The Titan’s Curse – Chapter 5: I PLACE AN UNDERWATER PHONE CALL

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Chapter 5: I PLACE AN UNDERWATER PHONE CALL

I’d never seen Camp Half-Blood in winter before, and the snow surprised me.

See, the camp has the ultimate magic climate control. Nothing gets inside the borders unless the director, Mr. D, wants it to. I thought it would be warm and sunny, but instead the snow had been allowed to fall lightly. Frost covered the chariot track and the strawberry fields. The cabins were decorated with tiny flickering lights, like Christmas lights, except they seemed to be balls of real fire. More lights glowed in the woods, and weirdest of all, a fire flickered in the attic window of the Big House, where the Oracle dwelt, imprisoned in an old mummified body. I wondered if the spirit of Delphi was roasting marshmallows up there or something.

“Whoa,” Nico said as he climbed off the bus. “Is that a climbing wall?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Why is there lava pouring down it?”

“Little extra challenge. Come on. I’ll introduce you to Chiron. Zoe, have you met—”

“I know Chiron,” Zoe said stiffly. “Tell him we will be in Cabin Eight. Hunters, follow me.”

“I’ll show you the way,” Grover offered.

“We know the way.”

“Oh, really, it’s no trouble. It’s easy to get lost here, if you don’t”—he tripped over a canoe and came up still talking—”like my old daddy goat used to say! Come on!”

Zoe rolled her eyes, but I guess she figured there was no getting rid of Grover. The Hunters shouldered their packs and their bows and headed off toward the cabins. As Bianca di Angelo was leaving, she leaned over and whispered something in her brothers ear. She looked at him for an answer, but Nico just scowled and turned away.

“Take care, sweethearts!” Apollo called after the Hunters. He winked at me. “Watch out for those prophecies, Percy. I’ll see you soon.”

“What do you mean?”

Instead of answering, he hopped back in the bus. “Later, Thalia,” he called. “And, uh, be good!”

He gave her a wicked smile, as if he knew something she didn’t. Then he closed the doors and revved the engine. I turned aside as the sun chariot took off in a blast of heat. When I looked back, the lake was steaming. A red Maserati soared over the woods, glowing brighter and climbing higher until it disappeared in a ray of sunlight.

Nico was still looking grumpy. I wondered what his sister had told him.

“Who’s Chiron?” he asked. “I don’t have his figurine.”

“Our activities director,” I said. “He’s… well, you’ll see.

“If those Hunter girls don’t like him,” Nico grumbled, “that’s good enough for me. Let’s go.”

The second thing that surprised me about camp was how empty it was. I mean, I knew most half-bloods only trained during the summer. Just the year-rounders would be here—the ones who didn’t have homes to go to, or would get attacked by monsters too much if they left. But there didn’t even seem to be many of them, either.

I spotted Charles Beckendorf from the Hephaestus cabin stoking the forge outside the camp armory. The Stoll brothers, Travis and Connor, from the Hermes cabin, were picking the lock on the camp store. A few kids from the Ares cabin were having a snowball fight with the wood nymphs at the edge of the forest. That was about it. Even my old rival from the Ares cabin, Clarisse, didn’t seem to be around.

The Big House was decorated with strings of red and yellow fireballs that warmed the porch but didn’t seem to catch anything on fire. Inside, flames crackled in the hearth. The air smelled like hot chocolate. Mr. D, the camp director, and Chiron were playing a quiet game of cards in the parlor.

Chiron’s brown beard was shaggier for the winter. His curly hair had grown a little longer. He wasn’t posing as a teacher this year, so I guess he could afford to be casual. He wore a fuzzy sweater with a hoofprint design on it, and he had a blanket on his lap that almost hid his wheelchair completely.

He smiled when he saw us. “Percy! Thalia! Ah, and this must be—”

“Nico di Angelo,” I said. “He and his sister are half-bloods.”

Chiron breathed a sigh of relief. “You succeeded, then.”

“Well…”

His smile melted. “What’s wrong? And where is Annabeth?”

“Oh, dear,” Mr. D said in a bored voice, “Not another one lost.”

I’d been trying not to pay attention to Mr. D, but he was kind of hard to ignore in his neon orange leopard-skin warm-up suit and his purple running shoes. (Like Mr. D had ever run a day in his immortal life.) A golden laurel wreath was tilted sideways on his curly black hair, which must’ve meant he’d won the last hand of cards.

“What do you mean?” Thalia asked. “Who else is lost?”

