The Sea of Monsters – Chapter 6: Demon Pigeons Attack

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Chapter 6: Demon Pigeons Attack

The next few days were torture, just like Tantalus wanted. 

  First there was Tyson moving into the Poseidon cabin, giggling to himself every fifteen seconds and saying, “Percy is my brother?” like he’d just won the lottery. 

“Aw, Tyson,” I’d say. “It’s not that simple. ”

“Aw, Tyson,” I’d say. “It’s not that simple. ”

  But there was no explaining it to him. He was in heaven. And me … as much as I liked the big guy, I couldn’t help feeling embarrassed. Ashamed. There, I said it. 

  My father, the all-powerful Poseidon, had gotten moony-eyed for some nature spirit, and Tyson had been the result. I mean, I’d read the myths about Cyclopes. I even remembered that they were often Poseidon’s children. But I’d never really processed that this made them my … family. 

  Until I had Tyson living with me in the next bunk. 

  And then there were the comments from the other campers. Suddenly, I wasn’t Percy Jackson, the cool guy who’d retrieved Zeus’s lightning bolt last summer. Now I was Percy Jackson, the poor schmuck with the ugly monster for a brother. 

  “He’s not my real brother!” I protested whenever Tyson wasn’t around. “He’s more like a half-brother on the monstrous side of the family. Like … a half-brother twice removed, or something. ”

  Nobody bought it. 

  I admit—I was angry at my dad. I felt like being his son was now a joke. 

  Annabeth tried to make me feel better. She suggested we team up for the chariot race to take our minds off our problems. Don’t get me wrong—we both hated Tantalus and we were worried sick about camp—but we didn’t know what to do about it. Until we could come up with some brilliant plan to save Thalia’s tree, we figured we might as well go along with the races. After all, Annabeth’s mom, Athena, had invented the chariot, and my dad had created horses. Together we would own that track. 

  One morning Annabeth and I were sitting by the canoe lake sketching chariot designs when some jokers from Aphrodite’s cabin walked by and asked me if I needed to borrow some eyeliner for my eye … “Oh sorry, eyes. ”

  As they walked away laughing, Annabeth grumbled, “Just ignore them, Percy. It isn’t your fault you have a monster for a brother. ”

  “He’s not my brother!” I snapped. “And he’s not a monster, either!”

  Annabeth raised her eyebrows. “Hey, don’t get mad at me! And technically, he is a monster. ”

  “Well you gave him permission to enter the camp. ”

  “Because it was the only way to save your life! I mean … I’m sorry, Percy, I didn’t expect Poseidon to claim him. Cyclopes are the most deceitful, treacherous—”

  “He is not! What have you got against Cyclopes, any-way?

  Annabeth’s ears turned pink. I got the feeling there was something she wasn’t telling me—

  something bad. 

  “Just forget it,” she said. “Now, the axle for this chariot—”

  “You’re treating him like he’s this horrible thing,” I said. “He saved my life. ”

  Annabeth threw down her pencil and stood. “Then maybe you should design a chariot with him. ”

  “Maybe I should. ”

  “Fine!”

  “Fine!”

  She stormed off and left me feeling even worse than before. 

  The next couple of days, I tried to keep my mind off my problems. 

  Silena Beauregard, one of the nicer girls from Aphrodite’s cabin, gave me my first riding lesson on a pegasus. She explained that there was only one immortal winged horse named Pegasus, who still wandered free somewhere in the skies, but over the eons he’d sired a lot of children, none quite so fast or heroic, but all named after the first and greatest. 

  Being the son of the sea god, I never liked going into the air. My dad had this rivalry with Zeus, so I tried to stay out of the lord of the sky’s domain as much as possible. But riding a winged horse felt different. It didn’t make me nearly as nervous as being in an airplane. Maybe that was because my dad had created horses out of sea foam, so the pegasi were sort of … neutral territory. 

  I could understand their thoughts. I wasn’t surprised when my pegasus went galloping over the treetops or chased a flock of seagulls into a cloud. 

  The problem was that Tyson wanted to ride the “chicken ponies,” too, but the pegasi got skittish whenever he approached. I told them telepathically that Tyson wouldn’t hurt them, but they didn’t seem to believe me. That made Tyson cry. 

