Monday, July 9, 2012

The Titan's Curse - Chapter 19

Chapter 19

 Flying was bad enough for a son of Poseidon, but flying straight up to Zeus's palace, with thunder and
lightning swirling around it, was even worse.
 We circled over midtown Manhattan, making one complete orbit around Mount Olympus. I'd only been
there once before, traveling by elevator up to the secret six hundredth floor of the Empire State Building.
This time, if it was possible, Olympus amazed me even more.
 In the early-morning darkness, torches and fires made the mountainside palaces glow twenty different
colors, from bloodred to indigo. Apparently no one ever slept on Olympus. The twisting streets were full
of demigods and nature spirits and minor godlings bustling about, riding chariots or sedan chairs carried
by Cyclopes. Winter didn't seem to exist here. I caught the scent of the gardens in full bloom, jasmine
and roses and even sweeter things I couldn't name. Music drifted up from many windows, the soft
sounds of lyres and reed pipes.
 Towering at the peak of the mountain was the greatest palace of all, the glowing white hall of the gods.
 Our pegasi set us down in the outer courtyard, in front of huge silver gates. Before I could even think to
knock, the gates opened bythemselves .
 Good luck, boss , Blackjack said.
 "Yeah."I didn't know why, but I had a sense of doom. I'd never seen all the gods together. I knew any
one of them could blast me to dust, and a few of them would like to.
 Hey, if ya don't come back, can I have your cabin for my stable?
 I looked at the pegasus .
 Just a thought , he said. Sorry .
 Blackjack and his friends flew off, leaving Thalia, Annabeth, and me alone. For a minute we stood there
regarding the palace, the way we'd stood together in front of Westover Hall, what seemed like a million
years ago.
 And then, side by side, we walked into the throne room.
 Twelve enormous thrones made a U around a central hearth, just like the placement of the cabins at
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camp. The ceiling above glittered with constellations—even the newest one, Zoe the Huntress, making
her way across the heavens with her bow drawn.
 All of the seats were occupied. Each god and goddess was about fifteen feet tall, and I'm telling you, if
you've ever had a dozen all-powerful super-huge beings turn their eyes on you at once… Well, suddenly,
facing monsters seemed like a picnic.
 "Welcome, heroes," Artemis said.
 That's when I noticed Bessie and Grover.
 A sphere of water was hovering in the center of the room, next to the hearth fire. Bessie was swimming
happily around, swishing his serpent tail and poking his head out the sides and bottom of the sphere. He
seemed to be enjoying the novelty of swimming in a magic bubble. Grover was kneeling at Zeus's throne,
as if he'd just been giving a report, but when he saw us, he cried, "You made it!"
 He started to run toward me,then  remembered he was turning his back on Zeus, and looked for
 "Go on," Zeus said. But he wasn't really paying attention to Grover. The lord of the sky was staring
intently at Thalia.
 Grover trotted over. None of the gods spoke. Every clop of Grover's hooves echoed on the marble
floor. Bessie splashed in his bubble of water. The hearth fire crackled.
 I looked nervously at my father, Poseidon. He was dressed similar to the last time I'd seen him: beach
shorts, a Hawaiian shirt, and sandals. He had a weathered, suntanned face with a dark beard and deep
green eyes. I wasn't sure how he would feel about seeing me again, but the corners of his eyes crinkled
with smile lines. He nodded as if to sayIt'sokay  .
 Grover gave Annabeth and Thalia big hugs. Then he grasped my arms. "Percy, Bessie and I made it! But
you have to convince them! They can't do it!"
 "Do what?" I asked.
 "Heroes," Artemis called.
 The goddess slid down from her throne and turned to human size, a young auburn-haired girl, perfectly
at ease in the midst of the giant Olympians. She walked toward us, her silver robes shimmering. There
was no emotion in her face. She seemed to walk in a column of moonlight.
 "The Council has been informed of your deeds," Artemis told us. "They know that Mount Othrys is rising
in the West. They know of Atlas's attempt for freedom, and the gathering armies of Kronos. We have
voted to act."
 There was some mumbling and shuffling among the gods, as if they weren't all happy with this plan, but
nobody protested.
 "At my Lord Zeus's command," Artemis said, "my brother Apollo and I shall hunt the most powerful
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monsters, seeking to strike them down before they can join the Titans' cause. Lady Athena shall
personally check on the other Titans to make sure they do not escape their various prisons. Lord
Poseidon has been given permission to unleash his full fury on the cruise shipPrincess Andromeda and
send it to the bottom of the sea. And as for you, my heroes…"
 She turned to face the other immortals. "These half-bloods have done Olympus a great service. Would
any here deny that?"
 She looked around at the assembled gods, meeting their faces individually. Zeus in his dark pin-striped
suit, his black beard neatly trimmed, and his eyes sparking with energy. Next to him sat a beautiful
woman with silver hair braided over one shoulder and a dress that shimmered colors like peacock
feathers.The Lady Hera.
 On Zeus's right, my father Poseidon. Next to him, a huge lump of a man with a leg in a steel brace, a
misshapen head, and a wild brown beard, fire flickering through his whiskers. The Lord of the Forges,
 Hermes winked at me. He was wearing a business suit today, checking messages on his caduceus
mobile phone. Apollo leaned back in his golden throne with his shades on. He had iPod headphones on,
so I wasn't sure he was even listening, but he gave me a thumbs-up. Dionysus looked bored, twirling a
grape vine between his fingers. And Ares, well, he sat on his chrome-and-leather throne, glowering at me
while he sharpened a knife.
 On the ladies' side of the throne room, a dark-haired goddess in green robes sat next to Hera on a
throne woven of apple-tree branches. Demeter, Goddess of the Harvest. Next to her sat a beautiful
gray-eyed woman in an elegant white dress. She could only be Annabeth's mother, Athena. Then there
was Aphrodite, who smiled at me knowingly and made me blush in spite of myself.
 All the Olympians in one place. So much power in this room it was a miracle the whole palace didn't
blow apart.
 "I gotta say"—Apollo broke the silence—"these kids did okay." He cleared his throat and began to
recite: " Heroes win laurels—"
 "Um, yes, first class," Hermes interrupted, like he was anxious to avoid Apollo's poetry."All in favor of
not disintegrating them?"
 A few tentative hands went up—Demeter, Aphrodite.
 "Wait just a minute," Ares growled. He pointed at Thalia and me. "These two are dangerous. It'd be
much safer, while we've got them here—"
 "Ares," Poseidon interrupted, "they are worthy heroes. We will not blast my son to bits."
 "Nor my daughter," Zeus grumbled. "She has done well."
 Thalia blushed. She studied the floor. I knew how she felt. I'd hardly ever talked to my father, much less
gotten a compliment.
 The goddess Athena cleared her throat and sat forward. "I am proud of my daughter as well. But there
is a security risk here with the other two."
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 "Mother!"Annabeth said. "How can you—"
 Athena cut her off with a calm but firm look. "It is unfortunate that my father, Zeus, and my uncle,
Poseidon, chose to break their oath not to have more children. Only Hades kept his word, a fact that I
find ironic. As we know from the Great Prophecy, children of the three elder gods… such as Thalia and
Percy… are dangerous. As thickheaded as he is, Ares has a point."
 "Right!"Ares said. "Hey, wait a minute. Who you callin'—"
 He started to get up, but a grape vine grew around his waist like a seat belt and pulled him back down.
 "Oh, please, Ares," Dionysus sighed. "Save the fighting for later."
 Ares cursed and ripped away the vine. "You're one to talk, you old drunk. You seriously want to
protect these brats?"
 Dionysus gazed down at us wearily. "I have no love for them. Athena, do you truly think it safest to
destroy them?"
 "I do not pass judgment," Athena said. "I only point out the risk. What we do, the Council must decide."
 "I will not have them punished," Artemis said. "I will have them rewarded. If we destroy heroes who do
us a great favor, then we are no better than the Titans. If this is Olympian justice, I will have none of it."
 "Calm down, sis," Apollo said. "Jeez, you need to lighten up."
 "Don't call me sis ! I will reward them."
 "Well," Zeus grumbled. "Perhaps.  But the monster at least must be destroyed. We have agreement on
 A lot of nodding heads.
 It took me a second to realize what they were saying. Then my heart turned to lead. "Bessie? You want
to destroy Bessie?"
 "Mooooooo!" Bessie protested.
 My father frowned. "You have named the Ophiotaurus Bessie?"
 "Dad," I said, "he's just a sea creature. A really nice  sea creature. You can't destroy him."
 Poseidon shifted uncomfortably. "Percy, the monster's power is considerable. If the Titans were to steal
it, or—"
 "You can't," I insisted. I looked at Zeus. I probably should have been afraid of him, but I stared him right
in the eye. "Controlling the prophecies never works. Isn't that true? Besides, Bess—the Ophiotaurus is
innocent. Killing something like that is wrong. It's just as wrong as… as Kronos eating his children, just
because of something they might do. It's wrong!"
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 Zeus seemed to consider this. His eyes drifted to his daughter Thalia."And what of the risk?  Kronos
knows full well, if one of you were to sacrifice the beast's entrails, you would have the power to destroy
us. Do you think we can let that possibility remain? You, my daughter, will turn sixteen on the morrow,
just as the prophecy says."
 "You have to trust them," Annabeth spoke up. "Sir, you have to trust them."
 Zeus scowled. "Trust a hero?"
 "Annabeth is right," Artemis said. "Which is why I must first make a reward.My faithful companion, Zoe
Nightshade, has passed into the stars. I must have a new lieutenant. And I intend to choose one. But first,
Father Zeus, I must speak to you privately."
 Zeus beckoned Artemis forward. He leaned down and listened as she spoke in his ear.
 A feeling of panic seized me. "Annabeth," I said under my breath. "Don't."
 She frowned at me. "What?"
 "Look, I need to tell you something," I continued. The words came stumbling out of me. "I couldn't stand
it if… I don't want you to—"
 "Percy?" she said. "You look like you're going to be sick."
 And that's how I felt. I wanted to say more, but my tongue betrayed me. It wouldn't move because of
the fear in my stomach. And then Artemis turned.
 "I shall have a new lieutenant," she announced. "If she will accept it."
 "No," I murmured.
 "Thalia," Artemis said. "Daughter of Zeus. Will you join the Hunt?"
 Stunned silence filled the room. I stared at Thalia, unable to believe what I was hearing. Annabeth
smiled. She squeezed Thalia's hand and let it go, as if she'd been expecting this all along.
