The Last Olympian – Chapter 4: WE BURN A METAL SHROUD

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Chapter 4

WE BURN A METAL

SHROUD

I dreamed Rachel Elizabeth Dare was throwing darts at my picture. 

  She was standing in her room . . . Okay, back up. I have to explain that Rachel doesnt have a room. She has the top floor of her familys mansion, which is a renovated brownstone in Brooklyn. Her “room” is a huge loft with industrial lighting and floor-to-ceiling windows. Its about twice as big as my moms apartment. 

  Some alt rock was blaring from her paint-covered Bose docking system. As far as I could tell, Rachels only rule about music was that no two songs on her iPod could sound the same, and they all had to be strange. 

  She wore a kimono, and her hair was frizzy, like shed been sleeping. Her bed was messed up. Sheets hung over a bunch of artists easels. Dirty clothes and old energy bar wrappers were strewn around the floor, but when youve got a room that big, the mess doesnt look so bad. Out the windows you could see the entire nighttime skyline of Manhattan. 

  The picture she was attacking was a painting of me standing over the giant Antaeus. Rachel had painted it a couple of months ago. My expression in the picture was fierce—disturbing, even—so it was hard to tell if I was the good guy or the bad guy, but Rachel said Id looked just like that after the battle. 

  “Demigods,” Rachel muttered as she threw another dart at the canvas. “And their stupid quests. “

  Most of the darts bounced off, but a few stuck. One hung off my chin like a goatee. 

  Someone pounded on her bedroom door. 

  “Rachel!” a man shouted. “What in the world are you doing? Turn off that—”

  Rachel scooped up her remote control and shut off the music. “Come in!”

  Her dad walked in, scowling and blinking from the light. He had rust-colored hair a little darker than Rachels. It was smushed on one side like hed lost a fight with his pillow. His blue silk pajamas had “WD” monogrammed on the pocket. Seriously, who has monogrammed pajamas?

  “What is going on?” he demanded. “Its three in the morning. “

  “Couldnt sleep,” Rachel said. 

  On the painting, a dart fell off my face. Rachel hid the rest behind her back, but Mr. Dare noticed. 

  “So . . . I take it your friend isnt coming to St. Thomas?” Thats what Mr. Dare called me. Never Percy. Just your friend. Or young man if he was talking to me, which he rarely did. 

  Rachel knit her eyebrows. “I dont know. “

  “We leave in the morning,” her dad said. “If he hasnt made up his mind yet—”

  “Hes probably not coming,” Rachel said miserably. “Happy?”

  Mr. Dare put his hands behind his back. He paced the room with a stern expression. I imagined he did that in the boardroom of his land development company and made his employees nervous. 

  “Are you still having bad dreams?” he asked. “Headaches?”

  Rachel threw her darts on the floor. “I should never have told you about that. “

  “Im your father,” he said. “Im worried about you. “

  “Worried about the familys reputation,” Rachel muttered. 

  Her father didnt react—maybe because hed heard that comment before, or maybe because it was true. 

  “We could call Dr. Arkwright,” he suggested. “He helped you get through the death of your hamster. “

  “I was six then,” she said. “And no, Dad, I dont need a therapist. I just . . . ” She shook her head helplessly. 

  Her father stopped in front of the windows. He gazed at the New York skyline as if he owned it—which wasnt true. He only owned part of it. 

  “It will be good for you to get away,” he decided. “Youve had some unhealthy influences. “

  “Im not going to Clarion Ladies Academy,” Rachel said. “And my friends are none of your business. “

  Mr. Dare smiled, but it wasnt a warm smile. It was more like, Someday youll realize how silly you sound. 

  “Try to get some sleep,” he urged. “Well be at the beach by tomorrow night. It will be fun. “

  “Fun,” Rachel repeated. “Lots of fun. “

  Her father exited the room. He left the door open behind him. 

  Rachel stared at the portrait of me. Then she walked to the easel next to it, which was covered in a sheet. 

  “I hope theyre dreams,” she said. 

