The Lightning Thief – Chapter 9: I AM OFFERED A QUEST

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Chapter 9: I AM OFFERED A QUEST

The next morning, Chiron moved me to cabin three. 

  I didnt have to share with anybody. I had plenty of room for all my stuff: the Minotaurs horn, one set of spare clothes, and a toiletry bag. I got to sit at my own dinner table, pick all my own activities, call “lights out” whenever I felt like it, and not listen to anybody else. 

  And I was absolutely miserable. 

  Just when Id started to feel accepted, to feel I had a home in cabin eleven and I might be a normal kid—or as normal as you can be when youre a half-blood—Id been separated out as if I had some rare disease. 

  Nobody mentioned the hellhound, but I got the feeling they were all talking about it behind my back. The attack had scared everybody. It sent two messages: one, that I was the son of the Sea God; and two, monsters would stop at nothing to kill me. They could even invade a camp that had always been considered safe. 

  The other campers steered clear of me as much as possible. Cabin eleven was too nervous to have sword class with me after what Id done to the Ares folks in the woods, so my lessons with Luke became one-on-one. He pushed me harder than ever, and wasnt afraid to bruise me up in the process. 

  “Youre going to need all the training you can get,” he promised, as we were working with swords and flaming torches. “Now lets try that viper-beheading strike again. Fifty more repetitions. “

  Annabeth still taught me Greek in the mornings, but she seemed distracted. Every time I said something, she scowled at me, as if Id just poked her between the eyes. 

  After lessons, she would walk away muttering to herself: “Quest . . . Poseidon? . . . Dirty rotten . . . Got to make a plan . . . “

  Even Clarisse kept her distance, though her venomous looks made it clear she wanted to kill me for breaking her magic spear. I wished she would just yell or punch me or something. Id rather get into fights every day than be ignored. 

  I knew somebody at camp resented me, because one night I came into my cabin and found a mortal newspaper dropped inside the doorway, a copy of the New York Daily News, opened to the Metro page. The article took me almost an hour to read, because the angrier I got, the more the words floated around on the page. 

  BOY AND MOTHER STILL MISSING AFTER

  FREAK CAR ACCIDENT

  BY EILEEN SMYTHE

  Sally Jackson and son Percy are still missing one week after their mysterious disappearance. The familys badly burned 78 Camaro was discovered last Saturday on a north Long Island road with the roof ripped off and the front axle broken. The car had flipped and skidded for several hundred feet before exploding. 

Mother and son had gone for a weekend vacation to Montauk, but left hastily, under mysterious circumstances. Small traces of blood were found in the car and near the scene of the wreck, but there were no other signs of the missing Jacksons. Residents in the rural area reported seeing nothing unusual around the time of the accident. 

  Ms. Jacksons husband, Gabe Ugliano, claims that his stepson, Percy Jackson, is a troubled child who has been kicked out of numerous boarding schools and has expressed violent tendencies in the past. 

  Police would not say whether son Percy is a suspect in his mothers disappearance, but they have not ruled out foul play. Below are recent pictures of Sally Jackson and Percy. Police urge anyone with information to call the following toll-free crime-stoppers hotline. 

  The phone number was circled in black marker. 

  I wadded up the paper and threw it away, then flopped down in my bunk bed in the middle of my empty cabin. 

  “Lights out,” I told myself miserably. 

  That night, I had my worst dream yet. 

  I was running along the beach in a storm. This time, there was a city behind me. Not New York. The sprawl was different: buildings spread farther apart, palm trees and low hills in the distance. 

  About a hundred yards down the surf, two men were fighting. They looked like TV wrestlers, muscular, with beards and long hair. Both wore flowing Greek tunics, one trimmed in blue, the other in green. They grappled with each other, wrestled, kicked and head-butted, and every time they connected, lightning flashed, the sky grew darker, and the wind rose. 

  I had to stop them. I didnt know why. But the harder I ran, the more the wind blew me back, until I was running in place, my heels digging uselessly in the sand. 