 "I will," Thalia said firmly.
 Zeusrose  , his eyes full of concern. "My daughter, consider well—"
 "Father," she said. "I will not turn sixteen tomorrow. I will never turn sixteen. I won't let this prophecy be
mine. I stand with my sister Artemis. Kronos will never tempt me again."
 She knelt before the goddess and began the words I remembered from Bianca's oath, what seemed like
so long ago. "I pledge myself to the goddess Artemis. I turn my back on the company of men…"
 Afterward, Thalia did something that surprised me almost as much as the pledge. She came over to me,
smiled, and in front of the whole assembly, she gave me a big hug.
 I blushed.
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 When she pulled away and gripped my shoulders, I said, "Um… aren't you supposed to not do that
anymore? Hug boys, I mean?"
 "I'm honoring a friend," she corrected. "I must  join the Hunt, Percy. I haven't known peace since… since
Half-Blood Hill. I finally feel like I have a home. But you're a hero. You will be the one of the prophecy."
 "Great," I muttered.
 "I'm proud to be your friend."
 She hugged Annabeth, who was trying hard not to cry. Then she even hugged Grover, who looked
ready to pass out, like somebody had just given him an all-you-can-eat enchilada coupon.
 Then Thalia went to stand by Artemis's side.
 "Now for the Ophiotaurus," Artemis said.
 "This boy is still dangerous," Dionysus warned. "The beast is a temptation to great power. Even if we
spare the boy—"
 "No." I looked around at all the gods. "Please. Keep the Ophiotaurus safe. My dad can hide him under
the sea somewhere, or keep him in an aquarium here in Olympus. But you have to protect him."
 "And why should we trust you?" rumbled Hephaestus.
 "I'm only fourteen," I said. "If this prophecy is about me, that's two more years."
 "Two years for Kronos to deceive you," Athena said. "Much can change in two years, my young hero."
 "Mother!"Annabeth said, exasperated.
 "It is only the truth, child. It is bad strategy to keep the animal alive. Or the boy."
 My father stood. "I will not have a sea creature destroyed, if I can help it. And Ican help it."
 He held out his hand, and a trident appeared in it: a twenty foot long bronze shaft with three spear tips
that shimmered with blue, watery light. "I will vouch for the boy and the safety of the Ophiotaurus."
 "You won't take it under the sea!" Zeus stood suddenly. "I won't have that kind of bargaining chip in
your possession."
 "Brother, please," Poseidon sighed.
 Zeus's lightning bolt appeared in his hand, a shaft of electricity that filled the whole room with the smell of
 "Fine," Poseidon said. "I will build an aquarium for the creature here. Hephaestus can help me. The
creature will be safe. We shall protect it with all our powers. The boy will not betray us. I vouch for this
on my honor."
 Zeus thought about this."All in favor?"
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 To my surprise, a lot of hands went up. Dionysus abstained. So did Ares and Athena. But everybody
 "We have a majority," Zeus decreed. "And so, since we will not be destroying these heroes… I imagine
we should honor them. Let the triumph celebration begin!"
 There are parties, and then there are huge, major, blowout parties. And then there are Olympian parties.
If you ever get a choice, go for the Olympian.
 The Nine Muses cranked up the tunes, and I realized the music was whatever you wanted it to be: the
gods could listen to classical and the younger demigods heard hip-hop or whatever, and it was all the
same sound track. No arguments. No fights to change the radio station. Just requests to crank it up.
 Dionysus went around growing refreshment stands out of the ground, and a beautiful woman walked
with him arm in arm—his wife, Ariadne. Dionysus looked happy for the first time. Nectar and ambrosia
overflowed from golden fountains, and platters of mortal snack food crowded the banquet tables. Golden
goblets filled with whatever drink you wanted. Grover trotted around with a full plate of tin cans and
enchiladas, and his goblet was full of double-espresso latte, which he kept muttering over like an
incantation: "Pan! Pan!"
 Gods kept coming over to congratulate me. Thankfully, they had reduced themselves to human size, so
they didn't accidentally trample partygoers under their feet. Hermes started chatting with me, and he was
so cheerful I hated to tell him what had happened to his least-favorite son, Luke, but before I could even
get up the courage, Hermes got a call on his caduceus and walked away.
 Apollo told me I could drive his sun chariot any time, and if I ever wanted archery lessons—
 "Thanks," I told him. "But seriously, I'm no good at archery."
 "Ah, nonsense," he said. "Target practice from the chariot as we fly over the U.S.? Best fun there is!"
 I made some excuses and wove through the crowds that were dancing in the palace courtyards. I was
looking for Annabeth. Last I saw her, she'd been dancing with some minor godling.
 Then a man's voice behind me said, "You won't let me down, I hope."
 I turned and found Poseidon smiling at me.
 "Dad… hi."
 "Hello, Percy. You've done well."
 His praise made me uneasy. I mean, it felt good, but I knew just how much he'd put himself on the line,
vouching for me. It would've been a lot easier to let the others disintegrate me.
 "I won't let you down," I promised.
 He nodded. I had trouble reading gods' emotions, but I wondered if he had some doubts.
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 "Your friend Luke—"
 "He's not my friend," I blurted out. Then I realized it was probably rude to interrupt. "Sorry."
 "Your former  friend Luke," Poseidon corrected. "He once promised things like that. He was Hermes's
pride and joy. Just bear that in mind, Percy. Even the bravest can fall."
 "Luke fell pretty hard," I agreed. "He's dead."
 Poseidon shook his head. "No, Percy. He is not."
 I stared at him. "What?"
 "I believe Annabeth told you this. Luke still lives. I have seen it. His boat sails from San Francisco with
the remains of Kronos even now. He will retreat and regroup before assaulting you again. I will do my
best to destroy his boat with storms, but he is making alliances with my enemies, the older spirits of the
ocean. They will fight to protect him."
 "How can he be alive?" I said. "That fall should've killed him!"
 Poseidon looked troubled. "I don't know, Percy, but beware of him. He is more dangerous than ever.
And the golden coffin is still with him, still growing in strength."
 "What about Atlas?" I said. "What's to prevent him from escaping again? Couldn't he just force some
giant or something to take the sky for him?"
 My father snorted in derision. "If it were so easy, he would have escaped long ago. No, my son. The
curse of the sky can only be forced upon a Titan, one of the children of Gaia and Ouranous. Anyone else
must choose  to take the burden of their own free will. Only a hero, someone with strength, a true heart,
and great courage, would do such a thing. No one in Kronos's army would dare try to bear that weight,
even upon pain of death."
 "Luke did it," I said. "He let Atlas go. Then he tricked Annabeth into saving him and used her to
convince Artemis to take the sky."
 "Yes," Poseidon said. "Luke is… an interesting case."
 I think he wanted to say more, but just then, Bessie started mooing from across the courtyard. Some
demigods were playing with his water sphere, joyously pushing it back and forth over the top of the
 "I'd better take care of that," Poseidon grumbled. "We can't have the Ophiotaurus tossed around like a
beach ball. Be good, my son. We may not speak again for some time."
 And just like that he was gone.
 I was about to keep searching the crowd when another voice spoke. "Your father takes a great risk, you
 I found myself face-to-face with a gray-eyed woman who looked so much like Annabeth I almost called
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her that.
 "Athena." I tried not to sound resentful, after the way she'd written me off in the council, but I guess I
didn't hide it very well.
 She smiled dryly. "Do not judge me too harshly, half-blood. Wise counsel is not always popular, but I
spoke the truth. You are dangerous."
 "You never take risks?"
 She nodded. "I concede the point. You may perhaps be useful. And yet… your fatal flaw may destroy
us as well as yourself."
 My heart crept into my throat. A year ago, Annabeth and I had had a talk about fatal flaws. Every hero
had one. Hers, she said, was pride. She believed she could do anything… like holding up the world, for
instance. Or saving Luke. But I didn't really know what mine was.
 Athena looked almost sorry for me. "Kronos knows your flaw, even if you do not. He knows how to
study his enemies. Think, Percy. How has he manipulated you? First, your mother was taken from you.
Then your best friend, Grover.Now my daughter, Annabeth." She paused, disapproving. "In each case,
your loved ones have been used to lure you into Kronos's traps. Your fatal flaw is personal loyalty,
Percy. You do not know when it is time to cut your losses. To save a friend, you would sacrifice the
world. In a hero of the prophecy, that is very, very dangerous."
 I balled my fists. "That's not a flaw. Just because I want to help my friends—"
 "The most dangerous flaws are those which are good in moderation," she said. "Evil is easy to fight.
Lack of wisdom… that is very hard indeed."
 I wanted to argue, but I found I couldn't. Athena was pretty darn smart.
 "I hope the Council's decisions prove wise," Athena said. "But I will be watching, Percy Jackson. I do
not approve of your friendship with my daughter. I do not think it wise for either of you. And should you
begin to waver in your loyalties…"
 She fixed me with her cold gray stare, and I realized what a terrible enemy Athena would make, ten
times worse than Ares or Dionysus or maybe even my father. Athena would never give up. She would
never do something rash or stupid just because she hated you, and if she made a plan to destroy you, it
would not fail.
 "Percy!" Annabeth said, running through the crowd. She stopped short when she saw who I was talking
to. "Oh… Mom."
 "I will leave you," Athena said. "For now."
 She turned and strode through the crowds, which parted before her as if she were carrying Aegis.
 "Was she giving you a hard time?" Annabeth asked.
 "No," I said. "It's… fine."
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 She studied me with concern. She touched the new streak of gray in my hair that matched hers
exactly—our painful souvenir from holding Atlas's burden. There was a lot I'd wanted to say to
Annabeth, but Athena had taken the confidence out of me. I felt like I'd been punched in the gut.
 I do not approve of your friendship with my daughter.
 "So," Annabeth said. "What did you want to tell me earlier?"
 The music was playing. People were dancing in the streets. I said, "I, uh, was thinking we got interrupted
at Westover Hall. And… I think I owe you a dance."
 She smiled slowly. "All right, Seaweed Brain."
 So I took her hand, and I don't know what everybody else heard, but to me it sounded like a slow
dance: a little sad, but maybe a little hopeful, too.

