The Last Olympian – Chapter 20: WE WIN FABULOUS PRIZES

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Chapter 20

WE WIN FABULOUS

PRIZES

The Three Fates themselves took Luke’s body.

I hadn’t seen the old ladies in years, since I’d witnessed them snip a life thread at a roadside fruit stand when I was twelve. They’d scared me then, and they scared me now—three ghoulish grandmothers with bags of knitting needles and yarn.

One of them looked at me, and even though she didn’t say anything, my life literally flashed before my eyes. Suddenly I was twenty. Then I was a middle-aged man. Then I turned old and withered. All the strength left my body, and I saw my own tombstone and an open grave, a coffin being lowered into the ground. All this happened in less than a second.

It is done, she said.

The Fate held up the snippet of blue yarn—and I knew it was the same one I’d seen four years ago, the lifeline I’d watched them snip. I had thought it was my life. Now I realized it was Luke’s. They’d been showing me the life that would have to be sacrificed to set things right.

They gathered up Luke’s body, now wrapped in a white-and-green shroud, and began carrying it out of the throne room.

“Wait,” Hermes said.

The messenger god was dressed in his classic outfit of white Greek robes, sandals, and helmet. The wings of his helm fluttered as he walked. The snakes George and Martha curled around his caduceus, murmuring, Luke, poor Luke.

I thought about May Castellan, alone in her kitchen, baking cookies and making sandwiches for a son who would never come home.

Hermes unwrapped Luke’s face and kissed his forehead. He murmured some words in Ancient Greek—a final blessing.

“Farewell,” he whispered. Then he nodded and allowed the Fates to carry away his son’s body.

As they left, I thought about the Great Prophecy. The lines now made sense to me. The hero’s soul, cursed blade shall reap. The hero was Luke. The cursed blade was the knife he’d given Annabeth long ago—cursed because Luke had broken his promise and betrayed his friends. A single choice shall end his days. My choice, to give him the knife, and to believe, as Annabeth had, that he was still capable of setting things right. Olympus to preserve or raze. By sacrificing himself, he had saved Olympus. Rachel was right. In the end, I wasn’t really the hero. Luke was.

And I understood something else: When Luke had descended into the River Styx, he would’ve had to focus on something important that would hold him to his mortal life. Otherwise he would’ve dissolved. I had seen Annabeth, and I had a feeling he had too. He had pictured that scene Hestia showed me—of himself in the good old days with Thalia and Annabeth, when he promised they would be a family. Hurting Annabeth in battle had shocked him into remembering that promise. It had allowed his mortal conscience to take over again, and defeat Kronos. His weak spot—his Achilles heel—had saved us all.

Next to me, Annabeth’s knees buckled. I caught her, but she cried out in pain, and I realized I’d grabbed her broken arm.

“Oh gods,” I said. “Annabeth, I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right,” she said as she passed out in my arms.

“She needs help!” I yelled.

“I’ve got this.” Apollo stepped forward. His fiery armor was so bright it was hard to look at, and his matching Ray-Bans and perfect smile made him look like a male model for battle gear. “God of medicine, at your service.”

He passed his hand over Annabeth’s face and spoke an incantation. Immediately the bruises faded. Her cuts and scars disappeared. Her arm straightened, and she sighed in her sleep.

Apollo grinned. “She’ll be fine in a few minutes. Just enough time for me to compose a poem about our victory: ‘Apollo and his friends save Olympus.’ Good, eh?”

“Thanks, Apollo,” I said. “I’ll, um, let you handle the poetry.”

The next few hours were a blur. I remembered my promise to my mother. Zeus didn’t even blink an eye when I told him my strange request. He snapped his fingers and informed me that the top of the Empire State Building was now lit up blue. Most mortals would just have to wonder what it meant, but my mom would know: I had survived, Olympus was saved.