  Over the roar of the storm, I could hear the blue-robed one yelling at the green-robed one, Give it back! Give it back! Like a kindergartner fighting over a toy. 

  The waves got bigger, crashing into the beach, spraying me with salt. 

  I yelled, Stop it! Stop fighting!

  The ground shook. Laughter came from somewhere under the earth, and a voice so deep and evil it turned my blood to ice. 

  Come down, little hero, the voice crooned. Come down!

  The sand split beneath me, opening up a crevice straight down to the center of the earth. My feet slipped, and darkness swallowed me. 

  I woke up, sure I was falling. 

  I was still in bed in cabin three. My body told me it was morning, but it was dark outside, and thunder rolled across the hills. A storm was brewing. I hadnt dreamed that. 

  I heard a clopping sound at the door, a hoof knocking on the threshold. 

  “Come in?”

  Grover trotted inside, looking worried. “Mr. D wants to see you. “

  “Why?”

  “He wants to kill. . . I mean, Id better let him tell you. “

  Nervously, I got dressed and followed, sure that I was in huge trouble. 

  For days, Id been half expecting a summons to the Big House. Now that I was declared a son of Poseidon, one of the Big Three gods who werent supposed to have kids, I figured it was a crime for me just to be alive. The other gods had probably been debating the best way to punish me for existing, and now Mr. D was ready to deliver their verdict. 

  Over Long Island Sound, the sky looked like ink soup coming to a boil. A hazy curtain of rain was coming in our direction. I asked Grover if we needed an umbrella. 

  “No,” he said. “It never rains here unless we want it to. “

  I pointed at the storm. “What the heck is that, then?”

  He glanced uneasily at the sky. “Itll pass around us. Bad weather always does. “

  I realized he was right. In the week Id been here, it had never even been overcast. The few rain clouds Id seen had skirted right around the edges of the valley. 

  But this storm . . . this one was huge. 

  At the volleyball pit, the kids from Apollos cabin were playing a morning game against the satyrs. Dionysuss twins were walking around in the strawberry fields, making the plants grow. Everybody was going about their normal business, but they looked tense. They kept their eyes on the storm. 

  Grover and I walked up to the front porch of the Big House. Dionysus sat at the pinochle table in his tiger-striped Hawaiian shirt with his Diet Coke, just as he had on my first day. Chiron sat across the table in his fake wheelchair. They were playing against invisible opponents–two sets of cards hovering in the air. 

  “Well, well,” Mr. D said without looking up. “Our little celebrity. “

  I waited. . . . . . . . . . 

  “Come closer,” Mr. D said. “And dont expect me to kowtow to you, mortal, just because old Barnacle-Beard is your father. “

  A net of lightning flashed across the clouds. Thunder shook the windows of the house. 

  “Blah, blah, blah,” Dionysus said. 

  Chiron feigned interest in his pinochle cards. Grover cowered by the railing, his hooves clopping back and forth. 

  “If I had my way,” Dionysus said, “I would cause your molecules to erupt in flames. Wed sweep up the ashes and be done with a lot of trouble. But Chiron seems to feel this would be against my mission at this cursed camp: to keep you little brats safe from harm. “

  “Spontaneous combustion is a form of harm, Mr. D,” Chiron put in. 

  “Nonsense,” Dionysus said. “Boy wouldnt feel a thing. Nevertheless, Ive agreed to restrain myself Im thinking of turning you into a dolphin instead, sending you back to your father. “

  “Mr. D—” Chiron warned. 

  “Oh, all right,” Dionysus relented. “Theres one more option. But its deadly foolishness. ” Dionysus rose, and the invisible players cards dropped to the table. “Im off to Olympus for the emergency meeting. If the boy is still here when I get back, Ill turn him into an Atlantic bottlenose. Do you understand? And Perseus Jackson, if youre at all smart, youll see thats a much more sensible choice than what Chiron feels you must do. “

  Dionysus picked up a playing card, twisted it, and it became a plastic rectangle. A credit card? No. A security pass. 