  The only person at camp who had no problem with Tyson was Beckendorf from the Hephaestus cabin. The blacksmith god had always worked with Cyclopes in his forges, so Beckendorf took Tyson down to the armory to teach him metalworking. He said he’d have Tyson crafting magic items like a master in no time. 

  After lunch, I worked out in the arena with Apollo’s cabin. Swordplay had always been my strength. People said I was better at it than any camper in the last hundred years, except maybe Luke. People always compared me to Luke. 

  I thrashed the Apollo guys easily. I should’ve been testing myself against the Ares and Athena cabins, since they had the best sword fighters, but I didn’t get along with Clarisse and her siblings, and after my argument with Annabeth, I just didn’t want to see her. 

  I went to archery class, even though I was terrible at it, and it wasn’t the same without Chiron teaching. In arts and crafts, I started a marble bust of Poseidon, but it started looking like Sylvester Stallone, so I ditched it. I scaled the climbing wall in full lava-and-earthquake mode. And in the evenings, I did border patrol. Even though Tantalus had insisted we forget trying to protect the camp, some of the campers had quietly kept it up, working out a schedule during our free times. 

  I sat at the top of Half-Blood Hill and watched the dryads come and go, singing to the dying pine tree. Satyrs brought their reed pipes and played nature magic songs, and for a while the pine needles seemed to get fuller. The flowers on the hill smelled a little sweeter and the grass looked greener. But as soon as the music stopped, the sickness crept back into the air. The whole hill seemed to be infected, dying from the poison that had sunk into the tree’s roots. The longer I sat there, the angrier I got. 

  Luke had done this. I remembered his sly smile, the dragon-claw scar across his face. He’d pretended to be my friend, and the whole time he’d been Kronos’s number-one servant. 

  I opened the palm of my hand. The scar Luke had given me last summer was fading, but I could still see it—a white asterisk-shaped wound where his pit scorpion had stung me. 

  I thought about what Luke had told me right before he’d tried to kill me: Good-bye, Percy. 

  There is a new Golden Age coming. You won’t be part of it. 

  At night, I had more dreams of Grover. Sometimes, I just heard snatches of his voice. Once, I heard him say: It’s here. Another time: He likes sheep. 

  I thought about telling Annabeth about my dreams, but I would’ve felt stupid. I mean, He likes sheep? She would’ve thought I was crazy. 

  The night before the race, Tyson and I finished our chariot. It was wicked cool. Tyson had made the metal parts in the armory’s forges. I’d sanded the wood and put the carriage together. It was blue and white, with wave designs on the sides and a trident painted on the front. After all that work, it seemed only fair that Tyson would ride shotgun with me, though I knew the horses wouldn’t like it, and Tyson’s extra weight would slow us down. 

  As we were turning in for bed, Tyson said, “You are mad?”

  I realized I’d been scowling. “Nah. I’m not mad. ”

  He lay down in his bunk and was quiet in the dark. His body was way too long for his bed. 

  When he pulled up the covers, his feet stuck out the bottom. “I am a monster. ”

  “Don’t say that. ”

  “It is okay. I will be a good monster. Then you will not have to be mad. ”

  I didn’t know what to say. I stared at the ceiling and felt like I was dying slowly, right along with Thalia’s tree. 

  “It’s just… I never had a half-brother before. ” I tried to keep my voice from cracking. “It’s really different for me. And I’m worried about the camp. And another friend of mine, Grover … he might be in trouble. I keep feeling like I should be doing something to help, but I don’t know what. ”

  Tyson said nothing. 

  “I’m sorry,” I told him. “It’s not your fault. I’m mad at Poseidon. I feel like he’s trying to embarrass me, like he’s trying to compare us or something, and I don’t understand why. ”

  I heard a deep rumbling sound. Tyson was snoring. 

  I sighed. “Good night, big guy. ”

  And I closed my eyes, too. 

  In my dream, Grover was wearing a wedding dress. 

  It didn’t fit him very well. The gown was too long and the hem was caked with dried mud. The neckline kept falling off his shoulders. A tattered veil covered his face. 

  He was standing in a dank cave, lit only by torches. There was a cot in one corner and an old-fashioned loom in the other, a length of white cloth half woven on the frame. And he was staring right at me, like I was a TV program he’d been waiting for. “Thank the gods!” he yelped. “Can you hear me?”

