Have you ever come home and found your room messed up? Like some helpful person has tried to clean it, and suddenly you can't find anything?
Yeah, mom, I'm talking about you. Or you, Triton. I've caught you sniffing around my candy stash plenty of times before. You know what, I'm throwing Jason in there too- okay, my point is, I know the feeling of someone else going through your stuff.
And even if nothing is missing, even if nothing was moved too drastically, you can still just get that creepy feeling like somebody's been looking through your private stuff and dusting everything with lemon furniture polish. That paranoid feeling. I hate it.
That's kind of how I felt seeing Camp Half-Blood.
On the surface, things didn't look all that different. The Big House was still there with its blue gabled roof and its wraparound porch. The strawberry fields were still baking in the sun.
The same white-columned Greek buildings were scattered around the valley—the amphitheater, the combat arena, the dining pavilion overlooking Long Island Sound. The volleyball pits still glittered with white sand. Across the fields, the climbing wall still spewed lava.
Funny. Despite the facade, you could just tell something was wrong.
There was an air of danger around the camp now, accompanying the strawberry smell that was normally there. It smelled acrid, bitter. Almost as if the very camp was at odds with the land it was sitting on. How could I, of course, forget about the feeling of charged ozone permeating through the camp.
Honestly, I felt like everyone was just waiting for something bad to happen.
Instead of playing volleyball in the sandpit, counselors and satyrs were stockpiling weapons in the tool shed. Dryads armed with bows and arrows talked nervously at the edge of the woods. Younger campers were now walking around with little daggers. The horses and pegasi were decked out in full bronze battle gear.
The forest looked sickly, the grass in the meadow was pale yellow, and the fire marks on Half-Blood Hill stood out like ugly scars. Somebody, Luke, had messed with my favorite place in the world, and I was not…well, a happy camper.
As I made my way to the Big House, I recognized a lot of kids from last summer. Nobody stopped to talk. Nobody said, "Welcome back."
Some waved, but most just walked grimly past and carried on with their duties—running messages, toting swords to sharpen on the grinding wheels. I've spent a decent bit of time at camp before, and I'll tell you, this was the only time I saw people dressed in combat gear outside of the Capture the Flag days.
It felt like I was at a military school. And believe me, I know. I've been kicked out of a couple. As my shoes crunched again the dead grass, I saw some of the Ares kids wheeling Clarisse toward the infirmary. Right. I should probably swing by the Big House, too. Maybe there's some news Chiron has that I haven't been made privy to yet.
When I got to the Big House, I found Chiron in his apartment, listening to his favorite 1960s lounge music while he packed his saddlebags. It looked hilarious watching him struggle to reach around his own body, and that image provided me with a brief bit of amusement- I needed that.
"Chiron," I called out as I got closer, a wave of confusion passing through me as I considered just how much stuff he was packing. "Bags? Are you going on an expedition to find who did this?"
"Expedition? No, dear boy. I was…how do you put this….fired," Chiron's eyes glinted with dark humor. At my gaping expression, he added, "Ah, well, you see, someone had to take the blame. Lord Zeus was most upset. The tree he'd created from the spirit of his daughter, poisoned! Mr. D had to punish someone."
I blinked a few times, "There's only one right answer to who did this, and the gods should know that. They're keeping tabs on Luke, for crying out loud!"
"Nevertheless," Chiron sighed, "Some in Olympus do not trust me now, under the circumstances. I fear that this was just a means to an end. A ploy to trounce me out of my position at this camp."
"What circumstances?" I asked. "The Titans?"
Chiron's face darkened. He stuffed a Latin-English dictionary into his saddlebag while the Frank Sinatra music oozed from his boom box. "Do not concern yourself with this. You're the strongest demigod we currently have. Stay here, protect the camp."
"Chiron, the whole camp is going to be blasted with monster attacks," I pointed out. "You and I both know the whole valley is feeling the shock of the poison. The magical borders are deteriorating, even without the poison. The camp itself is dying. Even if I stay and fight, someone needs to go find a permanent solution."
"Perseus," Chiron said gravely, and I winced. Back in the day, when Chiron was my Latin teacher, he'd only use my full name like that when he was truly, royally pissed off. "I said not to concern yourself with it. Just promise me you'll protect the camp."
I nodded, "I promise I'll do everything in my power to keep the camp safe."