The gods set about repairing the throne room, which went surprisingly fast with twelve superpowerful beings at work. Grover and I cared for the wounded, and once the sky bridge re-formed, we greeted our friends who had survived. The Cyclopes had saved Thalia from the fallen statue. She was on crutches, but otherwise she was okay. Connor and Travis Stoll had made it through with only minor injuries. They promised me they hadn’t even looted the city much. They told me my parents were fine, though they weren’t allowed into Mount Olympus. Mrs. O’Leary had dug Chiron out of the rubble and rushed him off to camp. The Stolls looked kind of worried about the old centaur, but at least he was alive. Katie Gardner reported that she’d seen Rachel Elizabeth Dare run out of the Empire State Building at the end of the battle. Rachel had looked unharmed, but nobody knew where she’d gone, which also troubled me.

Nico di Angelo came into Olympus to a hero’s welcome, his father right behind him, despite the fact that Hades was only supposed to visit Olympus on winter solstice. The god of the dead looked stunned when his relatives clapped him on the back. I doubt he’d ever gotten such an enthusiastic welcome before.

Clarisse marched in, still shivering from her time in the ice block, and Ares bellowed, “There’s my girl!”

The god of war ruffled her hair and pounded her on the back, calling her the best warrior he’d ever seen. “That drakon-slaying? THAT’S what I’m talking about!”

She looked pretty overwhelmed. All she could do was nod and blink, like she was afraid he’d start hitting her, but eventually she began to smile.

Hera and Hephaestus passed me, and while Hephaestus was a little grumpy about my jumping on his throne, he thought I’d done “a pretty bang-up job, mostly.”

Hera sniffed in disdain. “I suppose I won’t destroy you and that little girl now.”

“Annabeth saved Olympus,” I told her. “She convinced Luke to stop Kronos.”

“Hmm,” Hera whirled away in a huff, but I figured our lives would be safe, at least for a little while.

Dionysus’s head was still wrapped in a bandage. He looked me up and down and said, “Well, Percy Jackson. I see Pollux made it through, so I suppose you aren’t completely inept. It’s all thanks to my training, I suppose.”

“Urn, yes, sir,” I said.

Mr. D nodded. “As thanks for my bravery, Zeus has cut my probation at that miserable camp in half. I now have only fifty years left instead of one hundred.”

“Fifty years, huh?” I tried to imagine putting up with Dionysus until I was an old man, assuming I lived that long.

“Don’t get so excited, Jackson,” he said, and I realized he was saying my name correctly. “I still plan on making your life miserable.”

I couldn’t help smiling. “Naturally.”

“Just so we understand each other.” He turned and began repairing his grapevine throne, which had been singed by fire.

Grover stayed at my side. From time to time he would break down in tears. “So many nature spirits dead, Percy. So many.”

I put my arm around his shoulders and gave him a rag to blow his nose. “You did a great job, G-man. We will come back from this. We’ll plant new trees. We’ll clean up the parks. Your friends will be reincarnated into a better world.”

He sniffled dejectedly. “I . . . I suppose. But it was hard enough to rally them before. I’m still an outcast. I could barely get anyone to listen to me about Pan. Now will they ever listen to me again? I led them into a slaughter.”

“They will listen,” I promised. “Because you care about them. You care about the Wild more than anyone.”

He tried for a smile. “Thanks, Percy. I hope . . . I hope you know I’m really proud to be your friend.”

I patted his arm. “Luke was right about one thing, G-man. You’re the bravest satyr I ever met.”

He blushed, but before he could say anything, conch horns blew. The army of Poseidon marched into the throne room.

“Percy!” Tyson yelled. He charged toward me with his arms open. Fortunately he’d shrunk back to normal size, so his hug was like getting hit by a tractor, not the entire farm.

“You are not dead!” he said.

“Yeah!” I agreed. “Amazing, huh?”

He clapped his hands and laughed happily. “I am not dead either. Yay! We chained Typhon. It was fun!”

Behind him, fifty other armored Cyclopes laughed and nodded and gave each other high fives.

“Tyson led us,” one rumbled. “He is brave!”

“Bravest of the Cyclopes!” another bellowed.

Tyson blushed. “Was nothing.”

“I saw you!” I said. “You were incredible!”

I thought poor Grover would pass out. He’s deathly afraid of Cyclopes. But he steeled his nerves and said, “Yes. Um . . . three cheers for Tyson!”

“YAAARRRRR!” the Cyclopes roared.

