The Last Olympian – Chapter 5: I DRIVE MY DOG INTO A TREE

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Chapter 5

I DRIVE MY DOG INTO

A TREE

Mrs. OLeary saw me before I saw her, which was a pretty good trick considering shes the size of a garbage truck. I walked into the arena, and a wall of darkness slammed into me. 

“WOOF!”

  The next thing I knew I was flat on the ground with a huge paw on my chest and an oversize Brillo-pad tongue licking my face. 

  “Ow!” I said. “Hey, girl. Good to see you too. Ow!”

  It took a few minutes for Mrs. OLeary to calm down and get off me. By then I was pretty much drenched in dog drool. She wanted to play fetch, so I picked up a bronze shield and tossed it across the arena. 

  By the way, Mrs. OLeary is the worlds only friendly hellhound. I kind of inherited her when her previous owner died. She lived at camp, but Beckendorf . . . well, Beckendorf used to take care of her whenever I was gone. He had smelted Mrs. OLearys favorite bronze chewing bone. Hed forged her collar with the little smiley face and a crossbones name tag. Next to me, Beckendorf had been her best friend. 

  Thinking about that made me sad all over again, but I threw the shield a few more times because Mrs. OLeary insisted. 

  Soon she started barking—a sound slightly louder than an artillery gun—like she needed to go for a walk. The other campers didnt think it was funny when she went to the bathroom in the arena. It had caused more than one unfortunate slip-and-slide accident. So I opened the gates of the arena, and she bounded straight toward the woods. 

  I jogged after her, not too concerned that she was getting ahead. Nothing in the woods could threaten Mrs. OLeary. Even the dragons and giant scorpions ran away when she came close. 

  When I finally tracked her down, she wasnt using the facilities. She was in a familiar clearing where the Council of Cloven Elders had once put Grover on trial. The place didnt look so good. The grass had turned yellow. The three topiary thrones had lost all their leaves. But thats not what surprised me. In the middle of the glade stood the weirdest trio Id ever seen: Juniper the tree nymph, Nico di Angelo, and a very old, very fat satyr. 

  Nico was the only one who didnt seem freaked out by Mrs. OLearys appearance. He looked pretty much like Id seen him in my dream—an aviators jacket, black jeans, and a T-shirt with dancing skeletons on it, like one of those Day of the Dead pictures. His Stygian iron sword hung at his side. He was only twelve, but he looked much older and sadder. 

  He nodded when he saw me, then went back to scratching Mrs. OLearys ears. She sniffed his legs like he was the most interesting thing since rib-eye steaks. Being the son of Hades, hed probably been traveling in all sorts of hellhound-friendly places. 

  The old satyr didnt look nearly so happy. “Will someone—what is this underworld creature doing in my forest!” He waved his arms and trotted on his hooves as if the grass were hot. “You there, Percy Jackson! Is this your beast?”

  “Sorry, Leneus,” I said. “Thats your name, right?”

  The satyr rolled his eyes. His fur was dust-bunny gray, and a spiderweb grew between his horns. His belly wouldve made him an invincible bumper car. “Well, of course Im Leneus. Dont tell me youve forgotten a member of the Council so quickly. Now, call off your beast!”

  “WOOF!” Mrs. OLeary said happily. 

  The old satyr gulped. “Make it go away! Juniper, I will not help you under these circumstances!”

  Juniper turned toward me. She was pretty in a dryad-y way, with her purple gossamer dress and her elfish face, but her eyes were green-tinted with chlorophyll from crying. 

  “Percy,” she sniffled. “I was just asking about Grover. I know somethings happened. He wouldnt stay gone this long if he wasnt in trouble. I was hoping that Leneus—”

  “I told you!” the satyr protested. “You are better off without that traitor. “

  Juniper stamped her foot. “He is not a traitor! Hes the bravest satyr ever, and I want to know where he is!”

  “WOOF!”

  Leneuss knees started knocking. “I . . . I wont answer questions with this hellhound sniffing my tail!”

  Nico looked like he was trying to not crack up. “Ill walk the dog,” he volunteered. 

  He whistled, and Mrs. OLeary bounded after him to the far end of the grove. 