  He snapped his fingers. 

  The air seemed to fold and bend around him. He became a hologram, then a wind, then he was gone, leaving only the smell of fresh-pressed grapes lingering behind. 

  Chiron smiled at me, but he looked tired and strained. “Sit, Percy, please. And Grover. “

  We did. 

  Chiron laid his cards on the table, a winning hand he hadnt gotten to use. 

  “Tell me, Percy,” he said. “What did you make of the hellhound?”

  Just hearing the name made me shudder. 

  Chiron probably wanted me to say, Heck, it was nothing. I eat hellhounds for breakfast. But I didnt feel like lying. 

  “It scared me,” I said. “If you hadnt shot it, Id be dead. “

  “Youll meet worse, Percy. Far worse, before youre done. “

  “Done . . . with what?”

  “Your quest, of course. Will you accept it?”

  I glanced at Grover, who was crossing his fingers. 

  “Um, sir,” I said, “you havent told me what it is yet. “

  Chiron grimaced. “Well, thats the hard part, the details. “

  Thunder rumbled across the valley. The storm clouds had now reached the edge of the beach. As far as I could see, the sky and the sea were boiling together. 

  “Poseidon and Zeus,” I said. “Theyre fighting over something valuable . . . something that was stolen, arent they?”. 

  Chiron and Grover exchanged looks. 

  Chiron sat forward in his wheelchair. “How did you know that?”

  My face felt hot. I wished I hadnt opened my big mouth. “The weather since Christmas has been weird, like the sea and the sky are fighting. Then I talked to Annabeth, and shed overheard something about a theft. And . . . Ive also been having these dreams. “

  “I knew it,” Grover said. 

  “Hush, satyr,” Chiron ordered. 

  “But it is his quest!” Grovers eyes were bright with excitement. “It must be!”

  “Only the Oracle can determine. ” Chiron stroked his bristly beard. “Nevertheless, Percy, you are correct. Your father and Zeus are having their worst quarrel in centuries. They are fighting over something valuable that was stolen. To be precise: a lightning bolt. “

  I laughed nervously. “A what?”

  “Do not take this lightly,” Chiron warned. “Im not talking about some tinfoil-covered zigzag youd see in a second-grade play. Im talking about a two-foot-long cylinder of high-grade celestial bronze, capped on both ends with god-level explosives. “

  “Oh. “

  “Zeuss master bolt,” Chiron said, getting worked up now. “The symbol of his power, from which all other lightning bolts are patterned. The first weapon made by the Cyclopes for the war against the Titans, the bolt that sheered the top off Mount Etna and hurled Kronos from his throne; the master bolt, which packs enough power to make mortal hydrogen bombs look like firecrackers. “

  “And its missing?”

  “Stolen,” Chiron said. 

  “By who?”

  “By whom,” Chiron corrected. Once a teacher, always a teacher. “By you. “

  My mouth fell open. 

  “At least”—Chiron held up a hand—”thats what Zeus thinks. During the winter solstice, at the last council of the gods, Zeus and Poseidon had an argument. The usual nonsense: Mother Rhea always liked you best, Air disasters are more spectacular than sea disasters, et cetera. Afterward, Zeus realized his master bolt was missing, taken from the throne room under his very nose. He immediately blamed Poseidon. Now, a god cannot usurp another gods symbol of power directly—that is forbidden by the most ancient of divine laws. But Zeus believes your father convinced a human hero to take it. “

  “But I didnt—”

  “Patience and listen, child,” Chiron said. “Zeus has good reason to be suspicious. The forges of the Cyclopes are under the ocean, which gives Poseidon some influence over the makers of his brothers lightning. Zeus believes Poseidon has taken the master bolt, and is now secretly having the Cyclopes build an arsenal of illegal copies, which might be used to topple Zeus from his throne. The only thing Zeus wasnt sure about was which hero Poseidon used to steal the bolt. Now Poseidon has openly claimed you as his son. You were in New York over the winter holidays. You could easily have snuck into Olympus. Zeus believes he has found his thief. “

  “But Ive never even been to Olympus! Zeus is crazy!”

