The Last Olympian – Chapter 22: I AM DUMPED

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Chapter 22

I AM DUMPED

Nobody steals my pegasus. Not even Rachel. I wasn’t sure if I was more angry or amazed or worried.

“What was she thinking?” Annabeth said as we ran for the river. Unfortunately, I had a pretty good idea, and it filled me with dread.

The traffic was horrible. Everybody was out on the streets gawking at the war zone damage. Police sirens wailed on every block. There was no possibility of catching a cab, and the pegasi had flown away. I would’ve settled for some Party Ponies, but they had disappeared along with most of the root beer in Midtown. So we ran, pushing through mobs of dazed mortals that clogged the sidewalks.

“She’ll never get through the defenses,” Annabeth said. “Peleus will eat her.”

I hadn’t considered that. The Mist wouldn’t fool Rachel like it would most people. She’d be able to find the camp no problem, but I’d been hoping the magical boundaries would just keep her out like a force field. It hadn’t occurred to me that Peleus might attack.

“We’ve got to hurry.” I glanced at Nico. “I don’t suppose you could conjure up some skeleton horses.”

He wheezed as he ran. “So tired . . . couldn’t summon a dog bone.”

Finally we scrambled over the embankment to the shore, and I let out a loud whistle. I hated doing it. Even with the sand dollar I’d given the East River for a magic cleaning, the water here was pretty polluted. I didn’t want to make any sea animals sick, but they came to my call.

Three wake lines appeared in the gray water, and a pod of hippocampi broke the surface. They whinnied unhappily, shaking the river muck from their manes. They were beautiful creatures, with multicolored fish tails, and the heads and forelegs of white stallions. The hippocampus in front was much bigger than the others—a ride fit for a Cyclops.

“Rainbow!” I called. “How’s it going, buddy?”

He neighed a complaint.

“Yeah, I’m sorry,” I said. “But it’s an emergency. We need to get to camp.”

He snorted.

“Tyson?” I said. “Tyson is fine! I’m sorry he’s not here. He’s a big general now in the Cyclops army.”

“NEEEEIGGGGH!”

“Yeah, I’m sure he’ll still bring you apples. Now, about that ride . . .”

In no time, Annabeth, Nico, and I were zipping up the East River faster than Jet Skis. We sped under the Throgs Neck Bridge and headed for Long Island Sound.

It seemed like forever until we saw the beach at camp. We thanked the hippocampi and waded ashore, only to find Argus waiting for us. He stood in the sand with his arms crossed, his hundred eyes glaring at us.

“Is she here?” I asked.

He nodded grimly.

“Is everything okay?” Annabeth said.

Argus shook his head.

We followed him up the trail. It was surreal being back at camp, because everything looked so peaceful: no burning buildings, no wounded fighters. The cabins were bright in the sunshine, and the fields glittered with dew. But the place was mostly empty.

Up at the Big House, something was definitely wrong. Green light was shooting out all the windows, just like I’d seen in my dream about May Castellan. Mist—the magical kind—swirled around the yard. Chiron lay on a horse-size stretcher by the volleyball pit, a bunch of satyrs standing around him. Blackjack cantered nervously in the grass.

Don’t blame me, boss! he pleaded when he saw me. The weird girl made me do it!

Rachel Elizabeth Dare stood at the bottom of the porch steps. Her arms were raised like she was waiting for someone inside the house to throw her a ball.

“What’s she doing?” Annabeth demanded. “How did she get past the barriers?”

“She flew,” one of the satyrs said, looking accusingly at Blackjack. “Right past the dragon, right through the magic boundaries.”

“Rachel!” I called, but the satyrs stopped me when I tried to go any closer.

“Percy, don’t,” Chiron warned. He winced as he tried to move. His left arm was in a sling, his two back legs were in splints, and his head was wrapped in bandages. “You can’t interrupt.”

“I thought you explained things to her!”

“I did. And I invited her here.”