Just then, Grover trotted into the room, grinning like crazy. He had a black eye and red lines on his face that looked like a slap mark. “The Hunters are all moved in!”

Chiron frowned. “The Hunters, eh? I see we have much to talk about.” He glanced at Nico. “Grover, perhaps you should take our young friend to the den and show him our orientation film.”

“But… Oh, right. Yes, sir.”

“Orientation film?” Nico asked. “Is it G or PG? ‘Cause Bianca is kinda strict—”

“It’s PG-13,” Grover said.

“Cool!” Nico happily followed him out of the room.

“Now,” Chiron said to Thalia and me, “perhaps you two should sit down and tell us the whole story.”

When we were done, Chiron turned to Mr. D. “We should launch a search for Annabeth immediately.”

“I’ll go,” Thalia and I said at the same time.

Mr. D sniffed. “Certainly not!”

Thalia and I both started complaining, but Mr. D held up his hand. He had that purplish angry fire in his eyes that usually meant something bad and godly was going to happen if we didn’t shut up.

“From what you have told me,” Mr. D said, “we have broken even on this escapade. We have, ah, regrettably lost Annie Bell—”

“Annabeth,” I snapped. She’d gone to camp since she was seven, and still Mr. D pretended not to know her name.

“Yes, yes,” he said. “And you procured a small annoying boy to replace her. So I see no point risking further half-bloods on a ridiculous rescue. The possibility is very great that this Annie girl is dead.”

I wanted to strangle Mr. D. It wasn’t fair Zeus had sent him here to dry out as camp director for a hundred years. It was meant to be a punishment for Mr. D’s bad behavior on Olympus, but it ended up being a punishment for all of us.

“Annabeth may be alive,” Chiron said, but I could tell he was having trouble sounding upbeat. He’d practically raised Annabeth all those years she was a year-round camper, before she’d given living with her dad and stepmom a second try. “She’s very bright. If… if our enemies have her, she will try to play for time. She may even pretend to cooperate.”

“That’s right,” Thalia said. “Luke would want her alive.”

“In which case” said Mr. D, “I’m afraid she will have to be smart enough to escape on her own.”

I got up from the table.

“Percy.” Chiron’s tone was full of warning. In the back of my mind, I knew Mr. D was not somebody to mess with. Even if you were an impulsive ADHD kid like me, he wouldn’t give you any slack. But I was so angry I didn’t care.

“You’re glad to lose another camper,” I said. “You’d like it if we all disappeared!”

Mr. D stifled a yawn. “You have a point?”

“Yeah,” I growled. “Just because you were sent here as a punishment doesn’t mean you have to be a lazy jerk! This is your civilization, too. Maybe you could try helping out a little!”

For a second, there was no sound except the crackle of the fire. The light reflected in Mr. D’s eyes, giving him a sinister look. He opened his mouth to say something—probably a curse that would blast me to smithereens—when Nico burst into the room, followed by Grover.

“SO COOL!” Nico yelled, holding his hands out to Chiron. “You’re… you’re a centaur!”

Chiron managed a nervous smile. “Yes, Mr. di Angelo, if you please. Though, I prefer to stay in human form in this wheelchair for, ah, first encounters.”

“And, whoa!” He looked at Mr. D. “You’re the wine dude? No way!”

Mr. D turned his eyes away from me and gave Nico a look of loathing. “The wine dude?”

“Dionysus, right? Oh, wow! I’ve got your figurine.”

“My figurine.”

“In my game, Mythomagic. And a holofoil card, too! And even though you’ve only got like five hundred attack points and everybody thinks you’re the lamest god card, I totally think your powers are sweet!”

“Ah.” Mr. D seemed truly perplexed, which probably saved my life. “Well, that’s… gratifying.”

“Percy,” Chiron said quickly, “you and Thalia go down to the cabins. Inform the campers we’ll be playing capture the flag tomorrow evening.”

“Capture the flag?” I asked. “But we don’t have enough—”

“It is a tradition,” Chiron said. “A friendly match, whenever the Hunters visit.”

“Yeah,” Thalia muttered. “I bet it’s real friendly.”

Chiron jerked his head toward Mr. D, who was still frowning as Nico talked about how many defense points all the gods had in his game. “Run along now,” Chiron told us.

“Oh, right,” Thalia said. “Come on, Percy.”

She hauled me out of the Big House before Dionysus could remember that he wanted to kill me.

