Main Percy Jackson & the Olympians 3 - The Titan's Curse

Percy Jackson & the Olympians 3 - The Titan's Curse

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It's not everyday you find yourself in combat with a half-lion, half-human.

But when you're the son of a Greek god, it happens. And now my friend Annabeth is missing, a goddess is in chains and only five half-blood heroes can join the quest to defeat the doomsday monster.

Oh, and guess what? The Oracle has predicted that not all of us will survive...

Volume:
3
Year:
2007
Edition:
First Edition
Publisher:
Disney Hyperion Books for Children
Language:
english
Pages:
320
ISBN 10:
1423101456
ISBN 13:
9781423101451
Series:
Percy Jackson & the Olympians
File:
EPUB, 444 KB
Download (epub, 444 KB)

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FIFTEEN 


[image: ]


I WRESTLE SANTA’S EVIL TWIN

“Tell me when it’s over,” Thalia said. Her eyes were shut tight. The statue was holding on to us so we couldn’t fall, but still Thalia clutched his arm like it was the most important thing in the world. 

“Everything’s fine,” I promised. 

“Are . . . are we very high?” 

I looked down. Below us, a range of snowy mountains zipped by. I stretched out my foot and kicked snow off one of the peaks. 

“Nah,” I said. “Not that high.” 

“We are in the Sierras!” Zoë yelled. She and Grover were hanging from the arms of the other statue. “I have hunted here before. At this speed, we should be in San Francisco in a few hours.” 

“Hey, hey, Frisco!” our angel said. “Yo, Chuck! We could visit those guys at the Mechanics Monument again! They know how to party!” 

“Oh, man,” the other angel said. “I am so there!” 

“You guys have visited San Francisco?” I asked. 

“We automatons gotta have some fun once in a while, right?” our statue said. “Those mechanics took us over to the de Young Museum and introduced us to these marble lady statues, see. And—” 

“Hank!” the other statue Chuck cut in. “They’re kids, man.” 

“Oh, right.” If bronze statues could blush, I swear Hank did. “Back to flying.” 

We sped up, so I could tell the angels were excited. The mountains fell away into hills, and then we were zipping along over farmland and towns and highways. 

Grover played his pipes to pass the time. Zoë got bored and started shooting arrows at random billboards as we flew by. Every time she saw a Target department store—and we passed dozens of them—she would peg the store’s sign with a few bulls-eyes at a hundred miles an hour. 

Thalia kept her eyes closed the whole way. She muttered to herself a lot, like she was praying. 

“You did good back there,” I told her. “Zeus listened.” 

It was hard to tell what she was thinking with her eyes closed. 

“Maybe,” she said. “How did you get away from the skeletons in the generator room, anyway? You said they cornered you.” 

I told her ; about the weird mortal girl, Rachel Elizabeth Dare, who seemed to be able to see right through the Mist. I thought Thalia was going to call me crazy, but she just nodded. 

“Some mortals are like that,” she said. “Nobody knows why.” 

Suddenly I flashed on something I’d never considered. 

My mom was like that. She had seen the Minotaur on Half-Blood Hill and known exactly what it was. She hadn’t been surprised at all last year when I’d told her my friend Tyson was really a Cyclops. Maybe she’d known all along. No wonder she’d been so scared for me as I was growing up. She saw through the Mist even better than I did. 

“Well, the girl was annoying,” I said. “But I’m glad I didn’t vaporize her. That would’ve been bad.” 

Thalia nodded. “Must be nice to be a regular mortal.” 

She said that as if she’d given it a lot of thought. 

“Where you guys want to land?” Hank asked, waking me up from a nap. 

I looked down and said, “Whoa.” 

I’d seen San Francisco in pictures before, but never in real life. It was probably the most beautiful city I’d ever seen: kind of like a smaller, cleaner Manhattan, if Manhattan had been surrounded by green hills and fog. There was a huge bay and ships, islands and sailboats, and the Golden Gate Bridge sticking up out of the fog. I felt like I should take a picture or something. Greetings from Frisco. Haven’t Died Yet. Wish You Were Here. 

“There,” Zoë suggested. “By the Embarcadero Building.” 

“Good thinking,” Chuck said. “Me and Hank can blend in with the pigeons.” 

We all looked at him. 

“Kidding,” he said. “Sheesh, can’t statues have a sense of humor?” 

As it turned out, there wasn’t much need to blend in. It was early morning and not many people were around. We freaked out a homeless guy on the ferry dock when we landed. He screamed when he saw Hank and Chuck and ran off yelling something about metal angels from Mars. 

We said our good-byes to the angels, who flew off to party with their statue friends. That’s when I realized I had no idea what we were going to do next. 

We’d made it to the West Coast. Artemis was here somewhere. Annabeth too, I hoped. But I had no idea how to find them, and tomorrow was the winter solstice. Nor did I have any clue what monster Artemis had been hunting. It was supposed to find us on the quest. It was supposed to “show the trail,” but it never had. Now we were stuck on the ferry dock with not much money, no friends, and no luck. 

After a brief discussion, we agreed that we needed to figure out just what this mystery monster was. 

“But how?” I asked. 

“Nereus,” Grover said. 

I looked at him. “What?” 

“Isn’t that what Apollo told you to do? Find Nereus?” 

I nodded. I’d completely forgotten my last conversation with the sun god. 

“The old man of the sea,” I remembered. “I’m supposed to find him and force him to tell us what he knows. But how do I find him?” 

Zoë made a face. “Old Nereus, eh?” 

“You know him?” Thalia asked. 

“My mother was a sea goddess. Yes, I know him. Unfortunately, he is never very hard to find. Just follow the smell.” 

“What do you mean?” I asked. 

“Come,” she said without enthusiasm. “I will show thee.” 

I knew I was in trouble when we stopped at the Goodwill drop box. Five minutes later, Zoë had me outfitted in a ragged flannel shirt and jeans three sizes too big, bright red sneakers, and a floppy rainbow hat. 

“Oh, yeah,” Grover said, trying not to bust out laughing, “you look completely inconspicuous now.” 

Zoë nodded with satisfaction. “A typical male vagrant.” 

“Thanks a lot,” I grumbled. “Why am I doing this again?” 

“I told thee. To blend in.” 

She led the way back down to the waterfront. After a long time spent searching the docks, Zoë finally stopped in her tracks. She pointed down a pier where a bunch of homeless guys were huddled together in blankets, waiting for the soup kitchen to open for lunch. 

“He will be down there somewhere,” Zoë said. “He never travels very far from the water. He likes to sun himself during the day.” 

“How do I know which one is him?” 

“Sneak up,” she said. “Act homeless. You will know him. He will smell . . . different.” 

“Great.” I didn’t want to ask for particulars. “And once I find him?” 

“Grab him,” she said. “And hold on. He will try anything to get rid of thee. Whatever he does, do not let go. Force him to tell thee about the monster.” 

“We’ve got your back,” Thalia said. She picked something off the back of my shirt—a big clump of fuzz that came from who-knows-where. “Eww. On second thought . . . I don’t want your back. But we’ll be rooting for you.” 

Grover gave me a big thumbs-up. 

I grumbled how nice it was to have super-powerful friends. Then I headed toward the dock. 

I pulled my hat down and stumbled like I was about to pass out, which wasn’t hard considering how tired I was. I passed our homeless friend from the Embarcadero, who was still trying to warn the other guys about the metal angels from Mars. 

He didn’t smell good, but he didn’t smell . . . different. I kept walking. 

A couple of grimy dudes with plastic grocery bags for hats checked me out as I came close. 

“Beat it, kid!” one of them muttered. 

I moved away. They smelled pretty bad, but just regular old bad. Nothing unusual. 

There was a lady with a bunch of plastic flamingos sticking out of a shopping cart. She glared at me like I was going to steal her birds. 

At the end of the pier, a guy who looked about a million years old was passed out in a patch of sunlight. He wore pajamas and a fuzzy bathrobe that probably used to be white. He was fat, with a white beard that had turned yellow, kind of like Santa Claus, if Santa had been rolled out of bed and dragged through a landfill. 

And his smell? 

As I got closer, I froze. He smelled bad, all right—but ocean bad. Like hot seaweed and dead fish and brine. If the ocean had an ugly side . . . this guy was it. 

I tried not to gag as I sat down near him like I was tired. Santa opened one eye suspiciously. I could feel him staring at me, but I didn’t look. I muttered something about stupid school and stupid parents, figuring that might sound reasonable. 

Santa Claus went back to sleep. 

I tensed. I knew this was going to look strange. I didn’t know how the other homeless people would react. But I jumped Santa Claus. 

“Ahhhhh!” he screamed. I meant to grab him, but he seemed to grab me instead. It was as if he’d never been asleep at all. He certainly didn’t act like a weak old man. He had a grip like steel. “Help me!” he screamed as he squeezed me to death. 

“That’s a crime!” one of the other homeless guys yelled. “Kid rolling an old man like that!” 

I rolled, all right—straight down the pier until my head slammed into a post. I was dazed for a second, and Nereus’s grip slackened. He was making a break for it. Before he could, I regained my senses and tackled him from behind. 

“I don’t have any money!” He tried to get up and run, but I locked my arms around his chest. His rotten fish smell was awful, but I held on. 

“I don’t want money,” I said as he fought. “I’m a half-blood! I want information!” 

That just made him struggle harder. “Heroes! Why do you always pick on me?” 

“Because you know everything!” 

He growled and tried to shake me off his back. It was like holding on to a roller coaster. He thrashed around, making it impossible for me to keep on my feet, but I gritted my teeth and squeezed tighter. We staggered toward the edge of the pier and I got an idea. 

“Oh, no!” I said. “Not the water!” 

The plan worked. Immediately, Nereus yelled in triumph and jumped off the edge. Together, we plunged into San Francisco Bay. 

He must’ve been surprised when I tightened my grip, the ocean filling me with extra strength. But Nereus had a few tricks left, too. He changed shape until I was holding a sleek black seal. 

I’ve heard people make jokes about trying to hold a greased pig, but I’m telling you, holding on to a seal in the water is harder. Nereus plunged straight down, wriggling and thrashing and spiraling through the dark water. If I hadn’t been Poseidon’s son, there’s no way I could’ve stayed with him. 

Nereus spun and expanded, turning into a killer whale, but I grabbed his dorsal fin as he burst out of the water. 

A whole bunch of tourists went, “Whoa!” 

I managed to wave at the crowd. Yeah, we do this every day here in San Francisco. 

Nereus plunged into the water and turned into a slimy eel. I started to tie him into a knot until he realized what was going on and changed back to human form. “Why won’t you drown?” he wailed, pummeling me with his fists. 

“I’m Poseidon’s son,” I said. 

“Curse that upstart! I was here first!” 

Finally he collapsed on the edge of the boat dock. Above us was one of those tourist piers lined with shops, like a mall on water. Nereus was heaving and gasping. I was feeling great. I could’ve gone on all day, but I didn’t tell him that. I wanted him to feel like he’d put up a good fight. 

My friends ran down the steps from the pier. 

“You got him!” Zoë said. 

“You don’t have to sound so amazed,” I said. 

Nereus moaned. “Oh, wonderful. An audience for my humiliation! The normal deal, I suppose? You’ll let me go if I answer your question?” 

“I’ve got more than one question,” I said. 

“Only one question per capture! That’s the rule.” 

I looked at my friends. 

This wasn’t good. I needed to find Artemis, and I needed to figure out what the doomsday creature was. I also needed to know if Annabeth was still alive, and how to rescue her. How could I ask that all in one question? 

A voice inside me was screaming Ask about Annabeth! That’s what I cared about most. 

But then I imagined what Annabeth might say. She would never forgive me if I saved her and didn’t save Olympus. Zoë would want me to ask about Artemis, but Chiron had told us the monster was even more important. 

I sighed. “All right, Nereus. Tell me where to find this terrible monster that could bring an end to the gods. The one Artemis was hunting.” 

The Old Man of the Sea smiled, showing off his mossy green teeth. 

“Oh, that’s too easy,” he said evilly. “He’s right there.” 

Nereus pointed to the water at my feet. 