"Very well," Chiron said. He seemed to relax just a little. "Perhaps my name will be cleared and I shall return. Until then, I go to visit my wild kinsmen in the Everglades. It's possible they know of some cure for the wards that I have forgotten. In any event, I will stay in exile until this matter is resolved…one way or another."
With that, he clicked off the boom box and trotted out of the room, his head brushing against the illuminated exit sign.
Great. It was my second summer at camp, and Annabeth was mad, the protections were failing, and now, Chiron was gone.
I frowned- I needed to talk to Silena. She'd have some idea what was going on. Maybe, just maybe, she was involved, too. If that was the case...
I found Silena the same place I'd found her last time- the dining pavilion. The girl just loved to hang around here when she had some stuff to think about. She was leaning against one of the columns, nibbling on a raspberry scone.
She looked a bit shaken up. Seeing me stalk in, murder on my mind, probably didn't help.
"Silena," I greeted, skipping any pleasantries. I was already seething- if I found out she'd had a hand in this…I'd blow my lid off. "Do you remember that conversation we had last summer?"
"P-Percy, it wasn't me!" Silena wailed as if she'd been waiting to talk to me all day and profess her innocence. I didn't detect any charmspeak in her voice, or any other kind of manipulation, but I still waited to pass judgment. "Luke said he was going to leave the camp alone, honest!"
"Swear it, then," I said, my fingertips beginning to smoke. She held up the scone a bit, as if a tasty treat would throw me off my warpath. "If you're that innocent, prove it. The whole camp is falling apart. If you did have something to do with this, I'll put you in the ground first and ask questions later. Swear it."
"I swear on the River Styx that I had nothing to do with this!" Silena said quickly, and thunder boomed overhead, sealing her oath. We both relaxed a little after that. "I…just…I can't believe he did this. Why?"
"It's what I was trying to tell you last summer, Silena," I replied, taking a seat next to her. "The Titans are cruel. Unlike the gods, they've never experienced any sort of humanity- mainly because they look down on us and want us to be servants and all. This is just the kind of move they'd do. This is why you can't believe their promises of a world better than this. They just don't care."
Silena sighed, drawing her knees up to her chest. "I know…"
The sun was setting behind the dining pavilion, and the campers were beginning to come up from their cabins. We sat in the shadow of a marble column and watched them file in. First came Athena, then Ares, then Hermes…you get the point.
"I've made my decision," Silena said with a tone of finality, her eyes still trained on the campers. "I don't know if I trust the gods…but they'd never do this to children. I guess what I'm saying is, even if I don't trust them, I trust you."
"Thank you," I said solemnly, placing a hand on her shoulder. "Plus, we can still save the camp. I've got this plan…"
I was cut off as, from the head table, a familiar voice drawled, "Well, well, if it isn't Percy Jackson, our resident hero. How are you, my boy?"
I bared my teeth in a wide, fake smile. "I'm doing tremendous, sir. How's your year been?"
Mr. D sipped his Diet Coke. He made an annoyed face, as if the taste of the drink was deeply disappointing. "Yes. Well, I'd prefer if there were no children here, but as you young people say these days: whatever."
He was wearing his usual leopard-pattern Hawaiian shirt, walking shorts, and tennis shoes with black socks. With his pudgy belly and his blotchy red face, he looked like a Las Vegas tourist who'd stayed up too late in the casinos. Behind him, a nervous-looking satyr was peeling the skins off grapes and handing them to Mr. D one at a time.
Next to him, where Chiron usually sat (or stood, in centaur form), was someone I'd never seen before—a pale, horribly thin man in a threadbare orange prisoner's jumpsuit. The number over his pocket read 0001. He had blue shadows under his eyes, dirty fingernails, and badly cut gray hair, like his last haircut had been done with a weed whacker. He looked…fractured. Angry and frustrated and hungry all at the same time.
"This boy," Dionysus told him, "You need to watch. Poseidon's child, you know. Amazing warrior."
"Ah!" The prisoner said. He looked at me strangely. "That one."
His tone made it obvious that he and Dionysus had already discussed me at some length. Hopefully in a good way, but who knows? Normally, I'd expect Mr. D to be more of, well, a dick, but we've been semi-cool since I got his staff back for him.
A quick look at the orange-clad man revealed he was Tantalus- like, the Tantalus from the myths. You know, stand in a pool and never drink or eat Tantalus. It definitely explained why he couldn't eat any of the food on the table in front of him.
I looked back at the duo, just as a satyr brought a can of root beer to them.