“You’ve already got Ares on your bad side,” Thalia reminded me as we trudged toward the cabins. “You need another immortal enemy?”

She was right. My first summer as a camper, I’d gotten in a fight with Ares, and now he and all his children wanted to kill me. I didn’t need to make Dionysus mad, too.

“Sorry,” I said. “I couldn’t help it. It’s just so unfair.”

She stopped by the armory and looked out across the valley, toward the top of Half-Blood Hill. Her pine tree was still there, the Golden Fleece glittering in its lowest branch. The tree’s magic still protected the borders of camp, but it no longer used Thalia’s spirit for power.

“Percy, everything is unfair,” Thalia muttered. “Sometimes I wish…”

She didn’t finish, but her tone was so sad I felt sorry for her. With her ragged black hair and her black punk clothes, an old wool overcoat wrapped around her, she looked like some kind of huge raven, completely out of place in the white landscape.

“We’ll get Annabeth back,” I promised. “I just don’t know how yet.”

“First I found out that Luke is lost,” she said. “Now Annabeth—”

“Don’t think like that.”

“You’re right.” She straightened up. “We’ll find a way.”

Over at the basketball court, a few of the Hunters were shooting hoops. One of them was arguing with a guy from the Ares cabin. The Ares kid had his hand on his sword and the Hunter girl looked like she was going to exchange her basketball for a bow and arrow any second.

“I’ll break that up,” Thalia said. “You circulate around the cabins. Tell everybody about capture the flag tomorrow.”

“All right. You should be team captain.”

“No, no,” she said. “You’ve been at camp longer. You do it.”

“We can, uh… co-captain or something.”

She looked about as comfortable with that as I felt, but she nodded.

As she headed for the court, I said, “Hey, Thalia.”

“Yeah?”

“I’m sorry about what happened at Westover. I should’ve waited for you guys.”

‘”S okay, Percy. I probably would’ve done the same thing.” She shifted from foot to foot, like she was trying to decide whether or not to say more. “You know, you asked about my mom and I kinda snapped at you. It’s just… I went back to find her after seven years, and I found out she died in Los Angeles. She, um… she was a heavy drinker, and apparently she was out driving late one night about two years ago, and…” Thalia blinked hard.

“I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, well. It’s… it’s not like we were ever close. I ran away when I was ten. Best two years of my life were when I was running around with Luke and Annabeth. But still—”

“That’s why you had trouble with the sun van.”

She gave me a wary look. “What do you mean?”

“The way you stiffened up. You must’ve been thinking about your mom, not wanting to get behind the wheel.”

I was sorry I’d said anything. Thalia’s expression was dangerously close to Zeus’s, the one time I’d seen him get angry—like any minute, her eyes would shoot a million volts.

“Yeah,” she muttered. “Yeah, that must’ve been it.”

She trudged off toward the court, where the Ares camper and the Hunter were trying to kill each other with a sword and a basketball.

The cabins were the weirdest collection of buildings you’ve ever seen. Zeus and Hera’s big white-columned buildings, Cabins One and Two, stood in the middle, with five gods’ cabins on the left and five goddesses’ cabins on the right, so they all made a U around the central green and the barbecue hearth.

I made the rounds, telling everybody about capture the flag. I woke up some Ares kid from his midday nap and he yelled at me to go away. When I asked him where Clarisse was he said, “Went on a quest for Chiron. Top secret!”

“Is she okay?”

“Haven’t heard from her in a month. She’s missing in action. Like your butt’s gonna be if you don’t get outta here!”

I decided to let him go back to sleep.

Finally I got to Cabin Three, the cabin of Poseidon. It was a low gray building hewn from sea stone, with shells and coral fossils imprinted in the rock. Inside, it was just as empty as always, except for my bunk. A Minotaur horn hung on the wall next to my pillow.

I took Annabeth’s baseball cap out of my backpack and set it on my nightstand. I’d give it to her when I found her. And I would find her.

I took off my wristwatch and activated the shield. It creaked noisily as it spiraled out. Dr. Thorn’s spikes had dented the brass in a dozen places. One gash kept the shield from opening all the way, so it looked like a pizza with two slices missing. The beautiful metal pictures that my brother had crafted were all banged up. In the picture of me and Annabeth fighting the Hydra, it looked like a meteor had made a crater in my head. I hung the shield on its hook, next to the Minotaur horn, but it was painful to look at now. Maybe Beckendorf from the Hephaestus cabin could fix it for me. He was the best armorsmith in the camp. I’d ask him at dinner.