  She uncovered the easel. On it was a hastily sketched charcoal, but Rachel was a good artist. The picture was definitely Luke as a young boy. He was about nine years old, with a wide grin and no scar on his face. I had no idea how Rachel couldve known what he looked like back then, but the portrait was so good I had a feeling she wasnt guessing. From what I knew about Lukes life (which wasnt much), the picture showed him just before hed found out he was a half-blood and had run away from home. 

  Rachel stared at the portrait. Then she uncovered the next easel. This picture was even more disturbing. It showed the Empire State Building with lightning all around it. In the distance a dark storm was brewing, with a huge hand coming out of the clouds. At the base of the building a crowd had gathered . . . but it wasnt a normal crowd of tourists and pedestrians. I saw spears, javelins, and banners—the trappings of an army. 

  “Percy,” Rachel muttered, as if she knew I was listening, “what is going on?”

  The dream faded, and the last thing I remember was wishing I could answer her question. 

  The next morning, I wanted to call her, but there were no phones at camp. Dionysus and Chiron didnt need a landline. They just called Olympus with an Iris-message whenever they needed something. And when demigods use cell phones, the signals agitate every monster within a hundred miles. Its like sending up a flare: Here I am! Please rearrange my face! Even within the safe borders of camp, thats not the kind of advertising we wanted to do. 

  Most demigods (except for Annabeth and a few others) dont even own cell phones. And I definitely couldnt tell Annabeth, “Hey, let me borrow your phone so I can call Rachel!” To make the call, I wouldve had to leave camp and walk several miles to the nearest convenience store. Even if Chiron let me go, by the time I got there, Rachel wouldve been on the plane to St. Thomas. 

  I ate a depressing breakfast by myself at the Poseidon table. I kept staring at the fissure in the marble floor where two years ago Nico had banished a bunch of bloodthirsty skeletons to the Underworld. The memory didnt exactly improve my appetite. 

  After breakfast, Annabeth and I walked down to inspect the cabins. Actually, it was Annabeths turn for inspection. My morning chore was to sort through reports for Chiron. But since we both hated our jobs, we decided to do them together so it wouldnt be so heinous. 

  We started at the Poseidon cabin, which was basically just me. Id made my bunk bed that morning (well, sort of) and straightened the Minotaur horn on the wall, so I gave myself a four out of five. 

  Annabeth made a face. “Youre being generous. ” She used the end of her pencil to pick up an old pair of running shorts. 

  I snatched them away. “Hey, give me a break. I dont have Tyson cleaning up after me this summer. “

  “Three out of five,” Annabeth said. I knew better than to argue, so we moved along. 

  I tried to skim through Chirons stack of reports as we walked. There were messages from demigods, nature spirits, and satyrs all around the country, writing about the latest monster activity. They were pretty depressing, and my ADHD brain did not like concentrating on depressing stuff. 

  Little battles were raging everywhere. Camp recruitment was down to zero. Satyrs were having trouble finding new demigods and bringing them to Half-Blood Hill because so many monsters were roaming the country. Our friend Thalia, who led the Hunters of Artemis, hadnt been heard from in months, and if Artemis knew what had happened to them, she wasnt sharing information. 

  We visited the Aphrodite cabin, which of course got a five out of five. The beds were perfectly made. The clothes in everyones footlockers were color coordinated. Fresh flowers bloomed on the windowsills. I wanted to dock a point because the whole place reeked of designer perfume, but Annabeth ignored me. 

  “Great job as usual, Silena,” Annabeth said. 

  Silena nodded listlessly. The wall behind her bed was decorated with pictures of Beckendorf. She sat on her bunk with a box of chocolates on her lap, and I remembered that her dad owned a chocolate store in the Village, which was how hed caught the attention of Aphrodite. 

  “You want a bonbon?” Silena asked. “My dad sent them. He thought—he thought they might cheer me up. “

  “Are they any good?” I asked. 

  She shook her head. “They taste like cardboard. “

  I didnt have anything against cardboard, so I tried one. Annabeth passed. We promised to see Silena later and kept going. 