The Titan's Curse - Chapter 20

Chapter 20

 Before I left Olympus, I decided to make a few calls. It wasn't easy, but I finally found a quiet fountain in
a corner garden and sent an Iris-message to my brother, Tyson, under the sea. I told him about our
adventures, and Bessie—he wanted to hear every detail about the cute baby cow serpent—and I
assured him that Annabeth was safe. Finally I got around to explaining how the shield he'd made me last
summer had been damaged in the manticore attack.
 "Yay!" Tyson said. "That means it was good! It saved your life!"
 "It sure did, big guy," I said. "But now it's ruined."
 "Not ruined!" Tyson promised. "I will visit and fix it next summer."
 The idea picked me up instantly. I guess I hadn't realized how much I missed having Tyson around.
 "Seriously?" I asked. "They'll let you take time off?"
 "Yes! I have made two thousand seven hundred and forty-one magic swords," Tyson said proudly,
showing me the newest blade. "The boss says 'good work'! He will let me take the whole summer off. I
will visit camp!"
 We talked for a while about war preparations and our dad's fight with the old sea gods, and all the cool
things we could do together next summer, but then Tyson's boss started yelling at him and he had to get
back to work.
 I dug out my last golden drachma and made one more Iris-message.
 "Sally Jackson," I said. "Upper East Side, Manhattan."
 The mist shimmered, and there was my mom at our kitchen table, laughing and holding hands with her
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friend Mr. Blowfish.
 I felt so embarrassed, I was about to wave my hand through the mist and cut the connection, but before
I could, my mom saw me.
 Her eyes got wide. She let go of Mr. Blowfish's hand real quick. "Oh, Paul!  You know what? I left my
writing journal in the living room. Would you mind getting it for me?"
 "Sure, Sally. No problem."
 He left the room, and instantly my mom leaned toward the Iris-message. "Percy! Are you all right?"
 "I'm, uh, fine. How's that writing seminar going?"
 She pursed her lips. "It's fine. But that's not important. Tell me what's happened!"
 I filled her in as quickly as I could. She sighed with relief when she heard that Annabeth was safe.
 "I knew you could do it!" she said. "I'm so proud."
 "Yeah, well, I'd better let you get back to your homework."
 "Percy, I… Paul and I—"
 "Mom, are you happy?"
 The question seemed to take her by surprise. She thought for a moment. "Yes. I really am, Percy. Being
around him makes me happy."
 "Then it's cool. Seriously.  Don't worry about me." The funny thing was ,I meant it. Considering the quest
I'd just had, maybe I should have been worried for my mom. I'd seen just how mean people could be to
each other, like Hercules was to Zoe Nightshade, like Luke was to Thalia. I'd met Aphrodite, Goddess
of Love, in person, and her powers had scared me worse than Ares. But seeing my mother laughing and
smiling, after all the years she'd suffered with my nasty ex-stepfather, Gabe Ugliano, I couldn't help
feeling happy for her.
 "You promise not to call him Mr. Blowfish?" she asked.
 I shrugged. "Well, maybe not to his face, anyway."
 "Sally?" Mr. Blofis called from our living room. "You need the green binder or the red one?"
 "I'd better go," she told me. "See you for Christmas?"
 "Are you putting blue candy in my stocking?"
 She smiled. "If you're not too old for that."
 "I'm never too old for candy."
 "I'll see you then."
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 She waved her hand across the mist. Her image disappeared, and I thought to myself that Thalia had
been right, so many days ago at Westover Hall: my mom really was pretty cool.
 Compared to Mount Olympus, Manhattan was quiet. Friday before Christmas, but it was early in the
morning, and hardly anyone was on Fifth Avenue. Argus, the many-eyed security chief, picked up
Annabeth, Grover, and me at the Empire State Building and ferried us back to camp through a light
snowstorm. The Long Island Expressway was almost deserted.
 As we trudged back up Half-Blood Hill to the pine tree where the Golden Fleece glittered, I half
expected to see Thalia there, waiting for us. But she wasn't. She was long gone with Artemis and the rest
of the Hunters, off on their next adventure.
 Chiron greeted us at the Big House with hot chocolate and toasted cheese sandwiches. Grover went off
with his satyr friends to spread the word about our strange encounter with the magic of Pan. Within an
hour, the satyrs were all running around agitated, asking where the nearest espresso bar was.
 Annabeth and I sat with Chiron and some of the other senior campers—Beckendorf, Silena Beauregard,
and the Stoll brothers. Even Clarisse from the Ares cabin was there, back from her secretive scouting
mission. I knew she must've had a difficult quest, because she didn't even try to pulverize me. She had a
new scar on her chin, and her dirty blond hair had been cut short and ragged, like someone had attacked
it with a pair of safety scissors.
 "I got news," she mumbled uneasily. "Badnews."
 "I'll fill you in later," Chiron said with forced cheerfulness. "The important thing is you have prevailed.
And you saved Annabeth!"
 Annabeth smiled at me gratefully, which made me look away.
 For some strange reason, I found myself thinking about Hoover Dam, and the odd mortal girl I'd run into
there, Rachel Elizabeth Dare. I didn't know why, but her annoying comments kept coming back to me.
Do you always kill people when they blow their nose  ? I was only alive because so many people had
helped me, even a random mortal girl like that. I'd never even explained to her who I was.
 "Luke is alive," I said. "Annabeth was right."
 Annabeth sat up. "How do you know?"
 I tried not to feel annoyed by her interest. I told her what my dad had said about the Princess
Andromeda  .
 "Well." Annabeth shifted uncomfortably in her chair. "If the final battle does come when Percy is sixteen,
at least we have two more years to figure something out."
 I had a feeling that when she said "figure something out," she meant "get Luke to change his ways," which
annoyed me even more.
 Chiron's expression was gloomy. Sitting by the fire in his wheelchair, he looked really old. I mean… he
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was really old, but he usually didn't look it.
 "Two years may seem like a long time," he said. "But it is the blink of an eye. I still hope you are not the
child of the prophecy, Percy. But if you are, then the second Titan war is almost upon us. Kronos's first
strike will be here."
 "How do you know?" I asked. "Why would he care about camp?"
 "Because the gods use heroes as their tools," Chiron said simply. "Destroy the tools, and the gods will be
crippled. Luke's forces will come here. Mortal, demigod, monstrous… We must be prepared. Clarisse's
news may give us a clue as to how they will attack, but—"
 There was a knock on the door, and Nico di Angelo came huffing into the parlor, his cheeks bright red
from the cold.
 He was smiling, but he looked around anxiously. "Hey! Where's… where's my sister?"
 Dead silence. I stared at Chiron. I couldn't believe nobody had told him yet. And then I realized why.
They'd been waiting for us to appear, to tell Nico in person.
 That was the last thing I wanted to do. But I owed it to Bianca.
 "Hey, Nico."I got up from my comfortable chair. "Let's take a walk, okay? We need to talk."
 He took the news in silence, which somehow made it worse. I kept talking, trying to explain how it had
happened, how Bianca had sacrificed herself to save the quest. But I felt like I was only making things
 "She wanted you to have this." I brought out the little god figurine Bianca had found in the junkyard.
Nico held it in his palm and stared at it.
 We were standing at the dining pavilion, just where we'd last spoken before I went on the quest. The
wind was bitter cold, even with the camp's magical weather protection. Snow fell lightly against the
marble steps. I figured outside the camp borders, there must be a blizzard happening.
 "You promised you would protect her," Nico said.
 He might as well have stabbed me with a rusty dagger.
 It would've hurt less than reminding me of my promise.
 "Nico," I said. "I tried. But Bianca gave herself up to save the rest of us. I told her not to. But she—"
 "You promised!"
 He glared at me, his eyes rimmed with red. He closed his small fist around the god statue.
 "I shouldn't have trusted you." His voice broke. "You lied to me. My nightmares were right!"
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 "Wait. What nightmares?"
 He flung the god statue to the ground. It clattered across the icy marble. "I hate you!"
 "She might be alive," I said desperately. "I don't know for sure—"
 "She's dead." He closed his eyes. His whole body trembled with rage. "I should've known it earlier.
She's in the Fields of Asphodel, standing before the judges right now, being evaluated. I can feel it."
 "What do you mean, you can feel it?"
 Before he could answer, I heard a new sound behind me. A hissing, clattering noise I recognized all too
 I drew my sword and Nico gasped. I whirled and found myself facing four skeleton warriors. They
grinned  fleshless grins and advanced with swords drawn. I wasn't sure how they'd made it inside the
camp, but it didn't matter. I'd never get help in time.
 "You're trying to kill me!" Nico screamed. "You brought these… these things?"
 "No! I mean, yes, they followed me, but no ! Nico, run.  They can't be destroyed."
 "I don't trust you!"
 The first skeleton charged. I knocked aside its blade, but the other three kept coming. I sliced one in
half, but immediately it began to knit back together. I knocked another's head off but it just kept fighting.
 "Run, Nico!" I yelled. "Get help!"
 "No!" He pressed his hands to his ears.
 I couldn't fight four at once, not if they wouldn't die. I slashed, whirled, blocked, jabbed, but they just
kept advancing. It was only a matter of seconds before the zombies overpowered me.
 "No!" Nico shouted louder. "Go away!"
 The ground rumbled beneath me. The skeletons froze. I rolled out of the way just as a crack opened at
the feet of the four warriors. The ground ripped apart like a snapping mouth. Flames erupted from the
fissure, and the earth swallowed the skeletons in one loud CRUNCH !
 In the place where the skeletons had stood, a twenty-foot-long scar wove across the marble floor of the
pavilion. Otherwise there was no sign of the warriors.
 Awestruck, I looked to Nico. "How did you—"
 "Go away!" he yelled. "I hate you! I wish you were dead!"
 The ground didn't swallowme up, but Nico ran down the steps, heading toward the woods. I started to
follow but slipped and fell to the icy steps. When I got up, I noticed what I'd slipped on.
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 I picked up the god statue Bianca had retrieved from the junkyard for Nico. The only statue he didn't
have  , she'd said. A last gift from his sister.
 I stared at it with dread, because now I understood why the face looked familiar. I'd seen it before.
 It was a statue of Hades, Lord of the Dead.
 Annabeth and Grover helped me search the woods for hours, but there was no sign of Nico di Angelo.
 "We have to tell Chiron," Annabeth said, out of breath.
 "No," I said.
 She and Grover both stared at me.
 "Um," Grover said nervously, "what do you mean… no?
 I was still trying to figure out why I'd said that, but the words spilled out of me. "We can't let anyone
know. I don't think anyone realizes that Nico is a—"
 "A son of Hades," Annabeth said. "Percy, do you have any idea how serious this is? Even Hades broke
the oath! This is horrible!"
 "I don't think so," I said. "I don't think Hades broke the oath."
 "He's their dad," I said, "but Bianca and Nico have been out of commission for a long time, since even
before World War II."
 "The Lotus Casino!" Grover said, and he told Annabeth about the conversations we'd had with Bianca
on the quest. "She and Nico were stuck there for decades. They were born before the oath was made."
 I nodded.
 "But how did they get out?" Annabeth protested.
 "I don't know," I admitted. "Bianca said a lawyer came and got them and drove them to Westover Hall.
I don't know who that could've been, or why. Maybe it's part of this Great Stirring thing. I don't think
Nico understands who he is. But we can't go telling anyone. Not even Chiron. If the Olympians find
 "It might start them fighting among each other again," Annabeth said. "That's the last thing we need."
 Grover looked worried. "But you can't hide things from the gods. Not forever."
 "I don't need forever," I said. "Just two years. Until I'm sixteen."
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 Annabeth paled. "But, Percy, this means the prophecy might not be about you. It might be about
Nico.We have to—"
 "No," I said. "I choose the prophecy. It will be about me."
 "Why are you saying that?" she cried. "You want to be responsible for the whole world?"
 It was the last thing I wanted, but I didn't say that. I knew I had to step up and claim it.
 "I can't let Nico be in any more danger," I said. "I owe that much to his sister. I… let them both down.
I'm not going to let that poor kid suffer any more."
 "The poorkid who hates you and wants to see you dead," Grover reminded me.
 "Maybe we can find him," I said. "We can convince himit's okay, hide him someplace safe."
 Annabeth shivered. "If Luke gets hold of him—"
 "Luke won't," I said. "I'll make sure he's got other things to worry about. Namely, me."
 I wasn't sure Chiron believed the story Annabeth and I told him. I think he could tell I was holding
something back about Nico's disappearance, but in the end, he accepted it. Unfortunately, Nico wasn't
the first half-blood to disappear.
 "So young," Chiron sighed, his hands on the rail of the front porch. "Alas, I hope he was eaten by
monsters.Much better than being recruited into the Titans' army."
 That idea made me really uneasy. I almost changed my mind about telling Chiron, but I didn't.
 "You really think the first attack will be here?" I asked.
 Chiron stared at the snow falling on the hills. I could see smoke from the dragon guardian at the pine
tree, the glitter of the distant Fleece.
 "It will not be until summer, at least," Chiron said. This winter will be hard… the hardest for many
centuries. It's best that you go home to the city, Percy; try to keep your mind on school. And rest. You
will need rest."
 I looked at Annabeth. "What about you?"
 Her cheeks flushed. "I'm going to try San Francisco after all. Maybe I can keep an eye on Mount Tam,
make sure the Titans don't try anything else."
 "You'll send an Iris-message if anything goes wrong?"
 She nodded. "But I think Chiron's right. It won't be until the summer. Luke will need time to regain his
 I didn't like the idea of waiting. Then again, next August I would be turning fifteen. So close to sixteen I
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didn't want to think about it.
 "All right," I said. "Just take care of yourself. And no crazy stunts in the Sopwith Camel."
 She smiled tentatively. "Deal. And, Percy—"
 Whatever she was going to say was interrupted by Grover, who stumbled out of the Big House, tripping
over tin cans. His face was haggard and pale, like he'd seen a specter.
 "He spoke.'" Grover cried.
 "Calm down, my young satyr," Chiron said, frowning. "What is the matter?"
 "I… I was playing music in the parlor," he stammered, "and drinking coffee. Lots and lots of coffee! And
he spoke in my mind!"
 "Who?"Annabeth demanded.
 "Pan!" Grover wailed."The Lord of the Wild himself.  I heard him! I have to… I have to find a suitcase."
 "Whoa, whoa, whoa," I said. "What did he say?"
 Grover stared at me."Just three words.  He said, ' I await you...'"