I was staring at the shield when I noticed a strange sound—water gurgling—and I realized there was something new in the room. At the back of the cabin was a big basin of gray sea rock, with a spout like the head of a fish carved in stone. Out of its mouth burst a stream of water, a saltwater spring that trickled into the pool. The water must’ve been hot, because it sent mist into the cold winter air like a sauna. It made the room feel warm and summery, fresh with the smell of the sea.

I stepped up to the pool. There was no note attached or anything, but I knew it could only be a gift from Poseidon.

I looked into the water and said, “Thanks, Dad.”

The surface rippled. At the bottom of the pool, coins shimmered—a dozen or so golden drachma. I realized what the fountain was for. It was a reminder to keep in touch with my family.

I opened the nearest window, and the wintry sunlight made a rainbow in the mist. Then I fished a coin out of the hot water.

“Iris, O Goddess of the Rainbow,” I said, “accept my offering.”

I tossed a coin into the mist and it disappeared. Then I realized I didn’t know who to contact first.

My mom? That would’ve been the “good son” thing to do, but she wouldn’t be worried about me yet. She was used to me disappearing for days or weeks at a time.

My father? It had been way too long, almost two years, since I’d actually talked to him. But could you even send an Iris-message to a god? I’d never tried. Would it make them mad, like a sales call or something?

I hesitated. Then I made up my mind.

“Show me Tyson,” I requested. “At the forges of the Cyclopes.”

The mist shimmered, and the image of my half brother appeared. He was surrounded in fire, which would’ve been a problem if he weren’t a Cyclops. He was bent over an anvil, hammering a red-hot sword blade. Sparks flew and flames swirled around his body. There was a marble-framed window behind him, and it looked out onto dark blue water—the bottom of the ocean.

“Tyson!” I yelled.

He didn’t hear me at first because of the hammering and the roar of the flames.

“TYSON!”

He turned, and his one enormous eye widened. His face broke into a crooked yellow grin. “Percy!”

He dropped the sword blade and ran at me, trying to give me a hug. The vision blurred and I instinctively lurched back. “Tyson, it’s an Iris-message. I’m not really here.”

“Oh.” He came back into view, looking embarrassed. “Oh, I knew that. Yes.”

“How are you?” I asked. “How’s the job?”

His eye lit up. “Love the job! Look!” He picked up the hot sword blade with his bare hands. “I made this!”

“That’s really cool.”

“I wrote my name on it. Right there.”

“Awesome. Listen, do you talk to Dad much?”

Tyson’s smile faded. “Not much. Daddy is busy. He is worried about the war.”

“What do you mean?”

Tyson sighed. He stuck the sword blade out the window, where it made a cloud of boiling bubbles. When Tyson brought it back in, the metal was cool. “Old sea spirits making trouble. Aigaios. Oceanus. Those guys.”

I sort of knew what he was talking about. He meant the immortals who ruled the oceans back in the days of the Titans. Before the Olympians took over. The fact that they were back now, with the Titan Lord Kronos and his allies gaining strength, was not good.

“Is there anything I can do?” I asked.

Tyson shook his head sadly. “We are arming the mermaids. They need a thousand more swords by tomorrow.” He looked at his sword blade and sighed. “Old spirits are protecting the bad boat.”

“The Princess Andromeda?” I said. “Luke’s boat?”

“Yes. They make it hard to find. Protect it from Daddy’s storms. Otherwise he would smash it.”

“Smashing it would be good.”

Tyson perked up, as if he’d just had another thought. “Annabeth! Is she there?”

“Oh, well…” My heart felt like a bowling ball. Tyson thought Annabeth was just about the coolest thing since peanut butter (and he seriously loved peanut butter). I didn’t have the heart to tell him she was missing. He’d start crying so bad he’d probably put out his fires. “Well, no… she’s not here right now.”

“Tell her hello!” He beamed. “Hello to Annabeth!”

“Okay.” I fought back a lump in my throat. “I’ll do that.”

“And, Percy, don’t worry about the bad boat. It is going away.”

“What do you mean?”

“Panama Canal! Very far away.”

I frowned. Why would Luke take his demon-infested cruise ship all the way down there? The last time we’d seen him, he’d been cruising along the East Coast, recruiting half-bloods and training his monstrous army.

“All right,” I said, not feeling reassured. “That’s… good. I guess.”

In the forges, a deep voice bellowed something I couldn’t make out. Tyson flinched. “Got to get back to work! Boss will get mad. Good luck, Brother!”

