The Titan’s Curse – Chapter 7: EVERYBODY HATES ME BUT THE HORSE

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Chapter 7: EVERYBODY HATES ME BUT THE HORSE

The least the Oracle could’ve done was walk back to the attic by herself.

Instead, Grover and I were elected to carry her. I didn’t figure that was because we were the most popular.

“Watch her head!” Grover warned as we went up the stairs. But it was too late.

Bonk! I whacked her mummified face against the trapdoor frame and dust flew.

“Ah, man.” I set her down and checked for damage. “Did I break anything?”

“I can’t tell,” Grover admitted.

We hauled her up and set her on her tripod stool, both of us huffing and sweating. Who knew a mummy could weigh so much?

I assumed she wouldn’t talk to me, and I was right. I was relieved when we finally got out of there and slammed the attic door shut.

“Well,” Grover said, “that was gross.”

I knew he was trying to keep things light for my sake, but I still felt really down. The whole camp would be mad at me for losing the game to the Hunters, and then there was the new prophecy from the Oracle. It was like the spirit of Delphi had gone out of her way to exclude me. She’d ignored my question and walked half a mile to talk to Zoe. And she’d said nothing, not even a hint, about Annabeth.

“What will Chiron do?” I asked Grover.

“I wish I knew.” He looked wistfully out the second-floor window at the rolling hills covered in snow. “I want to be out there.”

“Searching for Annabeth?”

He had a little trouble focusing on me. Then he blushed. “Oh, right. That too. Of course.”

“Why?” I asked. “What were you thinking?”

He clopped his hooves uneasily. “Just something the manticore said, about the Great Stirring. I can’t help but wonder… if all those ancient powers are waking up, maybe… maybe not all of them are evil.”

“You mean Pan.”

I felt kind of selfish, because I’d totally forgotten about Grover’s life ambition. The nature god had gone missing two thousand years ago. He was rumored to have died, but the satyrs didn’t believe that. They were determined to find him. They’d been searching in vain for centuries, and Grover was convinced he’d be the one to succeed. This year, with Chiron putting all the satyrs on emergency duty to find half-bloods, Grover hadn’t been able to continue his search. It must’ve been driving him nuts.

“I’ve let the trail go cold,” he said. “I feel restless, like I’m missing something really important. He’s out there somewhere. I can just feel it.”

I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to encourage him, but I didn’t know how. My optimism had pretty much been trampled into the snow out there in the woods, along with our capture-the-flag hopes.

Before I could respond, Thalia tromped up the stairs. She was officially not talking to me now, but she looked at Grover and said, “Tell Percy to get his butt downstairs.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Did he say something?” Thalia asked Grover.

“Um, he asked why.”

“Dionysus is calling a council of cabin leaders to discuss the prophecy,” she said. “Unfortunately, that includes Percy.”

The council was held around a Ping-Pong table in the rec room. Dionysus waved his hand and supplied snacks: Cheez Whiz, crackers, and several bottles of red wine. Then Chiron reminded him that wine was against his restrictions and most of us were underage. Mr. D sighed. With a snap of his fingers the wine turned to Diet Coke. Nobody drank that either.

Mr. D and Chiron (in wheelchair form) sat at one end of the table. Zoe and Bianca di Angelo (who had kind of become Zoe’s personal assistant) took the other end. Thalia and Grover and I sat along the right, and the other head councilors—Beckendorf, Silena Beauregard, and the Stoll brothers—sat on the left. The Ares kids were supposed to send a representative, too, but all of them had gotten broken limbs (accidentally) during capture the flag, courtesy of the Hunters. They were resting up in the infirmary.

Zoe started the meeting off on a positive note. “This is pointless.”

“Cheez Whiz!” Grover gasped. He began scooping up crackers and Ping-Pong balls and spraying them with topping.

“There is no time for talk,” Zoe continued. “Our goddess needs us. The Hunters must leave immediately.”

“And go where?” Chiron asked.

“West!” Bianca said. I was amazed at how different she looked after just a few days with the Hunters. Her dark hair was braided like Zoe’s now, so you could actually see her face. She had a splash of freckles across her nose, and her dark eyes vaguely reminded me of someone famous, but I couldn’t think who. She looked like she’d been working out, and her skin glowed faintly, like the other Hunters, as if she’d been taking showers in liquid moonlight. “You heard the prophecy. Five shall go west to the goddess in chains. We can get five hunters and go.”