  My dream-self was slow to respond. I was still looking around, taking in the stalactite ceiling, the stench of sheep and goats, the growling and grumbling and bleating sounds that seemed to echo from behind a refrigerator-sized boulder, which was blocking the room’s only exit, as if there were a much larger cavern beyond it. 

  “Percy?” Grover said. “Please, I don’t have the strength to project any better. You have to hear me!”

  “I hear you,” I said. “Grover, what’s going on?”

  From behind the boulder, a monstrous voice yelled, “Honeypie! Are you done yet?”

  Grover flinched. He called out in falsetto, “Not quite, dearest! A few more days!”

  “Bah! Hasn’t it been two weeks yet?”

  “N-no, dearest. Just five days. That leaves twelve more to go. ”

  The monster was silent, maybe trying to do the math. He must’ve been worse at arithmetic than I was, because he said, “All right, but hurry! I want to SEEEEE under that veil, heh-heh-heh. ”

  Grover turned back to me. “You have to help me! No time! I’m stuck in this cave. On an island in the sea. ”

  ”Where?”

  “I don’t know exactly! I went to Florida and turned left. ”

  “What? How did you—”

  “It’s a trap!” Grover said. “It’s the reason no satyr has ever returned from this quest. He’s a shepherd, Percy! And he has it. Its nature magic is so powerful it smells just like the great god Pan!

  The satyrs come here thinking they’ve found Pan, and they get trapped and eaten by Polyphemus!”

  “Poly-who?”

  “The Cyclops!” Grover said, exasperated. “I almost got away. I made it all the way to St. Augustine. ”

  “But he followed you,” I said, remembering my first dream. “And trapped you in a bridal boutique. ”

  “That’s right,” Grover said. “My first empathy link must’ve worked then. Look, this bridal dress is the only thing keeping me alive. He thinks I smell good, but I told him it was just goat-scented perfume. Thank goodness he can’t see very well. His eye is still half blind from the last time somebody poked it out. But soon he’ll realize what I am. He’s only giving me two weeks to finish the bridal train, and he’s getting impatient!”

“Aw, Tyson,” I’d say. “It’s not that simple. ”

  But there was no explaining it to him. He was in heaven. And me … as much as I liked the big guy, I couldn’t help feeling embarrassed. Ashamed. There, I said it. 

  My father, the all-powerful Poseidon, had gotten moony-eyed for some nature spirit, and Tyson had been the result. I mean, I’d read the myths about Cyclopes. I even remembered that they were often Poseidon’s children. But I’d never really processed that this made them my … family. 

  Until I had Tyson living with me in the next bunk. 

  And then there were the comments from the other campers. Suddenly, I wasn’t Percy Jackson, the cool guy who’d retrieved Zeus’s lightning bolt last summer. Now I was Percy Jackson, the poor schmuck with the ugly monster for a brother. 

  “He’s not my real brother!” I protested whenever Tyson wasn’t around. “He’s more like a half-brother on the monstrous side of the family. Like … a half-brother twice removed, or something. ”

  Nobody bought it. 

  I admit—I was angry at my dad. I felt like being his son was now a joke. 

  Annabeth tried to make me feel better. She suggested we team up for the chariot race to take our minds off our problems. Don’t get me wrong—we both hated Tantalus and we were worried sick about camp—but we didn’t know what to do about it. Until we could come up with some brilliant plan to save Thalia’s tree, we figured we might as well go along with the races. After all, Annabeth’s mom, Athena, had invented the chariot, and my dad had created horses. Together we would own that track. 

  One morning Annabeth and I were sitting by the canoe lake sketching chariot designs when some jokers from Aphrodite’s cabin walked by and asked me if I needed to borrow some eyeliner for my eye … “Oh sorry, eyes. ”

  As they walked away laughing, Annabeth grumbled, “Just ignore them, Percy. It isn’t your fault you have a monster for a brother. ”

  “He’s not my brother!” I snapped. “And he’s not a monster, either!”

  Annabeth raised her eyebrows. “Hey, don’t get mad at me! And technically, he is a monster. ”

  “Well you gave him permission to enter the camp. ”

  “Because it was the only way to save your life! I mean … I’m sorry, Percy, I didn’t expect Poseidon to claim him. Cyclopes are the most deceitful, treacherous—”

  “He is not! What have you got against Cyclopes, any-way?

  Annabeth’s ears turned pink. I got the feeling there was something she wasn’t telling me—

  something bad. 