The Titan's Curse - Chapter 17

Chapter 17

 The horrible thing was: I could see the family resemblance. Atlas had the same regal expression as Zoe,
the same cold proud look in his eyes that Zoe sometimes got when she was mad, though on him it looked
a thousand times more evil. He was all the things I'd originally disliked about Zoe, with none of the good
I'd come to appreciate.
 "Let Artemis go," Zoe demanded.
 Atlas walked closer to the chained goddess. "Perhaps you'd like to take the sky for her, then? Be my
 Zoe opened her mouth to speak, but Artemis said, "No! Do not offer, Zoe! I forbid you."
 Atlas smirked. He knelt next to Artemis and tried to touch her face, but the goddess bit at him, almost
taking off his fingers.
 "Hoo-hoo," Atlas chuckled. "You see,  daughter? Lady Artemis likes her new job. I think I will have all
the Olympians take turns carrying my burden, once Lord Kronos rules again, and this is the center of our
palace. It will teach those weaklings some humility."
 I looked at Annabeth. She was desperately trying to tell me something. She motioned her head toward
Luke. But all
 I could do was stare at her. I hadn't noticed before, but something about her had changed. Her blond
hair was now streaked with gray.
 "From holding the sky," Thalia muttered, as if she'd read my mind. "The weight should've killed her."
 "I don't understand," I said. "Why can't Artemis just let go of the sky?"
 Atlas laughed. "How little you understand, young one. This is the point where the sky and the earth first
met, where Ouranos and Gaia first brought forth their mighty children, the Titans. The sky still yearns to
embrace the earth. Someone must hold it at bay, or else it would crush down upon this place, instantly
flattening the mountain and everything within a hundred leagues. Once you have taken the burden, there is
no escape." Atlas smiled."Unless someone else takes it from you."
 He approached us, studying Thalia and me. "So these are the best heroes of the age, eh? Not much of a
 "Fight us," I said. "And let's see."
 "Have the gods taught you nothing? An immortal does not fight a mere mortal directly. It is beneath our
dignity. I will have Luke crush you instead."
 "So you're another coward," I said.
 Atlas's eyes glowed with hatred. With difficulty, he turned his attention to Thalia.
 "As for you, daughter of Zeus, it seems Luke was wrong about you."
 "I wasn't wrong," Luke managed. He looked terribly weak, and he spoke every word as if it were
painful. If I didn't hate his guts so much, I almost would've felt sorry for Kim. "Thalia, you still can join us.
Call the Ophiotaurus. It will come to you. Look!"
 He waved his hand, and next to us a pool of water appeared: a pond ringed in black marble, big enough
for the Ophiotaurus. I could imagine Bessie in that pool. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I
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was sure I could hear Bessie mooing.
 Don't think about him! Suddenly Grover's voice was inside my mind—the empathy link. I could feel
his emotions. He was on the verge of panic.I'm losing Bessie. Block the thoughts  !
 I tried to make my mind go blank. I tried to think about basketball players, skateboards, the different
kinds of candy in my mom's shop. Anything but Bessie.
 "Thalia, call the Ophiotaurus," Luke persisted. "And you will be more powerful than the gods."
 "Luke…" Her voice was full of pain. "What happened to you?"
 "Don't you remember all those times we talked? All those times we cursed the gods? Our fathers have
done nothing for us. They have no right to rule the world!"
 Thalia shook her head. "Free Annabeth. Let her go."
 "If you join me," Luke promised, "it can be like old times. The three of us together.Fighting for a better
world. Please, Thalia, if you don't agree…"
 His voice faltered. "It's my last chance. He will use the other way if you don't agree. Please."
 I didn't know what he meant, but the fear in his voice sounded real enough. I believed that Luke was in
 His life depended on Thalia's joining his cause. And I was afraid Thalia might believe it, too.
 "Do not, Thalia," Zoe warned. "We must fight them."
 Luke waved his hand again, and a fire appeared. A bronze brazier, just like the one at camp.A sacrificial
 "Thalia," I said. "No."
 Behind Luke, the golden sarcophagus began to glow. As it did, I saw images in the mist all around us:
black marble walls rising, the ruins becoming whole, a terrible and beautiful palace rising around us, made
of fear and shadow.
 "We will raise Mount Othrys right here," Luke promised, in a voice so strained it was hardly his. "Once
more, it will be stronger and greater than Olympus. Look, Thalia. We are not weak."
 He pointed toward the ocean, and my heart fell. Marching up the side of the mountain, from the beach
where thePrincess Andromeda was docked, was a great army. Dracaenae and Laestrygonians,
monsters and half-bloods, hell hounds, harpies, and other things I couldn't even name. The whole ship
must've been emptied, because there were hundreds, many more than I'd seen on board last summer.
And they were marching toward us. In a few minutes, they would be here.
 "This is only a taste of what is to come," Luke said. "Soon we will be ready to storm Camp Half-Blood.
And after that, Olympus itself. All we need is your help."
 For a terrible moment, Thalia hesitated. She gazed at Luke, her eyes full of pain, as if the only thing she
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wanted in the world was to believe him. Then she leveled her spear. "You aren't Luke. I don't know you
 "Yes, you do, Thalia," he pleaded. "Please. Don't make me… Don't makehim destroy you."
 There was no time. If that army got to the top of the hill, we would be overwhelmed. I met Annabeth's
eyes again. She nodded.
 I looked at Thalia and Zoe, and I decided it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to die fighting with
friends like this.
 "Now," I said.
 Together, we charged.
 Thalia went straight for Luke. The power of her shield was so great that his dragon-women bodyguards
fled in a panic, dropping the golden coffin and leaving him alone. But despite his sickly appearance, Luke
was still quick with his sword. He snarled like a wild animal and counterattacked. When his sword,
Backbiter, met Thalia's shield, a ball of lightning erupted between them, frying the air with yellow tendrils
of power.
 As for me, I did the stupidest thing in my life, which is saying a lot. I attacked the Titan Lord Atlas.
 He laughed as I approached. A huge javelin appeared in his hands. His silk suit melted into full Greek
battle armor. "Go on, then!"
 "Percy!" Zoe said. "Beware!"
 I knew what she was warning me about. Chiron had told me long ago: Immortals are constrained by
ancient rules. But a hero can go anywhere,  challenge anyone, as long as he has the nerve  . Once I
attacked, however, Atlas was free to attack back directly, with all his might.
 I swung my sword, and Atlas knocked me aside with the shaft of his javelin. I flew through the air and
slammed into a black wall. It wasn't Mist anymore. The palace was rising, brick by brick. It was
becoming real.
 "Fool!" Atlas screamed gleefully, swatting aside one of Zoe's arrows. "Did you think, simply because
you could challenge that petty war god, that you could stand up to me ?"
 The mention of Ares sent a jolt through me. I shook off my daze and charged again. If I could get to that
pool of water, I could double my strength.
 The javelins point slashed toward me like a scythe. I raised Riptide, planning to cut off his weapon at the
shaft, but my arm felt like lead. My sword suddenly weighed a ton.
 And I remembered Ares's warning, spoken on the beach in Los Angeles so long ago:When you need it
most, your sword will fail you  .
 Not now ! I pleaded. But it was no good. I tried to dodge, but the javelin caught me in the chest and sent
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me flying like a rag doll. I slammed into the ground, my head spinning. I looked up and found I was at the
feet of Artemis, still straining under the weight of the sky.
 "Run, boy," she told me. "You must run!"
 Atlas was taking his time coming toward me. My sword was gone. It had skittered away over the edge
of the cliff. It might reappear in my pocket—maybe in a few seconds—but it didn't matter. I'd be dead
by then. Luke and Thalia were fighting like demons, lightning crackling around them. Annabeth was on
the ground, desperately struggling to free her hands.
 "Die, little hero," Atlas said.
 He raised his javelin to impale me.
 "No!" Zoe yelled, and a volley of silver arrows sprouted from the armpit chink in Atlas's armor.
 "ARGH!" He bellowed and turned toward his daughter.
 I reached down and felt Riptide back in my pocket. I couldn't fight Atlas, even with a sword. And then a
chill went down my back. I remembered the words of the prophecy: The Titan's curse must one
withstand  . I couldn't hope to beat Atlas. But there was someone else who might stand a chance.
 "The sky," I told the goddess. "Give it to me."
 "No, boy," Artemis said. Her forehead was beaded with metallic sweat, like quicksilver. "You don't
know what you're asking. It will crush you!"
 "Annabeth took it!"
 "She barely survived. She had the spirit of a true huntress. You will not last so long."
 "I'll die anyway," I said. "Give me the weight of the sky!"
 I didn't wait for her answer. I took out Riptide and slashed through her chains. Then I stepped next to