  Chiron and Grover glanced nervously at the sky. The clouds didnt seem to be parting around us, as Grover had promised. They were rolling straight over our valley, sealing us in like a coffin lid. 

  “Er, Percy . . . ?” Grover said. “We dont use the c-word to describe the Lord of the Sky. “

  “Perhaps paranoid,” Chiron suggested. “Then again, Poseidon has tried to unseat Zeus before. I believe that was question thirty-eight on your final exam. . . . ” He looked at me as if he actually expected me to remember question thirty-eight. 

  How could anyone accuse me of stealing a gods weapon? I couldnt even steal a slice of pizza from Gabes poker party without getting busted. Chiron was waiting for an answer. 

  “Something about a golden net?” I guessed. “Poseidon and Hera and a few other gods . . . they, like, trapped Zeus and wouldnt let him out until he promised to be a better ruler, right?”

  “Correct,” Chiron said. “And Zeus has never trusted Poseidon since. Of course, Poseidon denies stealing the master bolt. He took great offense at the accusation. The two have been arguing back and forth for months, threatening war. And now, youve come along—the proverbial last straw. “

“But Im just a kid!”

  “Percy,” Grover cut in, “if you were Zeus, and you already thought your brother was plotting to overthrow you, then your brother suddenly admitted he had broken the sacred oath he took after World War II, that hes fathered a new mortal hero who might be used as a weapon against you. . . . Wouldnt that put a twist in your toga?”

  “But I didnt do anything. Poseidon—my dad—he didnt really have this master bolt stolen, did he?”

  Chiron sighed. “Most thinking observers would agree that thievery is not Poseidons style. But the Sea God is too proud to try convincing Zeus of that. Zeus has demanded that Poseidon return the bolt by the summer solstice. Thats June twenty-first, ten days from now. Poseidon wants an apology for being called a thief by the same date. I hoped that diplomacy might prevail, that Hera or Demeter or Hestia would make the two brothers see sense. But your arrival has inflamed Zeuss temper. Now neither god will back down. Unless someone intervenes, unless the master bolt is found and returned to Zeus before the solstice, there will be war. And do you know what a full-fledged war would look like, Percy?”

  “Bad?” I guessed. 

  “Imagine the world in chaos. Nature at war with itself. Olympians forced to choose sides between Zeus and Poseidon. Destruction. Carnage. Millions dead. Western civilization turned into a battleground so big it will make the Trojan War look like a water-balloon fight. “

  “Bad,” I repeated. 

  “And you, Percy Jackson, would be the first to feel Zeuss wrath. “

  It started to rain. Volleyball players stopped their game and stared in stunned silence at the sky. 

  I had brought this storm to Half-Blood Hill. Zeus was punishing the whole camp because of me. I was furious. 

  “So I have to find the stupid bolt,” I said. “And return it to Zeus. “

  “What better peace offering,” Chiron said, “than to have the son of Poseidon return Zeuss property?”

  “If Poseidon doesnt have it, where is the thing?”

  “I believe I know. ” Chirons expression was grim. “Part of a prophecy I had years ago . . . well, some of the lines make sense to me, now. But before I can say more, you must officially take up the quest. You must seek the counsel of the Oracle. “

  “Why cant you tell me where the bolt is beforehand?”

  “Because if I did, you would be too afraid to accept the challenge. “

  I swallowed. “Good reason. “

  “You agree then?”

  I looked at Grover, who nodded encouragingly. 

  Easy for him. I was the one Zeus wanted to kill. 