Tantalus grabbed for the glass, but it scooted away before he could touch it. A few drops of root beer spilled, and Tantalus tried to dab them up with his fingers, but the drops rolled away like quicksilver before he could touch them. He growled and turned toward the plate of barbecue.
He picked up a fork and tried to stab a piece of brisket, but the plate skittered down the table and flew off the end, straight into the coals of the brazier.
"Blast!" Tantalus muttered.
"Ah, well," Dionysus said, his voice dripping with false sympathy. "Perhaps a few more days. Believe me, old chap, working at this camp will be torture enough. I'm sure your old curse will fade eventually."
Or not, I hoped as I watched him try to corner some more food. Watching him try and fail was entertaining. Hopefully, it wouldn't be too annoying to hang around while I planned my next move.
"So, what are you going to do, babe?" MJ asked, leaning back in her chair. One of the benefits of having a clear-sighted girlfriend was IMing. A lot better than Facetime, that's for sure. "I mean, it sounds to me like Aphrodite, your ex—"
I grumbled under my breath. For someone who apparently didn't care about my exes, MJ sure relished in bringing up the fact that I dated the goddess of love. Luckily, I'm pretty sure she's joking. Like, 85% sure, anyway.
"—thinks that the borders might fail anyway."
"Apparently, Annabeth already knows about the Fleece," I muttered, slurping some noodles. I leaned back in my bunk. "You know that weird taxi ride I told you about?"
"Apparently, they were the Gray Sisters," I said, lowering my cup. "Like, the ones from the myths."
"Babe," MJ's tone was exasperated. "Do you even know the myth of the real Perseus? Like, at all?"
"Sure. His, uh, grandfather was given a prophecy stating that his grandson would kill him. So, of course, he locked his daughter in the basement, Zeus drizzles down in golden rain. He takes Danaë to boomtown—"
"Sorry. Well, he, er, impregnates her," I smiled at MJ's snort. "And big boy Perseus comes along. The king tosses them in a box in the ocean, and they wash up ashore. Eventually, the king of that place wants Danaë as his wife, so he tries to get rid of Perseus by making him kill Medusa- an easy task, by the way."
"You're missing, like, half the story, cutie," MJ tucked a strand of red hair behind her ear. She held up a thick, leather-bound book for me to see. She cracked open the book, leafing through it. "I've been doing some reading, since, well, everything. There's a couple of different interpretations, but you've got the basics. Here- An oracle had warned Acrisius, the king of Argos, that a son of Danaë would be the cause of his death. To keep her from having children, he kept her imprisoned in a tower. Zeus, like you said, descended through the roof of the tower in the form of a shower of gold, and the lovely Danaë became his bride. For four years Acrisius remained unaware of this union."
"I know times were different, and all, but how do you not notice your daughter having a whole relationship?" I wondered aloud. "Like, was this guy just blind? You're telling me my uncle was just in there for years and not even a peep out of the king?"
"Honey, it's an interpretation. Some people say he was just in and out," MJ smiled. "The point is, one evening, as he passed by Danaë's chamber, he heard the cry of a young child coming from within, which led to the discovery of his daughter's marriage with Zeus. Enraged at this, Acrisius ordered the mother and child to be placed in a chest and thrown into the sea. But it was not the will of Zeus that they should die. He told Poseidon to calm the troubled waters, and caused the chest to float safely to the island of Seriphus."
I shrugged, "My dad's just the best like that. Saving babies and women, making horses out of the waves…"
"Polydectes eventually fell in love with Danaë, and gave Perseus an education fitting for a hero. He encouraged his stepson to distinguish himself by performing some great and heroic deeds. After some thought, it was decided that Perseus would win the greatest fame by slaying the Medusa. The Medusa was one of the Gorgons, whose hair was made of venomous snakes," MJ read to me from the book. Honestly, if she was the one reading me things, all the time, I'd be a scholar. She was the hottest teacher ever.
Is it wrong of me to check out my super-hot girlfriend as she reads me myths that could save my life? Meh. Maybe.
"To do this, Perseus needed a pair of winged sandals, a magic bag, and the helmet of Hades, which made its wearer invisible. Once he was given these by the gods and goddesses, he flew to the home of the Gorgons, whose location was given to him by the Gray Sisters, after he stole their eye. The sisters were fast asleep. Perseus had been warned that whoever looked upon these weird sisters would be turned into stone. He stood before the sleepers with his face turned away, and caught their reflection on his bright metal shield. Then, guided by the goddess Athena, he cut off the head of the Medusa, which he placed in his bag. He moved quickly to escape the two surviving sisters, who were eager to avenge the death of their sister."
