have never aged. You check in, and you
stay forever.’
‘So?’ she asked. ‘Can you imagine a better place?’
I grabbed her wrist and yanked her away from the game.
‘Hey!’ She screamed and hit me, but nobody else even bothered looking at us. They were too busy.
I made her look directly in my eyes. I said, ‘Spiders. Large, hairy spiders.’
That jarred her. Her vision cleared. ‘Oh my gods,’ she said. ‘How long have we –’
‘I don’t know, but we’ve got to find Grover.’
We went searching, and found him still playing Virtual Deer Hunter.
‘Grover!’ we both shouted.
He said, ‘Die, human! Die, silly polluting nasty person!’
‘Grover!’
He turned the plastic gun on me and started clicking, as if I were just another image from the
screen.
I looked at Annabeth, and together we took Grover by the arms and dragged him away. His flying
shoes sprang to life and started tugging his legs in the other direction as he shouted, ‘No! I just got to a
new level! No!’
The Lotus bellhop hurried up to us. ‘Well, now, are you ready for your platinum cards?’
‘We’re leaving,’ I told him.
‘Such a shame,’ he said, and I got the feeling that he really meant it, that we’d be breaking his heart
if we went. ‘We just added an entire new floor full of games for platinum-card members.’
He held out the cards, and I wanted one. I knew that if I took one, I’d never leave. I’d stay here,
happy forever, playing games forever, and soon I’d forget my mom, and my quest, and maybe even my
own name. I’d be playing virtual rifleman with groovy Disco Darrin forever.
Grover reached for the card, but Annabeth yanked back his arm and said, ‘No, thanks.’
We walked towards the door, and as we did, the smell of the food and the sounds of the games
seemed to get more and more inviting. I thought about our room upstairs. We could just stay the night,
sleep in a real bed for once…
Then we burst through the doors of the Lotus Casino and ran down the sidewalk. It felt like
afternoon, about the same time of day we’d gone into the casino, but something was wrong. The
weather had completely changed. It was stormy, with heat lightning flashing out in the desert.
Ares’s backpack was slung over my shoulder, which was odd, because I was sure I had thrown it
in the trash can in room 4001, but at the moment I had other problems to worry about.
I ran to the nearest newspaper stand and read the year first. Thank the gods, it was the same year it
had been when we went in. Then I noticed the date: June twentieth.
We had been in the Lotus Casino for five days.
We had only one day left until the summer solstice. One day to complete our quest.
17 We Shop for Waterbeds
It was Annabeth’s idea.
She loaded us into the back of a Vegas taxi as if we actually had money, and told the driver, ‘Los
Angeles, please.’
The cabbie chewed his cigar and sized us up. ‘That’s three hundred miles. For that, you gotta pay
up front.’
‘You accept casino debit cards?’ Annabeth asked.
He shrugged. ‘Some of’ em. Same as credit cards. I gotta swipe ’em through, first.’
Annabeth handed him her green LotusCash card.
He looked at it sceptically.
‘Swipe it,’ Annabeth invited.
He did.
His meter machine started rattling. The lights flashed. Finally an infinity symbol came up next to the
dollar sign.
The cigar fell out of the driver’s mouth. He looked back at us, his eyes wide. ‘Where to in Los
Angeles… uh, Your Highness?’
‘The Santa Monica pier.’ Annabeth sat up a little straighter. I could tell she liked the ‘Your
Highness’ thing. ‘Get us there fast, and you can keep the change.’
Maybe she shouldn’t have told him that.
The cab’s speedometer never dipped below ninety-five the whole way through the Mojave Desert.
On the road, we had plenty of time to talk. I told Annabeth and Grover about my latest dream, but the
details got sketchier the more I tried to remember them. The Lotus Casino seemed to have shortcircuited my memory. I couldn’t recall what the invisible servant’s voice had sounded like, though I
was sure it was somebody I knew. The servant had called the monster in the pit something other than
‘my lord’… some special name or title…
‘The Silent One?’ Annabeth suggested. ‘The Rich One? Both of those are nicknames for Hades.’
‘Maybe…’ I said, though neither sounded quite right.
‘That throne room sounds like Hades’s,’ Grover said. ‘That’s the way it’s usually described.’
I shook my head. ‘Something’s wrong. The throne room wasn’t the main part of the dream. And that
voice from the pit… I don’t know. It just didn’t feel like a god’s voice.’
Annabeth’s eyes widened.
‘What?’ I asked.
‘Oh… nothing. I was just – No, it has to be Hades. Maybe he sent this thief, this invisible person,
to get the master bolt, and something went wrong –’
‘Like what?’
‘I – I don’t know,’ she said. ‘But if he stole Zeus’s symbol of power from Olympus, and the gods
were hunting him, I mean, a lot of things could go wrong. So this thief had to hide the bolt, or he lost it
somehow. Anyway, he failed to bring it to Hades. That’s what the voice said in your dream, right?
The guy failed. That would explain what the Furies were searching for when they came after us on the
bus. Maybe they thought we had retrieved the bolt.’
I wasn’t sure what was wrong with her. She looked pale.
‘But if I’d already retrieved the bolt,’ I said, ‘why would I be travelling to the Underworld?’
‘To threaten Hades,’ Grover suggested. ‘To bribe or blackmail him into getting your mom back.’
I whistled. ‘You have evil thoughts for a goat.’
‘Why, thank you.’
‘But the thing in the pit said it was waiting for two items,’ I said. ‘If the master bolt is one, what’s
the other?’
Grover shook his head, clearly mystified.
Annabeth was looking at me as if she knew my next question, and was silently willing me not to ask
it.
‘You have an idea what might be in that pit, don’t you?’ I asked her. ‘I mean, if it isn’t Hades?’
‘Percy… let’s not talk about it. Because if it isn’t Hades… No. It has to be Hades.’
Wasteland rolled by. We passed a sign that said: CALIFORNIA STATE LINE, 12 MILES.
I got the feeling I was missing one simple, critical piece of information. It was like when I stared at
a common word I should know, but I couldn’t make sense of it because one or two letters were
floating around. The more I thought about my quest, the more I was sure that confronting Hades wasn’t
the real answer. There was something else going on, something even more dangerous.
The problem was: we were hurtling towards the Underworld at ninety-five miles an hour, betting
that Hades had the master bolt. If we got there and found out we were wrong, we wouldn’t have time
to correct ourselves. The solstice deadline would pass and war would begin.
‘The answer is in the Underworld,’ Annabeth assured me. ‘You saw spirits of the dead, Percy.
There’s only one place that could be. We’re doing the right thing.’
She tried to boost our morale by suggesting clever strategies for getting into the Land of the Dead,
but my heart wasn’t in it. There were just too many unknown factors. It was like cramming for a test
without knowing the subject. And believe me, I’d done that enough times.
The cab sped west. Every gust of wind through Death Valley sounded like a spirit of the dead.
Every time the brakes hissed on an eighteen-wheeler, it reminded me of Echidna’s reptilian voice.
At sunset, the taxi dropped us at the beach in Santa Monica. It looked exactly the way L.A. beaches do
in the movies, only it smelled worse. There were carnival rides lining the pier, palm trees lining the
sidewalks, homeless guys sleeping in the sand dunes and surfer dudes waiting for the perfect wave.
Grover, Annabeth and I walked down to the edge of the surf.
‘What now?’ Annabeth asked.
The Pacific was turning gold in the setting sun. I thought about how long it had been since I’d stood
on the beach at Montauk, on the opposite side of the country, looking out at a different sea.
How could there be a god who could control all that? What did my science teacher used to say –
two-thirds of the earth’s surface was covered in water? How could I be the son of someone that
powerful?
I stepped into the surf.
‘Percy?’ Annabeth said. ‘What are you doing?’
I kept walking, up to my waist, then my chest.
She called after me, ‘You know how polluted that water is? There’re all kinds of toxic –’
That’s when my head went under.
I held my breath at first. It’s difficult to intentionally inhale water. Finally I couldn’t stand it any
more. I gasped. Sure enough, I could breathe normally.
I walked down into the shoals. I shouldn’t have been able to see through the murk, but somehow I
could tell where everything was. I could sense the rolling texture of the bottom. I could make out
sand-dollar colonies dotting the sandbars. I could even see the currents, warm and cold streams
swirling together.
I felt something rub against my leg. I looked down and almost shot out of the water like a ballistic
missile. Sliding along beside me was a two-metre-long mako shark.
But the thing wasn’t attacking. It was nuzzling me. Heeling like a dog. Tentatively, I touched its
dorsal fin. It bucked a little, as if inviting me to hold tighter. I grabbed the fin with both hands. It took
off, pulling me along. The shark carried me down into the darkness. It deposited me at the edge of the
ocean proper, where the sand bank dropped off into a huge chasm. It was like standing on the rim of
the Grand Canyon at midnight, not being able to see much, but knowing the void was right there.
The surface shimmered maybe fifty metres above. I knew I should’ve been crushed by the pressure.
Then again, I shouldn’t have been able to breathe. I wondered if there was a limit to how deep I could
go, if I could sink straight to the bottom of the Pacific.
Then I saw something glimmering in the darkness below, growing bigger and brighter as it rose
towards me. A woman’s voice, like my mother’s, called: ‘Percy Jackson.’
As she got closer, her shape became clearer. She had flowing black hair, a dress made of green
silk. Light flickered around her, and her eyes were so distractingly beautiful I hardly noticed the
stallion-sized sea horse she was riding.
She dismounted. The sea horse and the mako shark whisked off and started playing something that
looked like tag. The underwater lady smiled at me. ‘You’ve come far, Percy Jackson. Well done.’
I wasn’t quite sure what to do, so I bowed. ‘You’re the woman who spoke to me in the Mississippi
River.’
‘Yes, child. I am a Nereid, a spirit of the sea. It was not easy to appear so far upriver, but the
naiads, my freshwater cousins, helped sustain my life force. They honour Lord Poseidon, though they
do not serve in his court.’
‘And… you serve in Poseidon’s court?’
She nodded. ‘It has been many years since a child of the Sea God has been born. We have watched
you with great interest.’
Suddenly I remembered faces in the waves off Montauk Beach when I was a little boy, reflections
of smiling women. Like so many of the weird things in my life, I’d never given it much thought before.
‘If my father is so interested in me,’ I said, ‘why isn’t he here? Why doesn’t he speak to me?’
A cold current rose out of the depths.
‘Do not judge the Lord of the Sea too harshly,’ the Nereid told me. ‘He stands at the brink of an
unwanted war. He has much to occupy his time. Besides, he is forbidden to help you directly. The
gods may not show such favouritism.’
‘Even to their own children?’
‘Especially to them. The gods can work by indirect influence only. That is why I give you a
warning, and a gift.’
She held out her hand. Three white pearls flashed in her palm.
‘I know you journey to Hades’s realm,’ she said. ‘Few mortals have ever done this and survived:
Orpheus, who had great musical skill; Hercules, who had great strength; Houdini, who could escape
even the depths of Tartarus. Do you have these talents?’
‘Um… no, ma’am.’
‘Ah, but you have something else, Percy. You have gifts you have only begun to know. The oracles
have foretold a great and terrible future for you, should you survive to manhood. Poseidon would not
have you die before your time. Therefore take these, and when you are in need, smash a pearl at your
feet.’
‘What will happen?’
‘That,’ she said, ‘depends on the need. But remember: what belongs to the sea will always return
to the sea.’
‘What about the warning?’
Her eyes flickered with green light. ‘Go with what your heart tells you, or you will lose all. Hades
feeds on doubt and hopelessness. He will trick you if he can, make you mistrust your own judgement.
Once you are in his realm, he will never willingly let you leave. Keep faith. Good luck, Percy
Jackson.’
She summoned her sea horse and rode towards the void.
‘Wait!’ I called. ‘At the river, you said not to trust the gifts. What gifts?’
‘Goodbye, young hero,’ she called back, her voice fading into the depths. ‘You must listen to your
heart.’ She became a speck of glowing green, and then she was gone.
I wanted to follow her down into the darkness. I wanted to see the court of Poseidon. But I looked
up at the sunset darkening on the surface. My friends were waiting. We had so little time…
I kicked upwards towards the shore.
When I reached the beach, I told Grover and Annabeth what had happened, and showed them the
pearls.
Annabeth grimaced. ‘No gift comes without a price.’
‘They were free.’
‘No.’ She shook her head. ‘“There is no such thing as a free lunch.” That’s an ancient Greek saying
that translated pretty well into American. There will be a price. You wait.’
On that happy thought, we turned our backs on the sea.
With some spare change from Ares’s backpack, we took the bus into West Hollywood. I showed the
driver the Underworld address slip I’d taken from Aunty Em’s Garden Gnome Emporium, but he’d
never heard of DOA Recording Studios.
‘You remind me of somebody I saw on TV’, he told me. ‘You a child actor or something?’
‘Uh… I’m a stunt double… for a lot of child actors.’
‘Oh! That explains it.’
We thanked him and got off quickly at the next stop.
We wandered for miles on foot, looking for DOA. Nobody seemed to know where it was. It didn’t
appear in the phone book.
Twice, we ducked into alleys to avoid cop cars.
I froze in front of an appliance store window because a television was playing an interview with
somebody who looked very familiar – my stepdad, Smelly Gabe. He was talking to Barbara Walters
– I mean, as if he were some kind of huge celebrity. She was interviewing him in our apartment, in the
middle of a poker game, and there was a young blonde lady sitting next to him, patting his hand.
A fake tear glistened on his cheek. He was saying, ‘Honest, Ms Walters, if it wasn’t for Sugar here,
my grief counsellor. I’d be a wreck. My stepson took everything I cared about. My wife… my
Camaro… I – I’m sorry. I have trouble talking about it.’
‘There you have it, America.’ Barbara Walters turned to the camera. ‘A man torn apart. An
adolescent boy with serious issues. Let me show you, again, the last known photo of this troubled
young fugitive, taken a week ago in Denver.’
The screen cut to a grainy shot of me, Annabeth and Grover standing outside the Colorado diner,
talking to Ares.
‘Who are the other children in this photo?’ Barbara Walters asked dramatically. ‘Who is the man
with them? Is Percy Jackson a delinquent, a terrorist, or perhaps the brainwashed victim of a
frightening new cult? When we come back, we chat with a leading child psychologist. Stay tuned,
America.’
‘C’mon,’ Grover told me. He hauled me away before I could punch a hole in the appliance-store
window.
It got dark, and hungry-looking characters started coming out on the streets to play. Now, don’t get
me wrong. I’m a New Yorker. I don’t scare easy. But L.A. had a totally different feel from New York.
Back home, everything seemed close. It didn’t matter how big the city was, you could get anywhere
without getting lost. The street pattern and the subway made sense. There was a system to how things
worked. A kid could be safe as long as he wasn’t stupid.
L.A. wasn’t like that. It was spread out, chaotic, hard to move around. It reminded me of Ares. It
wasn’t enough for L.A. to be big; it had to prove it was big by being loud and strange and difficult to
navigate, too. I didn’t know how we were ever going to find the entrance to the Underworld by
tomorrow, the summer solstice.
We walked past gangbangers, bums and street hawkers, who looked at us like they were trying to
figure if we were worth the trouble of mugging.
As we hurried passed the entrance of an alley, a voice from the darkness said, ‘Hey, you.’
Like an idiot, I stopped.
Before I knew it, we were surrounded. A gang of kids had circled us. Six of them in all – white
kids with expensive clothes and mean faces. Like the kids at Yancy Academy: rich brats playing at
being bad boys.
Instinctively, I uncapped Riptide.
When the sword appeared out of nowhere, the kids backed off, but their leader was either really
stupid or really brave, because he kept coming at me with a switchblade.
I made the mistake of swinging.
The kid yelped. But he must’ve been one hundred percent mortal, because the blade passed
harmlessly right through his chest. He looked down. ‘What the…’
I figured I had about three seconds before his shock turned to anger. ‘Run!’ I screamed at Annabeth
and Grover.
We pushed two kids out of the way and raced down the street, not knowing where we were going.
We turned a sharp corner.
‘There!’ Annabeth shouted.
Only one store on the block looked open, its windows glaring with neon. The sign above the door
said something like: CRSTUY’S WATREBDE ALPACE.
‘Crusty’s Waterbed Palace?’ Grover translated.
It didn’t sound like a place I’d ever go except in an emergency, but this definitely qualified.
We burst through the doors, ran behind a waterbed, and ducked. A split second later, the gang kids
ran past outside.
‘I think we lost them,’ Grover panted.
A voice behind us boomed, ‘Lost who?’
We all jumped.
Standing behind us was a guy who looked like a raptor in a leisure suit. He was at least two metres
tall, with absolutely no hair. He had grey leathery skin, thick-lidded eyes, and a cold reptilian smile.
He moved towards us slowly, but I got the feeling he could move fast if he needed to.
His suit might’ve come from the Lotus Casino. It belonged back in the seventies, big time. The shirt
was silk paisley, unbuttoned halfway down his hairless chest. The lapels on his velvet jacket were as
wide as landing strips. The silver chains around his neck – I couldn’t even count them.
‘I’m Crusty,’ he said, with a tartar-yellow smile.
I resisted the urge to say, Yes, you are.
‘Sorry to barge in,’ I told him. ‘We were just, um, browsing.’
‘You mean hiding from those no-good kids,’ he grumbled. ‘They hang around every night. I get a lot
of people in here, thanks to them. Say, you want to look at a waterbed?’
I was about to say No, thanks, when he put a huge paw on my shoulder and steered me deeper into
the showroom.
There was every kind of waterbed you could imagine: different kinds of wood, different patterns of
sheets; queen-size, king-size, emperor-of-the-universe-size.
‘This is my most popular model.’ Crusty spread his hands proudly over a bed covered with black
satin sheets, with built-in Lava Lamps on the headboard. The mattress vibrated, so it looked like oilflavoured jelly.
‘Million-hand massage,’ Crusty told us. ‘Go on, try it out. Shoot, take a nap. I don’t care. No
business today, anyway.’
‘Um,’ I said, ‘I don’t think…’
‘Million-hand massage!’ Grover cried, and dived in. ‘Oh, you guys! This is cool.’
‘Hmm,’ Crusty said, stroking his leathery chin. Almost, almost.’
‘Almost what?’ I asked.
He looked at Annabeth. ‘Do me a favour and try this one over here, honey. Might fit.’
Annabeth said, ‘But what –’
He patted her reassuringly on the shoulder and led her over to the Safari Deluxe model with
teakwood lions carved into the frame and a leopard-patterned bedspread. When Annabeth didn’t want
to lie down, Crusty pushed her.
‘Hey!’ she protested.
Crusty snapped his fingers. ‘Ergo!’
Ropes sprang from the sides of the bed, lashing around Annabeth, holding her to the mattress.
Grover tried to get up, but ropes sprang from his black-satin bed, too, and lashed him down.
‘Not cool!’ he yelled, his voice vibrating from the million-hand massage. ‘Not cool at all!’
The giant looked at Annabeth, then turned towards me and grinned. ‘Almost, darn it.’
I tried to step away, but his hand shot out and clamped around the back of my neck. ‘Whoa, kid.
Don’t worry. We’ll find you one in a sec.’
‘Let my friends go.’
‘Oh, sure I will. But I got to make them fit, first.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘All the beds are exactly six feet, see? Your friends are too short. Got to make them fit.’
Annabeth and Grover kept struggling.
‘Can’t stand imperfect measurements,’ Crusty muttered. ‘Ergo!’
A new set of ropes leaped out from the top and bottom of the beds, wrapping around Grover and
Annabeth’s ankles, then around their armpits. The ropes started tightening, pulling my friends from
both ends.
‘Don’t worry,’ Crusty told me. ‘These are stretching jobs. Maybe eight extra centimetres on their
spines. They might even live. Now why don’t we find a bed you like, huh?’
‘Percy!’ Grover yelled.
My mind was racing. I knew I couldn’t take on this giant waterbed salesman alone. He would snap
my neck before I ever got my sword out.
‘Your real name’s not Crusty, is it?’ I asked.
‘Legally, it’s Procrustes,’ he admitted.
‘The Stretcher,’ I said. I remembered the story: the giant who’d tried to kill Theseus with overhospitality on his way to Athens.
‘Yeah,’ the salesman said. ‘But who can pronounce “Procrustes”? Bad for business. Now
“Crusty”, anybody can say that.’
‘You’re right. It’s got a good ring to it.’
His eyes lit up. ‘You think so?’
‘Oh, absolutely,’ I said. ‘And the workmanship on these beds? Fabulous!’
He grinned hugely, but his fingers didn’t loosen on my neck. ‘I tell my customers that. Every time.
Nobody bothers to look at the workmanship. How many built-in Lava Lamp headboards have you
seen?’
‘Not too many.’
‘That’s right!’
‘Percy!’ Annabeth yelled. ‘What are you doing?’
‘Don’t mind her,’ I told Procrustes. ‘She’s impossible.’
The giant laughed. ‘All my customers are. Never six feet exactly. So inconsiderate. And then they
complain about the fitting.’
‘What do you do if they’re longer than six feet?’
‘Oh, that happens all the time. It’s a simple fix.’
He let go of my neck, but before I could react, he reached behind a nearby sales desk and brought
out a huge double-bladed brass axe. He said, ‘I just centre the subject as best I can and lop off
whatever hangs over on either end.’
‘Ah,’ I said, swallowing hard. ‘Sensible.’
‘I’m so glad to come across an intelligent customer!’
The ropes were really stretching my friends now. Annabeth was turning pale. Grover made
gurgling sounds like a strangled goose.
‘So, Crusty…’ I said, trying to keep my voice light. I glanced at the sales tag on the valentineshaped Honeymoon Special. ‘Does this one really have dynamic stabilizers to stop wave motion?’
‘Absolutely. Try it out.’
‘Yeah, maybe I will. But would it work even for a big guy like you? No waves at all?’
‘Guaranteed.’
‘No way.’
‘Way.’
‘Show me.’
He sat down eagerly on the bed, patted the mattress. ‘No waves. See?’
I snapped my fingers. ‘Ergo.’
Ropes lashed around Crusty and flattened him against the mattress.
‘Hey!’ he yelled.
‘Centre him just right,’ I said.
The ropes readjusted themselves at my command. Crusty’s whole head stuck out the top. His feet
stuck out the bottom.
‘No!’ he said. ‘Wait! This is just a demo.’
I uncapped Riptide. ‘A few simple adjustments…’
I had no qualms about what I was about to do. If Crusty were human, I couldn’t hurt him anyway. If
he was a monster, he deserved to turn into dust for a while.
‘You drive a hard bargain,’ he told me. ‘I’ll give you thirty percent off on selected floor models!’
‘I think I’ll start with the top.’ I raised my sword.
‘No money down! No interest for six months!’
I swung the sword. Crusty stopped making offers.
I cut the ropes on the other beds. Annabeth and Grover got to their feet, groaning and wincing and
cursing me a lot.
‘You look taller,’ I said.
‘Very funny,’ Annabeth said. ‘Be faster next time.’
I looked at the bulletin board behind Crusty’s sales desk. There was an advertisement for Hermes
Delivery Service, and another for the All-New Compendium of L.A. Area Monsters – ‘The only
Monstrous Yellow Pages you’ll ever need!’ Under that, a bright orange flier for DOA Recording
Studios, offering commissions for heroes’ souls. ‘We are always looking for new talent!’ DOA’s
address was right underneath with a map.
‘Come on,’ I told my friends.
‘Give us a minute,’ Grover complained. ‘We were almost stretched to death!’
‘Then you’re ready for the Underworld,’ I said. ‘It’s only a block from here.’
18 Annabeth Does Obedience School
We stood in the shadows of Valencia Boulevard, looking up at gold letters etched in black marble:
DOA RECORDING STUDIOS.
Underneath, stencilled on the glass doors: NO SOLICITORS. NO LOITERING. NO LIVING.
It was almost midnight, but the lobby was brightly lit and full of people. Behind the security desk
sat a tough-looking guard with sunglasses and an earpiece.
I turned to my friends. ‘Okay. You remember the plan.’
‘The plan,’ Grover gulped. ‘Yeah. I love the plan.’
Annabeth said, ‘What happens if the plan doesn’t work?’
‘Don’t think negative.’
‘Right,’ she said. ‘We’re entering the Land of the Dead, and I shouldn’t think negative.’
I took the pearls out of my pocket, the three milky spheres the Nereid had given me in Santa
Monica. They didn’t seem like much of a backup in case something went wrong.
Annabeth put her hand on my shoulder. ‘I’m sorry, Percy. You’re right, we’ll make it. It’ll be fine.’
She gave Grover a nudge.
‘Oh, right!’ he chimed in. ‘We got this far. Well find the master bolt and save your mom. No
problem.’
I looked at them both, and felt really grateful. Only a few minutes before, I’d almost got them
stretched to death on deluxe waterbeds, and now they were trying to be brave for my sake, trying to
make me feel better.
I slipped the pearls back in my pocket. ‘Let’s whup some Underworld butt.’
We walked inside the DOA lobby.
Muzak played softly on hidden speakers. The carpet and walls were steel grey. Pencil cactuses
grew in the corners like skeleton hands. The furniture was black leather, and every seat was taken.
There were people sitting on couches, people standing up, people staring out the windows or waiting
for the elevator. Nobody moved, or talked, or did much of anything. Out of the corner of my eye, I
could see them all just fine, but if I focused on any one of them in particular, they started looking…
transparent. I could see right through their bodies.
The security guard’s desk was a raised podium, so we had to look up at him.
He was tall and elegant, with chocolate-coloured skin and bleached-blond hair shaved military
style. He wore tortoiseshell shades and a silk Italian suit that matched his hair. A black rose was
pinned to his lapel under a silver name tag.
I read the name tag, then looked at him in bewilderment. ‘Your name is Chiron?’
He leaned across the desk. I couldn’t see anything in his glasses except my own reflection, but his
smile was sweet and cold, like a pythons, right before it eats you.
‘What a precious young lad.’ He had a strange accent – British, maybe, but also as if he had
learned English as a second language. ‘Tell me, mate, do I look like a centaur?’
‘N-no.’
‘Sir,’ he added smoothly.
‘Sir,’ I said.
He pinched the name tag and ran his finger under the letters. ‘Can you read this, mate? It says C-
H-A-R-O-N. Say it with me: CARE-ON.’
‘Charon.’
‘Amazing! Now: Mr Charon.’
‘Mr Charon,’ I said.
‘Well done.’ He sat back. ‘I hate being confused with that old horse-man. And now, how may I
help you little dead ones?’
His question caught in my stomach like a fastball. I looked at Annabeth for support.
‘We want to go the Underworld,’ she said.
Charon’s mouth twitched. ‘Well, that’s refreshing.’
‘It is?’ she asked.
‘Straightforward and honest. No screaming. No “There must be a mistake, Mr Charon”.’ He looked
us over. ‘How did you die, then?’
I nudged Grover.
‘Oh,’ he said. ‘Um… drowned… in the bathtub.’
‘All three of you?’ Charon asked.
We nodded.
‘Big bathtub.’ Charon looked mildly impressed. ‘I don’t suppose you have coins for passage.
Normally, with adults, you see, I could charge your American Express, or add the ferry price to your
last cable bill. But with children… alas, you never die prepared. Suppose you’ll have to take a seat
for a few centuries.’
‘Oh, but we have coins.’ I set three golden drachmas on the counter, part of the stash I’d found in
Crusty’s office desk.
‘Well, now…’ Charon moistened his lips. ‘Real drachmas. Real golden drachmas. I haven’t seen
these in…’
His fingers hovered greedily over the coins.
We were so close.
Then Charon looked at me. That cold stare behind his glasses seemed to bore a hole through my
chest. ‘Here now,’ he said. ‘You couldn’t read my name correctly. Are you dyslexic, lad?’
‘No,’ I said. ‘I’m dead.’
Charon leaned forward and took a sniff. ‘You’re not dead. I should’ve known. You’re a godling.’
‘We have to get to the Underworld,’ I insisted.
Charon made a growling sound deep in his throat.
Immediately, all the people in the waiting room got up and started pacing, agitated, lighting
cigarettes, running hands through their hair, or checking their wristwatches.
‘Leave while you can,’ Charon told us. ‘I’ll just take these and forget I saw you.’
He started to go for the coins, but I snatched them back.
‘No service, no tip.’ I tried to sound braver than I felt.
Charon growled again – a deep, blood-chilling sound. The spirits of the dead started pounding on
the elevator doors.
‘It’s a shame, too,’ I sighed. ‘We had more to offer.’
I held up the entire bag from Crusty’s stash. I took out a fistful of drachmas and let the coins spill
through my fingers.
Charon’s growl changed into something more like a lion’s purr. ‘Do you think I can be bought,
godling? Eh… just out of curiosity, how much have you got there?’
‘A lot,’ I said. ‘I bet Hades doesn’t pay you well enough for such hard work.’
‘Oh, you don’t know the half of it. How would you like to babysit these spirits all day? Always
“Please don’t let me be dead” or “Please let me across for free”. I haven’t had a pay raise in three
thousand years. Do you imagine suits like this come cheap?’
‘You deserve better,’ I agreed. ‘A little appreciation. Respect. Good pay.’
With each word, I stacked another gold coin on the counter.
Charon glanced down at his silk Italian jacket, as if imagining himself in something even better. ‘I
must say, lad, you’re making some sense now. Just a little.’
I stacked another few coins. ‘I could mention a pay raise while I’m talking to Hades.’
He sighed. ‘The boat’s almost full, anyway. I might as well add you three and be off.’
He stood, scooped up our money, and said, ‘Come along.’
We pushed through the crowd of waiting spirits, who started grabbing at our clothes like the wind,
their voices whispering things I couldn’t make out. Charon shoved them out of the way, grumbling,
‘Freeloaders.’
He escorted us into the elevator, which was already crowded with souls of the dead, each one
holding a green boarding pass. Charon grabbed two spirits who were trying to get on with us and
pushed them back into the lobby.
‘Right. Now, no one get any ideas while I’m gone,’ he announced to the waiting room. ‘And if
anyone moves the dial off my easy-listening station again, I’ll make sure you’re here for another
thousand years. Understand?’
He shut the doors. He put a key card into a slot in the elevator panel and we started to descend.
‘What happens to the spirits waiting in the lobby?’ Annabeth asked.
‘Nothing,’ Charon said.
‘For how long?’
‘Forever, or until I’m feeling generous.’
‘Oh,’ she said. ‘That’s… fair.’
Charon raised an eyebrow. ‘Whoever said death was fair, young miss? Wait until it’s your turn.
You’ll die soon enough, where you’re going.’
‘We’ll get out alive,’ I said.
‘Ha.’
I got a sudden dizzy feeling. We weren’t going down any more, but forward. The air turned misty.
Spirits around me started changing shape. Their modern clothes flickered, turning into grey hooded
robes. The floor of the elevator began swaying.
I blinked hard. When I opened my eyes, Charon’s creamy Italian suit had been replaced by a long
black robe. His tortoiseshell glasses were gone. Where his eyes should’ve been were empty sockets
– like Ares’s eyes, except Charon’s were totally dark, full of night and death and despair.
He saw me looking, and said, ‘Well?’
‘Nothing,’ I managed.
I thought he was grinning, but that wasn’t it. The flesh of his face was becoming transparent, letting
me see straight through to his skull.
The floor kept swaying.
Grover said, ‘I think I’m getting seasick.’
When I blinked again, the elevator wasn’t an elevator any more. We were standing in a wooden
barge. Charon was poling us across a dark, oily river, swirling with bones, dead fish and other,
stranger things – plastic dolls, crushed carnations, soggy diplomas with gilt edges.
‘The River Styx,’ Annabeth murmured. ‘It’s so…’
‘Polluted,’ Charon said. ‘For thousands of years, you humans have been throwing in everything as
you come across – hopes, dreams, wishes that never came true. Irresponsible waste management, if
you ask me.’
Mist curled off the filthy water. Above us, almost lost in the gloom, was a ceiling of stalactites.
Ahead, the far shore glimmered with greenish light, the colour of poison.
Panic closed up my throat. What was I doing here? These people around me… they were dead.
Annabeth grabbed hold of my hand. Under normal circumstances, this would’ve embarrassed me,
but I understood how she felt. She wanted reassurance that somebody else was alive on this boat.
I found myself muttering a prayer, though I wasn’t quite sure who I was praying to. Down here,
only one god mattered, and he was the one I had come to confront.
The shoreline of the Underworld came into view. Craggy rocks and black volcanic sand stretched
inland about fifty metres to the base of a high stone wall, which marched off in either direction as far
as we could see. A sound came from somewhere nearby in the green gloom, echoing off the stones –
the howl of a large animal.
‘Old Three-Face is hungry,’ Charon said. His smile turned skeletal in the greenish light. ‘Bad luck
for you, godlings.’
The bottom of our boat slid onto the black sand. The dead began to disembark. A woman holding a
little girls hand. An old man and an old woman hobbling along arm in arm. A boy no older than I was,
shuffling silently along in his grey robe.
Charon said, ‘I’d wish you luck, mate, but there isn’t any down here. Mind you, don’t forget to
mention my pay raise.’
He counted our golden coins into his pouch, then took up his pole. He warbled something that
sounded like a Barry Manilow song as he ferried the empty barge back across the river.
We followed the spirits up a well-worn path.
I’m not sure what I was expecting – Pearly Gates, or a big black portcullis, or something. But the
entrance to the Underworld looked like a cross between airport security and the Jersey Turnpike.
There were three separate entrances under one huge black archway that said: YOU ARE NOW
ENTERING EREBUS. Each entrance had a pass-through metal detector mounted with security
cameras. Beyond this were tollbooths manned by black-robed ghouls like Charon.
The howling of the hungry animal was really loud now, but I couldn’t see where it was coming
from. The three-headed dog, Cerberus, who was supposed to guard Hades’s door, was nowhere to be
seen.
The dead queued up in the three lines, two marked: ATTENDANT ON DUTY, and one marked:
EZ DEATH. The EZ DEATH line was moving right along. The other two were crawling.
‘What do you figure?’ I asked Annabeth.
‘The fast line must go straight to Asphodel,’ she said. ‘No contest. They don’t want to risk
judgment from the court, because it might go against them.’
‘There’s a court for dead people?’
‘Yeah. Three judges. They switch around who sits on the bench. King Minos, Thomas Jefferson,
Shakespeare – people like that. Sometimes they look at a life and decide that person needs a special
reward – the Fields of Elysium. Sometimes they decide on punishment. But most people, well, they
just lived. Nothing special, good or bad. So they go to the Fields of Asphodel.’
‘And do what?’
Grover said, ‘Imagine standing in a wheat field in Kansas. Forever.’
‘Harsh,’ I said.
‘Not as harsh as that,’ Grover muttered. ‘Look.’
A couple of black-robed ghouls had pulled aside one spirit and were frisking him at the security
desk. The face of the dead man looked vaguely familiar.
‘He’s that preacher who made the news, remember?’ Grover asked.
‘Oh, yeah.’ I did remember now. We’d seen him on TV a couple of times at the Yancy Academy
dorm. He was this annoying televangelist from upstate New York who’d raised millions of dollars
for orphanages and then got caught spending the money on stuff for his mansion, like gold-plated toilet
seats, and an indoor putt-putt golf course. He’d died in a police chase when his “Lamborghini for the
Lord” went off a cliff.
I said, ‘What’re they doing to him?’
‘Special punishment from Hades,’ Grover guessed. ‘The really bad people get his personal
attention as soon as they arrive. The Fu – the Kindly Ones will set up an eternal torture for him.’
The thought of the Furies made me shudder. I realized I was in their home territory now. Old Mrs
Dodds would be licking her lips with anticipation.
‘But if he’s a preacher,’ I said, ‘and he believes in a different hell…’
Grover shrugged. ‘Who says he’s seeing this place the way were seeing it? Humans see what they
want to see. They’re very stubborn – er, persistent, that way.’
We got closer to the gates. The howling was so loud now it shook the ground at my feet, but I still
couldn’t figure out where it was coming from.
Then, about fifteen metres in front of us, the green mist shimmered. Standing just where the path
split into three lanes was an enormous shadowy monster.
I hadn’t seen it before because it was half transparent, like the dead. Until it moved, it blended with
whatever was behind it. Only its eyes and teeth looked solid. And it was staring straight at me.
My jaw hung open. All I could think to say was, ‘He’s a Rottweiler.’
I’d always imagined Cerberus as a big black mastiff. But he was obviously a purebred Rottweiler,
except of course that he was twice the size of a woolly mammoth, mostly invisible, and had three
heads.
The dead walked right up to him – no fear at all. The ATTENDANT ON DUTY lines parted on
either side of him. The EZ DEATH spirits walked right between his front paws and under his belly,
which they could do without even crouching.
‘I’m starting to see him better,’ I muttered. ‘Why is that?’
‘I think…’ Annabeth moistened her lips. ‘I’m afraid it’s because we’re getting closer to being
dead.’
The dog’s middle head craned towards us. It sniffed the air and growled.
It can smell the living,’ I said.
‘But that’s okay,’ Grover said, trembling next to me. ‘Because we have a plan.’
‘Right,’ Annabeth said. I’d never heard her voice sound quite so small. ‘A plan.’
We moved towards the monster.
The middle head snarled at us, then barked so loud my eyeballs rattled.
‘Can you understand it?’ I asked Grover.
‘Oh yeah,’ he said. ‘I can understand it.’
‘What’s it saying?’
‘I don’t think humans have a four-letter word that translates, exactly.’
I took the big stick out of my backpack – a bed post I’d broken off Crusty’s Safari Deluxe floor
model. I held it up, and tried to channel happy dog thoughts towards Cerberus – Alpo commercials,
cute little puppies, fire hydrants. I tried to smile like I wasn’t about to die.
‘Hey, Big Fella,’ I called up. ‘I bet they don’t play with you much.’
‘GROWWWLLLL!’
‘Good boy,’ I said weakly.
I waved the stick. The dog’s middle head followed the movement. The other two heads trained
their eyes on me, completely ignoring the spirits. I had Cerberus’s undivided attention. I wasn’t sure
that was a good thing.
‘Fetch!’ I threw the stick into the gloom, a good solid throw. I heard it go ker˜sploosh in the River
Styx.
Cerberus glared at me, unimpressed. His eyes were baleful and cold.
So much for the plan.
Cerberus was now making a new kind of growl, deeper down in his three throats.
‘Um,’ Grover said. ‘Percy?’
‘Yeah?’
‘I just thought you’d want to know.’
‘Yeah?’
‘Cerberus? He’s saying we’ve got ten seconds to pray to the god of our choice. After that… well…
he’s hungry.’
‘Wait!’ Annabeth said. She started rifling through her pack.
Uh-oh, I thought.
‘Five seconds,’ Grover said. ‘Do we run now?’
Annabeth produced a red rubber ball the size of a grapefruit. It was labelled: WATERLAND,
DENVER, CO. Before I could stop her, she raised the ball and marched straight up to Cerberus.
She shouted, ‘See the ball? You want the ball, Cerberus? Sit!’
Cerberus looked as stunned as we were.
All three of his heads cocked sideways. Six nostrils dilated.
‘Sit!’ Annabeth called again.
I was sure that any moment she would become the worlds largest Milkbone dog biscuit.
But instead, Cerberus licked his three sets of lips, shifted on his haunches, and sat, immediately
crushing a dozen spirits who’d been passing underneath him in the EZ DEATH line. The spirits made
muffled hisses as they dissipated, like the air let out of tyres.
Annabeth said, ‘Good boy!’
She threw Cerberus the ball.
He caught it in his middle mouth. It was barely big enough for him to chew, and the other heads
started snapping at the middle, trying to get the new toy.
‘Drop it!’ Annabeth ordered.
Cerberus’s heads stopped fighting and looked at her. The ball was wedged between two of his
teeth like a tiny piece of gum. He made a loud, scary whimper, then dropped the ball, now slimy and
bitten nearly in half, at Annabeth’s feet.
‘Good boy.’ She picked up the ball, ignoring the monster spit all over it.
She turned towards us. ‘Go now. EZ DEATH line – it’s faster.’
I said, ‘But –’
‘Now!’ She ordered, in the same tone she was using on the dog.
Grover and I inched forward warily.
Cerberus started to growl.
‘Stay!’ Annabeth ordered the monster. ‘If you want the ball, stay!’
Cerberus whimpered, but he stayed where he was.
‘What about you?’ I asked Annabeth as we passed her.
‘I know what I’m doing, Percy,’ she muttered. At least, I’m pretty sure…’
Grover and I walked between the monster’s legs.
Please, Annabeth, I prayed. Don’t tell him to sit again.
We made it through. Cerberus wasn’t any less scary-looking from the back.
Annabeth said, ‘Good dog!’
She held up the tattered red ball, and probably came to the same conclusion I did – if she rewarded
Cerberus, there’d be nothing left for another trick.
She threw the ball anyway. The monster’s left mouth immediately snatched it up, only to be
attacked by the middle head while the right head moaned in protest.
While the monster was distracted, Annabeth walked briskly under its belly and joined us at the
metal detector.
‘How did you do that?’ I asked her, amazed.
‘Obedience school,’ she said breathlessly, and I was surprised to see there were tears in her eyes.
‘When I was little, at my dad’s house, we had a Dobermann…’
‘Never mind that,’ Grover said, tugging at my shirt. ‘Come on!’
We were about to bolt through the EZ DEATH line when Cerberus moaned pitifully from all three
mouths. Annabeth stopped.
She turned to face the dog, which had done a one-eighty to look at us.
Cerberus panted expectantly, the tiny red ball in pieces in a puddle of drool at its feet.
‘Good boy,’ Annabeth said, but her voice sounded melancholy and uncertain.
The monster’s heads turned sideways, as if worried about her.
‘I’ll bring you another ball soon,’ Annabeth promised faintly. ‘Would you like that?’
The monster whimpered. I didn’t need to speak dog to know Cerberus was still waiting for the
ball.
‘Good dog. I’ll come visit you soon. I – I promise.’ Annabeth turned to us. ‘Let’s go.’
Grover and I pushed through the metal detector, which immediately screamed and set off flashing
red lights. ‘Unauthorized possessions! Magic detected!’
Cerberus started to bark.
We burst through the EZ DEATH gate, which started even more alarms blaring, and raced into the
Underworld.
A few minutes later, we were hiding, out of breath, in the rotten trunk of an immense black tree as
security ghouls scuttled past, yelling for backup from the Furies.
Grover murmured, ‘Well, Percy, what have we learned today?’
‘That three-headed dogs prefer red rubber balls over sticks?’
‘No,’ Grover told me. ‘We’ve learned that your plans really, really bite!’
I wasn’t sure about that. I thought maybe Annabeth and I had both had the right idea. Even here in
the Underworld, everybody – even monsters – needed a little attention once in a while.
I thought about that as we waited for the ghouls to pass. I pretended not to see Annabeth wipe a tear
from her cheek as she listened to the mournful keening of Cerberus in the distance, longing for his new
friend.
19 We Find Out the Truth, Sort of
Imagine the largest concert crowd you’ve ever seen, a football field packed with a million fans.
Now imagine a field a million times that big, packed with people, and imagine the electricity has
gone out, and there is no noise, no light, no beach ball bouncing around over the crowd. Something
tragic has happened backstage. Whispering masses of people are just milling around in the shadows,
waiting for a concert that will never start.
If you can picture that, you have a pretty good idea what the Fields of Asphodel looked like. The
black grass had been trampled by aeons of dead feet. A warm, moist wind blew like the breath of a
swamp. Black trees – Grover told me they were poplars – grew in clumps here and there.
The cavern ceiling was so high above us it might’ve been a bank of storm clouds, except for the
stalactites, which glowed faint grey and looked wickedly pointed. I tried not to imagine they’d fall on
us at any moment, but dotted around the fields were several that had fallen and impaled themselves in
the black grass. I guess the dead didn’t have to worry about little hazards like being speared by
stalactites the size of booster rockets.
Annabeth, Grover and I tried to blend into the crowd, keeping an eye out for security ghouls. I
couldn’t help looking for familiar faces among the spirits of Asphodel, but the dead are hard to look
at. Their faces shimmer. They all look slightly angry or confused. They will come up to you and
speak, but their voices sound like chatter, like bats twittering. Once they realize you can’t understand
them, they frown and move away.
The dead aren’t scary. They’re just sad.
We crept along, following the line of new arrivals that snaked from the main gates towards a
black-tented pavilion with a banner that read:
JUDGMENTS FOR ELYSIUM AND ETERNAL DAMNATION
Welcome, Newly Deceased!
Out the back of the tent came two much smaller lines.
To the left, spirits flanked by security ghouls were marched down a rocky path towards the Fields
of Punishment, which glowed and smoked in the distance, a vast, cracked wasteland with rivers of
lava and minefields and miles of barbed wire separating the different torture areas. Even from far
away, I could see people being chased by hellhounds, burned at the stake, forced to run naked through
cactus patches or listen to opera music. I could just make out a tiny hill, with the ant-size figure of
Sisyphus struggling to move his boulder to the top. And I saw worse tortures, too – things I don’t want
to describe.
The line coming from the right side of the judgment pavilion was much better. This one led down
towards a small valley surrounded by walls – a gated community, which seemed to be the only happy
part of the Underworld. Beyond the security gate were neighbourhoods of beautiful houses from every
time period in history, Roman villas and mediaeval castles and Victorian mansions. Silver and gold
flowers bloomed on the lawns. The grass rippled in rainbow colours. I could hear laughter and smell
barbecue cooking.
Elysium.
In the middle of that valley was a glittering blue lake, with three small islands like a vacation
resort in the Bahamas. The Isles of the Blest, for people who had chosen to be reborn three times, and
three times achieved Elysium. Immediately I knew that’s where I wanted to go when I died.
‘That’s what it’s all about,’ Annabeth said, like she was reading my thoughts. ‘That’s the place for
heroes.’
But I thought of how few people there were in Elysium, how tiny it was compared to Asphodel or
even Punishment. So few people did good in their lives. It was depressing.
We left the judgment pavilion and moved deeper into Asphodel. It got darker. The colours faded
from our clothes. The crowds of chattering spirits began to thin.
After a few miles of walking, we began to hear a familiar screech in the distance. Looming on the
horizon was a palace of glittering black obsidian. Above the parapets swirled three dark batlike
creatures: the Furies. I got the feeling they were waiting for us.
‘I suppose it’s too late to turn back,’ Grover said wistfully.
‘We’ll be okay.’ I tried to sound confident.
‘Maybe we should search some of the other places first,’ Grover suggested. ‘Like, Elysium, for
instance…’
‘Come on, goat boy.’ Annabeth grabbed his arm.
Grover yelped. His trainers sprouted wings and his legs shot forward, pulling him away from
Annabeth. He landed flat on his back in the grass.
‘Grover,’ Annabeth chided. ‘Stop messing around.’
‘But I didn’t –’
He yelped again. His shoes were flapping like crazy now. They levitated off the ground and started
dragging him away from us.
‘Maia!’ he yelled, but the magic word seemed to have no effect. ‘Maia, already! 911! Help!’
I got over being stunned and made a grab for Grover’s hand, but too late. He was picking up speed,
skidding downhill like a bobsled.
We ran after him.
Annabeth shouted, ‘Untie the shoes!’
It was a smart idea, but I guess it’s not so easy when your shoes are pulling you along feet-first at
full speed. Grover tried to sit up, but he couldn’t get close to the laces.
We kept after him, trying to keep him in sight as he zipped between the legs of spirits who
chattered at him in annoyance.
I was sure Grover was going to barrel straight through the gates of Hades’s palace, but his shoes
veered sharply to the right and dragged him in the opposite direction.
The slope got steeper. Grover picked up speed. Annabeth and I had to sprint to keep up. The
cavern walls narrowed on either side, and I realized we’d entered some kind of side tunnel. No black
grass or trees now, just rock underfoot, and the dim light of the stalactites above.
‘Grover!’ I yelled, my voice echoing. ‘Hold on to something!’
‘What?’ he yelled back.
He was grabbing at gravel, but there was nothing big enough to slow him down.
The tunnel got darker and colder. The hairs on my arms bristled. It smelled evil down here. It made
me think of things I shouldn’t even know about – blood spilled on an ancient stone altar, the foul
breath of a murderer.
Then I saw what was ahead of us, and I stopped dead in my tracks.
The tunnel widened into a huge dark cavern, and in the middle was a chasm the size of a city block.
Grover was sliding straight towards the edge.
‘Come on, Percy!’ Annabeth yelled, tugging at my wrist.
‘But that’s –’
‘I know!’ she shouted. ‘The place you described in your dream! But Grover’s going to fall if we
don’t catch him.’ She was right, of course. Grover’s predicament got me moving again.
He was yelling, clawing at the ground, but the winged shoes kept dragging him towards the pit, and
it didn’t look like we could possibly get to him in time.
What saved him were his hooves.
The flying sneakers had always been a loose fit on him, and finally Grover hit a big rock and the
left shoe came flying off. It sped into the darkness, down into the chasm. The right shoe kept tugging
him along, but not as fast. Grover was able to slow himself down by grabbing on to the big rock and
using it like an anchor.
He was three metres from the edge of the pit when we caught him and hauled him back up the
slope. The other winged shoe tugged itself off, circled around us angrily and kicked our heads in
protest before flying off into the chasm to join its twin.
We all collapsed, exhausted, on the obsidian gravel. My limbs felt like lead. Even my backpack
seemed heavier, as if somebody had filled it with rocks.
Grover was scratched up pretty bad. His hands were bleeding. His eyes had gone slit-pupilled,
goat style, the way they did whenever he was terrified.
‘I don’t know how…’ he panted. ‘I didn’t…’
‘Wait,’ I said. ‘Listen.’
I heard something – a deep whisper in the darkness.
Another few seconds, and Annabeth said, ‘Percy, this place –’
‘Shh.’ I stood.
The sound was getting louder, a muttering, evil voice from far, far below us. Coming from the pit.
Grover sat up. ‘Wh – what’s that noise?’
Annabeth heard it too, now. I could see it in her eyes. ‘Tartarus. The entrance to Tartarus.’
I uncapped Anaklusmos.
The bronze sword expanded, gleaming in the darkness, and the evil voice seemed to falter, just for
a moment, before resuming its chant.
I could almost make out words now, ancient, ancient words, older even than Greek. As if…
‘Magic,’ I said.
‘We have to get out of here,’ Annabeth said.
Together, we dragged Grover to his hooves and started back up the tunnel. My legs wouldn’t move
fast enough. My backpack weighed me down. The voice got louder and angrier behind us, and we
broke into a run.
Not a moment too soon.
A cold blast of wind pulled at our backs, as if the entire pit were inhaling. For a terrifying moment,
I lost ground, my feet slipping in the gravel. If we’d been any closer to the edge, we would’ve been
sucked in.
We kept struggling forward, and finally reached the top of the tunnel, where the cavern widened out
into the Fields of Asphodel. The wind died. A wail of outrage echoed from deep in the tunnel.
Something was not happy we’d got away.
‘What was that?’ Grover panted, when we’d collapsed in the relative safety of a black poplar
grove. ‘One of Hades’s pets?’
Annabeth and I looked at each other. I could tell she was nursing an idea, probably the same one
she’d got during the taxi ride to L.A., but she was too scared to share it. That was enough to terrify
me.
I capped my sword, put the pen back in my pocket. ‘Let’s keep going.’ I looked at Grover. ‘Can
you walk?’
He swallowed. ‘Yeah, sure. I never liked those shoes, anyway.’
He tried to sound brave about it, but he was trembling as badly as Annabeth and I were. Whatever
was in that pit was nobody’s pet. It was unspeakably old and powerful. Even Echidna hadn’t given
me that feeling. I was almost relieved to turn my back on that tunnel and head towards the palace of
Hades.
Almost.
The Furies circled the parapets, high in the gloom. The outer walls of the fortress glittered black, and
the two-storey-tall bronze gates stood wide open.
Up close, I saw that the engravings on the gates were scenes of death. Some were from modern
times – an atomic bomb exploding over a city, a trench filled with gas mask-wearing soldiers, a line
of African famine victims waiting with empty bowls – but all of them looked as if they’d been etched
into the bronze thousands of years ago. I wondered if I was looking at prophecies that had come true.
Inside the courtyard was the strangest garden I’d ever seen. Multicoloured mushrooms, poisonous
shrubs and weird luminous plants grew without sunlight. Precious jewels made up for the lack of
flowers, piles of rubies as big as my fist, clumps of raw diamonds. Standing here and there like
frozen party guests were Medusa’s garden statues, petrified children, satyrs and centaurs, all smiling
grotesquely.
In the centre of the garden was an orchard of pomegranate trees, their orange blooms neon bright in
the dark. ‘The garden of Persephone,’ Annabeth said. ‘Keep walking.’
I understood why she wanted to move on. The tart smell of those pomegranates was almost
overwhelming. I had a sudden desire to eat them, but then I remembered the story of Persephone. One
bite of Underworld food, and we would never be able to leave. I pulled Grover away to keep him
from picking a big juicy one.
We walked up the steps of the palace, between black columns, through a black marble portico and
into the house of Hades. The entry hall had a polished bronze floor, which seemed to boil in the
reflected torchlight. There was no ceiling, just the cavern roof, far above. I guess they never had to
worry about rain down here.
Every side doorway was guarded by a skeleton in military gear. Some wore Greek armour, some
British redcoat uniforms, some camouflage with tattered American flags on the shoulders. They
carried spears or muskets or M-16s. None of them bothered us, but their hollow eye sockets followed
us as we walked down the hall, towards the big set of doors at the opposite end.
Two U.S. Marine skeletons guarded the doors. They grinned down at us, rocket-propelled grenade
launchers held across their chests.
‘You know,’ Grover mumbled, ‘I bet Hades doesn’t have trouble with door-to-door salesmen.’
My backpack weighed a ton now. I couldn’t figure out why. I wanted to open it, check to see if I
had some-how picked up a stray bowling ball, but this wasn’t the time.
‘Well, guys,’ I said. ‘I suppose we should… knock?’
A hot wind blew down the corridor, and the doors swung open. The guards stepped aside.
‘I guess that means “entrez,”,’ Annabeth said.
The room inside looked just like in my dream, except this time the throne of Hades was occupied.
He was the third god I’d met, but the first who really struck me as godlike.
He was at least three metres tall, for one thing, and dressed in black silk robes and a crown of
braided gold. His skin was albino white, his hair shoulder-length and jet black. He wasn’t bulked up
like Ares, but he radiated power. He lounged on his throne of fused human bones, looking lithe,
graceful and dangerous as a panther.
I immediately felt like he should be giving the orders. He knew more than I did. He should be my
master. Then I told myself to snap out of it.
Hades’s aura was affecting me, just as Ares’s had. The Lord of the Dead resembled pictures I’d
seen of Adolph Hitler, or Napoleon, or the terrorist leaders who direct suicide bombers. Hades had
the same intense eyes, the same kind of mesmerizing, evil charisma.
‘You are brave to come here, Son of Poseidon,’ he said in an oily voice. ‘After what you have
done to me, very brave indeed. Or perhaps you are simply very foolish.’
Numbness crept into my joints, tempting me to lie down and just take a little nap at Hades’s feet.
Curl up here and sleep forever.
I fought the feeling and stepped forward. I knew what I had to say. ‘Lord and Uncle, I come with
two requests.’
Hades raised an eyebrow. When he sat forward in his throne, shadowy faces appeared in the folds
of his black robes, faces of torment, as if the garment were stitched of trapped souls from the Fields
of Punishment, trying to get out. The ADHD part of me wondered, off-task, whether the rest of his
clothes were made the same way. What horrible things would you have to do in your life to get woven
into Hades’s underwear?
‘Only two requests?’ Hades said. ‘Arrogant child. As if you have not already taken enough. Speak,
then. It amuses me not to strike you dead yet.’
I swallowed. This was going about as well as I’d feared.
I glanced at the empty, smaller throne next to Hades’s. It was shaped like a black flower, gilded
with gold. I wished Queen Persephone were here. I recalled something in the myths about how she
could calm her husband’s moods. But it was summer. Of course, Persephone would be above in the
world of light with her mother, the goddess of agriculture Demeter. Her visits, not the tilt of the earth,
created the seasons.
Annabeth cleared her throat. Her finger prodded me in the back.
‘Lord Hades,’ I said. ‘Look, sir, there can’t be a war among the gods. It would be… bad.’
‘Really bad,’ Grover added helpfully.
‘Return Zeus’s master bolt to me,’ I said. ‘Please, sir. Let me carry it to Olympus.’
Hades’s eyes grew dangerously bright. ‘You dare keep up this pretence, after what you have
done?’
I glanced back at my friends. They looked as confused as I was.
‘Um… Uncle,’ I said. ‘You keep saying “after what I’ve done”. What exactly have I done?’
The throne room shook with a tremor so strong they probably felt it upstairs in Los Angeles. Debris
fell from the cavern ceiling. Doors burst open all along the walls, and skeletal warriors marched in,
hundreds of them, from every time period and nation in Western civilization. They lined the perimeter
of the room, blocking the exits.
Hades bellowed, ‘Do you think I want war, godling?’
I wanted to say, Well, these guys don’t look like peace activists. But I thought that might be a
dangerous answer.
‘You are the Lord of the Dead,’ I said carefully. ‘A war would expand your kingdom, right?’
‘A typical thing for my brothers to say! Do you think I need more subjects? Did you not see the
sprawl of Asphodel?’
‘Well…’
‘Have you any idea how much my kingdom has swollen in this past century alone, how many
subdivisions I’ve had to open?’
I opened my mouth to respond, but Hades was on a roll now.
‘More security ghouls,’ he moaned. ‘Traffic problems at the judgment pavilion. Double overtime
for the staff. I used to be a rich god, Percy Jackson. I control all the precious metals under the earth.
But my expenses!’
‘Charon wants a pay raise,’ I blurted, just remembering the fact. As soon as I said it, I wished I
could sew up my mouth.
‘Don’t get me started on Charon!’ Hades yelled. ‘He’s been impossible ever since he discovered
Italian suits! Problems everywhere, and I’ve got to handle all of them personally. The commute time
alone from the palace to the gates is enough to drive me insane! And the dead just keep arriving. No,
godling. I need no help getting subjects! I did not ask for this war.’
‘But you took Zeus’s master bolt.’
‘Lies!’ More rumbling. Hades rose from his throne, towering to the height of a football goalpost.
‘Your father may fool Zeus, boy, but I am not so stupid. I see his plan.’
‘His plan?’
‘You were the thief on the winter solstice,’ he said. ‘Your father thought to keep you his little
secret. He directed you into the throne room on Olympus. You took the master bolt and my helmet.
Had I not sent my Fury to discover you at Yancy Academy, Poseidon might have succeeded in hiding
his scheme to start a war. But now you have been forced into the open. You will be exposed as
Poseidon’s thief, and I will have my helmet back!’
‘But…’ Annabeth spoke. I could tell her mind was going a million miles an hour. ‘Lord Hades,
your helmet of darkness is missing, too?’
‘Do not play innocent with me, girl. You and the satyr have been helping this hero – coming here to
threaten me in Poseidon’s name, no doubt – to bring me an ultimatum. Does Poseidon think I can be
blackmailed into supporting him?’
‘No!’ I said. ‘Poseidon didn’t – I didn’t –’
‘I have said nothing of the helmet’s disappearance,’ Hades snarled, ‘because I had no illusions that
anyone on Olympus would offer me the slightest justice, the slightest help. I can ill afford for word to
get out that my most powerful weapon of fear is missing. So I searched for you myself, and when it
was clear you were coming to me to deliver your threat, I did not try to stop you.’
‘You didn’t try to stop us? But –’
‘Return my helmet now, or I will stop death,’ Hades threatened. ‘That is my counter-proposal. I
will open the earth and have the dead pour back into the world. I will make your lands a nightmare.
And you, Percy Jackson – your skeleton will lead my army out of Hades.’
The skeletal soldiers all took one step forward, making their weapons ready.
At that point, I probably should have been terrified. The strange thing was, I felt offended. Nothing
gets me angrier than being accused of something I didn’t do. I’ve had a lot of experience with that.
‘You’re as bad as Zeus,’ I said. ‘You think I stole from you? That’s why you sent the Furies after
me?’
‘Of course,’ Hades said.
‘And the other monsters?’
Hades curled his lip. ‘I had nothing to do with them. I wanted no quick death for you – I wanted
you brought before me alive so you might face every torture in the Fields of Punishment. Why do you
think I let you enter my kingdom so easily?’
‘Easily?’
‘Return my property!’
‘But I don’t have your helmet. I came for the master bolt.’
‘Which you already possess!’ Hades shouted. ‘You came here with it. little fool, thinking you could
you threaten me!’
‘But I didn’t!’
‘Open your pack, then.’
A horrible feeling struck me. The weight in my backpack, like a bowling ball. It couldn’t be…
I slung it off my shoulder and unzipped it. Inside was a sixty-centimetre-long metal cylinder, spiked
on both ends, humming with energy.
‘Percy,’ Annabeth said. ‘How –’
‘I – I don’t know. I don’t understand.’
‘You heroes are always the same,’ Hades said. ‘Your pride makes you foolish, thinking you could
bring such a weapon before me. I did not ask for Zeus’s master bolt, but since it is here, you will
yield it to me. I am sure it will make an excellent bargaining tool. And now… my helmet. Where is
it?’
I was speechless. I had no helmet. I had no idea how the master bolt had got into my backpack. I
wanted to think Hades was pulling some kind of trick. Hades was the bad guy. But suddenly the world
turned sideways. I realized I’d been played with. Zeus, Poseidon and Hades had been set at each
other’s throats by someone else. The master bolt had been in the backpack, and I’d got the backpack
from…
‘Lord Hades, wait,’ I said. ‘This is all a mistake.’
‘A mistake?’ Hades roared.
The skeletons aimed their weapons. From high above, there was a fluttering of leathery wings, and
the three Furies swooped down to perch on the back of their master’s throne. The one with Mrs
Dodds’s face grinned at me eagerly and flicked her whip.
‘There is no mistake,’ Hades said. ‘I know why you have come – I know the real reason you
brought the bolt. You came to bargain for her.’
Hades loosed a ball of gold fire from his palm. It exploded on the steps in front of me, and there
was my mother, frozen in a shower of gold, just as she was at the moment when the Minotaur began to
squeeze her to death.
I couldn’t speak. I reached out to touch her, but the light was as hot as a bonfire.
‘Yes,’ Hades said with satisfaction. ‘I took her. I knew, Percy Jackson, that you would come to
bargain with me eventually. Return my helmet, and perhaps I will let her go. She is not dead, you
know. Not yet. But if you displease me, that will change.’
I thought about the pearls in my pocket. Maybe they could get me out of this. If I could just get my
mom free…
‘Ah, the pearls,’ Hades said, and my blood froze. ‘Yes, my brother and his little tricks. Bring them
forth, Percy Jackson.’
My hand moved against my will and brought out the pearls.
‘Only three,’ Hades said. ‘What a shame. You do realize each only protects a single person. Try to
take your mother, then, little godling. And which of your friends will you leave behind to spend
eternity with me? Go on. Choose. Or give me the backpack and accept my terms.’
I looked at Annabeth and Grover. Their faces were grim.
‘We were tricked,’ I told them. ‘Set up.’
‘Yes, but why?’ Annabeth asked. ‘And the voice in the pit –’
‘I don’t know yet,’ I said. ‘But I intend to ask.’
‘Decide, boy!’ Hades yelled.
‘Percy.’ Grover put his hand on my shoulder. ‘You can’t give him the bolt.’
‘I know that.’
‘Leave me here,’ he said. ‘Use the third pearl on your mom.’
‘No!’
‘I’m a satyr,’ Grover said. ‘We don’t have souls like humans do. He can torture me until I die, but
he won’t get me forever. I’ll just be reincarnated as a flower or something. It’s the best way.’
‘No.’ Annabeth drew her bronze knife. ‘You two go on. Grover, you have to protect Percy. You
have to get your searcher’s licence and start your quest for Pan. Get his mom out of here. I’ll cover
you. I plan to go down fighting.’
‘No way,’ Grover said. ‘I’m staying behind.’
‘Think again, goat boy,’ Annabeth said.
‘Stop it, both of you!’ I felt like my heart was being ripped in two. They had both been with me
through so much. I remembered Grover dive-bombing Medusa in the statue garden, and Annabeth
saving us from Cerberus; we’d survived Hephaestus’s Waterland ride, the St Louis Arch, the Lotus
Casino. I had spent thousands of miles worried that I’d be betrayed by a friend, but these friends
would never do that. They had done nothing but save me, over and over, and now they wanted to
sacrifice their lives for my mom.
‘I know what to do,’ I said. ‘Take these.’
I handed them each a pearl.
Annabeth said, ‘But, Percy…’
I turned and faced my mother. I desperately wanted to sacrifice myself and use the last pearl on her,
but I knew what she would say. She would never allow it. I had to get the bolt back to Olympus and
tell Zeus the truth. I had to stop the war. She would never forgive me if I saved her instead. I thought
about the prophecy made at Half-Blood Hill what seemed like a million years ago. You will fail to
save what matters most in the end.
‘I’m sorry,’ I told her. ‘I’ll be back. I’ll find a way.’
The smug look on Hades’s face faded. He said, ‘Godling…?’
‘I’ll find your helmet, Uncle,’ I told him. ‘I’ll return it. Remember about Charon’s pay raise.’
‘Do not defy me –’
‘And it wouldn’t hurt to play with Cerberus once in a while. He likes red rubber balls.’
‘Percy Jackson, you will not –’
I shouted, ‘Now, guys!’
We smashed the pearls at our feet. For a scary moment, nothing happened.
Hades yelled, ‘Destroy them!’
The army of skeletons rushed forward, swords out, guns clicking to full automatic. The Furies
lunged, their whips bursting into flame.
Just as the skeletons opened fire, the pearl exploded at my feet with a burst of green light and a gust
of fresh sea wind. I was encased in a milky white sphere, which was starting to float off the ground.
Annabeth and Grover were right behind me. Spears and bullets sparked harmlessly off the pearl
bubbles as we floated up. Hades yelled with such rage, the entire fortress shook and I knew it was not
going to be a peaceful night in L.A.
‘Look up!’ Grover yelled. ‘We’re going to crash!’
Sure enough, we were racing right towards the stalactites, which I figured would pop our bubbles
and skewer us.
‘How do you control these things?’ Annabeth shouted.
‘I don’t think you do!’ I shouted back.
We screamed as the bubbles slammed into the ceiling and… Darkness.
Were we dead?
No, I could still feel the racing sensation. We were going up, right through solid rock as easily as
an air bubble in water. That was the power of the pearls, I realized – What belongs to the sea will
always return to the sea.
For a few moments, I couldn’t see anything outside the smooth walls of my sphere, then my pearl
broke through on the ocean floor. The two other milky spheres, Annabeth and Grover, kept pace with
me as we soared upward through the water. And ker-blam!
We exploded on the surface, in the middle of Los Angeles Bay, knocking a surfer off his board with
an indignant, ‘Dude!’
I grabbed Grover and hauled him over to a lifebuoy. I caught Annabeth and dragged her over too. A
curious shark was circling us, a great white about three metres long.
I said, ‘Beat it.’
The shark turned and raced away.
The surfer screamed something about bad mushrooms and paddled away from us as fast as he
could.
Somehow, I knew what time it was: early morning, June 21, the day of the summer solstice.
In the distance, Los Angeles was on fire, plumes of smoke rising from neighbourhoods all over the
city. There had been an earthquake, all right, and it was Hades’s fault. He was probably sending an
army of the dead after me right now.
But at the moment, the Underworld wasn’t my biggest problem.
I had to get to shore. I had to get Zeus’s thunderbolt back to Olympus. Most of all, I had to have a
serious conversation with the god who’d tricked me.
20 I Battle My Jerk Relative
A Coast Guard boat picked us up, but they were too busy to keep us for long, or to wonder how three
kids in street clothes had got out into the middle of the bay. There was a disaster to mop up. Their
radios were jammed with distress calls.
They dropped us off at the Santa Monica pier with towels around our shoulders and water bottles
that said I’M A JUNIOR COAST GUARD! and sped off to save more people.
Our clothes were sopping wet, even mine. When the Coast Guard boat had appeared, I’d silently
prayed they wouldn’t pick me out of the water and find me perfectly dry, which might’ve raised some
eyebrows. So I’d willed myself to get soaked. Sure enough, my usual waterproof magic had
abandoned me. I was also barefoot, because I’d given my shoes to Grover. Better the Coast Guard
wonder why one of us was barefoot than wonder why one of us had hooves.