I stared at him in disbelief. “You said you’d never let anyone try again! You said—”

“I know what I said, Percy. But I was wrong. Rachel had a vision about the curse of Hades. She believes it may be lifted now. She convinced me she deserves a chance.”

“And if the curse isn’t lifted? If Hades hasn’t gotten to that yet, she’ll go crazy!”

The Mist swirled around Rachel. She shivered like she was going into shock.

“Hey!” I shouted. “Stop!”

I ran toward her, ignoring the satyrs. I got within ten feet and hit something like an invisible beach ball. I bounced back and landed in the grass.

Rachel opened her eyes and turned. She looked like she was sleepwalking—like she could see me, but only in a dream.

“It’s all right.” Her voice sounded far away. “This is why I’ve come.”

“You’ll be destroyed!”

She shook her head. “This is where I belong, Percy. I finally understand why.”

It sounded too much like what May Castellan had said. I had to stop her, but I couldn’t even get to my feet.

The house rumbled. The door flew open and green light poured out. I recognized the warm musty smell of snakes.

Mist curled into a hundred smoky serpents, slithering up the porch columns, curling around the house. Then the Oracle appeared in the doorway.

The withered mummy shuffled forward in her rainbow dress. She looked even worse than usual, which is saying a lot. Her hair was falling out in clumps. Her leathery skin was cracking like the seat of a worn-out bus. Her glassy eyes stared blankly into space, but I got the creepiest feeling she was being drawn straight toward Rachel.

Rachel held out her arms. She didn’t look scared.

“You’ve waited too long,” Rachel said. “But I’m here now.”

The sun blazed more brightly. A man appeared above the porch, floating in the air—a blond dude in a white toga, with sunglasses and a cocky smile.

“Apollo,” I said.

He winked at me but held up his finger to his lips.

“Rachel Elizabeth Dare,” he said. “You have the gift of prophecy. But it is also a curse. Are you sure you want this?”

Rachel nodded. “It’s my destiny.”

“Do you accept the risks?”

“I do.”

“Then proceed,” the god said.

Rachel closed her eyes. “I accept this role. I pledge myself to Apollo, God of Oracles. I open my eyes to the future and embrace the past. I accept the spirit of Delphi, Voice of the Gods, Speaker of Riddles, Seer of Fate.”

I didn’t know where she was getting the words, but they flowed out of her as the Mist thickened. A green column of smoke, like a huge python, uncoiled from the mummy’s mouth and slithered down the stairs, curling affectionately around Rachel’s feet. The Oracle’s mummy crumbled, falling away until it was nothing but a pile of dust in an old tie-dyed dress. Mist enveloped Rachel in a column.

For a moment I couldn’t see her at all. Then the smoke cleared.

Rachel collapsed and curled into the fetal position. Annabeth, Nico, and I rushed forward, but Apollo said, “Stop! This is the most delicate part.”

“What’s going on?” I demanded. “What do you mean?”

Apollo studied Rachel with concern. “Either the spirit takes hold, or it doesn’t.”

“And if it doesn’t?” Annabeth asked.

“Five syllables,” Apollo said, counting them on his fingers. “That would be real bad.”

Despite Apollo’s warning, I ran forward and knelt over Rachel. The smell of the attic was gone. The Mist sank into the ground and the green light faded. But Rachel was still pale. She was barely breathing.

Then her eyes fluttered open. She focused on me with difficulty. “Percy.”

“Are you okay?”

She tried to sit up. “Ow.” She pressed her hands to her temples.

“Rachel,” Nico said, “your life aura almost faded completely. I could see you dying.”

“I’m all right,” she murmured. “Please, help me up. The visions—they’re a little disorienting.”

“Are you sure you’re okay?” I asked.

Apollo drifted down from the porch. “Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce the new Oracle of Delphi.”

“You’re kidding,” Annabeth said.