"And he lives happily ever after, right?" I paused. "Wait, no! He saves a princess."
"He does. Perseus traveled until he arrived at Ethiopia, the kingdom of King Cepheus. Here he found the country inundated with floods, towns, and villages destroyed, and everywhere signs of ruin. The deal was, every year the king would sacrifice his prize cattle to your dad. One year, he loved his cattle too much and didn't want to sacrifice it, so Poseidon devastated the country with a terrible flood, which brought with it a huge monster that devoured all that came in its way. In their distress, the unfortunate Ethiopians went to the oracle of Jupiter-Ammon. The oracle told them that only by sacrificing the king's daughter Andromeda to the monster could the country and people be saved."
"Oh," My face felt hot. "Um. Sometimes he gets mad. Still a great dad, though. Stellar, er, guy."
"Andromeda was chained to a rock on the seashore to serve as prey for the monster. When he learned of this, Perseus proposed to Cepheus to slay the monster, on the condition that Andromeda should become his bride. The king gladly agreed, and Perseus raced to the rock to breathe words of hope and comfort to the trembling maiden. Then he put on the helmet of Hades, flew into the air, and awaited the approach of the monster," MJ continued, a small smile on her face. "Soon the sea opened, and the head of the gigantic beast appeared above the waves. Perseus suddenly darted down and held the head of the Medusa before the eyes of the monster. The beast's hideous body was gradually transformed into a huge black rock. Perseus rescued the maiden and delivered her to her happy parents, and the two were soon wed."
My noodles were done by this point, "And then he lives happily ever after, nails his gramps in the head with a discus, and gives the head back to Athena."
"Exactly," MJ closed the book and looked back at me, her eyes glittering. "My point, kelpy, is that the Gray Sisters once gave the original Perseus the coordinates of Medusa. Is it possible they gave Annabeth the location of the Fleece?"
"I was more focused on keeping my lunch from coming out," I mumbled. "But you're right. Annabeth definitely knows about it- she's been hinting at it since we got here a week ago."
"So, again, what are you going to do?" MJ repeated. "Come on, hero boy. You've been there for a week, doing nothing except swimming and talking to your super hot girlfriend."
"You've got a point…well, I think I'm going to snag an apple of immortality," I said out loud for the first time. "The Fleece can help, but it sounds like the apple is a better long-term investment. Thalia's okay now, so I don't feel as motivated to go for the Fleece. Plus, I want to clear Chiron's name as soon as I can. Tantalus is getting on my last fucking nerve."
It was true. The last week…had not been fun. Despite Mr. D's somewhat chill relationship with me, he clearly didn't like me enough to stop Tantalus from bitching and moaning to me. None of the campers really seemed to like him, but with Chiron gone, we didn't have much of a choice.
Worse, even, we didn't know when or if Chiron would be back. As long as the gods wanted him gone, he'd stay gone. The only real way to bring him back was to prove his innocence unequivocally, and well, no one had any real clue how to go about doing that.
Tantalus could be taken care of once camp was safe, but for now, he was firmly lodged in that position of power.
"Do you think Annabeth will go for it?"
"It's possible," I frowned. "I trust her, I guess, but that's going to be a difficult quest. I'd call Piper back, but she and Pete are at some Stark expo."
"Would you go alone?"
I shook my head, "Nah. I'd take Jason, at the least. Maybe Silena, just because she might have some information on Luke."
"Be safe," MJ warned, as there was a knock on her door. "That's Makayla. I'll talk to you later, okay, babe?"
"Okay, MJ, see you," I wiped a hand through the IM, just as Malcolm knocked on my door to bring me to the campfire.
That night at the campfire, Apollo's cabin led the sing-along, as per usual. They tried to get everybody's spirits up, but it wasn't easy after the multiple monster attacks we'd had this week.
We all sat around a semicircle of stone steps, singing halfheartedly and watching the bonfire blaze while the Apollo guys strummed their guitars and picked their lyres. I wasn't the biggest fan of these things, but I was planning on leaving camp for the quest soon, so I figured I'd go to at least one.
The bonfire was enchanted, so the louder you sang, the higher it rose, changing color and heat with the mood of the crowd. On a good night, I'd seen it twenty feet high, bright purple, and so hot the whole front row's marshmallows burst into the flames.
