The Titan’s Curse – Chapter 19: THE GODS VOTE HOW TO KILL US

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

Chapter 19: THE GODS VOTE HOW TO KILL US

Flying was bad enough for a son of Poseidon, but flying straight up to Zeus’s palace, with thunder and lightning swirling around it, was even worse.

We circled over midtown Manhattan, making one complete orbit around Mount Olympus. I’d only been there once before, traveling by elevator up to the secret six hundredth floor of the Empire State Building. This time, if it was possible, Olympus amazed me even more.

In the early-morning darkness, torches and fires made the mountainside palaces glow twenty different colors, from bloodred to indigo. Apparently no one ever slept on Olympus. The twisting streets were full of demigods and nature spirits and minor godlings bustling about, riding chariots or sedan chairs carried by Cyclopes. Winter didn’t seem to exist here. I caught the scent of the gardens in full bloom, jasmine and roses and even sweeter things I couldn’t name. Music drifted up from many windows, the soft sounds of lyres and reed pipes.

Towering at the peak of the mountain was the greatest palace of all, the glowing white hall of the gods.

Our pegasi set us down in the outer courtyard, in front of huge silver gates. Before I could even think to knock, the gates opened by themselves.

Good luck, boss, Blackjack said.

“Yeah.” I didn’t know why, but I had a sense of doom. I’d never seen all the gods together. I knew any one of them could blast me to dust, and a few of them would like to.

Hey, if ya don’t come back, can I have your cabin for my stable?

I looked at the pegasus.

Just a thought, he said. Sorry.

Blackjack and his friends flew off, leaving Thalia, Annabeth, and me alone. For a minute we stood there regarding the palace, the way we’d stood together in front of Westover Hall, what seemed like a million years ago.

And then, side by side, we walked into the throne room.

Twelve enormous thrones made a U around a central hearth, just like the placement of the cabins at camp. The ceiling above glittered with constellations—even the newest one, Zoe the Huntress, making her way across the heavens with her bow drawn.

All of the seats were occupied. Each god and goddess was about fifteen feet tall, and I’m telling you, if you’ve ever had a dozen all-powerful super-huge beings turn their eyes on you at once… Well, suddenly, facing monsters seemed like a picnic.

“Welcome, heroes,” Artemis said.

“Mooo!”

That’s when I noticed Bessie and Grover.

A sphere of water was hovering in the center of the room, next to the hearth fire. Bessie was swimming happily around, swishing his serpent tail and poking his head out the sides and bottom of the sphere. He seemed to be enjoying the novelty of swimming in a magic bubble. Grover was kneeling at Zeus’s throne, as if he’d just been giving a report, but when he saw us, he cried, “You made it!”

He started to run toward me, then remembered he was turning his back on Zeus, and looked for permission.

“Go on,” Zeus said. But he wasn’t really paying attention to Grover. The lord of the sky was staring intently at Thalia.

Grover trotted over. None of the gods spoke. Every clop of Grover’s hooves echoed on the marble floor. Bessie splashed in his bubble of water. The hearth fire crackled.

I looked nervously at my father, Poseidon. He was dressed similar to the last time I’d seen him: beach shorts, a Hawaiian shirt, and sandals. He had a weathered, suntanned face with a dark beard and deep green eyes. I wasn’t sure how he would feel about seeing me again, but the corners of his eyes crinkled with smile lines. He nodded as if to say It’s okay.

Grover gave Annabeth and Thalia big hugs. Then he grasped my arms. “Percy, Bessie and I made it! But you have to convince them! They can’t do it!”

“Do what?” I asked.

“Heroes,” Artemis called.

The goddess slid down from her throne and turned to human size, a young auburn-haired girl, perfectly at ease in the midst of the giant Olympians. She walked toward us, her silver robes shimmering. There was no emotion in her face. She seemed to walk in a column of moonlight.

“The Council has been informed of your deeds,” Artemis told us. “They know that Mount Othrys is rising in the West. They know of Atlas’s attempt for freedom, and the gathering armies of Kronos. We have voted to act.”

There was some mumbling and shuffling among the gods, as if they weren’t all happy with this plan, but nobody protested.