“Please don’t eat me,” Grover muttered, but I don’t think anyone heard him.

The conch horns blasted again. The Cyclopes parted, and my father strode into the throne room in his battle armor, his trident glowing in his hands.

“Tyson!” he roared. “Well done, my son. And Percy—” His face turned stern. He wagged his finger at me, and for a second I was afraid he was going to zap me. “I even forgive you for sitting on my throne. You have saved Olympus!”

He held out his arms and gave me a hug. I realized, a little embarrassed, that I’d never actually hugged my dad before. He was warm—like a regular human—and he smelled of a salty beach and fresh sea air.

When he pulled away, he smiled kindly at me. I felt so good, I’ll admit I teared up a little. I guess until that moment I hadn’t allowed myself to realize just how terrified I had been the last few days.

“Dad—”

“Shhh,” he said. “No hero is above fear, Percy. And you have risen above every hero. Not even Hercules—”

“POSEIDON!” a voice roared.

Zeus had taken his throne. He glared across the room at my dad while all the other gods filed in and took their seats. Even Hades was present, sitting on a simple stone guest chair at the foot of the hearth. Nico sat cross-legged on the ground at his dad’s feet.

“Well, Poseidon?” Zeus grumped. “Are you too proud to join us in council, my brother?”

I thought Poseidon was going to get mad, but he just looked at me and winked. “I would be honored, Lord Zeus.”

I guess miracles do happen. Poseidon strode over to his fishing seat, and the Olympian Council convened.

While Zeus was talking—some long speech about the bravery of the gods, etc.—Annabeth walked in and stood next to me. She looked good for someone who’d recently passed out.

“Miss much?” she whispered.

“Nobody’s planning to kill us, so far,” I whispered back.

“First time today.”

I cracked up, but Grover nudged me because Hera was giving us a dirty look.

“As for my brothers,” Zeus said, “we are thankful”—he cleared his throat like the words were hard to get out—”erm, thankful for the aid of Hades.”

The lord of the dead nodded. He had a smug look on his face, but I figure he’d earned the right. He patted his son Nico on the shoulders, and Nico looked happier than I’d ever seen him.

“And, of course,” Zeus continued, though he looked like his pants were smoldering, “we must . . . um . . . thank Poseidon.”

“I’m sorry, brother,” Poseidon said. “What was that?”

“We must thank Poseidon,” Zeus growled. “Without whom . . . it would’ve been difficult—”

“Difficult?” Poseidon asked innocently.

“Impossible,” Zeus said. “Impossible to defeat Typhon.”

The gods murmured agreement and pounded their weapons in approval.

“Which leaves us,” Zeus said, “only the matter of thanking our young demigod heroes, who defended Olympus so well—even if there are a few dents in my throne.”

He called Thalia forward first, since she was his daughter, and promised her help in filling the Hunters’ ranks.

Artemis smiled. “You have done well, my lieutenant. You have made me proud, and all those Hunters who perished in my service will never be forgotten. They will achieve Elysium, I am sure.”

She glared pointedly at Hades.

He shrugged. “Probably.”

Artemis glared at him some more.

“Okay,” Hades grumbled. “I’ll streamline their application process.”

Thalia beamed with pride. “Thank you, my lady.” She bowed to the gods, even Hades, and then limped over to stand by Artemis’s side.

“Tyson, son of Poseidon!” Zeus called. Tyson looked nervous, but he went to stand in the middle of the Council, and Zeus grunted.

“Doesn’t miss many meals, does he?” Zeus muttered. “Tyson, for your bravery in the war, and for leading the Cyclopes, you are appointed a general in the armies of Olympus. You shall henceforth lead your brethren into war whenever required by the gods. And you shall have a new . . . um . . . what kind of weapon would you like? A sword? An axe?”

“Stick!” Tyson said, showing his broken club.

“Very well,” Zeus said. “We will grant you a new, er, stick. The best stick that may be found.”

“Hooray!” Tyson cried, and all the Cyclopes cheered and pounded him on the back as he rejoined them.

“Grover Underwood of the satyrs!” Dionysus called.

Grover came forward nervously.