  Leneus huffed indignantly and brushed the twigs off his shirt. “Now, as I was trying to explain, young lady, your boyfriend has not sent any reports since we voted him into exile. “

  “You tried to vote him into exile,” I corrected. “Chiron and Dionysus stopped you. “

  “Bah! They are honorary Council members. It wasnt a proper vote. “

  “Ill tell Dionysus you said that. “

  Leneus paled. “I only meant . . . Now see here, Jackson. This is none of your business. “

  “Grovers my friend,” I said. “He wasnt lying to you about Pans death. I saw it myself. You were just too scared to accept the truth. “

  Leneuss lips quivered. “No! Grovers a liar and good riddance. Were better off without him. “

  I pointed at the withered thrones. “If things are going so well, where are your friends? Looks like your Council hasnt been meeting lately. “

  “Maron and Silenus . . . I . . . Im sure theyll be back,” he said, but I could hear the panic in his voice. “Theyre just taking some time off to think. Its been a very unsettling year. 

  “Its going to get a lot more unsettling,” I promised. “Leneus, we need Grover. Theres got to be a way you can find him with your magic. “

  The old satyrs eye twitched. “Im telling you, Ive heard nothing. Perhaps hes dead. “

  Juniper choked back a sob. 

  “Hes not dead,” I said. “I can feel that much. “

  “Empathy links,” Leneus said disdainfully. “Very unreliable. “

  “So ask around,” I insisted. “Find him. Theres a war coming. Grover was preparing the nature spirits. “

  “Without my permission! And its not our war. “

  I grabbed him by the shirt, which seriously wasnt like me, but the stupid old goat was making me mad. “Listen, Leneus. When Kronos attacks, hes going to have packs of hellhounds. Hes going to destroy everything in his path—mortals, gods, demigods. Do you think hell let the satyrs go free? Youre supposed to be a leader. So LEAD. Get out there and see whats happening. Find Grover and bring Juniper some news. Now, GO!”

  I didnt push him very hard, but he was kind of top-heavy. He fell on his furry rump, then scrambled to his hooves and ran away with his belly jiggling. “Grover will never be accepted! He will die an outcast!”

  When hed disappeared into the bushes, Juniper wiped her eyes. “Im sorry, Percy. I didnt mean to get you involved. Leneus is still a lord of the Wild. You dont want to make an enemy of him. “

  “No problem,” I said. “Ive got worse enemies than overweight satyrs. “

  Nico walked back to us. “Good job, Percy. Judging from the trail of goat pellets, Id say you shook him up pretty well. “

  I was afraid I knew why Nico was here, but I tried for a smile. “Welcome back. Did you come by just to see Juniper?”

  He blushed. “Um, no. That was an accident. I kind of . . . dropped into the middle of their conversation. “

  “He scared us to death!” Juniper said. “Right out of the shadows. But, Nico, you are the son of Hades and all. Are you sure you havent heard anything about Grover?”

  Nico shifted his weight. “Juniper, like I tried to tell you . . . even if Grover died, he would reincarnate into something else in nature. I cant sense things like that, only mortal souls. “

  “But if you do hear anything?” she pleaded, putting her hand on his arm. “Anything at all?”

  Nicos cheeks got even brighter red. “Uh, you bet. Ill keep my ears open. “

  “Well find him, Juniper,” I promised. “Grovers alive, Im sure. There must be a simple reason why he hasnt contacted us. “

  She nodded glumly. “I hate not being able to leave the forest. He could be anywhere, and Im stuck here waiting. Oh, if that silly goat has gotten himself hurt—”

  Mrs. OLeary bounded back over and took an interest in Junipers dress. 

  Juniper yelped. “Oh, no you dont! I know about dogs and trees. Im gone!”

  She went poof into green mist. Mrs. OLeary looked disappointed, but she lumbered off to find another target, leaving Nico and me alone. 

  Nico tapped his sword on the ground. A tiny mound of animal bones erupted from the dirt. They knit themselves together into a skeletal field mouse and scampered off. “I was sorry to hear about Beckendorf. “

  A lump formed in my throat. “How did you—”

  “I talked to his ghost. “

  “Oh . . . right. ” Id never get used to the fact that this twelve-year-old kid spent more time talking with the dead than the living. “Did he say anything?”

  “He doesnt blame you. He figured youd be beating yourself up, and he said you shouldnt. “

  “Is he going to try for rebirth?”

  Nico shook his head. “Hes staying in Elysium. Said hes waiting for someone. Not sure what he meant, but he seems okay with death. “

  It wasnt much comfort, but it was something. 

  “I had a vision you were on Mount Tarn,” I told Nico. “Was that—”

  “Real,” he said. “I didnt mean to be spying on the Titans, but I was in the neighborhood. “

  “Doing what?”

  Nico tugged at his sword belt. “Following a lead on . . . you know, my family. “

  I nodded. I knew his past was a painful subject. Until two years ago, he and his sister Bianca had been frozen in time at a place called the Lotus Hotel and Casino. Theyd been there for like seventy years. Eventually a mysterious lawyer rescued them and checked them into a boarding school, but Nico had no memories of his life before the casino. He didnt know anything about his mother. He didnt know who the lawyer was, or why theyd been frozen in time or allowed to go free. After Bianca died and left Nico alone, hed been obsessed with finding answers. 