“At my Lord Zeus’s command,” Artemis said, “my brother Apollo and I shall hunt the most powerful monsters, seeking to strike them down before they can join the Titans’ cause. Lady Athena shall personally check on the other Titans to make sure they do not escape their various prisons. Lord Poseidon has been given permission to unleash his full fury on the cruise ship Princess Andromeda and send it to the bottom of the sea. And as for you, my heroes…”

She turned to face the other immortals. “These half-bloods have done Olympus a great service. Would any here deny that?”

She looked around at the assembled gods, meeting their faces individually. Zeus in his dark pin-striped suit, his black beard neatly trimmed, and his eyes sparking with energy. Next to him sat a beautiful woman with silver hair braided over one shoulder and a dress that shimmered colors like peacock feathers. The Lady Hera.

On Zeus’s right, my father Poseidon. Next to him, a huge lump of a man with a leg in a steel brace, a misshapen head, and a wild brown beard, fire flickering through his whiskers. The Lord of the Forges, Hephaestus.

Hermes winked at me. He was wearing a business suit today, checking messages on his caduceus mobile phone. Apollo leaned back in his golden throne with his shades on. He had iPod headphones on, so I wasn’t sure he was even listening, but he gave me a thumbs-up. Dionysus looked bored, twirling a grape vine between his fingers. And Ares, well, he sat on his chrome-and-leather throne, glowering at me while he sharpened a knife.

On the ladies’ side of the throne room, a dark-haired goddess in green robes sat next to Hera on a throne woven of apple-tree branches. Demeter, Goddess of the Harvest. Next to her sat a beautiful gray-eyed woman in an elegant white dress. She could only be Annabeth’s mother, Athena. Then there was Aphrodite, who smiled at me knowingly and made me blush in spite of myself.

All the Olympians in one place. So much power in this room it was a miracle the whole palace didn’t blow apart.

“I gotta say”—Apollo broke the silence—”these kids did okay.” He cleared his throat and began to recite: “Heroes win laurels—”

“Um, yes, first class,” Hermes interrupted, like he was anxious to avoid Apollo’s poetry. “All in favor of not disintegrating them?”

A few tentative hands went up—Demeter, Aphrodite.

“Wait just a minute,” Ares growled. He pointed at Thalia and me. “These two are dangerous. It’d be much safer, while we’ve got them here—”

“Ares,” Poseidon interrupted, “they are worthy heroes. We will not blast my son to bits.”

“Nor my daughter,” Zeus grumbled. “She has done well.”

Thalia blushed. She studied the floor. I knew how she felt. I’d hardly ever talked to my father, much less gotten a compliment.

The goddess Athena cleared her throat and sat forward. “I am proud of my daughter as well. But there is a security risk here with the other two.”

“Mother!” Annabeth said. “How can you—”

Athena cut her off with a calm but firm look. “It is unfortunate that my father, Zeus, and my uncle, Poseidon, chose to break their oath not to have more children. Only Hades kept his word, a fact that I find ironic. As we know from the Great Prophecy, children of the three elder gods… such as Thalia and Percy… are dangerous. As thickheaded as he is, Ares has a point.”

“Right!” Ares said. “Hey, wait a minute. Who you callin’—”

He started to get up, but a grape vine grew around his waist like a seat belt and pulled him back down.

“Oh, please, Ares,” Dionysus sighed. “Save the fighting for later.”

Ares cursed and ripped away the vine. “You’re one to talk, you old drunk. You seriously want to protect these brats?”

Dionysus gazed down at us wearily. “I have no love for them. Athena, do you truly think it safest to destroy them?”

“I do not pass judgment,” Athena said. “I only point out the risk. What we do, the Council must decide.”

“I will not have them punished,” Artemis said. “I will have them rewarded. If we destroy heroes who do us a great favor, then we are no better than the Titans. If this is Olympian justice, I will have none of it.”

“Calm down, sis,” Apollo said. “Jeez, you need to lighten up.”

“Don’t call me sis! I will reward them.”

“Well,” Zeus grumbled. “Perhaps. But the monster at least must be destroyed. We have agreement on that?”

A lot of nodding heads.

It took me a second to realize what they were saying. Then my heart turned to lead. “Bessie? You want to destroy Bessie?”