“Oh, stop chewing your shirt,” Dionysus chided. “Honestly, I’m not going to blast you. For your bravery and sacrifice, blah, blah, blah, and since we have an unfortunate vacancy, the gods have seen fit to name you a member of the Council of Cloven Elders.”

Grover collapsed on the spot.

“Oh, wonderful,” Dionysus sighed, as several naiads came forward to help Grover. “Well, when he wakes up, someone tell him that he will no longer be an outcast, and that all satyrs, naiads, and other spirits of nature will henceforth treat him as a lord of the Wild, with all rights, privileges, and honors, blah, blah, blah. Now please, drag him off before he wakes up and starts groveling.”

“FOOOOOD,” Grover moaned, as the nature spirits carried him away.

I figured he’d be okay. He would wake up as a lord of the Wild with a bunch of beautiful naiads taking care of him. Life could be worse.

Athena called, “Annabeth Chase, my own daughter.”

Annabeth squeezed my arm, then walked forward and knelt at her mother’s feet.

Athena smiled. “You, my daughter, have exceeded all expectations. You have used your wits, your strength, and your courage to defend this city, and our seat of power. It has come to our attention that Olympus is . . . well, trashed. The Titan lord did much damage that will have to be repaired. We could rebuild it by magic, of course, and make it just as it was. But the gods feel that the city could be improved. We will take this as an opportunity. And you, my daughter, will design these improvements.”

Annabeth looked up, stunned. “My . . . my lady?”

Athena smiled wryly. “You are an architect, are you not? You have studied the techniques of Daedalus himself. Who better to redesign Olympus and make it a monument that will last for another eon?”

“You mean . . . I can design whatever I want?”

“As your heart desires,” the goddess said. “Make us a city for the ages.”

“As long as you have plenty of statues of me,” Apollo added.

“And me,” Aphrodite agreed.

“Hey, and me!” Ares said. “Big statues with huge wicked swords and—”

“All right!” Athena interrupted. “She gets the point. Rise, my daughter, official architect of Olympus.”

Annabeth rose in a trance and walked back toward me.

“Way to go,” I told her, grinning.

For once she was at a loss for words. “I’ll . . . I’ll have to start planning . . . Drafting paper, and, um, pencils—”

“PERCY JACKSON!” Poseidon announced. My name echoed around the chamber.

All talking died down. The room was silent except for the crackle of the hearth fire. Everyone’s eyes were on me—all the gods, the demigods, the Cyclopes, the spirits. I walked into the middle of the throne room. Hestia smiled at me reassuringly. She was in the form of a girl now, and she seemed happy and content to be sitting by her fire again. Her smile gave me courage to keep walking.

First I bowed to Zeus. Then I knelt at my father’s feet.

“Rise, my son,” Poseidon said.

I stood uneasily.

“A great hero must be rewarded,” Poseidon said. “Is there anyone here who would deny that my son is deserving?”

I waited for someone to pipe up. The gods never agreed on anything, and many of them still didn’t like me, but not a single one protested.

“The Council agrees,” Zeus said. “Percy Jackson, you will have one gift from the gods.”

I hesitated. “Any gift?”

Zeus nodded grimly. “I know what you will ask. The greatest gift of all. Yes, if you want it, it shall be yours. The gods have not bestowed this gift on a mortal hero in many centuries, but, Perseus Jackson—if you wish it—you shall be made a god. Immortal. Undying. You shall serve as your father’s lieutenant for all time.”

I stared at him, stunned. “Um . . . a god?”

Zeus rolled his eyes. “A dimwitted god, apparently. But yes. With the consensus of the entire Council, I can make you immortal. Then I will have to put up with you forever.”

“Hmm,” Ares mused. “That means I can smash him to a pulp as often as I want, and he’ll just keep coming back for more. I like this idea.”

“I approve as well,” Athena said, though she was looking at Annabeth.

I glanced back. Annabeth was trying not to meet my eyes. Her face was pale. I flashed back to two years ago, when I’d thought she was going to take the pledge to Artemis and become a Hunter. I’d been on the edge of a panic attack, thinking that I’d lose her. Now, she looked pretty much the same way.

