Monday, May 21, 2012

The Lightning Thief - Chapter 22

Chapter 22

 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 honor, 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—gray 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 s'mores, 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 license 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-and-whiskers 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 he'll 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 anymore. 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
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Player,  to a collector, through an art gallery in Soho. She'd gotten so much money for it, she'd put a
deposit down on a new apartment and made a payment on her first semester's tuition at NYU. The Soho
gallery was clamoring for more of her work, which they called "a huge step forward in super-ugly
 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 pri-vate school here in the city. I've put a
deposit down to hold you a spot, in case you want to enroll 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 sup-posed to be a couple of hundred-foot-tall Spartan
warriors who would crackle to life above the ocean, fight a battle, then explode into a million colors.
 As Annabeth and I were spreading a picnic blanket, Grover showed up to tell us good-bye. He was
dressed in his usual jeans and T-shirt and sneakers, but in the last few weeks he'd started to look older,
almost high-school age. His goatee had gotten thicker. He'd put on weight. His horns had grown at least
an inch, 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 good-bye. 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?"
 "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
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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) cross-ing the Delaware.
 "Hey, Grover," I called.
 He turned at the edge of the woods.
 "Wherever you're going—I hope they make good enchi-ladas."
 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 climb-ing 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 comple-tion.
 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 safe returned.
 Check. One master bolt delivered. One helm of dark-ness 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
 So why was I still uneasy?
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 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 counselors 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 tri-dent shimmering in the center.
 "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 morn-ing, 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 stub-bornly insisted on getting my name wrong:
 DearPeter Johnson,
 If you intend to stay at Camp Half-Blood year-round, 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 #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
 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.
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 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 pack-ing 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, whaling on 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 counselor's shirt was dripping with sweat. His
expression was so intense, his life might've really been in danger. I watched, fascinated, as he
disemboweled the whole row of dummies, hacking off limbs and basically reducing them to a pile of
straw and armor.
 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."
 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."
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 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
gotten back from the quest, he'd been acting a little distant. I was afraid he might resent me for all the
attention I'd gotten.
 "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 gotten 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 any-thing 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 three feet? 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 gray 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 nor-mal 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 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
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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
 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 fifteen feet. 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
 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 pants leg.
 There had to be a way out of this. I needed time to think.
 "Kronos," I said. "That's who you serve."
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 The air got colder.
 "You should be careful with names," Luke warned.
 "Kronos got you to steal the master bolt and the helm. 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 snuck into the throne room and took Zeus's master bolt
right from his chair. Hades's helm 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 secu-rity 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, threat-ened 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. "Afterward, 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
helm the rest of the way—from Ares down to Tartarus."
 " Yousummoned 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 con-firm his fears that Hades was after you. And it worked."
 "The flying shoes were cursed," I said. "They were sup-posed to drag me and the backpack into
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 "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 sit-ting 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
 "You're being used, Luke. You and Ares both. Don't lis-ten 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."
 "Good-bye, 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 rip-ple 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
 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 gotten me after all.
 My ears pounded. My vision went foggy. The water, I thought. It 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 stum-bled toward the camp, and the nymphs stirred
from their trees.
 "Help," I croaked. "Please ..."
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 Two of them took my arms, pulling me along. I remember making it to the clearing, a counselor 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 chocolate-chip
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 gray 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
 "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
 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, Ican believe it. May the gods curse him.... He was never the same after his quest."
 "This must be reported to Olympus," Chiron mur-mured. "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!"
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 "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.
 " Wewill not sit back," Chiron promised. "Butyou must be careful. Kronos wants you to come unraveled.
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 ques-tions. 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 ... when-ever 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.
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 "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 toward 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 gotten 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
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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 lead 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.