Tonight, the fire was only five feet high, barely warm, and the flames were the color of lint. Malcolm, who was nestled in my lap, tugged at my shirt, and begged me to use my powers to boost the fire, but I wasn't budging.
Jason sat next to us, peering curiously at the fire. Annabeth flanked us, muttering to herself about the Fleece.
And me? I was already in my head, plotting my great escape. If I played my cards right, I could talk to Jason and Silena, and we'd be taking off for San Francisco before daybreak.
It helped that Dionysus left early. After suffering through a few songs, he muttered something about how even pinochle with Chiron had been more exciting than this. Then he gave Tantalus a distasteful look and headed back toward the Big House.
When the last song was over, Tantalus said, "Well, that was lovely!"
He came forward with a toasted marshmallow on a stick and tried to pluck it off, real casual-like.
But before he could touch it, the marshmallow flew off the stick. Tantalus made a wild grab, but the marshmallow committed suicide, diving into the flames.
Tantalus turned back toward us, his left eye twitching uncontrollably. "Now then! Some announcements about tomorrow's schedule."
"Sir," Annabeth said, standing up. I raised an eyebrow- now? Wait, that made sense. If she told him at the campfire in front of everybody, the whole camp would hear, and pressure him into doing something he couldn't refuse. "I have an idea to save the camp."
Dead silence, but I could tell she'd gotten everybody's interest because the campfire flared bright yellow.
"Indeed," Tantalus said blandly. "Well, if it has anything to do with—"
"The Golden Fleece," Annabeth said, not letting Tantalus finish. "I know where it is."
The flames burned orange. Before Tantalus could stop her, Annabeth blurted out some dreams she'd had about Grover and Polyphemus's island. Annabeth reminded everybody what the Fleece could do. It sounded convincing coming from her.
Hell, I knew all about it already, and she made it seem like a good idea.
"The Fleece can save the camp," she concluded. "I'm certain of it."
"Nonsense," said Tantalus. "We don't need saving."
Everybody stared at him until Tantalus started looking uncomfortable.
"Besides," he added quickly, "the Sea of Monsters? That's hardly an exact location. You wouldn't even know where to look."
"30, 31, 75, 12," She said confidently.
"Okay," Tantalus said. "Thank you for sharing those meaningless numbers."
"They're sailing coordinates," Annabeth continued, imploring the gathered crowd to step up. "The Gray Sisters gave me those coordinates. That'd be somewhere in the Atlantic, off the coast of Florida. The Sea of Monsters. We need a quest!"
"Wait just a minute," Tantalus said.
I stood up, putting Malcolm on my head, and hollering, "She's right! We need a quest to save this camp!"
The campers took up the chant. "We need a quest! We need a quest!"
The flames rose higher, and higher. I added in a little spark of my own, and the flames bucked, exploding upward in a flash of fluorescent green.
"It isn't necessary!" Tantalus insisted.
"WE NEED A QUEST! WE NEED A QUEST!"
"Fine!" Tantalus shouted, his eyes blazing with anger. "You brats want me to assign a quest?"
"Very well," he agreed. "I shall authorize a champion to undertake this perilous journey, to retrieve the Golden Fleece and bring it back to camp. Or die trying."
Tantalus looked at Annabeth as if he wanted to flay her alive. "The champion should be one who has earned the camp's respect, who has proven resourceful and courageous in the defense of the camp. You shall lead this quest…Clarisse!"
The fire flickered a thousand different colors. The Ares cabin started stomping and cheering,
Clarisse stood up, looking stunned. Then she swallowed, and her chest swelled with pride. "I accept the quest!"
"Wait!" Annabeth shouted. "Grover is my friend. The dream came to me."
Clarisse looked at her. "I accept the quest! I, Clarisse, daughter of Ares, will save the camp!"
The Ares campers cheered even louder. Annabeth protested, and the other Athena campers joined in. Everybody else started taking sides—shouting and arguing and throwing marshmallows. I thought it was going to turn into a full-fledged s'more war until Tantalus shouted, "Silence, you brats!"
His tone stunned even me.
"Sit down!" he ordered. "And I will tell you a ghost story."
I didn't know what he was up to, but we all moved reluctantly back to our seats. The evil aura radiating from Tantalus was as strong as any monster I'd ever faced. Did I really want to cause a scene in front of all the campers?
