The Lightning Thief – Chapter 20: I BATTLE MY JERK RELATIVE

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

Chapter 20: I BATTLE MY JERK RELATIVE

A Coast Guard boat picked us up, but they were too busy to keep us for long, or to wonder how three kids in street clothes had gotten out into the middle of the bay. There was a disaster to mop up. Their radios were jammed with distress calls. 

  They dropped us off at the Santa Monica Pier with towels around our shoulders and water bottles that said IM A JUNIOR COAST GUARD! and sped off to save more people. 

  Our clothes were sopping wet, even mine. When the Coast Guard boat had appeared, Id silently prayed they wouldnt pick me out of the water and find me perfectly dry, which mightve raised some eyebrows. So Id willed myself to get soaked. Sure enough, my usual waterproof magic had abandoned me. I was also barefoot, because Id given my shoes to Grover. Better the Coast Guard wonder why one of us was barefoot than wonder why one of us had hooves. 

  After reaching dry land, we stumbled down the beach, watching the city burn against a beautiful sunrise. I felt as if Id just come back from the dead—which I had. My backpack was heavy with Zeuss master bolt. My heart was even heavier from seeing my mother. 

  “I dont believe it,” Annabeth said. “We went all that way—”

  “It was a trick,” I said. “A strategy worthy of Athena. “

  “Hey,” she warned. 

  “You get it, dont you?”

  She dropped her eyes, her anger fading. “Yeah. I get it. “

  “Well, I dont!” Grover complained. “Would somebody—”

  “Percy . . . ” Annabeth said. “Im sorry about your mother. Im so sorry. . . . “

  I pretended not to hear her. If I talked about my mother, I was going to start crying like a little kid. 

  “The prophecy was right,” I said. “You shall go west and face the god who has turned. But it wasnt Hades. Hades didnt want war among the Big Three. Someone else pulled off the theft. Someone stole Zeuss master bolt, and Hadess helm, and framed me because Im Poseidons kid. Poseidon will get blamed by both sides. By sundown today, there will be a three-way war. And Ill have caused it. “

  Grover shook his head, mystified. “But who would be that sneaky? Who would want war that bad?”

  I stopped in my tracks, looking down the beach. “Gee, let me think. “

  There he was, waiting for us, in his black leather duster and his sunglasses, an aluminum baseball bat propped on his shoulder. His motorcycle rumbled beside him, its headlight turning the sand red. 

  “Hey, kid,” Ares said, seeming genuinely pleased to see me. “You were supposed to die. “

  “You tricked me,” I said. “You stole the helm and the master bolt. “

  Ares grinned. “Well, now, I didnt steal them personally. Gods taking each others symbols of power—thats a big no-no. But youre not the only hero in the world who can run errands. “

  “Who did you use? Clarisse? She was there at the winter solstice. “

  The idea seemed to amuse him. “Doesnt matter. The point is, kid, youre impeding the war effort. See, youve got to die in the Underworld. Then Old Seaweed will be mad at Hades for killing you. Corpse Breath will have Zeuss master bolt, so Zeusll be mad at him. And Hades is still looking for this . . . “

  From his pocket he took out a ski cap—the kind bank robbers wear—and placed it between the handlebars of his bike. Immediately, the cap transformed into an elaborate bronze war helmet. 

  “The helm of darkness,” Grover gasped. 

  “Exactly,” Ares said. “Now where was I? Oh yeah, Hades will be mad at both Zeus and Poseidon, because he doesnt know who took this. Pretty soon, we got a nice little three-way slugfest going. ” 

  “But theyre your family!” Annabeth protested. 

  Ares shrugged. “Best kind of war. Always the bloodiest. Nothing like watching your relatives fight, I always say. “

  “You gave me the backpack in Denver,” I said. “The master bolt was in there the whole time. “

  “Yes and no,” Ares said. “Its probably too complicated for your little mortal brain to follow, but the backpack is the master bolts sheath, just morphed a bit. The bolt is connected to it, sort of like that sword you got, kid. It always returns to your pocket, right?”

  I wasnt sure how Ares knew about that, but I guess a god of war had to make it his business to know about weapons. 