“Where?” I said. 

“The deal is complete!” Nereus gloated. With a pop, he turned into a goldfish and did a backflip into the sea. 

“You tricked me!” I yelled. 

“Wait.” Thalia’s eyes widened. “What is that?” 

“MOOOOOOOO!” 

I looked down, and there was my friend the cow serpent, swimming next to the dock. She nudged my shoe and gave me the sad brown eyes. 

“Ah, Bessie,” I said. “Not now.” 

“Mooo!” 

Grover gasped. “He says his name isn’t Bessie.” 

“You can understand her . . . er, him?” 

Grover nodded. “It’s a very old form of animal speech. But he says his name is the Ophiotaurus.” 

“The Ophi-what?” 

“It means serpent bull in Greek,” Thalia said. “But what’s it doing here?” 

“Moooooooo!” 

“He says Percy is his protector,” Grover announced. 

“And he’s running from the bad people. He says they are close.” 

I was wondering how you got all that out of a single moooooo. 

“Wait,” Zoë said, looking at me. “You know this cow?” 

I was feeling impatient, but I told them the story. 

Thalia shook her head in disbelief. “And you just forgot to mention this before?” 

“Well . . . yeah.” It seemed silly, now that she said it, but things had been happening so fast. Bessie, the Ophiotaurus, seemed like a minor detail. 

“I am a fool,” Zoë said suddenly. “I know this story!” 

“What story?” 

“From the War of the Titans,” she said. “My . . . my father told me this tale, thousands of years ago. This is the beast we are looking for.” 

“Bessie?” I looked down at the bull serpent. “But . . . he’s too cute. He couldn’t destroy the world.” 

“That is how we were wrong,” Zoë said. “We’ve been anticipating a huge dangerous monster, but the Ophiotaurus does not bring down the gods that way. He must be sacrificed.” 

“MMMM,” Bessie lowed. 

“I don’t think he likes the S-word,” Grover said. 

I patted Bessie on the head, trying to calm him down. He let me scratch his ear, but he was trembling. 

“How could anyone hurt him?” I said. “He’s harmless.” 

Zoë nodded. “But there is power in killing innocence. Terrible power. The Fates ordained a prophecy eons ago, when this creature was born. They said that whoever killed the Ophiotaurus and sacrificed its entrails to fire would have the power to destroy the gods.” 

“MMMMMM!” 

“Um,” Grover said. “Maybe we could avoid talking about entrails, too.” 

Thalia stared at the cow serpent with wonder. “The power to destroy the gods . . . how? I mean, what would happen?” 

“No one knows,” Zoë said. “The first time, during the Titan war, the Ophiotaurus was in fact slain by a giant ally of the Titans, but thy father, Zeus, sent an eagle to snatch the entrails away before they could be tossed into the fire. It was a close call. Now, after three thousand years, the Ophiotaurus is reborn.” 

Thalia sat down on the dock. She stretched out her hand. Bessie went right to her. Thalia placed her hand on his head. Bessie shivered. 

Thalia’s expression bothered me. She almost looked . . . hungry. 

“We have to protect him,” I told her. “If Luke gets hold of him—” 

“Luke wouldn’t hesitate,” Thalia muttered. “The power to overthrow Olympus. That’s . . . that’s huge.” 

“Yes, it is, my dear,” said a man’s voice in a heavy French accent. “And it is a power you shall unleash.” 

The Ophiotaurus made a whimpering sound and submerged. 

I looked up. We’d been so busy talking, we’d allowed ourselves to be ambushed. 

Standing behind us, his two-color eyes gleaming wickedly, was Dr. Thorn, the manticore himself. 

“This is just pairrr-fect,” the manticore gloated. 

He was wearing a ratty black trench coat over his Westover Hall uniform, which was torn and stained. His military haircut had grown out spiky and greasy. He hadn’t shaved recently, so his face was covered in silver stubble. Basically he didn’t look much better than the guys down at the soup kitchen. 

“Long ago, the gods banished me to Persia,” the manticore said. “I was forced to scrounge for food on the edges of the world, hiding in forests, devouring insignificant human farmers for my meals. I never got to fight any great heroes. I was not feared and admired in the old stories! But now that will change. The Titans shall honor me, and I shall feast on the flesh of half-bloods!” 

On either side of him stood two armed security guys, some of the mortal mercenaries I’d seen in D.C. Two more stood on the next boat dock over, just in case we tried to escape that way. There were tourists all around— walking down the waterfront, shopping at the pier above us—but I knew that wouldn’t stop the manticore from acting. 

“Where . . . where are the skeletons?” I asked the manticore. 

He sneered. “I do not need those foolish undead! The General thinks I am worthless? He will change his mind when I defeat you myself!” 

I needed time to think. I had to save Bessie. I could dive into the sea, but how could I make a quick getaway with a five-hundred-pound cow serpent? And what about my friends? 

“We beat you once before,” I said. 

“Ha! You could barely fight me with a goddess on your side. And, alas . . . that goddess is preoccupied at the moment. There will be no help for you now.” 

Zoë notched an arrow and aimed it straight at the manticore’s head. The guards on either side of us raised their guns. 

“Wait!” I said. “Zoë, don’t!” 

The manticore smiled. “The boy is right, Zoë Nightshade. Put away your bow. It would be a shame to kill you before you witnessed Thalia’s great victory.” 

“What are you talking about?” Thalia growled. She had her shield and spear ready. 

“Surely it is clear,” the manticore said. “This is your moment. This is why Lord Kronos brought you back to life. You will sacrifice the Ophiotaurus. You will bring its entrails to the sacred fire on the mountain. You will gain unlimited power. And for your sixteenth birthday, you will overthrow Olympus.” 

No one spoke. It made terrible sense. Thalia was only two days away from turning sixteen. She was a child of the Big Three. And here was a choice, a terrible choice that could mean the end of the gods. It was just like the prophecy said. I wasn’t sure if I felt relieved, horrified, or disappointed. I wasn’t the prophecy kid after all. Doomsday was happening right now. 

I waited for Thalia to tell the manticore off, but she hesitated. She looked completely stunned. 

“You know it is the right choice,” the manticore told her. “Your friend Luke recognized it. You shall be reunited with him. You shall rule this world together under the auspices of the Titans. Your father abandoned you, Thalia. He cares nothing for you. And now you shall gain power over him. Crush the Olympians underfoot, as they deserve. Call the beast! It will come to you. Use your spear.” 

“Thalia,” I said, “snap out of it!” 

She looked at me the same way she had the morning she woke up on Half-Blood Hill, dazed and uncertain. It was almost like she didn’t know me. “I . . . I don’t—” 

“Your father helped you,” I said. “He sent the metal angels. He turned you into a tree to preserve you.” 

Her hand tightened on the shaft of her spear. 

I looked at Grover desperately. Thank the gods, he understood what I needed. He raised his pipes to his mouth and played a quick riff. 

The manticore yelled, “Stop him!” 

The guards had been targeting Zoë, and before they could figure out that the kid with the pipes was the bigger problem, the wooden planks at their feet sprouted new branches and tangled their legs. Zoë let loose two quick arrows that exploded at their feet in clouds of sulfurous yellow smoke. Fart arrows! 

The guards started coughing. The manticore shot spines in our direction, but they ricocheted off my lion’s coat. 

“Grover,” I said, “tell Bessie to dive deep and stay down!” 

“Moooooo!” Grover translated. I could only hope that Bessie got the message. 

“The cow . . .” Thalia muttered, still in a daze. 

“Come on!” I pulled her along as we ran up the stairs to the shopping center on the pier. We dashed around the corner of the nearest store. I heard the manticore shouting at his minions, “Get them!” Tourists screamed as the guards shot blindly into the air. 

We scrambled to the end of the pier. We hid behind a little kiosk filled with souvenir crystals—wind chimes and dream catchers and stuff like that, glittering in the sunlight. There was a water fountain next to us. Down below, a bunch of sea lions were sunning themselves on the rocks. The whole of San Francisco Bay spread out before us: the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and the green hills and fog beyond that to the north. A picture-perfect moment, except for the fact that we were about to die and the world was going to end. 

“Go over the side!” Zoë told me. “You can escape in the sea, Percy. Call on thy father for help. Maybe you can save the Ophiotaurus.” 

She was right, but I couldn’t do it. 

“I won’t leave you guys,” I said. “We fight together.” 

“You have to get word to camp!” Grover said. “At least let them know what’s going on!” 

Then I noticed the crystals making rainbows in the sunlight. There was a drinking fountain next to me . . . 

“Get word to camp,” I muttered. “Good idea.” 

I uncapped Riptide and slashed off the top of the water fountain. Water burst out of the busted pipe and sprayed all over us. 

Thalia gasped as the water hit her. The fog seemed to clear from her eyes. “Are you crazy?” she asked. 

But Grover understood. He was already fishing around in his pockets for a coin. He threw a golden drachma into the rainbows created by the mist and yelled, “O goddess, accept my offering!” 

The mist rippled. 

“Camp Half-Blood!” I said. 

And there, shimmering in the Mist right next to us, was the last person I wanted to see: Mr. D, wearing his leopard-skin jogging suit and rummaging through the refrigerator. 

He looked up lazily. “Do you mind?” 

“Where’s Chiron!” I shouted. 

“How rude.” Mr. D took a swig from a jug of grape juice. “Is that how you say hello?” 

“Hello,” I amended. “We’re about to die! Where’s Chiron?” 

Mr. D considered that. I wanted to scream at him to hurry up, but I knew that wouldn’t work. Behind us, footsteps and shouting—the manticore’s troops were closing in. 

“About to die,” Mr. D mused. “How exciting. I’m afraid Chiron isn’t here. Would you like me to take a message?” 

I looked at my friends. “We’re dead.” 

Thalia gripped her spear. She looked like her old angry self again. “Then we’ll die fighting.” 

“How noble,” Mr. D said, stifling a yawn. “So what is the problem, exactly?” 

I didn’t see that it would make any difference, but I told him about the Ophiotaurus. 

“Mmm.” He studied the contents of the fridge. “So that’s it. I see.” 

“You don’t even care!” I screamed. “You’d just as soon watch us die!” 

“Let’s see. I think I’m in the mood for pizza tonight.” 

I wanted to slash through the rainbow and disconnect, but I didn’t have time. The manticore screamed, “There!” And we were surrounded. Two of the guards stood behind him. The other two appeared on the roofs of the pier shops above us. The manticore threw off his coat and transformed into his true self, his lion claws extended and his spiky tail bristling with poison barbs. 

“Excellent,” he said. He glanced at the apparition in the mist and snorted. “Alone, without any real help. Wonderful.” 

“You could ask for help,” Mr. D murmured to me, as if this were an amusing thought. “You could say please.” 

When wild boars fly, I thought. There was no way I was going to die begging a slob like Mr. D, just so he could laugh as we all got gunned down. 

Zoë readied her arrows. Grover lifted his pipes. Thalia raised her shield, and I noticed a tear running down her cheek. Suddenly it occurred to me: this had happened to her before. She had been cornered on Half-Blood Hill. She’d willingly given her life for her friends. But this time, she couldn’t save us. 

How could I let that happen to her? 

“Please, Mr. D,” I muttered. “Help.” 

Of course, nothing happened. 

The manticore grinned. “Spare the daughter of Zeus. She will join us soon enough. Kill the others.” 

The men raised their guns, and something strange happened. You know how you feel when all the blood rushes to your head, like if you hang upside down and turn right-side up too quickly? There was a rush like that all around me, and a sound like a huge sigh. The sunlight tinged with purple. I smelled grapes and something more sour—wine. 

SNAP! 

It was the sound of many minds breaking at the same time. The sound of madness. One guard put his pistol between his teeth like it was a bone and ran around on all fours. Two others dropped their guns and started waltzing with each other. The fourth began doing what looked like an Irish clogging dance. It would have been funny if it hadn’t been so terrifying. 

“No!” screamed the manticore. “I will deal with you myself!” 