  “All right,” I said. “Its better than being turned into a dolphin. “

  “Then its time you consulted the Oracle,” Chiron said. “Go upstairs, Percy Jackson, to the attic. When you come back down, assuming youre still sane, we will talk more. “

  Four flights up, the stairs ended under a green trapdoor. 

  I pulled the cord. The door swung down, and a wooden ladder clattered into place. 

  The warm air from above smelled like mildew and rotten wood and something else . . . a smell I remembered from biology class. Reptiles. The smell of snakes. 

  I held my breath and climbed. 

  The attic was filled with Greek hero junk: armor stands covered in cobwebs; once-bright shields pitted with rust; old leather steamer trunks plastered with stickers saying ITHAKA, CIRCES ISLE, and LAND OF THE AMAZONS. One long table was stacked with glass jars filled with pickled things—severed hairy claws, huge yellow eyes, various other parts of monsters. A dusty mounted trophy on the wall looked like a giant snakes head, but with horns and a full set of sharks teeth. The plaque read, HYDRA HEAD #1, WOODSTOCK, N. Y. , 1969. 

  By the window, sitting on a wooden tripod stool, was the most gruesome memento of all: a mummy. Not the wrapped-in-cloth kind, but a human female body shriveled to a husk. She wore a tie-dyed sundress, lots of beaded necklaces, and a headband over long black hair. The skin of her face was thin and leathery over her skull, and her eyes were glassy white slits, as if the real eyes had been replaced by marbles; shed been dead a long, long time. 

  Looking at her sent chills up my back. And that was before she sat up on her stool and opened her mouth. A green mist poured from the mummys mouth, coiling over the floor in thick tendrils, hissing like twenty thousand snakes. I stumbled over myself trying to get to the trapdoor, but it slammed shut. Inside my head, I heard a voice, slithering into one ear and coiling around my brain: I am the spirit of Delphi, speaker of the prophecies of Phoebus Apollo, slayer of the mighty Python. Approach, seeker, and ask. 

  I wanted to say, No thanks, wrong door, just looking for the bathroom. But I forced myself to take a deep breath. 

  The mummy wasnt alive. She was some kind of gruesome receptacle for something else, the power that was now swirling around me in the green mist. But its presence didnt feel evil, like my demonic math teacher Mrs. Dodds or the Minotaur. It felt more like the Three Fates Id seen knitting the yarn outside the highway fruit stand: ancient, powerful, and definitely not human. But not particularly interested in killing me, either. 

  I got up the courage to ask, “What is my destiny?”

  The mist swirled more thickly, collecting right in front of me and around the table with the pickled monster-part jars. Suddenly there were four men sitting around the table, playing cards. Their faces became clearer. It was Smelly Gabe and his buddies. 

  My fists clenched, though I knew this poker party couldnt be real. It was an illusion, made out of mist. 

  Gabe turned toward me and spoke in the rasping voice of the Oracle: You shall go west, and face the god who has turned. 

  His buddy on the right looked up and said in the same voice: You shall find what was stolen, and see it safely returned. 

  The guy on the left threw in two poker chips, then said: You shall be betrayed by one who calls you a friend. 

  Finally, Eddie, our building super, delivered the worst line of all: And you shall fail to save what matters most, in the end. 

  The figures began to dissolve. At first I was too stunned to say anything, but as the mist retreated, coiling into a huge green serpent and slithering back into the mouth of the mummy, I cried, “Wait! What do you mean? What friend? What will I fail to save?”

  The tail of the mist snake disappeared into the mummys mouth. She reclined back against the wall. Her mouth closed tight, as if it hadnt been open in a hundred years. The attic was silent again, abandoned, nothing but a room full of mementos. 

  I got the feeling that I could stand here until I had cobwebs, too, and I wouldnt learn anything else. 

  My audience with the Oracle was over. 

  “Well?” Chiron asked me. 

  I slumped into a chair at the pinochle table. “She said I would retrieve what was stolen. “

  Grover sat forward, chewing excitedly on the remains of a Diet Coke can. “Thats great!”