her and braced myself on one knee—holding up my hands—and touched the cold, heavy clouds. For a
moment, Artemis and I bore the weight together. It was the heaviest thing I'd ever felt, as if I were being
crushed under a thousand trucks. I wanted to black out from the pain, but I breathed deeply. I can do
this  .
 Then Artemis slipped out from under the burden, and I held it alone.
 Afterward, I tried many times to explain what it felt like. I couldn't.
 Every muscle in my body turned to fire. My bones felt like they were melting. I wanted to scream, but I
didn't have the strength to open my mouth. I began to sink, lower and lower to the ground, the sky's
weight crushing me.
 Fight back ! Grover's voice said inside my head. Don't give up .
 I concentrated on breathing. If I could just keep the sky aloft a few more seconds. I thought about
Bianca, who had given her life so we could get here. If she could do that, I could hold the sky.
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 My vision turned fuzzy. Everything was tinged with red. I caught glimpses of the battle, but I wasn't sure
if I was seeing clearly. There was Atlas in full battle armor, jabbing with his javelin, laughing insanely as he
fought. And Artemis, a blur of silver.  She had two wicked hunting knives, each as long as herarm,  and she
slashed wildly at the Titan, dodging and leaping with unbelievable grace. She seemed to change form as
she maneuvered. She was a tiger, a gazelle, a bear, a falcon. Or perhaps that was just my fevered brain.
Zoe shot arrows at her father, aiming for the chinks in his armor. He roared in pain each time one found
its mark, but they affected him like bee stings. He just got madder and kept fighting.
 Thalia and Luke went spear on sword, lightning still flashing around them. Thalia pressed Luke back with
the aura of her shield. Even he was not immune to it. He retreated, wincing and growling in frustration.
 "Yield!"Thalia yelled. "You never could beat me, Luke."
 He bared his teeth. "Well see, my old friend."
 Sweat poured down my face. My hands were slippery. My shoulders would've screamed with agony if
they could. I felt like the vertebrae in my spine were being welded together by a blowtorch.
 Atlas advanced, pressing Artemis. She was fast, but his strength was unstoppable. His javelin slammed
into the earth where Artemis had been a split second before, and a fissure opened in the rocks. He
leaped over it and kept pursuing her. She was leading him back toward me.
 Get ready, she spoke in my mind.
 I was losing the ability to think through the pain. My response was something like
Agggghh-owwwwwwww  .
 "You fight well for a girl." Atlas laughed. "But you are no match for me."
 He feinted with the tip of his javelin and Artemis dodged. I saw the trick coming. Atlas's javelin swept
around and knocked Artemis's legs off the ground. She fell, and Atlas brought up his javelin tip for the
 "No!" Zoe screamed. She leaped between her father and Artemis and shot an arrow straight into the
Titan's forehead, where it lodged like a unicorn's horn. Atlas bellowed in rage. He swept aside his
daughter with the back of his hand, sending her flying into the black rocks.
 I wanted to shout her name, run to her aid, but I couldn't speak or move. I couldn't even see where Zoe
had landed. Then Atlas turned on Artemis with a look of triumph in his face. Artemis seemed to be
wounded. She didn't get up.
 "The first blood in a new war," Atlas gloated. And he stabbed downward.
 As fast as thought, Artemis grabbed his javelin shaft. It hit the earth right next to her and she pulled
backward, using the javelin like a lever, kicking the Titan Lord and sending him flying over her, I saw him
coming down on top of me and I realized what would happen. I loosened my grip on the sky, and as
Atlas slammed into me I didn't try to hold on. I let myself be pushed out of the way and rolled for all I
was worth.
 The weight of the sky dropped onto Atlas's back, almost smashing him flat until he managed to get to his
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knees, struggling to get out from under the crushing weight of the sky. But it was too late.
 " Noooooo !" He bellowed so hard it shook the mountain. " Not again !"
 Atlas was trapped under his old burden.
 I tried to stand and fell back again, dazed from pain. My body felt like it was burning up.
 Thalia backed Luke to the edge of a cliff, but still they fought on, next to the golden coffin. Thalia had
tears in her eyes. Luke had a bloody slash across his chest and his pale face glistened with sweat.
 He lunged at Thalia and she slammed him with her shield. Luke's sword spun out of his hands and
clattered to the rocks. Thalia put her spear point to his throat.
 For a moment, there was silence.
 "Well?" Luke asked. He tried to hide it, but I could hear fear in his voice.
 Thalia trembled with fury.
 Behind her, Annabeth came scrambling, finally free from her bonds. Her face was bruised and streaked
with dirt. "Don't kill him!"
 "He's a traitor," Thalia said. "A traitor!"
 In my daze, I realized that Artemis was no longer with me. She had run off toward the black rocks
where Zoe had fallen.
 "We'll bring Luke back," Annabeth pleaded. "To Olympus. He… he'll be useful."
 "Is that what you want, Thalia?" Luke sneered. "To go back to Olympus in triumph? To please your
 Thalia hesitated, and Luke made a desperate grab for her spear.
 "No!" Annabeth shouted. But it was too late. Without thinking, Thalia kicked Luke away. He lost his
balance, terror on his face, and then he fell.
 "Luke!" Annabeth screamed.
 We rushed to the cliff's edge. Below us, the army from thePrincess Andromeda had stopped in
amazement. They were staring at Luke's broken form on the rocks. Despite how much I hated him, I
couldn't stand to see it. I wanted to believe he was still alive, but that was impossible. The fall was fifty
feet at least, and he wasn't moving.
 One of the giants looked up and growled, "Kill them!"
 Thalia was stiff with grief, tears streaming down her cheeks. I pulled her back as a wave of javelins
sailed over our heads. We ran for the rocks, ignoring the curses and threats of Atlas as we passed.
 "Artemis!" I yelled.
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 The goddess looked up, her face almost as grief-stricken as Thalia's. Zoe lay in the goddess's arms. She
was breathing. Her eyes were open.But still…
 "The wound is poisoned," Artemis said.
 "Atlas poisoned her?" I asked.
 "No," the goddess said. "Not Atlas."
 She showed us the wound in Zoe's side. I'd almost forgotten her scrape with Ladon the dragon. The bite
was much worse than Zoe had let on. I could barely look at the wound. She had charged into battle
against her father with a horrible cut already sapping her strength.
 "The stars," Zoe murmured. "I cannot see them."
 "Nectar and ambrosia," I said. "Come on! We have to get her some."
 No one moved. Grief hung in air. The army of Kronos was just below the rise. Even Artemis was too
shocked to stir. We might've met our doom right there, but then I heard a strange buzzing noise.
 Just as the army of monsters came over the hill, a Sopwith Camel swooped down out of the sky.
 "Get away from my daughter!" Dr. Chase called down, and his machine guns burst to life, peppering the
ground with bullet holes and startling the whole group of monsters into scattering.
 "Dad?" yelled Annabeth in disbelief.
 "Run!" he called back, his voice growing fainter as the biplane swooped by.
 This shook Artemis out of her grief. She stared up at the antique plane, which was now banking around
for another strafe.
 "A brave man," Artemis said with grudging approval. "Come, We must get Zoe away from here."
 She raised her hunting horn to her lips, and its clear sound echoed down the valleys of Marin. Zoe's eyes
were fluttering.
 "Hang in there!" I told her. "It'll be all right!"
 The Sopwith Camel swooped down again. A few giants threw javelins, and one flew straight between
the wings of the plane, but the machine guns blazed. I realized with amazement that somehow Dr. Chase
must've gotten hold of celestial bronze to fashion his bullets. The first row of snake women wailed as the
machine gun's volley blew them into sulfurous yellow powder.
 "That's… my dad!" Annabeth said in amazement.
 We didn't have time to admire his flying. The giants and snake women were already recovering from
their surprise. Dr. Chase would be in trouble soon.
 Just then, the moonlight brightened, and a silver chariot appeared from the sky, drawn by the most
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beautiful deer I had ever seen. It landed right next to us.
 "Get in," Artemis said.
 Annabeth helped me get Thalia on board. Then I helped Artemis with Zoe. We wrapped Zoe in a
blanket as Artemis pulled the reins and the chariot sped away from the mountain, straight into the air.
 "Like Santa Claus's sleigh," I murmured, still dazed with pain.
 Artemis took time to look back at me. "Indeed, young half-blood. And where do you think that legend
came from?"
 Seeing us safely away, Dr. Chase turned his biplane and followed us like an honor guard. It must have
been one of the strangest sights ever, even for the Bay Area: a silver flying chariot pulled by deer,
escorted by a Sopwith Camel.
 Behind us, the army of Kronos roared in anger as they gathered on the summit of Mount Tamalpais, but
the loudest sound was the voice of Atlas, bellowing curses against the gods as he struggled under the
weight of the sky.