I thought about the Three Fates, and the way I’d seen my life flash by. I could avoid all that. No aging, no death, no body in the grave. I could be a teenager forever, in top condition, powerful, and immortal, serving my father. I could have power and eternal life.

Who could refuse that?

Then I looked at Annabeth again. I thought about my friends from camp: Charles Beckendorf, Michael Yew, Silena Beauregard, so many others who were now dead. I thought about Ethan Nakamura and Luke.

And I knew what to do.

“No,” I said.

The Council was silent. The gods frowned at each other like they must have misheard.

“No?” Zeus said. “You are . . . turning down our generous gift?”

There was a dangerous edge to his voice, like a thunderstorm about to erupt.

“I’m honored and everything,” I said. “Don’t get me wrong. It’s just . . . I’ve got a lot of life left to live. I’d hate to peak in my sophomore year.”

The gods were glaring at me, but Annabeth had her hands over her mouth. Her eyes were shining. And that kind of made up for it.

“I do want a gift, though,” I said. “Do you promise to grant my wish?”

Zeus thought about this. “If it is within our power.”

“It is,” I said. “And it’s not even difficult. But I need your promise on the River Styx.”

“What?” Dionysus cried. “You don’t trust us?”

“Someone once told me,” I said, looking at Hades, “you should always get a solemn oath.”

Hades shrugged. “Guilty.”

“Very well!” Zeus growled. “In the name of the Council, we swear by the River Styx to grant your reasonable request as long as it is within our power.”

The other gods muttered assent. Thunder boomed, shaking the throne room. The deal was made.

“From now on, I want to you properly recognize the children of the gods,” I said. “All the children . . . of all the gods.”

The Olympians shifted uncomfortably.

“Percy,” my father said, “what exactly do you mean?”

“Kronos couldn’t have risen if it hadn’t been for a lot of demigods who felt abandoned by their parents,” I said. “They felt angry, resentful, and unloved, and they had a good reason.”

Zeus’s royal nostrils flared. “You dare accuse—”

“No more undetermined children,” I said. “I want you to promise to claim your children—all your demigod children—by the time they turn thirteen. They won’t be left out in the world on their own at the mercy of monsters. I want them claimed and brought to camp so they can be trained right, and survive.”

“Now, wait just a moment,” Apollo said, but I was on a roll.

“And the minor gods,” I said. “Nemesis, Hecate, Morpheus, Janus, Hebe-—they all deserve a general amnesty and a place at Camp Half-Blood. Their children shouldn’t be ignored. Calypso and the other peaceful Titan-kind should be pardoned too. And Hades—”

“Are you calling me a minor god?” Hades bellowed.

“No, my lord,” I said quickly. “But your children should not be left out. They should have a cabin at camp. Nico has proven that. No unclaimed demigods will be crammed into the Hermes cabin anymore, wondering who their parents are. They’ll have their own cabins, for all the gods. And no more pact of the Big Three. That didn’t work anyway. You’ve got to stop trying to get rid of powerful demigods. We’re going to train them and accept them instead. All children of the gods will be welcome and treated with respect. That is my wish.”

Zeus snorted. “Is that all?”

“Percy,” Poseidon said, “you ask much. You presume much.”

“I hold you to your oath,” I said. “All of you.”

I got a lot of steely looks. Strangely, it was Athena who spoke up: “The boy is correct. We have been unwise to ignore our children. It proved a strategic weakness in this war and almost caused our destruction. Percy Jackson, I have had my doubts about you, but perhaps”—she glanced at Annabeth, and then spoke as if the words had a sour taste—”perhaps I was mistaken. I move that we accept the boy’s plan.”

“Humph,” Zeus said. “Being told what to do by a mere child. But I suppose . . .”

“All in favor,” Hermes said.

All the gods raised their hands.

“Um, thanks,” I said.

I turned, but before I could leave, Poseidon called, “Honor guard!”

Immediately the Cyclopes came forward and made two lines from the thrones to the door—an aisle for me to walk through. They came to attention.

“All hail, Perseus Jackson,” Tyson said. “Hero of Olympus . . . and my big brother!”

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23