“Yes,” Zoe agreed. “Artemis is being held hostage! We must find her and free her.”

“You’re missing something, as usual,” Thalia said. “Campers and Hunters combined prevail. We’re supposed to do this together.”

“No!” Zoe said. “The Hunters do not need thy help.”

“Your” Thalia grumbled. “Nobody has said thy in, like, three hundred years, Zoe. Get with the times.”

Zoe hesitated, like she was trying to form the word correctly. ” Yerrr. We do not need yerrr help.”

Thalia rolled her eyes. “Forget it.”

“I fear the prophecy says you do need our help,” Chiron said. “Campers and Hunters must cooperate.”

“Or do they?” Mr. D mused, swirling his Diet Coke under his nose like it had a fine bouquet. “One shall be lost. One shall perish. That sounds rather nasty, doesn’t it? What if you fail because you try to cooperate?”

“Mr. D,” Chiron sighed, “with all due respect, whose side are you on?”

Dionysus raised his eyebrows. “Sorry, my dear centaur. Just trying to be helpful.”

“We’re supposed to work together,” Thalia said stubbornly. “I don’t like it either, Zoe, but you know prophecies. You want to fight against one?”

Zoe grimaced, but I could tell Thalia had scored a point.

“We must not delay,” Chiron warned. “Today is Sunday. This very Friday, December twenty-first, is the winter solstice.”

“Oh, joy,” Dionysus muttered. “Another dull annual meeting.”

“Artemis must be present at the solstice,” Zoe said. “She has been one of the most vocal on the council arguing for action against Kronos’s minions. If she is absent, the gods will decide nothing. We will lose another year of war preparations.”

“Are you suggesting that the gods have trouble acting together, young lady?” Dionysus asked.

“Yes, Lord Dionysus.”

Mr. D nodded. “Just checking. You’re right, of course. Carry on.”

“I must agree with Zoe,” said Chiron. “Artemis’s presence at the winter council is critical. We have only a week to find her. And possibly even more important: to locate the monster she was hunting. Now, we must decide who goes on this quest.”

“Three and two,” I said.

Everybody looked at me. Thalia even forgot to ignore me.

“We’re supposed to have five,” I said, feeling self-conscious. “Three Hunters, two from Camp Half-Blood. That’s more than fair.”

Thalia and Zoe exchanged looks.

“Well,” Thalia said. “It does make sense.”

Zoe grunted. “I would prefer to take all the Hunters. We will need strength of numbers.”

“You’ll be retracing the goddess’s path,” Chiron reminded her. “Moving quickly. No doubt Artemis tracked the scent of this rare monster, whatever it is, as she moved west. You will have to do the same. The prophecy was clear: The bane of Olympus shows the trail. What would your mistress say? ‘Too many Hunters spoil the scent.’ A small group is best.”

Zoe picked up a Ping-Pong paddle and studied it like she was deciding who she wanted to whack first. “This monster—the bane of Olympus. I have hunted at Lady Artemis’s side for many years, yet I have no idea what this beast might be.”

Everybody looked at Dionysus, I guess because he was the only god present and gods are supposed to know things. He was flipping through a wine magazine, but when everyone got silent he glanced up, “Well, don’t look at me. I’m a young god, remember? I don’t keep track of all those ancient monsters and dusty titans. They make for terrible party conversation.”

“Chiron,” I said, “you don’t have any ideas about the monster?”

Chiron pursed his lips. “I have several ideas, none of them good. And none of them quite make sense. Typhon, for instance, could fit this description. He was truly a bane of Olympus. Or the sea monster Keto. But if either of these were stirring, we would know it. They are ocean monsters the size of skyscrapers. Your father, Poseidon, would already have sounded the alarm. I fear this monster may be more elusive. Perhaps even more powerful.”

“That’s some serious danger you’re facing,” Connor Stoll said. (I liked how he said you and not we.) “It sounds like at least two of the five are going to die.”

“One shall be lost in the land without rain” Beckendorf said. “If I were you, I’d stay out of the desert.”

There was a muttering of agreement.

“And the Titan’s curse must one withstand,” Silena said. “What could that mean?”

I saw Chiron and Zoe exchange a nervous look, but whatever they were thinking, they didn’t share it.

“One shall perish by a parent’s hand,” Grover said in between bites of Cheez Whiz and Ping-Pong balls. “How is that possible? Whose parent would kill them?”