The Titan's Curse - Chapter 18

Chapter 18

 We landed at Crissy Field after nightfall.
 As soon as Dr. Chase stepped out of his Sopwith Camel, Annabeth ran to him and gave him a huge hug.
"Dad! You flew… you shot… oh my gods! That was the most amazing thing I've ever seen!"
 Her father blushed. "Well, not bad for a middle-aged mortal, I suppose."
 "But the celestial bronze bullets!How did you get those?"
 "Ah, well. You did leave quite a few half-blood weapons in your room in Virginia, the last time you…
 Annabeth looked down, embarrassed. I noticed Dr. Chase was very careful not to say ran away  .
 "I decided to try melting some down to make bullet casings," he continued."Just a little experiment."
 He said it like it was no big deal, but he had a gleam in his eye. I could understand all of a sudden why
Athena, Goddess of Crafts and Wisdom, had taken a liking to him. He was an excellent mad scientist at
 "Dad…" Annabeth faltered.
 "Annabeth, Percy," Thalia interrupted. Her voice was urgent. She and Artemis were kneeling at Zoe's
side, binding the huntress's wounds.
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 Annabeth and I ran over to help, but there wasn't much we could do. We had no ambrosia or nectar.
No regular medicine would help. It was dark, but I could see that Zoe didn't look good. She was
shivering, and the faint glow that usually hung around her was fading.
 "Can't you heal her with magic?" I asked Artemis. "I mean… you're a goddess."
 Artemis looked troubled. "Life is a fragile thing, Percy. If the Fates will the string to be cut, there is little I
can do. But I can try."
 She tried to set her hand on Zoe's side, but Zoe gripped her wrist. She looked into the goddess's eyes,
and some kind of understanding passed between them.
 "Have I… served thee well?" Zoe whispered.
 "With great honor," Artemis said softly. "The finest of my attendants."
 Zoe's face relaxed. "Rest.At last."
 "I can try to heal the poison, my brave one."
 But in that moment, I knew it wasn't just the poison that was killing her. It was her father's final blow.
Zoe had known all along that the Oracle's prophecy was about her: she would die by a parent's hand.
And yet she'd taken the quest anyway. She had chosen to save me, and Atlas's fury had broken her
 She saw Thalia, and took her hand.
 "I am sorry we argued," Zoe said. "We could have been sisters."
 "It's my fault," Thalia said, blinking hard. "You were right about Luke, about heroes, men—everything."
 "Perhaps not all men," Zoe murmured. She smiled weakly at me. "Do you still have the sword, Percy?"
 I couldn't speak, but I brought out Riptide and put the pen in her hand. She grasped it contentedly. "You
spoke the truth, Percy Jackson. You are nothing like… like Hercules. I am honored that you carry this
 A shudder ran through her body.
 "Zoe—" I said.
 "Stars," she whispered. "I can see the stars again, my lady."
 A tear trickled down Artemis's cheek. "Yes, my brave one. They are beautiful tonight."
 "Stars," Zoe repeated. Her eyes fixed on the night sky. And she did not move again.
 Thalia lowered her head. Annabeth gulped down a sob, and her father put his hands on her shoulders. I
watched as Artemis cupped her hand above Zoe's mouth and spoke a few words in Ancient Greek. A
silvery wisp of smoke exhaled from Zoe's lips and was caught in the hand of the goddess. Zoe's body
shimmered and disappeared.
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 Artemis stood, said a kind of blessing, breathed into her cupped hand and released the silver dust to the
sky. It flew up, sparkling, and vanished.
 For a moment I didn't see anything different. Then Annabeth gasped. Looking up in the sky, I saw that
the stars were brighter now. They made a pattern I had never noticed before—a gleaming constellation
that looked a lot like a girl's figure—a girl with a bow, running across the sky.
 "Let the world honor you, my Huntress," Artemis said. "Live forever in the stars."
 It wasn't easy saying our good-byes. The thunder and lightning were still boiling over Mount Tamalpais
in the north. Artemis was so upset she flickered with silver light. This made me nervous, because if she
suddenly lost control and appeared in her fully divine form, we would disintegrate by looking at her.
 "I must go to Olympus immediately," Artemis said. "I will not be able to take you, but I will send help."
 The goddess set her hand on Annabeth's shoulder. "You are brave beyond measure, my girl. You will
do what is right."
 Then she looked quizzically at Thalia, as if she weren't sure what to make of this younger daughter of
Zeus. Thalia seemed reluctant to look up, but something made her, and she held the goddess's eyes. I
wasn't sure what passed between them, but Artemis's gaze softened with sympathy. Then she turned to
 "You did well," she said. "For a man."
 I wanted to protest. But then I realized it was the first time she hadn't called me a boy.
 She mounted her chariot, which began to glow. We averted our eyes. There was a flash of silver, and
the goddess was gone.
 "Well," Dr. Chase sighed. "She was impressive; though I must say I still prefer Athena."
 Annabeth turned toward him. "Dad, I… I'm sorry that—"
 "Shh." He hugged her. "Do what you must, my dear. I know this isn't easy for you."
 His voice was a little shaky, but he gave Annabeth a brave smile.
 Then I heard the whoosh of large wings. Three pegasi descended through the fog: two white winged
horses and one pure black one.
 "Blackjack!"I called.
 Yo ,boss!he  called. You manage to stay alive  okay without me  ?
 "It was rough," I admitted.
 I brought Guido and Porkpie with me.
 How ya doin? The other two pegasi spoke in my mind.
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 Blackjack looked me over with concern, then  checked out Dr. Chase, Thalia, and Annabeth. Any of
these goons you want us to stampede  ?
 "Nah," I said aloud. "These are my friends. We need to get to Olympus pretty fast."
 No problem, Blackjack said. Except for the mortal over there.Hope he's not going  .
 I assured him Dr. Chase was not. The professor was staring openmouthed at the pegasi.
 "Fascinating," he said. "Such maneuverability!  How does the wingspan compensate for the weight of the
horse's body, I wonder?"
 Blackjack cocked his head. Whaaaat?
 "Why, if the British had had these pegasi in the cavalry charges on the Crimea," Dr. Chase said, "the
charge of the light brigade—"
 "Dad!" Annabeth interrupted.
 Dr. Chase blinked. He looked at his daughter and managed a smile. "I'm sorry, my dear, I know you
must go."
 He gave her one last awkward, well-meaning hug. As she turned to climb aboard thepegasus Guido, Dr.
Chase called, "Annabeth. I know… I know San Francisco is a dangerous place for you. But please
remember, you always have a home with us. We will keep you safe."
 Annabeth didn't answer, but her eyes were red as she turned away. Dr. Chase started to say more, then
apparently thought better of it. He raised his hand in a sad farewell and trudged away across the dark
 Thalia and Annabeth and I mounted our pegasi. Together we soared over the bay and flew toward the
eastern hills. Soon San Francisco was only a glittering crescent behind us, with an occasional flicker of
lightning in the north.
 Thalia was so exhausted she fell asleep on Porkpie's back. I knew she had to be really tired to sleep in
the air, despite her fear of heights, but she didn't have much to worry about. Herpegasus flew with ease,
adjusting himself every once in a while so Thalia stayed safely on his back.
 Annabeth and I flew along side by side.
 "Your dad seems cool," I told her.
 It was too dark to see her expression. She looked back, even though California was far behind us now.
 "I guess so," she said. "We've been arguing for so many years."
 "Yeah, you said."
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 "You think I was lying about that?" It sounded like a challenge, but a pretty halfhearted one, like she was
asking it of herself.
 "I didn't say you were lying. It's just… he seems okay. Your stepmom, too. Maybe they've, uh, gotten
cooler since you saw them last."
 She hesitated. "They're still in San Francisco, Percy. I can't live so far from camp."
 I didn't want to ask my next question. I was scared to know the answer. But I asked it anyway. "So
what are you going to do now?"
 We flew over a town, an island of lights in the middle of the dark. It whisked by so fast we might've
been in an airplane.
 "I don't know," she admitted. "But thank you for rescuing me."
 "Hey, no big deal.We're friends."
 "You didn't believe I was dead?"
 She hesitated. "Neither is Luke, you know. I mean… he isn't dead."
 I stared at her. I didn't know if she was cracking under the stress or what. "Annabeth, that fall was pretty
bad. There's no way—"
 "He isn't dead," she insisted. "I know it. The same way you knew about me."
 That comparison didn't make me too happy.
 The towns were zipping by faster now, islands of light thicker together, until the whole landscape below
was a glittering carpet. Dawn was close. The eastern sky was turning gray. And up ahead, a huge
white-and-yellow glow spread out before us—the lights of New York.
 How's that for speedy, loss ? Blackjack bragged.We get extra hay for breakfast or what ?
 "You're the man, Blackjack," I told him. "Er, the horse, I mean."
 "You don't believe me about Luke," Annabeth said, "but we'll see him again. He's in trouble, Percy. He's
under Kronos's spell."
 I didn't feel like arguing, though it made me mad. How could she still have any feelings for that creep?
How could she possibly make excuses for him? He deserved that fall. He deserved… okay, I'll say it. He
deserved to die.Unlike Bianca.Unlike Zoe. Luke couldn't be alive. It wouldn't be fair.
 "There it is." Thalia's voice; she'd woken up. She was pointing toward Manhattan, which was quickly
zooming into view. "It's started."
 "What's started?" I asked.
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 Then I looked where she was pointing. High above the Empire State Building, Olympus was its own
island of light, a floating mountain ablaze with torches and braziers, white marble palaces gleaming in the
early morning air.
 "The winter solstice," Thalia said. "The Council of the Gods."