  “What did the Oracle say exactly?” Chiron pressed. “This is important. “

  My ears were still tingling from the reptilian voice. “She . . . she said I would go west and face a god who had turned. I would retrieve what was stolen and see it safely returned. “

  “I knew it,” Grover said. . . . . 

  Chiron didnt look satisfied. “Anything else?”

  I didnt want to tell him. 

  What friend would betray me? I didnt have that many. 

  And the last line—I would fail to save what mattered most. What kind of Oracle would send me on a quest and tell me, Oh, by the way, youll fail

  How could I confess that?

  “No,” I said. “Thats about it. “

  He studied my face. “Very well, Percy. But know this: the Oracles words often have double meanings. Dont dwell on them too much. The truth is not always clear until events come to pass. “

  I got the feeling he knew I was holding back something bad, and he was trying to make me feel better. 

  “Okay,” I said, anxious to change topics. “So where do I go? Whos this god in the west?”

  “Ah, think, Percy,” Chiron said. “If Zeus and Poseidon weaken each other in a war, who stands to gain?”

  “Somebody else who wants to take over?” I guessed. 

  “Yes, quite. Someone who harbors a grudge, who has been unhappy with his lot since the world was divided eons ago, whose kingdom would grow powerful with the deaths of millions. Someone who hates his brothers for forcing him into an oath to have no more children, an oath that both of them have now broken. “

  I thought about my dreams, the evil voice that had spoken from under the ground. “Hades. “

  Chiron nodded. “The Lord of the Dead is the only possibility. “

  A scrap of aluminum dribbled out of Grovers mouth. “Whoa, wait. Wh-what?”

  “A Fury came after Percy,” Chiron reminded him. “She watched the young man until she was sure of his identity, then tried to kill him. Furies obey only one lord: Hades. “

  “Yes, but—but Hades hates all heroes,” Grover protested. “Especially if he has found out Percy is a son of Poseidon. . . . “

  “A hellhound got into the forest,” Chiron continued. “Those can only be summoned from the Fields of Punishment, and it had to be summoned by someone within the camp. Hades must have a spy here. He must suspect Poseidon will try to use Percy to clear his name. Hades would very much like to kill this young half-blood before he can take on the quest. “

  “Great,” I muttered. “Thats two major gods who want to kill me. “

  “But a quest to . . . ” Grover swallowed. “I mean, couldnt the master bolt be in some place like Maine? Maines very nice this time of year. “

  “Hades sent a minion to steal the master bolt,” Chiron insisted. “He hid it in the Underworld, knowing full well that Zeus would blame Poseidon. I dont pretend to understand the Lord of the Deads motives perfectly, or why he chose this time to start a war, but one thing is certain. Percy must go to the Underworld, find the master bolt, and reveal the truth. ” 

  A strange fire burned in my stomach. The weirdest thing was: it wasnt fear. It was anticipation. The desire for revenge. Hades had tried to kill me three times so far, with the Fury, the Minotaur, and the hellhound. It was his fault my mother had disappeared in a flash of light. Now he was trying to frame me and my dad for a theft we hadnt committed. 

  I was ready to take him on. 

  Besides, if my mother was in the Underworld . . . 

  Whoa, boy, said the small part of my brain that was still sane. Youre a kid. Hades is a god. 

  Grover was trembling. Hed started eating pinochle cards like potato chips. 

  The poor guy needed to complete a quest with me so he could get his searchers license, whatever that was, but how could I ask him to do this quest, especially when the Oracle said I was destined to fail? This was suicide. 

  “Look, if we know its Hades,” I told Chiron, “why cant we just tell the other gods? Zeus or Poseidon could go down to the Underworld and bust some heads. “

  “Suspecting and knowing are not the same,” Chiron said. “Besides, even if the other gods suspect Hades—and I imagine Poseidon does—they couldnt retrieve the bolt themselves. Gods cannot cross each others territories except by invitation. That is another ancient rule. Heroes, on the other hand, have certain privileges. They can go anywhere, challenge anyone, as long as theyre bold enough and strong enough to do it. No god can be held responsible for a heros actions. Why do you think the gods always operate through humans?”