His tail bristled, but the planks under his paws erupted into grape vines, which immediately began wrapping around the monster’s body, sprouting new leaves and clusters of green baby grapes that ripened in seconds as the manticore shrieked, until he was engulfed in a huge mass of vines, leaves, and full clusters of purple grapes. Finally the grapes stopped shivering, and I had a feeling that somewhere inside there, the manticore was no more. 

“Well,” said Dionysus, closing his refrigerator. “That was fun.” 

I stared at him, horrified. “How could you . . . How did you—” 

“Such gratitude,” he muttered. “The mortals will come out of it. Too much explaining to do if I made their condition permanent. I hate writing reports to Father.” 

He stared resentfully at Thalia. “I hope you learned your lesson, girl. It isn’t easy to resist power, is it?” 

Thalia blushed as if she were ashamed. 

“Mr. D,” Grover said in amazement. “You . . . you saved us.” 

“Mmm. Don’t make me regret it, satyr. Now get going, Percy Jackson. I’ve bought you a few hours at most.” 

“The Ophiotaurus,” I said. “Can you get it to camp?” 

Mr. D sniffed. “I do not transport livestock. That’s your problem.” 

“But where do we go?” 

Dionysus looked at Zoë. “Oh, I think the huntress knows. You must enter at sunset today, you know, or all is lost. Now good-bye. My pizza is waiting.” 

“Mr. D,” I said. 

He raised his eyebrow. 

“You called me by my right name,” I said. “You called me Percy Jackson.” 

“I most certainly did not, Peter Johnson. Now off with you!” 

He waved his hand, and his image disappeared in the mist. 

All around us, the manticore’s minions were still acting completely nuts. One of them had found our friend the homeless guy, and they were having a serious conversation about metal angels from Mars. Several other guards were harassing the tourists, making animal noises and trying to steal their shoes. 

I looked at Zoë. “What did he mean . . . ‘You know where to go’?” 

Her face was the color of the fog. She pointed across the bay, past the Golden Gate. In the distance, a single mountain rose up above the cloud layer. 

“The garden of my sisters,” she said. “I must go home.” 





TWO 


[image: ]


THE VICE PRINCIPAL GETS A MISSILE LAUNCHER

I didn’t know what kind of monster Dr. Thorn was, but he was fast. 

Maybe I could defend myself if I could get my shield activated. All that it would take was a touch of my wristwatch. But defending the di Angelo kids was another matter. I needed help, and there was only one way I could think to get it. 

I closed my eyes. 

“What are you doing, Jackson?” hissed Dr. Thorn. “Keep moving!” 

I opened my eyes and kept shuffling forward. “It’s my shoulder,” I lied, trying to sound miserable, which wasn’t hard. “It burns.” 

“Bah! My poison causes pain. It will not kill you. Walk!” 

Thorn herded us outside, and I tried to concentrate. I pictured Grover’s face. I focused on my feelings of fear and danger. Last summer, Grover had created an empathy link between us. He’d sent me visions in my dreams to let me know when he was in trouble. As far as I knew, we were still linked, but I’d never tried to contact Grover before. I didn’t even know if it would work while Grover was awake. 

Hey, Grover! I thought. Thorn’s kidnapping us! He’s a poisonous spike-throwing maniac! Help! 

Thorn marched us into the woods. We took a snowy path dimly lit by old-fashioned lamplights. My shoulder ached. The wind blowing through my ripped clothes was so cold that I felt like a Percysicle. 

“There is a clearing ahead,” Thorn said. “We will summon your ride.” 

“What ride?” Bianca demanded. “Where are you taking us?” 

“Silence, you insufferable girl!” 

“Don’t talk to my sister that way!” Nico said. His voice quivered, but I was impressed that he had the guts to say anything at all. 

Dr. Thorn made a growling sound that definitely wasn’t human. It made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, but I forced myself to keep walking and pretend I was being a good little captive. Meanwhile, I projected my thoughts like crazy—anything to get Grover’s attention: Grover! Apples! Tin cans! Get your furry goat behind out here and bring some heavily armed friends! 

“Halt,” Thorn said. 

The woods had opened up. We’d reached a cliff overlooking the sea. At least, I sensed the sea was down there, hundreds of feet below. I could hear the waves churning and I could smell the cold salty froth. But all I could see was mist and darkness. 

Dr. Thorn pushed us toward the edge. I stumbled, and Bianca caught me. 

“Thanks,” I murmured. 

“What is he?” she whispered. “How do we fight him?” 

“I . . . I’m working on it.” 

“I’m scared,” Nico mumbled. He was fiddling with something—a little metal toy soldier of some kind. 

“Stop talking!” Dr. Thorn said. “Face me!” 

We turned. 

Thorn’s two-tone eyes glittered hungrily. He pulled something from under his coat. At first I thought it was a switchblade, but it was only a phone. He pressed the side button and said, “The package—it is ready to deliver.” 

There was a garbled reply, and I realized Thorn was in walkie-talkie mode. This seemed way too modern and creepy—a monster using a mobile phone. 

I glanced behind me, wondering how far the drop was. 

Dr. Thorn laughed. “By all means, Son of Poseidon. Jump! There is the sea. Save yourself.” 

“What did he call you?” Bianca muttered. 

“I’ll explain later,” I said. 

“You do have a plan, right?” 

Grover! I thought desperately. Come to me! 

Maybe I could get both the di Angelos to jump with me into the ocean. If we survived the fall, I could use the water to protect us. I’d done things like that before. If my dad was in a good mood, and listening, he might help. Maybe. 

“I would kill you before you ever reached the water,” Dr. Thorn said, as if reading my thoughts. “You do not realize who I am, do you?” 

A flicker of movement behind him, and another missile whistled so close to me that it nicked my ear. Something had sprung up behind Dr. Thorn—like a catapult, but more flexible . . . almost like a tail. 

“Unfortunately,” Thorn said, “you are wanted alive, if possible. Otherwise you would already be dead.” 

“Who wants us?” Bianca demanded. “Because if you think you’ll get a ransom, you’re wrong. We don’t have any family. Nico and I . . .” Her voice broke a little. “We’ve got no one but each other.” 

“Aww,” Dr. Thorn said. “Do not worry, little brats. You will be meeting my employer soon enough. Then you will have a brand-new family.” 

“Luke,” I said. “You work for Luke.” 

Dr. Thorn’s mouth twisted with distaste when I said the name of my old enemy—a former friend who’d tried to kill me several times. “You have no idea what is happening, Perseus Jackson. I will let the General enlighten you. You are going to do him a great service tonight. He is looking forward to meeting you.” 

“The General?” I asked. Then I realized I’d said it with a French accent. “I mean . . . who’s the General?” 

Thorn looked toward the horizon. “Ah, here we are. Your transportation.” 

I turned and saw a light in the distance, a searchlight over the sea. Then I heard the chopping of helicopter blades getting louder and closer. 

“Where are you taking us?” Nico said. 

“You should be honored, my boy. You will have the opportunity to join a great army! Just like that silly game you play with cards and dolls.” 

“They’re not dolls! They’re figurines! And you can take your great army and—” 

“Now, now,” Dr. Thorn warned. “You will change your mind about joining us, my boy. And if you do not, well . . . there are other uses for half-bloods. We have many monstrous mouths to feed. The Great Stirring is underway.” 

“The Great what?” I asked. Anything to keep him talking while I tried to figure out a plan. 

“The stirring of monsters.” Dr. Thorn smiled evilly. “The worst of them, the most powerful, are now waking. Monsters that have not been seen in thousands of years. They will cause death and destruction the likes of which mortals have never known. And soon we shall have the most important monster of all—the one that shall bring about the downfall of Olympus!” 

“Okay,” Bianca whispered to me. “He’s completely nuts.” 

“We have to jump off the cliff,” I told her quietly. “Into the sea.” 

“Oh, super idea. You’re completely nuts, too.” 

I never got the chance to argue with her, because just then an invisible force slammed into me. 

Looking back on it, Annabeth’s move was brilliant. Wearing her cap of invisibility, she plowed into the di Angelos and me, knocking us to the ground. For a split second, Dr. Thorn was taken by surprise, so his first volley of missiles zipped harmlessly over our heads. This gave Thalia and Grover a chance to advance from behind—Thalia wielding her magic shield, Aegis. 

If you’ve never seen Thalia run into battle, you have never been truly frightened. She uses a huge spear that expands from this collapsible Mace canister she carries in her pocket, but that’s not the scary part. Her shield is modeled after one her dad Zeus uses—also called Aegis—a gift from Athena. The shield has the head of the gorgon Medusa molded into the bronze, and even though it won’t turn you to stone, it’s so horrible, most people will panic and run at the sight of it. 

Even Dr. Thorn winced and growled when he saw it. 

Thalia moved in with her spear. “For Zeus!” 

I thought Dr. Thorn was a goner. Thalia jabbed at his head, but he snarled and swatted the spear aside. His hand changed into an orange paw, with enormous claws that sparked against Thalia’s shield as he slashed. If it hadn’t been for Aegis, Thalia would’ve been sliced like a loaf of bread. As it was, she managed to roll backward and land on her feet. 

The sound of the helicopter was getting louder behind me, but I didn’t dare look. 

Dr. Thorn launched another volley of missiles at Thalia, and this time I could see how he did it. He had a tail—a leathery, scorpionlike tail that bristled with spikes at the tip. The missiles deflected off Aegis, but the force of their impact knocked Thalia down. 

Grover sprang forward. He put his reed pipes to his lips and began to play—a frantic jig that sounded like something pirates would dance to. Grass broke through the snow. Within seconds, rope-thick weeds were wrapping around Dr. Thorn’s legs, entangling him. 

Dr. Thorn roared and began to change. He grew larger until he was in his true form—his face still human, but his body that of a huge lion. His leathery, spiky tail whipped deadly thorns in all directions. 

“A manticore!” Annabeth said, now visible. Her magical New York Yankees cap had come off when she’d plowed into us. 

“Who are you people?” Bianca di Angelo demanded. “And what is that?” 

“A manticore?” Nico gasped. “He’s got three thousand attack power and plus five to saving throws!” 

I didn’t know what he was talking about, but I didn’t have time to worry about it. The manticore clawed Grover’s magic weeds to shreds then turned toward us with a snarl. 

“Get down!” Annabeth pushed the di Angelos flat into the snow. At the last second, I remembered my own shield. I hit my wristwatch, and metal plating spiraled out into a thick bronze shield. Not a moment too soon. The thorns impacted against it with such force they dented the metal. The beautiful shield, a gift from my brother, was badly damaged. I wasn’t sure it would even stop a second volley. 

I heard a thwack and a yelp, and Grover landed next to me with a thud. 

“Yield!” the monster roared. 

“Never!” Thalia yelled from across the field. She charged the monster, and for a second, I thought she would run him through. But then there was a thunderous noise and a blaze of light from behind us. The helicopter appeared out of the mist, hovering just beyond the cliffs. It was a sleek black military-style gunship, with attachments on the sides that looked like laser-guided rockets. The helicopter had to be manned by mortals, but what was it doing here? How could mortals be working with a monster? The searchlights blinded Thalia, and the manticore swatted her away with its tail. Her shield flew off into the snow. Her spear flew in the other direction. 

“No!” I ran out to help her. I parried away a spike just before it would’ve hit her chest. I raised my shield over us, but I knew it wouldn’t be enough. 

Dr. Thorn laughed. “Now do you see how hopeless it is? Yield, little heroes.” 

We were trapped between a monster and a fully armed helicopter. We had no chance. 

Then I heard a clear, piercing sound: the call of a hunting horn blowing in the woods. 

The manticore froze. For a moment, no one moved. There was only the swirl of snow and wind and the chopping of the helicopter blades. 

“No,” Dr. Thorn said. “It cannot be—” 

His sentence was cut short when something shot past me like a streak of moonlight. A glowing silver arrow sprouted from Dr. Thorn’s shoulder. 

He staggered backward, wailing in agony. 

“Curse you!” Thorn cried. He unleashed his spikes, dozens of them at once, into the woods where the arrow had come from, but just as fast, silvery arrows shot back in reply. It almost looked like the arrows had intercepted the thorns in midair and sliced them in two, but my eyes must’ve been playing tricks on me. No one, not even Apollo’s kids at camp, could shoot with that much accuracy. 