The Titan's Curse - Chapter 16

Chapter 16

 "We will never make it," Zoe said. "We are moving too slow. But we cannot leave the Ophiotaurus."
 "Mooo," Bessie said. He swam next to me as we jogged along the waterfront. We'd left the shopping
center pier far behind. We were heading toward the Golden Gate Bridge, but it was a lot farther than I'd
realized. The sun was already dipping in the west.
 "I don't get it," I said. "Why do we have to get there at sunset?"
 "The Hesperides are the nymphs of the sunset," Zoe said. "We can only enter their garden as day
changes to night."
 "What happens if we miss it?"
 "Tomorrow is winter solstice. If we miss sunset tonight, we would have to wait until tomorrow evening.
And by then, the Olympian Council will be over. We must free Lady Artemis tonight."
 Or Annabeth will be dead, I thought, but I didn't say that.
 "We need a car," Thalia said.
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 "But what about Bessie?" I asked.
 Grover stopped in his tracks. "I've got an idea! The Ophiotaurus can appear in different bodies of water,
 "Well, yeah," I said. "I mean, he was in Long Island Sound. Then he just popped into the water at
Hoover Dam. And now he's here."
 "So maybe we could coax him back to Long Island Sound," Grover said. "Then Chiron could help us
get him to Olympus."
 "But he was following me" I said. "If I'm not there, would he know where he's going?"
 "Moo," Bessie said forlornly.
 "I… I can show him," Grover said. "I'll go with him."
 I stared at him. Grover was no fan of the water. He'd almost drowned last summer in the Sea of
Monsters, and he couldn't swim very well with his goat hooves.
 "I'm the only one who can talk to him," Grover said. "It makes sense."
 He bent down and said something in Bessie's ear. Bessie shivered,then  made a contented, lowing sound.
 "The blessing of the Wild," Grover said. "That should help with safe passage. Percy, pray to your dad,
too. See if he will grant us safe passage through the seas."
 I didn't understand how they could possibly swim back to Long Island from California. Then again,
monsters didn't travel the same way as humans. I'd seen plenty evidence of that.
 I tried to concentrate on the waves, the smell of the ocean,the sound of the tide.
 "Dad," I said. "Help us. Get the Ophiotaurus and Grover safely to camp. Protect them at sea."
 "A prayer like that needs a sacrifice," Thalia said. "Something big."
 I thought for a second. Then I took off my coat.
 "Percy," Grover said. "Are you sure? That lion skin… that's really helpful. Hercules used it!"
 As soon as he said that, I realized something.
 I glanced at Zoe, who was watching me carefully. I realized Idid know who Zoe's hero had been—the
one who'd ruined her life, gotten her kicked out of her family, and never even mentioned how she'd
helped him: Hercules, a hero I'd admired all my life.
 "If I'm going to survive," I said, "it won't be because I've got a lion-skin cloak. I'm not Hercules."
 I threw the coat into the bay. It turned back into a golden lion skin, flashing in the light. Then, as it began
to sink beneath the waves, it seemed to dissolve into sunlight on the water.
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 The sea breeze picked up.
 Grover took a deep breath. "Well, no time to lose."
 He jumped in the water and immediately began to sink. Bessie glided next to him and let Grover take
hold of his neck.
 "Be careful," I told them.
 "We will," Grover said. "Okay, um… Bessie?  We're going to Long Island. It's east.Over that way."
 "Moooo?"Bessie said.
 "Yes," Grover answered. "Long Island. It's this island. And… it's long. Oh, let's just start."
 Bessie lurched forward. He started to submerge and Grover said, "I can't breathe underwater! Just
thought I'd mention—" Glub!
 Under they went, and I hoped my father's protection would extend to little things, like breathing.
 "Well, that is one problem addressed," Zoe said. "But how can we get to my sisters' garden?"
 "Thalia's right," I said. "We need a car. But there's nobody to help us here.Unless we, uh, borrowed
 I didn't like that option. I mean, sure this was a life-or-death situation, but still, it was stealing, and it was
bound to get us noticed.
 "Wait," Thalia said. She started rifling through her backpack. "There is  somebody in San Francisco who
can help us. I've got the address here somewhere."
 "Who?"I asked.
 Thalia pulled out a crumpled piece of notebook paper and held it up. "Professor Chase.Annabeth's
 After hearing Annabeth gripe about her dad for two years, I was expecting him to have devil horns and
fangs. I was not expecting him to be wearing an old-fashioned aviator's cap and goggles. He looked so
weird, with his eyes bugging out through the glasses, that we all took a step back on the front porch.
 "Hello," he said in a friendly voice, "Are you delivering my airplanes?"
 Thalia, Zoe, and I looked at each other warily.
 "Um, no, sir," I said.
 "Drat," he said. "I need three more Sopwith Camels."
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 "Right," I said, though I had no clue what he was talking about. "We're friends of Annabeth."
 "Annabeth?" He straightened as if I'd just given him an electric shock. "Is she all right? Has something
 None of us answered, but our faces must've told him that something was very wrong. He took off his
cap and goggles. He had sandy-colored hair like Annabeth and intense brown eyes. He was handsome, I
guess, for an older guy, but it looked like he hadn't shaved in a couple of days, and his shirt was buttoned
wrong, so one side of his collar stuck up higher than the other side.
 "You'd better come in," he said.
 It didn't look like a house they'd just moved into. There were LEGO robots on the stairs and two cats
sleeping on the sofa in the living room. The coffee table was stacked with magazines, and a little kid's
winter coat was spread on the floor. The whole house smelled like fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies.
There was jazz music coming from the kitchen. It seemed like a messy, happy kind of home—the kind of
place that had been lived in forever.
 "Dad!" a little boy screamed. "He's taking apart my robots!"
 "Bobby," Dr. Chase called absently, " don't take apart your brother's robots."
 " I'mBobby," the little boy protested. "He's Matthew!"
 "Matthew," Dr. Chase called, " don't take apart your brother's robots!"
 "Okay, Dad!"
 Dr. Chase turned to us. "We'll go upstairs to my study. This way."
 "Honey?" a woman called. Annabeth's stepmom appeared in the living room, wiping her hands on a dish
towel. She was a pretty Asian woman with red highlighted hair tied in a bun.
 "Who are our guests?" she asked.
 "Oh," Dr. Chase said. "This is…"
 He stared at us blankly.
 "Frederick," she chided. "You forgot to ask them their names?"
 We introduced ourselves a little uneasily, but Mrs. Chase seemed really nice. She asked if we were
hungry. We admitted we were, and she told us she'd bring us some cookies and sandwiches and sodas.
 "Dear," Dr. Chase said. "They came about Annabeth."
 I half expected Mrs. Chase to turn into a raving lunatic at the mention of her stepdaughter, but she just
pursed her lips and looked concerned."All right.  Go on up to the study and I'll bring you some food." She
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smiled at me. "Nice meeting you, Percy. I've heard a lot about you."
 Upstairs, we walked into Dr. Chase's study and I said, "Whoa!"
 The room was wall-to-wall books, but what really caught my attention were the war toys. There was a
huge table with miniature tanks and soldiers fighting along a blue painted river, with hills and fake trees
and stuff. Old-fashioned biplanes hung on strings from the ceiling, tilted at crazy angles like they were in
the middle of a dogfight.
 Dr. Chase smiled. "Yes. The Third Battle of Ypres.  I'm writing a paper, you see, on the use of Sopwith
Camels to strafe enemy lines. I believe they played a much greater role than they've been given credit
 He plucked a biplane from its string and swept it across the battlefield, making airplane engine noises as
he knocked down little German soldiers.
 "Oh, right," I said. I knew Annabeth's dad was a professor of military history. She'd never mentioned he
played with toy soldiers.
 Zoe came over and studied the battlefield. "The German lines were farther from the river."
 Dr. Chase stared at her. "How do you know that?"
 "I was there," she said matter-of-factly. "Artemis wanted to show us how horrible war was, the way
mortal men fight each other.And how foolish, too. The battle was a complete waste."
 Dr. Chase opened his mouth in shock. "You—"
 "She's a Hunter, sir," Thalia said. "But that's not why we're here. We need—"
 "You saw the Sopwith Camels?" Dr. Chase said. "How many were there? What formations did they
 "Sir," Thalia broke in again. "Annabeth is in danger."
 That got his attention. He set the biplane down.
 "Of course," he said. "Tell me everything."
 It wasn't easy, but we tried. Meanwhile, the afternoon light was fading outside. We were running out of
 When we'd finished, Dr. Chase collapsed in his leather recliner. He laced his hands. "My poor brave
Annabeth. We must hurry."
 "Sir, we need transportation to Mount Tamalpais," Zoe said. "And we need it immediately."
 "I'll drive you. Hmm. it would be faster to fly in my Camel, but it only seats two."
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 "Whoa, you have an actual biplane?" I said.
 "Down at Crissy Field," Dr. Chase said proudly. "That's the reason I had to move here. My sponsor is a
private collector with some of the finest World War I relics in the world. He let me restore the Sopwith
 "Sir," Thalia said. "Just a car would be great. And it might be better if we went without you. It's too
dangerous." .
 Dr. Chase frowned uncomfortably. "Now wait a minute, young lady. Annabeth is my daughter.
Dangerous or not, I… I can't just—"
 "Snacks," Mrs. Chase announced. She pushed through the door with a tray full of
peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and Cokes and cookies fresh out of the oven, the chocolate chips
still gooey. Thalia and I inhaled a few cookies while Zoe said, "I can drive, sir. I'm not as young as I look.
I promise not to destroy your car."
 Mrs. Chase knit her eyebrows. "What's this about?"
 "Annabeth is in danger," Dr. Chase said. "On Mount Tam.  I would drive them, but… apparently it's no
place for mortals."
 It sounded like it was really hard for him to get that last part out.
 I waited for Mrs. Chase to say no. I mean, what mortal parent would allow three underage teenagers to
borrow their car? To my surprise, Mrs. Chase nodded. "Then they'd better get going."
 "Right!"Dr. Chase jumped up and started patting his pockets. "My keys…"
 His wife sighed."Frederick, honestly.  You'd lose your head if it weren't wrapped inside your aviator hat.
The keys are hanging on the peg by the front door."
 "Right!"Dr. Chase said.
 Zoe grabbed a sandwich. "Thank you both. We should go. Now"
 We hustled out the door and down the stairs, the Chases right behind us.
 "Percy," Mrs. Chase called as I was leaving, " tellAnnabeth… Tell her she still has a home here, will you?
Remind her of that."
 I took one last look at the messy living room, Annabeth's half brothers spilling LEGOs and arguing, the
smell of cookies filling the air. Not a bad place, I thought.
 "I'll tell her," I promised.
 We ran out to the yellow VW convertible parked in the driveway. The sun was going down. I figured
we had less than an hour to save Annabeth.
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 "Can't this thing go any faster?" Thalia demanded. Zoe glared at her. "I cannot control traffic."
 "You both sound like my mother," I said. "Shut up!" they said in unison.
 Zoe weaved in and out of traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge. The sun was sinking on the horizon when
we finally got into Marin County and exited the highway.
 The roads were insanely narrow, winding through forests and up the sides of hills and around the edges
of steep ravines. Zoe didn't slow down at all.
 "Why does everything smell like cough drops?" I asked.
 "Eucalyptus."Zoe pointed to the huge trees all around us.
 "The stuff koala bears eat?"
 "And monsters," she said. "They love chewing the leaves. Especially dragons."
 "Dragons chew eucalyptus leaves?"
 "Believe me," Zoe said, "if you had dragon breath, you would chew eucalyptus too."
 I didn't question her, but I did keep my eyes peeled more closely as we drove. Ahead of us loomed
Mount Tamalpais. I guess, in terms of mountains, it was a small one, but it looked plenty huge as we
were driving toward it.
 "So that's the Mountain of Despair?" I asked.
 "Yes," Zoe said tightly.
 "Why do they call it that?"
 She was silent for almost a mile before answering. "After the war between the Titans and the gods, many
of the Titans were punished and imprisoned. Kronos was sliced to pieces and thrown into Tartarus.
Kronos's right-hand man, the general of his forces, was imprisoned up there, on the summit, just beyond
the Garden of the Hesperides."
 "The General," I said. Clouds seemed to be swirling around its peak, as though the mountain was
drawing them in, spinning them like a top. "What's going on up there? A storm?"
 Zoe didn't answer. I got the feeing she knew exactly what the clouds meant, and she didn't like it.
 "We have to concentrate," Thalia said. "The Mist is really strong here."