  “So how did it go?” I asked. “Any luck?”

  “No,” he murmured. “But I may have a new lead soon. “

  “Whats the lead?”

  Nico chewed his lip. “Thats not important right now. You know why Im here. “

  A feeling of dread started to build in my chest. Ever since Nico first proposed his plan for beating Kronos last summer, Id had nightmares about it. He would show up occasionally and press me for an answer, but I kept putting him off. 

  “Nico, I dont know,” I said. “It seems pretty extreme. “

  “Youve got Typhon coming in, what . . . a week? Most of the other Titans are unleashed now and on Kronoss side. Maybe its time to think extreme. “

  I looked back toward the camp. Even from this distance I could hear the Ares and Apollo campers fighting again, yelling curses and spouting bad poetry. 

  “Theyre no match for the Titan army,” Nico said. “You know that. This comes down to you and Luke. And theres only one way you can beat Luke. “

  I remembered the fight on the Princess Andromeda. Id been hopelessly outmatched. Kronos had almost killed me with a single cut to my arm, and I couldnt even wound him. Riptide had glanced right off his skin. 

  “We can give you the same power,” Nico urged. “You heard the Great Prophecy. Unless you want to have your soul reaped by a cursed blade . . . “

  I wondered how Nico had heard the prophecy— probably from some ghost. 

“You cant prevent a prophecy,” I said. 

  “But you can fight it. ” Nico had a strange, hungry light in his eyes. “You can become invincible. “

  “Maybe we should wait. Try to fight without—”

  “No!” Nico snarled. “It has to be now!”

  I stared at him. I hadnt seen his temper flare like that in a long time. “Urn, you sure youre okay?”

  He took a deep breath. “Percy, all I mean . . . when the fighting starts, we wont be able to make the journey. This is our last chance. Im sorry if Im being too pushy, but two years ago my sister gave her life to protect you. I want you to honor that. Do whatever it takes to stay alive and defeat Kronos. “

  I didnt like the idea. Then I thought about Annabeth calling me a coward, and I got angry. 

  Nico had a point. If Kronos attacked New York, the campers would be no match for his forces. I had to do something. Nicos way was dangerous—maybe even deadly. But it might give me a fighting edge. 

  “All right,” I decided. “What do we do first?”

  His cold creepy smile made me sorry Id agreed. “First well need to retrace Lukes steps. We need to know more about his past, his childhood. “

  I shuddered, thinking about Rachels picture from my dream—a smiling nine-year-old Luke. “Why do we need to know about that?”

  “Ill explain when we get there,” Nico said. “Ive already tracked down his mother. She lives in Connecticut. “

  I stared at him. Id never thought much about Lukes mortal parent. Id met his dad, Hermes, but his mom . . . 

  “Luke ran away when he was really young,” I said. “I didnt think his mom was alive. “

  “Oh, shes alive. ” The way he said it made me wonder what was wrong with her. What kind of horrible person could she be?

  “Okay . . . ” I said. “So how do we get to Connecticut? I can call Blackjack—”

  “No. ” Nico scowled. “Pegasi dont like me, and the feeling is mutual. But theres no need for flying. ” He whistled, and Mrs. OLeary came loping out of the woods. 

  “Your friend here can help. ” Nico patted her head. “You havent tried shadow travel yet?”

  “Shadow travel?”

  Nico whispered in Mrs. OLearys ear. She tilted her head, suddenly alert. 

  “Hop on board,” Nico told me. 

  Id never considered riding a dog before, bur Mrs. OLeary was certainly big enough. I climbed onto her back and held her collar. 

  “This will make her very tired,” Nico warned, “so you cant do it often. And it works best at night. But all shadows are part of the same substance. There is only one darkness, and creatures of the Underworld can use it as a road, or a door. “

  “I dont understand,” I said. 

  “No,” Nico said. “It took me a long time to learn. But Mrs. OLeary knows. Tell her where to go. Tell her Westport, the home of May Castellan. “

  “Youre not coming?”

  “Dont worry,” he said. “Ill meet you there. “

  I was a little nervous, but I leaned down to Mrs. OLearys ear. “Okay, girl. Uh, can you take me to Westport, Connecticut? May Castellans place?”

  Mrs. OLeary sniffed the air. She looked into the gloom of the forest. Then she bounded forward, straight into an oak tree. 

  Just before we hit, we passed into shadows as cold as the dark side of the moon. 

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