After reaching dry land, we stumbled down the beach, watching the city burn against a beautiful
sunrise. I felt as if I’d just come back from the dead – which I had. My backpack was heavy with
Zeus’s master bolt. My heart was even heavier from seeing my mother.
‘I don’t believe it,’ Annabeth said. ‘We went all that way –’
‘It was a trick,’ I said. A strategy worthy of Athena.’
‘Hey,’ she warned.
‘You get it, don’t you?’
She dropped her eyes, her anger fading. ‘Yeah. I get it.’
‘Well, I don’t!’ Grover complained. ‘Would somebody –’
‘Percy…’ Annabeth said. ‘I’m sorry about your mother. I’m so sorry….’
I pretended not to hear her. If I talked about my mother, I was going to start crying like a little kid.
‘The prophecy was right,’ I said. ‘“You shall go west and face the god who has turned.’ But it
wasn’t Hades. Hades didn’t want war between the Big Three. Someone else pulled off the theft.
Someone stole Zeus’s master bolt, and Hades’s helmet, and framed me because I’m Poseidon’s kid.
Poseidon will get blamed by both sides. By sundown today, there will be a three-way war. And I’ll
have caused it.’
Grover shook his head, mystified. ‘But who would be that sneaky? Who would want war that bad?’
I stopped in my tracks, looking down the beach. ‘Gee, let me think.’
There he was, waiting for us, in his black leather duster and his sunglasses, an aluminum baseball
bat propped on his shoulder. His motorcycle rumbled beside him, its headlight turning the sand red.
‘Hey, kid,’ Ares said, seeming genuinely pleased to see me. ‘You were supposed to die.’
‘You tricked me,’ I said. ‘You stole the helmet and the master bolt.’
Ares grinned. ‘Well, now, I didn’t steal them personally. Gods taking each other’s symbols of
power – that’s a big no-no. But you’re not the only hero in the world who can run errands.’
‘Who did you use? Clarisse? She was there at the winter solstice.’
The idea seemed to amuse him. ‘Doesn’t matter. The point is, kid, you’re impeding the war effort.
See, you’ve got to die in the Underworld. Then Old Seaweed will be mad at Hades for killing you.
Corpse Breath will have Zeus’s master bolt, so Zeus’ll be mad at him. And Hades is still looking for
this…’
From his pocket he took out a ski cap – the kind bank robbers wear – and placed it between the
handlebars of his bike. Immediately, the cap transformed into an elaborate bronze war helmet.
‘The helmet of darkness,’ Grover gasped.
‘Exactly,’ Ares said. ‘Now where was I? Oh yeah, Hades will be mad at both Zeus and Poseidon,
because he doesn’t know who took this. Pretty soon, we got a nice little three-way slugfest going.’
‘But they’re your family!’ Annabeth protested.
Ares shrugged. ‘Best kind of war. Always the bloodiest. Nothing like watching your relatives fight,
I always say.’
‘You gave me the backpack in Denver,’ I said. ‘The master bolt was in there the whole time.’
‘Yes and no,’ Ares said. ‘It’s probably too complicated for your little mortal brain to follow, but
the backpack is the master bolt’s sheath, just morphed a bit. The bolt is connected to it, sort of like
that sword you got, kid. It always returns to your pocket, right?’
I wasn’t sure how Ares knew about that, but I guess a god of war had to make it his business to
know about weapons.
‘Anyway,’ Ares continued, ‘I tinkered with the magic a bit, so the bolt would only return to the
sheath once you reached the Underworld. You get close to Hades… Bingo, you got mail. If you died
along the way – no loss. I still had the weapon.’
‘But why not just keep the master bolt for yourself?’ I said. ‘Why send it to Hades?’
Ares got a twitch in his jaw. For a moment, it was almost as if he were listening to another voice,
deep inside his head. ‘Why didn’t I… yeah… with that kind of fire-power…’
He held the trance for one second… two seconds…
I exchanged nervous looks with Annabeth.
Ares’s face cleared. ‘I didn’t want the trouble. Better to have you caught redhanded, holding the
thing.’
‘You’re lying,’ I said. ‘Sending the bolt to the Underworld wasn’t your idea, was it?’
‘Of course it was!’ Smoke drifted up from his sunglasses, as if they were about to catch fire.
‘You didn’t order the theft,’ I guessed. ‘Someone else sent a hero to steal the two items. Then,
when Zeus sent you to hunt him down, you caught the thief. But you didn’t turn him over to Zeus.
Something convinced you to let him go. You kept the items until another hero could come along and
complete the delivery. That thing in the pit is ordering you around.’
‘I am the god of war! I take orders from no one! I don’t have dreams!’
I hesitated. ‘Who said anything about dreams?’
Ares looked agitated, but he tried to cover it with a smirk.
‘Let’s get back to the problem at hand, kid. You’re alive. I can’t have you taking that bolt to
Olympus. You just might get those hardheaded idiots to listen to you. So I’ve got to kill you. Nothing
personal.’
He snapped his fingers. The sand exploded at his feet and out charged a wild boar, even larger and
uglier than the one whose head hung above the door of cabin seven at Camp Half-Blood. The beast
pawed the sand, glaring at me with beady eyes as it lowered its razor-sharp tusks and waited for the
command to kill.
I stepped into the surf. ‘Fight me yourself, Ares.’
He laughed, but I heard a little edge to his laughter… an uneasiness. ‘You’ve only got one talent,
kid, running away. You ran from the Chimera. You ran from the Underworld. You don’t have what it
takes.’
‘Scared?’
‘In your adolescent dreams.’ But his sunglasses were starting to melt from the heat of his eyes. ‘No
direct involvement. Sorry, kid. You’re not at my level.’
Annabeth said, ‘Percy, run!’
The giant boar charged.
But I was done running from monsters. Or Hades, or Ares, or anybody.
As the boar rushed me, I uncapped my pen and sidestepped. Riptide appeared in my hands. I
slashed upward. The boar’s severed right tusk fell at my feet, while the disoriented animal charged
into the sea.
I shouted, ‘Wave!’
Immediately, a wave surged up from nowhere and engulfed the boar, wrapping around it like a
blanket. The beast squealed once in terror. Then it was gone, swallowed by the sea.
I turned back to Ares. ‘Are you going to fight me now?’ I asked. ‘Or are you going to hide behind
another pet pig?’
Ares’s face was purple with rage. ‘Watch it, kid. I could turn you into –’
‘A cockroach,’ I said. ‘Or a tapeworm. Yeah, I’m sure. That’d save you from getting your godly
hide whipped, wouldn’t it?’
Flames danced along the top of his glasses. ‘Oh, man, you are really asking to be smashed into a
grease spot.’
‘If I lose, turn me into anything you want. Take the bolt. If I win, the helmet and the bolt are mine
and you have to go away.’
Ares sneered.
He swung the baseball bat off his shoulder. ‘How would you like to get smashed: classic or
modern?’
I showed him my sword.
‘That’s cool, dead boy,’ he said. ‘Classic it is.’ The baseball bat changed into a huge, two-handed
sword. The hilt was a large silver skull with a ruby in its mouth.
‘Percy,’ Annabeth said. ‘Don’t do this. He’s a god.’
‘He’s a coward,’ I told her.
She swallowed. ‘Wear this, at least. For luck.’
She took off her necklace, with her five years’ worth of camp beads and the ring from her father,
and tied it around my neck.
‘Reconciliation,’ she said. ‘Athena and Poseidon together.’
My face felt a little warm, but I managed a smile. ‘Thanks.’
‘And take this,’ Grover said. He handed me a flattened tin can that he’d probably been saving in his
pocket for a thousand miles. ‘The satyrs stand behind you.’
‘Grover… I don’t know what to say.’
He patted me on the shoulder. I stuffed the tin can in my back pocket.
‘You all done saying goodbye?’ Ares came towards me, his black leather duster trailing behind
him, his sword glinting like fire in the sunrise. ‘I’ve been fighting for eternity, kid. My strength is
unlimited and I cannot die. What have you got?’
A smaller ego, I thought, but I said nothing. I kept my feet in the surf, backing into the water up to
my ankles. I thought back to what Annabeth had said at the Denver diner, so long ago: Ares has
strength. That’s all he has. Even strength has to how to wisdom sometimes.
He cleaved downward at my head, but I wasn’t there.
My body thought for me. The water seemed to push me into the air and I catapulted over him,
slashing as I came down. But Ares was just as quick. He twisted, and the strike that should’ve caught
him directly in the spine was deflected off the end of his sword hilt.
He grinned. ‘Not bad, not bad.’
He slashed again and I was forced to jump onto dry land. I tried to sidestep, to get back to the
water, but Ares seemed to know what I wanted. He outmanoeuvred me, pressing so hard I had to put
all my concentration on not getting sliced into pieces. I kept backing away from the surf. I couldn’t
find any openings to attack. His sword had a reach a metre longer than Anaklusmos.
Get in close, Luke had told me once, back in our sword class. When you’ve got the shorter blade,
get in close.
I stepped inside with a thrust, but Ares was waiting for that. He knocked my blade out of my hands
and kicked me in the chest. I went airborne – fifteen, maybe twenty metres. I would’ve broken my
back if I hadn’t crashed into the soft sand of a dune.
‘Percy!’ Annabeth yelled. ‘Cops!’
I was seeing double. My chest felt like it had just been hit with a battering ram, but I managed to get
to my feet.
I couldn’t look away from Ares for fear he’d slice me in half, but out of the corner of my eye I saw
red lights flashing on the shoreline boulevard. Car doors were slamming.
‘There, officer!’ somebody yelled. ‘See?’
A gruff cop voice: ‘Looks like that kid on TV… what the heck…’
‘That guy’s armed,’ another cop said. ‘Call for backup.’
I rolled to one side as Ares’s blade slashed the sand.
I ran for my sword, scooped it up, and launched a swipe at Ares’s face, only to find my blade
deflected again.
Ares seemed to know exactly what I was going to do the moment before I did it.
I stepped back towards the surf, forcing him to follow.
‘Admit it, kid,’ Ares said. ‘You got no hope. I’m just toying with you.’
My senses were working overtime. I now understood what Annabeth had said about ADHD
keeping you alive in battle. I was wide awake, noticing every little detail.
I could see where Ares was tensing. I could tell which way he would strike. At the same time, I
was aware of Annabeth and Grover, ten metres to my left. I saw a second cop car pulling up, siren
wailing. Spectators, people who had been wandering the streets because of the earthquake, were
starting to gather. Among the crowd, I thought I saw a few who were walking with the strange, trotting
gait of disguised satyrs. There were shimmering forms of spirits, too, as if the dead had risen from
Hades to watch the battle. I heard the flap of leathery wings circling somewhere above.
More sirens.
I stepped further into the water, but Ares was fast. The tip of his blade ripped my sleeve and
grazed my forearm.
A police voice on a megaphone said, ‘Drop the guns! Set them on the ground. Now!’
Guns?
I looked at Ares’s weapon, and it seemed to be flickering; sometimes it looked like a shotgun,
sometimes a two-handed sword. I didn’t know what the humans were seeing in my hands, but I was
pretty sure it wouldn’t make them like me.
Ares turned to glare at our spectators, which gave me a moment to breathe. There were five police
cars now, and a line of officers crouching behind them, pistols trained on us.
‘This is a private matter!’ Ares bellowed. ‘Be gone!’
He swept his hand, and a wall of red flame rolled across the patrol cars. The police barely had
time to dive for cover before their vehicles exploded. The crowd behind them scattered, screaming.
Ares roared with laughter. ‘Now, little hero. Let’s add you to the barbecue.’
He slashed. I deflected his blade. I got close enough to strike, tried to fake him out with a feint, but
my blow was knocked aside. The waves were hitting me in the back now. Ares was up to his thighs,
wading in after me.
I felt the rhythm of the sea, the waves growing larger as the tide rolled in, and suddenly I had an
idea. Little waves, I thought. And the water behind me seemed to recede. I was holding back the tide
by force of will, but tension was building, like carbonation behind a cork.
Ares came towards me, grinning confidently. I lowered my blade, as if I were too exhausted to go
on. Wait for it, I told the sea. The pressure now was almost lifting me off my feet. Ares raised his
sword. I released the tide and jumped, rocketing straight over Ares on a wave.
A two-metre wall of water smashed him full in the face, leaving him cursing and sputtering with a
mouth full of seaweed. I landed behind him with a splash and feinted towards his head, as I’d done
before. He turned in time to raise his sword, but this time he was disoriented, he didn’t anticipate the
trick. I changed direction, lunged to the side and stabbed Riptide straight down into the water, sending
the point through the god’s heel.
The roar that followed made Hades’s earthquake look like a minor event. The very sea was blasted
back from Ares, leaving a wet circle of sand fifteen metres wide.
Ichor, the golden blood of the gods, flowed from a gash in the war god’s boot. The expression on
his face was beyond hatred. It was pain, shock, complete disbelief that he’d been wounded.
He limped towards me, muttering ancient Greek curses.
Something stopped him.
It was as if a cloud covered the sun, but worse. Light faded. Sound and colour drained away. A
cold, heavy presence passed over the beach, slowing time, dropping the temperature to freezing and
making me feel like life was hopeless, fighting was useless.
The darkness lifted.
Ares looked stunned.
Police cars were burning behind us. The crowd of spectators had fled. Annabeth and Grover stood
on the beach, in shock, watching the water flood back around Ares’s feet, his glowing golden ichor
dissipating in the tide.
Ares lowered his sword.
‘You have made an enemy, godling,’ he told me. ‘You have sealed your fate. Every time you raise
your blade in battle, every time you hope for success, you will feel my curse. Beware, Perseus
Jackson. Beware.’
His body began to glow.
‘Percy!’ Annabeth shouted. ‘Don’t watch!’
I turned away as the god Ares revealed his true immortal form. I somehow knew that if I looked, I
would disintegrate into ashes.
The light died.
I looked back. Ares was gone. The tide rolled out to reveal Hades’s bronze helmet of darkness. I
picked it up and walked towards my friends.
But before I got there, I heard the flapping of leathery wings. Three evil-looking grandmothers with
lace hats and fiery whips drifted down from the sky and landed in front of me.
The middle Fury, the one who had been Mrs Dodds, stepped forward. Her fangs were bared, but
for once she didn’t look threatening. She looked more disappointed, as if she’d been planning to have
me for supper, but had decided I might give her indigestion.
‘We saw the whole thing,’ she hissed. ‘So… it truly was not you?’
I tossed her the helmet, which she caught in surprise.
‘Return that to Lord Hades,’ I said. ‘Tell him the truth. Tell him to call off the war.’
She hesitated, then ran a forked tongue over her green, leathery lips. ‘Live well, Percy Jackson.
Become a true hero. Because if you do not, if you ever come into my clutches again…’
She cackled, savouring the idea. Then she and her sisters rose on their bat’s wings, fluttered into
the smoke-filled sky and disappeared.
I joined Grover and Annabeth, who were staring at me in amazement.
‘Percy…’ Grover said. ‘That was so incredibly…’
‘Terrifying,’ said Annabeth.
‘Cool!’ Grover corrected.
I didn’t feel terrified. I certainly didn’t feel cool. I was tired and sore and completely drained of
energy.
‘Did you guys feel that… whatever it was?’ I asked.
They both nodded uneasily.
‘Must’ve been the Furies overhead,’ Grover said.
But I wasn’t so sure. Something had stopped Ares from killing me, and whatever could do that was
a lot stronger than the Furies.
I looked at Annabeth, and an understanding passed between us. I knew now what was in that pit,
what had spoken from the entrance of Tartarus.
I reclaimed my backpack from Grover and looked inside. The master bolt was still there. Such a
small thing to almost cause World War III.
‘We have to get back to New York,’ I said. ‘By tonight.’
‘That’s impossible,’ Annabeth said, ‘unless we –’
‘Fly,’ I agreed.
She stared at me. ‘Fly, like, in an aeroplane, which you were warned never to do lest Zeus strike
you out of the sky, and carrying a weapon that has more destructive power than a nuclear bomb?’
‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Pretty much exactly like that. Come on.’
21 I Settle My Tab
It’s funny how humans can wrap their mind around things and fit them into their version of reality.
Chiron had told me that long ago. As usual, I didn’t appreciate his wisdom until much later.
According to the L.A. news, the explosion at the Santa Monica beach had been caused when a
crazy kidnapper fired a shotgun at a police car. He accidentally hit a gas main that had ruptured
during the earthquake.
This crazy kidnapper (a.k.a. Ares) was the same man who had abducted me and two other
adolescents in New York and brought us across country on a ten-day odyssey of terror.
Poor little Percy Jackson wasn’t an international criminal, after all. He’d caused a commotion on
that Greyhound bus in New Jersey trying to get away from his captor (and afterwards, witnesses
would even swear they had seen the leather-clad man on the bus – ‘Why didn’t I remember him
before?’) The crazy man had caused the explosion in the St Louis Arch. After all, no kid could’ve
done that. A concerned waitress in Denver had seen the man threatening his abductees outside her
diner, gotten a friend to take a photo and notified the police. Finally, brave Percy Jackson (I was
beginning to like this kid) had stolen a gun from his captor in Los Angeles and battled him shotgun-torifle on the beach. Police had arrived just in time. But in the spectacular explosion, five police cars
had been destroyed and the captor had fled. No fatalities had occurred. Percy Jackson and his two
friends were safely in police custody.
The reporters fed us this whole story. We just nodded and acted tearful and exhausted (which
wasn’t hard), and played victimized kids for the cameras.
‘All I want,’ I said, choking back my tears, ‘is to see my loving stepfather again. Every time I saw
him on TV, calling me a delinquent punk, I knew… somehow… we would be okay. And I know he’ll
want to reward each and every person in this beautiful city of Los Angeles with a free major
appliance from his store. Here’s the phone number.’ The police and reporters were so moved that
they passed around the hat and raised money for three tickets on the next plane to New York.
I knew there was no choice but to fly. I hoped Zeus would cut me some slack, considering the
circumstances. But it was still hard to force myself on board the flight.
Takeoff was a nightmare. Every spot of turbulence was scarier than a Greek monster. I didn’t
unclench my hands from the armrests until we touched down safely at La Guardia. The local press
was waiting for us outside security, but we managed to evade them thanks to Annabeth, who lured
them away in her invisible Yankees cap, shouting, ‘They’re over by the frozen yogurt! Come on!’,
then rejoined us at baggage claim.
We split up at the taxi stand. I told Annabeth and Grover to get back to Half-Blood Hill and let
Chiron know what had happened. They protested, and it was hard to let them go after all we’d been
through, but I knew I had to do this last part of the quest by myself. If things went wrong, if the gods
didn’t believe me… I wanted Annabeth and Grover to survive to tell Chiron the truth.
I hopped in a taxi and headed into Manhattan.
Thirty minutes later, I walked into the lobby of the Empire State Building.
I must have looked like a homeless kid, with my tattered clothes and my scraped-up face. I hadn’t
slept in at least twenty-four hours.
I went up to the guard at the front desk and said, ‘Six hundredth floor.’
He was reading a huge book with a picture of a wizard on the front. I wasn’t much into fantasy, but
the book must’ve been good, because the guard took a while to look up. ‘No such floor, kiddo.’
‘I need an audience with Zeus.’
He gave me a vacant smile. ‘Sorry?’
‘You heard me.’
I was about to decide this guy was just a regular mortal, and I’d better run for it before he called
the straitjacket patrol, when he said, ‘No appointment, no audience, kiddo. Lord Zeus doesn’t see
anyone unannounced.’
‘Oh, I think he’ll make an exception.’ I slipped off my backpack and unzipped the top.
The guard looked inside at the metal cylinder, not getting what it was for a few seconds. Then his
face went pale. ‘That isn’t…’
‘Yes, it is,’ I promised. ‘You want me take it out and –’
‘No! No!’ He scrambled out of his seat, fumbled around his desk for a key card, then handed it to
me. ‘Insert this in the security slot. Make sure nobody else is in the elevator with you.’
I did as he told me. As soon as the elevator doors closed, I slipped the key into the slot. The card
disappeared and a new button appeared on the console, a red one that said 600.
I pressed it and waited, and waited.
Muzak played. ‘Raindrops keep falling on my head…’
Finally, ding. The doors slid open. I stepped out and almost had a heart attack.
I was standing on a narrow stone walkway in the middle of the air. Below me was Manhattan, from
the height of an aeroplane. In front of me, white marble steps wound up the spine of a cloud, into the
sky. My eyes followed the stairway to its end, where my brain just could not accept what I saw.
Look again, my brain said.
We’re looking, my eyes insisted. It’s really there.
From the top of the clouds rose the decapitated peak of a mountain, its summit covered with snow.
Clinging to the mountainside were dozens of multilevelled palaces – a city of mansions – all with
white-columned porticos, gilded terraces and bronze braziers glowing with a thousand fires. Roads
wound crazily up to the peak, where the largest palace gleamed against the snow. Precariously
perched gardens bloomed with olive trees and rosebushes. I could make out an open-air market filled
with colourful tents, a stone amphitheatre built on one side of the mountain, a hippodrome and a
coliseum on the other. It was an Ancient Greek city, except it wasn’t in ruins. It was new, and clean,
and colourful, the way Athens must’ve looked twenty-five hundred years ago.
This place can’t be here, I told myself. The tip of a mountain hanging over New York City like a
billion-ton asteroid? How could something like that be anchored above the Empire State Building, in
plain sight of millions of people, and not get noticed?
But here it was. And here I was.
My trip through Olympus was a daze. I passed some giggling wood nymphs who threw olives at me
from their garden. Hawkers in the market offered to sell me ambrosia-on-a-stick, and a new shield,
and a genuine glitter-weave replica of the Golden Fleece, as seen on Hephaestus-TV The nine muses
were tuning their instruments for a concert in the park while a small crowd gathered – satyrs and
naiads and a bunch of good-looking teenagers who might’ve been minor gods and goddesses. Nobody
seemed worried about an impending civil war. In fact, everybody seemed in a festive mood. Several
of them turned to watch me pass, and whispered to themselves.
I climbed the main road, towards the big palace at the peak. It was a reverse copy of the palace in
the Underworld. There, everything had been black and bronze. Here, everything glittered white and
silver.
I realized Hades must’ve built his palace to resemble this one. He wasn’t welcomed in Olympus
except on winter solstice, so he’d built his own Olympus underground. Despite my bad experience
with him, I felt a little sorry for the guy. To be banished from this place seemed really unfair. It would
make anybody bitter.
Steps led up to a central courtyard. Past that, the throne room.
Room really isn’t the right word. The place made Grand Central Station look like a broom closet.
Massive columns rose to a domed ceiling, which was gilded with moving constellations.
Twelve thrones, built for beings the size of Hades, were arranged in an inverted U, just like the
cabins at Camp Half-Blood. An enormous fire crackled in the central hearth pit. The thrones were
empty except for two at the end: the head throne on the right, and the one to its immediate left. I didn’t
have to be told who the two gods were that were sitting there, waiting for me to approach. I came
towards them, my legs trembling.
The gods were in giant human form, as Hades had been, but I could barely look at them without
feeling a tingle, as if my body were starting to burn. Zeus, the Lord of the Gods, wore a dark blue,
pinstriped suit. He sat on a simple throne of solid platinum. He had a well-trimmed beard, marbled
grey and black like a storm cloud. His face was proud and handsome and grim, his eyes rainy grey.
As I got nearer to him, the air crackled and smelled of ozone.
The god sitting next to him was his brother, without a doubt, but he was dressed very differently.
He reminded me of a beachcomber from Key West. He wore leather sandals, khaki Bermuda shorts,
and a Tommy Bahama shirt with coconuts and parrots all over it. His skin was deeply tanned, his
hands scarred like an old-time fisherman’s. His hair was black, like mine. His face had that same
brooding look that had always got me branded a rebel. But his eyes, sea-green like mine, were
surrounded by sun-crinkles that told me he smiled a lot, too.
His throne was a deep-sea fisherman’s chair. It was the simple swivelling kind, with a black
leather seat and a built-in holster for a fishing pole. Instead of a pole, the holster held a bronze
trident, flickering with green light around the tips.
The gods weren’t moving or speaking, but there was tension in the air, as if they’d just finished an
argument.
I approached the fisherman’s throne and knelt at his feet. ‘Father.’ I dared not look up. My heart
was racing. I could feel the energy emanating from the two gods. If I said the wrong thing, I had no
doubt they could blast me into dust.
To my left, Zeus spoke. ‘Should you not address the master of this house first, boy?’
I kept my head down, and waited.
‘Peace, brother,’ Poseidon finally said. His voice stirred my oldest memories: that warm glow I
remembered as a baby, the sensation of this god’s hand on my forehead. ‘The boy defers to his father.
This is only right.’
‘You still claim him then?’ Zeus asked menacingly. ‘You claim this child whom you sired against
our sacred oath?’
‘I have admitted my wrongdoing,’ Poseidon said. ‘Now I would hear him speak.’
Wrongdoing.
A lump welled up in my throat. Was that all I was? A wrongdoing? The result of a god’s mistake?
‘I have spared him once already,’ Zeus grumbled. ‘Daring to fly through my domain… pah! I
should have blasted him out of the sky for his impudence.’
‘And risk destroying your own master bolt?’ Poseidon asked calmly. ‘Let us hear him out, brother.’
Zeus grumbled some more. ‘I shall listen,’ he decided. ‘Then I shall make up my mind whether or
not to cast this boy down from Olympus.’
‘Perseus,’ Poseidon said. ‘Look at me.’
I did, and I wasn’t sure what I saw in his face. There was no clear sign of love or approval.
Nothing to encourage me. It was like looking at the ocean: some days, you could tell what mood it
was in. Most days, though, it was unreadable, mysterious.
I got the feeling Poseidon really didn’t know what to think of me. He didn’t know whether he was
happy to have me as a son or not. In a strange way, I was glad that Poseidon was so distant. If he’d
tried to apologize, or told me he loved me, or even smiled, it would’ve felt fake. Like a human dad,
making some lame excuse for not being around. I could live with that. After all, I wasn’t sure about
him yet, either.
‘Address Lord Zeus, boy,’ Poseidon told me. ‘Tell him your story.’
So I told Zeus everything, just as it had happened. I took out the metal cylinder, which began
sparking in the Sky Gods presence, and laid it at his feet.
There was a long silence, broken only by the crackle of the hearth fire.
Zeus opened his palm. The lightning bolt flew into it. As he closed his fist, the metallic points
flared with electricity, until he was holding what looked more like the classic thunderbolt, a fivemetre javelin of arcing, hissing energy that made the hairs on my scalp rise.
‘I sense the boy tells the truth,’ Zeus muttered. ‘But that Ares would do such a thing… it is most
unlike him.’
‘He is proud and impulsive,’ Poseidon said. ‘It runs in the family.’
‘Lord?’ I asked.
They both said, ‘Yes?’
‘Ares didn’t act alone. Someone else – something else – came up with the idea.’
I described my dreams, and the feeling I’d had on the beach, that momentary breath of evil that had
seemed to stop the world and made Ares back off from killing me.
‘In the dreams,’ I said, ‘the voice told me to bring the bolt to the Underworld. Ares hinted that he’d
been having dreams, too. I think he was being used, just as I was, to start a war.’
‘You are accusing Hades, after all?’ Zeus asked.
‘No,’ I said. ‘I mean, Lord Zeus, I’ve been in the presence of Hades. This feeling on the beach was
different. It was the same thing I felt when I got close to that pit. That was the entrance to Tartarus,
wasn’t it? Something powerful and evil is stirring down there… something even older than the gods.’
Poseidon and Zeus looked at each other. They had a quick, intense discussion in Ancient Greek. I
only caught one word. Father.
Poseidon made some kind of suggestion, but Zeus cut him off. Poseidon tried to argue. Zeus held up
his hand angrily. ‘We will speak of this no more,’ Zeus said. ‘I must go personally to purify this
thunderbolt in the waters of Lemnos, to remove the human taint from its metal.’
He rose and looked at me. His expression softened just a fraction of a degree. ‘You have done me a
service, boy. Few heroes could have accomplished as much.’
‘I had help, sir,’ I said. ‘Grover Underwood and Annabeth Chase –’
‘To show you my thanks, I shall spare your life. I do not trust you, Perseus Jackson. I do not like
what your arrival means for the future of Olympus. But for the sake of peace in the family, I shall let
you live.’
‘Um… thank you, sir.’
‘Do not presume to fly again. Do not let me find you here when I return. Otherwise you shall taste
this bolt. And it shall be your last sensation.’
Thunder shook the palace. With a blinding flash of lightning, Zeus was gone.
I was alone in the throne room with my father.
‘Your uncle,’ Poseidon sighed, ‘has always had a flair for dramatic exits. I think he would’ve done
well as the god of theatre.’
An uncomfortable silence.
‘Sir,’ I said, ‘what was in that pit?’
Poseidon regarded me. ‘Have you not guessed?’
‘Kronos,’ I said. ‘The king of the Titans.’
Even in the throne room of Olympus, far away from Tartarus, the name Kronos darkened the room,
made the hearth fire seem not quite so warm on my back.
Poseidon gripped his trident. ‘In the First War, Percy, Zeus cut our father, Kronos, into a thousand
pieces, just as Kronos had done to his own father, Ouranos. Zeus cast Kronos’s remains into the
darkest pit of Tartarus. The Titan army was scattered, their mountain fortress on Etna destroyed, their
monstrous allies driven to the furthest corners of the earth. And yet Titans cannot die, any more than
we gods can. Whatever is left of Kronos is still alive in some hideous way, still conscious in his
eternal pain, still hungering for power.’
‘He’s healing,’ I said. ‘He’s coming back.’
Poseidon shook his head. ‘From time to time, over the aeons, Kronos has stirred. He enters men’s
nightmares and breathes evil thoughts. He wakens restless monsters from the depths. But to suggest he
could rise from the pit is another thing.’
‘That’s what he intends, Father. That’s what he said.’
Poseidon was silent for a long time.
‘Lord Zeus has closed discussion on this matter. He will not allow talk of Kronos. You have
completed your quest, child. That is all you need to do.’
‘But –’ I stopped myself. Arguing would do no good. It would very possibly anger the only god
who I had on my side. ‘As… as you wish, Father.’
A faint smile played on his lips. ‘Obedience does not come naturally to you, does it?’
‘No… sir.’
‘I must take some blame for that, I suppose. The sea does not like to be restrained.’ He rose to his
full height and took up his trident. Then he shimmered and became the size of a regular man, standing
directly in front of me. ‘You must go, child. But first, know that your mother has returned.’
I stared at him, completely stunned. ‘My mother?’
‘You will find her at home. Hades sent her when you recovered his helmet. Even the Lord of Death
pays his debts.’
My heart was pounding. I couldn’t believe it. ‘Do you… would you…’
I wanted to ask if Poseidon would come with me to see her, but then I realized that was ridiculous.
I imagined loading the God of the Sea into a taxi and taking him to the Upper East Side. If he’d
wanted to see my mom all these years, he would have. And there was Smelly Gabe to think about.
Poseidon’s eyes took on a little sadness. ‘When you return home, Percy, you must make an
important choice. You will find a package waiting in your room.’
‘A package?’
‘You will understand when you see it. No one can choose your path, Percy. You must decide.’
I nodded, though I didn’t know what he meant.
‘Your mother is a queen among women,’ Poseidon said wistfully. ‘I had not met such a mortal
woman in a thousand years. Still… I am sorry you were born, child. I have brought you a hero’s fate,
and a hero’s fate is never happy. It is never anything but tragic.’
I tried not to feel hurt. Here was my own dad, telling me he was sorry I’d been born. ‘I don’t mind,
Father.’
‘Not yet, perhaps,’ he said. ‘Not yet. But it was an unforgivable mistake on my part.’
‘I’ll leave you then.’ I bowed awkwardly. ‘I – I won’t bother you again.’
I was five steps away when he called, ‘Perseus.’
I turned.
There was a different light in his eyes, a fiery kind of pride. ‘You did well, Perseus. Do not
misunderstand me. Whatever else you do, know that you are mine. You are a true son of the Sea God.’
As I walked back through the city of the gods, conversations stopped. The muses paused their
concert. People and satyrs and naiads all turned towards me, their faces filled with respect and
gratitude and, as I passed, they knelt, as if I were some kind of hero.
***
Fifteen minutes later, still in a trance, I was back on the streets of Manhattan.
I caught a taxi to my mom’s apartment, rang the doorbell, and there she was – my beautiful mother,
smelling of peppermint and licorice, the weariness and worry evaporating from her face as soon as
she saw me.
‘Percy! Oh, thank goodness. Oh, my baby.’
She crushed the air right out of me. We stood in the hallway as she cried and ran her hands through
my hair.
I’ll admit it – my eyes were a little misty, too. I was shaking, I was so relieved to see her.
She told me she’d just appeared at the apartment that morning, scaring Gabe half out of his wits.
She didn’t remember anything since the Minotaur, and couldn’t believe it when Gabe told her I was a
wanted criminal, travelling across the country, blowing up national monuments. She’d been going out
of her mind with worry all day because she hadn’t heard the news. Gabe had forced her to go into
work, saying she had a month’s salary to make up and she’d better get started.
I swallowed back my anger and told her my own story. I tried to make it sound less scary than it
had been, but that wasn’t easy. I was just getting to the fight with Ares when Gabe’s voice interrupted
from the living room. ‘Hey, Sally! That meat loaf done yet or what?’
She closed her eyes. ‘He isn’t going to be happy to see you, Percy. The store got half a million
phone calls today from Los Angeles… something about free appliances.’
‘Oh, yeah. About that…’
She managed a weak smile. ‘Just don’t make him angrier, all right? Come on.’
In the month I’d been gone, the apartment had turned into Gabeland. Garbage was ankle-deep on the
carpet. The sofa had been reupholstered in beer cans. Dirty socks and underwear hung off the
lampshades.
Gabe and three of his big goony friends were playing poker at the table.
When Gabe saw me, his cigar dropped out of his mouth. His face got redder than lava. ‘You got
nerve coming here, you little punk. I thought the police –’
‘He’s not a fugitive after all,’ my mom interjected. ‘Isn’t that wonderful, Gabe?’
Gabe looked back and forth between us. He didn’t seem to think my homecoming was so
wonderful.
‘Bad enough I had to give back your life insurance money, Sally,’ he growled. ‘Get me the phone.
I’ll call the cops.’
‘Gabe, no!’
He raised his eyebrows. ‘Did you just say “no”? You think I’m gonna put up with this punk again? I
can still press charges against him for ruining my Camaro.’
‘But –’
He raised his hand, and my mother flinched.
For the first time, I realized something. Gabe had hit my mother. I didn’t know when, or how much.
But I was sure he’d done it. Maybe it had been going on for years, when I wasn’t around.
A balloon of anger started expanding in my chest. I came towards Gabe, instinctively taking my pen
out of my pocket.
He just laughed. ‘What, punk? You gonna write on me? You touch me, and you are going to jail
forever, you understand?’
‘Hey, Gabe,’ his friend Eddie interrupted. ‘He’s just a kid.’
Gabe looked at him resentfully and mimicked in a falsetto voice: ‘Just a kid!’
His other friends laughed like idiots.
‘I’ll be nice to you, punk.’ Gabe showed me his tobacco-stained teeth. ‘I’ll give you five minutes to
get your stuff and clear out. After that, I call the police.’
‘Gabe!’ my mother pleaded.
‘He ran away,’ Gabe told her. ‘Let him stay gone.’
I was itching to uncap Riptide but, even if I did, the blade wouldn’t hurt humans. And Gabe, by the
loosest definition, was human.
My mother took my arm. ‘Please, Percy. Come on. We’ll go to your room.’
I let her pull me away, my hands still trembling with rage.
My room had been completely filled with Gabe’s junk. There were stacks of used car batteries, a
rotting bouquet of sympathy flowers with a card from somebody who’d seen his Barbara Walters
interview.
‘Gabe is just upset, honey,’ my mother told me. ‘I’ll talk to him later. I’m sure it will work out.’
‘Mom, it’ll never work out. Not as long as Gabe’s here.’
She wrung her hands nervously. ‘I can… I’ll take you to work with me for the rest of the summer.
In the autumn, maybe there’s another boarding school –’
‘Mom.’
She lowered her eyes. ‘I’m trying, Percy. I just… I need some time.’
A package appeared on my bed. At least, I could’ve sworn it hadn’t been there a moment before.
It was a battered cardboard box about the right size to fit a basketball. The address on the mailing
slip was in my own handwriting:
The Gods
Mount Olympus
600th Floor,
Empire State Building
New York, NY
With best wishes,
PERCY JACKSON
Over the top in black marker, in a man’s clear bold print, was the address of our apartment, and the
words: RETURN TO SENDER.
Suddenly I understood what Poseidon had told me on Olympus.
A package. A decision.
Whatever else you do, know that you are mine. You are a true son of the Sea God.
I looked at my mother. ‘Mom, do you want Gabe gone?’
‘Percy, it isn’t that simple. I –’
‘Mom, just tell me. That jerk has been hitting you. Do you want him gone or not?’
She hesitated, then nodded almost imperceptibly. ‘Yes, Percy. I do. And I’m trying to get up my
courage to tell him. But you can’t do this for me. You can’t solve my problems.’
I looked at the box.
I could solve her problem. I wanted to slice that package open, plop it on the poker table, and take
out what was inside. I could start my very own statue garden, right there in the living room.
That’s what a Greek hero would do in the stories, I thought. That’s what Gabe deserves.
But a hero’s story always ended in tragedy. Poseidon had told me that.
I remembered the Underworld. I thought about Gabe’s spirit drifting forever in the Fields of
Asphodel, or condemned to some hideous torture behind the barbed wire of the Fields of Punishment
– an eternal poker game, sitting up to his waist in boiling oil listening to opera music. Did I have the
right to send someone there? Even Gabe?
A month ago, I wouldn’t have hesitated. Now…
‘I can do it,’ I told my mom. ‘One look inside this box, and he’ll never bother you again.’
She glanced at the package, and seemed to understand immediately. ‘No, Percy,’ she said, stepping
away. ‘You can’t.’
‘Poseidon called you a queen,’ I told her. ‘He said he hadn’t met a woman like you in a thousand
years.’
Her cheeks flushed. ‘Percy –’
‘You deserve better than this, Mom. You should go to college, get your degree. You can write your
novel, meet a nice guy maybe, live in a nice house. You don’t need to protect me any more by staying
with Gabe. Let me get rid of him.’
She wiped a tear off her cheek. ‘You sound so much like your father,’ she said. ‘He offered to stop
the tide for me once. He offered to build me a palace at the bottom of the sea. He thought he could
solve all my problems with a wave of his hand.’
‘What’s wrong with that?’
Her multicoloured eyes seemed to search inside me. ‘I think you know, Percy. I think you’re enough
like me to understand. If my life is going to mean anything, I have to live it myself. I can’t let a god
take care of me… or my son. I have to… find the courage on my own. Your quest has reminded me of
that.’
We listened to the sound of poker chips, swearing and ESPN from the living-room television.
‘I’ll leave the box,’ I said. ‘If he threatens you…’
She looked pale, but she nodded. ‘Where will you go, Percy?’
‘Half-Blood Hill.’
‘For the summer… or forever?’
‘I guess that depends.’
We locked eyes, and I sensed that we had an agreement. We would see how things stood at the end
of the summer.
She kissed my forehead. ‘You’ll be a hero, Percy. You’ll be the greatest of all.’
I took one last look around my bedroom. I had a feeling I’d never see it again. Then I walked with
my mother to the front door.
‘Leaving so soon, punk?’ Gabe called after me. ‘Good riddance.’
I had one last twinge of doubt. How could I turn down the perfect chance to take revenge on him? I
was leaving here without saving my mother.
‘Hey, Sally,’ he yelled. ‘What about that meat loaf, huh?’
A steely look of anger flared in my mother’s eyes, and I thought, just maybe, I was leaving her in
good hands after all. Her own.
‘The meat loaf is coming right up, dear,’ she told Gabe. ‘Meat loaf surprise.’
She looked at me, and winked.
The last thing I saw as the door swung closed was my mother staring at Gabe, as if she were
contemplating how he would look as a garden statue.
22 The Prophecy Comes True
We were the first heroes to return alive to Half-Blood Hill since Luke, so of course everybody
treated us as if we’d won some reality TV contest. According to camp tradition, we wore laurel
wreaths to a big feast prepared in our honour, then led a procession down to the bonfire, where we
got to burn the burial shrouds our cabins had made for us in our absence.
Annabeth’s shroud was so beautiful – grey silk with embroidered owls – I told her it seemed a
shame not to bury her in it. She punched me and told me to shut up.
Being the son of Poseidon, I didn’t have any cabin mates, so the Ares cabin had volunteered to
make my shroud. They’d taken an old bedsheet and painted smiley faces with X’ed-out eyes around
the border, and the word LOSER painted really big in the middle.
It was fun to burn.
As Apollo’s cabin led the sing-along and passed out toasted marshmallows, I was surrounded by
my old Hermes cabinmates, Annabeth’s friends from Athena and Grover’s satyr buddies, who were
admiring the brand new searcher’s licence he’d received from the Council of Cloven Elders. The
council had called Grover’s performance on the quest ‘Brave to the point of indigestion. Horns-andwhiskers above anything we have seen in the past.’
The only ones not in a party mood were Clarisse and her cabinmates, whose poisonous looks told
me they’d never forgive me for disgracing their dad.
That was okay with me.
Even Dionysus’s welcome-home speech wasn’t enough to dampen my spirits. ‘Yes, yes, so the
little brat didn’t get himself killed and now hell have an even bigger head. Well, huzzah for that. In
other announcements, there will be no canoe races this Saturday…’
I moved back into cabin three, but it didn’t feel so lonely any more. I had my friends to train with
during the day. At night, I lay awake and listened to the sea, knowing my father was out there. Maybe
he wasn’t quite sure about me yet, maybe he hadn’t even wanted me born, but he was watching. And
so far, he was proud of what I’d done.
As for my mother, she had a chance at a new life. Her letter arrived a week after I got back to
camp. She told me Gabe had left mysteriously – disappeared off the face of the planet, in fact. She’d
reported him missing to the police, but she had a funny feeling they would never find him.
On a completely unrelated subject, she’d sold her first life-size concrete sculpture, entitled The
Poker Player, to a collector, through an art gallery in Soho. She’d got so much money for it, she’d put
a deposit down on a new apartment and made a payment on her first term’s tuition at NYU. The Soho
gallery was clamouring for more of her work, which they called ‘a huge step forward in super-ugly
neorealism’.
But don’t worry, my mom wrote. I’m done with sculpture. I’ve disposed of that box of tools you
left me. It’s time for me to turn to writing.
At the bottom, she wrote a P.S.: Percy, I’ve found a good private school here in the city. I’ve put
a deposit down to hold you a spot, in case you want to enrol for seventh grade. You could live at
home. But if you want to go year-round at Half-Blood Hill, I’ll understand.
I folded the note carefully and set it on my bedside table. Every night before I went to sleep, I read
it again, and I tried to decide how to answer her.
On the Fourth of July, the whole camp gathered at the beach for a fireworks display by cabin nine.
Being Hephaestus’s kids, they weren’t going to settle for a few lame red-white-and-blue explosions.
They’d anchored a barge offshore and loaded it with rockets the size of Patriot missiles. According to
Annabeth, who’d seen the show before, the blasts would be sequenced so tightly they’d look like
frames of animation across the sky. The finale was supposed to be a couple of thirty-metre-tall
Spartan warriors who would crackle to life above the ocean, fight a battle, then explode into a
million colours.
As Annabeth and I were spreading a picnic blanket, Grover showed up to tell us goodbye. He was
dressed in his usual jeans and T-shirt and trainers, but in the last few weeks he’d started to look
older, almost high-school age. His goatee had got thicker. He’d put on weight. His horns had grown a
few centimetres at least, so he now had to wear his rasta cap all the time to pass as human.
‘I’m off,’ he said. ‘I just came to say… well, you know.’
I tried to feel happy for him. After all, it wasn’t every day a satyr got permission to go look for the
great god Pan. But it was hard saying goodbye. I’d only known Grover a year, yet he was my oldest
friend.
Annabeth gave him a hug. She told him to keep his fake feet on.
I asked him where he was going to search first.
‘Kind of a secret,’ he said, looking embarrassed. ‘I wish you could come with me, guys, but
humans and Pan…’
‘We understand,’ Annabeth said. ‘You got enough tin cans for the trip?’
‘Yeah.’
‘And you remembered your reed pipes?’
‘Jeez, Annabeth,’ he grumbled. ‘You’re like an old mama goat.’
But he didn’t really sound annoyed.
He gripped his walking stick and slung a backpack over his shoulder. He looked like any hitchhiker
you might see on an American highway – nothing like the little runty boy I used to defend from bullies
at Yancy Academy.
‘Well,’ he said, ‘wish me luck.’
He gave Annabeth another hug. He clapped me on the shoulder, then headed back through the
dunes.
Fireworks exploded to life overhead: Hercules killing the Nemean lion, Artemis chasing the boar,
George Washington (who, by the way, was a son of Athena) crossing the Delaware.
‘Hey, Grover,’ I called.
He turned at the edge of the woods.
‘Wherever you’re going – I hope they make good enchiladas.’
Grover grinned, and then he was gone, the trees closing around him.
‘We’ll see him again,’ Annabeth said.
I tried to believe it. The fact that no searcher had ever come back in two thousand years… well, I
decided not to think about that. Grover would be the first. He had to be.
July passed.
I spent my days devising new strategies for capture-the-flag and making alliances with the other
cabins to keep the banner out of Ares’s hands. I got to the top of the climbing wall for the first time
without getting scorched by lava.
From time to time, I’d walk past the Big House, glance up at the attic windows and think about the
Oracle. I tried to convince myself that its prophecy had come to completion.
You shall go west, and face the god who has turned.
Been there, done that – even though the traitor god had turned out to be Ares rather than Hades.
You shall find what was stolen, and see it safely returned.
Check. One master bolt delivered. One helmet of darkness back on Hades’s oily head.
You shall be betrayed by one who calls you a friend.
This line still bothered me. Ares had pretended to be my friend, then betrayed me. That must be
what the Oracle meant….
And you shall fail to save what matters most, in the end.
I had failed to save my mom, but only because I’d let her save herself, and I knew that was the right
thing.
So why was I still uneasy?
The last night of the summer session came all too quickly.
The campers had one last meal together. We burned part of our dinner for the gods. At the bonfire,
the senior counsellors awarded the end-of-summer beads.
I got my own leather necklace, and when I saw the bead for my first summer, I was glad the
firelight covered my blushing. The design was pitch black, with a sea-green trident shimmering in the
centre.
‘The choice was unanimous,’ Luke announced. ‘This bead commemorates the first son of the Sea
God at this camp, and the quest he undertook into the darkest part of the Underworld to stop a war!’
The entire camp got to their feet and cheered. Even Ares’s cabin felt obliged to stand. Athena’s
cabin steered Annabeth to the front so she could share in the applause.
I’m not sure I’d ever felt as happy or sad as I did at that moment. I’d finally found a family, people
who cared about me and thought I’d done something right. And in the morning, most of them would be
leaving for the year.
***
The next morning, I found a form letter on my bedside table.
I knew Dionysus must’ve filled it out, because he stubbornly insisted on getting my name wrong:
Dear Peter Johnson,
If you intend to stay at Camp Half-Blood yearround, you must inform the Big House by noon
today. If you do not announce your intentions,
we will assume you have vacated your cabin or
died a horrible death. Cleaning harpies will begin
work at sundown. They will be authorized to eat
any unregistered campers. All personal articles
left behind will be incinerated in the lava pit.
Have a nice day!
Mr D (Dionysus)
Camp Director, Olympian Council no.12
That’s another thing about ADHD. Deadlines just aren’t real to me until I’m staring one in the face.
Summer was over, and I still hadn’t answered my mother, or the camp, about whether I’d be staying.
Now I had only a few hours to decide.
The decision should have been easy. I mean, nine months of hero training or nine months of sitting
in a classroom – duh.
But there was my mom to consider. For the first time, I had the chance to live with her for a whole
year, without Gabe. I had a chance be at home and knock around the city in my free time. I
remembered what Annabeth had said so long ago on our quest: The real world is where the monsters
are. That’s where you learn whether you’re any good or not.
I thought about the fate of Thalia, daughter of Zeus. I wondered how many monsters would attack
me if I left Half-Blood Hill. If I stayed in one place for a whole school year, without Chiron or my
friends around to help me, would my mother and I even survive until the next summer? That was
assuming the spelling tests and five-paragraph essays didn’t kill me. I decided I’d go down to the
arena and do some sword practice. Maybe that would clear my head.
The campgrounds were mostly deserted, shimmering in the August heat. All the campers were in
their cabins packing up, or running around with brooms and mops, getting ready for final inspection.
Argus was helping some of the Aphrodite kids haul their Gucci suitcases and makeup kits over the
hill where the camp’s shuttle bus would be waiting to take them to the airport.
Don’t think about leaving yet, I told myself. Just train.
I got to the sword-fighters’ arena and found that Luke had had the same idea. His gym bag was
plopped at the edge of the stage. He was working solo, whacking away at battle dummies with a
sword I’d never seen before. It must’ve been a regular steel blade, because he was slashing the
dummies’ heads right off, stabbing through their straw-stuffed guts. His orange counsellor’s shirt was
dripping with sweat. His expression was so intense, his life might’ve really been in danger. I
watched, fascinated, as he disembowelled the whole row of dummies, hacking off limbs and
basically reducing them to a pile of straw and armour.
They were only dummies, but I still couldn’t help being awed by Luke’s skill. The guy was an
incredible fighter. It made me wonder, again, how he possibly could’ve failed at his quest.
Finally, he saw me, and stopped mid-swing. ‘Percy.’
‘Um, sorry,’ I said, embarrassed. ‘I just –’
‘It’s okay,’ he said, lowering his sword. ‘Just doing some last-minute practice.’
‘Those dummies won’t be bothering anybody any more.’
Luke shrugged. ‘We build new ones every summer.’
Now that his sword wasn’t swirling around, I could see something odd about it. The blade was two
different types of metal – one edge bronze, the other steel.
Luke noticed me looking at it. ‘Oh, this? New toy. This is Backbiter.’
‘Backbiter?’
Luke turned the blade in the light so it glinted wickedly. ‘One side is celestial bronze. The other is
tempered steel. Works on mortals and immortals both.’
I thought about what Chiron had told me when I started my quest – that a hero should never harm
mortals unless absolutely necessary.
‘I didn’t know they could make weapons like that.’
‘They probably can’t,’ Luke agreed. ‘It’s one of a kind.’
He gave me a tiny smile, then slid the sword into its scabbard. ‘Listen, I was going to come looking
for you. What do you say we go down to the woods one last time, look for something to fight?’
I don’t know why I hesitated. I should’ve felt relieved that Luke was being so friendly. Ever since
I’d got back from the quest, he’d been acting a little distant. I was afraid he might resent me for all the
attention I’d had.
‘You think it’s a good idea?’ I asked. ‘I mean –’
‘Aw, come on.’ He rummaged in his gym bag and pulled out a six-pack of Cokes. ‘Drinks are on
me.’
I stared at the Cokes, wondering where the heck he’d got them. There were no regular mortal sodas
at the camp store. No way to smuggle them in, unless you talked to a satyr maybe.
Of course, the magic dinner goblets would fill with anything you want, but it just didn’t taste the
same as a real Coke, straight out of the can.
Sugar and caffeine. My willpower crumbled.
‘Sure,’ I decided. ‘Why not?’
We walked down to the woods and kicked around for some kind of monster to fight, but it was too
hot. All the monsters with any sense must’ve been taking siestas in their nice cool caves.
We found a shady spot by the creek where I’d broken Clarisse’s spear during my first capture the
flag game. We sat on a big rock, drank our Cokes and watched the sunlight in the woods.
After a while Luke said, ‘You miss being on a quest?’
‘With monsters attacking me every metre? Are you kidding?’
Luke raised an eyebrow.
‘Yeah. I miss it,’ I admitted. ‘You?’
A shadow passed over his face.
I was used to hearing from the girls how good-looking Luke was, but at the moment, he looked
weary, and angry, and not at all handsome. His blond hair was grey in the sunlight. The scar on his
face looked deeper than usual. I could imagine him as an old man.
‘I’ve lived at Half-Blood Hill year-round since I was fourteen,’ he told me. ‘Ever since Thalia…
well, you know. I trained, and trained, and trained. I never got to be a normal teenager, out there in the
real world. Then they threw me one quest, and when I came back, it was like, ‘Okay, ride’s over.
Have a nice life.”
He crumpled his Coke can and threw it into the creek, which really shocked me. One of the first
things you learn at Camp Half-Blood is: don’t litter. You’ll hear from the nymphs and the naiads.
They’ll get even. You’ll crawl into bed one night and find your sheets filled with centipedes and mud.
‘The heck with laurel wreaths,’ Luke said. ‘I’m not going to end up like those dusty trophies in the
Big House attic.’
‘You make it sound like you’re leaving.’
Luke gave me a twisted smile. ‘Oh, I’m leaving, all right, Percy. I brought you down here to say
goodbye.’
He snapped his fingers. A small fire burned a hole in the ground at my feet. Out crawled something
glistening black, about the size of my hand. A scorpion.
I started to go for my pen.
‘I wouldn’t,’ Luke cautioned. ‘Pit scorpions can jump up to five metres. Its stinger can pierce right
through your clothes. You’ll be dead in sixty seconds.’
‘Luke, what –’
Then it hit me.
You will be betrayed by one who calls you a friend.
‘You,’ I said.
He stood calmly and brushed off his jeans.
The scorpion paid him no attention. It kept its beady black eyes on me, clamping its pincers as it
crawled onto my shoe.
‘I saw a lot out there in the world, Percy,’ Luke said. ‘Didn’t you feel it – the darkness gathering,
the monsters growing stronger? Didn’t you realize how useless it all is? All the heroics – being
pawns of the gods. They should’ve been overthrown thousands of years ago, but they’ve hung on,
thanks to us half-bloods.’
I couldn’t believe this was happening.
‘Luke… you’re talking about our parents,’ I said.
He laughed. ‘That’s supposed to make me love them? Their precious “Western civilization” is a
disease, Percy. It’s killing the world. The only way to stop it is to burn it to the ground, start over
with something more honest.’
‘You’re as crazy as Ares.’
His eyes flared. ‘Ares is a fool. He never realized the true master he was serving. If I had time,
Percy, I could explain. But I’m afraid you won’t live that long.’
The scorpion crawled onto my trouser leg.
There had to be a way out of this. I needed time to think.
‘Kronos,’ I said. ‘That’s who you serve.’
The air got colder.
‘You should be careful with names,’ Luke warned.
‘Kronos got you to steal the master bolt and the helmet. He spoke to you in your dreams.’
Luke’s eye twitched. ‘He spoke to you, too, Percy. You should’ve listened.’
‘He’s brainwashing you, Luke.’
‘You’re wrong. He showed me that my talents are being wasted. You know what my quest was two
years ago, Percy? My father, Hermes, wanted me to steal a golden apple from the Garden of the
Hesperides and return it to Olympus. After all the training I’d done, that was the best he could think
up.’
‘That’s not an easy quest,’ I said. ‘Hercules did it.’
‘Exactly,’ Luke said. ‘Where’s the glory in repeating what others have done? All the gods know
how to do is replay their past. My heart wasn’t in it. The dragon in the garden gave me this –’ he
pointed angrily at his scar – ‘and when I came back, all I got was pity. I wanted to pull Olympus
down stone by stone right then, but I bided my time. I began to dream of Kronos. He convinced me to
steal something worthwhile, something no hero had ever had the courage to take. When we went on
that winter-solstice field trip, while the other campers were asleep, I sneaked into the throne room
and took Zeus’s master bolt right from his chair. Hades’s helmet of darkness, too. You wouldn’t
believe how easy it was. The Olympians are so arrogant; they never dreamed someone would dare
steal from them. Their security is horrible. I was halfway across New Jersey before I heard the
storms rumbling, and I knew they’d discovered my theft.’
The scorpion was sitting on my knee now, staring at me with its glittering eyes. I tried to keep my
voice level. ‘So why didn’t you bring the items to Kronos?’
Luke’s smile wavered. ‘I… I got overconfident. Zeus sent out his sons and daughters to find the
stolen bolt – Artemis, Apollo, my father, Hermes. But it was Ares who caught me. I could have
beaten him, but I wasn’t careful enough. He disarmed me took the items of power, threatened to return
them to Olympus and burn me alive. Then Kronos’s voice came to me and told me what to say. I put
the idea in Ares’s head about a great war between the gods. I said all he had to do was hide the items
away for a while and watch the others fight. Ares got a wicked gleam in his eyes. I knew he was
hooked. He let me go, and I returned to Olympus before anyone noticed my absence.’ Luke drew his
new sword. He ran his thumb down the flat of the blade, as if he were hypnotized by its beauty.
‘Afterwards, the Lord of the Titans… h-he punished me with nightmares. I swore not to fail again.
Back at Camp Half-Blood, in my dreams, I was told that a second hero would arrive, one who could
be tricked into taking the bolt and the helmet the rest of the way – from Ares down to Tartarus.’
‘You summoned the hellhound, that night in the forest.’
‘We had to make Chiron think the camp wasn’t safe for you, so he would start you on your quest.
We had to confirm his fears that Hades was after you. And it worked.’
‘The flying shoes were cursed,’ I said. ‘They were supposed to drag me and the backpack into
Tartarus.’
‘And they would have, if you’d been wearing them. But you gave them to the satyr, which wasn’t
part of the plan. Grover messes up everything he touches. He even confused the curse.’
Luke looked down at the scorpion, which was now sitting on my thigh. ‘You should have died in
Tartarus, Percy. But don’t worry, I’ll leave you with my little friend to set things right.’
‘Thalia gave her life to save you,’ I said, gritting my teeth. ‘And this is how you repay her?’
‘Don’t speak of Thalia!’ he shouted. ‘The gods let her die! That’s one of the many things they will
pay for.’
‘You’re being used, Luke. You and Ares both. Don’t listen to Kronos.’
‘I’ve been used?’ Luke’s voice turned shrill. ‘Look at yourself. What has your dad ever done for
you? Kronos will rise. You’ve only delayed his plans. He will cast the Olympians into Tartarus and
drive humanity back to their caves. All except the strongest – the ones who serve him.’
‘Call off the bug,’ I said. ‘If you’re so strong, fight me yourself.’
Luke smiled. ‘Nice try, Percy. But I’m not Ares. You can’t bait me. My lord is waiting, and he’s
got plenty of quests for me to undertake.’
‘Luke –’
‘Goodbye, Percy. There is a new Golden Age coming. You won’t be part of it.’
He slashed his sword in an arc and disappeared in a ripple of darkness.
The scorpion lunged.
I swatted it away with my hand and uncapped my sword. The thing jumped at me and I cut it in half
in midair.
I was about to congratulate myself until I looked down at my hand. My palm had a huge red welt,
oozing and smoking with yellow guck. The thing had got me after all.
My ears pounded. My vision went foggy. The water, I thought. It had healed me before.
I stumbled to the creek and submerged my hand, but nothing seemed to happen. The poison was too
strong. My vision was getting dark. I could barely stand up.
Sixty seconds, Luke had told me.
I had to get back to camp. If I collapsed out here, my body would be dinner for a monster. Nobody
would ever know what had happened.
My legs felt like lead. My forehead was burning. I stumbled towards the camp, and the nymphs
stirred from their trees.
‘Help,’ I croaked. ‘Please…’
Two of them took my arms, pulling me along. I remember making it to the clearing, a counsellor
shouting for help, a centaur blowing a conch horn.
Then everything went black.
***
I woke with a drinking straw in my mouth. I was sipping something that tasted like liquid chocolatechip cookies.
Nectar.
I opened my eyes.
I was propped up in bed in the sickroom of the Big House, my right hand bandaged like a club.
Argus stood guard in the corner. Annabeth sat next to me, holding my nectar glass and dabbing a
washcloth on my forehead.
‘Here we are again,’ I said.
‘You idiot,’ Annabeth said, which is how I knew she was overjoyed to see me conscious. ‘You
were green and turning grey when we found you. If it weren’t for Chiron’s healing…’
‘Now, now,’ Chiron’s voice said. ‘Percy’s constitution deserves some of the credit.’
He was sitting near the foot of my bed in human form, which was why I hadn’t noticed him yet. His
lower half was magically compacted into the wheelchair, his upper half dressed in a coat and tie. He
smiled, but his face looked weary and pale, the way it did when he’d been up all night grading Latin
papers.
‘How are you feeling?’ he asked.
‘Like my insides have been frozen, then microwaved.’
‘Apt, considering that was pit scorpion venom. Now you must tell me, if you can, exactly what
happened.’
Between sips of nectar, I told them the story.
The room was quiet for a long time.
‘I can’t believe that Luke…’ Annabeth’s voice faltered. Her expression turned angry and sad. ‘Yes.
Yes, I can believe it. May the gods curse him… He was never the same after his quest.’
‘This must be reported to Olympus,’ Chiron murmured. ‘I will go at once.’
‘Luke is out there right now,’ I said. ‘I have to go after him.’
Chiron shook his head. ‘No, Percy. The gods –’
‘Won’t even talk about Kronos,’ I snapped. ‘Zeus declared the matter closed!’
‘Percy, I know this is hard. But you must not rush out for vengeance. You aren’t ready.’
I didn’t like it, but part of me suspected Chiron was right. One look at my hand, and I knew I wasn’t
going to be sword fighting any time soon. ‘Chiron… your prophecy from the Oracle… it was about
Kronos, wasn’t it? Was I in it? And Annabeth?’
Chiron glanced nervously at the ceiling. ‘Percy, it isn’t my place –’
‘You’ve been ordered not to talk to me about it, haven’t you?’
His eyes were sympathetic, but sad. ‘You will be a great hero, child. I will do my best to prepare
you. But if I’m right about the path ahead of you…’
Thunder boomed overhead, rattling the windows.
‘All right!’ Chiron shouted. ‘Fine!’
He sighed in frustration. ‘The gods have their reasons, Percy. Knowing too much of your future is
never a good thing.’
‘We can’t just sit back and do nothing,’ I said.
‘We will not sit back,’ Chiron promised. ‘But you must be careful. Kronos wants you to come
unravelled. He wants your life disrupted, your thoughts clouded with fear and anger. Do not give him
what he wants. Train patiently. Your time will come.’
‘Assuming I live that long.’
Chiron put his hand on my ankle. ‘You’ll have to trust me, Percy. You will live. But first you must
decide your path for the coming year. I cannot tell you the right choice…’ I got the feeling that he had
a very definite opinion, and it was taking all his willpower not to advise me. ‘… But you must decide
whether to stay at Camp Half-Blood year-round, or return to the mortal world for seventh grade and
be a summer camper. Think on that. When I get back from Olympus, you must tell me your decision.’
I wanted to protest. I wanted to ask him more questions. But his expression told me there could be
no more discussion; he had said as much as he could.
‘I’ll be back as soon as I can,’ Chiron promised. ‘Argus will watch over you.’
He glanced at Annabeth. ‘Oh, and, my dear… whenever you’re ready, they’re here.’
‘Who’s here?’ I asked.
Nobody answered.
Chiron rolled himself out of the room. I heard the wheels of his chair clunk carefully down the front
steps, two at a time.
Annabeth studied the ice in my drink.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked her.
‘Nothing.’ She set the glass on the table. ‘I… just took your advice about something. You… um…
need anything?’
‘Yeah. Help me up. I want to go outside.’
‘Percy, that isn’t a good idea.’
I slid my legs out of bed. Annabeth caught me before I could crumple to the floor. A wave of
nausea rolled over me.
Annabeth said, ‘I told you…’
‘I’m fine,’ I insisted. I didn’t want to lie in bed like an invalid while Luke was out there planning to
destroy the Western world.
I managed a step forward. Then another, still leaning heavily on Annabeth. Argus followed us
outside, but he kept his distance.
By the time we reached the porch, my face was beaded with sweat. My stomach had twisted into
knots. But I had managed to make it all the way to the railing.
It was dusk. The camp looked completely deserted. The cabins were dark and the volleyball pit
silent. No canoes cut the surface of the lake. Beyond the woods and the strawberry fields, the Long
Island Sound glittered in the last light of the sun.
‘What are you going to do?’ Annabeth asked me.
‘I don’t know.’
I told her I got the feeling Chiron wanted me to stay year-round, to put in more individual training
time, but I wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted. I admitted I’d feel bad about leaving her alone, though,
with only Clarisse for company…
Annabeth pursed her lips, then said quietly, ‘I’m going home for the year, Percy.’
I stared at her. ‘You mean, to your dad’s?’
She pointed towards the crest of Half-Blood Hill. Next to Thalia’s pine tree, at the very edge of the
camp’s magical boundaries, a family stood silhouetted – two little children, a woman and a tall man
with blond hair. They seemed to be waiting. The man was holding a backpack that looked like the one
Annabeth had got from Waterland in Denver.
‘I wrote him a letter when we got back,’ Annabeth said. ‘Just like you suggested. I told him… I
was sorry. I’d come home for the school year if he still wanted me. He wrote back immediately. We
decided… we’d give it another try.’
‘That took guts.’
She pursed her lips. ‘You won’t try anything stupid during the school year, will you? At least… not
without sending me an iris-message?’
I managed a smile. ‘I won’t go looking for trouble. I usually don’t have to.’
‘When I get back next summer,’ she said, ‘we’ll hunt down Luke. We’ll ask for a quest, but if we
don’t get approval, we’ll sneak off and do it anyway. Agreed?’
‘Sounds like a plan worthy of Athena.’
She held out her hand. I shook it.
‘Take care, Seaweed Brain,’ Annabeth told me. ‘Keep your eyes open.’
‘You too, Wise Girl.’
I watched her walk up the hill and join her family. She gave her father an awkward hug and looked
back at the valley one last time. She touched Thalia’s pine tree, then allowed herself to be led over
the crest and into the mortal world.
For the first time at camp, I felt truly alone. I looked out at Long Island Sound and I remembered my
father saying, The sea does not like to be restrained.
I made my decision.
I wondered, if Poseidon were watching, would he approve of my choice?
‘I’ll be back next summer,’ I promised him. ‘I’ll survive until then. After all, I am your son.’ I
asked Argus to take me down to cabin three, so I could pack my bags for home.
Acknowledgements
Without the assistance of numerous valiant helpers, I would have been slain by monsters many times
over as I endeavoured to bring this story to print. Thanks to my elder son, Haley Michael, who heard
the story first; my younger son, Patrick John, who at the age of six is the levelheaded one in the
family; and my wife, Becky, who puts up with my many long hours at Camp Half-Blood. Thanks also
to my cadre of middle-school beta-testers: Travis Stoll, clever and quick as Hermes; C. C. Kellogg,
beloved as Athena; Allison Bauer, clear-eyed as Artemis the Huntress; and Mrs Margaret Floyd, the
wise and kindly seer of middle-school English. My appreciation also to Professor Egbert J. Bakker,
classicist extraordinaire; Nancy Gallt, agent summa cum laude; Jonathan Burnham, Jennifer Besser,
and Sarah Hughes for believing in Percy.
RICK RIORDAN
PUFFIN
Contents
1 • My Best Friend Shops for a Wedding Dress
2 • I Play Dodgeball with Cannibals
3 • We Hail the Taxi of Eternal Torment
4 • Tyson Plays with Fire
5 • I Get a New Cabin Mate
6 • Demon Pigeons Attack
7 • I Accept Gifts from a Stranger
8 • We Board the Princess Andromeda
9 • I Have the Worst Family Reunion Ever
10 • We Hitch a Ride with Dead Confederates
11 • Clarisse Blows Up Everything
12 • We Check In to C.C.’s Spa & Resort
13 • Annabeth Tries to Swim Home
14 • We Meet the Sheep of Doom
15 • Nobody Gets the Fleece
16 • I Go Down with the Ship
17 • We Get a Surprise on Miami Beach
18 • The Party Ponies Invade
19 • The Chariot Race Ends with a Bang
20 • The Fleece Works Its Magic Too Well
To Patrick John Riordan, the best storyteller in the family
1 My Best Friend Shops for a Wedding Dress
My nightmare started like this.
I was standing on a deserted street in some little beach town. It was the middle of the night. A
storm was blowing. Wind and rain ripped at the palm trees along the sidewalk. Pink and yellow
stucco buildings lined the street, their windows boarded up. A block away, past a line of hibiscus
bushes, the ocean churned.
Florida, I thought. Though I wasn’t sure how I knew that. I’d never been to Florida.