  “Anyway,” Ares continued, “I tinkered with the magic a bit, so the bolt would only return to the sheath once you reached the Underworld. You get close to Hades. . . . Bingo, you got mail. If you died along the way—no loss. I still had the weapon. “

  “But why not just keep the master bolt for yourself?” I said. “Why send it to Hades?”

  Ares got a twitch in his jaw. For a moment, it was almost as if he were listening to another voice, deep inside his head. “Why didnt I . . . yeah . . . with that kind of firepower . . . “

  He held the trance for one second . . . two seconds. . . . 

  I exchanged nervous looks with Annabeth. 

  Aress face cleared. “I didnt want the trouble. Better to have you caught redhanded, holding the thing. “

  “Youre lying,” I said. “Sending the bolt to the Underworld wasnt your idea, was it?”

  “Of course it was!” Smoke drifted up from his sunglasses, as if they were about to catch fire. 

  “You didnt order the theft,” I guessed. “Someone else sent a hero to steal the two items. Then, when Zeus sent you to hunt him down, you caught the thief. But you didnt turn him over to Zeus. Something convinced you to let him go. You kept the items until another hero could come along and complete the delivery. That thing in the pit is ordering you around. “

  “I am the god of war! I take orders from no one! I dont have dreams!”

  I hesitated. “Who said anything about dreams?”

  Ares looked agitated, but he tried to cover it with a smirk. 

  “Lets get back to the problem at hand, kid. Youre alive. I cant have you taking that bolt to Olympus. You just might get those hardheaded idiots to listen to you. So Ive got to kill you. Nothing personal. “

  He snapped his fingers. The sand exploded at his feet and out charged a wild boar, even larger and uglier than the one whose head hung above the door of cabin seven at CampHalf-Blood. The beast pawed the sand, glaring at me with beady eyes as it lowered its razor-sharp tusks and waited for the command to kill. 

  I stepped into the surf. “Fight me yourself, Ares. “

  He laughed, but I heard a little edge to his laughter . . . an uneasiness. “Youve only got one talent, kid, running away. You ran from the Chimera. You ran from the Underworld. You dont have what it takes. “

“Scared?”

  “In your adolescent dreams. ” But his sunglasses were starting to melt from the heat of his eyes. “No direct involvement. Sorry, kid. Youre not at my level. “

  Annabeth said, “Percy, run!”

  The giant boar charged. 

  But I was done running from monsters. Or Hades, or Ares, or anybody. 

  As the boar rushed me, I uncapped my pen and sidestepped. Riptide appeared in my hands. I slashed upward. The boars severed right tusk fell at my feet, while the disoriented animal charged into the sea. 

  I shouted, “Wave!”

  Immediately, a wave surged up from nowhere and engulfed the boar, wrapping around it like a blanket. The beast squealed once in terror. Then it was gone, swallowed by the sea. 

  I turned back to Ares. “Are you going to fight me now?” I asked. “Or are you going to hide behind another pet?”

  Aress face was purple with rage. “Watch it, kid. I could turn you into—”

  “A cockroach,” I said. “Or a tapeworm. Yeah, Im sure. Thatd save you from getting your godly hide whipped, wouldnt it?”

  Flames danced along the top of his glasses. “Oh, man, you are really asking to be smashed into a grease spot. “

  “If I lose, turn me into anything you want. Take the bolt. If I win, the helm and the bolt are mine and you have to go away. “

  Ares sneered. 

  He swung the baseball bat off his shoulder. “How would you like to get smashed: classic or modern?”

  I showed him my sword. 

  “Thats cool, dead boy,” he said. “Classic it is. ” The baseball bat changed into a huge, two-handed sword. The hilt was a large silver skull with a ruby in its mouth. 

  “Percy,” Annabeth said. “Dont do this. Hes a god. “

  “Hes a coward,” I told her. 

  She swallowed. “Wear this, at least. For luck. “

  She took off her necklace, with her five years worth of camp beads and the ring from her father, and tied it around my neck. 

  “Reconciliation,” she said. “Athena and Poseidon together. “

  My face felt a little warm, but I managed a smile. “Thanks. “

  “And take this,” Grover said. He handed me a flattened tin can that hed probably been saving in his pocket for a thousand miles. “The satyrs stand behind you. “

  “Grover . . . I dont know what to say. “

  He patted me on the shoulder. I stuffed the tin can in my back pocket. 

