Monday, May 21, 2012

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."

1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much for posting these chapters, we are reading this book in school and sometimes I forget to bring my book home at night, so this is perfect for me to use! 😁