Then I heard hooves clattering against the pavement. I turned and saw my friend Grover running for
his life.
Yeah, I said hooves.
Grover is a satyr. From the waist up, he looks like a typical gangly teenager with a peach-fuzz
goatee and a bad case of acne. He walks with a strange limp, but unless you happen to catch him
without his trousers on (which I don’t recommend), you’d never know there was anything un-human
about him. Baggy jeans and fake feet hide the fact that he’s got furry hindquarters and hooves.
Grover had been my best friend in sixth grade. He’d gone on this adventure with me and a girl
named Annabeth to save the world, but I hadn’t seen him since last July, when he set off alone on a
dangerous quest – a quest no satyr had ever returned from.
Anyway, in my dream, Grover was hauling goat tail, holding his human shoes in his hands the way
he does when he needs to move fast. He clopped past the little tourist shops and surfboard rental
places. The wind bent the palm trees almost to the ground.
Grover was terrified of something behind him. He must’ve just come from the beach. Wet sand was
caked in his fur. He’d escaped from somewhere. He was trying to get away from … something.
A bone-rattling growl cut through the storm. Behind Grover, at the far end of the block, a shadowy
figure loomed. It swatted aside a street lamp, which burst in a shower of sparks.
Grover stumbled, whimpering in fear. He muttered to himself, Have to get away. Have to warn
them!
I couldn’t see what was chasing him, but I could hear it muttering and cursing. The ground shook as
it got closer. Grover dashed around a street corner and faltered. He’d run into a dead-end courtyard
full of shops. No time to back up. The nearest door had been blown open by the storm. The sign
above the darkened display window read: , ST AUGUSTINE BRIDAL BOUTIQUE.
Grover dashed inside. He dived behind a rack of wedding dresses.
The monster’s shadow passed in front of the shop. I could smell the thing – a sickening
combination of wet sheep wool and rotten meat and that weird sour body odour only monsters have,
like a skunk that’s been living off Mexican food.
Grover trembled behind the wedding dresses. The monster’s shadow passed on.
Silence except for the rain. Grover took a deep breath. Maybe the thing was gone.
Then lightning flashed. The entire front of the store exploded, and a monstrous voice bellowed,
‘MIIIIINE!’
I sat bolt upright, shivering in my bed.
There was no storm. No monster.
Morning sunlight filtered through my bedroom window.
I thought I saw a shadow flicker across the glass – a humanlike shape. But then there was a knock
on my bedroom door – my mom called, ‘Percy, you’re going to be late’ – and the shadow at the
window disappeared.
It must’ve been my imagination. A fifth-storey window with a rickety old fire escape … there
couldn’t have been anyone out there.
‘Come on, dear,’ my mother called again. ‘Last day of school. You should be excited! You’ve
almost made it!’
‘Coming,’ I managed.
I felt under my pillow. My fingers closed reassuringly around the ballpoint pen I always slept with.
I brought it out, studied the Ancient Greek writing engraved on the side: Anaklusmos. Riptide.
I thought about uncapping it, but something held me back. I hadn’t used Riptide for so long …
Besides, my mom had made me promise not to use deadly weapons in the apartment after I’d swung
a javelin the wrong way and taken out her china cabinet. I put Anaklusmos on my nightstand and
dragged myself out of bed.
I got dressed as quickly as I could. I tried not to think about my nightmare or monsters or the
shadow at my window.
Have to get away. Have to warn them!
What had Grover meant?
I made a three-fingered claw over my heart and pushed outwards – an ancient gesture Grover had
once taught me for warding off evil.
The dream couldn’t have been real.
Last day of school. My mom was right, I should have been excited. For the first time in my life, I’d
almost made it an entire year without getting expelled. No weird accidents. No fights in the
classroom. No teachers turning into monsters and trying to kill me with poisoned cafeteria food or
exploding homework. Tomorrow, I’d be on my way to my favourite place in the world – Camp HalfBlood.
Only one more day to go. Surely even I couldn’t mess that up.
As usual, I didn’t have a clue how wrong I was.
My mom made blue waffles and blue eggs for breakfast. She’s funny that way, celebrating special
occasions with blue food. I think it’s her way of saying anything is possible. Percy can pass seventh
grade. Waffles can be blue. Little miracles like that.
I ate at the kitchen table while my mom washed dishes. She was dressed in her work uniform – a
starry blue skirt and a red-and-white striped blouse she wore to sell candy at Sweet on America. Her
long brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail.
The waffles tasted great, but I guess I wasn’t digging in like I usually did. My mom looked over
and frowned. ‘Percy, are you all right?’
‘Yeah … fine.’
But she could always tell when something was bothering me. She dried her hands and sat down
across from me. ‘School, or…’
She didn’t need to finish. I knew what she was asking.
‘I think Grover’s in trouble,’ I said, and I told her about my dream.
She pursed her lips. We didn’t talk much about the other part of my life. We tried to live as
normally as possible, but my mom knew all about Grover.
‘I wouldn’t be too worried, dear,’ she said. ‘Grover is a big satyr now. If there were a problem,
I’m sure we would’ve heard from … from camp…’ Her shoulders tensed as she said the word camp.
‘What is it?’ I asked.
‘Nothing,’ she said. ‘I’ll tell you what. This afternoon we’ll celebrate the end of school. I’ll take
you and Tyson to Rockefeller Center – to that skateboard shop you like.’
Oh, man, that was tempting. We were always struggling with money. Between my mom’s night
classes and my private school tuition, we could never afford to do special stuff like shop for a
skateboard. But something in her voice bothered me.
‘Wait a minute,’ I said. ‘I thought we were packing me up for camp tonight.’
She twisted her dishcloth. ‘Ah, dear, about that … I got a message from Chiron last night.’
My heart sank. Chiron was the activities director at Camp Half-Blood. He wouldn’t contact us
unless something serious was going on. ‘What did he say?’
‘He thinks … it might not be safe for you to come to camp just yet. We might have to postpone.’
‘Postpone? Mom, how could it not be safe? I’m a half-blood! It’s like the only safe place on earth
for me!’
‘Usually, dear. But with the problems they’re having –’
‘What problems?’
‘Percy … I’m very, very sorry. I was hoping to talk to you about it this afternoon. I can’t explain it
all now. I’m not even sure Chiron can. Everything happened so suddenly.’
My mind was reeling. How could I not go to camp? I wanted to ask a million questions, but just
then the kitchen clock chimed the half-hour.
My mom looked almost relieved. ‘Seven thirty, dear. You should go. Tyson will be waiting.’
‘But –’
‘Percy, we’ll talk this afternoon. Go on to school.’
That was the last thing I wanted to do, but my mom had this fragile look in her eyes – a kind of
warning, like if I pushed her too hard she’d start to cry. Besides, she was right about my friend Tyson.
I had to meet him at the subway station on time or he’d get upset. He was scared of travelling
underground alone.
I gathered up my stuff, but I stopped in the doorway. ‘Mom, this problem at camp. Does it … could
it have anything to do with my dream about Grover?’
She wouldn’t meet my eyes. ‘We’ll talk this afternoon, dear. I’ll explain … as much as I can.’
Reluctantly, I told her goodbye. I jogged downstairs to catch the Number Two train.
I didn’t know it at the time, but my mom and I would never get to have our afternoon talk.
In fact, I wouldn’t be seeing home for a long, long time.
As I stepped outside, I glanced at the brownstone building across the street. Just for a second I saw
a dark shape in the morning sunlight – a human silhouette against the brick wall, a shadow that
belonged to no one.
Then it rippled and vanished.
2 I Play Dodgeball with Cannibals
My day started normal. Or as normal as it ever gets at Meriwether College Prep.
See, it’s this ‘progressive’ school in downtown Manhattan, which means we sit on beanbag chairs
instead of at desks, and we don’t get grades and the teachers wear jeans and rock concert T-shirts to
work.
That’s all cool with me. I mean, I’m ADHD and dyslexic, like most half-bloods, so I’d never done
that great in regular schools even before they kicked me out. The only bad thing about Meriwether
was that the teachers always looked on the bright side of things, and the kids weren’t always … well,
bright.
Take my first class today: English. The whole middle school had read this book called Lord of the
Flies, where all these kids get marooned on an island and go psycho. So for our final exam, our
teachers sent us into the yard to spend an hour with no adult supervision to see what would happen.
What happened was a massive wedgie contest between the seventh and eighth graders, two pebble
fights and a full-tackle basketball game. The school bully, Matt Sloan, led most of those activities.
Sloan wasn’t big or strong, but he acted like he was. He had eyes like a pit bull, and shaggy black
hair, and he always dressed in expensive but sloppy clothes, like he wanted everybody to see how
little he cared about his family’s money. One of his front teeth was chipped from the time he’d taken
his daddy’s Porsche for a joyride and run into a PLEASE SLOW DOWN FOR CHILDREN sign.
Anyway, Sloan was giving everybody wedgies until he made the mistake of trying it on my friend
Tyson.
Tyson was the only homeless kid at Meriwether College Prep. As near as my mom and I could
figure, he’d been abandoned by his parents when he was very young, probably because he was so …
different. He was two metres tall and built like the Abominable Snowman, but he cried a lot and was
scared of just about everything, including his own reflection. His face was kind of misshapen and
brutal-looking. I couldn’t tell you what colour his eyes were, because I could never make myself look
higher than his crooked teeth. His voice was deep, but he talked funny, like a much younger kid – I
guess because he’d never gone to school before coming to Meriwether. He wore tattered jeans, grimy
size-twenty sneakers and a plaid flannel shirt with holes in it. He smelled like a New York City
alleyway, because that’s where he lived, in a cardboard refrigerator box off 72nd Street.
Meriwether Prep had adopted him as a community service project so all the students could feel
good about themselves. Unfortunately, most of them couldn’t stand Tyson. Once they discovered he
was a big softie, despite his massive strength and his scary looks, they made themselves feel good by
picking on him. I was pretty much his only friend, which meant he was my only friend.
My mom had complained to the school a million times that they weren’t doing enough to help him.
She’d called social services, but nothing ever seemed to happen. The social workers claimed Tyson
didn’t exist. They swore up and down that they’d visited the alley we described and couldn’t find
him, though how you miss a giant kid living in a refrigerator box, I don’t know.
Anyway, Matt Sloan snuck up behind him and tried to give him a wedgie, and Tyson panicked. He
swatted Sloan away a little too hard. Sloan flew five metres and got tangled in the little kids’ tyre
swing.
‘You freak!’ Sloan yelled. ‘Why don’t you go back to your cardboard box!’
Tyson started sobbing. He sat down on the jungle gym so hard he bent the bar, and buried his head
in his hands.
‘Take it back, Sloan!’ I shouted.
Sloan just sneered at me. ‘Why do you even bother, Jackson? You might have friends if you
weren’t always sticking up for that freak.’
I balled my fists. I hoped my face wasn’t as red as it felt. ‘He’s not a freak. He’s just…’
I tried to think of the right thing to say, but Sloan wasn’t listening. He and his big ugly friends were
too busy laughing. I wondered if it were my imagination, or if Sloan had more goons hanging around
him than usual. I was used to seeing him with two or three, but today he had like, half a dozen more,
and I was pretty sure I’d never seen them before.
‘Just wait till PE, Jackson,’ Sloan called. ‘You are so dead.’
When first period ended, our English teacher Mr de Milo came outside to inspect the carnage. He
pronounced that we’d understood Lord of the Flies perfectly. We all passed his course, and we
should never, never grow up to be violent people. Matt Sloan nodded earnestly, then gave me a chiptoothed grin.
I had to promise to buy Tyson an extra peanut butter sandwich at lunch to get him to stop sobbing.
‘I … I am a freak?’ he asked me.
‘No,’ I promised, gritting my teeth. ‘Matt Sloan is the freak.’
Tyson sniffled. ‘You are a good friend. Miss you next year if … if I can’t…’
His voice trembled. I realized he didn’t know if he’d be invited back next year for the community
service project. I wondered if the headmaster had even bothered talking to him about it.
‘Don’t worry, big guy,’ I managed. ‘Everything’s going to be fine.’
Tyson gave me such a grateful look I felt like a big liar. How could I promise a kid like him that
anything would be fine?
Our next exam was science. Mrs Tesla told us that we had to mix chemicals until we succeeded in
making something explode. Tyson was my lab partner. His hands were way too big for the tiny vials
we were supposed to use. He accidentally knocked a tray of chemicals off the counter and made an
orange mushroom cloud in the trashcan.
After Mrs Tesla evacuated the lab and called the hazardous waste removal squad, she praised
Tyson and me for being natural chemists. We were the first ones who’d ever aced her exam in under
thirty seconds.
I was glad the morning went fast, because it kept me from thinking too much about my problems. I
couldn’t stand the idea that something might be wrong at camp. Even worse, I couldn’t shake the
memory of my bad dream. I had a terrible feeling that Grover was in danger.
In social studies, while we were drawing latitude/longitude maps, I opened my notebook and
stared at the photo inside – my friend Annabeth on vacation in Washington, DC. She was wearing
jeans and a denim jacket over her orange Camp Half-Blood T-shirt. Her blonde hair was pulled back
in a bandanna. She was standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial with her arms crossed, looking
extremely pleased with herself, like she’d personally designed the place. See, Annabeth wants to be
an architect when she grows up, so she’s always visiting famous monuments and stuff. She’s weird
that way. She’d e-mailed me the picture after spring break, and every once in a while I’d look at it
just to remind myself she was real and Camp Half-Blood hadn’t just been my imagination.
I wished Annabeth were here. She’d know what to make of my dream. I’d never admit it to her, but
she was smarter than me, even if she was annoying sometimes.
I was about to close my notebook when Matt Sloan reached over and ripped the photo out of the
rings.
‘Hey!’ I protested.
Sloan checked out the picture and his eyes got wide. ‘No way, Jackson. Who is that? She is not
your –’
‘Give it back!’ My ears felt hot.
Sloan handed the photo to his ugly buddies, who snickered and started ripping it up to make spit
wads. They were new kids who must’ve been visiting, because they were all wearing those stupid
HI! MY NAME IS: tags from the admissions office. They must’ve had a weird sense of humour, too,
because they’d all filled in strange names like: MARROW SUCKER, SKULL EATER and JOE BOB.
No human beings had names like that.
‘These guys are moving here next year,’ Sloan bragged, like that was supposed to scare me. ‘I bet
they can pay the tuition, too, unlike your retard friend.’
‘He’s not retarded.’ I had to try really, really hard not to punch Sloan in the face.
‘You’re such a loser, Jackson. Good thing I’m gonna put you out of your misery next period.’
His huge buddies chewed up my photo. I wanted to pulverize them, but I was under strict orders
from Chiron never to take my anger out on regular mortals, no matter how obnoxious they were. I had
to save my fighting for monsters.
Still, part of me thought, if Sloan only knew who I really was…
The bell rang.
As Tyson and I were leaving class, a girl’s voice whispered, ‘Percy!’
I looked around the locker area, but nobody was paying me any attention. Like any girl at
Meriwether would ever be caught dead calling my name.
Before I had time to consider whether or not I’d been imagining things, a crowd of kids rushed for
the gym, carrying Tyson and me along with them. It was time for PE. Our coach had promised us a
free-for-all dodgeball game, and Matt Sloan had promised to kill me.
***
The gym uniform at Meriwether is sky-blue shorts and tie-dyed T-shirts. Fortunately, we did most of
our athletic stuff inside, so we didn’t have to jog through Tribeca looking like a bunch of boot-camp
hippie children.
I changed as quickly as I could in the locker room because I didn’t want to deal with Sloan. I was
about to leave when Tyson called, ‘Percy?’
He hadn’t changed yet. He was standing by the weight-room door, clutching his gym clothes. ‘Will
you … uh…’
‘Oh. Yeah.’ I tried not to sound aggravated about it. ‘Yeah, sure, man.’
Tyson ducked inside the weight room. I stood guard outside the door while he changed. I felt kind
of awkward doing this, but he asked me to most days. I think it’s because he’s completely hairy and
he’s got weird scars on his back that I’ve never had the courage to ask him about.
Anyway, I’d learned the hard way that if people teased Tyson while he was dressing, he’d get
upset and start ripping the doors off lockers.
When we got into the gym, Coach Nunley was sitting at his little desk reading Sports Illustrated.
Nunley was about a million years old, with bifocals and no teeth and a greasy wave of grey hair. He
reminded me of the Oracle at Camp Half-Blood – which was a shrivelled-up mummy – except Coach
Nunley moved a lot less and he never billowed green smoke. Well, at least not that I’d observed.
Matt Sloan said, ‘Coach, can I be captain?’
‘Eh?’ Coach Nunley looked up from his magazine. ‘Yeah,’ he mumbled. ‘Mm-hmm.’
Sloan grinned and took charge of the picking. He made me the other team’s captain, but it didn’t
matter who I picked, because all the jocks and the popular kids moved over to Sloan’s side. So did
the big group of visitors.
On my side I had Tyson, Corey Bailer the computer geek, Raj Mandali the calculus whiz, and a
half-dozen other kids who always got harassed by Sloan and his gang. Normally I would’ve been
okay with just Tyson – he was worth half a team all by himself – but the visitors on Sloan’s team
were almost as tall and strong-looking as Tyson, and there were six of them.
Matt Sloan spilled a cage full of balls in the middle of the gym.
‘Scared,’ Tyson mumbled. ‘Smell funny.’
I looked at him. ‘What smells funny?’ Because I didn’t figure he was talking about himself.
‘Them.’ Tyson pointed at Sloan’s new friends. ‘Smell funny.’
The visitors were cracking their knuckles, eyeing us like it was slaughter time. I couldn’t help
wondering where they were from. Someplace where they fed kids raw meat and beat them with
sticks.
Sloan blew the coach’s whistle and the game began. Sloan’s team ran for the centre line. On my
side, Raj Mandali yelled something in Urdu, probably ‘I have to go potty!’ and ran for the exit. Corey
Bailer tried to crawl behind the wall mat and hide. The rest of my team did their best to cower in fear
and not look like targets.
‘Tyson,’ I said. ‘Let’s g–’
A ball slammed into my gut. I sat down hard in the middle of the gym floor. The other team
exploded in laughter.
My eyesight was fuzzy. I felt like I’d just got the Heimlich manoeuvre from a gorilla. I couldn’t
believe anybody could throw that hard.
Tyson yelled, ‘Percy, duck!’
I rolled as another dodgeball whistled past my ear at the speed of sound.
Whooom!
It hit the wall mat, and Corey Bailer yelped.
‘Hey!’ I yelled at Sloan’s team. ‘You could kill somebody!’
The visitor named Joe Bob grinned at me evilly. Somehow, he looked a lot bigger now … even
taller than Tyson. His biceps bulged beneath his T-shirt. ‘I hope so, Perseus Jackson! I hope so!’
The way he said my name sent a chill down my back. Nobody called me Perseus except those who
knew my true identity. Friends … and enemies.
What had Tyson said? They smell funny.
Monsters.
All around Matt Sloan, the visitors were growing in size. They were no longer kids. They were
two-and-a-half-metre-tall giants with wild eyes, pointy teeth and hairy arms tattooed with snakes and
hula women and Valentine hearts.
Matt Sloan dropped his ball. ‘Whoa! You’re not from Detroit! Who…’
The other kids on his team started screaming and backing towards the exit, but the giant named
Marrow Sucker threw a ball with deadly accuracy. It streaked past Raj Mandali just as he was about
to leave and hit the door, slamming it shut like magic. Raj and some of the other kids banged on it
desperately but it wouldn’t budge.
‘Let them go!’ I yelled at the giants.
The one called Joe Bob growled at me. He had a tattoo on his biceps that said: JB luvs Babycakes.
‘And lose our tasty morsels? No, Son of the Sea God. We Laistrygonians aren’t just playing for your
death. We want lunch!’
He waved his hand and a new batch of dodgeballs appeared on the centre line – but these balls
weren’t made of red rubber. They were bronze, the size of cannon balls, perforated like Wiffle balls
with fire bubbling out the holes. They must’ve been searing hot, but the giants picked them up with
their bare hands.
‘Coach!’ I yelled.
Nunley looked up sleepily, but if he saw anything abnormal about the dodgeball game, he didn’t let
on. That’s the problem with mortals. A magical force called the Mist obscures the true appearance of
monsters and gods from their vision, so mortals tend to see only what they can understand. Maybe the
coach saw a few eighth graders pounding the younger kids like usual. Maybe the other kids saw Matt
Sloan’s thugs getting ready to toss Molotov cocktails around. (It wouldn’t have been the first time.) At
any rate, I was pretty sure nobody else realized we were dealing with genuine man-eating
bloodthirsty monsters.
‘Yeah. Mm-hmm,’ Coach muttered. ‘Play nice.’
And he went back to his magazine.
The giant named Skull Eater threw his ball. I dived aside as the fiery bronze comet sailed past my
shoulder.
‘Corey!’ I screamed.
Tyson pulled him out from behind the exercise mat just as the ball exploded against it, blasting the
mat to smoking shreds.
‘Run!’ I told my teammates. ‘The other exit!’
They ran for the locker room, but with another wave of Joe Bob’s hand, that door also slammed
shut.
‘No one leaves unless you’re out!’ Joe Bob roared. ‘And you’re not out until we eat you!’
He launched his own fireball. My teammates scattered as it blasted a crater in the gym floor.
I reached for Riptide, which I always kept in my pocket, but then I realized I was wearing gym
shorts. I had no pockets. Riptide was tucked in my jeans inside my gym locker. And the locker room
door was sealed. I was completely defenceless.
Another fireball came streaking towards me. Tyson pushed me out of the way, but the explosion
still blew me head over heels. I found myself sprawled on the gym floor, dazed from smoke, my tiedyed T-shirt peppered with sizzling holes. Just across the centre line, two hungry giants were glaring
down at me.
‘Flesh!’ they bellowed. ‘Hero flesh for lunch!’ They both took aim.
‘Percy needs help!’ Tyson yelled, and he jumped in front of me just as they threw their balls.
‘Tyson!’ I screamed, but it was too late.
Both balls slammed into him … but no … he’d caught them. Somehow Tyson, who was so clumsy
he knocked over lab equipment and broke playground structures on a regular basis, had caught two
fiery metal balls speeding towards him at a zillion miles an hour. He sent them hurtling back towards
their surprised owners, who screamed, ‘BAAAAAD!’ as the bronze spheres exploded against their
chests.
The giants disintegrated in twin columns of flame – a sure sign they were monsters, all right.
Monsters don’t die. They just dissipate into smoke and dust, which saves heroes a lot of trouble
cleaning up after a fight.
‘My brothers!’ Joe Bob the Cannibal wailed. He flexed his muscles and his Babycakes tattoo
rippled. ‘You will pay for their destruction!’
‘Tyson!’ I said. ‘Look out!’
Another comet hurtled towards us. Tyson just had time to swat it aside. It flew straight over Coach
Nunley’s head and landed in the stands with a huge KA-BOOM!
Kids were running around screaming, trying to avoid the sizzling craters in the floor. Others were
banging on the door, calling for help. Sloan himself stood petrified in the middle of the court,
watching in disbelief as balls of death flew around him.
Coach Nunley still wasn’t seeing anything. He tapped his hearing aid like the explosions were
giving him interference, but he kept his eyes on his magazine.
Surely the whole school could hear the noise. The headmaster, the police, somebody would come
help us.
‘Victory will be ours!’ roared Joe Bob the Cannibal. ‘We will feast on your bones!’
I wanted to tell him he was taking the dodgeball game way too seriously, but before I could, he
hefted another ball. The other three giants followed his lead.
I knew we were dead. Tyson couldn’t deflect all those balls at once. His hands had to be seriously
burned from blocking the first volley. Without my sword …
I had a crazy idea.
I ran towards the locker room.
‘Move!’ I told my teammates. ‘Away from the door.’
Explosions behind me. Tyson had batted two of the balls back towards their owners and blasted
them to ashes.
That left two giants still standing.
A third ball hurtled straight at me. I forced myself to wait – one Mississippi, two Mississippi –
then dived aside as the fiery sphere demolished the locker room door.
Now, I figured that the built-up gas in most boys’ locker rooms was enough to cause an explosion,
so I wasn’t surprised when the flaming dodgeball ignited a huge WHOOOOOOOM!
The wall blew apart. Locker doors, socks, athletic supports and other various nasty personal
belongings rained all over the gym.
I turned just in time to see Tyson punch Skull Eater in the face. The giant crumpled. But the last
giant, Joe Bob, had wisely held on to his own ball, waiting for an opportunity. He threw just as Tyson
was turning to face him.
‘No!’ I yelled.
The ball caught Tyson square in the chest. He slid the length of the court and slammed into the back
wall, which cracked and partially crumbled on top of him, making a hole right onto Church Street. I
didn’t see how Tyson could still be alive, but he only looked dazed. The bronze ball was smoking at
his feet. Tyson tried to pick it up, but he fell back, stunned, into a pile of cinder blocks.
‘Well!’ Joe Bob gloated. ‘I’m the last one standing! I’ll have enough meat to bring Babycakes a
doggy bag!’
He picked up another ball and aimed it at Tyson.
‘Stop!’ I yelled. ‘It’s me you want!’
The giant grinned. ‘You wish to die first, young hero?’
I had to do something. Riptide had to be around here somewhere.
Then I spotted my jeans in a smoking heap of clothes right by the giant’s feet. If I could only get
there … I knew it was hopeless, but I charged.
The giant laughed. ‘My lunch approaches.’ He raised his arm to throw. I braced myself to die.
Suddenly the giant’s body went rigid. His expression changed from gloating to surprise. Right
where his belly button should’ve been, his T-shirt ripped open and he grew something like a horn –
no, not a horn – the glowing tip of a blade.
The ball dropped out of his hand. The monster stared down at the knife that had just run him through
from behind.
He muttered, ‘Ow,’ and burst into a cloud of green flame, which I figured was going to make
Babycakes pretty upset.
Standing in the smoke was my friend Annabeth. Her face was grimy and scratched. She had a
ragged backpack slung over her shoulder, her baseball cap tucked in her pocket, a bronze knife in her
hand, and a wild look in her storm-grey eyes, like she’d just been chased a thousand miles by ghosts.
Matt Sloan, who’d been standing there dumbfounded the whole time, finally came to his senses. He
blinked at Annabeth, as if he dimly recognized her from my notebook picture. ‘That’s the girl …
That’s the girl –’
Annabeth punched him in the nose and knocked him flat. ‘And you’, she told him, ‘lay off my
friend.’
The gym was in flames. Kids were still running around screaming. I heard sirens wailing and a
garbled voice over the intercom. Through the glass windows of the exit doors, I could see the
headmaster, Mr Bonsai, wrestling with the lock, a crowd of teachers piling up behind him.
‘Annabeth…’ I stammered. ‘How did you … how long have you…’
‘Pretty much all morning.’ She sheathed her bronze knife. ‘I’ve been trying to find a good time to
talk to you, but you were never alone.’
‘The shadow I saw this morning – that was –’ My face felt hot. ‘Oh my gods, you were looking in
my bedroom window?’
‘There’s no time to explain!’ she snapped, though she looked a little red-faced herself. ‘I just didn’t
want to –’
‘There!’ a woman screamed. The doors burst open and the adults came pouring in.
‘Meet me outside,’ Annabeth told me. ‘And him.’ She pointed to Tyson, who was still sitting dazed
against the wall. Annabeth gave him a look of distaste that I didn’t quite understand. ‘You’d better
bring him.’
‘What?’
‘No time!’ she said. ‘Hurry!’
She put on her Yankees baseball cap, which was a magic gift from her mom, and instantly
vanished.
That left me standing alone in the middle of the burning gymnasium when the headmaster came
charging in with half the faculty and a couple of police officers.
‘Percy Jackson?’ Mr Bonsai said. ‘What … how…’
Over by the broken wall, Tyson groaned and stood up from the pile of cinder blocks. ‘Head hurts.’
Matt Sloan was coming around, too. He focused on me with a look of terror. ‘Percy did it, Mr
Bonsai! He set the whole building on fire. Coach Nunley will tell you! He saw it all!’
Coach Nunley had been dutifully reading his magazine, but just my luck – he chose that moment to
look up when Sloan said his name. ‘Eh? Yeah. Mm-hmm.’
The other adults turned towards me. I knew they would never believe me, even if I could tell them
the truth.
I grabbed Riptide out of my ruined jeans, told Tyson, ‘Come on!’ and jumped through the gaping
hole in the side of the building.
3 We Hail the Taxi of Eternal Torment
Annabeth was waiting for us in an alley down Church Street. She pulled Tyson and me off the
sidewalk just as a fire truck screamed past, heading for Meriwether Prep.
‘Where’d you find him?’ she demanded, pointing at Tyson.
Now, under different circumstances, I would’ve been really happy to see her. We’d made our
peace last summer, despite the fact that her mom was Athena and didn’t get along with my dad. I’d
missed Annabeth probably more than I wanted to admit.
But I’d just been attacked by cannibal giants, Tyson had saved my life three or four times, and all
Annabeth could do was glare at him like he was the problem.
‘He’s my friend,’ I told her.
‘Is he homeless?’
‘What does that have to do with anything? He can hear you, you know. Why don’t you ask him?’
She looked surprised. ‘He can talk?’
‘I talk,’ Tyson admitted. ‘You are pretty.’
‘Ah! Gross!’ Annabeth stepped away from him.
I couldn’t believe she was being so rude. I examined Tyson’s hands, which I was sure must’ve
been badly scorched by the flaming dodgeballs, but they looked fine – grimy and scarred, with dirty
fingernails the size of potato chips – but they always looked like that. ‘Tyson,’ I said in disbelief.
‘Your hands aren’t even burned.’
‘Of course not,’ Annabeth muttered. ‘I’m surprised the Laistrygonians had the guts to attack you
with him around.’
Tyson seemed fascinated by Annabeth’s blonde hair. He tried to touch it, but she smacked his hand
away.
‘Annabeth,’ I said, ‘what are you talking about? Laistry-what?’
‘Laistrygonians. The monsters in the gym. They’re a race of giant cannibals who live in the far
north. Odysseus ran into them once, but I’ve never seen them as far south as New York before.’
‘Laistry – I can’t even say that. What would you call them in English?’
She thought about it for a moment. ‘Canadians,’ she decided. ‘Now come on, we have to get out of
here.’
‘The police’ll be after me.’
‘That’s the least of our problems,’ she said. ‘Have you been having the dreams?’
‘The dreams … about Grover?’
Her face turned pale. ‘Grover? No, what about Grover?’
I told her my dream. ‘Why? What were you dreaming about?’
Her eyes looked stormy, like her mind was racing a million miles an hour.
‘Camp,’ she said at last. ‘Big trouble at camp.’
‘My mom was saying the same thing! But what kind of trouble?’
‘I don’t know exactly. Something’s wrong. We have to get there right away. Monsters have been
chasing me all the way from Virginia, trying to stop me. Have you had a lot of attacks?’
I shook my head. ‘None all year … until today.’
‘None? But how…’ Her eyes drifted to Tyson. ‘Oh.’
‘What do mean, “oh”?’
Tyson raised his hand like he was still in class. ‘Canadians in the gym called Percy something …
Son of the Sea God?’
Annabeth and I exchanged looks.
I didn’t know how I could explain, but I figured Tyson deserved the truth after almost getting killed.
‘Big guy,’ I said, ‘you ever hear those old stories about the Greek gods? Like Zeus, Poseidon,
Athena –’
‘Yes,’ Tyson said.
‘Well … those gods are still alive. They kind of follow Western Civilization around, living in the
strongest countries, so like now they’re in the U.S. And sometimes they have kids with mortals. Kids
called half-bloods.’
‘Yes,’ Tyson said, like he was still waiting for me to get to the point.
‘Uh, well, Annabeth and I are half-bloods,’ I said. ‘We’re like … heroes-in-training. And
whenever monsters pick up our scent, they attack us. That’s what those giants were in the gym.
Monsters.’
‘Yes.’
I stared at him. He didn’t seem surprised or confused by what I was telling him, which surprised
and confused me. ‘So … you believe me?’
Tyson nodded. ‘But you are … Son of the Sea God?’
‘Yeah,’ I admitted. ‘My dad is Poseidon.’
Tyson frowned. Now he looked confused. ‘But then…’
A siren wailed. A police car raced past our alley.
‘We don’t have time for this,’ Annabeth said. ‘We’ll talk in the taxi.’
‘A taxi all the way to camp?’ I said. ‘You know how much money –’
‘Trust me.’
I hesitated. ‘What about Tyson?’
I imagined escorting my giant friend into Camp Half-Blood. If he freaked out on a regular
playground with regular bullies, how would he act at a training camp for demigods? On the other
hand, the cops would be looking for us.
‘We can’t just leave him,’ I decided. ‘He’ll be in trouble, too.’
‘Yeah.’ Annabeth looked grim. ‘We definitely need to take him. Now come on.’
I didn’t like the way she said that, as if Tyson were a big disease we needed to get to the hospital,
but I followed her down the alley. Together the three of us sneaked through the side streets of
downtown while a huge column of smoke billowed up behind us from my school gymnasium.
‘Here.’ Annabeth stopped us on the corner of Thomas and Trimble. She fished around in her
backpack. ‘I hope I have one left.’
She looked even worse than I’d realized at first. Her chin was cut. Twigs and grass were tangled in
her ponytail, as if she’d slept several nights in the open. The slashes on the hems of her jeans looked
suspiciously like claw marks.
‘What are you looking for?’ I asked.
All around us, sirens wailed. I figured it wouldn’t be long before more cops cruised by, looking for
juvenile delinquent gym-bombers. No doubt Matt Sloan had given them a statement by now. He’d
probably twisted the story around so that Tyson and I were the bloodthirsty cannibals.
‘Found one. Thank the gods.’ Annabeth pulled out a gold coin that I recognized as a drachma, the
currency of Mount Olympus. It had Zeus’s likeness stamped on one side and the Empire State
Building on the other.
‘Annabeth,’ I said, ‘New York taxi drivers won’t take that.’
‘Anakoche’ she shouted in Ancient Greek. ‘Harma epitribeios!’
As usual, the moment she spoke in the language of Olympus, I somehow understood it. She’d said,
Stop, Chariot of Damnation!
That didn’t exactly make me feel real excited about whatever her plan was.
She threw her coin into the street, but instead of clattering on the tarmac, the drachma sank right
through and disappeared.
For a moment, nothing happened.
Then, just where the coin had fallen, the tarmac darkened. It melted into a rectangular pool about
the size of a parking space – bubbling red liquid like blood. Then a car erupted from the ooze.
It was a taxi, all right, but, unlike every other taxi in New York, it wasn’t yellow. It was smoky
grey. I mean it looked like it was woven out of smoke, like you could walk right through it. There
were words printed on the door – something like GYAR SSIRES – but my dyslexia made it hard for
me to decipher what it said.
The passenger window rolled down, and an old woman stuck her head out. She had a mop of
grizzled hair covering her eyes, and she spoke in a weird mumbling way, like she’d just had a shot of
Novocain. ‘Passage? Passage?’
‘Three to Camp Half-Blood,’ Annabeth said. She opened the cab’s back door and waved at me to
get in, like this was all completely normal.
‘Ach!’ the old woman screeched. ‘We don’t take his kind!’
She pointed a bony finger at Tyson.
What was it? Pick-on-Big-and-Ugly-Kids Day?
‘Extra pay,’ Annabeth promised. ‘Three more drachmas on arrival.’
‘Done!’ the woman screamed.
Reluctantly I got in the cab. Tyson squeezed in the middle. Annabeth crawled in last.
The interior was also smoky grey, but it felt solid enough. The seat was cracked and lumpy – no
different than most taxis. There was no Plexiglas screen separating us from the old lady driving …
Wait a minute. There wasn’t just one old lady. There were three, all crammed in the front seat, each
with stringy hair covering her eyes, bony hands and a charcoal-coloured sackcloth dress.
The one driving said, ‘Long Island! Out-of-metro fare bonus! Ha!’
She floored the accelerator, and my head slammed against the backrest. A pre-recorded voice
came on over the speaker: Hi, this is Ganymede, cup-bearer to Zeus, and when I’m out buying wine
for the Lord of the Skies, I always buckle up!
I looked down and found a large black chain instead of a seat belt. I decided I wasn’t that
desperate … yet.
The cab sped around the corner of West Broadway, and the grey lady sitting in the middle
screeched, ‘Look out! Go left!’
‘Well, if you’d give me the eye, Tempest, I could see that!’ the driver complained.
Wait a minute. Give her the eye?
I didn’t have time to ask questions because the driver swerved to avoid an oncoming delivery
truck, ran over the kerb with a jaw-rattling thump, and flew into the next block.
‘Wasp!’ the third lady said to the driver. ‘Give me the girl’s coin! I want to bite it.’
‘You bit it last time, Anger!’ said the driver, whose name must’ve been Wasp. ‘It’s my turn!’
‘Is not!’ yelled the one called Anger.
The middle one, Tempest, screamed, ‘Red light!’
‘Brake!’ yelled Anger.
Instead, Wasp floored the accelerator and rode up on the kerb, screeching around another corner,
and knocking over a newspaper box. She left my stomach somewhere back on Broome Street.
‘Excuse me,’ I said. ‘But … can you see?’
‘No!’ screamed Wasp from behind the wheel.
‘No!’ screamed Tempest from the middle.
‘Of course!’ screamed Anger by the shotgun window.
I looked at Annabeth. ‘They’re blind?’
‘Not completely,’ Annabeth said. ‘They have an eye.’
‘One eye?’
‘Yeah.’
‘Each?’
‘No. One eye total.’
Next to me, Tyson groaned and grabbed the seat. ‘Not feeling so good.’
‘Oh, man,’ I said, because I’d seen Tyson get carsick on school field trips and it was not something
you wanted to be within fifteen metres of. ‘Hang in there, big guy. Anybody got a garbage bag or
something?’
The three grey ladies were too busy squabbling to pay me any attention. I looked over at Annabeth,
who was hanging on for dear life, and I gave her a why-did-you-do-this-to-me look.
‘Hey,’ she said, ‘Grey Sisters Taxi is the fastest way to camp.’
‘Then why didn’t you take it from Virginia?’
‘That’s outside their service area,’ she said, like that should be obvious. ‘They only serve Greater
New York and surrounding communities.’
‘We’ve had famous people in this cab!’ Anger exclaimed. ‘Jason! You remember him?’
‘Don’t remind me!’ Wasp wailed. ‘And we didn’t have a cab back then, you old bat. That was
three thousand years ago!’
‘Give me the tooth!’ Anger tried to grab at Wasp’s mouth, but Wasp swatted her hand away.
‘Only if Tempest gives me the eye!’
‘No!’ Tempest screeched. ‘You had it yesterday!’
‘But I’m driving, you old hag!’
‘Excuses! Turn! That was your turn!’
Wasp swerved hard onto Delancey Street, squishing me between Tyson and the door. She punched
the gas and we shot up the Williamsburg Bridge at seventy miles an hour.
The three sisters were fighting for real now, slapping each other as Anger tried to grab at Wasp’s
face and Wasp tried to grab at Tempest’s. With their hair flying and their mouths open, screaming at
each other, I realized that none of the sisters had any teeth except for Wasp, who had one mossy
yellow incisor. Instead of eyes, they just had closed, sunken eyelids, except for Anger, who had one
bloodshot green eye that stared at everything hungrily, as if it couldn’t get enough of anything it saw.
Finally Anger, who had the advantage of sight, managed to yank the tooth out of her sister Wasp’s
mouth. This made Wasp so mad she swerved towards the edge of the Williamsburg Bridge, yelling,
‘’Ivit back! ’Ivit back!’
Tyson groaned and clutched his stomach.
‘Uh, if anybody’s interested,’ I said, ‘we’re going to die!’
‘Don’t worry,’ Annabeth told me, sounding pretty worried. ‘The Grey Sisters know what they’re
doing. They’re really very wise.’
This coming from the daughter of Athena, but I wasn’t exactly reassured. We were skimming along
the edge of a bridge forty metres above the East River.
‘Yes, wise!’ Anger grinned in the rear-view mirror, showing off her newly acquired tooth. ‘We
know things!’
‘Every street in Manhattan!’ Wasp bragged, still hitting her sister. ‘The capital of Nepal!’
‘The location you seek!’ Tempest added.
Immediately her sisters pummelled her from either side, screaming, ‘Be quiet! Be quiet! He didn’t
even ask yet!’
‘What?’ I said. ‘What location? I’m not seeking any –’
‘Nothing!’ Tempest said. ‘You’re right, boy. It’s nothing!’
‘Tell me.’
‘No!’ they all screamed.
‘The last time we told, it was horrible!’ Tempest said.
‘Eye tossed in a lake!’ Anger agreed.
‘Years to find it again!’ Wasp moaned. ‘And speaking of that – give it back!’
‘No!’ yelled Anger.
‘Eye!’ Wasp yelled. ‘Gimme!’
She whacked her sister Anger on the back. There was a sickening pop and something flew out of
Anger’s face. Anger fumbled for it, trying to catch it, but she only managed to bat it with the back of
her hand. The slimy green orb sailed over her shoulder, into the back seat, and straight into my lap.
I jumped so hard, my head hit the ceiling and the eyeball rolled away.
‘I can’t see!’ all three sisters yelled.
‘Give me the eye!’ Wasp wailed.
‘Give her the eye!’ Annabeth screamed.
‘I don’t have it!’ I said.
‘There, by your foot,’ Annabeth said. ‘Don’t step on it! Get it!’
‘I’m not picking that up!’
The taxi slammed against the guardrail and skidded along with a horrible grinding noise. The
whole car shuddered, billowing grey smoke as if it were about to dissolve from the strain.
‘Going to be sick!’ Tyson warned.
‘Annabeth,’ I yelled, ‘let Tyson use your backpack!’
‘Are you crazy? Get the eye!’
Wasp yanked the wheel, and the taxi swerved away from the rail. We hurtled down the bridge
towards Brooklyn, going faster than any human taxi. The Grey Sisters screeched and pummelled each
other and cried out for their eye.
At last I steeled my nerves. I ripped off a chunk of my tie-dyed T-shirt, which was already falling
apart from all the burn marks, and used it to pick the eyeball off the floor.
‘Nice boy!’ Anger cried, as if she somehow knew I had her missing peeper. ‘Give it back!’
‘Not until you explain,’ I told her. ‘What were you talking about, the location I seek?’
‘No time!’ Tempest cried. ‘Accelerating!’
I looked out the window. Sure enough, trees and cars and whole neighbourhoods were now zipping
by in a grey blur. We were already out of Brooklyn, heading through the middle of Long Island.
‘Percy,’ Annabeth warned, ‘they can’t find our destination without the eye. We’ll just keep
accelerating until we break into a million pieces.’
‘First they have to tell me,’ I said. ‘Or I’ll open the window and throw the eye into oncoming
traffic.’
‘No!’ the Grey Sisters wailed. ‘Too dangerous!’
‘I’m rolling down the window.’
‘Wait!’ the Grey Sisters screamed. ‘Thirty, thirty-one, seventy-five, twelve!’
They belted it out like a quarterback calling a play.
‘What do you mean?’ I said. ‘That makes no sense!’
‘Thirty, thirty-one, seventy-five, twelve!’ Anger wailed. ‘That’s all we can tell you. Now give us
the eye! Almost to camp!’
We were off the highway now, zipping through the countryside of northern Long Island. I could see
Half-Blood Hill ahead of us, with its giant pine tree at the crest – Thalia’s tree, which contained the
life force of a fallen hero.
‘Percy!’ Annabeth said more urgently. ‘Give them the eye now!’
I decided not to argue. I threw the eye into Wasp’s lap.
The old lady snatched it up, pushed it into her eye socket like somebody putting in a contact lens,
and blinked. ‘Whoa!’
She slammed on the brakes. The taxi spun four or five times in a cloud of smoke and squealed to a
halt in the middle of the farm road at the base of Half-Blood Hill.
Tyson let loose a huge belch. ‘Better now.’
‘All right,’ I told the Grey Sisters. ‘Now tell me what those numbers mean.’
‘No time!’ Annabeth opened her door. ‘We have to get out now.’
I was about to ask why, when I looked up at Half-Blood Hill and understood.
At the crest of the hill was a group of campers. And they were under attack.
4 Tyson Plays with Fire
Mythologically speaking, if there’s anything I hate worse than trios of old ladies, it’s bulls. Last
summer, I fought the Minotaur on top of Half-Blood Hill. This time what I saw up there was even
worse: two bulls. And not just regular bulls – bronze ones the size of elephants. And even that wasn’t
bad enough. Naturally they had to breathe fire, too.
As soon as we exited the taxi, the Grey Sisters peeled out, heading back to New York, where life
was safer. They didn’t even wait for their extra three-drachma payment. They just left us on the side
of the road, Annabeth with nothing but her backpack and knife, Tyson and me still in our burned-up
tie-dyed gym clothes.
‘Oh, man,’ said Annabeth, looking at the battle raging on the hill.
What worried me most weren’t the bulls themselves. Or the ten heroes in full battle armour who
were getting their bronze-plated booties whooped. What worried me was that the bulls were ranging
all over the hill, even around the back side of the pine tree. That shouldn’t have been possible. The
camp’s magic boundaries didn’t allow monsters to cross past Thalia’s tree. But the metal bulls were
doing it anyway.
One of the heroes shouted, ‘Border patrol, to me!’ A girl’s voice – gruff and familiar.
Border patrol? I thought. The camp didn’t have a border patrol.
‘It’s Clarisse,’ Annabeth said. ‘Come on, we have to help her.’
Normally, rushing to Clarisse’s aid would not have been high on my ‘to do’ list. She was one of the
biggest bullies at camp. The first time we’d met she tried to introduce my head to a toilet. She was
also a daughter of Ares, and I’d had a very serious disagreement with her father last summer, so now
the god of war and all his children basically hated my guts.
Still, she was in trouble. Her fellow warriors were scattering, running in panic as the bulls
charged. The grass was burning in huge swathes around the pine tree. One hero screamed and waved
his arms as he ran in circles, the horsehair plume on his helmet blazing like a fiery Mohawk.
Clarisse’s own armour was charred. She was fighting with a broken spear shaft, the other end
embedded uselessly in the metal joint of one bull’s shoulder.
I uncapped my ballpoint pen. It shimmered, growing longer and heavier until I held the bronze
sword Anaklusmos in my hands. ‘Tyson, stay here. I don’t want you taking any more chances.’
‘No!’ Annabeth said. ‘We need him.’
I stared at her. ‘He’s mortal. He got lucky with the dodgeballs but he can’t –’
‘Percy, do you know what those are up there? The Colchis bulls, made by Hephaestus himself. We
can’t fight them without Medea’s Sunscreen SPF 50,000. We’ll get burned to a crisp.’
‘Medea’s what?’
Annabeth rummaged through her backpack and cursed. ‘I had a jar of tropical coconut scent sitting
on my nightstand at home. Why didn’t I bring it?’
I’d learned a long time ago not to question Annabeth too much. It just made me more confused.
‘Look, I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I’m not going to let Tyson get fried.’
‘Percy –’
‘Tyson, stay back.’ I raised my sword. ‘I’m going in.’
Tyson tried to protest, but I was already running up the hill towards Clarisse, who was yelling at
her patrol, trying to get them into phalanx formation. It was a good idea. The few who were listening
lined up shoulder to shoulder, locking their shields to form an ox-hide-and-bronze wall, their spears
bristling over the top like porcupine quills.
Unfortunately, Clarisse could only muster six campers. The other four were still running around
with their helmets on fire. Annabeth ran towards them, trying to help. She taunted one of the bulls into
chasing her, then turned invisible, completely confusing the monster. The other bull charged
Clarisse’s line.
I was halfway up the hill – not close enough to help. Clarisse hadn’t even seen me yet.
The bull moved deadly fast for something so big. Its metal hide gleamed in the sun. It had fist-sized
rubies for eyes and horns of polished silver. When it opened its hinged mouth, a column of white-hot
flame blasted out.
‘Hold the line!’ Clarisse ordered her warriors.
Whatever else you could say about Clarisse, she was brave. She was a big girl with cruel eyes like
her father’s. She looked like she was born to wear Greek battle armour, but I didn’t see how even she
could stand against that bull’s charge.
Unfortunately, at that moment, the other bull lost interest in finding Annabeth. It turned, wheeling
around behind Clarisse on her unprotected side.
‘Behind you!’ I yelled. ‘Look out!’
I shouldn’t have said anything, because all I did was startle her. Bull Number One crashed into her
shield, and the phalanx broke. Clarisse went flying backwards and landed in a smouldering patch of
grass. The bull charged past her, but not before blasting the other heroes with its fiery breath. Their
shields melted right off their arms. They dropped their weapons and ran as Bull Number Two closed
in on Clarisse for the kill.
I lunged forward and grabbed Clarisse by the straps of her armour. I dragged her out of the way
just as Bull Number Two freight-trained past. I gave it a good swipe with Riptide and cut a huge gash
in its flank, but the monster just creaked and groaned and kept on going.
It hadn’t touched me, but I could feel the heat of its metal skin. Its body temperature could’ve
microwaved a frozen burrito.
‘Let me go!’ Clarisse pummelled my hand. ‘Percy, curse you!’
I dropped her in a heap next to the pine tree and turned to face the bulls. We were on the inside
slope of the hill now, the valley of Camp Half-Blood directly below us – the cabins, the training
facilities, the Big House – all of it at risk if these bulls got past us.
Annabeth shouted orders to the other heroes, telling them to spread out and keep the bulls
distracted.
Bull Number One ran a wide arc, making its way back towards me. As it passed the middle of the
hill, where the invisible boundary line should’ve kept it out, it slowed down a little, as if it were
struggling against a strong wind; but then it broke through and kept coming. Bull Number Two turned
to face me, fire sputtering from the gash I’d cut in its side. I couldn’t tell if it felt any pain, but its ruby
eyes seemed to glare at me like I’d just made things personal.
I couldn’t fight both bulls at the same time. I’d have to take down Bull Number Two first, cut its
head off before Bull Number One charged back into range. My arms already felt tired. I realized how
long it had been since I’d worked out with Riptide, how out of practice I was.
I lunged but Bull Number Two blew flames at me. I rolled aside as the air turned to pure heat. All
the oxygen was sucked out of my lungs. My foot caught on something – a tree root, maybe – and pain
shot up my ankle. Still, I managed to slash with my sword and lop off part of the monster’s snout. It
galloped away, wild and disoriented. But before I could feel too good about that, I tried to stand, and
my left leg buckled underneath me. My ankle was sprained, maybe broken.
Bull Number One charged straight towards me. No way could I crawl out of its path.
Annabeth shouted, ‘Tyson, help him!’
Somewhere near, towards the crest of the hill, Tyson wailed, ‘Can’t – get – through!’
‘I, Annabeth Chase, give you permission to enter camp!’
Thunder shook the hillside. Suddenly Tyson was there, barrelling towards me, yelling, ‘Percy
needs help!’
Before I could tell him no, he dived between me and the bull just as it unleashed a nuclear
firestorm.
‘Tyson!’ I yelled.
The blast swirled around him like a red tornado. I could only see the black silhouette of his body. I
knew with horrible certainty that my friend had just been turned into a column of ashes.
But when the fire died, Tyson was still standing there, completely unharmed. Not even his grungy
clothes were scorched. The bull must’ve been as surprised as I was, because before it could unleash
a second blast, Tyson balled his fists and slammed them into the bull’s face. ‘BAD COW!’
His fists made a crater where the bronze bull’s snout used to be. Two small columns of flame shot
out of its ears. Tyson hit it again, and the bronze crumpled under his hands like aluminium foil. The
bull’s face now looked like a sock puppet pulled inside out.
‘Down!’ Tyson yelled.
The bull staggered and fell on its back. Its legs moved feebly in the air, steam coming out of its
ruined head in odd places.
Annabeth ran over to check on me.
My ankle felt like it was filled with acid, but she gave me some Olympian nectar to drink from her
canteen, and I immediately started to feel better. There was a burning smell that I later learned was
me. The hair on my arms had been completely singed off.
‘The other bull?’ I asked.
Annabeth pointed down the hill. Clarisse had taken care of Bad Cow Number Two. She’d impaled
it through the back leg with a celestial bronze spear. Now, with its snout half gone and a huge gash in
its side, it was trying to run in slow motion, going in circles like some kind of merry-go-round animal.
Clarisse pulled off her helmet and marched towards us. A strand of her stringy brown hair was
smouldering, but she didn’t seem to notice. ‘You – ruin – everything!’ she yelled at me. ‘I had it under
control!’
I was too stunned to answer. Annabeth grumbled, ‘Good to see you too, Clarisse.’
Argh!’ Clarisse screamed. ‘Don’t ever, EVER try saving me again!’
‘Clarisse,’ Annabeth said, ‘you’ve got wounded campers.’
That sobered her up. Even Clarisse cared about the soldiers under her command.
‘I’ll be back,’ she growled, then trudged off to assess the damage.
I stared at Tyson. ‘You didn’t die.’
Tyson looked down like he was embarrassed. ‘I am sorry. Came to help. Disobeyed you.’
‘My fault,’ Annabeth said. ‘I had no choice. I had to let Tyson cross the boundary line to save you.
Otherwise, you would’ve died.’
‘Let him cross the boundary line?” I asked. ‘But –’
‘Percy,’ she said, ‘have you ever looked at Tyson closely? I mean … in the face. Ignore the Mist,
and really look at him.’
The Mist makes humans see only what their brains can process … I knew it could fool demigods,
too, but …
I looked Tyson in the face. It wasn’t easy. I’d always had trouble looking directly at him, though I’d
never quite understood why. I’d thought it was just because he always had peanut butter in his
crooked teeth. I forced myself to focus at his big lumpy nose, then a little higher at his eyes.
No, not eyes.
One eye. One large, calf-brown eye, right in the middle of his forehead, with thick lashes and big
tears trickling down his cheeks on either side.
‘Tyson,’ I stammered. ‘You’re a…’
‘Cyclops,’ Annabeth offered. ‘A baby, by the looks of him. Probably why he couldn’t get past the
boundary line as easily as the bulls. Tyson’s one of the homeless orphans.’
‘One of the what?’
‘They’re in almost all the big cities,’ Annabeth said distastefully. ‘They’re … mistakes, Percy.
Children of nature spirits and gods … Well, one god in particular, usually … and they don’t always
come out right. No one wants them. They get tossed aside. They grow up wild on the streets. I don’t
know how this one found you, but he obviously likes you. We should take him to Chiron, let him
decide what to do.’
‘But the fire. How –’
‘He’s a Cyclops.’ Annabeth paused, as if she were remembering something unpleasant. ‘They work
the forges of the gods. They have to be immune to fire. That’s what I was trying to tell you.’
I was completely shocked. How had I never realized what Tyson was?
But I didn’t have much time to think about it just then. The whole side of the hill was burning.
Wounded heroes needed attention. And there were still two banged-up bronze bulls to dispose of,
which I didn’t figure would fit in our normal recycling bins.
Clarisse came back over and wiped the soot off her forehead. ‘Jackson, if you can stand, get up.
We need to carry the wounded back to the Big House, let Tantalus know what’s happened.’
‘Tantalus?’ I asked.
‘The activities director,’ Clarisse said impatiently.
‘Chiron is the activities director. And where’s Argus? He’s head of security. He should be here.’
Clarisse made a sour face. ‘Argus got fired. You two have been gone too long. Things are
changing.’
‘But Chiron … He’s trained kids to fight monsters for over three thousand years. He can’t just be
gone. What happened?’
‘That happened,’ Clarisse snapped.
She pointed to Thalia’s tree.
Every camper knew the story behind the tree. Six years ago, Grover, Annabeth and two other
demigods named Thalia and Luke had come to Camp Half-Blood chased by an army of monsters.
When they got cornered on top of this hill, Thalia, a daughter of Zeus, had made her last stand here to
give her friends time to reach safety. As she was dying, her father Zeus took pity on her and changed
her into a pine tree. Her spirit had reinforced the magic borders of the camp, protecting it from
monsters. The pine had been here ever since, strong and healthy.
But now, its needles were yellow. A huge pile of dead ones littered the base of the tree. In the
centre of the trunk, a metre from the ground, was a puncture mark the size of a bullet hole, oozing
green sap.
A sliver of ice ran through my chest. Now I understood why the camp was in danger. The magical
borders were failing because Thalia’s tree was dying.
Someone had poisoned it.
5 I Get a New Cabin Mate
Ever come home and found your room messed up? Like some helpful person (hi, Mom) has tried to
‘clean’ it, and suddenly you can’t find anything? And even if nothing is missing, you get that creepy
feeling like somebody’s been looking through your private stuff and dusting everything with lemon
furniture polish?
That’s kind of the way I felt seeing Camp Half-Blood again.
On the surface, things didn’t look all that different. The Big House was still there with its blue
gabled roof and its wraparound porch. The strawberry fields still baked in the sun. The same whitecolumned Greek buildings were scattered around the valley – the amphitheatre, the combat arena, the
dining pavilion overlooking Long Island Sound. And nestled between the woods and the creek were
the same cabins – a crazy assortment of twelve buildings, each representing a different Olympian god.
But there was an air of danger now. You could tell something was wrong. Instead of playing
volleyball in the sandpit, counsellors and satyrs were stockpiling weapons in the tool shed. Dryads
armed with bows and arrows talked nervously at the edge of the woods. The forest looked sickly, the
grass in the meadow was pale yellow, and the fire marks on Half-Blood Hill stood out like ugly
scars.
Somebody had messed with my favourite place in the world, and I was not … well, a happy
camper.
As we made our way to the Big House, I recognized a lot of kids from last summer. Nobody
stopped to talk. Nobody said, ‘Welcome back.’ Some did double takes when they saw Tyson, but
most just walked grimly past and carried on with their duties – running messages, toting swords to
sharpen on the grinding wheels. The camp felt like a military school. And believe me, I know. I’ve
been kicked out of a couple.
None of that mattered to Tyson. He was absolutely fascinated by everything he saw. ‘Whasthat!’ he
gasped.
‘The stables for pegasi,’ I said. ‘The winged horses.’
‘Whasthat!’
‘Um … those are the toilets.’
‘Whasthat!’
‘The cabins for the campers. If they don’t know who your Olympian parent is, they put you in the
Hermes cabin – that brown one over there – until you’re determined. Then, once they know, they put
you in your dad or mom’s group.’
He looked at me in awe. ‘You … have a cabin?
‘Number three.’ I pointed to a low grey building made of sea stone.
‘You live with friends in the cabin?’
‘No. No, just me.’ I didn’t feel like explaining. The embarrassing truth: I was the only one who
stayed in that cabin because I wasn’t supposed to be alive. The ‘Big Three’ gods – Zeus, Poseidon
and Hades – had made a pact after World War II not to have any more children with mortals. We
were more powerful than regular half-bloods. We were too unpredictable. When we got mad we
tended to cause problems … like World War II, for instance. The ‘Big Three’ pact had only been
broken twice – once when Zeus sired Thalia, once when Poseidon sired me. Neither of us should’ve
been born.
Thalia had got herself turned into a pine tree when she was twelve. Me … well, I was doing my
best not to follow her example. I had nightmares about what Poseidon might turn me into if I were
ever on the verge of death – plankton, maybe. Or a floating patch of kelp.
When we got to the Big House, we found Chiron in his apartment, listening to his favourite 1960s
lounge music while he packed his saddlebags. I guess I should mention – Chiron is a centaur. From
the waist up he looks like a regular middle-aged guy with curly brown hair and a scraggly beard.
From the waist down, he’s a white stallion. He can pass for human by compacting his lower half into
a magic wheelchair. In fact, he’d passed himself off as my Latin teacher during my sixth-grade year.
But most of the time, if the ceilings are high enough, he prefers hanging out in full centaur form.
As soon as we saw him, Tyson froze. ‘Pony!’ he cried in total rapture.
Chiron turned, looking offended. ‘I beg your pardon?’
Annabeth ran up and hugged him. ‘Chiron, what’s happening? You’re not … leaving?’ Her voice
was shaky. Chiron was like a second father to her.
Chiron ruffled her hair and gave her a kindly smile. ‘Hello, child. And Percy, my goodness.
You’ve grown over the year!’
I swallowed. ‘Clarisse said you were … you were…’
‘Fired.’ Chiron’s eyes glinted with dark humour. ‘Ah, well, someone had to take the blame. Lord
Zeus was most upset The tree he’d created from the spirit of his daughter, poisoned! Mr D had to
punish someone.’
‘Besides himself, you mean,’ I growled. Just the thought of the camp director, Mr D, made me
angry.
‘But this is crazy!’ Annabeth cried. ‘Chiron, you couldn’t have had anything to do with poisoning
Thalia’s tree!’
‘Nevertheless,’ Chiron sighed, ‘some in Olympus do not trust me now, under the circumstances.’
‘What circumstances?’ I asked.
Chiron’s face darkened. He stuffed a Latin–English dictionary into his saddlebag while the Frank
Sinatra music oozed from his boom box.
Tyson was still staring at Chiron in amazement. He whimpered like he wanted to pat Chiron’s flank
but was afraid to come closer. ‘Pony?’
Chiron sniffed. ‘My dear young Cyclops! I am a centaur.’
‘Chiron,’ I said. ‘What about the tree? What happened?’
He shook his head sadly. ‘The poison used on Thalia’s pine is something from the Underworld,
Percy. Some venom even I have never seen. It must have come from a monster quite deep in the pits
of Tartarus.’
‘Then we know who’s responsible. Kro–’
‘Do not invoke the titan lord’s name, Percy. Especially not here, not now.’
‘But last summer he tried to cause a civil war in Olympus! This has to be his idea. He’d get Luke
to do it, that traitor.’
‘Perhaps,’ Chiron said. ‘But I fear I am being held responsible because I did not prevent it and I
cannot cure it. The tree has only a few weeks of life left unless…’
‘Unless what?’ Annabeth asked.
‘No,’ Chiron said. ‘A foolish thought. The whole valley is feeling the shock of the poison. The
magical borders are deteriorating. The camp itself is dying. Only one source of magic would be
strong enough to reverse the poison, and it was lost centuries ago.’
‘What is it?’ I asked. ‘We’ll go find it!’
Chiron closed his saddlebag. He pressed the STOP button on his boom box. Then he turned and
rested his hand on my shoulder, looking me straight in the eyes. ‘Percy, you must promise me that you
will not act rashly. I told your mother I did not want you to come here at all this summer. It’s much
too dangerous. But now that you are here, stay here. Train hard. Learn to fight. But do not leave.’
‘Why?’ I asked. ‘I want to do something! I can’t just let the borders fail. The whole camp will be
–’
‘Overrun by monsters,’ Chiron said. ‘Yes, I fear so. But you must not let yourself be baited into
hasty action! This could be a trap of the titan lord. Remember last summer! He almost took your life.’
It was true, but still, I wanted to help so badly. I also wanted to make Kronos pay. I mean, you’d
think the titan lord would’ve learned his lesson aeons ago when he was overthrown by the gods.
You’d think getting chopped into a million pieces and cast into the darkest part of the Underworld
would give him a subtle clue that nobody wanted him around. But no. Because he was immortal, he
was still alive down there in Tartarus – suffering in eternal pain, hungering to return and take revenge
on Olympus. He couldn’t act on his own, but he was great at twisting the minds of mortals and even
gods to do his dirty work.
The poisoning had to be his doing. Who else would be so low as to attack Thalia’s tree, the only
thing left of a hero who’d given her life to save her friends?
Annabeth was trying hard not to cry. Chiron brushed a tear from her cheek. ‘Stay with Percy,
child,’ he told her. ‘Keep him safe. The prophecy – remember it!’
‘I-I will.’
‘Um…’ I said. ‘Would this be the super-dangerous prophecy that has me in it, but the gods have
forbidden you to tell me about?’
Nobody answered.
‘Right,’ I muttered. ‘Just checking.’
‘Chiron…’ Annabeth said. ‘You told me the gods made you immortal only so long as you were
needed to train heroes. If they dismiss you from camp –’
‘Swear you will do your best to keep Percy from danger,’ he insisted. ‘Swear upon the River
Styx.’
‘I-I swear it upon the River Styx,’ Annabeth said.
Thunder rumbled outside.
‘Very well,’ Chiron said. He seemed to relax just a little. ‘Perhaps my name will be cleared and I
shall return. Until then, I go to visit my wild kinsmen in the Everglades. It’s possible they know of
some cure for the poisoned tree that I have forgotten. In any event, I will stay in exile until this matter
is resolved … one way or another.’
Annabeth stifled a sob. Chiron patted her shoulder awkwardly. ‘There, now, child. I must entrust
your safety to Mr D and the new activities director. We must hope … well, perhaps they won’t
destroy the camp quite as quickly as I fear.’
‘Who is this Tantalus guy, anyway?’ I demanded. ‘Where does he get off taking your job?’
A conch horn blew across the valley. I hadn’t realized how late it was. It was time for the campers
to assemble for dinner.
‘Go,’ Chiron said. ‘You will meet him at the pavilion. I will contact your mother, Percy, and let
her know you’re safe. No doubt she’ll be worried by now. Just remember my warning! You are in
grave danger. Do not think for a moment that the titan lord has forgotten you!’
With that, he clopped out of the apartment and down the hall, Tyson calling after him, ‘Pony! Don’t
go!’
I realized I’d forgotten to tell Chiron about my dream of Grover. Now it was too late. The best
teacher I’d ever had was gone, maybe for good.
Tyson started bawling almost as bad as Annabeth.
I tried to tell them that things would be okay, but I didn’t believe it.
The sun was setting behind the dining pavilion as the campers came up from their cabins. We stood in
the shadow of a marble column and watched them file in. Annabeth was still pretty shaken up, but she
promised she’d talk to us later. Then she went off to join her siblings from the Athena cabin – a dozen
boys and girls with blonde hair and grey eyes like hers. Annabeth wasn’t the oldest, but she’d been at
camp more summers than just about anybody. You could tell that by looking at her camp necklace –
one bead for every summer, and Annabeth had six. No one questioned her right to lead the line.
Next came Clarisse, leading the Ares cabin. She had one arm in a sling and a nasty-looking gash on
her cheek, but otherwise her encounter with the bronze bulls didn’t seem to have fazed her. Someone
had taped a piece of paper to her back that said, YOU MOO, GIRL! But nobody in her cabin was
bothering to tell her about it.
After the Ares kids came the Hephaestus cabin – six guys led by Charles Beckendorf, a big fifteenyear-old African American kid. He had hands the size of catchers’ mitts and a face that was hard and
squinty from looking into a blacksmith’s forge all day. He was nice enough once you got to know him,
but no one ever called him Charlie or Chuck or Charles. Most just called him Beckendorf. Rumour
was he could make anything. Give him a chunk of metal and he could create a razor-sharp sword or a
robotic warrior or a singing birdbath for your grandmother’s garden. Whatever you wanted.
The other cabins filed in: Demeter, Apollo, Aphrodite, Dionysus. Naiads came up from the canoe
lake. Dryads melted out of the trees. From the meadow came a dozen satyrs, who reminded me
painfully of Grover.
I’d always had a soft spot for the satyrs. When they were at camp, they had to do all kinds of odd
jobs for Mr D, the director, but their most important work was out in the real world. They were the
camp’s seekers. They went undercover into schools all over the world, looking for potential halfbloods and escorting them back to camp. That’s how I’d met Grover. He had been the first one to
recognize I was a demigod.
After the satyrs filed in to dinner, the Hermes cabin brought up the rear. They were always the
biggest cabin. Last summer, it had been led by Luke, the guy who’d fought with Thalia and Annabeth
on top of Half-Blood Hill. For a while, before Poseidon had claimed me, I’d lodged in the Hermes
cabin. Luke had befriended me … and then he’d tried to kill me.
Now the Hermes cabin was led by Travis and Connor Stoll. They weren’t twins, but they looked
so much alike it didn’t matter. I could never remember which one was older. They were both tall and
skinny, with mops of brown hair that hung in their eyes. They wore orange CAMP HALF-BLOOD Tshirts untucked over baggy shorts, and they had those elfish features all Hermes’s kids had: upturned
eyebrows, sarcastic smiles, a gleam in their eyes whenever they looked at you – like they were about
to drop a firecracker down your shirt. I’d always thought it was funny that the god of thieves would
have kids with the last name ‘Stoll’, but the only time I mentioned it to Travis and Connor, they both
stared at me blankly like they didn’t get the joke.
As soon as the last campers had filed in, I led Tyson into the middle of the pavilion. Conversations
faltered. Heads turned. ‘Who invited that? somebody at the Apollo table murmured.