The manticore pulled the arrow out of his shoulder with a howl of pain. His breathing was heavy. I tried to swipe at him with my sword, but he wasn’t as injured as he looked. He dodged my attack and slammed his tail into my shield, knocking me aside. 

Then the archers came from the woods. They were girls, about a dozen of them. The youngest was maybe ten. The oldest, about fourteen, like me. They wore silvery ski parkas and jeans, and they were all armed with bows. They advanced on the manticore with determined expressions. 

“The Hunters!” Annabeth cried. 

Next to me, Thalia muttered, “Oh, wonderful.” 

I didn’t have a chance to ask what she meant. 

One of the older archers stepped forward with her bow drawn. She was tall and graceful with coppery colored skin. Unlike the other girls, she had a silver circlet braided into the top of her long dark hair, so she looked like some kind of Persian princess. “Permission to kill, my lady?” 

I couldn’t tell who she was talking to, because she kept her eyes on the manticore. 

The monster wailed. “This is not fair! Direct interference! It is against the Ancient Laws.” 

“Not so,” another girl said. This one was a little younger than me, maybe twelve or thirteen. She had auburn hair gathered back in a ponytail and strange eyes, silvery yellow like the moon. Her face was so beautiful it made me catch my breath, but her expression was stern and dangerous. “The hunting of all wild beasts is within my sphere. And you, foul creature, are a wild beast.” She looked at the older girl with the circlet. “Zoë, permission granted.” 

The manticore growled. “If I cannot have these alive, I shall have them dead!” 

He lunged at Thalia and me, knowing we were weak and dazed. 

“No!” Annabeth yelled, and she charged at the monster. 

“Get back, half-blood!” the girl with the circlet said. “Get out of the line of fire!” 

But Annabeth leaped onto the monster’s back and drove her knife into his mane. The manticore howled, turning in circles with his tail flailing as Annabeth hung on for dear life. 

“Fire!” Zoë ordered. 

“No!” I screamed. 

But the Hunters let their arrows fly. The first caught the manticore in the neck. Another hit his chest. The manticore staggered backward, wailing, “This is not the end, Huntress! You shall pay!” 

And before anyone could react, the monster, with Annabeth still on his back, leaped over the cliff and tumbled into the darkness. 

“Annabeth!” I yelled. 

I started to run after her, but our enemies weren’t done with us. There was a snap-snap-snap from the helicopter—the sound of gunfire. 

Most of the Hunters scattered as tiny holes appeared in the snow at their feet, but the girl with auburn hair just looked up calmly at the helicopter. 

“Mortals,” she announced, “are not allowed to witness my hunt.” 

She thrust out her hand, and the helicopter exploded into dust—no, not dust. The black metal dissolved into a flock of birds—ravens, which scattered into the night. 

The Hunters advanced on us. 

The one called Zoë stopped short when she saw Thalia. “You,” she said with distaste. 

“Zoë Nightshade.” Thalia’s voice trembled with anger. “Perfect timing, as usual.” 

Zoë scanned the rest of us. “Four half-bloods and a satyr, my lady.” 

“Yes,” the younger girl said. “Some of Chiron’s campers, I see.” 

“Annabeth!” I yelled. “You have to let us save her!” 

The auburn-haired girl turned toward me. “I’m sorry, Percy Jackson, but your friend is beyond help.” 

I tried to struggle to my feet, but a couple of the girls held me down. 

“You are in no condition to be hurling yourself off cliffs,” the auburn-haired girl said. 

“Let me go!” I demanded. “Who do you think you are?” 

Zoë stepped forward as if to smack me. 

“No,” the other girl ordered. “I sense no disrespect, Zoë. He is simply distraught. He does not understand.” 

The young girl looked at me, her eyes colder and brighter than the winter moon. “I am Artemis,” she said. “Goddess of the Hunt.” 




    


[image: Titan's Curse, The]



  

Table of Contents


	1. My Rescue Operation Goes Very Wrong

	2. The Vice Principal Gets A Missile Launcher

	3. Bianca Di Angelo Makes A Choice

	4. Thalia Torches New England

	5. I Place An Underwater Phone Call

	6. An Old Dead Friend Comes To Visit

	7. Everybody Hates Me But The Horse

	8. I Make A Dangerous Promise

	9. I Learn How To Grow Zombies

	10. I Break A Few Rocket Ships

	11. Grover Gets A Lamborghini

	12. I Go Snowboarding With A Pig

	13. We Visit The Junkyard Of The Gods

	14. I Have A Dam Problem

	15. I Wrestle Santa's Evil Twin

	16. We Meet The Dragon Of Eternal Bad Breath

	17. I Put On A Few Million Extra Pounds

	18. A Friend Says Good-bye

	19. The Gods Vote How To Kill Us

	20. I Get A New Enemy For Christmas

	Preview Of The Red Pyramid







FOUR 


[image: ]


THALIA TORCHES NEW ENGLAND

Artemis assured us that dawn was coming, but you could’ve fooled me. It was colder and darker and snowier than ever. Up on the hill, Westover Hall’s windows were completely lightless. I wondered if the teachers had even noticed the di Angelos and Dr. Thorn were missing yet. I didn’t want to be around when they did. With my luck, the only name Mrs. Gottschalk would remember was “Percy Jackson,” and then I’d be the subject of a nationwide manhunt . . . again. 

The Hunters broke camp as quickly as they’d set it up. I stood shivering in the snow (unlike the Hunters, who didn’t seem to feel at all uncomfortable), and Artemis stared into the east like she was expecting something. Bianca sat off to one side, talking with Nico. I could tell from his gloomy face that she was explaining her decision to join the Hunt. I couldn’t help thinking how selfish it was of her, abandoning her brother like that. 

Thalia and Grover came up and huddled around me, anxious to hear what had happened in my audience with the goddess. 

When I told them, Grover turned pale. “The last time the Hunters visited camp, it didn’t go well.” 

“How’d they even show up here?” I wondered. “I mean, they just appeared out of nowhere.” 

“And Bianca joined them,” Thalia said, disgusted. “It’s all Zoë’s fault. That stuck-up, no good—” 

“Who can blame her?” Grover said. “Eternity with Artemis?” He heaved a big sigh. 

Thalia rolled her eyes. “You satyrs. You’re all in love with Artemis. Don’t you get that she’ll never love you back?” 

“But she’s so . . . into nature,” Grover swooned. 

“You’re nuts,” said Thalia. 

“Nuts and berries,” Grover said dreamily. “Yeah.” 

Finally the sky began to lighten. Artemis muttered, “About time. He’s so-o-o lazy during the winter.” 

“You’re, um, waiting for sunrise?” I asked. 

“For my brother. Yes.” 

I didn’t want to be rude. I mean, I knew the legends about Apollo—or sometimes Helios—driving a big sun chariot across the sky. But I also knew that the sun was really a star about a zillion miles away. I’d gotten used to some of the Greek myths being true, but still . . . I didn’t see how Apollo could drive the sun. 

“It’s not exactly as you think,” Artemis said, like she was reading my mind. 

“Oh, okay.” I started to relax. “So, it’s not like he’ll be pulling up in a—” 

There was a sudden burst of light on the horizon. A blast of warmth. 

“Don’t look,” Artemis advised. “Not until he parks.” 

Parks? 

I averted my eyes, and saw that the other kids were doing the same. The light and warmth intensified until my winter coat felt like it was melting off of me. Then suddenly the light died. 

I looked. And I couldn’t believe it. It was my car. Well, the car I wanted, anyway. A red convertible Maserati Spyder. It was so awesome it glowed. Then I realized it was glowing because the metal was hot. The snow had melted around the Maserati in a perfect circle, which explained why I was now standing on green grass and my shoes were wet. 

The driver got out, smiling. He looked about seventeen or eighteen, and for a second, I had the uneasy feeling it was Luke, my old enemy. This guy had the same sandy hair and outdoorsy good looks. But it wasn’t Luke. This guy was taller, with no scar on his face like Luke’s. His smile was brighter and more playful. (Luke didn’t do much more than scowl and sneer these days.) The Maserati driver wore jeans and loafers and a sleeveless T-shirt. 

“Wow,” Thalia muttered. “Apollo is hot.” 

“He’s the sun god,” I said. 

“That’s not what I meant.” 

“Little sister!” Apollo called. If his teeth were any whiter he could’ve blinded us without the sun car. “What’s up? You never call. You never write. I was getting worried!” 

Artemis sighed. “I’m fine, Apollo. And I am not your little sister.” 

“Hey, I was born first.” 

“We’re twins! How many millennia do we have to argue—” 

“So what’s up?” he interrupted. “Got the girls with you, I see. You all need some tips on archery?” 

Artemis grit her teeth. “I need a favor. I have some hunting to do, alone. I need you to take my companions to Camp Half-Blood.” 

“Sure, sis!” Then he raised his hands in a stop everything gesture. “I feel a haiku coming on.” 

The Hunters all groaned. Apparently they’d met Apollo before. 

He cleared his throat and held up one hand dramatically. 

“Green grass breaks through snow. 

Artemis pleads for my help. 

I am so cool.” 

He grinned at us, waiting for applause. 

“That last line was only four syllables,” Artemis said. 

Apollo frowned. “Was it?” 

“Yes. What about I am so big-headed?” 

“No, no, that’s six syllables. Hmm.” He started muttering to himself. 

Zoë Nightshade turned to us. “Lord Apollo has been going through this haiku phase ever since he visited Japan. ’Tis not as bad as the time he visited Limerick. If I’d had to hear one more poem that started with, There once was a goddess from Sparta—” 

“I’ve got it!” Apollo announced. “I am so awesome. That’s five syllables!” He bowed, looking very pleased with himself. 

“And now, sis. Transportation for the Hunters, you say? Good timing. I was just about ready to roll.” 

“These demigods will also need a ride,” Artemis said, pointing to us. “Some of Chiron’s campers.” 

“No problem!” Apollo checked us out. “Let’s see . . . Thalia, right? I’ve heard all about you.” 

Thalia blushed. “Hi, Lord Apollo.” 

“Zeus’s girl, yes? Makes you my half sister. Used to be a tree, didn’t you? Glad you’re back. I hate it when pretty girls turn into trees. Man, I remember one time—” 

“Brother,” Artemis said. “You should get going.” 

“Oh, right.” Then he looked at me, and his eyes narrowed. “Percy Jackson?” 

“Yeah. I mean . . . yes, sir.” 

It seemed weird calling a teenager “sir,” but I’d learned to be careful with immortals. They tended to get offended easily. Then they blew stuff up. 

Apollo studied me, but he didn’t say anything, which I found a little creepy. 

“Well!” he said at last. “We’d better load up, huh? Ride only goes one way—west. And if you miss it, you miss it.” 

I looked at the Maserati, which would seat two people max. There were about twenty of us. 

“Cool car,” Nico said. 

“Thanks, kid,” Apollo said. 

“But how will we all fit?” 

“Oh.” Apollo seemed to notice the problem for the first time. “Well, yeah. I hate to change out of sports-car mode, but I suppose . . .” 

He took out his car keys and beeped the security alarm button. Chirp, chirp. 

For a moment, the car glowed brightly again. When the glare died, the Maserati had been replaced by one of those Turtle Top shuttle buses like we used for school basketball games. 

“Right,” he said. “Everybody in.” 

Zoë ordered the Hunters to start loading. She picked up her camping pack, and Apollo said, “Here, sweetheart. Let me get that.” 

Zoë recoiled. Her eyes flashed murderously. 

“Brother,” Artemis chided. “You do not help my Hunters. You do not look at, talk to, or flirt with my Hunters. And you do not call them sweetheart.” 

Apollo spread his hands. “Sorry. I forgot. Hey, sis, where are you off to, anyway?” 

“Hunting,” Artemis said. “It’s none of your business.” 

“I’ll find out. I see all. Know all.” 

Artemis snorted. “Just drop them off, Apollo. And no messing around!” 

“No, no! I never mess around.” 