“Okay, tell Dad—”

But before I could finish, the vision shimmered and faded. I was alone again in my cabin, feeling even lonelier than before.

I was pretty miserable at dinner that night.

I mean, the food was excellent as usual. You can’t go wrong with barbecue, pizza, and never-empty soda goblets. The torches and braziers kept the outdoor pavilion warm, but we all had to sit with our cabin mates, which meant I was alone at the Poseidon table. Thalia sat alone at the Zeus table, but we couldn’t sit together. Camp rules. At least the Hephaestus, Ares, and Hermes cabins had a few people each. Nico sat with the Stoll brothers, since new campers always got stuck in the Hermes cabin if their Olympian parent was unknown. The Stoll brothers seemed to be trying to convince Nico that poker was a much better game than Mythomagic. I hoped Nico didn’t have any money to lose.

The only table that really seemed to be having a good time was the Artemis table. The Hunters drank and ate and laughed like one big happy family. Zoe sat at the head like she was the mama. She didn’t laugh as much as the others, but she did smile from time to time. Her silver lieutenant’s band glittered in the dark braids of her hair. I thought she looked a lot nicer when she smiled. Bianca di Angelo seemed to be having a great time. She was trying to learn how to arm wrestle from the big girl who’d picked a fight with the Ares kid on the basketball court. The bigger girl was beating her every time, but Bianca didn’t seem to mind.

When we’d finished eating, Chiron made the customary toast to the gods and formally welcomed the Hunters of Artemis. The clapping was pretty halfhearted. Then he announced the “good will” capture-the-flag game for tomorrow night, which got a lot better reception.

Afterward, we all trailed back to our cabins for an early, winter lights out. I was exhausted, which meant I fell asleep easily. That was the good part. The bad part was, I had a nightmare, and even by my standards it was a whopper.

Annabeth was on a dark hillside, shrouded in fog. It almost seemed like the Underworld, because I immediately felt claustrophobic and I couldn’t see the sky above—just a close, heavy darkness, as if I were in a cave.

Annabeth struggled up the hill. Old broken Greek columns of black marble were scattered around, as though something had blasted a huge building to rums.

“Thorn!” Annabeth cried. “Where are you? Why did you bring me here?” She scrambled over a section of broken wall and came to the crest of the hill.

She gasped.

There was Luke. And he was in pain.

He was crumpled on the rocky ground, trying to rise. The blackness seemed to be thicker around him, fog swirling hungrily. His clothes were in tatters and his face was scratched and drenched with sweat,

“Annabeth!” he called. “Help me! Please!”

She ran forward.

I tried to cry out: He’s a traitor! Don’t trust him!

But my voice didn’t work in the dream.

Annabeth had tears in her eyes. She reached down like she wanted to touch Luke’s face, but at the last second she hesitated.

“What happened?” she asked.

“They left me here,” Luke groaned. “Please. It’s killing me.”

I couldn’t see what was wrong with him. He seemed to be struggling against some invisible curse, as though the fog were squeezing him to death.

“Why should I trust you?” Annabeth asked. Her voice was filled with hurt.

“You shouldn’t,” Luke said. “I’ve been terrible to you. But if you don’t help me, I’ll die.”

Let him die, I wanted to scream. Luke had tried to kill us in cold blood too many times. He didn’t deserve anything from Annabeth.

Then the darkness above Luke began to crumble, like a cavern roof in an earthquake. Huge chunks of black rock began falling. Annabeth rushed in just as a crack appeared, and the whole ceiling dropped. She held it somehow—tons of rock. She kept it from collapsing on her and Luke just with her own strength. It was impossible. She shouldn’t have been able to do that.

Luke rolled free, gasping. “Thanks,” he managed.

“Help me hold it,” Annabeth groaned.

Luke caught his breath. His face was covered in grime and sweat. He rose unsteadily.

“I knew I could count on you.” He began to walk away as the trembling blackness threatened to crush Annabeth.

“HELP ME!” she pleaded,

“Oh, don’t worry,” Luke said. “Your help is on the way. It’s all part of the plan. In the meantime, try not to die.”

The ceiling of darkness began to crumble again, pushing Annabeth against the ground.

I sat bolt upright in bed, clawing at the sheets. There was no sound in my cabin except the gurgle of the saltwater spring. The clock on my nightstand read just after midnight.

Only a dream, but I was sure of two things: Annabeth was in terrible danger. And Luke was responsible.

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