I glared in their direction, but I couldn’t figure out who’d spoken.
From the head table a familiar voice drawled, ‘Well, well, if it isn’t Peter Johnson. My millennium
is complete.’
I gritted my teeth. ‘Percy Jackson … sir.’
Mr D sipped his Diet Coke. ‘Yes. Well, as you young people say these days, whatever’.
He was wearing his usual leopard-pattern Hawaiian shirt, walking shorts and tennis shoes with
black socks. With his pudgy belly and his blotchy red face, he looked like a Las Vegas tourist who’d
stayed up too late in the casinos. Behind him, a nervous-looking satyr was peeling the skins off grapes
and handing them to Mr D one at a time.
Mr D’s real name is Dionysus. The god of wine. Zeus appointed him director of Camp Half-Blood
to dry out for a hundred years – a punishment for chasing some off-limits wood nymph.
Next to him, where Chiron usually sat (or stood, in centaur form), was someone I’d never seen
before – a pale, horribly thin man in a threadbare orange prisoner’s jumpsuit. The number over his
pocket read 0001. He had blue shadows under his eyes, dirty fingernails and badly cut grey hair, like
his last haircut had been done with a weed whacker. He stared at me; his eyes made me nervous. He
looked … fractured. Angry and frustrated and hungry all at the same time.
‘This boy,’ Dionysus told him, ‘you need to watch. Poseidon’s child, you know.’
‘Ah!’ the prisoner said. ‘That one.’
His tone made it obvious that he and Dionysus had already discussed me at length.
‘I am Tantalus,’ the prisoner said, smiling coldly. ‘On special assignment here until, well, until my
Lord Dionysus decides otherwise. And you, Perseus Jackson, I do expect you to refrain from causing
any more trouble.’
‘Trouble?’ I demanded.
Dionysus snapped his fingers. A newspaper appeared on the table – the front page of today’s New
York Post. There was my yearbook picture from Meriwether Prep. It was hard for me to make out the
headline, but I had a pretty good guess what it said. Something like: Thirteen-Year-Old Lunatic
Torches Gymnasium.
‘Yes, trouble,’ Tantalus said with satisfaction. ‘You caused plenty of it last summer, I understand.’
I was too mad to speak. Like it was my fault the gods had almost got into a civil war?
A satyr inched forward nervously and set a plate of barbecued meat in front of Tantalus. The new
activities director licked his lips. He looked at his empty goblet and said, ‘Root beer. Barq’s special
stock. 1967.’
The glass filled itself with foamy soda. Tantalus stretched out his hand hesitantly, as if he were
afraid the goblet was hot.
‘Go on, then, old fellow,’ Dionysus said, a strange sparkle in his eyes. ‘Perhaps now it will work.’
Tantalus grabbed for the glass, but it scooted away before he could touch it. A few drops of root
beer spilled, and Tantalus tried to dab them up with his fingers, but the drops rolled away like
quicksilver before he could touch them. He growled and turned towards the plate of meat. He picked
up a fork and tried to stab a piece of brisket, but the plate skittered down the table and flew off the
end, straight into the coals of the brazier.
‘Blast!’ Tantalus muttered.
‘Ah, well,’ Dionysus said, his voice dripping with false sympathy. ‘Perhaps a few more days.
Believe me, old chap, working at this camp will be torture enough. I’m sure your old curse will fade
eventually.’
‘Eventually,’ muttered Tantalus, staring at Dionysus’s Diet Coke. ‘Do you have any idea how dry
one’s throat gets after three thousand years?’
‘You’re that spirit from the Fields of Punishment,’ I said. ‘The one who stands in the lake with the
fruit tree hanging over you, but you can’t eat or drink.’
Tantalus sneered at me. ‘A real scholar, aren’t you, boy?’
‘You must’ve done something really horrible when you were alive,’ I said, mildly impressed.
‘What was it?’
Tantalus’s eyes narrowed. Behind him, the satyrs were shaking their heads vigorously, trying to
warn me.
‘I’ll be watching you, Percy Jackson,’ Tantalus said. ‘I don’t want any problems at my camp.’
‘Your camp has problems already … sir.’
‘Oh, go sit down, Johnson,’ Dionysus sighed. ‘I believe that table over there is yours – the one
where no one else ever wants to sit.’
My face was burning, but I knew better than to talk back. Dionysus was an overgrown brat, but he
was an immortal, superpowerful overgrown brat. I said, ‘Come on, Tyson.’
‘Oh, no,’ Tantalus said. ‘The monster stays here. We must decide what to do with it.’
‘Him’, I snapped. ‘His name is Tyson.’
The new activities director raised an eyebrow.
‘Tyson saved the camp,’ I insisted. ‘He pounded those bronze bulls. Otherwise they would’ve
burned down this whole place.’
‘Yes,’ Tantalus sighed, ‘and what a pity that would’ve been.’
Dionysus snickered.
‘Leave us,’ Tantalus ordered, ‘while we decide this creature’s fate.’
Tyson looked at me with fear in his one big eye, but I knew I couldn’t disobey a direct order from
the camp directors. Not openly, anyway.
‘I’ll be right over here, big guy,’ I promised. ‘Don’t worry. We’ll find you a good place to sleep
tonight.’
Tyson nodded. ‘I believe you. You are my friend.’
Which made me feel a whole lot guiltier.
I trudged over to the Poseidon table and slumped onto the bench. A wood nymph brought me a plate
of Olympian olive-and-pepperoni pizza, but I wasn’t hungry. I’d been almost killed twice today. I’d
managed to end my school year with a complete disaster. Camp Half-Blood was in serious trouble
and Chiron had told me not to do anything about it.
I didn’t feel very thankful, but I took my dinner, as was customary, up to the bronze brazier and
scraped part of it into the flames.
‘Poseidon,’ I murmured, ‘accept my offering.’
And send me some help while you’re at it, I prayed silently. Please.
The smoke from the burning pizza changed into something fragrant – the smell of a clean sea breeze
with wildflowers mixed in – but I had no idea if that meant my father was really listening.
I went back to my seat. I didn’t think things could get much worse. But then Tantalus had one of the
satyrs blow the conch horn to get our attention for announcements.
***
‘Yes, well,’ Tantalus said, once the talking had died down. ‘Another fine meal! Or so I am told.’ As
he spoke, he inched his hand towards his refilled dinner plate, as if maybe the food wouldn’t notice
what he was doing, but it did. It shot away down the table as soon as he got within twenty
centimetres.
‘And here on my first day of authority,’ he continued, ‘I’d like to say what a pleasant form of
punishment it is to be here. Over the course of the summer, I hope to torture, er, interact with each and
every one of you children. You all look good enough to eat.’
Dionysus clapped politely, leading to some half-hearted applause from the satyrs. Tyson was still
standing at the head table, looking uncomfortable, but every time he tried to scoot out of the limelight,
Tantalus pulled him back.
‘And now some changes!’ Tantalus gave the campers a crooked smile. ‘We are reinstituting the
chariot races!’
Murmuring broke out at all the tables – excitement, fear, disbelief.
‘Now I know,’ Tantalus continued, raising his voice, ‘that these races were discontinued some
years ago due to, ah, technical problems.’
‘Three deaths and twenty-six mutilations,’ someone at the Apollo table called.
‘Yes, yes!’ Tantalus said. ‘But I know that you will all join me in welcoming the return of this
camp tradition. Golden laurels will go to the winning charioteers each month. Teams may register in
the morning! The first race will be held in three days’ time. We will release you from most of your
regular activities to prepare your chariots and choose your horses. Oh, and did I mention, the
victorious team’s cabin will have no chores for the month in which they win?’
An explosion of excited conversation – no KP for a whole month? No stable cleaning? Was he
serious?
Then the last person I expected to object did so.
‘But, sir!’ Clarisse said. She looked nervous, but she stood up to speak from the Ares table. Some
of the campers snickered when they saw the YOU MOO, GIRL! sign on her back. ‘What about patrol
duty? I mean, if we drop everything to ready our chariots –’
‘Ah, the hero of the day,’ Tantalus exclaimed. ‘Brave Clarisse, who single-handedly bested the
bronze bulls!’
Clarisse blinked, then blushed. ‘Um, I didn’t –’
‘And modest, too.’ Tantalus grinned. ‘Not to worry, my dear! This is a summer camp. We are here
to enjoy ourselves, yes?’
‘But the tree –’
‘And now,’ Tantalus said, as several of Clarisse’s cabin mates pulled her back into her seat,
‘before we proceed to the campfire and sing-along, one slight housekeeping issue. Percy Jackson and
Annabeth Chase have seen fit, for some reason, to bring this here.’ Tantalus waved a hand towards
Tyson.
Uneasy murmuring spread among the campers. A lot of sideways looks at me. I wanted to kill
Tantalus.
‘Now, of course,’ he said, ‘Cyclopes have a reputation for being bloodthirsty monsters with a very
small brain capacity. Under normal circumstances, I would release this beast into the woods and have
you hunt it down with torches and pointed sticks. But who knows? Perhaps this Cyclops is not as
horrible as most of its brethren. Until it proves worthy of destruction, we need a place to keep it! I’ve
thought about the stables, but that will make the horses nervous. Hermes’s cabin, possibly?’
Silence at the Hermes table. Travis and Connor Stoll developed a sudden interest in the tablecloth.
I couldn’t blame them. The Hermes cabin was always full to bursting. There was no way they could
take in a two-metre Cyclops.
‘Come now,’ Tantalus chided. ‘The monster may be able to do some menial chores. Any
suggestions as to where such a beast should be kennelled?’
Suddenly everybody gasped.
Tantalus scooted away from Tyson in surprise. All I could do was stare in disbelief at the brilliant
green light that was about to change my life – a dazzling holographic image that had appeared above
Tyson’s head.
With a sickening twist in my stomach, I remembered what Annabeth had said about Cyclopes,
They’re the children of nature spirits and gods … Well, one god in particular, usually …
Swirling over Tyson was a glowing green trident – the same symbol that had appeared above me
the day Poseidon had claimed me as his son.
There was a moment of awed silence.
Being claimed was a rare event. Some campers waited in vain for it their whole lives. When I’d
been claimed by Poseidon last summer, everyone had reverently knelt. But now, they followed
Tantalus’s lead, and Tantalus roared with laughter. ‘Well! I think we know where to put the beast
now. By the gods, I can see the family resemblance!’
Everybody laughed except Annabeth and a few of my other friends.
Tyson didn’t seem to notice. He was too mystified, trying to swat the glowing trident that was now
fading over his head. He was too innocent to understand how much they were making fun of him, how
cruel people were.
But I got it.
I had a new cabin mate. I had a monster for a half-brother.
6 Demon Pigeons Attack
The next few days were torture, just like Tantalus wanted.
First there was Tyson moving into the Poseidon cabin, giggling to himself every fifteen seconds
and saying, ‘Percy is my brother?’ like he’d just won the lottery.
‘Aw, Tyson,’ I’d say. ‘It’s not that simple.’
But there was no explaining it to him. He was in heaven. And me … as much as I liked the big guy,
I couldn’t help feeling embarrassed. Ashamed. There, I said it.
My father, the all-powerful Poseidon, had got moony-eyed for some nature spirit, and Tyson had
been the result. I mean, I’d read the myths about Cyclopes. I even remembered that they were often
Poseidon’s children. But I’d never really processed that this made them my … family. Until I had
Tyson living with me in the next bunk.
And then there were the comments from the other campers. Suddenly, I wasn’t Percy Jackson, the
cool guy who’d retrieved Zeus’s lightning bolt last summer. Now I was Percy Jackson, the poor
schmuck with the ugly monster for a brother.
‘He’s not my real brother!’ I protested whenever Tyson wasn’t around. ‘He’s more like a halfbrother on the monstrous side of the family. Like … a half-brother twice removed, or something.’
Nobody bought it.
I admit – I was angry at my dad. I felt like being his son was now a joke.
Annabeth tried to make me feel better. She suggested we team up for the chariot race to take our
minds off our problems. Don’t get me wrong – we both hated Tantalus and we were worried sick
about camp – but we didn’t know what to do about it. Until we could come up with some brilliant
plan to save Thalia’s tree, we figured we might as well go along with the races. After all, Annabeth’s
mom, Athena, had invented the chariot, and my dad had created horses. Together we would own that
track.
One morning Annabeth and I were sitting by the canoe lake sketching chariot designs when some
jokers from Aphrodite’s cabin walked by and asked me if I needed to borrow some eyeliner for my
eye … ‘Oh, sorry, eyes.’
As they walked away laughing, Annabeth grumbled, ‘Just ignore them, Percy. It isn’t your fault you
have a monster for a brother.’
‘He’s not my brother!’ I snapped. ‘And he’s not a monster, either!’
Annabeth raised her eyebrows. ‘Hey, don’t get mad at me! And technically, he is a monster.’
‘Well, you gave him permission to enter the camp.’
‘Because it was the only way to save your life! I mean … I’m sorry, Percy, I didn’t expect
Poseidon to claim him. Cyclopes are the most deceitful, treacherous –’
‘He is not! What have you got against Cyclopes, anyway?’
Annabeth’s ears turned pink. I got the feeling there was something she wasn’t telling me –
something bad.
‘Just forget it,’ she said. ‘Now, the axle for this chariot –’
‘You’re treating him like he’s this horrible thing,’ I said. ‘He saved my life.’
Annabeth threw down her pencil and stood. ‘Then maybe you should design a chariot with him’.
‘Maybe I should.’
‘Fine!’
‘Fine!’
She stormed off and left me feeling even worse than before.
The next couple of days, I tried to keep my mind off my problems.
Silena Beauregard, one of the nicer girls from Aphrodite’s cabin, gave me my first riding lesson on
a pegasus. She explained that there was only one immortal winged horse named Pegasus, who still
wandered free somewhere in the skies, but over the aeons he’d sired a lot of children, none quite so
fast or heroic, but all named after the first and greatest.
Being the son of the sea god, I never liked going into the air. My dad had this rivalry with Zeus, so
I tried to stay out of the lord of the sky’s domain as much as possible. But riding a winged horse felt
different. It didn’t make me nearly as nervous as being in an aeroplane. Maybe that was because my
dad had created horses out of sea foam, so the pegasi were sort of … neutral territory. I could
understand their thoughts. I wasn’t surprised when my pegasus went galloping over the treetops or
chased a flock of seagulls into a cloud.
The problem was that Tyson wanted to ride the ‘chicken ponies’, too, but the pegasi got skittish
whenever he approached. I told them telepathically that Tyson wouldn’t hurt them, but they didn’t
seem to believe me. That made Tyson cry.
The only person at camp who had no problem with Tyson was Beckendorf from the Hephaestus
cabin. The blacksmith god had always worked with Cyclopes in his forges, so Beckendorf took Tyson
down to the armoury to teach him metalworking. He said he’d have Tyson crafting magic items like a
master in no time.
After lunch, I worked out in the arena with Apollo’s cabin. Swordplay had always been my
strength. People said I was better at it than any camper in the last hundred years, except maybe Luke.
People always compared me to Luke.
I thrashed the Apollo guys easily. I should’ve been testing myself against the Ares and Athena
cabins, since they had the best sword fighters, but I didn’t get along with Clarisse and her siblings,
and after my argument with Annabeth, I just didn’t want to see her.
I went to archery class, even though I was terrible at it, and it wasn’t the same without Chiron
teaching. In arts and crafts, I started a marble bust of Poseidon, but it started looking like Sylvester
Stallone, so I ditched it. I scaled the climbing wall in full lava-and-earthquake mode. And in the
evenings, I did border patrol. Even though Tantalus had insisted we forget trying to protect the camp,
some of the campers had quietly kept it up, working out a schedule during our free times.
I sat at the top of Half-Blood Hill and watched the dryads come and go, singing to the dying pine
tree. Satyrs brought their reed pipes and played nature magic songs, and for a while the pine needles
seemed to get fuller. The flowers on the hill smelled a little sweeter and the grass looked greener. But
as soon as the music stopped, the sickness crept back into the air. The whole hill seemed to be
infected, dying from the poison that had sunk into the tree’s roots. The longer I sat there, the angrier I
got.
Luke had done this. I remembered his sly smile, the dragon-claw scar across his face. He’d
pretended to be my friend, and the whole time he’d been Kronos’s number-one servant.
I opened the palm of my hand. The scar Luke had given me last summer was fading, but I could still
see it – a white asterisk-shaped wound where his pit scorpion had stung me.
I thought about what Luke had told me right before he’d tried to kill me: Goodbye, Percy. There is
a new Golden Age coming. You won’t be part of it.
At night, I had more dreams of Grover. Sometimes, I just heard snatches of his voice. Once, I heard
him say, It’s here. Another time, He likes sheep.
I thought about telling Annabeth about my dreams, but I would’ve felt stupid. I mean, He likes
sheep? She would’ve thought I was crazy.
The night before the race, Tyson and I finished our chariot. It was wicked cool. Tyson had made
the metal parts in the armoury’s forges. I’d sanded the wood and put the carriage together. It was blue
and white, with wave designs on the sides and a trident painted on the front. After all that work, it
seemed only fair that Tyson would ride shotgun with me, though I knew the horses wouldn’t like it,
and Tyson’s extra weight would slow us down.
As we were turning in for bed, Tyson said, ‘You are mad?’
I realized I’d been scowling. ‘Nah. I’m not mad.’
He lay down in his bunk and was quiet in the dark. His body was way too long for his bed. When
he pulled up the covers, his feet stuck out the bottom. ‘I am a monster.’
‘Don’t say that.’
‘It is okay. I will be a good monster. Then you will not have to be mad.’
I didn’t know what to say. I stared at the ceiling and felt like I was dying slowly, right along with
Thalia’s tree.
‘It’s just … I never had a half-brother before.’ I tried to keep my voice from cracking. ‘It’s really
different for me. And I’m worried about the camp. And another friend of mine, Grover … he might be
in trouble. I keep feeling like I should be doing something to help, but I don’t know what.’
Tyson said nothing.
‘I’m sorry,’ I told him. ‘It’s not your fault. I’m mad at Poseidon. I feel like he’s trying to embarrass
me, like he’s trying to compare us or something, and I don’t understand why.’
I heard a deep rumbling sound. Tyson was snoring.
I sighed. ‘Goodnight, big guy.’
And I closed my eyes, too.
***
In my dream, Grover was wearing a wedding dress.
It didn’t fit him very well. The gown was too long and the hem was caked with dried mud. The
neckline kept falling off his shoulders. A tattered veil covered his face.
He was standing in a dank cave, lit only by torches. There was a cot in one corner and an oldfashioned loom in the other, a length of white cloth half woven on the frame. And he was staring right
at me, like I was a TV programme he’d been waiting for. ‘Thank the gods!’ he yelped. ‘Can you hear
me?’
My dream-self was slow to respond. I was still looking around, taking in the stalactite ceiling, the
stench of sheep and goats, the growling and grumbling and bleating sounds that seemed to echo from
behind a refrigerator-sized boulder, which was blocking the room’s only exit, as if there were a much
larger cavern beyond it.
‘Percy?’ Grover said. ‘Please, I don’t have the strength to project any better. You have to hear
me!’
‘I hear you,’ I said. ‘Grover, what’s going on?’
From behind the boulder, a monstrous voice yelled, ‘Honeypie! Are you done yet?’
Grover flinched. He called out in falsetto, ‘Not quite, dearest! A few more days!’
‘Bah! Hasn’t it been two weeks yet?’
‘N-no, dearest. Just five days. That leaves twelve more to go.’
The monster was silent, maybe trying to do the maths. He must’ve been worse at arithmetic than I
was, because he said, ‘All right, but hurry! I want to SEEEEE under that veil, heh-heh-heh.’
Grover turned back to me. ‘You have to help me! No time! I’m stuck in this cave. On an island in
the sea.’
‘Where?’
‘I don’t know exactly! I went to Florida and turned left.’
‘What? How did you –’
‘It’s a trap!’ Grover said. ‘It’s the reason no satyr has ever returned from this quest. He’s a
shepherd, Percy! And he has it. Its nature magic is so powerful it smells just like the great god Pan!
The satyrs come here thinking they’ve found Pan, and they get trapped and eaten by Polyphemus!’
‘Poly-who?’
‘The Cyclops!’ Grover said, exasperated. ‘I almost got away. I made it all the way to St
Augustine.’
‘But he followed you,’ I said, remembering my first dream. ‘And trapped you in a bridal boutique.’
‘That’s right,’ Grover said. ‘My first empathy link must’ve worked then. Look, this bridal dress is
the only thing keeping me alive. He thinks I smell good, but I told him it was just goat-scented
perfume. Thank goodness he can’t see very well. His eye is still half blind from the last time
somebody poked it out. But soon he’ll realize what I am. He’s only giving me two weeks to finish the
bridal train, and he’s getting impatient!’
‘Wait a minute. This Cyclops thinks you’re –’
‘Yes!’ Grover wailed. ‘He thinks I’m a lady Cyclops and he wants to marry me!’
Under different circumstances, I might’ve busted out laughing, but Grover’s voice was deadly
serious. He was shaking with fear.
‘I’ll come rescue you,’ I promised. ‘Where are you?’
‘The Sea of Monsters, of course!’
‘The sea of what?’
‘I told you! I don’t know exactly where! And look, Percy … um, I’m really sorry about this, but this
empathy link … well, I had no choice. Our emotions are connected now. If I die…’
‘Don’t tell me, I’ll die, too.’
‘Oh, well, perhaps not. You might live for years in a vegetative state. But, uh, it would be a lot
better if you got me out of here.’
‘Honeypie!’ the monster bellowed. ‘Dinnertime! Yummy yummy sheep meat!’
Grover whimpered. ‘I have to go. Hurry!’
‘Wait! You said “it” was here. What?’
But Grover’s voice was already growing fainter. ‘Sweet dreams. Don’t let me die!’
The dream faded and I woke with a start. It was early morning. Tyson was staring down at me, his
one big brown eye full of concern.
‘Are you okay?’ he asked.
His voice sent a chill down my back, because he sounded almost exactly like the monster I’d heard
in my dream.
The morning of the race was hot and humid. Fog lay low on the ground like sauna steam. Millions of
birds were roosting in the trees – fat grey-and-white pigeons, except they didn’t coo like regular
pigeons. They made this annoying metallic screeching sound that reminded me of submarine radar.
The racetrack had been built in a grassy field between the archery range and the woods.
Hephaestus’s cabin had used the bronze bulls, which were completely tame since they’d had their
heads smashed in, to plough an oval track in a matter of minutes.
There were rows of stone steps for the spectators – Tantalus, the satyrs, a few dryads and all of the
campers who weren’t participating. Mr D didn’t show. He never got up before ten o’clock.
‘Right!’ Tantalus announced as the teams began to assemble. A naiad had brought him a big platter
of pastries, and as Tantalus spoke his right hand chased a chocolate eclair across the judge’s table.
‘You all know the rules. A quarter-mile track. Twice around to win. Two horses per chariot. Each
team will consist of a driver and a fighter. Weapons are allowed. Dirty tricks are expected. But try
not to kill anybody!’ Tantalus smiled at us like we were all naughty children. ‘Any killing will result
in harsh punishment. No s’mores at the campfire for a week! Now ready your chariots!’
Beckendorf led the Hephaestus team onto the track. They had a sweet ride made of bronze and iron
– even the horses, which were magical automatons like the Colchis bulls. I had no doubt that their
chariot had all kinds of mechanical traps and more fancy options than a fully loaded Maserati.
The Ares chariot was blood-red, and pulled by two grisly horse skeletons. Clarisse climbed
aboard with a batch of javelins, spiked balls, caltrops and a bunch of other nasty toys.
Apollo’s chariot was trim and graceful and completely gold, pulled by two beautiful palominos.
Their fighter was armed with a bow, though he had promised not to shoot regular pointed arrows at
the opposing drivers.
Hermes’s chariot was green and kind of old-looking, as if it hadn’t been out of the garage in years.
It didn’t look like anything special, but it was manned by the Stoll brothers, and I shuddered to think
what dirty tricks they’d schemed up.
That left two chariots: one driven by Annabeth, and the other by me.
Before the race began, I tried to approach Annabeth and tell her about my dream.
She perked up when I mentioned Grover, but when I told her what he’d said, she seemed to get
distant again, suspicious.
‘You’re trying to distract me,’ she decided.
‘What? No, I’m not!’
‘Oh, right! Like Grover would just happen to stumble across the one thing that could save the
camp.’
‘What do you mean?’
She rolled her eyes. ‘Go back to your chariot, Percy.’
‘I’m not making this up. He’s in trouble, Annabeth.’
She hesitated. I could tell she was trying to decide whether or not to trust me. Despite our
occasional fights, we’d been through a lot together. And I knew she would never want anything bad to
happen to Grover.
‘Percy, an empathy link is so hard to do. I mean, it’s more likely you really were dreaming.’
‘The Oracle,’ I said. ‘We could consult the Oracle.’
Annabeth frowned.
Last summer, before my quest, I’d visited the strange spirit that lived in the Big House attic and it
had given me a prophecy that came true in ways I’d never expected. The experience had freaked me
out for months. Annabeth knew I’d never suggest going back there if I wasn’t completely serious.
Before she could answer, the conch horn sounded.
‘Charioteers!’ Tantalus called. ‘To your mark!’
‘We’ll talk later,’ Annabeth told me, ‘after I win.’
As I was walking back to my own chariot, I noticed how many more pigeons were in the trees now
– screeching like crazy, making the whole forest rustle. Nobody else seemed to be paying them much
attention, but they made me nervous. Their beaks glinted strangely. Their eyes seemed shinier than
regular birds.
Tyson was having trouble getting our horses under control. I had to talk to them a long time before
they would settle down.
He’s a monster, lord! they complained to me.
He’s a son of Poseidon, I told them. Just like … well, just like me.
No! they insisted. Monster! Horse-eater! Not trusted!
I’ll give you sugar cubes at the end of the race, I said.
Sugar cubes?
Very big sugar cubes. And apples. Did I mention the apples?
Finally they agreed to let me harness them.
Now, if you’ve never seen a Greek chariot, it’s built for speed, not safety or comfort. It’s basically
a wooden basket, open at the back, mounted on an axle between two wheels. The driver stands up the
whole time, and you can feel every bump in the road. The carriage is made of such light wood that if
you wipe out making the hairpin turns at either end of the track, you’ll probably tip over and crush
both the chariot and yourself. It’s an even better rush than skateboarding.
I took the reins and manoeuvred the chariot to the starting line. I gave Tyson a three-metre pole and
told him that his job was to push the other chariots away if they got too close, and to deflect anything
they might try to throw at us.
‘No hitting ponies with the stick,’ he insisted.
‘No,’ I agreed. ‘Or people, either, if you can help it. We’re going to run a clean race. Just keep the
distractions away and let me concentrate on driving.’
‘We will win!’ He beamed.
We are so going to lose, I thought to myself, but I had to try. I wanted to show the others … well, I
wasn’t sure what, exactly. That Tyson wasn’t such a bad guy? That I wasn’t ashamed of being seen
with him in public? Maybe that they hadn’t hurt me with all their jokes and name-calling?
As the chariots lined up, more shiny-eyed pigeons gathered in the woods. They were screeching so
loudly the campers in the stands were starting to take notice, glancing nervously at the trees, which
shivered under the weight of the birds. Tantalus didn’t look concerned, but he did have to speak up to
be heard over the noise.
‘Charioteers!’ he shouted. ‘Attend your mark!’
He waved his hand and the starting signal dropped. The chariots roared to life. Hooves thundered
against the dirt. The crowd cheered.
Almost immediately there was a loud nasty crack! I looked back in time to see the Apollo chariot
flip over. The Hermes chariot had rammed into it – maybe by mistake, maybe not. The riders were
thrown free, but their panicked horses dragged the golden chariot diagonally across the track. The
Hermes team, Travis and Connor Stoll, were laughing at their good luck, but not for long. The Apollo
horses crashed into theirs, and the Hermes chariot flipped too, leaving a pile of broken wood and four
rearing horses in the dust.
Two chariots down in the first six metres. I loved this sport.
I turned my attention back to the front. We were making good time, pulling ahead of Ares, but
Annabeth’s chariot was way ahead of us. She was already making her turn around the first post, her
javelin man grinning and waving at us, shouting, ‘See ya!’
The Hephaestus chariot was starting to gain on us, too.
Beckendorf pressed a button, and a panel slid open on the side of his chariot.
‘Sorry, Percy!’ he yelled. Three sets of balls and chains shot straight towards our wheels. They
would’ve wrecked us completely if Tyson hadn’t whacked them aside with a quick swipe of his pole.
He gave the Hephaestus chariot a good shove and sent them skittering sideways while we pulled
ahead.
‘Nice work, Tyson!’ I yelled.
‘Birds!’ he cried.
‘What?’
We were whipping along so fast it was hard to hear or see anything, but Tyson pointed towards the
woods and I saw what he was worried about. The pigeons had risen from the trees. They were
spiralling like a huge tornado, heading towards the track.
No big deal, I told myself. They’re just pigeons.
I tried to concentrate on the race.
We made our first turn, the wheels creaking under us, the chariot threatening to tip, but we were
now only three metres behind Annabeth. If I could just get a little closer, Tyson could use his pole …
Annabeth’s fighter wasn’t smiling now. He pulled a javelin from his collection and took aim at me.
He was about to throw when we heard the screaming.
The pigeons were swarming – thousands of them dive-bombing the spectators in the stands,
attacking the other chariots. Beckendorf was mobbed. His fighter tried to bat the birds away but he
couldn’t see anything. The chariot veered off course and ploughed through the strawberry fields, the
mechanical horses steaming.
In the Ares chariot, Clarisse barked an order to her fighter, who quickly threw a screen of
camouflage netting over their basket. The birds swarmed around it, pecking and clawing at the
fighter’s hands as he tried to hold up the net, but Clarisse just gritted her teeth and kept driving. Her
skeletal horses seemed immune to the distraction. The pigeons pecked uselessly at their empty eye
sockets and flew through their rib cages, but the stallions kept right on running.
The spectators weren’t so lucky. The birds were slashing at any bit of exposed flesh, driving
everyone into a panic. Now that the birds were closer, it was clear they weren’t normal pigeons.
Their eyes were beady and evil-looking. Their beaks were made of bronze, and, judging from the
yelps of the campers, they must’ve been razor sharp.
‘Stymphalian birds!’ Annabeth yelled. She slowed down and pulled her chariot alongside mine.
‘They’ll strip everyone to bones if we don’t drive them away!’
‘Tyson,’ I said, ‘we’re turning around!’
‘Going the wrong way?’ he asked.
‘Always,’ I grumbled, but I steered the chariot towards the stands.
Annabeth rode right next to me. She shouted, ‘Heroes, to arms!’ But I wasn’t sure anyone could
hear her over the screeching of the birds and the general chaos.
I held my reins in one hand and managed to draw Riptide as a wave of birds dived at my face, their
metal beaks snapping. I slashed them out of the air and they exploded into dust and feathers, but there
were still millions of them left. One nailed me in the back end and I almost jumped straight out of the
chariot.
Annabeth wasn’t having much better luck. The closer we got to the stands, the thicker the cloud of
birds became.
Some of the spectators were trying to fight back. The Athena campers were calling for shields. The
archers from Apollo’s cabin brought out their bows and arrows, ready to slay the menace, but with so
many campers mixed in with the birds, it wasn’t safe to shoot.
‘Too many!’ I yelled to Annabeth. ‘How do you get rid of them?’
She stabbed at a pigeon with her knife. ‘Heracles used noise! Brass bells! He scared them away
with the most horrible sound he could –’
Her eyes got wide. ‘Percy … Chiron’s collection!’
I understood instantly. ‘You think it’ll work?’
She handed her fighter the reins and leaped from her chariot into mine like it was the easiest thing
in the world. ‘To the Big House! It’s our only chance!’
Clarisse had just pulled across the finish line, completely unopposed, and seemed to notice for the
first time how serious the bird problem was.
When she saw us driving away, she yelled, ‘You’re running? The fight is here, cowards!’ She
drew her sword and charged for the stands.
I urged our horses into a gallop. The chariot rumbled through the strawberry fields, across the
volleyball pit, and lurched to a halt in front of the Big House. Annabeth and I ran inside, tearing down
the hallway to Chiron’s apartment.
His boom box was still on his nightstand. So were his favourite CDs. I grabbed the most repulsive
one I could find, Annabeth snatched the boom box, and together we ran back outside.
Down at the track, the chariots were in flames. Wounded campers ran in every direction, with
birds shredding their clothes and pulling out their hair, while Tantalus chased breakfast pastries
around the stands, every once in a while yelling, ‘Everything’s under control! Not to worry!’
We pulled up to the finish line. Annabeth got the boom box ready. I prayed the batteries weren’t
dead.
I pressed PLAY and started up Chiron’s favourite – the All-Time Greatest Hits of Dean Martin.
Suddenly the air was filled with violins and a bunch of guys moaning in Italian.
The demon pigeons went nuts. They started flying in circles, running into each other like they
wanted to bash their own brains out. Then they abandoned the track altogether and flew skywards in a
huge dark wave.
‘Now!’ shouted Annabeth. ‘Archers!’
With clear targets, Apollo’s archers had flawless aim. Most of them could nock five or six arrows
at once. Within minutes, the ground was littered with dead bronze-beaked pigeons, and the survivors
were a distant trail of smoke on the horizon.
The camp was saved, but the wreckage wasn’t pretty. Most of the chariots had been completely
destroyed. Almost everyone was wounded, bleeding from multiple bird pecks. The kids from
Aphrodite’s cabin were screaming because their hairdos had been ruined and their clothes pooped
on.
‘Bravo!’ Tantalus said, but he wasn’t looking at me or Annabeth. ‘We have our first winner!’ He
walked to the finish line and awarded the golden laurels for the race to a stunned-looking Clarisse.
Then he turned and smiled at me. And now to punish the troublemakers who disrupted this race.’
7 I Accept Gifts from a Stranger
The way Tantalus saw it, the Stymphalian birds had simply been minding their own business in the
woods and would not have attacked if Annabeth, Tyson and I hadn’t disturbed them with our bad
chariot driving.
This was so completely unfair, I told Tantalus to go chase a doughnut, which didn’t help his mood.
He sentenced us to kitchen patrol – scrubbing pots and platters all afternoon in the underground
kitchen with the cleaning harpies. The harpies washed with lava instead of water, to get that extraclean sparkle and kill ninety-nine point nine percent of all germs, so Annabeth and I had to wear
asbestos gloves and aprons.
Tyson didn’t mind. He plunged his bare hands right in and started scrubbing, but Annabeth and I
had to suffer through hours of hot, dangerous work, especially since there were tons of extra plates.
Tantalus had ordered a special luncheon banquet to celebrate Clarisse’s chariot victory – a fullcourse meal featuring country-fried Stymphalian death-bird.
The only good thing about our punishment was that it gave Annabeth and me a common enemy and
lots of time to talk. After listening to my dream about Grover again, she looked like she might be
starting to believe me.
‘If he’s really found it,’ she murmured, ‘and if we could retrieve it –’
‘Hold on,’ I said. ‘You act like this … whatever-it-is Grover found is the only thing in the world
that could save the camp. What is it?’
‘I’ll give you a hint. What do you get when you skin a ram?’
‘Messy?’
She sighed. ‘A fleece. The coat of a ram is called a fleece. And if that ram happens to have golden
wool –’
‘The Golden Fleece. Are you serious?’
Annabeth scraped a plateful of death-bird bones into the lava. ‘Percy, remember the Grey Sisters?
They said they knew the location of the thing you seek. And they mentioned Jason. Three thousand
years ago, they told him how to find the Golden Fleece. You do know the story of Jason and the
Argonauts?’
‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘That old movie with the clay skeletons.’
Annabeth rolled her eyes. ‘Oh my gods, Percy! You are so hopeless.’
‘What?’ I demanded.
‘Just listen. The real story of the Fleece: there were these two children of Zeus, Cadmus and
Europa, okay? They were about to get offered up as human sacrifices, when they prayed to Zeus to
save them. So Zeus sent this magical flying ram with golden wool, which picked them up in Greece
and carried them all the way to Colchis in Asia Minor. Well, actually it carried Cadmus. Europa fell
off and died along the way, but that’s not important.’
‘It was probably important to her.’
‘The point is, when Cadmus got to Colchis, he sacrificed the golden ram to the gods and hung the
Fleece in a tree in the middle of the kingdom. The Fleece brought prosperity to the land. Animals
stopped getting sick. Plants grew better. Farmers had bumper crops. Plagues never visited. That’s
why Jason wanted the Fleece. It can revitalize any land where it’s placed. It cures sickness,
strengthens nature, cleans up pollution –’
‘It could cure Thalia’s tree.’
Annabeth nodded. And it would totally strengthen the borders of Camp Half-Blood. But Percy, the
Fleece has been missing for centuries. Tons of heroes have searched for it with no luck.’
‘But Grover found it,’ I said. ‘He went looking for Pan and he found the Fleece instead because
they both radiate nature magic. It makes sense, Annabeth. We can rescue him and save the camp at the
same time. It’s perfect!’
Annabeth hesitated. ‘A little too perfect, don’t you think? What if it’s a trap?’
I remembered last summer, how Kronos had manipulated our quest. He’d almost fooled us into
helping him start a war that would’ve destroyed Western Civilization.
‘What choice do we have?’ I asked. ‘Are you going to help me rescue Grover or not?’
She glanced at Tyson, who’d lost interest in our conversation and was happily making toy boats out
of cups and spoons in the lava.
‘Percy,’ she said under her breath, ‘we’ll have to fight a Cyclops. Polyphemus, the worst of the
Cyclopes. And there’s only one place his island could be. The Sea of Monsters.’
‘Where’s that?’
She stared at me like she thought I was playing dumb. ‘The Sea of Monsters. The same sea
Odysseus sailed through, and Jason, and Aeneas and all the others.’
‘You mean the Mediterranean?’
‘No. Well, yes … but no.’
‘Another straight answer. Thanks.’
‘Look, Percy, the Sea of Monsters is the sea all heroes sail through on their adventures. It used to
be in the Mediterranean, yes. But like everything else, it shifts locations as the West’s centre of
power shifts.’
‘Like Mount Olympus being above the Empire State Building,’ I said. ‘And Hades being under Los
Angeles.’
‘Right.’
‘But a whole sea full of monsters – how could you hide something like that? Wouldn’t the mortals
notice weird things happening … like, ships getting eaten and stuff?’
‘Of course they notice. They don’t understand, but they know something is strange about that part of
the ocean. The Sea of Monsters is off the east coast of the U.S. now, just north-east of Florida. The
mortals even have a name for it.’
‘The Bermuda Triangle?’
‘Exactly.’
I let that sink in. I guess it wasn’t stranger than anything else I’d learned since coming to Camp
Half-Blood. ‘Okay … so at least we know where to look.’
‘It’s still a huge area, Percy. Searching for one tiny island in monster-infested waters –’
‘Hey, I’m the son of the sea god. This is my home turf. How hard can it be?’
Annabeth knitted her eyebrows. ‘We’ll have to talk to Tantalus, get approval for a quest. He’ll say
no.’
‘Not if we tell him tonight at the campfire in front of everybody. The whole camp will hear.
They’ll pressure him. He won’t be able to refuse.’
‘Maybe.’ A little bit of hope crept into Annabeth’s voice. ‘We’d better get these dishes done. Hand
me the lava spray gun, will you?’
That night at the campfire, Apollo’s cabin led the sing-along. They tried to get everybody’s spirits up,
but it wasn’t easy after that afternoons bird attack. We all sat around a semicircle of stone steps,
singing half-heartedly and watching the bonfire blaze while the Apollo guys strummed their guitars
and picked their lyres.
We did all the standard camp numbers: ‘Down by the Aegean’, ‘I Am My Own Great-Great-GreatGreat-Grandpa’, ‘This Land is Minos’s Land’. The bonfire was enchanted, so the louder you sang, the
higher it rose, changing colour and heat with the mood of the crowd. On a good night, I’d seen it six
metres high, bright purple, and so hot the whole front row’s marshmallows burst into flames. Tonight,
the fire was only a metre high, barely warm, and the flames were the colour of lint.
Dionysus left early. After suffering through a few songs, he muttered something about how even
pinochle with Chiron had been more exciting than this. Then he gave Tantalus a distasteful look and
headed back towards the Big House.
When the last song was over, Tantalus said, ‘Well, that was lovely!’
He came forward with a toasted marshmallow on a stick and tried to pluck it off, real casual-like.
But before he could touch it, the marshmallow flew off the stick. Tantalus made a wild grab, but the
marshmallow committed suicide, diving into the flames.
Tantalus turned back towards us, smiling coldly. ‘Now then! Some announcements about
tomorrow’s schedule.’
‘Sir,’ I said.
Tantalus’s eye twitched. ‘Our kitchen boy has something to say?’
Some of the Ares campers snickered, but I wasn’t going to let anybody embarrass me into silence. I
stood and looked at Annabeth. Thank the gods, she stood up with me.
I said, ‘We have an idea to save the camp.’
Dead silence, but I could tell I’d got everybody’s interest, because the campfire flared bright
yellow.
‘Indeed,’ Tantalus said blandly. ‘Well, if it has anything to do with chariots –’
‘The Golden Fleece,’ I said. ‘We know where it is.’
The flames burned orange. Before Tantalus could stop me, I blurted out my dream about Grover
and Polyphemus’s island. Annabeth stepped in and reminded everybody what the Fleece could do. It
sounded more convincing coming from her.
‘The Fleece can save the camp,’ she concluded. ‘I’m certain of it.’
‘Nonsense,’ said Tantalus. ‘We don’t need saving.’
Everybody stared at him until Tantalus started looking uncomfortable.
‘Besides,’ he added quickly, ‘the Sea of Monsters? That’s hardly an exact location. You wouldn’t
even know where to look.’
‘Yes, I would,’ I said.
Annabeth leaned towards me and whispered, ‘You would?’
I nodded, because Annabeth had jogged something in my memory when she reminded me about our
taxi drive with the Grey Sisters. At the time, the information they’d given me made no sense. But now
…
‘Thirty, thirty-one, seventy-five, twelve,’ I said.
‘Ooo-kay,’ Tantalus said. ‘Thank you for sharing those meaningless numbers.’
‘They’re sailing coordinates,’ I said. ‘Latitude and longitude. I, uh, learned about it in social
studies.’
Even Annabeth looked impressed. ‘Thirty degrees, thirty-one minutes north, seventy-five degrees,
twelve minutes west. He’s right! The Grey Sisters gave us those coordinates. That’d be somewhere in
the Atlantic, off the coast of Florida. The Sea of Monsters. We need a quest!’
‘Wait just a minute,’ Tantalus said.
But the campers took up the chant. ‘We need a quest! We need a quest!’
The flames rose higher.
‘It isn’t necessary!’ Tantalus insisted.
‘WE NEED A QUEST! WE NEED A QUEST!’
‘Fine!’ Tantalus shouted, his eyes blazing with anger. ‘You brats want me to assign a quest?’
‘YES!’
‘Very well,’ he agreed. ‘I shall authorize a champion to undertake this perilous journey, to retrieve
the Golden Fleece and bring it back to camp. Or die trying.’
My heart filled with excitement. I wasn’t going to let Tantalus scare me. This was what I needed to
do. I was going to save Grover and the camp. Nothing would stop me.
‘I will allow our champion to consult the Oracle!’ Tantalus announced. ‘And choose two
companions for the journey. And I think the choice of champions is obvious.’
Tantalus looked at Annabeth and me as if he wanted to flay us alive. ‘The champion should be one
who has earned the camp’s respect, who has proven resourceful in the chariot races and courageous
in the defence of the camp. You shall lead this quest … Clarisse!’
The fire flickered a thousand different colours. The Ares cabin started stomping and cheering,
‘CLARISSE! CLARISSE!’
Clarisse stood up, looking stunned. Then she swallowed, and her chest swelled with pride. ‘I
accept the quest!’
‘Wait!’ I shouted. ‘Grover is my friend. The dream came to me’.
‘Sit down!’ yelled one of the Ares campers. ‘You had your chance last summer!’
‘Yeah, he just wants to be in the spotlight again!’ another said.
Clarisse glared at me. ‘I accept the quest!’ she repeated. ‘I, Clarisse, daughter of Ares, will save
the camp!’
The Ares campers cheered even louder. Annabeth protested, and the other Athena campers joined
in. Everybody else started taking sides – shouting and arguing and throwing marshmallows. I thought
it was going to turn into a fully fledged s’more war until Tantalus shouted, ‘Silence, you brats!’
His tone stunned even me.
‘Sit down!’ he ordered. ‘And I will tell you a ghost story.’
I didn’t know what he was up to, but we all moved reluctantly back to our seats. The evil aura
radiating from Tantalus was as strong as any monster I’d ever faced.
‘Once upon a time there was a mortal king who was beloved of the gods!’ Tantalus put his hand on
his chest, and I got the feeling he was talking about himself.
‘This king,’ he said, ‘was even allowed to feast on Mount Olympus. But when he tried to take some
ambrosia and nectar back to earth to figure out the recipe – just one little doggy bag, mind you – the
gods punished him. They banned him from their halls forever! His own people mocked him! His
children scolded him! And, oh yes, campers, he had horrible children. Children – just – like – you!’
He pointed a crooked finger at several people in the audience, including me.
‘Do you know what he did to his ungrateful children?’ Tantalus asked softly. ‘Do you know how he
paid back the gods for their cruel punishment? He invited the Olympians to a feast at his palace, just
to show there were no hard feelings. No one noticed that his children were missing. And when he
served the gods dinner, my dear campers, can you guess what was in the stew?’
No one dared answer. The firelight glowed dark blue, reflecting evilly on Tantalus’s crooked face.
‘Oh, the gods punished him in the afterlife,’ Tantalus croaked. ‘They did indeed. But he’d had his
moment of satisfaction, hadn’t he? His children never again spoke back to him or questioned his
authority. And do you know what? Rumour has it that the king’s spirit now dwells at this very camp,
waiting for a chance to take revenge on ungrateful, rebellious children. And so … are there any more
complaints, before we send Clarisse off on her quest?’
Silence.
Tantalus nodded at Clarisse. ‘The Oracle, my dear. Go on.’
She shifted uncomfortably, like even she didn’t want glory at the price of being Tantalus’s pet. ‘Sir
–’
‘Go!’ he snarled.
She bowed awkwardly and hurried off towards the Big House.
‘What about you, Percy Jackson?’ Tantalus asked. ‘No comments from our dishwasher?’
I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of punishing me again.
‘Good,’ Tantalus said. ‘And let me remind everyone – no one leaves this camp without my
permission. Anyone who tries … well, if they survive the attempt, they will be expelled forever, but
it won’t come to that. The harpies will be enforcing curfew from now on, and they are always hungry!
Good night, my dear campers. Sleep well.’
With a wave of Tantalus’s hand, the fire was extinguished, and the campers trailed off towards
their cabins in the dark.
I couldn’t explain things to Tyson. He knew I was sad. He knew I wanted to go on a trip and Tantalus
wouldn’t let me.
‘You will go anyway?’ he asked.
‘I don’t know,’ I admitted. ‘It would be hard. Very hard.’
‘I will help.’
‘No. I – uh, I couldn’t ask you to do that, big guy. Too dangerous.’
Tyson looked down at the pieces of metal he was assembling in his lap – springs and gears and tiny
wires. Beckendorf had given him some tools and spare parts, and now Tyson spent every night
tinkering, though I wasn’t sure how his huge hands could handle such delicate little pieces.
‘What are you building?’ I asked.
Tyson didn’t answer. Instead he made a whimpering sound in the back of his throat. ‘Annabeth
doesn’t like Cyclopes. You … don’t want me along?’
‘Oh, that’s not it,’ I said half-heartedly. ‘Annabeth likes you. Really.’
He had tears in the corners of his eye.
I remembered that Grover, like all satyrs, could read human emotions. I wondered if Cyclopes had
the same ability.
Tyson folded up his tinkering project in an oilcloth. He lay down on his bunk bed and hugged his
bundle like a teddy bear. When he turned towards the wall, I could see the weird scars on his back,
like somebody had ploughed over him with a tractor. I wondered for the millionth time how he’d got
hurt.
‘Daddy always cared for m-me,’ he sniffled. ‘Now … I think he was mean to have a Cyclops boy. I
should not have been born.’
‘Don’t talk that way! Poseidon claimed you, didn’t he? So … he must care about you … a lot…’
My voice trailed off as I thought about all those years Tyson had lived on the streets of New York
in a cardboard refrigerator box. How could Tyson think that Poseidon had cared for him? What kind
of dad let that happen to his kid, even if his kid was a monster?
‘Tyson … camp will be a good home for you. The others will get used to you. I promise.’
Tyson sighed. I waited for him to say something. Then I realized he was already asleep.
I lay back on my bed and tried to close my eyes, but I just couldn’t. I was afraid I might have
another dream about Grover. If the empathy link was real … if something happened to Grover …
would I ever wake up?
The full moon shone through my window. The sound of the surf rumbled in the distance. I could
smell the warm scent of the strawberry fields, and hear the laughter of the dryads as they chased owls
through the forest. But something felt wrong about the night – the sickness of Thalia’s tree, spreading
across the valley.
Could Clarisse save Half-Blood Hill? I thought the odds were better of me getting a ‘Best Camper’
award from Tantalus.
I got out of bed and pulled on some clothes. I grabbed a beach blanket and a six-pack of Coke from
under my bunk. The Cokes were against the rules. No outside snacks or drinks were allowed, but if
you talked to the right guy in Hermes’s cabin and paid him a few golden drachmas, he could smuggle
in almost anything from the nearest convenience store.
Sneaking out after curfew was against the rules, too. If I got caught I’d either get in big trouble or
be eaten by the harpies. But I wanted to see the ocean. I always felt better there. My thoughts were
clearer. I left the cabin and headed for the beach.
***
I spread my blanket near the surf and popped open a Coke. For some reason sugar and caffeine
always calmed down my hyperactive brain. I tried to decide what to do to save the camp, but nothing
came to me. I wished Poseidon would talk to me, give me some advice or something.
The sky was clear and starry. I was checking out the constellations Annabeth had taught me –
Sagittarius, Heracles, Corona Borealis – when somebody said, ‘Beautiful, aren’t they?’
I almost spewed soda.
Standing right next to me was a guy in nylon running shorts and a New York City Marathon T-shirt.
He was slim and fit, with salt-and-pepper hair and a sly smile. He looked kind of familiar, but I
couldn’t figure out why.
My first thought was that he must’ve been taking a midnight jog down the beach and strayed inside
the camp borders. That wasn’t supposed to happen. Regular mortals couldn’t enter the valley. But
maybe with the tree’s magic weakening he’d managed to slip in. But in the middle of the night? And
there was nothing around except farmland and state preserves. Where would this guy have jogged
from?
‘May I join you?’ he asked. ‘I haven’t sat down in ages.’
Now, I know – a strange guy in the middle of the night. Common sense: I was supposed to run
away, yell for help, etc. But the guy acted so calm about the whole thing that I found it hard to be
afraid.
I said, ‘Uh, sure.’
He smiled. ‘Your hospitality does you credit. Oh, and Coca-Cola! May I?’
He sat at the other end of the blanket, popped a soda and took a drink. ‘Ah … that hits the spot.
Peace and quiet at –’
A cell phone went off in his pocket.
The jogger sighed. He pulled out his phone and my eyes got big, because it glowed with a bluish
light. When he extended the antenna, two creatures began writhing around it – green snakes, no bigger
than earthworms.
The jogger didn’t seem to notice. He checked his LCD screen and cursed. ‘I’ve got to take this. Just
a sec…’ Then into the phone, ‘Hello?’
He listened. The mini-snakes writhed up and down the antenna right next to his ear.
‘Yeah,’ the jogger said. ‘Listen – I know, but … I don’t care if he is chained to a rock with vultures
pecking at his liver, if he doesn’t have a tracking number, we can’t locate his package … A gift to
humankind, great … You know how many of those we deliver – Oh, never mind. Listen, just refer him
to Eris in customer service. I gotta go.’
He hung up. ‘Sorry. The overnight express business is just booming. Now, as I was saying –’
‘You have snakes on your phone.’
‘What? Oh, they don’t bite. Say hello, George and Martha.’
Hello, George and Martha, a raspy male voice said inside my head.
Don’t be sarcastic, said a female voice.
Why not? George demanded. I do all the real work.
‘Oh, let’s not go into that again!’ The jogger slipped his phone back into his pocket. ‘Now, where
were we … Ah, yes. Peace and quiet.’
He crossed his ankles and stared up at the stars. ‘Been a long time since I’ve got to relax. Ever
since the telegraph – rush, rush, rush. Do you have a favourite constellation, Percy?’
I was still kind of wondering about the little green snakes he’d shoved into his jogging shorts, but I
said, ‘Uh, I like Heracles.’
‘Why?’
‘Well … because he had rotten luck. Even worse than mine. It makes me feel better.’
The jogger chuckled. ‘Not because he was strong and famous and all that?’
‘No.’
‘You’re an interesting young man. And so, what now?’
I knew immediately what he was asking. What did I intend to do about the Fleece?
Before I could answer, Martha the snake’s muffled voice came from his pocket, I have Demeter on
line two.
‘Not now,’ the jogger said. ‘Tell her to leave a message.’
She’s not going to like that. The last time you put her off, all the flowers in the floral delivery
division wilted.
‘Just tell her I’m in a meeting!’ The jogger rolled his eyes. ‘Sorry again, Percy. You were
saying…’
‘Um … who are you, exactly?’
‘Haven’t you guessed by now, a smart boy like you?’
Show him! Martha pleaded. I haven’t been full-size for months.
Don’t listen to her! George said. She just wants to show off!
The man took out his phone again. ‘Original form, please.’
The phone glowed a brilliant blue. It stretched into a metre-long wooden staff with dove wings
sprouting out the top. George and Martha, now full-sized green snakes, coiled together around the
middle. It was a caduceus, the symbol of Cabin Eleven.
My throat tightened. I realized who the jogger reminded me of with his elfish features, the
mischievous twinkle in his eyes….
‘You’re Luke’s father,’ I said. ‘Hermes.’
The god pursed his lips. He stuck his caduceus in the sand like an umbrella pole. ‘ “Luke’s father.”
Normally, that’s not the first way people introduce me. God of thieves, yes. God of messengers and
travellers, if they wish to be kind.’
God of thieves works, George said.
Oh, don’t mind George . Martha flicked her tongue at me. He’s just bitter because Hermes likes
me best.
He does not!
Does too!
‘Behave, you two,’ Hermes warned, ‘or I’ll turn you back into a cell phone and set you on vibrate!
Now, Percy, you still haven’t answered my question. What do you intend to do about the quest?’
‘I – I don’t have permission to go.’
‘No, indeed. Will that stop you?’
‘I want to go. I have to save Grover.’
Hermes smiled. ‘I knew a boy once … oh, younger than you by far. A mere baby, really.’
Here we go again, George said. Always talking about himself.
Quiet! Martha snapped. Do you want to get set on vibrate?
Hermes ignored them. ‘One night, when this boy’s mother wasn’t watching, he sneaked out of their
cave and stole some cattle that belonged to Apollo.’
‘Did he get blasted to tiny pieces?’ I asked.
‘Hmm … no. Actually, everything turned out quite well. To make up for his theft, the boy gave
Apollo an instrument he’d invented – a lyre. Apollo was so enchanted with the music that he forgot
all about being angry.’
‘So what’s the moral?’
‘The moral?’ Hermes asked. ‘Goodness, you act like it’s a fable. It’s a true story. Does truth have a
moral?’
‘Um…’
‘How about this: stealing is not always bad?’
‘I don’t think my mom would like that moral.’
Rats are delicious, suggested George.
What does that have to do with the story? Martha demanded.
Nothing, George said. But I’m hungry.
‘I’ve got it,’ Hermes said. ‘Young people don’t always do what they’re told, but if they can pull it
off and do something wonderful, sometimes they escape punishment. How’s that?’
‘You’re saying I should go anyway,’ I said, ‘even without permission.’
Hermes’s eyes twinkled. ‘Martha, may I have the first package, please?’
Martha opened her mouth … and kept opening it until it was as wide as my arm. She belched out a
stainless steel canister – an old-fashioned lunch box flask with a black plastic top. The sides of the
flask were enamelled with red and yellow Ancient Greek scenes – a hero killing a lion; a hero lifting
up Cerberus, the three-headed dog.
‘That’s Heracles,’ I said. ‘But how –’
‘Never question a gift,’ Hermes chided. ‘This is a collector’s item from Heracles Busts Heads.
The first season.’
‘Heracles Busts Heads?’
‘Great show.’ Hermes sighed. ‘Back before Hephaestus-TV was all reality programming. Of
course, the Flask would be worth much more if I had the whole lunch box –’
Or if it hadn’t been in Martha’s mouth, George added.
I’ll get you for that. Martha began chasing him around the caduceus.
‘Wait a minute,’ I said. ‘This is a gift?’
‘One of two,’ Hermes said. ‘Go on, pick it up.’
I almost dropped it because it was freezing cold on one side and burning hot on the other. The
weird thing was, when I turned the Flask, the side facing the ocean – north – was always the cold
side…
‘It’s a compass!’ I said.
Hermes looked surprised. ‘Very clever. I never thought of that. But its intended use is a bit more
dramatic. Uncap it, and you will release the winds from the four corners of the earth to speed you on
your way. Not now! And please, when the time comes, only unscrew the lid a tiny bit. The winds are
a bit like me – always restless. Should all four escape at once … ah, but I’m sure you’ll be careful.
And now my second gift. George?’
She’s touching me, George complained as he and Martha slithered around the pole.
‘She’s always touching you,’ Hermes said. ‘You’re intertwined. And if you don’t stop that, you’ll
get knotted again!’
The snakes stopped wrestling.
George unhinged his jaw and coughed up a little plastic bottle filled with chewable vitamins.
‘You’re kidding,’ I said. ‘Are those Minotaur-shaped?’
Hermes picked up the bottle and rattled it. ‘The lemon ones, yes. The grape ones are Furies, I think.
Or are they hydras? At any rate, these are potent. Don’t take one unless you really, really need it.’
‘How will I know if I really, really need it?’
‘You’ll know, believe me. Nine essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids … oh, everything you
need to feel yourself again.’
He tossed me the bottle.
‘Um, thanks,’ I said. ‘But Lord Hermes, why are you helping me?’
He gave me a melancholy smile. ‘Perhaps because I hope that you can save many people on this
quest, Percy. Not just your friend Grover.’
I stared at him. ‘You don’t mean … Luke?’
Hermes didn’t answer.
‘Look,’ I said. ‘Lord Hermes, I mean, thanks and everything, but you might as well take back your
gifts. Luke can’t be saved. Even if I could find him … he told me he wanted to tear down Olympus
stone by stone. He betrayed everybody he knew. He – he hates you especially.’
Hermes gazed up at the stars. ‘My dear young cousin, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the
aeons, it’s that you can’t give up on your family, no matter how tempting they make it. It doesn’t
matter if they hate you, or embarrass you, or simply don’t appreciate your genius for inventing the
internet –’
‘You invented the internet?’
It was my idea, Martha said.
Rats are delicious, George said.
‘It was my idea!’ Hermes said. ‘I mean the internet, not the rats. But that’s not the point. Percy, do
you understand what I’m saying about family?’
‘I – I’m not sure.’
‘You will some day.’ Hermes got up and brushed the sand off his legs. ‘In the meantime, I must be
going.’
You have sixty calls to return, Martha said.
And one thousand and thirty-eight emails, George added. Not counting the offers for online
discount ambrosia.
‘And you, Percy,’ Hermes said, ‘have a shorter deadline than you realize to complete your quest.
Your friends should be coming right about … now.’
I heard Annabeth’s voice calling my name from the sand dunes. Tyson, too, was shouting from a
little bit further away.
‘I hope I packed well for you,’ Hermes said. ‘I do have some experience with travel.’
He snapped his fingers and three yellow duffel bags appeared at my feet. ‘Waterproof, of course. If
you ask nicely, your father should be able to help you reach the ship.’
‘Ship?’
Hermes pointed. Sure enough, a big cruise ship was cutting across Long Island Sound, its whiteand-gold lights glowing against the dark water.
‘Wait,’ I said. ‘I don’t understand any of this. I haven’t even agreed to go!’
‘I’d make up your mind in the next five minutes, if I were you,’ Hermes advised. ‘That’s when the
harpies will come to eat you. Now, goodnight, cousin, and dare I say it? May the gods go with you.’
He opened his hand and the caduceus flew into it.
Good luck, Martha told me.
Bring me back a rat, George said.
The caduceus changed into a cell phone and Hermes slipped it into his pocket.
He jogged off down the beach. Twenty paces away, he shimmered and vanished, leaving me alone
with a flask, a bottle of chewable vitamins and five minutes to make an impossible decision.
8 We Board the Princess Andromeda
I was staring at the waves when Annabeth and Tyson found me.
‘What’s going on?’ Annabeth asked. ‘I heard you calling for help!’
‘Me, too!’ Tyson said. ‘Heard you yell, “Bad things are attacking!’ ”
‘I didn’t call you guys,’ I said. ‘I’m fine.’
‘But then who…’ Annabeth noticed the three yellow duffel bags, then the Flask and the bottle of
vitamins I was holding. ‘What –’
‘Just listen,’ I said. ‘We don’t have much time.’
I told them about my conversation with Hermes. By the time I was finished, I could hear screeching
in the distance – patrol harpies picking up our scent.
‘Percy,’ Annabeth said, ‘we have to do the quest.’
‘We’ll get expelled, you know. Trust me, I’m an expert at getting expelled.’
‘So? If we fail, there won’t be any camp to come back to.’
‘Yeah, but you promised Chiron –’
‘I promised I’d keep you from danger. I can only do that by coming with you! Tyson can stay
behind and tell them –’
‘I want to go,’ Tyson said.
‘No!’ Annabeth’s voice sounded close to panic. ‘I mean … Percy, come on. You know that’s
impossible.’
I wondered again why she had such a grudge against Cyclopes. There was something she wasn’t
telling me.
She and Tyson both looked at me, waiting for an answer. Meanwhile, the cruise ship was getting
further and further away.
The thing was, part of me didn’t want Tyson along. I’d spent the last three days in close quarters
with the guy, getting teased by the other campers and embarrassed a million times a day, constantly
reminded that I was related to him. I needed some space.
Plus, I didn’t know how much help he’d be, or how I’d keep him safe. Sure, he was strong, but
Tyson was a little kid in Cyclops terms, maybe seven or eight years old, mentally. I could see him
freaking out and starting to cry while we were trying to sneak past a monster or something. He’d get
us all killed.
On the other hand, the sound of the harpies was getting closer…
‘We can’t leave him,’ I decided. ‘Tantalus will punish him for us being gone.’
‘Percy,’ Annabeth said, trying to keep her cool, ‘we’re going to Polyphemus’s island! Polyphemus
is an S-i-k … a C-y-k…’ She stamped her foot in frustration. As smart as she was, Annabeth was
dyslexic, too. We could’ve been there all night while she tried to spell Cyclops. ‘You know what I
mean!’
‘Tyson can go,’ I insisted, ‘if he wants to.’
Tyson clapped his hands. ‘Want to!’
Annabeth gave me the evil eye, but I guess she could tell I wasn’t going to change my mind. Or
maybe she just knew we didn’t have time to argue.
‘All right,’ she said. ‘How do we get to that ship?’
‘Hermes said my father would help.’
‘Well then, Seaweed Brain? What are you waiting for?’
I’d always had a hard time calling on my father, or praying, or whatever you want to call it, but I
stepped into the waves.
‘Um, Dad?’ I called. ‘How’s it going?’
‘Percy!’ Annabeth whispered. ‘We’re in a hurry!’
‘We need your help,’ I called a little louder. ‘We need to get to that ship, like, before we get eaten
and stuff, so…’
At first, nothing happened. Waves crashed against the shore like normal. The harpies sounded like
they were right behind the sand dunes. Then, about a hundred metres out to sea, three white lines
appeared on the surface. They moved fast towards the shore, like claws ripping through the ocean.
As they neared the beach, the surf burst apart and the heads of three white stallions reared out of
the waves.
Tyson caught his breath. ‘Fish ponies!’
He was right. As the creatures pulled themselves onto the sand, I saw that they were only horses in
the front; their back halves were silvery fish bodies, with glistening scales and rainbow-tail fins.
‘Hippocampi!’ Annabeth said. ‘They’re beautiful.’
The nearest one whinnied in appreciation and nuzzled Annabeth.
‘We’ll admire them later,’ I said. ‘Come on!’
‘There!’ a voice screeched behind us. ‘Bad children out of cabins! Snack time for lucky harpies!’
Five of them were fluttering over the top of the dunes – plump little hags with pinched faces and
talons and feathery wings too small for their bodies. They reminded me of miniature cafeteria ladies
who’d been crossbred with dodo birds. They weren’t very fast, thank the gods, but they were vicious
if they caught you.
‘Tyson!’ I said. ‘Grab a duffel bag!’
He was still staring at the hippocampi with his mouth hanging open.
‘Tyson!’
‘Uh?’
‘Come on!’
With Annabeth’s help I got him moving. We gathered the bags and mounted our steeds. Poseidon
must’ve known Tyson was one of the passengers, because one hippocampus was much larger than the
other two – just right for carrying a Cyclops.
‘Giddy-up!’ I said. My hippocampus turned and plunged into the waves. Annabeth’s and Tyson’s
followed right behind.
The harpies cursed at us, wailing for their snacks to come back, but the hippocampi raced over the
water at the speed of jet skis. The harpies fell behind, and soon the shore of Camp Half-Blood was
nothing but a dark smudge. I wondered if I’d ever see the place again. But right then I had other
problems.
The cruise ship was now looming in front of us – our ride towards Florida and the Sea of
Monsters.
***
Riding the hippocampus was even easier than riding a pegasus. We zipped along with the wind in our
faces, speeding through the waves so smoothly and steadily I hardly needed to hold on at all.
As we got closer to the cruise ship, I realized just how huge it was. I felt as though I were looking
up at a building in Manhattan. The white hull was at least ten storeys tall, topped with another dozen
levels of decks with brightly lit balconies and portholes. The ship’s name was painted just above the
bow line in black letters, lit with a spotlight. It took me a few seconds to decipher it:
PRINCESS ANDROMEDA
Attached to the bow was a huge masthead – a three-storey-tall woman wearing a white Greek chiton,
sculpted to look as if she were chained to the front of the ship. She was young and beautiful, with
flowing black hair, but her expression was one of absolute terror. Why anybody would want a
screaming princess on the front of their vacation ship, I had no idea.
I remembered the myth about Andromeda and how she had been chained to a rock by her own
parents as a sacrifice to a sea monster. Maybe she’d got too many Fs on her report card or something.
Anyway, my namesake, Perseus, had saved her just in time and turned the sea monster to stone using
the head of Medusa.
That Perseus always won. That’s why my mom had named me after him, even though he was a son
of Zeus and I was a son of Poseidon. The original Perseus was one of the only heroes in the Greek
myths who got a happy ending. The others died – betrayed, mauled, mutilated, poisoned, or cursed by
the gods. My mom hoped I would inherit Perseus’s luck. Judging by how my life was going so far, I
wasn’t really optimistic.
‘How do we get aboard?’ Annabeth shouted over the noise of the waves, but the hippocampi
seemed to know what we needed. They skimmed along the starboard side of the ship, riding easily
through its huge wake, and pulled up next to a service ladder riveted to the side of the hull.
‘You first,’ I told Annabeth.
She slung her duffel bag over her shoulder and grabbed the bottom rung. Once she’d hoisted herself
onto the ladder, her hippocampus whinnied a farewell and dived underwater. Annabeth began to
climb. I let her get a few rungs up, then followed her.
Finally it was just Tyson in the water. His hippocampus was treating him to 360° aerials and
backwards ollies, and Tyson was laughing so hysterically, the sound echoed up the side of the ship.
‘Tyson, shhh!’ I said. ‘Come on, big guy!’
‘Can’t we take Rainbow?’ he asked, his smile fading.
I stared at him. ‘Rainbow?’
The hippocampus whinnied as if he liked his new name.
‘Um, we have to go,’ I said. ‘Rainbow … well, he can’t climb ladders.’
Tyson sniffled. He buried his face in the hippocampus’s mane. ‘I will miss you, Rainbow!’
The hippocampus made a neighing sound I could’ve sworn was crying.
‘Maybe we’ll see him again sometime,’ I suggested.
‘Oh, please!’ Tyson said, perking up immediately. ‘Tomorrow!’