Artemis rolled her eyes, then looked at us. “I will see you by winter solstice. Zoë, you are in charge of the Hunters. Do well. Do as I would do.” 

Zoë straightened. “Yes, my lady.” 

Artemis knelt and touched the ground as if looking for tracks. When she rose, she looked troubled. “So much danger. The beast must be found.” 

She sprinted toward the woods and melted into the snow and shadows. 

Apollo turned and grinned, jangling the car keys on his finger. “So,” he said. “Who wants to drive?” 

The Hunters piled into the van. They all crammed into the back so they’d be as far away as possible from Apollo and the rest of us highly infectious males. Bianca sat with them, leaving her little brother to hang in the front with us, which seemed cold to me, but Nico didn’t seem to mind. 

“This is so cool!” Nico said, jumping up and down in the driver’s seat. “Is this really the sun? I thought Helios and Selene were the sun and moon gods. How come sometimes it’s them and sometimes it’s you and Artemis?” 

“Downsizing,” Apollo said. “The Romans started it. They couldn’t afford all those temple sacrifices, so they laid off Helios and Selene and folded their duties into our job descriptions. My sis got the moon. I got the sun. It was pretty annoying at first, but at least I got this cool car.” 

“But how does it work?” Nico asked. “I thought the sun was a big fiery ball of gas!” 

Apollo chuckled and ruffled Nico’s hair. “That rumor probably got started because Artemis used to call me a big fiery ball of gas. Seriously, kid, it depends on whether you’re talking astronomy or philosophy. You want to talk astronomy? Bah, what fun is that? You want to talk about how humans think about the sun? Ah, now that’s more interesting. They’ve got a lot riding on the sun . . . er, so to speak. It keeps them warm, grows their crops, powers engines, makes everything look, well, sunnier. This chariot is built out of human dreams about the sun, kid. It’s as old as Western Civilization. Every day, it drives across the sky from east to west, lighting up all those puny little mortal lives. The chariot is a manifestation of the sun’s power, the way mortals perceive it. Make sense?” 

Nico shook his head. “No.” 

“Well then, just think of it as a really powerful, really dangerous solar car.” 

“Can I drive?” 

“No. Too young.” 

“Oo! Oo!” Grover raised his hand. 

“Mm, no,” Apollo said. “Too furry.” He looked past me and focused on Thalia. 

“Daughter of Zeus!” he said. “Lord of the sky. Perfect.” 

“Oh, no.” Thalia shook her head. “No, thanks.” 

“C’mon,” Apollo said. “How old are you?” 

Thalia hesitated. “I don’t know.” 

It was sad, but true. She’d been turned into a tree when she was twelve, but that had been seven years ago. So she should be nineteen, if you went by years. But she still felt like she was twelve, and if you looked at her, she seemed somewhere in between. The best Chiron could figure, she had kept aging while in tree form, but much more slowly. 

Apollo tapped his finger to his lips. “You’re fifteen, almost sixteen.” 

“How do you know that?” 

“Hey, I’m the god of prophecy. I know stuff. You’ll turn sixteen in about a week.” 

“That’s my birthday! December twenty-second.” 

“Which means you’re old enough now to drive with a learner’s permit!” 

Thalia shifted her feet nervously. “Uh—” 

“I know what you’re going to say,” Apollo said. “You don’t deserve an honor like driving the sun chariot.” 

“That’s not what I was going to say.” 

“Don’t sweat it! Maine to Long Island is a really short trip, and don’t worry about what happened to the last kid I trained. You’re Zeus’s daughter. He’s not going to blast you out of the sky.” 

Apollo laughed good-naturedly. The rest of us didn’t join him. 

Thalia tried to protest, but Apollo was absolutely not going to take “no” for an answer. He hit a button on the dashboard, and a sign popped up along the top of the windshield. I had to read it backward (which, for a dyslexic, really isn’t that different than reading forward). I was pretty sure it said WARNING: STUDENT DRIVER. 

“Take it away!” Apollo told Thalia. “You’re gonna be a natural!” 

I’ll admit I was jealous. I couldn’t wait to start driving. A couple of times that fall, my mom had taken me out to Montauk when the beach road was empty, and she’d let me try out her Mazda. I mean, yeah, that was a Japanese compact, and this was the sun chariot, but how different could it be? 

“Speed equals heat,” Apollo advised. “So start slowly, and make sure you’ve got good altitude before you really open her up.” 

Thalia gripped the wheel so tight her knuckles turned white. She looked like she was going to be sick. 

“What’s wrong?” I asked her. 

“Nothing,” she said shakily. “N-nothing is wrong.” 

She pulled back on the wheel. It tilted, and the bus lurched upward so fast I fell back and crashed against something soft. 

“Ow,” Grover said. 

“Sorry.” 

“Slower!” Apollo said. 

“Sorry!” Thalia said. “I’ve got it under control!” 

I managed to get to my feet. Looking out the window, I saw a smoking ring of trees from the clearing where we’d taken off. 

“Thalia,” I said, “lighten up on the accelerator.” 

“I’ve got it, Percy,” she said, gritting her teeth. But she kept it floored. 

“Loosen up,” I told her. 

“I’m loose!” Thalia said. She was so stiff she looked like she was made out of plywood. 

“We need to veer south for Long Island,” Apollo said. “Hang a left.” 

Thalia jerked the wheel and again threw me into Grover, who yelped. 

“The other left,” Apollo suggested. 

I made the mistake of looking out the window again. We were at airplane height now—so high the sky was starting to look black. 

“Ah . . .” Apollo said, and I got the feeling he was forcing himself to sound calm. “A little lower, sweetheart. Cape Cod is freezing over.” 

Thalia tilted the wheel. Her face was chalk white, her forehead beaded with sweat. Something was definitely wrong. I’d never seen her like this. 

The bus pitched down and somebody screamed. Maybe it was me. Now we were heading straight toward the Atlantic Ocean at a thousand miles an hour, the New England coastline off to our right. And it was getting hot in the bus. 

Apollo had been thrown somewhere in the back of the bus, but he started climbing up the rows of seats. 

“Take the wheel!” Grover begged him. 

“No worries,” Apollo said. He looked plenty worried. “She just has to learn to—WHOA!” 

I saw what he was seeing. Down below us was a little snow-covered New England town. At least, it used to be snow-covered. As I watched, the snow melted off the trees and the roofs and the lawns. The white steeple on a church turned brown and started to smolder. Little plumes of smoke, like birthday candles, were popping up all over the town. Trees and rooftops were catching fire. 

“Pull up!” I yelled. 

There was a wild light in Thalia’s eyes. She yanked back on the wheel, and I held on this time. As we zoomed up, I could see through the back window that the fires in the town were being snuffed out by the sudden blast of cold. 

“There!” Apollo pointed. “Long Island, dead ahead. Let’s slow down, dear. ‘Dead’ is only an expression.” 

Thalia was thundering toward the coastline of northern Long Island. There was Camp Half-Blood: the valley, the woods, the beach. I could see the dining pavilion and cabins and the amphitheater. 

“I’m under control,” Thalia muttered. “I’m under control.” 

We were only a few hundred yards away now. 

“Brake,” Apollo said. 

“I can do this.” 

“BRAKE!” 

Thalia slammed her foot on the brake, and the sun bus pitched forward at a forty-five-degree angle, slamming into the Camp Half-Blood canoe lake with a huge FLOOOOOOSH! Steam billowed up, sending several frightened naiads scrambling out of the water with half-woven wicker baskets. 

The bus bobbed to the surface, along with a couple of capsized, half-melted canoes. 

“Well,” said Apollo with a brave smile. “You were right, my dear. You had everything under control! Let’s go see if we boiled anyone important, shall we?” 





ONE 


[image: ]


MY RESCUE OPERATION GOES VERY WRONG

The Friday before winter break, my mom packed me an overnight bag and a few deadly weapons and took me to a new boarding school. We picked up my friends Annabeth and Thalia on the way. 

It was an eight-hour drive from New York to Bar Harbor, Maine. Sleet and snow pounded the highway. Annabeth, Thalia, and I hadn’t seen each other in months, but between the blizzard and the thought of what we were about to do, we were too nervous to talk much. Except for my mom. She talks more when she’s nervous. By the time we finally got to Westover Hall, it was getting dark, and she’d told Annabeth and Thalia every embarrassing baby story there was to tell about me. 

Thalia wiped the fog off the car window and peered outside. “Oh, yeah. This’ll be fun.” 

Westover Hall looked like an evil knight’s castle. It was all black stone, with towers and slit windows and a big set of wooden double doors. It stood on a snowy cliff overlooking this big frosty forest on one side and the gray churning ocean on the other. 

“Are you sure you don’t want me to wait?” my mother asked. 

“No, thanks, Mom,” I said. “I don’t know how long it will take. We’ll be okay.” 

“But how will you get back? I’m worried, Percy.” 

I hoped I wasn’t blushing. It was bad enough I had to depend on my mom to drive me to my battles. 

“It’s okay, Ms. Jackson.” Annabeth smiled reassuringly. Her blond hair was tucked into a ski cap and her gray eyes were the same color as the ocean. “We’ll keep him out of trouble.” 

My mom seemed to relax a little. She thinks Annabeth is the most levelheaded demigod ever to hit eighth grade. She’s sure Annabeth often keeps me from getting killed. She’s right, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. 

“All right, dears,” my mom said. “Do you have everything you need?” 

“Yes, Ms. Jackson,” Thalia said. “Thanks for the ride.” 

“Extra sweaters? You have my cell phone number?” 

“Mom—” 

“Your ambrosia and nectar, Percy? And a golden drachma in case you need to contact camp?” 

“Mom, seriously! We’ll be fine. Come on, guys.” 

She looked a little hurt, and I was sorry about that, but I was ready to be out of that car. If my mom told one more story about how cute I looked in the bathtub when I was three years old, I was going to burrow into the snow and freeze myself to death. 

Annabeth and Thalia followed me outside. The wind blew straight through my coat like ice daggers. 

Once my mother’s car was out of sight, Thalia said, “Your mom is so cool, Percy.” 

“She’s pretty okay,” I admitted. “What about you? You ever get in touch with your mom?” 

As soon as I said it, I wished I hadn’t. Thalia was great at giving evil looks, what with the punk clothes she always wears—the ripped-up army jacket, black leather pants and chain jewelry, the black eyeliner and those intense blue eyes. But the look she gave me now was a perfect evil “ten.” 

“If that was any of your business, Percy—” 

“We’d better get inside,” Annabeth interrupted. “Grover will be waiting.” 

Thalia looked at the castle and shivered. “You’re right. I wonder what he found here that made him send the distress call.” 

I stared up at the dark towers of Westover Hall. “Nothing good,” I guessed. 

The oak doors groaned open, and the three of us stepped into the entry hall in a swirl of snow. 

All I could say was, “Whoa.” 

The place was huge. The walls were lined with battle flags and weapon displays: antique rifles, battle axes, and a bunch of other stuff. I mean, I knew Westover was a military school and all, but the decorations seemed like overkill. Literally. 

My hand went to my pocket, where I kept my lethal ballpoint pen, Riptide. I could already sense something wrong in this place. Something dangerous. Thalia was rubbing her silver bracelet, her favorite magic item. I knew we were thinking the same thing. A fight was coming. 

Annabeth started to say, “I wonder where—” 

The doors slammed shut behind us. 

“Oo-kay,” I mumbled. “Guess we’ll stay a while.” 

I could hear music echoing from the other end of the hall. It sounded like dance music. 

We stashed our overnight bags behind a pillar and started down the hall. We hadn’t gone very far when I heard footsteps on the stone floor, and a man and woman marched out of the shadows to intercept us. 

They both had short gray hair and black military-style uniforms with red trim. The woman had a wispy mustache, and the guy was clean-shaven, which seemed kind of backward to me. They both walked stiffly, like they had broomsticks taped to their spines. 

“Well?” the woman demanded. “What are you doing here?” 

“Um . . .” I realized I hadn’t planned for this. I’d been so focused on getting to Grover and finding out what was wrong, I hadn’t considered that someone might question three kids sneaking into the school at night. We hadn’t talked at all in the car about how we would get inside. I said, “Ma’am, we’re just—” 

“Ha!” the man snapped, which made me jump. “Visitors are not allowed at the dance! You shall be eee-jected!” 