“Youre saying Im being used. “

  “Im saying its no accident Poseidon has claimed you now. Its a very risky gamble, but hes in a desperate situation. He needs you. “

  My dad needs me. 

  Emotions rolled around inside me like bits of glass in a kaleidoscope. I didnt know whether to feel resentful or grateful or happy or angry. Poseidon had ignored me for twelve years. Now suddenly he needed me. 

  I looked at Chiron. “Youve known I was Poseidons son all along, havent you?”

  “I had my suspicions. As I said . . . Ive spoken to the Oracle, too. “

  I got the feeling there was a lot he wasnt telling me about his prophecy, but I decided I couldnt worry about that right now. After all, I was holding back information too. 

  “So let me get this straight,” I said. “Im supposed go to the Underworld and confront the Lord of the Dead. “

  “Check,” Chiron said. 

  “Find the most powerful weapon in the universe. “

  “Check. “

  “And get it back to Olympus before the summer solstice, in ten days. “

  “Thats about right. “

  I looked at Grover, who gulped down the ace of hearts. 

  “Did I mention that Maine is very nice this time of year?” he asked weakly. 

  “You dont have to go,” I told him. “I cant ask that of you. 

  “Oh . . . ” He shifted his hooves. “No . . . its just that satyrs and underground places . . . well. . . ” 

  He took a deep breath, then stood, brushing the shredded cards and aluminum bits off his T-shirt. “You saved my life, Percy. If . . . if youre serious about wanting me along, I wont let you down. “

  I felt so relieved I wanted to cry, though I didnt think that would be very heroic. Grover was the only friend Id ever had for longer than a few months. I wasnt sure what good a satyr could do against the forces of the dead, but I felt better knowing hed be with me. 

  “All the way, G-man. ” I turned to Chiron. “So where do we go? The Oracle just said to go west. “

  “The entrance to the Underworld is always in the west. It moves from age to age, just like Olympus. Right now, of course, its in America. “

  “Where?”

  Chiron looked surprised. “I thought that would be obvious enough. The entrance to the Underworld is in Los Angeles. “

  “Oh,” I said. “Naturally. So we just get on a plane—”

  “No!” Grover shrieked. “Percy, what are you thinking? Have you ever been on a plane in your life?”

  I shook my head, feeling embarrassed. My mom had never taken me anywhere by plane. Shed always said we didnt have the money. Besides, her parents had died in a plane crash. 

  “Percy, think,” Chiron said. “You are the son of the Sea God. Your fathers bitterest rival is Zeus, Lord of the Sky. Your mother knew better than to trust you in an airplane. You would be in Zeuss domain. You would never come down again alive. “

  Overhead, lightning crackled. Thunder boomed. 

  “Okay,” I said, determined not to look at the storm. “So, Ill travel overland. “

  “Thats right,” Chiron said. “Two companions may accompany you. Grover is one. The other has already volunteered, if you will accept her help. “

  “Gee,” I said, feigning surprise. “Who else would be stupid enough to volunteer for a quest like this?”

  The air shimmered behind Chiron. 

  Annabeth became visible, stuffing her Yankees cap into her back pocket. 

  “Ive been waiting a long time for a quest, seaweed brain,” she said. “Athena is no fan of Poseidon, but if youre going to save the world, Im the best person to keep you from messing up. “

  “If you do say so yourself,” I said. “I suppose you have a plan, wise girl?”

  Her cheeks colored. “Do you want my help or not?”

  The truth was, I did. I needed all the help I could get. 

  “A trio,” I said. “Thatll work. “

  “Excellent,” Chiron said. “This afternoon, we can take you as far as the bus terminal in Manhattan. After that, you are on your own. “

  Lightning flashed. Rain poured down on the meadows that were never supposed to have violent weather. 