The Lightning Thief - Chapter 21

Chapter 21

 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
 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 crimi-nal after all. He'd caused a commotion on that
Greyhound bus in New Jersey trying to get away from his captor (and afterward, 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 con-cerned
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-to-rifle on the beach. Police had arrived just
in time. But in the spectacu-lar 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
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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
 "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 ele-vator 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 mid-dle of the air. Below me was Manhattan, from the
height of an airplane. 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 multileveled 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
gar-dens bloomed with olive trees and rosebushes. I could make out an open-air market filled with
colorful tents, a stone amphitheater built on one side of the mountain, a hippo-drome and a coliseum on
the other. It was an Ancient Greek city, except it wasn't in ruins. It was new, and clean, and col-orful, the
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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 fes-tive mood. Several of them
turned to watch me pass, and whispered to themselves.
 I climbed the main road, toward the big palace at the peak. It was a reverse copy of the palace in the
 There, everything had been black and bronze. Here, every-thing glittered white and silver.
 I realized Hades must've built his palace to resemble this one. He wasn't welcomed in Olympus except
on the 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 loom.
 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 con-stellations.
 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 imme-diate left. I didn't have to be told
who the two gods were that were sitting there, waiting for me to approach. I came toward them, my legs
 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 gray and black
like a storm cloud. His face was proud and handsome and grim, his eyes rainy gray.
 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 gotten me branded a rebel. But his eyes, sea-green like mine, were surrounded by sun-crinkles
that told me he smiled a lot, too.
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 His throne was a deep-sea fisherman's chair. It was the simple swiveling 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 ten-sion in the air, as if they'd just finished an
 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."
 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 God's presence, and laid it at his feet.
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 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
elec-tricity, until he was holding what looked more like the clas-sic thunderbolt, a twenty-foot 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
 "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 kill-ing 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 pres-ence 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.
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 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 theater."
 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 farthest cor-ners 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
hunger-ing for power."
 "He's healing," I said. "He's coming back."
 Poseidon shook his head. "From time to time, over the eons, 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 helm. Even the Lord of Death pays
his debts."
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 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 load-ing 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 thou-sand 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,
 "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, conver-sations stopped. The muses paused their concert.
People and satyrs and naiads all turned toward 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 door-bell, and there she was—my beautiful mother,
smelling of peppermint and licorice, the weariness and worry evaporat-ing 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
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 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, traveling 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
 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
com-ing 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."
 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 toward Gabe, instinctively taking my pen out
of my pocket.
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 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. I here 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
fall, maybe there's another boarding school—"
 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
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 With best wishes,
 Over the top in black marker, in a man's clear, bold print, was the address of our apartment, and the
 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
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novel, meet a nice guy maybe, live in a nice house. You don't need to pro-tect me anymore 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 multicolored 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 and swearing, 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 feel-ing 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.

The Lightning Thief - Chapter 20

Chapter 20
 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 gotten out into the middle of the bay. There was a disas-ter 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 back-pack 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 some-body—"
 "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 among the Big Three. Someone else pulled off the theft. Someone stole
Zeus's master bolt, and Hades's helm, 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."
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 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 head-light 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 helm and the master bolt."
 Ares grinned. "Well, now, I didn't steal them person-ally. 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 win-ter 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 athim.  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 helm 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 lit-tle three-way slugfest going." 
 "But they're your family!" Annabeth protested.
 Ares shrugged. "Best kind of war. Always the blood-iest. 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 ..."
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 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 sun-glasses, 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 Under-world. You don't have what it takes."
 "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 side-stepped. 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.
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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?"
 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
 "If I lose, turn me into anything you want. Take the bolt. If I win, the helm 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 good-bye?" Ares came toward 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.
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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 outmaneuvered 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 several feet 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—twenty, maybe thirty feet. 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 flash-ing 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
 Ares seemed to know exactly what I was going to do the moment before I did it.
 I stepped back toward 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
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awareof Annabeth and Grover, thirty feet 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 farther into the water, but Ares was fast. The tip of his blade ripped my sleeve and grazed my
 A police voice on a megaphone said, "Drop the guns.' Set them on the ground. Now!"
 I looked at Ares's weapon, and it seemed to be flicker-ing; 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 toward, 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, rock-eting straight over Ares on a wave.
 A six-foot wall of water smashed him full in the face, leaving him cursing and sputtering with a mouth full
of sea-weed. I landed behind him with a splash and feinted toward 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 fifty feet wide.
 Ichor, the golden blood of the gods, flowed from a gash in the war god's boot. The expression on his
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face was beyond hatred. It was pain, shock, complete disbelief that he'd been wounded.
 He limped toward me, muttering ancient Greek curses.
 Something stopped him.
 It was as if a cloud covered the sun, but worse. Light faded. Sound and color drained away. A cold,
heavy pres-ence 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 spec-tators 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.
 His body began to glow.
 '''Percy!" Annabeth shouted. "Don't watch!"
 I turned away as the god Ares revealed his true irnmortal form. I somehow knew that if I looked, I
would disin-tegrate into ashes.
 The light died.
 I looked back. Ares was gone. The tide rolled out to reveal Hades's bronze helm of darkness. I picked
it up and walked toward 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 ..."
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 She cackled, savoring the idea. Then she and her sisters rose on their bats' 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 spo-ken 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 airplane, 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."