There was heavy silence around the table.

I glanced at Thalia and wondered if she was thinking the same thing I was. Years ago, Chiron had had a prophecy about the next child of the Big Three—Zeus, Poseidon, or Hades—who turned sixteen. Supposedly, that kid would make a decision that would save or destroy the gods forever. Because of that, the Big Three had taken an oath after World War II not to have any more kids. But Thalia and I had been born anyway, and now we were both getting close to sixteen.

I remembered a conversation I’d had last year with Annabeth. I’d asked her, if I was so potentially dangerous, why the gods didn’t just kill me.

Some of the gods would like to kill you, she’d said. But they’re afraid of offending Poseidon.

Could an Olympian parent turn against his half-blood child? Would it sometimes be easier just to let them die? If there were ever any half-bloods who needed to worry about that, it was Thalia and me. I wondered if maybe I should’ve sent Poseidon that seashell pattern tie for Father’s Day after all.

“There will be deaths,” Chiron decided. “That much we know.”

“Oh, goody!” Dionysus said.

Everyone looked at him. He glanced up innocently from the pages of Wine Connoisseur magazine. “Ah, pinot noir is making a comeback. Don’t mind me.”

“Percy is right,” Silena Beauregard said. “Two campers should go.”

“Oh, I see,” Zoe said sarcastically. “And I suppose you wish to volunteer?”

Silena blushed. “I’m not going anywhere with the Hunters. Don’t look at me!”

“A daughter of Aphrodite does not wish to be looked at,” Zoe scoffed. “What would thy mother say?”

Silena started to get out of her chair, but the Stoll brothers pulled her back.

“Stop it,” Beckendorf said. He was a big guy with a bigger voice. He didn’t talk much, but when he did, people tended to listen. “Let’s start with the Hunters. Which three of you will go?”

Zoe stood. “I shall go, of course, and I will take Phoebe. She is our best tracker.”

“The big girl who likes to hit people on the head?” Travis Stoll asked cautiously.

Zoe nodded.

“The one who put the arrows in my helmet?” Connor added..

“Yes,” Zoe snapped. “Why?”

“Oh, nothing,” Travis said. “Just that we have a T-shirt for her from the camp store.” He held up a big silver T-shirt that said ARTEMIS THE MOON GODDESS, FALL HUNTING TOUR 2002, with a huge list of national parks and stuff underneath. “It’s a collector’s item. She was admiring it. You want to give it to her?”

I knew the Stolls were up to something. They always were. But I guess Zoe didn’t know them as well as I did. She just sighed and took the T-shirt. “As I was saying, I will take Phoebe. And I wish Bianca to go.”

Bianca looked stunned. “Me? But… I’m so new. I wouldn’t be any good.”

“You will do fine,” Zoe insisted. “There is no better way to prove thyself.”

Bianca closed her mouth. I felt kind of sorry for her. I remembered my first quest when I was twelve. I had felt totally unprepared. A little honored, maybe, but a lot resentful and plenty scared. I figured the same things were running around in Bianca’s head right now.

“And for campers?” Chiron asked. His eyes met mine, but I couldn’t tell what he was thinking.

“Me!” Grover stood up so fast he bumped the Ping-Pong table. He brushed cracker crumbs and Ping-Pong ball scraps off his lap. “Anything to help Artemis!”

Zoe wrinkled her nose. “I think not, satyr. You are not even a half-blood.”

“But he is a camper,” Thalia said. “And he’s got a satyr’s senses and woodland magic. Can you play a tracker’s song yet, Grover?”

“Absolutely!”

Zoe wavered. I didn’t know what a tracker’s song was, but apparently Zoe thought it was a good thing.

“Very well,” Zoe said. “And the second camper?”

“I’ll go.” Thalia stood and looked around, daring anyone to question her.

Now, okay, maybe my math skills weren’t the best, but it suddenly occurred to me that we’d reached the number five, and I wasn’t in the group. “Whoa, wait a sec,” I said. “I want to go too.”

Thalia said nothing. Chiron was still studying me, his eyes sad.

“Oh,” Grover said, suddenly aware of the problem. “Whoa, yeah, I forgot! Percy has to go. I didn’t mean… I’ll stay. Percy should go in my place.”

“He cannot,” Zoe said. “He is a boy. I won’t have Hunters traveling with a boy.”

“You traveled here with me,” I reminded her.