I didn’t make any promises, but I finally convinced Tyson to say his farewells and grab hold of the
ladder. With a final sad whinny, Rainbow the hippocampus did a backflip and dived into the sea.
The ladder led to a maintenance deck stacked with yellow lifeboats. There was a set of locked
double doors, which Annabeth managed to prise open with her knife and a fair amount of cursing in
Ancient Greek.
I figured we’d have to sneak around, being stowaways and all, but after checking a few corridors
and peering over a balcony into a huge central promenade lined with closed shops, I began to realize
there was nobody to hide from. I mean, sure it was the middle of the night, but we walked half the
length of the boat and met no one. We passed forty or fifty cabin doors and heard no sound behind any
of them.
‘It’s a ghost ship,’ I murmured.
‘No,’ Tyson said, fiddling with the strap of his duffel bag. ‘Bad smell.’
Annabeth frowned. ‘I don’t smell anything.’
‘Cyclopes are like satyrs,’ I said. ‘They can smell monsters. Isn’t that right, Tyson?’
He nodded nervously. Now that we were away from Camp Half-Blood, the Mist had distorted his
face again. Unless I concentrated very hard, it seemed that he had two eyes instead of one.
‘Okay,’ Annabeth said. ‘So what exactly do you smell?’
‘Something bad,’ Tyson answered.
‘Great,’ Annabeth grumbled. ‘That clears it up.’
We came outside on the swimming pool level. There were rows of empty deckchairs and a bar
closed off with a chain curtain. The water in the pool glowed eerily, sloshing back and forth from the
motion of the ship.
Above us fore and aft were more levels – a climbing wall, a pitch-and-putt golf course, a
revolving restaurant, but no sign of life.
And yet … I sensed something familiar. Something dangerous. I had the feeling that if I weren’t so
tired and burned out on adrenalin from our long night, I might be able to put a name to what was
wrong.
‘We need a hiding place,’ I said. ‘Somewhere safe to sleep.’
‘Sleep,’ Annabeth agreed wearily.
We explored a few more corridors until we found an empty suite on the ninth level. The door was
open, which struck me as weird. There was a basket of chocolate goodies on the table, an iced-down
bottle of sparkling cider on the nightstand and a mint on the pillow with a handwritten note that said:
Enjoy your cruise!
We opened our duffel bags for the first time and found that Hermes really had thought of everything
– extra clothes, toiletries, camp rations, an airtight bag full of cash, a leather pouch full of golden
drachmas. He’d even managed to pack Tyson’s oilcloth with his tools and metal bits, and Annabeth’s
cap of invisibility, which made them both feel a lot better.
‘I’ll be next door,’ Annabeth said. ‘You guys don’t drink or eat anything.’
‘You think this place is enchanted?’
She frowned. ‘I don’t know. Something isn’t right. Just … be careful.’
We locked our doors.
Tyson crashed on the couch. He tinkered for a few minutes on his metalworking project – which he
still wouldn’t show me – but soon enough he was yawning. He wrapped up his oilcloth and passed
out.
I lay on the bed and stared out of the porthole. I thought I heard voices out in the hallway, like
whispering. I knew that couldn’t be. We’d walked all over the ship and had seen nobody. But the
voices kept me awake. They reminded me of my trip to the Underworld – the way the spirits of the
dead sounded as they drifted past.
Finally my weariness got the best of me. I fell asleep … and had my worst dream yet.
I was standing in a cavern at the edge of an enormous pit. I knew the place too well. The entrance to
Tartarus. And I recognized the cold laugh that echoed from the darkness below.
If it isn’t the young hero . The voice was like a knife blade scraping across stone. On his way to
another great victory.
I wanted to shout at Kronos to leave me alone. I wanted to draw Riptide and strike him down. But I
couldn’t move. And even if I could, how could I kill something that had already been destroyed –
chopped to pieces and cast into eternal darkness?
Don’t let me stop you, the titan said. Perhaps this time, when you fail, you’ll wonder if it’s
worthwhile slaving for the gods. How exactly has your father shown his appreciation lately?
His laughter filled the cavern, and suddenly the scene changed.
It was a different cave – Grover’s bedroom prison in the Cyclops’s lair.
Grover was sitting at the loom in his soiled wedding dress, madly unravelling the threads of the
unfinished bridal train.
‘Honeypie!’ the monster shouted from behind the boulder.
Grover yelped and began weaving the threads back together.
The room shook as the boulder was pushed aside. Looming in the doorway was a Cyclops so huge
he made Tyson look vertically challenged. He had jagged yellow teeth and gnarled hands as big as my
whole body. He wore a faded purple T-shirt that said WORLD SHEEP EXPO 2001. He must’ve
been at least five metres tall, but the most startling thing was his enormous milky eye, scarred and
webbed with cataracts. If he wasn’t completely blind, he had to be pretty darn close.
‘What are you doing?’ the monster demanded.
‘Nothing!’ Grover said in his falsetto voice. ‘Just weaving my bridal train, as you can see.’
The Cyclops stuck one hand into the room and groped around until he found the loom. He pawed at
the cloth. ‘It hasn’t got any longer!’
‘Oh, um, yes it has, dearest. See? I’ve added at least three centimetres.’
‘Too many delays!’ the monster bellowed. Then he sniffed the air. ‘You smell good! Like goats!’
‘Oh.’ Grover forced a weak giggle. ‘Do you like it? It’s Eau de Chévre. I wore it just for you.’
‘Mmmm!’ The Cyclops bared his pointed teeth. ‘Good enough to eat!’
‘Oh, you’re such a flirt!’
‘No more delays!’
‘But dear, I’m not done!’
‘Tomorrow!’
‘No, no. Ten more days.’
‘Five!’
‘Oh, well, seven then. If you insist.’
‘Seven! That is less than five, right?’
‘Certainly. Oh yes.’
The monster grumbled, still not happy with his deal, but he left Grover to his weaving and rolled
the boulder back into place.
Grover closed his eyes and took a shaky breath, trying to calm his nerves.
‘Hurry, Percy,’ he muttered. ‘Please, please, please!’
I woke to a ship’s whistle and a voice on the intercom – some guy with an Australian accent who
sounded way too happy.
‘Good morning, passengers! We’ll be at sea all day today. Excellent weather for the poolside
mambo party! Don’t forget million-dollar bingo in the Kraken Lounge at one o’clock, and for our
special guests, disembowelling practice on the Promenade!’
I sat up in bed. ‘What did he say?’
Tyson groaned, still half asleep. He was lying face down on the couch, his feet so far over the edge
they were in the bathroom. ‘The happy man said … bowling practice?’
I hoped he was right, but then there was an urgent knock on the suite’s interior door. Annabeth stuck
her head in – her blonde hair in a rat’s nest. ‘Disembowelling practice?’
Once we were all dressed, we ventured out into the ship and were surprised to see other people. A
dozen senior citizens were heading to breakfast. A dad was taking his kids to the pool for a morning
swim. Crew members in crisp white uniforms strolled the deck, tipping their hats to the passengers.
Nobody asked who we were. Nobody paid us much attention. But there was something wrong.
As the family of swimmers passed us, the dad told his kids, ‘We are on a cruise. We are having
fun.’
‘Yes,’ his three kids said in unison, their expressions blank. ‘We are having a blast. We will swim
in the pool.’
They wandered off.
‘Good morning,’ a crew member told us, his eyes glazed. ‘We are all enjoying ourselves aboard
the Princess Andromeda. Have a nice day.’ He drifted away.
‘Percy, this is weird,’ Annabeth whispered. ‘They’re all in some kind of trance.’
Then we passed a cafeteria and saw our first monster. It was a hellhound – a black mastiff with its
front paws up on the buffet counter and its muzzle buried in the scrambled eggs. It must’ve been
young, because it was small compared to most – no bigger than a grizzly bear. Still, my blood turned
cold. I’d almost got killed by one of those before.
The weird thing was, a middle-aged couple was standing in the buffet queue right behind the devil
dog, patiently waiting their turn for the eggs. They didn’t seem to notice anything out of the ordinary.
‘Not hungry any more,’ Tyson murmured.
Before Annabeth or I could reply, a reptilian voice came from down the corridor, ‘Ssssix more
joined yesssterday.’
Annabeth gestured frantically towards the nearest hiding place – the women’s room – and all three
of us ducked inside. I was so freaked out it didn’t even occur to me to be embarrassed.
Something – or more like two somethings – slithered past the restroom door, making sounds like
sandpaper against the carpet.
‘Yesss,’ a second reptilian voice said. ‘He drawssss them. Ssssoon we will be sssstrong.’
The things slithered into the cafeteria with a cold hissing that might have been snake laughter.
Annabeth looked at me. ‘We have to get out of here.’
‘You think I want to be in the girls’ restroom?’
‘I mean the ship, Percy! We have to get off the ship.’
‘Smells bad,’ Tyson agreed. ‘And dogs eat all the eggs. Annabeth is right. We must leave the
restroom and ship.’
I shuddered. If Annabeth and Tyson were actually agreeing about something, I figured I’d better
listen.
Then I heard another voice outside – one that chilled me worse than any monster’s.
‘– only a matter of time. Don’t push me, Agrius!’
It was Luke, beyond a doubt. I could never forget his voice.
‘I’m not pushing you!’ another guy growled. His voice was deeper and even angrier than Luke’s.
‘I’m just saying, if this gamble doesn’t pay off –’
‘It’ll pay off, Luke snapped. ‘They’ll take the bait. Now, come, we’ve got to get to the admiralty
suite and check on the casket.’
Their voices receded down the corridor.
Tyson whimpered. ‘Leave now?’
Annabeth and I exchanged looks and came to a silent agreement.
‘We can’t,’ I told Tyson.
‘We have to find out what Luke is up to,’ Annabeth agreed. ‘And if possible, we’re going to beat
him up, bind him in chains and drag him to Mount Olympus.’
9 I Have the Worst Family Reunion Ever
Annabeth volunteered to go alone since she had the cap of invisibility, but I convinced her it was too
dangerous. Either we all went together, or nobody went.
‘Nobody!’ Tyson voted. ‘Please?’
But in the end he came along, nervously chewing on his huge fingernails. We stopped at our cabin
long enough to gather our stuff. We figured whatever happened, we would not be staying another night
aboard the zombie cruise ship, even if they did have million-dollar bingo. I made sure Riptide was in
my pocket and the vitamins and flask from Hermes were at the top of my bag. I didn’t want Tyson to
carry everything, but he insisted, and Annabeth told me not to worry about it. Tyson could carry three
full duffel bags over his shoulder as easily as I could carry a backpack.
We sneaked through the corridors, following the ship’s YOU ARE HERE signs towards the
admiralty suite. Annabeth scouted ahead invisibly. We hid whenever someone passed by, but most of
the people we saw were just glassy-eyed zombie passengers.
As we came up the stairs to deck thirteen, where the admiralty suite was supposed to be, Annabeth
hissed, ‘Hide!’ and shoved us into a supply closet.
I heard a couple of guys coming down the hall.
‘You see that Aethiopian drakon in the cargo hold?’ one of them said.
The other laughed. ‘Yeah, it’s awesome.’
Annabeth was still invisible, but she squeezed my arm hard. I got a feeling I should know that
second guy’s voice.
‘I hear they got two more coming,’ the familiar voice said. ‘They keep arriving at this rate, oh, man
– no contest!’
The voices faded down the corridor.
‘That was Chris Rodriguez!’ Annabeth took off her cap and turned visible. ‘You remember – from
Cabin Eleven.’
I sort of recalled Chris from the summer before. He was one of those undetermined campers who
got stuck in the Hermes cabin because his Olympian dad or mom never claimed him. Now that I
thought about it, I realized I hadn’t seen Chris at camp this summer. ‘What’s another half-blood doing
here?’
Annabeth shook her head, clearly troubled.
We kept going down the corridor. I didn’t need maps any more to know I was getting close to Luke.
I sensed something cold and unpleasant – the presence of evil.
‘Percy.’ Annabeth stopped suddenly. ‘Look.’
She stood in front of a glass wall looking down into the multistorey canyon that ran through the
middle of the ship. At the bottom was the Promenade – a mall full of shops – but that’s not what had
caught Annabeth’s attention.
A group of monsters had assembled in front of the candy store: a dozen Laistrygonian giants like
the ones who’d attacked me with dodgeballs, two hellhounds and a few even stranger creatures –
humanoid females with twin serpent tails instead of legs.
‘Scythian Dracaenae,’ Annabeth whispered. ‘Dragon women.’
The monsters made a semicircle around a young guy in Greek armour who was hacking on a straw
dummy. A lump formed in my throat when I realized the dummy was wearing an orange Camp Half-
Blood T-shirt. As we watched, the guy in armour stabbed the dummy through its belly and ripped
upwards. Straw flew everywhere. The monsters cheered and howled.
Annabeth stepped away from the window. Her face was ashen.
‘Come on,’ I told her, trying to sound braver than I felt. ‘The sooner we find Luke the better.’
At the end of the hallway were double oak doors that looked like they must lead somewhere
important. When we were ten metres away, Tyson stopped. ‘Voices inside.’
‘You can hear that far?’ I asked.
Tyson closed his eye like he was concentrating hard. Then his voice changed, becoming a husky
approximation of Luke’s. ‘– the prophecy ourselves. The fools won’t know which way to turn.’
Before I could react, Tyson’s voice changed again, becoming deeper and gruffer, like the other guy
we’d heard talking to Luke outside the cafeteria. ‘You really think the old horseman is gone for
good?’
Tyson laughed Luke’s laugh. ‘They can’t trust him. Not with the skeletons in his closet. The
poisoning of the tree was the final straw.’
Annabeth shivered. ‘Stop that, Tyson! How do you do that? It’s creepy.’
Tyson opened his eye and looked puzzled. ‘Just listening.’
‘Keep going,’ I said. ‘What else are they saying?’
Tyson closed his eye again.
He hissed in the gruff man’s voice, ‘Quiet!’ Then Luke’s voice, whispering, ‘Are you sure?’
‘Yes,’ Tyson said in the gruff voice. ‘Right outside.’
Too late, I realized what was happening.
I just had time to say, ‘Run!’ when the doors of the stateroom burst open and there was Luke,
flanked by two hairy giants armed with javelins, their bronze tips aimed right at our chests.
‘Well,’ Luke said with a crooked smile. ‘If it isn’t my two favourite cousins. Come right in.’
The stateroom was beautiful, and it was horrible.
The beautiful part: huge windows curved along the back wall, looking out over the stern of the
ship. Green sea and blue sky stretched all the way to the horizon. A Persian rug covered the floor.
Two plush sofas occupied the middle of the room, with a canopied bed in one corner and a mahogany
dining table in the other. The table was loaded with food: pizza boxes, bottles of soda and a stack of
roast beef sandwiches on a silver platter.
The horrible part: on a velvet dais at the back of the room lay a three-metre-long golden casket. A
sarcophagus, engraved with Ancient Greek scenes of cities in flames and heroes dying grisly deaths.
Despite the sunlight streaming through the windows, the casket made the whole room feel cold.
‘Well,’ Luke said, spreading his arms proudly. ‘A little nicer than Cabin Eleven, huh?’
He’d changed since last summer. Instead of Bermuda shorts and a T-shirt, he wore a button-down
shirt, khaki trousers and leather loafers. His sandy hair, which used to be so unruly, was now clipped
short. He looked like an evil male model, showing off what the fashionable college-age villain was
wearing to Harvard this year.
He still had the scar under his eye – a jagged white line from his battle with a dragon. And propped
against the sofa was his magical sword, Backbiter, glinting strangely with its half steel, half Celestial
bronze blade that could kill both mortals and monsters.
‘Sit,’ he told us. He waved his hand and three dining chairs scooted themselves into the centre of
the room.
None of us sat.
Luke’s large friends were still pointing their javelins at us. They looked like twins, but they
weren’t human. They stood about two and a half metres tall, for one thing, and wore only blue jeans,
probably because their enormous chests were already shag-carpeted with thick brown fur. They had
claws for fingernails, feet like paws. Their noses were snoutlike, and their teeth were all pointed
canines.
‘Where are my manners?’ Luke said smoothly. ‘These are my assistants, Agrius and Oreius.
Perhaps you’ve heard of them.’
I said nothing. Despite the javelins pointed at me, it wasn’t the bear twins who scared me.
I’d imagined meeting Luke again many times since he’d tried to kill me last summer. I’d pictured
myself boldly standing up to him, challenging him to a duel. But now that we were face to face, I
could barely stop my hands from shaking.
‘You don’t know Agrius and Oreius’s story?’ Luke asked. ‘Their mother … well, it’s sad, really.
Aphrodite ordered the young woman to fall in love. She refused and ran to Artemis for help. Artemis
let her become one of her maiden huntresses, but Aphrodite got her revenge. She bewitched the young
woman into falling in love with a bear. When Artemis found out, she abandoned the girl in disgust.
Typical of the gods, wouldn’t you say? They fight with one another and the poor humans get caught in
the middle. The girl’s twin sons here, Agrius and Oreius, have no love for Olympus. They like halfbloods well enough, though…’
‘For lunch,’ Agrius growled. His gruff voice was the one I’d heard talking with Luke earlier.
‘Hehe! Hehe!’ His brother Oreius laughed, licking his fur-lined lips. He kept laughing like he was
having an asthmatic fit until Luke and Agrius both stared at him.
‘Shut up, you idiot!’ Agrius growled. ‘Go punish yourself!’
Oreius whimpered. He trudged over to the corner of the room, slumped onto a stool, and banged
his forehead against the dining table, making the silver plates rattle.
Luke acted like this was perfectly normal behaviour. He made himself comfortable on the sofa and
propped his feet up on the coffee table. ‘Well, Percy, we let you survive another year. I hope you
appreciated it. How’s your mom? How’s school?’
‘You poisoned Thalia’s tree.’
Luke sighed. ‘Right to the point, eh? Okay, sure I poisoned the tree. So what?’
‘How could you?’ Annabeth sounded so angry I thought she’d explode. ‘Thalia saved your life!
Our lives! How could you dishonour her –’
‘I didn’t dishonour her!’ Luke snapped. ‘The gods dishonoured her, Annabeth! If Thalia were alive,
she’d be on my side.’
‘Liar!’
‘If you knew what was coming, you’d understand –’
‘I understand you want to destroy the camp!’ she yelled. ‘You’re a monster!’
Luke shook his head. ‘The gods have blinded you. Can’t you imagine a world without them,
Annabeth? What good is that ancient history you study? Three thousand years of baggage! The West is
rotten to the core. It has to be destroyed. Join me! We can start the world anew. We could use your
intelligence, Annabeth.’
‘Because you have none of your own!’
His eyes narrowed. ‘I know you, Annabeth. You deserve better than tagging along on some
hopeless quest to save the camp. Half-Blood Hill will be overrun by monsters within the month. The
heroes who survive will have no choice but to join us or be hunted to extinction. You really want to
be on a losing team … with company like this?’ Luke pointed at Tyson.
‘Hey!’ I said.
‘Travelling with a Cyclops,’ Luke chided. ‘Talk about dishonouring Thalia’s memory! I’m
surprised at you, Annabeth. You of all people –’
‘Stop it!’ she shouted.
I didn’t know what Luke was talking about, but Annabeth buried her head in her hands like she was
about to cry.
‘Leave her alone,’ I said. ‘And leave Tyson out of this.’
Luke laughed. ‘Oh, yeah, I heard. Your father claimed him.’
I must have looked surprised, because Luke smiled. ‘Yes, Percy, I know all about that. And about
your plan to find the Fleece. What were those coordinates, again … thirty, thirty-one, seventy-five,
twelve? You see, I still have friends at camp who keep me posted.’
‘Spies, you mean.’
He shrugged. ‘How many insults from your father can you stand, Percy? You think he’s grateful to
you? You think Poseidon cares for you any more than he cares for this monster?’
Tyson clenched his fists and made a rumbling sound down in his throat.
Luke just chuckled. ‘The gods are so using you, Percy. Do you have any idea what’s in store for
you if you reach your sixteenth birthday? Has Chiron even told you the prophecy?’
I wanted to get in Luke’s face and tell him off, but as usual, he knew just how to throw me off
balance.
Sixteenth birthday?
I mean, I knew Chiron had received a prophecy from the Oracle many years ago. I knew part of it
was about me. But, if I reached my sixteenth birthday? I didn’t like the sound of that.
‘I know what I need to know,’ I managed. ‘Like, who my enemies are.’
‘Then you’re a fool.’
Tyson smashed the nearest dining chair to splinters. ‘Percy is not a fool!’
Before I could stop him, he charged Luke. His fists came down towards Luke’s head – a double
overhead blow that would’ve knocked a hole in titanium – but the bear twins intercepted. They each
caught one of Tyson’s arms and stopped him cold. They pushed him back and Tyson stumbled. He fell
to the carpet so hard the deck shook.
‘Too bad, Cyclops,’ Luke said. ‘Looks like my grizzly friends together are more than a match for
your strength. Maybe I should let them –’
‘Luke,’ I cut in. ‘Listen to me. Your father sent us.’
His face turned the colour of pepperoni. ‘Don’t – even – mention him.’
‘He told us to take this boat. I thought it was just for a ride, but he sent us here to find you. He told
me he won’t give up on you, no matter how angry you are.’
‘Angry?’ Luke roared. ‘ Give up on me? He abandoned me, Percy! I want Olympus destroyed!
Every throne crushed to rubble! You tell Hermes it’s going to happen, too. Each time a half-blood
joins us, the Olympians grow weaker and we grow stronger. He grows stronger.’ Luke pointed to the
gold sarcophagus.
The box creeped me out, but I was determined not to show it. ‘So?’ I demanded. ‘What’s so
special…’
Then it hit me, what might be inside the sarcophagus. The temperature in the room seemed to drop
twenty degrees. ‘Whoa, you don’t mean –’
‘He is re-forming,’ Luke said. ‘Little by little, we’re calling his life force out of the pit. With every
recruit who pledges our cause, another small piece appears –’
‘That’s disgusting!’ Annabeth said.
Luke sneered at her. ‘Your mother was born from Zeus’s split skull, Annabeth. I wouldn’t talk.
Soon there will be enough of the titan lord so that we can make him whole again. We will piece
together a new body for him, a work worthy of the forges of Hephaestus.’
‘You’re insane,’ Annabeth said.
‘Join us and you’ll be rewarded. We have powerful friends, sponsors rich enough to buy this cruise
ship and much more. Percy, your mother will never have to work again. You can buy her a mansion.
You can have power, fame – whatever you want. Annabeth, you can realize your dream of being an
architect. You can build a monument to last a thousand years. A temple to the lords of the next age!’
‘Go to Tartarus,’ she said.
Luke sighed. ‘A shame.’
He picked up something that looked like a TV remote and pressed a red button. Within seconds the
door of the stateroom opened and two uniformed crew members came in, armed with nightsticks.
They had the same glassy-eyed look as the other mortals I’d seen, but I had a feeling this wouldn’t
make them any less dangerous in a fight.
‘Ah, good, security,’ Luke said. ‘I’m afraid we have some stowaways.’
‘Yes, sir,’ they said dreamily.
Luke turned to Oreius. ‘It’s time to feed the Aethiopian drakon. Take these fools below and show
them how it’s done.’
Oreius grinned stupidly. ‘Hehe! Hehe!’
‘Let me go, too,’ Agrius grumbled. ‘My brother is worthless. That Cyclops –’
‘Is no threat,’ Luke said. He glanced back at the golden casket, as if something were troubling him.
‘Agrius, stay here. We have important matters to discuss.’
‘But –’
‘Oreius, don’t fail me. Stay in the hold to make sure the drakon is properly fed.’
Oreius prodded us with his javelin and herded us out of the stateroom, followed by the two human
security guards.
As I walked down the corridor with Orieus’s javelin poking me in the back, I thought about what
Luke had said – that the bear twins together were a match for Tyson’s strength. But maybe
separately…
We exited the corridor amidships and walked across an open deck lined with lifeboats. I knew the
ship well enough to realize this would be our last look at sunlight. Once we got to the other side,
we’d take the elevator down into the hold, and that would be it.
I looked at Tyson and said, ‘Now.’
Thank the gods, he understood. He turned and smacked Oreius ten metres backwards into the
swimming pool, right into the middle of the zombie tourist family.
‘Ah!’ the kids yelled in unison. ‘We are not having a blast in the pool!’
One of the security guards drew his nightstick, but Annabeth knocked the wind out of him with a
well-placed kick. The other guard ran for the nearest alarm box.
‘Stop him!’ Annabeth yelled, but it was too late.
Just before I banged him on the head with a deckchair, he hit the alarm.
Red lights flashed. Sirens wailed.
‘Lifeboat!’ I yelled.
We ran for the nearest one.
By the time we got the cover off, monsters and more security men were swarming the deck, pushing
aside tourists and waiters with trays of tropical drinks. A guy in Greek armour drew his sword and
charged, but slipped in a puddle of piña colada. Laistrygonian archers assembled on the deck above
us, notching arrows in their enormous bows.
‘How do you launch this thing?’ screamed Annabeth.
A hellhound leaped at me, but Tyson slammed it aside with a fire extinguisher.
‘Get in!’ I yelled. I uncapped Riptide and slashed the first volley of arrows out of the air. Any
second we would be overwhelmed.
The lifeboat was hanging over the side of the ship, high above the water. Annabeth and Tyson were
having no luck with the release pulley.
I jumped in beside them.
‘Hold on!’ I yelled, and I cut the ropes.
A shower of arrows whistled over our heads as we free-fell towards the ocean.
10 We Hitch a Ride with Dead Confederates
‘Flask!’ I screamed as we hurtled towards the water.
‘What? Annabeth must’ve thought I’d lost my mind. She was holding on to the boat straps for dear
life, her hair flying straight up like a torch.
But Tyson understood. He managed to open my duffel bag and take out Hermes’s magical flask
without losing his grip on it or the boat.
Arrows and javelins whistled past us.
I grabbed the Flask and hoped I was doing the right thing. ‘Hang on!’
‘I am hanging on!’ Annabeth yelled.
‘Tighter!’
I hooked my feet under the boat’s inflatable bench, and, as Tyson grabbed Annabeth and me by the
backs of our shirts, I gave the Flask cap a quarter turn.
Instantly, a white sheet of wind jetted out of the flask and propelled us sideways, turning our
downward plummet into a forty-five-degree crash landing.
The wind seemed to laugh as it shot from the flask, like it was glad to be free. As we hit the ocean,
we bumped once, twice, skipping like a stone, then we were whizzing along like a speed boat, salt
spray in our faces and nothing but sea ahead.
I heard a wail of outrage from the ship behind us, but we were already out of weapon range. The
Princess Andromeda faded to the size of a white toy boat in the distance, and then it was gone.
As we raced over the sea, Annabeth and I tried to send an Iris-message to Chiron. We figured it was
important we let somebody know what Luke was doing, and we didn’t know who else to trust.
The wind from the Flask stirred up a nice sea spray that made a rainbow in the sunlight – perfect
for an Iris-message – but our connection was still poor. When Annabeth threw a gold drachma into
the mist and prayed for the rainbow goddess to show us Chiron, his face appeared all right, but there
was some kind of weird strobe light flashing in the background and rock music blaring, like he was at
a dance club.
We told him about sneaking away from camp, and Luke and the Princess Andromeda and the
golden box for Kronos’s remains, but between the noise on his end and the rushing wind and water on
our end, I’m not sure how much he heard.
‘Percy,’ Chiron yelled, ‘you have to watch out for –’
His voice was drowned out by loud shouting behind him – a bunch of voices whooping it up like
Comanche warriors.
‘What?’ I yelled.
‘Curse my relatives!’ Chiron ducked as a plate flew over his head and shattered somewhere out of
sight. ‘Annabeth, you shouldn’t have let Percy leave camp! But if you do get the Fleece –’
‘Yeah, baby!’ somebody behind Chiron yelled. ‘Woo-hoooooo!’
The music got cranked up, subwoofers so loud it made our boat vibrate.
‘– Miami,’ Chiron was yelling. ‘I’ll try to keep watch –’
Our misty screen smashed apart like someone on the other side had thrown a bottle at it, and Chiron
was gone.
An hour later we spotted land – a long stretch of beach lined with high-rise hotels. The water became
crowded with fishing boats and tankers. A coastguard cruiser passed on our starboard side, then
turned like it wanted a second look. I guess it isn’t every day they see a yellow lifeboat with no
engine going a hundred knots an hour, manned by three kids.
‘That’s Virginia Beach!’ Annabeth said as we approached the shoreline. ‘Oh my gods, how did the
Princess Andromeda travel so far overnight? That’s like –’
‘Five hundred and thirty nautical miles,’ I said.
She stared at me. ‘How did you know that?’
‘I – I’m not sure.’
Annabeth thought for a moment. ‘Percy, what’s our position?’
‘Thirty-six degrees, forty-four minutes north, seventy-six degrees, two minutes west,’ I said
immediately. Then I shook my head. ‘Whoa. How did I know that?’
‘Because of your dad,’ Annabeth guessed. ‘When you’re at sea, you have perfect bearings. That is
so cool.’
I wasn’t sure about that. I didn’t want to be a human GPS unit. But before I could say anything,
Tyson tapped my shoulder. ‘Other boat is coming.’
I looked back. The coastguard vessel was definitely on our tail now. Its lights were flashing and it
was gaining speed.
‘We can’t let them catch us,’ I said. ‘They’ll ask too many questions.’
‘Keep going into Chesapeake Bay,’ Annabeth said. ‘I know a place we can hide.’
I didn’t ask what she meant, or how she knew the area so well. I risked loosening the Flask cap a
little more, and a fresh burst of wind sent us rocketing around the northern tip of Virginia Beach into
Chesapeake Bay. The coastguard boat fell further and further behind. We didn’t slow down until the
shores of the bay narrowed on either side, and I realized we’d entered the mouth of a river.
I could feel the change from salt water to fresh water. Suddenly I was tired and frazzled, like I was
coming down off a sugar high. I didn’t know where I was any more, or which way to steer the boat. It
was a good thing Annabeth was directing me.
‘There,’ she said. ‘Past that sandbar.’
We veered into a swampy area choked with marsh grass. I beached the lifeboat at the foot of a
giant cypress.
Vine-covered trees loomed above us. Insects chirred in the woods. The air was muggy and hot, and
steam curled off the river. Basically, it wasn’t Manhattan, and I didn’t like it.
‘Come on,’ Annabeth said. ‘It’s just down the bank.’
‘What is?’ I asked.
‘Just follow.’ She grabbed a duffel bag. ‘And we’d better cover the boat. We don’t want to draw
attention.’
After burying the lifeboat with branches, Tyson and I followed Annabeth along the shore, our feet
sinking in red mud. A snake slithered past my shoe and disappeared into the grass.
‘Not a good place,’ Tyson said. He swatted the mosquitoes that were forming a buffet queue on his
arm.
After another few minutes, Annabeth said, ‘Here.’
All I saw was a patch of brambles. Then Annabeth moved aside a woven circle of branches, like a
door, and I realized I was looking into a camouflaged shelter.
The inside was big enough for three, even with Tyson being the third. The walls were woven from
plant material, like a Native American hut, but they looked pretty waterproof. Stacked in the corner
was everything you could want for a campout – sleeping bags, blankets, an ice chest and a kerosene
lamp. There were demigod provisions, too – bronze javelin tips, a quiver full of arrows, an extra
sword and a box of ambrosia. The place smelled musty, like it had been vacant for a long time.
‘A half-blood hideout.’ I looked at Annabeth in awe. ‘You made this place?’
‘Thalia and I,’ she said quietly. ‘And Luke.’
That shouldn’t have bothered me. I mean, I knew Thalia and Luke had taken care of Annabeth when
she was little. I knew the three of them had been runaways together, hiding from monsters, surviving
on their own before Grover found them and tried to get them to Half-Blood Hill. But whenever
Annabeth talked about the time she’d spent with them, I kind of felt … I don’t know. Uncomfortable?
No. That’s not the word.
The word was jealous.
‘So…’ I said. ‘You don’t think Luke will look for us here?’
She shook her head. ‘We made a dozen safe houses like this. I doubt Luke even remembers where
they are. Or cares.’
She threw herself down on the blankets and started going through her duffel bag. Her body language
made it pretty clear she didn’t want to talk.
‘Um, Tyson?’ I said. ‘Would you mind scouting around outside? Like, look for a wilderness
convenience store or something?’
‘Convenience store?’
‘Yeah, for snacks. Powdered doughnuts or something. Just don’t go too far.’
‘Powdered doughnuts,’ Tyson said earnestly. ‘I will look for powdered doughnuts in the
wilderness.’ He headed outside and started calling, ‘Here, doughnuts!’
Once he was gone, I sat down across from Annabeth. ‘Hey, I’m sorry about, you know, seeing
Luke.’
‘It’s not your fault.’ She unsheathed her knife and started cleaning the blade with a rag.
‘He let us go too easily,’ I said.
I hoped I’d been imagining it, but Annabeth nodded. ‘I was thinking the same thing. What we
overheard him say about a gamble, and “they’ll take the bait” … I think he was talking about us.’
‘The Fleece is the bait? Or Grover?’
She studied the edge of her knife. ‘I don’t know, Percy. Maybe he wants the Fleece for himself.
Maybe he’s hoping we’ll do the hard work and then he can steal it from us. I just can’t believe he
would poison the tree.’
‘What did he mean,’ I asked, ‘that Thalia would’ve been on his side?’
‘He’s wrong.’
‘You don’t sound sure.’
Annabeth glared at me, and I started to wish I hadn’t asked her about this while she was holding a
knife.
‘Percy, you know who you remind me of most? Thalia. You guys are so much alike it’s scary. I
mean, either you would’ve been best friends or you would’ve strangled each other.’
‘Let’s go with “best friends.” ’
‘Thalia got angry with her dad sometimes. So do you. Would you turn against Olympus because of
that?’
I stared at the quiver of arrows in the corner. ‘No.’
‘Okay, then. Neither would she. Luke’s wrong.’ Annabeth stuck her knife blade into the dirt.
I wanted to ask her about the prophecy Luke had mentioned and what it had to do with my sixteenth
birthday. But I figured she wouldn’t tell me. Chiron had made it pretty clear that I wasn’t allowed to
hear it until the gods decided otherwise.
‘So what did Luke mean about Cyclopes?’ I asked. ‘He said you of all people –’
‘I know what he said. He … he was talking about the real reason Thalia died.’
I waited, not sure what to say.
Annabeth drew a shaky breath. ‘You can never trust a Cyclops, Percy. Six years ago, on the night
Grover was leading us to Half-Blood Hill –’
She was interrupted when the door of the hut creaked open. Tyson crawled in.
‘Powdered doughnuts!’ he said proudly, holding up a pastry box.
Annabeth stared at him. ‘Where did you get that? We’re in the middle of the wilderness. There’s
nothing around for –’
‘Fifteen metres,’ Tyson said. ‘Monster Doughnut shop – just over the hill!’
‘This is bad,’ Annabeth muttered.
We were crouching behind a tree, staring at the doughnut shop in the middle of the woods. It looked
brand new, with brightly lit windows, a parking area and a little road leading off into the forest, but
there was nothing else around, and no cars parked in the lot. We could see one employee reading a
magazine behind the cash register. That was it. On the store’s awning, in huge black letters that even I
could read, it said:
MONSTER DOUGHNUT
A cartoon ogre was taking a bite out of the O in MONSTER. The place smelled good, like freshbaked chocolate doughnuts.
‘This shouldn’t be here,’ Annabeth whispered. ‘It’s wrong.’
‘What?’ I asked. ‘It’s a doughnut shop.’
‘Shhh!’
‘Why are we whispering? Tyson went in and bought a dozen. Nothing happened to him.’
‘He’s a monster.’
‘Aw, c’mon, Annabeth. Monster Doughnut doesn’t mean monsters! It’s a chain. We’ve got them in
New York.’
‘A chain,’ she agreed. ‘And don’t you think it’s strange that one appeared immediately after you
told Tyson to get doughnuts? Right here in the middle of the woods?’
I thought about it. It did seem a little weird, but, I mean, doughnut shops weren’t real high on my
list of sinister forces.
‘It could be a nest,’ Annabeth explained.
Tyson whimpered. I doubt he understood what Annabeth was saying any better than I did, but her
tone was making him nervous. He’d ploughed through half a dozen doughnuts from his box and was
getting powdered sugar all over his face.
‘A nest for what?’ I asked.
‘Haven’t you ever wondered how franchise stores pop up so fast?’ she asked. ‘One day there’s
nothing and then the next day – boom, there’s a new burger place or a coffee shop or whatever? First
a single store, then two, then four – exact replicas spreading across the country?’
‘Um, no. Never thought about it.’
‘Percy, some of the chains multiply so fast because all their locations are magically linked to the
life force of a monster. Some children of Hermes figured out how to do it back in the 1950s. They
breed –’
She froze.
‘What?’ I demanded. ‘They breed what?’
‘No – sudden – moves,’ Annabeth said, like her life depended on it. ‘Very slowly, turn around.’
Then I heard it: a scraping noise, like something large dragging its belly through the leaves.
I turned and saw a rhino-size thing moving through the shadows of the trees. It was hissing, its
front half writhing in all different directions. I couldn’t understand what I was seeing at first. Then I
realized the thing had multiple necks – at least seven, each topped with a hissing reptilian head. Its
skin was leathery, and under each neck it wore a plastic bib that read: I’M A MONSTER
DOUGHNUT KID!
I took out my ballpoint pen, but Annabeth locked eyes with me – a silent warning. Not yet.
I understood. A lot of monsters have terrible eyesight. It was possible the Hydra might pass us by.
But if I uncapped my sword now, the bronze glow would certainly get its attention.
We waited.
The Hydra was only a metre or so away. It seemed to be sniffing the ground and the trees like it
was hunting for something. Then I noticed that two of the heads were ripping apart a piece of yellow
canvas – one of our duffel bags. The thing had already been to our campsite. It was following our
scent.
My heart pounded. I’d seen a stuffed Hydra-head trophy at camp before, but that did nothing to
prepare me for the real thing. Each head was diamond-shaped, like a rattlesnake’s, but the mouths
were lined with jagged rows of sharklike teeth.
Tyson was trembling. He stepped back and accidentally snapped a twig. Immediately, all seven
heads turned towards us and hissed.
‘Scatter!’ Annabeth yelled. She dived to the right.
I rolled to the left. One of the Hydra heads spat an arc of green liquid that shot past my shoulder
and splashed against an elm. The trunk smoked and began to disintegrate. The whole tree toppled
straight towards Tyson, who still hadn’t moved, petrified by the monster that was now right in front of
him.
‘Tyson!’ I tackled him with all my might, knocking him aside just as the Hydra lunged and the tree
crashed on top of two of its heads.
The Hydra stumbled backwards, yanking its heads free and wailing in outrage at the fallen tree. All
seven heads shot acid, and the elm melted into a steaming pool of muck.
‘Move!’ I told Tyson. I ran to one side and uncapped Riptide, hoping to draw the monster’s
attention.
It worked.
The sight of celestial bronze is hateful to most monsters. As soon as my glowing blade appeared,
the Hydra whipped towards it with all its heads, hissing and baring its teeth.
The good news: Tyson was momentarily out of danger. The bad news: I was about to be melted
into a puddle of goo.
One of the heads snapped at me experimentally. Without thinking, I swung my sword.
‘No!’ Annabeth yelled.
Too late. I sliced the Hydra’s head clean off. It rolled away into the grass, leaving a flailing stump,
which immediately stopped bleeding and began to swell like a balloon.
In a matter of seconds the wounded neck split into two necks, each of which grew a full-size head.
Now I was looking at an eight-headed Hydra.
‘Percy!’ Annabeth scolded. ‘You just opened another Monster Doughnut shop somewhere!’
I dodged a spray of acid. ‘I’m about to die and you’re worried about that? How do we kill it?’
‘Fire!’ Annabeth said. ‘We have to have fire!’
As soon as she said that, I remembered the story. The Hydra’s heads would only stop multiplying if
we burned the stumps before they regrew. That’s what Heracles had done, anyway. But we had no
fire.
I backed up towards the river. The Hydra followed.
Annabeth moved in on my left and tried to distract one of the heads, parrying its teeth with her
knife, but another head swung sideways like a club and knocked her into the muck.
‘No hitting my friends!’ Tyson charged in, putting himself between the Hydra and Annabeth. As
Annabeth got to her feet, Tyson started smashing at the monster heads with his fists so fast it reminded
me of the whack-a-mole game at the arcade. But even Tyson couldn’t fend off the Hydra forever.
We kept inching backwards, dodging acid splashes and deflecting snapping heads without cutting
them off, but I knew we were only postponing our deaths. Eventually, we would make a mistake and
the thing would kill us.
Then I heard a strange sound – a chug-chug-chug that at first I thought was my heartbeat. It was so
powerful it made the riverbank shake.
‘What’s that noise?’ Annabeth shouted, keeping her eyes on the Hydra.
‘Steam engine,’ Tyson said.
‘What? I ducked as the Hydra spat acid over my head.
Then from the river behind us, a familiar female voice shouted, ‘There! Prepare the thirty-twopounder!’
I didn’t dare look away from the Hydra, but if that was who I thought it was behind us, I figured we
now had enemies on two fronts.
A gravelly male voice said, ‘They’re too close, m’lady!’
‘Damn the heroes!’ the girl said. ‘Full steam ahead!’
‘Aye, m’lady.’
‘Fire at will, Captain!’
Annabeth understood what was happening a split second before I did. She yelled, ‘Hit the dirt!’
and we dived for the ground as an earth-shattering BOOM echoed from the river. There was a flash of
light, a column of smoke and the Hydra exploded right in front of us, showering us with nasty green
slime that vaporized as soon as it hit, the way monster guts tend to do.
‘Gross!’ screamed Annabeth.
‘Steamship!’ yelled Tyson.
I stood, coughing from the cloud of gunpowder smoke that was rolling across the banks.
Chugging towards us down the river was the strangest ship I’d ever seen. It rode low in the water
like a submarine, its deck plated with iron. In the middle was a trapezoid-shaped casemate with slats
on each side for cannons. A flag waved from the top – a wild boar and spear on a blood-red field.
Lining the deck were zombies in grey uniforms – dead soldiers with shimmering faces that only
partially covered their skulls, like the ghouls I’d seen in the Underworld guarding Hades’s palace.
The ship was an ironclad. A Civil War battle cruiser. I could just make out the name along the
prow in moss-covered letters: CSS Birmingham.
And standing next to the smoking cannon that had almost killed us, wearing full Greek battle
armour, was Clarisse.
‘Losers,’ she sneered. ‘But I suppose I have to rescue you. Come aboard.’
11 Clarisse Blows Up Everything
‘You are in so much trouble,’ Clarisse said.
We’d just finished a ship tour we didn’t want, through dark rooms overcrowded with dead sailors.
We’d seen the coal bunker, the boilers and engine, which huffed and groaned like it would explode
any minute. We’d seen the pilot house and the powder magazine and gunnery deck (Clarisse’s
favourite) with two Dahlgren smoothbore cannons on the port and starboard sides and a Brooke nineinch rifled gun fore and aft – all specially refitted to fire celestial bronze cannonballs.
Everywhere we went, dead Confederate sailors stared at us, their ghostly bearded faces
shimmering over their skulls. They approved of Annabeth because she told them she was from
Virginia. They were interested in me, too, because my name was Jackson – like the Southern general
– but then I ruined it by telling them I was from New York. They all hissed and muttered curses about
Yankees.
Tyson was terrified of them. All through the tour, he insisted Annabeth hold his hand, which she
didn’t look too thrilled about.
Finally, we were escorted to dinner. The CSS Birmingham captain’s quarters were about the size
of a walk-in closet, but still much bigger than any other room on board. The table was set with white
linen and china. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, potato chips and Dr Peppers were served by
skeletal crewmen. I didn’t want to eat anything served by ghosts, but my hunger overruled my fear.
‘Tantalus expelled you for eternity,’ Clarisse told us smugly. ‘Mr D said if any of you show your
face at camp again, he’ll turn you into squirrels and run you over with his SUV.’
‘Did they give you this ship?’ I asked.
‘Course not. My father did.’
‘Ares?’
Clarisse sneered. ‘You think your daddy is the only one with sea power? The spirits on the losing
side of every war owe a tribute to Ares. That’s their curse for being defeated. I prayed to my father
for a naval transport and here it is. These guys will do anything I tell them. Won’t you, Captain?’
The captain stood behind her looking stiff and angry. His glowing green eyes fixed me with a
hungry stare. ‘If it means an end to this infernal war, ma’am, peace at last, we’ll do anything. Destroy
anyone.’
Clarisse smiled. ‘Destroy anyone. I like that.’
Tyson gulped.
‘Clarisse,’ Annabeth said, ‘Luke might be after the Fleece, too. We saw him. He’s got the
coordinates and he’s heading south. He has a cruise ship full of monsters –’
‘Good! I’ll blow him out of the water.’
‘You don’t understand,’ Annabeth said. ‘We have to combine forces. Let us help you –’
‘No!’ Clarisse pounded the table. ‘This is my quest, smart girl! Finally I get to be the hero, and you
two will not steal my chance.’
‘Where are your cabin mates?’ I asked. ‘You were allowed to take two friends with you, weren’t
you?’
‘They didn’t … I let them stay behind. To protect the camp.’
‘You mean even the people in your own cabin wouldn’t help you?’
‘Shut up, Prissy! I don’t need them! Or you!’
‘Clarisse,’ I said, ‘Tantalus is using you. He doesn’t care about the camp. He’d love to see it
destroyed. He’s setting you up to fail.’
‘No! I don’t care what the Oracle –’ She stopped herself.
‘What?’ I said. ‘What did the Oracle tell you?’
‘Nothing.’ Clarisse’s ears turned pink. ‘All you need to know is that I’m finishing this quest and
you’re not helping. On the other hand, I can’t let you go…’
‘So we’re prisoners?’ Annabeth asked.
‘Guests. For now.’ Clarisse propped her feet up on the white linen tablecloth and opened another
Dr Pepper. ‘Captain, take them below. Assign them hammocks on the berth deck. If they don’t mind
their manners, show them how we deal with enemy spies.’
The dream came as soon as I fell asleep.
Grover was sitting at his loom, desperately unravelling his wedding train, when the boulder door
rolled aside and the Cyclops bellowed, ‘Aha!’
Grover yelped. ‘Dear! I didn’t – you were so quiet!’
‘Unravelling!’ Polyphemus roared. ‘So that’s the problem!’
‘Oh, no. I-I wasn’t –’
‘Come!’ Polyphemus grabbed Grover around the waist and half carried, half dragged him through
the tunnels of the cave. Grover struggled to keep his high heels on his hooves. His veil kept tilting on
his head, threatening to come off.
The Cyclops pulled him into a warehouse-size cavern decorated with sheep junk. There was a
wool-covered Lay-Z-Boy recliner and a wool-covered television set, crude bookshelves loaded with
sheep collectibles – coffee mugs shaped like sheep faces, plaster figurines of sheep, sheep board
games and picture books and action figures. The floor was littered with piles of sheep bones, and
other bones that didn’t look exactly like sheep – the bones of satyrs who’d come to the island looking
for Pan.
Polyphemus set Grover down only long enough to move another huge boulder. Daylight streamed
into the cave, and Grover whimpered with longing. Fresh air!
The Cyclops dragged him outside to a hilltop overlooking the most beautiful island I’d ever seen.
It was shaped kind of like a saddle cut in half by an axe. There were lush green hills on either side
and a wide valley in the middle, split by a deep chasm that was spanned by a rope bridge. Beautiful
streams rolled to the edge of the canyon and dropped off in rainbow-coloured waterfalls. Parrots
fluttered in the trees. Pink and purple flowers bloomed on the bushes. Hundreds of sheep grazed in the
meadows, their wool glinting strangely like copper and silver coins.
And at the centre of the island, right next to the rope bridge, was an enormous twisted oak tree with
something glittering in its lowest bough.
The Golden Fleece.
Even in a dream, I could feel its power radiating across the island, making the grass greener, the
flowers more beautiful. I could almost smell the nature magic at work. I could only imagine how
powerful the scent would be for a satyr.
Grover whimpered.
‘Yes,’ Polyphemus said proudly. ‘See over there? Fleece is the prize of my collection! Stole it
from heroes long ago, and ever since – free food! Satyrs come from all over the world, like moths to
flame. Satyrs good eating! And now –’
Polyphemus scooped up a wicked set of bronze shears.
Grover yelped, but Polyphemus just picked up the nearest sheep like it was a stuffed animal and
shaved off its wool. He handed a fluffy mass of it to Grover.
‘Put that on the spinning wheel!’ he said proudly. ‘Magic. Cannot be unravelled.’
‘Oh … well…’
‘Poor Honeypie!’ Polyphemus grinned. ‘Bad weaver. Ha-ha! Not to worry. That thread will solve
problem. Finish wedding train by tomorrow!’
‘Isn’t that … thoughtful of you!’
‘Hehe.’
‘But-but, dear,’ Grover gulped, ‘what if someone were to rescue – I mean attack this island?’
Grover looked straight at me, and I knew he was asking for my benefit. ‘What would keep them from
marching right up here to your cave?’
‘Wifey scared! So cute! Not to worry. Polyphemus has state-of-the-art security system. Have to get
through my pets.’
‘Pets?’
Grover looked across the island, but there was nothing to see except sheep grazing peacefully in
the meadows.
‘And then,’ Polyphemus growled, ‘they would have to get through me!’
He pounded his fist against the nearest rock, which cracked and split in half. ‘Now, come!’ he
shouted. ‘Back to the cave.’
Grover looked about ready to cry – so close to freedom, but so hopelessly far. Tears welled in his
eyes as the boulder door rolled shut, sealing him once again in the stinky torch-lit dankness of the
Cyclops’s cave.
I woke to alarm bells ringing throughout the ship.
The captain’s gravelly voice: ‘All hands on deck! Find Lady Clarisse! Where is that girl?’
Then his ghostly face appeared above me. ‘Get up, Yankee. Your friends are already above. We
are approaching the entrance.’
‘The entrance to what?’
He gave me a skeletal smile. ‘The Sea of Monsters, of course.’
I stuffed my few belongings that had survived the Hydra into a sailor’s canvas knapsack and slung it
over my shoulder. I had a sneaking suspicion that one way or another I would not be spending another
night aboard the CSS Birmingham.
I was on my way upstairs when something made me freeze. A presence nearby – something familiar
and unpleasant. For no particular reason, I felt like picking a fight. I wanted to punch a dead
Confederate. The last time I’d felt like that kind of anger…
Instead of going up, I crept to the edge of the ventilation grate and peered down into the boiler
deck.
Clarisse was standing right below me, talking to an image that shimmered in the steam from the
boilers – a muscular man in black leather biker clothes, with a military haircut, red-tinted sunglasses
and a knife strapped to his side.
My fists clenched. It was my least favourite Olympian: Ares, the god of war.
‘I don’t want excuses, little girl!’ he growled.
‘Y-yes, Father,’ Clarisse mumbled.
‘You don’t want to see me mad, do you?’
‘No, Father.’
‘No, Father! Ares mimicked. ‘You’re pathetic. I should’ve let one of my sons take this quest.’
‘I’ll succeed!’ Clarisse promised, her voice trembling. ‘I’ll make you proud.’
‘You’d better,’ he warned. ‘You asked me for this quest, girl. If you let that slimeball Jackson kid
steal it from you –’
‘But the Oracle said –’
‘I DON’T CARE WHAT IT SAID!’ Ares bellowed with such force that his image shimmered.
‘You will succeed. And if you don’t…’
He raised his fist. Even though he was only a figure in the steam, Clarisse flinched.
‘Do we understand each other?’ Ares growled.
The alarm bells rang again. I heard voices coming towards me, officers yelling orders to ready the
cannons.
I crept back from the ventilation grate and made my way upstairs to join Annabeth and Tyson on the
spar deck.
‘What’s wrong?’ Annabeth asked me. ‘Another dream?’
I nodded, but I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to think about what I’d seen downstairs. It
bothered me almost as much as the dream about Grover.
Clarisse came up the stairs right after me. I tried not to look at her.
She grabbed a pair of binoculars from a zombie officer and peered towards the horizon. ‘At last.
Captain, full steam ahead!’
I looked in the same direction as she was, but I couldn’t see much. The sky was overcast. The air
was hazy and humid, like steam from an iron. If I squinted real hard, I could just make out a couple of
dark fuzzy splotches in the distance.
My nautical senses told me we were somewhere off the coast of northern Florida, so we’d come a
long way overnight, further than any mortal ship should’ve been able to travel.
The engine groaned as we increased speed.
Tyson muttered nervously, ‘Too much strain on the pistons. Not meant for deep water.’
I wasn’t sure how he knew that, but it made me nervous.
After a few more minutes, the dark splotches ahead of us came into focus. To the north, a huge mass
of rock rose out of the sea – an island with cliffs at least thirty metres tall. About half a mile south of
that, the other patch of darkness was a storm brewing. The sky and sea boiled together in a roaring
mass.
‘Hurricane?’ Annabeth asked.
‘No,’ Clarisse said. ‘Charybdis.’
Annabeth paled. ‘Are you crazy?’
‘Only way into the Sea of Monsters. Straight between Charybdis and her sister Scylla.’ Clarisse
pointed to the top of the cliffs, and I got the feeling something lived up there that I did not want to
meet.
‘What do you mean the only way?’ I asked. ‘The sea is wide open! Just sail around them.’
Clarisse rolled her eyes. ‘Don’t you know anything? If I tried to sail around them, they would just
appear in my path again. If you want to get into the Sea of Monsters, you have to sail through them.’
‘What about the Clashing Rocks?’ Annabeth said. ‘That’s another gateway. Jason used it.’
‘I can’t blow apart rocks with my cannons,’ Clarisse said. ‘Monsters, on the other hand…’
‘You are crazy,’ Annabeth decided.
‘Watch and learn, Wise Girl.’ Clarisse turned to the captain. ‘Set course for Charybdis!’
‘Aye, m’lady.’
The engine groaned, the iron plating rattled, and the ship began to pick up speed.
‘Clarisse,’ I said, ‘Charybdis sucks up the sea. Isn’t that the story?’
‘And spits it back out again, yeah.’
‘What about Scylla?’
‘She lives in a cave, up on those cliffs. If we get too close, her snaky heads will come down and
start plucking sailors off the ship.’
‘Choose Scylla then,’ I said. ‘Everybody goes below deck and we chug right past.’
‘No!’ Clarisse insisted. ‘If Scylla doesn’t get her easy meat, she might pick up the whole ship.
Besides, she’s too high to make a good target. My cannon can’t shoot straight up. Charybdis just sits
there at the centre of her whirlpool. We’re going to steam straight towards her, train our guns on her,
and blow her to Tartarus!’
She said it with such relish I almost wanted to believe her.
The engine hummed. The boilers were heating up so much I could feel the deck getting warm
beneath my feet. The smokestacks billowed. The red Ares flag whipped in the wind.
As we got closer to the monsters, the sound of Charybdis got louder and louder – a horrible wet
roar like the galaxy’s biggest toilet being flushed. Every time Charybdis inhaled, the ship shuddered
and lurched forward. Every time she exhaled, we rose in the water and were buffeted by three-metre
waves.
I tried to time the whirlpool. As near as I could figure, it took Charybdis about three minutes to
suck up and destroy everything within a half-mile radius. To avoid her, we would have to skirt right
next to Scylla’s cliffs. And as bad as Scylla might be, those cliffs were looking awfully good to me.
Undead sailors calmly went about their business on the spar deck. I guess they’d fought a losing
cause before, so this didn’t bother them. Or maybe they didn’t care about getting destroyed because
they were already deceased. Neither thought made me feel any better.
Annabeth stood next to me, gripping the rail. ‘You still have your Flask full of wind?’
I nodded. ‘But it’s too dangerous to use with a whirlpool like that. More wind might just make
things worse.’
‘What about controlling the water?’ she asked. ‘You’re Poseidon’s son. You’ve done it before.’
She was right. I closed my eyes and tried to calm the sea, but I couldn’t concentrate. Charybdis was
too loud and powerful. The waves wouldn’t respond.
‘I-I can’t,’ I said miserably.
‘We need a backup plan,’ Annabeth said. ‘This isn’t going to work.’
‘Annabeth is right,’ Tyson said. ‘Engine’s no good.’
‘What do you mean?’ she asked.
‘Pressure. Pistons need fixing.’
Before he could explain, the cosmic toilet flushed with a mighty roaaar! The ship lurched forward
and I was thrown to the deck. We were in the whirlpool.
‘Full reverse!’ Clarisse screamed above the noise. The sea churned around us, waves crashing
over the deck. The iron plating was now so hot it steamed. ‘Get us within firing range! Make ready
starboard cannons!’
Dead Confederates rushed back and forth. The propeller grinded into reverse, trying to slow the
ship, but we kept sliding towards the centre of the vortex.
A zombie sailor burst out of the hold and ran to Clarisse. His grey uniform was smoking. His beard
was on fire. ‘Boiler room overheating, ma’am! She’s going to blow!’
‘Well, get down there and fix it!’
‘Can’t!’ the sailor yelled. ‘We’re vaporizing in the heat.’
Clarisse pounded the side of the casemate. ‘All I need is a few more minutes! Just enough to get in
range!’
‘We’re going in too fast,’ the captain said grimly. ‘Prepare yourself for death.’
‘No!’ Tyson bellowed. ‘I can fix it.’
Clarisse looked at him incredulously. ‘You?’
‘He’s a Cyclops,’ Annabeth said. ‘He’s immune to fire. And he knows mechanics.’
‘Go!’ yelled Clarisse.
‘Tyson, no!’ I grabbed his arm. ‘It’s too dangerous!’
He patted my hand. ‘Only way, brother.’ His expression was determined – confident, even. I’d
never seen him look like this before. ‘I will fix it. Be right back.’
As I watched him follow the smouldering sailor down the hatch, I had a terrible feeling. I wanted
to run after him, but the ship lurched again – and then I saw Charybdis.
She appeared only a few hundred metres away, through a swirl of mist and smoke and water. The
first thing I noticed was the reef – a black crag of coral with a fig tree clinging to the top, an oddly
peaceful thing in the middle of a maelstrom. All around it, water curved into a funnel, like light
around a black hole. Then I saw the horrible thing anchored to the reef just below the waterline – an
enormous mouth with slimy lips and mossy teeth the size of rowboats. And worse, the teeth had
braces, bands of corroded scummy metal with pieces of fish and driftwood and floating garbage stuck
between them.
Charybdis was an orthodontist’s nightmare. She was nothing but a huge black maw with bad teeth
alignment and a serious overbite, and she’d done nothing for centuries but eat without brushing after
meals. As I watched, the entire sea around her was sucked into the void – sharks, schools of fish, a
giant squid. And I realized that in a few seconds, the CSS Birmingham would be next.
‘Lady Clarisse,’ the captain shouted. ‘Starboard and forward guns are in range!’
‘Fire!’ Clarisse ordered.
Three rounds were blasted into the monster’s maw. One blew off the edge of an incisor. Another
disappeared into her gullet. The third hit one of Charybdis’s retaining bands and shot back at us,
snapping the Ares flag off its pole.
‘Again!’ Clarisse ordered. The gunners reloaded, but I knew it was hopeless. We would have to
pound the monster a hundred more times to do any real damage, and we didn’t have that long. We
were being sucked in too fast.
Then the vibrations in the deck changed. The hum of the engine got stronger and steadier. The ship
shuddered and we started pulling away from the mouth.
‘Tyson did it!’ Annabeth said.
‘Wait!’ Clarisse said. ‘We need to stay close!’
‘We’ll die!’ I said. ‘We have to move away.’
I gripped the rail as the ship fought against the suction. The broken Ares flag raced past us and
lodged in Charybdis’s braces. We weren’t making much progress, but at least we were holding our
own. Tyson had somehow given us just enough juice to keep the ship from being sucked in.
Suddenly, the mouth snapped shut. The sea died to absolute calm. Water washed over Charybdis.
Then, just as quickly as it had closed, the mouth exploded open, spitting out a wall of water,
ejecting everything inedible, including our cannonballs, one of which slammed into the side of the
CSS Birmingham with a ding like the bell on a carnival game.
We were thrown backwards on a wave that must’ve been fifteen metres high. I used all of my
willpower to keep the ship from capsizing, but we were still spinning out of control, hurtling towards
the cliffs on the opposite side of the strait.
Another smouldering sailor burst out of the hold. He stumbled into Clarisse, almost knocking them
both overboard. ‘The engine is about to blow!’
‘Where’s Tyson?’ I demanded.
‘Still down there,’ the sailor said. ‘Holding it together somehow, though I don’t know for how
much longer.’
The captain said, ‘We have to abandon ship.’
‘No!’ Clarisse yelled.
‘We have no choice, m’lady. The hull is already cracking apart! She can’t –’
He never finished his sentence. Quick as lightning, something brown and green shot from the sky,
snatched up the captain, and lifted him away. All that was left were his leather boots.
‘Scylla!’ a sailor yelled, as another column of reptilian flesh shot from the cliffs and snapped him
up. It happened so fast it was like watching a laser beam rather than a monster. I couldn’t even make
out the thing’s face, just a flash of teeth and scales.
I uncapped Riptide and tried to swipe at the monster as it carried off another deckhand, but I was
way too slow.
‘Everyone get below!’ I yelled.
‘We can’t!’ Clarisse drew her own sword. ‘Below deck is in flames.’
‘Lifeboats!’ Annabeth said. ‘Quick!’
‘They’ll never get clear of the cliffs,’ Clarisse said. ‘We’ll all be eaten.’
‘We have to try. Percy, the Flask.’
‘I can’t leave Tyson!’
‘We have to get the boats ready!’
Clarisse took Annabeth’s command. She and a few of her undead sailors uncovered one of the two
emergency rowboats while Scylla’s heads rained from the sky like a meteor shower with teeth,
picking off Confederate sailors one after another.
‘Get the other boat.’ I threw Annabeth the Flask. ‘I’ll get Tyson.’
‘You can’t!’ she said. ‘The heat will kill you!’
I didn’t listen. I ran for the boiler room hatch, when suddenly my feet weren’t touching the deck any
more. I was flying straight up, the wind whistling in my ears, the side of the cliff only inches from my
face.
Scylla had somehow caught me by the knapsack, and was lifting me up towards her lair. Without
thinking, I swung my sword behind me and managed to jab the thing in her beady yellow eye. She
grunted and dropped me.
The fall would’ve been bad enough, considering I was thirty metres in the air. But, as I fell, the
CSS Birmingham exploded below me.
KAROOM!
The engine room blew, sending chunks of ironclad flying in either direction like a fiery set of
wings.
‘Tyson!’ I yelled.
The lifeboats had managed to get away from the ship, but not very far. Flaming wreckage was
raining down. Clarisse and Annabeth would either be smashed or burned or pulled to the bottom by
the force of the sinking hull, and that was thinking optimistically, assuming they got away from Scylla.
Then I heard a different kind of explosion – the sound of Hermes’s magic Flask being opened a
little too far. White sheets of wind blasted in every direction, scattering the lifeboats, lifting me out of
my free fall and propelling me across the ocean.
I couldn’t see anything. I spun in the air, got clonked on the head by something hard, and hit the
water with a crash that would’ve broken every bone in my body if I hadn’t been the son of the Sea
God.
The last thing I remembered was sinking in a burning sea, knowing that Tyson was gone forever,
and wishing I were able to drown.
12 We Check In to C.C.’s Spa & Resort
I woke up in a rowboat with a makeshift sail stitched of grey uniform fabric. Annabeth sat next to me,
tacking into the wind.
I tried to sit up and immediately felt woozy.
‘Rest,’ she said. ‘You’re going to need it.’
‘Tyson …?’
She shook her head. ‘Percy, I’m really sorry.’
We were silent while the waves tossed us up and down.
‘He may have survived,’ she said half-heartedly. ‘I mean, fire can’t kill him.’
I nodded, but I had no reason to feel hopeful. I’d seen that explosion rip through solid iron. If Tyson
had been down in the boiler room, there was no way he could’ve lived.
He’d given his life for us, and all I could think about were the times I’d felt embarrassed by him
and had denied that the two of us were related.
Waves lapped at the boat. Annabeth showed me some things she’d salvaged from the wreckage –
Hermes’s Flask (now empty), an airtight bag full of ambrosia, a couple of sailors’ shirts and a bottle
of Dr Pepper. She’d fished me out of the water and found my knapsack, bitten in half by Scylla’s
teeth. Most of my stuff had floated away, but I still had Hermes’s bottle of multivitamins, and of
course I had Riptide. The ballpoint pen always appeared back in my pocket no matter where I lost it.
We sailed for hours. Now that we were in the Sea of Monsters, the water glittered a more brilliant
green, like Hydra acid. The wind smelled fresh and salty, but it carried a strange metallic scent, too –
as if a thunderstorm were coming. Or something even more dangerous. I knew what direction we
needed to go. I knew we were exactly one hundred and thirteen nautical miles west by northwest of
our destination. But that didn’t make me feel any less lost.
No matter which way we turned, the sun seemed to shine straight into my eyes. We took turns
sipping from the Dr Pepper, shading ourselves with the sail as best we could. And we talked about
my latest dream of Grover.
By Annabeth’s estimate, we had less than twenty-four hours to find Grover, assuming my dream
was accurate, and assuming the Cyclops Polyphemus didn’t change his mind and try to marry Grover
earlier.
‘Yeah,’ I said bitterly. ‘You can never trust a Cyclops.’
Annabeth stared across the water. ‘I’m sorry, Percy. I was wrong about Tyson, okay? I wish I
could tell him that.’
I tried to stay mad at her, but it wasn’t easy. We’d been through a lot together. She’d saved my life
plenty of times. It was stupid of me to resent her.
I looked down at our measly possessions – the empty wind Flask, the bottle of multivitamins. I
thought about Luke’s look of rage when I’d tried to talk to him about his dad.
‘Annabeth, what’s Chiron’s prophecy?’
She pursed her lips. ‘Percy, I shouldn’t –’
‘I know Chiron promised the gods he wouldn’t tell me. But you didn’t promise, did you?’
‘Knowledge isn’t always good for you.’
‘Your mom is the wisdom goddess!’
‘I know! But every time heroes learn the future, they try to change it, and it never works.’
‘The gods are worried about something I’ll do when I get older,’ I guessed. ‘Something when I turn
sixteen.’
Annabeth twisted her Yankees cap in her hands. ‘Percy, I don’t know the full prophecy, but it
warns about a half-blood child of the Big Three – the next one who lives to the age of sixteen. That’s
the real reason Zeus, Poseidon and Hades swore a pact after World War II not to have any more kids.
The next child of the Big Three who reaches sixteen will be a dangerous weapon.’
‘Why?’
‘Because that hero will decide the fate of Olympus. He or she will make a decision that either
saves the Age of the Gods, or destroys it.’
I let that sink in. I don’t get seasick, but suddenly I felt ill. ‘That’s why Kronos didn’t kill me last
summer.’
She nodded. ‘You could be very useful to him. If he can get you on his side, the gods will be in
serious trouble.’
‘But if it’s me in the prophecy –’
‘We’ll only know that if you survive three more years. That can be a long time for a half-blood.
When Chiron first learned about Thalia, he assumed she was the one in the prophecy. That’s why he
was so desperate to get her safely to camp. Then she went down fighting and got turned into a pine
tree and none of us knew what to think. Until you came along.’
On our port side, a spiky green dorsal fin about five metres long curled out of the water and
disappeared.
‘This kid in the prophecy … he or she couldn’t be like, a Cyclops?’ I asked. ‘The Big Three have
lots of monster children.’
Annabeth shook her head. ‘The Oracle said “half-blood”. That always means half human, half god.
There’s really nobody alive who it could be, except you.’
‘Then why do the gods even let me live? It would be safer to kill me.’
‘You’re right.’
‘Thanks a lot.’
‘Percy, I don’t know. I guess some of the gods would like to kill you, but they’re probably afraid of
offending Poseidon. Other gods … maybe they’re still watching you, trying to decide what kind of
hero you’re going to be. You could be a weapon for their survival, after all. The real question is …
what will you do in three years? What decision will you make?’
‘Did the prophecy give any hints?’
Annabeth hesitated.
Maybe she would’ve told me more, but just then a seagull swooped down out of nowhere and
landed on our makeshift mast. Annabeth looked startled as the bird dropped a small cluster of leaves
into her lap.
‘Land,’ she said. ‘There’s land nearby!’