He had an accent—French, maybe. He pronounced his J like in Jacques. He was tall, with a hawkish face. His nostrils flared when he spoke, which made it really hard not to stare up his nose, and his eyes were two different colors— one brown, one blue—like an alley cat’s. 

I figured he was about to toss us into the snow, but then Thalia stepped forward and did something very weird. 

She snapped her fingers. The sound was sharp and loud. Maybe it was just my imagination, but I felt a gust of wind ripple out from her hand, across the room. It washed over all of us, making the banners rustle on the walls. 

“Oh, but we’re not visitors, sir,” Thalia said. “We go to school here. You remember: I’m Thalia. And this is Annabeth and Percy. We’re in the eighth grade.” 

The male teacher narrowed his two-colored eyes. I didn’t know what Thalia was thinking. Now we’d probably get punished for lying and thrown into the snow. But the man seemed to be hesitating. 

He looked at his colleague. “Ms. Gottschalk, do you know these students?” 

Despite the danger we were in, I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing. A teacher named Got Chalk? He had to be kidding. 

The woman blinked, like someone had just woken her up from a trance. “I . . . yes. I believe I do, sir.” She frowned at us. “Annabeth. Thalia. Percy. What are you doing away from the gymnasium?” 

Before we could answer, I heard more footsteps, and Grover ran up, breathless. “You made it! You—” 

He stopped short when he saw the teachers. “Oh, Mrs. Gottschalk. Dr. Thorn! I, uh—” 

“What is it, Mr. Underwood?” said the man. His tone made it clear that he detested Grover. “What do you mean, they made it? These students live here.” 

Grover swallowed. “Yes, sir. Of course, Dr. Thorn. I just meant, I’m so glad they made . . . the punch for the dance! The punch is great. And they made it!” 

Dr. Thorn glared at us. I decided one of his eyes had to be fake. The brown one? The blue one? He looked like he wanted to pitch us off the castle’s highest tower, but then Mrs. Gottschalk said dreamily, “Yes, the punch is excellent. Now run along, all of you. You are not to leave the gymnasium again!” 

We didn’t wait to be told twice. We left with a lot of “Yes, ma’ams” and “Yes, sirs” and a couple of salutes, just because it seemed like the thing to do. 

Grover hustled us down the hall in the direction of the music. 

I could feel the teachers’ eyes on my back, but I walked closely to Thalia and asked in a low voice, “How did you do that finger-snap thing?” 

“You mean the Mist? Hasn’t Chiron shown you how to do that yet?” 

An uncomfortable lump formed in my throat. Chiron was our head trainer at camp, but he’d never shown me anything like that. Why had he shown Thalia and not me? 

Grover hurried us to a door that had GYM written on the glass. Even with my dyslexia, I could read that much. 

“That was close!” Grover said. “Thank the gods you got here!” 

Annabeth and Thalia both hugged Grover. I gave him a big high five. 

It was good to see him after so many months. He’d gotten a little taller and had sprouted a few more whiskers, but otherwise he looked like he always did when he passed for human—a red cap on his curly brown hair to hide his goat horns, baggy jeans and sneakers with fake feet to hide his furry legs and hooves. He was wearing a black T-shirt that took me a few seconds to read. It said WESTOVER HALL: GRUNT. I wasn’t sure whether that was, like, Grover’s rank or maybe just the school motto. 

“So what’s the emergency?” I asked. 

Grover took a deep breath. “I found two.” 

“Two half-bloods?” Thalia asked, amazed. “Here?” 

Grover nodded. 

Finding one half-blood was rare enough. This year, Chiron had put the satyrs on emergency overtime and sent them all over the country, scouring schools from fourth grade through high school for possible recruits. These were desperate times. We were losing campers. We needed all the new fighters we could find. The problem was, there just weren’t that many demigods out there. 

“A brother and a sister,” he said. “They’re ten and twelve. I don’t know their parentage, but they’re strong. We’re running out of time, though. I need help.” 

“Monsters?” 

“One.” Grover looked nervous. “He suspects. I don’t think he’s positive yet, but this is the last day of term. I’m sure he won’t let them leave campus without finding out. It may be our last chance! Every time I try to get close to them, he’s always there, blocking me. I don’t know what to do!” 

Grover looked at Thalia desperately. I tried not to feel upset by that. Used to be, Grover looked to me for answers, but Thalia had seniority. Not just because her dad was Zeus. Thalia had more experience than any of us with fending off monsters in the real world. 

“Right,” she said. “These half-bloods are at the dance?” 

Grover nodded. 

“Then let’s dance,” Thalia said. “Who’s the monster?” 

“Oh,” Grover said, and looked around nervously. “You just met him. The vice principal, Dr. Thorn.” 

Weird thing about military schools: the kids go absolutely nuts when there’s a special event and they get to be out of uniform. I guess it’s because everything’s so strict the rest of the time, they feel like they’ve got to overcompensate or something. 

There were black and red balloons all over the gym floor, and guys were kicking them in each other’s faces, or trying to strangle each other with the crepe-paper streamers taped to the walls. Girls moved around in football huddles, the way they always do, wearing lots of makeup and spaghetti-strap tops and brightly colored pants and shoes that looked like torture devices. Every once in a while they’d surround some poor guy like a pack of piranhas, shrieking and giggling, and when they finally moved on, the guy would have ribbons in his hair and a bunch of lipstick graffiti all over his face. Some of the older guys looked more like me—uncomfortable, hanging out at the edges of the gym and trying to hide, like any minute they might have to fight for their lives. Of course, in my case, it was true. . . . 

“There they are.” Grover nodded toward a couple of younger kids arguing in the bleachers. “Bianca and Nico di Angelo.” 

The girl wore a floppy green cap, like she was trying to hide her face. The boy was obviously her little brother. They both had dark silky hair and olive skin, and they used their hands a lot as they talked. The boy was shuffling some kind of trading cards. His sister seemed to be scolding him about something. She kept looking around like she sensed something was wrong. 

Annabeth said, “Do they . . . I mean, have you told them?” 

Grover shook his head. “You know how it is. That could put them in more danger. Once they realize who they are, their scent becomes stronger.” 

He looked at me, and I nodded. I’d never really understood what half-bloods “smell” like to monsters and satyrs, but I knew that your scent could get you killed. And the more powerful a demigod you became, the more you smelled like a monster’s lunch. 

“So let’s grab them and get out of here,” I said. 

I started forward, but Thalia put her hand on my shoulder. The vice principal, Dr. Thorn, had slipped out of a doorway near the bleachers and was standing near the di Angelo siblings. He nodded coldly in our direction. His blue eye seemed to glow. 

Judging from his expression, I guessed Thorn hadn’t been fooled by Thalia’s trick with the Mist after all. He suspected who we were. He was just waiting to see why we were here. 

“Don’t look at the kids,” Thalia ordered. “We have to wait for a chance to get them. We need to pretend we’re not interested in them. Throw him off the scent.” 

“How?” 

“We’re three powerful half-bloods. Our presence should confuse him. Mingle. Act natural. Do some dancing. But keep an eye on those kids.” 

“Dancing?” Annabeth asked. 

Thalia nodded. She cocked her ear to the music and made a face. “Ugh. Who chose the Jesse McCartney?” 

Grover looked hurt. “I did.” 

“Oh my gods, Grover. That is so lame. Can’t you play, like, Green Day or something?” 

“Green who?” 

“Never mind. Let’s dance.” 

“But I can’t dance!” 

“You can if I’m leading,” Thalia said. “Come on, goat boy.” 

Grover yelped as Thalia grabbed his hand and led him onto the dance floor. 

Annabeth smiled. 

“What?” I asked. 

“Nothing. It’s just cool to have Thalia back.” 

Annabeth had grown taller than me since last summer, which I found kind of disturbing. She used to wear no jewelry except for her Camp Half-Blood bead necklace, but now she wore little silver earrings shaped like owls—the symbol of her mother, Athena. She pulled off her ski cap, and her long blond hair tumbled down her shoulders. It made her look older, for some reason. 

“So . . .” I tried to think of something to say. Act natural, Thalia had told us. When you’re a half-blood on a dangerous mission, what the heck is natural? “Um, design any good buildings lately?” 

Annabeth’s eyes lit up, the way they always did when she talked about architecture. “Oh my gods, Percy. At my new school, I get to take 3-D design as an elective, and there’s this cool computer program . . .” 

She went on to explain how she’d designed this huge monument that she wanted to build at Ground Zero in Manhattan. She talked about structural supports and facades and stuff, and I tried to listen. I knew she wanted to be a super architect when she grew up—she loves math and historical buildings and all that—but I hardly understood a word she was saying. 

The truth was I was kind of disappointed to hear that she liked her new school so much. It was the first time she’d gone to school in New York. I’d been hoping to see her more often. It was a boarding school in Brooklyn, and she and Thalia were both attending, close enough to Camp Half-Blood that Chiron could help if they got in any trouble. Because it was an all-girls school, and I was going to MS-54 in Manhattan, I hardly ever saw them. 

“Yeah, uh, cool,” I said. “So you’re staying there the rest of the year, huh?” 

Her face got dark. “Well, maybe, if I don’t—” 

“Hey!” Thalia called to us. She was slow dancing with Grover, who was tripping all over himself, kicking Thalia in the shins, and looking like he wanted to die. At least his feet were fake. Unlike me, he had an excuse for being clumsy. 

“Dance, you guys!” Thalia ordered. “You look stupid just standing there.” 

I looked nervously at Annabeth, then at the groups of girls who were roaming the gym. 

“Well?” Annabeth said. 

“Um, who should I ask?” 

She punched me in the gut. “Me, Seaweed Brain.” 

“Oh. Oh, right.” 

So we went onto the dance floor, and I looked over to see how Thalia and Grover were doing things. I put one hand on Annabeth’s hip, and she clasped my other hand like she was about to judo throw me. 

“I’m not going to bite,” she told me. “Honestly, Percy. Don’t you guys have dances at your school?” 

I didn’t answer. The truth was we did. But I’d never, like, actually danced at one. I was usually one of the guys playing basketball in the corner. 

We shuffled around for a few minutes. I tried to concentrate on little things, like the crepe-paper streamers and the punch bowl—anything but the fact that Annabeth was taller than me, and my hands were sweaty and probably gross, and I kept stepping on her toes. 

“What were you saying earlier?” I asked. “Are you having trouble at school or something?” 

She pursed her lips. “It’s not that. It’s my dad.” 

“Uh-oh.” I knew Annabeth had a rocky relationship with her father. “I thought it was getting better with you two. Is it your stepmom again?” 

Annabeth sighed. “He decided to move. Just when I was getting settled in New York, he took this stupid new job researching for a World War I book. In San Francisco.” 

She said this the same way she might say Fields of Punishment or Hades’s gym shorts. 

“So he wants you to move out there with him?” I asked. 

“To the other side of the country,” she said miserably. “And half-bloods can’t live in San Francisco. He should know that.” 

“What? Why not?” 

Annabeth rolled her eyes. Maybe she thought I was kidding. “You know. It’s right there.” 

“Oh,” I said. I had no idea what she was talking about, but I didn’t want to sound stupid. “So . . . you’ll go back to living at camp or what?” 

“It’s more serious than that, Percy. I . . . I probably should tell you something.” 

Suddenly she froze. “They’re gone.” 

“What?” 

I followed her gaze. The bleachers. The two half-blood kids, Bianca and Nico, were no longer there. The door next to the bleachers was wide open. Dr. Thorn was nowhere in sight. 

“We have to get Thalia and Grover!” Annabeth looked around frantically. “Oh, where’d they dance off to? Come on!” 

She ran through the crowd. I was about to follow when a mob of girls got in my way. I maneuvered around them to avoid getting the ribbon-and-lipstick treatment, and by the time I was free, Annabeth had disappeared. I turned a full circle, looking for her or Thalia and Grover. Instead, I saw something that chilled my blood. 