“That was a short-term emergency, and it was ordered by the goddess. I will not go across country and fight many dangers in the company of a boy.”

“What about Grover?” I demanded.

Zoe shook her head. “He does not count. He’s a satyr. He is not technically a boy.”

“Hey!” Grover protested.

“I have to go,” I said. “I need to be on this quest.”

“Why?” Zoe asked. “Because of thy friend Annabeth?”

I felt myself blushing. I hated that everyone was looking at me.”No! I mean, partly.I just feel like I’m supposed to go!”

Nobody rose to my defense. Mr. D looked bored, still reading his magazine. Silena, the Stoll brothers, and Beckendorf were staring at the table. Bianca gave me a look of pity.

“No,” Zoe said flatly. “I insist upon this. I will take a satyr if I must, but not a male hero.”

Chiron sighed. “The quest is for Artemis. The Hunters should be allowed to approve their companions.”

My ears were ringing as I sat down. I knew Grover and some of the others were looking at me sympathetically, but

I couldn’t meet their eyes. I just sat there as Chiron concluded the council.

“So be it,” he said. “Thalia and Grover will accompany Zoe, Bianca, and Phoebe. You shall leave at first light. And may the gods”—he glanced at Dionysus—”present company included, we hope—be with you.”

I didn’t show up for dinner that night, which was a mistake, because Chiron and Grover came looking for me.

“Percy, I’m so sorry!” Grover said, sitting next to me on the bunk. “I didn’t know they’d—that you’d—Honest!”

He started to sniffle, and I figured if I didn’t cheer him up he’d either start bawling or chewing up my mattress. He tends to eat household objects whenever he gets upset.

“It’s okay,” I lied. “Really. It’s fine.”

Grover’s lower lip trembled. “I wasn’t even thinking… I was so focused on helping Artemis. But I promise, I’ll look everywhere for Annabeth. If I can find her, I will.”

I nodded and tried to ignore the big crater that was opening in my chest.

“Grover,” Chiron said, “perhaps you’d let me have a word with Percy?”

“Sure,” he sniffled.

Chiron waited,

“Oh,” Grover said. “You mean alone. Sure, Chiron.” He looked at me miserably. “See? Nobody needs a goat.”

He trotted out the door, blowing his nose on his sleeve.

Chiron sighed and knelt on his horse legs. “Percy, I don’t pretend to understand prophecies.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Well, maybe that’s because they don’t make any sense.”

Chiron gazed at the saltwater spring gurgling in the corner of the room. “Thalia would not have been my first choice to go on this quest. She’s too impetuous. She acts without thinking. She is too sure of herself”

“Would you have chosen me?”

“Frankly, no,” he said. “You and Thalia are much alike.”

“Thanks a lot.”

He smiled. “The difference is that you are less sure of yourself than Thalia. That could be good or bad. But one thing I can say: both of you together would be a dangerous thing.”

“We could handle it.”

“The way you handled it at the creek tonight?”

I didn’t answer. He’d nailed me.

“Perhaps it is for the best,” Chiron mused. “You can go home to your mother for the holidays. If we need you, we can call.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Maybe.”

I pulled Riptide out of my pocket and set it on my nightstand. It didn’t seem that I’d be using it for anything but writing Christmas cards.

When he saw the pen, Chiron grimaced. “It’s no wonder Zoe doesn’t want you along, I suppose. Not while you’re carrying that particular weapon.”

I didn’t understand what he meant. Then I remembered something he’d told me a long time ago, when he first gave me the magic sword: It has a long and tragic history, which we need not go into.

I wanted to ask him about that, but then he pulled a golden drachma from his saddlebag and tossed it to me. “Call your mother, Percy. Let her know you’re coming home in the morning. And, ah, for what it’s worth… I almost volunteered for this quest myself. I would have gone, if not for the last line.”

“One shall perish by a parent’s hand. Yeah.”

I didn’t need to ask. I knew Chiron’s dad was Kronos, the evil Titan Lord himself. The line would make perfect sense if Chiron went on the quest. Kronos didn’t care for anyone, including his own children.

“Chiron,” I said. “You know what this Titan’s curse is, don’t you?”

His face darkened. He made a claw over his heart and pushed outward—an ancient gesture for warding off evil. “Let us hope the prophecy does not mean what I think. Now, good night, Percy. And your time will come. I’m convinced of that. There’s no need to rush.”

He said your time the way people did when they meant your death. I didn’t know if Chiron meant it that way, but the look in his eyes made me scared to ask.