I sat up. Sure enough, there was a line of blue and brown in the distance. Another minute and I
could make out an island with a small mountain in the centre, a dazzling white collection of buildings,
a beach dotted with palm trees and a harbour filled with a strange assortment of boats.
The current was pulling our rowboat towards what looked like a tropical paradise.
‘Welcome!’ said the lady with the clipboard.
She looked like a flight attendant – blue business suit, perfect makeup, hair pulled back in a
ponytail. She shook our hands as we stepped onto the dock. With the dazzling smile she gave us, you
would’ve thought we’d just got off the Princess Andromeda rather than a bashed-up rowboat.
Then again, our rowboat wasn’t the weirdest ship in port. Along with a bunch of pleasure yachts,
there was a U.S. Navy submarine, several dugout canoes and an old-fashioned three-masted sailing
ship. There was a helipad with a ‘Channel Five Fort Lauderdale’ helicopter on it, and a short runway
with a Learjet and a propeller plane that looked like a World War II fighter. Maybe they were
replicas for tourists to look at or something.
‘Is this your first time with us?’ the clipboard lady enquired.
Annabeth and I exchanged looks. Annabeth said, ‘Umm…’
‘First – time – at – spa,’ the lady said as she wrote on her clipboard. ‘Let’s see…’
She looked us up and down critically. ‘Mmm. An herbal wrap to start for the young lady. And of
course, a complete makeover for the young gentleman.’
‘A what?’ I asked.
She was too busy jotting down notes to answer.
‘Right!’ she said with a breezy smile. ‘Well, I’m sure C.C. will want to speak with you personally
before the luau. Come, please.’
Now here’s the thing. Annabeth and I were used to traps, and usually those traps looked good at
first. So I expected the clipboard lady to turn into a snake or a demon, or something, any minute. But,
on the other hand, we’d been floating in a rowboat for most of the day. I was hot, tired and hungry,
and when this lady mentioned a luau, my stomach sat up on its hind legs and begged like a dog.
‘I guess it couldn’t hurt,’ Annabeth muttered.
Of course it could, but we followed the lady anyway. I kept my hands in my pockets where I’d
stashed my only magic defences – Hermes’s multivitamins and Riptide – but the further we wandered
into the resort, the more I forgot about them.
The place was amazing. There was white marble and blue water everywhere I looked. Terraces
climbed up the side of the mountain, with swimming pools on every level, connected by waterslides
and waterfalls and underwater tubes you could swim through. Fountains sprayed water into the air,
forming impossible shapes, like flying eagles and galloping horses.
Tyson loved horses, and I knew he’d love those fountains. I almost turned around to see the
expression on his face before I remembered: Tyson was gone.
‘You okay?’ Annabeth asked me. ‘You look pale.’
‘I’m okay,’ I lied. ‘Just … let’s keep walking.’
We passed all kinds of tame animals. A sea turtle napped in a stack of beach towels. A leopard
stretched out asleep on the diving board. The resort guests – only young women, as far as I could see
– lounged in deckchairs, drinking fruit smoothies or reading magazines while herbal gunk dried on
their faces and manicurists in white uniforms did their nails.
As we headed up a staircase towards what looked like the main building, I heard a woman singing.
Her voice drifted through the air like a lullaby. Her words were in some language other than Ancient
Greek, but just as old – Minoan, maybe, or something like that. I could understand what she sang
about – moonlight in the olive groves, the colours of the sunrise. And magic. Something about magic.
Her voice seemed to lift me off the steps and carry me towards her.
We came into a big room where the whole front wall was windows. The back wall was covered in
mirrors, so the room seemed to go on forever. There was a bunch of expensive-looking white
furniture, and on a table in one corner was a large wire pet cage. The cage seemed out of place, but I
didn’t think about it too much, because just then I saw the lady who’d been singing … and whoa.
She sat at a loom the size of a big screen TV, her hands weaving coloured thread back and forth
with amazing skill. The tapestry shimmered like it was three-dimensional – a waterfall scene so real I
could see the water moving and clouds drifting across a fabric sky.
Annabeth caught her breath. ‘It’s beautiful.’
The woman turned. She was even prettier than her fabric. Her long dark hair was braided with
threads of gold. She had piercing green eyes and she wore a silky black dress with shapes that
seemed to move in the fabric: animal shadows, black upon black, like deer running through a forest at
night.
‘You appreciate weaving, my dear?’ the woman asked.
‘Oh, yes, ma’am!’ Annabeth said. ‘My mother is –’
She stopped herself. You couldn’t just go around announcing that your mom was Athena, the
goddess who invented the loom. Most people would lock you in a rubber room.
Our hostess just smiled. ‘You have good taste, my dear. I’m so glad you’ve come. My name is
C.C.’
The animals in the corner cage started squealing. They must’ve been guinea pigs, from the sound of
them.
We introduced ourselves to C.C. She looked me over with a twinge of disapproval, as if I’d failed
some kind of test. Immediately, I felt bad. For some reason, I really wanted to please this lady.
‘Oh dear,’ she sighed. ‘You do need my help.’
‘Ma’am?’ I asked.
C.C. called to the lady in the business suit. ‘Hylla, take Annabeth on a tour, will you? Show her
what we have available. The clothing will need to change. And the hair, my goodness. We will do a
full image consultation after I’ve spoken with this young gentleman.’
‘But…’ Annabeth’s voice sounded hurt. ‘What’s wrong with my hair?’
C.C. smiled benevolently. ‘My dear, you are lovely. Really! But you’re not showing off yourself or
your talents at all. So much wasted potential!’
‘Wasted?’
‘Well, surely you’re not happy the way you are! My goodness, there’s not a single person who is.
But don’t worry. We can improve anyone here at the spa. Hylla will show you what I mean. You, my
dear, need to unlock your true self!’
Annabeth’s eyes glowed with longing. I’d never seen her so much at a loss for words. ‘But … what
about Percy?’
‘Oh, definitely,’ C.C. said, giving me a sad look. ‘Percy requires my personal attention. He needs
much more work than you.’
Normally if somebody had told me that, I would’ve got angry, but when C.C. said it, I felt sad. I’d
disappointed her. I had to figure out how to do better.
The guinea pigs squealed like they were hungry.
‘Well…’ Annabeth said. ‘I suppose…’
‘Right this way, dear,’ Hylla said. And Annabeth allowed herself to be led away into the waterfalllaced gardens of the spa.
C.C. took my arm and guided me towards the mirrored wall. ‘You see, Percy … to unlock your
potential, you’ll need serious help. The first step is admitting that you’re not happy the way you are.’
I fidgeted in front of the mirror. I hated thinking about my appearance – like the first zit that had
cropped up on my nose at the beginning of the school year, or the fact that my two front teeth weren’t
perfectly even, or that my hair never stayed down straight.
C.C.’s voice brought all of these things to mind, as if she were passing me under a microscope.
And my clothes were not cool. I knew that.
Who cares? part of me thought. But standing in front of C.C.’s mirror, it was hard to see anything
good in myself.
‘There, there,’ C.C. consoled. ‘How about we try … this.’
She snapped her fingers and a sky-blue curtain rolled down over the mirror. It shimmered like the
fabric on her loom.
‘What do you see?’ C.C. asked.
I looked at the blue cloth, not sure what she meant. ‘I don’t –’
Then it changed colours. I saw myself – a reflection, but not a reflection. Shimmering there on the
cloth was a cooler version of Percy Jackson – with just the right clothes, a confident smile on my
face. My teeth were straight. No zits. A perfect tan. More athletic. Maybe a couple of centimetres
taller. It was me, without the faults.
‘Whoa,’ I managed.
‘Do you want that?’ C.C. asked. ‘Or shall I try a different –’
‘No,’ I said. ‘That’s … that’s amazing. Can you really –’
‘I can give you a full makeover,’ C.C. promised.
‘What’s the catch?’ I said. ‘I have to like … eat a special diet?’
‘Oh, it’s quite easy,’ C.C. said. ‘Plenty of fresh fruit, a mild exercise programme, and of course …
this.’
She stepped over to her wet bar and filled a glass with water. Then she ripped open a drink-mix
packet and poured in some red powder. The mixture began to glow. When it faded, the drink looked
just like a strawberry milkshake.
‘One of these, substituted for a regular meal,’ C.C. said. ‘I guarantee you’ll see results
immediately.’
‘How is that possible?’
She laughed. ‘Why question it? I mean, don’t you want the perfect you right away?’
Something nagged at the back of my mind. ‘Why are there no guys at this spa?’
‘Oh, but there are,’ C.C. assured me. ‘You’ll meet them quite soon. Just try the mixture. You’ll
see.’
I looked at the blue tapestry, at the reflection of me, but not me.
‘Now, Percy,’ C.C. chided. ‘The hardest part of the makeover process is giving up control. You
have to decide: do you want to trust your judgement about what you should be, or my judgement?’
My throat felt dry. I heard myself say, ‘Your judgement.’
C.C. smiled and handed me the glass. I lifted it to my lips.
It tasted just like it looked – like a strawberry milkshake. Almost immediately a warm feeling
spread through my gut: pleasant at first, then painfully hot, searing, as if the mixture were coming to a
boil inside me.
I doubled over and dropped the cup. ‘What have you … what’s happening?’
‘Don’t worry, Percy,’ C.C. said. ‘The pain will pass. Look! As I promised. Immediate results.’
Something was horribly wrong.
The curtain dropped away, and in the mirror I saw my hands shrivelling, curling, growing long
delicate claws. Fur sprouted on my face, under my shirt, in every uncomfortable place you can
imagine. My teeth felt too heavy in my mouth. My clothes were getting too big, or C.C. was getting too
tall – no, I was shrinking.
In one awful flash, I sank into a cavern of dark cloth. I was buried in my own shirt. I tried to run but
hands grabbed me – hands as big as I was. I tried to scream for help, but all that came out of my
mouth was, ‘Reeet, reeet, reeet!’
The giant hands squeezed me around the middle, lifting me into the air. I struggled and kicked with
legs and arms that seemed much too stubby, and then I was staring, horrified, into the enormous face
of C.C.
‘Perfect!’ her voice boomed. I squirmed in alarm, but she only tightened her grip around my furry
belly. ‘See, Percy? You’ve unlocked your true self!’
She held me up to the mirror, and what I saw made me scream in terror, ‘ Reeet, reeet, reeet!’
There was C.C., beautiful and smiling, holding a fluffy, bucktoothed creature with tiny claws and
white-and-orange fur. When I twisted, so did the furry critter in the mirror. I was … I was…
‘A guinea pig,’ C.C. said. ‘Lovely, aren’t you? Men are pigs, Percy Jackson. I used to turn them
into real pigs, but they were so smelly and large and difficult to keep. Not much different than they
were before, really. Guinea pigs are much more convenient! Now come, and meet the other men.’
‘Reeet!’ I protested, trying to scratch her, but C.C. squeezed me so tight I almost blacked out.
‘None of that, little one,’ she scolded, ‘or I’ll feed you to the owls. Go into the cage like a good
little pet. Tomorrow, if you behave, you’ll be on your way. There is always a classroom in need of a
new guinea pig.’
My mind was racing as fast as my tiny little heart. I needed to get back to my clothes, which were
lying in a heap on the floor. If I could do that, I could get Riptide out of my pocket and … And what? I
couldn’t uncap the pen. Even if I did, I couldn’t hold the sword.
I squirmed helplessly as C.C. brought me over to the guinea pig cage and opened the wire door.
‘Meet my discipline problems, Percy,’ she warned. ‘They’ll never make good classroom pets, but
they might teach you some manners. Most of them have been in this cage for three hundred years. If
you don’t want to stay with them permanently, I’d suggest you –’
Annabeth’s voice called, ‘Miss C.C.?’
C.C. cursed in Ancient Greek. She plopped me into the cage and closed the door. I squealed and
clawed at the bars, but it was no good. I watched as C.C. hurriedly kicked my clothes under the loom
just as Annabeth came in.
I almost didn’t recognize her. She was wearing a sleeveless silk dress like C.C.’s, only white. Her
blonde hair was newly washed and combed and braided with gold. Worst of all, she was wearing
makeup, which I never thought Annabeth would be caught dead in. I mean, she looked good. Really
good. I probably would’ve been tongue-tied if I could’ve said anything except reet, reet, reet. But
there was also something totally wrong about it. It just wasn’t Annabeth.
She looked around the room and frowned. ‘Where’s Percy?’
I squealed up a storm, but she didn’t seem to hear me.
C.C. smiled. ‘He’s having one of our treatments, my dear. Not to worry. You look wonderful! What
did you think of your tour?’
Annabeth’s eyes brightened. ‘Your library is amazing!’
‘Yes, indeed,’ C.C. said. ‘The best knowledge of the past three millennia. Anything you want to
study, anything you want to be, my dear.’
‘An architect?’
‘Pah!’ C.C. said. ‘You, my dear, have the makings of a sorceress. Like me.’
Annabeth took a step back. ‘A sorceress?’
‘Yes, my dear.’ C.C. held up her hand. A flame appeared in her palm and danced across her
fingertips. ‘My mother is Hecate, the goddess of magic. I know a daughter of Athena when I see one.
We are not so different, you and I. We both seek knowledge. We both admire greatness. Neither of us
needs to stand in the shadow of men.’
‘I-I don’t understand.’
Again, I squealed my best, trying to get Annabeth’s attention, but she either couldn’t hear me or
didn’t think the noises were important. Meanwhile, the other guinea pigs were emerging from their
hutch to check me out. I didn’t think it was possible for guinea pigs to look mean, but these did. There
were half a dozen, with dirty fur and cracked teeth and beady red eyes. They were covered with
shavings and smelled like they really had been in here for three hundred years, without getting their
cage cleaned.
‘Stay with me,’ C.C. was telling Annabeth. ‘Study with me. You can join our staff, become a
sorceress, learn to bend others to your will. You will become immortal!’
‘But –’
‘You are too intelligent, my dear,’ C.C. said. ‘You know better than to trust that silly camp for
heroes. How many great female half-blood heroes can you name?’
‘Um, Atalanta, Amelia Earhart –’
‘Bah! Men get all the glory.’ C.C. closed her fist and extinguished the magic flame. ‘The only way
to power for women is sorcery. Medea, Calypso, now there were powerful women! And me, of
course. The greatest of all.’
‘You … C.C. … Circe!’
‘Yes, my dear.’
Annabeth backed up, and Circe laughed. ‘You need not worry. I mean you no harm.’
‘What have you done to Percy?’
‘Only helped him realize his true form.’
Annabeth scanned the room. Finally she saw the cage, and me scratching at the bars, all the other
guinea pigs crowding around me. Her eyes went wide.
‘Forget him,’ Circe said. ‘Join me and learn the ways of sorcery.’
‘But –’
‘Your friend will be well cared for. He’ll be shipped to a wonderful new home on the mainland.
The kindergartners will adore him. Meanwhile, you will be wise and powerful. You will have all
you ever wanted.’
Annabeth was still staring at me, but she had a dreamy expression on her face. She looked the same
way I had when Circe enchanted me into drinking the guinea pig milkshake. I squealed and scratched,
trying to warn her to snap out of it, but I was absolutely powerless.
‘Let me think about it,’ Annabeth murmured. ‘Just … give me a minute alone. To say goodbye.’
‘Of course, my dear,’ Circe cooed. ‘One minute. Oh … and so you have absolute privacy…’ She
waved her hand and iron bars slammed down over the windows. She swept out of the room and I
heard the locks on the door click shut behind her.
The dreamy look melted off Annabeth’s face.
She rushed over to my cage. ‘All right, which one is you?’
I squealed, but so did all the other guinea pigs. Annabeth looked desperate. She scanned the room
and spotted the turn-up of my jeans sticking out from under the loom.
Yes!
She rushed over and rummaged through my pockets.
But instead of bringing out Riptide, she found the bottle of Hermes’s multivitamins and started
struggling with the cap.
I wanted to scream at her that this wasn’t the time for taking supplements! She had to draw the
sword!
She popped a lemon chewable in her mouth just as the door flew open and Circe came back in,
flanked by two of her business-suited attendants.
‘Well,’ Circe sighed, ‘how fast a minute passes. What is your answer, my dear?’
‘This,’ Annabeth said, and she drew her bronze knife.
The sorceress stepped back, but her surprise quickly passed. She sneered. ‘Really, little girl, a
knife against my magic? Is that wise?’
Circe looked back at her attendants, who smiled. They raised their hands as if preparing to cast a
spell.
Run! I wanted to tell Annabeth, but all I could make were rodent noises. The other guinea pigs
squealed in terror and scuttled around the cage. I had the urge to panic and hide, too, but I had to think
of something! I couldn’t stand to lose Annabeth the way I’d lost Tyson.
‘What will Annabeth’s makeover be?’ Circe mused. ‘Something small and ill-tempered. I know …
a shrew!’
Blue fire coiled from her fingers curling like serpents around Annabeth.
I watched, horror-struck, but nothing happened. Annabeth was still Annabeth, only angrier. She
leaped forward and stuck the point of her knife against Circe’s neck. ‘How about turning me into a
panther instead? One that has her claws at your throat!’
‘How!’ Circe yelped.
Annabeth held up my bottle of vitamins for the sorceress to see.
Circe howled in frustration. ‘Curse Hermes and his multivitamins! Those are such a fad! They do
nothing for you.’
‘Turn Percy back to a human or else!’ Annabeth said.
‘I can’t!’
‘Then you asked for it.’
Circe’s attendants stepped forward, but their mistress said, ‘Get back! She’s immune to magic until
that cursed vitamin wears off.’
Annabeth dragged Circe over to the guinea pig cage, knocked the top off, and poured the rest of the
vitamins inside.
‘No!’ Circe screamed.
I was the first to get a vitamin, but all the other guinea pigs scuttled out, too, and checked out this
new food.
The first nibble, and I felt all fiery inside. I gnawed at the vitamin until it stopped looking so huge,
and the cage got smaller, and then suddenly, bang! The cage exploded. I was sitting on the floor, a
human again – somehow back in my regular clothes, thank the gods – with six other guys who all
looked disoriented, blinking and shaking wood shavings out of their hair.
‘No!’ Circe screamed. ‘You don’t understand! Those are the worst!’
One of the men stood up – a huge guy with a long tangled pitch-black beard and teeth the same
colour. He wore mismatched clothes of wool and leather, knee-length boots, and a floppy felt hat. The
other men were dressed more simply – in breeches and stained white shirts. All of them were
barefoot.
‘Argggh!’ bellowed the big man. ‘What’s the witch done t’me!’
‘No!’ Circe moaned.
Annabeth gasped. ‘I recognize you! Edward Teach, son of Ares?’
‘Aye, lass,’ the big man growled. ‘Though most call me Blackbeard! And there’s the sorceress
what captured us, lads. Run her through, and then I mean to find me a big bowl of celery! Arggggh!’
Circe screamed. She and her attendants ran from the room, chased by the pirates.
Annabeth sheathed her knife and glared at me.
‘Thanks…’ I faltered. ‘I’m really sorry –’
Before I could figure out how to apologize for being such an idiot, she tackled me with a hug, then
pulled away just as quickly. ‘I’m glad you’re not a guinea pig.’
‘Me, too.’ I hoped my face wasn’t as red as it felt.
She undid the golden braids in her hair.
‘Come on, Seaweed Brain,’ she said. ‘We have to get away while Circe’s distracted.’
We ran down the hillside through the terraces, past screaming spa workers and pirates ransacking
the resort. Blackbeard’s men broke the tiki torches for the luau, threw herbal wraps into the
swimming pool and kicked over tables of sauna towels.
I almost felt bad letting the unruly pirates out, but I guessed they deserved something more
entertaining than the exercise wheel after being cooped up in a cage for three centuries.
‘Which ship?’ Annabeth said as we reached the docks.
I looked around desperately. We couldn’t very well take our rowboat. We had to get off the island
fast, but what else could we use? A sub? A fighter jet? I couldn’t pilot any of those things. And then I
saw it.
‘There,’ I said.
Annabeth blinked. ‘But –’
‘I can make it work.’
‘How?’
I couldn’t explain. I just somehow knew an old sailing vessel was the best bet for me. I grabbed
Annabeth’s hand and pulled her towards the three-mast ship. Painted on its prow was the name that I
would only decipher later: Queen Anne’s Revenge.
Argggh!’ Blackbeard yelled somewhere behind us. ‘Those scallywags are a-boarding me vessel!
Get ‘em, lads!’
‘We’ll never get going in time!’ Annabeth yelled as we climbed aboard.
I looked around at the hopeless maze of sail and ropes. The ship was in great condition for a threehundred-year-old vessel, but it would still take a crew of fifty several hours to get underway. We
didn’t have several hours. I could see the pirates running down the stairs, waving tiki torches and
sticks of celery.
I closed my eyes and concentrated on the waves lapping against the hull, the ocean currents, the
winds all around me. Suddenly, the right word appeared in my mind. ‘Mizzenmast!’ I yelled.
Annabeth looked at me like I was nuts, but in the next second, the air was filled with whistling
sounds of ropes being snapped taut, canvases unfurling and wooden pulleys creaking.
Annabeth ducked as a cable flew over her head and wrapped itself around the bowsprit. ‘Percy,
how…’
I didn’t have an answer, but I could feel the ship responding to me as if it were part of my body. I
willed the sails to rise as easily as if I were flexing my arm. I willed the rudder to turn.
The Queen Anne’s Revenge lurched away from the dock, and by the time the pirates arrived at the
water’s edge, we were already underway, sailing into the Sea of Monsters.
13 Annabeth Tries to Swim Home
I’d finally found something I was really good at.
The Queen Anne’s Revenge responded to my every command. I knew which ropes to hoist, which
sails to raise, which direction to steer. We ploughed through the waves at what I figured was about
ten knots. I even understood how fast that was. For a sailing ship, pretty darn fast.
It all felt perfect – the wind in my face, the waves breaking over the prow.
But now that we were out of danger, all I could think about was how much I missed Tyson, and
how worried I was about Grover.
I couldn’t get over how badly I’d messed up on Circe’s Island. If it hadn’t been for Annabeth, I’d
still be a rodent, hiding in a hutch with a bunch of cute furry pirates. I thought about what Circe had
said: See, Percy? You’ve unlocked your true self!
I still felt changed. Not just because I had a sudden desire to eat lettuce. I felt jumpy, like the
instinct to be a scared little animal was now a part of me. Or maybe it had always been there. That’s
what really worried me.
We sailed through the night.
Annabeth tried to help me keep lookout, but sailing didn’t agree with her. After a few hours’
rocking back and forth, her face turned the colour of guacamole and she went below to lie in a
hammock.
I watched the horizon. More than once I spotted monsters. A plume of water as tall as a skyscraper
spewed into the moonlight. A row of green spines slithered across the waves – something maybe
thirty metres long, reptilian. I didn’t really want to know.
Once I saw Nereids, the glowing lady spirits of the sea. I tried to wave at them, but they
disappeared into the depths, leaving me unsure whether they’d seen me or not.
Sometime after midnight, Annabeth came up on deck. We were just passing a smoking volcano
island. The sea bubbled and steamed around the shore.
‘One of the forges of Hephaestus,’ Annabeth said. ‘Where he makes his metal monsters.’
‘Like the bronze bulls?’
She nodded. ‘Go around. Far around.’
I didn’t need to be told twice. We steered clear of the island, and soon it was just a red patch of
haze behind us.
I looked at Annabeth. ‘The reason you hate Cyclopes so much … the story about how Thalia really
died. What happened?’
It was hard to see her expression in the dark.
‘I guess you deserve to know,’ she said finally. ‘The night Grover was escorting us to camp, he got
confused, took some wrong turns. You remember he told you that once?’
I nodded.
‘Well, the worst wrong turn was into a Cyclops’s lair in Brooklyn.’
‘They’ve got Cyclopes in Brooklyn?’ I asked.
‘You wouldn’t believe how many, but that’s not the point. This Cyclops, he tricked us. He managed
to split us up inside this maze of corridors in an old house in Flatbush. And he could sound like
anyone, Percy. Just the way Tyson did aboard the Princess Andromeda. He lured us, one at time.
Thalia thought she was running to save Luke. Luke thought he heard me scream for help. And me … I
was alone in the dark. I was seven years old. I couldn’t even find the exit.’
She brushed the hair out of her face. ‘I remember finding the main room. There were bones all over
the floor. And there were Thalia and Luke and Grover, tied up and gagged, hanging from the ceiling
like smoked hams. The Cyclops was starting a fire in the middle of the floor. I drew my knife, but he
heard me. He turned and smiled. He spoke, and somehow he knew my dad’s voice. I guess he just
plucked it out of my mind. He said, “Now, Annabeth, don’t you worry. I love you. You can stay here
with me. You can stay forever.’ ”
I shivered. The way she told it – even now, six years later – freaked me out worse than any ghost
story I’d ever heard. ‘What did you do?’
‘I stabbed him in the foot.’
I stared at her. ‘Are you kidding? You were seven years old and you stabbed a grown Cyclops in
the foot?’
‘Oh, he would’ve killed me. But I surprised him. It gave me just enough time to run to Thalia and
cut the ropes on her hands. She took it from there.’
‘Yeah, but still … that was pretty brave, Annabeth.’
She shook her head. ‘We barely got out alive. I still have nightmares, Percy. The way that Cyclops
talked in my father’s voice. It was his fault we took so long getting to camp. All the monsters who’d
been chasing us had time to catch up. That’s really why Thalia died. If it hadn’t been for that Cyclops,
she’d still be alive today.’
We sat on the deck, watching the Heracles constellation rise in the night sky.
‘Go below,’ Annabeth told me at last. ‘You need some rest.’
I nodded. My eyes were heavy. But when I got below and found a hammock, it took me a long time
to fall asleep. I kept thinking about Annabeth’s story. I wondered, if I were her, would I have had
enough courage to go on this quest, to sail straight towards the lair of another Cyclops?
I didn’t dream about Grover.
Instead I found myself back in Luke’s stateroom aboard the Princess Andromeda. The curtains
were open. It was nighttime outside. The air swirled with shadows. Voices whispered all around me
– spirits of the dead.
Beware, they whispered. Traps. Trickery.
Kronos’s golden sarcophagus glowed faintly – the only source of light in the room.
A cold laugh startled me. It seemed to come from miles below the ship. You don’t have the
courage, young one. You can’t stop me.
I knew what I had to do. I had to open that coffin.
I uncapped Riptide. Ghosts whirled around me like a tornado. Beware!
My heart pounded. I couldn’t make my feet move, but I had to stop Kronos. I had to destroy
whatever was in that box.
Then a girl spoke right next to me, ‘Well, Seaweed Brain?’
I looked over, expecting to see Annabeth, but the girl wasn’t Annabeth. She wore punk-style
clothes with silver chains on her wrists. She had spiky black hair, dark eyeliner around her stormy
blue eyes and a spray of freckles across her nose. She looked familiar, but I wasn’t sure why.
‘Well?’ she asked. ‘Are we going to stop him or not?’
I couldn’t answer. I couldn’t move.
The girl rolled her eyes. ‘Fine. Leave it to me and Aegis.’
She tapped her wrist and her silver chains transformed – flattening and expanding into a huge
shield. It was silver and bronze, with the monstrous face of Medusa protruding from the centre. It
looked like a death mask, as if the gorgon’s real head had been pressed into the metal. I didn’t know
if that were true, or if the shield could really petrify me, but I looked away. Just being near it made
me cold with fear. I got a feeling that in a real fight, the bearer of that shield would be almost
impossible to beat. Any sane enemy would turn and run.
The girl drew her sword and advanced on the sarcophagus. The shadowy ghosts parted for her,
scattering before the terrible aura of her shield.
‘No,’ I tried to warn her.
But she didn’t listen. She marched straight up to the sarcophagus and pushed aside the golden lid.
For a moment she stood there, gazing down at whatever was in the box.
The coffin began to glow.
‘No.’ The girl’s voice trembled. ‘It can’t be.’
From the depths of the ocean, Kronos laughed so loudly the whole ship trembled.
‘No!’ The girl screamed as the sarcophagus engulfed her in a blast of golden light.
‘Ah!’ I sat bolt upright in my hammock.
Annabeth was shaking me. ‘Percy, you were having a nightmare. You need to get up.’
‘Wh-what is it?’ I rubbed my eyes. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘Land,’ she said grimly. ‘We’re approaching the island of the Sirens.’
I could barely make out the island ahead of us – just a dark spot in the mist.
‘I want you to do me a favour,’ Annabeth said. ‘The Sirens … we’ll be in range of their singing
soon.’
I remembered stories about the Sirens. They sang so sweetly their voices enchanted sailors and
lured them to their death.
‘No problem,’ I assured her. ‘We can just stop up our ears. There’s a big tub of candle wax below
deck –’
‘I want to hear them.’
I blinked. ‘Why?’
‘They say the Sirens sing the truth about what you desire. They tell you things about yourself you
didn’t even realize. That’s what’s so enchanting. If you survive … you become wiser. I want to hear
them. How often will I get that chance?’
Coming from most people, this would’ve made no sense. But Annabeth being who she was – well,
if she could struggle through Ancient Greek architecture books and enjoy documentaries on the
History Channel, I guessed the Sirens would appeal to her, too.
She told me her plan. Reluctantly, I helped her get ready.
As soon as the rocky coastline of the island came into view, I ordered one of the ropes to wrap
around Annabeth’s waist, tying her to the foremast.
‘Don’t untie me,’ she said, ‘no matter what happens or how much I plead. I’ll want to go straight
over the edge and drown myself.’
‘Are you trying to tempt me?’
‘Ha-ha.’
I promised I’d keep her secure. Then I took two large wads of candle wax, kneaded them into
earplugs, and stuffed my ears.
Annabeth nodded sarcastically, letting me know the earplugs were a real fashion statement. I made
a face at her and turned to the pilot’s wheel.
The silence was eerie. I couldn’t hear anything but the rush of blood in my head. As we approached
the island, jagged rocks loomed out of the fog. I willed the Queen Anne’s Revenge to skirt around
them. If we sailed any closer, those rocks would shred our hull like blender blades.
I glanced back. At first, Annabeth seemed totally normal. Then she got a puzzled look on her face.
Her eyes widened.
She strained against the ropes. She called my name – I could tell just from reading her lips. Her
expression was clear: she had to get out. This was life or death. I had to let her out of the ropes right
now.
She seemed so miserable it was hard not to cut her free.
I forced myself to look away. I urged the Queen Anne’s Revenge to go faster.
I still couldn’t see much of the island – just mist and rocks – but floating in the water were pieces
of wood and fibreglass, the wreckage of old ships, even some flotation cushions from aeroplanes.
How could music cause so many lives to veer off course? I mean, sure, there were some Top Forty
songs that made me want to take a fiery nosedive, but still … What could the Sirens possibly sing
about?
For one dangerous moment, I understood Annabeth’s curiosity. I was tempted to take out the
earplugs, just to get a taste of the song. I could feel the Sirens’ voices vibrating in the timbers of the
ship, pulsing along with the roar of blood in my ears.
Annabeth was pleading with me. Tears streamed down her cheeks. She strained against the ropes,
as if they were holding her back from everything she cared about.
How could you be so cruel? she seemed to be asking me. I thought you were my friend.
I glared at the misty island. I wanted to uncap my sword, but there was nothing to fight. How do
you fight a song?
I tried hard not to look at Annabeth. I managed it for about five minutes.
That was my big mistake.
When I couldn’t stand it any longer, I looked back and found … a heap of cut ropes. An empty
mast. Annabeth’s bronze knife lay on the deck. Somehow, she’d managed to wriggle it into her hand.
I’d totally forgotten to disarm her.
I rushed to the side of the boat and saw her paddling madly for the island, the waves carrying her
straight towards the jagged rocks.
I screamed her name, but if she heard me, it didn’t do any good. She was entranced, swimming
towards her death.
I looked back at the pilot’s wheel and yelled, ‘Stay!’
Then I jumped over the side.
I sliced into the water and willed the currents to bend around me, making a jet stream that shot me
forward.
I came to the surface and spotted Annabeth, but a wave caught her, sweeping her between two
razor-sharp fangs of rock.
I had no choice. I plunged after her.
I dived under the wrecked hull of a yacht, wove through a collection of floating metal balls on
chains that I realized afterwards were mines. I had to use all my power over water to avoid getting
smashed against the rocks or tangled in the nets of barbed wire strung just below the surface.
I jetted between the two rock fangs and found myself in a half-moon-shaped bay. The water was
choked with more rocks and ship wreckage and floating mines. The beach was black volcanic sand.
I looked around desperately for Annabeth.
There she was.
Luckily or unluckily, she was a strong swimmer. She’d made it past the mines and the rocks. She
was almost to the black beach.
Then the mist cleared and I saw them – the Sirens.
Imagine a flock of vultures the size of people – with dirty black plumage, grey talons and wrinkled
pink necks. Now imagine human heads on top of those necks, but the human heads keep changing.
I couldn’t hear them, but I could see they were singing. As their mouths moved, their faces morphed
into people I knew – my mom, Poseidon, Grover, Tyson, Chiron. All the people I most wanted to see.
They smiled reassuringly, inviting me forward. But no matter what shape they took, their mouths were
greasy and caked with the remnants of old meals. Like vultures, they’d been eating with their faces,
and it didn’t look like they’d been feasting on Monster Doughnuts.
Annabeth swam towards them.
I knew I couldn’t let her get out of the water. The sea was my only advantage. It had always
protected me one way or another. I propelled myself forward and grabbed her ankle.
The moment I touched her, a shock went through my body, and I saw the Sirens the way Annabeth
must’ve been seeing them.
Three people sat on a picnic blanket in Central Park. A feast was spread out before them. I
recognized Annabeth’s dad from photos she’d shown me – an athletic-looking, sandy-haired guy in
his forties. He was holding hands with a beautiful woman who looked a lot like Annabeth. She was
dressed casually – in blue jeans and a denim shirt and hiking boots – but something about the woman
radiated power. I knew that I was looking at the goddess Athena. Next to them sat a young man …
Luke.
The whole scene glowed in a warm, buttery light. The three of them were talking and laughing, and
when they saw Annabeth, their faces lit up with delight. Annabeth’s mom and dad held out their arms
invitingly. Luke grinned and gestured for Annabeth to sit next to him – as if he’d never betrayed her,
as if he were still her friend.
Behind the trees of Central Park, a city skyline rose. I caught my breath, because it was Manhattan,
but not Manhattan. It had been totally rebuilt from dazzling white marble, bigger and grander than
ever – with golden windows and rooftop gardens. It was better than New York. Better than Mount
Olympus.
I knew immediately that Annabeth had designed it all. She was the architect for a whole new
world. She had reunited her parents. She had saved Luke. She had done everything she’d ever
wanted.
I blinked hard. When I opened my eyes, all I saw were the Sirens – ragged vultures with human
faces, ready to feed on another victim.
I pulled Annabeth back into the surf. I couldn’t hear her, but I could tell she was screaming. She
kicked me in the face, but I held on.
I willed the currents to carry us out into the bay. Annabeth pummelled and kicked me, making it
hard to concentrate. She thrashed so much we almost collided with a floating mine. I didn’t know
what to do. I’d never get back to the ship alive if she kept fighting.
We went under and Annabeth stopped struggling. Her expression became confused. Then our heads
broke the surface and she started to fight again.
The water! Sound didn’t travel well underwater. If I could submerge her long enough, I could break
the spell of the music. Of course, Annabeth wouldn’t be able to breathe, but at the moment, that
seemed like a minor problem.
I grabbed her around the waist and ordered the waves to push us down.
We shot into the depths – three metres, six metres. I knew I had to be careful because I could
withstand a lot more pressure than Annabeth. She fought and struggled for breath as bubbles rose
around us.
Bubbles.
I was desperate. I had to keep Annabeth alive. I imagined all the bubbles in the sea – always
churning, rising. I imagined them coming together, being pulled towards me.
The sea obeyed. There was a flurry of white, a tickling sensation all around me, and when my
vision cleared, Annabeth and I had a huge bubble of air around us. Only our legs stuck into the water.
She gasped and coughed. Her whole body shuddered, but when she looked at me, I knew the spell
had been broken.
She started to sob – I mean horrible, heartbroken sobbing. She put her head on my shoulder and I
held her.
Fish gathered to look at us – a school of barracudas, some curious marlins.
Scram! I told them.
They swam off, but I could tell they went reluctantly. I swear I understood their intentions. They
were about to start rumours flying around the sea about the son of Poseidon and some girl at the
bottom of Siren Bay.
‘I’ll get us back to the ship,’ I told her. ‘It’s okay. Just hang on.’
Annabeth nodded to let me know she was better now, then she murmured something I couldn’t hear
because of the wax in my ears.
I made the current steer our weird little air submarine through the rocks and barbed wire and back
towards the hull of the Queen Anne’s Revenge , which was maintaining a slow and steady course
away from the island.
We stayed underwater, following the ship, until I judged we had moved out of earshot of the
Sirens. Then I surfaced and our air bubble popped.
I ordered a rope ladder to drop over the side of the ship, and we climbed aboard.
I kept my earplugs in, just to be sure. We sailed until the island was completely out of sight.
Annabeth sat huddled in a blanket on the forward deck. Finally she looked up, dazed and sad, and
mouthed, Safe.
I took out the earplugs. No singing. The afternoon was quiet except for the sound of the waves
against the hull. The fog had burned away to a blue sky, as if the island of the Sirens had never
existed.
‘You okay?’ I asked. The moment I said it, I realized how lame that sounded. Of course she wasn’t
okay.
‘I didn’t realize,’ she murmured.
‘What?’
Her eyes were the same colour as the mist over the Sirens’ island. ‘How powerful the temptation
would be.’
I didn’t want to admit that I’d seen what the Sirens had promised her. I felt like a trespasser. But I
figured I owed it to Annabeth.
‘I saw the way you rebuilt Manhattan,’ I told her. ‘And Luke and your parents.’
She blushed. ‘You saw that?’
‘What Luke told you back on the Princess Andromeda, about starting the world from scratch …
that really got to you, huh?’
She pulled her blanket around her. ‘My fatal flaw. That’s what the Sirens showed me. My fatal
flaw is hubris.’
I blinked. ‘That brown stuff they spread on veggie sandwiches?’
She rolled her eyes. ‘No, Seaweed Brain. That’s hummus. Hubris is worse.’
‘What could be worse than hummus?’
‘Hubris means deadly pride, Percy. Thinking you can do things better than anyone else … even the
gods.’
‘You feel that way?’
She looked down. ‘Don’t you ever feel like, what if the world really is messed up? What if we
could do it all over again from scratch? No more war. Nobody homeless. No more summer reading
homework.’
‘I’m listening.’
‘I mean, the West represents a lot of the best things mankind ever did – that’s why the fire is still
burning. That’s why Olympus is still around. But sometimes you just see the bad stuff, you know? And
you start thinking the way Luke does: “If I could tear this all down, I would do it better.” Don’t you
ever feel that way? Like you could do a better job if you ran the world?’
‘Um … no. Me running the world would kind of be a nightmare.’
‘Then you’re lucky. Hubris isn’t your fatal flaw.’
‘What is?’
‘I don’t know, Percy, but every hero has one. If you don’t find it and learn to control it … well,
they don’t call it “fatal” for nothing.’
I thought about that. It didn’t exactly cheer me up.
I also noticed Annabeth hadn’t said much about the personal things she would change – like getting
her parents back together, or saving Luke. I understood. I didn’t want to admit how many times I’d
dreamed of getting my own parents back together.
I pictured my mom, alone in our little apartment on the Upper East Side. I tried to remember the
smell of her blue waffles in the kitchen. It seemed so far away.
‘So was it worth it?’ I asked Annabeth. ‘Do you feel … wiser?’
She gazed into the distance. ‘I’m not sure. But we have to save the camp. If we don’t stop Luke…’
She didn’t need to finish. If Luke’s way of thinking could even tempt Annabeth, there was no telling
how many other half-bloods might join him.
I thought about my dream of the girl and the golden sarcophagus. I wasn’t sure what it meant, but I
got the feeling I was missing something. Something terrible that Kronos was planning. What had the
girl seen when she opened that coffin lid?
Suddenly Annabeth’s eyes widened. ‘Percy.’
I turned.
Up ahead was another blotch of land – a saddle-shaped island with forested hills and white
beaches and green meadows – just like I’d seen in my dreams.
My nautical senses confirmed it. Thirty degrees, thirty-one minutes north, seventy-five degrees,
twelve minutes west.
We had reached the home of the Cyclops.
14 We Meet the Sheep of Doom
When you think ‘monster island’, you think craggy rocks and bones scattered on the beach like the
island of the Sirens.
The Cyclops’s island was nothing like that. I mean, okay, it had a rope bridge across a chasm,
which was not a good sign. You might as well put up a billboard that said, SOMETHING EVIL
LIVES HERE. But, except for that, the place looked like a Caribbean postcard. It had green fields and
tropical fruit trees and white beaches. As we sailed towards the shore, Annabeth breathed in the
sweet air. ‘The Fleece,’ she said.
I nodded. I couldn’t see the Fleece yet, but I could feel its power. I could believe it would heal
anything, even Thalia’s poisoned tree. ‘If we take it away, will the island die?’
Annabeth shook her head. ‘It’ll fade. Go back to what it would be normally, whatever that is.’
I felt a little guilty about ruining this paradise, but I reminded myself we had no choice. Camp HalfBlood was in trouble. And Tyson … Tyson would still be with us if it wasn’t for this quest.
In the meadow at the base of the ravine, several dozen sheep were milling around. They looked
peaceful enough, but they were huge – the size of hippos. Just past them was a path that led up into the
hills. At the top of the path, near the edge of the canyon, was the massive oak tree I’d seen in my
dreams. Something gold glittered in its branches.
‘This is too easy,’ I said. ‘We could just hike up there and take it.’
Annabeth’s eyes narrowed. ‘There’s supposed to be a guardian. A dragon or…’
That’s when a deer emerged from the bushes. It trotted into the meadow, probably looking for grass
to eat, when the sheep all bleated at once and rushed the animal. It happened so fast that the deer
stumbled and was lost in a sea of wool and trampling hooves.
Grass and tufts of fur flew into the air.
A second later the sheep all moved away, back to their regular peaceful wanderings. Where the
deer had been was a pile of clean white bones.
Annabeth and I exchanged looks.
‘They’re like piranhas,’ she said.
‘Piranhas with wool. How will we –’
‘Percy!’ Annabeth gasped, grabbing my arm. ‘Look.’
She pointed down the beach, to just below the sheep meadow, where a small boat had been run
aground … the other lifeboat from the CSS Birmingham.
We decided there was no way we could get past the man-eating sheep. Annabeth wanted to sneak up
the path invisibly and grab the Fleece, but in the end I convinced her that something would go wrong.
The sheep would smell her. Another guardian would appear. Something. And if that happened, I’d be
too far away to help.
Besides, our first job was to find Grover and whoever had come ashore in that lifeboat – assuming
they’d got past the sheep. I was too nervous to say what I was secretly hoping … that Tyson might
still be alive.
We moored the Queen Anne’s Revenge on the back side of the island where the cliffs rose straight
up a good sixty metres feet. I figured the ship was less likely to be seen there.
The cliffs looked climbable, barely – about as difficult as the lava wall back at camp. At least it
was free of sheep. I hoped that Polyphemus did not also keep carnivorous mountain goats.
We rowed a lifeboat to the edge of the rocks and made our way up, very slowly. Annabeth went
first because she was the better climber.
We only came close to dying six or seven times, which I thought was pretty good. Once, I lost my
grip and I found myself dangling by one hand from a ledge fifteen metres above the rocky surf. But I
found another handhold and kept climbing. A minute later Annabeth hit a slippery patch of moss and
her foot slipped. Fortunately, she found something else to put it against. Unfortunately, that something
was my face.
‘Sorry,’ she murmured.
‘S’okay,’ I grunted, though I’d never really wanted to know what Annabeth’s sneaker tasted like.
Finally, when my fingers felt like molten lead and my arm muscles were shaking from exhaustion,
we hauled ourselves over the top of the cliff and collapsed.
‘Ugh,’ I said.
‘Ouch,’ moaned Annabeth.
‘Garrr!’ bellowed another voice.
If I hadn’t been so tired, I would’ve leaped another sixty metres. I whirled around, but I couldn’t
see who’d spoken.
Annabeth clamped her hand over my mouth. She pointed.
The ledge we were sitting on was narrower than I’d realized. It dropped off on the opposite side,
and that’s where the voice was coming from – right below us.
‘You’re a feisty one!’ the deep voice bellowed.
‘Challenge me!’ Clarisse’s voice, no doubt about it. ‘Give me back my sword and I’ll fight you!’
The monster roared with laughter.
Annabeth and I crept to the edge. We were right above the entrance of the Cyclops’s cave. Below
us stood Polyphemus and Grover, still in his wedding dress. Clarisse was tied up, hanging upside
down over a pot of boiling water. I was half hoping to see Tyson down there, too. Even if he’d been
in danger, at least I would’ve known he was alive. But there was no sign of him.
‘Hmm,’ Polyphemus pondered. ‘Eat loudmouth girl now or wait for wedding feast? What does my
bride think?’
He turned to Grover, who backed up and almost tripped over his completed bridal train. ‘Oh, um,
I’m not hungry right now, dear. Perhaps –’
‘Did you say bride?’ Clarisse demanded. ‘Who – Grover?’
Next to me, Annabeth muttered, ‘Shut up. She has to shut up.’
Polyphemus glowered. ‘What “Grover”?’
‘The satyr!’ Clarisse yelled.
‘Oh.!’ Grover yelped. ‘The poor thing’s brain is boiling from that hot water. Pull her down, dear!’
Polyphemus’s eyelid narrowed over his baleful milky eye, as if he were trying to see Clarisse
more clearly.
The Cyclops was an even more horrible sight than he had been in my dreams. Partly because his
rancid smell was now up close and personal. Partly because he was dressed in his wedding outfit – a
crude kilt and shoulder-wrap, stitched together from baby-blue tuxedoes, as if he’d skinned an entire
wedding party.
‘What satyr?’ asked Polyphemus. ‘Satyrs are good eating. You bring me a satyr?’
‘No, you big idiot!’ bellowed Clarisse. ‘That satyr! Grover! The one in the wedding dress!’
I wanted to wring Clarisse’s neck, but it was too late. All I could do was watch as Polyphemus
turned and ripped off Grover’s wedding veil – revealing his curly hair, his scruffy adolescent beard,
his tiny horns.
Polyphemus breathed heavily, trying to contain his anger. ‘I don’t see very well,’ he growled. ‘Not
since many years ago when the other hero stabbed me in eye. But YOU’RE – NO – LADY –
CYCLOPS!’
The Cyclops grabbed Grover’s dress and tore it away. Underneath, the old Grover reappeared in
his jeans and T-shirt. He yelped and ducked as the monster swiped over his head.
‘Stop!’ Grover pleaded. ‘Don’t eat me raw! I – I have a good recipe!’
I reached for my sword, but Annabeth hissed, ‘Wait!’
Polyphemus was hesitating, a boulder in his hand, ready to smash his would-be bride.
‘Recipe?’ he asked Grover.
‘Oh y-yes! You don’t want to eat me raw. You’ll get E. coli and botulism and all sorts of horrible
things. I’ll taste much better roasted over a slow fire. With mango chutney! You could go get some
mangoes right now, down there in the woods. I’ll just wait here.’
The monster pondered this. My heart hammered against my ribs. I figured I’d die if I charged. But I
couldn’t let the monster kill Grover.
‘Roasted satyr with mango chutney,’ Polyphemus mused. He looked back at Clarisse, still hanging
over the pot of boiling water. ‘You a satyr, too?’
‘No, you overgrown pile of dung!’ she yelled. ‘I’m a girl! The daughter of Ares! Now untie me so I
can rip your arms off!’
‘Rip my arms off,’ Polyphemus repeated.
‘And stuff them down your throat!’
‘You got spunk.’
‘Let me down!’
Polyphemus snatched up Grover as if he were a wayward puppy. ‘Have to graze sheep now.
Wedding postponed until tonight. Then we’ll eat satyr for the main course!’
‘But … you’re still getting married?’ Grover sounded hurt. ‘Who’s the bride?’
Polyphemus looked towards the boiling pot.
Clarisse made a strangled sound. ‘Oh, no! You can’t be serious. I’m not –’
Before Annabeth or I could do anything, Polyphemus plucked her off the rope like she was a ripe
apple, and tossed her and Grover deep into the cave. ‘Make yourself comfortable! I come back at
sundown for big event!’
Then the Cyclops whistled, and a mixed flock of goats and sheep – smaller than the man-eaters –
flooded out of the cave and past their master. As they went to pasture, Polyphemus patted some on the
back and called them by name – Beltbuster, Tammany, Lockhart and so on.
When the last sheep had waddled out, Polyphemus rolled a boulder in front of the doorway as
easily as I would close a refrigerator door, shutting off the sound of Clarisse and Grover screaming
inside.
‘Mangoes,’ Polyphemus grumbled to himself. ‘What are mangoes?’
He strolled off down the mountain in his baby-blue groom’s outfit, leaving us alone with a pot of
boiling water and a six-ton boulder.
We tried for what seemed like hours, but it was no good. The boulder wouldn’t move. We yelled into
the cracks, tapped on the rock, did everything we could think of to get a signal to Grover, but if he
heard us, we couldn’t tell.
Even if by some miracle we managed to kill Polyphemus, it wouldn’t do us any good. Grover and
Clarisse would die inside that sealed cave. The only way to move the rock was to have the Cyclops
do it.
In total frustration, I stabbed Riptide against the boulder. Sparks flew, but nothing else happened. A
large rock is not the kind of enemy you can fight with a magic sword.
Annabeth and I sat on the ridge in despair and watched the distant baby-blue shape of the Cyclops
as he moved among his flocks. He had wisely divided his regular animals from his man-eating sheep,
putting each group on either side of the huge crevice that divided the island. The only way across was
the rope bridge, and the planks were much too far apart for sheep hooves.
We watched as Polyphemus visited his carnivorous flock on the far side. Unfortunately, they didn’t
eat him. In fact, they didn’t seem to bother him at all. He fed them chunks of mystery meat from a great
wicker basket, which only reinforced the feelings I’d been having since Circe turned me into a guinea
pig – that maybe it was time I joined Grover and became a vegetarian.
‘Trickery,’ Annabeth decided. ‘We can’t beat him by force, so we’ll have to use trickery.’
‘Okay,’ I said. ‘What trick?’
‘I haven’t figured that part out yet.’
‘Great.’
‘Polyphemus will have to move the rock to let the sheep inside.’
‘At sunset,’ I said. ‘Which is when he’ll marry Clarisse and have Grover for dinner. I’m not sure
which is grosser.’
‘I could get inside,’ she said, ‘invisibly.’
‘What about me?’
‘The sheep,’ Annabeth mused. She gave me one of those sly looks that always made me wary.
‘How much do you like sheep?’
‘Just don’t let go!’ Annabeth said, standing invisibly somewhere off to my right. That was easy for her
to say. She wasn’t hanging upside down from the belly of a sheep.
Now, I’ll admit it wasn’t as hard as I’d thought. I’d crawled under a car before to change my
mom’s oil, and this wasn’t too different. The sheep didn’t care. Even the Cyclops’s smallest sheep
were big enough to support my weight, and they had thick wool. I just twirled the stuff into handles
for my hands, hooked my feet against the sheep’s thigh bones, and presto – I felt like a baby wallaby,
riding around against the sheep’s chest, trying to keep the wool out of my mouth and my nose.
In case you’re wondering, the underside of a sheep doesn’t smell that great. Imagine a winter
sweater that’s been dragged through the mud and left in the laundry hamper for a week. Something
like that.
The sun was going down.
No sooner was I in position than the Cyclops roared, ‘Oy! Goaties! Sheepies!’
The flock dutifully began trudging back up the slopes towards the cave.
‘This is it!’ Annabeth whispered. ‘I’ll be close by. Don’t worry.’
I made a silent promise to the gods that if we survived this, I’d tell Annabeth she was a genius. The
frightening thing was, I knew the gods would hold me to it.
My sheep taxi started plodding up the hill. After a hundred metres, my hands and feet started to hurt
from holding on. I gripped the sheep’s wool more tightly, and the animal made a grumbling sound. I
didn’t blame it. I wouldn’t want anybody rock climbing in my hair either. But if I didn’t hold on, I
was sure I’d fall off right there in front of the monster.
‘Hasenpfeffer!’ the Cyclops said, patting one of the sheep in front of me. ‘Einstein! Widget – eh
there, Widget!’
Polyphemus patted my sheep and nearly knocked me to the ground. ‘Putting on some extra mutton
there?’
Uh-oh, I thought. Here it comes.
But Polyphemus just laughed and swatted the sheep’s rear end, propelling us forward. ‘Go on,
fatty! Soon Polyphemus will eat you for breakfast!’
And just like that, I was in the cave.
I could see the last of the sheep coming inside. If Annabeth didn’t pull off her distraction soon…
The Cyclops was about to roll the stone back into place, when from somewhere outside Annabeth
shouted, ‘Hello, ugly!’
Polyphemus stiffened. ‘Who said that?’
‘Nobody!’ Annabeth yelled.
That got exactly the reaction she’d been hoping for. The monster’s face turned red with rage.
‘Nobody!’ Polyphemus yelled back. ‘I remember you!’
‘You’re too stupid to remember anybody,’ Annabeth taunted. ‘Much less Nobody.’
I hoped to the gods she was already moving when she said that, because Polyphemus bellowed
furiously, grabbed the nearest boulder (which happened to be his front door) and threw it towards the
sound of Annabeth’s voice. I heard the rock smash into a thousand fragments.
For a terrible moment, there was silence. Then Annabeth shouted, ‘You haven’t learned to throw
any better, either!’
Polyphemus howled. ‘Come here! Let me kill you, Nobody!’
‘You can’t kill Nobody, you stupid oaf,’ she taunted. ‘Come find me!’
Polyphemus barrelled down the hill towards her voice.
Now, the ‘Nobody’ thing wouldn’t have made sense to anybody, but Annabeth had explained to me
that it was the name Odysseus had used to trick Polyphemus centuries ago, right before he poked the
Cyclops’s eye out with a large hot stick. Annabeth had figured Polyphemus would still have a grudge
about that name, and she was right. In his frenzy to find his old enemy, he forgot about resealing the
cave entrance. Apparently, he didn’t even stop to consider that Annabeth’s voice was female,
whereas the first Nobody had been male. On the other hand, he’d wanted to marry Grover, so he
couldn’t have been all that bright about the whole male/female thing.
I just hoped Annabeth could stay alive and keep distracting him long enough for me to find Grover
and Clarisse.
I dropped off my ride, patted Widget on the head, and apologized. I searched the main room, but
there was no sign of Grover or Clarisse. I pushed through the crowd of sheep and goats towards the
back of the cave.
Even though I’d dreamed about this place, I had a hard time finding my way through the maze. I ran
down corridors littered with bones, past rooms full of sheepskin rugs and life-size cement sheep that I
recognized as the work of Medusa. There were collections of sheep T-shirts; large tubs of lanolin
cream; and woolly coats, socks and hats with rams’ horns. Finally, I found the spinning room, where
Grover was huddled in the corner, trying to cut Clarisse’s bonds with a pair of safety scissors.
‘It’s no good,’ Clarisse said. ‘This rope is like iron!’
‘Just a few more minutes!’
‘Grover,’ she cried, exasperated. ‘You’ve been working at it for hours!’
And then they saw me.
‘Percy?’ Clarisse said. ‘You’re supposed to be blown up!’
‘Good to see you, too. Now hold still while I –’
‘Perrrrrcy!’ Grover bleated and tackled me with a goat-hug. ‘You heard me! You came!’
‘Yeah, buddy,’ I said. ‘Of course I came.’
‘Where’s Annabeth?’
‘Outside,’ I said. ‘But there’s no time to talk. Clarisse, hold still.’
I uncapped Riptide and sliced off her ropes. She stood stiffly, rubbing her wrists. She glared at me
for a moment, then looked at the ground and mumbled, ‘Thanks.’
‘You’re welcome,’ I said. ‘Now, was anyone else on board your lifeboat?’
Clarisse looked surprised. ‘No. Just me. Everybody else aboard the Birmingham … well, I didn’t
even know you guys made it out.’
I looked down, trying not to believe that my last hope of seeing Tyson alive had just been crushed.
‘Okay. Come on, then. We have to help –’
An explosion echoed through the cave, followed by a scream that told me we might be too late. It
was Annabeth crying out in fear.
15 Nobody Gets the Fleece
‘I got Nobody!’ Polyphemus gloated.
We crept to the cave entrance and saw the Cyclops, grinning wickedly, holding up empty air. The
monster shook his fist, and a baseball cap fluttered to the ground. There was Annabeth, hanging
upside down by her legs.
‘Hah!’ the Cyclops said. ‘Nasty invisible girl! Already got feisty one for wife. Means you gotta be
roasted with mango chutney!’
Annabeth struggled, but she looked dazed. She had a nasty cut on her forehead. Her eyes were
glassy.
‘I’ll rush him,’ I whispered to Clarisse. ‘Our ship is around the back of the island. You and Grover
–’
‘No way,’ they said at the same time. Clarisse had armed herself with a highly collectible ramshorn spear from the Cyclops’s cave. Grover had found a sheep’s thigh bone, which he didn’t look too
happy about, but he was gripping it like a club, ready to attack.
‘We’ll take him together,’ Clarisse growled.
‘Yeah,’ Grover said. Then he blinked, like he couldn’t believe he’d just agreed with Clarisse about
something.
‘All right,’ I said. ‘Attack plan Macedonia.’
They nodded. We’d all taken the same training courses at Camp Half-Blood. They knew what I
was talking about. They would sneak around either side and attack the Cyclops from the flanks while I
held his attention in the front. Probably what this meant was that we’d all die instead of just me, but I
was grateful for the help.
I hefted my sword and shouted, ‘Hey, Ugly!’
The giant whirled towards me. ‘Another one? Who are you?’
‘Put down my friend, I’m the one who insulted you.’
‘You are Nobody?’
‘That’s right, you smelly bucket of nose drool!’ It didn’t sound quite as good as Annabeth’s insults,
but it was all I could think of. ‘I’m Nobody and I’m proud of it! Now, put her down and get over here.
I want to stab your eye out again.’
‘RAAAR!’ he bellowed.
The good news: he dropped Annabeth. The bad news: he dropped her head first onto the rocks,
where she lay motionless as a rag doll.
The other bad news: Polyphemus barrelled towards me, five hundred smelly kilograms of Cyclops
that I would have to fight with a very small sword.
‘For Pan!’ Grover rushed in from the right. He threw his sheep bone, which bounced harmlessly off
the monster’s forehead. Clarisse ran in from the left and set her spear against the ground just in time
for the Cyclops to step on it. He wailed in pain, and Clarisse dived out of the way to avoid getting
trampled. But the Cyclops just plucked out the shaft like a large splinter and kept advancing on me.
I moved in with Riptide.
The monster made a grab for me. I rolled aside and stabbed him in the thigh.
I was hoping to see him disintegrate, but this monster was much too big and powerful.
‘Get Annabeth!’ I yelled at Grover.
He rushed over, grabbed her invisibility cap, and picked her up while Clarisse and I tried to keep
Polyphemus distracted.
I have to admit, Clarisse was brave. She charged the Cyclops again and again. He pounded the
ground, stomped at her, grabbed at her, but she was too quick. And as soon as she made an attack, I
followed up by stabbing the monster in the toe or the ankle or the hand.
But we couldn’t keep this up forever. Eventually we would tire or the monster would get in a lucky
shot. It would only take one hit to kill us.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Grover carrying Annabeth across the rope bridge. It wouldn’t
have been my first choice, given the man-eating sheep on the other side, but at the moment that looked
better than this side of the chasm, and it gave me an idea.
‘Fall back!’ I told Clarisse.
She rolled away as the Cyclops’s fist smashed the olive tree beside her.
We ran for the bridge, Polyphemus right behind us. He was cut up and hobbling from so many
wounds, but all we’d done was slow him down and make him mad.
‘Grind you into sheep chow!’ he promised. ‘A thousand curses on Nobody!’
‘Faster!’ I told Clarisse.
We tore down the hill. The bridge was our only chance. Grover had just made it to the other side
and was setting Annabeth down. We had to make it across, too, before the giant caught us.
‘Grover!’ I yelled. ‘Get Annabeth’s knife!’
His eyes widened when he saw the Cyclops behind us, but he nodded like he understood. As
Clarisse and I scrambled across the bridge, Grover began sawing at the ropes.
The first strand went snap!
Polyphemus bounded after us, making the bridge sway wildly.
The ropes were now half cut. Clarisse and I dived for solid ground, landing beside Grover. I made
a wild slash with my sword and cut the remaining ropes.
The bridge fell away into the chasm, and the Cyclops howled … with delight, because he was
standing right next to us.
‘Failed!’ he yelled gleefully. ‘Nobody failed!’
Clarisse and Grover tried to charge him, but the monster swatted them aside like flies.
My anger swelled. I couldn’t believe I’d come this far, lost Tyson, suffered through so much, only
to fail – stopped by a big stupid monster in a baby-blue tuxedo kilt. Nobody was going to swat down
my friends like that! I mean … nobody, not Nobody. Ah, you know what I mean.
Strength coursed through my body. I raised my sword and attacked, forgetting that I was hopelessly
outmatched. I jabbed the Cyclops in the belly. When he doubled over I smacked him in the nose with
the hilt of my sword. I slashed and kicked and bashed until the next thing I knew, Polyphemus was
sprawled on his back, dazed and groaning, and I was standing above him, the tip of my sword
hovering over his eye.
‘Uhhhhhhhh,’ Polyphemus moaned.
‘Percy!’ Grover gasped. ‘How did you –’
‘Please, noooo!’ the Cyclops moaned, pitifully staring up at me. His nose was bleeding. A tear
welled in the corner of his half-blind eye. ‘M-m-my sheepies need me. Only trying to protect my
sheep!’
He began to sob.
I had won. All I had to do was stab – one quick strike.
‘Kill him!’ Clarisse yelled. ‘What are you waiting for?’
The Cyclops sounded so heartbroken, just like … like Tyson.
‘He’s a Cyclops!’ Grover warned. ‘Don’t trust him!’
I knew he was right. I knew Annabeth would’ve said the same thing.
But Polyphemus sobbed … and for the first time it sank in that he was a son of Poseidon, too. Like
Tyson. Like me. How could I just kill him in cold blood?
‘We only want the Fleece,’ I told the monster. ‘Will you agree to let us take it?’
‘No!’ Clarisse shouted. ‘Kill him!’
The monster sniffed. ‘My beautiful Fleece. Prize of my collection. Take it, cruel human. Take it and
go in peace.’
‘I’m going to step back slowly,’ I told the monster. ‘One false move…’
Polyphemus nodded like he understood.
I stepped back … and as fast as a cobra, Polyphemus smacked me to the edge of the cliff.
‘Foolish mortal!’ he bellowed, rising to his feet. ‘Take my Fleece? Ha! I eat you first.’
He opened his enormous mouth, and I knew that his rotten molars were the last things I would ever
see.
Then something went whoosh over my head and thump!
A rock the size of a basketball sailed into Polyphemus’s throat – a beautiful three-pointer, nothing
but net. The Cyclops choked, trying to swallow the unexpected pill. He staggered backwards, but
there was no place to stagger. His heel slipped, the edge of the cliff crumbled, and the great
Polyphemus made chicken-wing motions that did nothing to help him fly as he tumbled into the chasm.
I turned.
Halfway down the path to the beach, standing completely unharmed in the midst of a flock of killer
sheep, was an old friend.
‘Bad Polyphemus,’ Tyson said. ‘Not all Cyclopes as nice as we look.’
Tyson gave us the short version: Rainbow the hippocampus – who’d apparently been following us
ever since the Long Island Sound, waiting for Tyson to play with him – had found Tyson sinking
beneath the wreckage of the CSS Birmingham and pulled him to safety. He and Tyson had been
searching the Sea of Monsters ever since, trying to find us, until Tyson caught the scent of sheep and
found this island.
I wanted to hug the big oaf, except he was standing in the middle of killer sheep. ‘Tyson, thank the
gods. Annabeth is hurt!’
‘You thank the gods she is hurt?’ he asked, puzzled.
‘No!’ I knelt beside Annabeth and was worried sick by what I saw. The gash on her forehead was
worse than I’d realized. Her hairline was sticky with blood. Her skin was pale and clammy.
Grover and I exchanged nervous looks. Then an idea came to me. ‘Tyson, the Fleece. Can you get it
for me?’
‘Which one?’ Tyson said, looking around at the hundreds of sheep.
‘In the tree!’ I said. ‘The gold one!’
‘Oh. Pretty. Yes.’
Tyson lumbered over, careful not to step on the sheep. If any of us had tried to approach the Fleece,
we would’ve been eaten alive, but I guess Tyson smelled like Polyphemus, because the flock didn’t
bother him at all. They just cuddled up to him and bleated affectionately, as though they expected to
get sheep treats from the big wicker basket. Tyson reached up and lifted the Fleece off its branch.
Immediately the leaves on the oak tree turned yellow. Tyson started wading back towards me, but I
yelled, ‘No time! Throw it!’
The gold ram skin sailed through the air like a glittering shag frisbee. I caught it with a grunt. It was
heavier than I’d expected – about thirty kilograms of precious gold wool.
I spread it over Annabeth, covering everything but her face, and prayed silently to all the gods I
could think of, even the ones I didn’t like.
Please. Please.
The colour returned to her face. Her eyelids fluttered open. The cut on her forehead began to close.
She saw Grover and said weakly, ‘You’re not … married?’
Grover grinned. ‘No. My friends talked me out of it.’
‘Annabeth,’ I said, ‘just lay still.’
But, despite our protests she sat up, and I noticed that the cut on her face was almost completely
healed. She looked a lot better. In fact, she shimmered with health, as if someone had injected her
with glitter.
Meanwhile, Tyson was starting to have trouble with the sheep. ‘Down!’ he told them as they tried
to climb him, looking for food. A few were sniffing in our direction. ‘No, sheepies. This way! Come
here!’
They heeded him, but it was obvious they were hungry, and they were starting to realize Tyson
didn’t have any treats for them. They wouldn’t hold out forever with so much fresh meat nearby.
‘We have to go,’ I said. ‘Our ship is…’ The Queen Anne’s Revenge was a very long way away.
The shortest route was across the chasm, and we’d just destroyed the only bridge. The only other
possibility was through the sheep.
‘Tyson,’ I called, ‘can you lead the flock as far away as possible?’
‘The sheep want food.’
‘I know! They want people food! Just lead them away from the path. Give us time to get to the
beach. Then join us there.’
Tyson looked doubtful, but he whistled. ‘Come, sheepies! Um, people food this way!’
He jogged off into the meadow, the sheep in pursuit.
‘Keep the Fleece around you,’ I told Annabeth. ‘Just in case you’re not fully healed yet. Can you
stand?’
She tried, but her face turned pale again. ‘Ohh. Not fully healed.’
Clarisse dropped next to her and felt her chest, which made Annabeth gasp.
‘Ribs broken,’ Clarisse said. ‘They’re mending, but definitely broken.’
‘How can you tell?’ I asked.
Clarisse glared at me. ‘Because I’ve broken a few, runt! I’ll have to carry her.’
Before I could argue, Clarisse picked up Annabeth like a sack of flour and lugged her down to the
beach. Grover and I followed.
As soon as we got to the edge of the water, I concentrated on the Queen Anne’s Revenge. I willed
it to raise anchor and come to me. After a few anxious minutes, I saw the ship rounding the tip of the
island.
‘Incoming!’ Tyson yelled. He was bounding down the path to join us, the sheep about fifty metres
behind, bleating in frustration as their Cyclops friend ran away without feeding them.
‘They probably won’t follow us into the water,’ I told the others. ‘All we have to do is swim for
the ship.’
‘With Annabeth like this?’ Clarisse protested.
‘We can do it,’ I insisted. I was starting to feel confident again. I was back in my home turf – the
sea. ‘Once we get to the ship, we’re home free.’
We almost made it, too.
We were just wading past the entrance to the ravine, when we heard a tremendous roar and saw
Polyphemus, scraped up and bruised but still very much alive, his baby-blue wedding outfit in tatters,
splashing towards us with a boulder in each hand.
16 I Go Down with the Ship
‘You’d think he’d run out of rocks,’ I muttered.
‘Swim for it!’ Grover said.
He and Clarisse plunged into the surf. Annabeth hung on to Clarisse’s neck and tried to paddle with
one hand, the wet Fleece weighing her down.