  “Just forget it,” she said. “Now, the axle for this chariot—”

  “You’re treating him like he’s this horrible thing,” I said. “He saved my life. ”

  Annabeth threw down her pencil and stood. “Then maybe you should design a chariot with him. ”

  “Maybe I should. ”

  “Fine!”

  “Fine!”

  She stormed off and left me feeling even worse than before. 

  The next couple of days, I tried to keep my mind off my problems. 

  Silena Beauregard, one of the nicer girls from Aphrodite’s cabin, gave me my first riding lesson on a pegasus. She explained that there was only one immortal winged horse named Pegasus, who still wandered free somewhere in the skies, but over the eons he’d sired a lot of children, none quite so fast or heroic, but all named after the first and greatest. 

  Being the son of the sea god, I never liked going into the air. My dad had this rivalry with Zeus, so I tried to stay out of the lord of the sky’s domain as much as possible. But riding a winged horse felt different. It didn’t make me nearly as nervous as being in an airplane. Maybe that was because my dad had created horses out of sea foam, so the pegasi were sort of … neutral territory. 

  I could understand their thoughts. I wasn’t surprised when my pegasus went galloping over the treetops or chased a flock of seagulls into a cloud. 

  The problem was that Tyson wanted to ride the “chicken ponies,” too, but the pegasi got skittish whenever he approached. I told them telepathically that Tyson wouldn’t hurt them, but they didn’t seem to believe me. That made Tyson cry. 

  The only person at camp who had no problem with Tyson was Beckendorf from the Hephaestus cabin. The blacksmith god had always worked with Cyclopes in his forges, so Beckendorf took Tyson down to the armory to teach him metalworking. He said he’d have Tyson crafting magic items like a master in no time. 

  After lunch, I worked out in the arena with Apollo’s cabin. Swordplay had always been my strength. People said I was better at it than any camper in the last hundred years, except maybe Luke. People always compared me to Luke. 

  I thrashed the Apollo guys easily. I should’ve been testing myself against the Ares and Athena cabins, since they had the best sword fighters, but I didn’t get along with Clarisse and her siblings, and after my argument with Annabeth, I just didn’t want to see her. 

  I went to archery class, even though I was terrible at it, and it wasn’t the same without Chiron teaching. In arts and crafts, I started a marble bust of Poseidon, but it started looking like Sylvester Stallone, so I ditched it. I scaled the climbing wall in full lava-and-earthquake mode. And in the evenings, I did border patrol. Even though Tantalus had insisted we forget trying to protect the camp, some of the campers had quietly kept it up, working out a schedule during our free times. 

  I sat at the top of Half-Blood Hill and watched the dryads come and go, singing to the dying pine tree. Satyrs brought their reed pipes and played nature magic songs, and for a while the pine needles seemed to get fuller. The flowers on the hill smelled a little sweeter and the grass looked greener. But as soon as the music stopped, the sickness crept back into the air. The whole hill seemed to be infected, dying from the poison that had sunk into the tree’s roots. The longer I sat there, the angrier I got. 

  Luke had done this. I remembered his sly smile, the dragon-claw scar across his face. He’d pretended to be my friend, and the whole time he’d been Kronos’s number-one servant. 

  I opened the palm of my hand. The scar Luke had given me last summer was fading, but I could still see it—a white asterisk-shaped wound where his pit scorpion had stung me. 

  I thought about what Luke had told me right before he’d tried to kill me: Good-bye, Percy. 

  There is a new Golden Age coming. You won’t be part of it. 

  At night, I had more dreams of Grover. Sometimes, I just heard snatches of his voice. Once, I heard him say: It’s here. Another time: He likes sheep. 

  I thought about telling Annabeth about my dreams, but I would’ve felt stupid. I mean, He likes sheep? She would’ve thought I was crazy. 

  The night before the race, Tyson and I finished our chariot. It was wicked cool. Tyson had made the metal parts in the armory’s forges. I’d sanded the wood and put the carriage together. It was blue and white, with wave designs on the sides and a trident painted on the front. After all that work, it seemed only fair that Tyson would ride shotgun with me, though I knew the horses wouldn’t like it, and Tyson’s extra weight would slow us down. 

  As we were turning in for bed, Tyson said, “You are mad?”