Rachel managed a weak smile. “It’s a little surprising to me too, but this is my fate. I saw it when I was in New York. I know why I was born with true sight. I was meant to become the Oracle.”

I blinked. “You mean you can tell the future now?”

“Not all the time,” she said. “But there are visions, images, words in my mind. When someone asks me a question, I . . . Oh no—”

“It’s starting,” Apollo announced.

Rachel doubled over like someone had punched her. Then she stood up straight and her eyes glowed serpent green.

When she spoke, her voice sounded tripled—like three Rachels were talking at once:

“Seven half-bloods shall answer the call.

To storm or fire, the world must fall.

An oath to keep with a final breath,

And foes bear arms to the Doors of Death.”

At the last word, Rachel collapsed. Nico and I caught her and helped her to the porch. Her skin was feverish.

“I’m all right,” she said, her voice returning to normal.

“What was that?” I asked.

She shook her head, confused. “What was what?”

“I believe,” Apollo said, “that we just heard the next Great Prophecy.”

“What does it mean?” I demanded.

Rachel frowned. “I don’t even remember what I said.”

“No,” Apollo mused. “The spirit will only speak through you occasionally. The rest of the time, our Rachel will be much as she’s always been. There’s no point in grilling her, even if she has just issued the next big prediction for the future of the world.”

“What?” I said. “But—”

“Percy,” Apollo said, “I wouldn’t worry too much. The last Great Prophecy about you took almost seventy years to complete. This one may not even happen in your lifetime.”

I thought about the lines Rachel had spoken in that creepy voice: about storm and fire and the Doors of Death. “Maybe,” I said, “but it didn’t sound so good.”

“No,” said Apollo cheerfully. “It certainly didn’t. She’s going to make a wonderful Oracle!”

It was hard to drop the subject, but Apollo insisted that Rachel needed to rest, and she did look pretty disoriented.

“I’m sorry, Percy,” she said. “Back on Olympus, I didn’t explain everything to you, but the calling frightened me. I didn’t think you’d understand.”

“I still don’t,” I admitted. “But I guess I’m happy for you.”

Rachel smiled. “Happy probably isn’t the right word. Seeing the future isn’t going to be easy, but it’s my destiny. I only hope my family . . .”

She didn’t finish her thought.

“Will you still go to Clarion Academy?” I asked.

“I made a promise to my father. I guess I’ll try to be a normal kid during the school year, but—”

“But right now you need sleep,” Apollo scolded. “Chiron, I don’t think the attic is the proper place for our new Oracle, do you?”

“No, indeed.” Chiron looked a lot better now that Apollo had worked some medical magic on him. “Rachel may use a guest room in the Big House for now, until we give the matter more thought.”

“I’m thinking a cave in the hills,” Apollo mused. “With torches and a big purple curtain over the entrance . . . really mysterious. But inside, a totally decked-out pad with a game room and one of those home theater systems.”

Chiron cleared his throat loudly.

“What?” Apollo demanded.

Rachel kissed me on the cheek. “Good-bye, Percy,” she whispered. “And I don’t have to see the future to tell you what to do now, do I?”

Her eyes seemed more piercing than before.

I blushed. “No.”

“Good,” she said. Then she turned and followed Apollo into the Big House.

The rest of the day was as strange as the beginning. Campers trickled in from New York by car, pegasus, and chariot. The wounded were cared for. The dead were given proper funeral rites at the campfire.

Silena’s shroud was hot pink, but embroidered with an electric spear. The Ares and Aphrodite cabins both claimed her as a hero, and lit the shroud together. No one mentioned the word spy. That secret burned to ashes as the designer perfume smoke drifted into the sky.

Even Ethan Nakamura was given a shroud—black silk with a logo of swords crossed under a set of scales. As his shroud went up in flames, I hoped Ethan knew he had made a difference in the end. He’d paid a lot more than an eye, but the minor gods would finally get the respect they deserved.