  “You all done saying good-bye?” Ares came toward me, his black leather duster trailing behind him, his sword glinting like fire in the sunrise. “Ive been fighting for eternity, kid. My strength is unlimited and I cannot die. What have you got?”

  A smaller ego, I thought, but I said nothing. I kept my feet in the surf, backing into the water up to my ankles. I thought back to what Annabeth had said at the Denver diner, so long ago: Ares has strength. Thats all he has. Even strength has to how to wisdom sometimes. 

  He cleaved downward at my head, but I wasnt there. 

  My body thought for me. The water seemed to push me into the air and I catapulted over him, slashing as I came down. But Ares was just as quick. He twisted, and the strike that shouldve caught him directly in the spine was deflected off the end of his sword hilt. 

  He grinned. “Not bad, not bad. “

  He slashed again and I was forced to jump onto dry land. I tried to sidestep, to get back to the water, but Ares seemed to know what I wanted. He outmaneuvered me, pressing so hard I had to put all my concentration on not getting sliced into pieces. I kept backing away from the surf. I couldnt find any openings to attack. His sword had a reach several feet longer than Anaklusmos. 

  Get in close, Luke had told me once, back in our sword class. When youve got the shorter blade, get in close. 

  I stepped inside with a thrust, but Ares was waiting for that. He knocked my blade out of my hands and kicked me in the chest. I went airborne—twenty, maybe thirty feet. I wouldve broken my back if I hadnt crashed into the soft sand of a dune. 

  “Percy!” Annabeth yelled. “Cops!”

  I was seeing double. My chest felt like it had just been hit with a battering ram, but I managed to get to my feet. 

  I couldnt look away from Ares for fear hed slice me in half, but out of the corner of my eye I saw red lights flashing on the shoreline boulevard. Car doors were slamming. 

  “There, officer!” somebody yelled. “See?”

  A gruff cop voice: “Looks like that kid on TV . . . what the heck . . . “

  “That guys armed,” another cop said. “Call for backup. “

  I rolled to one side as Aress blade slashed the sand. 

  I ran for my sword, scooped it up, and launched a swipe at Aress face, only to find my blade deflected again. 

  Ares seemed to know exactly what I was going to do the moment before I did it. 

  I stepped back toward the surf, forcing him to follow. 

  “Admit it, kid,” Ares said. “You got no hope. Im just toying with you. “

  My senses were working overtime. I now understood what Annabeth had said about ADHDkeeping you alive in battle. I was wide awake, noticing every little detail. 

  I could see where Ares was tensing. I could tell which way he would strike. At the same time, I was aware of Annabeth and Grover, thirty feet to my left. I saw a second cop car pulling up, siren wailing. Spectators, people who had been wandering the streets because of the earthquake, were starting to gather. Among the crowd, I thought I saw a few who were walking with the strange, trotting gait of disguised satyrs. There were shimmering forms of spirits, too, as if the dead had risen from Hades to watch the battle. I heard the flap of leathery wings circling somewhere above. 

  More sirens. 

  I stepped farther into the water, but Ares was fast. The tip of his blade ripped my sleeve and grazed my forearm. 

  A police voice on a megaphone said, “Drop the guns. Set them on the ground. Now!”

  Guns?

  I looked at Aress weapon, and it seemed to be flickering; sometimes it looked like a shotgun, sometimes a two-handed sword. I didnt know what the humans were seeing in my hands, but I was pretty sure it wouldnt make them like me. 

  Ares turned to glare at our spectators, which gave me a moment to breathe. There were five police cars now, and a line of officers crouching behind them, pistols trained on us. 

  “This is a private matter!” Ares bellowed. “Be gone. “

  He swept his hand, and a wall of red flame rolled across the patrol cars. The police barely had time to dive for cover before their vehicles exploded. The crowd behind them scattered, screaming. 

  Ares roared with laughter. “Now, little hero. Lets add you to the barbecue. “

  He slashed. I deflected his blade. I got close enough to strike, tried to fake him out with a feint, but my blow was knocked aside. The waves were hitting me in the back now. Ares was up to his thighs, wading in after me. 

  I felt the rhythm of the sea, the waves growing larger as the tide rolled in, and suddenly I had an idea. Little waves, I thought. And the water behind me seemed to recede. I was holding back the tide by force of will, but tension was building, like carbonation behind a cork. 