“Mooooooo!” Bessie protested.

My father frowned. “You have named the Ophiotaurus Bessie?”

“Dad,” I said, “he’s just a sea creature. A really nice sea creature. You can’t destroy him.”

Poseidon shifted uncomfortably. “Percy, the monster’s power is considerable. If the Titans were to steal it, or—”

“You can’t,” I insisted. I looked at Zeus. I probably should have been afraid of him, but I stared him right in the eye. “Controlling the prophecies never works. Isn’t that true? Besides, Bess—the Ophiotaurus is innocent. Killing something like that is wrong. It’s just as wrong as… as Kronos eating his children, just because of something they might do. It’s wrong!”

Zeus seemed to consider this. His eyes drifted to his daughter Thalia. “And what of the risk? Kronos knows full well, if one of you were to sacrifice the beast’s entrails, you would have the power to destroy us. Do you think we can let that possibility remain? You, my daughter, will turn sixteen on the morrow, just as the prophecy says.”

“You have to trust them,” Annabeth spoke up. “Sir, you have to trust them.”

Zeus scowled. “Trust a hero?”

“Annabeth is right,” Artemis said. “Which is why I must first make a reward. My faithful companion, Zoe Nightshade, has passed into the stars. I must have a new lieutenant. And I intend to choose one. But first, Father Zeus, I must speak to you privately.”

Zeus beckoned Artemis forward. He leaned down and listened as she spoke in his ear.

A feeling of panic seized me. “Annabeth,” I said under my breath. “Don’t.”

She frowned at me. “What?”

“Look, I need to tell you something,” I continued. The words came stumbling out of me. “I couldn’t stand it if… I don’t want you to—”

“Percy?” she said. “You look like you’re going to be sick.”

And that’s how I felt. I wanted to say more, but my tongue betrayed me. It wouldn’t move because of the fear in my stomach. And then Artemis turned.

“I shall have a new lieutenant,” she announced. “If she will accept it.”

“No,” I murmured.

“Thalia,” Artemis said. “Daughter of Zeus. Will you join the Hunt?”

Stunned silence filled the room. I stared at Thalia, unable to believe what I was hearing. Annabeth smiled. She squeezed Thalia’s hand and let it go, as if she’d been expecting this all along.

“I will,” Thalia said firmly.

Zeus rose, his eyes full of concern. “My daughter, consider well—”

“Father,” she said. “I will not turn sixteen tomorrow. I will never turn sixteen. I won’t let this prophecy be mine. I stand with my sister Artemis. Kronos will never tempt me again.”

She knelt before the goddess and began the words I remembered from Bianca’s oath, what seemed like so long ago. “I pledge myself to the goddess Artemis. I turn my back on the company of men…”

Afterward, Thalia did something that surprised me almost as much as the pledge. She came over to me, smiled, and in front of the whole assembly, she gave me a big hug.

I blushed.

When she pulled away and gripped my shoulders, I said, “Um… aren’t you supposed to not do that anymore? Hug boys, I mean?”

“I’m honoring a friend,” she corrected. “I must join the Hunt, Percy. I haven’t known peace since… since Half-Blood Hill. I finally feel like I have a home. But you’re a hero. You will be the one of the prophecy.”

“Great,” I muttered.

“I’m proud to be your friend.”

She hugged Annabeth, who was trying hard not to cry. Then she even hugged Grover, who looked ready to pass out, like somebody had just given him an all-you-can-eat enchilada coupon.

Then Thalia went to stand by Artemis’s side.

“Now for the Ophiotaurus,” Artemis said.

“This boy is still dangerous,” Dionysus warned. “The beast is a temptation to great power. Even if we spare the boy—”

“No.” I looked around at all the gods. “Please. Keep the Ophiotaurus safe. My dad can hide him under the sea somewhere, or keep him in an aquarium here in Olympus. But you have to protect him.”

“And why should we trust you?” rumbled Hephaestus.

“I’m only fourteen,” I said. “If this prophecy is about me, that’s two more years.”

“Two years for Kronos to deceive you,” Athena said. “Much can change in two years, my young hero.”

“Mother!” Annabeth said, exasperated.