About fifty feet away, lying on the gym floor, was a floppy green cap just like the one Bianca di Angelo had been wearing. Near it were a few scattered trading cards. Then I caught a glimpse of Dr. Thorn. He was hurrying out a door at the opposite end of the gym, steering the di Angelo kids by the scruffs of their necks, like kittens. 

I still couldn’t see Annabeth, but I knew she’d be heading the other way, looking for Thalia and Grover. 

I almost ran after her, and then I thought, Wait. 

I remembered what Thalia had said to me in the entry hall, looking at me all puzzled when I asked about the finger-snap trick: Hasn’t Chiron shown you how to do that yet? I thought about the way Grover had turned to her, expecting her to save the day. 

Not that I resented Thalia. She was cool. It wasn’t her fault her dad was Zeus and she got all the attention. . . . Still, I didn’t need to run after her to solve every problem. Besides, there wasn’t time. The di Angelos were in danger. They might be long gone by the time I found my friends. I knew monsters. I could handle this myself. 

I took Riptide out of my pocket and ran after Dr. Thorn.

* * *

The door led into a dark hallway. I heard sounds of scuffling up ahead, then a painful grunt. I uncapped Riptide. 

The pen grew in my hands until I held a bronze Greek sword about three-feet long with a leather-bound grip. The blade glowed faintly, casting a golden light on the rows of lockers. 

I jogged down the corridor, but when I got to the other end, no one was there. I opened a door and found myself back in the main entry hall. I was completely turned around. I didn’t see Dr. Thorn anywhere, but there on the opposite side of the room were the di Angelo kids. They stood frozen in horror, staring right at me. 

I advanced slowly, lowering the tip of my sword. “It’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you.” 

They didn’t answer. Their eyes were full of fear. What was wrong with them? Where was Dr. Thorn? Maybe he’d sensed the presence of Riptide and retreated. Monsters hated celestial bronze weapons. 

“My name’s Percy,” I said, trying to keep my voice level. “I’m going to take you out of here, get you somewhere safe.” 

Bianca’s eyes widened. Her fists clenched. Only too late did I realize what her look meant. She wasn’t afraid of me. She was trying to warn me. 

I whirled around and something went WHIIISH! Pain exploded in my shoulder. A force like a huge hand yanked me backward and slammed me to the wall. 

I slashed with my sword but there was nothing to hit. 

A cold laugh echoed through the hall. 

“Yes, Perseus Jackson,” Dr. Thorn said. His accent mangled the J in my last name. “I know who you are.” 

I tried to free my shoulder. My coat and shirt were pinned to the wall by some kind of spike—a black dagger-like projectile about a foot long. It had grazed the skin of my shoulder as it passed through my clothes, and the cut burned. I’d felt something like this before. Poison. 

I forced myself to concentrate. I would not pass out. 

A dark silhouette now moved toward us. Dr. Thorn stepped into the dim light. He still looked human, but his face was ghoulish. He had perfect white teeth and his brown/blue eyes reflected the light of my sword. 

“Thank you for coming out of the gym,” he said. “I hate middle school dances.” 

I tried to swing my sword again, but he was just out of reach. 

WHIIIISH! A second projectile shot from somewhere behind Dr. Thorn. He didn’t appear to move. It was as if someone invisible were standing behind him, throwing knives. 

Next to me, Bianca yelped. The second thorn impaled itself in the stone wall, half an inch from her face. 

“All three of you will come with me,” Dr. Thorn said. “Quietly. Obediently. If you make a single noise, if you call out for help or try to fight, I will show you just how accurately I can throw.” 





SEVEN 


[image: ]


EVERYBODY HATES ME BUT THE HORSE

The least the Oracle could’ve done was walk back to the attic by herself. 

Instead, Grover and I were elected to carry her. I didn’t figure that was because we were the most popular. 

“Watch her head!” Grover warned as we went up the stairs. But it was too late. 

Bonk! I whacked her mummified face against the trapdoor frame and dust flew. 

“Ah, man.” I set her down and checked for damage. “Did I break anything?” 

“I can’t tell,” Grover admitted. 

We hauled her up and set her on her tripod stool, both of us huffing and sweating. Who knew a mummy could weigh so much? 

I assumed she wouldn’t talk to me, and I was right. I was relieved when we finally got out of there and slammed the attic door shut. 

“Well,” Grover said, “that was gross.” 

I knew he was trying to keep things light for my sake, but I still felt really down. The whole camp would be mad at me for losing the game to the Hunters, and then there was the new prophecy from the Oracle. It was like the spirit of Delphi had gone out of her way to exclude me. She’d ignored my question and walked half a mile to talk to Zoë. And she’d said nothing, not even a hint, about Annabeth. 

“What will Chiron do?” I asked Grover. 

“I wish I knew.” He looked wistfully out the second-floor window at the rolling hills covered in snow. “I want to be out there.” 

“Searching for Annabeth?” 

He had a little trouble focusing on me. Then he blushed. “Oh, right. That too. Of course.” 

“Why?” I asked. “What were you thinking?” 

He clopped his hooves uneasily. “Just something the manticore said, about the Great Stirring. I can’t help but wonder . . . if all those ancient powers are waking up, maybe . . . maybe not all of them are evil.” 

“You mean Pan.” 

I felt kind of selfish, because I’d totally forgotten about Grover’s life ambition. The nature god had gone missing two thousand years ago. He was rumored to have died, but the satyrs didn’t believe that. They were determined to find him. They’d been searching in vain for centuries, and Grover was convinced he’d be the one to succeed. This year, with Chiron putting all the satyrs on emergency duty to find half-bloods, Grover hadn’t been able to continue his search. It must’ve been driving him nuts. 

“I’ve let the trail go cold,” he said. “I feel restless, like I’m missing something really important. He’s out there somewhere. I can just feel it.” 

I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to encourage him, but I didn’t know how. My optimism had pretty much been trampled into the snow out there in the woods, along with our capture-the-flag hopes. 

Before I could respond, Thalia tromped up the stairs. She was officially not talking to me now, but she looked at Grover and said, “Tell Percy to get his butt downstairs.” 

“Why?” I asked. 

“Did he say something?” Thalia asked Grover. 

“Um, he asked why.” 

“Dionysus is calling a council of cabin leaders to discuss the prophecy,” she said. “Unfortunately, that includes Percy.” 

The council was held around a Ping-Pong table in the rec room. Dionysus waved his hand and supplied snacks: Cheez Whiz, crackers, and several bottles of red wine. Then Chiron reminded him that wine was against his restrictions and most of us were underage. Mr. D sighed. With a snap of his fingers the wine turned to Diet Coke. Nobody drank that either. 

Mr. D and Chiron (in wheelchair form) sat at one end of the table. Zoë and Bianca di Angelo (who had kind of become Zoë’s personal assistant) took the other end. Thalia and Grover and I sat along the right, and the other head councilors—Beckendorf, Silena Beauregard, and the Stoll brothers—sat on the left. The Ares kids were supposed to send a representative, too, but all of them had gotten broken limbs (accidentally) during capture the flag, courtesy of the Hunters. They were resting up in the infirmary. 

Zoë started the meeting off on a positive note. “This is pointless.” 

“Cheez Whiz!” Grover gasped. He began scooping up crackers and Ping-Pong balls and spraying them with topping. 

“There is no time for talk,” Zoë continued. “Our goddess needs us. The Hunters must leave immediately.” 

“And go where?” Chiron asked. 

“West!” Bianca said. I was amazed at how different she looked after just a few days with the Hunters. Her dark hair was braided like Zoë’s now, so you could actually see her face. She had a splash of freckles across her nose, and her dark eyes vaguely reminded me of someone famous, but I couldn’t think who. She looked like she’d been working out, and her skin glowed faintly, like the other Hunters, as if she’d been taking showers in liquid moonlight. “You heard the prophecy. Five shall go west to the goddess in chains. We can get five hunters and go.” 

“Yes,” Zoë agreed. “Artemis is being held hostage! We must find her and free her.” 

“You’re missing something, as usual,” Thalia said. “Campers and Hunters combined prevail. We’re supposed to do this together.” 

“No!” Zoë said. “The Hunters do not need thy help.” 

“Your,” Thalia grumbled. “Nobody has said thy in, like, three hundred years, Zoë. Get with the times.” 

Zoë hesitated, like she was trying to form the word correctly. “Yerrr. We do not need yerrr help.” 

Thalia rolled her eyes. “Forget it.” 

“I fear the prophecy says you do need our help,” Chiron said. “Campers and Hunters must cooperate.” 

“Or do they?” Mr. D mused, swirling his Diet Coke under his nose like it had a fine bouquet. “One shall be lost. One shall perish. That sounds rather nasty, doesn’t it? What if you fail because you try to cooperate?” 

“Mr. D,” Chiron sighed, “with all due respect, whose side are you on?” 

Dionysus raised his eyebrows. “Sorry, my dear centaur. Just trying to be helpful.” 

“We’re supposed to work together,” Thalia said stubbornly. “I don’t like it either, Zoë, but you know prophecies. You want to fight against one?” 

Zoë grimaced, but I could tell Thalia had scored a point. 

“We must not delay,” Chiron warned. “Today is Sunday. This very Friday, December twenty-first, is the winter solstice.” 

“Oh, joy,” Dionysus muttered. “Another dull annual meeting.” 

“Artemis must be present at the solstice,” Zoë said. “She has been one of the most vocal on the council arguing for action against Kronos’s minions. If she is absent, the gods will decide nothing. We will lose another year of war preparations.” 

“Are you suggesting that the gods have trouble acting together, young lady?” Dionysus asked. 

“Yes, Lord Dionysus.” 

Mr. D nodded. “Just checking. You’re right, of course. Carry on.” 

“I must agree with Zoë,” said Chiron. “Artemis’s presence at the winter council is critical. We have only a week to find her. And possibly even more important: to locate the monster she was hunting. Now, we must decide who goes on this quest.” 

“Three and two,” I said. 

Everybody looked at me. Thalia even forgot to ignore me. 

“We’re supposed to have five,” I said, feeling self-conscious. “Three Hunters, two from Camp Half-Blood. That’s more than fair.” 

Thalia and Zoë exchanged looks. 

“Well,” Thalia said. “It does make sense.” 

Zoë grunted. “I would prefer to take all the Hunters. We will need strength of numbers.” 

“You’ll be retracing the goddess’s path,” Chiron reminded her. “Moving quickly. No doubt Artemis tracked the scent of this rare monster, whatever it is, as she moved west. You will have to do the same. The prophecy was clear: The bane of Olympus shows the trail. What would your mistress say? ‘Too many Hunters spoil the scent.’ A small group is best.” 

Zoë picked up a Ping-Pong paddle and studied it like she was deciding who she wanted to whack first. “This monster—the bane of Olympus. I have hunted at Lady Artemis’s side for many years, yet I have no idea what this beast might be.” 

Everybody looked at Dionysus, I guess because he was the only god present and gods are supposed to know things. He was flipping through a wine magazine, but when everyone got silent he glanced up. “Well, don’t look at me. I’m a young god, remember? I don’t keep track of all those ancient monsters and dusty titans. They make for terrible party conversation.” 

“Chiron,” I said, “you don’t have any ideas about the monster?” 

Chiron pursed his lips. “I have several ideas, none of them good. And none of them quite make sense. Typhon, for instance, could fit this description. He was truly a bane of Olympus. Or the sea monster Keto. But if either of these were stirring, we would know it. They are ocean monsters the size of skyscrapers. Your father, Poseidon, would already have sounded the alarm. I fear this monster may be more elusive. Perhaps even more powerful.” 

“That’s some serious danger you’re facing,” Connor Stoll said. (I liked how he said you and not we.) “It sounds like at least two of the five are going to die.” 

“One shall be lost in the land without rain,” Beckendorf said. “If I were you, I’d stay out of the desert.” 

There was a muttering of agreement. 

“And the Titan’s curse must one withstand,” Silena said. “What could that mean?” 

I saw Chiron and Zoë exchange a nervous look, but whatever they were thinking, they didn’t share it. 

“One shall perish by a parent’s hand,” Grover said in between bites of Cheez Whiz and Ping-Pong balls. “How is that possible? Whose parent would kill them?” 