"Once upon a time, there was a mortal king who was beloved of the Gods!" Tantalus put his hand on his chest, and I got the feeling he was talking about himself.
"This king," he said, "was even allowed to feast on Mount Olympus. But when he tried to take some ambrosia and nectar back to earth to figure out the recipe—just one little doggie bag, mind you—the gods punished him. They banned him from their halls forever! His own people mocked him! His children scolded him! And, oh yes, campers, he had horrible children. Children—just—like—you!"
He pointed a crooked finger at several people in the audience, including me. Threatening the children? Really, man? I frowned.
"Do you know what he did to his ungrateful children?" Tantalus asked softly. "Do you know how he paid back the gods for their cruel punishment? He invited the Olympians to a feast at his palace, just to show there were no hard feelings. No one noticed that his children were missing.
And when he served the gods dinner, my dear campers, can you guess what was in the stew?"
No one dared answer. The firelight glowed dark blue, reflecting evilly on Tantalus's crooked face.
"Oh, the gods punished him in the afterlife," Tantalus croaked. "They did indeed. But he'd had his moment of satisfaction, hadn't he? His children never again spoke back to him or questioned his authority. And do you know what? Rumor has it that the king's spirit now dwells at this very camp, waiting for a chance to take revenge on ungrateful, rebellious children. And so…are there any more complaints, before we send Clarisse off on her quest?"
"You need to sit down," I said a moment later, placing Malcolm back on the seat and stepping up. I took note of the scared expressions of the people I'd come to care about. "That's absolutely no way to talk to kids."
"You dare question me, boy?" Tantalus snarled. He raised a hand toward me, his entire being exuding a nasty vibe.
"I do," I said, my fingertips crackling with electricity. "I'll fry you alive. I've had it with you. D will be on my side- I got him his staff back."
"Percy," Annabeth said quietly.
The campfire fizzled out completely, the only fire flourishing around me in a ring. It reacted to my annoyance, floating upward in swathes.
"Do it," I taunted Tantalus, raising my hands. "Fight me. Put me in my place. I'll even give you a free hit. Just know, after your fingers make contact with my body, I'll send you back to Hades."
Tantalus was snarling. His fingers were unclenching and clenching, almost as if he was imagining wringing them around my neck and squeezing. "I'll kill you."
"You couldn't, even if you tried," I snarled. "I've bested Titans. I'm not worried about a puny little man who can't even grab a marshmallow."
Tantalus took a step back, clearly rethinking things. "I'm taking this up with Dionysus. You better not be here when I get back. Come, child."
Clarisse shifted uncomfortably, like even she didn't want glory at the price of being Tantalus's pet. "Sir—"
"I said come!"
The two of them stalked off, the fire completely out. Yeah, I'd screwed the pooch. Tantalus was going to be a real annoyance if I stuck around. To me, and my friends.
Granted, he'd be a real annoyance no matter what. He was kind of an annoyance in general. Regardless, the campers would have to suffer with him until I got back. There's no way Mr. D was going to dismiss him unless he had a good reason to.
I was going to give him a good reason.
I turned to Annabeth, who was looking at me strangely. I shook my head, "You're just going to sneak off and join her anyway, aren't you?"
"No, no, I won't stop you," I said, pulling out one of my marked arrows. I handed it to her, and she grabbed it with a confused expression. "Just…snap that if you need me."
"Snap it. In half. I don't have much time," I repeated, scanning the crowd. "Jason? Silena?"
Both of them stepped forward, Jason already standing at attention with his sword out, and Silena looking a bit nervous. "You heard the man. We don't have much time. Meet me at the Poseidon cabin in twenty. Pack for a week."
Jason nodded grimly and shot up in the sky, eliciting oohs and aahs from the campers. Silena nodded, stumbling away toward her cabin.
I looked back at Annabeth, "Good luck, Wise Girl. Remember: snap the arrow."
When I got back to my cabin, much to my surprise, there was a white envelope waiting for me, nestled in between the doorframe.
You don't know me, but I know you. Creepy, I know, and I tried, like forty different ways to start that, but it fell flat each time. I've been meaning to arrange a meeting with you, but given the sorry state of the Camp's wards at the moment, and your generous nature, I'm sure you'll be jetting off the fix the problem in no time at all, right? That's cool. I get it. Just…let me know when you're chilling. We can talk then.
This isn't an opportunity you'll want to pass up. This letter is charmed to reappear on your nightstand, so when you do find the time, burn it.