  “No time to waste,” Chiron said. “I think you should all get packing. ”

“Youre saying Im being used. “

  “Im saying its no accident Poseidon has claimed you now. Its a very risky gamble, but hes in a desperate situation. He needs you. “

  My dad needs me. 

  Emotions rolled around inside me like bits of glass in a kaleidoscope. I didnt know whether to feel resentful or grateful or happy or angry. Poseidon had ignored me for twelve years. Now suddenly he needed me. 

  I looked at Chiron. “Youve known I was Poseidons son all along, havent you?”

  “I had my suspicions. As I said . . . Ive spoken to the Oracle, too. “

  I got the feeling there was a lot he wasnt telling me about his prophecy, but I decided I couldnt worry about that right now. After all, I was holding back information too. 

  “So let me get this straight,” I said. “Im supposed go to the Underworld and confront the Lord of the Dead. “

  “Check,” Chiron said. 

  “Find the most powerful weapon in the universe. “

  “Check. “

  “And get it back to Olympus before the summer solstice, in ten days. “

  “Thats about right. “

  I looked at Grover, who gulped down the ace of hearts. 

  “Did I mention that Maine is very nice this time of year?” he asked weakly. 

  “You dont have to go,” I told him. “I cant ask that of you. 

  “Oh . . . ” He shifted his hooves. “No . . . its just that satyrs and underground places . . . well. . . ” 

  He took a deep breath, then stood, brushing the shredded cards and aluminum bits off his T-shirt. “You saved my life, Percy. If . . . if youre serious about wanting me along, I wont let you down. “

  I felt so relieved I wanted to cry, though I didnt think that would be very heroic. Grover was the only friend Id ever had for longer than a few months. I wasnt sure what good a satyr could do against the forces of the dead, but I felt better knowing hed be with me. 

  “All the way, G-man. ” I turned to Chiron. “So where do we go? The Oracle just said to go west. “

  “The entrance to the Underworld is always in the west. It moves from age to age, just like Olympus. Right now, of course, its in America. “

  “Where?”

  Chiron looked surprised. “I thought that would be obvious enough. The entrance to the Underworld is in Los Angeles. “

  “Oh,” I said. “Naturally. So we just get on a plane—”

  “No!” Grover shrieked. “Percy, what are you thinking? Have you ever been on a plane in your life?”

  I shook my head, feeling embarrassed. My mom had never taken me anywhere by plane. Shed always said we didnt have the money. Besides, her parents had died in a plane crash. 

  “Percy, think,” Chiron said. “You are the son of the Sea God. Your fathers bitterest rival is Zeus, Lord of the Sky. Your mother knew better than to trust you in an airplane. You would be in Zeuss domain. You would never come down again alive. “

  Overhead, lightning crackled. Thunder boomed. 

  “Okay,” I said, determined not to look at the storm. “So, Ill travel overland. “

  “Thats right,” Chiron said. “Two companions may accompany you. Grover is one. The other has already volunteered, if you will accept her help. “

  “Gee,” I said, feigning surprise. “Who else would be stupid enough to volunteer for a quest like this?”

  The air shimmered behind Chiron. 

  Annabeth became visible, stuffing her Yankees cap into her back pocket. 

  “Ive been waiting a long time for a quest, seaweed brain,” she said. “Athena is no fan of Poseidon, but if youre going to save the world, Im the best person to keep you from messing up. “

  “If you do say so yourself,” I said. “I suppose you have a plan, wise girl?”

  Her cheeks colored. “Do you want my help or not?”

  The truth was, I did. I needed all the help I could get. 

  “A trio,” I said. “Thatll work. “

  “Excellent,” Chiron said. “This afternoon, we can take you as far as the bus terminal in Manhattan. After that, you are on your own. “

  Lightning flashed. Rain poured down on the meadows that were never supposed to have violent weather. 

  “No time to waste,” Chiron said. “I think you should all get packing. ”

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