  I realized I’d been scowling. “Nah. I’m not mad. ”

  He lay down in his bunk and was quiet in the dark. His body was way too long for his bed. 

  When he pulled up the covers, his feet stuck out the bottom. “I am a monster. ”

  “Don’t say that. ”

  “It is okay. I will be a good monster. Then you will not have to be mad. ”

  I didn’t know what to say. I stared at the ceiling and felt like I was dying slowly, right along with Thalia’s tree. 

  “It’s just… I never had a half-brother before. ” I tried to keep my voice from cracking. “It’s really different for me. And I’m worried about the camp. And another friend of mine, Grover … he might be in trouble. I keep feeling like I should be doing something to help, but I don’t know what. ”

  Tyson said nothing. 

  “I’m sorry,” I told him. “It’s not your fault. I’m mad at Poseidon. I feel like he’s trying to embarrass me, like he’s trying to compare us or something, and I don’t understand why. ”

  I heard a deep rumbling sound. Tyson was snoring. 

  I sighed. “Good night, big guy. ”

  And I closed my eyes, too. 

  In my dream, Grover was wearing a wedding dress. 

  It didn’t fit him very well. The gown was too long and the hem was caked with dried mud. The neckline kept falling off his shoulders. A tattered veil covered his face. 

  He was standing in a dank cave, lit only by torches. There was a cot in one corner and an old-fashioned loom in the other, a length of white cloth half woven on the frame. And he was staring right at me, like I was a TV program he’d been waiting for. “Thank the gods!” he yelped. “Can you hear me?”

  My dream-self was slow to respond. I was still looking around, taking in the stalactite ceiling, the stench of sheep and goats, the growling and grumbling and bleating sounds that seemed to echo from behind a refrigerator-sized boulder, which was blocking the room’s only exit, as if there were a much larger cavern beyond it. 

  “Percy?” Grover said. “Please, I don’t have the strength to project any better. You have to hear me!”

  “I hear you,” I said. “Grover, what’s going on?”

  From behind the boulder, a monstrous voice yelled, “Honeypie! Are you done yet?”

  Grover flinched. He called out in falsetto, “Not quite, dearest! A few more days!”

  “Bah! Hasn’t it been two weeks yet?”

  “N-no, dearest. Just five days. That leaves twelve more to go. ”

  The monster was silent, maybe trying to do the math. He must’ve been worse at arithmetic than I was, because he said, “All right, but hurry! I want to SEEEEE under that veil, heh-heh-heh. ”

  Grover turned back to me. “You have to help me! No time! I’m stuck in this cave. On an island in the sea. ”

  ”Where?”

  “I don’t know exactly! I went to Florida and turned left. ”

  “What? How did you—”

  “It’s a trap!” Grover said. “It’s the reason no satyr has ever returned from this quest. He’s a shepherd, Percy! And he has it. Its nature magic is so powerful it smells just like the great god Pan!

  The satyrs come here thinking they’ve found Pan, and they get trapped and eaten by Polyphemus!”

  “Poly-who?”

  “The Cyclops!” Grover said, exasperated. “I almost got away. I made it all the way to St. Augustine. ”

  “But he followed you,” I said, remembering my first dream. “And trapped you in a bridal boutique. ”

  “That’s right,” Grover said. “My first empathy link must’ve worked then. Look, this bridal dress is the only thing keeping me alive. He thinks I smell good, but I told him it was just goat-scented perfume. Thank goodness he can’t see very well. His eye is still half blind from the last time somebody poked it out. But soon he’ll realize what I am. He’s only giving me two weeks to finish the bridal train, and he’s getting impatient!”

“Wait a minute. This Cyclops thinks you’re—”

  “Yes!” Grover wailed. “He thinks I’m a lady Cyclops and he wants to marry me!”

  Under different circumstances, I might’ve busted out laughing, but Grover’s voice was deadly serious. He was shaking with fear. 

  “I’ll come rescue you,” I promised. “Where are you?”

  “The Sea of Monsters, of course!”

  “The sea of what?”

  “I told you! I don’t know exactly where! And look, Percy … urn, I’m really sorry about this, but this empathy link … well, I had no choice. Our emotions are connected now. If I die …”

  “Don’t tell me, I’ll die too. ”

  “Oh, well, perhaps not. You might live for years in a vegetative state. But, uh, it would be a lot better if you got me out of here. ”

  “Honeypie!” the monster bellowed. “Dinnertime! Yummy yummy sheep meat!”