But the monster’s attention wasn’t on the Fleece.
‘You, young Cyclops!’ Polyphemus roared. ‘Traitor to your kind!’
Tyson froze.
‘Don’t listen to him!’ I pleaded. ‘Come on.’
I pulled Tyson’s arm, but I might as well have been pulling a mountain. He turned and faced the
older Cyclops. ‘I am not a traitor.’
‘You serve mortals!’ Polyphemus shouted. ‘Thieving humans!’
Polyphemus threw his first boulder. Tyson swatted it aside with his fist.
‘Not a traitor,’ Tyson said. ‘And you are not my kind.’
‘Death or victory!’ Polyphemus charged into the surf, but his foot was still wounded. He
immediately stumbled and fell on his face. That would’ve been funny, except he started to get up
again, spitting salt water and growling.
‘Percy!’ Clarisse yelled. ‘Come on!’
They were almost to the ship with the Fleece. If I could just keep the monster distracted a little
longer…
‘Go,’ Tyson told me. ‘I will hold Big Ugly.’
‘No! He’ll kill you.’ I’d already lost Tyson once. I wasn’t going to lose him again. ‘We’ll fight him
together.’
‘Together,’ Tyson agreed.
I drew my sword.
Polyphemus advanced carefully, limping worse than ever. But there was nothing wrong with his
throwing arm. He chucked his second boulder. I dived to one side, but I still would’ve been squashed
if Tyson’s fist hadn’t blasted the rock to rubble.
I willed the sea to rise. A six-metre wave surged up, lifting me on its crest. I rode towards the
Cyclops and kicked him in the eye, leaping over his head as the water blasted him onto the beach.
‘Destroy you!’ Polyphemus spluttered. ‘Fleece stealer!’
‘You stole the Fleece!’ I yelled. ‘You’ve been using it to lure satyrs to their deaths!’
‘So? Satyrs good eating!’
‘The Fleece should be used to heal! It belongs to the children of the gods!’
‘I am a child of the gods!’ Polyphemus swiped at me, but I sidestepped. ‘Father Poseidon, curse
this thief!’ He was blinking hard now, like he could barely see, and I realized he was targeting by the
sound of my voice.
‘Poseidon won’t curse me,’ I said, backing up as the Cyclops grabbed air. ‘I’m his son, too. He
won’t play favourites.’
Polyphemus roared. He ripped an olive tree out of the side of the cliff and smashed it where I’d
been standing a moment before. ‘Humans not the same! Nasty, tricky, lying!’
Grover was helping Annabeth aboard the ship. Clarisse was waving frantically at me, telling me to
come on.
Tyson worked his way around Polyphemus, trying to get behind him.
‘Young one!’ the older Cyclops called. ‘Where are you? Help me!’
Tyson stopped.
‘You weren’t raised right!’ Polyphemus wailed, shaking his olive tree club. ‘Poor orphaned
brother! Help me!’
No one moved. No sound but the ocean and my own heartbeat. Then Tyson stepped forward,
raising his hands defensively. ‘Don’t fight, Cyclops brother. Put down the –’
Polyphemus spun towards his voice.
‘Tyson!’ I shouted.
The tree struck him with such force it would’ve flattened me into a Percy pizza with extra olives.
Tyson flew backwards, ploughing a trench in the sand. Polyphemus charged after him, but I shouted,
‘No!’ and lunged as far as I could with Riptide. I’d hoped to sting Polyphemus in the back of the
thigh, but I managed to leap a little bit higher.
‘Blaaaaah!’ Polyphemus bleated just like his sheep, and swung at me with his tree.
I dived, but still got raked across the back by a dozen jagged branches. I was bleeding and bruised
and exhausted. The guinea pig inside me wanted to bolt. But I swallowed down my fear.
Polyphemus swung the tree again, but this time I was ready. I grabbed a branch as it passed,
ignoring the pain in my hands as I was jerked skywards, and let the Cyclops lift me into the air. At the
top of the arc I let go and fell straight against the giant’s face – landing with both feet on his already
damaged eye.
Polyphemus yowled in pain. Tyson tackled him, pulling him down. I landed next to them – sword in
hand, within striking distance of the monster’s heart. But I locked eyes with Tyson, and I knew I
couldn’t do it. It just wasn’t right.
‘Let him go,’ I told Tyson. ‘Run.’
With one last mighty effort, Tyson pushed the cursing older Cyclops away, and we ran for the surf.
‘I will smash you!’ Polyphemus yelled, doubling over in pain. His enormous hands cupped over his
eye.
Tyson and I plunged into the waves.
‘Where are you?’ Polyphemus screamed. He picked up his tree club and threw it into the water. It
splashed off to our right.
I summoned up a current to carry us, and we started gaining speed. I was beginning to think we
might make it to the ship, when Clarisse shouted from the deck, ‘Yeah, Jackson! In your face,
Cyclops!’
Shut up, I wanted to yell.
‘Rarrr!’ Polyphemus picked up a boulder. He threw it towards the sound of Clarisse’s voice, but it
fell short, narrowly missing Tyson and me.
‘Yeah, yeah!’ Clarisse taunted. ‘You throw like a wimp! Teach you to try marrying me, you idiot!’
‘Clarisse!’ I yelled, unable to stand it. ‘Shut up!’
Too late. Polyphemus threw another boulder, and this time I watched helplessly as it sailed over
my head and crashed through the hull of the Queen Anne’s Revenge.
You wouldn’t believe how fast a ship can sink. The Queen Anne’s Revenge creaked and groaned
and listed forward like it was going down a playground slide.
I cursed, willing the sea to push us faster, but the ship’s masts were already going under.
‘Dive!’ I told Tyson. And as another rock sailed over our heads, we plunged underwater.
My friends were sinking fast, trying to swim, without luck, in the bubbly trail of the ship’s wreckage.
Not many people realize that when a ship goes down, it acts like a sinkhole, pulling down
everything around it. Clarisse was a strong swimmer, but even she wasn’t making any progress.
Grover frantically kicked with his hooves. Annabeth was hanging on to the Fleece, which flashed in
the water like a wave of new pennies.
I swam towards them, knowing that I might not have the strength to pull my friends out. Worse,
pieces of timber were swirling around them; none of my power with water would help if I got
whacked on the head by a beam.
We need help, I thought.
Yes. Tyson’s voice, loud and clear in my head.
I looked over at him, startled. I’d heard Nereids and other water spirits speak to me underwater
before, but it never occurred to me … Tyson was a son of Poseidon. We could communicate with
each other.
Rainbow, Tyson said.
I nodded, then closed my eyes and concentrated, adding my voice to Tyson’s: RAINBOW! We need
you!
Immediately, shapes shimmered in the darkness below – three horses with fish tails, galloping
upwards faster than dolphins. Rainbow and his friends glanced in our direction and seemed to read
our thoughts. They whisked into the wreckage, and a moment later burst upwards in a cloud of
bubbles – Grover, Annabeth and Clarisse each clinging to the neck of a hippocampus.
Rainbow, the largest, had Clarisse. He raced over to us and allowed Tyson to grab hold of his
mane. His friend who bore Annabeth did the same for me.
We broke the surface of the water and raced away from Polyphemus’s island. Behind us, I could
hear the Cyclops roaring in triumph, ‘I did it! I finally sank Nobody!’
I hoped he never found out he was wrong.
We skimmed across the sea as the island shrank to a dot and then disappeared.
‘Did it,’ Annabeth muttered in exhaustion. ‘We…’
She slumped against the neck of the hippocampus and instantly fell asleep.
I didn’t know how far the hippocampi could take us. I didn’t know where we were going. I just
propped up Annabeth so she wouldn’t fall off, covered her in the Golden Fleece that we’d been
through so much to get, and said a silent prayer of thanks.
Which reminded me … I still owed the gods a debt.
‘You’re a genius,’ I told Annabeth quietly.
Then I put my head against the Fleece, and before I knew it I was asleep, too.
17 We Get a Surprise On Miami Beach
‘Percy, wake up.’
Salt water splashed my face. Annabeth was shaking my shoulder.
In the distance, the sun was setting behind a city skyline. I could see a beachside highway lined
with palm trees, storefronts glowing with red-and-blue neon, a harbour filled with sailboats and
cruise ships.
‘Miami, I think,’ Annabeth said. ‘But the hippocampi are acting funny.’
Sure enough, our fishy friends had slowed down and were whinnying and swimming in circles,
sniffing the water. They didn’t look happy. One of them sneezed. I could tell what they were thinking.
‘This is as far as they’ll take us,’ I said. ‘Too many humans. Too much pollution. We’ll have to
swim to shore on our own.’
None of us was very psyched about that, but we thanked Rainbow and his friends for the ride.
Tyson cried a little. He unfastened the makeshift saddle pack he’d made, which contained his tool kit
and a couple of other things he’d salvaged from the Birmingham wreck. He hugged Rainbow around
the neck, gave him a soggy mango he’d picked up on the island and said goodbye.
Once the hippocampi’s white manes disappeared into the sea, we swam for shore. The waves
pushed us forward, and in no time we were back in the mortal world. We wandered along the cruise
line docks, pushing through crowds of people arriving for vacations. Porters bustled around with
carts of luggage. Taxi drivers yelled at each other in Spanish and tried to cut in line for customers. If
anybody noticed us – five kids dripping wet and looking like they’d just had a fight with a monster –
they didn’t let on.
Now that we were back among mortals, Tyson’s single eye had blurred from the Mist. Grover had
put on his cap and sneakers. Even the Fleece had transformed from a sheepskin to a red-and-gold high
school letter jacket with a large glittery Omega on the pocket.
Annabeth ran to the nearest newspaper box and checked the date on the Miami Herald. She cursed.
‘June eighteenth! We’ve been away from camp ten days!’
‘That’s impossible!’ Clarisse said.
But I knew it wasn’t. Time travelled differently in monstrous places.
‘Thalia’s tree must be almost dead,’ Grover wailed. ‘We have to get the Fleece back tonight!
Clarisse slumped down on the pavement. ‘How are we supposed to do that?’ Her voice trembled.
‘We’re hundreds of miles away. No money. No ride. This is just like the Oracle said. It’s your fault,
Jackson! If you hadn’t interfered –’
‘Percy’s fault?!’ Annabeth exploded. ‘Clarisse, how can you say that? You are the biggest –’
‘Stop it!’ I said.
Clarisse put her head in her hands. Annabeth stomped her foot in frustration.
The thing was: I’d almost forgotten this quest was supposed to be Clarisse’s. For a scary moment, I
saw things from her point of view. How would I feel if a bunch of other heroes had butted in and
made me look bad?
I thought about what I’d overheard in the boiler room of the CSS Birmingham – Ares yelling at
Clarisse, warning her that she’d better not fail. Ares couldn’t care less about the camp, but if Clarisse
made him look bad…
‘Clarisse,’ I said, ‘what did the Oracle tell you exactly?’
She looked up. I thought she was going to tell me off, but instead she took a deep breath and recited
her prophecy:
‘You shall sail the iron ship with warriors of bone,
You shall find what you seek and make it your own,
But despair for your life entombed within stone,
And fail without friends, to fly home alone.’
‘Ouch,’ Grover mumbled.
‘No,’ I said. ‘No … wait a minute. I’ve got it.’
I searched my pockets for money, and found nothing but a golden drachma. ‘Does anybody have any
cash?’
Annabeth and Grover shook their heads morosely. Clarisse pulled a wet Confederate dollar from
her pocket and sighed.
‘Cash?’ Tyson asked hesitantly. ‘Like … green paper?’
I looked at him. ‘Yeah.’
‘Like the kind in duffel bags?’
‘Yeah, but we lost those bags days a-g-g –’
I stuttered to a halt as Tyson rummaged in his saddle pack and pulled out the airtight bag full of
cash that Hermes had included in our supplies.
‘Tyson!’ I said. ‘How did you –’
‘Thought it was a feed bag for Rainbow,’ he said. ‘Found it floating in sea, but only paper inside.
Sorry.’
He handed me the cash. Fives and tens, at least three hundred dollars.
I ran to the kerb and grabbed a taxi that was just letting out a family of cruise passengers.
‘Clarisse,’ I yelled. ‘Come on. You’re going to the airport. Annabeth, give her the Fleece.’
I’m not sure which of them looked more stunned as I took the Fleece letter jacket from Annabeth,
tucked the cash into its pocket, and put it in Clarisse’s arms.
Clarisse said, ‘You’d let me –’
‘It’s your quest,’ I said. ‘We only have enough money for one flight. Besides, I can’t travel by air.
Zeus would blast me into a million pieces. That’s what the prophecy meant: you’d fail without
friends, meaning you’d need our help, but you’d have to fly home alone. You have to get the Fleece
back safely.’
I could see her mind working – suspicious at first, wondering what trick I was playing, then finally
deciding I meant what I said.
She jumped in the cab. ‘You can count on me. I won’t fail.’
‘Not failing would be good.’
The cab peeled out in a cloud of exhaust. The Fleece was on its way.
‘Percy,’ Annabeth said, ‘that was so –’
‘Generous?’ Grover offered.
‘Insane’, Annabeth corrected. ‘You’re betting the lives of everybody at camp that Clarisse will get
the Fleece safely back by tonight?’
‘It’s her quest,’ I said. ‘She deserves a chance.’
‘Percy is nice,’ Tyson said.
‘Percy is too nice,’ Annabeth grumbled, but I couldn’t help thinking that maybe, just maybe, she
was a little impressed. I’d surprised her, anyway. And that wasn’t easy to do.
‘Come on,’ I told my friends. ‘Let’s find another way home.’
That’s when I turned and found a sword’s point at my throat.
‘Hey, cuz,’ said Luke. ‘Welcome back to the States.’
His bear-man thugs appeared on either side of us. One grabbed Annabeth and Grover by their Tshirt collars. The other tried to grab Tyson, but Tyson knocked him into a pile of luggage and roared
at Luke.
‘Percy,’ Luke said calmly, ‘tell your giant to back down or I’ll have Oreius bash your friends’
heads together.’
Oreius grinned and raised Annabeth and Grover off the ground, kicking and screaming.
‘What do you want, Luke?’ I growled.
He smiled, the scar rippling on the side of his face.
He gestured towards the end of the dock, and I noticed what should’ve been obvious. The biggest
boat in port was the Princess Andromeda.
‘Why, Percy,’ Luke said, ‘I want to extend my hospitality, of course.’
The bear-man twins herded us aboard the Princess Andromeda. They threw us down on the aft deck
in front of a swimming pool with sparkling fountains that sprayed into the air. A dozen of Luke’s
assorted goons – snake people, Laistrygonians, demigods in battle armour – had gathered to watch us
get some ‘hospitality’.
‘And so, the Fleece,’ Luke mused. ‘Where is it?’
He looked us over, prodding my shirt with the tip of his sword, poking Grover’s jeans.
‘Hey!’ Grover yelled. ‘That’s real goat fur under there!’
‘Sorry, old friend.’ Luke smiled. ‘Just give me the Fleece and I’ll leave you to return to your, ah,
little nature quest.’
‘Blaa-ha-ha!’ Grover protested. ‘Some old friend!’
‘Maybe you didn’t hear me.’ Luke’s voice was dangerously calm. ‘Where – is – the – Fleece?’
‘Not here,’ I said. I probably shouldn’t have told him anything, but it felt good to throw the truth in
his face. ‘We sent it on ahead of us. You messed up.’
Luke’s eyes narrowed. ‘You’re lying. You couldn’t have…’ His face reddened as a horrible
possibility occurred to him. ‘Clarisse?’
I nodded.
‘You trusted … you gave…’
‘Yeah.’
‘Agrius!’
The bear-man flinched. ‘Y-yes?’
‘Get below and prepare my steed. Bring it to the deck. I need to fly to Miami Airport, fast!’
‘But, boss –’
‘Do it!’ Luke screamed. ‘Or I’ll feed you to the drakon!’
The bear-man gulped and lumbered down the stairs. Luke paced in front of the swimming pool,
cursing in Ancient Greek, gripping his sword so tight his knuckles turned white.
The rest of Luke’s crew looked uneasy. Maybe they’d never seen their boss so unhinged before.
I started thinking … If I could use Luke’s anger, get him to talk so everybody could hear how crazy
his plans were…
I looked at the swimming pool, at the fountains spraying mist into the air, making a rainbow in the
sunset. And suddenly I had an idea.
‘You’ve been toying with us all along,’ I said. ‘You wanted us to bring you the Fleece and save
you the trouble of getting it.’
Luke scowled. ‘Of course, you idiot! And you’ve messed everything up!’
‘Traitor!’ I dug my last gold drachma out of my pocket and threw it at Luke. As I expected, he
dodged it easily. The coin sailed into the spray of rainbow-coloured water.
I hoped my prayer would be accepted in silence. I thought with all my heart: O goddess, accept my
offering.
‘You tricked all of us!’ I yelled at Luke. ‘Even DIONYSUS at CAMP HALF-BLOOD!’
Behind Luke, the fountain began to shimmer, but I needed everyone’s attention on me, so I
uncapped Riptide.
Luke just sneered. ‘This is no time for heroics, Percy. Drop your puny little sword, or I’ll have you
killed sooner rather than later.’
‘Who poisoned Thalia’s tree, Luke?’
‘I did, of course,’ he snarled. ‘I already told you that. I used elder python venom, straight from the
depths of Tartarus.’
‘Chiron had nothing to do with it?’
‘Ha! You know he would never do that. The old fool wouldn’t have the guts.’
‘You call it guts? Betraying your friends? Endangering the whole camp?’
Luke raised his sword. ‘You don’t understand the half of it. I was going to let you take the Fleece
… once I was done with it.’
That made me hesitate. Why would he let me take the Fleece? He must’ve been lying. But I couldn’t
afford to lose his attention.
‘You were going to heal Kronos,’ I said.
‘Yes! The Fleece’s magic would’ve sped his mending process by tenfold. But you haven’t stopped
us, Percy. You’ve only slowed us down a little.’
‘And so you poisoned the tree, you betrayed Thalia, you set us up – all to help Kronos destroy the
gods.’
Luke gritted his teeth. ‘You know that! Why do you keep asking me?’
‘Because I want everybody in the audience to hear you.’
‘What audience?’
Then his eyes narrowed. He looked behind him and his goons did the same. They gasped and
stumbled back.
Above the pool, shimmering in the rainbow mist, was an Iris-message vision of Dionysus, Tantalus
and the whole camp in the dining pavilion. They sat in stunned silence, watching us.
‘Well,’ said Dionysus drily, ‘some unplanned dinner entertainment.’
‘Mr D, you heard him,’ I said. ‘You all heard Luke. The poisoning of the tree wasn’t Chiron’s
fault.’
Mr D sighed. ‘I suppose not.’
‘The Iris-message could be a trick,’ Tantalus suggested, but his attention was mostly on his
cheeseburger, which he was trying to corner with both hands.
‘I fear not,’ Mr D said, looking with distaste at Tantalus. ‘It appears I shall have to reinstate Chiron
as activities director. I suppose I do miss the old horse’s pinochle games.’
Tantalus grabbed the cheeseburger. It didn’t bolt away from him. He lifted it from the plate and
stared at it in amazement, as if it were the largest diamond in the world. ‘I got it!’ he cackled.
‘We are no longer in need of your services, Tantalus,’ Mr D announced.
Tantalus looked stunned. ‘What? But –’
‘You may return to the Underworld. You are dismissed.’
‘No! But – Nooooooooooo!’
As he dissolved into mist, his fingers clutched at the cheeseburger, trying to bring it to his mouth.
But it was too late. He disappeared and the cheeseburger fell back onto its plate. The campers
exploded into cheering.
Luke bellowed with rage. He slashed his sword through the fountain and the Iris-message
dissolved, but the deed was done.
I was feeling pretty good about myself, until Luke turned and gave me a murderous look.
‘Kronos was right, Percy. You’re an unreliable weapon. You need to be replaced.’
I wasn’t sure what he meant, but I didn’t have time to think about it. One of his men blew a brass
whistle, and the deck doors flew open. A dozen more warriors poured out, making a circle around us,
the brass tips of their spears bristling.
Luke smiled at me. ‘You’ll never leave this boat alive.’
18 The Party Ponies Invade
‘One on one,’ I challenged Luke. ‘What are you afraid of?’
Luke curled his lip. The soldiers who were about to kill us hesitated, waiting for his order.
Before he could say anything, Agrius, the bear-man, burst onto the deck leading a flying horse. It
was the first pure-black pegasus I’d ever seen, with wings like a giant raven. The pegasus mare
bucked and whinnied. I could understand her thoughts. She was calling Agrius and Luke some names
so bad Chiron would’ve washed her muzzle out with saddle soap.
‘Sir!’ Agrius called, dodging a pegasus hoof. ‘Your steed is ready!’
Luke kept his eyes on me.
‘I told you last summer, Percy,’ he said. ‘You can’t bait me into a fight.’
‘And you keep avoiding one,’ I noticed. ‘Scared your warriors will see you get whipped?’
Luke glanced at his men, and he saw I’d trapped him. If he backed down now, he would look weak.
If he fought me, he’d lose valuable time chasing after Clarisse. For my part, the best I could hope for
was to distract him, giving my friends a chance to escape. If anybody could think of a plan to get them
out of there, Annabeth could. On the downside, I knew how good Luke was at sword-fighting.
‘I’ll kill you quickly,’ he decided, and raised his weapon. Backbiter was a foot longer than my own
sword. Its blade glinted with an evil grey-and-gold light where the human steel had been melded with
celestial bronze. I could almost feel the blade fighting against itself, like two opposing magnets bound
together. I didn’t know how the blade had been made, but I sensed a tragedy. Someone had died in the
process. Luke whistled to one of his men, who threw him a round leather-and-bronze shield.
He grinned at me wickedly.
‘Luke,’ Annabeth said, ‘at least give him a shield.’
‘Sorry, Annabeth,’ he said. ‘You bring your own equipment to this party.’
The shield was a problem. Fighting two-handed with just a sword gives you more power, but
fighting one-handed with a shield gives you better defence and versatility. There are more moves,
more options, more ways to kill. I thought back to Chiron, who’d told me to stay at camp no matter
what, and learn to fight. Now I was going to pay for not listening to him.
Luke lunged and almost killed me on the first try. His sword went under my arm, slashing through
my shirt and grazing my ribs.
I jumped back, then counter-attacked with Riptide, but Luke slammed my blade away with his
shield.
‘My, Percy,’ Luke chided. ‘You’re out of practice.’
He came at me again with a swipe to the head. I parried, returned with a thrust. He sidestepped
easily.
The cut on my ribs stung. My heart was racing. When Luke lunged again, I jumped backwards into
the swimming pool and felt a surge of strength. I spun underwater, creating a funnel cloud, and blasted
out of the deep end, straight at Luke’s face.
The force of the water knocked him down, spluttering and blinded. But before I could strike, he
rolled aside and was on his feet again.
I attacked and sliced off the edge of his shield, but that didn’t even faze him. He dropped to a
crouch and jabbed at my legs. Suddenly my thigh was on fire, with a pain so intense I collapsed. My
jeans were ripped above the knee. I was hurt. I didn’t know how badly. Luke hacked downwards and
I rolled behind a deckchair. I tried to stand, but my leg wouldn’t take the weight.
‘Perrrrrcy!’ Grover bleated.
I rolled again as Luke’s sword slashed the deckchair in half, metal pipes and all.
I clawed towards the swimming pool, trying hard not to black out. I’d never make it. Luke knew it,
too. He advanced slowly, smiling. The edge of his sword was tinged with red.
‘One thing I want you to watch before you die, Percy.’ He looked at the bear-man Oreius, who was
still holding Annabeth and Grover by the necks. ‘You can eat your dinner now, Oreius. Bon appétit.’
‘He-he! He-he!’ The bear-man lifted my friends and bared his teeth.
That’s when all Hades broke loose.
Whish!
A red-feathered arrow sprouted from Oreius’s mouth. With a surprised look on his hairy face, he
crumpled to the deck.
‘Brother!’ Agrius wailed. He let the pegasus’s reins go slack just long enough for the black steed to
kick him in the head and fly away free over Miami Bay.
For a split second, Luke’s guards were too stunned to do anything except watch the bear twins’
bodies dissolve into smoke.
Then there was a wild chorus of war cries and hooves thundering against metal. A dozen centaurs
charged out of the main stairwell.
‘Ponies!’ Tyson cried with delight.
My mind had trouble processing everything I saw. Chiron was among the crowd, but his relatives
were almost nothing like him. There were centaurs with black Arabian stallion bodies, others with
gold palomino coats, others with orange-and-white spots like paint horses. Some wore brightly
coloured T-shirts with Day-Glo letters that said PARTY PONIES: SOUTH FLORIDA CHAPTER.
Some were armed with bows, some with baseball bats, some with paintball guns. One had his face
painted like a Comanche warrior and was waving a large orange Styrofoam hand making a big
Number I. Another was bare-chested and painted entirely green. A third had googly-eye glasses with
the eyeballs bouncing around on Slinky coils, and one of those baseball caps with soda-can-andstraw attachments on either side.
They exploded onto the deck with such ferocity and colour that for a moment even Luke was
stunned. I couldn’t tell whether they had come to celebrate or attack.
Apparently both. As Luke was raising his sword to rally his troops, a centaur shot a custom-made
arrow with a leather boxing glove on the end. It smacked Luke in the face and sent him crashing into
the swimming pool.
His warriors scattered. I couldn’t blame them. Facing the hooves of a rearing stallion is scary
enough, but when it’s a centaur, armed with a bow and whooping it up in a soda-drinking hat, even the
bravest warrior would retreat.
‘Come get some!’ yelled one of the party ponies.
They let loose with their paintball guns. A wave of blue and yellow exploded against Luke’s
warriors, blinding them and splattering them from head to toe. They tried to run, only to slip and fall.
Chiron galloped towards Annabeth and Grover, neatly plucked them off the deck, and deposited
them on his back.
I tried to get up, but my wounded leg still felt like it was on fire.
Luke was crawling out of the pool.
‘Attack, you fools!’ he ordered his troops. Somewhere down below deck, a large alarm bell
thrummed.
I knew any second we would be swamped by Luke’s reinforcements. Already, his warriors were
getting over their surprise, coming at the centaurs with swords and spears drawn.
Tyson slapped half a dozen of them aside, knocking them over the guardrail into Miami Bay. But
more warriors were coming up the stairs.
‘Withdraw, brethren!’ Chiron said.
‘You won’t get away with this, horse man!’ Luke shouted. He raised his sword, but got smacked in
the face with another boxing glove arrow, and sat down hard in a deckchair.
A palomino centaur hoisted me onto his back. ‘Dude, get your big friend!’
‘Tyson!’ I yelled. ‘Come on!’
Tyson dropped the two warriors he was about to tie into a knot and jogged after us. He jumped on
the centaur’s back.
‘Dude!’ the centaur groaned, almost buckling under Tyson’s weight. ‘Do the words “low-carb
diet” mean anything to you?’
Luke’s warriors were organizing themselves into a phalanx. But by the time they were ready to
advance, the centaurs had galloped to the edge of the deck and fearlessly jumped the guardrail, as if it
were a steeplechase and not ten storeys above the ground. I was sure we were going to die. We
plummeted towards the docks, but the centaurs hit the tarmac with hardly a jolt and galloped off,
whooping and yelling taunts at the Princess Andromeda as we raced into the streets of downtown
Miami.
I have no idea what the Miamians thought as we galloped by.
Streets and buildings began to blur as the centaurs picked up speed. It felt as if space were
compacting – as if each centaur step took us miles and miles. In no time, we’d left the city behind. We
raced through marshy fields of high grass and ponds and stunted trees.
Finally, we found ourselves in a trailer park at the edge of a lake. The trailers were all horse
trailers, tricked out with televisions and mini-refrigerators and mosquito netting. We were in a
centaur camp.
‘Dude!’ said a party pony as he unloaded his gear. ‘Did you see that bear guy? He was all like,
“Whoa, I have an arrow in my mouth!” ’
The centaur with the googly-eye glasses laughed. ‘That was awesome! Head slam!’
The two centaurs charged at each other full-force and knocked heads, then went staggering off in
different directions with crazy grins on their faces.
Chiron sighed. He set Annabeth and Grover down on a picnic blanket next to me. ‘I really wish my
cousins wouldn’t slam their heads together. They don’t have the brain cells to spare.’
‘Chiron,’ I said, still stunned by the fact that he was here. ‘You saved us.’
He gave me a dry smile. ‘Well now, I couldn’t very well let you die, especially since you’ve
cleared my name.’
‘But how did you know where we were?’ Annabeth asked.
‘Advanced planning, my dear. I figured you would wash up near Miami if you made it out of the
Sea of Monsters alive. Almost everything strange washes up near Miami.’
‘Gee, thanks,’ Grover mumbled.
‘No, no,’ Chiron said. ‘I didn’t mean … Oh, never mind. I am glad to see you, my young satyr. The
point is, I was able to eavesdrop on Percy’s Iris-message and trace the signal. Iris and I have been
friends for centuries. I asked her to alert me to any important communications in this area. It then took
no effort to convince my cousins to ride to your aid. As you see, centaurs can travel quite fast when
we wish to. Distance for us is not the same as distance for humans.’
I looked over at the campfire, where three party ponies were teaching Tyson to operate a paintball
gun. I hoped they knew what they were getting into.
‘So what now?’ I asked Chiron. ‘We just let Luke sail away? He’s got Kronos aboard that ship. Or
parts of him, anyway.’
Chiron knelt, carefully folding his front legs underneath him. He opened the medicine pouch on his
belt and started to treat my wounds. ‘I’m afraid, Percy, that today has been something of a draw. We
didn’t have the strength of numbers to take that ship. Luke was not organized enough to pursue us.
Nobody won.’
‘But we got the Fleece!’ Annabeth said. ‘Clarisse is on her way back to camp with it right now.’
Chiron nodded, though he still looked uneasy. ‘You are all true heroes. And as soon as we get
Percy fixed up, you must return to Half-Blood Hill. The centaurs shall carry you.’
‘You’re coming, too?’ I asked.
‘Oh yes, Percy. I’ll be relieved to get home. My brethren here simply do not appreciate Dean
Martin’s music. Besides, I must have some words with Mr D. There’s the rest of the summer to plan.
So much training to do. And I want to see … I’m curious about the Fleece.’
I didn’t know exactly what he meant, but it made me worried about what Luke had said: I was
going to let you take the Fleece … once I was done with it.
Had he just been lying? I’d learned with Kronos there was usually a plan within a plan. The titan
lord wasn’t called the Crooked One for nothing. He had ways of getting people to do what he wanted
without them ever realizing his true intentions.
Over by the campfire, Tyson let loose with his paintball gun. A blue projectile splattered against
one of the centaurs, hurling him backwards into the lake. The centaur came up grinning, covered in
swamp muck and blue paint, and gave Tyson two thumbs up.
‘Annabeth,’ Chiron said, ‘perhaps you and Grover would go supervise Tyson and my cousins
before they, ah, teach each other too many bad habits?’
Annabeth met his eyes. Some kind of understanding passed between them.
‘Sure, Chiron,’ Annabeth said. ‘Come on, goat boy.’
‘But I don’t like paintball.’
‘Yes, you do.’ She hoisted Grover to his hooves and led him off towards the campfire.
Chiron finished bandaging my leg. ‘Percy, I had a talk with Annabeth on the way here. A talk about
the prophecy.’
Uh-oh, I thought.
‘It wasn’t her fault,’ I said. ‘I made her tell me.’
His eyes flickered with irritation. I was sure he was going to chew me out, but then his look turned
to weariness. ‘I suppose I could not expect to keep it secret forever.’
‘So am I the one in the prophecy?’
Chiron tucked his bandages back into his pouch. ‘I wish I knew, Percy. You’re not yet sixteen. For
now we must simply train you as best we can, and leave the future to the Fates.’
The Fates. I hadn’t thought about those old ladies in a long time, but as soon as Chiron mentioned
them, something clicked.
‘That’s what it meant,’ I said.
Chiron frowned. ‘That’s what what meant?’
‘Last summer. The omen from the Fates, when I saw them snip somebody’s life string. I thought it
meant I was going to die right away, but it’s worse than that. It’s got something to do with your
prophecy. The death they foretold – it’s going to happen when I’m sixteen.’
Chiron’s tail whisked nervously in the grass. ‘My boy, you can’t be sure of that. We don’t even
know if the prophecy is about you.’
‘But there isn’t any other half-blood child of the Big Three!’
‘That we know of.’
‘And Kronos is rising. He’s going to destroy Mount Olympus!’
‘He will try,’ Chiron agreed. ‘And Western Civilization along with it, if we don’t stop him. But we
will stop him. You will not be alone in that fight.’
I knew he was trying to make me feel better, but I remembered what Annabeth had told me. It
would come down to one hero. One decision that would save or destroy the West. And I felt sure the
Fates had been giving me some kind of warning about that. Something terrible was going to happen,
either to me or to somebody I was close to.
‘I’m just a kid, Chiron,’ I said miserably. ‘What good is one lousy hero against something like
Kronos?’
Chiron managed a smile. ‘ “What good is one lousy hero?’ Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain said
something like that to me once, just before he single-handedly changed the course of your Civil War.’
He pulled an arrow from his quiver and turned the razor-sharp tip so it glinted in the firelight.
‘Celestial bronze, Percy. An immortal weapon. What would happen if you shot this at a human?’
‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘It would pass right through.’
‘That’s right,’ he said. ‘Humans don’t exist on the same level as the immortals. They can’t even be
hurt by our weapons. But you, Percy – you are part god, part human. You live in both worlds. You can
be harmed by both, and you can affect both. That’s what makes heroes so special. You carry the
hopes of humanity into the realm of the eternal. Monsters never die. They are reborn from the chaos
and barbarism that is always bubbling underneath civilization, the very stuff that makes Kronos
stronger. They must be defeated again and again, kept at bay. Heroes embody that struggle. You fight
the battles humanity must win, every generation, in order to stay human. Do you understand?’
‘I … I don’t know.’
‘You must try, Percy. Because whether or not you are the child of the prophecy, Kronos thinks you
might be. And, after today, he will finally despair of turning you to his side. That is the only reason he
hasn’t killed you yet, you know. As soon as he’s sure he can’t use you, he will destroy you.’
‘You talk like you know him.’
Chiron pursed his lips. ‘I do know him.’
I stared at him. I sometimes forgot just how old Chiron was. ‘Is that why Mr D blamed you when
the tree was poisoned? Why you said some people don’t trust you?’
‘Indeed.’
‘But Chiron … I mean, come on! Why would they think you’d ever betray the camp for Kronos?’
Chiron’s eyes were deep brown, full of thousands of years of sadness. ‘Percy, remember your
training. Remember your study of mythology. What is my connection to the titan lord?’
I tried to think, but I’d always got my mythology mixed up. Even now, when it was so real, so
important to my own life, I had trouble keeping all the names and facts straight. I shook my head.
‘You, uh, owe Kronos a favour or something? He spared your life?’
‘Percy,’ Chiron said, his voice impossibly soft. ‘The titan Kronos is my father.’
19 The Chariot Race Ends with a Bang
We arrived in Long Island just after Clarisse, thanks to the centaurs’ travel powers. I rode on
Chiron’s back, but we didn’t talk much, especially not about Kronos. I knew it had been difficult for
Chiron to tell me. I didn’t want to push him with more questions. I mean, I’ve met plenty of
embarrassing parents, but Kronos, the evil titan lord who wanted to destroy Western Civilization?
Not the kind of dad you invited to school for career day.
When we got to camp, the centaurs were anxious to meet Dionysus. They’d heard he threw some
really wild parties, but they were disappointed. The wine god was in no mood to celebrate as the
whole camp gathered at the top of Half-Blood Hill.
The camp had been through a hard two weeks. The arts and crafts cabin had burned to the ground
from an attack by a Draco Aionius (which as near as I could figure was Latin for ‘really-big-lizardwith-breath-that-blows-stuff-up’). The Big House’s rooms were overflowing with wounded. The kids
in the Apollo cabin, who were the best healers, had been working overtime performing first aid.
Everybody looked weary and battered as we crowded around Thalia’s tree.
The moment Clarisse draped the Golden Fleece over the lowest bough, the moonlight seemed to
brighten, turning from grey to liquid silver. A cool breeze rustled in the branches and rippled through
the grass, all the way into the valley. Everything came into sharper focus – the glow of the fireflies
down in the woods, the smell of the strawberry fields, the sound of the waves on the beach.
Gradually, the needles on the pine tree started turning from brown to green.
Everybody cheered. It was happening slowly, but there could be no doubt – the Fleece’s magic
was seeping into the tree, filling it with new power and expelling the poison.
Chiron ordered a twenty-four/seven guard duty on the hilltop, at least until he could find an
appropriate monster to protect the Fleece. He said he’d place an ad in Olympus Weekly right away.
In the meantime, Clarisse was carried on her cabin mates’ shoulders down to the amphitheatre,
where she was honoured with a laurel wreath and a lot of celebrating around the campfire.
Nobody gave Annabeth or me a second look. It was as. if we’d never left. In a way, I guess that
was the best thank-you anyone could give us, because if they admitted we’d snuck out of camp to do
the quest, they’d have to expel us. And, really, I didn’t want any more attention. It felt good to be just
one of the campers for once.
Later that night, as we were roasting marshmallows and listening to the Stoll brothers tell us a
ghost story about an evil king who was eaten alive by demonic breakfast pastries, Clarisse shoved me
from behind and whispered in my ear, ‘Just because you were cool one time, Jackson, don’t think
you’re off the hook with Ares. I’m still waiting for the right opportunity to pulverize you.’
I gave her a grudging smile.
‘What?’ she demanded.
‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘Just good to be home.’
The next morning, after the party ponies headed back to Florida, Chiron made a surprise
announcement: the chariot races would go ahead as scheduled. We’d all figured they were history
now that Tantalus was gone, but completing them did feel like the right thing to do, especially now
that Chiron was back and the camp was safe.
Tyson wasn’t too keen on the idea of getting back in a chariot after our first experience, but he was
happy to let me team up with Annabeth. I would drive, Annabeth would defend, and Tyson would act
as our pit crew. While I worked with the horses, Tyson fixed up Athena’s chariot and added a whole
bunch of special modifications.
We spent the next two days training like crazy. Annabeth and I agreed that if we won, the prize of
no chores for the rest of the month would be split between our two cabins. Since Athena had more
campers, they would get most of the time off, which was fine by me. I didn’t care about the prize. I
just wanted to win.
The night before the race, I stayed late at the stables. I was talking to our horses, giving them one
final brushing, when somebody right behind me said, ‘Fine animals, horses. Wish I’d thought of
them.’
A middle-aged guy in a postal carrier outfit was leaning against the stable door. He was slim, with
curly black hair under his white pith helmet, and he had a mailbag slung over his shoulder.
‘Hermes?’ I stammered.
‘Hello, Percy. Didn’t recognize me without my jogging clothes?’
‘Uh…’ I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to kneel or buy stamps from him or what. Then it
occurred to me why he must be here. ‘Oh, listen, Lord Hermes, about Luke…’
The god arched his eyebrows.
‘Uh, we saw him, all right,’ I said, ‘but –’
‘You weren’t able to talk sense into him?’
‘Well, we kind of tried to kill each other in a duel to the death.’
‘I see. You tried the diplomatic approach.’
‘I’m really sorry. I mean, you gave us those awesome gifts and everything. And I know you wanted
Luke to come back. But … he’s turned bad. Really bad. He said he feels like you abandoned him.’
I waited for Hermes to get angry. I figured he’d turn me into a hamster or something, and I did not
want to spend any more time as a rodent.
Instead, he just sighed. ‘Do you ever feel your father abandoned you, Percy?’
Oh, man.
I wanted to say, ‘Only a few hundred times a day.’ I hadn’t spoken to Poseidon since last summer.
I’d never even been to his underwater palace. And then there was the whole thing with Tyson – no
warning, no explanation. Just boom, you have a brother. You’d think that deserved a little heads-up
phone call or something.
The more I thought about it, the angrier I got. I realized I did want recognition for the quest I’d
completed, but not from the other campers. I wanted my dad to say something. To notice me.
Hermes readjusted the mailbag on his shoulder. ‘Percy, the hardest part about being a god is that
you must often act indirectly, especially when it comes to your own children. If we were to intervene
every time our children had a problem … well, that would only create more problems and more
resentment. But I believe if you give it some thought, you will see that Poseidon has been paying
attention to you. He has answered your prayers. I can only hope that some day, Luke may realize the
same about me. Whether you feel like you succeeded or not, you reminded Luke who he was. You
spoke to him.’
‘I tried to kill him.’
Hermes shrugged. ‘Families are messy. Immortal families are eternally messy. Sometimes the best
we can do is to remind each other that we’re related, for better or worse … and try to keep the
maiming and killing to a minimum.’
It didn’t sound like much of a recipe for the perfect family. Then again, as I thought about my quest,
I realized maybe Hermes was right. Poseidon had sent the hippocampi to help us. He’d given me
powers over the sea that I’d never known about before. And there was Tyson. Had Poseidon brought
us together on purpose? How many times had Tyson saved my life this summer?
In the distance, the conch horn sounded, signalling curfew.
‘You should get to bed,’ Hermes said. ‘I’ve helped you get into quite enough trouble this summer
already. I really only came to make this delivery.’
‘A delivery?’
‘I am the messenger of the gods, Percy.’ He took an electronic signature pad from his mailbag and
handed it to me. ‘Sign there, please.’
I picked up the stylus before realizing it was entwined with a pair of tiny green snakes. ‘Ah!’ I
dropped the pad.
Ouch, said George.
Really, Percy, Martha scolded. Would you want to be dropped on the floor of a horse stable?
‘Oh, uh, sorry.’ I didn’t much like touching snakes, but I picked up the pad and the stylus again.
Martha and George wriggled under my fingers, forming a kind of pencil grip like the ones my special
ed teacher made me use in second grade.
Did you bring me a rat? George asked.
‘No…’ I said. ‘Uh, we didn’t find any.’
What about a guinea pig?
George! Martha chided. Don’t tease the boy.
I signed my name and gave the pad back to Hermes.
In exchange, he handed me a sea-blue envelope.
My fingers trembled. Even before I opened it, I could tell it was from my father. I could sense his
power in the cool blue paper, as if the envelope itself had been folded out of an ocean wave.
‘Good luck tomorrow,’ Hermes said. ‘Fine team of horses you have there, though you’ll excuse me
if I root for the Hermes cabin.’
And don’t be too discouraged when you read it, dear , Martha told me. He does have your
interests at heart.
‘What do you mean?’ I asked.
Don’t mind her, George said. And next time, remember, snakes work for tips.
‘Enough, you two,’ Hermes said. ‘Goodbye, Percy. For now.’
Small white wings sprouted from his pith helmet. He began to glow, and I knew enough about the
gods to avert my eyes before he revealed his true divine form. With a brilliant white flash he was
gone, and I was alone with the horses.
I stared at the blue envelope in my hands. It was addressed in strong but elegant handwriting that
I’d seen once before, on a package Poseidon had sent me last summer.
Percy Jackson
c/o Camp Half-Blood
Farm Road 3.141
Long Island, New york 11954
An actual letter from my father. Maybe he would tell me I’d done a good job getting the Fleece. He’d
explain about Tyson, or apologize for not talking to me sooner. There were so many things that I
wanted that letter to say.
I opened the envelope and unfolded the paper.
Two simple words were printed in the middle of the page:
Brace yourself.
The next morning, everybody was buzzing about the chariot race, though they kept glancing nervously
towards the sky like they expected to see Stymphalian birds gathering. None did. It was a beautiful
summer day with blue sky and plenty of sunshine. The camp had started to look the way it should
look: the meadows were green and lush; the white columns gleamed on the Greek buildings; dryads
played happily in the woods.
And I was miserable. I’d been lying awake all night, thinking about Poseidon’s warning.
Brace yourself.
I mean, he goes to the trouble of writing a letter, and he writes two words?
Martha the snake had told me not to feel disappointed. Maybe Poseidon had a reason for being so
vague. Maybe he didn’t know exactly what he was warning me about, but he sensed something big
was about to happen – something that could completely knock me off my feet unless I was prepared. It
was hard, but I tried to turn my thoughts to the race.
As Annabeth and I drove onto the track, I couldn’t help admiring the work Tyson had done on the
Athena chariot. The carriage gleamed with bronze reinforcements. The wheels were realigned with
magical suspension so we glided along with hardly a bump. The rigging for the horses was so
perfectly balanced that the team turned at the slightest tug of the reins.
Tyson had also made us two javelins, each with three buttons on the shaft. The first button primed
the javelin to explode on impact, releasing razor wire that would tangle and shred an opponent’s
wheels. The second button produced a blunt (but still very painful) bronze spearhead designed to
knock a driver out of his carriage. The third button brought up a grappling hook that could be used to
lock on to an enemy’s chariot or push it away.
I figured we were in pretty good shape for the race, but Tyson still warned me to be careful. The
other chariot teams had plenty of tricks up their togas.
‘Here,’ he said, just before the race began.
He handed me a wristwatch. There wasn’t anything special about it – just a white-and-silver clock
face, a black leather strap – but as soon as I saw it I realized that this was what I’d seen him tinkering
on all summer.
I didn’t usually like to wear watches. Who cared what time it was? But I couldn’t say no to Tyson.
‘Thanks, man.’ I put it on and found it was surprisingly light and comfortable. I could hardly tell I
was wearing it.
‘Didn’t finish in time for the trip,’ Tyson mumbled. ‘Sorry, sorry.’
‘Hey, man. No big deal.’
‘If you need protection in race,’ he advised, ‘hit the button.’
‘Ah, okay.’ I didn’t see how keeping time was going to help a whole lot, but I was touched that
Tyson was concerned. I promised him I’d remember the watch. ‘And, hey, um, Tyson…’
He looked at me.
‘I wanted to say, well…’ I tried to figure out how to apologize for getting embarrassed about him
before the quest, for telling everyone he wasn’t my real brother. It wasn’t easy to find the words.
‘I know what you will tell me,’ Tyson said, looking ashamed. ‘Poseidon did care for me after all.’
‘Uh, well –’
‘He sent you to help me. Just what I asked for.’
I blinked. ‘You asked Poseidon for … me?’
‘For a friend,’ Tyson said, twisting his shirt in his hands. ‘Young Cyclopes grow up alone on the
streets, learn to make things out of scraps. Learn to survive.’
‘But that’s so cruel!’
He shook his head earnestly. ‘Makes us appreciate blessings, not be greedy and mean and fat like
Polyphemus. But I got scared. Monsters chased me so much, clawed me sometimes –’
‘The scars on your back?’
A tear welled in his eye. ‘Sphinx on Seventy-second Street. Big bully. I prayed to Daddy for help.
Soon the people at Meriwether found me. Met you. Biggest blessing ever. Sorry I said Poseidon was
mean. He sent me a brother.’
I stared at the watch that Tyson had made me.
‘Percy!’ Annabeth called. ‘Come on!’
Chiron was at the starting line, ready to blow the conch.
‘Tyson…’ I said.
‘Go,’ Tyson said. ‘You will win!’
‘I – yeah, okay, big guy. We’ll win this one for you.’ I climbed on board the chariot and got into
position just as Chiron blew the starting signal.
The horses knew what to do. We shot down the track so fast I would’ve fallen out if my arms
hadn’t been wrapped in the leather reins. Annabeth held on tight to the rail. The wheels glided
beautifully. We took the first turn a full chariot-length ahead of Clarisse, who was busy trying to fight
off a javelin attack from the Stoll brothers in the Hermes chariot.
‘We’ve got ’em!’ I yelled, but I spoke too soon.
‘Incoming!’ Annabeth yelled. She threw her first javelin in grappling-hook mode, knocking away a
lead-weighted net that would have entangled us both. Apollo’s chariot had come up on our flank.
Before Annabeth could rearm herself, the Apollo warrior threw a javelin into our right wheel. The
javelin shattered, but not before snapping some of our spokes. Our chariot lurched and wobbled. I
was sure the wheel would collapse altogether, but we somehow kept going.
I urged the horses to keep up the speed. We were now neck and neck with Apollo. Hephaestus was
coming up close behind. Ares and Hermes were falling behind, riding side by side as Clarisse went
sword-on-javelin with Connor Stoll.
If we took one more hit to our wheel, I knew we would capsize.
‘You’re mine!’ the driver from Apollo yelled. He was a first-year camper. I didn’t remember his
name, but he sure was confident.
‘Yeah, right!’ Annabeth yelled back.
She picked up her second javelin – a real risk considering we still had one full lap to go – and
threw it at the Apollo driver.
Her aim was perfect. The javelin grew a heavy spear point just as it caught the driver in the chest,
knocking him against his teammate and sending them both toppling out of their chariot in a backwards
somersault. The horses felt the reins go slack and went crazy, riding straight for the crowd. Campers
scrambled for cover as the horses leaped the corner of the stands and the golden chariot flipped over.
The horses galloped back towards their stable, dragging the upside-down chariot behind them.
I held our own chariot together through the second turn, despite the groaning of the right wheel. We
passed the starting line and thundered into our final lap.
The axle creaked and moaned. The wobbling wheel was making us lose speed, even though the
horses were responding to my every command, running like a well-oiled machine.
The Hephaestus team was still gaining.
Beckendorf grinned as he pressed a button on his command console. Steel cables shot out of the
front of his mechanical horses, wrapping around our back rail. Our chariot shuddered as
Beckendorf’s winch system started working – pulling us backwards while Beckendorf pulled himself
forward.
Annabeth cursed and drew her knife. She hacked at the cables but they were too thick.
‘Can’t cut them!’ she yelled.
The Hephaestus chariot was now dangerously close, their horses about to trample us underfoot.
‘Switch with me!’ I told Annabeth. ‘Take the reins!’
‘But –’
‘Trust me!’
She pulled herself to the front and grabbed the reins. I turned, trying hard to keep my footing, and
uncapped Riptide.
I slashed down and the cables snapped like kite string. We lurched forward, but Beckendorf’s
driver just swung his chariot to our left and pulled up next to us. Beckendorf drew his sword. He
slashed at Annabeth and I parried the blade away.
We were coming up on the last turn. We’d never make it. I needed to disable the Hephaestus
chariot and get it out of the way, but I had to protect Annabeth, too. Just because Beckendorf was a
nice guy didn’t mean he wouldn’t send us both to the infirmary if we let our guard down.
We were neck and neck now, Clarisse coming up from behind, making up for lost time.
‘See ya, Percy!’ Beckendorf yelled. ‘Here’s a little parting gift!’
He threw a leather pouch into our chariot. It stuck to the floor immediately and began billowing
green smoke.
‘Greek fire!’ Annabeth yelled.
I cursed. I’d heard stories about what Greek fire could do. I figured we had maybe ten seconds
before it exploded.
‘Get rid of it!’ Annabeth shouted, but I couldn’t. Hephaestus’s chariot was still alongside, waiting
until the last second to make sure their little present blew up. Beckendorf was keeping me busy with
his sword. If I let my guard down long enough to deal with the Greek fire, Annabeth would get sliced
and we’d crash anyway. I tried to kick the leather pouch away with my foot, but I couldn’t. It was
stuck fast.
Then I remembered the watch.
I didn’t know how it could help, but I managed to punch the stopwatch button. Instantly, the watch
changed. It expanded, the metal rim spiralling outwards like an old-fashioned camera shutter, a
leather strap wrapping around my forearm until I was holding a round war shield a metre wide, the
inside soft leather, the outside polished bronze engraved with designs I didn’t have time to examine.
All I knew: Tyson had come through. I raised the shield and Beckendorf’s sword clanged against it.
His blade shattered.
‘What?’ he shouted. ‘How –’
He didn’t have time to say more because I knocked him in the chest with my new shield and sent
him flying out of his chariot, tumbling in the dirt.
I was about to use Riptide to slash at the driver when Annabeth yelled, ‘Percy!’
The Greek fire was shooting sparks. I shoved the tip of my sword under the leather pouch and
flipped it up like a spatula. The firebomb dislodged and flew into the Hephaestus chariot at the
driver’s feet. He yelped.
In a split second the driver made the right choice: he dived out of the chariot, which careened away
and exploded in green flames. The metal horses seemed to short-circuit. They turned and dragged the
burning wreckage back towards Clarisse and the Stoll brothers, who had to swerve to avoid it.
Annabeth pulled the reins for the last turn. I held on, sure we would capsize, but somehow she
brought us through and spurred the horses across the finish line. The crowd roared.
Once the chariot stopped, our friends mobbed us. They started chanting our names, but Annabeth
yelled over the noise, ‘Hold up! Listen! It wasn’t just us!’
The crowd didn’t want to be quiet, but Annabeth made herself heard: ‘We couldn’t have done it
without somebody else! We couldn’t have won this race or got the Fleece or saved Grover or
anything! We owe our lives to Tyson, Percy’s…’
‘Brother!’ I said, loud enough for everybody to hear. ‘Tyson, my baby brother.’
Tyson blushed. The crowd cheered. Annabeth planted a kiss on my cheek. The roaring got a lot
louder after that. The entire Athena cabin lifted me and Annabeth and Tyson onto their shoulders and
carried us towards the winner’s platform, where Chiron was waiting to bestow the laurel wreaths.
20 The Fleece Works Its Magic Too Well
That afternoon was one of the happiest I’d ever spent at camp, which maybe goes to show, you never
know when your world is about to be rocked to pieces.
Grover announced that he’d be able to spend the rest of the summer with us before resuming his
quest for Pan. His bosses at the Council of Cloven Elders were so impressed that he hadn’t got
himself killed and had cleared the way for future searchers, that they granted him a two-month
furlough and a new set of reed pipes. The only bad news: Grover insisted on playing those pipes all
afternoon long, and his musical skills hadn’t improved much. He played ‘YMCA’, and the strawberry
plants started going crazy, wrapping around our feet like they were trying to strangle us. I guess I
couldn’t blame them.
Grover told me he could dissolve the empathy link between us, now that we were face to face, but I
told him I’d just as soon keep it if that was okay with him. He put down his reed pipes and stared at
me. ‘But, if I get in trouble again, you’ll be in danger, Percy! You could die!’
‘If you get in trouble again, I want to know about it. And I’ll come help you again, G-man. I
wouldn’t have it any other way.’
In the end he agreed not to break the link. He went back to playing ‘YMCA’ for the strawberry
plants. I didn’t need an empathy link with the plants to know how they felt about it.
Later on during archery class, Chiron pulled me aside and told me he’d fixed my problems with
Meriwether Prep. The school no longer blamed me for destroying their gymnasium. The police were
no longer looking for me.
‘How did you manage that?’ I asked.
Chiron’s eyes twinkled. ‘I merely suggested that the mortals had seen something different on that
day – a furnace explosion that was not your fault.’
‘You just said that and they bought it?’
‘I manipulated the Mist. Some day, when you’re ready, I’ll show you how it’s done.’
‘You mean, I can go back to Meriwether next year?’
Chiron raised his eyebrows. ‘Oh, no, they’ve still expelled you. Your headmaster, Mr Bonsai, said
you had – how did he put it? – un-groovy karma that disrupted the school’s educational aura. But
you’re not in any legal trouble, which was a relief to your mother. Oh, and speaking of your
mother…’
He unclipped his cell phone from his quiver and handed it to me. ‘It’s high time you called her.’
The worst part was the beginning – the ‘Percy-Jackson-what-were-you-thinking-do-you-have-anyidea-how-worried-I-was-sneaking-off-to-camp-without-permission-going-on-dangerous-quests-andscaring-me-half-to-death’ part.
But finally she paused to catch her breath. ‘Oh, I’m just glad you’re safe!’
That’s the great thing about my mom. She’s no good at staying angry. She tries, but it just isn’t in
her nature.
‘I’m sorry, Mom,’ I told her. ‘I won’t scare you again.’
‘Don’t promise me that, Percy. You know very well it will only get worse.’ She tried to sound
casual about it, but I could tell she was pretty shaken up.
I wanted to say something to make her feel better, but I knew she was right. Being a half-blood, I
would always be doing things that scared her. And, as I got older, the dangers would just get greater.
‘I could come home for a while,’ I offered.
‘No, no. Stay at camp. Train. Do what you need to do. But you will come home for the next school
year?’
‘Yeah, of course. Uh, if there’s any school that will take me.’
‘Oh, we’ll find something, dear,’ my mother sighed. ‘Some place where they don’t know us yet.’
As for Tyson, the campers treated him like a hero. I would’ve been happy to have him as my cabin
mate forever, but that evening, as we were sitting on a sand dune overlooking the Long Island Sound,
he made an announcement that completely took me by surprise.
‘Dream came from Daddy last night,’ he said. ‘He wants me to visit.’
I wondered if he was kidding, but Tyson really didn’t know how to kid. ‘Poseidon sent you a
dream message?’
Tyson nodded. ‘Wants me to go underwater for the rest of the summer. Learn to work at Cyclopes’
forges. He called it an inter – an intern –’
‘An internship?’
‘Yes.’
I let that sink in. I’ll admit, I felt a little jealous. Poseidon had never invited me underwater. But
then I thought, Tyson was going? Just like that?
‘When would you leave?’ I asked.
‘Now.’
‘Now. Like … now now?’
‘Now.’
I stared out at the waves in the Long Island Sound. The water was glistening red in the sunset.
‘I’m happy for you, big guy,’ I managed. ‘Seriously.’
‘Hard to leave my new brother,’ he said with a tremble in his voice. ‘But I want to make things.
Weapons for the camp. You will need them.’
Unfortunately, I knew he was right. The Fleece hadn’t solved all the camp’s problems. Luke was
still out there, gathering an army aboard the Princess Andromeda. Kronos was still re-forming in his
golden coffin. Eventually, we would have to fight them.
‘You’ll make the best weapons ever,’ I told Tyson. I held up my watch proudly. ‘I bet they’ll tell
good time, too.’
Tyson sniffled. ‘Brothers help each other.’
‘You’re my brother,’ I said. ‘No doubt about it.’
He patted me on the back so hard he almost knocked me down the sand dune. Then he wiped a tear
from his cheek and stood to go. ‘Use the shield well.’
‘I will, big guy.’
‘Save your life some day.’
The way he said it, so matter-of-fact, I wondered if that Cyclops eye of his could see into the
future.
He headed down to the beach and whistled. Rainbow, the hippocampus, burst out of the waves. I
watched the two of them ride off together into the realm of Poseidon.
Once they were gone, I looked down at my new wristwatch. I pressed the button and the shield
spiralled out to full size. Hammered into the bronze were pictures in Ancient Greek style, scenes from
our adventures this summer. There was Annabeth slaying a Laistrygonian dodgeball player, me
fighting the bronze bulls on Half-Blood Hill, Tyson riding Rainbow towards the Princess
Andromeda, the CSS Birmingham blasting its cannons at Charybdis. I ran my hand across a picture of
Tyson battling the Hydra as he held aloft a box of Monster Doughnuts.
I couldn’t help feeling sad. I knew Tyson would have an awesome time under the ocean. But I’d
miss everything about him – his fascination with horses, the way he could fix chariots or crumple
metal with his bare hands, or tie bad guys into knots. I’d even miss him snoring like an earthquake in
the next bunk all night.
‘Hey, Percy.’
I turned.
Annabeth and Grover were standing at the top of the sand dune. I guess maybe I had some sand in
my eyes, because I was blinking a lot.
‘Tyson…’ I told them. ‘He had to…’
‘We know,’ Annabeth said softly. ‘Chiron told us.’
‘Cyclopes’ forges.’ Grover shuddered. ‘I hear the cafeteria food there is terrible! Like, no
enchiladas at all.’
Annabeth held out her hand. ‘Come on, Seaweed Brain. Time for dinner.’
We walked back towards the dining pavilion together, just the three of us, like old times.
A storm raged that night, but it parted around Camp Half-Blood as storms usually did. Lightning
flashed against the horizon, waves pounded the shore, but not a drop fell in our valley. We were
protected again thanks to the Fleece, sealed inside our magical borders.
Still, my dreams were restless. I heard Kronos taunting me from the depths of Tartarus:
Polyphemus sits blindly in his cave, young hero, believing he has won a great victory. Are you any
less deluded? The titan’s cold laughter filled the darkness.
Then my dream changed. I was following Tyson to the bottom of the sea, into the court of Poseidon.
It was a radiant hall filled with blue light, the floor cobbled with pearls. And there, on a throne of
coral, sat my father, dressed like a simple fisherman in khaki shorts and a sun-bleached T-shirt. I
looked up into his tanned, weathered face, his deep green eyes, and he spoke two words: Brace
yourself.
I woke with a start.
There was a banging on the door. Grover flew inside without waiting for permission. ‘Percy!’ he
stammered. ‘Annabeth … on the hill … she…’
The look in his eyes told me something was terribly wrong. Annabeth had been on guard duty that
night, protecting the Fleece. If something had happened –
I ripped off the covers, my blood like ice water in my veins. I threw on some clothes while Grover
tried to make a complete sentence, but he was too stunned, too out of breath. ‘She’s lying there … just
lying there…’
I ran outside and raced across the central yard, Grover right behind me. Dawn was just breaking,
but the whole camp seemed to be stirring. Word was spreading. Something huge had happened. A few
campers were already making their way towards the hill, satyrs and nymphs and heroes in a weird
mix of armour and pyjamas.
I heard the clop of horse hooves, and Chiron galloped up behind us, looking grim.
‘Is it true?’ he asked Grover.
Grover could only nod, his expression dazed.
I tried to ask what was going on, but Chiron grabbed me by the arm and effortlessly lifted me onto
his back. Together we thundered up Half-Blood Hill, where a small crowd had started to gather.
I expected to see the Fleece missing from the pine tree, but it was still there, glittering in the first
light of dawn. The storm had broken and the sky was blood-red.
‘Curse the Titan Lord,’ Chiron said. ‘He’s tricked us again, given himself another chance to control
the prophecy.’
‘What do you mean?’ I asked.
‘The Fleece,’ he said. ‘The Fleece did its work too well.’
We galloped forward, everyone moving out of our way. There at the base of the tree, a girl was
lying unconscious. Another girl in Greek armour was kneeling next to her.
Blood roared in my ears. I couldn’t think straight. Annabeth had been attacked? But why was the
Fleece still there?
The tree itself looked perfectly fine, whole and healthy, suffused with the essence of the Golden
Fleece.
‘It healed the tree,’ Chiron said, his voice ragged. ‘And poison was not the only thing it purged.’
Then I realized Annabeth wasn’t the one lying on the ground. She was the one in armour, kneeling
next to the unconscious girl. When Annabeth saw us, she ran to Chiron. ‘It … she … just suddenly
there…’
Her eyes were streaming with tears, but I still didn’t understand. I was too freaked out to make
sense of it all. I leaped off Chiron’s back and ran towards the unconscious girl. Chiron said, ‘Percy,
wait!’
I knelt by her side. She had short black hair and freckles across her nose. She was built like a longdistance runner, lithe and strong, and she wore clothes that were somewhere between punk and Goth
– a black T-shirt, black tattered jeans, and a leather jacket with badges from a bunch of bands I’d
never heard of.
She wasn’t a camper. I didn’t recognize her from any of the cabins. And yet I had the strangest
feeling I’d seen her before…
‘It’s true,’ Grover said, panting from his run up the hill. ‘I can’t believe…’
Nobody else came close to the girl.
I put my hand on her forehead. Her skin was cold, but my fingertips tingled as if they were burning.
‘She needs nectar and ambrosia,’ I said. She was clearly a half-blood, whether she was a camper
or not. I could sense that just from one touch. I didn’t understand why everyone was acting so scared.
I took her by the shoulders and lifted her into a sitting position, resting her head on my shoulder.
‘Come on!’ I yelled to the others. ‘What’s wrong with you people? Let’s get her to the Big House.’
No one moved, not even Chiron. They were all too stunned.
Then the girl took a shaky breath. She coughed and opened her eyes.
Her irises were startlingly blue – electric blue.
The girl stared at me in bewilderment, shivering and wild-eyed. ‘Who –’
‘I’m Percy,’ I said. ‘You’re safe now.’
‘Strangest dream…’
‘It’s okay.’
‘Dying.’
‘No,’ I assured her. ‘You’re okay. What’s your name?’
That’s when I knew. Even before she said it.
The girl’s blue eyes stared into mine, and I understood what the Golden Fleece quest had been
about. The poisoning of the tree. Everything. Kronos had done it to bring another chess piece into play
– another chance to control the prophecy.
Even Chiron, Annabeth and Grover, who should’ve been celebrating this moment, were too
shocked, thinking about what it might mean for the future. And I was holding someone who was
destined to be my best friend, or possibly my worst enemy.
‘I am Thalia,’ the girl said. ‘Daughter of Zeus.’
RICK RIORDAN
PUFFIN
Contents
1 • My Rescue Operation Goes Very Wrong
2 • The Vice-principal Gets a Missile Launcher
3 • Bianca di Angelo Makes a Choice
4 • Thalia Torches New England
5 • I Make an Underwater Phone Call
6 • An Old Dead Friend Comes to Visit
7 • Everybody Hates Me but the Horse
8 • I Make a Dangerous Promise
9 • I Learn How to Grow Zombies
10 • I Break a Few Rocket Ships
11 • Grover Gets a Lamborghini
12 • I Go Snowboarding with a Pig
13 • We Visit the Junkyard of the Gods
14 • I Have a Dam Problem
15 • I Wrestle Santa’s Evil Twin
16 • We Meet the Dragon of Eternal Bad Breath
17 • I Put on a Few Million Extra Kilograms
18 • A Friend Says Goodbye
19 • The Gods Vote How to Kill Us
20 • I Get a New Enemy for Christmas
To Topher Bradfield, a camper who made all the difference
1 My Rescue Operation Goes Very Wrong
The Friday before winter break, my mom packed me an overnight bag and a few deadly weapons, and
took me to a new boarding school. We picked up my friends Annabeth and Thalia on the way.
It was an eight-hour drive from New York to Bar Harbor, Maine. Sleet and snow pounded the
highway. Annabeth, Thalia and I hadn’t seen each other in months, but between the blizzard and the
thought of what we were about to do, we were too nervous to talk much. Except for my mom. She
talks more when she’s nervous. By the time we finally got to Westover Hall, it was getting dark, and
she’d told Annabeth and Thalia every embarrassing baby story there was to tell about me.
Thalia wiped the fog off the car window and peered outside. ‘Oh, yeah. This’ll be fun.’
Westover Hall looked like an evil knight’s castle. It was all black stone, with towers and slit
windows and a big set of wooden double doors. It stood on a snowy cliff overlooking this big frosty
forest on one side and the grey churning ocean on the other.
‘Are you sure you don’t want me to wait?’ my mother asked.
‘No, thanks, Mom,’ I said. ‘I don’t know how long it will take. We’ll be okay.’
‘But how will you get back? I’m worried, Percy.’
I hoped I wasn’t blushing. It was bad enough I had to depend on my mom to drive me to my battles.
‘It’s okay, Ms Jackson.’ Annabeth smiled reassuringly. Her blonde hair was tucked into a ski cap
and her grey eyes were the same colour as the ocean. ‘We’ll keep him out of trouble.’
My mom seemed to relax a little. She thinks Annabeth is the most level-headed demigod ever to hit
eighth grade. She’s sure Annabeth often keeps me from getting killed. She’s right, but that doesn’t
mean I have to like it.
‘All right, dears,’ my mom said. ‘Do you have everything you need?’
‘Yes, Ms Jackson,’ Thalia said. ‘Thanks for the ride.’
‘Extra sweaters? You have my cell phone number?’
‘Mom –’
‘Your ambrosia and nectar, Percy? And a golden drachma in case you need to contact camp?’
‘Mom, seriously! We’ll be fine. Come on, guys.’
She looked a little hurt, and I was sorry about that, but I was ready to be out of that car. If my mom
told one more story about how cute I looked in the bath when I was three years old, I was going to
burrow into the snow and freeze myself to death.
Annabeth and Thalia followed me outside. The wind blew straight through my coat like ice
daggers.
Once my mother’s car was out of sight, Thalia said, ‘Your mom is so cool, Percy.’
‘She’s pretty okay,’ I admitted. ‘What about you? You ever get in touch with your mom?’
As soon as I said it, I wished I hadn’t. Thalia was great at giving evil looks, what with the punk
clothes she always wears – the ripped-up army jacket, black leather trousers and chain jewellery, the
black eyeliner and those intense blue eyes. But the look she gave me now was a perfect evil ‘ten’. ‘If
that was any of your business, Percy –’
‘We’d better get inside,’ Annabeth interrupted. ‘Grover will be waiting.’