There was heavy silence around the table. 

I glanced at Thalia and wondered if she was thinking the same thing I was. Years ago, Chiron had had a prophecy about the next child of the Big Three—Zeus, Poseidon, or Hades—who turned sixteen. Supposedly, that kid would make a decision that would save or destroy the gods forever. Because of that, the Big Three had taken an oath after World War II not to have any more kids. But Thalia and I had been born anyway, and now we were both getting close to sixteen. 

I remembered a conversation I’d had last year with Annabeth. I’d asked her, if I was so potentially dangerous, why the gods didn’t just kill me. 

Some of the gods would like to kill you, she’d said. But they’re afraid of offending Poseidon. 

Could an Olympian parent turn against his half-blood child? Would it sometimes be easier just to let them die? If there were ever any half-bloods who needed to worry about that, it was Thalia and me. I wondered if maybe I should’ve sent Poseidon that seashell pattern tie for Father’s Day after all. 

“There will be deaths,” Chiron decided. “That much we know.” 

“Oh, goody!” Dionysus said. 

Everyone looked at him. He glanced up innocently from the pages of Wine Connoisseur magazine. “Ah, pinot noir is making a comeback. Don’t mind me.” 

“Percy is right,” Silena Beauregard said. “Two campers should go.” 

“Oh, I see,” Zoë said sarcastically. “And I suppose you wish to volunteer?” 

Silena blushed. “I’m not going anywhere with the Hunters. Don’t look at me!” 

“A daughter of Aphrodite does not wish to be looked at,” Zoë scoffed. “What would thy mother say?” 

Silena started to get out of her chair, but the Stoll brothers pulled her back. 

“Stop it,” Beckendorf said. He was a big guy with a bigger voice. He didn’t talk much, but when he did, people tended to listen. “Let’s start with the Hunters. Which three of you will go?” 

Zoë stood. “I shall go, of course, and I will take Phoebe. She is our best tracker.” 

“The big girl who likes to hit people on the head?” Travis Stoll asked cautiously. 

Zoë nodded. 

“The one who put the arrows in my helmet?” Connor added. 

“Yes,” Zoë snapped. “Why?” 

“Oh, nothing,” Travis said. “Just that we have a T-shirt for her from the camp store.” He held up a big silver T-shirt that said ARTEMIS THE MOON GODDESS, FALL HUNTING TOUR 2002, with a huge list of national parks and stuff underneath. “It’s a collector’s item. She was admiring it. You want to give it to her?” 

I knew the Stolls were up to something. They always were. But I guess Zoë didn’t know them as well as I did. She just sighed and took the T-shirt. “As I was saying, I will take Phoebe. And I wish Bianca to go.” 

Bianca looked stunned. “Me? But . . . I’m so new. I wouldn’t be any good.” 

“You will do fine,” Zoë insisted. “There is no better way to prove thyself.” 

Bianca closed her mouth. I felt kind of sorry for her. I remembered my first quest when I was twelve. I had felt totally unprepared. A little honored, maybe, but a lot resentful and plenty scared. I figured the same things were running around in Bianca’s head right now. 

“And for campers?” Chiron asked. His eyes met mine, but I couldn’t tell what he was thinking. 

“Me!” Grover stood up so fast he bumped the Ping-Pong table. He brushed cracker crumbs and Ping-Pong ball scraps off his lap. “Anything to help Artemis!” 

Zoë wrinkled her nose. “I think not, satyr. You are not even a half-blood.” 

“But he is a camper,” Thalia said. “And he’s got a satyr’s senses and woodland magic. Can you play a tracker’s song yet, Grover?” 

“Absolutely!” 

Zoë wavered. I didn’t know what a tracker’s song was, but apparently Zoë thought it was a good thing. 

“Very well,” Zoë said. “And the second camper?” 

“I’ll go.” Thalia stood and looked around, daring anyone to question her. 

Now, okay, maybe my math skills weren’t the best, but it suddenly occurred to me that we’d reached the number five, and I wasn’t in the group. “Whoa, wait a sec,” I said. “I want to go too.” 

Thalia said nothing. Chiron was still studying me, his eyes sad. 

“Oh,” Grover said, suddenly aware of the problem. “Whoa, yeah, I forgot! Percy has to go. I didn’t mean . . . I’ll stay. Percy should go in my place.” 

“He cannot,” Zoë said. “He is a boy. I won’t have Hunters traveling with a boy.” 

“You traveled here with me,” I reminded her. 

“That was a short-term emergency, and it was ordered by the goddess. I will not go across country and fight many dangers in the company of a boy.” 

“What about Grover?” I demanded. 

Zoë shook her head. “He does not count. He’s a satyr. He is not technically a boy.” 

“Hey!” Grover protested. 

“I have to go,” I said. “I need to be on this quest.” 

“Why?” Zoë asked. “Because of thy friend Annabeth?” 

I felt myself blushing. I hated that everyone was looking at me. “No! I mean, partly. I just feel like I’m supposed to go!” 

Nobody rose to my defense. Mr. D looked bored, still reading his magazine. Silena, the Stoll brothers, and Beckendorf were staring at the table. Bianca gave me a look of pity. 

“No,” Zoë said flatly. “I insist upon this. I will take a satyr if I must, but not a male hero.” 

Chiron sighed. “The quest is for Artemis. The Hunters should be allowed to approve their companions.” 

My ears were ringing as I sat down. I knew Grover and some of the others were looking at me sympathetically, but I couldn’t meet their eyes. I just sat there as Chiron concluded the council. 

“So be it,” he said. “Thalia and Grover will accompany Zoë, Bianca, and Phoebe. You shall leave at first light. And may the gods”—he glanced at Dionysus—“present company included, we hope—be with you.” 

I didn’t show up for dinner that night, which was a mistake, because Chiron and Grover came looking for me. 

“Percy, I’m so sorry!” Grover said, sitting next to me on the bunk. “I didn’t know they’d—that you’d—Honest!” 

He started to sniffle, and I figured if I didn’t cheer him up he’d either start bawling or chewing up my mattress. He tends to eat household objects whenever he gets upset. 

“It’s okay,” I lied. “Really. It’s fine.” 

Grover’s lower lip trembled. “I wasn’t even thinking . . . I was so focused on helping Artemis. But I promise, I’ll look everywhere for Annabeth. If I can find her, I will.” 

I nodded and tried to ignore the big crater that was opening in my chest. 

“Grover,” Chiron said, “perhaps you’d let me have a word with Percy?” 

“Sure,” he sniffled. 

Chiron waited. 

“Oh,” Grover said. “You mean alone. Sure, Chiron.” He looked at me miserably. “See? Nobody needs a goat.” 

He trotted out the door, blowing his nose on his sleeve. 

Chiron sighed and knelt on his horse legs. “Percy, I don’t pretend to understand prophecies.” 

“Yeah,” I said. “Well, maybe that’s because they don’t make any sense.” 

Chiron gazed at the saltwater spring gurgling in the corner of the room. “Thalia would not have been my first choice to go on this quest. She’s too impetuous. She acts without thinking. She is too sure of herself.” 

“Would you have chosen me?” 

“Frankly, no,” he said. “You and Thalia are much alike.” 

“Thanks a lot.” 

He smiled. “The difference is that you are less sure of yourself than Thalia. That could be good or bad. But one thing I can say: both of you together would be a dangerous thing.” 

“We could handle it.” 

“The way you handled it at the creek tonight?” 

I didn’t answer. He’d nailed me. 

“Perhaps it is for the best,” Chiron mused. “You can go home to your mother for the holidays. If we need you, we can call.” 

“Yeah,” I said. “Maybe.” 

I pulled Riptide out of my pocket and set it on my nightstand. It didn’t seem that I’d be using it for anything but writing Christmas cards. 

When he saw the pen, Chiron grimaced. “It’s no wonder Zoë doesn’t want you along, I suppose. Not while you’re carrying that particular weapon.” 

I didn’t understand what he meant. Then I remembered something he’d told me a long time ago, when he first gave me the magic sword: It has a long and tragic history, which we need not go into. 

I wanted to ask him about that, but then he pulled a golden drachma from his saddlebag and tossed it to me. “Call your mother, Percy. Let her know you’re coming home in the morning. And, ah, for what it’s worth . . . I almost volunteered for this quest myself. I would have gone, if not for the last line.” 

“One shall perish by a parent’s hand. Yeah.” 

I didn’t need to ask. I knew Chiron’s dad was Kronos, the evil Titan Lord himself. The line would make perfect sense if Chiron went on the quest. Kronos didn’t care for anyone, including his own children. 

“Chiron,” I said. “You know what this Titan’s curse is, don’t you?” 

His face darkened. He made a claw over his heart and pushed outward—an ancient gesture for warding off evil. “Let us hope the prophecy does not mean what I think. Now, good night, Percy. And your time will come. I’m convinced of that. There’s no need to rush.” 

He said your time the way people did when they meant your death. I didn’t know if Chiron meant it that way, but the look in his eyes made me scared to ask. 

I stood at the saltwater spring, rubbing Chiron’s coin in my hand and trying to figure out what to say to my mom. I really wasn’t in the mood to have one more adult tell me that doing nothing was the greatest thing I could do, but I figured my mom deserved an update. 

Finally, I took a deep breath and threw in the coin. “O goddess, accept my offering.” 

The mist shimmered. The light from the bathroom was just enough to make a faint rainbow. 

“Show me Sally Jackson,” I said. “Upper East Side, Manhattan.” 

And there in the mist was a scene I did not expect. My mom was sitting at our kitchen table with some . . . guy. They were laughing hysterically. There was a big stack of textbooks between them. The man was, I don’t know, thirtysomething, with longish salt-and-pepper hair and a brown jacket over a black T-shirt. He looked like an actor—like a guy who might play an undercover cop on television. 

I was too stunned to say anything, and fortunately, my mom and the guy were too busy laughing to notice my Iris-message. 

The guy said, “Sally, you’re a riot. You want some more wine?” 

“Ah, I shouldn’t. You go ahead if you want.” 

“Actually, I’d better use your bathroom. May I?” 

“Down the hall,” she said, trying not to laugh. 

The actor dude smiled and got up and left. 

“Mom!” I said. 

She jumped so hard she almost knocked her textbooks off the table. Finally she focused on me. “Percy! Oh, honey! Is everything okay?” 

“What are you doing?” I demanded. 

She blinked. “Homework.” Then she seemed to understand the look on my face. “Oh, honey, that’s just Paul— um, Mr. Blofis. He’s in my writing seminar.” 

“Mr. Blowfish?” 

“Blofis. He’ll be back in a minute, Percy. Tell me what’s wrong.” 

She always knew when something was wrong. I told her about Annabeth. The other stuff too, but mostly it boiled down to Annabeth. 

My mother’s eyes teared up. I could tell she was trying hard to keep it together for my sake. “Oh, Percy . . .” 

“Yeah. So they tell me there’s nothing I can do. I guess I’ll be coming home.” 

She turned her pencil around in her fingers. “Percy, as much as I want you to come home”—she sighed like she was mad at herself—“as much as I want you to be safe, I want you to understand something. You need to do whatever you think you have to.” 

I stared at her. “What do you mean?” 

“I mean, do you really, deep down, believe that you have to help save her? Do you think it’s the right thing to do? Because I know one thing about you, Percy. Your heart is always in the right place. Listen to it.” 

“You’re . . . you’re telling me to go?” 

My mother pursed her lips. “I’m telling you that . . . you’re getting too old for me to tell you what to do. I’m telling you that I’ll support you, even if what you decide to do is dangerous. I can’t believe I’m saying this.” 

“Mom—” 

The toilet flushed down the hall in our apartment. 

“I don’t have much time,” my mom said. “Percy, whatever you decide, I love you. And I know you’ll do what’s best for Annabeth.” 

“How can you be sure?” 

“Because she’d do the same for you.” 

And with that, my mother waved her hand over the mist, and the connection dissolved, leaving me with one final image of her new friend, Mr. Blowfish, smiling down at her. 

I don’t remember falling aslee