  Grover whimpered. “I have to go. Hurry!”

  “Wait! You said ‘it’ was here. What?”

  But Grover’s voice was already growing fainter. “Sweet dreams. Don’t let me die!”

  The dream faded and I woke with a start. It was early morning. Tyson was staring down at me, his one big brown eye full of concern. 

  “Are you okay?” he asked. 

  His voice sent a chill down my back, because he sounded almost exactly like the monster I’d heard in my dream. 

  The morning of the race was hot and humid. Fog lay low on the ground like sauna steam. 

  Millions of birds were roosting in the trees—fat gray-and-white pigeons, except they didn’t coo like regular pigeons. They made this annoying metallic screeching sound that reminded me of submarine radar. 

  The racetrack had been built in a grassy field between the archery range and the woods. 

  Hephaestus’s cabin had used the bronze bulls, which were completely tame since they’d had their heads smashed in, to plow an oval track in a matter of minutes. 

  There were rows of stone steps for the spectators— Tantalus, the satyrs, a few dryads, and all of the campers who weren’t participating. Mr. D didn’t show. He never got up before ten o’clock. 

  “Right!” Tantalus announced as the teams began to assemble. A naiad had brought him a big platter of pastries, and as Tantalus spoke, his right hand chased a chocolate eclair across the judge’s table. “You all know the rules. A quarter-mile track. Twice around to win. Two horses per chariot. Each team will consist of a driver and a fighter. Weapons are allowed. Dirty tricks are expected. But try not to kill anybody!” Tantalus smiled at us like we were all naughty children. “Any killing will result in harsh punishment. No s’mores at the campfire for a week! Now ready your chariots!”

  Beckendorf led the Hephaestus team onto the track. They had a sweet ride made of bronze and iron—even the horses, which were magical automatons like the Colchis bulls. I had no doubt that their chariot had all kinds of mechanical traps and more fancy options than a fully loaded Maserati. 

  The Ares chariot was bloodred, and pulled by two grisly horse skeletons. Clarisse climbed aboard with a batch of javelins, spiked balls, caltrops, and a bunch of other nasty toys. 

  Apollo’s chariot was trim and graceful and completely gold, pulled by two beautiful palominos. Their fighter was armed with a bow, though he had promised not to shoot regular pointed arrows at the opposing drivers. 

  Hermes’s chariot was green and kind of old-looking, as if it hadn’t been out of the garage in years. It didn’t look like anything special, but it was manned by the Stoll brothers, and I shuddered to think what dirty tricks they’d schemed up. 

  That left two chariots: one driven by Annabeth, and the other by me. 

  Before the race began, I tried to approach Annabeth and tell her about my dream. 

  She perked up when I mentioned Grover, but when I told her what he’d said, she seemed to get distant again, suspicious. 

  “You’re trying to distract me,” she decided. 

  “What? No I’m not!”

  “Oh, right! Like Grover would just happen to stumble across the one thing that could save the camp. ”

  “What do you mean?”

  She rolled her eyes. “Go back to your chariot, Percy. ”

  “I’m not making this up. He’s in trouble, Annabeth. ”

  She hesitated. I could tell she was trying to decide whether or not to trust me. Despite our occasional fights, we’d been through a lot together. And I knew she would never want anything bad to happen to Grover. 

  “Percy, an empathy link is so hard to do. I mean, it’s more likely you really were dreaming. ”

  “The Oracle,” I said. “We could consult the Oracle. ”

  Annabeth frowned. 

  Last summer, before my quest, I’d visited the strange spirit that lived in the Big House attic and it had given me a prophecy that came true in ways I’d never expected. The experience had freaked me out for months. Annabeth knew I’d never suggest going back there if I wasn’t completely serious. 

  Before she could answer, the conch horn sounded. 

  “Charioteers!” Tantalus called. “To your mark!”

  “We’ll talk later,” Annabeth told me, “after I win. ”

  As I was walking back to my own chariot, I noticed how many more pigeons were in the trees now—screeching like crazy, making the whole forest rustle. Nobody else seemed to be paying them much attention, but they made me nervous. Their beaks glinted strangely. Their eyes seemed shinier than regular birds. 

  Tyson was having trouble getting our horses under control. I had to talk to them a long time before they would settle down. 