“It is only the truth, child. It is bad strategy to keep the animal alive. Or the boy.”

My father stood. “I will not have a sea creature destroyed, if I can help it. And I can help it.”

He held out his hand, and a trident appeared in it: a twenty foot long bronze shaft with three spear tips that shimmered with blue, watery light. “I will vouch for the boy and the safety of the Ophiotaurus.”

“You won’t take it under the sea!” Zeus stood suddenly. “I won’t have that kind of bargaining chip in your possession.”

“Brother, please,” Poseidon sighed.

Zeus’s lightning bolt appeared in his hand, a shaft of electricity that filled the whole room with the smell of ozone.

“Fine,” Poseidon said. “I will build an aquarium for the creature here. Hephaestus can help me. The creature will be safe. We shall protect it with all our powers. The boy will not betray us. I vouch for this on my honor.”

Zeus thought about this. “All in favor?”

To my surprise, a lot of hands went up. Dionysus abstained. So did Ares and Athena. But everybody else…

“We have a majority,” Zeus decreed. “And so, since we will not be destroying these heroes… I imagine we should honor them. Let the triumph celebration begin!”

There are parties, and then there are huge, major, blowout parties. And then there are Olympian parties. If you ever get a choice, go for the Olympian.

The Nine Muses cranked up the tunes, and I realized the music was whatever you wanted it to be: the gods could listen to classical and the younger demigods heard hip-hop or whatever, and it was all the same sound track. No arguments. No fights to change the radio station. Just requests to crank it up.

Dionysus went around growing refreshment stands out of the ground, and a beautiful woman walked with him arm in arm—his wife, Ariadne. Dionysus looked happy for the first time. Nectar and ambrosia overflowed from golden fountains, and platters of mortal snack food crowded the banquet tables. Golden goblets filled with whatever drink you wanted. Grover trotted around with a full plate of tin cans and enchiladas, and his goblet was full of double-espresso latte, which he kept muttering over like an incantation: “Pan! Pan!”

Gods kept coming over to congratulate me. Thankfully, they had reduced themselves to human size, so they didn’t accidentally trample partygoers under their feet. Hermes started chatting with me, and he was so cheerful I hated to tell him what had happened to his least-favorite son, Luke, but before I could even get up the courage, Hermes got a call on his caduceus and walked away.

Apollo told me I could drive his sun chariot any time, and if I ever wanted archery lessons—

“Thanks,” I told him. “But seriously, I’m no good at archery.”

“Ah, nonsense,” he said. “Target practice from the chariot as we fly over the U.S.? Best fun there is!”

I made some excuses and wove through the crowds that were dancing in the palace courtyards. I was looking for Annabeth. Last I saw her, she’d been dancing with some minor godling.

Then a man’s voice behind me said, “You won’t let me down, I hope.”

I turned and found Poseidon smiling at me.

“Dad… hi.”

“Hello, Percy. You’ve done well.”

His praise made me uneasy. I mean, it felt good, but I knew just how much he’d put himself on the line, vouching for me. It would’ve been a lot easier to let the others disintegrate me.

“I won’t let you down,” I promised.

He nodded. I had trouble reading gods’ emotions, but I wondered if he had some doubts.

“Your friend Luke—”

“He’s not my friend,” I blurted out. Then I realized it was probably rude to interrupt. “Sorry.”

“Your former friend Luke,” Poseidon corrected. “He once promised things like that. He was Hermes’s pride and joy. Just bear that in mind, Percy. Even the bravest can fall.”

“Luke fell pretty hard,” I agreed. “He’s dead.”

Poseidon shook his head. “No, Percy. He is not.”

I stared at him. “What?”

“I believe Annabeth told you this. Luke still lives. I have seen it. His boat sails from San Francisco with the remains of Kronos even now. He will retreat and regroup before assaulting you again. I will do my best to destroy his boat with storms, but he is making alliances with my enemies, the older spirits of the ocean. They will fight to protect him.”

“How can he be alive?” I said. “That fall should’ve killed him!”

Poseidon looked troubled. “I don’t know, Percy, but beware of him. He is more dangerous than ever. And the golden coffin is still with him, still growing in strength.”