  As we crossed the commons area, a fight broke out between the Ares and Apollo cabins. Some Apollo campers armed with firebombs flew over the Ares cabin in a chariot pulled by two pegasi. Id never seen the chariot before, but it looked like a pretty sweet ride. Soon, the roof of the Ares cabin was burning, and naiads from the canoe lake rushed over to blow water on it. 

  Then the Ares campers called down a curse, and all the Apollo kids arrows turned to rubber. The Apollo kids kept shooting at the Ares kids, but the arrows bounced off. 

  Two archers ran by, chased by an angry Ares kid who was yelling in poetry: “Curse me, eh? Ill make you pay! / I dont want to rhyme all day!”

  Annabeth sighed. “Not that again. Last time Apollo cursed a cabin, it took a week for the rhyming couplets to wear off. “

  I shuddered. Apollo was god of poetry as well as archery, and Id heard him recite in person. Id almost rather yet shot by an arrow. 

  “What are they fighting about anyway?” I asked. 

  Annabeth ignored me while she scribbled on her inspection scroll, giving both cabins a one out of five. 

  I found myself staring at her, which was stupid since Id seen her a billion times. She and I were about the same height this summer, which was a relief. Still, she seemed so much more mature. It was kind of intimidating. I mean, sure, shed always been cute, but she was starting to be seriously beautiful. 

  Finally she said, “That flying chariot. “

  “What?”

  “You asked what they were fighting about. “

  “Oh. Oh, right. “

  “They captured it in a raid in Philadelphia last week. Some of Lukes demigods were there with that flying chariot. The Apollo cabin seized it during the battle, but the Ares cabin led the raid. So theyve been fighting about who gets it ever since. “

  We ducked as Michael Yews chariot dive-bombed an Ares camper. The Ares camper tried to stab him and cuss him out in rhyming couplets. He was pretty creative about rhyming those cuss words. 

  “Were fighting for our lives,” I said, “and theyre bickering about some stupid chariot. ”

“Theyll get over it,” Annabeth said. “Clarisse will come to her senses. “

  I wasnt so sure. That didnt sound like the Clarisse I knew. 

  I scanned more reports and we inspected a few more cabins. Demeter got a four. Hephaestus got a three and probably shouldve gotten lower, but with Beckendorf being gone and all, we cut them some slack. Hermes got a two, which was no surprise. All campers who didnt know their godly parentage were shoved into the Hermes cabin, and since the gods were kind of forgetful, that cabin was always overcrowded. 

  Finally we got to Athenas cabin, which was orderly and clean as usual. Books were straightened on the shelves. The armor was polished. Battle maps and blueprints decorated the walls. Only Annabeths bunk was messy. It was covered in papers, and her silver laptop was still running. 

  “Vlacas,” Annabeth muttered, which was basically calling herself an idiot in Greek. 

  Her second-in-command, Malcolm, suppressed a smile. “Yeah, um . . . we cleaned everything else. Didnt know if it was safe to move your notes. “

  That was probably smart. Annabeth had a bronze knife that she reserved just for monsters and people who messed with her stuff. 

  Malcolm grinned at me. “Well wait outside while you finish inspection. ” The Athena campers filed out the door while Annabeth cleaned up her bunk. 

  I shuffled uneasily and pretended to go through some more reports. Technically, even on inspection, it was against camp rules for two campers to be . . . like, alone in a cabin. 

  That rule had come up a lot when Silena and Beckendorf started dating. And I know some of you might be thinking, Arent all demigods related on the godly side, and doesnt that make dating gross? But the thing is, the godly side of your family doesnt count, genetically speaking, since gods dont have DNA. A demigod would never think about dating someone who had the same godly parent. Like two kids from Athena cabin? No way. But a daughter of Aphrodite and a son of Hephaestus? Theyre not related. So its no problem. 

  Anyway, for some strange reason I was thinking about this as I watched Annabeth straighten up. She closed her laptop, which had been given to her as a gift from the inventor Daedalus last summer. 

  I cleared my throat. “So . . . get any good info from that thing?”