  He’s a monster, lord! they complained to me. 

  He’s a son of Poseidon, I told them. Just like … well, just like me. 

  No! they insisted. Monster! Horse-eater! Not trusted!

  I’ll give you sugar cubes at the end of the race, I said. 

  Sugar cubes?

  Very big sugar cubes. And apples. Did I mention the apples?

  Finally they agreed to let me harness them. 

  Now, if you’ve never seen a Greek chariot, it’s built for speed, not safety or comfort. It’s basically a wooden basket, open at the back, mounted on an axle between two wheels. The driver stands up the whole time, and you can feel every bump in the road. The carriage is made of such light wood that if you wipe out making the hairpin turns at either end of the track, you’ll probably tip over and crush both the chariot and yourself. It’s an even better rush than skateboarding. 

  I took the reins and maneuvered the chariot to the starting line. I gave Tyson a ten-foot pole and told him that his job was to push the other chariots away if they got too close, and to deflect anything they might try to throw at us. 

  “No hitting ponies with the stick,” he insisted. 

  “No,” I agreed. “Or people, either, if you can help it. We’re going to run a clean race. Just keep the distractions away and let me concentrate on driving. ”

  “We will win. ’” He beamed. 

  We are so going to lose, I thought to myself, but I bad to try. I wanted to show the others … well, I wasn’t sure what, exactly. That Tyson wasn’t such a bad guy? That I wasn’t ashamed of being seen with him in public? Maybe that they hadn’t hurt me with all their jokes and name-calling?

  As the chariots lined up, more shiny-eyed pigeons gathered in the woods. They were screeching so loudly the campers in the stands were starting to take notice, glancing nervously at the trees, which shivered under the weight of the birds. Tantalus didn’t look concerned, but he did have to speak up to be heard over the noise. 

  “Charioteers!” he shouted. “Attend your mark!”

  He waved his hand and the starting signal dropped. The chariots roared to life. Hooves thundered against the dirt. The crowd cheered. 

  Almost immediately there was a loud nasty crack! I looked back in time to see the Apollo chariot flip over. The Hermes chariot had rammed into it—maybe by mistake, maybe not. The riders were thrown free, but their panicked horses dragged the golden chariot diagonally across the track. 

  The Hermes team, Travis and Connor Stoll, were laughing at their good luck, but not for long. The Apollo horses crashed into theirs, and the Hermes chariot flipped too, leaving a pile of broken wood and four rearing horses in the dust. 

  Two chariots down in the first twenty feet. I loved this sport. 

  I turned my attention back to the front. We were making good time, pulling ahead of Ares, but Annabeth’s chariot was way ahead of us. She was already making her turn around the first post, her javelin man grinning and waving at us, shouting: “See ya!”

  The Hephaestus chariot was starting to gain on us, too. 

  Beckendorf pressed a button, and a panel slid open on the side of his chariot. 

  “Sorry, Percy!” he yelled. Three sets of balls and chains shot straight toward our wheels. 

  They would’ve wrecked us completely if Tyson hadn’t whacked them aside with a quick swipe of his pole. He gave the Hephaestus chariot a good shove and sent them skittering sideways while we pulled ahead. 

  “Nice work, Tyson!” I yelled. 

  “Birds!” he cried. 

  “What?”

  We were whipping along so fast it was hard to hear or see anything, but Tyson pointed toward the woods and I saw what he was worried about. The pigeons had risen from the trees. They were spiraling like a huge tornado, heading toward the track. 

  No big deal, I told myself. They’re just pigeons. 

  I tried to concentrate on the race. 

  We made our first turn, the wheels creaking under us, the chariot threatening to tip, but we were now only ten feet behind Annabeth. If I could just get a little closer, Tyson could use his pole…. 

  Annabeth’s fighter wasn’t smiling now. He pulled a javelin from his collection and took aim at me. He was about to throw when we heard the screaming. 

  The pigeons were swarming—thousands of them dive-bombing the spectators in the stands, attacking the other chariots. Beckendorf was mobbed. His fighter tried to bat the birds away but he couldn’t see anything. The chariot veered off course and plowed through the strawberry fields, the mechanical horses steaming. 