I'll know. Sorry again. I know this is creepy. This anonymity is necessary until we meet face to face, though.
There was no signature. Great, just great. More problems to deal with.
I tossed the letter back on my bunk, grabbing a bag and shoving some clothes into it. I already had food and drinks in my [Inventory] so I wasn't too worried about all of that.
There was a slight knock on my door.
"Come in!" I yelled, somehow fitting a hoodie in before closing the zip. I hefted the bag on my shoulder, facing the doorway. "Malcolm?"
Malcolm peeked his tiny head into the doorway, a worried expression on his face. "Percy!"
"What's up, little man?" I said, pulling the straps tight. "Everything okay? Did you run out of chocolate milk?"
"Are you and Anna both leaving again?" He asked quietly, and I felt a rush of shame. I'd completely forgotten that Malcolm would be alone- again- if we both left, and I think Annabeth had too.
Not that I blamed her. If one of my closest friends-turned-tree was dying, I'd be pretty fixated on getting them back, too.
"Er, maybe," I said awkwardly, crouching down so we were eye-level. "Just for a bit. I'll be back in a week, and we can do all that fun stuff you wanted to do. I'll even take you wakeboarding. Sound good?"
"I don't like camp without you and Anna," Malcolm frowned. I noticed he had his own backpack on, complete with Gerald the Rhino in the back and everything. "All of the campers are big and mean. I want to be a hero like you and leave camp!"
"You will be," I promised. "You already are! You're big and strong! That's why I need you to do me a big favor, okay? I need you to stay here and protect the camp. I don't trust anyone else to do the job when I'm gone."
"Really?" Ah man, what an innocent little kid.
"Really!" I repeated, turning him around. "Go get some rest, okay? I'll see you soon."
He waddled off to the right, toward the Athena and Aphrodite cabins. I ran a hand through my hair, sighing. I didn't like leaving him alone, especially with that freak Tantalus, but it was for his own good. Plus, I wasn't risking bringing him anywhere near that garden. Not after his painting.
Jason dropped down next to me, a small bag slung over his shoulder. I'd talked to him a bit about the conversation I'd had with Aphrodite, and, unsurprisingly, he'd been in favor of stealing an apple.
Jason craved adventure. The camp was great, sure, but I could tell he was going a bit stir crazy being restricted to the borders. If I hadn't given him the green light, the man might've gone for it without me.
His eyes smoldered in the moonlight, "Are we ready?"
"I'm all set. We just need to wait for Silena," I replied. "She should be here soon."
"How do you plan on getting there?"
"Driving," I pulled out the car keys Mr. D had given me a few months ago. "Normally, I'd try other stuff, but we don't have time to spend, really. Plus, Triton can't help us right now. He's back in Atlantis for a couple of days, so my texts and IMs won't reach."
"Okay," Jason said. His knuckles were white on the hilt of his sword. "F-Prometheus had mentioned a Titan base near San Francisco. Do you think…"
"I think so," I replied grimly. "There could very well be some big fights. Good thing we've been training, eh?"
"Yeah, I guess. Good thing."
We made small talk for a few more minutes, until Silena arrived, carrying two bags. I was going to question it, but decided against it. "I just saw that cutie, Malcolm! Poor boy."
Girls got mad enough when you questioned how much they packed. Trust me, I saw this firsthand with both Liz and Piper when I visited them before they left for their trips. Add in the fact that Silena's a daughter of Aphrodite, and, well…yeah. I'll hold my tongue.
"Are we good to go?"
"Yeah. Where are we going?" Silena asked, her voice a little strained. She kept readjusting the strap of her bag. "Damn bag."
"I'll explain on the way there," I said, gesturing for them to follow me outside of the camp borders.
This was risky, but…
I slammed open my [Inventory], and the car Mr. D gave me blinked into existence.
I mean, come on! Did you really think I was willing to explain to my mom how I randomly got a car? No! I'd shoved it into my [Inventory] the moment I stepped outside of the Empire State Buidling.
I hadn't really admired it until this moment, but damn…Mr. D had kind of gone all out. I was actually kind of impressed.
I clicked the unlock button, and the engine roared to life, blue fire shooting out of the celestial bronze exhaust. The Mustang logo glowed a mean sapphire color against the black, matte color of the car.
"Jason rides shotgun, we'll put the bags in the back," I instructed, knocking them out of their stupor.
"Percy…how…why…" Silena stammered as I helped her put her bags in the bag. "How…"
"Gift from Mr. D," I said, technically telling the truth. "It disappears when I need it to. Hop in."