 "The magical kind or the natural kind?" I asked.
 The gray clouds swirled even thicker over the mountain, and we kept driving straight toward them. We
were out of the forest now, into wide open spaces of cliffs and grass and rocks and fog.
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 I happened to glance down at the ocean as we passed a scenic curve, and I saw something that made
me jump out of my seat.
 "Look!" But we turned a corner and the ocean disappeared behind the hills.
 "What?" Thalia asked.
 "A big white ship," I said. "Docked near the beach. It looked like a cruise ship."
 Her eyes widened. "Luke's ship?"
 I wanted to say I wasn't sure. It might be a coincidence. But I knew better. ThePrincess Andromeda ,
Luke's demon cruise ship, was docked at that beach. That's why he'd sent his ship all the way down to
the Panama Canal. It was the only way to sail it from the East Coast to California.
 "We will have company, then," Zoe said grimly."Kronos's army."
 I was about to answer, when suddenly the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Thalia shouted, "Stop
the car. NOW!"
 Zoe must've sensed something was wrong, because she slammed on the brakes without question. The
yellow VW spun twice before coming to a stop at the edge of the cliff.
 "Out!" Thalia opened the door and pushed me hard. We both rolled onto the pavement. The next
second: BOOOM !
 Lightning flashed, and Dr. Chase's Volkswagen erupted like a canary-yellow grenade. I probably
would've been killed by shrapnel except for Thalia's shield, which appeared over me. I heard a sound
like metal ram, and when I opened my eyes, we were surrounded by wreckage. Part of the VW's fender
had impaled itself in the street. The smoking hood was spinning in circles. Pieces of yellow metal were
strewn across the road.
 I swallowed the taste of smoke out of my mouth, and looked at Thalia. "You saved my life."
 " One shall perish by a parent's hand"she muttered. "Curse him. He would destroy me? Me ?"
 It took me a second to realize she was talking about her dad. "Oh, hey, that couldn't have been Zeus's
lightning bolt. No way."
 "Whose, then?"Thalia demanded.
 "I don't know. Zoe said Kronos's name. Maybe he—"
 Thalia shook her head, looking angry and stunned. "No. That wasn't it."
 "Wait," I said. "Where's Zoe? Zoe!"
 We both got up and ran around the blasted VW. Nothing inside.Nothing either direction down the road.
I looked down the cliff. No sign of her.
 "Zoe!" I shouted.
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 Then she was standing right next to me, pulling me by my arm. "Silence, fool! Do you want to wake
 "You mean we're here?"
 "Very close," she said. "Follow me."
 Sheets of fog were drifting right across the road. Zoe stepped into one of them, and when the fog
passed, she was no longer there. Thalia and I looked at each other.
 "Concentrate on Zoe," Thalia advised. "We are following her. Go straight into the fog and keep that in
 "Wait, Thalia. About what happened back on the pier …I mean, with the manticore and the sacrifice—"
 "I don't want to talk about it."
 "You wouldn't actually have… you know?"
 She hesitated. "I was just shocked. That's all."
 "Zeus didn't send that lighting bolt at the car. It was Kronos. He's trying to manipulate you, make you
angry at your dad."
 She took a deep breath. "Percy, I know you're trying to make me feel better. Thanks. But come on. We
need to go."
 She stepped into the fog, into the Mist, and I followed.
 When the fog cleared, I was still on the side of the mountain, but the road was dirt. The grass was
thicker. The sunset made a bloodred slash across the sea. The summit of the mountain seemed closer
now, swirling with storm clouds and raw power. There was only one path to the top, directly in front of
us. And it led through a lush meadow of shadows and flowers: the garden of twilight, just like I'd seen in
my dream.
 If it hadn't been for the enormous dragon, the garden would've been the most beautiful place I'd ever
seen. The grass shimmered with silvery evening light, and the flowers were such brilliant colors they
almost glowed in the dark. Stepping stones of polished black marble led around either side of a
five-story-tall apple tree, every bough glittering with golden apples, and I don't mean yellow  golden
apples like in the grocery store. I mean real  golden apples. I can't describe why they were so appealing,
but as soon as I smelled their fragrance, I knew that one bite would be the most delicious thing I'd ever
 "The apples of immortality," Thalia said. "Hera's wedding gift from Zeus."
 I wanted to step right up and pluck one, except for the dragon coiled around the tree.
 Now, I don't know what you think of when I say dragon  . Whatever it is, it's not scary enough. The
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serpent's body was as thick as a booster rocket, glinting with coppery scales. He had more heads than I
could count, as if a hundred deadly pythons had been fused together. He appeared to be asleep. The
heads lay curled in a big spaghetti-like mound on the grass, all the eyes closed.
 Then the shadows in front of us began to move. There was a beautiful, eerie singing, like voices from the
bottom of a well. I reached for Riptide, but Zoe stopped my hand.
 Four figures shimmered into existence, four young women who looked very much like Zoe. They all
wore white Greek chitons. Their skin was like caramel. Silky black hair tumbled loose around their
shoulders. It was strange, but I'd never realized how beautiful Zoe was until I saw her siblings, the
Hesperides. They looked just like Zoe—gorgeous, and probably very dangerous.
 "Sisters," Zoe said.
 "We do not see any sister," one of the girls said coldly. "We see two half-bloods and a Hunter. All of
whom shall soon die."
 "You've got it wrong." I stepped forward. "Nobody is going to die."
 The girls studied me. They had eyes like volcanic rock, glassy and completely black.
 "Perseus Jackson," one of them said.
 "Yes," mused another. "I do not see why he is a threat."
 "Who said I was a threat?"
 The first Hesperid glanced behind her, toward the top of the mountain. "They fear thee. They are
unhappy that this  one has not yet killed thee."
 She pointed at Thalia.
 "Tempting sometimes," Thalia admitted. "But no, thanks. He's my friend."
 "There are no friends here, daughter of Zeus," the girl said."Only enemies.  Go back."
 "Not without Annabeth," Thalia said.
 "And Artemis," Zoe said. "We must approach the mountain."
 "You know he will kill thee," the girl said. "You are no match for him."
 "Artemis must be freed," Zoe insisted. "Let us pass."
 The girl shook her head. "You have no rights here anymore. We have only to raise our voices and
Ladon will wake."
 "He will not hurt me," Zoe said.
 "No? And what about thy so-called friends?"
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 Then Zoe did the last thing I expected. She shouted, "Ladon!Wake!"
 The dragon stirred, glittering like a mountain of pennies. The Hesperides yelped and scattered. The lead
girl said to Zoe, "Are you mad?"
 "You never had any courage, sister," Zoe said. "That is thy problem."
 The dragon Ladon was writhing now, a hundred heads whipping around, tongues flickering and tasting
the air. Zoe took a step forward, her arms raised.
 "Zoe, don't," Thalia said. "You're not a Hesperid anymore. He'll kill you."
 "Ladon is trained to protect the tree," Zoe said. "Skirt around the edges of the garden. Go up the
mountain. As long as I am a bigger threat, he should ignore thee."
 " Should ," I said."Not exactly reassuring."
 "It is the only way," she said. "Even the three of us together cannot fight him."
 Ladon opened his mouths. The sound of a hundred heads hissing at once sent a shiver down my back,
and that was before his breath hit me. The smell was like acid. It made my eyes burn, my skin crawl, and
my hair stand on end. I remembered the time a rat had died inside our apartment wall in New York in the
middle of the summer. This stench was like that, except a hundred times stronger, and mixed with the
smell of chewed eucalyptus. I promised myself right then that I would never ask a school nurse for
another cough drop.
 I wanted to draw my sword. But then I remembered my dream of Zoe and Hercules, and how Hercules
had failed in a head-on assault. I decided to trust Zoe's judgment.
 Thalia went left. I went right. Zoe walked straight toward the monster.
 "It's me, my little dragon," Zoe said. "Zoe has come back."
 Ladon shifted forward, then back. Some of the mouths closed. Some kept hissing.Dragon confusion.
Meanwhile, the Hesperides shimmered and turned into shadows. The voice of the eldest whispered,
 "I used to feed thee by hand," Zoe continued, speaking in a soothing voice as she stepped toward the
golden tree. "Do you still like lamb's meat?"
 The dragon's eyes glinted.
 Thalia and I were about halfway around the garden. Ahead, I could see a single rocky trail leading up to
the black peak of the mountain. The storm swirled above it, spinning on the summit like it was the axis for
the whole world.
 We'd almost made it out of the meadow when something went wrong. I felt the dragon's mood shift.
 Zoe got too close. Maybe the dragon realized he was hungry. Whatever the reason, he lunged at Zoe.
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 Two thousand years of training kept her alive. She dodged one set of slashing fangs and tumbled under
another, weaving through the dragon's heads as she ran in our direction, gagging from the monster's
horrible breath.
 I drew Riptide to help.
 "No!" Zoe panted. "Run!"
 The dragon snapped at her side, and Zoe cried out. Thalia uncovered Aegis, and the dragon hissed. In
his moment of indecision, Zoe sprinted past us up the mountain, and we followed.
 The dragon didn't try to pursue. He hissed and stomped the ground, but I guess he was well trained to
guard that tree. He wasn't going to be lured off even by the tasty prospect of eating some heroes.
 We ran up the mountain as the Hesperides resumed their song in the shadows behind us. The music
didn't sound so beautiful to me now—more like the sound track for a funeral.
 At the top of mountain were ruins, blocks of black granite and marble as big as houses. Broken columns.
Statues of bronze that looked as though they'd been half melted.
 "The ruins of Mount Othrys," Thalia whispered in awe.
 "Yes," Zoe said. "It was not here before. This is bad."
 "What's Mount Othrys?" I asked, feeling like a fool as usual.
 "The mountain fortress of the Titans," Zoe said. "In the first war, Olympus and Othrys were the two rival
capitals of the world. Othrys was—" She winced and held her side.
 "You're hurt," I said. "Let me see."
 "No! It is nothing. I was saying… in the first war, Othrys was blasted to pieces."
 "But… how is it here?"
 Thalia looked around cautiously as we picked our way through the rubble, past blocks of marble and
broken archways. "It moves in the same way that Olympus moves. It always exists on the edges of
civilization. But the fact that it is here, onthis  mountain, is not good."
 "This is Atlas's mountain," Zoe said. "Where he holds—" She froze. Her voice was ragged with despair.
"Where he used to hold up the sky."
 We had reached the summit. A few yards ahead of us, gray clouds swirled in a heavy vortex, making a
funnel cloud that almost touched the mountaintop, but instead rested on the shoulders of a
twelve-year-old girl with auburn hair and a tattered silvery dress: Artemis, her legs bound to the rock
with celestial bronze chains. This is what I had seen in my dream. It hadn't been a cavern roof that
Artemis was forced to hold. It was the roof of the world.
 "My lady!" Zoe rushed forward, but Artemis said, "Stop! It is a trap. You must leave now."
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 Her voice was strained. She was drenched in sweat. I had never seen a goddess in pain before, but the
weight of the sky was clearly too much for Artemis.
 Zoe was crying. She ran forward despite Artemis's protests, and tugged at the chains.
 A booming voice spoke behind us: "Ah, how touching."
 We turned. The General was standing there in his brown silk suit. At his side were Luke and half a
dozen dracaenae bearing the golden sarcophagus ofKronos. Annabeth stood at Luke's side. She had her
hands cuffed behind her back, a gag in her mouth, and Luke was holding the point of his sword to her
 I met her eyes, trying to ask her a thousand questions. There was just one message she was sending me,
though: RUN .
 "Luke," Thalia snarled. "Let her go."
 Luke's smile was weak and pale. He looked even worse than he had three days ago in D.C. "That is the
General's decision, Thalia. But it's good to see you again."
 Thalia spat at him.
 The General chuckled. "So much for old friends.And you, Zoe. It's been a long time. How is my little
traitor? I will enjoy killing you."
 "Do not respond," Artemis groaned. "Do not challenge him."
 "Wait a second," I said. "You're Atlas?"
 The General glanced at me. "So, even the stupidest of heroes can finally figure something out. Yes, I am
Atlas, the general of the Titans and terror of the gods. Congratulations. I will kill you presently, as soon
as I deal with this wretched girl."
 "You're not going to hurt Zoe" I said. "I won't let you."
 The General sneered. "You have no right to interfere, little hero. This is a family matter." I frowned. "A
family matter?"
 "Yes," Zoe said bleakly. "Atlas is my father."