  In the Ares chariot, Clarisse barked an order to her fighter, who quickly threw a screen of camouflage netting over their basket. The birds swarmed around it, pecking and clawing at the fighter’s hands as he tried to hold up the net, but Clarisse just gritted her teeth and kept driving. Her skeletal horses seemed immune to the distraction. The pigeons pecked uselessly at their empty eye sockets and flew through their rib cages, but the stallions kept right on running. 

  The spectators weren’t so lucky. The birds were slashing at any bit of exposed flesh, driving everyone into a panic. Now that the birds were closer, it was clear they weren’t normal pigeons. 

  Their eyes were beady and evil-looking. Their beaks were made of bronze, and judging from the yelps of the campers, they must’ve been razor sharp. 

  “Stymphalian birds!” Annabeth yelled. She slowed down and pulled her chariot alongside mine. “They’ll strip everyone to bones if we don’t drive them away!”

“Tyson,” I said, “we’re turning around!”

  “Going the wrong way?” he asked. 

  “Always,” I grumbled, but I steered the chariot toward the stands. 

  Annabeth rode right next to me. She shouted, “Heroes, to arms!” But I wasn’t sure anyone could hear her over the screeching of the birds and the general chaos. 

  I held my reins in one hand and managed to draw Riptide as a wave of birds dived at my face, their metal beaks snapping. I slashed them out of the air and they exploded into dust and feathers, but there were still millions of them left. One nailed me in the back end and I almost jumped straight out of the chariot. 

  Annabeth wasn’t having much better luck. The closer we got to the stands, the thicker the cloud of birds became. 

  Some of the spectators were trying to fight back. The Athena campers were calling for shields. The archers from Apollo’s cabin brought out their bows and arrows, ready to slay the menace, but with so many campers mixed in with the birds, it wasn’t safe to shoot. 

  “Too many!” I yelled to Annabeth. “How do you get rid of them?”

  She stabbed at a pigeon with her knife. “Hercules used noise! Brass bells! He scared them away with the most horrible sound he could—”

  Her eyes got wide. “Percy … Chiron’s collection!”

  I understood instantly. “You think it’ll work?”

  She handed her fighter the reins and leaped from her chariot into mine like it was the easiest thing in the world. “To the Big House! It’s our only chance!”

  Clarisse has just pulled across the finish line, completely unopposed, and seemed to notice for the first time how serious the bird problem was. 

  When she saw us driving away, she yelled, “You’re running? The fight is here, cowards!”

  She drew her sword and charged for the stands. 

  I urged our horses into a gallop. The chariot rumbled through the strawberry fields, across the volleyball pit, and lurched to a halt in front of the Big House. Annabeth and I ran inside, tearing down the hallway to Chiron’s apartment. 

  His boom box was still on his nightstand. So were his favorite CDs. I grabbed the most repulsive one I could find, Annabeth snatched the boom box, and together we ran back outside. 

  Down at the track, the chariots were in flames. Wounded campers ran in every direction, with birds shredding their clothes and pulling out their hair, while Tantalus chased breakfast pastries around the stands, every once in a while yelling, “Everything’s under control! Not to worry. ’”

  We pulled up to the finish line. Annabeth got the boom box ready. I prayed the batteries weren’t dead. 

  I pressed PLAY and started up Chiron’s favorite—the All-Time Greatest Hits of Dean Martin. 

  Suddenly the air was filled with violins and a bunch of guys moaning in Italian. 

  The demon pigeons went nuts. They started flying in circles, running into each other like they wanted to bash their own brains out. Then they abandoned the track altogether and flew skyward in a huge dark wave. 

  “Now!” shouted Annabeth. “Archers!”

  With clear targets, Apollo’s archers had flawless aim. Most of them could nock five or six arrows at once. Within minutes, the ground was littered with dead bronze-beaked pigeons, and the survivors were a distant trail of smoke on the horizon. 

  The camp was saved, but the wreckage wasn’t pretty. Most of the chariots had been completely destroyed. Almost everyone was wounded, bleeding from multiple bird pecks. The kids from Aphrodite’s cabin were screaming because their hairdos had been ruined and their clothes pooped on. 

  “Bravo!” Tantalus said, but he wasn’t looking at me or Annabeth. “We have our first winner!”

  He walked to “He finish line and awarded the golden laurels for the race to a stunned-looking Clarisse. 

  Then he turned and smiled at me. “And now to punish the troublemakers who disrupted this race. ”

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