Thalia looked at the castle and shivered. ‘You’re right. I wonder what he found here that made him
send the distress call.’
I stared up at the dark towers of Westover Hall. ‘Nothing good,’ I guessed.
The oak doors groaned open, and the three of us stepped into the entry hall in a swirl of snow.
All I could say was, ‘Whoa.’
The place was huge. The walls were lined with battle flags and weapon displays: antique rifles,
battleaxes and a bunch of other stuff. I mean, I knew Westover was a military school and all, but the
decorations seemed like overkill. Literally.
My hand went to my pocket, where I kept my lethal ballpoint pen, Riptide. I could already sense
something wrong in this place. Something dangerous. Thalia was rubbing her silver bracelet, her
favourite magic item. I knew we were thinking the same thing. A fight was coming.
Annabeth started to say, ‘I wonder where –’
The doors slammed shut behind us.
‘Oo-kay,’ I mumbled. ‘Guess we’ll stay a while.’
I could hear music echoing from the other end of the hall. It sounded like dance music.
We stashed our overnight bags behind a pillar and started down the hall. We hadn’t gone very far
when I heard footsteps on the stone floor, and a man and woman marched out of the shadows to
intercept us.
They both had short grey hair and black military-style uniforms with red trim. The woman had a
wispy moustache, and the guy was clean-shaven, which seemed kind of backwards to me. They both
walked stiffly, like they had broomsticks taped to their spines.
‘Well?’ the woman demanded. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘Um…’ I realized I hadn’t planned for this. I’d been so focused on getting to Grover and finding out
what was wrong, I hadn’t considered that someone might question three kids sneaking into the school
at night. We hadn’t talked at all in the car about how we would get inside. I said, ‘Ma’am, we’re just
–’
‘Ha!’ the man snapped, which made me jump. ‘Visitors are not allowed at the dance! You shall be
eee-jected!’
He had an accent – French, maybe. He pronounced his J like in Jacques. He was tall, with a
hawkish face. His nostrils flared when he spoke, which made it really hard not to stare up his nose,
and his eyes were two different colours – one brown, one blue – like an alley cat’s.
I figured he was about to toss us into the snow, but then Thalia stepped forward and did something
very weird.
She snapped her fingers. The sound was sharp and loud. Maybe it was just my imagination, but I
felt a gust of wind ripple out from her hand, across the room. It washed over all of us, making the
banners rustle on the walls.
‘Oh, but we’re not visitors, sir,’ Thalia said. ‘We go to school here. You remember: I’m Thalia.
And this is Annabeth and Percy. We’re in the eighth grade.’
The male teacher narrowed his two-coloured eyes. I didn’t know what Thalia was thinking. Now
we’d probably get punished for lying and thrown into the snow. But the man seemed to be hesitating.
He looked at his colleague. ‘Ms Gottschalk, do you know these students?’
Despite the danger we were in, I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing. A teacher named Got
Chalk? He had to be kidding.
The woman blinked, like someone had just woken her up from a trance. ‘I… yes. I believe I do,
sir.’ She frowned at us. ‘Annabeth. Thalia. Percy. What are you doing away from the gymnasium?’
Before we could answer, I heard more footsteps, and Grover ran up, breathless. ‘You made it! You
–’
He stopped short when he saw the teachers. ‘Oh, Mrs Gottschalk. Dr Thorn! I, uh –’
‘What is it, Mr Underwood?’ said the man. His tone made it clear that he detested Grover. ‘What
do you mean they made it? These students live here.’
Grover swallowed. ‘Yes, sir. Of course, Dr Thorn. I just meant I’m so glad they made… the punch
for the dance! The punch is great. And they made it!’
Dr Thorn glared at us. I decided one of his eyes had to be fake. The brown one? The blue one? He
looked like he wanted to pitch us off the castle’s highest tower, but then Mrs Gottschalk said
dreamily, ‘Yes, the punch is excellent. Now run along, all of you. You are not to leave the gymnasium
again!’
We didn’t wait to be told twice. We left with a lot of ‘Yes, ma’ams’ and ‘Yes, sirs’ and a couple
of salutes, just because it seemed like the thing to do.
Grover hustled us down the hall in the direction of the music.
I could feel the teachers’ eyes on my back, but I walked closely to Thalia and asked in a low voice,
‘How did you do that finger-snap thing?’
‘You mean the Mist? Hasn’t Chiron shown you how to do that yet?’
An uncomfortable lump formed in my throat. Chiron was our head trainer at camp, but he’d never
shown me anything like that. Why had he shown Thalia and not me?
Grover hurried us to a door that had gym written on the glass. Even with my dyslexia, I could read
that much.
‘That was close!’ Grover said. ‘Thank the gods you got here!’
Annabeth and Thalia both hugged Grover. I gave him a big high five.
It was good to see him after so many months. He’d got a little taller and had sprouted a few more
whiskers, but otherwise he looked like he always did when he passed for human – a red cap on his
curly brown hair to hide his goat horns, baggy jeans and trainers with fake feet to hide his furry legs
and hooves. He was wearing a black T-shirt that took me a few seconds to read. It said WESTOVER
HALL: GRUNT, I wasn’t sure whether that was, like, Grover’s rank or maybe just the school motto.
‘So what’s the emergency?’ I asked.
Grover took a deep breath. ‘I found two.’
‘Two half-bloods?’ Thalia asked, amazed. ‘Here?’
Grover nodded.
Finding one half-blood was rare enough. This year, Chiron had put the satyrs on emergency
overtime and sent them all over the country, scouring schools from fourth grade through high school
for possible recruits. These were desperate times. We were losing campers. We needed all the new
fighters we could find. The problem was, there just weren’t that many demigods out there.
‘A brother and a sister,’ he said. ‘They’re ten and twelve. I don’t know their parentage, but they’re
strong. We’re running out of time, though. I need help.’
‘Monsters?’
‘One.’ Grover looked nervous. ‘He suspects. I don’t think he’s positive yet, but this is the last day
of term. I’m sure he won’t let them leave campus without finding out. It may be our last chance! Every
time I try to get close to them, he’s always there, blocking me. I don’t know what to do!’
Grover looked at Thalia desperately. I tried not to feel upset by that. Grover used to look to me for
answers, but Thalia had seniority. Not just because her dad was Zeus. Thalia had more experience
than any of us with fending off monsters in the real world.
‘Right,’ she said. ‘These half-bloods are at the dance?’
Grover nodded.
‘Then let’s dance,’ Thalia said. ‘Who’s the monster?’
‘Oh,’ Grover said, and looked around nervously. ‘You just met him. The vice-principal, Dr Thorn.’
Weird thing about military schools: the kids go absolutely nuts when there’s a special event and they
get to be out of uniform. I guess it’s because everything’s so strict the rest of the time, they feel like
they’ve got to overcompensate or something.
There were black and red balloons all over the gym floor, and guys were kicking them in each
other’s faces, or trying to strangle each other with the crêpe-paper streamers taped to the walls. Girls
moved around in football huddles, the way they always do, wearing lots of makeup and spaghettistrap tops and brightly coloured trousers and shoes that looked like torture devices. Every once in a
while they’d surround some poor guy like a pack of piranhas, shrieking and giggling, and when they
finally moved on, the guy would have ribbons in his hair and a bunch of lipstick graffiti all over his
face. Some of the older guys looked more like me – uncomfortable, hanging out at the edges of the
gym and trying to hide, like any minute they might have to fight for their lives. Of course, in my case,
it was true…
‘There they are.’ Grover nodded towards a couple of younger kids arguing in the bleachers.
‘Bianca and Nico di Angelo.’
The girl wore a floppy green cap, like she was trying to hide her face. The boy was obviously her
little brother. They both had dark silky hair and olive skin, and they used their hands a lot as they
talked. The boy was shuffling some kind of trading cards. His sister seemed to be scolding him about
something. She kept looking around like she sensed something was wrong.
Annabeth said, ‘Do they… I mean, have you told them?’
Grover shook his head. ‘You know how it is. That could put them in more danger. Once they
realize who they are, their scent becomes stronger.’
He looked at me, and I nodded. I’d never really understood what half-bloods ‘smell’ like to
monsters and satyrs, but I knew that your scent could get you killed. And the more powerful a
demigod you became, the more you smelled like a monster’s lunch.
‘So let’s grab them and get out of here,’ I said.
I started forward, but Thalia put her hand on my shoulder. The vice-principal, Dr Thorn, had
slipped out of a doorway near the bleachers and was standing near the di Angelo siblings. He nodded
coldly in our direction. His blue eye seemed to glow.
Judging from his expression, I guessed Thorn hadn’t been fooled by Thalia’s trick with the Mist
after all. He suspected who we were. He was just waiting to see why we were here.
‘Don’t look at the kids,’ Thalia ordered. ‘We have to wait for a chance to get them. We need to
pretend we’re not interested in them. Throw him off the scent.’
‘How?’
‘We’re three powerful half-bloods. Our presence should confuse him. Mingle. Act natural. Do
some dancing. But keep an eye on those kids.’
‘Dancing?’ Annabeth asked.
Thalia nodded. She cocked her ear to the music and made a face. ‘Ugh. Who chose the Jesse
McCartney?’
Grover looked hurt. ‘I did.’
‘Oh my gods, Grover. That is so lame. Can’t you play, like, Green Day or something?’
‘Green who?’
‘Never mind. Let’s dance.’
‘But I can’t dance!’
‘You can if I’m leading,’ Thalia said. ‘Come on, goat boy.’
Grover yelped as Thalia grabbed his hand and led him onto the dance floor.
Annabeth smiled.
‘What?’ I asked.
‘Nothing. It’s just cool to have Thalia back.’
Annabeth had grown taller than me since last summer, which I found kind of disturbing. She used to
wear no jewellery except for her Camp Half-Blood bead necklace, but now she wore little silver
earrings shaped like owls – the symbol of her mother, Athena. She pulled off her ski cap, and her long
blonde hair tumbled down her shoulders. It made her look older, for some reason.
‘So…’ I tried to think of something to say. Act natural, Thalia had told us. When you’re a halfblood on a dangerous mission, what the heck is natural? ‘Um, design any good buildings lately?’
Annabeth’s eyes lit up, the way they always did when she talked about architecture. ‘Oh my gods,
Percy. At my new school, I get to take 3-D design, and there’s this cool computer program…’
She went on to explain how she’d designed this huge monument that she wanted to build at Ground
Zero in Manhattan. She talked about structural supports and facades and stuff, and I tried to listen. I
knew she wanted to be a super architect when she grew up – she loves maths and historical buildings
and all that – but I hardly understood a word she was saying.
The truth was I was kind of disappointed to hear that she liked her new school so much. It was the
first time she’d gone to school in New York. I’d been hoping to see her more often. It was a boarding
school in Brooklyn, which she and Thalia were both attending, close enough to Camp Half-Blood that
Chiron could help if they got into any trouble. Because it was an all-girls school, and I was going to
MS-54 in Manhattan, I hardly ever saw them.
‘Yeah, uh, cool,’ I said. ‘So you’re staying there the rest of the year, huh?’
Her face got dark. ‘Well, maybe, if I don’t –’
‘Hey!’ Thalia called to us. She was slow dancing with Grover, who was tripping all over himself,
kicking Thalia in the shins, and looking like he wanted to die. At least his feet were fake. Unlike me,
he had an excuse for being clumsy.
‘Dance, you guys!’ Thalia ordered. ‘You look stupid just standing there.’
I looked nervously at Annabeth, then at the groups of girls who were roaming the gym.
‘Well?’ Annabeth said.
‘Um, who should I ask?’
She punched me in the gut. ‘Me, Seaweed Brain.’
‘Oh. Oh, right.’
So we went onto the dance floor, and I looked over to see how Thalia and Grover were doing
things. I put one hand on Annabeth’s hip, and she clasped my other hand like she was about to judo
throw me.
‘I’m not going to bite,’ she told me. ‘Honestly, Percy. Don’t you guys have dances at your school?’
I didn’t answer. The truth was we did. But I’d never, like, actually danced at one. I was usually
one of the guys playing basketball in the corner.
We shuffled around for a few minutes. I tried to concentrate on little things, like the crêpe-paper
streamers and the punch bowl – anything but the fact that Annabeth was taller than me, and my hands
were sweaty and probably gross, and I kept stepping on her toes.
‘What were you saying earlier?’ I asked. ‘Are you having trouble at school or something?’
She pursed her lips. ‘It’s not that. It’s my dad.’
‘Uh-oh.’ I knew Annabeth had a rocky relationship with her father. ‘I thought it was getting better
with you two. Is it your stepmom again?’
Annabeth sighed. ‘He decided to move. Just when I was getting settled in New York, he took this
stupid new job researching for a World War I book. In San Francisco.’
She said this the same way she might say Fields of Punishment or Hades’s gym shorts.
‘So he wants you to move out there with him?’ I asked.
‘To the other side of the country,’ she said miserably. ‘And half-bloods can’t live in San
Francisco. He should know that.’
‘What? Why not?’
Annabeth rolled her eyes. Maybe she thought I was kidding. ‘You know. It’s right there.’
‘Oh,’ I said. I had no idea what she was talking about, but I didn’t want to sound stupid. ‘So…
you’ll go back to living at camp or what?’
‘It’s more serious than that, Percy. I… I probably should tell you something.’
Suddenly she froze. ‘They’re gone.’
‘What?’
I followed her gaze. The bleachers. The two half-blood kids, Bianca and Nico, were no longer
there. The door next to the bleachers was wide open. Dr Thorn was nowhere in sight.
‘We have to get Thalia and Grover!’ Annabeth looked around frantically. ‘Oh, where’d they dance
off to? Come on!’
She ran through the crowd. I was about to follow when a mob of girls got in my way. I manoeuvred
round them to avoid getting the ribbon-and-lipstick treatment, and by the time I was free Annabeth had
disappeared. I turned, looking for her or Thalia and Grover. Instead, I saw something that chilled my
blood.
About fifteen metres away, lying on the gym floor, was a floppy green cap just like the one Bianca
di Angelo had been wearing. Near it were a few scattered trading cards. Then I caught a glimpse of
Dr Thorn. He was hurrying out a door at the opposite end of the gym, steering the di Angelo kids by
the scruffs of their necks, like kittens.
I still couldn’t see Annabeth, but I knew she’d be heading the other way, looking for Thalia and
Grover.
I almost ran after her, and then I thought, Wait.
I remembered what Thalia had said to me in the entry hall, looking at me all puzzled when I asked
about the finger-snap trick: Hasn’t Chiron shown you how to do that yet? I thought about the way
Grover had turned to her, expecting her to save the day.
Not that I resented Thalia. She was cool. It wasn’t her fault her dad was Zeus and she got all the
attention… Still, I didn’t need to run after her to solve every problem. Besides, there wasn’t time.
The di Angelos were in danger. They might be long gone by the time I found my friends. I knew
monsters. I could handle this myself.
I took Riptide out of my pocket and ran after Dr Thorn.
The door led into a dark hallway. I heard sounds of scuffling up ahead, then a painful grunt. I
uncapped Riptide.
The pen grew in my hands until I held a bronze Greek sword about a metre long with a leatherbound grip. The blade glowed faintly, casting a golden light on the rows of lockers.
I jogged down the corridor, but when I got to the other end, no one was there. I opened a door and
found myself back in the main entry hall. I had gone full circle. I didn’t see Dr Thorn anywhere, but
there on the opposite side of the room were the di Angelo kids. They stood frozen in horror, staring
right at me.
I advanced slowly, lowering the tip of my sword. ‘It’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you.’
They didn’t answer. Their eyes were full of fear. What was wrong with them? Where was Dr
Thorn? Maybe he’d sensed the presence of Riptide and retreated. Monsters hated celestial bronze
weapons.
‘My name’s Percy,’ I said, trying to keep my voice level. ‘I’m going to take you out of here, get you
somewhere safe.’
Bianca’s eyes widened. Her fists clenched. Only too late did I realize what her look meant. She
wasn’t afraid of me. She was trying to warn me.
I whirled round and something went WHIIISH! Pain exploded in my shoulder. A force like a huge
hand yanked me backwards and slammed me to the wall.
I slashed with my sword but there was nothing to hit.
A cold laugh echoed through the hall.
‘Yes, Perseus Jackson,’ Dr Thorn said. His accent mangled the J in my last name. ‘I know who you
are.’
I tried to free my shoulder. My coat and shirt were pinned to the wall by some kind of spike – a
black daggerlike projectile about half a metre long. It had grazed the skin of my shoulder as it passed
through my clothes, and the cut burned. I’d felt something like this before. Poison.
I forced myself to concentrate. I would not pass out.
A dark silhouette now moved towards us. Dr Thorn stepped into the dim light. He still looked
human, but his face was ghoulish. He had perfect white teeth and his brown/blue eyes reflected the
light of my sword.
‘Thank you for coming out of the gym,’ he said. ‘I hate middle-school dances.’
I tried to swing my sword again, but he was just out of reach.
WHIIIISH! A second projectile shot from somewhere behind Dr Thorn. He didn’t appear to move.
It was as if someone invisible were standing behind him, throwing knives.
Next to me, Bianca yelped. The second thorn impaled itself in the stone wall, a millimetre from her
face.
‘All three of you will come with me,’ Dr Thorn said. ‘Quietly. Obediently. If you make a single
noise, if you call out for help or try to fight, I will show you just how accurately I can throw.’
2 The Vice-Principal Gets A Missile Launcher
I didn’t know what kind of monster Dr Thorn was, but he was fast.
Maybe I could defend myself if I could get my shield activated. All that it would take was a touch
of my wristwatch. But defending the di Angelo kids was another matter. I needed help, and there was
only one way I could think to get it.
I closed my eyes.
‘What are you doing, Jackson?’ hissed Dr Thorn. ‘Keep moving!’
I opened my eyes and kept shuffling forward. ‘It’s my shoulder,’ I lied, trying to sound miserable,
which wasn’t hard. ‘It burns.’
‘Bah! My poison causes pain. It will not kill you. Walk!’
Thorn herded us outside, and I tried to concentrate. I pictured Grover’s face. I focused on my
feelings of fear and danger. Last summer, Grover had created an empathy link between us. He’d sent
me visions in my dreams to let me know when he was in trouble. As far as I knew, we were still
linked, but I’d never tried to contact Grover before. I didn’t even know if it would work while
Grover was awake.
Hey, Grover! I thought. Thorn’s kidnapping us! He’s a poisonous spike-throwing maniac! Help!
Thorn marched us into the woods. We took a snowy path dimly lit by old-fashioned lamplights. My
shoulder ached. The wind blowing through my ripped clothes was so cold that I felt like a Percysicle.
‘There is a clearing ahead,’ Thorn said. ‘We will summon your ride.’
‘What ride?’ Bianca demanded. ‘Where are you taking us?’
‘Silence, you insufferable girl!’
‘Don’t talk to my sister that way!’ Nico said. His voice quavered, but I was impressed that he had
the guts to say anything at all.
Dr Thorn made a growling sound that definitely wasn’t human. It made the hairs on the back of my
neck stand up, but I forced myself to keep walking and pretend I was being a good little captive.
Meanwhile, I projected my thoughts like crazy – anything to get Grover’s attention: Grover! Apples!
Tin cans! Get your furry goat behind out here and bring some heavily armed friends!
‘Halt,’ Thorn said.
The woods had opened up. We’d reached a cliff overlooking the sea. At least, I sensed the sea was
down there, about a hundred metres below. I could hear the waves churning and I could smell the
cold salty froth. But all I could see was mist and darkness.
Dr Thorn pushed us towards the edge. I stumbled, and Bianca caught me.
‘Thanks,’ I murmured.
‘What is he?’ she whispered. ‘How do we fight him?’
‘I… I’m working on it.’
‘I’m scared,’ Nico mumbled. He was fiddling with something – a little metal toy soldier of some
kind.
‘Stop talking!’ Dr Thorn said. ‘Face me!’
We turned.
Thorn’s two-tone eyes glittered hungrily. He pulled something from under his coat. At first I
thought it was a switchblade, but it was only a phone. He pressed the side button and said, ‘The
package – it is ready to deliver.’
There was a garbled reply, and I realized Thorn was in walkie-talkie mode. This seemed way too
modern and creepy – a monster using a cell phone.
I glanced behind me, wondering how far the drop was.
Dr Thorn laughed. ‘By all means, Son of Poseidon. Jump! There is the sea. Save yourself.’
‘What did he call you?’ Bianca muttered.
‘I’ll explain later,’ I said.
‘You do have a plan, right?’
Grover! I thought desperately. Come to me!
Maybe I could get both the di Angelos to jump with me into the ocean. If we survived the fall, I
could use the water to protect us. I’d done things like that before. If my dad was in a good mood, and
listening, he might help. Maybe.
‘I would kill you before you ever reached the water,’ Dr Thorn said, as if reading my thoughts.
‘You do not realize who I am, do you?’
A flicker of movement behind him, and another missile whistled so close to me that it nicked my
ear. Something had sprung up behind Dr Thorn – like a catapult, but more flexible… almost like a
tail.
‘Unfortunately,’ Thorn said, ‘you are wanted alive, if possible. Otherwise you would already be
dead.’
‘Who wants us?’ Bianca demanded. ‘Because if you think you’ll get a ransom, you’re wrong. We
don’t have any family. Nico and I…’ Her voice broke a little. ‘We’ve got no one but each other.’
‘Aww,’ Dr Thorn said. ‘Do not worry, little brats. You will be meeting my employer soon enough.
Then you will have a brand-new family.’
‘Luke,’ I said. ‘You work for Luke.’
Dr Thorn’s mouth twisted with distaste when I said the name of my old enemy – a former friend
who’d tried to kill me several times. ‘You have no idea what is happening, Perseus Jackson. I will let
the General enlighten you. You are going to do him a great service tonight. He is looking forward to
meeting you.’
‘The General?’ I asked. Then I realized I’d said it with a French accent. ‘I mean… who’s the
General?’
Thorn looked towards the horizon. ‘Ah, here we are. Your transportation.’
I turned and saw a light in the distance, a searchlight over the sea. Then I heard the chopping of
helicopter blades getting louder and closer.
‘Where are you taking us?’ Nico said.
‘You should feel honoured, my boy. You will have the opportunity to join a great army! Just like
that silly game you play with cards and dolls.’
‘They’re not dolls! They’re figurines! And you can take your great army and –’
‘Now, now,’ Dr Thorn warned. ‘You will change your mind about joining us, my boy. And, if you
do not, well… there are other uses for half-bloods. We have many monstrous mouths to feed. The
Great Stirring is underway.’
‘The Great what?’ I asked. Anything to keep him talking while I tried to figure out a plan.
‘The stirring of monsters.’ Dr Thorn smiled evilly. ‘The worst of them, the most powerful, are now
waking. Monsters that have not been seen in thousands of years. They will cause death and
destruction the likes of which mortals have never known. And soon we shall have the most important
monster of all – the one that shall bring about the downfall of Olympus!’
‘Okay,’ Bianca whispered to me. ‘He’s completely nuts.’ ‘We have to jump off the cliff,’ I told her
quietly. ‘Into the sea.’
‘Oh, super idea. You’re completely nuts, too.’ I never got the chance to argue with her, because just
then an invisible force slammed into me.
Looking back on it, Annabeth’s move was brilliant. Wearing her cap of invisibility, she ploughed into
the di Angelos and me, knocking us to the ground. For a split second, Dr Thorn was taken by surprise,
so his first volley of missiles zipped harmlessly over our heads. This gave Thalia and Grover a
chance to advance from behind – Thalia wielding her magic shield, Aegis.
If you’ve never seen Thalia run into battle, you have never been truly frightened. She uses a huge
spear that expands from this collapsible Mace canister she carries in her pocket, but that’s not the
scary part. Her shield is modelled on one her dad Zeus uses – also called Aegis – a gift from Athena.
The shield has the head of the gorgon Medusa moulded into the bronze, and even though it won’t turn
you to stone it’s so horrible most people will panic and run at the sight of it.
Even Dr Thorn winced and growled when he saw it.
Thalia moved in with her spear. ‘For Zeus!’
I thought Dr Thorn was a goner. Thalia jabbed at his head, but he snarled and swatted the spear
aside. His hand changed into an orange paw with enormous claws that sparked against Thalia’s shield
as he slashed. If it hadn’t been for Aegis, Thalia would’ve been sliced like a loaf of bread. As it was,
she managed to roll backwards and land on her feet.
The sound of the helicopter was getting louder behind me, but I didn’t dare look.
Dr Thorn launched another volley of missiles at Thalia, and this time I could see how he did it. He
had a tail – a leathery, scorpionlike tail that bristled with spikes at the tip. The missiles deflected off
Aegis, but the force of their impact knocked Thalia down.
Grover sprang forward. He put his reed pipes to his lips and began to play – a frantic jig that
sounded like something pirates would dance to. Grass broke through the snow. Within seconds, ropethick weeds were wrapping round Dr Thorn’s legs, entangling him.
Dr Thorn roared and began to change. He grew larger until he was in his true form – his face still
human, but his body that of a huge lion. His leathery, spiky tail whipped deadly thorns in all
directions.
‘A manticore!’ Annabeth said, now visible. Her magical New York Yankees cap had come off
when she’d ploughed into us.
‘Who are you people?’ Bianca di Angelo demanded. ‘And what is that?’
‘A manticore?’ Nico gasped. ‘He’s got three thousand attack power and plus five to saving
throws!’
I didn’t know what he was talking about, but I didn’t have time to worry about it. The manticore
clawed Grover’s magic weeds to shreds then turned towards us with a snarl.
‘Get down!’ Annabeth pushed the di Angelos flat into the snow. At the last second, I remembered
my own shield. I hit my wristwatch, and metal plating spiralled out into a thick bronze shield. Not a
moment too soon. The thorns impacted against it with such force they dented the metal. The beautiful
shield, a gift from my brother, was badly damaged. I wasn’t sure it would even stop a second volley.
I heard a thwack and a yelp, and Grover landed next to me with a thud.
‘Yield!’ the monster roared.
‘Never!’ Thalia yelled from across the field. She charged the monster and, for a second, I thought
she would run him through. But then there was a thunderous noise and a blaze of light from behind us.
The helicopter appeared out of the mist, hovering just beyond the cliffs. It was a sleek black military-
style gunship, with attachments on the sides that looked like laser-guided rockets. The helicopter had
to be manned by mortals, but what was it doing here? How could mortals be working with a monster?
The searchlights blinded Thalia, and the manticore swatted her away with its tail. Her shield flew off
into the snow. Her spear flew in the other direction.
‘No!’ I ran out to help her. I parried away a spike just before it would’ve hit her chest. I raised my
shield over us, but I knew it wouldn’t be enough.
Dr Thorn laughed. ‘Now do you see how hopeless it is? Yield, little heroes.’
We were trapped between a monster and a fully armed helicopter. We had no chance.
Then I heard a clear, piercing sound: the call of a hunting horn blowing in the woods.
The manticore froze. For a moment, no one moved. There was only the swirl of snow and wind and
the chopping of the helicopter blades.
‘No,’ Dr Thorn said. ‘It cannot be –’
His sentence was cut short when something shot past me like a streak of moonlight. A glowing
silver arrow sprouted from Dr Thorn’s shoulder.
He staggered backwards, wailing in agony.
‘Curse you!’ Thorn cried. He unleashed his spikes, dozens of them at once, into the woods where
the arrow had come from, but just as fast, silvery arrows shot back in reply. It almost looked like the
arrows had intercepted the thorns in mid-air and sliced them in two, but my eyes must’ve been
playing tricks on me. No one, not even Apollo’s kids at camp, could shoot with that much accuracy.
The manticore pulled the arrow out of his shoulder with a howl of pain. His breathing was heavy. I
tried to swipe at him with my sword, but he wasn’t as injured as he looked. He dodged my attack and
slammed his tail into my shield, knocking me aside.
Then the archers came from the woods. They were girls, about a dozen of them. The youngest was
maybe ten. The oldest, about fourteen, like me. They wore silvery ski parkas and jeans, and they were
all armed with bows. They advanced on the manticore with determined expressions.
‘The Hunters!’ Annabeth cried.
Next to me, Thalia muttered, ‘Oh, wonderful.’
I didn’t have a chance to ask what she meant.
One of the older archers stepped forward with her bow drawn. She was tall and graceful with
coppery coloured skin. Unlike the other girls, she had a silver circlet braided into the top of her long
dark hair, so she looked like some kind of Persian princess. ‘Permission to kill, my lady?’
I couldn’t tell who she was talking to, because she kept her eyes on the manticore.
The monster wailed. ‘This is not fair! Direct interference! It is against the Ancient Laws.’
‘Not so,’ another girl said. This one was a little younger than me, maybe twelve or thirteen. She
had auburn hair gathered back in a ponytail and strange eyes, silvery yellow like the moon. Her face
was so beautiful it made me catch my breath, but her expression was stern and dangerous. ‘The
hunting of all wild beasts is within my sphere. And you, foul creature, are a wild beast.’ She looked
at the older girl with the circlet. ‘Zoë, permission granted.’
The manticore growled. ‘If I cannot have these alive, I shall have them dead!’
He lunged at Thalia and me, knowing we were weak and dazed.
‘No!’ Annabeth yelled, and she charged at the monster.
‘Get back, half-blood!’ the girl with the circlet said. ‘Get out of the line of fire!’
But Annabeth leaped onto the monster’s back and drove her knife into his mane. The manticore
howled, turning in circles with his tail flailing as Annabeth hung on for dear life.
‘Fire!’ Zoë ordered.
‘No!’ I screamed.
But the Hunters let their arrows fly. The first caught the manticore in the neck. Another hit his chest.
The manticore staggered backwards, wailing, ‘This is not the end, Huntress! You shall pay!’
And before anyone could react, the monster, with Annabeth still on his back, leaped over the cliff
and tumbled into the darkness.
‘Annabeth!’ I yelled.
I started to run after her, but our enemies weren’t done with us. There was a snap-snap-snap from
the helicopter – the sound of gunfire.
Most of the Hunters scattered as tiny holes appeared in the snow at their feet, but the girl with
auburn hair just looked up calmly at the helicopter.
‘Mortals,’ she announced, ‘are not allowed to witness my hunt.’
She thrust out her hand, and the helicopter exploded into dust – no, not dust. The black metal
dissolved into a flock of birds – ravens, which scattered into the night.
The Hunters advanced on us.
The one called Zoë stopped short when she saw Thalia. ‘You,’ she said with distaste.
‘Zoë Nightshade.’ Thalia’s voice trembled with anger. ‘Perfect timing, as usual.’
Zoë scanned the rest of us. ‘Four half-bloods and a satyr, my lady.’
‘Yes,’ the younger girl said. ‘Some of Chiron’s campers, I see.’
‘Annabeth!’ I yelled. ‘You have to let us save her!’
The auburn-haired girl turned towards me. ‘I’m sorry, Percy Jackson, but your friend is beyond
help.’
I tried to struggle to my feet, but a couple of the girls held me down.
‘You are in no condition to be hurling yourself off cliffs,’ the auburn-haired girl said.
‘Let me go!’ I demanded. ‘Who do you think you are?’
Zoë stepped forward as if to slap me.
‘No,’ the other girl ordered. ‘I sense no disrespect, Zoë. He is simply distraught. He does not
understand.’
The young girl looked at me, her eyes colder and brighter than the winter moon. ‘I am Artemis,’ she
said. ‘Goddess of the Hunt.’
3 Bianca Di Angelo Makes A Choice
After seeing Dr Thorn turn into a monster and plummet off the edge of a cliff with Annabeth, you’d
think nothing else could shock me. But when this twelve-year-old girl told me she was the goddess
Artemis, I said something really intelligent like, ‘Um… okay.’
That was nothing compared to Grover. He gasped, then knelt hastily in the snow and started
yammering, ‘Thank you, Lady Artemis! You’re so… you’re so… Wow!’
‘Get up, goat boy!’ Thalia snapped. ‘We have other things to worry about. Annabeth is gone!’
‘Whoa,’ Bianca di Angelo said. ‘Hold up. Time out.’
Everybody looked at her. She pointed her finger at all of us in turn, like she was trying to connect
the dots. ‘Who… who are you people?’
Artemis’s expression softened. ‘It might be a better question, my dear girl, to ask who are you?
Who are your parents?’
Bianca glanced nervously at her brother, who was still staring in awe at Artemis.
‘Our parents are dead,’ Bianca said. ‘We’re orphans. There’s a bank trust that pays for our school,
but…’
She faltered. I guess she could tell from our faces that we didn’t believe her.
‘What?’ she demanded. ‘I’m telling the truth.’
‘You are a half-blood,’ Zoë Nightshade said. Her accent was hard to place. It seemed oldfashioned, like she was reading from a really old book. ‘One of thy parents was mortal. The other
was an Olympian.’
‘An Olympian… athlete?’
‘No,’ Zoë said. ‘One of the gods.’
‘Cool!’ said Nico.
‘No!’ Bianca’s voice quavered. ‘This is not cool!’
Nico danced around like he needed to use the restroom. ‘Does Zeus really have lightning bolts that
do six hundred damage? Does he get extra movement points for –’
‘Nico, shut up!’ Bianca put her hands to her face. ‘This is not your stupid Mythomagic game, okay?
There are no gods!’
As anxious as I felt about Annabeth – all I wanted to do was search for her – I couldn’t help feeling
sorry for the di Angelos. I remembered what it was like for me when I first learned I was a demigod.
Thalia must’ve been feeling something similar, because the anger in her eyes subsided a little bit.
‘Bianca, I know it’s hard to believe. But the gods are still around. Trust me. They’re immortal. And
whenever they have kids with regular humans, kids like us, well… Our lives are dangerous.’
‘Dangerous,’ Bianca said, ‘like the girl who fell.’
Thalia turned away. Even Artemis looked pained.
‘Do not despair for Annabeth,’ the goddess said. ‘She was a brave maiden. If she can be found, I
shall find her.’
‘Then why won’t you let us go and look for her?’ I asked.
‘She is gone. Can’t you sense it, Son of Poseidon? Some magic is at work. I do not know exactly
how or why, but your friend has vanished.’
I still wanted to jump off the cliff and search for her, but I had a feeling that Artemis was right.
Annabeth was gone. If she’d been down there in the sea, I thought, I’d be able to feel her presence.
‘Oo!’ Nico raised his hand. ‘What about Dr Thorn? That was awesome how you shot him with
arrows! Is he dead?’
‘He was a manticore,’ Artemis said. ‘Hopefully, he is destroyed for now, but monsters never truly
die. They reform over and over again, and they must be hunted whenever they reappear.’
‘Or they’ll hunt us,’ Thalia said.
Bianca di Angelo shivered. ‘That explains… Nico, you remember last summer, those guys who
tried to attack us in the alley in D.C.?’
‘And that bus driver,’ Nico said. ‘The one with the ram’s horns. I told you that was real.’
‘That’s why Grover has been watching you,’ I said. ‘To keep you safe, if you turned out to be halfbloods.’
‘Grover?’ Bianca stared at him. ‘You’re a demigod?’
‘Well, a satyr, actually.’ He kicked off his shoes and displayed his goat hooves. I thought Bianca
was going to faint right there.
‘Grover, put your shoes back on,’ Thalia said. ‘You’re freaking her out.’
‘Hey, my hooves are clean!’
‘Bianca,’ I said, ‘we came here to help you. You and Nico need training to survive. Dr Thorn
won’t be the last monster you meet. You need to come to camp.’
‘Camp?’ she asked.
‘Camp Half-Blood,’ I said. ‘It’s where half-bloods learn to survive and stuff. You can join us, stay
there year round if you like.’
‘Sweet, let’s go!’ said Nico.
‘Wait.’ Bianca shook her head. ‘I don’t –’
‘There is another option,’ Zoë said.
‘No, there isn’t!’ Thalia said.
Thalia and Zoë glared at each other. I didn’t know what they were talking about, but I could tell
there was bad history between them. For some reason, they seriously hated each other.
‘We’ve burdened these children enough,’ Artemis announced. ‘Zoë, we will rest here for a few
hours. Raise the tents. Treat the wounded. Retrieve our guests’belongings from the school.’
‘Yes, my lady.’
‘And, Bianca, come with me. I would like to speak with you.’
‘What about me?’ Nico asked.
Artemis considered the boy. ‘Perhaps you can show Grover how to play that card game you enjoy.
I’m sure Grover would be happy to entertain you for a while… as a favour to me?’
Grover just about tripped over himself getting up. ‘You bet! Come on, Nico!’
Nico and Grover walked off towards the woods, talking about hit points and armour ratings and a
bunch of other geeky stuff. Artemis led a confused-looking Bianca along the cliff. The Hunters began
unpacking their backpacks and making camp.
Zoë gave Thalia one more evil look, then left to oversee things.
As soon as she was gone, Thalia stamped her foot in frustration. ‘The nerve of those Hunters! They
think they’re so… Argh!’
‘I’m with you,’ I said. ‘I don’t trust –’
‘Oh, you’re with me?’ Thalia turned on me furiously. ‘What were you thinking back there in the
gym, Percy? You’d take on Dr Thorn all by yourself? You knew he was a monster!’
‘I –’
‘If we’d stuck together, we could’ve taken him without the Hunters getting involved. Annabeth
might still be here. Did you think of that?’
My jaw clenched. I thought of some harsh things to say, and I might’ve said them, too, but then I
looked down and saw something navy blue lying in the snow at my feet. Annabeth’s New York
Yankees baseball cap.
Thalia didn’t say another word. She wiped a tear from her cheek, turned and marched off, leaving
me alone with a trampled cap in the snow.
The Hunters set up their campsite in a matter of minutes. Seven large tents, all of silver silk, curved in
a crescent round one side of a bonfire. One of the girls blew a silver dog whistle, and a dozen white
wolves appeared out of the woods. They began circling the camp like guard dogs. The Hunters
walked among them and fed them treats, completely unafraid, but I decided I would stick close to the
tents. Falcons watched us from the trees, their eyes flashing in the firelight, and I got the feeling they
were on guard duty, too. Even the weather seemed to bend to the goddess’s will. The air was still
cold, but the wind died down and the snow stopped falling, so it was almost pleasant sitting by the
fire.
Almost… Except for the pain in my shoulder and the guilt weighing me down. I couldn’t believe
Annabeth was gone. And, as angry as I was at Thalia, I had a sinking feeling that she was right. It was
my fault.
What had Annabeth wanted to tell me in the gym? Something serious, she’d said. Now I might
never find out. I thought about how we’d danced together for half a song, and my heart felt even
heavier.
I watched Thalia pacing in the snow at the edge of camp, walking among the wolves without fear.
She stopped and looked back at Westover Hall, which was now completely dark, looming on the
hillside beyond the woods. I wondered what she was thinking.
Seven years ago, Thalia had been turned into a pine tree by her father, to prevent her from dying.
She’d stood her ground against an army of monsters on top of Half-Blood Hill in order to give her
friends Luke and Annabeth time to escape. She’d only been back as a human for a few months now,
and once in a while she would stand so motionless you’d think she was still a tree.
Finally, one of the Hunters brought me my backpack. Grover and Nico returned from their walk,
and Grover helped me fix up my wounded arm.
‘It’s green!’ Nico said with delight.
‘Hold still,’ Grover told me. ‘Here, eat some ambrosia while I clean that out.’
I winced as he dressed the wound, but the ambrosia square helped. It tasted like homemade
brownie, dissolving in my mouth and sending a warm feeling through my whole body. Between that
and the magic salve Grover used, my shoulder felt better within a couple of minutes.
Nico rummaged through his own bag, which the Hunters had apparently packed for him, though
how they’d snuck into Westover Hall unseen, I didn’t know. Nico laid out a bunch of figurines in the
snow – little battle replicas of Greek gods and heroes. I recognized Zeus with a lightning bolt, Ares
with a spear, Apollo with his sun chariot.
‘Big collection,’ I said.
Nico grinned. ‘I’ve got almost all of them, plus their holographic cards! Well, except for a few
really rare ones.’
‘You’ve been playing this game a long time?’
‘Just this year. Before that…’ He knitted his eyebrows.
‘What?’ I asked.
‘I forgot. That’s weird.’
He looked unsettled, but it didn’t last long. ‘Hey, can I see that sword you were using?’
I showed him Riptide, and explained how it turned from a pen into a sword just by uncapping it.
‘Cool! Does it ever run out of ink?’
‘Um, well, I don’t actually write with it.’
‘Are you really the son of Poseidon?’
‘Well, yeah.’
‘Can you surf really well, then?’
I looked at Grover, who was trying hard not to laugh.
‘Jeez, Nico,’ I said. ‘I’ve never really tried.’
He went on asking questions. Did I fight a lot with Thalia, since she was a daughter of Zeus? (I
didn’t answer that one.) If Annabeth’s mother was Athena, the goddess of wisdom, then why didn’t
Annabeth know better than to fall off a cliff? (I tried not to strangle Nico for asking that one.) Was
Annabeth my girlfriend? (At this point, I was ready to stick the kid in a meat-flavoured sack and
throw him to the wolves.)
I figured any second he was going to ask me how many hit points I had, and I’d lose my cool
completely, but then Zoë Nightshade came up to us.
‘Percy Jackson.’
She had dark brown eyes and a slightly upturned nose. With her silver circlet and her proud
expression, she looked so much like royalty that I had to resist the urge to sit up straight and say ‘Yes,
ma’am.’ She studied me distastefully, like I was a bag of dirty laundry she’d been sent to fetch.
‘Come with me,’ she said. ‘Lady Artemis wishes to speak with thee.’
Zoë led me to the last tent, which looked no different from the others, and waved me inside. Bianca di
Angelo was seated next to the auburn-haired girl, who I still had trouble thinking of as Artemis.
The inside of the tent was warm and comfortable. Silk rugs and pillows covered the floor. In the
centre, a golden brazier of fire seemed to burn without fuel or smoke. Behind the goddess, on a
polished oak display stand, was her huge silver bow, carved to resemble gazelle horns. The walls
were hung with animal pelts – black bear, tiger and several others I didn’t recognize. I figured an
animal-rights activist would’ve had a heart attack looking at all those rare skins, but maybe, since
Artemis was the goddess of the hunt, she could replenish whatever she shot. I thought she had another
animal pelt lying next to her, and then I realized it was alive – a deer with glittering fur and silver
horns, its head resting contentedly in Artemis’s lap.
‘Join us, Percy Jackson,’ the goddess said.
I sat across from her on the tent floor. The goddess studied me, which made me uncomfortable. She
had such old eyes for a young girl.
‘Are you surprised by my age?’ she asked.
‘Uh… a little.’
‘I could appear as a grown woman, or a blazing fire, or anything else I want, but this is what I
prefer. This is the average age of my Hunters, and all young maidens for whom I am patron, before
they go astray.’
‘Go astray?’ I asked.
‘Grow up. Become smitten with boys. Become silly, preoccupied, insecure. Forget themselves.’
‘Oh.’
Zoë sat down to Artemis’s right. She glared at me as if all the stuff Artemis had just said was my
fault, like I’d invented the idea of being a guy.
‘You must forgive my Hunters if they do not welcome you,’ Artemis said. ‘It is very rare that we
would have boys in this camp. Boys are usually forbidden to have any contact with the Hunters. The
last one to see this camp…’ She looked at Zoë. ‘Which one was it?’
‘That boy in Colorado,’ Zoë said. ‘You turned him into a jackalope.’
‘Ah, yes.’ Artemis nodded, satisfied. ‘I enjoy making jackalopes. At any rate, Percy, I’ve asked
you here so that you might tell me more of the manticore. Bianca has reported some of the… mmm,
disturbing things the monster said. But she may not have understood them. I’d like to hear them from
you.’
And so I told her.
When I was done, Artemis put her hand thoughtfully on her silver bow. ‘I feared this was the
answer.’
Zoë sat forward. ‘The scent, my lady?’
‘Yes.’
‘What scent?’ I asked.
‘Things are stirring that I have not hunted in millennia,’ Artemis murmured. ‘Prey so old I have
nearly forgotten.’
She stared at me intently. ‘We came here tonight sensing the manticore, but he was not the one I
seek. Tell me again, exactly what Dr Thorn said.’
‘Um, “I hate middle school dances.”’
‘No, no. After that.’
‘He said somebody called the General was going to explain things to me.’
Zoë’s face paled. She turned to Artemis and started to say something, but Artemis raised her hand.
‘Go on, Percy,’ the goddess said.
‘Well, then Thorn was talking about the Great Stir Pot –’
‘Stirring,’ Bianca corrected.
‘Yeah. And he said, “Soon we shall have the most important monster of all – the one that shall
bring about the downfall of Olympus.”’
The goddess was so still she could’ve been a statue.
‘Maybe he was lying,’ I said.
Artemis shook her head. ‘No. He was not. I’ve been too slow to see the signs. I must hunt this
monster.’
Zoë looked like she was trying very hard not to be afraid, but she nodded. ‘We will leave right
away, my lady.’
‘No, Zoë. I must do this alone.’
‘But, Artemis –’
‘This task is too dangerous even for the Hunters. You know where I must start my search. You
cannot go there with me.’
‘As… as you wish, my lady.’
‘I will find this creature,’ Artemis vowed. ‘And I shall bring it back to Olympus by winter solstice.
It will be all the proof I need to convince the Council of the Gods of how much danger we are in.’
‘You know what the monster is?’ I asked.
Artemis gripped her bow. ‘Let us pray I am wrong.’
‘Can goddesses pray?’ I asked, because I’d never really thought about that.
A flicker of a smile played across Artemis’s lips. ‘Before I go, Percy Jackson, I have a small task
for you.’
‘Does it involve getting turned into a jackalope?’
‘Sadly, no. I want you to escort the Hunters back to Camp Half-Blood. They can stay there in safety
until I return.’
‘What?’ Zoë blurted out. ‘But, Artemis, we hate that place. The last time we stayed there –’
‘Yes, I know,’ Artemis said. ‘But I’m sure Dionysus will not hold a grudge just because of a little,
ah, misunderstanding. It’s your right to use Cabin Eight whenever you are in need. Besides, I hear they
rebuilt the cabins you burned down.’
Zoë muttered something about foolish campers.
‘And now there is one last decision to make.’ Artemis turned to Bianca. ‘Have you made up your
mind, my girl?’
Bianca hesitated. ‘I’m still thinking about it.’
‘Wait,’ I said. ‘Thinking about what?’
‘They… they’ve invited me to join the Hunt.’
‘What? But you can’t! You have to come to Camp Half-Blood so Chiron can train you. It’s the only
way you can learn to survive.’
‘It is not the only way for a girl,’ Zoë said.
I couldn’t believe I was hearing this. ‘Bianca, camp is cool! It’s got a pegasus stable and a swordfighting arena and… I mean, what do you get by joining the Hunters?’
‘To begin with,’ Zoë said, ‘immortality.’
I stared at her, then at Artemis. ‘She’s kidding, right?’
‘Zoë rarely kids about anything,’ Artemis said. ‘My Hunters follow me on my adventures. They are
my maidservants, my companions, my sisters-in-arms. Once they swear loyalty to me, they are indeed
immortal… unless they fall in battle, which is unlikely. Or break their oath.’
‘What oath?’ I said.
‘To forswear romantic love forever,’ Artemis said. ‘To never grow up, never get married. To be a
maiden eternally.’
‘Like you?’
The goddess nodded.
I tried to imagine what she was saying. Being immortal. Hanging out with only middle-school girls
forever. I couldn’t get my mind round it. ‘So you just go around the country recruiting half-bloods –’
‘Not just half-bloods,’ Zoë interrupted. ‘Lady Artemis does not discriminate by birth. All who
honour the goddess may join. Half-bloods, nymphs, mortals –’
‘Which are you, then?’
Anger flashed in Zoë’s eyes. ‘That is not thy concern, boy. The point is Bianca may join if she
wishes. It is her choice.’
‘Bianca, this is crazy,’ I said. ‘What about your brother? Nico can’t be a Hunter.’
‘Certainly not,’ Artemis agreed. ‘He will go to camp. Unfortunately, that’s the best boys can do.’
‘Hey!’ I protested.
‘You can see him from time to time,’ Artemis assured Bianca. ‘But you will be free of
responsibility. He will have the camp counsellors to take care of him. And you will have a new
family. Us.’
‘A new family,’ Bianca repeated dreamily. ‘Free of responsibility.’
‘Bianca, you can’t do this,’ I said. ‘It’s nuts.’
She looked at Zoë. ‘Is it worth it?’
Zoë nodded. ‘It is.’
‘What do I have to do?’
‘Say this,’ Zoë told her, ‘ “I pledge myself to the goddess Artemis.”’
‘I… I pledge myself to the goddess Artemis.’
‘ “I turn my back on the company of men, accept eternal maidenhood and join the Hunt.” ’
Bianca repeated the lines. ‘That’s it?’
Zoë nodded. ‘If Lady Artemis accepts thy pledge, then it is binding.’
‘I accept it,’ Artemis said.
The flames in the brazier brightened, casting a silver glow over the room. Bianca looked no
different, but she took a deep breath and opened her eyes wide. ‘I feel… stronger.’
‘Welcome, sister,’ Zoë said.
‘Remember your pledge,’ Artemis said. ‘It is now your life.’
I couldn’t speak. I felt like a trespasser. And a complete failure. I couldn’t believe I’d come all this
way and suffered so much only to lose Bianca to some eternal girls’ club.
‘Do not despair, Percy Jackson,’ Artemis said. ‘You will still get to show the di Angelos your
camp. And if Nico so chooses, he can stay there.’
‘Great,’ I said, trying not to sound surly. ‘How are we supposed to get there?’
Artemis closed her eyes. ‘Dawn is approaching. Zoë, break camp. You must get to Long Island
quickly and safely. I shall summon a ride from my brother.’
Zoë didn’t look very happy about this idea, but she nodded and told Bianca to follow her. As she
was leaving, Bianca paused in front of me. ‘I’m sorry, Percy. But I want this. I really, really do.’
Then she was gone, and I was left alone with the twelve-year-old goddess.
‘So,’ I said glumly. ‘We’re going to get a ride from your brother, huh?’
Artemis’s silver eyes gleamed. ‘Yes, boy. You see, Bianca di Angelo is not the only one with an
annoying brother. It’s time for you to meet my irresponsible twin, Apollo.’
4 Thalia Torches New England
Artemis assured us that dawn was coming, but you could’ve fooled me. It was colder and darker and
snowier than ever. Up on the hill, Westover Hall’s windows were completely lightless. I wondered if
the teachers had even noticed the di Angelos and Dr Thorn were missing yet. I didn’t want to be
around when they did. With my luck, the only name Mrs Gottschalk would remember would be ‘Percy
Jackson’, and then I’d be the subject of a nationwide manhunt… again.
The Hunters broke camp as quickly as they’d set it up. I stood shivering in the snow (unlike the
Hunters, who didn’t seem to feel at all uncomfortable), and Artemis stared into the east like she was
expecting something. Bianca sat off to one side, talking with Nico. I could tell from his gloomy face
that she was explaining her decision to join the Hunt. I couldn’t help thinking how selfish it was of
her, abandoning her brother like that.
Thalia and Grover came up and huddled around me, anxious to hear what had happened during my
audience with the goddess.
When I told them, Grover turned pale. ‘The last time the Hunters visited camp, it didn’t go well.’
‘How’d they even show up here?’ I wondered. ‘I mean, they just appeared out of nowhere.’
‘And Bianca joined them,’ Thalia said, disgusted. ‘It’s all Zoë’s fault. That stuck-up, no good –’
‘Who can blame her?’ Grover said. ‘Eternity with Artemis?’ He heaved a big sigh.
Thalia rolled her eyes. ‘You satyrs. You’re all in love with Artemis. Don’t you get that she’ll never
love you back?’
‘But she’s so… into nature,’ Grover swooned.
‘You’re nuts,’ said Thalia.
‘Nuts and berries,’ Grover said dreamily. ‘Yeah.’
Finally the sky began to lighten. Artemis muttered, ‘About time. He’s so-o-o lazy during the winter.’
‘You’re, um, waiting for sunrise?’ I asked.
‘For my brother. Yes.’
I didn’t want to be rude. I mean, I knew the legends about Apollo – or sometimes Helios – driving
a big sun chariot across the sky. But I also knew that the sun was really a star about a zillion miles
away. I’d got used to some of the Greek myths being true, but still… I didn’t see how Apollo could
drive the sun.
‘It’s not exactly as you think,’ Artemis said, like she was reading my mind.
‘Oh, okay.’ I started to relax. ‘So, it’s not like he’ll be pulling up in a –’
There was a sudden burst of light on the horizon. A blast of warmth.
‘Don’t look,’ Artemis advised. ‘Not until he parks.’
Parks?
I averted my eyes, and saw that the other kids were doing the same. The light and warmth
intensified until my winter coat felt like it was melting off me. Then suddenly the light died.
I looked. And I couldn’t believe it. It was my car. Well, the car I wanted, anyway. A red
convertible Maserati Spyder. It was so awesome it glowed. Then I realized it was glowing because
the metal was hot. The snow had melted round the Maserati in a perfect circle, which explained why I
was now standing on green grass and my shoes were wet.
The driver got out, smiling. He looked about seventeen or eighteen, and, for a second, I had the
uneasy feeling it was Luke, my old enemy. This guy had the same sandy hair and outdoorsy good
looks. But it wasn’t Luke. This guy was taller, with no scar on his face like Luke’s. His smile was
brighter and more playful. (Luke didn’t do much more than scowl and sneer these days.) The Maserati
driver wore jeans and loafers and a sleeveless T-shirt.
‘Wow,’ Thalia muttered. ‘Apollo is hot.’
‘He’s the sun god,’ I said.
‘That’s not what I meant.’
‘Little sister!’ Apollo called. If his teeth were any whiter he could’ve blinded us without the sun
car. ‘What’s up? You never call. You never write. I was getting worried!’
Artemis sighed. ‘I’m fine, Apollo. And I am not your little sister.’
‘Hey, I was born first.’
‘We’re twins! How many millennia do we have to argue –’
‘So what’s up?’ he interrupted. ‘Got the girls with you, I see. You all need some tips on archery?’
Artemis gritted her teeth. ‘I need a favour. I have some hunting to do, alone. I need you to take my
companions to Camp Half-Blood.’
‘Sure, sis!’ Then he raised his hands in a stop everything gesture. ‘I feel a haiku coming on.’
The Hunters all groaned. Apparently they’d met Apollo before.
He cleared his throat and held up one hand dramatically.
‘Green grass breaks through snow.
Artemis pleads for my help.
I am so cool.’
He grinned at us, waiting for applause.
‘That last line was only four syllables,’ Artemis said.
Apollo frowned. ‘Was it?’
‘Yes. What about I am so big-headed?’
‘No, no, that’s six syllables. Hmm.’ He started muttering to himself.
Zoë Nightshade turned to us. ‘Lord Apollo has been going through this haiku phase ever since he
visited Japan.’ Tis not as bad as the time he visited Limerick. If I’d had to hear one more poem that
started with, There once was a goddess from Sparta –’
‘I’ve got it!’ Apollo announced. ‘I am so awesome. That’s five syllables!’ He bowed, looking very
pleased with himself. ‘And now, sis. Transportation for the Hunters, you say? Good timing. I was just
about ready to roll.’
‘These demigods will also need a ride,’ Artemis said, pointing to us. ‘Some of Chiron’s campers.’
‘No problem!’ Apollo checked us out. ‘Let’s see… Thalia, right? I’ve heard all about you.’
Thalia blushed. ‘Hi, Lord Apollo.’
‘Zeus’s girl, yes? Makes you my half-sister. Used to be a tree, didn’t you? Glad you’re back. I hate
it when pretty girls turn into trees. Man, I remember one time –’
‘Brother,’ Artemis said. ‘You should get going.’
‘Oh, right.’ Then he looked at me, and his eyes narrowed. ‘Percy Jackson?’
‘Yeah. I mean… yes, sir.’
It seemed weird calling a teenager ‘sir’, but I’d learned to be careful with immortals. They tended
to get offended easily. Then they blew stuff up.
Apollo studied me, but he didn’t say anything, which I found a little creepy.
‘Well!’ he said at last. ‘We’d better load up, huh? Ride only goes one way – west. And if you miss
it, you miss it.’
I looked at the Maserati, which would seat two people max. There were about twenty of us.
‘Cool car,’ Nico said.
‘Thanks, kid,’ Apollo said.
‘But how will we all fit?’
‘Oh.’ Apollo seemed to notice the problem for the first time. ‘Well, yeah. I hate to change out of
sports-car mode, but I suppose…’
He took out his car keys and beeped the security alarm button. Chirp, chirp.
For a moment, the car glowed brightly again. When the glare died, the Maserati had been replaced
by one of those small buses just like we used for school basketball games.
‘Right,’ he said. ‘Everybody in.’
Zoë ordered the Hunters to start loading. She picked up her camping pack, and Apollo said, ‘Here,
sweetheart. Let me get that.’
Zoë recoiled. Her eyes flashed murderously.
‘Brother,’ Artemis chided. ‘You do not help my Hunters. You do not look at, talk to, or flirt with
my Hunters. And you do not call them sweetheart.’
Apollo spread his hands. ‘Sorry. I forgot. Hey, sis, where are you off to, anyway?’
‘Hunting,’ Artemis said. ‘It’s none of your business.’
‘I’ll find out. I see all. Know all.’
Artemis snorted. ‘Just drop them off, Apollo. And no messing around!’
‘No, no! I never mess around.’
Artemis rolled her eyes, then looked at us. ‘I will see you by winter solstice. Zoë, you are in
charge of the Hunters. Do well. Do as I would do.’
Zoë straightened. ‘Yes, my lady.’
Artemis knelt and touched the ground as if looking for tracks. When she rose, she looked troubled.
‘So much danger. The beast must be found.’
She sprinted towards the woods and melted into the snow and shadows.
Apollo turned and grinned, jangling the car keys on his finger. ‘So,’ he said. ‘Who wants to drive?’
The Hunters piled into the van. They all crammed into the back so they’d be as far away as possible
from Apollo and the rest of us highly infectious males. Bianca sat with them, leaving her little brother
to hang in the front with us, which seemed cold to me, but Nico didn’t seem to mind.
‘This is so cool!’ Nico said, jumping up and down in the driver’s seat. ‘Is this really the sun? I
thought Helios and Selene were the sun and moon gods. How come sometimes it’s them and
sometimes it’s you and Artemis?’
‘Downsizing,’ Apollo said. ‘The Romans started it. They couldn’t afford all those temple
sacrifices, so they laid off Helios and Selene and folded their duties into our job descriptions. My sis
got the moon. I got the sun. It was pretty annoying at first, but at least I got this cool car.’
‘But how does it work?’ Nico asked. ‘I thought the sun was a big fiery ball of gas!’
Apollo chuckled and ruffled Nico’s hair. ‘That rumour probably got started because Artemis used
to call me a big fiery ball of gas. Seriously, kid, it depends on whether you’re talking astronomy or
philosophy. You want to talk astronomy? Bah, what fun is that? You want to talk about how humans
think about the sun? Ah, now that’s more interesting. They’ve got a lot riding on the sun… er, so to
speak. It keeps them warm, grows their crops, powers engines, makes everything look, well, sunnier.
This chariot is built out of human dreams about the sun, kid. It’s as old as Western Civilization. Every
day, it drives across the sky from east to west, lighting up all those puny little mortal lives. The
chariot is a manifestation of the sun’s power, the way mortals perceive it. Make sense?’
Nico shook his head. ‘No.’
‘Well then, just think of it as a really powerful, really dangerous solar car.’
‘Can I drive?’
‘No. Too young.’
‘Oo! Oo!’ Grover raised his hand.
‘Mm, no,’ Apollo said. ‘Too furry.’ He looked past me and focused on Thalia.
‘Daughter of Zeus!’ he said. ‘Lord of the sky. Perfect.’
‘Oh, no.’ Thalia shook her head. ‘No, thanks.’
‘C’mon,’ Apollo said. ‘How old are you?’
Thalia hesitated. ‘I don’t know.’
It was sad, but true. She’d been turned into a tree when she was twelve, but that had been seven
years ago. So she should be nineteen, if you went by years. But she still felt like she was twelve. If
you looked at her, though, she seemed somewhere in between. The best Chiron could work out, she
had kept aging while in tree form, but much more slowly.
Apollo tapped his finger to his lips. ‘You’re fifteen, almost sixteen.’
‘How do you know that?’
‘Hey, I’m the god of prophecy. I know stuff. You’ll turn sixteen in about a week.’
‘That’s my birthday! December twenty-second.’
‘Which means you’re old enough now to drive with a learner’s permit!’
Thalia shifted her feet nervously. ‘Uh –’
‘I know what you’re going to say,’ Apollo said. ‘You don’t deserve an honour like driving the sun
chariot.’
‘That’s not what I was going to say.’
‘Don’t sweat it! Maine to Long Island is a really short trip, and don’t worry about what happened
to the last kid I trained. You’re Zeus’s daughter. He’s not going to blast you out of the sky.’
Apollo laughed good-naturedly. The rest of us didn’t join him.
Thalia tried to protest, but Apollo was absolutely not going to take ‘no’ for an answer. He hit a
button on the dashboard, and a sign popped up along the top of the windscreen. I had to read it
backwards (which, for a dyslexic really isn’t that different to reading forward). I was pretty sure it
said WARNING: STUDENT DRIVER.
‘Take it away!’ Apollo told Thalia. ‘You’re gonna be a natural!’
I’ll admit I was jealous. I couldn’t wait to start driving. A couple of times that autumn, my mom had
taken me out to Montauk when the beach road was empty, and she’d let me try out her Mazda. I mean,
yeah, that was a Japanese compact, and this was the sun chariot, but how different could it be?
‘Speed equals heat,’ Apollo advised. ‘So start slowly, and make sure you’ve got good altitude
before you really open her up.’
Thalia gripped the wheel so tightly her knuckles turned white. She looked like she was going to be
sick.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked her.
‘Nothing,’ she said shakily. ‘N-nothing is wrong.’
She pulled back on the wheel. It tilted and the bus lurched upwards so fast I fell back and crashed
against something soft.
‘Ow,’ Grover said.
‘Sorry.’
‘Slower!’ Apollo said.
‘Sorry!’ Thalia said. ‘I’ve got it under control!’
I managed to get to my feet. Looking out of the window, I saw a smoking ring of trees from the
clearing where we’d taken off.
‘Thalia,’ I said, ‘lighten up on the accelerator.’
‘I’ve got it, Percy,’ she said, gritting her teeth. But she kept it floored.
‘Loosen up,’ I told her.
‘I’m loose!’ Thalia said. She was so stiff she looked like she was made out of plywood.
‘We need to veer south for Long Island,’ Apollo said. ‘Hang a left.’
Thalia jerked the wheel and again threw me into Grover, who yelped.
‘The other left,’ Apollo suggested.
I made the mistake of looking out of the window again. We were at aeroplane height now – so high
the sky was starting to look black.
‘Ah…’ Apollo said, and I got the feeling he was forcing himself to sound calm. ‘A little lower,
sweetheart. Cape Cod is freezing over.’
Thalia tilted the wheel. Her face was chalk white, her forehead beaded with sweat. Something was
definitely wrong. I’d never seen her like this.
The bus pitched down and somebody screamed. Maybe it was me. Now we were heading straight
towards the Atlantic Ocean at a thousand miles an hour, the New England coastline off to our left.
And it was getting hot in the bus.
Apollo had been thrown somewhere in the back of the bus, but he started climbing up the rows of
seats.
‘Take the wheel!’ Grover begged him.
‘No worries,’ Apollo said. He looked plenty worried. ‘She just has to learn to – WHOA!’
I saw what he was seeing. Down below us was a little snow-covered New England town. At least,
it used to be snow-covered. As I watched, the snow melted off the trees and the roofs and the lawns.
The white steeple on a church turned brown and started to smolder. Little plumes of smoke, like
birthday candles, were popping up all over the town. Trees and rooftops were catching fire.
‘Pull up!’ I yelled.
There was a wild light in Thalia’s eyes. She yanked back on the wheel, and I held on this time. As
we zoomed up, I could see through the back window that the fires in the town were being snuffed out
by the sudden blast of cold.
‘There!’ Apollo pointed. ‘Long Island, dead ahead. Let’s slow down, dear. ‘Dead’ is only an
expression.’
Thalia was thundering towards the coastline of northern Long Island. There was Camp Half-Blood:
the valley, the woods, the beach. I could see the dining pavilion and cabins and the amphitheatre.
‘I’m under control,’ Thalia muttered. ‘I’m under control.’
We were only a few hundred metres away now.
‘Brake,’ Apollo said.
‘I can do this.’
‘BRAKE!’
Thalia slammed her foot on the brake, and the sun bus pitched forward at a forty-five-degree angle,
slamming into the Camp Half-Blood canoe lake with a huge FLOOOOOOSH! Steam billowed up,
sending several frightened naiads scrambling out of the water with half-woven wicker baskets.
The bus bobbed to the surface along with a couple of capsized, half-melted canoes.
‘Well,’ said Apollo with a brave smile. ‘You were right, my dear. You had everything under
control! Let’s go see if we boiled anyone important, shall we?’
5 I Make An Underwater Phone Call
I’d never seen Camp Half-Blood in winter before, and the snow surprised me.
See, the camp has the ultimate magic climate control. Nothing gets inside the borders unless the
director, Mr D, wants it to. I thought it would be warm and sunny, but instead the snow had been
allowed to fall lightly. Frost covered the chariot track and the strawberry fields. The cabins were
decorated with tiny flickering lights, like Christmas lights, except they seemed to be balls of real fire.
More lights glowed in the woods, and, weirdest of all, a fire flickered in the attic window of the Big
House, where the Oracle dwelt, imprisoned in an old mummified body. I wondered if the spirit of
Delphi was roasting marshmallows up there or something.
‘Whoa,’ Nico said as he climbed off the bus. ‘Is that a climbing wall?’
‘Yeah,’ I said.
‘Why is there lava pouring down it?’
‘Little extra challenge. Come on. I’ll introduce you to Chiron. Zoë, have you met –’
‘I know Chiron,’ Zoë said stiffly. ‘Tell him we will be in Cabin Eight. Hunters, follow me.’
‘I’ll show you the way,’ Grover offered.
‘We know the way.’
‘Oh, really, it’s no trouble. It’s easy to get lost here, if you don’t –’ he tripped over a canoe and
came up still talking – ‘like my old daddy goat used to say! Come on!’
Zoë rolled her eyes, but I guess she figured there was no getting rid of Grover. The Hunters
shouldered their packs and their bows and headed off towards the cabins. As Bianca di Angelo was
leaving, she leaned over and whispered something in her brother’s ear. She looked at him for an
answer, but Nico just scowled and turned away.
‘Take care, sweethearts!’ Apollo called after the Hunters. He winked at me. ‘Watch out for those
prophecies, Percy. I’ll see you soon.’
‘What do you mean?’
Instead of answering, he hopped back in the bus. ‘Later, Thalia,’ he called. ‘And, uh, be good!’
He gave her a wicked smile, as if he knew something she didn’t. Then he closed the doors and
revved the engine. I turned aside as the sun chariot took off in a blast of heat. When I looked back, the
lake was steaming. A red Maserati soared over the woods, glowing brighter and climbing higher until
it disappeared in a ray of sunlight.
Nico was still looking grumpy. I wondered what his sister had told him.
‘Who’s Chiron?’ he asked. ‘I don’t have his figurine.’
‘Our activities director,’ I said. ‘He’s… well, you’ll see.’
‘If those Hunter girls don’t like him,’ Nico grumbled, ‘that’s good enough for me. Let’s go.’
The second thing that surprised me about camp was how empty it was. I mean, I knew most halfbloods only trained during the summer. Just the year-rounders would be here – the ones who didn’t
have homes to go to, or would get attacked by monsters too much if they left. But there didn’t even
seem to be many of them, either.
I spotted Charles Beckendorf from the Hephaestus cabin stoking the forge outside the camp
armoury. The Stoll brothers, Travis and Connor, from the Hermes cabin, were picking the lock on the
camp store. A few kids from the Ares cabin were having a snowball fight with the wood nymphs at
the edge of the forest. That was about it. Even my old rival from the Ares cabin, Clarisse, didn’t seem
to be around.
The Big House was decorated with strings of red and yellow fireballs that warmed the porch but
didn’t seem to set anything alight. Inside, flames crackled in the hearth. The air smelled like hot
chocolate. Mr D, the camp director, and Chiron were playing a quiet game of cards in the parlour.
Chiron’s brown beard was shaggier for the winter. His curly hair had grown