I stood at the saltwater spring, rubbing Chiron’s coin in my hand and trying to figure out what to say to my mom. I really wasn’t in the mood to have one more adult tell me that doing nothing was the greatest thing I could do, but I figured my mom deserved an update.

Finally, I took a deep breath and threw in the coin. “O goddess, accept my offering.”

The mist shimmered. The light from the bathroom was just enough to make a faint rainbow.

“Show me Sally Jackson,” I said. “Upper East Side, Manhattan.”

And there in the mist was a scene I did not expect. My mom was sitting at our kitchen table with some… guy. They were laughing hysterically. There was a big stack of textbooks between them. The man was, I don’t know, thirty-something, with longish salt-and-pepper hair and a brown jacket over a black T-shirt. He looked like an actor—like a guy who might play an undercover cop on television.

I was too stunned to say anything, and fortunately, my mom and the guy were too busy laughing to notice my Iris-message.

The guy said, “Sally, you’re a riot. You want some more wine?”

“Ah, I shouldn’t. You go ahead if you want.”

“Actually, I’d better use your bathroom. May I?”

“Down the hall,” she said, trying not to laugh.

The actor dude smiled and got up and left.

“Mom!” I said.

She jumped so hard she almost knocked her textbooks off the table. Finally she focused on me. “Percy! Oh, honey! Is everything okay?”

“What are you doing?” I demanded.

She blinked. “Homework.” Then she seemed to understand the look on my face. “Oh, honey, that’s just Paul—um, Mr. Blofis. He’s in my writing seminar.”

“Mr. Blowfish?”

“Blofis. He’ll be back in a minute, Percy. Tell me what’s wrong.”

She always knew when something was wrong. I told her about Annabeth. The other stuff too, but mostly it boiled down to Annabeth.

My mother’s eyes teared up. I could tell she was trying hard to keep it together for my sake. “Oh, Percy…”

“Yeah. So they tell me there’s nothing I can do. I guess I’ll be coming home.”

She turned her pencil around in her fingers. “Percy, as much as I want you to come home”—she sighed like she was mad at herself—”as much as I want you to be safe, I want you to understand something. You need to do whatever you think you have to.”

I stared at her. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, do you really, deep down, believe that you have to help save her? Do you think it’s the right thing to do? Because I know one thing about you, Percy. Your heart is always in the right place. Listen to it.”

“You’re… you’re telling me to go?”

My mother pursed her lips. “I’m telling you that… you’re getting too old for me to tell you what to do. I’m telling you that I’ll support you, even if what you decide to do is dangerous. I can’t believe I’m saying this.”

“Mom—”

The toilet flushed down the hall in our apartment.

“I don’t have much time,” my mom said. “Percy, whatever you decide, I love you. And I know you’ll do what’s best for Annabeth.”

“How can you be sure?”

“Because she’d do the same for you.”

And with that, my mother waved her hand over the mist, and the connection dissolved, leaving me with one final image of her new friend, Mr. Blowfish, smiling down at her.

I don’t remember falling asleep, but I remember the dream.

I was back in that barren cave, the ceiling heavy and low above me. Annabeth was kneeling under the weight of a dark mass that looked like a pile of boulders. She was too tired even to cry out. Her legs trembled. Any second, I knew she would run out of strength and the cavern ceiling would collapse on top of her.

“How is our mortal guest?” a male voice boomed.

It wasn’t Kronos. Kronos’s voice was raspy and metallic, like a knife scraped across stone. I’d heard it taunting me many times before in my dreams. But this voice was deeper and lower, like a bass guitar. Its force made the ground vibrate.

Luke emerged from the shadows. He ran to Annabeth, knelt beside her, then looked back at the unseen man. “She’s fading. We must hurry.”

The hypocrite. Like he really cared what happened to her.

The deep voice chuckled. It belonged to someone in the shadows, at the edge of my dream. Then a meaty hand thrust someone forward into the light—Artemis—her hands and feet bound in celestial bronze chains.

I gasped. Her silvery dress was torn and tattered. Her face and arms were cut in several places, and she was bleeding ichor, the golden blood of the gods.

“You heard the boy,” said the man in the shadows. “Decide!”

Artemis’s eyes flashed with anger. I didn’t know why she just didn’t will the chains to burst, or make herself disappear, but she didn’t seem able to. Maybe the chains prevented her, or some magic about this dark, horrible place.