I sat in the driver's seat, my eyes widening in surprise as the wheel automatically readjusted itself in tandem with my seat, so I was the perfect distance away from, well, everything. My foot reached the brake and gas pedal easily.
The headlights flickered on, powerful columns of light that illuminated the forest in front of me. The center console pinged, and rolled backward, revealing a sleek GPS. I whistled, plugging in San Francisco.
Jason turned on the seat warmers. I heard a small scratching noise as they warmed up. "Percy…this is insane."
"You got that right," Silena called out from the back. "Now since we're, like, settled in and everything, can someone please tell me where we're going? And who blondie is?"
"San Francisco, and he's my cousin," I slammed my foot down on the accelerator, and the engine roared powerfully, blasting toward the street with the noise level of a semi. "Can you tell us anything about it? Did Luke mention anything?"
"San Francisco," Silena repeated, yelping as I swerved onto the street. Her eyes widened, "He did, a few times. The Hesperides guard the Garden of the Hesperides, near Mount Tamalpais, which is there. Er, there might be a base near the wharf. Um…that's all I can remember off the top of my head."
"Perfect," I swore I heard that scratching noise again, but it was gone before I could question it.
Her eyes widened. "Percy, you can't seriously be considering, well, stealing from them."
"Don't worry about it," Driving, I decided, was pretty easy. With my reaction time, it felt more like a video game than anything else. That, and the car kind of seemed to have a mind of its own, swerving and turning any time I got close to hitting anything. "I'll handle all of that. I just need you to help me out with, well, the Luke side of things, here."
Silena grumbled to herself, "I'm beginning to regret trusting you. You're clearly psychotic."
"Aw, shucks. You know how to make a guy feel special, Silena," I glanced at her, my eyes meeting hers from the rearview mirror. "We'll drive until I get tired, and then we'll make a pit stop at whatever hotel's closest."
"Do you have enough money for that?" Silena asked. "A hotel room for three people is going to be a pretty penny."
"Don't worry about that, either," I reiterated, drumming my fingers on the wheel of the car. Hades could probably put us up. "I'll handle it."
"You've grown fond of saying that," Silena remarked, laying her head on the window as we flew past the other cars. "Had a good year, then?"
"A great one."
Thankfully, the highway was dead. In an hour flat, we'd already made it from Long Island to Newark, but that's when our first problem showed up. Literally.
"Does anyone hear that?" Enough was enough. Before, I thought I'd just been driving too long, or it was the seat warmers, or whatever the hell else, but it was loud and frantic. "Please tell me someone hears that."
Jason, who had been reading a comic book, turned to the back seat. "Yeah, wait. I hear it too. Silena, what the hell is in your bag?"
"Nothing!" Silena protested, her perfectly manicured eyebrows knitting together. "Honest! I just put clothes in here. Let me see…"
She unzipped her bag, and I had to avoid swerving into the guardrail as Malcolm popped out, gasping for air.
"Malcolm!" I hollered. "What the fu-um, fudge cakes were you doing in there?"
"I didn't want to stay in camp without you or Anna!" He said, out-of-breath. "I want to be a hero, too!"
"Oh, sweet Mother," Silena muttered to herself. She raised her hands. "Guys, I am so sorry. He just came to hug me and say good luck, and when I looked up, he—"
"It's okay, Silena," I said through gritted teeth. "We'll talk about it more when we stop for the night."
Full disclosure, I wasn't, well, I wasn't worried because Malcolm was here. That isn't true. Jason and I are some of the strongest demigods alive. As far as I'm concerned, he's safer here with us than he would be at camp.
The reason I'm worried is that I'm remembering the first time I'd met Silena again- and the picture we'd both looked for.
The picture that showed Malcolm and I in the garden of immortality, Ladon in front of us. I wanted to avoid bringing him anywhere near that place. But now, he was playing pattycake with Silena in the backseat.
The picture was slowly becoming a reality. A reality I wasn't sure if I wanted to see.
AN: Just a little setup chapter, nothing crazy. Enjoy!
I reread the SoM and was surprised at how quickly the plot moved. In four chapters (~10,000 words) Percy went from at school to on his way to the ship. I figured if I were to follow the source material's pacing, I'd do something similar, so this chapter is more of a transitory chapter than anything else.
The Quest begins in the next one, and, well, you'll see. It's going to be a blast.