The Lightning Thief - Chapter 19

Chapter 19

 Imagine the largest concert crowd you've ever seen, a foot-ball 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 eons 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 gray and looked wickedly pointed. I tried not to imagine they'd fall on us at
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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 look-ing 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 twitter-ing. 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 toward a black-tented
pavilion with a banner that read:
 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 toward the Fields of
Punish-ment, 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
 The line coming from the right side of the judgment pavilion was much better. This one led down toward
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 neighborhoods of beautiful houses from every time period in
history, Roman villas and medieval castles and Victorian mansions. Silver and gold flowers bloomed on
the lawns. The grass rippled in rainbow colors. I could hear laughter and smell barbecue cooking.
 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
 But I thought of how few people there were in Elysium, how tiny it was compared to the Fields of
Asphodel or even the Fields of Punishment. So few people did good in their lives. It was depressing.
 We left the judgment pavilion and moved deeper into the Asphodel Fields. It got darker. The colors
faded from our clothes. The crowds of chattering spirits began to thin.
 After a few miles of walking, we began to hear a famil-iar screech in the distance. Looming on the
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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 sneakers 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! Nine-one-one! 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 feetfirst 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 ripped 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 tun-nel. 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
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think of things I shouldn't even know about—blood spilled on an ancient stone altar, the foul breath of a
 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 toward 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 toward 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
 He was ten feet 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-pupiled, 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
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 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 gotten 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
gotten 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
 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 toward the palace of Hades.
 The Furies circled the parapets, high in the gloom. The outer walls of the fortress glittered black, and the
two-story-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.  Multicolored mushrooms, poisonous shrubs,
and weird luminous plants grew without sunlight. Precious jew-els made up for the lack of flowers, piles
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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 gro-tesquely.
 In the center 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 mili-tary gear. Some wore Greek armor, 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 fol-lowed us as we walked
down the hall, toward 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
somehow 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-vous," 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 ten feet 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 ofmesmerizing, evil charisma.
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 "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
 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 hor-rible 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 agri-culture, Demeter. Her visits, not the tilt of the planet, create the
 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 pretense, 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 you'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?"
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 "A typical thing for my brothers to say! Do you think I need more subjects? Did you not see the sprawl
of the Asphodel Fields?"
 "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 pre-cious metals under the earth. But my
 "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?"
 "Youwere 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 boltand my helm. Had I not sent my
Fury to discover you at Yancy Academy, Poseidon might have suc-ceeded 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 helm back!"
 "But ..." Annabeth spoke. I could tell her mind was going a million miles an hour. "Lord Hades, your
helm 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 helm'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 pow-erful 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, Idid not try to stop you."
 "You didn't try to stop us? But—"
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 "Return my helm now, or I will stop death," Hades threatened. "That is my counterproposal. 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 king-dom so easily?"
 "Return my property!"
 "But I don't have your helm. 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 back-pack, like a bowling ball. It couldn't be....
 I slung it off my shoulder and unzipped it . Inside was a two-foot-long metal cylinder, spiked on both
ends, hum-ming 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 helm. Where is it?"
 I was speechless. I had no helm. I had no idea how the master bolt had gotten 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 gotten the backpack from ...
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 "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 thereal  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 helm, 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."
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 "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 license 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
 "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 helm, Uncle," I told him. "I'll returnit.  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.
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 Just as the skeletons opened fire, the pearl fragments at my feet exploded 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
 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 toward 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 the Santa Monica Bay, knocking a surfer off his board
with an indig-nant, "Dude!"
 I grabbed Grover and hauled him over to a life buoy. I caught Annabeth and dragged her over too. A
curious shark was circling us, a great white about eleven feet 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 neighborhoods 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.