  “Too much,” she said. “Daedalus had so many ideas, I could spend fifty years just trying to figure them all out. “

  “Yeah,” I muttered. “That would be fun. “

  She shuffled her papers—mostly drawings of buildings and a bunch of handwritten notes. I knew she wanted to be an architect someday, but Id learned the hard way not to ask what she was working on. Shed start talking about angles and load-bearing joints until my eyes glazed over. 

  “You know . . . ” She brushed her hair behind her ear, like she does when shes nervous. “This whole thing with Beckendorf and Silena. It kind of makes you think. About . . . whats important. About losing people who are important. “

  I nodded. My brain started seizing on little random details, like the fact that she was still wearing those silver owl earrings from her dad, who was this brainiac military history professor in San Francisco. 

  “Urn, yeah,” I stammered. “Like . . . is everything cool with your family?”

  Okay, really stupid question, but hey, I was nervous. 

  Annabeth looked disappointed, but she nodded. 

  “My dad wanted to take me to Greece this summer,” she said wistfully. “Ive always wanted to see—”

  “The Parthenon,” I remembered. 

  She managed a smile. “Yeah. “

  “Thats okay. Therell be other summers, right?”

  As soon as I said it, I realized it was a boneheaded comment. I was facing the end of my days. Within a week, Olympus might fall. If the Age of the Gods really did end, the world as we knew it would dissolve into chaos. Demigods would be hunted to extinction. There would be no more summers for us. 

  Annabeth stared at her inspection scroll. “Three out five,” she muttered, “for a sloppy head counselor. Come on. Lets finish your reports and get back to Chiron. “

  On the way to the Big House, we read the last report, which was handwritten on a maple leaf from a satyr in Canada. If possible, the note made me feel even worse. 

  ” Dear Grover,” I read aloud. ” Woods outside Toronto attacked by giant evil badger. Tried to do as you suggested and summon power of Pan. No effect. Many naiads trees destroyed. Retreating to Ottawa. Please advise. Where are you? —Gleeson Hedge, protector. “

  Annabeth grimaced. “You havent heard anything from him? Even with your empathy link?”

  I shook my head dejectedly. 

  Ever since last summer when the god Pan had died, our friend Grover had been drifting farther and farther away. The Council of Cloven Elders treated him like an outcast, but Grover still traveled all over the East Coast, trying to spread the word about Pan and convince nature spirits to protect their own little bits of the wild. Hed only come back to camp a few times to see his girlfriend, Juniper. 

  Last Id heard he was in Central Park organizing the dryads, but nobody had seen or heard from him in two months. Wed tried to send Iris-messages. They never got through. I had an empathy link with Grover, so I hoped I would know if anything bad happened to him. Grover had told me one time that if he died, the empathy link might kill me too. But I wasnt sure if that was still true or not. 

  I wondered if he was still in Manhattan. Then I thought about my dream of Rachels sketch—dark clouds closing on the city, an army gathered around the Empire State Building. 

  “Annabeth. ” I stopped her by the tetherball court. I knew I was asking for trouble, but I didnt know who else to trust. Plus, Id always depended on Annabeth for advice. “Listen, I had this dream about, um, Rachel . . . “

  I told her the whole thing, even the weird picture of Luke as a child. 

  For a while she didnt say anything. Then she rolled up her inspection scroll so tight she ripped it. “What do you want me to say?”

  “Im not sure. Youre the best strategist I know. If you were Kronos planning this war, what would you do next?”

  “Id use Typhon as a distraction. Then Id hit Olympus directly, while the gods were in the West. “

  “Just like in Rachels picture. “

  “Percy,” she said, her voice tight, “Rachel is just a mortal. “

  “But what if her dream is true? Those other Titans—they said Olympus would be destroyed in a matter of days. They said they had plenty of other challenges. And whats with that picture of Luke as a kid—”

  “Well just have to be ready. “

  “How?” I said. “Look at our camp. We cant even stop fighting each other. And Im supposed to get my stupid soul reaped. “

  She threw down her scroll. “I knew we shouldnt have shown you the prophecy. ” Her voice was angry and hurt. “All it did was scare you. You run away from things when youre scared. “

  I stared at her, completely stunned. “Me? Run away?”