Dinner at the pavilion was low-key. The only highlight was Juniper the tree nymph, who screamed, “Grover!” and gave her boyfriend a flying tackle hug, making everybody cheer. They went down to the beach to take a moonlit walk, and I was happy for them, though the scene reminded me of Silena and Beckendorf, which made me sad.

Mrs. O’Leary romped around happily, eating everybody’s table scraps. Nico sat at the main table with Chiron and Mr. D, and nobody seemed to think this was out of place. Everybody was patting Nico on the back, complimenting him on his fighting. Even the Ares kids seemed to think he was pretty cool. Hey, show up with an army of undead warriors to save the day, and suddenly you’re everybody’s best friend.

Slowly, the dinner crowd trickled away. Some went to the campfire for a sing-along. Others went to bed. I sat at the Poseidon table by myself and watched the moonlight on Long Island Sound. I could see Grover and Juniper at the beach, holding hands and talking. It was peaceful.

“Hey.” Annabeth slid next to me on the bench. “Happy birthday.”

She was holding a huge misshapen cupcake with blue icing.

I stared at her. “What?”

“It’s August 18th,” she said. “Your birthday, right?”

I was stunned. It hadn’t even occurred to me, but she was right. I had turned sixteen this morning—the same morning I’d made the choice to give Luke the knife. The prophecy had come true right on schedule, and I hadn’t even thought about the fact that it was my birthday.

“Make a wish,” she said.

“Did you bake this yourself?” I asked.

“Tyson helped.”

“That explains why it looks like a chocolate brick,” I said. “With extra blue cement.”

Annabeth laughed.

I thought for a second, then blew out the candle.

We cut it in half and shared, eating with our fingers. Annabeth sat next to me, and we watched the ocean. Crickets and monsters were making noise in the woods, but otherwise it was quiet.

“You saved the world,” she said.

“We saved the world.”

“And Rachel is the new Oracle, which means she won’t be dating anybody.”

“You don’t sound disappointed,” I noticed.

Annabeth shrugged. “Oh, I don’t care.”

“Uh-huh.”

She raised an eyebrow. “You got something to say to me, Seaweed Brain?”

“You’d probably kick my butt.”

“You know I’d kick your butt.”

I brushed the cake off my hands. “When I was at the River Styx, turning invulnerable . . . Nico said I had to concentrate on one thing that kept me anchored to the world, that made me want to stay mortal.”

Annabeth kept her eyes on the horizon. “Yeah?”

“Then up on Olympus,” I said, “when they wanted to make me a god and stuff, I kept thinking—”

“Oh, you so wanted to.”

“Well, maybe a little. But I didn’t, because I thought—I didn’t want things to stay the same for eternity, because things could always get better. And I was thinking . . .” My throat felt really dry.

“Anyone in particular?” Annabeth asked, her voice soft.

I looked over and saw that she was trying not to smile.

“You’re laughing at me,” I complained.

“I am not!”

“You are so not making this easy.”

Then she laughed for real, and she put her hands around my neck. “I am never, ever going to make things easy for you, Seaweed Brain. Get used to it.”

When she kissed me, I had the feeling my brain was melting right through my body.

I could’ve stayed that way forever, except a voice behind us growled, “Well, it’s about time!”

Suddenly the pavilion was filled with torchlight and campers. Clarisse led the way as the eavesdroppers charged and hoisted us both onto their shoulders.

“Oh, come on!” I complained. “Is there no privacy?”

“The lovebirds need to cool off!” Clarisse said with glee.

“The canoe lake!” Connor Stoll shouted.

With a huge cheer, they carried us down the hill, but they kept us close enough to hold hands. Annabeth was laughing, and I couldn’t help laughing too, even though my face was completely red.

We held hands right up to the moment they dumped us in the water.

Afterward, I had the last laugh. I made an air bubble at the bottom of the lake. Our friends kept waiting for us to come up, but hey—when you’re the son of Poseidon, you don’t have to hurry.

And it was pretty much the best underwater kiss of all time.

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