“What about Atlas?” I said. “What’s to prevent him from escaping again? Couldn’t he just force some giant or something to take the sky for him?”

My father snorted in derision. “If it were so easy, he would have escaped long ago. No, my son. The curse of the sky can only be forced upon a Titan, one of the children of Gaia and Ouranous. Anyone else must choose to take the burden of their own free will. Only a hero, someone with strength, a true heart, and great courage, would do such a thing. No one in Kronos’s army would dare try to bear that weight, even upon pain of death.”

“Luke did it,” I said. “He let Atlas go. Then he tricked Annabeth into saving him and used her to convince Artemis to take the sky.”

“Yes,” Poseidon said. “Luke is… an interesting case.”

I think he wanted to say more, but just then, Bessie started mooing from across the courtyard. Some demigods were playing with his water sphere, joyously pushing it back and forth over the top of the crowd,

“I’d better take care of that,” Poseidon grumbled. “We can’t have the Ophiotaurus tossed around like a beach ball. Be good, my son. We may not speak again for some time.”

And just like that he was gone.

I was about to keep searching the crowd when another voice spoke. “Your father takes a great risk, you know.”

I found myself face-to-face with a gray-eyed woman who looked so much like Annabeth I almost called her that.

“Athena.” I tried not to sound resentful, after the way she’d written me off in the council, but I guess I didn’t hide it very well.

She smiled dryly. “Do not judge me too harshly, half-blood. Wise counsel is not always popular, but I spoke the truth. You are dangerous.”

“You never take risks?”

She nodded. “I concede the point. You may perhaps be useful. And yet… your fatal flaw may destroy us as well as yourself.”

My heart crept into my throat. A year ago, Annabeth and I had had a talk about fatal flaws. Every hero had one. Hers, she said, was pride. She believed she could do anything… like holding up the world, for instance. Or saving Luke. But I didn’t really know what mine was.

Athena looked almost sorry for me. “Kronos knows your flaw, even if you do not. He knows how to study his enemies. Think, Percy. How has he manipulated you? First, your mother was taken from you. Then your best friend, Grover. Now my daughter, Annabeth.” She paused, disapproving. “In each case, your loved ones have been used to lure you into Kronos’s traps. Your fatal flaw is personal loyalty, Percy. You do not know when it is time to cut your losses. To save a friend, you would sacrifice the world. In a hero of the prophecy, that is very, very dangerous.”

I balled my fists. “That’s not a flaw. Just because I want to help my friends—”

“The most dangerous flaws are those which are good in moderation,” she said. “Evil is easy to fight. Lack of wisdom… that is very hard indeed.”

I wanted to argue, but I found I couldn’t. Athena was pretty darn smart.

“I hope the Council’s decisions prove wise,” Athena said. “But I will be watching, Percy Jackson. I do not approve of your friendship with my daughter. I do not think it wise for either of you. And should you begin to waver in your loyalties…”

She fixed me with her cold gray stare, and I realized what a terrible enemy Athena would make, ten times worse than Ares or Dionysus or maybe even my father. Athena would never give up. She would never do something rash or stupid just because she hated you, and if she made a plan to destroy you, it would not fail.

“Percy!” Annabeth said, running through the crowd. She stopped short when she saw who I was talking to. “Oh… Mom.”

“I will leave you,” Athena said. “For now.”

She turned and strode through the crowds, which parted before her as if she were carrying Aegis.

“Was she giving you a hard time?” Annabeth asked.

“No,” I said. “It’s… fine.”

She studied me with concern. She touched the new streak of gray in my hair that matched hers exactly—our painful souvenir from holding Atlas’s burden. There was a lot I’d wanted to say to Annabeth, but Athena had taken the confidence out of me. I felt like I’d been punched in the gut.

I do not approve of your friendship with my daughter.

“So,” Annabeth said. “What did you want to tell me earlier?”

The music was playing. People were dancing in the streets. I said, “I, uh, was thinking we got interrupted at Westover Hall. And… I think I owe you a dance.”

She smiled slowly. “All right, Seaweed Brain.”

So I took her hand, and I don’t know what everybody else heard, but to me it sounded like a slow dance: a little sad, but maybe a little hopeful, too.

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