  She got right in my face. “Yes, you. Youre a coward, Percy Jackson!”

  We were nose to nose. Her eyes were red, and I suddenly realized that when she called me a coward, maybe she wasnt talking about the prophecy. 

  “If you dont like our chances,” she said, “maybe you should go on that vacation with Rachel. “

  “Annabeth—”

  “If you dont like our company. “

  “Thats not fair!”

  She pushed past me and stormed toward the strawberry fields. She hit the tetherball as she passed and sent it spinning angrily around the pole. 

  Id like to say my day got better from there. Of course it didnt. 

  That afternoon we had an assembly at the campfire to burn Beckendorfs burial shroud and say our good-byes. Even the Ares and Apollo cabins called a temporary truce to attend. 

  Beckendorfs shroud was made out of metal links, like chain mail. I didnt see how it would burn, but the Fates mustve been helping out. The metal melted in the fire and turned to golden smoke, which rose into the sky. The campfire flames always reflected the campers moods, and today they burned black. 

  I hoped Beckendorfs spirit would end up in Elysium. Maybe hed even choose to be reborn and try for Elysium in three different lifetimes so he could reach the Isles of the Blest, which was like the Underworlds ultimate party headquarters. If anyone deserved it, Beckendorf did. 

  Annabeth left without a word to me. Most of the other campers drifted off to their afternoon activities. I just stood there staring at the dying fire. Silena sat nearby crying, while Clarisse and her boyfriend, Chris Rodriguez, tried to comfort her. 

  Finally I got up the nerve to walk over. “Hey, Silena, Im really sorry. “

  She sniffled. Clarisse glared at me, but she always glares at everyone. Chris would barely look at me. Hed been one of Lukes men until Clarisse rescued him from the Labyrinth last summer, and I guess he still felt guilty about it. 

  I cleared my throat. “Silena, you know Beckendorf carried your picture. He looked at it right before we went into battle. You meant a lot to him. You made the last year the best of his life. “

  Silena sobbed. 

  “Good work, Percy,” Clarisse muttered. 

  “No, its all right,” Silena said. “Thank . . . thank you, Percy. I should go. “

  “You want company?” Clarisse asked. 

  Silena shook her head and ran off. 

  “Shes stronger than she looks,” Clarisse muttered, almost to herself. “Shell survive. “

  “You could help with that,” I suggested. “You could honor Beckendorfs memory by fighting with us. “

  Clarisse went for her knife, but it wasnt there anymore. Shed thrown it on the Ping-Pong table in the Big House. 

  “Not my problem,” she growled. “My cabin doesnt get honor, I dont fight. “

  I noticed she wasnt speaking in rhymes. Maybe she hadnt been around when her cabinmates got cursed, or maybe she had a way of breaking the spell. With a chill, I wondered if Clarisse could be Kronoss spy at camp. Was that why she was keeping her cabin out of the fight? But as much as I disliked Clarisse, spying for the Titans didnt seem like her style. 

  “All right,” I told her. “I didnt want to bring this up, but you owe me one. Youd be rotting in a Cyclopss cave in the Sea of Monsters if it wasnt for me. “

  She clenched her jaw. “Any other favor, Percy. Not this. The Ares cabin has been dissed too many times. And dont think I dont know what people say about me behind my back. “

  I wanted to say, Well, its true. But I bit my tongue. 

  “So, what—youre just going to let Kronos crush us?” I asked. 

  “If you want my help so bad, tell Apollo to give us the chariot. “

  “Youre such a big baby. “

  She charged me, but Chris got between us. “Whoa, guys,” he said. “Clarisse, you know, maybe hes got a point. “

  She sneered at him. “Not you too!” She trudged off with Chris at her heels. 

  “Hey, wait! I just meant—Clarisse, wait!”

  I watched the last sparks from Beckendorfs fire curl into the afternoon sky. Then I headed toward the sword-fighting arena. I needed a break, and I wanted to see an old friend. 

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