The goddess looked at Annabeth and her expression changed to concern and outrage. “How dare you torture a maiden like this!”

“She will die soon,” Luke said. “You can save her.”

Annabeth made a weak sound of protest. My heart felt like it was being twisted into a knot. I wanted to run to her, but I couldn’t move.

“Free my hands,” Artemis said.

Luke brought out his sword, Backbiter. With one expert strike, he broke the goddess’s handcuffs.

Artemis ran to Annabeth and took the burden from her shoulders. Annabeth collapsed on the ground and lay there shivering. Artemis staggered, trying to support the weight of the black rocks.

The man in the shadows chuckled. “You are as predictable as you were easy to beat, Artemis.”

“You surprised me,” the goddess said, straining under her burden. “It will not happen again.”

“Indeed it will not,” the man said. “Now you are out of the way for good! I knew you could not resist helping a young maiden. That is, after all, your specialty, my dear.”

Artemis groaned “You know nothing of mercy, you swine.”

“On that,” the man said, “we can agree. Luke, you may kill the girl now.”

“No!'” Artemis shouted.

Luke hesitated. “She—she may yet be useful, sir.. Further bait.”

“Bah! You truly believe that?”

“Yes, General. They will come for her. I’m sure.”

The man considered. “Then the dracaenae can guard her here. Assuming she does not die from her injuries, you may keep her alive until winter solstice. After that, if our sacrifice goes as planned, her life will be meaningless. The lives of all mortals will be meaningless.”

Luke gathered up Annabeth’s listless body and carried her away from the goddess.

“You will never find the monster you seek,” Artemis said. “Your plan will fail.”

“How little you know, my young goddess,” the man in the shadows said. “Even now, your darling attendants begin their quest to find you. They shall play directly into my hands. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we have a long journey to make. We must greet your Hunters and make sure their quest is… challenging.”

The man’s laughter echoed in the darkness, shaking the ground until it seemed the whole cavern ceiling would collapse.

I woke with a start. I was sure I’d heard a loud banging. I looked around the cabin. It was dark outside. The salt spring still gurgled. No other sounds but the hoot of an owl in the woods and the distant surf on the beach. In the moonlight, on my nightstand was Annabeth’s New York Yankees cap. I stared at it for a second and then:BANG BANG.

Someone, or something, was pounding on my door. I grabbed Riptide and got out of bed.

“Hello?” I called. THUMP. THUMP.I crept to the door.

I uncapped the blade, flung open the door, and found myself face-to-face with a black pegasus.

Whoa, boss! Its voice spoke in my mind as it clopped away from the sword blade. I don’t wanna be a horse-ke-bob!

Its black wings spread in alarm, and the wind buffeted me back a step,

“Blackjack,” I said, relieved but a little irritated. “It’s the middle of the night!”

Blackjack huffed. Ain’t either, boss. It’s five in the morning. What you still sleeping for?

“How many times have I told you? Don’t call me boss.”

Whatever you say, boss. You’re the man. You’re my number one. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and tried not to let the pegasus read my thoughts. That’s the problem with being Poseidon’s son: since he created horses out of sea foam, I can understand most equestrian animals, but they can understand me, too. Sometimes, like in Blackjacks case, they kind of adopt me.

See, Blackjack had been a captive on board Luke’s ship last summer, until we’d caused a little distraction that allowed him to escape. I’d really had very little to do with it, seriously, but Blackjack credited me with saving him.

“Blackjack,” I said, “you’re supposed to stay in the stables.”

Meh, the stables. You see Chiron staying in the stables?

“Well… no.”

Exactly. Listen, we got another little sea friend needs your help.

“Again?”

Yeah. I told the hippocampi I’d come get you.

I groaned. Anytime I was anywhere near the beach, the hippocampi would ask me to help them with their problems. And they had a lot of problems. Beached whales, porpoises caught in fishing nets, mermaids with hangnails—they’d call me to come underwater and help.

“All right,” I said. “I’m coming.”

You’re the best, boss.

“And don’t call me boss!”

Blackjack whinnied softly. It might’ve been a laugh.

I looked back at my comfortable bed. My bronze shield still hung on the wall, dented and unusable. And on my nightstand was Annabeth’s magic Yankees cap. On an impulse, I stuck the cap in my pocket. I guess I had a feeling, even then, that I wasn’t coming back to my cabin for a long, long time.

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