  Ares came toward, grinning confidently. I lowered my blade, as if I were too exhausted to go on. Wait for it, I told the sea. The pressure now was almost lifting me off my feet. Ares raised his sword. I released the tide and jumped, rocketing straight over Ares on a wave. 

  A six-foot wall of water smashed him full in the face, leaving him cursing and sputtering with a mouth full of seaweed. I landed behind him with a splash and feinted toward his head, as Id done before. He turned in time to raise his sword, but this time he was disoriented, he didnt anticipate the trick. I changed direction, lunged to the side, and stabbed Riptide straight down into the water, sending the point through the gods heel. 

  The roar that followed made Hadess earthquake look like a minor event. The very sea was blasted back from Ares, leaving a wet circle of sand fifty feet wide. 

  Ichor, the golden blood of the gods, flowed from a gash in the war gods boot. The expression on his face was beyond hatred. It was pain, shock, complete disbelief that hed been wounded. 

  He limped toward me, muttering ancient Greek curses. 

  Something stopped him. 

  It was as if a cloud covered the sun, but worse. Light faded. Sound and color drained away. A cold, heavy presence passed over the beach, slowing time, dropping the temperature to freezing, and making me feel like life was hopeless, fighting was useless. 

  The darkness lifted. 

  Ares looked stunned. 

  Police cars were burning behind us. The crowd of spectators had fled. Annabeth and Grover stood on the beach, in shock, watching the water flood back around Aress feet, his glowing golden ichor dissipating in the tide. 

  Ares lowered his sword. 

  “You have made an enemy, godling,” he told me. “You have sealed your fate. Every time you raise your blade in battle, every time you hope for success, you will feel my curse. Beware, Perseus Jackson. Beware. “

  His body began to glow. 

  Percy!” Annabeth shouted. “Dont watch!”

  I turned away as the god Ares revealed his true immortal form. I somehow knew that if I looked, I would disintegrate into ashes. 

  The light died. 

  I looked back. Ares was gone. The tide rolled out to reveal Hadess bronze helm of darkness. I picked it up and walked toward my friends. 

  But before I got there, I heard the flapping of leathery wings. Three evil-looking grandmothers with lace hats and fiery whips drifted down from the sky and landed in front of me. 

  The middle Fury, the one who had been Mrs. Dodds, stepped forward. Her fangs were bared, but for once she didnt look threatening. She looked more disappointed, as if shed been planning to have me for supper, but had decided I might give her indigestion. 

  “We saw the whole thing,” she hissed. “So . . . it truly was not you?”

  I tossed her the helmet, which she caught in surprise. 

  “Return that to Lord Hades,” I said. “Tell him the truth. Tell him to call off the war. “

  She hesitated, then ran a forked tongue over her green, leathery lips. “Live well, Percy Jackson. Become a true hero. Because if you do not, if you ever come into my clutches again . . . “

  She cackled, savoring the idea. Then she and her sisters rose on their bats wings, fluttered into the smoke-filled sky, and disappeared. 

  I joined Grover and Annabeth, who were staring at me in amazement. 

  “Percy . . . ” Grover said. “That was so incredibly . . . “

  “Terrifying,” said Annabeth. 

  “Cool!” Grover corrected. 

  I didnt feel terrified. I certainly didnt feel cool. I was tired and sore and completely drained of energy. 

  “Did you guys feel that. . . whatever it was?” I asked. 

  They both nodded uneasily. 

  “Mustve been the Furies overhead,” Grover said. 

  But I wasnt so sure. Something had stopped Ares from killing me, and whatever could do that was a lot stronger than the Furies. 

  I looked at Annabeth, and an understanding passed between us. I knew now what was in that pit, what had spoken from the entrance of Tartarus. 

  I reclaimed my backpack from Grover and looked inside. The master bolt was still there. Such a small thing to almost cause World War III. 

  “We have to get back to New York,” I said. “By tonight. ”

“Thats impossible,” Annabeth said, “unless we—”

  “Fly,” I agreed. 

  She stared at me. “Fly, like, in an airplane, which you were warned never to do lest Zeus strike you out of the sky, and carrying a weapon that has more destructive power than a nuclear bomb?”

  “Yeah,” I said. “Pretty much exactly like that. Come on. ”

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